Lukewarm Takes

When people post lists of “unpopular opinions,” sometimes we see interesting and thoughtful ideas. Sometimes we see an excuse for people to show off their dumbest and/or most toxic thoughts. Sometimes its a mix.

I’ve thought about doing something like this for a while now, but I haven’t been quite sure how. Most of the following thoughts are things that I probably can (and eventually might) flesh out in further detail. Stating a provocative opinion, then quickly moving on to the next can easily come across as an excuse for contrarian assholery. It’s important to be willing and able to defend one’s thesis, and not hide behind the shield of “it’s just my opinion, man.”

All those caveats aside, I find pieces like this fun, especially if it’s from someone willing to defend their hottest and coldest takes. In my case, some of these probably aren’t all that controversial, but this being the internet, there will likely be some readers who would consider me to be a great (or at least mediocre) Satan. And that’s cool, too.

Also, I have an unfortunate tendency to be excessively long-winded, so each of these thoughts are probably expounded upon at unnecessary length. I don’t do blurbs very well. But for me, the following opinions are as brief as I get.

I’ll probably regret this, but since I feel just strong enough about these takes right now, I’ll go ahead and throw them out here, and see if anyone cares, or wants to fight me over them. There is little order or reason to these, and they cover an array of unrelated topics. Prepare for jarring tone changes.

Ahem. Here goes.

Environmentalists need to learn to embrace nuclear power. Until we have some sort of fusion breakthrough, nuclear fission is going to have to be a huge component of our energy production, particularly if we’re serious about combating climate change. The good news is that modern nuclear technology is far safer, and has fewer drawbacks than the plants of yesteryear. Nuclear power can augment renewable technologies while they continue to develop and grow. It’s carbon neutral, provides enormous amounts of energy, and as I mentioned, the new plant designs have significantly lower risks of toxic waste or meltdowns.

If humans want to keep eating meat, we’re going to have to be willing to convert entirely to the lab-grown kind, and probably fairly soon. As much as it pains the barbecue-lover in me to say this, within a surprisingly short amount of time, humanity is very likely to look back on the consumption of animals as a relic of a more barbarous time. It may end up being less about “eating animals is wrong” and more about what the animals go through to become food, as well as the damage the process does to the world. I would guess that sometime between two and six decades from now, most humans won’t be consuming animal flesh. But meatless alternatives are getting much better, and cultured meat is eventually going to be a big deal.

Jeffrey Epstein probably did kill himself. Something about his death has turned people who aren’t usually prone to conspiracy belief into tin foil hatters. Yes, he was a terrible person, and yes, he was disgustingly well connected with the rich and powerful. And yes, there were a lot of problems with the facility he was imprisoned in at the time of his death. But the problem with the “Epstein was murdered” theories is that believing them still requires a series of far more implausible events than simply understanding that a man who had already attempted suicide succeeded a second time in a facility that was ill-equipped (and likely uninterested) to prevent it. There are certainly huge problems with our political and criminal justice systems that don’t require a grand conspiracy of evil political figures to allow someone like Epstein to get away with his crimes for so long, and then die before trial. I’m not dismissing the possibility of his murder, but actual evidence would be needed to compel me to believe it likely.

The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie. The fact that it subverts so many tropes of the series is a good thing. It pushes back on the idea that boy hero daredevil stunts will always save the day, and it rejects the toxic concept of inherited greatness that permeates just about every movie in the series. It also has the best writing and character development of the entire series. But with that said, they’re all kid’s movies and people get too worked up over them. Just like I will arguing about comic book movies later on in this piece.

Defund policeis a (mostly) bad idea that would most likely make policing worse. Policing in America is enormously flawed. This is inarguable. Racial bias at every level of policing permeates the institution. Rules of engagement often prioritize force, while failing to emphasize de-escalation. It’s often true that police are frequently asked to perform tasks that more robust social services would be better equipped to handle. Finally, its also true that the rates of successful case resolution are quite inconsistent, with case closure numbers varying wildly from crime to crime and city to city.

But most of these problems are not related to overfunding.

As Matthew Yglesias pointed out, two of the biggest problems with policing are a lack of accountability for wrongdoing, and inconsistent crime solving. He correctly notes these issues wouldn’t be fixed by cutting budgets.

Maybe the most significant reform that we should focus on would be to make it easier to investigate and fire bad police. This could be combined with putting more effort into hiring better police that actually represent their communities, while training them with less of a warrior mindset. Some of these have actually been tried in some areas. There are examples of successful police reform out there, and they haven’t generally involved defunding.

We have serious problems with policing in America, and I would like to work on a more in-depth piece to discuss them soon. At this point, though, funding is largely irrelevant to the situation, and acts as a distraction from those problems. There are also those who use “defunding” as less a method of reform, and more of a stepping-stone to abolition, but that’s a whole different debate that isn’t likely to become mainstream anytime soon. The existence of police forces in America isn’t going away, and I would prefer to focus on what we can do to make them better.

Actually, one of the biggest impediments to police reform has to do with the nature of gun culture in the US. Police tend to default to the use of force, in part because they often expect everyone they encounter to be armed. This leads into my next take. Speaking of guns…

The Second Amendment didn’t originally guarantee an individual right to own firearms, and has only been interpreted that way since 2008. And the original interpretation will have to be reasserted by the Supreme Court before we can have any hope of severely curtailing the American gun violence problem. Of course, this is unlikely to happen with the current makeup of the Court. I’ve seen calls by liberals and leftists to learn to embrace gun ownership. I can’t get behind that. The problems caused by gun ownership will persist, regardless of who has them. More guns equal more gun deaths, the evidence is clear on this. And as long as we treat gun ownership as an unassailable right, we’re essentially acknowledging that we’re willing to make the tradeoff of enormous gun deaths for that “freedom.”

Bernie probably wouldn’t have beaten Trump in 2016, and I would guess he would have been 50/50 at best in 2020. In retrospect, my favorite candidate would probably have performed even worse in both elections. And Biden was probably always the best choice to defeat Trump in the general election. I think Biden likely would also have won in 2016, had he decided to go for it then.

Also, Bernie dead-enders who insist on blaming “the establishment,” or the DNC, or “neoliberals” for his losses are displaying the same lack of introspection and mindless conspiracism as Trump supporters who screech about nonexistent voter fraud. Bernie lost because more people voted for someone else. Twice. It happens. The same grifters and dirtbags who demanded that the majority of Democratic voters “bend the knee” after defeating the Bernie contingent in 2016 were somehow shocked that more people didn’t support them four years later. Bernie’s loudest fans seemed to struggle to understand that coalitions usually beat brute force, and just assumed that a mere 25-30% support during the 2020 primaries would be enough to come out on a top of a rapidly-winnowing field. These people were mad at Warren for not dropping out sooner, but also mad at Buttigieg and Klobuchar for dropping out too soon. Oh no, my opponents aren’t rolling over and making it easy for me! I have to work to get what I want! Life is so unfair! It’s all the DNC and the corporations and Jeff Bezos’ doing! I better quit my job and start a lucrative podcast! That’ll show the establishment!

Bernie lost for a variety of reasons, some of them more reasonable than others, but in the end it boiled down to Democratic voters trusting Biden to perform better against Trump. It’s not crazy to disagree with that trust, but it behooves one to actually make the case to voters, rather than tweet snake emojis at Bernie’s best progressive ally, or throw homophobic slurs at the winner of the Iowa caucus. The online component of modern campaigns is important, but there are some who seem to think it’s the only component. I actually like Bernie (and campaigned for him in 2016), but those who deify him are part of why he lost.

Chiropractic work may have made some people feel better on an anecdotal basis, but it’s still quackery. Massage is vastly superior. Interestingly enough, this opinion has probably gotten more angry pushback than any other I’ve espoused, including my thoughts on policing, guns, and abortion. I don’t doubt that there are those who have received chiropractic treatment and are satisfied with it, but that doesn’t mean its based on sound science.

Pluto is not a planet, and that’s okay. Its new-ish classification is a sign that we are continuing to refine our understanding of the universe. In twenty years we may classify it as something else entirely, and that will be okay, too. The terms we use to describe celestial bodies shouldn’t be sacrosanct. Established knowledge changes constantly, and if one is interested in continuing to learn and grow, then it’s important to be willing to try to keep up.

Comic book movies annoy a lot of people, but the thing is, some of them are actually pretty good. Maybe it’s not high art (whatever that means), but the best comic book movies involve unappreciated amounts of world-building and attention to detail, and are generally at least solid middlebrow fare, if not sometimes better than that. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Batman Begins, Logan, and Black Panther (plus several more) are at least a couple tiers above most summer blockbusters. Yeah, they’re part of big franchises, but non-franchise movies also exist, and can be found by most people in this world of streaming without much effort. People complain about big budget crowd-pleasers pushing out smaller films, but meanwhile, those smaller films continue to be made, and are all available with just a couple clicks of the remote.

Strong opinions about entertainment isn’t a bad thing, but strong opinions about the people who consume said entertainment is often bad. Yeah, I think there are plenty of movies that are multiple levels above, say… the Taken franchise, or Transformers, or whatever Gerard Butler is doing lately… but it’s pretty gross to trash people who enjoy that stuff. Some people just want to be entertained by a movie, and that’s okay. Besides, it’s not like my favorite MCU flicks are *that* deep, either. But that’s fine, too. “Let people enjoy things” elicits some rolled eyes now and then, but I think it’s still a good phrase.

Strong opinions about people’s political differences makes more sense, though. Supporting the guy who put children in cages and enlisted the help of foreign governments to hurt his political opponents is worthy of shame and derision, because it actually does harm people. This isn’t the same as debating the capital gains tax. I see people complain that politics get between family and friends, but they aren’t complaining about “agree to disagree” issues. They’re talking about discussions about the very humanity of marginalized groups, or whether or not people should choose between financial insolvency or their health. I don’t think its particularly petty to cut off people who believe that black people shouldn’t be mad about excessive force from police.

I feel a deep sense of disappointment and even anger when I see friends post photos of themselves dining in restaurants during this pandemic. Yeah, I’m sure the server is wearing a mask, and I would imagine they’ve moved the tables a bit farther apart, but that really doesn’t mitigate the risks. Multiple strangers spending upwards of an hour or more unmasked in a single space almost certainly has exacerbated the spread of COVID-19. It just astounds me to see the level of selfishness required to willingly dine indoors in restaurants before, I dunno, maybe 80% of the public is vaccinated.

I mean, I get it. It sucks not being able to safely go out. I miss bars and restaurants, too. I moved to a new neighborhood last March, chosen in part because of the sheer number of my favorite bars and restaurants that are within walking distance. Perfect timing. And I haven’t dined in anywhere since the beginning of last March. I wish I could. But the risks to myself and others simply aren’t worth it. I’ve heard people argue that they don’t want to stop “living their lives.” That argument reeks of solipsism, but is especially awful when one remembers that a half a million Americans no longer have lives because of COVID. That’s basically the population of my hometown! And several million more are suffering permanent, often debilitating aftereffects. Your life won’t be any less rich because you ordered your burger to go, and avoided exposing a dozen people to a life-threatening illness.

On a much lighter note, the eighth season of Game of Thrones… wasn’t that bad. To be certain, there were some serious structural issues with the season. There probably should have been at least two, and maybe up to four additional episodes to better wrap up the dozens of plot and character threads, and to allow for more realistic travel times (my biggest complaint with the plots in the season). But most of the various character endpoints and plot decisions all made sense to me. I’ve seen lots of angry internet commentary related to the lack of satisfying development and resolution for specific characters – but I can’t think of any that didn’t make sense for that character. Dany had been showing signs of festering megalomania since as early as season two, Jaime had always made it clear he would end up with his sister, no matter the cost, and Jon had consistently pushed away opportunities to lead.

I think a lot of people had developed a certain headcanon for some of their favorite characters, and ended up disappointed when they didn’t get the conclusion they wanted. But that’s what the show (and novels) had always done. Triumphs turn to tragedy, and the tragic sometimes triumph. Yeah, a lot of people scratched their heads at Bran as king, but it’s good to remember that the show spent eight seasons demonstrating the failures of hereditary leadership and jabbing at the concept of “chosen ones.” Sometimes the ideal leader is the one who’s survived and learned from the mistakes of others. And sometimes we don’t get what we feel is a satisfying end. Because that’s how it often goes. And to me, some of the best endings are “unsatisfying” and open-ended. It shows that things never completely end. People keep living their lives after the story concludes, and it doesn’t always make sense to wrap things in a neat bow.

Bothsideism is a serious problem in our discourse, ironically perpetrated by… both sides. Admittedly, this is a bit flippant. More accurately, media and voter alike are guilty of assuming a general level of incompetence and corruption within the US government, without understanding which side deserves 95% of the blame for that. Sometimes we hear about asymmetric polarization, but the real asymmetry between the major political parties is less about left-right, and more about an interest in the job of governing. Yeah, Democrats make mistakes, some individuals within the party are corrupt, and there’s a lot of obnoxious infighting under that big tent.

But since 1976, the Republican Party has been the party of intentional incompetence, and they’ve been the party of almost constant bad faith since 1994. Every single time the modern GOP gets ahold of more than one rein of government, they steer it into a ditch and leave it worse off than it was before. And they’ve cowed the media into treating them as though they deserve equal treatment, which just reinforces public opinion that “both sides are the problem.” By all means, we should criticize those that deserve it, Democrats included.

But the current dysfunction in our government is caused by the second largest political party being philosophically dedicated to the notion that the other side is always illegitimate, regardless of how much support they get, or how many elections they win. The Republican Party as it stands is the impediment to progress in America, and will continue to be that way for some time to come. It will require voters to recognize this fact for multiple elections cycles in a row for things to truly start changing. The flaws and compromises of the Democrats are relatively meaningless in the face of this.

Sometimes it’s good to not have a strong opinion on a topic. Yeah, funny that I end with this one. It often seems that some people feel a need to be able to expound on just about any topic in the public discourse, despite not having a strong grasp of the subject. “I don’t know” can be a greater display of wisdom than a half-baked hot take. I think a lot of people are afraid to acknowledge they lack information about a subject, and seek out just enough information to know how their particular team appears to feel, and then argue accordingly. I’ve found that taking the time to learn about an issue before expressing an opinion not only helps to provide a better opinion, but even more importantly, helps to challenge one’s worldview. Sometimes we find out that our particular team doesn’t have a monopoly on wisdom after all, and we should approach every issue with a degree of caution and pragmatism. Or maybe I’m just wrong and have bad takes. I dunno. Could go either way.

Posted in Entertainment, environment, Governance, History, Humor, Media, Myths and misconceptions, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Still Fighting Over The Minimum Wage

Annette Bernhardt, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A month into the Biden presidency, and already there has been a substantial amount of work done to reverse many of the worst executive orders and appointments by the Trump administration. Thanks to a narrow Democratic lead in both the Senate and the House, legislation appears to be ready to start flowing.

Well, thanks to the ludicrous persistence of the filibuster, flowing might be a bit optimistic. Truthfully, that flow is more likely to be a trickle. It’s unlikely the speed of progressive legislation will harken back to the days of the New Deal or Great Society, but there will be actual bills passed, which is something that’s largely disappeared since January 2011.

One progressive proposal that has been pushed hard by the new Biden administration (and most Congressional Democrats in general) is an increase in the national minimum wage, from the current $7.25 per hour all the way up to $15. This is something that could be passed within a larger COVID relief package (which appears to be increasingly unlikely), or it may end up having to be pushed on its own at a later date. But it’s a targeted goal that has a chance of passing.

And since the topic of an increase in the minimum wage is making the rounds of political discourse, along with it come the bad takes.

There are two particular opinions that appear whenever the minimum wage conversation picks up, and I’ve actually discussed them before on this blog. The most popular piece I’ve written on this blog (by far) was about the $15 proposal way back in 2014.

