Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The New York Times published an incredibly tone-deaf opinion piece trying to give coping strategies to people for a world on fire and it failed miserably.

The New York Times
had an opinion piece featured yesterday in its paper called, "How I Build a Good Day when I'm Full of Despair at the World." Seeing as I've experienced some of that lately, I decided to read. The author is Mary Pipher. I'm not familiar with their body of work. But one thing came across instantly: they have astounding privilege and wealth. The piece was immediately what I would brand "tone deaf." I actually busted out laughing by the end of the second paragraph. Below are those paragraphs, for your reading pleasure.

In the morning, I sit with a cup of coffee and organize myself for the day. I watch the sunrise over the lake by my home and I listen to the sounds of the sparrows and wrens. Orioles come and go from our grape jelly feeder and each one makes me smile. I breathe deeply for 10 breaths to ground myself in my body. I remind myself of my many blessings and set my attitude to positive. My old calico, Glessie, sits by my side. Even though I am ragged with grief at the news of the world, I am ready to face whatever happens next.

Over the decades, I’ve acquired skills for building a good day. Especially in the summer, when I can swim, work in my garden, attend outdoor concerts and read in my hammock, life is fun. I have work I enjoy — sponsoring an Afghan family, participating in an environmental group and writing.

Wow! I think I finally understand what conservatives have been telling me for years: that liberals are tone-deaf and smug. I (who identify as liberal and vote democrat) always grew up in Trump country. So I never encountered tone-deaf and smug liberals. Those few liberals I actually got to know who believed as I did about what was right and what was wrong were usually raised in the same way as me. In other words, we went through heaps of trauma, and many live paycheck to paycheck. But we are the gun-totin' liberals, raised by Republican parents. I've used a shotgun to kill ducks and put down other animals. I've slung hay and moved pipe on the farm for years. I've plowed thousands of acres of dirt on countless weekends. I'm not the liberal who was raised to paint and perform music with the viola. I'm the liberal who had three jobs to afford a car.

We don't have lakes in our backyards to take a swim. There is no hammock strung between pines, and we don't have orioles eating from the grape jelly feeder. Many of us have 600 square foot apartments with no windows and no access to natural light, surrounded by baking asphalt in 100 degree heat, and who have to work at lousy jobs 40 hours or more a week. There are no sounds of the sparrows and the wrens, no time to sit around writing poetry or sponsoring an Afghan family. I couldn't believe this piece that I was reading, and I couldn't help but think that this "Mary Pipher," whoever she is, has lived an entitled existence.

So in full satire of this piece in the New York Times, I decided I'd take a shot at writing an out-of-touch and tone-deaf advice column, and offer all of you some advice that will solve all of your problems. So, here goes:

1) If you are struggling with financial instability, have you thought about starting a multi-billion dollar company today? By Friday, all your problems will be yesterday's news.

2) If you want a beautiful partner, you should just go out and get one today. Stop waiting. Just do it.

3) In my area, the great Salt Lake is drying up and is 1/3 of its size. We should just fill it with ocean water. Easy peasy. Done!

4) If you struggle with car breakdowns, what you need to do is just buy a brand new car every year. Problem solved.

5) If it is too hot where you live, go and stay in your home in Ireland. You will love it this time of year.

6) If long lines at the airport are not your thing, fly your private jet instead. Being in a private jet will also give you more "me" time to destress yourself.

7) If you are a writer who is struggling to sell books, have you considered just being famous? Just do it. You won't regret it.

8) If you are worried about access to clean air for your children, you should take them skiing in Vermont. It's a great way to get some fresh air.

9) If you are worried about college admissions for your child, here's a secret: donate five million to the university you want them to attend. More than likely, they will get right in.

10) If you are worried about being too old and tired when you finally retire, my advice is to retire when you are 30. Think of all the energy you'll have to do the wonderful things you want to do.

There! That was easy! Look at all of the answers I have provided you to common problems. I'm going to cut it off here, but if you want me to give you some really tone-deaf and "out of touch" advice, just leave your question in the comments below. Also, how did I do? Was this advice helpful? Thanks for visiting.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Okay the Obi-Wan Kenobi series is actually pretty great.

I'm going to talk about the Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney +, and there are spoilers ahead. This is your warning. 

I just finished up the Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney +. Despite my reservations earlier in the series (and Andrew calling me out on being a bit on the harsh side), this series did satisfy me a lot. The final battle between Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi was really good (as good as the Darth Maul fight in Phantom Menace). And I just gotta say...Vader is so powerful, but he's also a bitch. I loved seeing how destructive and impulsive a character he actually is. We didn't get to see a lot of that in the original trilogy, but now that I can see just how much of a whiny and angry kid Anakin was, Darth Vader makes even more sense to me as a villain.

