Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The IWSG is all about nanowrimo this month.

It is November 1st, and Wednesday, and that means it is Insecure Writer's Support Group day. It's also my last post of 2023, as I will be taking a blogging break until after the New Year has dropped. But those of you who are continuing to blog and/or work on nanowrimo...I wish you all the best, and I hope that you will succeed in all of your endeavors.

If you haven't signed up for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, you can find a link to it right HERE. 

And if this is the first time you've heard about this thing, well sit down for a moment and let me tell you about it.

First off, what is the purpose of the IWSG?: That's a great question. It's to share and encourage. You see, the IWSG creates a safe space for writers to express doubts and concerns they have regarding their projects without fear of appearing foolish or weak. And those who've been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance if they want. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

Okay, next question: when do you post?: It's always on the first Wednesday of every month. Alex Cavanaugh started this back when the iPhone was still a new concept, and it's been chugging along ever since. So the first Wednesday of a new month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day.

Do you have any advice on what might be appropriate to post?: As long as it has to do with writing, you can post just about anything. You do so on your own blog. You can talk about your doubts and the fears you've conquered. You could discuss your struggles and triumphs. You could offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. But that's not all. You should also visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writers. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a dozen new people each time and return the 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. If it doesn't, it's difficult for people to follow the virtual breadcrumbs through the internet to discover your online presence.

The Twitter (X) handle is @TheIWSG and the hashtag everyone uses is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the November 1st posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando, Jean Davis, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diedre Knight!

Every month, the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their blog post (this is usually the option that I take). These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. If you go this route with your IWSG post, you should include your answer to the question or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Remember, the question is optional!

November 1st question: November is National Novel Writing Month. Have you ever participated? If not, why not?

I have never participated in the nanowrimo. When I was writing heavily a few years ago, I didn't really need it to spurn me to write my stories down. And now, I've kind of accepted that the readership is so low for my stories that I'd rather just read what other people write and focus on using my creativity in D&D campaigns and things like that. A lot of what I write (anyway) I think is better when I use other people's intellectual property. You might call this "fanfiction." And that's simply because I like playing in other people's sandbox a lot more than I like playing in the ones that I create. Anyway, that's the reason (mostly) of why I haven't given the IWSG a whirl.

Anyway, Happy Halloween, and I will see all of you again in January. Alex (if you read this) please don't remove me from the IWSG for not posting in December :).

Friday, October 27, 2023

Rather than ask people to sacrifice in the name of social security we should let the whole thing implode and see what that looks like.

The New York Times ran an opinion piece yesterday entitled, For the Good of the Country, Older Americans Should Work More and Take Less. When I read this opinion piece, I became infuriated. You can find it HERE if you want, but I plan to talk about it below. The gist of the piece is that older Americans are retiring too early and straining the support system of social security. It seems to be written by a man who is an economist and lives in his ivory tower somewhere and is tone deaf to what it is like to work for a regular "middle class" salary and to have performance evals where you are reminded by your employer of who has the power, and how you better "toe the line" in order to keep your job. The implied threat in all of this is that brutal capitalism will crush you without the job and thus, you should be grateful. It's a decades-old way of traumatizing workers and reminding "adults" here (these are not children) that the rod can fall across your back as sure as the rod beats those who do not comply.

Oh...and it came with this illustration below...which also served to enrage me.

Here's the thing...I don't want to work any longer than I have to. Right now, I'm doing the carrying. I'm not the freeloader. And to imply that one day when I'm old and would like some support that I should say no...and continue to carry others as well as infuriating. Like...I should sacrifice for someone who is 1/4 of my age so that they can live a better life? I already know people who are 25 years old, have nothing physically wrong with them, and who draw SSI. They play D&D with me in my game. I try not to judge. But the idea that this person is retired while someone stands next to them, finger pointing at me, and says, " need to work a few more years before drawing benefits. It's for the good of the country!" makes me angry. I want to say, "What about that lazy bum sitting in that chair that has NEVER worked? What about him?" But we aren't supposed to talk about things like that. Meanwhile, I've sacrificed my ENTIRE life so far in order to carry the weight of others. It is is not going to happen. Not on my watch. There comes a time when people are due what is owed to them, especially if they have paid into the system their entire working lives.

What would be a good start in addressing the system that sounds like it will collapse (not if but when) would be to tax the super rich. Tax the crap out of them. Then vote in Medicare for All. That would be a tremendous start. Go after Elon Musk. Go after every multi-millionaire and billionaire in the U.S. with a vengeance. But don't ask already tired middle class people to "work longer" and "don't draw social security." Screw you, writer (Mr. Eugene Steuerle who lectures at Stanford Business School), for even suggesting this. He probably looks at his $30,000 a month income and goes, "Social Security doesn't pay enough to even warrant my interest. You should give it up too." But I think they know that the rich can afford their own armies to fight for them, so they are not easy targets. So they go after the people who have always been exploited and ask them to "sacrifice a little more." It reminds me of the Utah governor who (during a tremendous drought) asked all of us to take shorter showers to conserve water. All of this while churches had green lawns, the governor owned alfalfa farms (notorious for sucking down water), and golf courses sucked down water by the lake full so that people could play on the greens. It's ridiculous. 

I hope that everyone who reads this opinion piece gets as enraged as I am at it. We should say, "Hell No!" and call the bluff. If the bluff is real, and the entire system collapses, well...that will be a disaster. But it will be a disaster worth watching. Maybe in the aftermath of whatever follows, we'd finally get some empathy back in this country, and people would no longer be so entitled and brutal toward others. Sometimes, you've just got to let things collapse so that they can be rebuilt better than before. I've always been a firm believer that in failure there is much to learn.

I'm going to post one more time for 2023 on the Insecure Writers Support Group for November (next week). Then I'll be taking a blogging break until January. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

It's time to admit that Barbie is a Best Picture prospect for the 2023 Academy Awards.

I was originally expecting myself to be watching Dune 2 about this time in the year. This is the sequel to the 2021 Denis Villeneuve adaptation which I liked. It dropped during the pandemic, so I ended up watching it on HBO Max at the time (like a lot of folks). Despite this setback, it still made a "decent" amount of money to warrant a sequel.

But it continually gets pushed back. At first it was November, and now it is set to come out in the spring (March). A lot of this has to do with striking actors and writers and other such things that complicate the world in which we live. At the end of the day, entertainment is just "fun" but the people who make all that entertainment need to get paid for what they do. So...I get it. But in thinking of how the Dune sequel might actually benefit from being pushed back until next year, I have to realize that this may be a good thing because the Barbie movie is actually a contender for the Best Picture Oscar.

I never thought I'd be saying that. Barbie didn't conjure up the images that I would think of when it comes to the coveted "Best Picture." That it is today may just indicate how badly the sheen has rubbed off the Academy Awards: a slow decline of "keeping it real" that just unraveled year after year with people becoming more and more aware of how white the industry is, how exploitative some directors and producers have been (Weinstein), the ageism within the industry, and the infamous Oscar slap that sent Will Smith into exile. And now our country is so divided that woke messaging within films and television is being called out by MAGA groups as "You go woke! You go broke!" exercising their financial muscle and ability to corral their own to "teach libtards a lesson!"

So's weird. I don't much enjoy watching the Academy Awards anymore. The glamour feels like it has vanished, and everyone is just a monkey throwing poo. Just these particular monkeys all look nice and wear nice clothes, but their lives don't actually feel envy worthy because I just know too much of what's going on, whether it's painful plastic surgeries, sexual assault, toxic patriarchy, discrimination, or racism (take your pick). Never meet your heroes, and the 24/7 news cycle along with Twitter and other social media (unfortunately) makes this almost impossible. We practically know how a fart smells that comes from a celebrity...and this isn't a good thing. There's no illusion there, and they are no different than us. And when we start thinking that, then you just realize that (at the end of the day) there's little justification as to why they make so much money and all of us make so little. about losing "suspension of disbelief."

