Friday, June 30, 2023

Denis Villenueve's Dune adaptation looks like it will cling to the book for its ending and get rid of the idea that Paul Atreides is a white saviour.

I feel like time sometimes plays tricks on me. I watched the new trailer for Dune Part 2, which is the one directed by Denis Villenueve and starring the "King of the Twinks," Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides. Part One came out in 2021. That was...basically two years ago, right? I felt like I just watched it last year, but that simply isn't true. And it's already July 2023, which means that 2023 is essentially already half over. Seeing Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny tonight...and knowing that it is has something to do with time (I've kept away from a lot of the spoilers) statement seems on the nose in a weird way. But I digress (time flies?).

I've always been a fan of Dune despite having my issues with Herbert as a person. I can say that about a lot of people. Ezra Miller, J.K. Rowling, Woody Allen, Michael Jackson, David and Leigh Eddings, Roman Polanski, Ansel Elgort, Gina Garano, H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the list goes on and on and on. Given that there are also so many bad people who don't create art and I don't like them (Donald Trump, Ted Nugent, etc.) it is really challenging to find "any people" who qualify as "good people."'s getting tough folks. So, I generally take the road of "all people are bad and I have a need for entertainment so I'm going to do this thing." And thus we arrive at my writing about Dune and talking about Dune and just enjoying Dune for what it is.

So...Dune! What do I say about the various iterations of Dune that I haven't said before that may be worth a post or a discussion. Villeneuve's part one of what he saw in Herbert's writing was one of those strange experiences that managed to be both spectacle and boring at the same time. But in the end, I loved it. It was a great adaptation of the book. The Lynch version of Dune by contrast was a gorgeous mess. Even though I felt that Lynch was faithful to Herbert's themes, I do believe he was interested more in innocence versus corruption and good vs. evil. Dune as a writing is a lot more subtle than that, and has a theme about how a false prophecy has been purposefully designed. It is there to use religion to motivate people. The book avoids the white savior story while Lynch's version literally embraces it.

Paul, even though he is our protagonist, is trapped in his destiny. And eventually he's going to find himself in a situation where he no longer has any choice at all--that whether he lives or dies, the coming war is already in motion, and it is carried by the religious currents sweeping through the Fremen and the Empire. And regarding Paul, he basically must use his vision of the possible futures to try and navigate them and pick the one that sucks the least. By the end of the book, Paul has to choose between dying himself, letting his family die, or causing Jihad to spread across the universe killing billions. After wrestling with that moral quandary, he makes a decision, and he gives up on saving billions and chooses to live. So the white savior he is not. But you definitely don't get that from the 1984 Dune. I mean...he even makes it rain on Arrakis, not in the book. The comparisons to a "savior" are obvious here.

Anyway, I think that Villenueve is giving me what I want in this movie, which has been split into two parts. Take a look at the newest trailer, and decide for yourself. I just hope that it all doesn't end with Dune. Afterall, Herbert wrote many more books that continue a story of an Empire that is pretty fascinating, and a destiny for humanity that one just has trouble not watching.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

We are all living in a Wes Anderson movie that never ends.

I saw Wes Anderson's Asteroid City this weekend. Just like in his other films, his characters are taciturn, and the absurdities are abundant. I couldn't help but compare it to another absurd thing that happened this weekend in real life: the brief revolution in Russia. If you weren't watching, the head of the Wagner Mercenary Group (these guys are some really bad people) named Prigozhin marched on Moscow, and then...he just decided to stop. I kept thinking...did Wes Anderson write this? I mean, Prigozhin was at one time (by the accounts I've read), Putin's chef and caterer. How does a person go from catering food to becoming the head of a brutal mercenary group that commits war crimes? Maybe the trend of sous vide made him mad. Or maybe it was seeing Bobby Flay's white white sneakers. That could infuriate anyone.

I have so many questions. Does he not realize that the guy he stabbed in the back is notorious for assassinating people with poison? Maybe he does and thinks that it just won't happen to him. In a Wes Anderson movie, if someone were assassinated, it would happen in deadpan. That would look interesting. Also, I wouldn't drink any tea not prepared by myself, touch any doorknobs, and stay away from windows if I were Prigozhin. But that (honestly) probably only buys him a few days. You have to admit though, that Prigozhin seems like a character that could easily be in a Wes Anderson film. The key to realizing this is to realize that Prigozhin is absurd in every way possible.

