Wednesday, April 22, 2020

I'm off for a bit but I'll be back for Insecure Writer's Support Group in May.

I think most people are doing the A to Z challenge. And knowing that, I recognize that I'm not feeling particularly inspired to write blog posts. It could be a general malaise that is settling in with the Covid 19 thing. Or it could be that I'm finding a lot to not like about humanity in general right now. But whatever it is, I'm sure it will be gone just like Covid will be gone when we reopen everything in a few weeks. Right?

See you then.

Monday, April 20, 2020

I recommend perusing the gallery of an artist named Beeple if you are in lockdown. It's worth your time.

There's an artist who goes by the name "Beeple" on the internets, and I really like his work. All of it is kind of mesmerizing, and a lot of it has a political bent here and there that makes it all the more powerful. I kind of liken him to being a digital version of Banksy. According to his website, his name is Mike Winkelmann, and he truthfully knows how to use Blender and other 3D modeling tools better than anyone I have ever seen. I can't imagine what his computers must look like. Needless to say, they are probably cutting edge, and a good deal of money is spent keeping them this way. His power bills must equal a neighborhood of regular folk.

I think the thing that is so incredible about his work is that he's so prolific, and it all is so detailed that it seems like it should be a real picture. Anyway, if you are curious, check out his portfolio on the web located HERE. Below is just one of literally hundreds of pictures he's done (and the guy does gifs, short films, etc.) Seriously, if you are bored, go and check out his page. It's worth your time.

This image below is called "Jabba Afterbirth." Gross, right? You don't see that in a Star Wars film, but hutts had to come from somewhere.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The way Republicans view the powers of the President of the United States is way different than the way Democrats view the same office.

Yesterday, when I heard that the Treasury Department had ordered Donald Trump's name to be printed on all of the stimulus checks that are being issued (due to the Covid 19 health crisis), I laughed. Not because I thought it was actually funny, but because I'd predicted that our president would try to make it seem that all that money was actually coming from him. Additionally, I've had several conversations with people here in Utah as to why I think my party (the Democrats) are completely screwed when it comes to the November election. It's not because of Bernie Sanders getting the nomination. Bernie couldn't have won either, despite being Socialist Jesus. It's also not because Biden is an old "handsy" fart. No, it's because the Republicans are making it rain money (unemployment is kicking in at some $22 per hour), and people are going to remember that fine detail come the ballot box in November. I actually think it's a brilliant strategy, and it's going to pay off huge. If it doesn't, yes I will be shocked (but in a pleasant way). Some of my faith in humanity will be restored, but I honestly don't expect that to happen. My faith in humanity has been just a few drops in the bottom of the barrel for some time now, as everywhere I look I see greed and evil (think of it as the opposite of rose-colored glasses).

Being smug in the validation that I was right, I suddenly was hit by a revelation that answered a question that has plagued me for years. A lot of my conservative friends have always held views that Democrat presidents were "weak," and I never understood it. I was always puzzled because when I looked at how Democrat presidents conducted themselves, they employed the powers of their office up to a designated limit as constrained by the Constitution. I remember thinking, "Obama can't do that," or "Clinton can't do that" when I heard outrageous things said about what a Democrat President "should do" in the case of a situation that was (at the time) happening in the United States.

Now that I see Trump in action, and his insistence just this week that, "The President has all of the authority" I finally understood what has been going on. All of these years, my fellow Republicans around me have believed that the president was basically an all-powerful office that has no limits. My mind is kind of blown by this, because I never got that memo due to my education. It's definitely true that Trump believes this of himself. I for one, never believed it. I felt that the president was always limited in so many ways due to the Constitution and the separation of powers, etc. But now I understand. It's like I've been staring at the color white (on a wall) for a long time, and my neighbors have been saying how black the wall is. We HAVE NOT been on the same page at all. I've just been kind of silently nodding, maybe wondering why they keep calling "white" by the term "black" but just never digging very deep, convincing myself that we were seeing the same thing. But no NO weren't seeing the same thing. Not at all.

The way that Republicans see the office of the President of the United States is way way WAY different than the way Democrats see the office of the President of the United States. As the saying goes, "One of these things is not like the other...." Anyway, I'm not here to say which one is morally right and which one is morally wrong. I'll leave that for Constitutional scholars to argue, and then it won't matter what is argued if there is no enforcement or consequences. Without consequences and enforcement by people with guts to stand behind their convictions (no matter what), then there is effectively no check on what a person can ultimately get away with in regard to treatment of other people. That's how you end up with authoritarians: the sheep don't stand up to the bully and just pray the evil away (which never works). So, I guess we shall see what happens. Interesting times indeed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Dune has a dream cast and a dream director so it's gotta be great right?