All that being said, we come to Barbie. This film by Greta Gerwig was remarkable, and that's what I'm having an issue with (in my brain) because maybe...I never thought that Barbie was supposed to be taken this seriously. But it should. The message of the film (which is a critique on patriarchy and toxic masculinity) made it into something that was incredibly deep and meaningful instead of this weird light-hearted comedy that I was expecting Barbie to be. And maybe my expectations were built on patriarchy, because (as a man) how could I think that Barbie was important to anyone until I realized that this strange doll from Mattel was (in fact) important to many people? And therein (I suppose) lies the rub of all this. The movie that I would have thought was a shoe-in for not having critical acclaim (and easily dismissible) is in fact the opposite of that. It's a great movie, and its "woke" messaging may in fact make it the juggernaut at the Academy Awards that all other movies should just avoid if they can by pushing release dates out into the next year. I think that's what I'd do if I were calling the shots around a film, especially if I was counting on some Oscar buzz to lift the overall box office and aftermarket sales of my movie.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Invincible is returning to Amazon much sooner than I thought it would!

Oh! The Invincible season 2 trailer just dropped, and I had no idea that the new season was so close. It's apparently going to start streaming on Amazon Prime on November 3rd.

The last season ended with Omni-Man being exposed as a Viltrumite secret agent, which is apparently a race of beings that are so powerful that there really is nothing out there to compare with. It was also really violent, which (for some reason) worked for me. Maybe it's because I'm into doom posting so much these days. The animation sucked me in the same way that I remembered some cartoon superhero shows from my childhood grabbed me from the getgo. But the story of Invincible was unlike other things I've been watching. The closest thing to it really is The Boys, and that really doesn't encompass what Invincible is as the superheroes (for the most part) are actually trying to be super.

I'm ready for this to be injected straight into my veins. Click on the trailer below if you haven't seen it yet.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Good Omens season 2 felt smaller but it still made me happy.

In an attempt to lighten the mood around my blog (P.T. has called me out for doom posting), I'm going to talk about season 2 of Good Omens, which I'm making my way through. I got heavily distracted by Baldur's Gate 3, so I wasn't really free to binge watch as much as I would just watch an episode here and there whenever a friend was around who was watching it with me. But I do have some thoughts, and here they are.

First, if you don't know anything about Good Omens, it's a show on Amazon that's based on the works of Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. At the core of the story is the angel Aziraphale (played by Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (played by the very talented David Tennant). Season two picks up where season one left off: the apocalypse didn't happen. And thus it is a "what happens next?" kind of story.

Now, some highlights. Jon Hamm really gets into the role of Gabriel this season. We've seen him go from the all-powerful archangel persona in heaven to an apparent amnesiac that likes to organize books in Aziraphale's bookstore. The way Hamm plays him is very child-like, and I think this served two purposes. The first one is it allowed for all kinds of absurdities that are funny if not charming. The second is that the story immediately felt smaller scale, even if it did eventually spiral into a war between Heaven and Hell, mostly because everyone involved is just so extra. I for one appreciated the more personal and subtle approach. But it also felt (unfortunately) that maybe there wasn't as much budget available as season one. The cast of characters is smaller, the sets don't feel as "lived in," and the special effects are more obvious and intrusive. But it is what it is, and at least David Tennant's son is getting small parts here and there. He's a handsome young man, and I'd like to see him in more roles.

I suppose that the real standout for people who are fans of this show (like me) is the relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale. Spoiler alert: the romance between the two is more than just subtext. If they hadn't done this, I think I would've felt genuinely queer-baited in the same way as I felt watching the BBC version of Sherlock. There's been some outrage regarding this because people think "angels are sexless beings." I would argue that they're made up beings so they can be sexual if we want them to be. However, the romance between the two women was exhausting. The actors had zero chemistry. Despite my misgivings in this, I can't ignore the fact that the entire season was just a rejection of heteronormativity and acceptance of queerness. So on that most basic level, I'm happy.

Anyone else a Good Omens fan?

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Driving a car in America is becoming a luxury.

I don't like to drive, because it has become more dangerous to drive. The more time you are on the road, the more exposure you have to things like road rage, and the more time you have to get into an accident. One type of accident I'm acutely aware of is turning right on red. Not to minimize pedestrian traffic in smaller towns, I'm going to just say that it's challenging to monitor a stream of cars on your left (while waiting at a stop light) and also be aware of pedestrian traffic on your right.

This is particularly true in areas where there's a high homeless population, and homeless people seem to mill around the intersections of busy roads. Because I'm on the road so much, I usually witness an example of someone almost being run over because a driver is monitoring the oncoming traffic on the left, waiting for the break in flow to gun the engine and turn right, only to immediately slam on the brakes as someone screams that was trying to cross the street. They weren't there a moment before, but they hurried up to the sidewalk to try and cross the street before the signal changed. And meanwhile, the person turning right has been under some pressure to get going from the impatient people behind them, who are now backed up on the street.

This is just one example of a terrible potential cost to operating a car in America, lawsuits not even being counted in this statement with respect to auto/pedestrian accidents. And I say this provided that the accident in question isn't just a flat out hit and run, which is extremely common in my city. I would say anecdotally that hit and runs are probably on the rise (and this is due to personal experience where I've counted a growing number of adults who lack personal accountability of any kind). It feels a lot like people are stressed to the max, that they cannot add one more thing to their plate, and something like an accident is going to cost both time and money. A person who feels like the accident is their fault is going to take option "B" more these days. I think the reason for this is that "catch me if you can" actually does work and is a viable strategy for living successfully. It just sucks for everyone else who can't catch you.

Other costs of operating a car in America are also soaring. I remember not too long ago when the price for a new vehicle was around $25,000. Now, the average price of a new vehicle is $50,000, and there are only three cars that (brand new) cost below $20,000. They are the Kia Rio (a subcompact sedan), the Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback, and the Nissan Versa sedan. These are all Asian cars. Anything that white people make costs about twice that.

And there's also the rising cost of insurance, the cost of gas, the cost of tires, and the cost of repairs. I had to repair a head gasket in one of my vehicles, and it cost $3,500.00 after all was said and done. And then my insurance bill (which is just liability only) inexplicably jumped at the beginning of the year. I have a friend who drives an electric car. For years she was so proud that her solar panels paid for the electricity to charge her vehicle. Recently, I asked her why she's driving her gas guzzling Dodge pickup truck around town. She told me that the batteries in her Leaf were dead. The cost to replace and recycle them? $10,000.00. Considering that she's only owned the vehicle for eight years, that's a big cost. At least I think it's big. Maybe to other people, wiping their ass with $10,000 is completely doable, and so it doesn't mean much. But I don't think that kind of behavior is common. I read just this morning that incomes in America need to rise 55% from where they are now in order to restore affordability in housing. Sure, that's "housing" and not "cars," but it's been my experience that what goes on inside the housing market actually touches everything.

So, what's my point? Maybe it's that this is issue 300 of a complaint about modern society and how it's breaking down. Sarcasm aside though, I think it's all being presented here in this blog post so that I can make a statement about cars that I never thought I'd make: owning and operating a car is becoming a luxury.

But maybe it always was. I've heard that statement before too. But I want to push back on it for just a moment, and say, "Historically, I disagree, but something is changing in America, and I don't like it." I think that owning and operating a car wasn't a luxury. I grew up in a small town and everyone I knew in that small town owned and operated a car, and these people weren't rich. It wasn't a luxury. I learned to drive a car at thirteen, because I needed to know how to do that in order to help out on the family farm (agriculture was a big industry for my small town, and we even had a scheduled week-long break from school to help out with the harvest).

