I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

listen to my words

Archive for the ‘Thought’ Category

I think a lot. Probably more than I should. This section is a repository of observations, philosophic musics, and theological theorizing.

A Few Reasons My Current Workplace Is Superior In Every Way To My Previous Employment

  • I got a chair that doesn’t give me knee or back problems on my first day. I didn’t have to wait two years.
  • I got a computer and could start working on day one. I didn’t have to wait a week.
  • I get cell phone reception in the bathroom.
  • Free. Dr. Pepper.
  • My supervisor understands what I’m talking about when I talk about the work I was assigned to do.
  • No pit of existential despair weighing heavily in my gut.
  • Proper lighting and visible windows.
  • It doesn’t take three months to get software.
  • I’m encouraged to communicate in efficient ways with my peers and those who can help me through problems.
  • My boss isn’t bi-polar. OR trying to brute force his way into being in charge. Related: He doesn’t act like he deserves unearned respect.
  • I can use current technologies that will keep me relevant instead of designing for Internet Explorer 7.

And that’s just on the first day. How awesome is that?

Should Not Exist

The TSA, that is.

Of course we’ve already covered that. Or, if we haven’t, we should have.

But seriously, I can’t think of any legitimate, rational reason that the TSA should continue to function and use up taxpayer money.

The screenings have stopped exactly zero terrorist plots, and anything they’ve managed to catch would have been caught by pre-September 11 screening methods.

But yes, I’m writing this as I’m outraged by their behavior regarding a four-year old. I’m going to quote the first-hand account, because it’s key to my point. Read it please.

My two young children, aged four and six, were particularly excited their Grandmother was catching the same flight out of Wichita. Since she lives in California, and we live in Montana, they’ve never had a chance to fly with her. Tired and eager to return home, we began passing through security. My children and I went through without an incident. My Mother, however, had triggered the alarm. She was asked to go through the scanners again, and when the source of the alarm could not be identified she was told to sit aside and await a pat-down. All of this was perfectly routine.

When my Four-year-old daughter noticed her Grandmother, she excitedly ran over to give her a hug, as children often do. They made very brief contact, no longer than a few seconds. The Transportation Security Officers(TSO) who were present responded to this very simple action in the worst way imaginable.

First, a TSO began yelling at my child, and demanded she too must sit down and await a full body pat-down. I was prevented from coming any closer, explaining the situation to her, or consoling her in any way. My daughter, who was dressed in tight leggings, a short sleeve shirt and mary jane shoes, had no pockets, no jacket and nothing in her hands. The TSO refused to let my daughter pass through the scanners once more, to see if she too would set off the alarm. It was implied, several times, that my Mother, in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter.

My child, who was obviously terrified, had no idea what was going on, and the TSOs involved still made no attempt to explain it to her. When they spoke to her, it was devoid of any sort of compassion, kindness or respect. They told her she had to come to them, alone, and spread her arms and legs. She screamed, “No! I don’t want to!” then did what any frightened young child might, she ran the opposite direction.

That is when a TSO told me they would shut down the entire airport, cancel all flights, if my daughter was not restrained. It was then they declared my daughter a “high-security-threat”.

Two TSOs were following her and again I was told to have no contact with my child. At this point, I was beyond upset, I disregarded what the TSO had said to me, and I ran to my daughter. I picked her up. I hugged her. I tried to comfort her.

The TSOs were not pleased.

I was forced to set my child down, they brought her into a side room to administer a pat-down, I followed. My sweet four-year-old child was shaking and crying uncontrollably, she did not want to stand still and let strangers touch her. My heart was breaking. I will never forget the look of pure terror on her face. A TSO began repeating that in the past she had “seen a gun in a teddy bear.” The TSO seemed utterly convinced my child was concealing a weapon, as if there was no question about it. Worse still, she was treating my daughter like she understood how dangerous this was, as if my daughter was not only a tool in a terrorist plot, but actually in on it. The TSO loomed over my daughter, with an angry grimace on her face, and ordered her to stop crying. When my scared child could not do so, two TSOs called for backup saying “The suspect is not cooperating.” The suspect, of course, being a frightened child. They treated my daughter no better than if she had been a terrorist.