The first opinion is a bit more excusable, and is primarily economic. There is a school of thought that the minimum wage can hamper employment, and the higher it goes, the more it encourages employers to replace employees with automation. A subset of this argument is that regional variation means that some areas can’t sustain the same wage floors as others.

And this can actually be a reasonable point. As Noah Smith writes quite eloquently, the optimal minimum wage increase might best be indexed to a percentage of local median wages. It’s fair to note that $15 an hour would create a more significant impact on employers in rural Alabama than it would in Manhattan. He also has an interesting suggestion about tying the minimum wage to local rent, which is worth consideration.

The proposal from the Democrats includes a phase-in period, and indexes future increases to local median wages, so that particular issue already seems to be understood, however. As for whether or not a minimum wage increase is fraught with too many problems – we can mostly answer these concerns now. Analyses over the past decade have continually shown that the increases that have already been passed locally haven’t harmed those economies, and most studies no longer predict calamity at the national level.

Up to a certain amount, increases in the minimum wage serve to drop poverty rates faster than they reduce employment. It’s not a perfect solution, but most of the best academic economic arguments support an increase in the current national minimum wage. There’s certainly room to quibble at the margins, but on the whole, $15 an hour (or thereabouts) will be a net positive for the nation.

The economic argument against $15 an hour has flaws, but it’s often made in good faith. And there have been a few studies that have indicated problems with a significant wage increase, even if they represent a minority.

The real problem is the second argument. It’s the moral one, and the one that my 2014 piece mostly addresses. It’s more commonly found in social media memes and Fox News shows, than from academics and economists, and is annoyingly pervasive.

I’ve seen a few versions of it, but it usually amounts to something like, “In my town, teachers/EMTS/firefighters/other noble professions only start out at $14.75 an hour. Why should a cashier or burger-flipper make more than that?”

The argument tends to lean into the idea that some jobs shouldn’t be worth a living wage, and are only for teenagers, or college kids working summer job, and they represent a failure of the employee to find something better.

I discussed the idea that only kids and part-timers work minimum wage jobs back in my last piece on this topic. The abridged answer is that it’s just not true. Fast food and retail jobs earning under $15 per hour (often under $10!) are now more commonly held by household breadwinners and single parents than in the past, and the vast majority aren’t teenagers. Not anymore. The economy of the Reagan economic era has gradually squeezed out many of the old union industrial jobs, high paid vocational positions, and other such staples of American success in the post-war years. For many people, Burger King is the best they can get right now. Do they deserve to suffer for that?

The moral argument against a higher minimum wage makes a handful of serious errors:

  1. To start, it often serves to pit poor people against each other. Telling people at one low paying job they should make less than someone else at a different low-paying job is divisive and unproductive. It’s a way to shift the class war to the poor, keeping it internal, and focused away from those with actual power.
  2. The argument that there are some jobs that are inherently less valuable should have been shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic, when we learned just how important grocery store cashiers and take-out restaurant workers can be. It’s an impressive feat of moral gymnastics to call someone stocking shelves at Safeway a hero, then turn around and tell them they’re selfish to want to earn more than ten bucks an hour.
  3. The argument complaining that “fast food workers will be paid the same as teachers” completely misses the obvious point that teachers (and all the other jobs presented as superior) are currently greatly underpaid, and raising the wages of fast food workers wouldn’t devalue teachers. Instead, we should push to make sure teachers are paid what they’re worth. This should not reflect at all on the wages of others. It’s particularly ghoulish to argue that because one profession is underpaid, everybody should be underpaid.

To be clear, most people with a substantially wide media reach who are pushing against $15 an hour are making economic arguments. Many of these are garbage, but as I mentioned above, they aren’t all worthless points.

My primary concern are those individuals who appear to take the concept of a minimum wage increase as a personal attack. People who believe that those working 60 hours a week at multiple minimum wage jobs are less worthy of a comfortable life than someone who works a more prestigious job.

If that Safeway cashier suddenly starts making an extra five dollars an hour, after more than a decade of largely stagnant wages, it doesn’t mean that a rookie firefighter or a teacher, or an EMT is now less-valued. It will probably lead to an eventual raise for them, instead. “A rising tide lifts all boats” didn’t work for trickle-down economics, but it makes a lot more sense for wages. Studies of increases in places like Seattle have tended to bear this out.

But it also means that we are starting to understand that value has less to do with what job someone holds, and more to do with the humanity of the individual. Working a minimum wage job isn’t a moral failing for the employee. Instead, we should consider why we believe their profession makes them less valuable to society.

Posted in Economics, Politics, Rant, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Victory Is Just Step One

Flags line the National Mall in between the Capitol Building and the Washington Memorial during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

Hey! It’s a new year! In the United States, we have a new President, new leadership in the Senate, and new prospects for actually improving the lives of Americans.

And since its a new year, its time for me to keep up a personal tradition, and lecture my fellow white folks once more. Alas, its sometimes necessary. I’ll try to keep this brief and to the point.

This is directed more toward center-to-left leaning individuals who are glad to be rid of Trump, than toward those of whom I will be unlikely to ever persuade.

Ahem, here goes.

People of color, particularly Black voters (even moreso Black women) saved this country from itself.

To my fellow white people, it’s important we understand and appreciate this fact. From organizing in the Democratic primaries, to turnout in the general election, to flipping the Senate in Georgia just a few weeks ago, Black voters, organizers, and activists carried this election season on their backs.

This is important.

But what is also important, my fellow white folks, is that we don’t take this monumental effort for granted. We need to avoid tokenism and lazy tropes. And we also need to do more than wipe our hands, proclaim the work done, and move on. Quite a few well-meaning white folks did that after Obama was elected, and we ended up letting a vicious white backlash fester and grow. And look what happened.

It’s not just about Biden, his administration, or Congress. They’re gonna get some good stuff done – maybe more than some of us realize. They’ll also frustrate us. And they’ll certainly be thwarted at times by Republicans in Congress and in the courts.

But getting people elected is only one step. Politically active white people need to show our appreciation and respect by actually helping to build the world that Black and Brown folks have been working for. Tearing down systemic white supremacy will take more than legislation. It will require actual effort by those who benefit from it.

It’s a sad truth that white people are far more likely to listen to other white people when talking racism. So, here I am, trying to address other white folks. We need to hold each other accountable.

We need to speak up when we see injustice, regardless of the scale.

We need to fight for equal opportunity with hiring.

We must be fair as lenders and landlords.

We should frequent businesses owned by people of color.

We need to check ourselves and consider our own biases and assumptions.

We have to push back against the growing threat of white nationalism.

We need to think twice about contacting law enforcement, and be willing to confront those who do without cause.

We have to be willing to acknowledge our own advantages, and use them to help others.

We need to be willing to be allies, but avoid centering ourselves. We can offer assistance without trying to be a savior.

And most importantly, as white people, we need to listen, and resist the urge to be defensive. If someone is offended, or scared, or angered by something we do, its important to not immediately fight against it. It’s important to listen.

Us white folks (even moreso – straight white cis men) have long considered ourselves the default American. When you see yourself as the primary representative of a whole, its easier to ignore the trials of those who don’t look or sound or act like you do. In order for people of color to actually receive the justice and equity they deserve as people, my fellow white citizens need to be willing to stop thinking of ourselves and our experiences as the default. Maybe there is no default. This nation is too big and diverse and interesting for that.

Yeah, Black voters, activists, and politicians opened the door for progressive reforms in 2021. And we should be grateful. But let’s make sure to not prop up this achievement without doing our part to ensure their efforts were not in vain. The elections of Joe Biden and the Democratic Congress will certainly help improve the lives of a lot of Americans, including Black and Brown Americans. But I worry that the resentment and denial internalized by so many white folks will come back with a vengeance. In some places, it already has. We need to push against this vigorously.

It’s not enough to thank those who got us past the Trump era.

We have to help them rebuild a new era that looks less like the last one, and more like one where we all have the same chance to prosper.

By all means, tell Stacey Abrams what a badass she is. But then look into the work she actually does, and see what you can do to help.

Posted in Civil Rights, Governance, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Do We Want To Be?

Bears Ears National Monument – US Bureau of Land Management, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Today we decide what we are as a nation. Actually, many of us have already decided, but today is the official day of decision.

The reasons why and how we’ve gotten to this point are numerous. At some point, I plan to write a breakdown of the recent history of asymmetric political polarization, as well as the history of the Reagan Era of American politics. But for the moment, it’s sufficient to say that we have reached what can be a turning point in our history. Do we turn toward fear, and anger, and authoritarianism? Or do we reject those traits, and focus on rebuilding our institutions, and reforming what’s broken?

Writing a comprehensive accounting of Donald Trump’s misdeeds over the past four years would be… daunting. Although others have kept a running tally. Going into the 2016 election, I wrote more than 8,000 words cataloging all the reasons I believed Trump should not be elected. I stand by what I wrote, even if it was eventually futile. Even simply recalling and recording history can help provide a guide for the future.

So with that in mind, I want to provide, for the record, a few of the reasons why we need to remove Donald Trump and the Senate Republican majority. I sometimes see Trump defenders demand to be given examples of malfeasance and criminality. Of course, when these are provided, the usual response is “fake news,” or some such blanket denial. But there are those who may be impacted by such a list, especially people who aren’t politically aware, or who might be unsure about the alternative. I think it’s still worthwhile, even if it’s, as I just noted, merely for the record.

It’s also worth noting that everything I list here would be noticeably better under a Joe Biden administration, and in many cases, wouldn’t be an issue at all. Will Biden be some sort of Lincolnesque, transformational hero? Probably not. But we can’t turn things around under the current course, and Biden clearly understands that. I choose to not let perfect be the enemy of… tolerable, or even the pretty good. Pushing Biden in more progressive directions is great, but it’s step two. We need to get through step one, first. Biden is the viable alternative, and that’s that. Accelerationists can suck it.

So, why precisely do I want Trump and the Republicans voted out of office? Let me count the ways:

To start, a vote for Trump is an endorsement of forcibly abducting the children of refugees, and torturing them for months or more in concentration camps.

A vote for Republicans is a vote for the person who told the nation not to worry about the coronavirus, but privately admitted that it’s far more dangerous than many knew.

Voting for Trump is acknowledging that he did virtually nothing to control the virus, and is responsible for a significant percentage of the nearly quarter million American deaths (as of Election Day 2020), and hundreds of thousands of ill people – many of whom will suffer long-term effects.

Trump placated and even outright supported dictators around the world, while intentionally damaging relationships with democratic nations.

He lies about everything. Yeah, politicians lie, we’re told. This is a bit exaggerated, but fine, I get why that’s largely shrugged at. But Trump lies in ways that would make Nixon blush. In terms of public statements, we may never have had such an untrustworthy president. I shouldn’t have to explain what’s wrong with that.

Voting for Trump means dissent is in danger. He genuinely believes those who oppose him should be punished for that opposition. With a second term, don’t be surprised if he removes all checks on his authoritarian impulses, and actually starts arresting political opponents. He definitely thinks he can.

He got himself impeached by trying to extort another country into helping him attack a political rival. And then, even after being impeached for this crime, he sent his lackeys out to do it again during the final stretch of the election!

Trump and his party have repeatedly tried to end the first serious attempt at universal health care in America, and have offered zero replacement. If he succeeds in a second term, millions of Americans will find themselves without any healthcare.

The Trump businesses and family have worked to enrich themselves using the powers of the office. They have made money at the taxpayer’s expense, have used the foreign policy apparatus to make deals, and have violated plenty of anti-corruption laws.

Trump supported those who murdered a journalist.

A vote for Trump means supporting the man who sent federal troops to a city where they attacked and arrested random people on the street. It means supporting the man who had protesters tear-gassed so he could have a brief photo-op in front of a church.

Supporting Trump means supporting a man who ordered his closest advisor into committing campaign finance crimes that sent him to prison.

A vote for Trump is a vote for the man who couldn’t bring himself to explicitly denounce white supremacists whenever they committed atrocities.

Voting Trump means voting for at least 10 counts of obstruction of justice while attempting to stymie the investigation into potential conspiracy with Russia over illegally manipulating the 2016 election.

Oh yeah, and unredacted memos point to “collusion” actually having occurred. So, a vote for Trump basically is a vote for Vladimir Putin. Cool, cool, cool…

A vote for Trump is a vote for incompetence. Many positions required to actually run a government have remained unfilled, and most of those that have been filled were by his friends and family, almost all of whom were grossly unqualified.

Voting for Trump means voting to repeal SNAP food assistance for millions of Americans.

Voting for Trump means supporting significant cuts to national parks and monuments, many of which are being opened up for mining and oil exploration.

Trump support is support for giving up on combating climate change, which is certainly real, and certainly going to drastically harm our lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren if left unchecked.

There’s so much more to list, but this is a good start. If you look through all this and think, “this isn’t so bad,” then I guess you should vote for Trump. But if you have a shred of empathy for your fellow humans, and you want to live in a world that doesn’t resemble Mad Max, I would highly recommend supporting Joe Biden. It’s not that Joe is that great, it’s that Trump is that bad.

Biden will be better than progressives believe, and Democratic policies will help all Americans, including those that didn’t support him.

Good enough for me.

Posted in Civil Rights, Economics, environment, foreign policy, Governance, Healthcare, History, immigration, Infrastructure, Law Enforcement, Media, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Stakes

Alberto Giuliani, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, Republican senators rammed through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Barrett is a grossly unqualified ideologue, and is all but certain to be the deciding vote on a number of cases which will greatly restrict women’s rights and voting rights, and will damage the healthcare options for millions of Americans.

For anybody who cares about representative democracy, this is certainly a huge setback.  Even if Democrats take the White House and the Senate next week, progressive reforms will almost certainly be consistently overturned by the new Supreme Court, barring significant judicial reform.

It is of course reasonable to observe the fact that the Republicans who jammed through this appointment stomped all over their own fictional norms from four years ago, when they invented precedent to block a vote on President Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee. But the Republican Party is unmoved by accurate observations of their rank hypocrisy. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proven over and over, hypocrisy is only effective in an environment where shame and decency exists. And any party that cheerfully supports forced separation of refugee families, unconstitutional bans on religious minorities, federal assault of peaceful civilians, denial of the existential long term threat of the 21st century, and intentionally lying to the public about the deadliness of a pandemic, is incapable of decency. These are hypocrisy-proof people. 

And it’s true that the real reason this confirmation occurred so rapidly is because the GOP knows Trump’s reelection chances are in danger, as is their Senate majority. They almost certainly hope for a situation where the new extremist version of the Supreme Court can overturn a Biden electoral victory. But barring that, they hope to cripple a Biden administration, and prevent it from pulling the nation out of the pandemic and recession. 

These are all important points. But the thing I want you to remember most of all is this; the Republican Party forced a Supreme Court appointment in blatant opposition to the will of the American people (and against their own recent precedent) instead of passing stimulus to help millions of Americans out of work due to the coronavirus. The Senate was provided a comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill by the House 166 days ago. They have refused to consider it. They have even refused to consider a feeble counter offer from the White House. The Republican Senate has worked dozens of times harder to ensure that Americans can’t vote, than to provide them relief from a virus their own party has grossly mismanaged. 

It’s not possible to provide the exact number of deaths Republican inaction has caused, but it’s plausible to think at least half of the 226,000 dead (and counting) would still be alive if we had a federal government that took COVID seriously.

But what they actually take seriously is maintaining power, no matter what polls and elections demand. Helping people, especially those that didn’t vote for them, is not part of the equation.

There are plenty of Americans who completely support the Republican agenda. It’s not close to a majority, but it is a large enough number to win elections where voter participation is low, and where individual states are competitive enough to allow institutional voter suppression to make up the difference. There are enough of these people to give the Republicans a significant built-in advantage in the Electoral College.

