Wednesday, November 2, 2022

In the November IWSG I contemplate why I have never participated in NaNo. And also Happy Holidays to you 2022.

Hello everyone, and happy NaNo. This is my last post for 2022, so I figured I'd make it for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. I shall be back in the new year (2023) for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post in January. If I don't hear from any of you between now and then, have a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Here's a bit about the Insecure Writer's Support Group copied (and modified some) directly from the sign-up page, which you can find AT THIS LINK.

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 the IWSG 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.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

The IWSG Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and their hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the November 2nd posting of the IWSG are Diedre Knight, Douglas Thomas Greening, Nick Wilford, and Diane Burton!

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!

November 2nd question - November is National Novel Writing Month. Have you ever participated? If not, why not?

I have never participated. When I first heard of NaNo WriMo I think I didn't participate, because I didn't have trouble writing a book, which is what I think its purpose is. If anything, my books ended up being too large. On many nights, I could write like 4,000 words easy, and it wasn't hard to come back to those words the very next day. In-between then and now, something has changed. I'm not sure that I'm a novel writer anymore. I don't feel the compulsion to write stories or to want to see things I've published being read or reviewed. Rather, I really enjoy reading what other people write. I don't know if it's just a phase, or if I've become more of a discerning audience for books to find homes with.

This isn't to say that I'm not a writer. I very much enjoy writing on my blog. And I do a lot of writing for work, but it's more the technical writing stuff. And I'm currently writing a module for Dungeons & Dragons to test out on my group (we play on most Saturdays at my house). D&D is kind of a "living" novel. You get instant "live" feedback on your ideas and can see how they land with people whose characters are part of the story. My current group has these characters: a rabbit person (think a kind of fey), a tortle (a tortoise that has many human traits), a devilish character with horns and a tail, someone playing a human male slut, a knight in shiny armor, and an assassin. It's all quite interesting, and they are very much enjoying playing these characters in the world I've created for them, and they do many funny and interesting things. A lot of it is completely unexpected.

Of course, I make no money at the above, and money is always nice. There's part of me that wonders if maybe I'm not one of those writers that embraces the monetization of something they enjoy. This clearly works out for some people, and I applaud those people wholeheartedly. But I think I may like crafting stories without the pressure of trying to market them. I feel like there's a lot more freedom there. Writing is also a pretty lonely experience. When you are at your computer, tapping at keys, you are just by yourself. Sure, your mind is very distracted with what you are doing, essentially immersing yourself in your imagination. But the real-world matters, and how we interact with the real world defines the minutes and hours of our lives. Even though I'm not making any money writing, I'm making lots of friends by running and participating in Dungeons & Dragons games. So, I get to scratch that itch and have people over for a fun time, and this oftentimes spills over to other days in which we get together for other things. Being social is fun, and having friends is fun, especially when they are your unique kind of weird.

Anyway, I hope that is a good answer to this month's question. As I said above, I will be skipping the December IWSG post, but I will be back for January's. See you all then.

P.S. Watch AMC's Interview with the Vampire. I need a 3rd season of this show like I need air to breathe. It's so good.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Russia's war with Ukraine is a weird and unsettling mess to watch.

The war in Ukraine that Russia started has been a really strange one to watch as it plays out on the world stage, and through incredibly well-informed media that is able to throw light on things. Moves that Russia has made would have been seen as clever or brilliant in another era. Now, they just look comically stupid and the acts of a deranged madman.

The latest of these "acts" is a ploy by Moscow to create a pretext for escalating the war in Ukraine by detonating a dirty bomb within Ukraine's territory and then saying that Kyiv did it and not Russia. This is what the Secretary of State calls a "false flag" operation, meaning it is done to create a pretext for intervention. In case you don't know what a dirty bomb is, it's a phrase that describes a conventional explosive wrapped with radiological waste.

Other such "false flags" that Russia created involved Ukraine supposedly planning to use a chemical weapon. Want a second example? American Intelligence uncovered a plot by Russia to hire crisis actors to create a false pretext for invasion. Like seriously...Russia was going to hire actors to run through a script so that they could appear as heroes coming to the rescue. This would be laughable if it wasn't real. And it's real.

The firehose of propaganda coming from Russia is a strange and unsettling phenomenon. In the past, it has worked really well. And we see it work really well in our own country as (apparently) it is easy to dupe people if they have a reason/grudge to buy into a false narrative anyway. For example, they've said that U.S. mercenaries were preparing biochemical weapons in Ukraine. A little bit later, the propogandists made up an explosion that supposedly happened in Donetsk in early February. And the list goes on and on. All of these things are designed to get Russian citizens and its allies on-board with the land grab that Putin is trying to complete. It's so weird, especially when you consider how big Russia is already.

One of the most unsettling things about all of this (for me) has been the realization that what we all know comes from either direct-hand observation or by believing other people. And by and large, the history of the world has been shaped by believing other people as direct-hand observation simply hasn't been possible until the modern era with cameras nearly everywhere. Cameras have been a godsend and being able to check the photographic record or the satellite imagery against what a person says has (time and again) exposed just how duplicitous, petty, and awful many people are. And history is always written by the victors, and it is clearly biased.

George R.R. Martin shows us this in HBO's spinoff of House of the Dragon. This is a story about the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. But more than that, Martin wrote it to show through a fictional lens what a historical civil war between two women might look like if it were written within the context of a patriarchy and the authors were men. And this is exactly what we are seeing in House of the Dragon. It's that last thing that really fascinates me about the series, and the two women (the two "Queens") devolve into petty hatreds and histrionics over their particular desires to rule the Iron Throne (or to install their heirs on it). Despite the comicality of imagining this as a fantastic tale, how is it any different than what we see in real life? It isn't...not one bit. And that is how wars start and hundreds (if not thousands or even millions) of people die as a result.

That is an incredible thing to observe and then realize about humanity. We are all living in the most interesting of times.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Dwayne Johnson is here to save the DC Universe with Black Adam

There are spoilers in this post for Black Adam. You have been warned.

It's taken quite a while for us to get a Black Adam movie. I honestly don't know if we needed one. After having watched it on Friday, I still don't know if we needed one. However, that's a uniquely short-sighted thought on my part as I don't "need" any comic book movie really. I enjoy them for entertainment. And viewed through that lens, Black Adam was a lot of fun. Also (disclaimer) I'm a fan of Dwayne Johnson. I follow him on Instagram, and I pretty much watch anything he does. So, this is a biased commentary.

Look...Dwayne Johnson is not a great actor. But I like watching him punch people as long as I know that he actually isn't really hurting anyone. He really could if he wanted to, because he's that strong. But it's so much funner to see him playing a character like Black Adam where he can do so with impunity, and we can just kind of enjoy him destroying things. The city that served as the location of the film took an absolute beating (for example). Personally, I'd hate that if I were living in this city in real life. But because it was obviously a movie set with CGI, it was really fun to watch statues topple, get hurled around, buildings explode, and mountains cave-in. Oh yeah...and bad guys were hurled miles to just go splat at the end. It was (overall) probably terrifying for anyone that was in Black Adam's way. The only thing I missed was Zack Snyder's touch. Snyder has a way of just making superheroes seem like they punch harder. I don't know what exactly Zack does, but you see it in the superhero movies he does direct. Superheroes just look awesome.

Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a., "The Rock", is also a bit dour in this production. His effervescent charisma and sense of humor is toned down. I imagine that being an "origin story," we will see more of the Rock at his "Rockiest" in the future, which you should read as funny and likeable. Another thing I enjoyed about Black Adam was that we saw a whole fresh slate of superheroes, and we saw a new web of relationships develop. It was kind of fascinating that the Justice Society are bad guys for the first half of the film, trying to reign in Black Adam's murder-lust, even though all the people he was killing were really bad men. They even get called out for not caring about oppression until they get ordered there to take out a superpowered guy who is actually doing something about the criminal mercenaries occupying their country. For all that Hawkman talks about due process, he's also there to capture Black Adam and shove him into a dark site prison with no trial or due process (and get paid generously for it, judging by the size of his mansion estate).

I do like that they cast Hawkman with a black man. This seems very much to be in line with his Egyptian origins. What I don't quite understand is why they turned this black man into the greatest maximum-aggressive AMURICAN-imperialist you can imagine. But...yeah, that's what they did. 