There were even laws back then that said if you were "this young" you could drive a vehicle as long as it wasn't nighttime. Sure, back then we also weren't required to wear seatbelts, and there were no airbags in cars, but everyone had one. I knew dozens of families that took road trips in their cars, and they did this to "save money." And this is because owning a car gave you independence, and it also didn't have the tremendous costs associated with operating a vehicle that we have today. Having said all of this, it is weird to wrap my head around the idea that owning a car now is a sign of wealth. It's a sign that you can afford the various "costs of operation," and it is indeed a luxury, just like owning a mink coat might be considered a luxury or wearing expensive perfume. If you live in a city with hostile parking infrastructure, operating a vehicle says that you have the money to pay parking fees.

I guess I don't understand why this is happening, or why we (the collective "we" here) are allowing it to happen. Cars are still as important today as they were fifty years ago. Anyone that has had to navigate the public transit system can tell you that it can take hours to get to where you are going if you have to make three different transfers to get there. And many rural areas don't even have the option of any kind of public transit. Why have we allowed the costs of operating a vehicle soar to unaffordable levels? Does anyone have an answer to this? I'd sure like to hear what you have to say. And meanwhile, the list of people I know who do not drive, do not know how to drive, and do not own a car of any kind just continues to grow. The reason why? They cannot afford to operate a car.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Is A.I. going to replace writers? That's the question on this month's edition of the IWSG.

Welcome to the October 2023 edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Here's a LINK you can click on to sign-up (if you've somehow managed to land on my blog without already following one). And if you would like to know more, just keep on reading :).

What is the purpose of the Insecure Writer's Support Group?: It's 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, so it's perfect for a lot of people actually :).

When do y'all post?: You may be able to tell, because of the date this post was published. But, the first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. To participate, you should post your thoughts on your own blog. You might want to talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered, or you could discuss your struggles and triumphs. If you can, offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling, and visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer. As a rule of thumb, you should 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.

Here's some more housekeeping:

The X (formerly known as Twitter) handle is @TheIWSG and the relevant hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the October 4 posting of the IWSG are Natalie Aguirre, Kim Lajevardi, Debs Carey, Gwen Gardner, Patricia Josephine, and Rebecca Douglass!

Every month, the people behind 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. If you'd rather participate in this way, you should include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

But, remember, that the question is optional :).

October 4th question: The topic of AI writing has been heavily debated across the world. According to various sources, generative AI will assist writers, not replace them. What are your thoughts?

My opinion is that generative A.I. is incredible. It can draw better than me, it can write better than me, and it never gets tired. I think that people should watch their back. Going into any liberal arts related field is probably a one way ticket into poverty unless you have some privilege (for example, you're the son of Stephen King and just want to be an author). If that's the situation, then being a nepo baby is definitely the way to go. As far as already established authors that pull down big salaries already? A.I. is a boon, because it will allow them to have a book mill without ever admitting to it. I mean...these are the times of Trump. So admitting to anything is just slitting your own throat. Even if some program came back and said that "it is 99% probable that this is a.i. written," a smart person should just say "allegedly.

Anyway, my opinions can be controversial. But a.i. has seriously blown me away on what it can do. I also wouldn't be insecure about it. As an individual person, you have no power to affect anything. The genie is out of the bottle, so you should adapt and pull on those bootstraps. And yes, I think generative A.I. will replace writers (in case I wasn't clear), and I'm saying, "Lots of writers." Unless (of course) there's legislation to force the people who have money to continue to pay people who write. If that happens, then it won't.

Friday, September 29, 2023

This is issue five hundred of me pointing out how weird things are getting.

It's hyperbole of course. Still, things are getting weird, folks, and I'm here to point out why.

FACT: The SAG-AFTRA Writer's Guild strike has reached an agreement. The thing my mind focused on were the wins for writers against artificial intelligence. Here's what came out of the settlement (in a nutshell). No artificial intelligence will ever be credited for the writing in a show. The credit and the payment will all go to living writers who have been hired (and who are in that position) to write.

HOW DO I FEEL ABOUT THIS? Fantastic. This is a win for writers!

THE WEIRD: Yes...nothing is without the weird these days.'s the thing. This protection for writers is an artificial boundary. It was created by people who are hedging out a thing that (quite honestly from what I've seen) actually can and does replace writers. The thing writes better than me. Could it write better than Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin? Probably, yes. Better than J.K. Rowling? Yes, I'm saying it can. That is an uncomfortable truth. I'm saying...absolutely yes in case I'm being misunderstood.

So...the people who have these jobs should probably be thanking their privilege. Full stop, I realize what I just said, and it will probably make people angry. I'm ready for the "Mike, I think you mispoke. I am here in this position pulling down hundreds of thousands a years with access to fame and fortune on skill alone. No one, and I MEAN NO ONE has my talent." 

And then there's my response with a loud obnoxious "BUZZZ...YOU'RE WRONG." However, the thing that could replace you is on the other side of that artificial wall over there. So, you're safe. But you shouldn't proceed forward as if you aren't in a position of privilege. If capitalism were to just be unfettered in this instance, you actually aren't needed. But I'm a person, you're a person, and at the end of the day, I fully agree I would rather that art be generated by real people. But every single one of us needs to understand that something happened here in 2023 that has never happened before. We actually can see the privilege of remaining employed here...of drawing down fame and fortune...and for those things to be actually reserved for humans (as they should be). But the humans in those chairs need to be grateful that it turned out this way. They really do.

But we all know that many of them won't. Many of them will not understand how close they came to utter extinction of the fields in which they have spent their entire lives to achieve. And they certainly will not accede luck or privilege to any of it. No...they got there by skill and skill alone. Okay...whatever you need to tell yourself to sleep at night, I guess. But I can hope that these writers for the shows that we watch do not come down on other writers who have wanted to do that self same thing and been unsuccessful in breaking into show business by telling them, "You just need to work harder," or "Maybe you don't succeed because you aren't good enough." That would be awfully cruel for a person to say when the very chair they sit in is a "gift" because it could have been taken away by artificial intelligence.

But it is privilege. It is a huge privilege. And that, friends, is "The Weird."

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Every American in every tier of society now thinks they deserve to be rich and it is affecting everything.

I think I've finally figured out what's changed in the country since about 2015. The change hit so rapidly that it's taken me a while to suss it out in my head that something feels "dramatically" different than it did a decade ago. But I haven't been able to put my finger on it, and whenever I read articles about it (or asked people), the answers I got were too simple and didn't seem to hit the mark.

For example, when I asked about how expensive things have become, people gave me canned answers like "Inflation, Mike," or "Supply chain issues," or "Covid wrecked everything," etc. None of those answers ever worked for me. When I was in a Walgreens recently and the place was completely empty but there were customers around, I asked myself, "What's going on?" There literally was no one there. No one in the aisles, no one behind the counter. After twenty minutes a person did show up to a line that had about thirty people in it. Then they started to slowly check things out. Still...I asked myself...why is this happening? The answer: "No one wants to work anymore," and "understaffing is just a thing that happens nowadays."

Those answers are not satisfactory, and they don't explain anything of what's going on. So, what is the answer? I had an epiphany yesterday, which is why I'm writing this blog, and I think it is this. As far as Americans go, fewer and fewer are content being simply middle class or being (simply) average. Everyone at every tier of the economy wants to get rich now, and/or they want to be exceptional as far as status goes. Everyone has a seemingly limitless avarice for material things, and that's just who we've become as a society and as a country. Whether it's a homebuilder, a homeowner going to sell their home, or the average worker--everyone wants to save as much money as humanly possible and to make as much money as humanly possible on everything that they do. The compounding effect of that from top to bottom are never-ending price increases, being gouged everywhere, and cutting corners in every aspect of life. We've become a selfish, self-centered, greedy society of money grubbers with huge egos, and each and every one of us thinks we deserve to be rich and have status. It's just who we are now, and we're all paying the consequences for it.