All of us...the Star Wars nerds of this in an incredible time when we can get treated to series like Obi-Wan Kenobi and (for lack of a better explanation) feel like a kid again. It still transports me back to that galaxy far, far away. Five minutes in and I'm in that place again, consuming an incredible blend of science fiction and fantasy. Ewan McGregor does an incredible job playing Obi-Wan. He's had this journey from a clean-shaven padawan to a tormented and broken protector to a Jedi that wields power every bit as powerful as that of Mace Windu and Yoda. The levitating boulders scene gave me chills. Darth Vader and Obi-Wan fighting is an epic clash of two powerful masters of the force that is rare to see in these shows.

And now, with the end of this series, I have questions. What is to become of Reva now? She's a former youngling turned into a killing machine for the empire, she was Grand Inquisitor for a while, Vader failed to see her dead, and now she's on some redemption arc? I'm intrigued by this new character, and I wonder if it will feed into the Ahsoka show that is supposed to be launching next year. Also, the fact that she survived being impaled by Vader's lightsaber and Qui-Gon somehow could not survive Darth Maul's is weird. I chalk it up to something said in the show about "revenge and hate keeping someone alive." Maybe Qui-Gon was just too at piece for him to be able to sustain his own lifeforce once his body had been impaled. The Force works in mysterious ways, but that's just nitpicking.

Another question? Where is Obi-Wan going? It didn't seem like (to me) that he was just moving a little farther away from where Luke was living to build his house. But maybe he was. There was a sense though that he might be off to help the Rebellion just a little bit more before he becomes the old man that leads Luke on his first adventure to the Death Star to save a Princess who just happens to be his sister. There probably isn't going to be a season two of this show, but I'd like it very much if there was. From the looks of things, they've got about six years or so before they catch up to "A New Hope." That leaves plenty of time for some good storytelling.

Anyone else finish watching this series and enjoy it overall?

Friday, June 24, 2022

Capitalism and the conservatives who support it have weaved us all into a Tholian Web.

If you are a Trekker, the episode called "The Tholian Web" was the ninth episode of the third season of the original Star Trek series. It was written by Judy Burns and Chet Richards and directed by Herb Wallerstein. It was first broadcast on November 15, 1968. In the episode, Captain Kirk is caught between dimensions while the crew of the Enterprise works to retrieve him. At this same time, the Tholians are weaving a destructive energy web around the Enterprise, and it goes very slowly. However, if it gets completed, then there is literally no escape. The ship and all its crew are toast (at least that is what my impression of the web was). 

Fast forward to modern 2022, and if you look hard enough, you can see the Tholian web that is encasing everyone and everything. It's called private equity. In an expose on Mother Jones (you can find it HERE), the reporter goes on to talk about private equity, and the destructive path it has weaved through the entire infrastructure of the United States. It's a thoroughly depressing read, because there's literally nothing we can do about it. The problem is too big. People don't have enough power to fight back against it, and the problem is so big that I'd argue that most people will never comprehend how private equity is strangling you and your family.

Here are some facts from the article:

1) Private Equity just in the last decade has taken control of more than 80 retailers, leading to the loss of 1.3 million jobs.

2) Private equity incursions into real estate has driven the cost of housing to astronomical levels. Frankly put, your children are doomed to be serfs in this country working paycheck to paycheck.

3) Private equity has bought up for-profit colleges, driving down graduation rates while increasing student debt.

4) Private equity has swallowed the healthcare sector, including hospitals, dermatologists, opthalmologists, veterinarians, hospice care, and nursing homes in order to squeeze every ounce of profit out of these places.

5) They also buy up politicians, but you know that already.

One example in the article that I read that was particularly telling was the story of a Brooklyn apartment. Its tenants paid around $3,500 a month, and the place was in good shape. A private equity firm financed by a Texas education teacher pension fund purchased the apartment, kicked out the residents, doubled the rent to $7,000 a month, and the people back in Texas were oblivious and happy that their "investment" was netting them profits to pay for retirements. They were told by the private equity firm that they had saved a Brooklyn apartment that was falling apart. The truth was that the apartments were nice brownstones with a big chandelier in the lobby, and they knew they could charge a ton more for it. That's what capitalism is: charging the highest price that the market will bear. It disregards ethics or morality...all goods should go to the highest bidder.

Another example was the story of a man who had built a company that made very good car parts. He took pride in his company, and wanted it to prosper because it had become the backbone of his community. Private Equity bought his company, chopped wages in half, sought to squeeze profit, cut corners, and the business faltered. Then they broke the company apart, making money off of the dissolution of the equipment and the sale of its assets. All the investors got a payday and all the employees got royally screwed over. 

