Friday, November 20, 2015

Shit I Chose Not to Post on Facebook This Week

This was a trying week, where the news was depressing and people's reactions to the news ranged from heartening to dispiriting (if they were indifferent) to infuriating (if they were lining up on the same side as lunacy). Many, many times I wanted to post something on Facebook, not that I thought I could change any minds but because sometimes it matters just to stand up and be counted among the opposition. But ultimately I decided that Facebook was not the optinal forum for it, and would just create more drama and lead me to ever more depressing places. Still, my mind kept composing these sick burns and epic trollings, and I had to put them somewhere. And I remembered I have a blog!


I can't count how many times growing up I heard "the great thing about America is that we don't have a class system, we don't have arbitrary restrictions on what people can do with their lives, or even who gets to be in charge. Anybody can do anything in America. Anybody can grow up to be President!" Then we elected a black man President and half the country lost their goddamn minds.


You can argue that turning away Syrian refugees is the correct thing to do because it's being done in the name of saving American lives, that despite the intensive vetting process there still might be some lucky terrorist that gets in pretending to be a refugee and later goes on to claim even one American life in an act of terror, and that is unacceptable. You can leave it as unspoken and implicit that this means saving one American life is more important than saving numerous Syrian lives. Just know that if you do, you are ceding the moral high ground. No more "Americans are the good guys". No more "America is the world's moral compass". No more "shining city on the hill", no more "land of the free, home of the brave". Because telling Syrian refugees that we can't take the risk of granting asylum effectively makes America "land of the privileged and closed off, home of the scared shitless."

Oh and P.S. no more "America is a Christian country founded on Christian values." Turning a blind eye to the needy is the exact opposite of Christ's most explicit admonitions. Just FYI.

So by all means, stand up proud and tall and shout from the rooftops that taking care of yourself and taking care of your own is paramount. I can't say that you're wrong. I can't say that feeling that way, thinking that way, and insisting we decide on our national policies that way makes you a terrible human being. I can't even say that I don't understand where you're coming from. I do. But just know that it shows your true colors, and it paints America as a cowardly 900-lb gorilla that can do whatever it wants but chooses not to lift a finger to help the weak and powerless and desperate, because it's just a big dumb self-interested animal after all.


This a country of 300 million people with a vast multi-faceted system of government aid programs and private charities. I think we can do something to help Syrian refugees and also help homeless veterans or whatever other cause you happen to think is more important. One doesn't cancel the other out.


You know what you sound like? You sound like that asshole who has something massively wrong with his house, like an actual hole in the roof that has a Hefty bag stapled over it but still lets in rain and bugs. And you never do anything about that stupid hole in your roof, you just kind of accept it like "oh well, what can you do". And then someone says, "Hey, can you help me move?" And you're like "What the hell??? I've got problems of my own! Have you seen the hole in my roof???"

Two weeks later your friend will have moved, one way or the other, and you won't have done a damn thing about the hole in your roof. But at least it will still make a nice convenient excuse the next time someone asks you to do something you don't want to do.


The same goddamn people who think it's unpatriotic to criticize America, because America is the greatest and best country in the history of everything ever, are the people saying we have waaaaaay too many problems in America, like homeless vets and children, to be bothered to think about the humanitarian crisis of Syrian refugees. So somehow we all live in the most perfect paragon of democracy and opportunity and freedom and equality in all of human civilization, and every other country in the world should look up to us and fall in line whenever we tell them what to do, except we all live in this horrible barren hellscape which has been ruined by a Kenyan Muslim socialist dictator for the past seven years and requires a serially bunkrupted real estate mogul in a made-in-China trucker cap to "Make America Great Again". Got it.


ISIS attacks Paris.

A certain Republican presidential candidate tweets that it probably happened because France has strict gun laws and only the bad guys were armed. The implication seems to be that such could never happen here, all praise to our sacrosanct Second Amendment.

Uncowed, France announces they will accept 30,000 Syrian refugees.

No ISIS attacks on U.S. soil.

Republicans vote in lock-step to pause U.S. admittance of Syrian refugees by needlessly complicating the existing vetting process, because of the slight risk of a terrorist getting through.

Soooo ... moratorium forever on the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" jokes about France, right?