But maybe where real life departs from something Wes Anderson cooks up is in the art. Anderson's stories are so consciously crafted for a specific mood. He constructs these stories that he tells (and the characters who inhabit them) in spaces that are very controlled. Anderson's style appears to be a restraint bordering on psychological and physical incapacitation. And when the absurdities happen, particularly in Asteroid City the kind of comedy relief you are supposed to get from it is often a blunt tool against the hard edges of the powerful control present in every frame of the film. But at least you get quirky characters, deadpan quips, and twee mise en scènes (when applied to cinema this refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement). I can't help but think of how controlled a military group might be...when they weren't committing war crimes that is. It all just seems so weird.

Asteroid City's greatest feat, I think, is the setting. There are a ton of A-List actors all jostling for screen time in this production. But the thing I remember the most are the brightly lit and orange-colored horizons that are supposed to remind one of a Nevada or Utah desert, featureless under the blazing sun, yet still full of life like the occasional roadrunner that is viewed crossing a road with a nuclear explosion going off in the background (miles away) at a test site. That bomb is set off with such frequency that when the diner shakes and the people drinking coffee asks what it is, the waitress says, "bomb test." Again...I can't but help and be reminded of how ridiculous it all is and that (in real life) Russia has so many nuclear bombs. Seriously...was what happened this weekend penned by Wes Anderson?

I think Wes Anderson makes children's movies for adults. Which is to say, that adults are just children with large bodies. If this isn't the truth, then explain literally everything that has happened since 2016 in a way that makes me believe that adults are actually running the show on the stage of real life. I feel like Wes Anderson's true brilliance (and the reason I continue to watch his films) is that he realizes real life is completely absurd. It was absurd for people to pay $250,000 to get in a metal container with no seats and a video game controller and become tourists in the deep sea. Putin and the leaders of his military and people like Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Green are absurd caricatures of real people. People making a.i. art and calling themselves "Prompt Engineer" is absurd. Elon Musk is an absurd human being. These are all things that Wes Anderson must already know, and he just chooses to make art that shows all of that. I think I get it now. We are living in a Wes Anderson movie that never ends.

Monday, June 26, 2023

I enjoyed the Flash movie.

There are spoilers in this review of The Flash, which I saw this last weekend. Proceed forward at your own peril :).

June has been a fun return to movies. I haven't seen this many films in the theater since before 2020, and it does feel good. I've seen four movies in the last two weeks, and you've already read about what I thought of Elemental (from Pixar) and Across the Spiderverse. Now, I'm going to air my feelings about Warner Brothers first "Flash" movie, and on Wednesday I'll talk about Asteroid City by Wes Anderson.

So, right off the bat, I really liked The Flash. I think that Ezra Miller plays a great Flash even if they are kind of a shitty human being. After watching this film, I was a little disappointed that I couldn't crap on Miller as an actor, because I very much wanted to after seeing the sketchy headlines that paint them to be a kind of weasel in real life. So here's where I have to separate the art from the actor.

We oftentimes have to do this kind of thing. In literature, Marion Zimmer Bradley was a fantastic author that I liked reading, but she had zero problems with her husband being a podophile. Shrug. What can you do about that? And honestly, I've enjoyed Ezra in more than just his outing as the Flash. He was great in Fantastic Beasts too, although the third installment (which was still good), kind of sidelined his character or definitely reduced the impact that character would have on the story. All of that was probably done as he entered the news for various troubling behavior patterns, and then of course, J.K. Rowling was doing the same thing.

I think that a lot of humans always want bad people to always be bad artists. That way we don't have to deal with the conflict of where to draw lines. No one really likes to feel conflicted, am I right? Anyway, The Flash as a movie had a lot going for it. I loved seeing the different universes. I saw bunches of cameos including Helen Slater as Supergirl, which last happened in the 80's (done via C.G.I.), and Christopher Reeve returning briefly as Superman. There was even a Nicolas Cage version of Superman, which I'd only briefly paid attention to over the years, and was a concept for a movie that was directed by Tim Burton. And we saw George Clooney briefly as the Batman. Of course, if you've seen the trailers, then you know Michael Keaton is back as the Batman for one more outing (which includes a send-off). The big bad of the movie is General Zod from Man of Steel. This time, no matter how many Barry Allen's there are, Zod is unstoppable (he was almost unstoppable in Man of Steel). Kryptonian forces and their technology is just too much to handle, and honestly it should have been in Man of Steel. And to my surprise, we got to see Gal Gadot one more time as Wonder Woman. I really wish they weren't scrapping that character, but the next outing of Wonder Woman will more than likely be a different casting. Gal Gadot was just so good as the character.