Folks, I see this kind of thing all over the place in my job. I'm in and out of nursing homes caring for patients who have nothing...their entire life savings have gone to their end-of-life care. They live in one bedroom units usually split down the middle and they eat maybe $5.00 in food a day that is prepared cafeteria style by workers who make $12 per hour. Yet these places charge $8,000 a month. I know some of the executives in charge of these places and they have salaries equal to $40,000 a month. That's $480,000 a year, and they do nothing but plan their next vacation or their next car purchase. They brag about how much money their "policies" are making for the investors. This is wrong. I can't spell it out any other way.

Private Equity and rapacious capitalism are dooming everything. It's a Tholian Web that started long ago. The first lines weren't that threatening. The first incursions were easy to overlook. It slowly bought up this and that and then this other thing down the road from where you live. And bit by bit, Americans and the Middle Class failed to see it happening. Either that, or the situation was just too complicated to argue against. Anyone that spoke up gets shouted down by quick-minded greedy business people who do whatever it takes to convince you that private equity is not the boogeyman. And it was never "all bad" which is one way to keep committing evil. You let some good trickle down. It's an emotions game. If you can make a person feel good for a day, then you can get away with a lot.  I don't think there is a solution to it now...a solution to our "Tholian web" aside from a complete collapse of civilization into war. So this whole post is just me venting, because I feel so helpless to do anything other than hope that I won't become a slave to private equity, spooning gruel into my mouth and being thankful that the beatings were light today.

Here's the future that private equity has created for us: 1) climate crisis, 2) scarcity, 3) a gilded age of severe income inequality, 4) people dying earlier than their life expectancy, 5) everything is shoddily built, 6) modern day indentured servitude, 7) the rise of narcissism and selfishness, 8) mass incivility, 9) rampant greed with grifters everywhere, and 10) the fall of democracy. I probably could go on, but I'm not going to. It's bad enough already.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

A Chorus of Dragons by Jenn Lyons is an epic fantasy story that I enjoy but leaves me continuously annoyed.

I'm currently reading Jenn Lyons A Chorus of Dragons. If this is an unfamiliar thing to you, it is an epic fantasy series about a long-lost royal whose fate is tied to the future of an empire. It consists of The Ruin of Kings, The Name of All Things (the book I'm currently "in progress", The Memory of Souls, The House of Always, and The Discord of Gods. These books are not your typical fantasy offering, which is kinda what drew me to them to begin with. I'm also not sure that the author's writing style actually works for me. However, that isn't to say that I'm not enjoying the tale. It's weird to describe my emotions after reading her pages. I like what I've read, but I think that her delivery leaves something to be desired.

The first thing that takes a lot of getting used to, and (in fact) is annoying is that she (Jenn Lyons, author) uses footnotes. I've never seen a fiction author do this, and there are little footnote triggers throughout the text that force you to stop what you are reading to examine the footnote. I actually hate this, and I'm wondering why this author decided to do this. It's definitely experimental, and I think to myself, "How did this even get published like this?" But then I realize that the story is actually quite good, and I also realize that genre fantasy (especially epic fantasy) is a safe space for experimenting wildly with things. That (in itself) is weird. Why does fantasy as a genre allow for experimentation other than publishers must know that the audience for these things is incredibly forgiving and/or the readers of this stuff lack common sense and won't be bothered by thousands of pages, much less footnotes? And, I've actually proven them right if this is what they think of us, because once I finished The Ruin of Kings, I liked it so much I bought the rest of the books in the series. It makes no logical sense. I disliked something a lot, and then I invested in it.

The second thing that is annoying about these footnotes is that they are told from the perspective of the person who is narrating the story. But here's the thing, the narrator changes every chapter. The way Jenn Lyons goes about telling her story is to have two people in a conversation. One person is talking to the other, and tells the story of the other person from their perspective. And then the other person continues their own story and some of the other person's from their own perspective. And usually, these two stories are not continuations of each other. They can be of the same person, only years apart. So you end up bouncing back and forth, kinda like...a prequel and the sequel and then the prequel and then the sequel over and over.

The way she arranged this in the first book was to have one of the narrators imprisoned, narrating his story before he was executed. The other narrator was his jailor, a creature of supernatural power with the ability to read his mind and able to access the memories of all the persons they had killed with a trail of dead bodies that went back centuries. So they knew things about the character, that the character was probably loathe to admit. And there was a kind of strange empathy that formed between jailor and prisoner due to the fact that the jailor had killed the parents of the prisoner, so they had unique insights into what kind of person the prisoner was to parents who loved him. It was all so very strange, and I'm honestly surprised that this author could pull something like this off (which is probably another reason it got published). Anyway, that prisoner/jailer exchange could not continue into book two. So, I foolishly reasoned that maybe the rest of the books would break from this cycle of two people telling a story and that we would lose the footnotes.