Dr. Fate is a superhero I've been wanting to see on-screen for decades. At first, I was dubious about Pierce Brosnan's casting. Even though it appears to be a one-off and the helmet will end up on a much younger person, Pierce Brosnan brought all the silver fox charm to the yard. As well, the effects they used to show Cyclone's powers was pure beauty. It was wonderfully made, like a church window turned alive, yet it didn't take away from her fierceness.

I would watch this movie again. It was big, dumb, fun. And there's a great cameo at the end with Henry Cavill's Superman returning for the role that I enjoyed a lot. I guess Dwayne Johnson is here to save the DC Universe. It's a good time for it too, because I'm getting Marvel fatigue if I'm being honest. She-Hulk was the worst in a downhill slope that started several years ago post "Endgame." I think the DC Universe has nowhere to go but up, up, up.

Friday, October 21, 2022

House of the Dragon is called adult epic fantasy because it dares to show humans with realistic behaviors.

The Targaryen Civil War coulda/shoulda ended here by burning the usurping cabal alive.

As House of the Dragon heads into its season finale, I want to say that although I don't think it is as great a series as Game of Thrones was, its been quite successful in blazing its own story. It would be simple to say that it's just a retread of "dynastic succession." I suppose you could say that this was (afterall) the crux of what Game of Thrones was all about: powerful people squabbling over who gets to be the one in charge and with unlimited power. We'd all like to think that someone with no checks on their power is benevolent. But more often than not, this isn't the case. They are a tyrant that rules with an iron fist, and people who are subjected to that power live horrible miserable lives.

The thing that I've enjoyed so much about House of the Dragon is that it's so real. Yes, there are dragons, which cannot and do not exist in our shared reality. And yes, there is magic too. But what is so real about the show is that it never shies away from how gross human beings really are. We are a miserable species, and the sanitized version that we used to get in the United States has convinced many of us otherwise through media filled with Disney musicals and to the lack of ever seeing a dead body unless it has been prepared by funeral homes for public viewing. In the United States, religion has forced and shamed sexuality into backrooms, public nudity including breastfeeding is shunned, and for the most part we pretend that certain "genitalia" simply do not exist. It's a thing we don't ever talk about. It's all clean, sanitized, tucked away, and there are messages on repeat saying, "no one wants to see your tuck them away." Shame, shame, shame.

House of the Dragon doesn't do any of this, and it owns its truth of just how gross, disgusting, and horrible people are not only to themselves but to one another. For much of the history of mankind, this is how humans have been (and they still are but no one wants to call people out on it for fear of being called hateful). And I've learned that a tiger does not change its stripes, even if it is plucked and trimmed and cleaned up like a Kardashian on parade. That's just a smoke and mirrors show, and one that psychologically convinces people to put others up on pedestals when we really shouldn't be doing that as much as humans do. Putting people onto pedestals makes them into something we look up to. It makes them into something to be admired.

However, our society could be far more enduring if we admired things that helped large groups of people to flourish instead of elevating undeserving people onto pedestals. What would the world be like if we could banish ideas that a person is "out of your league" and replaced them with "you should be grateful that someone likes you?" A lot of culture, particularly white culture, teaches that we need to find our best selves so that we can rise to the top. It's all about self empowerment. By contrast, indigenous people have a culture that emphasizes finding the best traits in yourself that will best serve your people and help your tribe flourish. It's an entirely different way of looking at things, and it explains a lot about why capitalism, particularly the brand we have in America, is so brutal. It also explains why people I know in real life really struggle with feeling gratitude toward anything. In my personal friend group, people don't like to thank others, because it makes them feel "lesser." It makes them feel like something has been done for them that they could not do themselves. That's a huge problem when your pride gets in the way of letting another person know you appreciate them. But that is America today.

So House of the Dragon is unapologetically grotesque, and I love it. But it isn't off-the-deep-end grotesque. Nope, it just shows people as how they really are. There's a scene in the penultimate episode where Queen Alicent, in order to get information she needs from Larys (the spymaster), must allow him to jerk off while he stares at her naked feet. It's so gross and so undignified. Surely, foot fetishes are uncommon, and this couldn't be a real world scenario. Think again. This kind of fetish is wildly common, and there are all sorts of people you interact with everyday who see sweaty, even stinky feet as a sexual object. Did you know that part of ancient wine-making involved people mashing grapes in vats with their bare feet? What made the wine ferment was the yeast between the toes, which is probably the grossest fact I know from reading articles about wine-making.

What about the multiple scenes of women dying in childbirth? Yep, we've just sanitized it all and thanks to advances in medicine, we've managed to make it possible for women to increasingly survive childbirth. But sex, childbirth, and bodies have always been grotesque, no matter how you size them up and clean them up and try to tighten this and prune off that. And incest is more common than many people want to admit (surely this doesn't happen in my neighborhood!), and people hating and plotting against other family members, and backstabbing at jobs and the list goes on and on. Ask any lawyer about how families tear apart when parents die and siblings argue over money. What about parents that end up having children that abuse them? This happens a lot too. 

People are awful, and they are gross, and it's wonderful. And it's not just poor ugly people. The good looking ones are awful and gross and mean too. They are amoral. I think that's the real beauty of George R.R. Martin. He knows all of this, and he crafts his stories around humans with whom we all can relate. It's anti-Instagram and anti-Tik-Tok. House of the Dragon throws mud and other body fluids on all carefully curated media posts to make cute girls and cute boys look like they are perfect dolls who don't fart, go to the bathroom, or have grotesque desires. It's like George's baseline is a garbage heap, which is how it should be. For example, a man that abuses his daughter with "benign neglect" rather than the other kinds of things at his disposal is actually a good person. Murder is the most horrific crime someone can commit by law. Yet, I'm beginning to think that everyone is capable of it given the right conditions and circumstances. Some will always be better at it than others, just like any other skill. And there will always be "those people" who actually enjoy it. Why? Because humans are terrible, and somehow we've tried to convince ourselves that we aren't.

In the penultimate episode of House of the Dragon we saw Princess Rhaenys (The Queen that Never Was) sneak below the Dragonpit which is filled with people to celebrate Aegon's coronation. Aegon is Alicent's son, and he's a weasel of a person, immature, undeserving, and he will be a terrible king. He'll basically be a tyrant. He's also not the heir. But his mother and the other backstabbing usurpers want the throne for themselves, so they hastily crown him basically ensuring that the country will be plunged into a violent civil war. At Aegon's moment of triumph, she breaks through the concrete floor, scattering small folk and shocking the Greens (Alicent's faction) on the back of her enormous dragon Meleys. Meleys is a swift, ferocious dragon, and with one word, she could end the entire cabal before her and burn them all alive. I would have done this without a second thought. But Rhaenys doesn't for whatever reason, and I think she will live to regret that decision A LOT. Her decision to not do it is very human too. She's in the moment of her power, and chooses to take the high road, forgetting that her opponents will always take the low road, because that's what people do. She chooses not to be a cold-blooded killer, not to be a kingslayer and a kinslayer, and to not have the blood of her nephews and niece on her hands. I know from the story that what awaits Rhaenys is not the same courtesy. But whatever. High road versus low road. I will remember that Rhaenys (in the end) was a decent person, and there are a few of those around. Not everyone can be vile. But it's finding out which ones are vile and which ones are not that makes for a good story.

It's weird to me that all of the things I've talked about above make House of the Dragon "adult" epic fantasy. This is why Game of Thrones is "adult epic fantasy" as well. When we talk about J.R.R. Tolkien's work, the term "Children's Epic Fantasy" comes into play a lot. So that's how I recognize the differences between the two. One is written for adults and one is written for children. And then it gets doubly weird when you meet adults who are obsessed with Tolkien, and you realize that they're arguing over "children's books." However, I wish that the above stuff I've described, i.e., foot fetish scenes, people being gross, murder, incest, and all the things that humans actually do, wasn't considered "adult." Rather, I'd like them to be rebranded. I would say that this story has "real humans" in them, and the other story you are reading has "idealized fantasy humans who are as real as pink unicorns with sparkles." It could come from a desire to interact with adults who truly embrace adulthood, instead of meeting forty-year-olds who act like children and who are married and do crossfit and complain that "adulting is so haaarrrddd." Anyway, I'm looking forward to the season finale, and I'm glad that it's been renewed for a season two. The civil war is going to be awful to watch, but I will thoroughly enjoy watching all these characters perish in horrible ways.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Generation X and every generation to follow was lied to from the beginning: Scarcity is real in everything.

