Monday, August 30, 2021

This last week's Lower Decks had Tom Paris and it featured him on a commemorative plate from the Voy days.

I got caught up on the Star Trek cartoon that is on Paramount+ called Lower Decks this weekend. It's always thoroughly entertaining, weird, and funny. I love the characters (and some of them remind me of real life people I know), and I'd have to say that the people working on Lower Decks definitely have a passion for the franchise that is quite different in flavor from Discovery and Picard (disclosure: Picard is my least favorite of the new Star Trek offerings).

If you haven't watched Lower Decks and you are a Trek fan, you might want to give it a try, especially if you are a Rick and Morty fan. Most of the "Nu Trek" shows really do take themselves very seriously. In the era of Next Generation Trek, I think DS9 was probably the most serious, but even DS9 lightened the load with episodes like Take Me Out to the Holosuite or any of the Ferengi episodes. That being said, there is nothing serious about Lower Decks. It is one big gag real LOL'ing all the way by screaming old jokes.

In last week's episode, we got a guest appearance from Tom Paris, who was the hot shot pilot on Voyager, and he got voiced by Robert Duncan McNeil (which I love). Tom was probably my second favorite cast member next to Seven in the Voyager show (although pretty much all of the characters were great). I also loved how Boimler referred to Voyager as just "Voy." Bless these nerds for canonizing the way fans refer to the Trek shows. The commemorative plate that Boimler carried with him to get signed was excellent too, as it reminds me of all the Trek memorabilia that's been put out by the Hamilton Collection over the years. Sometimes Trek is at its best when it takes the time to really poke fun at itself, and its fanbase. And this seems to be entirely the thought behind this refreshing Star Trek series.

Friday, August 27, 2021

If a foreign policy proposal is more difficult than asking people to wear a mask during a pandemic it should be dropped immediately.

This week, I randomly got asked by a friend, "What do you think of Afghanistan?" It's a huge question, and this friend that I talk with on a regular basis apparently likes my intelligent input (or different take) on things. She (of course) is familiar with the talking points. She's read many of the op-eds that have surfaced from people who were there...who fought on the ground...who were policy makers...and all the other myriad opinions that have hit the air waves. But she was interested in my take on it, so I obliged.

I said, "Going forward, United States foreign policy should add a person to the cabinet that advises the Commander in Chief using what I call 'The Mask Baseline Question.'"

Intrigued, she asked me, "And what praytell is 'The Mask Baseline Question?'"

"It's very simple," I said. "Someone needs to ask the President before an invasion of another country, before anything really that involves a commitment from the United States this one question: Is what you are proposing more difficult than getting the people in Florida and Texas to wear a mask during a pandemic? Is it more difficult than that? Keep in mind...these are your own people...your own citizens. If the change that you are asking is more difficult than wearing a mask to protect others...forget about it. It won't work. It will be a complete failure."

She was shocked, but intrigued by my premise at the same time. Anyway, I'm being perfectly honest about this proposal. The selfishness and hatred by anti-mask wearers has really opened my eyes. People who were assumed to "do the right thing" never actually did the right thing. And that is the truth, and it is universal across all cultures and all continents. If you are going to ask people in another country who worship a god that is foreign to everything you believe to suddenly respect women, gays, and other isn't going to work. That is way more difficult than asking a fellow citizen who speaks the same language as you and who lives in the same country to mask up. That is the baseline. Is it more difficult than getting people in Texas to mask up? It is? Then you'd better drop that idea, because it is doomed to failure.

If people were smart about foreign policy, they would bring this question up often. I think it would save a lot of heartache, time, resources, and lives. I'm just glad that everyone is finally figuring out that we've been gaslighted our entire lives that Americans had any form of unity or did the right thing. We've always been divided. We've always had huge gulfs between what we believe. And we've always been extremely selfish. Knowing the truth about a reality allows you to confront and deal with the reality in ways you couldn't do before. I call this the Trump/Covid silver lining.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+ is a Wes Anderson-esque journey into a land of smart kids and mustache-twirling villainy.

Because I watched The Bad Batch I was on Disney+. My friend Meg was watching it with me, and as I was navigating the page on Disney+'s splash page, another series caught her eye: The Mysterious Benedict Society. She said, "Can we watch that?" So, I said sure.

