Monday, April 29, 2024

You won't understand 3 Body Problem until its fourth episode but you should stick with it. The payoff is spectacular.

I've been making my way through Netflix's 3 Body Problem, which is an adaptation of a science fiction novel I had never even heard about written by an author named Liu Cixin. After watching the episodes that are available on Netflix, I gotta say that I'm hooked. However, it took a long time getting there (longer than most series that hook me). It wasn't that the series didn't have much going on. It absolutely did. Rather, the problem for me was that for the first three episodes, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. So consider that conundrum: how many people stick with something after three hours, and they still can't explain to another person what the show is about? That's literally what I faced with 3 Body Problem. But it did get there, and the payoff was huge as my mind was blown about the whole story, and how it connected to everything that I'd seen in those first three episodes. Now, I think of it as a brilliant piece of hard science fiction, one in which I eagerly anticipate the next installment.

On that front, I have heard that the streamer has yet to confirm more seasons to adapt. It is a series from the Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, so I think it has a good chance to get more seasons. But Netflix has a way of canceling things early. I hope that this doesn't happen with 3 Body Problem as I'm now invested and want some resolution on the things that unfolded plot-wise that I shall not go into in this post. Rather, I'd try and convince you that you should watch at least four episodes. If you're like me, you will be completely lost in the first three. It is the fourth episode where the light turns on and you go, "Oh wow! This is what they've been building to?" I think it is worth the wait, you just need to extend the storytellers some trust that they won't leave you hanging like Lost did for many folks.

In many ways, 3 Body Problem is borrowing from what Asimov and Herbert started with a story that is set to unfold over centuries rather than in a single lifetime of one protagonist. I also look forward to seeing how the storytelling evolves to keep us rooting for a single protagonist (or even if this is that kind of show). However, they have already laid the groundwork to propel one or more of these protagonists forward through the centuries to monitor the scale of the project that is at the core of 3 Body Problem in ways that strike a similar tone to what I'm watching in Apple TV+'s adaptation of Asimov's Foundation. With a television series and unlike a book, many people desire some kind of character continuity. With the way that Liu Cixin has approached the telling of this tale, it is apparent that they are embracing only hard science fiction processes that can exist within the framework and upon those ethereal layers within which science plays on the margins. So you get quantum entanglement for example, with computers that can talk to each other no matter how far apart they are. Impossible for us with our current level of knowledge as a civilization, but not impossible for aliens who are far more advanced than us.

The only thing that isn't fresh with the ideas presented in 3 Body Problem, is an obvious one. The question of "Is the human race worth saving?" is at its core. And this kind of question annoys me. Of course it is, although humans are far from perfect. If humans did become extinct then there would exist no possibility of growth and improvement. And as far as the San-Ti go (these are the aliens who are the villain of the story) if they're willing to wipe out an entire species in order to steal their planet, then they are not more worthy than humans for sure. And this then leads me to think: why don't they just take Mars or some other planet? If they are capable of making a journey across the stars and have that kind of technology, terraforming shouldn't be all that difficult for them. But...whatever. The story has got me intrigued and hooked in all of the right places so I won't question the motivations of the villain of the story other than: they are bad and they are coming (similar to "Winter is coming"). And the visuals that I've seen this first season are impressive as hell. It's difficult to remember a season one that looked this lavish and this good on its debut.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Jerry Seinfeld says that the movie business is over. Do you agree?

Jerry Seinfeld has a new movie out that I probably won't go and see as I was never a big "Seinfeld" fan. But he did say something in the news this week that caught my eye. Here's the quote:

"They [people who make movies] don't have any idea that the movie business is over. They have no idea."

When asked to elaborate, Seinfeld then said, "Film doesn't occupy the pinnacle in the social, cultural hierarchy that it did for most of our lives. When a movie came out, if it was good, we all went to see it. We all discussed it. We quoted lines and scenes we liked. Now we're walking through a fire hose of water, just trying to see."

So, I think I understand what Seinfeld was getting at here, but the comparison or use of the "fire hose of water" metaphor has got me a little confused. What do you think he means? Here's my take: a fire hose throws out a ton of water, and what he's saying is that there's too much volume coming out and too many options for people to watch. As a result, everything is just getting sopping wet and there's no rhyme or reason for what gets produced and what doesn't get produced and because of that, no one cares. Does that sound about right?

But even if I don't understand completely what Seinfeld is getting at, I do want to say this: watching shows (for me) has never been so fulfilling. Here's a slice of what I rate as "incredible" that has come out in just the last ten years:

1) Breaking Bad

2) The Mandalorian

3) Game of Thrones

4) The Expanse

5) The new Dune movie and its sequel

6) Foundation on Apple +

7) Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Endgame

I feel like I'm living in the golden age of science fiction, fantasy, and comic books. However, is Seinfeld right? is the movie business over? Is he being literal about "movies" as opposed to "television", which I'm lumping together as synonyms of each other? A show is a show, right? And show business is show business? 

Monday, April 22, 2024

A.I. is everywhere now.

Watching a.i. take over everything that I see has been really weird and unsettling. Whenever I spot it "in the wild" as it were, I know that the people who used it are just "phoning it in." Here's some examples.