When my friend Meg couldn't find an eighteen pack of eggs in the grocery store on Sunday evening, I realized the truth of that moment: scarcity is very real. And it's in everything. It just wasn't that real in America until 2020. There was an illusion machine here, made from twigs of propaganda, and by a profit-driven healthcare industry that makes money when Americans are happy.

But 2022 scarcity is more than just an uncomfortable truth. It's more than just, "Mike can't find a pack of 18 eggs and must settle for something else." It was also a moment of personal empowerment, because I had an epiphany. It was a moment of validation, because it provided an answer to A LOT of troubling questions I've had about life when things happened to me (and others) that didn't make sense. So, this particular post is dedicated toward pointing out all of this scarcity and making a mockery of the many gaslighty idioms that fall from the lips of people who lack self awareness of their own privilege.

Let's start with Alaska. If you didn't know, Alaska called off (for the first time in history) the snow crab fishing season that such shows as Deadliest Catch have highlighted for cable viewers. Why did they do this? Because the snow crab population has absolutely cratered. It's down like 90%, and they are so panicked by it that they want to conserve what's left and take measures to help the population recover. And that means that fishermen are out of business. So why is this happening? Scarcity...that's why. There aren't enough snow crabs. Who knows? They may go extinct. But the capitalist idiom that could be useful in this situation would be for some smug a-hole to walk around and tell those fishermen, "You just need to work harder." It's the most tone deaf attitude, but hey...I've heard that stuff all my life.

The Mississippi River too is drying up really badly in places. It's so low that barges are having difficulty operating on the "Mighty Mississippi." Below are some pictures, and they aren't from "Chy-NA!" Imagine Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer playing in those puddles near the Memphis bridge. Why is this happening? Because fresh water is scarce, and now people are finally seeing that this scarcity is real and it's everywhere. Is it in Utah? Yep! The Great Salt Lake is now half its size, and you can physically walk to the islands that are in it without getting your feet wet. Is it in California? You betcha. Every year another portion of it burns up. As a result, good clean air from the outdoors is getting scarce too. But maybe some smug a-hole should suggest that we all rake the forest or take shorter showers. That'll fix it! It's not the world that is terrible, silly! It is you! You need to pull on those bootstraps!

There's a loneliness epidemic in the United States. I'm not making this up. Seriously. There are tons and tons of people that no one wants to be around, and I can't blame them. I bet if I asked them, "Would you like attention?" They'd say, "Yes, I would." And then I could reply, "Sorry, there's an attention scarcity right now in the United States." Have you heard that young men are in crisis mode? Have you heard that a lot of angry and disaffected men are becoming violent, because they cannot find consenting partners? I'm gonna take a stab and say there's a love scarcity too. But how is this possible when I've been told on more than one occasion by smug a-holes that "there is someone for everyone."

What about good paying jobs? Surely, there isn't a scarcity of good-paying jobs! Oh...but there is, and there's data to prove it. Not everyone can have a good-paying job. There is always going to be someone who is stuck with the low-paying terrible job. That's how capitalism works. So why don't we teach this? Why don't we tell kids, " is terrible and hard. I don't know how yours is going to go, but you could seriously die alone, broke as a joke, and with no food and water. Everything is scarce, and you need to be grateful for every win and to not crap on people, because life is about survival." But this isn't what we say. Instead I hear, "Oh baby, you deserve anything, and you can do anything. You're so smart. Don't worry about anything. It will all work out." But no it won't! That's a lie. There are plenty of examples of things "not working out!"

Surely there isn't scarcity in food. Oh wait. Yes, there is! There are people in our country who don't have enough food. But wait a minute...this is least there's no scarcity in housing! Oh ding! Wrong again! In my own state, 76% of people can no longer afford a home. Why? Because the people who own homes don't want to sell them unless they pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the official reason (because no one wants to call their neighbor a greedy S.O.B. is that there is "more demand than supply," and "high interest rates" and blah blah blah). Scarcity in money, and scarcity in places for people to live.

I don't know how many times I was told growing up, and then in my twenties, and then in my thirties, and so on and so forth, "Mike...stop making excuses! You just need to work harder. People that work harder get the rewards!" This is a lie. It simply isn't true. Working harder only increases a random chance that something "good" might come of all that labor. But unless you are lucky, it will not overcome scarcity. Period. And living in denial that there is scarcity in literally EVERYTHING and that somehow all the things you failed at are YOUR FAULT BECAUSE...YOU LAZY is just a recipe for mental illness. Ironically, there is no scarcity in mental illness. We now have an abundance of that to go around in the United States.

Is there scarcity in quality medical care? You betcha. Is there scarcity in justice? Yup. Is there scarcity in people who can actually do quality work? Yes. Is there scarcity in good looks? Yes, otherwise a plastic surgery industry would not exist. Is there scarcity in intelligence? Yes, there is., I thought "all men were created equal". Uh...I hate to tell you...but that is just a nice saying to make people feel better. There is scarcity. In. Everything.

It frustrates me that more people don't live in the present and live in the truth of what's really happening. Gaslighting people is a hideous thing to do, and it makes it harder for our society to address scarcity in all of its forms. But in the least, I'm getting a certain kind of validation from the calamities of the world, because I realize that most of the things I failed at were out of my control. I just didn't have the luck and privilege of making those things a reality. It would be so nice if those who do have the luck and privilege (to overcome various scarcities in all of their forms) expressed a little gratitude for just once, instead of being a smug jerk.

How amazing would that be for someone to say, "I'm truly blessed, and I was born with a thing that I take for granted that you literally can never have?" They could finish with, "I am so thankful for this, and I feel so sorry for you. It isn't fair, and life sucks." But I've literally never heard these words from anyone in my life.

That kind of self-awareness (it appears) must be pretty scarce too.

Monday, October 17, 2022

The Rings of Power was a real treat and I'm a fan of hot and thirsty Sauron.

I feel like I'm in the minority based upon online conversations regarding The Rings of Power. But my close friends who watched it with me had as much fun with it by the end as I did. There was some small validation in knowing that we were right about Halbrand being Sauron, although the mystery of who that "other wizard" is, and for that matter who those three white-robed ascetics were who came for him thinking he was Sauron, is another matter. I had previously thought that the kind of power they wielded was reserved for other Istari or "Maia." They most certainly were not at that level, and I got the impression that they'd fought with Gandalf's kind before.

As for the one they referred to as an "Istar," most people think that the "follow your nose" comment means it was Gandalf. If so, I'm okay with that. But other online people who don't outright hate the show think he may be one of the blue wizards whom we know nothing of other than their names in notes from Tolkien: Alatar and Pallando. I think it unlikely that we would get any kind of story about those two, because their names don't appear in The Lord of the Rings or in The Hobbit to my knowledge. And since Amazon has the rights to the footnotes and endnotes of The Return of the King and the names aren't there, it may be that we can't get stories of them for that simple reason. It's also why Gandalf in the movies says of the two blue wizards, "I've quite forgotten their names." They didn't have the rights to them, so they can't say them on screen. It seems like a slight "missed opportunity" when it comes to storytelling. However, I can forgive them given that Sauron makes me thirsty. I think they were like, "Yeah...Sauron needs to be prettier than Aragorn was in those Jackson films." Mission accomplished. Hot Sauron it is.

One thing I learned about yesterday that I thought was impressive is that this show can't get canceled. Apparently, the Tolkien estate insisted as a part of the rights being turned over to Amazon that the show have a run of five seasons consisting of eight episodes each. That makes me happy, because I know I will get an end to this story, or at least one that meshes with the stuff of which I'm way more familiar. As for Galadriel and (almost-certainly-Gandalf), there will be a lack of tension in those two stories. They will spend the next four seasons walking around with invincible plot armor. And unfortunately, almost-certainly-Gandalf will have every nanosecond of his performance compared to Ian McKellan's.

