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.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Ahsoka arrives in less than ten days :).

I don't like Rosario Dawson due to her politics in 2016. However, she does an amazing job as
Ahsoka Tano. I'm really pleased with the actress's professional work, so I do that 
"separate the artist from the art" thing in my head in order to enjoy her roles.

is coming soon (ten days and counting), and I'm really looking forward to it. One of the reasons is because of what happened in the Star Wars Rebels episode, The World Between Worlds. Before this episode, Ahsoka had been in hiding and hadn't seen Anakin/Darth Vader for a decade. When they fought each other in a Sith temple, Vader survived the fight and I "presumed" along with everyone else that Ahsoka was just dead. Then in the World Between Worlds episode coming very close to Rebels final run, Ezra saved Ahsoka through time travel using the power of the Force gods. It's one of my favorite episodes of Star Wars period (of all time). And then shortly after that Ezra road off into the Galactic sunset on space whales, which we saw shadows of in one of the Mandalorian hyperspace sequences.

The latest trailer that dropped for the show has a pretty long voiceover by Hayden Christensen/Anakin. It got me more excited than I thought I would be, because my brain started to imagine all of the possibilities with Anakin showing up as a Force ghost and interacting with the one other Jedi who meant a lot to him (the first obviously being Obi-Wan Kenobi). I'm also happy that Hayden Christensen is finally being embraced by the Star Wars fandom. When he played Darth Vader, he was young, inexperienced, and he had absolutely dog shit writing and directions. For example, the scenes between Anakin and Padme are just cringe worthy.

Talking just a bit more about The World Between Worlds, introducing a temple that could control space and time in Star Wars was a leap that I didn't think at the time that Star Wars was ever going to make. I mean...Trek does this kind of thing on a seasonal basis in practically every show, but nothing ever comes of it. In Trek it's usually just playing in the past, doing this and that, respecting the timeline. The one occasion where they did something huge was in Yesterday's Enterprise, which completely retconned Tasha Yar's death (who was killed in Skin of Evil) due to (I think) some real-life things she was doing that embarrassed the studio like posing nude (or something like that). Those are the rumors I heard back in the day.

But the fact that the Force is apparently capable of something as big as "time travel" with the potential to alter the future? That was a tool that opened up so many possible storylines for writers. I guess we'll have to see what goodies get unpacked by all of those creative minds once the strike has been settled (and once big studios honor artists and writers with the goods they are due). 

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Strange New Worlds did a musical episode and I loved it.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds keeps knocking it out of the park for me. I'm an avid "Trek" fan, but this episode (which aired last week) took me a bit by surprise. Here's your obligatory "spoiler warning," as I'm going to discuss the episode. So, if you haven't seen it, you may want to come back after viewing it.

The Enterprise finds a sub-space fold that may enable instantaneous communications across vast distances. In testing whether or not this could be true, the crew sends a song through it and unwittingly creates an expanding reality that makes people break out in song every time their emotions grow too complex for mere words. The result is that we are treated to song after song, many of which are performed by the crew (according to official sources in the know like Variety). Anyway, it turns out that the musical numbers were constructed around the actor's natural vocal range. But the thing I was most impressed with is how it appears to be so easy (for some gifted people) to turn regular dialogue that one might have in a situation into a song.

Look, I've never been musically inclined. I only barely attended my first karaoke experience. I did like it; however, I realize that the world is a better place if I don't sing and let professionals take that on. I do appreciate music a lot, and I've always been mystified at how people like Lin Manuel Miranda can seemingly churn out endless songs. Sometimes I wonder if their head is just a never-ending stream of melodies, and what that must be like.

Also, Spock is a strange character to see singing--doubly so for Klingons! I never thought I'd see that, but Strange New Worlds knows how to surprise. Somewhere in the back of my mind though, I have a question about the musical anomoly/subspace fold: was it created by the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind? If so, that would make a lot of sense.

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Meg 2 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took me to the movies this weekend.

