Friday, September 20, 2019

I don't think people understand what the word "mediocre" actually means.

This meme appeared on my Facebook yesterday from a friend who shared it from the Utah Harm Reduction coalition. A bunch of people liked it and passed it on, but I don't think people actually "read" it or even know what "mediocre" means.  The word "mediocre" just means "ordinary." So this meme is suggesting that vulnerable, kind, and generous folks are "extraordinary" and that attracting "ordinary folk" is a toxic burden. It was the most pretentious thing I've read in some time. Why do I use the word "pretentious?" Allow me to explain.

First, you should know that I consider myself to be an ordinary person, and I can tell that whomever wrote this meme is (in Southern language) "putting on airs." In other words, they think they are better than me, and I'm like...whaaattt? Did you not get the memo that being vulnerable, kind, and generous does not make you extraordinary? There's lots of people who are vulnerable, kind, and generous. I work with hundreds of people who define this every day. There are millions and millions of people who are vulnerable, kind, and generous. The antithesis of this, psychopaths, make up around 4% of the population (I got this statistic from a book called The Sociopath Next Door). This means that 96% of the population of the United States could probably be said to be at least "kind" and "generous." Charity is huge here. So what the hell is going on? Why does someone who wrote this meme think this qualifies as extraordinary? Why is "mediocre" lumped in with the words "abusive" and "terrible?"

The non-profit organization Utah Harm Reduction is an organization interested in promoting safety and well-being among a population of substance consumers. I get that. I know some ravers and partiers who get super excited to dance under an electric sky, to engage in P.L.U.R. (Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect), and they like their ecstasy and other drugs because it's fun and allows them to escape the banality of existing in a world which doesn't appreciate them all that much. Done. I understand and wish them all well on this journey. But using drugs, enjoying music, having public sex, wearing costumes, and saying "f*ck you" to the establishment does not make a person extraordinary. Not in my book, at least. It just makes you human. Congratulations, you do what you want. You pierce what you want. You tattoo what you want. You sleep with whom you want. It's nice to have freedoms and welcome to the human race. People have been doing this kind of thing for thousands of years. You are not extraordinary. You are, in fact, ordinary. And if you look at your life, and see how far you've come and what achievements you've put under your belt without the aid of others, you will probably see how ordinary you are. In fact, you may only be in a good place in life because you had the "luck" to be born in a country and a society which has allowed these things to flourish.

But here's the thing: being ORDINARY IS NOT BAD. I'm an ordinary guy. Everyone I work with is ordinary. I play ordinary games like Dungeons & Dragons, I read ordinary books (some of which are actually written by extraordinary folks) and I listen to music (a lot of which is produced by extraordinary folks). There are plenty of extraordinary people out there, but that's only because we have a world population of 8 billion. One percent of 8 billion is still 80 million people who have talents that are mind-blowing. Take Kodi Lee from America's Got Talent or Simone Biles, the Olympic gymnast. These are people who are truly extraordinary. And here's another moniker of the extraordinary: they usually make their mark on the world by their early twenties if not their teens. If you are past thirty, and you are not well known, chances are...YOU ARE ORDINARY. This isn't to mean that you cannot be successful and make it into the middle class. The Middle Class is full of ordinary people who drive cars, own houses, and can even afford cars like a Mercedes Benz or a Range Rover. Lots of middle class "ordinary" people live fulfilling lives, pumping out a few kids, getting married, getting divorced, smoking weed, and sexting with a partner or multiple partners (if you're into polyamory--which is also not extraordinary by the way).

This "idea" that I'm seeing where individuals hold onto a belief that they are extraordinary is toxic and poisonous. People who think they are extraordinary will not want to do everyday tasks that people need to do in order to live a healthy life. They will miss opportunities for love, because they believe someone is beneath them, and they will wait for a truly extraordinary person (or opportunity) to find them (and this will never happen). They will have unrealistic expectations about life, and they will come up wanting. And the thing is...all of this will lead to a mental health crisis. We will see enmasse depression and anxiety cropping up in the population, because that's what happens when people have unrealistic expectations about reality: you get depressed. It's honestly not rocket science.

I wonder (deeply) how we even got here as a society? Why are there so many normal folk who think they are better than others, and what kind of damage is going to be inflicted upon our society as a result? Can we please not demonize the word, "ordinary?" If you do, you risk not only demonizing me, but demonizing you are more than likely an ordinary person (especially true if I know you personally). 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Look at this spider!

I play Dungeons & Dragons, and I also collect minis. This particular mini is in the "Huge" category of sizes, which means it takes up a space of three inches by three inches on a battlefield grid. A human-sized miniature takes up the space of one inch by one inch. So this thing is three times as large as a human, which would be immediately apparent were you playing D&D and the little miniature you use for your character is suddenly confronted with this monstrosity.

I'm so excited to have this thing in my collection. The artist is a local guy by the name of Steven Oaks, and he operates an Etsy store for his 3D art (which is code for fancy miniatures that he paints and sells online). It cost me a pretty penny, but when it was delivered, I was wowed by the detail. I think when it gets used on the players this Saturday, there will be squeals of horror followed by in-game screams of characters as they are trapped within the network of this spider's sinister webs.

Let the (evil cackle).

Monday, September 16, 2019

Will Grand Admiral Thrawn appear in The Mandalorian?

Will Grand Admiral Thrawn appear in The Mandalorian? It's an interesting question. If you don't know who Thrawn is, he was first introduced in the book Heir to the Empire, which came out about the same time as I was attending college in 1990. It's written by the author, Timothy Zahn, and featured a cunning villain by the name of Thrawn, who studied art pieces produced by a civilization in order to develop strategies by which he could defeat them. In the course of the series, it seemed to work quite well, and I have my own personal theories that Thrawn was based upon Hannibal Lecter, and that Timothy Zahn was an admirer of Thomas Harris (the author of the Silence of the Lambs). Thrawn is a very Lecter-esque villain, minus the whole cannibalism thing, because Star Wars doesn't allow that kind of thing to be portrayed on screen.

Thrawn has appeared in the canonical animated series (like The Clone Wars for instance), so we do know that he is a character that exists within the framework of the Lucasfilm live action storyline. What I find interesting is that the showrunner for The Mandalorian, Jon Favreau (you may know him as Happy from the Marvel films), seems to hint rather heavily that Thrawn may make an appearance. It's an interesting and exciting thing to think that Disney is actually contemplating bringing the worlds of the television show and the movies together into a more cohesive package. There are astounding revelations that came from the animated series. Darth Maul is still alive is one of them, and it was confirmed when we all spotted him at the end of the movie, Solo. But if we meet Thrawn, then there's also a chance that we'll meet heroes like Ahsohka Tano, and that just gets me all kinds of excited. Ahsohka was an amazing character, and if we meet her, I think it may be enough to really energize the whole franchise.

Disney (in launching their streaming network in November) feels very much like it is breaking ground on storylines that sorely needed to find new directions in which to grow. Mining the expanded universe of Star Wars (for example) for gold nuggets seems like a great place to start. I wonder what all else may turn up as discussion points, and what we will actually see come November.

So what about you? If you are familiar with the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn, would you be excited to see him in the live-action t.v. series? I'll look for your comments

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance is a strange show.

There are spoilers in this post for Netflix's series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

I should have expected this, but my fondness of the things in the Dark Crystal movie are separated by a gulf of time and a lot of nostalgia. I'm about 70% done with watching the Age of Resistance show on Netflix, and I am having fun with it, but it's just super odd in its weirdness. However, it is very Jim Henson. So I think they nailed the things the great puppeteer loved when he was alive, and I think they've done very well by his legacy. Here are a few of my strange observations:

1) The podling scenes remind me of a personal friend who drives truck. He makes strange loud noises with his face, and it just makes me picture my friend doing that every time I see it on the screen.

2) The world of the Dark Crystal feels very original and richly detailed. Most fantasy genres will play on elves, dwarves, gnomes, etc. and just go with that. The Dark Crystal doesn't lean on any well-established fantasy races. It has its own races, who come across as very authentic despite the fact that the puppets don't display much range of emotion.