I do have questions though, and they may go unanswered. One big one is: what the hell was Sauron doing in the ocean with those people, in the very first episode? There's no way he could have actually been looking for Galadriel, could he have? It seems like such a huge event to occur out of complete happenstance. I mean...a massive ocean and the one wayward Maia is able to find the one elf who decides at the last minute that she doesn't want to go to Valinor? Right place, right time? Those are some astronomical odds, and "Fate" just isn't enough to explain it. So, I'm thinking, maybe the others on the boat were more of the devoted "Ascetics" and they were trying to help Sauron sneak into Valinor and subvert the Ban of the Valar somehow? Or maybe Sauron was on his way to repent before the Valar, but Galadriel came along and changed his mind and plans?

Another question I have is that almost-certainly-Gandalf uses a lot of power without the need of a staff. And once he gets a staff from one of the Ascetics, he then becomes unbeatable. I'm just wondering why he was able to use the powers that he did before he got his staff, because I remember something about wizards being quite diminished without their staves.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to season two. Anyone else in that boat?

Friday, October 14, 2022

Why do we need fourth wall breaks? Is this a fad that can please go away now?

Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame were the peak. It's been all downhill ever since. Although I've been entertained by what came after, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (by and large) is not really all that good anymore (look...I liked the Hellraiser movie on Hulu, and it was not I have a low bar). The multiverse introduction, all the different Spidermen, and the fourth-wall breaking that we always get in every She-Hulk episode is (I think) not all that exciting. I also do understand that breaking the fourth wall is something that happens a lot in She-Hulk comics. I don't read She-Hulk, so maybe I'm lacking that experience on seeing how cool it is. But I actually do like suspension of disbelief, and it's kinda impossible to hit that amazing escapism you can get from a movie if your character goes into the writer's room, which is what happened in She-Hulk's finale.

Like, in the episode, Jen argues to Marvel that She-Hulk is at first a lawyer comedy and a Marvel series second. And then she gets to make changes to her own narrative. I mean...she used the Disney+ menu to enter another show. Like, really? She argues with the very writers of her show, who are actually writing this scene anyways, from the first scene of the show to the last scene. For what it's worth, I don't like the "it was all a dream" trope that writers sometimes use either. I think it's just a matter of taste, and my taste leans that way.

And to be clear, I'm all for watching something fun and goofy. Not everything has to fit neatly into the MCU puzzle. I'm also not clear on what Emil's whole purpose was in this show. Is he just doing self-help seminars now? I do get that he's part of the Thunderbolts, but the whole way of getting him there seems a bit sloppy with his character arc in She-Hulk.

It's got to be hard to follow up a huge story arc that ended with Thanos, a snap that removed half the life in the universe, and time travel that was necessary to reverse all of that wherein we still lost two great heroes. So, I appreciate that they are throwing so much at the wall to see what sticks. I really liked the show as a whole, but this ending fell flat for me. I guess maybe my expectations were out of wonk. Or something. I feel like I should be saying to Marvel, "It's not you, it's me." And leave it at that. Honestly...why do we need fourth wall breaks? Is this a fad that can please go away now?

I suppose that the next thing I need to watch is Werewolf by Night. I hope that ends up being more satisfying.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

AMC's reboot of Interview with the Vampire is a wonderful and modern adaptation of Anne Rice's most famous work.

I have been watching Interview with the Vampire on AMC. Jacob Anderson plays Louis de Pointe du Lac, who is the star of the book and the series. The last time I saw Jacob, he was playing "Grey Worm" on Game of Thrones (which ended in 2019). I was always impressed with Jacob Anderson in the role of Grey Worm. To be clear, the acting on Game of Thrones was some of the best that has ever graced the screen. So, I'm sure that Jacob rose to the occasion being surrounded by people who took their characters so seriously and who played them with such intensity. Anderson was no exception to this as he played his guts out of the role handed to him by the showrunners as the leader of the Unsullied. This new role as Louis is such a departure from that previous one that I didn't immediately recognize him until about twenty minutes into the show.

Joining him in this sordid tale of vampire love is another actor named Sam Reid, who plays Lestat de Lioncourt. I have to think that Anne Rice would be impressed were she still alive. Sam seems like a perfect casting of this character as he fits the description of Lestat from the books so closely that I instantly recognized him. Louis of course (in the books) was not a person of color. But that doesn't matter as the most important aspect of Louis was his gentleness that is at odds with the violence that being a vampire demands. Anderson captures this perfectly, and I think being a person of color in the show fits the narrative rather well, especially with it being set in turn-of-the-century New Orleans.

As I watch this show, I can't help but think that this is the kind of horror that I actually like to watch. I'm not one for truly scary "gotcha moment" shows or movies that feature slasher-like villains that stalk their prey throughout a movie. This tale of lovely vampires circling one another in a romance that Dante could have written is right up my alley. The series is also peppered with Easter Eggs for those with a keen eye by virtue of its art and paintings. In the second episode, there's a painting that the journalist interviewing Louis sees, and he is told by Louis that it was painted by an artist named Marius. I know from the Vampire Chronicles that Marius is an ancient vampire that watches over Akasha and Enkil, who are the oldest vampires on the planet (former rulers of Egypt) and in possession of the primal power from which all vampires derive their lineage. Another reviewer spotted a Rembrandt painting in one of the scenes that was famously stolen from a museum, and which is still unaccounted for to this day. Knowing that makes me like the series even more, because it shows a careful deliberation on the directors of this thing to build the world in which these vampires inhabit.

To be fair, this version of Anne Rice's work is different and reinvented. It takes liberties from the original work to update and diversify it for a modern audience. This is just how things are being done now, and I do agree that this needs to be done. However, I wasn't really a fan of other versions of these stores that had been done thus far, including the Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise led movie where I thought Tom Cruise had none of the charisma that Lestat is supposed to have, and Pitt was kind of a letdown as far as his portrayal of Louis. So, to me, this new adaptation had only to be better than the garbage that came before, and in just its first two episodes it has done that. I think Jacob Anderson does a much better job of hitting the notes that I thought made Louis special in the original book. And Lestat...well, as I've said above...he's honestly perfect. In her original writings, Anne Rice flirted quite a bit with homosexuality, but she never really went all the way. The producers of this show embraced the gay, and the characters are unapologetically so. It is a thing that I find both amazing and pleasing, that we could get these fantastic gay characters who are so lovingly written about by their creator. I can't help but think that it was something Anne Rice would have wanted, if she could have just shed the fear of having her writing judged by bigots. This fundamental fear is probably at the core of every writer, but especially true to someone like Anne Rice who had achieved so much and at the same time, lived a life filled with various tragedies.

There are peppering's too of what I think are Anne Rice's end of life beliefs (she was a complicated person through and through). In the latter half of her life, she became a devoted Christian, moved away from New Orleans, and quite frankly, wrote a lot of books that I will never read, because they are filled to the brim with her faith. One of the ways this shows up in Interview with the Vampire on AMC is Louis hears the "heartbeats" of twins inside his sister's womb, and she's probably only six weeks pregnant. Science has shown us that there is no heartbeat at this time, and that it is (in fact) the ultrasound machine that creates a false heartbeat based upon sensory readings. In other words, the "heartbeat" heard on an ultrasound is completely faked by a machine. When I heard Louis saying he "heard heartbeats" I thought to myself, "That's the ghost of Anne Rice confirming heartbeats in a womb that shouldn't be there to pander to Christians who may watch this thing." But...whatever. It's not a hill I'm willing to die on and quite frankly, any movement of a person toward more progressive views is a victory against fascism and white nationalism.