1) Recently, Wizards of the Coast who owns the Dungeons & Dragons intellectual property had to fire an artist because they had hired the artist to produce illustrations for one of their books called Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants. The reason? They had used a.i. to produce more than ten images for the book, and they hadn't disclosed that at all. The images look great by the way. However, there was an uproar once it was "discovered" by a clever spot person who knew what to look for when it comes to a.i. images. What's the fallout going to be over this? Well, in the short-term the company fired that artist and ordered the digital version of the book to be redone with art from another artist. However, this is simply a company choosing to do the right thing. I mean...the a.i. art was good, and it passed in front of a lot of eyes before it was caught. I also understand why the artist chose to do it: money. Imagine getting like ten to fourteen images done in a single night and then just collecting a big paycheck from a company that just wants to do the right thing. But the message is also clear on this one: why do companies even need artists anymore? If they chose to do the wrong thing, then they'd just end up with more money in their pocket.

2) I see books all of the time on Amazon or on Reddit or on Facebook and the art for the covers looks really great minus maybe a few tells: an extra finger that most people might miss or a dragon's tail that is duplicated. Click on the comments and you see people asking why the self-published author used a.i. art for the cover. Well...I'll tell you why. It's because it actually does look professionally done, and if the author had even a smidgeon of talent at photoshop and also had attention to detail, they could have corrected that extra finger and then it would have been indistinguishable from a piece that might have cost $2,000 to have done by a real artist five years ago. What's the fallout for this? How do we know that half the book (or more) wasn't also written by a.i. if the cover was done that way? And why should we be concerned? Because there's no effort in it. The person is just phoning it in. This is the way our society is going: low to no effort and people are phoning things in from their place on the couch and expecting to get paid. Maybe the late Janet Reid (from Query Shark) passed away at the right time as it's obvious that the literary world she so loved has gone into the toilet. Also, I mean no disrespect to Janet Reid by making that comment. She was a titan among literary agents out there and did a lot to help struggling writers who legitimately weren't "phoning it in." I've heard stories where she attended writer's conferences and sat outside the conference hall to hear pitches from every single writer who wanted to pitch something to her before she left.

3) Real Estate Agents who saw their commissions cave-in within the last year (and who have dangerously bloated lifestyles) have turned to consulting as a gig to try and replace some of that lost $40,000 a month they were used to for basically doing nothing. Consulting (if you don't know) is one of those jobs that really appeals to narcissists who want big bucks for low effort stuff, and there's always a sucker willing to hand over their money because they followed/benefited from one of the four rules of getting wealthy in the United States:

  1. You inherit the money. If this isn't an option see number 2.
  2. You are smart and clever enough to be a really successful criminal. If you are too stupid for this see number 3.
  3. You have a good idea and then you take that idea and you outwork everyone else. You don't let any single person outwork you, and you sacrifice everything to keep working on it. If you don't have the spark and the drive for this see number 4.
  4. You are pretty enough that people will give you money for your favors. And yes, "favors" is a euphemism.
So what do consultants do? Well, they used to try and offer some wisdom into whatever their specialty is. But I know a few of these former real estate agents who turned to consulting and their websites are all a.i. garbage with things posted on the blogs they threw up there that clearly were written by ChatGPT. How? I can spot the tells. So basically, they are phoning it in too and hoping that ChatGPT is good enough to land the big whales who want to benefit from ChatGPT wisdom. But what could possibly be the fallout for this? As soon as those "whales" with money find out that it's just ChatGPT, they may (in fact) decide to take the advice of ChatGPT instead of paying a consultant fee.

This is just three examples of how a.i. is really saturating everything. But I'll hand you a few more. It's difficult to find actual art anymore. Everything you google is just a.i. art now including things I see a lot on DeviantArt and Artstation. I read more and more articles everyday that seem to be written by a.i. appearing on Facebook. How do I know? There's no depth. There are just so many people using a.i. that I wonder if any of it has any value, because it is so easy to get your hands on a.i. stuff. Adobe Firefly has advertisements that tout the built in a.i. features that allow you to be a "better illustrator." Give me a break. Having a.i. draw the picture for you is just a gussied up paint by numbers. I think the biggest thing that is shattering in my head about this whole a.i. takeover is that the caste system of the United States no longer makes sense to me. It used to be that I'd do this little trick in my head and convince myself that rich people were people who had talent. That little trick is dying because of a.i. and now all I see are people who were just lucky. That's it. Luck. And that's a bad reason to use to explain to a struggling person why they are struggling. "Sorry man, you just drew the short stick, you know what I'm saying? Bye, Felicia. However, you are in my thoughts and prayers." This is basically the new reality of America, and I wonder if anyone is going to do anything about it, or are we all just going to start accepting this new reality as a group and just phone in everything from now on?

So many avenues where people used to be able to make money are going to dry up from all of this. And the irony of it all is that this is probably the worst time for something like that to happen, because everything is just costing more and more and more.

Friday, April 19, 2024

If Warhammer 40K was supposed to be satire it fails miserably at this.

There was a controversy lately that popped up in the Warhammer 40K community. It involved what my friend summarized as "buzz from right aligned, anti-woke fascist misogynistic man-babies over the game, because they included a female 'Astartes Custodes' in a game manual." He went on to say that these people see the "crippling authoritarian xenophobic race of man [in the game] as right up their alley because they envision themselves to be a space marine and not a sump-diver." But, you actually don't need to know what any or all of this means to read this blog post. Rather, what I wanted to talk about is something that popped up in passing in an article about all of the above, where a writer claimed that the game of Warhammer 40K got its start from satire aimed at the British, especially their noble classes. When I read those words, I was like...whaaatttt?