So, we need to take this seriously, and think about the actual stakes of this election. The Trump administration has recently admitted that they don’t believe it’s possible to control the virus. They’ve given up even trying, if they ever had tried in the first place. Given a second term, Donald Trump is going to allow several hundred thousand more Americans to die. He’s going to continue to deny the impact of climate change, and we are going to dig ourselves a deeper and deeper hole in the fight to combat global warming. He’s going to continue using inhumane policies to actively hurt immigrants, protesters, and the citizens of any Democratic-leaning state.

Things are going to get worse.

I’m not going to go down a list of the strengths and flaws of Joe Biden, or of Democratic Senate candidates. It’s not necessary. They aren’t Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, or Lindsay Graham. They have actual plans to address the most serious issues of our time. One can quibble with the details, but they have something. Donald Trump’s official list of 2nd term priorities doesn’t even mention managing COVID-19, or providing relief to those impacted by it! He doesn’t care! Neither does your Republican Senator. Any of them. If they cared, they would have worked out another COVID relief bill to protect workers and small businesses, rather than make sure an unqualified bigot got to sit in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat soon enough to help throw out votes in Wisconsin.

You don’t think Democrats are progressive enough? Fine, sometimes I agree with that.  You don’t think Joe Biden truly understands America’s problems? I don’t entirely agree, but I understand why someone would think that. But those are problems that can be addressed. Those are people who can (and have) respond to public pressure. The other side has made it clear they’re happy to rule in perpetuity without approval from popular majorities. Your pressure will mean nothing to them.

We need to get mad. And we need to get focused. We elect a new government in just a few days. If we don’t do this right, it may be a long time before we can have a real shot at change again.

We need to take this election seriously. If you haven’t voted yet, please do as soon as you can. If you know anybody who isn’t going to vote, talk to them. Make sure they understand the stakes. Make sure they understand why the current Republican Party cannot and should not maintain power any longer. If the GOP hold the Senate and the White House after next week, they aren’t going to address unemployment expansion or financial relief. They won’t push measures that reduce infections. They won’t do a thing about disasters that befall Democratic states. They’ll continue to ignore the effects of climate change. They’ll do their best to overturn the rest of the Voting Rights Act, Roe v Wade, and Obergefell. They’ll continue to add people like Amy Coney Barrett to the court system. And the next time we have an election, it may be impossible to beat them.

If you care about any of this, then it’s your duty to vote to prevent it. We’ll need to swamp them with more votes than they can throw out. We need to break the back of the Republican Party. It sounds hyperbolic, but our lives may actually depend on it.

Posted in Civil Rights, Economics, environment, Governance, Healthcare, Media, Politics, Rant, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Conversation with White Folks

Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA - Justice for Jamar Response Action

Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA – Justice for Jamar Response Action

Hey, white people! What’s our problem? Why have we broken society so badly?

There’s no other way to put it. This mess is all white people’s fault. And yeah, that has to include me, too. We’re all complicit.

What exactly am I talking about? Well, let’s run down the events of the last couple months or so, at least as of this writing.

Back in March, Louisville, Kentucky police kicked in the door of EMT and nursing student Breonna Taylor with no warning, and no announcement. Her boyfriend was understandably scared, and shot at what he assumed were home invaders. The police returned fire, killing Taylor. The drugs they bashed the door in to find belonged to someone who had already been arrested, and as a result, a young black woman died because of this mistake. The FBI has opened an investigation, but as of this writing, none of the police officers involved have faced charges.

About four weeks ago, cell phone video footage was released that showed a young black man named Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down in a suburban street in Georgia by two white men. This incident actually occurred on February 23, but the assailants weren’t arrested or charged until the video filmed by a third man came to light.

On May 25, cell phone footage circulated social media (and then regular media) of a white woman in Central Park in New York ranting at the black man filming her, threatening to call the police, and then actually doing so, while loudly and intentionally making sure to reference the man’s race. She made it clear she was hoping that the police would treat him harshly. It turned out her dangerous tantrum was a response to his mild request that she leash her loose dog.

On the same day, George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, was killed by police while he was being detained. The officer who killed him knelt on his neck for several minutes while he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, and continued to choke him for several more minutes even after he lost consciousness. This killing was somewhat reminiscent of the 2014 killing of Eric Garner in New York. Garner was also choked by police until he died, all while pleading for his life.

In response to these incidents, there have been many demonstrations and protests across the United States. Some have been peaceful, others more violent. Police have been accused of exacerbating and even starting the violence in some of these situations. Tensions are high, made even worse by the current COVID-19 pandemic. The current leadership in the White House has not been helpful, with the President tweeting his anger at protesters while ignoring the reasons for the protests.

So, what exactly is going on?

Well, the long explanation for these issues is complicated, and systemic, and difficult to simplify.

But the truth is that it mostly boils down to the persistent white supremacy that continues to plague our nation.

Violence directed at people of color is nothing new in the United States, and at times, such violence leads to mass protest. But the current wave of demonstrations is bigger and more sustained than any in recent memory. It seems like, just possibly, that last straw finally landed on the camel.

Initially, I was going to write about both racism and police policies. And as I wrote, I realized that while the need for reforming American police forces is urgent, and does intertwine heavily with issues of race, it’s also a bigger topic that deserves more words than I can fit into a readable piece here. I will get to it. For now, however, I want to talk primarily about racism in America.

But when I talk about racism, I mean that I need to talk to white people, specifically in the United States. I’m aware that racism exists across the globe, and different countries have different kinds of problems. But the kind of racial strife I can speak about is here in my home country. And I can say it’s been a problem since… well, before the beginning. Racism is built into the fabric of this nation. Colonial expansion, native extermination and forced relocation, slavery, Jim Crow… the list is endless. I’m not going to delve too much into history.

I am going to make a plea though. Specifically to my fellow white folks.

I need to ask you all something.

Are you tired of this? Are you tired of protests, of anger, of riots, of constant political debates, of accusations of racism, of the fact that this kind of thing keeps happening on a large scale every few years? Are you bothered by the unrest?

Good. I am, too.

But how do we make it stop? Well, we first need to acknowledge why this stuff keeps occurring. That tends to go missing from white criticisms of these demonstrations. I can say that it’s clearly not because of crime, outside agitators (even if they can occasionally assist), or people of color “playing the race card.”


You ever notice when someone you know keeps complaining about their relationship problems, and over and over they say the fault with the chaos in their lives is other people? Their ex is always crazy, their friend screwed them over, their boss just doesn’t understand, and so on and so on. But their friends – outside observers – can see it clearly. If everyone is always mad at a person, and has the same complaints about them, it may just be that the problem is that person.

Same goes with racial injustice. People of color aren’t just “playing the race card.” They aren’t kneeling, or marching, or striking, or fighting every damn day because they’re the ones screwing up. These things don’t keep happening due to bad luck or bad behavior on the part of the victims. Cities are currently being torn apart (during the worst pandemic in at least 50 years, no less) because of white supremacy. It’s because of the actions (and inactions) of white people.

And the most upsetting part is that the people to blame CAN fix this.

White people, please listen.

Black Lives Matter didn’t form because white lives don’t. It formed because those in power – almost always white – haven’t been treating black lives as equal to white ones. The Los Angeles riots in 1992 didn’t occur because of some inherent criminality of black people. Philadelphia police didn’t bomb an entire city block in 1985 as a reasonable measure to counteract criminal activity.

Nothing is happening in a vacuum. Unrest doesn’t occur for fun, or because people just can’t help themselves. Folks are angry, scared, and tired of being treated like second-class citizens. People can only take injustice for so long.

Yeah, it’s true that legal prohibitions against racial discrimination have existed nationally for decades. Defenders of the status quo love to bring that up. “Show me what laws currently in force discriminate against black folks,” is a question I’ve been asked repeatedly by white bigots. That argument assumes that all it takes to make up for 400 years of oppression is a handful of laws (enforced mostly by white people). In the eyes of these people, the Civil Rights Act was the final step, and now any progress is entirely up to the oppressed to figure out, and that those in power have already acquiesced to share power equally.

But that’s not how it’s worked. Legally ending Jim Crow hasn’t stopped other kinds of discrimination and even outright oppression from occurring. Those with the most power don’t need explicit laws to keep themselves in power. They simply need those who look like themselves (powerful and not), to help support the status quo. Police, elected officials, business owners – these groups all contribute to systemic racism. But they wouldn’t be able to if they didn’t have implicit support from “ordinary citizens.” And most of these “ordinary folks” are… drum roll please… white folks.

I get it. I really do. You don’t think of yourself as racist. You don’t actively seek to harm people of color. You think Martin Luther King was a cool guy. You may have voted for Obama. You have a black friend. Maybe even two.

But black Americans are still suffering. And you, me, and the rest of us need to do a lot more than not hate them for who they are. “Not being racist” by itself is passive. It’s not enough. It doesn’t prevent police from pulling black drivers over more often than white ones. It doesn’t prevent the court system from handing down significantly harsher sentences for the same crimes. It doesn’t keep landlords, realtors, lenders, and employers from requiring far more from black and brown applicants than from white ones.

If you really don’t consider yourself a racist, then you need to care about these issues.

It’s not enough to not be terrible to people of color.

We (as in my fellow white folks) have to hold each other accountable. We need to focus our political, economic, and social power on those of us running society’s institutions. We have to be the ones to demand better.

Instead of being mad at “riots” and “looters,” be upset at the system that drove folks to this level of unrest.

My fellow white folks, we can absolutely make these problems better. But it won’t always be easy. We have to be ready to feel uncomfortable. We need to be prepared to be called out, and called to task for our own complicity in a biased system. We need to know when to shut our mouths and listen. We need to understand that our position as the “default” American is unsustainable. We need to learn to share.

Support businesses owned by people of color. Donate to civil rights organizations. Vote for candidates – particularly POC candidates – who run for office on an anti-racist platform. Volunteer for their campaigns. Write letters.

But even more than that, you need to focus on your fellow white folks. Don’t try to place yourself in the center of anti-racist movements. Black and brown folks don’t need us to tell them about racism. They already know. But we can work on ourselves. We have to be willing to call out racist language and behavior when we see it. That includes our friends, coworkers, our weird uncle, and even the loud dude on the bus. We have to be willing to take a stand.

I’m not saying start fist fights. Escalation can be tricky, and sometimes it can be a risk to speak up to those you don’t know. But we definitely need to start saying something, when we can. We need to make it socially, politically, and economically intolerable to be racist in our society. Us white folks have that ability, if we want it. We just have to be willing to stand up against other white people. We have to be uncomfortable, and make others uncomfortable. We have to put in the work.

We also need to be able to step aside when needed, and not make this about us. We shouldn’t jump front and center in the anti-racist struggle when we’re working with people of color. By all means, volunteer to help, and step forward when asked. But we first need to be most active and assertive with each other. Posting on social media, or writing long-winded blog posts like this are fine, but generally require minimal sacrifice. The real challenge is to be willing to disrupt our own social circles, and our own lives.

There are tons of good resources for what white folks can do to help fight against racism. Please check out these links here, here, and here, for actions we can take now.

But the fight starts with ourselves. If we want to make this a more equitable world, we need to stick our own necks out, and push back against the worst in our own circles.

Posted in Governance, Law Enforcement, Media, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Skewed Endorsement

Shortly after the 2016 election, I put together a list of possible Democratic contenders for the 2020 election. Obviously, it was still quite premature at that point to speculate on who would challenge Donald Trump when he hadn’t even yet been inaugurated. Nonetheless, it was a fun and somewhat comforting exercise.

More than three years later, we have arrived at the Iowa caucus, and the race has been running in earnest for the past year.

My original plan was to write out lengthy profiles of every single Democratic primary candidate, providing commentary, my own personal pros and cons, and an overall assessment. The problem was that twenty-nine of these maniacs eventually announced their candidacy for the nomination. And I really only seriously considered around a half dozen of them. After a few weeks of tinkering, I found myself slogging past the 4,000 word mark, and I had only written parts of about eight profiles. My lack of brevity, combined with the glut of available information conspired to make my original plan… unrealistic.

In the end, I found myself wanting to concentrate on explaining why my favorite of the bunch is the best choice for the nomination, and would make the best president. Some of the others deserve mention, and one in particular will feature prominently as a point of comparison. But in the end, this is about one candidate.

Late in 2018 through the spring of 2019, my personal front runner shifted frequently as new candidates waded into the fray. I did my best to keep an open mind, rationalizing there was plenty of time to make a decision. Over the next year, twenty-nine “major” candidates announced their campaigns for the Democratic nomination, and as of this writing (2/3/20), 17 have dropped out.

Update (2/17/20): 21 have now dropped out, leaving 8 still in the race, just before the Nevada caucus. 

The candidates varied widely in experience, ideology, and seriousness. Some seemed interesting at first, then less so as I learned about them. At different points throughout the first half of 2019, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Jay Inslee, and Kirsten Gillibrand all jumped to the top of my consideration, and then dropped back down.

Even as I learned more about each candidate, one in particular stood out as the most consistently impressive to me.

Elizabeth Warren not only has the most comprehensive policy positions (and the best ones in my view), but she also has by far the most thoughtful notions on what it will take to implement her policies. She’s given a great deal of thought to the structure of our government, what reforms are currently possible, and what needs to be done to ensure policy can be made. Many candidates have good ideas of what we should do. Relatively few have articulated how we should do it.

Before becoming a senator, Warren was tasked with putting together the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal agency she had championed for years. It’s no small feat to conceive of an entire federal agency as a private citizen, and not only see it successfully created, but be the person who actually made it happen. The process of creating the CFPB was painful and acrimonious, and made her enemies in both parties. But she did it. No other candidate in the 2020 race can say they’ve actually organized and constructed any of the bureaus or policies they propose. The ability to understand the process of enacting meaningful change can be the difference between an ineffective leader and a transformational one.

The centerpiece of Senator Warren’s campaign has been her overarching anti-corruption policy. This amounts to a large number of sweeping reforms designed to reduce the impact of corruption in government, business, and most importantly, where the two intersect. She has effectively made the argument that progressive policies are difficult to pass, and even moreso to enforce, when the systems tasked with implementing them are operating in bad faith.

Her experience with the CFPB (along with much of her prior academic work) has made her uniquely suited to understanding the regulatory process, how money and power influence governance, and what is necessary to reform the systems.

Her anti-corruption agenda includes numerous policy proposals, including more effectively regulating defense procurement, new antitrust policy, an “economic patriotism” plan, and so many more. But it’s not just corruption. Child care, student debt, private prisons, climate change; every policy is aggressive and well thought out.

Compared to her competitors, she has the most comprehensive agenda for creating serious, progressive change in the United States. Her vaunted (and occasionally mocked) “plans” aren’t just a gimmick. She knows how governments operate, she knows what needs to be repaired, and she understands how to do it.

I liked Julian Castro’s commitment to racial justice and opportunity for immigrants.

I appreciated Jay Inslee’s laser focus on climate change.

I thought Cory Booker’s own policy proposals were unique and worth strong consideration.

I believed Kamala Harris had a toughness lacking in most of her opponents, and showed a willingness to learn and grow.

Eric Swalwell and Beto O’Rourke both meaningfully shifted the discussion on firearms proliferation in the US.

All of these candidates brought important ideas to the race, and each are impressive in their own way.

But none of them could match Warren.

There is one candidate who I haven’t yet addressed.

I supported him in the 2016 primary, and have followed his career with great interest since the late 1990s.

The elephant in the room (or should I say donkey?) is her nearest ideological match in the race – Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. To many of his supporters, he represents a purer and clearer version of Warren. She is seen by many as basically “Bernie-lite.” Some in the Sanders camp view her even less charitably, seeing her verbal commitment to capitalism and her party affiliation from thirty years ago as a sign of untrustworthiness.

On the surface, Bernie Sanders presents a similar policy agenda to Warren. There are a few areas where he certainly tacks harder to the left than she, although there are certainly a few that go the other way, too. But he also presents a unique philosophical viewpoint that entrances many. He isn’t nearly as far left as many of his most vocal fans, but to them, he represents the best possible step in the direction they want to see.

I used to feel the same way.

Let me backtrack slightly.