Politician logic, post-Newtown: Look, occasional domestic terrors like the slaughter of a couple dozen six year olds in an American elementary school is simply the price we have to pay for living in a civilized, enlightened society that is forever dedicated to upholding the basic right of all people to own as much of the latest most technologically advanced personal murder tools as they like. Stricter gun control laws are not the answer! If we enacted them, they would only constrain the law-abiding citizens who have the greatest right to personal arsenals in their basement. Criminals would by definition ignore the laws and nothing would be accomplished. It's complicated, but basically there's nothing we can or should do.

Politician logic, post-Paris: The hypothetical possibility of the death of even one American on American soil at the hands of a jihadist terrorist is utterly unacceptable. Refugee control IS the answer! We MUST alter our already strict refugee vetting process which takes 18 to 24 months and make it even more rigid to the point where it effectively strangles refugee inflow to nil. Only that will stop terrorists, who were exclusively planning on using our legal methods of entering the country, from broaching our shores, and thus guarantee the safety of our own citizens. We have no other choice but to take this action. Please hold your applause, we're only doing our jobs.


Future President Trump,

On more than one occasion a Christian has murdered an abortion doctor for religious reasons. Since the actions of individual extremists effectively taint entire faiths and all their millions of adherents, can we please issue ID cards to all American Christians for monitoring against threats of violence? Thanks!


Rep. [Redacted],

I am writing to let you know that in voting in favor of H R 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, you have failed to represent my will as your constituent, and failed a very basic test of decency. Your vote saddens and sickens me. You have aligned yourself with the panicked pandering that we desperately need our leadership to resist. Syrian refugees are not our enemy, ISIS and other terrorists are our enemy, and by confusing and conflating the two you have made a bad situation worse. We are in no danger from people who want to come to America for a better life, we are in danger from people who hate our way of life. The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act goes one step further to ensuring not American safety in the short term, but that many more people will hate us in the long term.

You are on the wrong side of history, and you are on the wrong side of humanity. I look forward to doing everything in my power to work against your re-election next year.

(NB: I actually did send this letter to my representative in Congress, and also seriously considered copying it to Facebook.)

+++ We are never going to beat the terrorists by sinking to their level. We can only beat them by actually being better than them. I know a lot of people find it compelling to repeat "violence is the only thing these brutes understand." That may be true. It probably is, I believe it, too.

I'm not some hippy-dippy idiot. I'm not saying that if we meet a horde of violent, desperate zealots who have nothing to lose and offer them hugs and flowers, we're going to melt their hearts and get the whole world to sing in harmony and share a Coke. I think war is terrible - and find it troubling that the same people who think one civilian dying at the hands of an ISIS terrorist is flatly impossible to contemplate, also think sending our ground troops of young men and women to face ISIS where some percentage of them will surely be killed is so unexceptional as to pass without comment - but for the sake of argument let's say I'm already convinced that we're already at war with ISIS, they started it, and we need to finish it in the conventional manner. Fine. Engaging on the battlefield, blowing up their oil fields, drawing the ISIS fighters back to Syria to defend their front rather than letting them run around attacking domestic targets worldwide, those are viable tactics. That's how we win short-term. I've seen shock and awe, I know that it works, short-term

But winning long-term matters, too, yes? Arguably matters more? Guys, we JUST FUCKING WENT THROUGH THIS like ten or twelve years ago. There's winning the shoot-em-up, and then there's winning hearts and minds. Last time we succeeded at the first and utterly fucking pooched it at the second, and it wasn't because we weren't even thinking about "hearts and minds". That phrase got bandied about a lot.

"Bombing the shit out of ISIS" can't be our entire strategy. Supporting and encouraging everyone else who ideologically opposes ISIS has to be part of it, too. It's actually crucial. That means welcoming those running as fast as they can away from ISIS. Those people are caught in the middle, with ISIS on one said saying "submit to brutal subjugation or be killed" and the U.S. on the other side saying ... well at the moment we're saying "drop dead for all we care". We SHOULD be saying "come, be part of our pluralistic and inclusive society. It's not just 'join ISIS or die'. There's a third choice, which is live free among us." Every military victory we rack up will be meaningless if we're simultaneously pushing people who don't want to die into ISIS's waiting arms.