This idea that the Space Marines from Warhammer 40K were supposed to be a satirical read on the British actually kind of blew my mind. This then led me to understand just how bad a vehicle satire actually is. Allow me to explain. In order for satire to be effective it needs to be understood. But just like any form of humor, it can fall flat depending on who is consuming it. For example, I had some door-to-door salesmen knock on my door earlier this week and they opened with a joke. "We were just at your neighbors and they said you are having a party so we are here for that." I looked at these two young men strangely and said, "There's no party here." And then one of the salesmen said, "It's a joke. I'm trying to be funny. And then he went into his sales pitch." Needless to say, they didn't sell me anything, and I think the experience all around was what I would call "flat and a waste of time for both of us." But it wasn't completely useless. It was just the latest example of how a joke isn't funny to some people. You need to know your audience.

I think satire is this same kind of thing. Furthermore, without having written satire, I can say that my experience with it is that effective satire needs to be a one and done thing. That's kind of what Saturday Night Live does with their skits. It is rare for them to revisit a skit, and when they do, it is never as funny as the first time that they do it. So for the most part, a lot of their skits are "one and done." If not, then they certainly try to change up the situation so that it at least is different the next time you see it.

But the idea that you could set out within the framework of capitalism and create a game that you expect people to buy from you over and over with new rules sets and new miniatures, and painting guides and literally a whole community and expect everyone to buy into this as "satire" feels like a disastrous idea. And it has been, as the company, Games Workshop, is in a bit of a pickle with its fanbase that it has carefully curated and grown for decades to become a billion dollar company.

You see...the people who love the game like all of this authoritarian and fascist stuff. And the "Empire of Man," which is categorically evil (if not one of the lesser evils--but this is debatable) is their kind of jam. Furthermore, Warhammer 40K also got "cool." So you have all of this "Nazi-esque" stuff, and it's all brightly painted, intricate, has some incredible lore, and on top of's cool. It's the same kind of cool that any of us who have watched World War 2 films feel when you see a sharply-dressed and handsome Nazi soldier in uniform and you think, "I hate that I find that visual attractive, because it is evil." From the standpoint of making money, it's absolutely a "no-brainer" for the company because people will buy stuff like this. It is appealing. It looks cool. It's fun. However, from the view of those who would like to remove money from the equation and just live in a healthy is so anti that. So what has actually happened is that a company set out to satire and lampoon a thing and their message got lost but they made a ton of money and managed to make evil look like the ideal. That is so weird to just think about.

For years and years the community around this game has grown, and it has attracted more and more people who have a safe space to discuss all of their ideas about fascism because they assume that everyone that plays this game must be like them. And you know what? This is actually a good assumption. It is logical. Why wouldn't it be that unless it was blatant satire? But that satire message is so buried in history that it surprised even me when I learned about it just yesterday. This "joke" was not done well at all. In fact, it may be one of the worst jokes ever told.

It will be interesting to see if Games Workshop can even deal at all with its toxic fanbase. In capitalism, you are dependent (as a company) on your supporters. If you've made all of your supporters fascist and you want to preach the opposite of that, you will go out of business. They don't want to go out of business, so my guess is that they will just have to swallow all of the crap that takes place on their message boards and just sally on, making money, and hoping they don't do anything to piss their base off. And meanwhile the rest of us get to hear about the consequences of all of that, because there is no place for bravery to stand up for things like morality in capitalism. There is only profit.


Monday, April 15, 2024

I hope that Halo gets renewed on Paramount + for a third season.

I never played the HALO games that were kind of ubiquitous with Microsoft's XBox ever since it was launched a few decades ago (boy that makes me feel a bit old). I remember saving up money for my original XBox and being excited that "Microsoft was going to make a console." Anyway, having not played HALO but being a little familiar with the intellectual property, because I had friends who played, made me very interested in watching the show on Paramount +. 

I thought that the first season was really good science fiction, unraveling a mystery about an object that was genetically connected to two human-like individuals. It also introduced us to a race of brutal space-faring monsters called "The Covenant" who are nothing less than spectacular in their efficiency and strength. It is difficult to find any sympathy at all with the Covenant due to this fact, which I think is the point since the human characters are the ones the story definitely wants you (as a viewer) to feel sympathetic toward. The human characters consistently show empathy, camaraderie, and are thrust into high-stakes situations which look impressive, keep you on the edge of your seat, and pretty much demand that you root for the underdog (the humans). By contrast, the Covenant members we've seen so far just hit really hard and are extremely difficult to kill. They are fast, lethal, and there hasn't been one yet that has shown even a shred of decency and empathy. I think their very name is supposed to conjure fear (and it does do this), because you know that beating them is almost impossible.

Amidst all of this are the Spartans, who are genetically enhanced superhumans wearing armor that takes them from an "already mythical" status and raises them to the level of a demigod among normal humans. They are Nietzsche's √úbermensch, who by merely existing to make war on the Covenant, give all humanity a profound meaning for their existence in a fight against a common foe. Watching the Spartans engage the Covenant on screen is as incredible as it was watching Jedi's fight with lightsabers when I was a little kid, or like watching superheroes punch each other in any kind of Zach Snyder fight scene. They just come across as so strong. But the writers of the material know that they can't have too many of these Spartans around or then the Covenant doesn't seem nearly as threatening. So they know to keep the numbers low on these specialized forces so that only a few of them can exist at a time, and thus humanity is consistently on the defensive against the creatures that the Covenant uses against them.

