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.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Holiday traditions

So yesterday afternoon I picked up my kids from daycare, and although it's only a five or ten minute drive home after that, sometimes that can be a seriously fraught interval, replete with tears and screaming and all manner of freakout. But on the occasion in question, the kids were all in good moods, and none of those moods involved, for instance, one of them crooning nonsense at the top of their lungs until the other siblings got their calm massively damaged (aka the little girl's go-to move lately). I think it may have something to do with the approach of Christmas, not so much the whole "better watch out" morality enforcement (we do still have the Elf on the Shelf on patrol for the month, but rarely do we need to draw attention to his powers to inform back to the Fat Man and diminish potential gift hauls) but simply excitement and general holiday season happiness. Which is nice.

Anyway, once we got to our neighborhood the kids were contentedly staring out their windows at the displays of Christmas lights and idly commenting on them. The bino started unobnoxiously singing "Jingle Bells". That, in turn, inspired the little guy to break into a rousing chorus of "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells".

Which was not a song I knew that the little guy knew! I have tried over the years not to betray the fact that my oldest child's relative disinterest in comic books and superheroes is distressing to me, but I'm sure I haven't been entirely successful in hiding something so self-evident. It's weirdly reassuring that he at least knows who Batman and Robin are, enough to find that particular bit of festive doggerel amusing; indeed, he was giggling his fool head off by the time he finished singing. We've come a long way from "Who's Chewbacca?" (and in point of fact he now knows exactly who Chewbacca is since he has seen Star Wars and Empire and, true to form once he gets into something, is now fairly obsessed with Star Wars. But that's a topic for a whole slew of separate posts.)

It also warmed my heart just to know that the dumb playground chants of my childhood are alive and well as part of the modern elementary school oral tradition. When I asked the little guy where he had heard that song, he told me it was one of his friends in his second grade class, and that in fact he had just picked it up from her that very day. Interestingly enough, the lyrics had changed ever so slightly over the intervening thirty-odd years. Rather than ending on "and the Joker got away" the little guy sang "and the Joker learned ballet." I shared this tidbit with my wife just this morning, and we both agreed that this probably reflected the fact that we've gone through quite a cultural shift, particularly in the 21st century. We used to romanticize outlaws and see the idea of a bad guy on the lam as not terribly troubling. However, the Joker is a straight-up psychopathic murder clown, and if he gets away he will surely kill and kill again. But this generation of seven-year-olds is having none of that! He may indulge in a surprising new dance hobby, but he will not escape justice.

(The ol' bliggity-blog isn't quite dead yet, and as you can see, all five members of my family household are still alive as well! Perhaps I will make a New Year's Resolution to put up posts here more frequently and to elaborate on everyone's current status, but for now suffice to say we're all well enough, keeping on keeping on.)

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.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Office haps

Before I explain what's been going on at work lately, a quick sidenote: usually the blog gets a few dozen hits per day, with occasional spikes into the upper double digits. Last week, for three days in a row, the site got hundreds (plural!) of hits per day. These hits all originated in ... China. Now, I'm not saying that these were attempts by Chinese government hackers to conduct some low-friction social engineering for nefarious purposes, that basically because there's a high incidence of the phrase "government contracting" in my U.S.-based blog they figured they might as well see if I was giving away state secrets for nothing. But I'm not not saying that, either. Anyway, in case you ever thought that my general policy of blogonymity plus only speaking about the work I do in the vaguest of ways was excessive, I point to this incident as reason why that policy should and will continue.

Anyway, moving on ... so my team consists of a bunch of subject matter experts who have to process information using a custom system. My job (in theory) is keeping that custom system up and running. There are also a couple of data admins whose entire job is getting info out of a completely separate system and entering it by hand into our system. As I mentioned not too long ago, I've been tasked recently with some of those data admin duties. The reason for this is because one of the data admins left a few months ago, replacing her took an egregiously long time, and we now have the equivalent of one and a half data admins, the one who's been here a while accounts for a whole and the new hire who's still learning the ropes is a half. And the veteran data admin went on vacation for two weeks starting on the 3rd of this month, so she's back today but the past couple of weeks have kept me busy with a never-ending stream of simple, tedious, time-consuming work. I try to be a good-spirited team player, but I admit it's been a drag.

I also may have inadvertently thrown my vacationing colleague under the bus in my handling of special data admin requests, because my goal was to get them done as quickly as possible, and apparently I know a few backdoor shortcuts that put the regular DA approach to shame. I violated Montgomery Scott's first maxim, and now there's no going back. Ah well.