This weekend I went and saw The Meg 2: The Trench and the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. I'm going to discuss both shows in this post. So, here is your spoiler warning if you intend to watch.

First up is the Jason Statham fueled sequel to The Meg. I haven't read the books that these movies are based from, but I thoroughly have enjoyed both installations now. Folks, you go into these films as a person who needs to suspend a lot of their intelligence and just enjoy the ride as big, stupid fun. If you like kaiju movies, I'd think you'd be one of the first in line to see this kind of thing. But if the trailer didn't already give you an idea of what this movie is about, then just think Jurassic Park only with underwater creatures.

The sub in the movie that goes down into "The Trench" and manages to pierce the layer at the bottom that separates the world of giant creatures from the rest of humanity is the miracle exemption in this story. And in order to have a story at all, you just have to assume that there's going to be something bad that breaches that layer so that huge things can come through and terrorize the island people in the general area of that breach. But with the recent sub disaster where those tourists got killed when they paid exorbitant amounts of money to ride a tube down to the wreckage of The Titanic, I couldn't help but think that the sub in Meg 2: The Trench sure was luxurious. If only these kinds of crafts actually existed, with enormous windows, comfy seats, and all the safety you could want.  Nevermind that Jason Statham actually exits at the bottom of the trench and without any protective gear by just "emptying out his sinuses so he doesn't get crushed." None of that stuff matters, because this movie is pure action and fun.

There were three megalodons in this movie. But I think that the scariest creature was an enormous giant octopus that was a kind of mythical kraken. They came across it in the world of giant creatures, and it was surrounded by hundreds of other octopi that will probably end up getting as big as this gigantic one got. However, it didn't end up being much of a challenge for the megaladon that it attacked, so I was a bit disappointed by that. I'd think an enormous creature like that with arms covered in suckers would have at least taken out one of the sharks. But if they'd done that, then it would have made it harder to show Jason Statham killing two others single-handedly, especially since they needed one to survive for whatever reason. All in all, I give it a thumbs up. Just leave your brain at the door when you watch it.

The other movie I saw this weekend was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. It's a movie that seemed to be brought to the big screen by Seth Rogan. If I'm wrong on this then it certainly is a passion project for Seth. Once I got used to the claymation style animation, I really enjoyed the voice acting. The plot was quite good too, as it was able to both give life to the Turtles and their Dad while showing how actually badass Splinter was (the voice actor was Jackie Chan). I actually don't know much about the Turtles and their rogues gallery. So it was really cool to get a nice intro into this with characters like Superfly. He (they?) were a typical supervillain in that they were going to use the "ooze" (the miracle exemption for this story) to bring about an evolution of every other lifeform on earth that wasn't human and then enslave/kill all the humans. And in typical "Turtles" fashion, their skills become crucial in the defeat of Superfly. It is also through this act, the saving of New York, that they achieve acceptance from humanity and are able to go to school and just be themselves. That kind of narrative...the idea that to achieve acceptance that you must first work your ass off for other people to get respect...seems like one that would appeal to Americans. I don't necessarily know if I agree with that. But, it's the story they decided to tell.

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie a lot. Anyone else see any movies this weekend? If you watched the same ones I did, what did you think?

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

It's time for the August 2023 Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

July 2023 seemed long. I'm writing this post on Tuesday, August 1st, and for some reason it feels like ages since I participated in the last Insecure Writer's Support Group. Part of it is the heat (I'm sure), and the fact that summers just seem to feel longer these days. They probably are, with heat starting to settle in earlier and leaving later, the result being that we have shortened winter, spring, and fall. In any case, it's now time to do our monthly IWSG post. So, let's go over the details together.

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: It is 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 y'all post?: The IWSG army posts on the first Wednesday of every month. This day is officially the Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. You are to post your thoughts on your own blog. You could talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Or you could discuss your struggles and triumphs. If you have the inclination to do so, please offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. And last (but not least) please attempt to visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writers. You should aim for a dozen new people each time. And don't forget to return comments. This group is all about connecting. Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

The Twitter (do we still call it "Twitter" or is it "X" now?) handle for the Insecure Writer's Support Group is @TheIWSG and the hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the August 2nd posting of the IWSG are Kate Larkindale, Diane Burton, Janet Alcorn, and Shannon Lawrence!