Meg had read the book; I hadn't. As a matter of fact, I hadn't even heard of it. As we sat down to watch the story unfold, she was delighted to see characters that she remembered from the book being shown on the screen. Soon afterward, I too became a fan. Then, a few weeks later, I bought a thing on Facebook marketplace that was in Nampa, Idaho, and we went on a road trip of about ten hours to go and retrieve it. Meg asked if we could listen to the audiobook for The Mysterious Benedict Society, and I thought that was a wonderful idea. So that's what we did while we drove all those miles, and the story made the journey all the more enjoyable.

Now, having finished both the audiobook and the series (we watched the last episode this weekend), I can say that it is an engaging screen adaptation. Also (apparently), this show is a classic series of children's books. I seriously had no idea that they even existed...I suppose that is how clueless I am about young adult stuff. The author is named Trenton Lee Stewart, and the first book (which is the first season of the show) features remarkable children doing amazing things. The setting is a sinister academy. And each child has unique traits that makes them suitable to overcoming a task or challenge that even adults would find impossible. The show is clearly geared toward the younger audience, but there's a lot to appreciate as an adult. So, it's not like watching some clearly weird and alien thing like Teletubbies. In fact, it shares a lot of tone with mystery-themed predecessors like The Bloodhound Gang or The Hardy Boys.

Now, the world that the kids inhabit is eerily similar to our own. It is in an international crisis…think all the headlines that worry you every day…and this manufactured crisis talked about on the 24-hour news cycle is aptly named, “The Emergency.” Mr. Benedict, the man responsible for gathering the super talented kids together through extensive (and fun) test-taking, believes that the source of this global panic is subliminal messaging that gets sent out from an island academy of children. The head of the organization is his twin brother, and both of them suffer from narcolepsy.

The showrunner of The Mysterious Benedict Society clearly drew inspiration from Wes Anderson films. So, it’s a real treat to watch. One of the kids has an eidetic memory, which means that everything “sticks” to his mind. Thus, he’s called “Sticky” Washington (his real name is George Washington). However, my favorite character was Constance Contraire. She is a very stubborn, young, and super intelligent member of the Mysterious Benedict Society. In the audiobook, she talks (a lot) in rhymes. This didn’t translate well to the screen adaptation. But her ability to throw shade (and lots of it) absolutely did, as she lets no moment for insults slip by unnoticed.

Mr. Benedict also has three really interesting assistants. One wears yellow all the time, and in the audiobook she is described as resembling a yellow pencil. Her name is merely “Number Two.” The second assistance is Rhonda Kazembe, and the last is a gruff spy named Milligan who has the ability to almost magically disguise himself, and who comes up with some really wild things that actually work (like traveling to the island in a submarine held together by...essentially...duct tape) to rescue the kids. He suffers from amnesia, but even with this lack of memory, he has uncommon skills (as do all of the assistants).

For example, Number Two builds a cottage in the woods in a single night using just an axe. And it is complete with electricity, shingles, windows, and a peregrine falcon. The Mysterious Benedict Society would not be complete without its mustache-twirling villain. Called Mr. Curtain, he is the twin of Mr. Benedict, which makes the story all the more charming, because of the confusion that this creates. And naturally, there is a mad scientist who created the machine beaming subliminal messages around the world to create The Emergency in the first place. The villain, in predictable style, does get away at the end. However, it is clear that he has learned nothing, and the show's ending hints at more evilness that can be explored in the second season (and which will probably be thwarted by the combined talents of The Mysterious Benedict Society).

If you enjoy young adult fare and the Wes Anderson style of film making, I'd recommend this series. It's visuals are a delight to watch, and the story (once you set your adult mind on a shelf for a while) is actually pretty good. I also recommend the audio book, because the narrator does an incredible job reading it out loud and giving voice to all of the characters.

Monday, August 23, 2021

In future seasons I think that the Bad Batch is going to explore the Kaminoan connection to all of Emperor Palpatine's clones.

This weekend, I finally finished watching the first season of  The Bad Batch on Disney+. The series brought full circle the plotline that was started in the first episode when it introduced us to a group of clone soldiers who had various mutations making them a "bad batch" (honestly it is a clever name). We discovered that these "mutations"  had been introduced purposely into them by by the Kaminoan clone scientist by the name of Nala Se (who was a fascinating character by the way).