I know it's viscerally satisfying to focus on the "blow 'em up good" stuff. But I also think how glorious it would be to defeat ISIS by building a better, inclusive, enlightened world that marginalizes them completely because they refuse to engage with it. And when they are sitting amidst the smoking ruins, abandoned and forsaken and defeated, they'll say to themselves, "We used violence and they used violence, how did they defeat us? I don't understand, I don't understand." Because they'll still be blind to that other half of our efforts. THAT will be satisfying. Difficult and uncomfortable, maybe even counter-intuitive for some. But worth it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

New York, New York

One of the (many) casualties of putting this blog on the back burner, as I've devoted more and more time to writing original/marketable/publishable fiction, has been my traditional commentary on Major League Baseball and the attendant tribalism in my house. In fact I haven't mentioned baseball at all this season, not the AL East in specific or any other element in any context. Partly that's due to not very many posts at all about anything, and partly it's due to the fairly subdued intake of baseball around our homestead this time around. We didn't make any ballpark pilgrimages this year, which is just the way it goes; some years we do, some years we don't. The Orioles are having an up-and-down season, sitting at exactly .500 as of today. The Yankees seem to be suffering something of a post-Jeter hangover, also up-and-down which makes it feel like they're doing worse than they are. They're the first wild card in the AL, and pretty safe in that spot. And they're not that far behind the Blue Jays, who are on top of the AL East, but they cannot close the gap. So no crazy win streaks, or players on hitting streaks or vying for batting titles or rookies of the year or whatever, nothing generating buzz and excitement. Nothing to blog about, in other words.

I can't even get into a full-throated frenzy about the Red Sox being dead last and their fans enduring a miserable losing campaign. They've already been eliminated from the post-season and any day now (granted, there's only like ten games left) it's going to reach the point where it will be mathematically impossible for them to have a winning season even if they run the table. Sure, it's always a source of mean-spirited comfort to watch a hated rival suffer, but even I wouldn't characterize it as a spectacular flame-out in Boston, just mediocre under-performing.

I don't think anyone seriously expects the Yankees to make it very far in the post-season, so I am tempering my expectations accordingly. If I can't have my beloved Bronx Bombers winning the World Series, I can at least take solace in the fact that we might get some different teams besides the usual suspects in the mix. At this point it's not only possible but reasonable to envision a championship best-of-seven between Kansas City and Pittsburgh. And that right there kind of sums up my approach to sports in a nutshell: I'm far less interested in the minutiae of sabermetrics but I get super-geeked if I can say "Royals versus Pirates? How appropo!"

Anyway, in years past I've usually dedicated at least one post to celebrating the annual overlap of baseball season with football season but this hasn't been a great year for that, either. The Giants opened the season 0-and-2, both games in which they were leading as late as the fourth quarter and then proceeded to choke the potential W away. (Coincidentally there were two different series between the Yankees and Blue Jays during that same early September span, which could have been epic sweeps that completely flipped the script in the battle for the AL East pennant, but instead the Yankees lost 3 out of 4 followed by losing 2 out of 3, none of which bodes well.) A terribly inauspicious way to welcome the return of fall, but so it goes.

Last night the Giants hosted the Thursday Night Football game, which (along with MNF obvs.) is one of the few ways I can count on Giants games being nationally televised so that I can watch them. The other circumstances which allow me to follow my boys in blue is are the two games a year when New York plays Washington. So of course, last night's game was against Washington, because we wouldn't want to max out the possibilities or anything. I was dreading the game going in, understandably I think, because no one wants to see their team go 0-and-3, on a day where the next day at work it will be the only thing people will be talking about in response to "see the game last night?", and then have to wait ten days for any chance at eradicating the goose egg. The fact that it was a game against Washington just added numerous layers to the turmoil:

- They are a division rival.
- They spent the entire off-season and pre-season embroiled in a quarterback controversy and shouldn't be very good this year.
- Nonetheless going into last night Washington was 1-and-1, and given the Giants' struggles it was far from a gimme.
- I live in the Washington market and am surrounded by their "fans" so, re: people talking at work the next day, it really would have been unavoidable.
- I put scare quotes around "fans" because Washington fans are the worst, rabid bandwagoners when things go their way and apocalyptic tantrum-throwers when they don't.
- You may notice I keep referring to the team as Washington and not by their nickname, because their team name is a racial slur and I just avoid using it. I feel like this issue has lost some of the heat it had last year, but I'm happy to keep fanning the flames. The name is offensive and should be changed. And because the owner sticks to his guuuuuuuuuuns and refuses to kowtow to political correctness and employs all kinds of sleazy tactics like paying people off to act as Native American representatives who swear it's fine for the team to keep its name, because tradition Murica guuuuuuuuns &c. ... it just makes the Washington franchise come across as deplorable all around.