I definitely understand the appeal. I guess that in the game version of HALO, you never get to see Chief's face. This is what we call a "character sleeve" in fiction. It allows the player to insert themselves into the story. It does a neat little trick by allowing the player to envision themselves as having all the power of this superhuman at their fingertips. And all the killing that's done on screen doesn't matter because the Covenant "had it coming" due to their no mercy tactics and lack of any version of human empathy or pity for the weak.

I actually love that they decided to remove the helmet for this adaptation of HALO (which hasn't been popular with the video gamers who are watching the show) mostly because I wanted to relate to the character of the Master Chief, and I wanted to see just how human he is. Those are the kinds of characters I can sink my brain into, and in this aspect, the Master Chief is an excellent protagonist. Yeah he's as strong as ten silverback gorillas put together. But he also is really astute, has empathy, good judgment, and good character. In many situations, he might be considered a Mary Sue. However, he falls short of this in that the writers do have him get beat up and smacked around a lot to remind us that he isn't invulnerable and that he isn't a deus ex machina.

The second season is much stronger than the first. I was entertained in every single episode, and I looked forward to the next, and I hope that it gets renewed for a season 3. Supposedly, it is getting a lot of views on Paramount +, so the chances are good that it will be renewed (but streaming is also rather weird when it comes to what gets canceled and what gets renewed). Have any of you bothered to check it out on Paramount +? If so, what did you think?

Friday, April 12, 2024

If connection and understanding forged between people regardless of who they are is the solution out of dark times then we are totally screwed.

This is a "Doom Post." With the final season of Star Trek: Discovery now airing on Paramount + (I haven't started watching it yet), the fact that it is currently airing with new episodes made me reflect on what I like about Trek to begin with. And it is this: I like that connection and understanding forged between people regardless of who they are or what they've done is the only thing that will bring light in dark times. Knowing this isn't a comfort. In fact, it just makes me realize how screwed we are as a species on this planet, and how the ideals of "Trek" will never actually happen on Earth and are (in fact) impossible.

The smallest example of this I can think of is the housing crisis. I saw an article on the New York Times yesterday in which a person commented that one solution might be for every person who owns a second or third home to decide to go ahead and sell that second or third home thus helping to alleviate the problem. On paper, this does sound good. But the next commenter correctly poked a huge hole in this and explained why it won't work. "If anyone less than 'ALL' people don't buy into this, then what happens is that the people with good intentions who sacrifice and decide to unload a property get screwed out of a property. The reason? A person who doesn't intend to sacrifice and already owns multiple properties and who is already rich just buys it up and adds it to their hoard. So this wouldn't at all work." Basically, if a single person is allowed an exception, then none of it works.

Americans pride themselves on freedom of choice and the idea that "you can choose what you want to do, and you need to leave me alone and be free to choose what I want to do. That is freedom." Within a huge population and on a society level scale, this "freedom of choice" actually screws everybody. In a different example, if a bunch of people are in an enormous bathtub and even one person decides it is their choice to take a huge dump in that pool...then everyone will pay for it. Even the people who are as far as you possibly can get from the person making the mess. They will eventually get their fair share. That's just how a society works.

It's similar to a phenomenon that happens in tabletop roleplaying games. In the Dungeons & Dragons community, most games do not go above a certain low level (somewhere between 5 and 10). I know many games that have mandatory retirement at level 5. However, the ruleset for Dungeons & Dragons supplies rules that go all the way to level 20. One question that oftentimes comes up on reddit is this: why do games end prematurely? Why does no one run a game for characters beyond "X" low level? The myriad of excuses all boil down to a simple truth: the characters get too powerful for the person hosting and running the game to challenge, so they start over. The reason this happens is because a lot of players maximize what their character can do, and they try to find combinations and powers that allow them to punch much higher than they should. In other words, they are really good players. But, they are also terrible for the game system because they can't keep their "inner pig" in check. So the entire system gets to where it is no fun, things don't work right, and the person running the game just decides to collapse it all.

Well, believe it or not, modern capitalism in the United States works in exactly this same way. People are allowed to just indulge their "inner pig" with absolutely no checks on that greediness, and it is all done in the name of freedom. The result is an incredibly dysfunctional system that (if it were being run by a person like a D&D game) it would just be abandoned as hopeless. But the thing with real life is that you can't just walk away from it. So the broken system serves only those who have it all (the biggest and fattest pigs) where everything is super easy and probably boring for them, and everyone else who managed to keep their pigs in check ends up dying in poverty, and they find the game they are playing really difficult and that it doesn't make sense because they followed all of the rules.

And this is absolutely the opposite of what Star Trek: Discovery is all about. They want you to know that connection and understanding forged between people regardless of who they are or what they've done is the only thing that will bring light in dark times. Well that's all fine and great, but connection and understanding forged between people is impossible if you allow exceptions for swine (for greedy pigs). So then, the message to me is that lacking that connection and understanding, there is no other thing to bring light in dark times. Which means that all you have left are dark times, and so that preoccupies my thoughts. We are living in dark times, and there is no way out. At least that's the message I get from Trek. I have to hope there is another way, because right now, the swine are running over everything.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

For a moment on The View Sunny Hostin was a perfect example of how conspiracy theories work in this country.