Nala Se (in case you haven't watched the show or aren't good with names) is the female doctor who served the Galactic Republic throughout the Clone Wars. She was the chief medical scientist on her homeworld of Kamino, and she played a key role in the engineering of the Grand Army of the Republic. She also assisted in the rehabilitation of battle-wounded clone troopers and displayed genuine empathy for the clones in the episodes I watched and remember.

Nala Se was also one of the few individuals who knew about Clone Protocol 66, a secret directive encoded into the behavioral modification biochip of every clone in the Republic military. Nala Se believed that the chips acted as a safeguard against renegade Jedi, so she went to great lengths to preserve the secrecy of Protocol 66 during the galaxy-wide Clone Wars.

One of the really neat things that The Bad Batch did was answer questions that I hadn't really bothered asking about Star Wars. But once those questions were answered, I realized that I really did want to know the answers, and so I was actually really pleased with it. One of these questions was: what happened to Kamino, and why was there no mention of it in the movies A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi? There also hasn't been any mention of Kamino in episodes 7, 8, and 9. Well, it turns out that the Empire destroyed Kamino, because it didn't want the Kaminoans to use their incredible cloning technology to build another army for someone else. The second question The Bad Batch answered was who was responsible for Emperor Palpatine's clones (of which Snoke ended up being one)?

Well, it turns out that it was probably Nala Se, whose life was spared by the Empire in the destruction of Kamino so that her skills could be harnessed for a "super secret" project on another world, working for the Empire. Geeezz, I wonder what that project could have been? Well, it's not hard to guess where this storyline is leading. And I'm sure that we have not seen the last of Nala Se. Additionally, I believe that Dave Filoni (the creator of The Bad Batch) is probably going to treat us in the upcoming seasons to all the things that Emperor Palpatine was up to with the lead scientist from Kamino (while the Rebellion was fighting its Civil War). If you are a fan of Star Wars, you really should watch these cartoons that are on Disney+. Their animation is absolutely top notch, and the storylines are more interesting than the movies by far.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Is Misinformation the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse? All signs point to yes.

The Book of Revelation in the New Testament speaks of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They are identified as Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death. Now, in this cartoon, we have a Fifth one. And it's hard not to agree with this given the shape of the world today. What do you think? Spot on? I look forward to reading your comments.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Star Wars: Visions poses the interesting idea that maybe Star Wars should have been anime all along.

Mark your calendars folk, because on September 22nd, Star Wars: Visions hits Disney+.  This show has style, and you can only see what I'm talking about by viewing the trailer. It looks like there will be nine episodes. The list, announced by Disney, is as follows:

  • “The Duel” — Animated by Kamikaze Douga, who also made the Batman Ninja movie. The voice cast includes: Brian Tee (Ronin), Lucy Liu (Bandit Leader), Jaden Waldman (Village Chief).
  • “Lop and Ochō” — Animated by Twin Engine’s Geno Studio. Voice cast: Anna Cathcart (Lop), Hiromi Dames (Ocho), Paul Nakauchi (Yasaburo), Kyle McCarley (Imperial Officer).
  • “Tatooine Rhapsody” — Animated by Twin Engine’s Studio Colorido, who also did the movie adaptation of Burn the Witch. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jay), Bobby Moynihan (Geezer), Temuera Morrison (Boba Fett), Shelby Young (K-344), Marc Thompson (Lan).
  • “The Twins” — Animated by TRIGGER, known for Tenga Toppen Gurren Laggen, Kill la Kill, Promare, and many other anime. The voice cast includes: Neil Patrick Harris (Karre), Alison Brie (Am), Jonathan Lipow (B-20N)
  • “The Elder” — Also by TRIGGER! The voice cast: David Harbour (Tajin), Jordan Fisher (Dan), James Hong (The Elder)
  • “The Village Bride” — Kinema Citrus. The voice cast includes: Karen Fukuhara (F), Nichole Sakura (Haru), Christopher Sean (Asu), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Valco), Andrew Kishino (Izuma), Stephanie Sheh (Saku).
  • “Akakiri” — Animated by Science Saru, who made the incredible Keep Your Hands of Eizouken! TV series. Voice cast: Henry Golding (Tsubaki), Jamie Chung (Misa), George Takei (Senshuu), Keone Young (Kamahachi), and Lorraine Toussaint (Masago).
  • “T0-B1” — Also by Science Saru. The cast includes Jaden Waldman (T0-B1) and Kyle Chandler (Mitaka).
  • “The Ninth Jedi” — By Production I.G, which has done Ghost in the Shell, Psycho Pass, Moriarty the Patriot, and so much more. The voice cast includes: Kimiko Glenn (Kara), Andrew Kishino (Juro), Simu Liu (Zhima), Masi Oka (Ethan), Greg Chun (Roden), Neil Kaplan (Narrator), Michael Sinterniklaas (Hen Jin).
It looks like (from the trailer) that Kylo Ren stopping a blaster bolt midair has been decided upon by the world and judged as "badass," so we are going to see a lot of that kind of thing. Additionally, it looks like someone stops a lightsaber thrust during a duel with the Force. If this is true, I'm surprised it doesn't happen all the time.