It was an awful sight.

A third TSO arrived to the scene, and showed no more respect than the first two had given. All three were barking orders at my daughter, telling her to stand still and cease crying. When she did not stop crying on command, they demanded we leave the airport. They claimed they could not safely check my daughter for dangerous items if she was in tears. I will admit, I lost my temper.

Finally, a manager intervened. He determined that my child could, in fact, be cleared through security while crying. I was permitted to hold her while the TSO checked her body. When they found nothing hidden on my daughter, they were forced to let us go, but not until after they had examined my ID and boarding passes for a lengthy amount of time. When we arrived at our gate, I noticed that the TSOs had followed us through the airport. I was told something was wrong with my boarding pass and I would have to show it to them again. Upon seeing the TSO, my daughter was thrown into hysterics. Eventually, we were able to board our flight.

My daughter is very shaken up about this, and has been waking up with nightmares.
What should have been a very minor, routine security check was turned into a horrific ordeal. All of this could easily have been prevented if the TSO involved had used a little bit of compassion and a smidgen of common sense. There is no reason for any child to go through this, and while I completely understand the necessity of tight airport security, I fail to see how harassing a small child will provide safety for anyone.
Michelle Brademeyer

And then the TSA has this which I suppose sort of qualifies as a response:

I’ve seen some headlines stating that TSA Officers accused a 4-year-old child of having a firearm. This wasn’t the case, and I wanted to take a few moments to explain what happened.

TSA has long had a security procedure where if somebody has contact with a person who is undergoing additional screening, they must also undergo additional screening. Why you might ask? You’ve probably heard the old saying that the hand can be faster than eye? Well… that’s the reasoning behind this procedure. There’s always the chance that a prohibited item could be traded off during contact. I’m sure you’ve watched the scene play out in more than one movie where two people collide or shake hands and an item is traded off? Same thing…

We did recently roll out new procedures that reduce the need for pat-downs of children. These new screening procedures include permitting multiple passes through the metal detector and advanced imaging technology to clear any alarms as well as the greater use of explosives trace detection. These changes in protocol will ultimately reduce – though not eliminate – pat-downs of children. But… this is one of those examples where a pat-down of a child was necessary.

It was explained to the family why the pat-down was needed and at no time did our Officers suggest the child was carrying a firearm. We’ve reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures.
Bob Burns, TSA Blog Team

Apparently, the TSA is trying to stop Danny Ocean and his crew from escaping with the loot they heisted from that sleazy casino owner. Guys, “you’ve seen in movies” is a terrible, terrible argument. You know what else I’ve seen in movies? Time Travel. Space slugs that eat space ships capable of faster-than-light travel. Dragons. I believe the chances of any of those things somehow threatening US citizens is so remarkably close to zero that it is zero.

But that’s more a criticism of the structure of their argument. Not the point.

Mr. Burns is adamant that no TSO ever suggested the four-year-old of holding a handgun. That, apparently, is what they feel they need to quibble about.

But if you need to, re-read Ms. Brademeyer’s narrative. She says they implied it. Who am I going to believe here? A mother who is not allowed to be with her child but gets to watch as they grope the four-year-old? Or the civil rights violating agency with a history of poor judgement, even poorer action, and the lack of ability to even justify their own terrible existence? Perhaps they’re both suspect in terms of believability. But I’m going to go with the first-hand report rather than the guy with the job to make an oppressive government organization look a little less terrible.

Other than that, the TSA doesn’t dispute a single fact that Ms. Brademeyer puts forth.

Ok, here’s the thing about first-person accounts. They’re great for historians because they put a lot of context into contemporary events. However, they are almost certainly always embellished, if not exaggerated. Eye witness accounts are almost always faulty. Still the subjective view is valuable, because it clearly illustrates the effect the TSA has on the American people.

But even if we tone down Ms. Brademeyer’s story, we’re still left with TSOs who separated her from her child, did nothing to help console a distraught child and prohibited the child’s mother from the same, and refused to re-scan the child, opting for a pat down.