Another departure from the books is to change the location of the interview. Instead of being located in the states, the interview with Louis takes place in Dubai. I thought this was an interesting choice, but it does put the action a lot closer to the Middle East where the oldest vampires in the world reside in Rice's mythology. I (for one) look forward to seeing who they have cast for Armand, who is a 350- to 400-year-old vampire if memory serves. For a lot of vampires, he's the oldest that they know, but that's mostly because the truly antediluvian vampires just aren't that present anymore. They kind of keep to themselves and rarely reveal their presence, pretty much shunning the younger generation who are their children. It is Lestat (in fact) who begins to wake them up with his love for music. In the timeline of Interview with the Vampire, Lestat is asleep (in vampire torpor), because he's gotten bored of everything and the thing with Louis has become unsatisfactory, and he felt he had no power to correct the course. So, he chose to go to sleep for a long time. What wakes him up is that the world's music changes to something that enchants him, particularly heavy metal and other kinds of things he's never heard of. It slowly brings him to consciousness, and he makes an appearance to tell his own story after Interview with the Vampire becomes a best seller and captures the world's imagination. Lestat (of course) thinks Louis is just whining away, and I think in his own right, he wants to "set the record straight."

It is Armand (in the books) who comes into conflict with Lestat and Louis, so he'll have an important and divisive role to play in this show, especially once Louis creates a child of his own in Claudia (who was a fascinating if not doomed character). Antonio Banderas in the movie from many years ago was (quite honestly) a terrible choice for Armand, even if I enjoy his speaking voice quite a bit. Armand needs to be young, almost too young which kinda scratches at that taboo that Louis commits when he makes Claudia. They will need to be careful with the casting of Armand, because they won't want him to visibly age over the seasons that they plan to do this thing. Someone like Tom Holland comes to mind, who can still play a seventeen-year-old even though he's like 26.

I also enjoy the pettiness with which the actor Sam Reid plays Lestat. Lestat was always one of the petty gays (a stereotype). He was stunningly beautiful, but an artiste in his own right. He was never a master of any art, but he was good enough to be pompous and full of himself and to know what true genius looks like. And like any artist in this range, he has strong opinions about things like opera. If it is performed perfectly, he's in love and humble and grateful. If it is performed badly, he's moved to anger. There's a scene in the show where the tenor of an opera he takes Louis to hits many flat notes, and Lestat cuts his own finger and puts a spot of blood on the musical score on each place that the tenor fails. Then afterward, he takes the tenor to his home and humiliates him by telling him what he did wrong when he sang those notes. And then he and Louis make a dinner of the tenor, and they draw it out all night long as a punishment for the many transgressions that he visited upon Lestat by singing a note poorly. Killing him is an act of mercy by Lestat, as he removes this horrible singer from ever gracing a public stage again. It is a monstrous act, but one that befits an ancient serial killer if his caliber.

And this (I suppose) is the horror of this tale. It is (in fact) the story of a serial killer...just one that we aren't used to seeing. It's funny that I can be so enraptured in the tale of Lestat and by extension, Louis, and that seeing them kill humans doesn't bother me. There is little difference I suppose from Lestat and Jason in the Friday the 13th franchise. However, to me they are leagues apart. Yes, they both kill. But Lestat is a romantic figure that is dreamy, chaotic, and powerful while the typical killer in slasher flicks is nothing but a monster. I struggle to understand why I like one so much more over the other. But I do. It's obvious that others do as well, because vampires are probably the most successful monster of all time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

For October's Insecure Writer's Support Group post I identify the best characteristic of my favorite genre.

October 2022 is upon us. It's usually just "another month" for me, as I'm not really into scary things or decorating for Halloween. But this October feels a bit more special, because I'm really enjoying the fantastic entertainment that I get via streaming. It honestly feels like I'm living in a candy store, and I get to watch such delights as Hellraiser (Hulu), Hocus Pocus 2 (Disney+), the Rings of Power (Amazon), Andor (Disney +), Interview with the Vampire (AMC), The School for Good and Evil (Netflix), and The Cabinet of Curiosities (Netflix). And being the first Wednesday of October, it also means that I get to post once again for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. If you are a first-timer to my blog (unlikely but it could happen), then allow me to explain what the IWSG is.

First off, it was created by Alex Cavanaugh. You can find his website HERE. Alex has been blogging and for a long time, which makes me realize that I've been blogging for a long time. That's just really weird. Anyway, here is more about the Insecure Writer's Support Group, and why you should join.

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. 

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

The awesome co-hosts for the October 5th posting of the IWSG are Tonja Drecker, Victoria Marie Lees, Mary Aalgaard, and Sandra Cox!

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!

October 5th question - What do you consider the best characteristics of your favorite genre?

The category in which I write and read the most is speculative fiction. So it is my favorite. Speculative fiction paints with a broad brush, encompassing genres with elements that do not exist in reality, recorded history, nature, or the present universe. Works of speculative fiction cover various themes in the context of the supernatural, futurism, comic books, magic, and many other imaginative realms. My favorite genres under the speculative fiction umbrella are fantasy and then science fiction.

I think the best characteristic of fantasy and science fiction is that it lets me be somebody else. When I read a book, I kind of become the main character, no matter if it is told in third person, second, or first. This is the magic that a book of speculative fiction can do. It takes me out of the banality of living in this world of ours where everything seems expensive and where interacting with others can oftentimes be traumatic and abusive and disappointing. It repackages us into another skin where we learn about things we never knew and see wonders that we would otherwise never see. It is a great thing to experience love and loss, heartbreak and hardship, all from the safety of one's chair. Or if one's living conditions are not so great, to have those walls melt away and to find oneself somewhere else for a while.

It's not easy to tell you why escapism is important, because the very idea of it is so complex. I just know that escapism is important for many people. Maybe not so much for the richest and most beautiful among us who obviously crave attention and receive more than they can use. However, few of us fit into that particular box. Speculative fiction in all of its forms is a human creation with the sole purpose of making our lives more tolerable. And it works, and makes a functioning society that more likely. What would our society be if we had no stories to listen to from books to television to movies? Especially for older folks who live alone or for folks who know of no one that wants to spend time around them, the hours and days would be very long indeed. And if you're someone that wants to tell me that loneliness is not an epidemic in the world, don't bother. I've seen how many older folks end up in America firsthand. Oftentimes, adults can't stand being around them unless they can score free stuff. If you have nothing to give, benign neglect is one of the better things for which you can hope.

Humans are very good at gaslighting others with phrases like "there's someone for everyone" and "violence solves nothing" and "honesty is the best policy" and "justice is blind" and "all men are created equal" and "all lives matter" when we see everyday things contrary to these sayings that cause people to flourish and be rewarded with riches. If anything, the power of speculative fiction allows us to see ways in which we can account for these traumas and horrors, and it empowers us with solutions to deal with the pain of living. Just look at the works of George R.R. Martin. There's a reason why in Game of Thrones Missandei's last words were, "Dracarys" before Queen Cersei had her head removed from her shoulders. The power of speculative fiction is here to remind us that we are not powerless before the things that hurt us and make our lives miserable. The imagination is such a marvelous coping tool for what ails us. I just wish that it wasn't so needed.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Here are all the thoughts I have about Rings of Power that must be said.

This last Friday, we were treated to a pretty spectacular episode of Rings of Power. The title of the episode was called Udûn, and from what I understand, in the Elvish Sindarin it means "dark pit" or "hell." Additionally, it is a valley of Mordor thought to have been formed by volcanic activity. Okay then.

In the events of episode 6, we saw (essentially) the formation of Mordor. I wasn't expecting this, but it was a real treat. I had just assumed that Mordor was always a choking ash-filled place of death. I never thought that it would have been green and lush with livestock around and people living there. I just didn't. And suddenly, I have so many questions and thoughts about what is going on in Rings of Power.

Using the magical handle of a broken sword, one of the humans (Waldreg) who swore allegiance to Adar (an elf that claims he killed Sauron, but obviously serves Sauron) in the last episode grabbed the handle and used it to "unlock" whatever it is that it was supposed to unlock. It turns out that it started a series of events that had been built (presumably) by Sauron. All of this is so damned unclear. But who else could engineer something like that? Here's what happened.

A dam that trapped a lot of water was released, the water flowed through tunnels dug by the orcs (so this was purposeful and maybe they got the message that these tunnels are essential for them to have a home), and it all emptied into the heart of a volcano which forced an eruption. I can only assume at this point, that this volcano is Mount Doom. And its eruption must create Mordor, which is a safe place for the orcs to live. They burn in the sunlight, and they really don't like green things at all. Smoke and ash and apocalyptic landscapes are kinda where they do their best thriving. And this suddenly made me understand that the orcs just wanted a place to live, and Sauron gave it to them.