I haven't been this excited about Star Wars in some time. I think just maybe it's because it is so different. Of course, Anime is always way over the top on stuff. But why should we continue to pretend that the Force and the Jedi are not "way over the top?" Those powers and what they do are being portrayed exactly as intended, and that's all I've gotta say about that.

Monday, August 16, 2021

I'm bloody excited that AMC is producing a Vampire Chronicles series by Anne Rice scheduled to air in 2022.

I found out this weekend that AMC is ordering an Interview with the Vampire show. Or, more appropriately, a "Vampire Chronicles" show made after the books: Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and The Queen of the Damned. I read these books many years ago, and I felt that the movie adaptations were actually quite terrible despite having cast the best looking men to be found in the world at the time to fill the titular roles of Armand, Louis, and Lestat. Also, Kirsten Dunst was good in the role of Claudia.

Interview, which was the book that started it all for Anne Rice, was lightning in a bottle. It is a legitimate classic of gothic/horror and dark fantasy. The other books serve to build on the mythology that she started with Interview, and I love that she traced the vampires, their power, and their lineage back to a primal source that had its beginnings in ancient Egypt (you see this in Lestat and in Queen of the Damned). A series is going to have a lot of time to explore this kind of mythology, and we will get to spend time with fascinating characters like Marius, who were crucial to the entire storyline but hardly touched upon at all within the context of the now old films.

I wouldn't want them to explore too much beyond Queen of the Damned. My reasons for this is that I think Rice ended up hitting the hard boundaries of her own imagination. Unlike a lot of modern fantasy and horror writers, she doesn't seem to have much of a capacity for synthesizing new concepts. For a long time, she was a genre unto herself. But now, fantasy and horror tropes are everywhere and the Vampire Chronicles are just one franchise among many.

Rice also had this thing about weird and uncomfortable types of love. Sometimes it seemed to work in the novels, but then there were obvious times when it just came across as creepy. I guess we shall see, because the first episodes are scheduled to appear in 2022. Anyway, color me bloody excited.

Friday, August 13, 2021

People with the same political affiliation do not see eye-to-eye and have different definitions for 'benevolent' and 'heaven.'

I had a fascinating talk with a liberal man of 25 who is on the autistic spectrum this week. I started off the conversation by saying, "My version of heaven is Star Trek. I just love that universe, the diversity, the danger, the excitement, and all of humanity working toward a common goal."

He responded with this comment: "My vision of heaven involves benevolent aliens that make Star Trek people look like a bunch of primitives. Just one example: Titanships, i.e., city-sized space ships. Some of them would carry planet buster bombs."

I could have let it go, but anyone that knows me knows that I can't resist these kinds of conversations. So I took a bite, and I said, "But are they benevolent? If so, why do 'benevolent' aliens need planet buster bombs?"

He quickly responded, "Not all of the titanships belong to the benevolent aliens. They also had to learn pretty quickly how to defend themselves from foreign threats."

Well, now I was committed. I said, "So the planet buster bombs are strictly defense only? Do they try diplomacy at all with the malevolent Titanships? And are the malevolent Titanships homogenous in their authority? Or are there some benevolent aliens mixed in with the malevolent ones who are forced to toe the line? And regarding those benevolent ones (if they exist), do they get punished for being enslaved by the malevolent aliens? In other words, are the benevolent aliens guilty of killing some benevolent peoples who (through no fault of their own) are forced to go along with the malevolent aliens?

Then he said (evasively), "The benevolent aliens would just as soon not look at a planet buster bomb, but the rest of that universe is not so kind. The planet buster bombs were not invented by them, and they would not want to use something so destructive unless they had to repel a god machine."