Sunny Hostin did something stupid on Monday. Sunny is a successful person, rich certainly by typical average American standards, and a co-host of The View. But on Monday, the talk show panelist suggested that the confluence of the solar eclipse, the New York City area earthquake, and the arrival of cicadas was due to climate change, or perhaps something biblical. She did get cut off by Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg who stepped in as real-time fact checkers. Here's the clip for you to watch, so you can see what I'm talking about.

So, here's my hot take about this: when people get wealthy and find success, they oftentimes are not self-aware about their own intelligence and wisdom. In our country (the United States) being rich and/or successful is seen as being smart. But there are tons and tons of people who have done well in this country who are not smart. And that is just a fact. You can be dumb as a rock but pretty/handsome and lucky and you will end up rich. But the "bootstrapper" mentality implies that you are smart and ready to observe the natural world and to participate in amateur science hour and look with your own eyes and explain how the universe works. Only...this is better left up to actual scientists who devote their lives and use instruments to measure and carefully validate with math and the scientific method and the known laws of physics to explain how things work. But the above clip is the perfect example of how conspiracy theories just run like wildfire in our country, and how snake oil continues to be sold by wealthy people who believe their own pseudo-science (Gwynneth Paltrow and Goop is just one example).

So why do people like Sunny Hostin feel that it is okay to share their completely bonkers thoughts based in pseudo-science? That question has an easy answer. It's because people think of themselves as smart because they were able to buy a house and go to college and get a degree as an attorney or some other thing. These accomplishments (that have nothing to do with science) become proof that their judgment is enough to explain the world. In other words, what they can see with their own eyes should be enough. So, some of these people start questioning the curvature of the Earth, and they make up dumb experiments to prove that the world is flat (even though we've known it is a sphere for hundreds of years) or some other nonsense. They take a look at snowbanks and say, "What global warming?" and then they laugh. They examine the tides and declare that "no one knows how that happens," and in fact we do know how it happens (having to deal with the rotation of the Earth and a bulge created by the moon's gravitational pull on the ocean). There really is an entire movement for people to take back science from actual scientists and to question things for which there is already an answer and where the science is settled (again flat-Earth believers).

We live in a strange world, because it is so easy to just write about things (my blog is included in this criticism I'm about to make). My dad and I once had a discussion. He said that having a computer in the house made him want to write something. Just having the device there seemed like an invitation for him to pour whatever thoughts he had rattling around in his head out onto a page so that others could read it. And he's absolutely correct on this. So, where conspiracy theories abound in this country, we can also draw a conclusion: that social media and technology making it so easy to publish things for others to read has certainly compounded the problem of pseudo-science.

As humans we make so many assumptions about others based on really shallow things. Is a person wealthy and seems to have their crap together in a way that we don't? Oh...well that person is smart then, and we should give them a platform upon which they can educate others. Only...this is really bad for everyone. What's another easy assumption? Beauty. Is a person pretty? Are they easy on the eyes? Oh! Well, they must be a moral and good person then. Nope...wrong again! Being pretty has nothing to do with a person's morality and whether they won't screw you over in the worst way possible or try to exploit you in some awful way. Is that person female? Oh, they must be compassionate because compassion is a female trait. Nope. This is erroneous thinking. Oh, is that person Hispanic? They will probably be okay with physical labor. Nope. This again is not the way we should be approaching any of these things. Anyway, I think I've made my point. But it doesn't change the fact that I think for a moment on The View (on Monday) Sunny Hostin became the perfect example of how conspiracy theories work in this country, and it seems to be an unsolvable problem. If only Gwynneth Paltrow's Goop provided self-awareness. Then it might actually be worth buying, because more and more people would keep the things they know nothing about under a lid and let true experts do the talking.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Let's talk about women in refrigerators.

This weekend I discovered a thing that I had no knowledge of that has been around since the late nineties. It's called "Women in Refrigerators," and it was fascinating to read about the phenomenon/trope and how it applies to writing and fiction/comic books and the creative space. Since I just learned about this trope, I'm going to assume that you've never heard of "Women in Refrigerators" and I'm going to define it for you with a little help from Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia: Coined by Gail Simone in 1999, it describes a trend in fiction which involves female characters facing disproportionate harm, such as death, maiming, or assault, to serve as plot devices to motivate male characters. This is now known as "fridging."

Some might say that this trope is just "damsels in distress" but given a new name/branding. For example, "politically correct" is another kind of term that is now old/dated and has been replaced by "woke." But "damsels in distress" and "women in refrigerators" are slightly different. "Women in Refrigerators" takes the pain and suffering of a woman, who should be a whole and complete character in her own right, and turns this on its head by making the story all about the pain and suffering of the man who must now avenge her. In other words, it becomes all about his loss. The story becomes one of the man's survival and how he is so devastated, even though the real crime is that the woman is dead and is unable to speak for herself anymore, and more than likely just brutally slaughtered.

There are countless examples of this trope, many of them in comic books. Examples include the characters of Gwen Stacy, Gamora, and Black Widow on the big screen. The thing I find particularly fascinating about this trope is how it has crept into fictional stories written by older folks (think GenX and Boomers) who play roleplaying games. Most recently, I've been investigating the subreddit for OSR gamers (read this as "Old School Rules" gamers who cling to iterations of Dungeons & Dragons as it appeared in the 70's and 80's. The game has long since moved on from that ruleset, and what got left behind has been a kind of squatter's paradise, with people who refuse to entertain new ideas and double down and dig their heels in for the "things they enjoy." Needless to say, it is mostly a community of men.