Oh hey. What’s this that I found on the TSA’s Website?

Security officers will approach children gently and treat them with respect. If a child becomes uncomfortable or upset, security officers will consult parents about the best way to relieve the child’s concern.

and from the same page:

TSA has enacted risk-based checkpoint screening procedures for passengers 12 and under that include: … Allowing multiple passes through the walk through metal detector and advanced imaging technology to clear any alarms on children.

Again, the TSA doesn’t dispute any of the essential, or even most of the ancillary, facts of Ms. Brademeyer’s story. Which states that everything I just quoted from the TSA website was blatantly violated. However, the TSA does claim that they checked on it, and it’s ok because they “determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures.” Really! Big Charlie who dates the cousin of one of the TSOs told me so.

I’m calling a lie on that one.

You may have noticed that I used the word “terrible” a lot. That’s intentional. The TSA has caused more terror in the hearts of Americans and other innocent air passengers than Bin Ladin ever did or ever could. Bin Ladin never scared me. Angry beyond reason at times. But never terror. My own government? Especially the TSA? Yeah, they terrify me CONSTANTLY.

Update 2012-04-27 13:34
It should surprise no one that my comment on this entry on the TSA Blog was never approved. The comment was an abbreviated form of the ideas expressed in this blog entry. Note, however, that they couldn’t very well pretend that no one said anything. Of 156 comments at this moment, only one expressed any support for the TSA, and it didn’t expend any effort justifying this particular adventure the TSA led us on.

I’m so stupid

So yesterday I fell victim to a practical joke.

I considered pretending that I was participating. It would have worked, and some people may have believed me.

But anyway, I decided honesty was the best policy. A lot of this is motivated by the fact that I was so angry about the joke. Not about being joked, but that the joke had motivated me to righteous, angry blathering and action. And finding out that it was all a falsehood deflated me so badly.

I have emotional problems, and this is the sort of thing that throws me right off track. I usually feel so weary of this sort of thing that I don’t even have time to think about how I should be relieved that I don’t have to participate in another crusade. I get depressed, basically.

So anyway, yesterday’s post was based on fallacious information. I felt so sure of it being true because so many sites were participating in the ruse. I did have a bit of a nagging feeling that it was weird there didn’t appear to be an “official” link to the bill in question. The lesson here is to listen to your nagging doubts and at least look into it.

Anyway, the premise, that Lieberman is introducing a specific horrible bill, was not true. He is into censorship, however. So he’s still not someone I like.

And my other arguments remain valid. Removing our civil liberties is exactly what terrorists want. They don’t do us any good, and it creates a climate they like.

So, take that for what it’s worth.

And, to make sure this doesn’t come off as a “non-apology apology”: I am sorry for spreading misinformation. I felt I had done proper research, but I clearly hadn’t. It was a mistake, and I’m sorry.

Is it Evil? Or just stupid?

Edits on 04/02: crossed out the things that aren’t true, but I thought were because I’m a gullible jackanapes.

Being socially conscious makes me very tired. Extremely tired.

For example. A few weeks ago the Smithsonian began construction on the Museum of African American History and Culture. Yay. But, what they didn’t communicate to anyone was that they were going to shut off all the sidewalks around the block — including the spot where for decades (literally, as in multiples of 10 years) there was a slug line*. So suddenly dozens of people were standing each night on the curb waiting for rides, a mere slip of the foot away from getting flattened by a bus. Everyone agreed that the established location needed to move, but not a single person started doing anything about it. So I stepped up.

As soon as I got the ball rolling, the cretins crawled out of the woodwork. Some thought the five business days to get everyone used to the idea was too long. They started whining about it. Others refused to move. When all was said and done the line finally moved to a safer spot, but I was angry or frustrated with about fifty percent of the people I had previously been blase about.

I was tired. I was glad I wasn’t in politics, and my dim view of humanity as a whole was reaffirmed.

I don’t LIKE having to help fix things. That’s why I don’t like to be involved.