So I asked him, "Are they homogenous in thought? Or do they have differences of opinion between themselves? Do the people who live on their planets have free will to do whatever they want without fear of any reprisal? Or do they live in fear of the powerful supposedly benevolent aliens?"

He replied, "The benevolent aliens are powerful and indeed very difficult to challenge but they mostly guide planets within their influence like a much bigger sibling. They do not have differing thoughts, but the thought of fighting amongst themselves never crossed their minds before they discovered how savage the universe could be and even after that, the benevolent aliens were appalled at the thought of fighting one another over anything. They are also silicon-based plants."

I asked, "So what if people don't want guidance from these benevolent plant aliens? Are they free to tell them to leave?"

He said, "Yes, but if the people in question are destroying themselves, then the benevolent aliens may step in anyway to prevent the destruction."

Then I said, "So...these benevolent aliens are servants? They clean up the mess that people make?"

He replied, "It's more of a parent/child relationship I suppose. They want the universe's creatures to prosper and so they nurture them where possible, but they would not clean up the Earth like that. Humanity would have to deal with cleaning up its own planet, but it would be given the tools to make that vastly easier."

And I said, "Okay, but what if they were given the tools and the people said, 'Fuck off. I don't wanna. I wanna play video games!"

He replied, "They also silently observe until a planet with multicellular life reaches a suitable level of technology after which they make a greeting and if it is met peacefully, that civilization is slowly brought into the fold."

To which I said, "So they spy on planets without permission, and then they engage in colonialization, which is what you are talking about. Saving the savages from themselves?"

He said, "If the civilization says no, they say 'but you have to' and find a way to convince them to be reasonable to their world. They inform them of the horrible things out there, and how it would benefit them to accept protection."

And then I said, "So a dictatorship then? You aren't given a choice, so that is authoritarian. And then the fear-mongering is just a protection racket engaged in by tyrannical plants."

He was getting frustrated with me at this point, and he said, "For example, humanity is sort of destroying their world right now, so if they fell under the benevolent aliens's gaze, they may step in to improve things. I could also argue that humanity has lost the privilege of governing themselves currently."

I said, "Wow, that is a dictatorship. Should I call you 'the Fuhrer'?"

He wrote, "Work would be optional, and all possible basic needs would be covered, but if someone wanted to do work they would be compensated appropriately and be able to buy various luxuries. They would definitely be kind aliens who guide with a gentle touch."

"Gentle touch?" I said, "Unless they needed to use planet-busting bombs."

He replied, "I meant to say that they don't want anything to do with the planet buster bombs. That was one example of advanced weaponry."

Then I said, "It doesn't make sense. Anything that is benevolent has no need for weapons. And your aliens would eventually start to be worshiped as gods. Then there would be state religion. And if that was stamped out, then you are talking about controlling a person's beliefs on a fundamental level. And the threat from beyond that requires a need to protect against sounds horrible. It sounds like something similar to Warhammer 40k, a grim dark future, filled with monsters who are consumed with violence and evil. In that world, war is constant."

He replied, "Their need for weapons is retaliatory. They would never use them otherwise."

And then my friend Jed, who is a lawyer, jumped into our conversation. He said, "So...not every crime deserves the death penalty. Such capital regimes are quickly twisted to favor the corrupt. One way to examine all this is to ask if it really is a utopia like you claim? Even in Star Trek, not everyone is happy despite it being a post-scarcity society. Additionally, with humanity a lot is put upon our ability to adapt and change over time. If an alien species came in and stuck us all in a 'good place' a good number of people would still revolt. Also, how would you measure harm? Would the system punish someone who had to push an old lady into traffic to save a baby? And if the option was to go back to space, would they be like the aliens from 'The World's End,' where they tear everything down on the way out?"

He replied, "The silicon plants would probably be too vested in Earth at that point to leave. And then they would explain the ramifications of what would happen if they did."

So then I said, "You are describing an authoritarian dystopia. This is your heaven? If that is the case, then you can count me out. We have very different definitions of what heaven looks like, what 'good' is, and what 'benevolent' means. We are quite simply, not even speaking the same language."

The conversation continued on for some time, but you get the gist of it in what I've placed above. Now, the reason I indicated that the friend was liberal way up above, is to show you how people who share the same political affiliation, do not see eye to eye. I describe myself as liberal as well, and this dude with the plant aliens and myself are so far apart by word definitions, and (for that matter) what each envisions as a heaven that it surprised...nay...even shocked me. I'm rather thankful that I don't live in the universe that he dreams lovingly about (and he says he does love the idea of it). 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

This week I learned of a childhood friend passing and I kind of miss him.