However, I was wrong. The second book is once again two people telling a story. This time, they are in a tavern. One has a book that is filled with extremely detailed narration of their adventures. And these two people are taking turns reading from this book to a third person who is asking questions about their journey. It doesn't at all work as well as the first book, and I kind of feel like the author pigeon-holed themselves into a format that worked for one book, but is now becoming a weight around their neck as they need to keep to this same kind of storytelling for book after book. I gotta say, it is a really unusual and unconventional choice in which to write. But it obviously worked for them, which is probably all that matters. My "practical" brain begs the question: why make this story so hard on yourself? You could have just told it in third person, chapter after chapter? The footnotes could all be related by some character. Why did you choose to do it this way? Sometimes, I think writers purposefully complicate things in their attempt to reinvent the wheel (or explore something new). It reminds me a little of Tahereh Mafi's use of strikethroughs in the Shatter Me series (only her strikethroughs were simple, and they used text in a way that I had never thought of doing before). But footnotes? Really? Ugh...yet here I am...reading these books by choice because they actually tell a good story.

Anyone else have an opinion regarding footnotes? Anyone else busy being "clever" and reinventing the writing wheel? I'd love to hear of your anecdotes and how successful or unsuccessful you were/are.

Friday, June 17, 2022

You can get Apple TV+ for three months free by purchasing it from Best Buy right now.

Go to this LINK and sign-up for Apple TV+ for free for three months via the Best Buy website. Foundation is definitely worth it, plus there are a few other shows I'd try out. You could also see the movie Finch which was worth the time, especially given that you pay nothing for it. See might also be worth bingeing. Anyway, this is a real deal, so I encourage you all to take advantage of it. It's rare when you get something for nothing.

I won't be blogging on Monday in observance of Juneteenth. See you next Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Telling someone to give their maximum effort all of the time is toxic messaging at best.

As I watched the Tony Awards air on television on Sunday, something one of the award winners said resonated with me. In this tearful, emotional, acceptance speech, he advocated for everyone to always give their maximum effort, because all the hard work was worth it.

I was like...what in the f*ck? Giving "your maximum effort" all the time is not a sustainable thing. I have a car that can go 160 miles per hour, but if I drove that fast all the time, it would not be sustainable. I'd run out of gas, I'd burn through tires, the car would eventually fall apart and this isn't even counting the legal logistics and the actual hazards of driving at maximum speed ALL OF THE TIME. This analogy is directly relevant to work. No one can work at 100% all of the time. That's the difference between being flesh and blood and being a machine.

I would argue that the Tony Awards message was a toxic one at best. I get that the person wanted to express that they were superior, and that somehow they found gratitude for all the hell they have been through for this sweet, sweet reward. But encouraging others to burn as brightly as can be and never settle for anything less is one of the many things that is wrong with the United States of America. We have a word for this: perfectionism. And perfectionism isn't achievable. The only thing perfectionism does is damage self-esteem, and the self-esteem of others who are in your orbit who grow to hate you for your unrelenting psychosis.

Why, as Americans, are we constantly looking for "the max?" I think this dissatisfaction with anything less is why relationships fall apart. No one in any relationship can "sustain the max." It's also behind job burnout and job dissatisfaction. The American Dream used to be way different than it is today. Now young people dream of taking the private jet to their fourth home in Aspen, Colorado. not realistic at all for many folks. In my opinion, perfectionism is the worst kind of ableism.

I think that this toxic message of "expecting the max" is also behind our population of temporarily embarrassed millionaires. People here in the states don't mind preferential treatment of the super wealthy because they expect to someday join their ranks. This also isn't true for probably 99% of the population at large.

I wonder if the mental illness that we see that is so prevalent in younger people, i.e., epidemic rates of anxiety and depression, are linked to the perfectionist message that our society seems so in love with these days. My particular frustration over the existence of such widespread perfectionist messaging has to do with an invisible end game. As in, "What's the end game, here?" If you do this and this and this, and you operate at 100%, is this so that someday you can own a house in suburbia and afford food? Is this your end game?

I think the answer would be a resounding "No" for a lot of people.  In fact, owning just a regular home and eating regular food and going to work at the plant for 30 years is a "nightmarish existence I cannot even contemplate." This is stunning to me, because my schmuck of a lifestyle and my banal life working for the State of Utah is actually quite comfortable. Why do people eschew comfort so much? What is wrong with being comfortable and satisfied?