I turned 18 in the summer of 2000, and registered to vote within days of my birthday. I had supported Bill Bradley’s primary campaign, but I was a couple months too young to get to vote for him. In 2004, I was an enthusiastic Howard Dean supporter, though he was mostly out of it by the time Missouri voted. In 2008, I supported Obama from the start (although I had hoped Al Gore might jump in the race). In 2016, I went all-in for Bernie Sanders.

Clearly, my record of supporting the eventual nominee is not particularly strong. But I generally pulled for the person I viewed as the most progressive voice in the race. I have always advocated for fundamental changes to the way this nation is governed, and I’ve been drawn to candidates who could best articulate my own (admittedly inconsistent) ideological vision.

That said, I also have a pragmatic streak. I have never believed half-measures are worthless. Sometimes, compromise is necessary, especially when attempting to balance the wants and needs of 330 million people. There will always be people who don’t agree. Ideally, we win them to our side, or at least help them despite themselves – but we can’t pretend they don’t exist.

When Bernie ran in 2016, I was initially excited. I thought that for once, a candidate was clearly elucidating the real problems in America, and was managing to convince a large percentage of people that words like “socialism” may not be that scary.

I had a faint, probably naïve, hope that Sanders might even represent the beginning of the end of the Reagan political/economic era; the quasi-libertarian corporatist cult that has amounted to the dominant American ideology since around the 1976 Republican Convention, and only slightly softened by the Democratic presidents serving during the era.

Then he lost, and I found myself constantly arguing with people who struggled with that loss, even to the point of inventing conspiracy theories and refusing to support the “half-measure” that would still result in progress. Hillary Clinton was easily the best realistic option for America after July of 2016, and many refused to accept that.

I don’t think that bitter Bernie Bros are the sole reason she isn’t president now, but they didn’t help, either. And Donald Trump has been, well… look around. Check out the Supreme Court, and what will happen there over the next few years.

Sometimes we don’t always get what we want. And sometimes we have to compromise to get even some of what we want.

It’s now 2020. And Bernie is back. But now, so is someone ideologically close(ish) to him, who also possesses the experience and knowledge to make that ideology effective.

But we can’t talk about supporting Warren in 2020 without explaining why I believe she is a better choice than Sanders. So let me go ahead and just get this out of the way.

One of the issues with comparing these candidates is how people (myself sometimes included) tend to conflate policy and philosophy. If one just grabs a list of policy positions, simplifies them enough to fit checkboxes on a spreadsheet, and then lines up all the candidates, one would find most of them match 85 percent or more across the board. Bernie Sanders fans roll their eyes (or yell on Twitter) when someone points out that Bernie and Elizabeth Warren match up on most commonly recognized policy positions. The thing is, on the surface, they clearly do.

In 2016, Bernie and Hillary Clinton matched up on 85ish percent of the media-discussed issues. Maybe more. Hell, it’s easy to cherry pick a large swath of positions and demonstrate for any particular argument that say… Kamala Harris, or Kirsten Gillibrand sit comfortably to Bernie’s left.

The counter to the policy comparison point is twofold. For one, there is a lot of nuance beyond the checkbox. Partisans of individual candidates will happily point to their person “getting there first,” when it’s noted that two candidates hold identical views on a particular topic. And in many cases, one candidate wants to take a position farther than the other, or to a different degree. But more importantly (and yes, we’re mostly talking Bernie here), is the philosophical comparison.

Warren and Sanders end up at a lot of the same conclusions in terms of what they want to see from government policy. But how they get there matters a great deal to many. Bernie and Elizabeth see the world in largely different ways. Both are concerned about the inequality, oppression, and exploitation of the poor and middle classes by the wealthy. But to Bernie, it’s an indictment of an entire economic system, political system, and even worldview. To Warren, it’s a sign of wayward political decisions, that can be remedied by better political decisions.

She isn’t less serious about the problems than Bernie, and she (largely) wants to prescribe similar fixes. But she doesn’t see the need for a new economic framework to arrive at the required fixes, the way Bernie does.

Are Sanders and Warren on the same page? Well, yes. And also no. The practical results of their preferred policies may not end up looking all that different. But the ride to get there will.

I would also like to note to those who occupy the left end of the party with me, or even those further left – the kind that sneer at liberals as hard as the right does – the entire Democratic Party has shifted pretty hard in your direction on a great number of issues. Some of the leftward movement started during President Obama’s second term, a decent amount of it can be credited to the relative electoral success of Bernie Sanders in 2016, and some is probably a reaction to the current state of the US government. Regardless as to the reason(s), however, the shift is real, and significant.

My favorite examples are the healthcare plans of the current primary candidates.

In 2009, the left half of the Democratic Party was fighting tooth and nail with the centrists just to include a public option in an otherwise center-right, market-based healthcare program. The bones of the ACA originated from the Heritage Foundation in the early 90s, and was somewhat successfully implemented by Mitt Romney in the 2000s, in Massachusetts. And the mere suggestion of adding a fairly small public option was enough to sink the bill entirely.

And this was almost entirely a debate just within the Democratic Party, as the Republicans repeatedly refused to even breathe near these debates, so they could better weaponize the program for the 2010 midterms.

Now, in 2020, among Democratic primary front-runners, the most “moderate” plans go leaps and bounds beyond the Affordable Care Act, and would have been swiftly rejected by even the ideological middle of the party a decade before. Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke (before he dropped out) have both taken up lanes repeatedly described as “centrist” on healthcare, yet both propose public options vastly more robust than what Max Baucus shot down ten years ago.

The positions taken by Sanders and Warren today would have been treated as laughable by most, taken about as seriously as Dennis Kucinich was in 2008.

Democrats have changed, largely for the better. And the progressive wing of the party not only has more power and influence than it used to, but it has more than one serious presidential candidate.

I’m bullish on Warren over Bernie because it appears she has a better understanding of what it takes to successfully implement progressive policies. She has accurately noted the way the Republican party has gamed the system. Gerrymandering, the Senate, the Electoral College, the courts – the GOP is currently set to rule from a minority position for years to come. It would take significant majorities just to win the White House and the Senate, and even then, Trump’s success at appointing judges ensures legislative difficulty for Democrats for a generation.

Medicare-for-All is not going to happen under our current government. It won’t happen with a Sanders administration and a 51-49 Democratic Senate. It won’t happen, especially as long as Bernie remains resistant to institutional reforms, particularly eliminating the filibuster, which allow political minorities to maintain strangleholds on power, despite their lack of popular mandate. Conservatives decry “the tyranny of the majority,” but it comes across as a bad faith argument when they consistently operate via tyranny of the minority.

Ezra Klein recently made an excellent point about this, noting, “You have to make the system governable before you can govern.”

Among all of the Democratic candidates, the only ones who have shown a strong commitment to pushing for serious structural change within the mechanisms of legislation have been Senator Warren, Governor Inslee, and Mayor Buttigieg.

Although, I should note when Mayor Pete was routinely talking about topics like the Electoral College, the setup of the Supreme Court, and the filibuster, he was still running in a largely adjacent lane to Warren, and has since shifted pretty blatantly back toward the political center.

Our current political system clearly favors the Republican Party. The Electoral College provides much greater weight to smaller, generally more conservative states, as does the Senate. Thanks largely to the Electoral College, the Republicans have been able to greatly tilt the partisan lean of the courts at every level in their favor. Thanks in part to House apportionment created in tandem with the Electoral College, the Republicans have had free rein to manipulate the shape of Congressional districts to make it easier for them to win. Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, and have won a disproportionate percentage of the national popular vote in recent Congressional elections, too. But those popular mandates simply don’t translate to political majorities. This antidemocratic flaw will not improve as long as candidates don’t make it a priority,

Not only will it be an uphill battle for a Democrat to win the White House, but keeping it, and then successfully implementing policy will be even more difficult. A Democratic President will have to understand the system working against them, and will need to be able to lead the party, keeping the House, and winning the Senate. It’s going to take someone who can be a team player, and a coalition builder. It’s going to take someone who is willing to give something in order to get something. Someone who can play the game. This is an area where I trust Warren more.

One of Bernie’s selling points, according to his supporters, is his unwavering worldview. He hasn’t changed his mind on anything in 50 years, we hear.

Well, that’s not technically true, but those same supporters tend to wave away the issues where Sanders has evolved. Bernie has definitely shifted leftward on law and order, on immigration, and on guns. Now, I don’t consider his shift on certain policies to be a negative thing. And I don’t think a lack of ideological movement is a virtue. Much has been made of Warren’s shift from generally uninvolved moderate Republican to liberal populist, but even when she was a “Republican,” there’s some evidence her politics and even voting record were more complicated than that.

I’m more impressed with someone who is willing to change their mind when confronted with new information, than with someone who is convinced they’ve always been right, no matter the evidence.

Regardless, Warren hasn’t exactly changed her stances overnight, and Sanders hasn’t been entirely steadfast in his principals, either. And neither truth should be disqualifying. But it does highlight a degree of hypocrisy among those castigating candidates for past positions, while making excuses for their own.

But there’s more to it than where he has and hasn’t changed. His class-focused philosophy has created certain blind spots that deserve deeper analysis.

Senator Sanders has made it clear he believes that ethnic, racial, gender, and orientation-based disparities don’t require nearly as much significant special attention as economic issues.

While he has made strides in this race (especially compared with 2016) to acknowledge and plan for ameliorating systemic biases based around identities, his interviews and debate responses make it clear he doesn’t really get it. The basic worldview he espouses is that the inequalities of our economic system intertwine so thoroughly with every other significant social issue, that reducing economic inequality will inevitably reduce or even eliminate the problems of racism, sexism, etc.

It’s absolutely true that class issues DO mix with other kinds of inequities. But there is almost no evidence to prove that destroying the flaws of capitalism will lead people and systems away from racist outcomes.

Many within the larger Sanders-supporting community have treated “identity politics” as a nuisance, an obstacle in the way of the really important change. Sanders himself has echoed some of this, though he does take pains to acknowledge the real disparities faced by minority groups in America. But in a nation led by a man who explicitly ran on a platform of white male resentment, it’s dangerous to assume that racism, sexism, and anti LGBTQ bigotry should automatically take a back seat to economics.

Ideally, we should be able to tackle both issues. My support for Elizabeth Warren exists in part for her ability to emphasize a need for combating the excesses of the market economy while also addressing systemic social bias in a way that doesn’t relegate those concerns to a mere afterthought.

My support for her is due to her comprehensive command of the mechanisms of government, her deep knowledge of how systemic inequality plagues Americans, and her ambitious efforts to resolve these issues.

It sounds corny as hell… but I believe she legitimately cares about improving the lives of those who need it. And I think she has the ability to do it. Or at least make people care enough to vote out the ghouls who make real change impossible.

That’s the hope, anyway.

I don’t dislike Bernie. If he’s the nominee – and it certainly appears he has a shot – then I’ll support him and work as hard as I can to help him beat Donald Trump.

But the primary is for figuring out who would do the best job of being President. And that would be Senator Elizabeth Warren.

For anyone who has somehow made it this far, I’m also including a mostly-final ranking of the 2020 Democratic candidates. This is simply my personal order of preference. Multiple factors enter into this, including, but not limited to, ideology.

I also consider effectiveness, experience, knowledge, moral clarity, and an admittedly subjective x-factor that would require another 3,000 plus words to adequately explain.

I’ve crossed out those who have dropped out as of February 3rd, 2020, but I still included them on the list for reference, and for an idea of where I’m coming from.

That said, my interest in being thorough has limits. Almost all candidates between 12 and 23 are basically interchangeable for me, and the ranking at that point isn’t precise. And all of the candidates ranked 24th and below would make me strongly consider voting for a third party candidate.

I might eventually put together my notes about the remaining candidates, should they, y’know, remain. But it makes sense to start with the one I actually want to win.

Anyway, as a merciful end to this screed, here is where the 29 “major” candidates rank in my bizarre mind:

  1. Elizabeth Warren
  2. Jay Inslee
  3. Julian Castro
  4. Cory Booker
  5. Kamala Harris
  6. Kirsten Gillibrand
  7. Eric Swalwell
  8. Bernie Sanders
  9. Beto O’Rourke
  10. Bill De Blasio
  11. Pete Buttigieg
  12. Joe Sestak
  13. Seth Moulton
  14. Michael Bennet
  15. Amy Klobuchar
  16. Deval Patrick
  17. Joe Biden
  18. Steve Bullock
  19. Wayne Messam
  20. Tim Ryan
  21. John Hickenlooper
  22. Tom Steyer
  23. John Delaney
  24. Michael Bloomberg
  25. Andrew Yang
  26. Mike Gravel
  27. Richard Ojeda
  28. Tulsi Gabbard
  29. Marianne Williamson
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It’s Time To Politicize

Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America - Gun Control Ac

Tony Webster – Minneapolis

“Don’t politicize this tragedy.”

That’s what constantly we hear when someone murders a bunch of people and terrorizes the populace.

Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said as much after the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017. So did Sean Hannity of all people, amazingly with a straight face, after the same shooting. Mitch McConnell, the living embodiment of the phrase “bad faith,” made a similar case after that one, as well. Actually, most of the national GOP did at some point after Las Vegas.

After the Parkland, Florida school shooting in 2018, a number of (mostly) right-wing public figures made similar arguments, including Senator Marco Rubio and media grifter Tomi Lahren.

Within just the last week, mass shootings have occurred at a festival in Gilroy, California, a mall in El Paso, Texas, and at a bar in Dayton, Ohio. Predictably, within hours of the third massacre, Senator Tim Scott has already warned us about politicizing these tragedies. John Cornyn took a different route, claiming there’s no answer to the problem of mass shootings. This incredibly dishonest statement would almost be funny, were it not costing lives.

We’re told that it’s important to mourn, to respect the loss of life, to reflect and pray. We should be solemn and not speak too loudly about the actual cause of these tragedies.

And these statements almost always come from someone who happens to be politically, ideologically, and/or financially opposed to resolving the gun violence epidemic in the United States. Funny how that works. They want us to turn politics off as soon as it might start to irritate their constituents, or more importantly, their donors.

In a democratic society (or at least a society that pays lip service to democratic traditions), politics are how problems get resolved. We have to politicize tragedies. We have to discuss their causes, we have to debate their solutions. We have to create laws, and design enforcement.

It’s also important to note that these mass shootings are inherently political.  The far right, white supremacist domestic terrorists that have been the cause of so many of these tragedies have been murdering innocents specifically for political reasons. Terrorism is a political act.  White supremacy is political. Far right ethno-nationalism is political. Killing members of a group specifically because of their group identity is political.

Not all violence is political, but carefully planned, targeted violence generally is.

The National Rifle Association and the firearms manufacturing industry are political. The Congressmonsters who accept money from these groups are political.

When Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz tells us not to politicize a tragedy, what they’re saying is we should ignore the fact that it’s already political.  They’re telling us not to use the best tools at our disposal for preventing the next one.

Also, it’s totally fair to observe that more than one of these recent acts was at least in part inspired by the ignorant, dishonest, violent, and bigoted rhetoric of the 45th President of the United States.

I’ve discussed this before, and I’m sad to say I have to do so again. Donald Trump has condoned and even encouraged violence from his supporters. Trump isn’t by any means the primary cause of mass shootings. Events like these predate the Declaration of Independence.

But he has provided verbal support to those who commit violent acts in his name. He has defended violent actions. He has directed racist statements at people of color. He has demonized immigrants and refugees. White supremacists have noted that even if he doesn’t publicly identify as one of them, Trump is the closest thing they’ve had to an ally in the White House in generations.

While Donald Trump deserves at least some degree of blame for the intensity of the resurgence in white supremacist violence, the real elephant in the room is far simpler to identify, though apparently not to resolve.


Firearms violence in general is primarily caused by easy access to firearms. This has been confirmed at the state, national, and international level again and again and again.  We already understand the main reason why the United States suffers a severe epidemic of gun violence, even if many are in denial of this fact.