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!

August 2 question: Have you ever written something that afterwards you felt conflicted about? If so, did you let it stay how it was, take it out, or rewrite it?

Yes. As I recall, this happened when I wrote a bunch of pages in first person. It just didn't feel right to me. So, I went back and rewrote them in third person omniscient. And then that didn't feel right to me, so I went back and rewrote them in third person one narrator perspective. By that time, it felt too weird, and I couldn't figure out what tense I wanted to work in. Eventually I settled on some version of third person, but I don't know if I was ever satisfied with any of it.

This is one of the things I continually struggle with when writing. That and tense. Do I use past tense? Do I use present tense? It's all in the verbs, you know? Anyway, I admire writers who can just lay something out in the tense and the person that they want to use, and then they stick with it and finish that project. That's pretty amazing. We probably don't even need to be worried about these things in the future, because ChatGPT or other a.i. programs are just going to write the books and people will just actively skip to the editing phase. I know that sounds cynical, but it's coming. And that's basically what I have to say about that.

Monday, July 31, 2023

I was not expecting Barbie to be as great as it was.

I saw the Barbie movie this weekend. I didn't expect that it would have such depth to its story, or that it would raise so many existential questions. There's a lot to unpack in the Barbie movie, so here's your spoiler warning in case you haven't seen it, and it looks like something you'd very much like to watch.

Conservative media was quick to brand the Barbie movie as yet another attack on masculinity. I definitely can see where people might think that. It's easy to assume that whenever anything is being criticized (or when people are painting boundaries) that the thing in question is "under attack." In this particular instance, that "thing" would be "patriarchy" and "toxic masculinity." But I think the message is more complex, and it comes through the words of the creator of Barbie as the ghost of Ruth Handler. In one of the best scenes in the movie, this ghost says to Barbie that ideas live forever. She points out that the pain of being human causes us to make up all kinds of things. Patriarchy is one of those things. But there are dozens of other things that we make up too that end up being harmful.

For both the Ken's and the Barbies in the movie, unrealistic body expectations are made up things that have been heaped on both genders. And the ones who have always been on top have always made it rough for the people who have been on the bottom. But it doesn't have to be this way, because "its all made up." It reminds me in some ways of the war that is going on between artists and people who are using a.i. I'm in several Facebook groups where people excitedly post their a.i. art and share their prompts, I have observed that an argument breaks out almost every other day. Do not underestimate what I'm saying here. These arguments generate upwards of a thousand comments in which artists are trashing a.i. and a.i. "prompt engineers" are calling artists "obsolete do nothings" or worse. The whole art industry looks like it is in meltdown, and art majors and art schools will probably vanish within ten years as there literally is no money for those people who want to do that kind of work now. It makes me sad, but this is just how humans are.

For the longest time, people who excelled at anything really would kind of lord that over people who were trying to do the same thing who couldn't. It shouldn't be a newsflash that people aren't born equal. Some have gifts and talents and assets that other people just don't have, and they start way ahead. If life were a race, everyone has a different starting point and some people are born in the deepest holes and are expected to climb out of that. If you realize that what I'm saying is true, you can see why a.i. is such a gift to so many people. Suddenly along comes this machine that can do the thing better than everyone, and the people who had no talent are flocking in droves to use the machine to be able to finally create things that they've wanted to be able to do and could never afford to do. And (at first) the artists laugh until they realize that they've been replaced. And now insults fly back and forth between the two camps of people. One is gloating that they now are in a position where they don't need the other. And the other is scared that they are going to be replaced and will have to eek out a living like people they previously had contempt for. It's awful, but its human nature.

But the message of Barbie is that it doesn't have to be this way. However, it isn't all rosy in its messaging either. It freely admits that equality for all people may come in time, but that history doesn't paint such a rosy picture of how things have gone in the past.