3) The rock golem creature is asymmetrical. It messes with my sense of rightness every time I see it on screen and just weirds out my eyeballs. So there is that.

4) The carriage that the Skeksis use is powered by giant pill bugs that roll on the ground and respond to electrical shock. I just gotta say, those things go really really fast. Surprisingly fast. And they are all-terrain, basically making the royal carriage into a monster truck.

5) The hunter Skeksis is a lot faster and more agile than the other Skeksis. It makes me wonder why the other Skeksis are so slow and clumsy. I feel like I could outrun a Skeksis that wasn't the hunter, and that is saying a lot about how slow and clumsy they actually are.

6) The gelflings strike me as an entire race of well-meaning, compassionate, but ultimately defenseless (because they are kind and respectful) creatures who are into granola bars and hugging trees. It's all quite lovely, but in any version of the comic book story, The Walking Dead, these are the people that all died to the zombie menace within the first week. They just aren't equipped to handle anything truly evil.

7) Aughra is the most irresponsible wizard, and is definitely a far cry from Gandalf. She slept most of her life away, caring not for the job to which she was assigned. Then when she realized something was amiss, it was pretty obvious that it was because the crystal had gone dark and was being abused. It was also very apparent that the Skeksis were responsible and evil. She had several opportunities to just go to the tribes and tell them personally and help the gelflings prepare for war. But rather than do that, she decided to wait around the base of a tree to see if the earth would eventually teach her its song again. That seems like a colossal waste of time.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the show, but its definitely weird. It also does not shy away from gross things, which was another surprise. Who knew puppets could be so gross. I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing a Skeksis sending out three streams of urine...but ya know...that's just a thing I saw that I can't unsee.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Deception is a remarkable thing.

I know several deceivers, and they are small time creatures who weave webs of lies to cocoon themselves within their own realities. What strikes me as remarkable about this is that it seems so apparently obvious to me, yet it isn't obvious to their families and even one fiancée in particular (you'd think that a fiancée would know, but they don't). Though I don't care all that much, I wonder why I'm able to see things that they are not. And I think it all boils down to one thing: the family and the fiancée want very much for life to appear a certain way. The fiancée does not want to be single, and I think she believes she is running out of time with one failed marriage already under her belt. I believe she's put a lot of time into this relationship, and that she just doesn't want to see anything wrong with it. It's like a cost vs. benefits thing. "There's no effing way that I've spent this kind of time investing in this thing and I'm not gonna get a reward for it!" It's like a cognitive dissonance or something similar....

What the family wants is a bit different. They want things to be defined a certain way. To them, bad people look like non-whites who are flashy in the way they dress (or sexual). Bad people are the ones with the tattoos, the ones with the piercings, and the ones who are blatantly honest with their sexuality. A person who is very open and has no problem saying, "I'm gay and I like dick," is a bad person not to be trusted with underage boys because (obviously) they are just waiting to molest. But a person who is closeted, who outwardly says all of the right things...the deceiver if you the person they invest with all of the trust. It's truly baffling, and all of the signs that they are "in the closet" are right there (and perhaps up to nefarious things). But it's not worth digging any deeper to them because it might spoil what they really want (a Norman Rockwell life?), which in my opinion doesn't exist.

I've come to observe that a willingness to take lies as truth comes from fear, and I wasn't expecting this. I have a very healthy and honest relationship with fear. If I'm afraid of something I say it. I also embrace fear in many ways, realizing that (as an emotion) it's purpose is to keep me safe. But I've never been struck by a fear of truth (I guess) because I've always embraced truth and didn't care what other people thought of me. I'm gay, I'm fat, I'm two years from my fiftieth birthday...all of these things are true and I don't care. I say blunt things because this is how I think and I feel bluntness is good and solid communication that has no risk of being misunderstood. When people I've barely met ask to use my computer, they act stunned when I say. "Yes. But I should warn you that there's naked pictures of guys on there so don't open certain folders if you are offended by that kind of thing." I just don't care, but I'm also comfortable living a life alone. I've had people say to me over the years, "You are so courageous for living alone like this." I usually look puzzled and say, "Um...I like living alone. This isn't torture you know?"

One of my friends even said, "Living like you would make me want to commit suicide." I think I was eating ice cream and watching t.v.  I was like, "What?" And they clarified, "I just don't know how you do it?" And I was like..."Do what? Eat ice cream?" And then they started saying how it must be miserable to be single, and I quickly said, "Look, I only suffer from loneliness or depression honestly about once a month or once every two months. I actually love all the space I have and I love being single. It's great. I go to movies all the time, and I only have to buy one ticket. I never have to arrange myself around anyone else's schedule. I eat what I want every night. I watch what I want. It's actually pretty great." But they would have none of it. They thought I was miserable.

There's a weird kind of shaming that happens with our society around folks who are single. We must all be the biggest losers that humanity has ever pooped onto the Earth, and we must all be suffering and one inch away from suiciding out. But that is not the case at all, I assure you. But it's this "idea" and "fear of being single" and "going your own way" that opens people up to deception. It's the idea that there is only one formula for happiness, and that if you stray from that formula, well you're basically f*cked so you should accept anything that happens to you (or that is told to you) as long as it preserves the formula for happiness. It's complete and utter bullshit. And it makes me think ultimately, that a lot of people are not equipped to detect deception, because ultimately they don't want to do just that. Essentially, people find comfort in being lied to as long as it fits the formula for happiness. What they don't like are the things that threaten to derail the formula for happiness. Even if these uncomfortable things are facts and are completely true, they will be labeled as lies by people in order to preserve what they know.

That is so messed up. So yeah...deception is a remarkable thing. And it's just another layer of what it's like to live in this messed up world. Do I have any advice to people out there who want to be able to spot deception and to be free of it? Yes, and it's actually pretty easy. Embrace the fear of being alone. Embrace the fear of walking a path alone through life. Be your authentic self. Get to a point where you don't care what people say about you. Get to a point where you are not dependent on anyone else, and you can truly say "No" to opportunities (because if you wanted to you could just do them yourself). Once you've arrived at that point, you will spot people who are lying to you. You will unmask the deceivers and the manipulators.  And you will probably learn something about yourself along the way.

Monday, September 9, 2019

I'm not excited to see Joaquin Phoenix play The Joker.

The Joker is probably the Batman's most iconic villain. Growing up and collecting Batman comics, Detective Comics, and reading the stories written by Frank Miller, Sam Hamm, and others...probing the subject matter of Death in the Family (in which Jason Todd dies) seeing the appearance of Tim Drake in Batman Year Three and on and on and on. I collected, consumed, and loved these stories. I understand that comic books are an industry, and that all of those stories were just money grabs. Comics kind of lost their way when they started making panels so huge that only one or two of them could be featured to a page, and some were being released with alternative covers so you had to collect all five. Do you have the special "black bag" edition when Superman dies? Why yes I did. I fell for that. However, I had fun at the time, and as a kid an an immature nerdy adult, I guess that's all that matters.

I have spent many nerd years thinking about the Joker, and I honestly don't think he's anything more than a psychopath that dresses like a clown if he is shown in a story without the presence of the Batman. I've heard that Joaquin Phoenix has turned in a stellar performance as The Joker, which (to be honest) doesn't surprise me. Joaquin Phoenix strikes me as one of those people that probably couldn't do any other job than the one that he has because he's probably got mental illnesses and demons of his own to wrestle with. Being in a field where he can channel all of that into a character for an audience just suits him well. It'd be like having a super beautiful young woman who likes to be naked a lot in front of other people and have exhibitionists sex seeking out the career of a porn star. People might say, "You are so great at your job! We've never seen anyone perform like you!"'s what they like to do, and it comes naturally to them. Do we praise mountain goats for climbing mountains and cliffs really well? It's what they do. For what it's worth...I've heard that sharks are excellent swimmers. Go figure, right?

The thing that makes me annoyed about the Joker probably stems from my like of the character. I think the Joker is an excellent villain. However, the character (because of its mental illnesses and demons) has become an "award grab" rather than a "money grab." Every actor out there who wants to prove their acting chops slavers at the idea of turning in a "Meatloaf worthy" performance as The Joker, because the character's range is built to handle that. As a caveat, I know that may not have been Heath Ledger's intention, however, his performance as the character pretty much defined it for a whole generation of people. But so did Nicholson's.

