Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Out-of-this-world Social Media Tuesday

The Green Moon! So many questions!

1 - Wow, what are the odds that an astronomical event which lasts 90 minutes and happens only once every 420 years would fall directly on 4/20? I'm no mathemetician, but it has to be somewhere around the magnitude of "you gotta be fucking kidding me."

2 - I'm a little bit disappointed that it doesn't last for 80 (4x20) minutes. Come on, solar system, get your shit together.

3 - OK, obviously this is a semi-sophisticated bit of trolling, but is it being perpetrated by stoners? That would explain the green/420 references but man, isn't the whole point of being a stoner that you purposefully have other habits to occupy your time besides intesive-focus activities like photoshopping elaborate satirical memes? So, is it a non-stoner simultaneously trolling stoners and scientifically illiterate people who uncritically like and share dumb pseudo-science memes? Or a non-stoner who kind of weirdly wishes they could be a stoner, knows the shibboleths and thinks incorporating them is extra-hilarious?

4 - And perhaps the most important question of all: I saw this meme on Facebook because friends of mine were liking and sharing it. Are those friends in on the joke, and sharing it ironically? They must be, right? Right?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Stretching all the way back

Young Frankenstein was a movie I watched a lot when I was a kid, at first because it was one of my dad’s favorite comedies and eventually because I grew to love it as much as he did. It’s not exactly a pop culture obscurity, and among people who tend to work movie quotes into conversation, lots of them reference Frau Bl├╝cher and “walk this way” and “taffeta, darling” and “put the candle back!” But where I think my family might have stood out was how frequently we called back to “Could be worse. Could be raining!”

I was thinking of this today, or actually a variation on it: could have been raining yesterday. Because it is in fact raining today in the nation’s capital, in addition to being unseasonably cold, and my fleeting forays out from under cover to get on and off the train were less than pleasant. But it would have been worse if this weather had showed up a day earlier.

Because yesterday, I showed up to work without my badge, which meant I couldn’t get into the building. I knew exactly where my badge was: sitting in my computer card-reader (I now guiltily confess that it’s been so long since I updated the blog with any regularity that I don’t remember if I ever properly chronicled the transition from wearing badges and having a separate network access card to using the network access card as a badge/ID and electronic door-unlocking mechanism all in one. On the one hand, there are fewer dingles and dongles to keep track of, but on the other, if you mislay your card you are multitudinously hosed.) So my vague plan was to stand outside the front door of the building and hope to encounter a sympathetic co-worker upon their arrival, and then beg a favor of them. And in a turn of rare good fortune, this plan actually worked fairly well. One of my colleagues, who is a fellow contractor but an employee of a different firm and thus both sympathetic and not at all responsible for me, arrived about five or ten minutes after I took up my post, and she was willing to go upstairs, fetch my badge from my desk, and bring it down to me so I could get in and get on with my day. So my forgetfulness only caused a minor glitch, standing around nervously for a bit on a cold but sunny morning.

Now normally I am pretty good about keeping track of my stuff, creature of habit that I am, so you may be wondering why I was badgeless Wednesday morning in the first place. Indeed, there was a very specific reason, namely that I had left work on Tuesday in a rush because of a minor calamity at home. Mondays and Tuesdays are my wife’s days off and when I had left the house on Tuesday morning the state of the household was somewhat mixed. The little girl was sick, and was likely going to spend most of the day on the couch, with my wife tending to her needs while also keeping tabs on the bino (who just turned three and is as big a handful as ever), while I was at work and the little guy was at school. The little girl had been sick since the night before (or was it two nights before? I admit at this point it’s all starting to blur together.) and my wife had been performing most of the direct-contact caretaking duties. This ultimately took its toll and by mid-morning on Tuesday my wife had fully succumbed to the horrible bug and was no longer up to the task of minding an ill five-year-old and a rambunctious three-year-old. So she called me and I gathered my things and bolted, trying to mentally assemble an improvised way home out of Metro schedules and taxi rides. But in my haste I forgot my badge.

The day before that had been oddly off-model as well. It was a non-holiday Monday and yet every single person was home. Business as usual for my wife and the younger two kids, whereas I had taken the day off because of a scheduled job interview (shhhhh) in the afternoon and the little guy was home sick with the last vestiges of his own bout of the bug. He was mostly recovered, so it was a fairly low-key morning (pretty sure the kids all stayed in pajamas until almost noon) and I made it to my interview on time, but it ran light, and then I had to drive home from said interview during rush hour (and in the rain!).