A lot of people online did not like the C.G.I. that had some uncanny valley moments to it. I didn't mind it so much, however, I knew going into it that the C.G.I. was going to look wonky every time that Barry used the Speed Force. They explained this as, "Things look different from Barry's perspective when he's moving so fast." Others who read those same words from the director say that this is just a way to cover their ass over bad C.G.I. I don't know what the truth is, but I accepted what the director said, I believe they made it intentionally look bad in order to distinguish what it was like being in the Speed Force. I would have liked it much better if they had just copied the Quicksilver sequences from the X-Men movies (with the young cast).

Anyone else see The Flash? If so, what did you think?

Friday, June 23, 2023

There are a lot of poor people on Facebook who are celebrating that some rich folks died horribly on a submersible.

I was only mildly paying attention to the situation with the Titan submersible carrying the affluent explorers (seems redundant as you have to be affluent to explore) to the bottom of the ocean in order to see the wreckage of the Titanic. However, I was really taken aback by the callous cruelty and mean-spiritedness of regular people who (politically) are on the left of me (read this as extreme left) and who are really challenged financially (truthfully I think a lot of it has been opportunity cost choices that they have made that has ruined their financial well-being). That being is tough to make ends meet out there. I have sympathy for those who are putting up the good fight, including myself. But I can't help but draw from real-world experiences when I say that one needs to make good choices to have a chance at success. Here's an example of how it all went wrong for one person I know.

This person (who shall be nameless) is someone I've known since they were a tween. They were always high on pot, couldn't count on them for anything. They'd make fun of you if you didn't get high with them. Slept around a ton with boys. Got knocked up and popped out two kids. I remember meeting them at a diner and they shamed me saying, "Mike, you should get yourself one of these (as if I could just go and get a kid)." I guess they were having fun. I didn't fault them for that. This was a straight couple building a family. I've seen that before, or so I thought.

Fast forward a few years and baby daddy is now a woman and the woman in that relationship is now a man. They basically hate each other, but the momma who became a man won't press for child support, because (I think) they are still hopelessly in love with baby daddy (who became a woman) and is now poly living in Pennsylvania with multiple other partners. No doubt any and all money the baby daddy (who is now a woman) make goes into their healthcare and into their "polycule" while kids are supported mostly by state monies fed into SSDI and SSI payments. This is how callous these parents are. At one point on one of the Facebooks, the baby momma (who is now a man) and raising the two kids was homeless. Like...literally homeless with no money and on the street with young kids. The baby daddy (who is now a woman) at the same time on their Facebook was posting about their new favorite shade of lipstick. I wanted so much to send a message..."Dude...your kids are homeless. Why don't you care?" But it's none of my business.

And I've suspected for years that some people who are like this become so embittered and enraged that they just can't work. Some of it is just resentment that if they did start working, it would be at the bottom, and in a servile position to people that they feel they shouldn't have to serve. So what else do you do about them? They are labeled with a mental disorder and then they get SSDI. And SSDI doesn't make you rich. It's something that barely pays the most basic of bills and keeps you just above a line where you would die of poverty. It's such a mental mess to even think about (and a level of selfishness that is actually undeniably American but I still hate it).

Anyway...I've digressed a lot...but these people above and many others who (I guess) are poor and embittered and angry and hateful are just having a gleeful old time that rich people died in a submersible trying to look at the wreckage of The Titanic. I have no words for how petty this is, but these are memes I took from their Facebook pages. Just take a moment and look at these and see how much schadenfreude is on display here:

Look...I'm no fan of billionaires. BUT...this is people sinking really really low. I'm kind of caught off guard here, because I realize that people I might have identified with and sympathized with who are on my political left are just as monstrous as the people that I oppose on my political right. It's grotesque, and just reinforces (to me) that all people are just getting crazier and more awful every day. There is no morality anymore whether it is on the right or the left. There is only petty ugliness.

Do these memes that are all over Facebook strike you as particularly cruel? Do they surprise you? I don't think that the rich people on this submersible were even people that were on anyone's radar as a bad person. They weren't Rupert Murdoch or Elon Musk. Geez. Maybe one of you out there can explain this to me and help me understand why people are being so mean.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Pixar's Elemental was a disappointing rom com that tried to make a bad story work.

Pixar's Elemental was a miss for me. I think this is the first time that I've written those words. I've seen just about every Pixar film, and I've been a fan of the studio for many years. Up until Elemental, the only Pixar movie that I didn't like was Cars 2. I'm going to tell you what I didn't like about Elemental, but first a Spoiler Warning.