It's been interesting to belong to these communities on reddit and watch how they behave, because many of them could be misunderstood as misogynists. Some of the more ambitious ones in the community have launched games of their own based on the old D&D rules from decades ago: things like Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This particular book is filled with misogynistic art, featuring nude women being decapitated or assaulted, one particular and disturbing picture shows an incredibly obese woman giving birth to a demon that is ripping itself out of her while her arms are restrained. Meanwhile, nude women dance around her in an orgiastic frenzy, and above her in the shadows, some thieves are stealing diamonds from a statue (and the diamonds are the nipples on the statue's huge boobs). Okay then. Each has his own kink I guess.

The community on reddit refers to Lamentations in particular by using the words "Edge Lord" and "dark fantasy" and very "edgy." These terms are intriguing uses of those words. But what's really going on (in my opinion) is just a very bold use of "Women in Refrigerators." In other words, they are asking players who make characters for these games to be horrified by all the terrible things happening to all of these women. And it's supposed to motivate you and make it about your pain and your loss so that you can play a heroic man that avenges all of these wrongs that have been visited on women. When I break it down like that, it all sounds so utterly stupid, and I can't help but ask myself: do men really need women to suffer horrible fates in order to feel heroic? The answer (obviously) is no, but I guess it takes a certain kind of creative mind (that may be a rare find) to have the ability to craft a story that escapes this kind of trope. In other words, writing a story of "women in refrigerators" could be considered an extremely low bar, but for is the only bar that they know. Which may also explain the intractability of their minds to move onto different things or to embrace change. Learning one thing is hard enough, but to have to continuously learn throughout your lifetime? That may be asking too much of many people to be able to do.

Anyway, now that I've stumbled across this trope, I want to ask: have any of you who are writing stories ever done a "Women in Refrigerators" storyline?

Friday, April 5, 2024

I think individual people being greedy and wanting to get rich are at the root of the housing crisis.

I'm going to go on a bit of a rant that I'm just going to label as "unpopular opinion." And it is my opinion. All of my evidence is anecdotal at best. However, sometimes the lived experience and what I've seen over the last few years means a lot (especially to myself). But before I go into this "controversial opinion," I'm going to post a picture (a snip) from a Facebook article in which I found a commenter who shares my very same opinion regarding the housing crisis in Utah, and to an extent, the housing crisis in the United States. Here it is:

I totally agree with what this person is saying. I don't think that the housing crisis was caused by Blackrock and big corporations. I don't think it was caused by "libtards" as my fellow Utahns like to refer to anyone as if they are a member of the democratic party (or vote democrat). I don't think it was caused by "Bidenomics." I don't think it was caused by wokeism. I don't think it was caused by low interest rates. I don't think it was caused by "Well, stuff is just more expensive!" and "what about all those gubmint checks that got issued?"

It was caused by people who sold their homes to other really well-paid people (many of them are in the tech sector) who suddenly could work remotely and could afford to get the hell out of wherever they were living and had the income to just buy houses up and gobble them up like they were nothing. It's the same thing as having a loaf of bread and some guy walks in and has a thousand dollars in his pocket, and he asks, "How much for that loaf of bread?" And the guy selling the bread shrugs and says, "I about fifty bucks?" And the guy that's loaded has more money than sense and just shrugs, tosses him a fifty and starts making a sandwich. Then the other people with bread go..."wait a minute? He got fifty dollars for that loaf of bread? Well that's how much mine costs!" and it is that over and over and over.

The people pushing all of this? Realtors who made tremendous bank for a few years. They kept pushing the prices on houses higher and higher and locking in those gravy commissions. I know half a dozen realtors who lived high on the hog making $40,000 a month during those two years. They went on vacations, bought new cars, spend spend spend...hired gardeners...sent their kids to private school... I mean, holy crap! They were living better than surgeons. These are people who don't even have a bachelor's degree who are on Instagram making photos of their fifth vacation in a year swimming with the whale sharks. Gimme a break. Now, nearly all of them are in "consulting" having fled the real estate sector because their money has collapsed...the gravy train has slowed to a trickle, and all the bills are coming due. I expect that "consulting" will dry up too because most of them were not the savviest group of individuals, but for others the "grift" is strong especially when propelled by the fear that "good grief, I can't go work at McDonalds can I?" But they were in the right place at the right time to make a killing. And consulting is always where narcissists land because regular jobs don't pay $100 or $1000 per hour (which is what a consultant can charge for whatever vapid wisdom they have to parcel out to whomever still has more money than sense).

But as far as all of those chickens that got put to field (I'm using "chickens" as a metaphor for high housing prices) they are now coming home to roost! It was a ridiculous era that we just lived through where a person could literally buy a home without even looking at it for $495,000 live in it for two years paying the mortgage, and then sell it for $600,000 making their living expense for that two years completely free and paid for on someone else and then pocketing a little. It's like they got paid to live there. The people that did this (I know/knew quite a few) think of themselves as clever and smart. They aren't. It was an unusual situation, and honestly doing that screwed over everyone else. It was the most selfish thing to do, and entire generations of people are not going to be able to afford housing (including those people's children and grandchildren) because of those selfish choices. It's a fascinating thing to have watched in real time...the greed of all of these people who really believed that this is how life was supposed to be and that housing prices would just go up and up and up with no limit at all and that there would always be a house for people and that everyone would be just fine. 