Sunday was the day when the little guy was mainly in convalescent mode, although he had first fallen ill Saturday night. My wife and I had had a date night scheduled for Saturday evening for weeks, with a babysitter lined up in the form of a favor-returned by someone my wife had done cat-sitting for. We got the kids ready for the weekly movie night, the sitter arrived, and my wife and I set out. The plan was to hit a local drinkery for a bit and then proceed to a local eatery (or not so local; there is no Outback Steakhouse in our town and it’s been years since I’ve been to one, and it may be mid-range low-brow bo-bo but I am quite fond of that joint, as is my wife, so that was where we were planning to jaunt some distance to and treat ourselves on our wild night of freedom) but right about the time we were contemplating closing the tab at the brewpub, we got a call from the sitter than the little guy was tossing his little cookies. So that cut things a bit short and set off the plague invasion.

And ironically all of this crazy shared sickness and schedule rearranging (after I came home early on Tuesday, my wife took a sick day yesterday, which was just as well because the bino got sent home from daycare before lunchtime with a fever, which magically disappeared by the mid-afternoon visit to the pediatrician’s office, then returned by dinnertime; today my wife is back on the job though still not feeling 100%, the two younger kids are home with a sitter, and the little guy and I are more or less on regular routine) came on the heels of the previous week, where my wife worked several late nights and we continuously commented on what a crazy week it was, and then on Friday …

… on Friday I left the office at the usual time and walked to the train station, where there was a large crowd of people. Not terribly unusual for a Friday; I always take the earliest train home and on Friday more people tend to do the same. And in this case some of the crowd was owing to the fact that trains were running late, and people who would normally have boarded and departed (on the earliest train on the other line the station serves) were still hanging around waiting. The announcement system was indicating trains were running 15 minutes late. Not the end of the world. Then that expanded to 20, 30, 45 minutes. I was texting my wife to keep her posted. She was home at the time, but had a 6:00 appointment to keep (again, apologies, I don’t think I’ve devoted any blog-space to the fact that my wife started a new job where she exclusively makes housecalls, or if I did it was fleeting and long ago, so there you go: Wednesday through Friday and sometimes on weekends when she is on the clock she is variously at home waiting for a call, driving around a very large service area, or at someone’s house tending to an extremely sick animal). Around the time that my train had not shown up after 75 minutes of waiting, with the system announcements continuing to indicate delays “up to an hour” we finalized our own plan, which went a little something like this:

- I got on Metro and took it to the end of the line
- She picked up the kids from daycare and drove them straight to the Metro
- I jumped in the car and all five of us proceeded to her 6:00 appointment
- She got out at the appt. with her gear, and I hopped behind the wheel and took the kids out to dinner at McDonald’s
- (Incidentally it was one of the saddest McD’s I’ve ever been to. It was in a strip mall, not a free-standing structure in the parking lot of a strip mall but one of the small storefronts. Not only did they not have the Playplace I had been hoping for to placate the kids, but they did not have napkins or ketchup. At least they had Happy Meals.)
- When my wife was done with her appointment, I drove the kids back to pick her up.
- All five reunited again, we made the hourlong drive back home just in time to tell the kids they could skip bath but had to brush their teeth and go straight to bed.

I say again, it was ironic that we thought that Friday night was as disjointed as things were going to get, back before the rolling waves of decrepitude swamped us. On the bright side, at least both my job and my wife’s have been cool about our need for flexibility, and at least nobody has been so seriously ill as to need to go to the hospital or anything, and at least I’ve dodged the bullet and everyone else seems on the upswing one way or another. Could be worse, even though it is raining.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Bad at Math

It's Social Media Tuesday so I am going to rant about something I saw making the rounds on Facebook a few weeks ago: Death Wish Coffee.

I failed to grab a screencap of the actual meme that was passed from page to page, but to the best of my recollection it claimed that Death Wish was the strongest coffee in the world, with 200% more caffeine than a standard cup of coffee. It also observed that drinking it was not recommended for those with heart conditions or anyone who wants to sleep in the next three days.

Har har har.