In other workplace news, we're currently changing the physical security protocols, with the changeover allegedly being completed by Labor Day. Basically where we used to have one ID card that let us swipe in and out of the office suite, and another completely separate ID card that let us access the computer network, we will now have one all-purpose card for both. Which is nice and convenient, and they've been promising this for months and months, as evidenced by the fact that I got my card provisioned so long ago I can't remember when it was but I know they have literally shut down the office where I got it done in a round of efficiency realignments. In any case, lately we've been getting memos and reminders from the secruity team to test our new cards and make sure they work on the suite doors. I tested mine and ... it didn't work. Then I had to make a special trip to one of the remaining security offices, where there was a line out the door and they were walking among the crowd triaging, and I was directed to a kiosk that could scan and check my card, and the machine said everything was good to go. So back at my office, I tried again, and it still didn't work. I was not looking forward to whatever hoops I would have to jump through to get someone to believe me over the auto-scan kiosk.

But as it turned out, I overheard some of my co-workers talking and it was very fortunate I did, because it saved me an inordinate load of time and embarrassment. As it happens, they've once again relegated the contractors to a second-class status, because we're not allowed to open or close the office for the day by ourselves. That in turn means non-contractors are given a special numeric code for performing those tasks, and it further means that non-contractors swipe their cards through a reader and then enter the code on a keypad if necessary, while contractors hold their cards against the keypad just to pass through. Somehow in all the messaging about the changeover I missed this crucial point, but once I lucked into being within earshot of someone commenting on it, I was able to test my card the actual correct way, and long story short everything's fine. Just way harder than it needs to be, as usual.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Once and Future

I had hoped at the beginning of this month to get back into the habit of posting a little more regularly, but the world for some reason did not choose to make it easy to follow through on that optimistic resolve. Still, as slack as I've been, I would be even more slack if I didn't at least mention that I have had another short story published, which can be found in the anthology King of Ages, on sale now!

The above image is not from the book in question, but from the classic 1980's comic book maxiseries Camelot 3000, which I thought of often while reading the collection of stories in King of Ages. Camelot 3000 is about an alien invasion of Earth in the eponymous year, and the rise (and tragic fall) of new incarnations of the Arthurian archetypes in response. King of Ages is based on the theme of Arthur and his knights and followers reincarnating again and again through human history, and includes several future-set science fiction takes on the legends, as well as modern-day spins, pirates, vikings, and cavemen. It's fun stuff, if I do say so myself.

As always, I have other writing projects in the works, which I will publicize as they become available to read. And I've been having a crazy couple of weeks at work, which should be over by this coming Monday, at which point I will perhaps provide a retrospective post as partial explanation of my deadbeat non-blogging. Until then!

Friday, August 7, 2015


Well, the week kind of got away from me again. But I did want to share the following, which is from a Buzzfeed listicle which is definitely worth checking out in full. This particular gem, though, was the highlight IMHO:

The look on the dog's face and the presumed sound of his speech impediment (not to mention the bowtie!) had both my wife and I giggling helplessly for an unreasonably long while last night.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015


What the hey, let's have another round of Social Media Tuesday, shall we?

I generally endorse the solid life/interweb advice to "Never read the comments" because I generally endorse courses of action which, at the very least, delay the realization that the vast majority of humanity is terrifyingly base and hateful scum. Comment threads almost invariably devolve into a morass of negativity where people expound on why the article was everything that's wrong with the world, or why other commenters are everything that's wrong with the world, and things get personal and vindictive and then somehow they keep getting worse. Nobody needs that in their headspace (except the people who indulge in it, apparently, which is a paradox I may never really resolve and I'm okay with that) so steering well clear of it just makes good sense.

Of course, I don't always follow this very sensible advice myself. Part of it is that I tend to believe that certain sites I frequent attract a more elevated (and like-minded) slice of the internet community, and thus will prove exceptions to the rule. They often don't, of course, but I have trained myself to at least not get sucked into the madness. The problem with reading the comments is that they become a swirling vortex pulling you deeper and deeper until you cannot think about anything except composing your own vicious reply to someone who said something you disagree with (or you know is factually wrong). So I only allow myself to start reading comments if I reach the end of an article and still want to hear what other people think on the subject, but at the first sign of real trollishness I close out of there. That's the closest I can come to following my own advice, it seems, and it has kept me moderately sane so far.