I have to give Mattel a few kudos that it was willing to poke so much fun at itself in this. The boardroom that wants to guide women on their path is completely run by men. And they allowed Aqua's song "Barbie Girl" to be sampled into a new song for the movie that plays over the credits. Originally, Mattel tried to sue Aqua for defamation for coming out with that song, which has some pretty rapey lyrics to it. But now, they see that it's basically what people do with Barbie dolls. And even though Barbie gave girls a lot of representation in different fields, there was always the question of, "What was Ken?" And by the end of the movie, we realize that he's just a stand-in for straight American (modern) men who decided to tie their self worth to a girlfriend's approval.

This take on the state of the modern man surprised me. It's an untenable position for many, where boys are told by the system that their entire worth as a man rests on their ability to get a woman to be their girlfriend. In Ken's case, he doesn't even know what to do with a girlfriend. He just knows he needs to have one. But since the Barbies are independent and self-sufficient, they don't need a Ken. So a Ken has no reason to exist.

In the movie, Ken's journey is a particular fascination for me. Ken (once he's in the real world) finds that men rule everything, and he interprets it the way a lot of people in Ken's position would interpret it in order to refute its existence: all men are on top by the very fact of being men. But then he gets his dose of reality: being a man is not enough. You have to be the right kind of man. You have to be educated and wealthy, and meet a number of arbitrary criteria. The ending message then is that if Ken wants to be happy, he needs to define his own role in life. And society needs to change so that Ken has that space to find that role. And our current society (sadly) too often does not allow for this kind of self-discovery.

As I finish this essay on Barbie I want to end with this: one gender being in charge and ignoring the struggles of the other is a problem. But honestly, it goes beyond gender. Just replace that word with just about anything else within context, and you'll understand what I'm saying. One "caste" being in charge and ignoring the struggles the other is a problem. One political party being in charge and ignoring the struggles of the other is a problem. And repeat, etc. We all could do better, and once again, it doesn't have to be this way.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Boimler and Mariner from Lower Decks just crossed over in live action to Strange New Worlds and the episode was amazing.

The Star Trek Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks crossover was pretty great. If you haven't seen it online yet, then you should be aware that I'm gonna talk about it in this post. So, this is your one and only "Spoiler Warning."

In the episode called "These Old Scientists," Boimler (played by Jack Quaid and my favorite character in Lower Decks) gets sent a century or so into the past by a time-travel device. Shenanigans ensue, as he arrives right in front of Pike and Spock (who are his heroes), and they (then) take him back to the Enterprise to try and find a solution to send him back to the future. A little while later, their solution doesn't pan out as the time travel device also spits out Mariner (also from Lower Decks).

I can say without any doubt that I want more of this. I hope that Lower Decks crosses over with Strange New Worlds in a future season as it was so much fun. But here are a few random thoughts I had after viewing the episode and having a little time to think about what I saw:

1) The moment when Nurse Chapel realized that her relationship with Spock doesn't even make it to a historical footnote was genuinely touching. "History needs him to be the exact opposite of what you need him to be in a relationship" would have been very difficult to hear.

2) The scene where Ortegas and Uhura idolized Mayweather and Hoshi from Enterprise (the Star Trek series that a lot of people didn't like) was a lot of fun. It just took the Lower Deckers being present for it to come out. There's nothing quite like being validated to make things come to the surface (which I suppose is why we need to prevent this kind of validation around negative things like white supremacy).

3) The episode also sets up characters from Lower Decks and from Strange New Worlds to experience future growth. Pike was given a nudge to make the most of his remaining time to forge bonds. Number One received affirmation that she is the ideal of Starfleet in the wake of her trials. Uhura realized work/life balance helps both and collaboration leads to unexpected results. And as for Boimler and Mariner, I feel like in meeting their heroes, they appreciated their own timeline so much more.

4) I loved a lot of the fan service that the show received from historical episodes of Trek. For example, Boimler yells out "Q" only to be corrected by Mariner that in this time period the crew hasn't met Q, but there's going to be a whole "Trelane" thing (if I remember correctly, the role of Trelane was played by Liberace). 