So suddenly, I'm like...wait...the orcs just wanted a home? Am I becoming sympathetic to these blackened, slimy, crusty, ugly, and evil creatures? I mean...if I was an orc, I'd want a place where I could live and have baby orcs. I'm so confused now. Rings of Power is inserting all of these thoughts into my head that just weren't there before about this Tolkien property. But I seem to recall that Tolkien (somewhere) wrote that the orcs weren't inherently evil creatures. I just never assumed that this meant anything of real note here as it is a subtle thing to assume about orcs in Tolkien's Middle Earth. Like...what does that mean exactly? It turns out, it means a lot.

Here's another thought: I think Halbrand is Sauron, and Adar killed him like Gandalf got killed, but now he's back because some of the Maiar do that thing where they come back (sometimes more powerful). I also think that Halbrand/Sauron might have kinda wanted to go straight and just live as a Numenorian smith for a while, but Galadriel fucked that up. So suddenly I'm seeing that Sauron might not have been all bad (read this as he had good within him), and Galadriel has evil in her in that she's directly responsible for returning Sauron to Middle Earth (because she has a clear obsession with him). Additionally, there are such things as orcs who don't want to serve evil at least in the form of Sauron, but other kinds of evil. Maybe. Honestly, my mind has really been opened a lot by Amazon's take on this.

But someone might ask, why would Sauron be content with being a smith? I do remember something from The Silmarillion which described Sauron humbling himself and showing true repentance to Eonwe, the herald of the Valar, after Morgoth's defeat. Sauron was told that he would have to travel back to Valinor to beg forgiveness from the Valar directly, and then do many years of penance. Would you want to do that? Me neither. So suddenly, Sauron seems more humanized when I recall this tidbit of information. So Sauron, just like what we'd do, hides away until the Valar had all left Middle-Earth. So this is essentially what he's doing now, and killing time as a Numenorian smith seemed like something that wasn't "unreasonable" for Sauron to do.

And then there's the stuff about Sauron being in the North, and about trying to find some dark magic that eluded even him. I think this "dark magic" thing is probably Mount Doom. He needed to get that volcano going, and Mordor transformed so that he could use it to forge the One Ring. There's something special about Mount Doom. Maybe its fires burn hotter or there's some magical concentration of something that we don't know about yet that is crucial to him being able to forge the One Ring there. I need Amazon to tie the threads together for me on this, and relate it back to Celebrimbor and the super forge being constructed which will obviously be producing the other rings. 

Anyway, as you can see a lot of thoughts got started because of this last episode. I'm looking forward to more, and season 2 is already filming. What a treat we have all been served. Anyone else have any thoughts?

Friday, September 30, 2022

The Boomers entering assisted living is probably going to crush the healthcare system in the United States or usher in universal healthcare.

For many years now, my last surviving parent (father) has been in assisted living care. The cost has been a staggering $1200.00 paid out every seven days from his estate, and this hasn't been covered by insurance. This morning (for some reason) I decided to google "Why is assisted living so expensive in the United States?" And I landed on a Quora page with the most intelligent and insightful (concise) reason that I just had to blog about it. And then I want to talk about what it may mean for the future. But first, here is the answer that I got that was so fantastic:
"Because they are private for-profit facilities that take advantage of America's lack of healthcare for its elderly.

"In countries with universal healthcare, people don't have to go bankrupt to pay for their parent's care. The for-profit model knows that they can wipe out the life savings of a senior and take any form of inheritance laid aside for their children, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

"If your parent becomes impossible to care for in your home, you have to pay for it. Therefore, they charge it because they can, and because the United States government won't pay anything until you are down to your last $2,000 in assets. It's a system of robbery that pays the workers (who are usually foreign) very low wages and offer nothing close to the luxury that $10,000 a month should provide.

"It's an unsustainable business model that is able to do this because the WWII generation lived in a cheaper America, and they were able to save more. Once the Boomers start entering care, there will not be this plethora of saved assets and either the U.S. Government will need to implement universal healthcare or seniors will collapse the system."

Wow! First off, this was an incredible post made by someone going by ED L on Quora. Additionally, from my personal experience, it is 100% correct. Like...there is no error I can see here at all. So let's move onto my analysis of what's being said here and what it means for the future.

Folks, the Boomers are about to crush the system. Huzzah! It's all going to come crashing down. This has kinda got me a little excited. Sure...there's going to be lots of suffering and crying, but when it all crashes, I'm going to have fun looking at the Republicans who opposed universal healthcare and feel mighty smug about being right on this. I don't have kids, so the system crashing is not going to hurt me as much. But it's going to smack these huge family units in the ass. Hard. And I just can't wait until it happens.

And furthermore, just more validation that capitalism like we have in America absolutely sucks just makes my day. "How dare you want socialism! Don't you know that you'll pay more in taxes?!" I don't know how many times I've been told this by an ignorant person, even as my taxes go up all the time due to Republicans in Utah taxing everything. They are even discussing at the Legislature level about taxing food delivery, which is absurd. And Utah is one of only four states that taxes social security, which has been taxed already. But they have a good social media game with, "We support lower taxes!" What they mean is, "We support lower taxes to rich people and corporations!"

I mean...what's the alternative? Force old people onto the streets? How on earth will they be able to live with themselves, especially if they are Christian? It's going to be fun watching the greedy and righteous squirm. At least they can blame Obama.

Anyway, I thought I'd share this nugget of wisdom from Quora. It made my day. I hope it makes yours too.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

House of the Dragon is a great reminder that the human race is a miserable species.

The world that has Westeros in it (A Song of Ice and Fire) is brutal. We saw this in Game of Thrones, which ended its historic run some four years ago. With House of the Dragon I'm reminded at just how grotesque the people are in this world. But my own naivete would be to think that this is abnormal. That the people of "Earth" couldn't be this gross, could they? But a little digging and a little delving into history (and into modern headlines about what's going on in Ukraine and Russia) makes me think that George R.R. Martin was (if anything) simply a really good study of history and human behavior. And just to be clear, modernity has not changed this. Humans in 2022 are just as gross as they were in 1222. In other words, all the incest, rape, and murder he puts on display in his stories is just par for the course as far as humans are concerned. We (human beings) are awful. Take for example some of the things we've seen just this season in House of the Dragon. This list of things are drawn from human examples.

For one, bastards popping up to cause problems with family dynasties is a reflection of real-life things that happened in kingdoms on Earth. Infidelity aside, siblings murdering other siblings was a real thing that people did in order to seize power. The character of Alicent, who was Rhaenyra's best friend when they were teens, got pushed into marriage with an older man (the king) by her own father and forced to have sex with him (leprousy and all). Imagine forcing your own daughter to have sex with a leper with oozing sores so that you could birth heirs to a throne. Who imagines this kind of thing? You don't need to because this kind of thing happened in real life history. She ends up having no friends and people (like her father) are manipulative to the point of getting both her and her kids into very dangerous situations. Add to this situation that she is "god fearing," and you understand why she is so hateful toward her former friend who get to bed whomever she wanted as opposed to what lay in store for her.

There's Daemon Targaryen played by Matt Smith. His monstrous behavior at killing his wife so that he can be free to marry another just smacks of King Henry VIII. The fact that one of his wives takes it into her own hands rather than let him decide to slice her up to save a baby that is in breach and just immolate herself to death seems...I don't know...realistic if not horrifically grotesque. Then there's the self-loathing knight of Ser Criston Cole who brutally murders the knight of kisses for pointing out that he knows that Criston has obviously bedded the princess (at least that is my take).

Self-loathing is so destructive. You see it in the gay community when a politician is gay but they are deeply closeted and married to a woman, denying everything about themselves. They may not murder someone, but the vitriol, anger, and hatred from a self-loathing man in this position is probably the most dangerous thing there is to the sustained well-being of a society. And I can't imagine how the family unit itself suffers. The man who is a closeted gay probably tells the wife that sex can only happen for procreation, hiding the fact that he secretly wants to just suck a dick. The obvious "my husband does not feel anything toward me sexually" causes more self-loathing in the woman, who thinks it may be that she isn't sexy, or is somehow gross. This leads to other problems like unnecessary plastic surgeries, more self-loathing, and mental illness. It's basically just beating someone to death like Ser Criston Cole did at Rhaenyra's wedding, only it takes years instead of a minute.