That’s why I was relieved to stumble on to Popehat. They could be angry for me! I’m certain I’ll find quite a bit I don’t agree with them about in the future. But so far, they’ve been angry for plenty of good reasons and said things better than I generally manage to do. Naturally they would most likely be disgusted with my slothful attitude toward activism, but eh, thems the breaks.

Anyway, today I found the hole in my justification. No, not that hole, the other one. NO, the less obvious one.

This one.

It’s not enough to be stupid, criminal, or a complete waste of space to get me riled up enough to try and muster any support for something. You have to also be trying to undo the Constitution.

In case you can’t be bothered to follow the link, or you did, saw that it was more than two paragraphs, and thought “tl;dr” (in which case you probably haven’t gotten this far either), the blog post linked above discusses Senator Joe Lieberman’s latest attempt to subvert the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. To wit, he wants to offer a bill that makes web site owners’ culpable for the content of comments left by readers. It’s not the first time, and likely won’t be the last unless his constituents get a brain cell and don’t re-elect him. The man is not a friend to civil liberties.

Want to read more on it? Here’s an article. And another. And One more. I’m sure there’s enough links from there to get you the information you need, since I already linked the text of the changes.

Guys, this is stupid bad. Almost Protect IP Act stupid bad. Which is why I wonder. Is the man evil? Or just stupid?

One of the fundamental principles I try to apply to all my political discourse is that the other side of an argument is not crazy, stupid, or evil**. Because it is possible to disagree with out one side being one of those. Generally, in modern political discussion, both sides at least one, usually two or more.

But Lieberman… seriously? You want to remove the ability to make anonymous comments on the Internet… to stop the terrorists? I can’t even begin to think of how that logic goes. Or why on earth you think that principle will be remotely confined to anti-terrorism enforcement. So, are you of the opinion that tyranny is a beneficial way to run a republic? Because if you do, the only possible conclusions are that you’re either evil or stupid.

Look, let me set politicians straight on this. Al Qaeda and Bin Ladin made me very angry for several years. But they never struck terror into my heart or mind. I stopped being so angry at them when “if x doesn’t happen than the terrorists win” became an argument that people actually used and “when you’re trying to get things done…” became the justification for the federal government to do whatever the heck they want. At that point, I got angry with the people arguing for our own government to enact oppressive policies.

You know what the terrorists are after? They’re not trying to escape — many of them are suicide bombers. They’re not trying to gain control of our government. They’re trying to make it so our government isn’t free anymore. They’re trying to make it so that we have our own backward thinking mechanisms that keep us from being allowed to travel, wear what we want, and say what we want. Because if that freedom exists in our country, it can “infect” their country.

So what makes the terrorists win? When our own frigging government tells us that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are no more important than toilet paper and that freedom of speech is detrimental to our safety.

You know what? Freedom of speech is probably dangerous — it means we don’t have to agree. And yes, it makes it harder to get things done. That’s what the people who wrote the Constitution intended. It’s supposed to be hard to get things through so you can’t ram a fist full of liberty-stripping bills through Congress without any objection. People, we want it to be difficult for the government to change easily. Maybe a few guilty get away, but it means that thousands of the innocent don’t pointlessly suffer.

So, to finally get to my point. U.S. citizens, it’s time to exercise a few of your civil liberties while you still have them. It’s time once again to write your Senators. Don’t worry about your Representatives, yet. This is a Senate bill, or will be. Lieberman’s chairman of the Homeland Security committee so that should help you sleep better at night. Or not. But write your Senators. You can find their pages by going to the Senate web site and pulling up your state. Tell them what you think of censorship and the destruction of the best communication tool the world has seen so far (I’m talking about the Internet).

I’m not going to explain slug lines. If you don’t know, go over here. — go back

Obvious exceptions are people like Michael Moore and pretty much anyone on Fox’s payroll that has a show with their name in the title. — go back

I hold these truths to be self-evident.

Almost three and a half years ago, I wrote this and my thoughts are going back to it.