"Mike, I don't want a home in suburbia with Netflix and food. I want palaces, and super cars, and gorgeous boyfriends/girlfriends, and lunch in Italy and then dinner in Monaco. My time on this earth is limited so every day needs to be lived TO THE MAX! I want to travel the world, and wear the best designer clothes, and sip champagne on a yacht." I would reply, best of luck to you. But I don't think that is achievable without uncanny luck. And you can't perfectionism your way into luck. You either have it, or you don't. I think we are headed for a prolonged time (an age in fact) in which tons of people in our country are unhappy and depressed because they have no way to achieve the lifestyle of their dreams, which they tricked themselves into believing was doable.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Pixar's movie called Lightyear makes as much sense as the year 2022 does.

I'm having a slight meltdown over the Pixar film, "Lightyear," which comes out this Friday. Here's why: Disney "officially" clarified that the movie "Lightyear" is the same one that the character of Andy watched as a child in Toy Story that made him want a Buzz Lightyear toy. So this is that story. However, the producers, director, and others involved with the film also clarified that this "in universe" film was live action to the people in the Toy Story metaverse (who appear as animated to us, because its Pixar animation studios). Furthermore, the people who made the "in universe" Lightyear are the same as the ones who made the film that most of us are going to see at some point (I'm seeing it this week). These people are very real, but they are also in the Toy Story universe and they would be real there as well (just like Andy). But if we were to look at them, they would be animated (cartoony).

To be fair, I originally had some confusion, but it wasn't this. I thought that the movie of "Lightyear" was set in Andy's universe. So, I was grappling with the fact that the Toy Story universe has faster than light (FTL) travel. But now I know it's just a piece of media for the Toy Story universe, and it was actually Andy who saw it in a theater. Even though that explanation also explains the Buzz Lightyear TV show that is also "in universe," I think the added bit about "who made the film" muddied the waters really bad for me.

I am psyched to see this movie. But if this in-universe movie has credits that "Buzz Lightyear" is played by Chris Evans, does that mean that in the Toy Story universe Chris Evans looks like how Buzz Lightyear looked? Or does he still look like the Chris Evans I'm used to seeing?

Everything seems so strange now, which somehow is appropriate for 2022.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Better Call Saul is ending with a season that proves it is every bit as good as Breaking Bad was.

Better Call Saul'
s final season is currently airing on AMC, and I just gotta say, Vince Gilligan sure knows how to make entertaining stories. If you haven't been watching, you really should take the time. This final season cements (in my opinion) that it is a worthy spinoff of Breaking Bad with much of the entire story certainly as entertaining and visceral as Breaking Bad ever achieved at its height.

From the very beginning, Better Call Saul was a prequel that tried to be something more. I wondered when this thing started many years ago what was left to tell about any of the characters we enjoyed in Breaking Bad? Well, it turns out that there was quite a lot. Better Call Saul showed us the fallout for the lawyer who was Saul Goodman working as a manager at a Cinnabon in some nameless mall. When this banal existence is given any camera time, it is done in black and white. That's because the man who became Saul Goodman lived a full, colorful, and vibrant life that served to establish himself firmly as the lawyer whom criminals could trust.

If you were a fan of Breaking Bad, then you know his fall from grace was tied to Walter White, who ultimately died in Breaking Bad after he became the most evil villain I can actually name in fiction. But Saul Goodman wasn't just a fixer, and that's what I got so wrong about this character. If anything, he was just as much a genius as Walter White, only he used his vast and terrible intellect to carve out a safe place for himself in a society filled with narcissists and manipulators who (for whatever reason), decided that Saul was not good enough for them. So suffering their scorn, he whooped all of them at their own game.

There was a lot I could sympathize with in watching Saul Goodman and his partner, Kim Wexler, go about their various hustles. Kim was a character that was completely missing from Breaking Bad. I fear that this means she's probably toast before the end of the series, which is sad but probably explains why she isn't around to help Jimmy (Saul's real name). And the last season that is airing now is getting very dark. We've seen Nacho commit suicide (he had no other option other than die a slow painful death), we've seen Howard get his head blown away by Lalo, we've seen engineers get their legs hewn off with an axe, and other horrible things. The show does not pull any punches with its completely terrifying view of powerful cartels and what they do to each other in order to secure power. The most thoroughly disgusting scene thus far was (when Nacho was on the run), he came across a tanker in a field that had some petroleum in it, and he held his breath and crawled into it in order to not be found by the killers who were hunting him. I cannot even imagine being under that kind of stress that you had to do that in order to live another day.