Dune is looking good. As most of you probably know, Vanity Fair did an expose on it over here. I'm not going to link any of the pictures, so go over there and look at them if you'd like. They are worth your time.

I think Timothée Chalamet is perfectly cast as young Paul Atreides (he has a naturally brooding look to him and yes he's super pretty) as is Oscar Isaac, who plays his dad, Duke Leto Atreides. The Director, Denis Villeneuve, is a French Canadian film director that makes gorgeous films. Blade Runner 2049 is one of these, and I absolutely loved it. Dune promises to be the kind of epic film it was always meant to be, and I think Denis is going to make sure that it holds closer to the books in ways that David Lynch found impossible. The first hint of this is that Denis is making two full-length feature films to tell the story (and I think that's a fantastic decision to make with regards to Herbert's tale). Did I mention that they cast Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho? I think that's going to be great, given that Duncan Idaho is the greatest warrior among the Atreides clan.

I wonder how they will work Lady Jessica's role. A lot of her importance in the story is conveyed through narrating what she's thinking. My thoughts circle around this: Lady Jessica's presence is felt throughout many of the events that transpire in the novel, but what works on the page of the book may still translate poorly to a more literal medium like film. And there is still no casting for Feyd Rautha, although my "dream" casting would be Tom Holland's best friend from childhood (and his personal assistant and neighbor) named Harrison Osterfield.

However it turns out, I will probably be overjoyed in watching it. I'm going to have a new appreciation for movie theaters once they open up again.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Andrea Bocelli's Music for Hope concert that took place on Easter was absolutely lovely.

I'm linking it below in case you didn't see it. It's definitely worth your time to click and watch. If anything, you get to see blue skies over Milan, which I've been told is a rarity in times where people aren't on lockdown.

The images taken by drone are haunting. The major cities of the world are empty of humans. Time Square is a ghost town. London is quiet. In Paris, the breeze blows through the Eiffel Tower and there is no one there. I never thought I'd see real things like this outside an apocalyptic movie. And in front of the Duomo, a humbled bird named Andrea Bocelli sings "Amazing Grace" for the world, which now has over 100,000 dead from Covid 19, and the plaza is empty.

The world is going through something very strange and surreal right now. I never thought I'd live to see such times, but here we all are. It's comforting to see that there is so much good in the world, and in the words of Samwise Gamgee of the Shire, "It's worth fighting for."

Friday, April 10, 2020

There are some terms that writers use to critique each other that I feel aren't useful anymore and should be retired.

There are certain terms writers use to critique each other which really should be retired. A lot of these things probably had their origins in creative writing classes. "Mary Sue" for example has evolved to become virtually meaningless (and possibly sexist?) due to its definition becoming too broad. I know some people who use the word to describe a protagonist that is too perfect. At the same time, I know people who use the term to describe a protagonist who is constructed in such a way that any person can fit within the "sleeve" of the character. It also tends to be applied to female protagonists who in being extremely capable (because the story is centered around them by structure) come off as being too perfect. But in some stories, that's the whole point: to create a protagonist who is extremely capable at their job. There is (after all) something deeply satisfying about watching and observing people who are good at what they do.

Another term I don't like is "infodump," which is usually used to degrade a section of expository writing, oftentimes used in world-building. The very term "infodump" is a label that condemns all expository writing as "uninteresting" and "boring." Well, I would submit that in my opinion, expository writing can be very entertaining, and in many instances, I love it. If you are a person that doesn't enjoy expository writing, that's perfectly fair. However, I want to make a point that you may also not be the intended audience for the writing project you are critiquing. Chances are, you probably find the whole thing uninteresting and the "infodump" (as it were) is just an easy way to make your disinterest the onus of the writer as opposed to a personal bias on the subject matter. If that's the case, I'd say it isn't fair, because writers are not entertainers. Writers are not circus performers dancing a jig on a stage to alleviate your boredom.

Audiences are supposed to seek out the writer, and not the other way around. If a  writer is pestering a reader with " my book," then the writer should be prepared for some bad reviews. There are few people I know who enjoy assigned reading outside of a business venture. That's what we call, "work" and people can be highly critical of "work." So if the infodump is something you hate, you should probably steer clear of genres that tend to infodump, which might be the entirety of speculative fiction. Maybe you'd be better off reading something like Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow. Just sayin'.