 A healthy "Game of Thrones" scenario seems to be benign neglect. This is what you would want to pray for if you were born a woman in this world. The other kinds of things that can happen to you in this world (if you are a woman) are terrifying. The short list is 1) getting married off to somebody triple your age (and hope they aren't diseased), 2) being tortured or enslaved because you were not born a boy, 3) or just getting raped directly. If you have children, then there's the added possibility of watching them getting raped and slaughtered in front of you before the same fate is visited upon you. When a future alien anthropologist happens upon Game of Thrones, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Walking Dead, it should become clear why the human race became extinct. We are a miserable species, and some of our greatest writers know it to the core.

Monday, September 26, 2022

As far as I'm concerned the Rings of Power has come into its own.

This last episode really sealed the deal for me. The Rings of Power has not been a fast burner, at least as putting together a cohesive plot has gone. But the individual threads that have storylines in 1) the people of the south lands, 2) the harfoots (an ancestor of the hobbits I think), 3) the dwarves of Moria, and 4) the elves trying to stamp out the last vestiges of Morgoth are at last becoming entertaining to me (spoiler alert: they fail at doing this).

I just needed to switch my focus from trying to force a story out of this thing, to realizing that what I was witnessing was a "slice of life" tale that peeks in on all those living in a significant portion of an age of Middle Earth. This series is a chronicle of those lives that influenced the great ones that have most been visited upon in Tolkien adaptations and in the Tolkien books of which we are familiar. It isn't here to give us another Frodo or Elrond. It's here to give us the reason as to why there is such biting emnity between elves and dwarves (just one example). It's here to explain why Gimli says, "Never trust an elf" in his casual off-handed racism. There's a story behind why this happened.

So, I needed to let go of "What is the purpose of this character?" and embrace the idea that "this character is one that did a thing in Middle Earth, and it was important enough to warrant a footnote" in The Return of the King. But in order for me to like that character, I need to watch them eat, train, and interact with other characters. So there's a lot of the boring minutiae of life interspliced with these "events" that happen, which are significant for the characters.

Events like: 1) Is Sauron returning, and 2) what does he look like, and 3) yes the dwarves eventually release the Balrog, but...before that happened...what did their homes look like and was Durin a nice guy? These are all things that we get to see, and I actually love it all. The series is there to build the world, and in all of that world-building there are few plot-based stories and more "slice-of-life" stories that allow us to sympathize with these characters that (honestly) are not fleshed out enough by Tolkien to even be interesting outside of "facts about Middle-Earth."

Amazon is also being pretty daring with their series, which is angering some people who may not have wanted that daringness (I am not one). These are the same people who really could have cared less about what Durin looked like or even what his wife looked like or if she had a nice voice or cooked a tasty dinner. All that they were interested in was that the Balrog in Moria was called "Durin's Bane." That's where their interest began and ended.

It was also enough for these people that mithril was this legendary metal that only the dwarves had, and it was as light as silk and stronger than steel. It didn't need to have an origin. But Amazon is deciding to give us an origin. It's choosing to say that the light from one of the lost Silmarils went into a tree and that it penetrated the earth through its roots, and this may be where mithril gets its precious light from.

Okay...I have no problem with that, and it's actually kind of cool. Whatever. I also like that Amazon is explaining how important light is to the elves. In Rings of Power, physical light is so important that it actually sustains their immortality. I didn't realize this, and it's probably a thing that Amazon made up, but I don't care. It actually makes more sense in all the things I've read and seen because light is always the magical thing that gets rid of evil. It makes it seem more mystical rather than Gandalf just needing to turn on a lightbulb to drive a swarm of Nazgul away.

I also love the scenery and the music. Amazon got its money's worth on this series, and I hope that there is a season two. It's absolutely stunning in its beauty, and I don't mind that I'm actually walking side by side with these characters just going through the motions of their lives as opposed to being focused down on a singular quest: to throw the one ring into Mount Doom to destroy Sauron forever! I'm glad I gave this show the time it needed to unfold what it wanted to say about the magic rings. It turns out that there were a lot of puzzle pieces that needed to come together in order to get these things forged. It just took me longer than I expected to understand this about the series, and with my expectations properly adjusted, I'm finding it pretty hard to wait for the next episode to drop.

Friday, September 23, 2022

It's a little weird thinking that the new Hellraiser movie on Hulu is a Disney property.

Horror movies are not my thing. However, I'm going to watch the new Hellraiser movie when it hits Hulu on October 7th. I've always been a fan of Clive Barker, and the mythology he created. I also read the story which Hellraiser is drawn from called The Hellbound Heart. In this short story, Frank (one of the deranged main characters who is an extreme hedonist) opens the Lament Puzzle Box expecting to be greeted by beautiful angelic beings. What shows up are a cadre of very evil BDSM demons who have no safe word. If I remember correctly, in the novella the Cenobites actually give Frank a choice.

In the movies that I've seen, this illusion of choice is not really so spelled out. When someone solves the box, they're essentially entering into a deal with the Cenobites. This is the form of "consent" that the demons require, before they begin an excruciating session of agony that ends with the person who summoned them being ripped to pieces by meathooks or something just as awful. In other words, these supernatural and demonic beings can't just go about murdering and killing. They have rules that they must follow.

The thing I liked from the trailer for this Hulu reboot is that it actually looks like the director and the producers cared about what they made. It feels like there are actual production values at play here, and that they put some real money and effort into the project. They also appear to be honoring the intellectual property quite well, by making references to things that we've seen in the prior multiple movies, including drawings of the different configurations of the puzzle box. This "puzzle box" is the magical MacGuffin that lies at the center of the story. Mysterious and powerful, we don't ever really know what it can do, and in this aspect, it is similar to "the one ring" in the Lord of the Rings stories.

The Hellraiser mythology also includes a bit about this thing called a Leviathan, which is a Lord of an infinite labyrinth that might be a fallen angel of some kind. In one of the Hellraiser movies, this Leviathan makes an appearance as an octahedron that floats above the labyrinth sending out black beams which (when someone is exposed to them) makes you relive all of your sins. This thing apparently rules over everything, and the cenobites serve it, by funneling souls to its pit to serve out their damnation. As it spun above the labyrinth, it emitted a fog horn-like sound that was Morse code for the letters: G...O...D. I assumed that this meant that it was repeating over and over that it was a god and worthy of worship. Hard to argue, given how powerful it obviously was.

Anyway, I don't normally watch horror movies. But this one has enough supernatural and fantasy angles to it that I'm going to watch it. In fact, I'm kind of looking forward to it. If you haven't seen the trailer, I might recommend to you to click the one I've embedded below and give it a good look.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Timothée Chalamet said that societal collapse is in the air. I think he's right.

Timothée Chalamet (while wearing what looked like a backless red dress thing) said something that caught my attention. It happened at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. He was there to promote the cannibal love story (yes there is such a thing) called, Bones and All. I haven't decided if I'm going to watch the film. I like Chalamet very much. But "very much" these days rarely means I'll go out of my way to watch something a person is in. It just means I appreciate them for what they do, and I follow them on Instagram. So what did he say?

Timothée said, "It's tough to be alive now. I think societal collapse is in the air--it smells like it."

I have to say, I wasn't expecting him to say that. It was a "drop the mic" moment, and shook me out of what I was doing so that I could be fully living in the present. Being "present" is harder than it sounds. There's a lot of us that struggle with this, especially with the ubiquitous "smartphone" within hand's reach. But what Timothée had to say struck a nerve with me. I think he was speaking honestly, and I kind of agree with him. But what does that mean exactly? What does societal collapse look like? Here are a few of my observations, taken from a guy who lives in a state that was recently discovered to have the most aggressive and dangerous drivers in the United States. I can confirm, it is bad here to be on the roads. Nobody cares and its every person for themselves. Psychologically, this kind of thing can be expected when people are both very entitled and very selfish (you can see I have a high opinion of my fellow human). But I digress...