Mass shootings and related terrorist acts are statistically more rare and a bit more complicated. Guns are still part of the equation, but there’s something else to it.

The largest percentage of mass shooters in recent years tend to have specific political motivations. The easy access they have to firearms exists mostly due to political considerations.

It’s all political.

And the solutions, in a nation where we elect those who make the laws, are political solutions.

It’s not wrong to be polite and considerate. If I met the family of a victim of a mass shooting, I would attempt to provide comfort and support before launching into political tirades.

But outside of that very specific scenario, there is no reason to hold the politics. Terrorism is political. Gun policy in America is political. Right wing extremism and white supremacy are political.

I’m going to politicize this. And anyone who cares about reducing the frequency of these tragedies should, too.

If anything, we need to make this more political. We need to shame those we elected into working toward real solutions. And if they happen to be in the pockets of the NRA, or they happen to have white nationalist leanings, then we need to shame the voters into replacing them with decent human beings.

Don’t shy away from politics. It’s not a dirty word. It’s a tool, and it’s one we underutilize.  If we’re scared of politicizing mass shootings, then that means we’re willing to suffer through them.


Posted in Governance, Politics, Quick post, Rant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hiking Report – Mount McLoughlin

We’re already near the end of July 2019, and I haven’t posted a hiking report yet this year. In fact, I haven’t posted one since my trip to Battle Ax in October of last year. This year I have journeyed to a couple mountains already, but neither one was particularly worthy of a report.

On May 3, in a spur-of-the-moment decision, I made an attempt at Thunder Mountain about 10 miles north of Battle Ax, and was unfortunately thwarted by snow and downed trees on the road to the trailhead. I tried hiking down the road around 3 miles through the snow to the trailhead, but ended up giving up when I realized how much time I was taking just to get to the starting point. I did enjoy some nice views of Battle Ax and Mount Jefferson, but the hike itself was a disappointment.

On June 21, I made another run up Mount Defiance, a little less than a year after the last time I hiked it. This hike was successfully completed, however, the day was mostly overcast, and the really good views of the big Cascade peaks were consistently obscured the entire time.

Defiance was really meant to be a warm-up for my first big hike of the year, anyway. Back during the winter, I mapped out a schedule of possible hikes for 2019. I wanted to challenge myself more than last year, and I wanted to take on some of the higher Cascade volcanoes. I didn’t think I was quite ready for the likes of Hood or Jefferson, though. So, after careful research, I settled on Mount McLoughlin as my first big climb of the year.

Standing at the southern end of Oregon, just 30 miles or so north of California, the trailhead for McLoughlin can be reached in a little under five hours from Portland. I decided to drive out after work on a Thursday, stay the night near Medford, and drive to the trailhead early the next morning. I hoped that a weekday, even a Friday, would be less crowded than a weekend.

I chose McLoughlin for a variety of reasons. It’s a relatively short drive from home, it’s not a technical climb I might not be ready for, and it’s tall enough and difficult enough to feel worthwhile. At 9,495 feet, Mount McLoughlin is the 10th highest mountain in Oregon, and the 6th most prominent. The hike is around 10 miles out-and-back, with just under 4,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s more or less an 80% version of South Sister.

I arrived at the trailhead a few minutes before 7 am on July 19. It was overcast at that point, but the forecast called for clear skies within the following hour or two, so I wasn’t overly worried.

There was a vault toilet and some warning signs about not being dumb and getting lost on the mountain. Also a decent amount of parking space. After a brief inventory check, I got my pack together and set off down the trail.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

There were a bunch of downed trees early in the trail.

Just a few minutes in to the hike was a repeat of the “don’t get lost by taking a shortcut” warning.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

Seemed like good advice to me.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

Just a bit further down the trail was a bridge spanning a surprisingly active river.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

The first two and a half miles were mostly soft dirt and mulch with a fairly gentle incline.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

The first half of the trail is fast and easy. It’s important to remember that this could lead one into a false sense of what lies ahead.

Like several big Cascade hikes, the trail intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

Just over an hour into the hike, I had already made it nearly three miles, on a trail that averages just under five miles each way. But that progress was slowing as the trail grew steeper and rockier, and the elevation rose over 7,000 feet.

It was around this point that I begin seeing signs of encouragement.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

It was also around this point that the forest started thinning, and views around the mountain appeared in the sporadic gaps of the foliage.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

The trail itself was transforming from a dirt path laced with occasional rocks, to mostly gravel with a lot of rocks, to just rocks with a few patches of gravel here and there. This made it trickier to follow. I kept an eye on the map downloaded from the All Trails app, but I wanted to avoid relying on it too heavily. I’ve let GPS access rot my brain while driving already – best to not allow it to become a crutch on hikes. That said, it is good to have tools for navigation while hiking solo through an unknown (to me) area. I also have a compass, and kept a printed map in my pack. But modern trail mobile apps are an amazing resource.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

As the trail turned into a boulder scramble, the best navigation tool turned out to be some decent soul(s) marking paths along many of the rocks. They weren’t consistently marked, but the arrows and white dots littered the mountain enough to help maintain a basic route up toward the summit. The forest continued to thin out, but there wasn’t the abrupt treeline transition that I’ve seen on a few other peaks, such as South Sister. The change was more gradual. Or maybe it wasn’t that as much as the fact that I was really slowing down as I approached mile 4 (and around 8,000 feet), which caused me to see the treeline disappear more gradually than it actually was.

It was also around this point that I noticed there were a huge number of bumblebees flitting about. They were a welcome change of pace from the mosquitoes I encountered sporadically for the first hour of the hike. They also encouraged me to work on my Nic Cage impression – fortunately there weren’t many other hikers around to suffer through that.

And they really seemed to enjoy my hiking poles.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

Just past 8,000 feet, I also found the first patch of snow. The temperature was low 50’s at that point, but it felt much warmer. Another hiker I eventually ran into on the way back down noted he was going to lay down in that patch.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

Most of the trail markings were arrows and dots, but once in a while, X really did mark the spot.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

I was finally getting some really good long-range views at this point. Brown Mountain stands almost directly south.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

Glancing back up the trail, I still had a long way to go – even though the total remaining trail distance was just a mile or so.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

As I ascended, the views kept getting better and better. This was fortunate, since I had to stop and enjoy them frequently. I was finding myself becoming winded faster the higher I went.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

Risking a look back up, it still looked like I had FOREVER to go. The marked trail had taken me noticeably west of both the ridge and the marked path on my app. But I was still moving, and I could see other hikers above and below me following the same route.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

At this point, it was kind of academic. The primary direction I needed to go was UP. Having a trail was nice, but as long as the way was passable, it didn’t really matter much.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

By the time I neared 500 feet of the summit, the path was pretty much just a constant boulder scramble. There were still markings here and there, but I was mostly just following the ridgeline (albeit slightly to the left), and faster climbers.

Speaking of those, I came across a few groups along the way. There was a father-son duo from Nevada. Dad was a geologist, and had been instructing his son to grab a small handful of rocks to take back home as samples. There was another family of a father and two sons – the father eventually had to stop a couple hundred feet from the summit. He yelled to his sons to keep going, though I did help him up over a six foot ledge so he could wait for them in some shade. There was also a solo hiker from Illinois who was wearing headphones, and blasting music loud enough for me to recognize AC/DC obliterating his eardrums. And yet, somehow he was able to carry on a conversation with no problem, despite the music.

While I usually hike solo because it affords me the opportunity to commune with nature human-free, the people I do encounter are almost invariably interesting, thoughtful, and kind-hearted. I’m always impressed with how decent hikers and climbers have been, when I come across them in the middle of nowhere.

After helping the father of two get settled, I paused as well, and took in the view to the south. Off on the horizon, Mount Shasta loomed, partially obscured by clouds.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

The geologist and son had stopped near the summit to take a break. I stopped and chatted with them for a few minutes. As we spoke, Mr. AC/DC stuck his head out from behind a rock above us. He was less than a hundred feet away. “Hey guys, the summit’s right here!” We had been resting just below the top.

It was just a few more steps, then at about 12:15, I stood on top of Mount McLoughlin.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

The overall summit complex consisted of two raised sections, with a tiny col in between. The two summit bulges were less than 100 feet apart. The western peak was just a bit higher. So after dumping my pack at the lower summit, I clambered over a short ledge, past an American flag, and joined the geologist and his son for some views from the true peak of the mountain.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

We traded cameras and took a few photos of each other.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

After they headed back to the lower summit, I remained behind long enough to set the timer on my phone and take my traditional thumbs-up photo. Well, it’s a tradition in that these photos amuse my sister, and I would be a terrible brother if I didn’t take a moment to make her laugh.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

At the top of the lower peak, near the flag, there sat the remains of an old fire lookout station. A couple of old ammo cans sat nestled near a wall. One contained some water and a first aid kit. The other had several notebooks and a couple pens – a trail register.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

I also took a moment to plant my own flag on the summit.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

I settled back down under the lower summit to enjoy a sandwich and some conversation with my fellow hikers. The views were spectacular.

Looking off to the north, Mount Thielsen (left) and Mount Scott (right) sat invitingly.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

The trail back down appeared… daunting.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

After a little more than half an hour eating lunch and talking, we could hear voices from below. There were at least three waves of hikers on their way up – with one group less than five minutes out. AC/DC appeared to be settling in for a nap, but I decided I was ready to get back on the trail. The geologist and son were starting to pack up as well.

I got myself together, grabbed my hat, bid the summit and Mr. Classic Rock adieu, and started clambering back down, high fiving the group of five college-age kids as they passed me.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

The first twenty minutes down consisted of the rock scramble I dealt with going up, but I noticed there was a path along the left side, near the edge of the ridge. It consisted mostly of loose scree, which I had briefly attempted, then rejected on the way up. Picking my way up boulders made more sense going toward the summit, but heading back down, I could boot ski along the ridge, with the boulders to my right, and a sharp drop off to the steep (and still partially snow-covered) scree slope on my left.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

The trail stopped at several ledges, each of which provided great views.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

From there, it was just a slow slog, alternating between the scree slope, and occasional boulder piles that I couldn’t bypass.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

Eventually, I found my way back into the woods, and the path became clearer. I came across some interesting vegetation at around 7,500 feet.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2019

Deeper into the woods, the mosquitoes started back up. This time, they were ferocious and constant. I found myself slapping and scratching my arms and neck pretty much nonstop for the final hour. Fortunately, the last three miles went just as quickly as the first three.

Just a bit before 4:30, I found myself back at the trailhead, shooing skeeters away from my car. I could now check McLoughlin off my list. But I’m pretty certain I’ll be back.

Meanwhile, I’ll be hiking Mount Bailey soon. There should be a report on that one within the next couple weeks. And hopefully, I can finish some of my political posts that have been rotting for the past few months.


Or maybe I’ll just stick to climbing. That’s a lot more fun.

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Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe


By Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

I talk a lot about politics. Sometimes I talk about science, sometimes economics. But usually I stick to discussing topics that tend to be more serious.

That said, sometimes one needs to turn toward more light-hearted topics, at least as a way to prevent insanity. Donald Trump is the U.S. President. The planet is warming, and we aren’t doing nearly enough about it. There are wars all over the globe. We have no shortage of hatred and prejudice directed by almost every possible group of people at almost every other possible group of people. The world isn’t a hellscape everywhere, but we certainly have problems.

If I ignored these issues, I would be guilty of burying my head in the sand. However, since I don’t ignore them (in fact, sometimes I obsess over them), I feel like my sanity is best preserved by enjoying some escapism now and then. And that’s what leads me to the MCU.

I discovered comic books just as I stumbled awkwardly into my teen years. Superheroes in particular appealed to a small, nerdy, timid, unathletic kid. After spending a day in school feeling outcast, being picked on, and failing to be picked for any teams, going home and imagining myself as a physical marvel was a delightful way to occupy my thoughts. Comics were an amazing source of imaginative kindling, stoking the fires of my mind. Much of my fiction writing has centered around people with extraordinary abilities, certainly influenced by my love of comics from my youth. I happily consumed comic book-based movies along with comics (not to mention novels based on those comics), though comic book movies were almost always pretty bad when I was young. Even the best early examples of the genre – like the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films, and the first Michael Keaton Batman – were mostly just “good for a comic book movie,” rather than actually good movies.

Then came 2000, and the first X-Men movie. It was arguably the first example of a comic book-based film that could actually stand on its own as a solid film. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was generally thoughtful, reasonably complex, often witty, and well-acted. It was followed by a much-better sequel, as well as two very good Spider-Man films. DC got in on the action with an excellent reboot of Batman in 2005, and by then, comic book movies had been established as potentially legitimately good films. Well, sometimes. There was always Daredevil, and Elektra, and Catwoman, and Ghost Rider, and so on… But I digress.

Due to rather complex financial arrangements that other people have discussed in depth, Marvel Studios did not own the rights to make movies for many of its most popular characters until just the past year. Spider-Man is now able to join the Marvel Studios team, but X-Men and the Fantastic Four belonged to 20th Century Fox and Sony, respectively. But Marvel still had plenty to work with, and beginning in 2008, laid the seeds for a much larger cinematic universe. With the initial success of Iron Man that year, 22 total (mostly) interconnected films have been released, with at least a dozen more planned. The Marvel Cinematic Universe also includes three network television series, six Netflix series, and a Hulu series, and a Freeform series, with several Disney+ shows on the way. All of which work together to maintain the same continuity, and for the most part, do a reasonable job.

I dig the television shows, but they are all a different beast from the movies, and should probably be ranked separately, or even by individual season. As one might have guessed, ranking things like this is fun for me. It provides plenty of opportunity for discussion and debate, and allows me to talk about comics and the MCU, which is usually more fun than discussing Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

FEBRUARY 2018 UPDATE: I have now seen Black Panther, and will add it to this ranking. There are now 18 MCU flicks, and by this summer, there will be 20, with Ant-Man and The Wasp, and Avengers: Infinity War. I will probably continue to update my ranking on this page here, for the time being.

MAY 2018 UPDATE: And now I’ve viewed Avengers: Infinity War, and have updated the rankings accordingly.

JULY 2018 UPDATE: Ant Man and The Wasp is now included in the ranking.

APRIL 2019 UPDATE: I’ve now added Captain Marvel to the list. Also, 20th Century Fox has been purchased by Disney, so I guess the X-Men will probably be showing up in the MCU at some point soon.

JUNE 2019 UPDATE: I’ve finally gotten around to adding Avengers Endgame. There will be one more this summer, when Spider-Man: Far From Home is released.

Many sites have already compared and ranked the MCU films, and I will include links below to some of them. In the meantime, here is my highly-subjective list of the current 22 MCU films. Let readers be warned, spoilers lie ahead:

22.) Thor: The Dark World

I enjoyed the first Thor movie, although I had trouble really getting into its strange mix of magic and gods (aliens?). The sequel, which felt more like obligatory time-killing than a necessary continuation of a character arc, still has the hokey fantasy aspect I didn’t much enjoy, but now includes legitimate boredom. The first half is dull and dour and has a lame villain, wasting an excellent actor. The movie does pick up after it brings Loki into the mix, and the second half alone is almost enough to bring it up a spot or two.

Thor 2 isn’t a bad movie, but it is the only MCU film where I was seriously bored for more than a few minutes. If a movie about gods, superheroes, and magic hammers is made to be dull and unentertaining, then it has committed the most egregious sin possible for  a superhero flick.

Hits: Loki, some humor and action in the second half.

Misses: Slow first half, not enough Loki, boring villain.

21.) Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 may be the most polarizing of the MCU films. One of the below links actually puts it in at Number 1. Several others rank it near the bottom. To me, it was a series of entertaining segments, but poorly tied together, and beset by some really dumb points. Iron Man 3 didn’t have long periods of extended ennui like Thor 2, which kept Tony Stark ranked above the God of Thunder, but it was also kind of stupid in general.