I'm old enough to remember people who talked about how great of an actor Nicholson was after walking out of Tim Burton's Batman, and how Nicholson's turn at the Joker cost some $50 million (which was an unheard of sum back in the eighties when it was released). Nicholson (at the time) was already an Academy Award winning actor, so he had nothing to prove other than to turn in heavy and drippy art worthy of his reputation. It's the same thing that countless other artists do: anyone remember Francis Ford Coppola mailing in the visual feast that is Dracula? I call this kind of spectacle the "Meatloaf" phase of art, because it all strikes me as incredibly overwrought, kind of like a lot of Meatloaf's songs. Celine Dion after finally making it, turned to singing ballads worthy of Meatloaf just because she could (think of it's all coming back to me now). Michael Jackson went from just doing music videos to making mini movies filled with crazy special effects. So did Madonna...I remember the video for "Express Yourself" was just over-the-top.

Anyway, I think that is what "The Joker" as a character has come to represent. It's something that artists who are intent on proving themselves to the world seem to want to portray (as the icing on the cake), and that disappoints me. For one, there should be more crazy roles out there for people who truly want to stretch their acting chops (like Brad Pitt's go at Twelve Monkeys). The Joker being cast and recast and done and redone is removing anything that was special about that particular character. And I'm not sure I'm interested in watching yet another talented actor pour their heart and soul into a role that has been done before, and by people who took it just as seriously. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Why am I the only one who takes to heart the phrase "If it seems too good to be true it probably is?"

I know a young woman (18) that may be getting targeted by a female human trafficker (of about the same age if not the same generation) looking for sex slaves to sell in eastern Europe or the Middle East (take your pick). I know that sentence is not what you expected to read when you came to my blog, but I have no other way to say it. I've thought about why I think this, and also, please know that I have not been vague at all in expressing my concerns to the mother of this girl and to the girl directly and as bluntly as possible. Thus far, I've been dismissed, in the similar way that a crackpot or the boy who cried "Wolf!" might also be dismissed. That doesn't bother me. However, what does bother me is that I'm the only adult in a group of older women who are observing the behavior with any red flags going up. Here's the situation:

This young woman (I shall call her Bee for purposes of this blog post) is attending the University of Utah as a freshman for the first time. Bee's classes (as of this writing) started approximately two weeks ago. Anyway, Bee met another young woman who sat next to her in a Biology class. They started talking, Bee followed the other woman on Instagram, and they've hung out some. Within the first week of knowing each other, Bee's new "friend" told her that her father was super rich, the owner of a Marriott hotel that overlooks the water in Athens, Greece, and that he has a private yacht. She's invited Bee to go to an all-expense paid vacation to Greece for spring break. This offer has since been sweetened to a tour of Greece, Italy, and Jordan (where the woman's mother lives). I was flabbergasted while Bee and other adults were overjoyed at Bee's "good fortune." I was the only one that said, "Who is this woman? Is she a human trafficker?" And then I expressed that this sounds way too good to be true and probably is.

I said, "You will be in a foreign country and can't speak the language," directly to Bee who was horrified that I was being so serious about this. Her response, "Well I would be with this woman." And my response was, "She IS the kidnapper. She could discuss your sale price, which could be $10,000 to some Arab that she plans to pass you off to right in front of you and you'd never know. One man could overpower you, grab your passport, then push you into a van and off you go to Eastern Europe to be gang raped by ten guys a day and then they get you drugged up and addicted to heroin (in your off time) while you are chained to a bed. As for your mom, she'll never see you again."

I should point out that Bee is quite a lovely girl. I think all of you would find her attractive. She is tall, slim, very fit, blond, and with blue eyes, and I don't think she has had sex yet, though that is none of my business. However, I'm just throwing that all out there so you can at least see where I'm coming from and what my concerns are. In the least, she is a bright-eyed girl who dreams of going to medical school and becoming a doctor and doing humanitarian work. However, she's got this desire inside her that wants to derail all that because what she REALLY wants is to be a woman like Kylie Jenner. She wants to be famous without really having any kind of talent that justifies the fame...and I think ultimately she wants to be famous because it would mean super acceptance among the most beautiful people that walk the earth. It seems like a really shallow want to be able to date the most handome bachelors like Tom Holland or Shawn Mendes and to pick and choose and have young, handsome, rich men fight over her. Bee's favorite show is called "The Bachelorette," which should tell you something about this girl. Her mother, by contrast, lives a poverty-stricken life mostly because she doesn't work. Most of her waking hours are spent pursuing a polyamorous lifestyle and social connections and then having situational anxiety over money flow and facing the fact that age is happening. I'm not sure where her daughter picked up the desire to be "like a Kardashian," but she sure did.

And here's the thing: Bee is not the only one I know who shares her similar desires. Bee (and other girls) want only the cream of the crop of the youngest most handsome men the world has to offer. They actually did very little dating in high school because none of those boys that asked them out were good enough. Seriously, I heard their conversations (gay men are privy to all kinds of things that get said in front of them). Get this...I will even dare to say that every young woman I know in the State of Utah has the same desire. They all watch "The Bachelorette," they all have no skills whatsoever unless "fashion" and "makeup" counts as a skill, and they all just want rich, good-looking, young men to fight over them. These women are too proud to take the bus. I know one that absolutely complains that she has to take the bus anywhere, trying to blackmail her mother into driving her places when she's perfectly able to take the bus to any destination (Salt Lake City has excellent public transportation), and they complain that they have to get up in the morning (I've gotten up at 6:50 a.m. five days a week for as long as I can remember). They want to be able to snap pictures of themselves and post them on Instagram and make tons of money so that they can be invited to the Oscars and wear the latest fashions. What the actual f*ck is going on?

And you know what? All of that "desire" to be famous for just being you and not even stretching yourself beyond that is resulting in some disastrous behavior. For one, these girls all think that getting invited to stay on a yacht for Spring Break that is all expenses paid (off the coast of Greece) is perfectly normal. It happens to Kylie Jenner, right? So why not me? Well for are not Kylie Jenner! Without the ability to recognize when you are being lied to by someone, there is a strong chance that you will be taken advantage of in a serious way (human trafficking being the ultimate bad scenario here). Second, a lot of these girls will never ever be famous. A huge percentage of them will fail. If they hold onto this desire to be famous through their adult life, they will never commit to perfectly fine average partners with mediocre jobs (which will result in them probably realizing they've gotten old someday and don't have anyone) and they will experience profound dissatisfaction with life and end up depressed with anxiety and on meds to manage it all while they draw social security because they don't want to face the shame of working for a low wage (because that's all they're qualified to do). So instead of being in the middle class, they actually land in the lower class or even homelessness. Instead of having a home of their own...they don't even have a trailer park at the age of fifty to call home. I've seen this scenario happen over and over, so I'm not making it up. The party only lasts so long folks, and you've got to commit to something or you miss being the last one there.

Bee is in a hurry to have it all (incredible house, nice clothes, yacht, fans, invites to exclusive parties, sex with the handsomest men on the planet, and glamour), and it's very frustrating. She has no idea how much any of that costs at all. Whatever happened to her wanting to be a doctor? feels very much that the career of "doctor" was merely a catch phrase because she couldn't envision a path to this "other career" that she wants very much. I've known a few doctors and 1) they got lucky to even get to medical school and 2) it required extreme focus at the expense of everything else. And I would point out that there's a reason why "becoming the next Kardashian" is not taught in school. It's not a path that most people are able to follow. It's like trying to get winning lottery numbers ahead of the lottery. Not a whole lot of people are able to do that.