A third-term I don't like is head hopping. "Head hopping" is used to describe what happens in third person omniscient, which was in style up to about the late eighties and early nineties. A lot of books before that time period had writers slipping into character's heads to reveal some thoughts or feelings and then zooming out to describe other things happening. When done skillfully, most people don't even notice it unless "trained to do so by critique groups in writer circles." The shift to extremely limited third person point of view (I think) first arrived in comic books like those penned by Frank Miller and Alan Moore (who banished the bubbles from panels and replaced them with rectangles or who included vast swaths of regularly typed story in-between art panes) and authors like George R.R. Martin, who winnowed down the point of view to such an extreme that each chapter was a point-of-view character who experienced the world in only their particular experience.

Suddenly, any writer who was slipping into and out of heads in the old omniscient style was terrible, and they couldn't write. But that isn't true at all. Just because something is popular and everything has changed to reflect that, doesn't mean that the old way of doing things is bad writing. It just means it's probably not marketable. In other words, people aren't going to buy it. So it's not bad writing, its just not profitable writing. And every single person is going to have differing ideas about how much profit it takes to feel successful.

I guess my point in any of this is that there are a lot of terms that writers use to critique each other that I feel aren't useful. Any thoughts on this dear writers?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Astartes is a short Warhammer 40K fan film that tells a pretty compelling story.

I recently got sucked into watching the short fan film Astartes. It seems to tell the story of a group of super elite Space Marines on a kind of doomed mission (which seems to fit the "grim dark" storyline very well) when they uncover a strange artifact that sucks them into (I'm guessing) a place ruled by Chaos (where they are so tiny that they appear as specks on columns surrounded by giant stone statues of skeletons seated on thrones). The attention to detail in this one-man fan film from start to finish is amazing and the 3D modeler behind it all is extremely dedicated to his work. You can see fine embellishments on every surface...even the scoring on the armor looks makes me believe that the suit has seen hundreds of years of battle.

I wish I knew more about the Warhammer universe. I guess I should read some novels, right? If you haven't watched these shorts, click below and give it a try. You might become a fan, just like me.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Broadchurch on Netflix is a story that gets a ton of mileage from the murder of one child.

I've been watching Broadchurch on Netflix. I think this was originally a BBC production (and it still may be), because I recognize so many Doctor Who alums from it. The current "Doctor" plays a woman with a son who was murdered. As the detective work unfolds and the investigation spreads fear through a small community, we come to learn that there are many things about this idyllic village which are rotting just below the surface. And that's what makes it a good drama.

The first season of the show had one story arc, which was to finally get around to solving the question of who exactly murdered an eleven year old boy (and also why). The thing that I find remarkable about the season is that in this (at times) tediously emotional examination of one murdered child in a community, I'm seeing remarkable things. The boy's funeral and after funeral complete with sad music to really drive home the emotion features multiple fires on cliffs spanning the oceanside of Broadchurch...all for this kid who liked to skateboard, play video games, and had a paper route.

In reality I know that no one does this kind of thing. A thousand people died from Covid 19 in NYC in a day, and for the most part, nobody cares. Kids frequently show up in the news here in Salt Lake City...first missing...and then found dead in fields having been murdered, etc. The murderer gets caught or maybe they don't and that's that. There are no mountains being set afire, there are no huge sweeping scores. I kind of wonder what kind of community it would take for one death to matter so much, and how we got to where we are at in a society where the impact of a pending 240,000 or so deaths irritates people that have to keep stores closed because it will hurt the economy.

There's a break therein somewhere...either certain lives don't matter...or all lives don't really matter...and everyone is just pretending that they do. Or maybe what I'm watching, i.e., Broadchurch is basically a white racial narrative of a small English town. White boys are not supposed to get murdered in idyllic settings, and when it does happen, they will be given the burial ceremony of a Viking king. Or something like that.

Grief is a strange thing, I guess? And of course, the mother of the child is still not done after the ceremonial bonfires and the lightings of these huge torches on mountains at sunset (kind of like what happened in the Return of the King when Gondor called for aid). She needs to do more. She holds a conference with community members and states that there needs to be a foundation named after her murdered child. They are (of course) mostly in for supporting this devastated mother. But as I'm watching this I ask myself, would anyone make a foundation for me if I got mugged and killed outside a 7-Eleven? I've got to admit that the answer is a resounding "No!" Are any foundations being made to celebrate the lives lost due to this Covid Pandemic? Probably not as the bodies are just being thrown in body bags and stacked inside refrigerated morgues lining the streets of NYC.