I just found the whole thing baffling, mainly because it seems to regard caffeine as this quasi-magical substance that must be handled with delicate circumspection. I drink a ton of caffeine on the regular (and I'm well aware that this probably has a deleterious effect on my health, but that particular horse has long since left the barn). I drink my coffee every morning, seven days a week, from a comically large mug, which just might be twice the size of a standard coffee cup. I also drink soda like Coke and Mountain Dew which have plenty of caffeine themselves. I used to drink Jolt, when that was a thing. I've been mainlining caffeine since I was 16, so that's nearly three decades of constant consumption which has turned the drug into something I'm largely metabolically immune to, and at this point is somewhere between a habit I haven't kicked and a psychological placebo. Sometimes on a Saturday I might have two comically large mugs of coffee in the morning, a soda at lunch, and go to a movie at night and enjoy a medium 44 oz. soda then as well. And I never do anything once I finally get in bed other than fall asleep like a baby.

So if I were to drink a cup of Death Wish Coffee, I doubt very much it would keep me awake for days on end. It would probably just make me have to pee, maybe a little faster than the usual brew.

And the thing is, all of the above notwithstanding, I don't consider myself a coffee junkie, at least not out of any proportion compared to the average American. One thing I don't do is go to Starbucks mid-morning and/or mid-afternoon, although I do see loads of people around me doing just that on a daily basis. And certainly the soda manufacturers of our fine country are not going out of business. There are loads of people drinking several caffeinated beverages over the course of any given day, is what I'm saying.

So who, exactly, would lose sleep if they so much as allowed Death Wish coffee to touch their lips? The only reasonable conclusion I can draw is that someone at some point mistakenly thought that "200% more caffeine" meant "200 times as much caffeine". Because, yes, I'll grant you that my twenty-six-and-counting years of building up a tolerance to caffeine would probably be blown away by getting two hundred doses all at once in a single cup of coffee. I daresay that much stimulant in such concentration would either leave me vibrating like a cartoon character or in fact literally kill me. But that's not what 200% more means. It means two extra, an equivalent total of three in the space of one. So drinking one cup of Death Wish coffee is like drinking three cups of regular coffee, which is something normal people do over the course of a day without batting an eye (or unbatting them when it comes time to turn in for the night). It doesn't sound like reckless self-endangerment to me so much as a bit of a timesaver.

Apparently nobody who propagates the meme has thought this through, though. They read "200% more" and think "200 cups of coffee ZOMG SO MUCH". Or maybe it's just a question of scale. If my entire yearly income were to increase by 200%, that would be life-changing. Ditto if the number of small children I had living under my roof went from three to nine. But caffeinated coffee is such a small thing in the grand scheme of life that a factor of two bump doesn't strike me as earth-shattering. All I can do is just shake my head at the arithmetic illiteracy, if in fact that's what it really is. Of course a lot of these people gobsmacked at the outrageous caffeine content of Death Wish are the same ones who complain that they can't help their kids with their Common Core math homework because it's so counter-intuitive. That's probably a screed for another day, though.

Monday, February 8, 2016

To be The Man you've got to beat The Man

Did the whole Super Bowl party thing last night, which was a relatively sedate affair. Five couples gathered around the ceremonial wings and beer to watch the game, and there was very little rooting interest in the actual participants. One couple was pulling hard for Denver, and the rest of us (a motley assortment of fans of New York, Philly, Pittsburgh, Washington, New England and ... Arsenal, I think?) were fairly agnostic. Not only were none of our teams playing for the championship, but none of our teams' hated rivals were playing either. (I've spent as many if not more Super Bowls rooting against the Pats, Ravens and Cowboys as I have for the Steelers or Giants, I'm pretty sure.) We were the platonic ideal fans, tuning in because of the spectacle and just hoping for a good game.

Then the Broncos fan left around halftime and we all started openly rooting for the Panthers.

OK, not really, mainly at that point we just wanted to see the game get interesting and maybe Carolina mount an impressive comeback, though obviously that didn't happen. I said during the pre-game, and I said truthfully, that I would not be disappointed with either of the two potential outcomes. I like Peyton Manning and I like the idea of him winning two Super Bowls for two different teams and going out a champ, since everyone (myself included) assumes his retirement announcement will come some time Wednesday morning, if only because the victory parade in Denver isn't until Tuesday afternoon. But I also like Cam Newton and thought the Panthers had a great season and liked the idea of them claiming the trophy just fine as well.