I didn’t mind that Tony Stark spent so much time without the suit, and I actually enjoyed the sudden agency acquired by Pepper Potts near the end. Comic book movies have historically struggled with providing women with interesting roles where they drive the plot and action and don’t end up playing second fiddle. By her character’s definition, she is second fiddle, but the ending did a good job empowering her character.

Beyond that, the big reveal of the villain didn’t really work for me, even though I appreciate what writers Drew Pearce and Shane Black were going for. The powers provided by the Extremis virus were poorly-defined and kind of goofy. The movie itself was oddly paced, and shifted pace too frequently for me. I found it entertaining, but kind of a mess.

Hits: Good character work with Stark and the kid, Pepper saves the day!

Misses: Disjointed, messy, confusing. Poorly-handled twist with the villain.

20.) Iron Man 2

Six months or so after the events of Iron Man, billionaire inventor and industrialist Tony Stark is succumbing to alcohol abuse, and poor health from the arc reactor implanted in his chest, the US government is breathing down his neck regarding his rather cavalier attitude toward wielding advanced weapons technology, and a rival industrialist is attempting to undermine him and steal his secrets. And then a crazy Russian scientist shows up, and everything comes together, blows apart, and kind of becomes a mess for awhile.

I actually kind of like this movie, despite its low ranking on my list (and everyone else’s). I enjoyed the early stuff, with Tony enjoying his new life as a fully-out and public Iron Man, but internally collapsing from radiation poisoning and alcoholism. Yeah, the early fight with Rhodey was unnecessary, and the three villains of Congress, Justin Hammer, and Ivan Vanko are all a bit underwhelming, but the movie is filled with fun moments. The final showdown is pretty brief, and the first fight with Vanko on the racetrack is a bit silly. Scarlett Johansson’s first turn as the Black Widow is mostly wasted. And the secret to Tony’s cure is incredibly contrived. It really isn’t a good movie. But every time I’ve seen it, I end up feeling entertained. The action (when it happens) is fun to watch. And there really is some good character work there, with Tony’s gradual fall and sort-of rebirth. It’s not nearly as good as the movie that preceded it. And it feels like it’s sort of just sitting there, filling time until The Avengers. But I was never bored.

Oh, and special mention to Mickey Rourke, who turns in a bizarre, yet fun appearance as one of the villains. Yeah, his accent is goofy, and his motivations are strained. And it feels like Jon Favreau didn’t direct Rourke so much as just filmed him walking around, being himself. But that made for a scene-theft every time the camera was pointed his way.

Hits: Good character work (as always) by Robert Downey Jr. Fun action sequences.

Misses: Weak villains, underutilized Black Widow, goofy deus ex machina cure for Tony.

19.) Thor

Thor Odinson, the scion of the alien/godly/mystical realm of Asgard, pisses off his dad with his hubris and immaturity, and is forced to redeem himself without his magic hammer, lost among strangers on the primitive planet known as Earth. There, he gets involved with a human scientist, and has to save both his world and Earth from the machinations of his evil brother Loki. Following along so far? For some, they may already be skeptical. This is certainly “high concept.”

Thor is not a bad movie. It’s probably the first on this list that can qualify as at least “pretty good.” Maybe a B- or C+. It’s got some impressive and creative visuals, and the Asgard scenes contain a sense of vastness befitting a realm of demigods. The fish-out-of-water themes are played well (and often hilariously). It’s got impressive pedigree – directed by Kenneth Branagh and co-starring Anthony Hopkins as Odin! It also introduces the best MCU villain by far, Thor’s brother Loki.

It’s also undeniably one of the silliest concepts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that’s saying something, considering it exists in a realm with talking raccoons, a ridiculous number of blue and green aliens, unfrozen supersoldiers, and sentient AI. Thor’s escapism is certainly fun, but as a fan of pure science fiction, it’s not quite my cup of tea. It blurs the line between sci-fi and fantasy, and does it competently, albeit a bit sloppily. The third act is a bit of a letdown, and the movie doesn’t flow as smoothly as some of the other entries on this list.

Chris Hemsworth is perfectly cast as the titular character, and Tom Hiddleston steals every scene as the devious Loki. The movie serves as a solid introduction for what will become mostly a supporting character in the franchise. Not perfect, but it’s the lowest ranked film on this list that I think of as “good.”

Hits: Gorgeous scenery, epic scope, solid humor, the best MCU villain, Anthony Hopkins.

Misses: A bit slow once on Earth, hokey concept, disappointing climax, feels like a chapter in a larger saga rather than a film standing well on its own.

18.) Thor: Ragnarok

Look, Marvel managed to make a (fairly) good Thor movie! The third installment in the franchise-within-a-franchise accomplishes this feat by being the first one to not just understand, but to fully embrace the fact that even for the science fiction/fantasy hybrid that it is – the Marvel take on Thor is a ridiculous concept.

Throughout the larger MCU continuity, particularly the television series Agents of SHIELD, there has been some effort made to establish that Thor and his fellow Asgardians aren’t really gods as much as they are super advanced aliens. Aliens that live for thousands of years, have physical (and sometimes mystical) abilities far beyond those of humans, and… yeah, frequently refer to themselves as gods.

It’s weird.

While nobody would argue that Ant Man or the Hulk are particularly grounded in reality, they have been long established as fitting within the rather loose rules and laws of the Marvel quasi-scientific canon. Thor and his ilk bend that quite a bit. However, Thor Ragnarok goes out of its way to acknowledge the absurdities in the character and his background, and finally let loose and have some fun with it.

Chris Hemsworth is a talented comic actor, and plays his role in a relaxed and wry manner – moreso than we’ve seen previously. As strange situation after strange situation is thrown his way, Thor takes everything in stride, accepting that he inhabits a weird universe.

The plot is straightforward, but well-executed. Thor’s father, Odin, seemingly dies while in quasi-exile on Earth. This – for somewhat strained reasons – causes Thor’s long-lost (maybe half?) sister to reappear. In the tradition of… well, every supervillain ever, Hela embarks on a mission of conquest – specifically back to Asgard. She kicks everyone’s ass, destroys Thor’s hammer, and in the ensuing fight, he finds himself eventually taken prisoner on a faraway world. Naturally, he runs into his old pal Bruce Banner, who has been stuck in his Hulk form for over a year now.

The team-up and eventual rematch are predictable, but fun. The final confrontation isn’t as excessive and bloated as some Marvel flicks, and there’s constant humor throughout… so much so that it almost reduces the impact of some of the more consequential aspects to the plot.

It’s got energy, it’s funny, it’s light – almost too light, but it has a heavy enough villain to keep it from turning into farce. It meanders a bit, especially toward the middle third, but it ends up a fairly satisfying entry into the series.

Hits: Seriously funny dialogue, a good primary villain, pretty epic action.

Misses: Still a silly concept, almost too reliant on comedy, script could be tighter.

17.) Doctor Strange

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Arrogant wealthy genius is injured, forced to become a superhero to survive, then gradually learns how to be a better person, all while mastering his new powers. Nope, this isn’t Iron Man. But the formula is pretty much the same.

The redemption story of the snarky genius thrown into adversity is familiar. If this entry had occurred earlier in the MCU, it may have appeared fresher. On the other hand, Doctor Strange introduces filmgoers to an entirely new aspect of the Marvel universe. Most of the characters introduced up to this point in the MCU had a certain scientific underpinning, far-fetched though they may have been. Doctor Strange largely dispenses with that and jumps into pure mysticism.

The acting is solid, the characters are reasonably interesting, the plot isn’t too convoluted (though some of the dialogue is), and while the finale does suffer from some of the standard bloat that most comic book films have, it also ends with a clever confrontation with the villain, who scores countless “victories,” before realizing he’s being outwitted by a lowly human.

There are some issues. Tilda Swinton’s character was originally a Fu Manchuesque “wise Asian” stereotype in the comics – and a more faithful rendition of the original character would have been problematic in its own right. Nonetheless, when we discuss issues of representation in media, and persistent issues of whitewashing that occur even today, it seems like a glaring problem to cast a Caucasian woman in the role of an Asian man. Of course, this is made maybe a little better (and a little worse) by the fact that Swinton absolutely nails the role, and steals the movie whenever she’s on screen. Insulation through skill.

That issue aside, it is a visually stunning film that almost demands to be seen on the largest possible screen. While quite CGI-heavy, it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or distracting. The plot is pretty familiar, but with new details. It’s a good movie, but not one that elevates over some of the other films in the franchise.

Hits: Jaw-dropping special effects, smoothly-executed plot, interesting concepts.

Misses: Glaring whitewashing issue, familiar plot, so-so villain.

16.) The Incredible Hulk

This one will probably cause the most disagreement among Marvel fans. I personally consider this one to be pretty underrated. If it hadn’t been released within a couple months of The Dark Knight and Iron Man, I believe it would have made more of an impact. It certainly isn’t as good as either movie, but the second attempt to portray the Hulk on the big screen gets most things right.

So, this film is unique in that it’s definitely part of the larger universe, but also includes a handful of nods to the painfully misunderstood Ang Lee-helmed Hulk. It’s not quite a sequel, but it’s not a pure reboot, either. And it’s a bit disconnected from the main bulk of the MCU films, although Tony Stark makes an appearance at the end, helping tie the first two films of the franchise together.

The story follows Bruce Banner (now played by Ed Norton), as he’s hiding from the US government in Brazil, and attempting to figure out a cure for his condition. The opening 20 minutes or so follows Bruce as he works in a factory, learns Portuguese, flirts with a coworker, clashes with other coworkers, learns jiu jitsu, and practices meditation. It’s a relatively low key opening that I think is quite effective in establishing who Bruce is and what he’s trying to accomplish. Quiet setups like this allow us to care more about the character (are you listening, Zack Snyder?)

Eventually, the military finds him (with a nifty foot chase through a favela), leading to the first Hulk-out of the movie (and Bruce’s first in months). He finds his way back to the States, with the military tracking him. He borderline stalks his ex, Betty (who is now dating Leonard Samson), and tries to meet with a fellow scientist Samuel Sterns for help with a cure. General Thaddeus Ross recruits a British-Russian military officer named Emil Blonsky, juices him with super-soldier serum, and sends him out to confront and capture Banner. All these names make for great fan service, and the actors mostly do them justice, particularly William Hurt as Ross, and Tim Blake Nelson in a slighty off-kilter performance as Dr. Sterns (or Mr. Blue). Liv Tyler comes across as being half-asleep portraying Betty, and doesn’t get much to do.

Blonsky is nearly killed, then ends up being treated with what transformed Banner, and becomes a dark, twisted version of the Hulk. The big final fight in Harlem of all places is done quite well, and finally gives a live-action version of the Hulk a truly worthy opponent.

I know this film is considered one of the lower points of the MCU, and even I can admit its not among the best, but I truly believe it’s underappreciated. Reasonably thoughtful dialogue, good acting from most of the cast, a solid look into the torture that Bruce goes through with his transformations, and a worthy (while admittedly undermotivated) villain. It’s not the tour de force that Iron Man turned out to be, but it really was quite good. The production was apparently troubled, and star Ed Norton feuded with Marvel before finally quitting the character, being replaced by one of the original contenders, Mark Ruffalo. Interestingly, the studio wanted David Duchovny in the title role, which would have been… interesting.

Hits: Good action, solid acting and pathos, well-paced

Misses: Betty is wasted, the movie feels shoehorned into the MCU

15.) Ant Man

Stop me if you heard this one. Roguish troublemaker gets in a jam, uses an advanced high-tech suit to get out of said jam, fights corporate takeover from the eventual main villain. Film ends with vastly-more-qualified sidekick gazing wistfully at high-tech suit, vowing to be part of the action next time. Nope, this isn’t Iron Man. Just like Doctor Strange wasn’t, either.

Along with Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange, Marvel seems to be using this movie as a way to test their limits. Yes, bigger name characters could anchor a film, but what about a relatively obscure Silver Age Avenger with the power to… get really small?

Sure, why not?

For the most part it works. Paul Rudd is charming and charismatic as Scott Lang, an ex-con lured into a job as Ant-Man, a superhero with a high-tech suit that enables rapid mass change. It was previously worn by Hank Pym, a billionaire industrialist wearily played by Michael Douglas. Evangeline Lilly is excellent as Pym’s daughter, who is tasked (rather thanklessly) with training Scott to become Ant Man, when she clearly (and quite reasonably) believes she would be better suited to that role. Corey Stoll is just okay as Darren Cross, basically playing the Jeff Bridges role from Iron Man, but without near the menace or gravitas. Michael Pena, T.I., and David Dastmalchian are Scott’s old burglary crew, meeting back up to help him out. Pena in particular provides much of the comic relief of the film. He occasionally nears cartoonishness, but doesn’t quite go that far most of the time. His contributions, along with a clever script and Mr. Rudd, help provide a more light-hearted tone than we have seen in most of these entries. As a result, the movie feels a bit less consequential, but Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas all do an admirable job keeping it grounded. Well, as grounded as a movie about shrinking superheroes can get.

Hits: Paul Rudd, fun set pieces, good sense of humor.

Misses: Fairly weak villain, feels almost too breezy.

14.) Captain America: The First Avenger

The first time I saw this movie, I enjoyed it, but left feeling a bit underwhelmed. However, after repeat viewing, especially after having seen Cap portrayed in four (kind of six) other MCU flicks, I think it looks better.

This is a fairly straight-forward origin story, and almost entirely takes place during World War II. Chris Evans is Steve Rogers, a small, frail kid from Brooklyn with a good heart and an unwavering code of honor and morals. He wants nothing more than to serve his country and fight the Nazis, to the point of lying to pass the physical exams. His best friend Bucky is already in the Army, and serving with distinction. Bucky is everything Steve wants to be; a big, athletic, charismatic ladies man. In his desperation to join, Steve agrees to an experimental procedure, in order to be able to enlist. Despite skepticism from military leaders, Steve’s selflessness and leadership potential make him the best choice to undergo a treatment to make him a “Super-Soldier.” Predictably, bad guys intervene, and disrupt the proceedings while Steve undergoes a transformation to make him the physical pinnacle of human potential. Steve’s transformation is successful, but the formula is lost, and since Steve is the only super soldier, he’s deemed kind of useless. So he spends a large chunk of the movie as a mascot for the Army, touring with the USO, and promoting war bonds as “Captain America,” a largely unfulfilling performance role.

That part of the movie is interesting to me. Turning Steve into the ultimate physical badass, then frustrating him by making him a figurehead at best helped demonstrate not just the importance of teamwork during war, but helped the character progress in a less-predictable way.

How does one make a basically ideal person interesting? Someone with completely honest and pure motives needs to have his ideals challenged, and to have his sense of duty blocked – by circumstance, or conflict, or both. And for the most part, Captain America does a good job of this.

Eventually, Steve gets his chance to see real action, where he naturally thrives, leading a group of veteran soldiers into battle in Europe, meeting (and then losing) Bucky, discovering the first man to undergo a less-successful version of his super-soldier treatment, and eventually sacrificing himself to save the day. There are clear tie-ins with the larger MCU, and a solid coda where Steve discovers that he’s still alive – but it’s now 2011.

When I first saw the movie, I thought there wasn’t enough development of his skills as a soldier and combatant, and we didn’t get to see enough action with Steve as Captain America. And even now, I do feel like that aspect was under-developed. But the more I consider how the Army utilized him, and how Steve’s moral compass was frustrated by his predicament, the more I found myself liking the choices made.

As an origin story, as a period piece, as a war movie, as a morality tale, the movie works. It’s not perfect, and its not deep, but its a good story with a good lead, and a very good supporting cast, particularly Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, who would go to her own (highly underrated) MCU series.

Hits: Great cast, good WWII atmosphere, works as both standalone film and a piece of a larger whole.

Misses: Villain is so-so (typical for MCU), not enough time spent as Cap

13.) Ant Man and The Wasp

For years, conventional cinematic wisdom held that sequels were inevitably inferior to their predecessors. While notable exceptions existed (Godfather II, Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II), they were notable due to their rarity.