5) They changed the intro so that it was animated, and it had a smiling Koala and what looked like a space worm from the Lower Decks intro attached to the Enterprise's nacelle.

6) And can we all just take a moment to note how great the Cerritos uniforms look in live action? They are definitely one of the best-looking Starfleet uniforms, and they did a great job translating the animation design into a workable uniform costume.

7) I want Pelia to star on Lower Decks. Her alien's long life should allow it to be easily slipped in without too much trouble.

8) Boimler really does have blue hair. I always thought maybe it was blue/black, but nope. It's blue.

Monday, July 24, 2023

My thoughts on Oppenheimer

This weekend, like many audiences around the world, I went to see Christopher Nolan's latest film called Oppenheimer. The decision to go was fun. For the first time in a while I had to strategize. It made me realize that my "movie going skills" were a little rusty, having atrophied quite a bit as the theaters have been noticeably emptier than I ever remember them being. But for Oppenheimer I had a suspicion that this might be a more popular movie. So, I decided to try and buy tickets early, which put me on a path of narrowing choices.

The first thing I wanted to do was see it in IMAX. We have several theaters in my town that offer IMAX, but as I've gotten bigger around the middle (and older) and my friends that were going with me have (for the most part) done the same, I wanted to try for luxury seating in the IMAX. Luxury seating is where one row has been dedicated to reclining seats. Personally, I think all seats should be recliners. And the Cinemarks in my area have all done this. But they don't have an IMAX theater. So, I tried looking at all showtimes for Oppenheimer within the next week to see if that row of special "luxury seats" had all been filled. had. Like literally sold out for as far ahead as they schedule events, and in every IMAX in the Salt Lake valley.

So then I started to question my own decision on seeing it in IMAX. There are only 17 theaters nationwide in IMAX that offer Oppenheimer in 70mm format, and none of those are in my state. The rest are just a bigger screen. But the sound system in the other theaters that I usually go to (Cinemark) is always good. And from what I understand, all 70mm does is make the film look hyper-realistic with its resolution, adding to the film immersion. I don't know if that necessarily would have made the viewing of Oppenheimer any better. That's when I decided that I'd just give up on the IMAX experience and go to the Cinemark and watch it there. And that's what myself and two of my friends ended up doing. In the following paragraphs, I'm going to talk about my takes from Oppenheimer which (as far as I can tell) are all parts of history. So I don't think there are any spoilers, unless you think that history is a spoiler. If that is you, then this is your "spoiler warning."

I think (for me) J. Robert Oppenheimer was the only historical figure in this movie that I actually liked. I've never been a fan of the era in which this man lived. And all of the things you would expect about the telling of this story happen within the background to all of these important men doing whatever they needed to do in order to win a war that had consumed the world. Yes, we need to remember that hundreds of thousands of people were going to die and were dying. War is awful. But the movie Oppenheimer is here to firmly validate that not only is war awful, but that war is human, and humans are awful to each other all of the time.

War then is just the escalation of hatred of the other to the most violent circumstances. And what one nation says is peace can in many ways be defined by another as "tyranny." But that's just how the chips fall with our species. All of us have never been united, and barring that utopia of a one world government, there is always a winner and a loser. When you think of nation states deciding the outcomes of civilization, you realize that there are always power brokers and arms races within the borders of any single nation that you pick. It's always a "game of thrones," and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the historical figure and scientist, was smack dab in the middle of a toxic mix of people who were patriots (yes...of that there is no doubt), but they were also men feeding off vast narcissistic supply in the pursuit of their legacy and their greatness.

That they were really smart boys (in men's bodies) being mothered by their wives while they went about the important task of ending the war and bringing other boys home is never lost on me. At one point, Matt Damon's character (a general in charge of building the entire town of Los Alamos) says to a scientist that "this is the most important work in the history of mankind" or something like that. The point in me quoting that is that is very important. But then...of course it is...because men rule everything and everything that the men participated in was in fact important. That importance is everywhere. And history shows it probably was the most important thing in the history of mankind. But the irony of that statement isn't lost on me because of the blatant sexism of that time period. But all of that is just historical fact.