I should note that my concerns have found some ground with the mother, so we'll see if it actually goes anywhere. But in the aftermath of me almost pointing a finger at Bee's newly found "Jordanian" friend and shouting "human trafficker" (I suppose I stopped just shy of this), I can tell that my comments ruffled some feathers (I honestly don't really care because I like to call things out as I see them). I did stalk the new "friend" on Bee's Instagram follow list. It was the most peculiar Instagram I have ever seen. There were exactly 60 photos all going back to 2016 where they just stop. Each picture is staged, and there are no other people. No pics with friends or family. Just one person...this girl...and someone behind the camera (who is taking these pictures?). They are not selfies. Each picture has between 50 and 100 comments, but no words. Every picture is just filled with users who are posting emojis. Multiple lips or hearts or kissy faces. Every...single...picture. Like...that isn't a red flag for anyone but me? Every instagram I follow has people posing with friends. Even the Kardashians do that. Bee says, "I think this girl is lonely, and I'm just lucky to become her friend." Yeah...lucky...or you've got a huge bullseye on your back and can't see it.

This "friend" also doesn't live on the University of Utah campus. Bee lives in the dorms, this woman lives by herself in a two-bedroom apartment that is close by, and she lives by herself. The rent on this thing has got to be $1600.00 a month. I also checked with the University of Utah, and although they have an international campus for countries like South Korea, they do not have one for Greece. Which makes me wonder...why the hell is a woman who has the resources to go to school anywhere find herself in Utah of all places?

Anyway...I may never get answers to all the questions that circle in my head. Bee certainly doesn't ask any questions of her new friend. She's afraid to, as it may chase her away and cost Bee these beautiful opportunities that she is eager to pluck with greedy fingers. I can see Bee's mind churning at the thought of posting Instagram pics of herself in exotic locations looking good and making her friends from Utah jealous. I can see herself thinking, "I'm going to be a rich social media influencer and everyone will see how ignoring me was a bad thing to do! I can't wait to meet Taylor Swift so we can be besties!"

Nowhere in Bee's mind does she picture herself being knocked out and raped in some dungeon in Jordan and then sold to ISIS soldiers in Syria looking for a bride. The thing is, there's a word for this: desperate. So I ask you, what are parents doing these days that are raising girls to be so desperate for fame? Why do girls even want fame? Is there anyone left that just wants to be a refrigerator repair person? That's a respectable profession? I thought about learning to repair HVAC systems before I got hired in Assistive Technology. Whatever happened to just grinding away at something and finding success over many years? That's what I did. Was the path that I walked so bad? It makes me feel like no one wants to put in the time anymore because there's something shameful about that. But walking the slow path is also a much safer path, especially given that today's world is so filled with everyday dangers.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

My home is honestly the best place for me to write anything.

Today is the first Wednesday of September, and I'm hearing the lyrics to Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends." That being said, it's also time to post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

The IWSG is a monthly blogfest originally created by Alex Cavanaugh. Since that time, it has become a writing force in the online world. I participate in it every month and you should too. To sign up, go HERE.

Each month you get a choice to blog about something related to writing, or to answer the monthly question. I'm doing the latter this month, so without further ado, the September question is:

If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

I think I would still write my story in my home. Honestly, I've created a nice space for my writing, and I think it is the best place I could find inspiration were I truly to seek it out. Right now I'm prioritizing some personal projects ahead of any fiction writing, and it might remain that way for some time. But I recently published a friend's book on KDP print and kindle, and I've got to say that I rather enjoyed working on it. It's made me think that I should publish something of my own, but then I get distracted by the afore-mentioned projects (if you must know I'm drawing a map of my Dungeons & Dragons world using an old edition of Photoshop while watching Netflix or Amazon Prime). Anyway, I find the space I've carved out for myself in my home to be the perfect place to relax and pursue art projects--whether those projects are writing or drawing. And there's close proximity to homemade cookies and refreshments, which I think are a plus when burning mental calories.

So there you have it folks. I'm off to read other's answers to the above question, and I wonder just how outlandish these answers might get. Thanks for the read.

Friday, August 30, 2019

There are a ton of projects that are better built as a limited series than as a continuous multi-season show.

I have a few thoughts about television series.

Steven Spielberg famously once said that he wasn't sure if people knew how to tell stories anymore. What he was referring to was the conclusion, the finale, and there being no sequel. No one wants things to end anymore. They just keep on wanting the story to go on and on and on, for whatever reason. Maybe it's kind of like another hit of Ecstasy (a well-known club drug). The audience just wants that dopamine release one more time, and so they ask for it from the creators of a story that brought them pleasure, and the creators end up spinning some filler (or stretching a plotline way out) because it means more money in their pocket. Only this made up stuff is sub-par because it was never going to be part of the original story in the first place. Sounds familiar, right?

My mom was always on guard for house guests that "Overstayed their welcome." Well there are stories that do this too.

Good Omens is a great example of a show that does not overstay its welcome. Short and concise, and taking few liberties with its story from the novel version allows it to play out in the brains of its audience and finish with a bang. On the flip-side of this, stories like The Man in the High Castle (Amazon), The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu), The Walking Dead (AMC), and American Gods (Starz), are turning in lackluster seasons because each of these was meant to explore a single interesting idea (and now its all about grabbing some money). This works great in a single book or in a limited series, but it starts to break down when it is extended into an exploration of the world around it.

I would even argue that Star Wars is another great example of a show that has overstayed its welcome. It had a singular idea, which was the arc (and the story) of Darth Vader. But the love for all of the extras from Jedi vs. Sith to bounty hunters to the world at large has fueled a never-ending amount of stories that can be told in the universe. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm one of those junkies that has insisted on more Star Wars stories. However, time may well prove (along with Lord of the Rings--I guess we will see) that it is (in fact) one interesting idea that has been stretched in innumerable ways and none of it is as good as the core story.

I would also argue that dystopian fiction is better as a limited series than as a continuous multi-season show. Here's why: dystopian fiction is kind of prophetic--it tries to speak to a particular tension in the present moment that readers can relate to and are bothered by. This tension becomes the backbone of a world, but it is ultimately not sustainable for long because tension needs to have some kind of resolution. The Man in the High Castle, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Walking Dead in particular fall victim to this trap. Season after season of the dystopia (just throw a rock and pick one) never resolving is not a way to continue to woo an audience. Who wants to just immerse themselves in a frustrating anxiety-inducing thing with no end in sight?

This is where (I think) good science fiction is better built for multi-season (or extended) storytelling. Science Fiction in particular is "speculative." It tries to imagine a working future in believable detail, based on existing trends, technology, and scientific theory. In dystopian fiction, if there is a "speculative" element, it is usually just a vehicle to get us to the prophetic element, to show us a nightmare scenario if you will. The latter mode doesn't play well with world-building, which is the core of multi-season storytelling. The former, however, is made for it.

Anyway, these are some thoughts, and now I'm interested to hear yours. Other than that, have a fine weekend.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Infernal War Machine from Wizkids is available today and I'm super excited to get mine.

Look, I play Dungeons & Dragons. Y'all probably already knew that. But along with the hobby is a bunch of nerd gear that goes beyond dice and rule books. I also collect miniatures, and the maker of the officially licensed minis for Dungeons & Dragons is a company called Wizkids. Today, August 28th, is the day that their latest set, called Icons of the Realms Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, goes on sale.

In the D&D universe, there is not just one Hell, but nine of them and they are arranged like poker chip piled one on top of another on a table. The top most layer of Hell is called Avernus. In the past, it was ruled by a five-headed dragon. I've no idea who rules it now, because I haven't bothered to keep up. But the minis that are coming from this set are ones that I've wanted for a while now, because most of them are various kinds of devils (which I don't have very many of). And then there's this: the Infernal War Machine (look at the pics below).
This thing is 12-inches long (most character minis are only an inch high). According to the Wizkids website, these magitech tanks breathe noxious gas and ride roughshod over anything that gets in their way (and where devils are concerned it is probably their hated enemy, demons).
And it opens up. The vehicle "hood" is removable and you can place one regular sized character mini in the driver's seat.
It also comes completely apart so you can stick an army in the back (cargo) area.

I got the call last night that the Infernal War Machine was on the shelf. I asked them if I could come and pick it up tonight, but they refused saying that they can't sell before the August 28th sell date. So I guess I need to be patient until this evening when I get off work. Good thing my local game store doesn't close until 10 p.m. :)

Monday, August 26, 2019

The trailer for The Mandalorian makes me think that Disney spent all the monies on this to ensure that its excellent.