So, it’s been interesting to see that within the various sub-franchises in the larger MCU, sequels tend to be better than the first installments. At least, some of them.

Ant Man and the Wasp fits this trend well. Its predecessor was a fairly light-hearted adventure story, with less intense themes compared with some of the other installments in the MCU canon. This installment enjoys much of the same jokey tone as the first one… but the dark points are a little darker and the stakes feel just a bit higher. Also, Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne (the Wasp), is freed up to be the badass only hinted at the first time around.

It starts off with former Ant-Man Scott Lang nearing the end of his house arrest – a punishment induced by his role in assisting Captain America two years earlier during the events of Captain America: Civil War. Part of his punishment includes being forbidden to contact his former mentor Hank Pym, who, along with his daughter (and now the Wasp), is a fugitive in his own right.

But a strange dream/vision hits Scott, and he believes he has connected with Janet van Dyne, Hank’s wife believed lost in the “quantum realm” during a semi-botched mission decades earlier. This vision prompts him to contact Hank, who ends up dragging Scott into his own mission to try to rescue his possibly-stranded wife.

Scott has to dodge his parole officer, remain in the good graces of his ex-wife and her husband, and once again suit up as Ant Man, despite being in the doghouse of both Hank and Hope. Meanwhile, his sidekicks from the first one are back, still in largely broad comedic form. Now, they have a fledgling security business they’re on the verge of losing, and a plot arc that intertwines well with the larger plot.

Further complicating matters are a former colleague of Hank’s (Laurence Fishburne, classing up the place), and a mystery villain with the ability to phase in and out of matter. Walt Goggins is charming and smarmy as a crooked businessman after Hank’s tech.

The movie is essentially a race to find Janet, while dodging cops, crooks, old cronies, and a new super-powered character. It’s fast-paced, the action scenes are inventive and entertaining as hell, and Evangeline Lilly in particular gets a chance to really shine, after being relegated to a disgruntled background role the last time around.

Some of the tone shifts feel abrupt, transitioning from humor to pathos too quickly. And there are some odd plot holes that seem to be acknowledged and then immediately shoved aside (just how does one survive for 25 years in a subatomic world, not to mention remain sane through the process?).

But those quibbles aside, Ant Man and the Wasp made for a solid and fun summer action movie. It made for a welcome change of pace from the relentlessly dark Infinity War (while tying in with that film). Like the first one, the humor is generally clever while occasionally skirting the “too broad” line. The action is exciting, and makes superb use of shrinking/growing – even if the physics behind the transformations is a little murky.

Hits: Exciting, creative, often hilarious.

Misses: Some glaring plot holes, jarring tone shifts.

12.) Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel was faced with unreasonably high expectations well before it was released. The fact that it’s the first MCU film with a female lead in a climate where bigoted internet trolls delight in trashing films for the temerity of not exclusively featuring white men, created a steep hill to climb. So, like Black Panther (and Wonder Woman over in the DCEU) before it, Captain Marvel needed to be legitimately great, or at least very good, in order to satisfy a large segment of moviegoers.

Does it succeed?

Yeah. Mostly. It’s pretty solid. Captain Marvel isn’t as good as either Black Panther or Wonder Woman, but it tells a decent origin story, has some fun moments, some really good performances, some nice fan service, and is visually stunning. The women’s empowerment aspect that has received so much attention is actually fairly subtle, but it is there. It’s there in a way that also serves the story. The movie is about a woman, there are references to everyday societal sexism, and the strongest and most important relationship in the film is between two women (and a girl). And those aspects are certainly important. But if that’s all one is watching for – as either a supporter or detractor, then one is missing quite a bit.

The basic gist – Vers is a member of the Kree military. The Kree, if you haven’t been watching any of these other movies, will likely be gibberish to you, but then why did you get this far in the first place? But in case you want to know, they’re an interstellar power with a lot of enemies, including a shapeshifting species called the Skrulls. She’s not one of them, doesn’t have any memories more than a few years back, and has vaguely defined super powers that she’s gradually learning to wield. Then a mission takes her to a backwater planet called Earth, where everyone looks kind of like her, and she runs into some government authorities who end up helping her along the way. Of course, it turns out she’s actually returned home, and she’s really a human Air Force pilot named Carol Danvers.

I’d recommend viewing the movie to get more detail than that. It’s fun watching a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg play younger versions of Nick Fury and Phil Coulson. Jude Law is decent as her Kree mentor, Ben Mendelsohn works well under a ton of prosthetics as the Skrull leader, and Lashana Lynch is arguably the best part of the movie as Vers/Carol’s former best friend Maria. Well, the cat is pretty great, too. The film has some clunky pacing at times, and many of the notes have been done approximately 21 times before. I wouldn’t call the movie stale, but there’s an inherent risk of repetition in a franchise with nearly two dozen entries. And Annette Bening feels wasted as Vers/Carol’s sort of mentor. There’s potential there, but it feels like she’s only given enough to do to advance the plot.

There has been quite a bit of criticism about the lead character’s relative emotional blankness. While there’s a ring of truth in the observation, it’s also fair to note that the whole point of the character (at first) is that she’s had 3/4 of her life’s memories suppressed. Of course she’s a bit of a blank slate – she can only remember five or six years back! It’s that search for what happened before that enables her arc. And for the most part, it works.

Hits: Well constructed character arc, great supporting performances, spectacular visuals

Misses: The screenplay could be a bit tighter, a few wasted characters

11.) Spider-Man: Homecoming

The second reboot of Spider-Man in just a decade, Spider-Man: Homecoming avoids some of the pitfalls suffered by the Andrew Garfield reboot by not rehashing the origin story we all know so well. In this film, Peter Parker is still a teenager, but he’s now part of a larger universe, and he’s already been in action for a while. At least for a few months, anyway. He’s young (obviously), impatient, and a bit reckless. Played with considerable likeability and amusing naivete by Tom Holland, Peter feels like he’s being held back by his superhero mentor and benefactor, Tony Stark. And he’s not wrong. The movie does a great job showing the frustration and impatience of a teenager with great power and a still-developing sense of responsibility.

Moreso than the prior Spider-Man films, this captures the lives of teenagers in a (mostly) realistic and often quite funny way. The classic Spider-Man problems of finding balance with his personal life, his school life, and his superhero life are done well, and Michael Keaton is terrific as a reasonably believable and sympathetic villain.

Spider-Man: Homecoming ties in well with the larger MCU, but is also clearly meant to stand on its own, existing just a bit separately from the bulk of the larger continuity. It’s fun, energetic, witty, and has an engaging cast. The pacing is a bit inconsistent, and there’s a feeling that a good ten minutes could be trimmed from the runtime. Overall, it’s a solid outing, and is probably now my second favorite Spider-Man film (after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2).

Hits: Likable cast, good humor, one of the better villains

Misses: Could stand tighter pacing

10.) Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

I waffled on where to place the two Guardians films. They are both fun, action-oriented science fiction films with an underlying theme of family. I could very well change my mind the next time I see this one and place it above the original, but for now, GOTG2 goes here.

Despite being a big-budget blockbuster with massive space battles and huge setpieces, it almost feels like a smaller film. Mixed in with the action are long discussions of family and belonging. There’s quite a bit of good character development, and the chemistry developed in the first one continues to improve.

Guardians 2 isn’t paced quite as well as its predecessor, and I generally enjoyed the team origin story a little better than their continuing adventure, but this is a very solid film that actually improved upon the characterization of the first one. Kurt Russell’s Ego and Michael Rooker’s Yondu were served particularly well by the story.

Hits: Excellent character stuff, good dialogue, laudable commitment to themes of family

Misses: Inconsistent pacing, sometimes tries too hard to make us laugh

9.) The Avengers: Age of Ultron

There is a scene halfway through Age of Ultron where the movie slows down, and we are treated to an extended sequence on Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) hidden farm, where the Avengers regroup and lick their wounds. It acts as a sudden departure in tone from where the movie had been, but the shift works. We get to see development from pretty much every character on the team, which in turn allows us to better appreciate and empathize with them. We become invested in their outcomes, because we are given a sense of who they are. So then later events, including death and major trauma, become more impactful. And that is the big difference between the MCU and Zack Snyder’s DCEU. Concentrating on the humanity of these demigods pays off later, rather than leaping from scene to scene, searching for the next iconic moment to film in slow motion.

There are plenty of excellent character moments scattered throughout the film, that not only help keep most members of the massive cast growing as characters, but also make us care what happens to them. Of course, the biggest trauma ends up happening to one of the least developed main characters. And that ties into the biggest problem with the film – too much is happening. There are too many characters, too many scenes, too much plot development shoehorned into one movie. Much of that is necessary, as the Avengers movies tend to be used as the payoff to all the development of the prior series (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and so on). Joss Whedon had a thankless job in many ways, trying to create a successful followup to one of the greatest superhero films ever, and trying to tie together a million plot threads and character arcs. It’s no surprise that making this movie basically broke him.

And despite all of that, to my eyes, this movie works. Despite the huge cast, most of the characters had plenty to do. The quieter moments were all pretty much perfect. The individual setpieces were often spectacular. And despite some critical complaints, I thought James Spader’s Ultron was a damn good villain. Yeah, his motivation could have been fleshed out a bit more, but he proved to be a challenge for our heroes, and was portrayed with both menace and humor.

Age of Ultron was a bit sloppier than the first Avengers, and bit overstuffed. But so much of it worked. Great character work abounded. And it was frequently a visual joy to watch.

Hits: Character development, action scenes, clever introduction to Vision

Misses: Too much going on to keep the plot moving smoothly

8.) Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy was an example of Marvel taking a risk, throwing an out-of-left-field idea out there and seeing if it would work. And by and large, it worked better than anyone could have expected. Officially based on a relatively obscure comic from the ’70s, Guardians is what happens when a studio tries to make an Avengers and Star Wars mash up, mixes in a great ’70s pop soundtrack, throws in far more humor than almost any other recent comic book adaptation, shakes it up, and sees what happens.

The main characters all receive compelling backstories, the action is exciting, and the plot moves along quite nicely. The dialogue suffers from a bit too much technobabble, and there are a few points where they seemed to try too hard to squeeze in a joke (or several). And in the recent Marvel tradition, the villains are rather underdeveloped. We know they want power, and one of them wants to kill her sister… but we aren’t really given much reason to care. But overall, this was not just a fun surprise – it was a shock to see such goofy, obscure source material work so well on the big screen. Guardians of the Galaxy showed what could happen when Marvel decided to take a risk. They swung for the fences, and hit the ball all the way to Xandar.

Hits: Great lead characters, spectacular visuals, great soundtrack

Misses: Yet another set of weak villains, Star Trek Voyager levels of expository technobabble

7.) Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is officially the third Captain America movie, but it could arguably be considered the third Avengers movie, too. Loosely based on the “Civil War” plotline from the comics, it acts as a followup to basically every big event that occurred in the MCU up to that point. Consequences are a major theme of this film. Some science fiction and action movies have failed to demonstrate the effects of huge battles that lay waste to cities. In those films, collateral damage is often merely used as eye candy, not as a reason to discuss issues of control and fallibility.

In Civil War, the effects of the previous films is what gets the plot moving. A fight with a former SHIELD agent in Africa kills a building full of innocents. The US government (along with the UN), bring up the reasonable point that these massively powerful people are largely unregulated and unsupervised, and in several cases, untrained. Perhaps some supervision would be wise, they argue.

The film does a good job presenting the pro-superhero-regulation argument fairly and thoughtfully – but this movie is still about Captain America and why he thinks answering to the United Nations is bullshit.

Personally, I still think Iron Man has a better argument, but Cap is cooler… which is weird to say. But he is. And this whole movie – while presenting thoughtful moral dilemmas – is really about the airport scene. About 2/3 of the way through, a massive fight between every member of the Avengers (minus the two who could single-handedly turn the course of the fight) completely takes over the film. And what a battle it is. Every character gets something to do. There’s humor, pathos, and amazing action. It may feel a bit like fan fiction – but it’s really GOOD fan fiction.

Hits: One of the best movie fight scenes ever, a legitimate discussion of superhero collateral damage (you listening DC?)

Misses: There are a lot of characters here, and some are underdeveloped

6.) The Avengers

The Avengers was the culmination of what was known as “Phase One” of the MCU. Iron Man, Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America set it up, and The Avengers tied it all together.

And it was a near-masterpiece.

A mysterious… cube thing called the Tesseract is… well, not quite a Macguffin, but also not really the point. But it does help get the ball rolling as Thor’s asshole brother Loki agrees to steal it from Earth in exchange for an alien army that he’ll use to invade Earth.

Bear with me here, it still turns out great.

Nick Fury, director of SHIELD, puts together all of the most powerful people he can find into a team to fight Loki and his soon-to-arrive army. And that’s pretty much it. The final 40 minutes or so involve the invasion and the team finally putting their squabbles aside to repel it. Joss Whedon wrote and directed it, and it’s definitely the Buffy creator at the absolute peak of his powers. The dialogue is sharp and clever, and the plot manages to work despite a weak opening 20 minutes and a blue sky beam finale. It puts together the characters developed (rather unevenly) in prior installments in a way that makes sense.

And that final action sequence – yeah, it’s heavy on excessive collateral damage, it’s full of easily dispatched, disposable infantry, and again, it ends in a blue sky beam… but great dialogue, solid directing, and well-developed characters enable it all to work.

The Avengers could easily have been a mess, but instead, it’s one of the best superhero films ever made.

Hits: Action, humor, characterization, dialogue, Loki!

Misses: Tropey ending

5.) Iron Man

This is where it all began. Tony Stark snarked his way into the public imagination, and made the idea of a “cinematic universe” feasible. Everything that happened since only happened because this movie was both a critical and commercial success.

Robert Downey Jr is perfectly cast as Tony Stark, a youngish gazillionaire industrialist celebrity who is a Bill Gates with sex appeal merged with Howard Hughes, minus 90% of the emotional issues. He’s all wit and ego and brilliance. He happily parties, drinks, schmoozes with celebrities and the military, and, oh yes, builds weapons for that military. While demonstrating his newest toy in Afghanistan, Stark is captured by a fairly generic terrorist organization. He’s badly injured, and forced to recreate his new weapon for the group, while trying not to die in a cave.

The original comic had pretty much the same origin story, except it was in Vietnam. Updated times, same old story. Anyway, Tony decides to use his brilliant mind to do something different. He builds a suit of armor powered by a miniaturized fusion reactor (basically), and fights his way to freedom.

Seeing his weapons used by terrorists in bloody conflicts halfway around the world causes an epiphany. Tony decides to rebuild his suit of armor, this time sleeker and shinier, and uses it to do good – primarily by ridding the world of his weapons. At the same time, as the official head of his company, he has decided to change its focus away from weapons, which doesn’t sit too well with his number two man, a surprisingly menacing Jeff Bridges.

Bridges plays Obadiah Stane (I love these names), who figures out what Tony is doing with his spare time, and ends up stealing the reactor that’s keeping Tony alive from those wounds incurred back in Afghanistan. He builds his own suit of armor, and we get the inevitable final confrontation.

I’ve seen some rankings where Iron Man is acknowledged as the MCU OG, but then demoted, arguing it doesn’t hold up all that well anymore. I can’t get behind that. I think this flick is still one of the very best superhero films ever made. The dialogue is still sharp, the plot is well-executed, the villain is underrated, and Robert Downey Jr owns every inch of the screen for every second he’s on it. This film was released around the same time as The Dark Knight, and while it’s very different in tone and style, I think it’s just as well-made, and probably more entertaining.

Hits: RDJ, great villain, great character arc for Stark, well-written

Misses: Not much… maybe the terrorists come a bit too close to stereotype for comfort.