Grief is a strange thing. I learned that a childhood friend I had who I'd not spoken to in about twenty years died a few weeks ago. This set off in me a lot of feelings. There was nothing left unsaid between us, and we officially parted ways as friends about two decades ago. But the memories I had of the things we created together in the game of Dungeons & Dragons is strong. We created a world together. He was a great source of ideas, and I seemed to have the wherewithal to envision them in a greater setting (which he was incapable of doing). The games we made have touched others, brought new people into the game, and now there are other people out there running games based on the world that we created.

Our parting was the end result of severe neglect on his part of a friendship that I tried to keep alive. Whether he was disinterested, or simply a person whose world consisted of only those people he could walk to go and see within a reasonable time limit, I will never know. In the end, when it was me that decided our friendship was officially ended, I don't think it phased him at all. He'd grown so distant that he probably had the emotional attachment that a man might have to a fish that he pulls out of a creek. He was a man that prized comic books, powerful super heroes, and he was always deeply invested in the fictional world that spun in his head.

One of the things that I really liked about him was that he could see beyond the structured rules of a game to possibilities, and he was good at teaching that. We call this kind of thing in the Dungeons & Dragons game world by the name "homebrew." It implies a deep understanding of the rules to create your own mythologies that fit nicely within the framework of a set of rules published by the parent company of whatever edition D&D happens to be on in any given era.

Even without physical distance between us (read as thousands of miles) to atrophy a friendship, he and I parted ways ideologically a long time ago. From my point of view, this old childhood friend was a person that worshiped every word that the late Rush Limbaugh had, and he became a person who not only was conservative, but one who vehemently believed that liberals are awful people. Shrug. So yeah...there wasn't much that could possibly have kept us friends. And (as it were), we said our goodbyes to each other almost twenty years ago, and that was it.

But it doesn't mean that I didn't still think of him from time to time. Or wish that he could see what happened with the characters that we created together and how they live in the minds of new players and kids who really enjoy playing in the world of Wynwrayth (the D&D world that I created to house all of those old characters from yester year when we played on the couch in the living room of my parent's house in Idaho Falls).

That house no longer exists, and now he is dead. Time marches on, and no one cares really. His passing was hardly a blip in the Pullman, Washington obituaries. But even from Salt Lake City, I noticed it, because one night this week, I thought of my friend, Matthew, and googled his name to see what he was up to. And it turns out, he won't be up to anything ever again.

Monday, August 9, 2021

The Dark Knight in 2008 contained a scary prediction of how iPhones could be repurposed to spy on people. Now in 2021 it is a reality.

In Christopher Nolan's 2008 movie, The Dark Knight, which starred the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, there is a scene near the climax of the film in which Lucius Fox (played by Morgan Freeman) sees what Bruce Wayne (the Batman) has been doing with his sonar technology. He's enabled it to somehow link every mobile device in Gotham City to his central computer at Wayne enterprises, and then each device would emit a high frequency pulse that could produce a 3-D image of what was going on around that device (essentially spying on the entire city).

Lucius Fox is astounded by this, and he declares that it is too powerful for one man to be in charge of and that it is unethical, immoral, and dangerous. But the Joker was the kind of villain that the Batman desperately needed to catch. He was a psychopath, and extremely dangerous to society. So, the technology was deployed (and used) with the moral implications of this to be left for the audience to decide. But, the Batman, ever the superhero, ultimately gave Lucius Fox the control over the database, and the ability to destroy it so that it could never be used again. So people didn't need to dwell too long on the moral implications of spying upon citizens, and everything got wrapped up neatly in an ending that made The Dark Knight one of the best comic book movies of all time.

Fast forward to 2021.

Apple, the technology titan behind the iPhone, is rolling out new features aimed at combating Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) on its platform, and the discussion around it reminds me of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. Only in this case, Apple is probably going to be spying on a billion users worldwide. If you hadn't heard, the company is trying to pioneer a solution to a problem that confounds law enforcement, that being the existence of as much as 45 million photos and videos that constitute child sex abuse material that is circulating via online platforms.