The Mandalorian trailer dropped on the internet last week, and my first thoughts were around how good it looked, how identifiably Star Wars it actually was, and how it seemed steps away from expected tropes. All of these things got me excited to subscribe to Disney +. In fact, I wish it was out already so that I could hurl money at Disney faster, and start watching it. I wonder if the assassin droid in the trailer is IG-88? When I used to run the Star Wars RPG from West End Games in my college days, I sometimes talked about what a badass I thought IG-88 might be. For the record, I also posed that a live-action Star Wars series told from the perspective of a bounty hunter in the galaxy might be fun to watch. That was thirty years ago. Glad to see that someone else thought the same thing and made it happen and with a reported $100 million budget for ten episodes (source The New York Times).

So yeah...if you haven't seen the trailer yet, click on it below and let me know what you think in the comments.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Netflix series Altered Carbon brings up many questions regarding the subject of immortality.

For various reasons, I put off watching Altered Carbon on Netflix until the last week or so. If you haven't seen it, I think it's worth watching. The author of the series is Richard K. Morgan, and I'm familiar with this author through his dark fantasy series called, A Land Fit for Heroes.

The Altered Carbon film adaptation on Netflix follows a main character named Takeshi who is hundreds of years old because the human civilization has discovered alien technology to allow them to transfer their souls (called consciousness) into human bodies (referred to as sleeves). You come to find out that this technology was originally invented by a woman who simply had too much she wanted to do to fit into one lifetime. That seems like an admirable thing, right?

But when the technology was released unto the world, it allowed those with financial means to become immortal. Without death to keep people in check, a dystopian world emerged. The people who always had the power stayed in power, the people who always had the money just generated more money, and the evil that was always there was now allowed to survive in perpetuity. Basically, there is no upward mobility anymore, and there's no getting rid of bad ideas and tyrants, because the tyrants never die and never suffer the debilitating effects of old age.

This idea of immortality and how it is truly monstrous is something that I've thought about a great deal, and I think it hits really close to the mark of how it honestly might be if the likes of Peter Thiel (a very conservative billionaire) get their way.

The subject of immortality (as well) goes beyond just fictional study for me, as I live in the state of Utah (which is a kind of "special" place all to its own). As you may well know, Utah is heavily populated by religious people belonging to the Latter Day Saints. Many of them believe in an interesting afterlife, wherein family and friends are sealed together for all eternity and can enjoy each other's company for that same amount of time. This explanation is very simplified, and you just need to assume that it will be mostly if not all the way a blissful and happy existence. But thinking of immortality the way that Altered Carbon presents it seems to me to be the more realistic of how something like this could play out (if it is indeed a real thing). Unless personalities are altered--which (to be honest) would not make that person who they were on Earth--then humans are fundamentally flawed and awful creatures. They are judgmental, narcissistic, self-absorbed, prone to megalomania, prone to envy and greed, etc. So in my book, spending an eternity with any family member sounds like pure Hell, even if I were to believe in that kind of thing. And if people in the afterlife didn't possess those qualities because all needs were met, then I think it would be a very boring place, not to mention that I wouldn't recognize any people I knew to begin with because all the people I know have these qualities.

But I digress as I was talking about Altered Carbon and the particular view of immortality in which Richard K. Morgan paints, albeit with a "bloody" brush. In Altered Carbon, the eternal soul just jumping into bodies so that it can interact with the real world is horrifying. People treat their "sleeves" as disposable, and having an immortal life has caused many to become psychopaths...losing all connection they ever had to empathy. Immortals (for the most part) have become monsters. After having watched Altered Carbon, I think the show presents the idea that things coming to an end is actually a good thing for life, because the finality of an ending provides its own satisfaction that living an eternal life could never give. If this is true, I wonder then why so many people struggle with their age? Why is it so difficult for many of us to let go and to realize that death is just a part of life? Why have humans always been obsessed with immortality?

My own brother would be eternally young and immortal (I think) if he could be. So would many people. I don't think I would ever choose something like this for myself. Maybe it's because my own life's experience hasn't been all that great, or that there have been particular pains that I have endured that I really wouldn't want to relive over and over again. Rather than immortality, I think I'd choose maybe one more lifetime than the one I'm currently living. And maybe I'm saying that because I don't have the perspective such a long life would provide. I just hope that humanity never discovers a way through science to realize the ideas of Richard K. Morgan. If that happens, humanity may well enter an epoch of suffering unrealized by the crimes that history has thus far presented to us. Just imagine a world in which souls like Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot were allowed to continue forever. It gives me nightmares just thinking about it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Spider-Man will no longer appear in MCU films and I think this decision won't really matter all that much.

So, news dropped yesterday that Sony will no longer be sharing Spider-Man with Marvel. I wasn't expecting this news, but it makes sense given that Far From Home grossed over a billion dollars and is due to take down Captain Marvel on its re-release (to show four minutes of extra footage) this weekend. I guess they didn't even consider Marvel's offer, which was to pay for 50% of everything going forward, and Sony pretty much just told Disney to stick it where the sun don't shine (maybe a little more polite than that). I think Kevin Feige and others at Marvel made some really great decisions in casting Tom Holland and in crafting the last two Spider-Man films (I feel like the character is on track better than he ever was before), and Sony definitely now has a good blueprint to create a successful Spider-Man film.

I remember the buzz of having Spider-Man join the MCU before Captain America: Civil War. I hadn't read that particular comic book, but a lot of the nerds I talk to and respect told me that Spider-Man was pretty crucial to the storyline. Please note that these are the same nerds who also stood up for Adam Warlock being crucial to the Infinity War storyline (which I had read and was familiar with), yet that character was completely written out of Infinity War and Endgame and no one noticed because the storyline didn't follow the books, yet was still quite good.

So knowing all of this...and then having watched Captain America: Civil War...I'm still not certain that Spider-Man was necessary at all. I don't think he was necessary for Infinity War or Endgame either. Don't get me wrong...I like that character and I think that he was a great inclusion and lightened the mood in several spots, but Spider-Man was never essential to Captain America: Civil War or any of the others he was in. I mean...what did Spider-Man even do? Take away Captain America's shield? Give Iron-Man someone to mentor and miss after the snapture? Help fight Thanos on Titan (which they ended up losing anyway)? All of those things could have happened through another character, easy. The only thing he was really good for was having a teenager to rope other teenagers into wanting to see the film (because they had a character that represented them).

Anyway, I guess my point to all of this is that Spider-Man going back to Sony seems like a good move at this point. It means Tom Holland will probably appear in the next Venom movie and that his appearances in future Avengers films will depend on Disney showing up with a truck load of cash, which they probably won't do because...why? I think I prefer the smaller plotlines anyway...where Spider-Man faces off against one of his rogues' gallery villains and they expand the world just a wee bit by exploring various characters Peter Parker interacts with. I will miss Happy Hogan, but I'm sure they'll have fun with the Aunt May character.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The great Stan Lee understood that the troublesome issues of the day belonged in Marvel comic books.

I hear all the time from white religious people in Utah about how they wish television, movies, comic books, and other forms of entertainment (they enjoy) didn't include things like feminism and other social justice warrior issues. I look to none other than the late Stan Lee for an explanation of why entertainers should never completely cater to the escapism crowd who (in their hearts) just wants to ignore the fact that our government is putting brown people in camps. This was such a refreshing find to stumble across on the internet:
For any of his faults, Stan got it. I just wish other people did.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Today I'm thinking about exploitation and I'm wondering why there is so much of it in the world today.

As I've gotten more aware of how the world works, I've noticed that a lot of life seems to be comprised of people who are looking for others to do unpaid work for them or to just flat out support their lifestyle of fun and play. It's a fascinating thing to observe, and I don't really have strong feelings about it either negative or positive. It just is, and I'm aware of it. Now, I'm not going to call this "unpaid work" by the term "slavery," but some resemblances to the images that particular term conjures into the mind do exist.

For example, I know people who are hyper-sexual and long for a devoted partner who will go to work 40-hours a week to pay for all the bills they rack up going on lunch dates, seeing doctors for various things, playing board games, and entertaining multiple guys and gals in that oh so special way (glamorized somewhat under the term "polyamory.") I know people who take on partners and then down the road, expect these partners to pick up more and more of the slack of caring for disabled individuals. And I know disabled individuals who really want a partner for doing all of the domestic chores and then some free sex here and there. I know people who "borrow money" with no intention to pay it back (another way to manipulate someone into doing something for them for free).