So yeah, there's rooting against the Red Sox and wanting to beat them because they are my team's rivals. Then there's rooting against the Eagles and wanting my team to beat them because of the rivalry and also the fact that their fans are jerks who pelt Santa with batteries. AND THEN there's rooting against Washington and wanting my team to destroy them because they are rivals, their fans are jerks, their owner is an ass-clown and their logo is totally racist.

And the Giants won! And, more or less simultaneously a time zone away, the Yankees also won and picked up a half a game on the Jays. So that particular harmonic convergence, unlikely to be repeated, strikes me as an apt time to check "blog about football and baseball" off my to-do list. Done and done.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Just a bit excessive

If you look at each year as a progression from one Big Event to the next, with varying uneventful stretches in between, then for my family in particular you could see how the year progresses from New Years through relatively quiet winter before hitting the bino's birthday in mid-March followed soon after by the little girl's birthday three and a half weeks later in April. Then there's another few months of lull, then my wife's birthday in July, then usually (and getting more predictably consistent now that we're done having children) a family beach vacation in August, with the little guy's birthday hot on the heels of that at the beginning of September. My birthday is almost exactly four weeks after the little guy's, and then it's time to get ready for the big three of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. (I'm eliding over some stuff like Valentine's Day, our wedding anniversary, and so on, because those tend not to be all five of us celebrating all together.)

My point, here, is that due to the accidents of birthdates, our two youngest children don't quite share their annual special day but do have them one on top of the other, big picture-wise. Whereas their older brother gets his birthday all to himself almost six months after the bino's. We haven't (yet) sunken to combining the littler ones' birthdays into one catch-all jubilee or anything, but this does mean that when the little guy's birthday rolls around and he is both the center of attention and practically swimming in new loot, it's hard to offer any of the standard consolations to the little girl and bino. No "well you just had a birthday, too, remember?" because it was basically an eternity ago from their perspective; likewise no "your birthday is coming soon" for the same reason. Even invoking Christmas is a dicey proposition since it's well over a full season away at that point. So far we've managed to get through the past few Septembers without too many gigantic freakout blowouts, but then again, this year, with a two and a half year old bino, is the first one where both younger sibs are fully aware of what's going on and capable of jealousy. Next year could be catclysmic.

And yet, maybe this year we're more or less innoculating them against such future traumas, because we seem to have inadvertently turned one planetary orbit anniversary into an entire month of festive feting. Previously we've had a birthday party for the little guy on or close to his actual birthday, which conveniently tends to be Labor Day Weekend-adjacent. We've invited a few of his little friends from the neighborhood, from school, and from hanging-out-with-our-parent-friends-who-have-similarly-aged-children, plus the local grandparents and aunt and uncle. All well and good. But now the little guy is a second grader, and he identifies his classmates as his closest friends, which means they get birthday invites (and rightly so!); the complication there is that his birthday tends to fall in the first week of school, so the whole notion of bringing invitations to pass out in the classroom doesn't leave those kids' parents much time to plan or even RSVP. Thus we hit upon the idea this year of having a family party at the beginning of the month and also having a friends party at the end of the month. That is perhaps double the amount of parties a child arguably needs, but in our defense I think we'll always on some level be trying to make up to the little guy the fact that he had to go to his very first day of kindergarten right on his actual fifth birthday. So there's that.

The plan went slightly askew when the bino fell ill with some undefined bug right before the scheduled family party, so in deference to our little seven-month-old niece we rescheduled for the following weekend. But of course we still cooked a special dinner for the little guy on his actual birthday, and he got his presents from mom and dad. So at that point he was due for three parties (or semi-parties): nuclear family, extended family a week later, and friends two weeks after that. His birthday effectively took over the entire month.