The importance of developing the bomb was left to men while women just needed to focus on the laundry and provide sex when needed and definitely keep the houses cleaned so that important meetings could take place. Oh...and child rearing too. Men didn't rear children. If your wife was overwhelmed you drove your crying brat to another house and imposed on another man's wife. That's just how things were done. It makes me wonder why our species is so awful, and why I'm not excited or nostalgic for those times. As a man, I clearly stood to benefit, right? So why wouldn't I want to return to the forties and fifties in America? Only it's clear to me I wouldn't have been smart enough in this particular time period to warrant a level of importance that excused abusing others for the sake of getting something done and ending a huge war. So, maybe it would have been left to me to do the cleaning and the serving of drinks while important men sat around discussing ideas. I'll pass on that, thanks. And we see a lot of that today, right? Everyone saying "no thanks" to that kind of undignified work, which is why we have a labor shortage in America right now. I can't say that I blame anyone making that choice, because "being important" is a small group and it is most definitely not inclusive.

The movie Oppenheimer is a remarkable film. But it is less about the development of the bombs that were dropped on the Japanese, and it is more about this historical figure that the author (that is the movie's source material) likened to a "Prometheus." This is a Titan that stole fire from the gods and gave it to man to do with as he pleased. That then is the metaphor used to describe the man J. Robert Oppenheimer who was punished by his own government, because they feared his power to sway public opinion regarding toxic capitalism. In other words, this incredibly intelligent man spoke of restraint.

He wanted to limit those who had placed their hands upon something that they sensed would give them the unlimited means to bulldoze a path wherever they wanted to go. He foresaw that this would just start an arms race (which it did). There have always been those men who have no restraint and look at you with a puzzled look when you say, "You need to keep your pig in check. Stop being a glutton." To them their desire is just absolute freedom. It is the freedom to do anything to anyone and anywhere at anytime and you can't stop them because they are more powerful. Others might view that as tyranny, but these terms are just two sides of the same coin. In their eyes, if you limit someone, then you are the bad guy. But the thing is (and we are still learning this today), when there are no limits, it leaves very little for the rest of us. A healthy society has to have limits and personal responsibilities and accountabilities. J. Robert Oppenheimer knew this, and it made everyone else who was in his orbit (who believed the opposite) really angry. That's just unfortunate.

This movie is definitely a thumbs up. It is filled with A-Listers jostling for scraps in a script that is thankfully crowded with lots of words for them to memorize and perform in front of the camera. There were easily three to four Oscar winners taking bit parts in this movie. Rami Malek and Casey Affleck are two that I spotted. Matt Damon's part was much larger (another Oscar winner). It shows how much power Nolan has as a Director that these people probably fought hard to get into this movie to help solidify their status as the best actors in the world. This is also a film for men. The women are there, yes, but their roles are not really memorable at all. I don't blame Nolan. That's just how history was, and I trust that he's telling it like it is (at least to the best of our knowledge). I'm just glad I didn't have to grow up in these times, and that I was able to find friends who are not consumed with their own legacy and greatness. Being around those kinds of people would have taken a mental toll on me (I'd probably have developed all kinds of mental illnesses and personality disorders). It also would have been exhausting, because there would have been sparingly few emotional connections one could make. At the end of the day, the work everyone was doing was too important for anything but the work itself.

I like to end these reviews by asking myself if I would watch this movie again. It was an excellent movie, and I definitely think everyone should see it. But I don't think I'd watch it again. It's thick subject matter, and it affects my mood in a way that I wouldn't classify as entertainment. But for what it's worth, a single viewing of it was time well spent. It's also a reminder that nothing was ever as important as the Manhattan Project was, but there is never a shortage of self-important people walking the Earth who would argue that point with you while seeking to use you as their own personal doormat. If we are all smart, we'll keep that from happening, and by doing so build a better future for our shared civilization.