I know of organizations who couch unpaid work as evangelical volunteerism, or that use a religious calling as a thinly disguised way to make someone do a lot of unpaid duties. I know unpaid interns working for corporations. I know some former prisoners who tell me stories of work they were forced to endure while behind bars, which was essentially "unpaid." I know people who always have "their hand out," and it's because they want someone else to do the work they don't want to do (for free). I know people who feign helplessness to try and get free work out of someone else. And I know people who use emotional blackmail to enlist volunteers for lots of work (caregiving for an elderly parent comes to mind).

Becoming aware of this "fact" of living in the 21st century has become essential to my well-being and self care. I've actually found it "empowering," because I've learned that there is a never-ending pit of need out there, and that saying "Yes" to everything is dangerous to a person's health. If you do, you risk spending the rest of your days doing unpaid work for someone else, which can lead to bitterness, rage, and resentment (and other issues). And believe me, there is a never-ending supply of people who want you to work for them for free. Some will even be so ungrateful that they will criticize the work you've done for them for free.

And I wonder, sometimes, how many people out there are unaware of this fact. The curious thing about "facts" is that they are true no matter whether or not you believe them. This is a hard concept for some people to swallow, especially in this day and age of "fake news." I wonder how many people end up in marriages that, after several years of honeymoon, break apart because one spouse realizes that they are being worked to death. I wonder how many people understand that they are being "exploited" by an organization or a person. I wonder how many parents exploit their children for free labor.  And I also wonder how many people are honestly wanting to be exploited, because their self-esteem is so damaged that they long for a good exploitation with exultations of "Yes! Yes! Exploit me more!" I find the whole thing just fascinating to think about.

I have been careful in the past few years to avoid any opportunities where I feel someone or something might try to exploit me. And I must say, it's had a souring effect on my disposition regarding this particular word. People do a lot of things in the name of "love" whether or not they are actually feeling that emotion at all. Sometimes, maybe all it takes is someone mouthing "I love you" and there is no meaning behind it.

"Love" in my book is supposed to be Shakespearean. It's when two people who have great passion and respect for one another, come together and become greater than they are apart. But what I've been witness to are people who are afraid of living alone just taking anyone to cause the pain of aging to go away, or people see another person as a meal ticket and think "why not?" Or people who choose a partner because it allows them to climb higher in whatever social circle in which they reside.  It all seems to fly in the face of my heart, which is that of a true romantic. I suppose I should add to the stack of "the people I know" a nice helping of psychopaths. Yes, I know a few people who I think are psychopaths, and by the very definition of that word, they could not possibly know what love is. Yet...these people end up in marriages...and they say, "I love you" to their partner with as much emotion as a fish. "Whatever," I think to myself. "You do you" and all that, right? But it does leave me wondering why this happens.

I wonder why there is so much exploitation in the world. I also wonder why people fall victim to it every day. I do know that things are changing. Cheap labor is drying up, and I think that's a good thing. But I expect there to be a tipping point...that there will be violent pushback from the modern day "slave owners" who suddenly will be in danger of paupering themselves to get the help they need. There will be lazy people everywhere who suddenly will need to do the work themselves because they no longer have someone to boss around for free. Organizations may need to cut their bottom line to start paying unpaid workers or risk being destroyed. I honestly can't wait to see this happen, and I hope it happens within my lifetime. I love to witness a good wake-up call as much as anyone, and I can't wait until the "entitled" in our society come face to face with the fact that they may have to scrub their own toilet.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Second Trailer for Netflix's Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is beautiful.

I saw this on my feed yesterday, so I'm putting it below for any who haven't watched it. I'm really looking forward to it, but I'm also reminded of how bland the Gelflings actually are. It's weird to see the eighties strip-mined and repackaged so fervently, what with Stranger Things, My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, Indiana Jones, Ghost Busters, and the Dark Crystal all making comebacks. Was it really that great of a decade for people to want to revisit? Nostalgia is a weird thing. Maybe it was the last decade where a lot of people felt truly safe and insulated from "the other," which is why all of this stuff is coming back into fashion. It also feels like Netflix dropped a boatload of money on this project.

It makes sense given that Disney, Universal, and Warner may be yanking back their licenses in favor of their own streaming services. Netflix needs to do something or it will become a barren wasteland. They need a library of original content, or they probably won't survive. That being said...this next offering looks good.

Monday, August 12, 2019

If you are looking for a different kind of superhero movie I highly recommend checking out The Boys on Amazon.

I'm about four episodes into Amazon's The Boys, and the first words that come to mind when thinking about this show are, "It's just too real." It is worth watching, and it's an open critique on how modern capitalism begets modern "crapitalism," and ruins just about everything it touches. Capitalism does have a proven means to drive success and invention. But it's also a mean, cruel, and unforgiving system, and its "cruelty" seems amplified when you have super-powered beings living among regular mortals on this planet we call Earth.

The premise is at first deceptively simple: these super-powered beings are not interested in being tyrants or gods. Rather, they are heavily invested in society. Just like the Kardashians or other kinds of famous people, they don't want to rule. They want to be a part of the "elite" members of society, the .01 percent, the people who are admired and looked up to as beautiful, strong, just, and wonderful. The people that us normals out here fantasize about sexually and emotionally and think, "Oh those people have got it so good. I want to be just like them." The "supes" of The Boys are "social media influencers" to the nth degree, and there's a profound narcissism about it all...the need to be willingly worshiped. And that's the noose that capitalism has around all of the super-heroed beings I've met so far in the series. And why do I say it's a noose? Simple: the lust for fame and fortune.

Corporations in The Boys drive the narrative, and in particular one called Vought. Vought's ultimate goal is to have superhumans adpoted as the primary form of national defense in the United States, which would allow them to gain a monopoly on defense contracts, given their dominance of the superhuman industry. In the show, the character we deal most with is played by Elizabeth Shue (it's nice to see her again as I enjoyed the works she did earlier in her career). She's an unlikeable corporate shill pumping breast milk in her office to feed her child, and treating all of the superheroes as the property of the corporation. Vought controls public appearances, team-ups, and stages battles. Everything boils down to making money for shareholders.

Where the show gets interesting is in how the superheroes adapt to the trauma of being corporate shills (slaves to greed and fame). Because they want the fame and fortune and exposure that Vought promises, they are willing to compromise on every single one of their virtues in order to obtain it. Women who become part of the seven are expected to service the men who are already there in sexual ways, and they must put up with an invisible man watching them use the bathroom while he jerks off. If they don't, they'll be kicked off the very precious team (which is the equivalent of The Justice League of America).

The most powerful superhero (with abilities clearly inspired by Superman) is an unscrupulous white man who feels deeply unappreciated for his contributions, but who ultimately is not ready to rock the boat too much at Vought. However, his incredible dissatisfaction with himself and the years of compromising his own morals for the corporation (which includes killing people who threaten to expose the superheroes for using dangerous performance-enhancing drugs) has made him treat all of his co-worker superheroes like utter crap. Homelander's become a nasty grandiose narcissist who has by episode 4 clearly lost every bit of humanity that he once possessed.

If you are looking for some non-traditional superhero fare, I would recommend checking The Boys out on Amazon streaming. As I said before, it's worth your time, and it validates a lot of what I think happens in our society once we embrace the evils of unfettered capitalism and allow corporations to rule our lives.

Friday, August 9, 2019

I know way too many older men who never grew up and it weirds me out more than anything.

Our society has lots of people in it, and more and more I realize how many older men I interact with just have old bodies. Their inside self never seemed to move beyond their teenage years. I've been editing a book written by a disabled man in his fifties this week. One of the things he proudly speaks about in his book regards an activity I'd call a temper tantrum (he thinks he's making other people...namely minimum wage workers...aware that stores need to accommodate disabled people).