Apple's new features use algorithmic scanning of users' devices and messages to search for CSAM. It's a very narrow use of the technology, and everyone who is not a criminal should be on board with this. However, critics foresee an opportunity for the company to repurpose the technology to search for different kinds of material other than CSAM. In other words, they are worried of widespread surveillance, and (quite frankly) being spied upon in their own homes.

Even Edward Snowden chimed in on this by tweeting: "No matter how well-intentioned, @Apple is rolling out mass surveillance to the entire world with this. Make no mistake: if they can scan for kiddie porn today, they can scan for anything tomorrow. They turned a trillion dollars of devices into iNarcs--*without asking.*"

He also added:

"Apple says to "protect children," they're updating every iPhone to continuously compare your photos and cloud storage against a secret backlist. If it finds a hit, they call the cops. iOS will also tell your parents if you view a nude in iMessage."

It's weird to think that The Dark Knight in 2008 predicted that this kind of thing might actually happen, and that it could be misused because it is powerful. I wonder where all of this is going to end.

As for me? I plan to upgrade my iPhone with the new model this fall. It's four years old, and I like Apple products. However, I'm increasingly aware of the fact that my devices are spying upon me. I guess that I just don't care enough to do anything about it. I'm like that guy that keeps eating sugary things even though the doctors tell me it will give me diabetes. What can I say to excuse myself? I like chocolate chip cookies. Someday, I may get a knock on my door by a policeman who says, "You are under arrest." I say, "What for?" He replies, "Your device has alerted us that you support the wrong thing."  And then no one ever hears from me again.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Ugly people should be paid monetary reparations from the government treasury for the amount of trauma and abuse they endure in a lifetime.

This is going to be a controversial topic. Additionally, I know it has zero chance of gaining any ground with people, because it will be dismissed as ridiculous. But, I honestly believe that ugly people should be paid reparations for the amount of punishment they endure in their lives from a society that values beauty.

As a society, beauty is a privilege that is flaunted time and time again, whether it is on social media or access to partners or benefits I can't even think of at the time of this writing. And everybody knows it, yet no one wants to talk about it. We have reached a point in our society where nothing seems to be off the table. There are talks among lawmakers to pay reparations to the ancestors of slaves (a thing I strongly support). We are talking about income inequality in a huge way, and vilifying billionaires like they rightly deserve (I raise a glass to you Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for calling billionaires amoral).

We talk about racial inequality. We talk about gender inequality. We talk about residential inequality. We talk about global inequality. Well, in this post, I want to talk about beauty inequality.

Beautiful people get all kinds of benefits that ugly people do not. It is a fact that being pretty is a privilege, and we refuse to acknowledge it. The world throws at the feet of pretty people 1) popularity, 2) higher grades in school, 3) more positive work reviews, 4) lighter sentences in court, and 4) career advancement. Rare doors to unheard of opportunities get flung open for pretty people. Beautiful people are perceived as smarter, healthier, and more competent when this is patently and scientifically not true. For example: do you honestly think Kim Kardashian would be as successful as she was if she had been born ugly?

With the rise of social media and the internet, the contrast between how pretty people and ugly people get treated can even be shocking. There are even new terms that have crept into the zeitgeist that describe the phenomenon of being found unattractive: "swipe left." If you are unfamiliar with this term, on the online dating app called Tinder, "swiping left" indicates that you were found unattractive by someone, so they moved their finger to the left across an image of you on a touchscreen.

Ugly people are bullied constantly. Trump called Rosie O'Donnell a fat loser and a complete and total disaster. I know you may say that Trump is not indicative of the average American, but I'd fight you on this. Millions of people in this country love this guy, because he's just like them. My own co-worker who is fifty and consistently hits on young attractive women (he's very liberal) admits that he is "shallow and vain," and that he will live a life alone. I think that kind of honesty is healthy. He treats beautiful people with more respect and with more kindness. That is just a fact of life, AND ALL OF US KNOW IT. If you are sitting out there shaking your head at where I'm going with this, you are part of the problem.

Life is harder for ugly people, plain and simple.

I follow the cutest and most attractive gay couple on Instagram, which actually led me over to their Only Fans porn site. This couple is unbelievably beautiful while at the same time being (I think) of just average intelligence. They use their phones to film themselves having sex (they have monetized their relationship), and the rest of the time, they use the money that flows in (from viewers watching them have sex) to buy fabulous vacations all around the world, to donate to charities, to buy things for each other, and to live a life free of the burdens of education and real work. As far as I can tell, they are around the age of nineteen, they have the equivalent of whatever a high school education is in Scotland, and they make $20,000 per hour whenever they decide to do a thing in front of their iPhone. If they want a trip to Rome in the most fabulous hotels, they take some requests via Only Fans, film it, and bam! It is paid for in an hour.