Real Estate should never have been a way for anyone to get rich. It shouldn't have been that easy to just buy a house, squat in it for a couple of years, and make a million dollars. How anyone thought that was sustainable, and how that could possibly last for years on end and that your kids wouldn't suffer, is beyond me to imagine. The entire time that I was watching it happen in 2019 through 2022 I thought to myself, "This is complete madness" and "It's going to get to the point where only those with really high incomes can afford a dump." And then all of that came true. Here in Salt Lake City, people need an income of $134,000 a year in order to buy an average dumpy house with a one car garage. What in the actual hell?

The kinds of jobs that pay $134,000 a year have titles like Deputy Administrator Physician of Intermountain Health and crap like that. But in 2016...which wasn't that far could buy a house and have a title like "assistant baker." That's how broken everything is. The thing that needs to happen (and it won't) is for housing prices to be cut in half, or wages need to rise so that $134,000 is what the assistant baker makes. The Deputy Administrator Physician of Intermountain Health...their wage should rise to $300,000.

The out of whack crazy that the modern world has become has been fascinating for me to watch, especially when I watch all of the conservatives around me with houses full of kids stress over what they are going to do with everything being so expensive. Some of them are self aware enough to know the truth. Some of them saw a sister or a cousin make off like a bandit when a trades person with a stay at home spouse suddenly became millionaires owning a ranch because they sold two houses and now they can drive around town in a Mercedes G-Wagon. But anyone who looked (historically) at that kind of thing would realize that this isn't how it was supposed to be.

It's like a huge truck of money got crushed on the freeway and people ran over and started grabbing and some got rich that were right there and stashed it all away and there was enough that got it all that it literally ruined prices for everyone everywhere. Ugh...what a mess. I'm glad I don't have kids who need to try and sort all this crap out and try to figure out a way to make that magical $134,000 salary fresh out of college as a "good place to start." In the meantime (and with it not sorting out) there are more homeless people than ever. Downtown Salt Lake looks like an episode of The Walking Dead because there are so many homeless people shambling around, looking filthy and muttering to themselves. This is what all of that greed bought. I guess I should count myself lucky that I got a home prior to all of this, and no greedy person can just jack up my rent "because the market says I can!"

That's the end of this rant and my "unpopular opinion." If you have a different opinion or want to call me out for "being wrong," feel free to do it in the comments.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

For the April 2024 edition of the IWSG we talk about blogging and how it has changed and what I like about it.

I hate April Fool's Day. However, it's only one day a year, and my roommate reminded me that one day isn't all that bad to put up with people's practical jokes if you don't have to put up with them for the rest of the year. That's one way to look at it at least. But with April 1st now over and done with, it is time for April 3rd and that is the Insecure Writer's Support Group Day. Before I answer the monthly question, here's what it is about for newcomers who find my blog.

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 first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day. This is when you post your thoughts on your own blog. Other ideas include talking about your doubts and the fears you have conquered or discussing your struggles and triumphs. You may want to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling and visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer: aim for a dozen new people each time and return the comments. This group is all about connecting. Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

The motto of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is "Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!"

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

The awesome co-hosts for the April 3 posting of the IWSG are Janet Alcorn, T. Powell Coltrin, Natalie Aguirre, and Pat Garcia!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

April 3 question - How long have you been blogging? (Or on Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram?) What do you like about it and how has it changed?

Oh wow! I think I've been blogging fourteen years, and it's changed a lot in that time. When I first started, it was recommended by many experts for writers to have an online presence. It took some time for me to understand that the reason they wanted you to do this was so that you could sell stuff to other people and not because being "online" meant anything magical. That's all books are at the end of the day. They are a product that you create kinda like sewing mittens or 3D printing a little rabbit for Easter and posting it on Etsy. The whole "blog" thing was a "kind" way for publishers and agents and other people to let you know that you were the best person at marketing your product. And they absolutely are correct. You are the best person, which is actually a huge letdown. That's why people who are already famous can sell a bunch of books. But it was easy to get confused, especially if you were a person on the autism spectrum, that being online was about "other things."

It honestly reminds me of a time in high school when I used to watch the special education students clean all of the lunchroom tables after everyone had finished eating. At the time, I thought it was kind of cruel. These were people that were already struggling, and they were using them as free labor to clean up the lunch tables after all of the other kids made them dirty and then went to class. I'd see all the special ed kids wiping everything down. It was years later when I realized, "oh crap...they are teaching the special ed kids a trade. This is so that they can be useful and get a job as a janitor because that's really all that they are probably going to be able to get." And that is the truth. The schools were teaching the special ed kids a trade.

Publishers and agents putting out the demand from authors to "make an online presence for yourself" is the exact same thing as telling the special ed kids to wipe down tables. It's letting you know that you are solely responsible for any money you make, and that they aren't going to do all that much, and that it is brutal out there and that you need to lower your expectations a lot. It's like the first step of making yourself your own business, but instead of snow shovels and mittens and 3D printed garbage, you are trying to sell your words (and that is a tough sell when words are so plentiful). It really is kind of arrogant if you think about it...that you could just write something down and someone else would give you money for it. And if you aren't a people person or don't have all that many friends and the camera doesn't love you...then you might not be "marketable" and you probably shouldn't quit your day job.