Let's get the good parts out of the way first. Elemental is a stunning visual spectacle. Pixar's animation (as always) looks so good on a big screen and Elemental doesn't disappoint in any way regarding these things. However, that's just about the only good thing I can think of that comes from this film, which seems like a forced (if not completely contrived) romantic comedy that tries to thread the needle between kid's movie and adult situations. Maybe it's just Pixar pushing their woke agenda! (Just kidding...but I see this a lot on my social media feeds regarding just about everything).

The story centers around the fire elementals, who live in a district in Element City, and they kind of self-segregate because no one really likes to associate with fire (unless you're a weirdo). Why? Because fire is very destructive. That being said, the elementals in the movie are immigrants from a place that experienced a really bad storm. Rather than rebuild, they decided to move to Element City and start completely anew. However, the majority of their family stays behind presumably living in the community at the base of a big volcano. And the case for this one family deciding to move to Element City seems weak. They take an ocean voyage to get there, which would be like one of us choosing to sail across a sea of poison (as water kills fire), and none of their choices regarding this really make sense.

And this, I think, is where the film really fails. The writers try and think of things that living elements would do if they had a society, and then they try to come up with ways for you to be able to relate to these elements who are just trying to find some connection in a city where the population is so different from person to person. So you have these scenes where the fire element is making food out of wood by turning it into coals, but in the next you also see them bookkeeping and you wonder why none of the books catch on fire (at least I wonder why). The water and cloud elements seem to have the most in common since clouds are just a state of water that has become airborne. And then you see some earth elementals plucking fruit off each other in what must be passing for voyeuristic intimacy, and I'm not sure how I should feel about that scene at all. 

One of the most beautiful things about the movie happens when the fire element demonstrates that she can create tempered glass from sand. However, this never really sells it for me as I know the process to do that is so much more than just applying heat. They also try to patch a dam with glass. I said to my friend (who saw the movie with me), "That shouldn't work as the water weight would just crush the glass." And sure enough, it doesn't work and causes a catastrophe. But it takes a while for that dam to break when it should have just broken instantly. And don't get me started on furniture. How would anything wooden just not burn if a fire elemental were sitting on it, or how would any iron not become white hot over time as it absorbed the heat from an elemental that stood on it? These questions are never addressed. What you do get is the fire elemental turning different colors when standing upon crystals containing different elements, and a water elemental skating on a pond and creating a rainbow with the mist.

Elemental is simply put...a weird movie. Pixar movies aren't supposed to be this weird. The romantic side of it happens when water and fire try to have a relationship, and it feels ultra forced. And most of that is simply because the mother of the fire elemental wants her daughter to fall in love. She also has this weird power to be able to "smell love" when it happens by sniffing in the air. I don't think I ever understood that, and I just put it in my "whatever" box. Plus, the way in which the two meet is when the water guy ends up in the basement of the Fireplace and decides to write them up on their bad pipes (he's a city inspector). Dating the owner of the Fireplace's daughter just seems really awkward after that, and that part never goes away other than as a reason for the father to really object to the water guy getting with his fiery daughter. And there are a few puns that get thrown (naturally) which seem dumb. "You look so hot!!! You're smokin' today!" I'm not sure why the folks at Pixar thought this movie was a good idea.

Anyway, I give Elemental two stars out of five. It's a pretty film to look at, but the writing and the story are not particularly compelling unless you really enjoy stories of "impossible love." However, if that is your kind of jam, I think there are a lot better ways to tell that kind of story than one with animated elements living in a city with hostile architecture.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Across the Spider-Verse is a cinematic miracle that is breathless in its intensity.

I saw Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse on Monday evening with friends. The entire time I watched it, I was kind of flabbergasted that this thing had a script...that writers put all of this together and managed to make it a cohesive story. Before I get to deep into the details though, here is your one and only Spoiler Warning.

There's so much pause worthy stuff in Across the Spider-Verse, that it is honestly difficult to describe. For example, there are thousands of Spider-Man alts in HQ, a world where the primary Spider-Man is a technological and really muscular future version that is probably based on the 2099 Spider-Man comic book. Or it may just be the animation style that makes adult men bigger and bulkier, so that teen "Miles Morales" can be seen as sveldt and gangly. It's also easy to miss lines in this feature as there is so much animation and the dialogue pretty much never stops.

Spider Gwen's world looks as if colored by pastels...kinda like one that was envisioned by Monet (famous watercolor artist). At times you can even see the paint running downward on the walls (or what looks like paint). Miles Morales's world looks kinda claymation-like. You also see a Lego world and spend some time there. And then there are papery worlds where the heroes look like they are drawn on newspaper and the others are interacting with them as if this was just fine. The HQ world looked (to me) heavily inspired by Alex Ross if not outright drawn by him. That just looked pretty darn amazing. But in the world clearly inspired by Indian culture, we did not get a Bollywood dance that was my one vocal disappointment that I expressed to my friends who attended the movie with me.