I don't think they are even old enough to drink legally in the United States, but they drive around in a $100,000 Range Rover made by the same company that owns Jaguar, they have a beautiful home, and they have every luxury an ambiguous tween could hope for, including a following that is around a million people who really like seeing them naked. The reason? They are beautiful. An ugly couple or person could not take advantage of any of these opportunities. That door is (quite simply) closed. Ugly people have to go to years of school to get paid shitty wages by people who undervalue their contributions constantly. Meanwhile, they get to watch their beautiful peers go sailing through every life hurdle which may be just difficult enough to cause them to lose empathy for anyone else who is not them by convincing themselves that they got there "through hard work and determination." This (of course) is complete bullshit.

The point of this post isn't to disparage couples who call themselves "adult performers" and who make huge amounts of cash by doing something that comes natural to them. Nor is it to point out that people like Scarlett Johannson and Timothée Chalamet should not be paid millions just because they look really good. The point is to open a conversation about beauty inequality, and to get people to start talking about it openly. Beauty is something that you either have or you don't. I'd say nearly 90% of it relies on good genes and luck. Maybe 10% is within a person's control. And this world really sucks for the people who don't have it. Ugly people get excluded from social gatherings, get treated like crap, spit upon, derided, bullied, and then gaslighted by (usually beautiful people) that the world is actually fair and that they just need to try harder.

So here's my solution (and I'm being serious): ugly people should be paid reparations of $2,000 a month for being ugly, and the money should come from the government. Imagine how much easier life would be. Someone knocks on your door, you answer, "Hello, I'm from the government bureau in charge of rating beauty, and it has come to our attention that you are (in fact) very ugly. People swipe left on you all the time, you live a life alone, you can't find clothes that fit you, and you are turned down for promotions and despite your education, you are underemployed because no one wants to be around you. We are sorry that this has happened to you, so here is $2,000 a month for the rest of your life. Perhaps you can use it to get therapy? It is possible for some really ugly people to live meaningful lives that aren't filled with despair. We hope that is possible for you. Also, because you are ugly, I'm not interested in being your friend. But you should have expected that. Again...the $2,000 payment is to apologize for all of us out here that feel sorry for you. Good day."

I will enjoy reading your thoughts (if you have any) in the comments below.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The best book about the writing craft I've ever read was written by Stephen King.

August has finally arrived, and with it is the first Wednesday of the month. That means it is time to participate in the Insecure Writer's Support Group blogfest, which you can sign-up for by going to this link. I'm old enough this month to remember when all of this got started with Mr. Alex J. Cavanaugh (science fiction author), and his really good idea to get all of us to participate in this kind of thing on a monthly basis. However, if you are new and have questions, here's what the IWSG is all about:

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

The twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Remember, the question is optional!

Here is the Wednesday, August 4th question: What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?

I suppose (for me) this would be Stephen King's novel, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. The thing is full of good advice, like this little tidbit:
"The object of fiction isn't grammatical correctness, but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story....Writing is seduction. Good talk is part of seduction."
By the way, this advice is also good for aspiring DM's who want to run a tabletop Dungeons & Dragons game for people of all ages. Want another tidbit? Here you go:
"Once I start work on a project, I don't stop and I don't slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don't write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind--they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale's narrative cutting edge starts to rust, and I begin to lose my hold on the story's plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers, that is the smooch of death."
This is one I fail at a lot. However, it doesn't bother me, because I'm comfortable with who I am and what my limitations are as a writer.

Stephen King is one of those legendary writers that manages to be (simultaneously) among the greatest writers who have ever lived while also not being good enough for an award like the Pulitzer or the Nobel. It's a weird eclectic mix of genius and ideas colliding with a reality that speculative fiction really doesn't get much respect. Nevertheless, the man knows what he's talking about, and if you're a successful writer (or just starting out), you should still listen to whatever he has to say.

Thank you for stopping by my blog.

The awesome co-hosts for the August 4 posting of the IWSG are PK Hrezo, Cathrina Constantine, PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, and Sandra Cox!