If anything, I was leaning towards rooting for the Panthers because I like my pro sports to be entertaining (if they're not vindicating my personal fandom investment - I'm totally fine with a Giants or Yankees coronation that bores everyone else to tears). Peyton at the end of his career is basically grinding it out, and there's nothing wrong with that per se but I admit I tend to undervalue things like the inherent nobility of stolid work ethic and overvalue razzle-dazzle, especially in the specific, superficial sphere of American athletic events. And of course, I don't always get what I want. Super Bowl 50 was a microcosm of late-stage Peyton Manning, the game manager trusting in his running backs and his defense to methodically do their jobs and not give the game away.

And again, it wasn't a thrilling instant classic but the end result is Peyton's second ring and secure legacy and that's cool. The game was broadcast for free on network tv so I can't say I didn't get my money's worth.

Weirdly enough, even having just articulated that Peyton is an athlete whom I respect without ever really getting stoked about, I'll miss not having him around the NFL in the future. But I suppose time will tell how much longer we'll have him pitching insurance and pizzas and whatnot in our living rooms.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Destroying the Destroyer

This past weekend, during the Great Snow-In of 2016, my wife and I watched the Thor movie from 2011. I had offhandedly mentioned the possibility of renting/streaming Thor: The Dark World, which as I recently mentioned I haven't seen yet, and my wife expressed interest in watching that with me but also wanted to see the original, since she had missed that the first time around. I certainly enjoyed the first Thor enough to be up for a re-watch, and so we settled in for some Asgardian antics on Saturday night, and will get around to the sequel some other weekend (and/or homebound winter weather event).

So she liked the movie and I liked it all over again but I was particularly struck by the first half of the climax. Spoilers for some/recap for others: on Earth, Thor-in-exile confronts the mystic Asgardian artifact the Destroyer, willingly laying down his life to end its rampage, which restores his worthiness and godly birthright. Returned to full strength, Thor defeats the Destroyer (end of first half of climax) then returns to Asgard, confronts and defeats Loki, and blows up the Bifrost in order to save the Frost Giants from Loki's attempted genocide. It's a lot of sturm and drang, appropriately enough! But as I said, my focus here is on the Midgard stuff.

They shot Thor in New Mexico, in one of those synchronicities of plotting and budgeting (I assume): the friends Thor makes on Earth are astrophysicists studying phenomenon in the night sky, so of course they're hanging out in the middle-of-nowhere desert away from light pollution. The showdown between Thor and Sif and the Warriors Three and the Destroyer takes place in a tiny town that looks like it has about five streets, one diner (with big plate windows for bodies to go flying through) and one gas station (to blow up real good from the Destroyer's heat blasts).

I mean of course there's some nasty collateral damage, because it's an action-adventure movie and those sort of visuals (a) raise the narrative stakes with a sense of danger and (b) look totally rad. But what's noteworthy is that when the Destroyer first stomps into town, the other Asgardians go to fight it while Thor helps his new human friends to evacuate the town. Thor does humble, subservient (and, not for nothing, a bit Christlike) things like picking up little kids and putting them in the back of a pickup truck so they can get the heck out of the combat zone. When all the civilians are gone, that's when Thor goes to face the Destroyer and offer his own surrender.

Then he gets his powers back and it's ON. And one thing I really like is that they don't forget to emphasize Thor's powers over storms as god of thunder. He doesn't just punch the Destroyer or smack it with Mjolnir, he actually summons up a tornado by spinning the hammer, and the vortex sucks up the Destroyer so that they are both in midair, with the Destroyer hurling fiery blasts out of its face and Thor swatting them aside until finally he batters the blasts back into the Destroyer's head, overwhelming it and blowing it up.

In many fair points of comparison, Thor is essentially Marvel's Superman. (I'm far from the first person to observe this, obvs.) They both have red capes and fly. They're both big guns, superstrong and tough. Neither one is human. The weather control stuff is one of the big differentiations, which is one reason I approved of their inclusion in the Destroyer scene. But notice, if you would, the other narrative function the tornado serves: at that point they're so high above the rooftops that the impressive explosion doesn't do any further property damage to the little desert town. This is the right way to dispatch an enemy, and Thor takes care to do it this way because he is a good guy.