What else can I say about this film? This is a film where you can get easily distracted. By the time it finished with its "to be continued" comic book panel, I had this dream-like feeling because I felt a bit overwhelmed. How they (Sony) pulled this off and pulled it off in such a spectacular manner is pure cinematic wizardry. However, I do have a few complaints.

The first is that it is utterly relentless at points that it just becomes a sensory overload. It's difficult to suss out exactly why certain moments are important until they are literally explained to you in HQ, and the whole plot begins to make sense. But that sensory overload lasts for quite a while, and it made me (at least) very cognizant of this shows incredible runtime (which is I think something near 150 minutes). This is a long time to stay seated in an animated feature (any film really). And then my second complaint is that (despite this huge runtime), it is not a finished story. It only barely gets started on its huge basically prevent the annihilation of Miles's world as a result of his meddling with what is called "a Canon point" in the Spider-Verse timeline. But Miles himself is an anomaly (I guess), so maybe the rules might end up being different for him as he rebels against what he's being instructed to do (allow his dad to just die). I honestly have no idea how this thing is going to end, but I guess I'm invested now.

In some ways, this show feels a lot like the Matrix 2 and the Matrix 3 where we got so much more content than was in the original movie, and it just comes at you at a hundred miles per hour. Unlike those Matrix sequels, the animation and the story are better, but it still feels like the plot just grew into this enormous spectacle which (I guess) is necessary in order to tell a story that involves dozens of different versions of Earth and its spider people. 

So here's my question to you: anyone else see this thing? If so, what did you think? 

Monday, June 12, 2023

Is the teaser at the end of Transformers Rise of the Beasts a hint that we are getting a Void Rivals cinematic universe?

I went and saw Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, and it had a pretty shocking ending. There are spoilers ahead if you intend to see this movie, but I was caught by surprise and now I have questions. So you have been warned!

If you managed to see it this weekend, then you know that Noah (played by Anthony Ramos) gets a job offer from a "secret organization" at the end of the movie. This is due to his association with the alien autobots let by Optimus Prime. We don't know who this "secret organization" is other than they have (essentially) the resources of Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. A panel slides away in an office, and suddenly there's all of this military equipment in a hangar, and you realize there is way more to this organization than meets the eye. Then Noah gets handed a business card. He flips it over and it reads, "G.I. Joe."

There hasn't been a good G.I. Joe movie in years (I'd argue since the initial one came out over a decade ago with Channing Tatum in it). The one that came out with Dwayne Johnson in it was awful. So now my main question is: will Paramount and Hasbro reboot G.I. Joe? Or are they planning a team up movie with the Transformers? These are important questions for nerds to consider.

A few thoughts though on all of this. I know that Hasbro has been wanting to do a shared cinematic universe for its toy lines ever since they saw how successful Marvel got with its cinematic universe. But G.I. Joe in particular has been largely unpopular with movie going crowds. The Snake Eyes movie came and went in a flash of smoke, and no one really cared or got excited for it at all. However, when I was watching the Transformers movie on Friday evening (with a friend), the moment where the card flipped and revealed G.I. Joe got a strong crowd reaction. It was similar to when Cap used Mjolnir on screen in Endgame. So...they might be onto something.

There's also one other thing. Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead, just launched a comic book series called Void Rivals, and it is a shared universe that has both Transformers and G.I. Joe in it. This series begins a new Skybound comic book license with Hasbro for those two intellectual properties. As for Void Rivals...I have no idea what this comic book even is about other than Robert Kirkman is the biggest name behind it, and that Void Rivals #1 doesn't even reveal the true nature of the comic until the end. I guess we shall have to wait and see. But Robert Kirkman is pretty close to being a legend in today's comic book titans. So if anyone can pull this off, I think it will be him. 

Friday, June 9, 2023

I'm not sure yet if I want to play the never-ending game of Diablo 4 even if it looks spectacular.

I'm debating trying out Blizzard's new Diablo 4 game that became widely available this week. I've been watching my roommate play it, and the one thing that struck me about this game that I distinctly don't like is that it is endless. That being said, I have liked previous installations of Diablo. And this game does look satisfying to play. I just don't know if I want to get into something that literally has no end and is designed to be played forever. I'm sure there are plenty of you out there that know what I mean.