America historically was a land of opportunity. But what's different now is the word "deserve," as in "I deserve this." That's a huge thing to realize. For example, being rich by itself is not a right, but it was always a "possibility" with the right combination of luck, work ethic, timing, and brilliance. But we now have an entire generation (multiple generations) where nothing is good enough, and they believe they are entitled to the very best that life has to offer just by virtue of being alive. That effect sloshes into everything. I think it's why we have an anxiety and depression epidemic among young people when reality reinforces their averageness. Rather than being content working a regular job and being average, the reaction is mental illness, depression, anxiety, and even anger and hatred. Being "average" is basically traumatizing now, as in "it is trauma to suggest that I can be nothing but an average human being and to live like an average human being."

Other things that come out of this is a startling rise in disability claims. There are now millions and millions of people collecting social security disability. Many of them could/should be working, but the jobs they could get (or are more likely to get) would do nothing for their self-esteem and probably be considered "drudgery." People decades ago might have been content with these kinds of jobs. But it's a lot more difficult to find those people today, so what usually happens is these people go the "social security" route and just slip out of the work force on disability.

There's also the rise of tipping on everything. It all comes out of this idea that people "deserve" more and more and more. I'm now asked to tip at McDonalds and Burger King (and I do). It's all being driven by American entitlement to more and more. All the taboos we used to have in place to keep people from overcharging and flat out asking for more money are gone.

It's also permeated dating. People now have a sky-high list of things that they are looking for in a partner. The result has been a generational collapse in marriage, a declining birthrate, more people living single than ever before, and more people just not being content with anything but "the best." Our conversations around mental health these days all revolve around, "You deserve better," as opposed to "This expectation of yours is out of touch with reality."

It's seeped into healthcare. End-of-life care for elderly people is the most expensive medical care that there is now, costing upwards of $8,000 to $10,000 a month. If this is true in 2023, imagine what it will be like in 2033 and 2043? And at those prices, there still aren't enough people to do those jobs, because it doesn't come with status.

I could go on and on, but I think I've made my point. Nearly everything in society has been touched by this idea that every single person is now deserving of the best, whether it be treatment, salary, compensation, etc. The difference between the present and even the recent past is that people are demanding it. Rents are sky high because people deserve that money to afford the best things for themselves and their children. Contractors are charging incredible amounts of money to do work because they deserve the best and have themselves and loved ones who deserve it also. Up, up, up, it goes with no end in sight.

I think that we are on the precipice of something incredibly bad as a result of this. I don't think that American capitalism ever had the capacity for everyone to have the best. There needs to be people on the bottom if you are going to double-down on that kind of economic system. So, what's going to happen is a catastrophic tearing between the "haves" and the "have nots." Amidst soaring income inequality, there will be violent reminders that opportunity, status, and wealth are "not for you or your kid." And this is just terrible not only for quality of life but for a quality of a society. I think that as people, Americans followed the path of good intentions. We brought up children trying to instill them with self-worth and telling (maybe too many of them) that they were little princes or princesses and that they deserved the best. Now, all of those chickens that got hatched are coming home to roost, and the bill that is coming due is something that a lot of us cannot afford to pay.

Monday, September 25, 2023

I've fallen out of love with summer. Fall is now my favorite season.

Summer has ended. Fall has arrived. I used to think that the end of summer was a melancholy time. I lived in eastern Idaho. Summertime (especially nights) were filled with crickets and the concrete driveway of the house I lived in was warm well past sunset. You could walk barefoot everywhere, and there was fresh fruit aplenty at fruit stands, on trees, and in grocery stores. I dreaded the return of winters where you had to scrape windows, shovel driveways, and everything that used to be green was just dead. Gray branches clawing at the sky, and it being so cold that it was painful just standing around in it as you felt the skin on your face peel back.

But that's how it used to be. My relatives in the south would tell me that fall was their favorite time of the year. The reason why? Because it was the end of 4+ months of temperatures over 90 and all the bugs from hell would thence return to that place and leave the locals in peace. And people could open their windows for the first time since the spring pollen explosion.

And now that's the way I feel. I love fall. But I don't live in the South. I live in northern Utah, which isn't too far from my roots in East Idaho. Things have changed. Summer (which used to be as I described in the first paragraph) has become 4+ months of temperatures over 90, bugs, and concrete and asphalt that is so hot you can't even safely walk pets outside. The brutal temps in my yard are so high during those four plus months that I don't ever open the windows and the air condition runs almost non-stop. We keep all of the window treatments closed against sunshine, and we try not to turn on many lights. This is what summer has become. And based on what I've seen in America, it's a lot worse for other people out there. I can't even imagine what the people in Phoenix, Arizona went through this year, with something like 47 days of temps above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. That's just mind-bogglingly hot.

So here's to the pumpkin-spice lovers of fall. The days are getting shorter, but maybe that's a good thing because it means that it's not so bright outside at 5 a.m. in the morning when I'd really like to get in that extra two hours before work starts. And with the scorching hot summers, winters don't last as long as they used to. It won't be cold here until late November or early December. Even if that isn't the way it is supposed to be, I kind of like the fact that there are really only two freezing cold months (December and January) where I live. And one last blessing is that the lawn grows a lot slower in the fall (if at all). 

Anyone else embracing fall this year (that used to absolutely adore summer)? If so, I'd like to hear why in the comments. 

Friday, September 22, 2023

People in the United States should be offered a chance to buy their own medical debt back from a creditor before it goes to a collection agency.

This must be the week for questions that pop into my head to which I have no answer. So, being a Friday post, I'm going to ask all of you to educate/explain to me a "Why is this a thing?" question. This week, I was thinking about medical debt. Specifically, medical debt in the United States. Most people have health insurance that doesn't cover all of their medical costs, due to high deductibles and co-pays for certain services. Hospitals aren't allowed to turn away patients who need emergency care, even if they don't have health insurance. This means that uninsured patients who need their services will receive a bill afterward, and they may be unable to pay for it. If a person doesn't pay their outstanding medical bill, their creditor will try to set up a payment arrangement (simple enough to understand). When this doesn't get paid, and more time passes, and there is no attempt to repay the debt, then the creditor (hospital) may charge off the obligation and sell it to a collection agency. you have all that background. But there's something more to all of this. Collection agencies are allowed to buy this outstanding medical debt at a fraction of their original value, especially if the chance of collecting the entire amount is remote. Debt buyers may pay as little as $.04 to $.014 for every dollar of a consumer's outstanding debt. All of this is legal in the United States. This is how capitalism works.

And is my question: why can't the person/consumer who owes this medical debt, but it (for themselves) at the same cost.'s an example. Let's say I had $30,000 in unpaid medical debt. I can't pay it back for whatever reason, and it has lingered for years. So, the hospital approaches me (instead of a collection agency) and says, "We are selling this debt to a collection agency, but we'll give you first shot. At .04 cents on the dollar, we'll take $1200 and call this good. Whatever. How about it?" I think a lot of people would jump at that chance. But for some reason, I can't find any example of this happening. Instead, we have this predatory step where the debt is handed over to someone else at a super discounted price, and then this new company can go after the full debt with all of their resources. And it's obviously profitable enough to be a good business model for a bunch of companies that honestly are amoral and shouldn't exist. 

So please, explain to me why medical debt gets sold to collection agencies instead of to the person who owns that debt. Why do we have this system in place in this country? I'd seriously like to know the answer.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

I'd like to know why Hollywood always recasts the female lead with a person of color.