My whole well-at-this-site-the-commenters-are-thoughtful-and-civilized rationale isn't entirely wishful thinking, and there have been some comment threads I've enjoyed, and I have in the process been exposed to the concept of gimmick commenters - people who adopt a very specific performance-oriented persona on a site, register an apt username, and comment frequently and in character, whether said character is an existing intellectual property or just an alter-ego of the commenter's own creation. This can be something as silly as registering as Cookie Monster, complete with profile picture, and always posting in the first person objective ("ME LOVE THIS SHOW NOM NOM NOM!!!") or as bizarre as cultivating a reputation as a kind of pan-omni-sexual alcoholic agoraphobic cineaste. Everybody needs a hobby, I reckon.

I've been playing Comment Thread Roulette for a lot longer than I've been on Facebook, so sometimes my experiences and lessons learned from the former bleed over into the latter. In theory, commenters on a random site are anonymous strangers, and also in theory people in my Facebook newsfeed should be friends, or at least friends of friends. But because I use Facebook for networking with publishers and writers and so forth, not to mention the fact that everyone uses Facebook to reconnect with childhood friends and in my case that means people I lost touch with decades ago, there is a high proportion of my newsfeed which is coming from acquaintances at best if not people I know virtually nothing about. So I have to piece together who these people are solely based on their status updates. And on more than one occasion I have found myself starting to think of these people, as they represent themselves on Facebook, as gimmick accounts. Mostly this is because their status updates and shares and comments, in aggregate, seem to reveal a deliberately ridiculous pose of artifice rather than an actual rational thinking human being.

One example was someone I FB-friended because he and I both had stories published in the same anthology. I quickly realized that almost every status update this guy made was him complaining about something, often very petty nuisances posed by the fallible customer service that all of us in this fallen world have to deal with on a regular basis. He also hates a lot of pop culture, clearly consumes a lot of it as if he's being forced to at gunpoint, then rushes to Facebook to say how terrible it all is. You would think that anyone with even a shred of self-awareness (which is a requisite capacity for being a writer, I daresay) would be at least slightly hesitant about criticizing the stupidity of daytime television, because doing so raises the reasonable question of why the critic is watching so much daytime television; the individual in question makes it fairly clear he is not a stay-at-home parent, nor is he an invalid retiree, so ... jobless loser, basically? Still, all of that didn't necessarily lead me to believe he was a gimmick, some people just love the airing of the grievances too much to ever acknowledge how petty said grievances really are, but at one point he posted something along the lines of "Well, for years I have been priding myself on having no idea who Taylor Swift is, but I finally heard that Shake It Off song. Can't say I'm terribly impressed." To which my initial response was to think I was dealing with an absolutely genius-level troll. A meta-troll! "Shake It Off" is LITERALLY about Taylor Swift not particularly caring if some people like her or not, including the immortal lyric "the haters gon' hate (hate hate hate hate)". To take that as an invitation to go ahead and hate on her and/or that specific anthem in response is either some next-level parody or about the most egregious, oblivious missing-the-point imaginable.

I know, it's excessively generous of me to even entertain the thought that it could be the former. But the latter is so gob-smacking that sometimes my brain's defense mechanisms just kick in on their own.

Here's another instance, one where I couldn't even deploy my mental shields of alt-explanations, because I already knew better. A dude who was in the high school band with me extended a FB friend request which I accepted. And it quickly became clear that this dude's Facebook presence was, not to put too fine a point on it, the embodiment of the Bitchy Queen stereotype, so consistent and so over-the-top that if I were reading about him as a fictional character in a book I would suspect the author of having a homophobic agenda evinced by creating a grossly unsympathetic and completely unbelievable caricature. I have a fair number of gay friends and by and large (this seems like a no-brainer but forgive me for belaboring the obvious) their presence in my newsfeed is exactly like my straight friends'. Some of them have kids and post pictures of them. Some of them are into comic books or Dungeons and Dragons and post links and memes about those topics. Some of them are more political than others, and comment on news stories or share petitions or whatever related to LBGT rights (as, again, do many of my straight friends). But one and only one of my gay FB friends posts near-daily status updates consisting entirely of selfies (two variations: at the office in suit and tie, three-quarters profile; at the gym in front of the wall mirror with shirt lifted to show off ripped abs) and whiny, entitled complaining about how he shouldn't have to put up with people who annoy him (a/k/a 99.9% of Earth's population). As I say, I knew this dude ages ago, and back then he was definitely whiny, but also closeted and not vain at all (any more than any other self-conscious teenager). When we connected on FB and I quickly realized he was now out and in a relationship with another dude, I thought maybe the "it gets better" principle would have elevated his overall outlook on life, but apparently not. But it does, to me, beg the question - how can one not realize what one is putting out there into the world, particularly when one is playing all-consumingly into a fairly nasty stereotype? No self-awareness? Self-aware but just don't care? Cultivating the larger-than-life-and-twice-as-catty mystique on purpose?