And let us not forget that he's still the only one of our three kids who goes to five-day-a-week school. That debatably could be put forth as something the littler ones have to be happy about in contrast to their brother, but sometimes ... Last year, the behavior of everyone in the first grade class was monitored daily via a system of electronic bonuses and demerits and the deal was that at the end of each week, every kid who had maintained a high ratio of good points versus bad was entitled to select a prize from the teacher's treasure chest. That system is gone this year, replaced by something else, I'm still not entirely clear on the details because this time there's no online component to give the parents granular insight (Which in itself is a mixed bag, maybe meriting its own post some other time) but basically every day the kids have a status which can go up or down depending on their behavior and the top of the scale is "role model" (not sure what the bottom rung is, "agitator" or "persona non grata", maybe?) and now the reward is that the kids can pick a prize from the treasure chest at the end of the day any time they finish the day at the "role model" level. This is, from my perspective, better than the weeklong tally for all-or-nothing, because many was the time last year where the little guy would string together several great days of being on task and well-mannered, only to have one bad day throw off his weekly average beyond recovery.

However, as humorous coincidence would have it, the little guy was a role model of classroom conduct yesterday. So when I picked him and his siblings up from daycare, he had his brand new prize from the treasure chest, which actually was a really nice Beanie Baby ox (which the little guy christened "Biceratops" because he's back into dinosaurs again and also he's clever and hilarious) and of course he couldn't wait to show it off to his brother and sister. This put me in the precarious position of wanting to praise the little guy and be happy for him and encourage him to continue striving for role model status at all times, while also not wanting him to rub too much into the little ones' collective faces the fact that, after two separate gift-unwrapping extravaganza's with one more still to go, he got yet another cool new toy just for going to the school that they're not big enough for yet.

Sometimes it all gets a tad exhausting, is what I'm saying.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Enforcement t.b.d.

It's been a while since I've talked at all about the local train station where my rail commute begins and ends each day, and that's probably because there's never that much to say about it. I've got my system for finding a parking space figured out, I know what time I absolutely must leave the house by in order to catch my regular train, and other than a brief period at the beginning of the summer when a newly opened barbecue joint was rolling a little cart down to the platform every afternoon in an effort to hawk pulled pork sandwiches to detraining workforce participants, really nothing ever changes.

Obviously this is one of my classic stem-winders where I establish the as-you-already-know exposition just so that I can drop the bombshell that SOMETHING HAS CHANGED. Indeed. And I'm fairly curious to see how this one is going to play out.

I'm generally on autopilot in the morning, from the time I back out of my driveway to the time I get to my parking space. I always go to the same parking space, and it's more or less always open and waiting for me, a feat I manage by virtue of the fact that it's not one of the more desirable spaces in the parking garage. The entrance/exit to the garage is level 1, which doesn't have very many spaces to begin with. By making almost a full circuit around level 1, you come to a ramp which leads to level 2. Level 2 is basically prime parking, because (stay with me here) level 1 is half underground, the two streets on either side of the garage running slightly uphill to where they meet the railroad tracks. So the platform is actually accessible from doors on level 2. If your main goal is to avoid stairs and elevators altogether, level 2 is where you want to park. So I usually drive a half-lap around level 2 without slowing down, to get to the ramp that goes up to level 3. And then I do almost a full lap (because it's one-way traffic inside the garage) to get around to the side of level 3 where the stairs are, and that's where I park. Not always the exact same spot every day, but out of those half dozen or so spots closest to the stairs there's usually at least one spot open. I get out of my car, go down the stairs, and out to the platform. I don't have to think about it first thing in the morning, and I don't have to strain my brain remembering where I parked in the afternoon. That's the way I like it.

This morning, despite being on auto-pilot (perhaps even moreso than usual, still half-asleep in mourning for the passage of the three-day weekend), I noticed an official-looking sign right at the street entrance of the parking garage. I skimmed it as I drove past it, and noticed that it said level 2 would now be reserved for mid-day hourly pay parking. I didn't notice if it said effective immediately or starting on such-and-such a date, although as of Labor Day is probably not an unreasonable guess. Anyway, it used to be that level 4 was for mid-day hourly parking, with the lower 3 levels intended for residents who display yearly parking permits obtained from the city. On days when I ran late and caught a different train, the three levels for permit-holders would often be full and I would have to pay to park in one of the spots on level 4, so I was certainly aware that such dual-use of the parking garage existed. And I thought the system made a pretty good amount of sense: in the morning, a bunch of commuters are just trying to get a spot and catch the train, some of them potentially cutting the timetable a bit close (ahem) and so they parked closer to the entrance-exit. Anyone who drove down to oldtown for lunch or shopping in the late morning or early afternoon could probably spare a few minutes to drive all the way up to level 4 and then ride the elevator or take the stairs back down.