It's been a trend for a while now, but I'm wondering if anyone can answer why it is always the female lead in a story that features two white protagonists that is recast as a person of color? I call it the default black girl effect. When Tom Holland was cast as Spiderman for Spiderman: Homecoming, it was Mary Jane who was recast as black. In the upcoming Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the role of Annabeth is now a black one. But Percy remains white. In the upcoming Universal live-action adaptation of DreamWork's animation's How to Train Your Dragon, it is Astrid who is being played by Nico Parker (who is a person of color). In the new Dune Paul Atreides remains as white as snow while his mate, Chani Kynes, is now played by a black woman.

I could continue, but I think all of you have noticed this. It is always the female lead who is recast as a person of color, and I just want to know why? Is it patriarchy? Like...would it be too controversial if they recast a character like James Bond as black instead of giving him black women to romance? If Harry Potter were recast today, I know that Hermione Granger would be black. She just would. But not Harry Potter. There's no way we could recast the main male lead as a person of color, right? Why is that? I'm not trolling here; I legitimately want an answer that makes sense. There's something psychological that's going on here behind the scenes that no one is writing about...something that has to do with "audiences will accept a black female (or a person of color in a female role) a lot easier than they will a person of color playing a role that was previously reserved for a white male."

I bet if Alien were to be rebooted with a new Ellen Ripley, she would be recast with a black actress. But if Terminator were to be rebooted and recast, they'd still reserve that role for a white guy (probably with lots of muscles). I'm just wondering why people who make movies and television shows think that audiences can't handle the recast of a white male character as a person of color. Would people just not watch a show that had a black Harry Potter? I feel like people would be up-in-arms if Luke Skywalker was recast as a black guy, but they'd be okay with Princess Leia being played by someone like Zendaya. Could Conan the Barbarian be recast with a black actor? I'd be okay with it, but would anyone aside from me watch it? Anyway, these are the kinds of questions I have that go through my head. If anyone (wiser than me) has an answer, I'm all ears.

Monday, September 18, 2023

A lot of people in this country don't seem to understand how truly wealthy people get their money.

I noticed this week via "the news," which consists of a variety of different sources from The New York Times to NPR, that the United Autoworkers Union is on strike against the big three automobile manufacturers in the United States. This then, joins the other people in this country, like the writer's union in Hollywood, who are on strike for more compensation. I mean...we have these people like CEO's (looking at Mary Barra of GM for this kind of example) who make a hundred times what the salary of a person makes who is actually doing the work and making the product for the company. The UAW reportedly wants a 40% increase over the next 4 years. Two of the automakers were telling them they could get 20%, and blah, blah, blah.

So, here's my point about all of this. I think that our conversation about "wage" and "compensation" is disingenuous in this country. Yes, CEO's get paid way too much but the majority of this "pay" is stock options or "company performance," which is just terrible, and it makes these people who don't actually do any of the work an obscene amount of money. It's like the entire system was set up by grifters, similar to how the housing system seems also to have been set up by lazy grifters who just want to cash-in and be rich based off no work.

And here's where I state an unpopular opinion: wealthy people don't actually want "big incomes." And saying that someone like Mary Barra makes millions upon millions per year is not talking about the whole truth. Her actual base pay might be a lot smaller than people talk about. The other tens of millions that she gets per year is just bonuses (like stocks). While completely unfair, they have nothing to do with "hourly pay." If that was all actual "income," the wealthy people might actually have to pay taxes and contribute to the country's infrastructure that makes their business possible, like all working-class people have to do. But that's not how any of this works.

These people at the top can obtain extremely low interest loans using those stocks as capital, and then spend that cash as though it were their earned income. Then they can cash out those stock options and the sum of taxes against the gains & interest paid, and it ends up being much less than the taxes paid by the other 99% of the country. They also have access to a variety of company financed perks that is generally not advertised about. Just because it is not on a paystub does not mean they can't use it, and they aren't making massive piles of money. Massive piles that have been growing at a faster rate than their workers for decades.

What would be fair would be to totally eliminate options completely. If you want to buy some of the company's stock, then you'd buy it on the open market just like everyone else. Either that, or every employee should qualify for profit sharing moves if even one employee gets "profit sharing." And just in case someone things that "employee stock purchase plans" are the same...they aren't. Our system is very much "You make one silver coin, I make ten silver coins. It is fair because I'm the CEO." And I'd argue that this actually is fair. But what they don't mention is that the person who gets ten silver coins is also getting ten gold coins. And when you point that out, they say, "Yeah, but those are different. They don't count!"

I think the thing that has bamboozled Americans regarding this is just a huge ignorance about how money and stocks work. For example, the thing that most people don't seem to grasp is that stock-based pay doesn't come out of the liquidity of the company. If a company grants their CEO 1000 shares of stock and that stock increases in value from 15 million to 30 million, the company has not paid a cent. Not even the original 15 million. From the company's perspective, it is literally free money. The CEO gets paid, but the people actually handing out cash is everyone else who is buying that person's shares. Or the banks who lend that CEO money based on the value of those shares.

The consequences of this action are relatively low depending on how big the company is. Sure, issuing more stock dilutes the value of each share and that could result in fewer willing buyers and an overall loss with long-term consequences. But for most big companies, no one even notices, because there's literally so much stock sloshing around. I couldn't even begin to tell you how much Apple stock there is in the world. Probably as many grains as there are on all the beaches of the world.

Anyway, I mostly wanted to express (in writing this) that I get tired of people talking about "compensation" in ways that don't make sense to me. I think the entire conversation needs to change, people need to be educated about how money works, and only after that understanding can income inequality in this country begin to be successfully addressed. Otherwise, it's just going to keep getting worse over time. And income inequality is bad for everyone, because it breeds resentment, it breeds entitlement, it breeds pettiness, it kills off empathy, it creates cognitive dissonance, it results in fads like "poverty tourism," and it creates a whole class of people who have no sympathy at all for others because they don't understand their various privileges.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom now has an official trailer and I have thoughts.

The new Aquaman 2 trailer dropped, and after viewing it, I wanted to point out some things and give my own observations. If you haven't seen it yet, click below and watch it.

1) Boy, Amber Heard has sure been minimized lol. I guess after the Jonny Depp trial, things have gone really south for her career, and the people promoting the movie know this. I expect her character to be recast with someone else if they do a sequel to this show.

2) It has so many effects in it, it looks like a cartoon. I like this look. It's Aquaman and not Watchmen. So, I'd have it no other way.

3) I appreciate that Black Manta is back. They're actually following upon the villain they set up in the first movie. It feels like a rare thing for superhero movies, where there can be a lot of setup but not much follow-through.

4) I never get tired of Jason Momoa's personal take on this character. He brings a lot of personality to the role.

5) Yes, I will see this. I'm ready to hand over money.

6) I can't believe it's been four years and some change since the first movie came out. Time just really seems to fly by these days.

7) I like Aquaman's setting in DC a lot more than I like Marvel's take of Submariner that we saw in the last Black Panther movie.

Here's the trailer:

Monday, September 11, 2023

This weekend Apple TV+ reminded me that Monarch Legacy of Monsters is on its way.

I'm starting to become impressed with Apple TV+. I'm liking Ted Lasso. Even though it's done with its run, Ted Lasso never looked cheap and the writing and characters are/were top-notch. I also liked Silo which was an adaptation of some Hugh Howey novels in the series of the same name. I'm probably going to dip my toes into Invasion, which seems like it is a War of the Worlds kind of show. One of the minor cast members is Tom Holland's baby brother, so I think that might be worth a looksee purely in the vein of satisfying curiosity when it comes to all-star families.