In a different era of my life, I think I craved things that were really good and never ended. Endings always seemed sad to me. It was like there was this little voice inside that cried out, "Why does it have to end?" I think I felt this way about zombie stories that I liked until I started watching The Walking Dead and nine seasons in I threw in the towel saying, "This thing has no ending." 

So, it turns out, I do have a limit as to how much I want to consume. I suppose I could also take this approach with Diablo 4. But the thing is, it's a bit different with a game. It's harder to walk away from a game when you are "mid game" even if "mid game" was always where you were at with that thing. I played World of Warcraft for many years, throwing hundreds if not thousands of hours of my time at it. I have a lot of memories and dreams of those games. But I also see it as a distraction from growing old and keeping track of things in the real world that might sneak up on you and bite you where you don't want to be bitten.

Endless games are a phenomenon of the modern world. It used to be that companies that had endless monthly subscriptions were called "utilities." You signed up for phone service from a company like AT&T, and it was overseen by the Public Utilities Commission. In order to raise their rates, the company had to go and request a rate raise. And the public utilities commission would determine if this was warranted or not. But under this kind of subscription service, and because every citizen needed a utility, what you ended up with were enormous monopolies with incredibly deep pockets that could overpower everything unless you broke them up. That constant and ongoing subscription was the golden standard, and very few companies could replicate it. If you came out with a movie, well you went and bought a movie ticket. But the company that made the movie would generally need to make another movie to get you to buy another movie ticket. 

Now, it seems, everything is a recurring charge. There are never-ending games to keep you subscribed and paying for things. There are microtransactions. There are streaming companies that charge a monthly rate. There are subscription food services, and there are even subscription car wash things now. It's all meant to keep a thing, which previously was a "one timer" from never ending. And I actually hate this world of never ending charges and never ending things. But, I'm a minority in this I think. Most people, especially the ones I interact with, once they find something that feels good...they will hit that thing over and over until it is literally broken. It's like they don't have any restraint. And it's weird. Or maybe I'm weird because I can stop hitting the thing and walk away. I don't know yet. But something is broken there and doesn't make sense to me.

Maybe never-ending is good. Do any of you have an opinion on this? And what do you think? Should I play Diablo 4 even if it is never-ending? It could be fun for a while. I just might, but I gotta think on it some more.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

In June the IWSG asks what I would replace writing with were I to stop.

Hello my fellow writers and readers out there. The year is almost half over, and we're almost to that time of year when people will start seeing that midsummer "Christmas in July" thing pop up in various ways, which has always been weird to me. I'm also going to try something I've never tried before this June: I'm going to sing some karaoke with friends. I don't know how that will turn out, but I'll keep you posted. New experiences are always fun, even if they end up being personally embarrassing. But being the first Wednesday in June, it is also time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. If you are interested in signing up, please go HERE now. In the sentences below, I'll explain just what it is that you are signing up for.

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

When do we post for the IWSG?: Good question. The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. This is when you post your thoughts on your own blog, or talk about your doubts and fears you have conquered. People oftentimes discuss their struggles and triumphs. It's also a place to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. One of the things that makes your participation really valuable is to visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writers. The official advice is to aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting and be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. Finally, please make sure your avatar links back to your blog. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back, which kinda defeats the whole purpose of it all.

That being said, let’s rock the neurotic writing world.

The official Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG (I suppose people do still use Twitter).

The awesome co-hosts for the June 7 posting of the IWSG are Patrcia Josephine, Diedre Knight, Olga Godim, J. Lenni Dorner, and Cathrina Constantine!

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. If you go this route with your post, they want you to include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Here is the June 7th question, which I'm opting to answer this month:

If you ever did stop writing, what would you replace it with?

I probably wouldn't stop writing. I'm middle-aged right now, and snowboarding or other such activites are things my body would never be able to handle. It's hard enough to motivate me to lift weights once a week (which I do on Wednesday evenings with my brother). So...what to replace it with? Here are the contenders that pop in my mind: watching lots of shows and reading a lot of books. But I already do that, so I don't think that counts as a replacement, even if the entertainments today are better than I've ever had access to in my previous years. I could play more D&D and roleplaying games that I enjoy. But when I consider this, I think I have my fill already of what I get in a week's time. I don't think more is the solution, as I think I would get tired of putting up with people if I were to increase the frequency of my interactions.