For what it's worth, eventually I unfollowed the dude. I haven't ever beefed with someone on FB so viciously that I've felt the need to unfriend and block them, but some people with a certain snide, one-note negativity don't need to be speedbumps in my scrolling every day. (The aforementioned pop culture h8r, on the other hand, provides a certain entertainment value because his hot takes are just bonkers sometimes.)

Finally, just to adhere to the Rule of Three, one more gotta-be-a-gimmick case in point. Another fellow author, this one a single mom of one little girl. Not a terrible person by any stretch, not a light-swallowing pit of negativity at all. But lacking self-awareness in her own special way all the same. Specifically, she does that thing, the one where a parent makes their whole FB account, profile pic and cover image and status updates and all, more about their offspring than themselves. The culmination of that came one day when this woman posted that she was so proud of her daughter for making poo in the potty three times that day.

Which ... I just ... I mean ...

That was the whole gist of the status update. There was no joke to it, no snark, no "here's a thing about potty training your children that no one ever talks about" or somesuch. Nor was there any kind of disclaimer acknowledging it was TMI but she didn't care, or any other context. She just put it out there, for whose benefit I can't even hazard a guess. It's one thing when a husband or wife gushes about how proud they are of their spouse; it may be an overly conspicuous bit of online PDA but at least if the spouse in question is also on FB then s/he will see the post and get the warm fuzzies, allocate some brownie points, whatever. It's forcing your entire friends list to be audience to your relationship maintenance, but at least it serves a purpose. Praising a toddler on FB doesn't do much for the toddler, or anyone else. It just forces everyone on your friends list to be audience to something pointless and also usually treated with a bit more discretion and decorum. Has this poor woman never heard of STFU Parents?!?! Or is she in fact totally familiar with it, and purposefully channeling a straight-faced take on it as a kind of very dry humor? Like asking a very tall person how the weather is up there, as if you thought that brand-new witticism up yourself, resurrecting something so utterly played out and ridiculous that it wraps back around to inherently funny again?

Probably not. In fact, after I calmed down a bit I realized that I really should go easy on her because, seriously, being a single mom is hard. So no, she probably hasn't heard of STFU Parents; just because she has a Facebook account and time to post status updates doesn't mean she's up on every hipper-than-thou meme that I have the luxury of familiarizing myself with. More to the point, she doesn't have a homebase partner to share the triumphs and tribulations of parenting with, including the not-for-polite-company aspects of biological functions. I could roll my eyes and say well that's too bad, but keeping it to herself is still her best option, but that feels a little too cold. So I'll give her a pass, not because I admire solid commitment to a comedy bit, but because we're all doing the best we can every day, and shoot, at least she's being positive about it.

Monday, August 3, 2015


Things I was ostensibly hired to do:

  • Develop web code
  • Maintain SQL databases
  • Act as liaison between server farm IT department and business agency (translate tech-speak to non and vice versa)

Things I have been tasked with doing in the past week or so:

  • Transcribe e-mail addresses from a hand-written sign-in sheet to an Excel spreadsheet
  • Build formulas in another Excel spreadsheet*
  • Show someone how to add rows to a table in Word
  • Manipulating graphics and text boxes inside an existing PowerPoint presentation
  • Basic data entry

The quantity of workload often increases inversely with the quality of said work. It's a living.

(* To be fair, in the process of fulfilling this request I actually learned something about Excel formulas and how to have them update to only reflect visible/non-hidden rows, so that was kind of cool.)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Portrait of the Escape Artist as a Young Man

Still alive! Bit of a crazy stretch there with the holiday weekend being the last chance to cross off a lot of major projects before the birthday weekend, and then of course a million little things to do in the spare moments of the week leading up. The good news is that my wife was properly feted and a good time was had by all, bad news, it apparently takes about six days to recover from one of those all-out blow-outs these days. So I'm just barely returning to something like baseline equilibrium as I type this. Not a complaint, per se, just yet another in a long line of it-is-what-it-is as an explanation for the recent silence. My wife is amazing 365 days a year and I am happy to make any given day all about celebrating her and then just take the associated time delay of regaining my balance in stride.