But one thing that did fall off my radar (as far as shows go), and I was reminded of just this weekend was the television series called Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. When I saw the trailer (which I'm embedding below), I thought it was one for a movie. When I realized this is a tv show, I got really excited. Most tv shows that have kaiju in them come out of Japan, and they are really cheesy looking (man in the rubber suit cheese level). But this television series promises a lot more. It reminded me instantly of Game of Thrones level effects when I saw how they did Daenerys's dragons.

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters has got Kurt Russell in it. I also saw John Goodman, who is obviously making a cameo from his character in Kong: Skull Island. It's a ten episode series that arrives Friday, November 17 with two installments, followed by a weekly rollout every Friday through January 12th. So it's like an amazing Christmas thru New Years gift for nerds like me who love kaiju.

The plot apparently follows the thunderous battle between Godzilla and the Titans that leveled San Francisco. This particular series is told from the point of view of two siblings who are following in their father's footsteps to uncover their family's connection to Monarch, which is the secret organization that has a lot to do with the Titans. It's supposed to bounce back and forth between the 1950's and early 2000's. It's a story that is supposed to span three generations of people, "revealing the secrets of an epic, earth-shattering event."

I also hope that there's lots of weird science, because this was always the backbone of the "Showa-era" stories. There are multiple space aliens, lost civilizations, all kinds of fantastical inventions, moon bases, kung fu robots, etc. The new "monster-verse" that started with Edwards' Godzilla in 2014 needs a big injection of "fringe types" practicing weird science in volcanos (or something similar), wouldn't you agree?

Friday, September 8, 2023

When I contemplate events like Burning Man it honestly just looks like a strange form of poverty tourism.

It's a really strange thing to watch events like Burning Man unfold in the public eye. This year, I guess, there was a climate catastrophe, and torrential rains turned the ancient lakebed in Nevada on which it is held into a bog of mud. But even when it isn't this, it's a desert where you have to take everything you need with you and be prepared. Some years there's insects. In other years there's just that dust that the wind gets into everything. I've spoken with people around here who go to Burning Man, and they are predominantly 1) rich or at least "well-off", 2) white, and 3) liberal. And they are usually the kind of "fit" liberal that has never had to work low wage paying jobs in the heat and fight off insects (like working on a farm for example, which is something I did for years). The reason they're fit is because they have money and time to stay fit. So think light hours, work at home stuff, paid highly, and can afford nutritious food or they know someone to prepare food for them (who may be glad to do it because of easy access to sex and/or money). Many of them have never been to places like Yellowstone Park, but they've had safe liberal upbringings wherein their feelings were validated, they were taught conservation, recycling, and wokeness, and they were told, by and large, that they were special snowflakes. And I'm a person that votes democrat, so there you have it. Someone in the party looking at other people in my party and calling them "special snowflakes." Sigh.

And the reason I say that it is strange is because these people who have all of these comfortable lives desire to go out and just live in misery for a week. They practice radical inclusion and seek to bond with artists and others who are into drugs and showing off their bodies and they kind of get together in this place that really can't support life to bring art and get narcissistic supply from others regarding that art. But I can't help but feel it's just another form of poverty tourism, where people don't actually have to live in misery, but they can dip their toe in it to experience it first-hand, and when it gets to be too much, they have their luxurious unrelatable lives to go back to and chalk it up as "the experience of a lifetime." I mean...there are people who scrabble out lives everyday in the world, and who create art. It would be difficult for me to imagine a Burning Man event in some countries in the Middle East, ya know? like...would the poor of Morocco or Tunisia be compelled to go out into the desert and get caught in flash floods and live in the desert for a week? No. That's because a lot of them do actually live in the desert, and their idea of a good time is probably the opposite: someplace wet with luxuries and lots of green places and humans like art.

We've reached this point in our society where there are so many people who just can't relate to other people. Like, one of the things I've been kind of mesmerized by is Kevin Costner's bitter divorce. Last week, his ex was trying to justify getting $160,000 a month or something similar in child support for her two teen sons when Costner's lawyers were arguing for only $60,000 a month, saying that was sufficient. So they asked Costner's ex why she thought that wasn't enough. Her response, which was totally unrelatable at all went something like this: "My sons have always been fifty steps from dipping their toes in the ocean. They have luxury in their D.N.A. If I don't get $160,000 a month, it will bring serious harm and hardship upon them." When I read that, I was like...whaaat? And then I imagined these boys, probably being raised in a wealthy liberal household (just guessing), as future Burning Man attendees. I could see them going just to "experience" the mud and the insects. "! You need to go to Burning Man. What an experience?!" And then there's me thinking, yeah I pulled insects out of my hair and slogged through mud moving pipe on my dad's farm and that sounds a lot like something I never want to go back to. No thanks." It's weird. So weird to think that people glamorize crappy things. And the reason that they do is because they have nothing crappy or that sucks in their lives, and somehow...the lack of misery makes them yearn for it? What? That doesn't even make sense but there you go.

It makes me wonder how, exactly, our species can possibly tackle the huge issues of our time (like climate change) when none of us have lives that are relatable?

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

For September 2023 I'm taking time to reflect on the IWSG and its twelve years of service.

I was getting my post ready for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, when I realized via their web page located HERE that it was their twelfth anniversary (you can also sign-up if you've never been a part of it). That's kinda crazy. And that's when I had a second realization: that I've been blogging here on this site for over thirteen years, which is also kinda crazy. How time flies. Thirteen years ago, I was a much different person. I was in my mid-thirties, which at the time felt "old" for some reason, but now looking back on it...I'd do just about anything to once again be in what I consider the prime of my life. It's weird to even think that someone in their thirties is "over the hill." Good grief, how toxic are society must be to make young people think that way.

Anyway, this is the monthly IWSG post that (most of you know) I try to do on time every month. But here's a rundown of the IWSG modified only a little from their own web page just in case you are new to these parts.

First, what is the purpose of the IWSG?: It's 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.

Second, when do y'all post?: It was originally set up by Alex Cavanaugh, who is a science-fiction writer that inspires a lot of us out here. He (for whatever reason) decided that we would post on the first Wednesday of every month. So that became the official Insecure Writer’s Support Group day.

Third, what do y'all post?: As a writer, you should post your thoughts on your own blog. Here's an example of what that content might look like. You could talk about your doubts and the fears you've conquered. You could discuss your struggles and triumphs. You could offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Fourth, what else do y'all do?: Well, you should visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writers. One goal you might have is to 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.

A bit of inspiration: "Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!"

The Twitter handle (X) is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the September 6 posting of the IWSG are Sonia Dogra, J Lenni Dorner, Pat Garcia, Sarah - The Faux Fountain Pen, and Meka James!

Some housekeeping you might want to know: 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!

September 6th question: The IWSG celebrates 12 years today! When did you discover the IWSG, how do you connect, and how has it helped you?

When did I discover the IWSG?: It happened way back in the day (I bet it was in 2010) when I connected with Alex Cavanaugh, and I started reading his blog and his book (he had only one book back then). 

How did I connect?: I was posting a lot back in those days. I think I posted five times a week, Monday thru Friday. My mind was fresh, and I had lots of thoughts and ideas about things that I really wanted to share. So, I connected by going to other people's blogs, reading what they had to say, and then telling them about what was on my mind. I discovered that we all liked sharing and listening to one another. There were some (of course) that I didn't quite get along with. That happens. You just move on and find other people to connect with. I think the biggest revelation about connecting with others was finding out that the notion of "security" appears to be an illusion. It's not real. Most people are insecure about everything, and they are searching for something in this world to make them feel less anxious. I also learned that people who hide their insecurities and don't admit weakness tend to do more harm than good. The reason is that (as humans) we watch each other. So if someone doesn't appear to have any weaknesses, it is inspiring. However, it also makes us feel bad about ourselves if we take a moment to just be vulnerable.