I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve decided that I do not pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I don’t pledge my allegiance to any flag, even Virginia’s. I think that pledge allegiance to a silly looking piece of fabric (I’m not a huge fan of the US flag’s design) is exactly what’s wrong with this country.

I thought about instead I would pledge my allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America. But that didn’t sit exactly right. You know what I pledge my allegiance to? The principles upheld by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. To wit:

  • That all men are created equal
  • That they are endowed with certain unalienable rights such as
    • Life
    • liberty
    • the pursuit of happiness
  • That government governs only with the consent of the governed
  • That a populace has the right to take up arms against a government that treats them unjustly if that government is not willing or able to make reparation
  • That church and state should be separate entities and not screw around with each other if they can at all help it
  • That people should be allowed to gather and discuss even vile and stupid ideas
  • That with the exception of dangers to national security (not an individual’s security) the government should not keep secrets
  • That the range of national security dangers is quite narrow
  • That protesting a government policy is at the core of patriotism
  • That citizens of a free society have the right to arm and defend themselves if necessary
  • That the government has an obligation to explain itself when it feels it necessary to search a person or their belongings or property, and that this option must receive approval
  • That persons have a right to trial by jury of peers when accused of a crime
  • That there are punishments for crimes and methods of interrogation that go beyond necessary or humane, and these should not be used.
  • That any citizen has a right to vote and protest and speak
  • That all men being created equal does not exclude any race, color, creed, or gender
  • That this list, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, nor any other document contains a comprehensive list of all civil rights nor all principles of good governance.

Why? Because this:

One of these men is an arch-conservative. The other is Rick Santorum

This man also said that JFK believing in the separation of church and state made him “want to throw up.”

GOP, I mean it. You are horrible, vile people if you continue to even consider Santorum.

But that’s off subject. What I really wanted to get at was this.

I’m certain Santorum loves America. Or at least his idea of it. I’m sure the flying flag stirs his heart.

I also think he doesn’t give a fig for what’s actually in the Constitution or any of the principles. And that’s my point. Loving your country, loving its flag, none of that is an ideal that I truly aspire to. I have a love of my country, and even of its flag (which, I still maintain, is a little bit silly looking). But ultimately, where I pledge my allegiance is the principles of humanity that this country is supposed to maintain. And Gingrich and Santorum don’t even pretend to do that. They want to use the Constitution as toilet paper.

That makes me want to throw up.

Bad Cinema

So I have been asked what I mean when I say “Bad Cinema.” The thing is, it’s not an easy thing for me to encapsulate any other way. Which is, after all, why I settled on the phrase.

One proposed definition is “movies that are so bad they’re good.” And to be honest, Bad Cinema encompasses a lot of these sorts of movies. Robot Jox is a good example of this. Robot Jox is a B-movie, set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the remaining nations (the Soviet Union among them) have agreed that instead of full on wars or weapons of mass destruction, they will settle disputes with what amounts to Ultimate Fighting Championships – between giant robots. There’s no rationale for how on earth societies settle on this, or why they even abide by it. The budget was so low that the props and costumes were made primarily out of bits you’d find in any local Radio Shack.

What did the film have going for it? Well, they managed to avoid wholesale copying of “mecha” style robots. Otherwise… not really anything.

But I like it. So by default, I throw it in the Bad Cinema category.

But that doesn’t work for the main body of what I consider Bad Cinema.

The second simplest way I can put it (since “Bad Cinema” is the first simplest way) is that these are movies that have at least one flash of absolute brilliance in them. Something genuine and real, and almost objectively well done – but that are otherwise so poorly made that they have no chance of commercial or critical success.

Many movies with cult followings fit into this category: Buckaroo Bonzai, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (the camp approach on the last one walks the brilliant line of farcical silliness without ever crossing into just plain stupid, which is the problem with so many spoof movies, including all of Tomatoes’s sequels.

They all have that one piece of inspirational awesomeness that draws certain people who are able to overlook the flaws. Highlander is another example. By all objective measures, the TV series was a better made production. Critics collectively gave the movie a “meh.” If it weren’t for international audiences, the theatrical release would have been a loss for the studio.