Clearly I am teeing up to yet again take a whack at how Man of Steel fundamentally fails its title character. In my defense, the hype machine for Batman V. Superman has been roaring along lately, and I've been sitting through the trailer while trying to socially enjoy other things (The Force Awakens, the NFL playoffs) which naturally gives rise to people talking about anticipation for the Man of Steel sequel ... and what am I supposed to do, just sit there and smile and nod and not remind people what a garbage fire of cynical dreck Man of Steel was? So the portrayal of the ultimate altruistic omnibenevolent superhero as someone who wouldn't know the right thing to do if it smacked him in the spitcurl, who doesn't spare a thought to innocent bystanders or cataclysmic property damage while he whizzes around trading blows with his antithesis, has been top of mind.

I just never made this explicit connection between the first Thor movie and the new Superman movie before. Thor came out two years before Man of Steel, after all, and plenty of other stuff got processed through my overthink-a-tron in the interval. And I gotta say, even at the time when I first saw Thor, it didn't really leap out at me how Thor was motivated by a desire to preemptively clear the battlefield and move things to an atmospheric level where the fallout on human lives would be minimized. I just took it in stride as The Way These Things Are Done In The Superhero Stories I Was Raised On. It took Man of Steel's obliteration of the rules of engagement to make me consciously aware of it, and now, in retrospect, Thor comes out ... well, if not looking even better, at least proving the point that it's not that hard to get the fundamentals right.

So yeah. Goyer and Snyder can keep on being the worst imaginable custodians of superheroic legacy. There's plenty of other filmmakers out there who actually get it and whose movies I'll happily support.

Friday, January 15, 2016

After you, no no, after you

The other day as I was leaving the Big Gray I encountered just about the perfect storm of social awkwardness. Normally I pride myself on being reasonably familiar with all the little unspoken rules of politely navigating the working world, how to ride on an elevator or occupy a cubicle with a modicum of respect for the comfort and sanity of fellow human beings. But sometimes circumstances conspire.

Specifically, I was a couple of steps away from pushing through the glass front doors of the office building. The doors open outward from the inside. Another person was outside the building, walking toward the doors to come in. Normally, that would lead to me opening the door and holding it open for the other person, at least, because it’s just polite courtesy, but I gauged that I was going to get to the doors about a step before the other person, which would not really leave me enough time to get through and to the far side of the door before the other person arrived. At best I’d be making them wait a beat or two, and at worst I’d be opening the door right into them. Again, this might not be a problem if the doors opened inward, in which case I could grab the handle and pull the door open and step back, allowing the other person to go through, but they don’t.

I tend to hold doors for everybody, just basically transcending any and all notions of chivalry or feminism or whatever in favor of undifferentiated human decency. (Does this make me an SJW? Discuss.) Still, there are always mitigating factors. For example, if someone is following me or converging on the door from the other side with a few seconds lag, I might be more inclined to hold the door a little longer for, say, a woman of my mother’s or grandmothers’ generation( based on what I assume their expectations might be), or for anyone wrangling one or more small children (been there, buddy). A random dude several paces behind me will probably see me cruise through the door and let it fall shut behind me. So it goes. At any rate, the person I was on a threshold-collision course with was a woman, probably within five years of my age. Should that have changed the etiquette calculus? Also she was wearing a walking cast on one foot, although it didn’t seem to be slowing her roll at all. Should that have changed the calculus? Also she was wearing BDUs! Should that have made me more likely to hold the door, because Support The Troops And All That? Or less likely, because she could kill me with her bare hands eleven different ways and she could dang well open a door for herself, too?

As it happened, in the split-second after I rattled through all of those branches of the decision tree, I decided to try to hustle through the door so that I could in fact position myself to hold the door. But as it also happened, the soldier didn’t alter her pace at all, nor break her gait, and we ended up both going through the door more or less at the same time, me against the door as I pushed it open and her squeezing past on the opposite side.

Not sure if I could have handled the situation any differently to achieve a better outcome. And I know in the grand scheme of things this was a fleeting moment of absolutely no consequence. But it did give me a chance to use yet another screencap of a classic Simpsons moment to illustrate to story, so I figured it was worth sharing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Children of Decembrion Rejoice!

I would make a joke about my blog becoming increasingly irrelevant this year, but that would imply that it ever was relevant, so let's simply jump right in, just under the wire, for my traditional annual recapping of highs and lows and glory and praise to the divinity of top ten lists!