It didn't used to be this way, but it's what happened when all the gates were destroyed and everyone could just buy things online or read whatever they want. And now with a.i. writing tons of things for free and print on demand becoming so good, your ability to market is bar none the most valuable thing that there is. There are days when I miss the gatekeepers. But there really is no use crying over spilt milk. It's done, and every single one of us will have a harder time in the future trying to find something that a real person actually wrote and then every single one of us will have to ask, "Is this actually better than a machine could have written or am I just being nostalgic and loyal to humans? Blech. I wonder if any of it actually matters."

So, what do I like about blogging still even if it isn't for marketing, which was the whole reason to do any of it anyways? I'm certainly not marketing a single thing on my blog these days.  Perhaps it is just standing on a soap box and saying things that pop into my head. That's probably it. I've also become friends with several bloggers. There's Liz who knits things, and Patrick who keeps it real, and Alex who plays his guitar and talks about sci-fi movies and tv shows. For the most part blogging is actually dead, I think. I haven't kept up with what publishers are demanding these days, but if I had to guess, it would be demanding that authors are on Tik Tok or doing "ask me anythings" on reddit and certainly writing books that appeal to the greatest number of readers.

For the most part though, I think publishers are just watching with jealousy as people like Brandon Sanderson rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in kickstarter/pledge manager campaigns for books that have already been published and have been just gussied up to look beautiful with all leather bindings and gold foil and crap like that (it's all vanity). They've probably got one eye on that and another eye on you (the disappointing child) wondering why you can't make all that lightning happen just like Sanderson did. And the answer to that is always a combination of 1) luck, 2) writing the correct thing, 3) finding your audience, 4) having the discipline to finish all the projects you start, and 5) being likeable. If people don't like you, you will not get far at all. Religious people in particular understand this last part: if you want your religion to succeed then the people who are your missionaries should be really likeable. It seems so obvious, but it isn't really.

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate all of you insecure writers. It's fun networking with you once a month on all these deep questions.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Karma is a ridiculous concept to explain why bad things happen or why life is difficult.

I had a kind of ridiculous moment yesterday (Easter). After a difficult week of traveling several hundred miles out of my way to finish up some legal paperwork, I came home to a bill from Xfinity/Comcast where the exact same services I had the month before were now $100 more per month. Literally, nothing changed. So, I called them up and was talking, transferred, talking some more, transferred, and finally ended up in South Africa somewhere. The agent I spoke to was really great at customer service and after all was said and done and my morning was essentially *poof* gone with the wind...I saved about the same amount on my bill as someone would save that ordered a burrito through Doordash (Doordash is grotesquely expensive). Was it worth it? Maybe yes? Maybe no? I have no idea. The whole process is so convoluted that it feels like trying to decipher a gordian knot. 

It became painfully apparent that the good ole days of paying $230 a month (I'm being facetious here because I thought $230 a month was expensive) were gone and that now $330 a month was the new reality. The package I was on had expired. There was no new package, however, I was told to call back in at later dates to check if new packages arrived ( in and lose an hour of your life whenever you like). And when I tried to axe certain products for some reason the bill actually went up (that's what the rep told me) because bundled all together, I guess, is the only way to do things instead of individually. was horribly confusing, and so I just settled for $295 a month which in the future will realistically look more like $308 a month. And that will last a year before the new package expires I guess. Whatever. It's all just horrible.

So, in a moment of peace, I googled: "Why is life so difficult for some people, and so easy for other people?" One of the top answers I got from the internet was simply: "karma." This actually made me laugh. I was like...what? Do people actually believe this stuff? And yes...yes they do. There are many people out there that think that if your life has speed bumps, or if things derail you, or if a terrible thing happens to you, it is due to something bad that you did in a previous life. In other words, karma is this external force that rights a wrong that you apparently did in an unproveable scenario and thus, you had it coming.

I don't know why this kind of thing affected me the way it did, but it sent my brain racing down the rollercoaster of absurdity. For example, think of a landlord raising the rent on hundreds of units and then chuckling to himself: "all those people had bad karma. They musta done something bad in that previous life to deserve this painful hike in rent." Or another example: you walk across the street and just punch a random person in the face and then say, "Wow! you must have done something really bad to deserve that!"

This whole concept of karma being responsible for the ills that befall a person is a fascinating thing, especially when you consider that it allows for bad actors in our society to essentially be blameless for anything. This whole thing (when examined closely) just doesn't make any logical sense at all and is actually pretty infuriating. I wonder if the reason people seek out super simplistic answers (like Karma) for tough questions is because they want people to remain blameless and blame some nameless other for their ills. I'm perfectly comfortable not doing that and just saying, "Comcast is really greedy and put in a big price hike to charge people more money for the same services that they were enjoying." None of us should be letting corporations or people off the hook so easily. to what I'm going to do about all of this? The answer in the near term is that I'll probably just pay for it. It takes time to research other service providers (and mental energy) and canceling one thing and going with another puts a big disruption through the way your life works. It's more complicated for me due to roommates. So I may have to wait until they move on at some point. Then I could decide to just completely cancel all of my Comcast services, go without for a month, and then subscribe to new services as a new customer to get all of the new customer discounts. It's still a pain in the butt though. But it isn't "karma." It's end-stage capitalism and greed that force us all to do this kind of thing.