My firsthand observation of the collapse of society looks like the degradation of humanity via a mental health crisis. I also think that our society is at a point of no return. This mental health crisis around the world, but most particularly in the United States, is largely fueled by greed. It takes the form of political greed, corporate greed, the fossil fuel industry, big pharma, employer greed, professional sports, religious greed, and greed within families. Is there anything that embodies the image of pure greed more than "royals?" We were treated to a spectacular show this week with the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. The entire time I saw snippets of this, I asked myself, "Why are these people better than anyone else? What gives? Why do people send so much money to others like this?" I had no answers for any of my questions. I only had co-workers who are barely getting by themselves who were in tears because this incredibly rich and entitled woman died. What a mind job, man. It's like everyone has Stockholm Syndrome, where they sympathize greatly for their abuser.

This avarice for more and more is seen as the highest standard, a so-called badge of overall life success, without any sense of compassion or concern for anyone else. When a Queen dies millions mourn and lament the passing of a person that probably never had to hustle to get dinner ready after working a 10-hour shift. When a homeless person dies, people just complain at the stink and step over the body if it is on the sidewalk. The constant barrage of consumerism and the widening gap between the haves and the have nots tremendously affects mental and physical health. Most of us (including myself) feel like we are running on a hamster wheel with little or no incentive. Our annual wage increase, if we even get one at all, doesn't even come close to covering the cost of living. Then after taxes and healthcare premiums, we've taken two (or more) steps backward. But by all means, let's shed tears for the Queen and not even think about the destructive swath British colonialism wreaked upon the world in the centuries it was allowed to endure.

I think that a lot of people who share my values feel powerless and hopeless about the future. From where I'm standing, American society resembles a dystopia of social disconnection, gun violence, and confusion over the most fundamental facts one should know. No wonder the catchphrase for 2022 seems to be "quiet quitting." In any other context, people would see that particular phenomenon as just setting healthy boundaries. But in 2022, where people are shoveled crap by the bucketload, "quiet quitting" is the term that summons rage at the idea of another person just doing the bare minimum to get by, as if that is somehow shameful to even contemplate, given how toxic to mental health everything has become.

Monday, September 19, 2022

I was surprised at how good the HALO series was on Paramount +.

I never played the HALO games that Microsoft put out, but I had plenty of friends who did. When the HALO show premiered on Paramount + earlier this year, despite my lack of familiarity with controlling Master Chief, I was excited to watch the show. I finally got around to finishing it this last weekend, and it didn't disappoint.

In reflecting on these nine episodes, I think I can say that HALO was a surprising show in that it had a lot of roles with diversity and handled them really well. This wasn't a clumsy or ham-fisted adaptation with little disregard done to racial casting. Every role seemed to have as much weight as the Master Chief himself. And each was given enough dialogue and enough screen time to warrant the investment of talented actors who seemed to take their roles seriously enough that I was immersed almost constantly while watching. In particular, I really enjoyed actress Yerin Ha's role in Kwan Ha, the only survivor of a Covenant-led attack that murdered her clan on the planet of Madrigal. Her story arc was really interesting, and shone just as brightly as the one led by the Master Chief.

I think that I'm glad I never played the video game, and thus was unfamiliar with the story going into this show. On the surface, it's a diamond in the rough, offering a lot of promise in many of its scenes (the one showing a ring-world of some kind in dreamscape-like sequences hint at some pretty high science fiction that may be coming down the pipe). I'm now on board with these characters, and I'm invested in whatever goes down with them. I actually cared that a Spartan was in danger. One thing that gave me a chuckle was watching John's bored face while watching for Kai to show up after the spaceship crash. That said to me that John knows an exploding starship is like a mosquito bite for a Spartan. In the end, I think the only thing that scares them are "feelings."

I was also impressed with the villainy of Dr. Halsey. In this show, the crime that she commits is one of the most horrific I've ever heard of in a story. Here's what it is in a nutshell: to create the Spartan program, she selected kids that were about six years old and targeted them for kidnappings. Then she cloned those kids (once they were kidnapped) and returned the clones to the parents. These "fake" kids would then (within days) hemorrhage blood and go into unexplained seizures and die, leaving the parents to mourn for their children while she kept the real ones for training to be Spartans. I was like...oh my god...that's so evil! I's like next level evil. Like Dr. Mengele evil (real-life former Nazi doctor). I wonder how she's going to outdo herself in season 2. Maybe she will just kill millions of people or something like that, and justify it to herself as "saving billions." What a monster.

Additionally, I learned just yesterday that it has been renewed for season 2. I can't wait.

Did anyone else watch HALO, or are you in the process of watching it? If so, what did you think?

Friday, September 16, 2022

Lower Decks is back with season 3 and Bradford Boimler is my favorite character.

With the launch of season 3 of Lower Decks on Paramount +, I think my favorite character is Bradford Boimler. Voiced by Jack Quaid who plays Hughie Campbell in Amazon's The Boys, the character of Boimler takes himself very seriously while everyone else does not. That's kind of his running gag, and it does seem to work. He also has a lot of the "Sheldon Cooper" obliviousness which maybe is an homage to Big Bang Theory which in its long run had many of its own homages to Star Trek. It may just be that geek culture in general is one big bathtub and everything just sloshes around in it constantly. So, if you are a geek, then you see all parts of the tub equally, and they all affect what you like equally.

Thus far in season 3 we learn a little more of Boimler than we did in previous seasons. The first thing that surprised me was the sight gag of "Picard at the Vineyard" before the Boimler reveal (meaning it was Boimler at his own vineyard and not Jean-Luc). I had no idea that Boimler had that kind of money in his family. But it could be that it was just meant to be another gag. And then, it was funny to see Boimler being ogled as a sex object by all the people at the vineyard (mostly women) who were literally throwing themselves at him. But in Sheldon Cooper style, he had no idea what was going on and gave them instructions quite literally whenever they would complain about "getting stains on their shirt," etc. I don't know why that kind of humor lands with me, but it does. So yeah, I laughed out loud multiple times.

I also hadn't realized that Boimler's hair was actually purple. I guess in the animation, I assumed it was kind of a blue black thing. I've seen people use black and then blue to explain highlights in it. But I hadn't given it much thought. And then Boimler said he dyes his hair purple. So, that explains it. But now I'm wondering why he dyes his hair purple.

The season three opener also had the lower decks crew playing a kind of Star Trek version of Dungeons & Dragons. So of course I liked that. The "DM" in this case (who is the one that runs the game) was the Klingon Martok from Deep Space Nine days. He said a line that reminded me of my friend Joseph, who runs some ridiculous games where he has encounters that just end badly for players and that don't make a lot of sense rules-wise. This is actually common in the D&D community, because a lot of people who run games don't really know how to run them. It can be hard to get a mastery of encounters, and much of the time, DM's just want to kill player characters probably because they've convinced themselves that by doing so, people will take them seriously. It's kind of how George R.R. Martin has an oversized influence on fiction by being one of the first authors to really "kill his darlings." A lot of people just don't like to do that, so you end up having these laughable critiques like, "Galadriel has plot armor. Nothing can happen to her even though they are trying to make this seem dangerous."

Anyway, so the line that Martok says in season 3, episode 1 of Lower Decks happens when Brad Boimler declares that his character is going to do a thing, and then he rolls a twenty-sided dice. It comes up a "1" which is a critical failure in just about every scenario. The Martok character laughs and says loudly, "The Klingon warrior rips your arm off and beats you to death with it. It is a death WITHOUT honor, because technically you died by your own hand." It's a quote that stuck in my brain, and by which I've teased my friend Joseph with several times now. When I did it the first time, it was at his game that he runs at the local game shop, and his players all agreed, "Yeah, that's Joseph."

The season opener also had a holographic James Cromwell making his inaugural warp flight from Bozeman, Montana in it. This was featured in the movie First Contact, which came out sooo long ago. Man, does time fly. Anyway, in the Star Trek universe, civilian space flights actually take off from a theme park in Bozeman, Montana. I couldn't help but think that someday this is probably going to happen somewhere on the planet. Only it won't be a holo James Cromwell doing the piloting. It will be a holo Elon Musk. And this sadly means that I'm living in the screwed over Mirror Universe, as if that wasn't apparent already.

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