I wonder what Vince Gilligan's next project will be. In finishing up Better Call Saul, he's created yet another masterpiece. I would say "for television" in that sentence, but what Vince Gilligan is doing is telling stories in a medium that are just as good if not better than anything that has ever aired on the silver screen. And this praise that I suppose I'm heaping on Better Call Saul reminds me of a letter that Anthony Hopkins sent to Bryan Cranston after he watched Breaking Bad. Here it is, in its entirety:

“Dear Mister Cranston. 
I wanted to write you this email – so I am contacting you through Jeremy Barber – I take it we are both represented by UTA . Great agency.

I’ve just finished a marathon of watching “BREAKING BAD” – from episode one of the First Season — to the last eight episodes of the Sixth Season. [Ed note: There are in fact five seasons of Breaking Bad; this might have been wishful thinking.] (I downloaded the last season on AMAZON) A total of two weeks (addictive) viewing.

I have never watched anything like it. Brilliant!

Your performance as Walter White was the best acting I have seen – ever.

I know there is so much smoke blowing and sickening bullshit in this business, and I’ve sort of lost belief in anything really.

But this work of yours is spectacular — absolutely stunning. What is extraordinary, is the sheer power of everyone in the entire production. What was it? Five or six years in the making? How the producers (yourself being one of them), the writers, directors, cinematographers…. every department — casting etc. managed to keep the discipline and control from beginning to the end is (that over used word) awesome.

From what started as a black comedy, descended into a labyrinth of blood, destruction and hell. It was like a great Jacobean, Shakespearian or Greek Tragedy.

If you ever get a chance to – would you pass on my admiration to everyone — Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Aaron Paul, Betsy Brandt, R.J. Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Steven Michael Quezada — everyone —everyone gave master classes of performance … The list is endless.

Thank you. That kind of work/artistry is rare, and when, once in a while, it occurs, as in this epic work, it restores confidence.

You and all the cast are the best actors I’ve ever seen.

That may sound like a good lung full of smoke blowing. But it is not. It’s almost midnight out here in Malibu, and I felt compelled to write this email.

Congratulations and my deepest respect. You are truly a great, great actor.

Best regards

Tony Hopkins.”

That right there spells it all out. If you haven't been watching these shows, do yourself a favor and go do so. You won't regret it. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

I miss Michael Crichton

As another Jurassic World roars into the box office this weekend, I realized one thing: I miss Michael Crichton. He was a prolific author that wrote some really interesting books. Among them are The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Congo, and Sphere, which all went on to become movies. Of course, he penned more than a dozen such novels, but I've only read the above.

Andromeda Strain was the first movie I ever saw that was adapted from one of his books. It told the story of a satellite returned to earth that carried with it a lethal microorganism that killed humans unless their bodies produced a certain anti agent that was produced when humans remained in a distressed and crying condition (a crying baby, and the only survivor of the disease was a huge clue to this). The story was unveiled slowly, and the suspense was built layer after layer as you realized how deadly this thing was, and how the science needed to be perfect in order to solve this problem. There's something cathartic, almost comfortable really, in watching people who are really good at their jobs then go about performing those jobs. It's kind of what draws me to baking shows. I like watching these people who are excellent at what they do then create or "do" a thing. You get a lot of this kind of "porn" in Michael Crichton stories: incredibly competent people solving things that I would never be able to do. 

Even though Michael Crichton was a writer of many books, he preferred writing screenplays and directing (the guy was as multi-talented as you can get). George R.R. Martin reminds me a lot of Michael Crichton because of this. And just so you know, Crichton said as much in an interview. The thing I appreciated the most about his writing and the entertainments he created was that his scientific curiosity oftentimes clicked with my own. The stories he wanted to tell created wonder about the natural world in a way that other kinds of entertainment don't really do.

A lot of film (for example) is based upon eye-candy. Attractive leads doing things on screen suffice for a lack of real plot as long as you get some skin. This wasn't the way Crichton created his entertainments. Anyone could be cast in his stories no matter what they looked like, because the story was the most important thing. Everyone remembers (of course) the actors from Jurassic Park. But anyone could have been cast in those roles. As a perfectly constructed movie (plot, run-time, action, special effects, lines, etc.), Jurassic Park was the first story I ever read that gave a plausible explanation of how you could get dinosaurs to coexist with human civilization with very little suspension of disbelief.