Then maybe it's volume...maybe that's the reason. You lose one child in a community that never experiences this kind of violence, and it's worth carving monuments out of stone to last until the end of time. You kill thousands all at once, and it's a bulldozer and a ditch, and everyone gets on with their lives. I guess I want to know when exactly do individual lives matter, and why doesn't every human life matter like this?

Anyway, I'm enjoying Broadchurch. It resoundingly lies within the crime fiction category. If that's something you like, then check it out. The performances are pretty stellar, and despite the things that cause me puzzlement, I've been entertained.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

It's April 2020 and time to reflect upon being an Insecure Writer during a worldwide pandemic.

It's April Fool's Day of the year 2020. Hopefully there are some fun pranks that will get pulled today to lighten the mood of everything that's going on with the pandemic. As it is the first Wednesday of one of my favorite months, I'm participating in the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

The purpose of the IWSG is to share and encourage without the fear of appearing foolish or weak. As blogfests go, it's a pretty good one.

The rules and sign-up can be found HERE. Please go there if you are interested in it. Now onto the monthly question (which is optional):

April 1 question - The IWSG’s focus is on our writers. Each month, from all over the globe, we are a united group sharing our insecurities, our troubles, and our pain. So, in this time when our world is in crisis with the covid-19 pandemic, our optional question this month is: how are things in your world?

This is a bit of a loaded question, as there's so much to talk about that I wonder where to begin? Each day doesn't feel real to me, which I think is a mild trauma response. My government job is classified as essential. I have many responsibilities, but one of them is to issue laptops and computers to disabled clients so that they can transition from attending school in person to attending school online. I get many panicked phone calls with messages like, "My computer isn't working what can I do?" or "I have tests to take and I can't get online. Help!" I have to solve those things over the phone or in person. To borrow a phrase from George R.R. Martin and A Song of Ice and Fire..."Valar Morghulis," I suppose. The literal translation from the High Valyrian of Westeros is "All men must die." But in context of the novels and the television show, it is used much the same as "Que Sera Sera," which (as you know) means, "Whatever will be will be."

So I haven't stopped meeting with people, sometimes as many as three or four a day, because I need to make sure they get their laptop and that we get the loaner paperwork signed. We take precautions with sanitizing, social distancing of six-feet, and washing hands, but there's only so much you can do. So far, I've had no health issues aside from what I recognize as seasonal allergies that are easily controlled with one Claritin in the morning. I did cancel a visit to go and see my aging father in his assisted living facilility. And going to the grocery store feels really strange as people here stare at you if you clear your throat.

Utah's panic-buying has been intense, and I've heard it's the worst in the country by far. The population here is full of fear, and it's somewhat contagious. There has been no toilet paper anywhere, no flour, no sugar, no rice, no beans, and milk and eggs get regularly wiped out. The government here is very Republican, and it's loathe to put any kind of quarantine in place that has bite to it, because it would jeopardize the fortunes of billionaires that need stores to stay open to make money. It really does look monstrous to me as I see how expendable people really are. I've known for many years that they didn't really care. But to actually hear from our leaders that grandma or grandpa should die so that the economy remain healthy is a lot of truth to digest about billionaire largesse.

So the local government tells everyone strongly to stay home and stay safe, and that you could get arrested for not staying home. But then they load the whole thing with exceptions. Stay home...unless you need to go to work...unless you need to go for a walk with your dog...or to the store...or to drive around. And they say they won't arrest anyone really. It's just a scare tactic. ((Shrug)). Okay then. People of faith are still meeting, because they don't believe the virus is real. Then they're getting sick, because the virus doesn't care what they believe. The ones that stay healthy will spin it to say that their faith protected them. Whatever.

There are furniture stores that are still open as are many other kinds of stores with frightened workers still seeing the public. The why is simply because of money. The answer is always money. There are hardly any landlords giving anyone in this entire state any kind of break on rent. I've read story after story of how letters were sent out saying, "Your rent is still due on the first!" The brutality of the plantation owner and the slave is on full display. The fact that no one sees themselves as a slave seems to have either one of two outcomes: 1) the reality of being a slave hits home and causes lifelong depression or 2) denialism sets in about one's allotted place in life which results in extreme narcissism. So you either interact with depressed people all the time, or you are interacting with narcissists who have no empathy and constantly act like they are better than you. There doesn't seem to be any in-between.

Capitalism is very cruel. I just wish more people would understand exactly that and want to do something about it. And that's all I've got to say about that.