1. Best Bandwagon Jumped Late Upon: Tatiana Maslany's Emmy-worthiness. So this summer I decided to finally give a look-see to Orphan Black, the Canadian tv series I had heard so many good things about. I made it through all of season one, most of it in a one-week binge, and as of today I still have not begun season two simply because I loved it so much that I truly want to savor it. From the very outset I was blown away by Maslany's ability to inhabit each of the separate clone characters as distinct individuals with their own mannerisms, speech patterns, body language and so on, to the point where it becomes easy to forget that it really is one actress playing all the different parts.

Then the clones started interacting, so convincingly that once again it was hard to remember that all of the interplay and chemistry is an elaborate illusion involving stand-ins and different shots separated in space and time. And finally the story starts twisting into more and more complex knots and Maslany has to not just portray Sarah and Alison and Helena but Alison pretending to be Sarah, which is a different proposition altogether from Helena pretending to be Sarah, and so on. So yes, long after everyone else was all fired up about Maslany being robbed, I too found myself wondering how she has not already won all the awards.

2. Most Ambivalent Ending to a Book Series: Worldwar. Right around the same time I was getting into one science fiction series I was getting out of another, as I finally read the fourth and concluding volume in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar tetralogy (which I've blogged about before, half this blog's lifetime ago).

Striking the Balance was ... fine. It brought the epic saga of aliens attempting to colonize Earth during the 1940's to a conclusion by having the aliens and various world powers sit down and negotiate terms of peace after years of war. Maybe this just shows what a poor student of history I am, but I tend to think of the end of WWII as: Normandy, German retreat, Hitler's suicide, V-E day, island hopping in the Pacific, atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, V-J day, U!S!A! Turtledove's alternate WWII+aliens had atomic weapons deployed by both sides early and often, with the grim realization that continued exchanges would wipe out both sides and leave the planet uninhabitable forcing everyone to the treaty table. I suppose that's realistic, but realism didn't seem to be a major concern throughout the previous installments, so all in all it simply felt anti-climactic and deflating, especially for a series I spent years making my way through. Just now, in double-checking some things via Wikipedia, I found out there is technically more to the story, books written by Turtledove about what happens when the much larger colonization fleet of aliens arrives, expecting to find a world of slaves subjugated by the military fleet and instead finding a fractious peace resulting from a stalemate. I doubt I'll be following up on those books any time soon, but I suppose one never knows.

3. Most Surprisingly Awesome Blockbuster: Mad Max Fury Road. I blogged about this, too, but I was so eager to get into the nitty-gritty of analyzing what the movie had to say and how it went about saying it that I didn't do much of my usual observations of personal context. So before 2015 closes out, I'll take the opportunity to correct that. I went to the movie theater six times this year, which I consider pretty good. I knew back in 2014 that I would make special trips to see Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I was intrigued, as always, by Pixar's offerings, and it turned out that at this point all three of my kids, even the bino, can handle a cinematic outing, so I saw Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur with them. I followed with great interest the pre-, mid-, and post-production news about The End of the Tour, the David Foster Wallace quasi-biopic based on Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which I had read; I expected at some point I would rent it but my wife very sweetly surprised me by insisting that we make a date night out of hunting down a suitable arthouse theater that was showing it and catching it on the big screen.

I say all of the above simply to illustrate that at no point did I anticipate that I would go to the movie theater specifically to see a Mad Max sequel. It could not have been further off my radar until a fair bit after it had premiered. And thus it represents the biggest gulf to be crossed between expectations (non-existent) and actual experience (mind-blowingly amazing). And that's always a nice feeling and worth noting.

4. Most Unexpected New Genre (Recurring Theme): Mermaid Horror. Right, I didn't see this one coming, either, and I'm guessing neither did any of you all. Somehow terrifying fishy tales became a leitmotif bookending my year. You might recall that I had a story published in the anthology Twice Upon a Time which came out back in February. One of my fellow contributors, Alethea Konits, wrote a story called "Blood & Water" which was a re-telling of The Little Mermaid with a much more nightmarish edge, and (outside of my own table-of-contents turf) was my favorite story in the whole book.

Then, just this past month, I treated myself to The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 anthology, which contained the story "Each to Each" by Seanan McGuire; oddly enough this story was also about mermaids and in its own unique way disturbing and horrifying. If two related things count as a trend, then I fully expect to see a deluge (ehh? ehhhhh???) of mermaid horror coming soon.