Yes, it is still impossible. But the whole cloning angle? That was pure brilliance and way ahead of its time. Science fiction authors like Crichton act as a kind of soothsayer in some ways, hearing snippets and rumors of scientific advancement within a community and asking the question: what are the ultimate possibilities of these new technologies and frontiers? I was so intrigued by Jurassic Park. By comparison, other stories featuring dinosaurs that had people journeying to the center of the earth or finding prehistoric lands via a submarine or going into a mystical cave to end up in the land of the lost, all felt stupid as if the writers of those things had a real lack of imagination. Jurassic Park was a serious explanation of the impossible made possible, and it treated its subject material with this kind of tender care. Steven Spielberg once said of Crichton that he "brought credibility to incredible subject matter."

It's funny to hear about how Spielberg and Crichton collaborated on Jurassic Park. They were friends, and Spielberg kept asking him what he was working on when they met for lunch and other things. Finally, Spielberg pried out of Crichton that he was writing a book about dinosaurs and D.N.A. Crichton literally swore Spielberg to secrecy. And Spielberg was so blown away by the plot that he committed right then and there to direct it. Can you imagine being in that position? One of the greatest directors to have ever lived is your personal friend, and he passionately reads your stories, and you go out to lunch every week and this friend keeps jabbing you in the ribs to tell them what you are writing because you've been "keeping to yourself so much, and I want to know what it is. Please...please...please...tell me." And that pesky friend is none other than Steven Spielberg. Some people's lives are so different from my own it often feels like I live on another planet LOL.

Anyway, that's all I wanted to say in today's post. I miss Michael Crichton, and I'm probably going to go and see the latest Jurassic World movie. It won't ever recapture that "lightning in a bottle" thing that Crichton created with his first story. But it will probably still be entertaining, which is why these things always make tons of money. Everyone likes stories about dinosaurs, because unlike magic and wizards, these things were real at one time. They actually roamed our world, and for some reason that makes a huge difference in our collective ability to experience "Awe." 

Monday, June 6, 2022

In the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series the powerful jedi master we all knew is just a shell of his former self.

What can we say about Obi-Wan Kenobi? First, there is a spoiler warning, as I'm going to talk about Obi-Wan here in this blog and air some of my feelings about the show.

I really don't know what I expected from this series. It's more Star Wars which (in my opinion) is always good. But did I expect that Obi-Wan was going to be so weak? So unsure of himself? So...not the Jedi Master I remember. I watched Obi-Wan (just like legions of other fans) secure his place in Star Wars history by being a blazing lightsaber that never waned. He took down Anakin Skywalker, who had chosen to join the emperor...uncompromisingly so...and on his way there a thousand stories were told by Dave Filoni in Clone Wars. Obi-Wan was a badass. In every scene he was a titanic figure that meant business everytime he appeared.

So...why didn't I expect him to be broken the same as Luke Skywalker was broken in The Last Jedi? Why had I deluded myself that...yes...he would be on Tatooine watching Luke but that his entire outlook on life had left him with feebleness and uncertainty? He buried his lightsaber in the desert, he was working in a meat packing plant, and he was a lonely and obviously smelly hermit. It was obvious that he hadn't used the Force in years. He was so completely broken that he refused to help a force-sensitive Jedi to escape the Inquisition, gave that Jedi incredibly bad advice, and then he had to literally be dragged kicking and screaming to save Leia. This was not an Obi-Wan that could ever have protected Luke, which is what he had been tasked to do. So what was he even doing there? The Inquisitors could have run him over at any time...easy.

In this timeline running up to A New Hope, the 1977 release of Star Wars, I had previously thought that the most powerful "Jedi" left in the galaxy were Yoda and Obi-Wan. But that is completely untrue. The most powerful "Jedi" left were Yoda and Ahsoka Tano, even though Ahsoka walked away from an appointment within their ranks. She had the title, she just refused to take it (but that still counts in my book). Obi-Wan (at this time) was nothing but a broken foolish man who could maybe do some parlor tricks if he concentrated hard enough. When Vader appeared on the mining colony striding in at the peak of his deadly powers, Obi-Wan cowered in fear of him. All he wanted to do was run. And he could barely hold his lightsaber, because his hands were shaking so much. What the hell? Look...I get it. We're supposed to get from the Obi-Wan that killed Darth Maul in his youth to the old man who can barely do anything in A New Hope. That is the final destination for this train. However, I wasn't expecting Obi-Wan to fall off the horse quite so fast or with the lack of grace that (I guess) comes with the knowledge that you raised a psychopathic murderer and unleashed him on your entire civilization.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still watching the show. I know that there will never be another blazing lightsaber battle between a Sith Lord and Obi-Wan Kenobi that harkens to bygone days, where I'm like, "Yeah...that's the hero I remember." And that just makes me a little sad for this character, which is (I suppose) how all of us are supposed to feel. He failed in a huge way, and he's obviously never going to forgive himself. So, he's going to go down with the ship. It's a good thing that Dave Filoni has created some characters we can really sink our teeth into and cheer for as the old guard has its sun set upon it forever.