4.) Avengers: Infinity War

Well, here we have it… the culmination of 19 films stretched over 10 years, with dozens of characters and plot threads that eventually wound their way to this point. A movie like this can only be pulled off if the world building and character development leading up to it has been executed thoughtfully and carefully. We need to care about these characters, and about the world(s) they inhabit. And then, if that hurdle has been cleared, the movie itself needs to be able to tie up these ends in a worthwhile manner.

I can say that the first step has definitely been accomplished, especially in the larger sense. The fact that these movies warrant rankings and retrospectives is proof that the world has been developed successfully.

As for the second requirement – I can say that Infinity War does succeed, but with a few caveats. Most of the film’s flaws are structural and almost impossible to avoid. The MCU has already had three good-sized crossover events, but this one was the film to tie all of the other elements together, including characters and threads introduced in the other big crossovers. Melding these threads in a satisfactory manner without neglecting certain characters and ideas was next to impossible. Indeed, a handful of characters don’t even make the film (Ant Man, Wasp, Hawkeye, Valkyrie), and a few others don’t have much to do. Thor, Doctor Strange, and Iron Man seem to have the most going on, with strong support from Spider-Man, Star-Lord, Nebula, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Gamora.  Everyone else is just there for a few lines and some punching. So distribution is uneven, but some of that may have been intentional.

Part of the problem is that this movie was set up as the first part of a two-parter, and much of its success rides on the success of the sequel. We’ve seen plenty of situations where that sort of gamble failed – would we have looked at Matrix Reloaded more kindly if Matrix Revolutions wasn’t such a mess?  Of course, Infinity War is a far stronger movie than either of The Matrix sequels, but it’s still difficult to gauge on its own without knowing what happens next – since it is directly tied to a sequel. As it currently stands, it feels incomplete as a standalone movie, which is the primary reason it doesn’t vault to number 1 on my list. That said, it speaks highly of the positive aspects of the film that it still deserves consideration for the best of the MCU. Indeed, I struggled exactly where to place it, considering all spots from 1 through 5. If it weren’t set up as a cliffhanger reliant on another film to resolve the plot, then it may have even been better than 1 and 2 on my list.

As for the good stuff – there’s plenty. As I mentioned, it does ably tie together dozens of threads and ideas. It creates interesting team-ups between characters who’ve seldom or never interacted before. And it gives us the backstory to what may be the most complex and interesting villain in the MCU. Certainly the most formidable. Early in the film, the single most powerful character – the Hulk – goes toe to toe with Josh Brolin’s Thanos – and is beaten to a pulp in seconds. This helps set the tone early that this threat is a serious one. From then on, it becomes a race between Thanos and the heroes of Earth (and a few other planets) to prevent Thanos from acquiring plot devices – er, Infinity Stones – from earlier films, and obtaining his true goal. We gain insight into his backstory with Gamora and Nebula from the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and while his side is never presented as “the good” side, his motivations come from an understandable place. It’s the conflict between the pragmatism of Thanos and the “we don’t trade lives” mentality of the painfully noble Steve Rogers that really makes this film.

The very best MCU films had a moral or philosophical debate at their core. They were “about” something deeper than strong people punching each other. Black Panther contained musings about race and class, as well as debates about isolationism, imperialism, and glasnost. Avengers: Age of Ultron discussed hubris and scientific overreach. Captain America: Civil War debated the need for government oversight and public accountability. Captain America: The Winter Soldier argued over the excesses of the national security state. The conclusions were not always clear, and the debates were sometimes unsubtle, but the discussions were definitely there.

That’s where Infinity War joins the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This Vox article summarized the debate quite well, but in short, it’s Kant versus Bentham. The Kantian ethos of unwavering moral principles versus utilitarianism. Thanos has seized on the idea that sacrificing half the population of the universe will end up improving the quality of life for everyone else. The heroes of the story obviously oppose this idea, but the “leader” of at least one segment of the Avengers – Captain America – goes to the opposite end of the spectrum – no lives shall be sacrificed, even for the greater good. I have the feeling he’s not counting himself in this equation, which may be a major plot point with Avengers 4 – but that’s another discussion. Infinity War doesn’t discuss the philosophy in such explicit terms, but the ideas are there. And it’s quite fascinating.

Avengers: Infinity War handles a nearly impossible task about as well as it can. It shoehorns in almost every character that matters, it has the most impressive villain in the series, it sets up the inevitable sequel, and it’s forced to neglect some of the other major characters in the process. It manages to be the bleakest Marvel film to date, but with plenty of humor and wit woven throughout the pain. Its structural limitations prevent it from being the number 1 on this list, but everything else is so good that its still close.

Hits: Best MCU villain yet, real emotional and physical stakes, epic scope, dazzling action

Misses: Necessary short-shrift for some characters, feels incomplete.

3.) Black Panther

Believe the hype. This is a damn good movie. Black Panther was released with enormous expectations, and by and large, it delivers. Most of the film takes place just weeks after the events of Captain America: Civil War, but there are also flashbacks to 1992, and to thousands of years ago, during an inventive animated opening sequence.

Black Panther manages to juggle so many concepts – race relations (in the United States, but also in Africa, and around the globe), international politics, imperialism, technological advancement, vengeance, justice, and honor. But it is also a superhero movie that has to fit within a larger universe. And then, it’s also an introduction to Wakanda – a nation that the prior MCU films hinted at and referenced, but we now get to see in its full glory.

Following up on the events of Civil War,  T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, the recently-assassinated King of Wakanda, returns home to take the mantle of leadership, There’s so much to cover here, that in this short capsule I cannot properly do it justice. But there are debates at home, where Wakanda has been in self-imposed isolation from the world, enjoying social and technological advancement decades ahead of the rest of the world (maybe save for Stark and SHIELD, but that’s a whole different discussion). T’Challa wants to use their advancements to help the other nations around the globe. Others in Wakanda want to remain isolated, and still more want to give the imperialists and colonizers around the world a taste of their own medicine. It’s thoughtful, nuanced debate, and it continues when the villain, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens shows up. He’s T’Challa’s cousin, raised in California, trained as a special forces soldier, and brought up to believe that people of African descent around the world should directly benefit from Wakandan technology, and use it… well, it ends up being for conquest, although justified in terms of liberation. His origin and beliefs are complex and sympathetic, and his mission is highly personal, which are the essential ingredients for a great villain. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the hero. It also helps that Michael B. Jordan does an excellent job with the role, making for a fun contrast with the serene and wise-beyond-his years air of Chadwick Boseman, in the title role.

I also shouldn’t fail to mention the group of women who make these adventures possible. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, a Wakandan spy (and T’Challa’s ex), Danai Gurira as Okoye, the head of the Wakandan elite security forces, and Letitia Wright as Shuri, who is basically Q from the Bond movies and Tony Stark rolled into one – she designs the technologies that help make Wakanda such a paradise, and also happens to be T’Challa’s younger sister. Angela Bassett also plays a key role as Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother. All are interesting, well-developed characters that are important to the story. Not one is there to be saved by the male heroes, and indeed, the reverse happens more than once.

I had some trouble deciding exactly where to place this. It is truly an excellent movie even without the deeper themes… but those deeper themes are what elevates it above most other Marvel fare – even some of the really good ones. I ended up placing it just above Iron Man, because while they both involved a scion of technological advancement coming to terms with the role of that advancement in the larger world – Black Panther went deeper.

It’s not a flawless film, but sort of like the only MCU film I ranked above it (and the one below), the nitpicks were just that – nitpicks. Minor issues only. The pacing was a little rough during the final third, and some of the action sequences suffered from the same quasi-weightlessness that has bedeviled CGI action for years. Also, the big reveal at the Jabari mountain felt a little too easy. But other than those minor quibbles, this was about as good as it could possibly be.

Hits: Excellent direction, superb performances, more nuanced themes than most superhero movies, gorgeous scenery, one of the two or three best MCU villains ever.

Misses: Very little. Slightly bloated final act, odd physics in some action scenes.

2.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Here we go. The number one movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe… until I had to demote it in May 2019. You’ll see why in the next one, but for now, this is still one of the best.

Where “Captain America: The First Avenger was a period piece and war movie, “Winter Soldier” is a spy movie mixed with a heavy dose of political thriller. It’s smart, thoughtful, and exciting. It continues Steve Rogers’ character arc, and continues the feat the first installment pulled off – making a nearly ideal person interesting.

It’s been over a year since the events of The Avengers, and about three years since he became Unfrozen Super Soldier. Captain America is now an agent of SHIELD, commanding teams around the world, kicking ass, taking names, and slowly feeling more and more disillusioned with being a part of the modern national security state. He works with Natasha Romanoff, who is the Black Widow from Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. She develops well as a character here, both on her own merits, and in her friendship with Steve. She’s more jaded than he is, but her outlook is rubbing off on him. And she is clearly charmed by his honesty and decency. Also joining the team is Sam Wilson, a former paratrooper who has access to a winged jet pack that has all sorts of fancy toys on it… basically he’s Iron Man without the armor.

Then the plot gets going. SHIELD falls apart from within, while Cap tracks a mysterious operative with a metal arm who seems to be as fast and strong as Cap himself. Nick Fury is apparently assassinated after a fun car chase through Washington DC. The coup within SHIELD is a long time coming, it seems, and Fury’s boss is behind it. Robert Redford is excellent as Alexander Pearce, a government bureaucrat who’s been a bad guy all along.

Eventually, Cap is able to connect the upheaval at SHIELD with the metal armed operative, who turns out to be his brainwashed best friend, Bucky. A slightly convoluted scheme involving a new kind of helicarrier is put into motion, and it’s tremendously exciting watching Steve, Natasha, and Sam work together to try to foil it. The movie moves right along, and doesn’t feel like there’s much fat on it, despite its 136 minute runtime. There are some rather convenient moments for our heroes, and the takeover of SHIELD was never set up by prior films, but otherwise, this is superbly crafted film. It’s serious, dark, and cynical, but with enough humor to keep it from becoming bleak.

Hits: Chris Evans is excellent, the action is fast, but filmed clearly – not too many Bourne-style quick cuts. Compelling villains, good chemistry between the leads, and a mature tone for a comic book movie.

Misses: Not much. The SHIELD collapse kind of came out of nowhere, and the Strucker reveal was a bit far-fetched, but otherwise, there was little wrong here.

1.) Avengers: Endgame

I struggled more with where to place this one than any other film on this list. I struggled an embarrassingly long time considering these aren’t exactly issues of war and peace. I’m just one nerd obsessively ranking comic book movies. It’s not that deep. Well, until it is that deep. After viewing the 21 movies that led up to this one, it’s pretty easy to become emotionally invested in many of these characters. And how this movie handled that investment is (mostly) why it takes the top spot.

Okay, so this one picks up just a few weeks after the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos managed to obtain all of the Infinity Stones, snapped his fingers, and eliminated 50% of all life in the universe. And he left the survivors to pick up the pieces. Captain Marvel shows up, having answered Nick Fury’s cosmic page from the after credits sequence of Infinity War. She helps spur the remaining Avengers on to finding Thanos, taking the Infinity Stones back, and undoing The Snap. Except that when they find Thanos, he’s destroyed the stones so they can never be used again. His demise shortly after is decidedly unsatisfying – which is the point. There’s no undoing what Thanos did, and the survivors just have to live with it.

All this happens quite early in the film. Afterward, we catch up with the remaining Avengers… five years later. Yeah, they went all-in on The Snap. Half of life in the universe is gone, and everyone has to live with the consequences of that. It’s clear for anyone paying attention that at least most of the “snapped” heroes will return, but it’s a credit to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely that they can subvert audience expectations and not make resolution easy.

We spend a great deal of time with the survivors, letting them deal with the aftermath of a world-shaking event. Eventually, Ant-Man appears, having spent a couple hours (from his point of view) in the Quantum Realm, completely missing out on the events of Infinity War. He shocks the remaining Avengers with his return, but they quickly figure out that his stint in the Quantum Realm (amazing how terms like that can be made to seem almost not ridiculous) can provide a road map to practical time travel. They figure they can travel back in time to prevent Thanos from using the Infinity Stones, or at least using the stones to undo The Snap. They take their idea to Tony Stark, who probably had the best post-Snap life. He now has a young daughter and a relatively idyllic family life with Pepper Potts. He’s not so keen on helping his former teammates undo the last five years, which have worked out well for him. So they go to Bruce Banner, who has also forged a pretty solid life for himself, figuring out how to integrate his mind and humanity into the body of the Hulk. He’s more willing to help, but can’t quite figure out how to use Ant Man’s tech to time travel on his own. Tony has an epiphany of sorts, and ends up helping after all. The team (mostly) gets back together, and we enjoy a fun sci-fi caper they amusingly dub “the time heist.”

The team splits up, using the Quantum Realm to travel back to different points in time – mostly corresponding with events from past MCU films. We see the events of The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor 2, but from new perspectives. It’s all immensely inventive, entertaining, and also somewhat heartbreaking at times. Eventually the team gets their hands on past versions of the Stones, and brings them back to 2024. In the course of this, Black Widow loses her life, and the 2014 version of Thanos catches wind of their plot. He brings his army to Earth, where they have a final showdown against the Avengers, who have managed to Snap the missing back to life – albeit five years after they disappeared.

What transpires next is arguably the most exciting half hour in the entire MCU canon. Pretty much everyone gets a big moment, Thanos is defeated, the good guys return (mostly), and Tony Stark sacrifices himself in the best possible way.

This film is number one on my list because it manages to tie 21 movies together in a way that satisfies 90% of the possible character arcs, leaves open further adventures for many of them, and provides a deeply satisfying end to Iron Man and Captain America – one via heroic death, and for the latter – a second chance at the life he always wanted.

Despite the three hour (!) runtime, Endgame never feels slow or bloated. Some characters do get short shrift, but this was meant to be a sendoff for the original six Avengers, and only one of them feels slighted by the results. I still think it would have been more fitting to kill off Hawkeye instead of Black Widow. The tragedy of his post-Snap life, and the return of his family at the end would have been made more impactful by his death. And truthfully, it feels like Nat always deserved better. It would have been nice to see her relatively obscure toiling throughout the series finally rewarded in the end.

The time travel itself gets a bit convoluted, and while there are some attempts at waving away the inherent issues with potential paradoxes and alternate timelines; it’s best not to focus too much on the details. The whole thing unravels if one tugs too hard on the threads. It’s not quite as messy as the Terminator franchise or the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, but it really is best not to dwell overly long on it.

This movie ranks number one for me in spite of the resolution of Hawkeye and Black Widow, and even with the awkward time-travel problems. Even with those issues, it managed to tie together an enormous, decade long franchise that spanned something like 50 hours of film. It was full of fan service, but none of it felt cheap. They had earned it. Remember when I praised the farmhouse scenes of Age of Ultron, because they helped us care more about these characters? Well, that made the payoff of Endgame all the richer. And I will also mention that I actually cheered a little – as did the whole theater – when Captain America picked up Thor’s hammer. It was a moment of badass triumph – but it was also a nod to an earlier film, and an acknowledgement that Steve was worthy. And so were the fans for sticking it out. Thor’s “I knew it!” as Steve bashes Thanos with Mjolnir alone is worth a top five spot for me.

Avengers: Endgame only works because of the work of the prior films in the franchise. It may not be the absolute best film by itself, but as a finale for the first decade of the MCU, it ties everything together with more emotional and visceral heft than I could have hoped. In a vacuum it may not quite be number one, but as the endgame – ahem – of these films, it rises to the top.

Hits: An emotionally satisfying conclusion to a massive series of plots and characters, the best action sequence in the entire series, thoughtful consequences, and well-earned fan service.

Misses: Black Widow’s arc ended in disappointing fashion, and the time travel never completely makes sense.

So there you have it. Until  Spider-Man: Far From Home is released later year, this is it for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m sure there will be many who don’t agree with me… indeed, my list varies from several of these others. But I know what I like, and I believe I’ve supported my positions.

Now, I suppose I should get back to the real world. Well, maybe after I watch Winter Soldier one more time…

Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies Ranked — From Worst to Best


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