5. Best Consumer Decision: Netflix Streaming. Holy frijoles, how did my wife and I sleep on this for so long? Sometime in the last year or so my trusty portable dvd player gave up the ghost, I tried to buy a cheap used one to replace it and found it barely any more functional (because you get what you pay for), and my long-running habit of watching movies on the train ground to a halt. Meanwhile I was writing more, and reading more, so maybe things all worked out for the best, but the fact was that my standing policy of sticking with the analog dvd version of Netflix because I couldn't stream movies on the train was no longer really applicable. So I finally switched to a streaming subscription and both my wife and I have been hooked, mostly on the original tv series programming. Master of None? Loooooved it. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Still only a few episodes in, but enjoying the heck out of it.

Marvel's Daredevil??? Granted, that one I am watching solo, because it's a bit bloodier than my wife tends to like her entertainment, but man oh man, that is some cinematic bloodshed. If there exists one or more other tv series which look as stylish and striking and just plain good as Daredevil, I need to be informed about them immediately, because that is the kind of television I want to be watching all the time.

6. Most Heartwarming Homecoming: Star Wars. I'm not going to lie, I went into The Force Awakens with some amount of trepidation, fully aware of all the possible ways that the new movies could go wrong and provide something which might be the officially (and superficially) licensed successor to Star Wars but missing something in spirit. I remember back in 1999 sort of knowing there were serious flaws in The Phantom Menace but more or less giving them a pass because it was cool to see Yoda again. Then time passed and more prequels came out and the understanding went by the wayside to be replaced with disappointment (and I say that as a reformed prequel defender, someone who sees merit in Episodes I through III but will always wonder how much better they could have been if only, if only, if only). This time around, I doubted anyone would have the patience to be indulgent and apologist for a letdown.

But I'm happy to report that all of the emotions associated with my actual viewing experience were good ones. Powerful nostalgia, of course, but also good old fashioned excitement and wonder. Plus a surprising amount of wistful sadness, something about seeing a lot of the original cast showing the signs of the implacable passage of time. But all in all it's good to be once again living in a world where Star Wars is (for the moment, at least) almost everyone's favorite thing. And my own offspring are getting into the older movies, too, not to mention recognizing BB-8 on sight. The cockles of my heart are not just warm but positively aflutter.

7. Best new terminology: SJW. If you do not know what Gamergate is, or who the Sad Puppies are, consider yourself lucky, because honestly you're better off without awareness of those particular blights against everyone else's faith in humanity's inherent decency. Still, I like to look for silver linings, and a certain catchphrase deployed online with great frequency in the past year has proven to be that. The long and the short of it is this: within video game and SF/F literature fandoms, there are (and I'm going to have to engage in sweeping generalizations and oversimplifications here to keep this under a few thousand words, so apologies in advance) certain people who view the history of the medium's inclusiveness (or flagrant lack thereof) as perfectly fine and normal and very much if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it. Basically that means privileged straight white dudes who have no problem with games being sexist or misogynistic, or books being whitewashed and culturally conservative, because that's the way it's always been and they want the same comforting thing fed to them over and over again with minimal variation, and also because it reinforces their privilege (which they deny even exists in the first place). These dudes tend to focus on how the golden age of science fiction was about square-jawed WASPs with jetpacks raygunning down hordes of savage alien others, and that's what drew them in at first and what they expect forevermore, and if they don't have their expectations met they tend to be pissed off and vocal about it. They'll say that it's the bold ideas about space travel and exotic technology and weird lifeforms that they love and continue to want, and that any political baggage the arrangement of those ideas carry is incidental, unimportant, and maybe just a reflection of the baggage of certain readers. Meanwhile other people, not coincidentally women and people of color and LGBT identifiers and so forth, may very well have been attracted to the bold ideas at first, but maybe got bored with the same thing over and over, maybe got curious about pushing the envelope, maybe just got sick of never seeing themselves represented in the medium unless it was as evil caricature or subservient sidekick. And some of those people feeling that way became either critics or creators, and made demands or made their own art, which is how things grow and change, of course, and is also how things get better. To the point where major awards for SF/F novels were being given to meditations on the biggest ideas, like personal identity, and not just big ideas, like first contact with gallium-based life. Although they could be, and very often are, about both! It's still all a bit horrifying to the true, old-school fans.