How has the IWSG helped me? Well, it gets people to visit my blog, which is a rarity these days. I think social media has moved along to other platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram. I also think about something my friend, Gary, said. As a preface to this, Gary is a professor at the University of Utah and he specializes in Spanish literature. We frequently meet to share thoughts or to play board games (our favorite at the moment is called Space Base). Gary has said to me on several occasions that he's appalled at how badly his students write. This then led me to talk about books and writing and the rise of artificial intelligence large language models like ChatGPT. I said to Gary, "I think ChatGPT is going to destroy writing." Gary's response, "Don't worry about it, Mike. Writing was already destroyed. You and I are the last generation that reads books. The younger folks don't read them anymore." That hit hard, but I think he's correct. I think that writing and books in general are on their way out. It's kind of sad, but I just don't know that many young people who want to pick up a book anymore. So, I won't be sad about that. There are still a lot of us around who do read books, even if we are the last generation to do so. And when we are gone, that won't matter, because I won't know what that world looks like anyway.

Happy Anniversary, Insecure Writer's Support Group.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Baldur's Gate 3 is an amazing game to play.

I've been playing some Baldur's Gate 3. This game by Larian studios is a ton of fun. If you've always wanted to try out Dungeons & Dragons but you've never gotten a group together, I'd really recommend giving it a go. I actually (in many ways) think it mimics the tabletop experience. And I also think that in some ways it is superior. That's weird, right? But seriously, it is so much fun. I won't spoil any of the details for you in case you'd like to give it a go, but I will tell you these things:

1) It's worth the money. The game is complete as is, and the developers do not plan on charging you for other things. This game comes with a huge story arc, and it's all done and in the can. And there are no "loot boxes" that require money.

2) The interface is marvelous, and the graphics are just so sublime. I get full immersion playing this game, and I wonder where the hours have gone. There are some NSFW things to it, so you need to keep an open mind. The characters can do nearly everything in the world, and I've heard that your characters can even get into relationships and have sex (I haven't experienced this facet of the game yet). This is totally strange for a video game, but there you have it. I guess games these days are really evolving.

3) It uses the 5e D&D rules with some modifications. But they are easy to grasp because the computer does it all. You just need to sit back and enjoy playing. When combat starts, it breaks it down into turns so you don't get overwhelmed. Even people with slow reflexes can play this thing, because you can take as much time as you want to figure out what you want to do.

4) There was some controversy with the release of Baldur's Gate 3, because other, larger game developers got nervous that the game was so good. Some of their programmers took to Twitter to say things like, "Please don't compare Baldur's Gate with our game, because we aren't up to that standard due to not having enough resources." It was a really strange thing to admit, especially when Larian is a small studio that apparently created a masterpiece.

5) You should explore the setup options when first starting the game. For example, the game defaults to "metric" measurement. But a lot of us live in the U.S., and we may not understand metric as much as the "Imperial" system unfortunately. I changed mine to that so I could get readings in "feet" that make sense to me. There's also one that turns off a dice rolling thing that defaults to a setting where it fudges dice rolls for you so that you don't ever get "streaks." In other words, if you roll really good, it will force the next roll to be a failure. But vice-versa, if you roll terribly, the next roll will more than likely be good. I don't like this at all, so I turned it off.

6) Click on everything and read everything to see what's there. Even doing this, I know I'm missing things because I just can't see them. But it's so much fun to find something unique and unusual hiding in plain sight.

Anyone else already playing Baldur's Gate 3? If so, let me know about your experience with it. I'm including the opening cinematic below so that people can watch it that might not have heard of this game.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Ted Lasso shows us how you could live if all the big things were removed and you only had small things left to trouble you.

I'm almost done with season 2 of Ted Lasso. The episode I watched was called Beard After Hours. It was a big tonal shift for the series to make, and I learned that it was the second of two episodes that Apple specifically requested to be added to the series. It was one of those episodes that haunts practically every show that hits the zeitgeist hard. The Bear season two had one of these episodes that was overly long and indulged in the drama of a family in crisis that was set some six years or so in the past. I didn't enjoy that episode all that much. This one that focused on Coach Beard was one I place squarely in that same box.

However, I don't watch this show for plot momentum. I watch it for the characters, of which Ted Lasso himself is the most enviable and most interesting. And I also watch it for the happiness that being rich seems to provide to those who are in that position. Ted Lasso is filled to the brim with rich people. In the Christmas episode of season two, we see some actual poor people receiving presents from a "secret Santa" kind of thing done by the owner of the Richmond futball team. But it's just a blip in the continuing drama of what it means to be exceptionally rich, and to have nothing to do with one's time aside from work at a job that looks incredibly fun, hang out with a bunch of athletically gifted and super attractive young men, and where your daily calendar is filled with only the best nutrition and you have plenty of time to date and to seek out therapy and to just enjoy the best that life has to offer.

It's honestly quite intoxicating. I mean...sure there's drama...but there isn't the kind of drama that poor people face, like eviction, or having to stay in a toxic place because finances would kill you otherwise. No, this is the drama of a girl with halitosis who then needs to see a dentist on Christmas to begin to treat the issue, and there just happens to be a dentist in their posh neighborhood. This isn't the drama of working three jobs and letting your body get broken so that you can pay bills. It is the drama of attractive people who don't have to do their own housework who place rose petals in the bathtub for a lover who feels they need some alone time. And there's always someone else that will go and clean all those rose petals up. No one ever has to scrub a toilet, spend their weekend washing clothes, getting a vehicle repaired (as all the vehicles are in brand new condition), or going to the grocery store for ingredients to meal prep until Wednesday so that you have food to eat at work. This is the drama of people who are riding in the back of a Rolls Royce, they have no mind on traffic because they don't care (or road rage), and they have the time to contemplate how one of their loved ones is feeling. And then they can check in, because (again) they have the time.

It's absolutely wonderful and oh how fantastic. There's so much to envy in the happiness of the casually super rich. It feels like a place where you could "just do it."'ve always wanted to go to Italy? Just do it. And while your at it, go and have this amazing experience. Maybe go to the Maldives too. Yeah...just do it. You only live once. Only...a lot of people in this world can't afford to "just do it" to anything, unless it's walk down to Walgreens on the corner.

Anyway, Ted Lasso is a great show. I'm glad Liz recommended it so highly, and I'd recommend it to anyone. Just know that it's as much fantasy as The Lord of the Rings for most of us. But it's a fantasy that a lot of people can relate to, because it doesn't seem so far-fetched. It just all lies across that line of privilege that probably starts after you've accrued ten million or so in net worth. That (in my mind) is where life really starts to get good. So basically, Ted Lasso shows us how you could live if all the big things were removed so that you only had small things left to trouble you. Just think of all the possibilities you would have if you didn't have to file taxes because its done for you, you didn't have to shop because all your food just shows up in your house and is put into the fridge magically and prepared for you so all you had to do was eat it, so that you always had replacement clothes that always fit...I mean...every single one of us could be a good person. It wouldn't be hard to be a good person in a world like that. Sigh, if only.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Blue Beetle was crafted with love.

I saw Blue Beetle this last weekend, and this is a review with a few very minor spoilers. I'm not sure why I thought this movie was going to be spectacular. Maybe it's because I've enjoyed watching Kamen Rider with my roommate, and I've enjoyed that to some extent (it's hit or miss from episode to episode, and the acting is never great). If you don't know, Kamen Rider is a Japanese live action series that features flimsy plots where it's all about the guys in crazy suits fighting each other (the suits look like bugs or have many bug-like features to them). Think of Iron Man but only with a preying mantis helmet, and you've got the idea. Needless to say, the entire Kamen Rider community has been buzzing about Blue Beetle, so you know this movie is targeting a certain demographic.