Americans are pretty difficult to get along with these days. Everyone has very strong opinions and shouts you down or just clams up nervously, everyone I run into wants you to listen to them while they go on and on, and a lot of them (honestly) are really entitled and think it is abuse if you don't offer them the best of things. No one knows how much things cost. So, if chairs get broken, they assume that the chair was $50 and not $800, and it's because those people never entertain. In fact, it takes a lot to hang out with someone much less a bunch of someones. You've got to acquiesce that they are going to dirty up your bathrooms, bring food and drop it all over the floor that you will need to clean up, and pretty much demand extra things of your hospitality before leaving. I don't mind doing it once a week, but I've discovered that Americans coming over to your house usually entails several hours of cleanup no matter what the activity. Also interacting with more Americans just makes them add you to their phone and social media lists and then later they send you a GoFundMe so that they can squeeze money out of you (or attempt to). This happens a lot in my social groups. We added one person to Discord (a chat server) and suddenly they wanted to post a GoFundMe for their friend's bottom surgery (transition from man to woman). It just got awkward, and we had to tell them "no." Another sent a "GoFundMe" for their college tuition when they are also going to Italy in the summer with their real friends. I wasn't invited to that...just invited to pay the tuition. Americans assume that "friend" means "no boundaries" until you start setting them, and then you actually lose that "friend" because they feel "put off" by your negative toxicity. At least that's my experience. So...long story short...I probably wouldn't want to do more D&D or socialize with people more (maybe this is why there's an epidemic of loneliness in the country). 

So...what would I do? I don't have a satisfactory answer. Would I draw more? Not really. Anything that I want to draw now I just go onto Midjourney and have it create the picture (Midjourney is an A.I. on Discord that draws stunning photos). Would I travel more? I can't afford that, although I may be able to afford a vacation to someplace once a year in the near future. I think writing is here to stay (honestly) even if it is only blog posts and other types of stories that I feel no need to publish or talk about. If anything...maybe I'd read more. But I already read quite a bit. Shrug. Sorry, I can't answer the question with any clarity. However, I hope you at least had an entertaining read.

Monday, June 5, 2023

It's unsettling how much A.I. has grown in just a few months.

 This week's issue of Time magazine has an interesting cover. I'll post it below for your enjoyment:

It's a great cover, attention grabbing, and the graphic designer of this cover did a great job provided they were human. I'm guessing that they were. The simplicity of it kind of speaks of a human job rather than one that was created by a machine. But these days the two are indistinguishable. Of course most of my concerns (I'd say about 99% of them) aren't around A.I. somehow annihilating humans like you see in the movies. Most of my concerns are actually critiques of capitalism, because A.I. easily replaces people in their jobs.

I was talking with a person the other day. This person isn't someone I regularly associate with, and to be honest, it isn't someone I like all that much. The reason? They were really arrogant, narcissistic, and selfish but they were somewhat physically stunning on the outside. This "veneer" of beauty has given them a privileged life, even being called "the golden boy" by relatives as an "aside," maybe to hide some veiled jealousy by a sibling that didn't get the bountiful gifts their brother did. This person is notoriously lazy, does very poor work in just about everything, but works out all the time, and has easily obtainable school credentials from a family that has money. When I caught up with them, they admitted on a conference call (it was a small one) that they use ChatGPT all the time. This doesn't surprise me. He even uses it for emails. In other words, his "expertise" that he was trained in is actually useless despite the huge salary he gets paid. But his employer has not caught on, and is happy with what he does for them. In fact, his employer (which is an enormous one in Utah) actually has banned the use of A.I. So this person just surreptitiously uses it on their cell and emails it to himself and then uploads that. A full day's work can be done in under a minute so he can go work out.

His take on A.I.? "It is wonderful. My productivity is amazing. It has made me a great employee and an even better expert on things." My take on A.I. with regard to him. "You are actually useless and not worth a dime. If I was your employer, I'd fire you, use ChatGPT, and just pay someone $15 an hour to do your job that you used to do." But my take is purely because this is how capitalism works. I actually hate I actually would not say this if I wasn't forced to play the game. But because I am forced to play the game, I think this is how the hammer should fall. And the way...this guy that relies on A.I. now is a full on capitalist. He actually thinks that he has skills that are still valuable. I would like nothing more than for people who are full on capitalists, and who jerk off to capitalism, to find themselves out of a job because of A.I. There would be some kind of schadenfreude I would experience right before the entire country slid off into the ditch, because this whole House of Cards would come tumbling down. Do I realize that I'd be a part of that collapse? Oh definitely I do. But if this is inevitable, then bring it on I guess.