So the conservative - in the literal sense of wanting to stop and/or turn back change - fans vented their spleens at these critics and creators whom they saw as ruining their games and stories, in various online controversies. The conservative fans tend to focus solely on the differences that make things new, ignoring that an award-winning science fiction novel is very much about spaceships and robots and howling that it's too much or all about the inherent artificiality of gender roles. Maybe - maaaaaaybe - that's something that some people need to talk about, somewhere, but the conservative fans in no uncertain terms want all that political garbage kept out of their precious escapist fiction. By their logic, to incorporate such elements into SF/F is putting the cart before the horse in beyond absurd fashion. The critics and creators who disagree with them clearly have their priorities totally out of whack. Those people, they reason, must have a weird monomaniacal obsession to keep picking this fight with the humble fans who just want to keep things the nice way they were. And thus a moniker was born to encompass anyone who tries to introduce non-traditional elements into the formerly happy bubble of SF/F. These zealots for unnecessary change are SJWs: social justice warriors.

That's it. That's the biggest insult the conservative fans could come up with, that's the incendiary rallying cry for their cause. Because obviously anyone who looks at the world today and perceives a lack of social justice is a crazy person. Anybody who thinks attempting to correct the lack of social equality and representation is a thing worth doing is a warmongering monster. Anyone who thinks the games we (including children) play and stories we (including children) tell is the proper venue for this wanton, unnecessary fighting is below the scum of the earth. SJW is synonymous with fool, with loser, with wrong-headed waster of everyone else's time, and anyone whose actions get them tagged an SJW should immediately die of shame.

When I was a little kid I was torn as to whether I'd rather grow up to be a Jedi or a superhero. What those archetypes have in common is that they fight the good fight (like warriors, you might say) on the side of goodness and right (justice, in other words) and for the good of everyone in society. Eventually I realized those weren't really realistic ambitions. But to find out that you can be recognized as a social justice warrior in the real world today? That clicked with me instantly. The fact that it's slung around as a hateful slur by miserable troglodytes? Kind of makes it even better.

8. Biggest Swing and a Miss (by someone else): Five Ghosts. Right, so as long as I've gone political, I might as well weigh in on this disappointment from the past year. I was gifted with the first two volumes of trade paperbacks of the comics series Five Ghosts, which had a premise I thought was fantastic: Fabian Gray is haunted, or passively possessed, by the ghosts of five legends, and he can draw upon their abilities as needed. The interesting metafictional twist is that these ghosts are Merlin, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Musashi, and Dracula, not so much spirits of real people who died as shades of creations of the imagination that have become deeply embedded in the collective unconscious. Unfortunately, this all winds up falling under the heading (as more and more things seem to for me all the time) of Not Quite What I Expected. The focus is entirely on how Fabian can steal relics like no one else because he can cast spells, deduce weaknesses, use a sword or bow and arrow, and fight like a wild vampire. The ghosts don't show much personality inside Fabian's head, they're just a convenient explanation for how the main character can be such an all-around superlative badass.

And the politics come into play with the fact that the series is a pastiche of classic pulp adventures, including primitive African natives who worship a spider-god, treacherous Orientals, and fainting females who need the white man to save the day. I can barely tolerate that in the old classics under the excuse that people didn't know any better back in the day; in a modern homage I find it entirely off-putting. Ah, well.

9. Biggest Swing and a Miss (by me): New music. Every year, I say I'm going to get back into music and discovering albums or acts that are at least new to me, and every year I run out of time, 2015 being no exception. I didn't even download any new Christmas music this month.

10. 2016 Ambition: Get caught up on the MCU. Since The Lego Batman Movie doesn't come out until early 2017 (allegedly) the movie I'm looking forward to most is probably Captain America: Civil War. I would like to be totally up to speed on the Marvel Cinematic Universe by the time that flick hits the theaters. I've mentioned before how I had fallen behind on my quest to stay current and complete, although I also noted above (item number 5) how I did finally break the seal on Daredevil. So in order to make this pop culture resolution happen, I'll need to:
- watch all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 (which I am DVRing)
- watch all of Agent Carter (also to-be-DVRed)
- watch all of Jessica Jones (which, again, at least I finally have Netflix streaming for)
- watch all of Luke Cage (if it gets released any time before May)
- watch Thor: The Dark World and Ant-Man

That is a non-zero investment of time! And it may or may not happen, but as I always say, it's good to have goals.

So that's my brief look back at 2015's entertainments. I do hope that I'm able to check in on the blog more frequently, although that will largely be driven by how often I feel like I have something I really need to say. If nothing else, I'll be here again this time next year rattling off the things that impressed me, underwhelmed me, and generally pushed my buttons throughout 2016.