But apparently that is no longer the case! I have no idea what kind of city council lobbying was required to convince the authorities that it's the midday patrons of oldtown eateries and boutiques who deserve the primo parking spaces directly adjacent to the doors leading to the sidewalk and the platform, and that the VRE riders can park all day a level or two above them, thanks. But that seems to be where we are now. All right, then.

As I outlined above, this really doesn't affect me, because I never used to park on level 2 anyway. Or, I should say, it didn't affect me today. My regular parking space was waiting for me, same as always. I also passed a lot of cars on level 2. Really it looked like any other Tuesday morning at the parking garage. So maybe the new rules haven't gone into effect yet. Or maybe they have, as of today, but not a lot of people noticed or bothered to read the sign at the entrance. If it's the latter case, then there are going to be several dozen really peeved commuters who get off the train late this afternoon and find parking violation citations tucked under their windshield wipers. And that in turn will no doubt lead to those several dozen people definitely being sure to park up on level 3 tomorrow, once ticketed twice shy and all that. Or, heck, maybe every one who gets a ticket today will stand together in solidarity and civil disobedience and keep parking on level 2 because change is bad and they won't be pushed around! Time will tell, I suppose. I may be parking on the roof of the garage before the year is out. I will report back with updates as warranted.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Making myself go hmmmm

Happy Force Friday, everyone. I'm a lifelong, unapologetic, huge Star Wars fan. A New Hope has always been one of my desert island movies. I remember playing outside with neighborhood kids, reenacting scenes from the movie. Sometimes we'd fight over who got to be Luke and who got to be Han, based solely on the fact that when we did the trash compactor scene, whoever was Luke got to totally flip out and flail around like a maniac pretending to be in the clutches of the dianoga's tentacle. Not that I knew it was called a dianoga back then, of course, it was just the trash compacter monster. I only learned its proper name sometime in the post-Internet, weak otaku age.

But anyway. The dianoga. Fascinatingly weird little world-building detail. Arguably just a fantasy trope that Lucas couldn't get enough of - between it, and whatever sucks Artoo underwater and then forcibly expectorates him on Dagobah, and the Sarlacc, you get a creepy tentacled submerged/subterranean monster in all three installments of the original trilogy. But the swamp monster and the Sarlacc make a vague kind of ecological sense, and the dianoga ... I mean, come on, you don't have to be that much of a nitpicking killjoy to wonder how the heck a free-floating military installation could have unruly creatures living in its waste management system, right? And being puzzled by that weirdness doesn't make me love Star Wars any less. But it's odd all the same.

You can find some more information about the dianoga on and even more on Wookieepedia, some of which goes a little ways toward explaining things. Beyond Episode IV, dianogas have appeared in tie-in novels and video games and comic books, because everybody likes a good callback to the source material and everyone loves a good random fight scene with a tentacled horror. At some point someone exposition-dumped that dianoga's can grow to 10 meters in diameter but start out as microscopic larvae, and someone else established that they are hermaphrodites that can produce offspring in isolation. Which is all well and good, and basically along the lines of what I would expect form one of the largest, dorkiest, most meticulously detail-oriented fandoms around.

See, here's the thing: I get that Star Wars is "just a movie" and a fairy tale at that. I get that almost every piece of speculative fiction ever created will have its "fridge logic" moments. Lucas wanted to have a creepy sewage squid in his escape through the garbage chute sequence, and he made it happen, because wanting it was all the justification he needed and it's not like it's some egregious deus ex machina that resolves the overarching plot or anything. But what I find genuinely surprising is that no one has ever gone back and justified it retroactively, and it's still just sitting there, imponderably, all these decades later.