First, a little background: the guy's in a wheelchair. If he goes to a store to shop, and the racks are too close together for his chair to comfortably navigate the aisle, he rips all of the clothes down going through the aisle (on purpose) until a store clerk calls him on it. Then he professes ignorance and says, "It must have been my chair. I'm sooo sorry." But it's an empty apology. He was throwing a tantrum because he didn't get what he wanted.

Other grown men I know are not in equal marriages. They say things like, "I need to be home by this and this time, or I'll get in trouble." I want to say, "Oh will you get a spanking? You naughty fify-two year old, shame on you." I know what they mean. A better response would be, "I told my wife I'd be home at a certain time. If I'm not home at that time, it's disrespectful. I respect my partner, so I'm going to leave." See how the blame shifts from the wife to themselves? I'd much rather hear that, but I don't.

When I told my friend, Meg, about these observations she wasn't surprised. She has a lot of experience with men, and she says that a lot of them get married thinking that their wife will be a replacement for their mother. She says it's gross and disgusting. I wish I could have put up an argument to counter her point. But seeing what I've been observing around here in Utah, I think Meg is 100% on the mark. But I don't understand why. Why are so many grown men wanting to act like infants?

It makes me wonder, are some of the mass shootings happening in our country a result of men throwing a temper tantrum? What the hell? Are we now awash in millions of men who are essentially fat unkempt children at the age of 45? I can't help but think that this is at least one factor that is unraveling the threads of what holds us all together. How can we even be on the same page of anything if what we're dealing with are minds that never left the teen years. Have you ever seen a class of screaming children? Multiply that by 150 million and give them all the ability to vote and you just might see the crazy that we're seeing today.

I know I'm an adult. I feel like an adult. I approach things like an adult. And I just want to say...I'm really disappointed with how my adulthood turned out so far. I thought I'd see a lot more parallels with myself to others who are my own age. The world has a lot of problems, folks, and they are adult-sized problems and not kid-sized ones. At first glance, we'd have the numbers to tackle these problems. But half of these adults are children, so they can't face them. It's mind-boggling. I live in a society that is populated by Peter Pans. I find myself (too often) wondering why so many men never escaped Neverland and chose to remain there forever. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The latest edition of Microsoft Word that comes with the subscription-based Office 365 has a powerful artificial intelligence to improve your writing.

It is August 7th, and the first Wednesday of the month. So it's time for an all new installment of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. If this is your first visit to my blog, or if this is the first time you have heard of this blogfest, then you'll want to check it out HERE. As for my particular post, I'm not answering the question this month. Rather, I want to tell you about the shocking experience I had in using Microsoft Office 365 and specifically, Microsoft Word, which is one of the programs you get with that subscription package.

I had been asked to proofread and edit a small novella a co-worker wrote about his experiences as a disabled person, and yes, I'm getting a small amount of monetary compensation for my efforts. I'd previously used Office 365 rather lightly, doing some fun writing here and there, but nothing that I felt was worth a thorough edit as it was not going to be seen by a lot of eyes. My co-worker wants to publish their document on kindle, and I said I'd help them do that as I'm familiar with the process. After I got the document formatted to kindle specifications, I ran it through the checker that comes with Office 365, and I was absolutely floored by what happened.

The program caught just about everything. It checked for proper grammar, inserted commas and semicolons exactly where they were needed, changed "your" to "you're" exactly where it was needed, took out extra punctuation, replaced two and three word combos with more effective words that meant the same thing, and on and on. In total, it made over three-hundred changes in a matter of minutes, and I agreed and loved all of them. I have NEVER seen a program do this before. I was floored. And since then, I've done some research, and this is what my research turned up regarding this phenomenon (and believe me, folks, it is impressive):

The latest version of Microsoft Word now comes with an Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). From what I understand, this has permanently replaced the Spelling & Grammar pane that was featured in earlier versions of Word (think 2016). The A.I. taps natural language processing and machine learning to deliver intelligent, contextually aware suggestions that improve a document's readability. Some of the things I witnessed were 1) making phrases more concise, clear, and inclusive, 2) offering synonym and alternate phrasings, and 3) providing justifications and explanations (such as why "then" should be used in place of "than" in a specific context.

Anyway, I was so excited by this that I wanted to write about it so that all you insecure writers out there (just like me) can know about this. I honestly feel that Microsoft Office 365 is definitely worth the money, and that it is a HUGE upgrade over any other word processor I have seen to date. It can actually make you a better writer, by providing you with a powerful artificial intelligence ready to edit all of your words, and it's at your beck and call 24-hours a day.

Friday, July 26, 2019

I'll be back on August 7th for the Insecure Writer's Support Group

I'm taking next week off to take care of some things. I hope it's not too hot where you are at, but if it is, I hope that you have air conditioning. One of the things I plan to do is see Hobbs and Shaw. That sounds like just what the doctor ordered to kick off August. I just love Idris Elba screaming, "I'm black Superman!" That's going straight into the box marked "memorable lines from movies."

Stay cool, friends and see you for the August 7th Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

What I learned about violent video games recently made me never want to play them again.

A fatality effect that is included with Mortal Kombat 11 (you can do this to someone you defeat). 
Probably like you, I've enjoyed a video game here and there. But just this week, I learned that video game programmers are forced to work in pressure-cooker type situations, and that the content of violent video games is actually giving computer programmers PTSD. Examples of these types of games are Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto.

In a nutshell, what is happening is that there's a team of programmers that are assigned a certain section of a video game to complete. Sometimes it's only a sequence only a few seconds long that just requires a lot of detail. If the sequences are gory, then the programmer spends a huge amount of time examining gory images and making sure that things look authentic. The article I read on Kotaku indicated that in one office, it was pretty typical to see programmers watching videos of real life hangings, people getting killed, and cows being torn apart or cut up online so that they could get blood effects and death just right. Conversations around the water coolers talk about how blood splatters, how it lands, and how meat should look if its decayed, ripped open, etc.

I never realized that this was a thing...that people are actually being forced to watch stuff like this in order to make a living wage in this country (and other countries). One programmer talked about how he had nightmares so bad from staring at bloody images of real life people that were murdered (and posted around his desk for reference material) that it gave him severe nightmares. He said that he avoided going to sleep and took drugs to stay awake. Those that weren't effected like this had grown desensitized to violent imagery and talked about it like sociopaths. Is any of this good for society?

Knowing all of this, I don't think I can ever play a video game like Mortal Kombat ever again. It's not right, despite the fact that its fun to do. That's the problem I think: the things that consumers in the United States find fun or convenient are usually made possible because someone we can't see is made to suffer. I wonder how long this trend can be sustained, and what its long-term effects are going to be on society at large.

Monday, July 22, 2019

I love the trailer for Star Trek Picard that debuted at San Diego Comic Con.

San Diego Comic Con had a bunch of surprises for me that I didn't anticipate. I guess I haven't been paying attention to entertainment as closely as I might have thought I was. One of the things that was a huge and pleasant surprise was all the Star Trek news that came out of Hall H. In particular, I loved the two minute plus sized trailer for Picard, which is slated to come out in 2020. I had previously thought it was due out in the fall, and I probably just misread that at the time. Still, 2020 isn't far away, and it's starting to look like 2019 will be the last time I can cancel my CBS All Access subscription for a few months to wait for Discovery to return. It's gonna be Star Trek all the time. Eh...there could be worse things, right? :))

In the trailer, which I'll link below, Picard has a dog, and we see some very familiar faces: namely Jeri Ryan reprising her role as 7 of 9 and Brent Spiner coming back as Commander Data. For the record, Data looks really odd (probably a combination of de-aging C.G.I. and other things--for one his cheeks are too fat for an android that doesn't age), but these things aside it's nice to see Data again. The trailer is filmed expertly. It instantly makes me want to know more, which is what a trailer is supposed to do.

At the same time though, it looks to be a much slower paced yet very thought-invoking exploration of the years following the last Next Generation movie, which are filled with tons of events like the destruction of the Romulan homeworld. If you are a fan of J.J. Abrams, you know that event in particular led to alternate timeline Trek where we have Chris Pine playing Captain Kirk three times (probably the only three times that will happen, sadly). However, Chris Pine does do television stuff...he was in a Black Dahlia mini-series filmed by the director of Wonder Woman. So there's always a chance that CBS All Access could approach Pine and say, " would you like to play Captain Kirk and do a few seasons of television for us?" Just saying...that would be exceptionally cool.