However, do I wish there was a better way? Do I think there is a better way? Yeah, I do. But I think the steps our country would have to take would include embracing socialism, admitting that people are replaceable, and deciding as humans to support other humans. And this would mean increasing the social safety net and abolishing income inequality (which also means that we would need to tax the rich heavily). We'd have to get people to treat other people like equals. We'd have to get people to stop exploiting. Companies wouldn't be able to make as much money. People wouldn't be able to get such huge houses. There wouldn't be super yachts running around on the ocean all in service to one guy. Once humanity did all of that, then A.I. would be an amazing next step. But as it stands, none of the things I mentioned above are even possible because people want to think of themselves as elite. All you have to do is follow the Midjourney (A.I.) page on Facebook, and you'll see thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people who were (essentially) talentless who are now creating art and think of themselves as "elite" to the point that they want to/are trying to sell their art on Etsy and other places.

But it isn't their art. It was created by Midjourney and they typed in the prompt. But they think it is "theirs" because they came up with the idea. Real artists who go on that FB page and complain are chased out of there with virtual pitchforks. Many of the most vocal and adamant users of Midjourney say, "This has helped so much with my mental health! I was never able to draw but now I can realize everything I have ever wanted with this tool!!!" It's such an interesting turn of phrase. The word "tool" is used when Midjourney in fact was not a "tool." It did ALL of the work. That's like saying that a "Care Provider" is your tool when in fact, they got the ingredients, prepped the meal, cooked the meal, fed it to you, and then cleaned up afterwards." Sure...that's just a...tool...I guess. But we all know it isn't. If someone else goes to work for me and does my job while I sit at home and then turns over all of the money they made...that person isn't a "tool." At least that's not the word I'd use to describe what they are. We are getting into some weird realities here with the way people are embracing a thing that literally does all of the work.

The way I see it, for now all physical labor jobs that break your back and pay badly are not in danger. So woo hoo! Yay! You can still go and clean manholes, scrub toilets, and wipe people's butts and clean up dog poop. Those jobs are not what A.I. is going for. But if your job uses a computer, it's on the chopping block. The next ten years will be telling as the job report showed just on Friday that it has started. In the month of May, 3900 people were fired/replaced with A.I. What's that number going to be in May of 2026? That's only three years away? Look at how far we've come since February.

So what say you? Anyone else out there feeling the same things?

Friday, June 2, 2023

It's 2023 and people continue to be mad and engaged with the ongoing culture war.

Yesterday, I was looking at the art for Magic: the Gathering's Lord of the Rings set for their collectible card game. It features some art that has enraged some folks, even though this is a non-canon take on the intellectual property. Namely, it has been these pictures of Aragorn and Eowyn where they have been drawn as black characters.

I'm trying to understand why this would enrage some folks, and why it doesn't seem to affect me all that much. These are certainly surprising takes on these classic characters. But does it really matter in the end? I wonder what would happen if Black Panther (Marvel character) were drawn as a white man. Would that matter at all? Maybe it would...maybe it wouldn't. I'm not sure I even understand what is going on in this country with regard to these kinds of things that I see popping up everywhere. Here's another (that I predicted by the way on this very blog).

These are the live action stars that have been cast for the How To Train Your Dragon live action movie. The one on the right is Astrid, who is going to be portrayed by a person of color. It doesn't bother me at all. I'm going to watch the show, as I love the story of How to Train Your Dragon. But people are going to be upset. And HTTYD is a relatively new story. It doesn't have the ancient history that Lord of the Rings does.

Another "recent" movie that did this was Disney's The Little Mermaid. I paid full price, saw the movie, and overall, I liked it okay. The girl they have playing Ariel has an amazing singing voice. But the movie was also overly long and I think it had too many dark areas and shadows which I think was used to hide bad C.G.I. This surprises me as Disney has access to the best C.G.I. that there is. And by far, Melissa McCarthy seemed to relish her turn as the Sea Witch with lots of gusto. She was a great Ursula. One conceit I will say though is that the diversity hammer did come on a bit strong. All of King Triton's daughters are a different race, and there's like eight of them. And Prince Erik is white (yes), but the Queen (his mom) is black and he's apparently adopted (washed up at sea). I think these are all interesting choices, and I wonder why there is such a tug of war going on with movies and television these days. And it all seems to be such a distraction from real issues which seem huge, like the onslaught of A.I. and climate change. The climate has become so unpredictable and hostile that State Farm, the largest insurer in California, has declared that they will no longer sell homeowner's policies in the state of California because it is too risky. Other states will follow. This should have been bigger news than it was yesterday. But instead people are enraged about black Aragorn. I wonder where all of this is going to end up.

I miss the relatively boring days when I was ignorant of how much people actually despised one another. I think I finally understand (at 51) the saying, "Ignorance is bliss."

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