Anyone else out there watching Obi-Wan Kenobi? Am I being a bit harsh here? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Marvel's Moon Knight was a weird but entertaining ride with a saggy middle.

There are some spoilers in this post for Marvel's Moon Knight.

Moon Knight was weird. I knew next to nothing about this character, whether we are talking about Steven or Marc. But the unreliable narrator bit that we saw in three seasons of Marvel's Legion kinda got old. Oscar Isaac certainly showed range, switching between accents and personalities. So, I'll give him that. But overall, I think my favorite character in the show was the hippo goddess Taweret. She was so extra that it made all of the work that I put into watching this show pay off.

Speaking to Pat Dilloway (who I know courteously reads my blog when I choose to post), I agree with you, sir. All of this Egyptian stuff made me hunger for a Scarlet Knight series. I'm right there with you, and (as you know) I've read several of your books. I think your Scarlet Knight would have been more entertaining than Moon Knight (being completely honest here). I mean...I liked all of the Egyptian stuff, but they didn't stay immersed in that world. Instead, for two entire episodes, we were immersed in the aisles of an insane asylum that were being experienced by the character in the afterlife. He was forced to go and revisit traumatic memories from childhood in order to rebalance the scales. This was great character development. However, it isn't really what I watch a superhero show for, if you get my drift.

There were also times when I wondered which of the Avengers was monitoring the whole situation that was clearly going on, and at what point they'd decide that (maybe) it was time to step in. I mean...there were gods the size of kaiju literally fighting in the Egyptian desert outside Cairo. One even got slammed against the Great Pyramid of Giza. This is a strange problem that the MCU has now, and is just something I probably will have to let go/get over as the roster of characters grows bigger. I suppose an argument could be said that Dr. Strange (with his portals) is the only one that could have responded quick enough. But the omission of the big heroes seems glaring, especially when I watched HBO's Peacemaker and the entire Justice League shows up at the end (as they should) when all the crap hits the fan. That was a huge surprise to see Aquaman (Momoa) and others there.

When Layla embraces Taweret and gets an armored avatar, I was impressed with the look. She kinda looked like an avatar of Isis with those wings, so I think they missed an opportunity to make her look more hippo-like. But it was still great. I would look forward to a second season if I thought there was a chance for one, but Oscar Isaac is no longer contracted. So the likelihood of that happening is going to depend greatly on whether or not Oscar Isaac passionately wants to reprise the role and if Marvel is willing to open its purse strings to make it happen.

Anyone else care to weigh-in on their opinions of Moon Knight?

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

For Pride month the Insecure Writer's Support Group wants to know the strategies we all employ to get out of a tough writing spot.

Welcome to the June 2022 post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Also, every time I write "2022" I'm kind of weirded out that it is the year 2022 already. Here's a rundown of what this monthly blogfest entails (copied directly from there sign-up page which you can find HERE). 

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: 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!

When do all the writers (signed up for this thing) post?: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day.

What do we post on our various blogs? 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.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

The Twitter handle used by the collective of insecure writers is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the June 1st posting of the IWSG are SE White, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguire, Joylene Nowell Butler, and Jacqui Murray!

Every month, we announce 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 (I'm answering the question)!

June 1 question - When the going gets tough writing the story, how do you keep yourself writing to the end? If have not started the writing yet, why do you think that is and what do you think could help you find your groove and start?

I think the important part is to write a few words. Sometimes I might borrow an opening paragraph from someone else's writing and then add onto it with my own. Then I go back and delete the opening paragraph and just start with my original material or construct an entirely new paragraph. But I'm also saying this from a perspective of someone who quits writing for long periods of time. So, I'm not the best example of a person who sticks to it for long periods. On the contrary, I'm very guilty of just giving up on things or closing something down for a year or more.

That being said, what oftentimes works for me is to just get some words on a page, whether they are old words that I (at one time) wrote down or I "borrow" from another author with the intention of erasing. I just need that catalyst to get get the tires moving again, and to get the gears turning in my head. It's important for me to feel excited about something, and I can't get excited until I've managed to pull myself into a kind of "writing zone" where I'm thinking creatively and have kind of left the real world behind. Don't get me wrong, the real world still exists in my peripheral vision. But if I'm sinking into a story, there's a kind of flow from my brain to the screen that starts to happen that is difficult to describe, and it demands total attention. I don't necessarily know if it's a good thing either, because I can feel like I've been drained after I write for a few hours while "in the zone." Anyway, I hope that helps.

Thanks for visiting, Happy Pride month, and be sure to say hello to the co-hosts that are listed above.