Yet another thing which has contributed to the overall feeling of being utterly spent, though, is the trial that the kids' bedtime has become of late. For a while we had a decent system going, where the little girl and the bino were sharing a room and would go to bed at the same time, and the little girl was remarkably patient about just getting in bed and lying quietly while the bino was coaxed (much against his will) into sleep-readiness with various cuddling, rocking, lullaby singing and whatnot. Then we switched the sleeping arrangements so that the two boys shared a room, and since the little guy is significantly older we were all right with putting the bino to bed alone, letting the little guy do some extra reading or video watching, and then quietly, sneakily tucking in the little guy after the bino had (hopefully) drifted off. Somewhere in between those two stages, the little girl would get put to bed in her own room. Like I said, it worked decently enough.

Then at some point (and I admit I may have the timeline all messed up in my brain, which is mushier than ever) the bino was fighting sleep so much he'd still be awake when it was time for the little guy to get to bed. And since the little guy's bedroom entrance did not go unnoticed, we had to let the bino climb into the bigger bed with his brother or else he'd have a hissyfit. Of course sometimes that meant they were both quickly asleep, and sometimes it meant they kept each other awake talking, playing, or fighting (or all three). But eventually the bino rejected the toddler bed altogether and would only be put down in the little guy's big bed, and even then it took a ridiculously long time. So we started letting the little guy just hang out and fall asleep in our bed in the master suite, while his baby brother took over his bed. Again, the little girl was kind of isolated from it all, for better or worse. When my wife and I were ready for bed, we'd either transfer the bino from big bed to toddler bed and transfer the little guy from our bed to his own, or we'd transfer only the little guy, tucking him in next to the bino.

Of course that state of affairs could never last, and now it's gotten to the point where the bino (who is fully in the thrall of the terrible twos, it seems) doesn't really want to go to bed at bedtime at all, and even getting to fall asleep in his big brother's bed doesn't do the trick. Now the bino wants to be in the master suite bad with his big brother, which again only works if they both actually stay quiet and calm, which is hardly guaranteed. And throw on top of that the fact that the little girl has started to feel a little bit of jealousy over these slumber parties in mommy and daddy's bed, and sometimes (but not always!) she wants to be part of them, too. An almost-seven-year-old, a four-year-old and a two-year-old all physically fit in our queen-sized bed, that's not the issue. It's one of them kicking the other, or talking too much, or whathaveyou. It can escalate into all-out chaos pretty quickly.

Of course my wife and I just want to get everyone to remain in a bed and stay relatively quiet, so that we can have a goshdarn half an hour to ourselves to sit on the couch and have an adult conversation while we watch a DVR'ed sitcom or something. Actual sleep is utterly beside the point, honestly. But even the staying put/staying quiet is too much to ask. And mainly it's the two-year-old causing all the problems. Not only does he not want to go to sleep, and not want to do it where we want him to do it, but he's only sleeping fitfully these days, randomly waking up in the middle of the night more often than not. The upside is that he can, generally, manage these wakings on his own and get himself back to sleep. The downside is that he does it by changing where he's sleeping. So, we make concessions about where he falls asleep, assuming that once he and his siblings are asleep we can rearrange bodies as we please. And, to be fair, once the little guy is down for the night, wherever we put him, he stays there. Ditto the little girl. But moving the bino while he's asleep has virtually zero impact on where we're going to find him once we all wake up.]

Case in point, last night: the bino wanted to fall asleep in the master suite with his brother. I caved immediately, but was later overruled (and rightly so) by my wife because the little guy was unable to fall asleep due to the spazzy toddler on the other side of the mattress. So my wife put the bino in the big bed in the boys' room and said goodnight. Moments later the bino was up and about in the hallway looking to appeal the decision. I scooped him up and laid down with him in the boys' room, explaining that he'd had his chance trying to sleep with his brother and since he couldn't be quiet and still he'd have to sleep in here alone. He rejected my every suggestion of bedtime singalongs and such, but he was at least horizontal and calm, so I left. He didn't do anything else noisy enough to draw attention from his parents, but sure enough when our night was drawing to a close and I went up to transfer the little guy, I found the bino right there in our bed beside him. So I transferred both boys, and my wife and I went to bed. Woke up this morning and sonofagun the little squirt was in our bed again, and I hadn't noticed at what point during the night he had even come in. I thought to myself he's like a little freaking Houdini, except in blue pajamas, so inevitably ...

... I've had this image stuck in my head all morning.

It's a phase! That's what we keep telling ourselves, and it's true. It's just a phase, a relatively benign one in the grand scheme of things. He's going through rapid cognitive development, talking a blue streak these days and learning things at pre-school and no doubt growth-spurting like mad, all of which makes his brain feel like the inside of a Magic Bullet on frappe. He prioritizes stimulation over sleep, and it shows at both ends. He'll settle down at some point, and we'll catch up on regular, full nights of rest. Maybe some time around the next Olympics.