I mean, microscopic larvae and asexual reproduction and some other stuff about stowing away on garbage ships kinda sorta handwaves away objections to how a non-sentient species could become an invasive pest across multiple planets. So there can be dianogas lurking in the aqueducts running under Coruscant, and also in the sewers on Anoat in the Outer Rim, and also swimming wild and free in the jungles of Vodran. But,specifically, inside the Death Star? With post-ROTJ hindsight we know that a Death Star would be built in space, and in secret. Dianoga larvae spread through organic waste. Why was anyone importing organic waste into the Death Star-in-progress?

It's not completely inconceivable, of course, but that's my point: there's a story there. I've read prose stories about Greedo's childhood, and I've read comics stories about one particular Stormtrooper from the boarding party attacking the Tantive IV (not the first one through the hole cut in the hull, but the one behind him who had the misfortune of being the first Stormtrooper we see killed by a single well-aimed blaster shot). The Expanded Universe canon/fanon is vast and yet, as far as I've been able to tell with some cursory research, no one has ever explained the presence of a scavenger pest on the ultimate orbiting battle station as anything particularly noteworthy. I don't feel I'm owed an explanation, by anyone. I don't think Lucas negligently wrecked the suspension of disbelief in his world. I'm just surprised that my fellow geeks haven't addressed it already.

(Yeah, yeah, this is a classic example of "If you see a story begging to be told and fancy yourself a writer, and no stranger to fanfic at that, why not write the story yourself?" I hear you. Even if I were halfway through a first draft in that very vein, I would still be wondering how I was the first person to get there.)

(UPDATE: I just realized that this is basically the flip side of what I wrote about a couple weeks ago: then I thought of a geeky joke, Googled it, and found someone else had already executed it delightfully; and now I'm thinking about something equally geeky, Googling it, and vaguely disturbed by the lack of of pre-existing similar thoughts. Make of that what you will.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The web(s) of history

Dungeons & Dragons was created the year I was born, I played it throughout my childhood (and young adulthood), and I think about it a lot.

Today, thanks to an article I was reading online, I'm just thinking specifically about one fictional deity character who was created expressly for the game. In a world that contains numerous sentient races, including onyx-skinned elves who live underground and revere selfishness, cruelty and guile, there need to be corresponding pantheons for such races to worship. So all the way back in the pre-World-Wide-Web days of 1980-ish, stats were enumerated and physical attributes described for an evil goddess known as the Demon Queen of Spiders.

Her proper name was/is Lolth.

That's a perfectly cromulent name for an imaginary totem of darkness who's a little bit Lillith and a little bit OHHHHH-a-spider-kill-it-kill-it-burn-it-with-fire. And in the age of Amiga computers and dial-up modems it didn't really have any other associations. But now, of course, it's unintentionally ridiculous. And I thought to myself, I can't be the only person to have noticed this. 0.2 seconds of searching on Google assured me that I am not:

That whole "the more connected we are by devices, the more alone we feel" lament? I know there's a grain of truth to that, but most of the time I'm pretty happy with the ability to instantaneously verify that other people have not only had the same fleeting thought as me, but taken it to their own crazy extreme. That makes me feel very reassuringly not alone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Second lives

As a late adopter of Facebook, one of the things that I was most amused by once I finally jumped in and took a look around was the specific way in which people presented themselves professionally. By which I mean a certain subset of people did not necessarily list their day job as their job in their official profile, which stood out to me and continues, even a year-plus later, to catch my attention on a fairly regular basis.

I mean, on the one hand, I left my place of employment blank on my FB profile. Mostly I did those because I'm vaguely aware that my employer has Certain Rules about social media expectations, independent of the whole nature of my specific work with classified government systems, and it just felt safer, overall, to decline to name my employer at all, and thus have a fair amount of plausible deniability and built-in distance from any accusations of associating myself with the company's good name and reflecting poorly on its corporate values blah blah blah retch hurl. I'm reasonably certain that a lot of my other friends find themselves in similar circumstances and arrived at similar conclusions. I don't really post about my job, either, except the most anodyne tales from cubicle-land, because of course as you all know I save the juicy stuff for the more anonymous confines of this blog.

So when someone hovers over my profile picture or whatever it gives my name and the name of the college I went to, which is apparently the fallback default when you leave your employer blank, and that's fine by me. In fact, since Facebook started out as a service for college students and that's the time in one's life when one is supposed to engage in all sorts of questionable behavior and entertain all sorts of good and bad ideas, it seems apt.