But the trailer also seems to be infused with a bit of Blade-Runner noir-esque sprinkles. In particular the scene of the woman walking by the storefronts, and it's raining like hell outside. That scene strikes of Blade Runner, and I'm wondering where else we're going to get that kind of thing. I like it a lot. The atmosphere instantly draws you in, and gets the imagination firing on all cylinders.

If you haven't seen the trailer yet, I highly recommend you indulge yourself. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Friday, July 19, 2019

A Warhammer 40K television series has finally been greenlit by Games Workshop and it may be the perfect doorway for us non-players to begin exploration of their universe.

Warhammer 40K is finally getting a television series. I've never played the game, but I've been in and out of game stores pretty much all of my life, and I've had friends who have collected some really large armies, painted them to gorgeousness, and fielded them against foes sitting across from them at conventions amidst startlingly cool tabletop terrain. I was always content to be just that: a spectator. I never really wanted to play. It looked too involved, too time-consuming, and honestly too heavy to carry around from place to place. And then there was (of course) the problematic issue of storing it all once I did start collecting. So nope, I never started. But that doesn't mean I wasn't a fan.

I played a couple of the video games through the years, and I found them pretty intoxicating. Warhammer 40K takes place in a distant future where humanity is ruled by an emperor who is pretty much a god (made so through some kind of dark science) and he is served by armies of genetically enhanced humans called space marines. These guys are immensely powerful, and their power armor is extremely impressive. They go to war against all kinds of enemies. The most intriguing of these enemies (to me) were things that resembled alien xenomorphs (I think they were called tyranids) and the followers of dark gods like Slanesh and Khorne. In the Warhammer universe, these entities are very real, and they have destroyed entire worlds by remaking them into versions of nightmares Clive Barker must have on occasion (he's the creator of Hellraiser).

In fiction, Warhammer 40K is kind of inaccessible. There are stories and novels, but it's hard to find a recommended reading order or even a place to start as they are all different. I think Games Workshop has done a tremendous job in managing their intellectual property. However, I think the screws are so tight on a lot of their stuff that it has made it hard for someone like me to really explore their universe without playing the actual game (which may be their intention as the game is what makes them money). And they usually concentrate around a particular character, which you may not understand if you haven't played the game, so there's that too. But maybe with this new TV series, there's a break in the ice that's forming.

A tv series will need to appeal to more than just the fan base (although the fan base is extremely important in any endeavor). So they'll need to explain in detail about Earth, the Emperor, the roles of the Space Marines, and the enemies of the Space Marines. They'll need to give us bits of information over time regarding how the universe works, the threats the good guys are facing off against, and whether or not there are even good guys to work for (kind of like in Game of Thrones). This has got me excited, because from what I've seen, the universe of the Space Marines has always been extremely intriguing, but very daunting, to explore.

Anyway, I guess we'll all see where it goes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Here are the three panels I'm excited to read about from San Diego Comic Con this week.

I probably won't ever go to San Diego Comic Con. I don't like crowds, and from what I've heard, SDCC takes the cake as far as that goes. However, this doesn't mean my "Google Fu" isn't top notch. I play a good game when it comes to following up on things that interest me. So in case you are one of those people that likes to know what I'm interested in hearing about this week from the many panels at SDCC, I'm posting about the three I'd attend if I were there.

The Expanse. It seems like forever since season 3 ended with all of the ring gates opening up, revealing entrances to 1300 individual systems spanning an entire galaxy (and each one with either something interesting or a habitable world to explore). I saw on social media last week that season 4 has now been all wrapped up and post-film production (and editing) has begun. People who follow the industry closely believe season 4 will hit Amazon Prime sometime in September or October, and I'm super excited. In the meantime, I want to read what the panel at SDCC dares to reveal! There is most certainly going to be a trailer, and I hope that the authors who are known collectively as James S.A. Corey reveal the title to the sequel of their book, Tiamat's Wrath. I simply must know where all of this is headed. Breadcrumbs are much appreciated. The panel takes place on Saturday, July 20th, from 1:00 to 1:50 in the Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

The Witcher: A Netflix Original Series. Henry Cavill is Superman no more! Now his new role is to play the lead in The Witcher (called Geralt of Rivia). My friend James played the video game, and he really loved it. And Cavill's makeup job in The Witcher has got people buzzing that he looks a lot like Legolas did in The Lord of the Rings movies. I do plan on reading The Witcher books, which are a series of short stories and novels written by Andrzej Sapkowski going back to the 1990's when fantasy was just starting to explode on the market. The saga consists of the following books: Blood of Elves, Time of Contempt, Baptism of Fire, The Tower of the Swallow, and The Lady of the Lake. The panel takes place on Friday, July 19th, from 2:15 to 3:15 p.m. in Hall H (good luck to anyone trying to get access to Hall H).

Terminator: Dark Fate. I've seen every Terminator movie. I've only really loved Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Both of those movies were directed by James Cameron. But this doesn't mean that I'm not a sucker for everything Terminator. I kind of like the universe, because I kind of like apocalyptic tales. There's a lot of interesting things that could come out of this movie, like answers to the questions: 1) Did Judgment Day never happen? 2) Will Judgment Day still happen? 3) Why is Sarah looking for vengeance if she won in Terminator 2? That Terminator as a franchise has moved beyond the fears that my entire generation had of World War 3 has probably never occurred to studio execs. Which means that (from my point of view) the thing is doomed to tank at the box office. However, what do I know? I mean...the fears of the new generation are all centered around climate change. However, this doesn't mean Terminator won't get my money yet again. There's something fun about watching these machines take on people in action-packed sequences that makes me want to watch with my butt glued to the chair. And I like that Arnold and Linda Hamilton are back (we haven't seen her in a long time!) It'll be interesting to see how Linda's character has grown through the years. The panel for this movie takes place on Thursday, July 18th, from 11 a.m. to noon in Hall H.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Mysterio's magic act in Spider-Man Far From Home is totally believable to me.

There are some spoilers in this post for Spider-Man: Far From Home.

I've been surfing some of the discussion zones for Spider-Man: Far From Home, and some people are doubting that Mysterio could do all the things that he does, even with Stark technology. Here's one such comment:
"Need to re-watch again to see all the scenes of Mysterio pre-reveal, and see if it all lines up to the illusion tech. One scene that comes to mind is when he has his heart-to-heart with Parker on the roof--he goes from flying to sitting next to him; was that all illusion or was Beck actually there? Hidden by the drones and then seamlessly integrated, or all hologram? What if Peter had wanted a hug?"
Here's how I responded to the guy's question:
"I know that this comparison isn't quite the same thing, but I've seen David Copperfield's magic act live at the MGM Grand. Copperfield made me believe that he could teleport things, levitate cars, make things disappear, and the list goes on and on. Honestly, it looked like he'd sold his soul to the proverbial devil for real magic powers (if you believe in that kind of thing). With Mysterio using Iron Man's technology...I won't even try to figure it out. With that kind of support behind him, Beck should be able to do anything...craft any illusion. Because of my experience with Copperfield, I had no trouble believing that all of those illusions and their effects could be staged exactly as they appeared in the movie, with the end result being that everyone (including Spider-Man) is fooled."
And I'm speaking honestly and truthfully here. If you've never attended a real magic show by someone with a hell of a reputation, you should fix that in the near future. These people can craft illusions from the stage that are mind-blowing. I've seen David Copperfield and Criss Angel both in Vegas (Criss isn't quite as talented as Copperfield, but he has a different kind of show). I'm also a big fan of Penn & Teller, who seem to also be on that same level, if not at least in the same ballpark as Copperfield.

Also if none of those names are ringing a bell, then maybe check out last year's America's Got Talent winner, Shin Lim. This is one of the acts he did on America's Got Talent.

Anyway, I guess my point is that illusionists are pretty incredible people, with talent and skill that goes beyond what us mere mortals can understand. Take that a notch up with Iron Man tech? Well let's just say that all the craziness on display in Far From Home looks perfectly believable to me.