After having viewed it, I can say confidently that I would watch another Jaime Reyes movie for sure. But Blue Beetle was just okay. The family interaction is great, I liked every scene George Lopez was in, but in many ways the movie just kinda made him into the Mexican version of Doc Brown from Back to the Future. And Reyes' roll as "Blue Beetle" gave off a lot of Spiderman vibes, but it wasn't Spiderman. I felt (while watching) that it would have been more effective to have him stand as his own and not borrow so much from Spiderman. However, now that I've seen the movie, I have no idea what that is going to look like, and maybe the writers didn't either, which is why we got what we got.

Additionally, the source material highlights a problem with DC heroes in general. The whole "Anything you can imagine, I can create" thing is the reason why most DC heroes are overpowered, and its difficult to portray them in movies. At the same time, a lot of people did criticize Iron Man for his magical nanotech that can solve any problem by the time Infinity War came out, but at least the few iterations had mechanics and weaknesses. The scarab creates a perfect magical suit, and because of that, I'm less invested in the "hero who gets swept up by a super powerful artifact that he doesn't know how to control" trope.

I did love that the movie went out of its way to treat Mexican culture in a way that I suspect Mexicans might agree with as opposed to "hard-working and plucky working class people fleeing drug lords" which is usually what we get. And in that respect, DC does deserve to be rewarded for at least trying to not paint-by-numbers about non-white characters.

So, to finish, it's not the most original superhero movie, but it's crafted with love. It was worth full price. I just don't know if I'd ever watch it again. It'll be interesting to see how it meshes with the new DC universe being put together by James Gunn. Anyone else see Blue Beetle over the weekend? If so, what did you think?

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Silo on Apple TV+ is a really good science fiction mystery that answers most of the big questions by the end of season one.

I finished up Silo that was on Apple TV+. It honestly is some of the best science fiction on television right now. I get excited about it in the same way that I felt looking forward to Expanse seasons when it was still going on Amazon. The production values are really high, and it's been greenlit for a season two, which makes me happy. It got me reinterested in reading the Wool series of novels. I recently learned about them, because of my interest in the show. I've no doubt that the brilliance of the series has a lot to do with Hugh Howey's obvious genius/talent in just writing good stuff. I think I might wait until after the whole series has been aired though, as I've read online that the adaptation of the television show holds pretty close to the book. In other words, if I go and read the book, then I'm going to spoil the whole plot. Silo is at its core a mystery. And I think it would take a lot of the punch out of the story if I read the books and then know how it all ends.

---------------------------SPOILER ALERT------------------------------- 

So, how did the first season go? The main character in this show is Juliette, who is played by Rebecca Ferguson. We actually don't even get to meet Juliette until the end of the first episode, when we see her at work at the bottom of the Silo trying to repair the generator that keeps electricity flowing. Without this generator, everything would basically shut down and pretty much, everyone living in the Silo would end up dead. It would be an awful circumstance were it allowed to happen.

Then over the course of the remainder of season one, events unfold. There's a huge machine that probably dug the silos located in its own chamber that few people in the Silos actually know about. And when I say, "huge" I really mean that this thing is "colossal." Like, it would be the size of a Star Destroyer in Star Wars if it were filmed in that universe. At the bottom of this pit that holds the digger there is supposedly a door that a man named George found (he's dead at about episode two, and his death spurs Juliette to do a lot of things to uncover the facts around his death). But we are never told where the door leads. There's also the problem that the bottom of it is filled with water, which is pretty intimidating if you breathe air. 

There's also an ancient hard drive making the rounds in the Silo that contains (among its many files) a view of the outside world that doesn't match anything that they see through their big screen in the cafeteria, which looks out on a pit with a dead tree and a bunch of dead bodies scattered around in a landscape that is desolate of all life. The alternate view of the outside world is one with a blue sky, green grass, flowers in bloom, a tree that is vibrant and healthy, and birds are flying in the distance. You don't really know which one is real until the very end of season one, but you suspect that the "green view" is the real view and that everyone in the Silo is being lied to because of some kind of Machiavellian need to rule over others. It plays very well into human nature, due mostly to the fact that every single one of us has interacted with people who crave power. I myself have never craved power, but I had a friend who admitted to me point blank that it was all he even cared about, and that he was frustrated that he failed to achieve the kinds of power that he desired in life. In the years that followed, I tried to understand that feeling, but I never could. It just seemed so pointless (and it still seems pointless) unless you just want to abuse people (which seems like a mental illness to me if I'm right).

In episode after episode we are slowly fed facts. Judicial has a few members that actually run everything in a secret room labeled "Janitorial" that is filled with screens that monitor all things in the Silo. You find out that it is a complete surveillance state, with cameras behind mirrors in people's homes, there are boogey men that murder people who know too much, institutionalized gaslighting, and doctors who don't remove birth control from women who are greenlit to have a child because they don't actually want that person to reproduce but don't have the guts to tell them. I's a dystopia yes...but it's just people being at their worst most of the time. It would be a horrible situation to live in, and I think knowing all that we know by the end, I'd prefer to "go out and clean."

By the season finale, Silo actually does a good job at answering most of the questions I had. Juliette does eventually get rounded up after she becomes extremely problematic for the boogey men/shadow government who decide that she needs to go out and clean. However, she has enough friends and enough acumen and skill that they are forced to broker a deal with her and reveal their hand. They show her a video of George actually choosing to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge. So he wasn't murdered. However, he chose suicide because he was just being led somewhere to be tortured until he revealed the location of the troublesome hard drive with all of the damning files and footage on it. Juliette also has a tinkerer friend named "Walk" that manages to replace the heat tape with her own homebrew heat tape that Judicial uses to seal suits with for those people forced to "go out and clean," which is a death sentence since you aren't allowed back into the Silo. The heat tape that Judicial uses to seal those suits allowed lots of toxins into the suit, which slowly killed the person wearing it. We are to assume that this is intentional. Somehow, I missed a detail that might have alluded to someone figuring that out. But they did, and it ends up saving Juliette's life when she walks out to clean.

And yes, that happens at the end of the season finale. Juliette walks out to clean with the special wool they put in a pocket, and she sees this beautiful green world. Now, this ends up being a lie, and she figures that out pretty quickly, because the footage is identical to the footage on the hard drive. In other words, she recognizes it all as a gif or some kind of video (probably helped by the fact that a dead George left a "video" for her to view that then explained what a "video" was). Juliette also refuses to clean, which is something no one has ever done. The reasoning that Judicial has for the fake green world shown on the inside of the visor/helmet of the vac suit that they wear when they go outside is that if the person sees a green and gorgeous world, then they will be compelled to clean the lens so that those inside will "see the truth."

Juliette manages to break the feed to reveal the real world through her visor. Because she has good heat tape keeping the toxins out, she doesn't die. And we see her walk up to the rim of the ridge, stand there a moment, and disappear, leaving everyone else watching inside gasping. I one has ever done this. And then the camera pans out on Juliette walking through a post apocalyptic landscape where there's circular ridges everywhere, indicating that there may be dozens if not hundreds of other "silos" where people live. It's a pretty incredible reveal, and I'm super excited to see where it leads. However, I've no idea how Juliette is going to survive when her air runs out, or when she needs food or water. This is a cliffhanger for sure, and season two can't get here soon enough. However, because of the writers strike, it may be 2025 before I see a follow-up to this series. At least, I hope so. It could be 2026. Ah well, the writer's strike is important, and I hope that it ends well for everyone involved.

Anyway, if you have Apple TV+, Silo is definitely worth your time unless of course all of the above spoilers have ruined the show for you. If that's the case, I apologize. But, I just wanted to talk about it.