What I've noticed, though, is that many friends of mine have chosen a third option to the dilemma. They haven't listed their employer in their profile, but they haven't left the field empty either. What I should more accurately say is that they haven't listed their primary employer, their day gig to pay the bills. They have instead listed some variation on their dream job, particularly if they pursue some kind of hobby or side-business directly related to the dream.

Thus my one friend who listed himself as employed by a microbrewery, despite being an IT guy in a corporate office. Or my other friend who listed himself as a writer, despite being a financial planner. Or my other, other friend who listed himself as a musician, despite being a ... ok, actually, I don't know what that guy does for a living because he's a high school acquaintance I had lost touch with and was never that close with but in any case, I'm reasonably certain he's not supporting himself playing weekend acoustic gigs at local bars.

Of course that's at least a small part of the overall inherent humor. In order to even be aware of these tiny elements of these people's Facebook profiles I have to have a pre-existing relationship with these folks, which means I (probably) know where they punch the clock 9-to-5 and I (probably again) know what they have a real passion for and ultimately I know how much or how little overlap there is there. Sadly, it's not very much, and by that I don't mean these people are sad I just mean its sad we're not all living in a post-scarcity, follow-your-bliss utopia.

So with that much foreknowledge these people are not fooling me. In all likelihood they are not fooling anyone, and I don't even really think that fooling people is the point. It's just basic self-promotion, which is completely understandable. My friend who volunteers for the brewery at tastings and whatnot really does have enough love in his heart for the product to have a complimentary vested interest in the success or failure of said brewery, and so he wants to get the word out there in every possible way. And similarly, my friends who write novels or play in a band may not get rich off those endeavors but they still want to reach as wide an audience as possible, and if they have a public-facing platform like Facebook they might as well make the most of it and exploit the free visibility. Plus as I alluded to earlier, this way they're dodging any potential human resources grief at their day job by not bringing them into their online world at all (and obviously the giant financial services firms and whatnot don't really need the minuscule extra boost of an employee's FB page acknowledging them, anyway).

But on another level, it reminds me very specifically of the episode of The (U.S.) Office where Jim and Pam find out that Dwight has a Second Life account and Jim joins so that he can cyberstalk Dwight and report back. The big joke that everyone probably remembers (and if not I am providing a screencap above that captures the essence of it) is that Dwight's avatar was basically exactly like Dwight, down to his workaday fashion choices, except in Second Life he can fly. What I remember even more vividly, though, is that at one point Pam asks Jim if she can see his avatar, and first he tries to blow her off but eventually she gets her way and finds that Jim has put a certain amount of effort into its fabrication, not only giving him cool threads and an electric guitar slung insouciantly across his back but listing his occupation as "sports journalist". And Jim continues to try to play this off as dumb messing around but there's a layer underneath that where he's embarrassed to admit (to Pam and to himself) that this is his ideal version of himself, a persona he'd like to inhabit if he didn't have bills to pay and if he'd had the courage, talent and luck all necessary to throw himself heedlessly into his own dreams and make himself a success in the process.

So, believe me, I get that, the gulf between where we find ourselves IRL with our mortgages and credit card bills and daycare costs and where we can imagine ourselves in a fantasy-fueled take on our lives. And once you recognize that disparity, you know, why not just go ahead and indulge the fantasy in some harmless peripheral way like the job data point on a Facebook profile? Obviously I'm in the very same boat as these friends of mine; I write for fun and because I love it and occasionally I try to get attention for it, even while I remain otherwise gainfully employed because I never went in for the starving artist lifestyle and I've grown accustomed to a certain level of creature comforts as a result of the so-called "selling out" (which, it should be noted, I committed to for my own sake and on my own terms long before I started my family, and my wife and kids give me all the more reason to keep the books in the black and are, themselves, absolutely ideal, and I wouldn't change a thing about any of them in any world real or virtual). The major difference is that I, apparently, will barely acknowledge in public forum my nebulous aspirations toward writing as a career, or as anything else other than an idle diversion. With the question put to me directly, I punt, whereas some of my friends take the possibility and just run with it. And I'm amused, but very much in a "Huh. That looks like fun. Good on them." kind of way.