All the same, the ideas and the story that lay under the movie were enough to inspire Queen to sit down and write a bunch of songs for it. It launched a multi-film and multi-media franchise. The catch-phrase “There can be only one” is widely known these days. Taken as a whole, it’s not a brilliant achievement. But the component parts of it reveal some wonderful creativity and some powerful ideas that can be truly moving.

Another example: Godzilla (1954). This isn’t what most people think of when they think of great cinema. It’s also an example that initially seems to be arguing against myself. Godzilla was initially panned by critics. But the people disagreed sharply. It broke records for ticket sales. The only reason it didn’t win best picture in the Japanese Academy Awards was because it was up against Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (a fantastic movie by almost any measure).

You know what’s awesome about Godzilla? This is a movie about the horrific accidental result of a nuclear weapons testing – made concrete in the form of a literal giant monster. And the only way to stop it is to create a new kind of weapon of mass destruction and using it on their own territory. And where does it take place? The only country to have had a nuclear weapon used against them – less than ten years after the flight of the Enola Gay. It is powerful that the creators would have the courage to examine the issue that way in the mass media.

Of course, when I talk about Bad Cinema, I don’t mean just the 1954 movie. I’m talking about most of Toho’s output, as well as even the Mathew Broderick version. One of my favorite installments in the franchise is Final Wars, which features … well, pretty much every rubber suit monster Toho ever conceived. And they just keep coming. Also included? A Power Rangers-esque set of super soldiers who do battle with humanoid aliens (who control the monsters) and each other. Good times. It is, essentially, pro wrestling in rubber suits. I think, honestly, it’s that homage to the original that makes it so appealing. It’s not an attempt to recreate the phenomenon. It’s an acknowledgement that giant monsters stomping tiny things is pretty awesome on its own.

So that’s Bad Cinema. I’m not sure if I can reduce it any more than that, other than to cite more movies and explain what I love about them.

This. Yes. This. It is truth

How 30-Somethigns with Kids celebrate Christmas

Courtesy of The Oatmeal

Thirty-ish paragraphs of gratitude.

One item for each day of November. No, it’s not 3 like much of my in-laws have been passing about each day for the last month, but I wanted to expound a bit on them. And tripling the size of this list was just not an option at this point. Maybe next year. NOTE: the sequence is not significant.

  1. Suspension of disbelief
    I’m not sure why this one is first. But I’m glad to have this particular skill. I can watch a movie with a guy in a rubber lizard suit stomping on models and I can enjoy it for what went into it. And yes, the original Godzilla raised some interesting questions worth thinking about.
    Likewise, my favorite stories all rely on fantastic premises. How dull my life would be without the willing suspension of disbelief! And how many opportunities to learn and understand would be lost!
  2. Comics
    I love comics. The synthesis of words and images to create a narrative. It’s fascinating simply as a communications medium. I won’t bore you with an analysis here, but in this case, McLuhan was right: the medium is the message. I enjoy reading comics because they’re comics. Certainly I love stories about superheroes too, but comics on their own are intriguing to me.
  3. The Internet
    It’s the future, people. Innovation is faster because people can collaborate across the globe in real time. Your Kindle? That’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Certainly there is some knowledge that has never made it on to a web site, but on the whole, the Internet is the human race’s memory. And it doesn’t have to be deep! The simple communication it fosters is a great boon.
  4. Passionate people
    Passionate people are interesting people. Sometimes they’re also irritating people, but people who aren’t able to put their emotions into something don’t bring a lot to talk about to the table. Also, passionate people are the people who change the world. New things happen because people are excited to find something new.
  5. Democracy
    It’s easy to get hung up on the problems of our society – because we have got a bunch of them. “Democracy is the worst form of government… except all the other ones.” (yeah, I probably misquoted that one). Greed, disinterest, shortsightedness, misunderstanding. These things cause major problems. But we don’t have to wait for a specific person to decide to do something about these problems. We can work for change with efficacy. And if the people who are supposed to do things about the problems are too apathetic, we can replace them.
  6. Divergent opinions
    Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, I’m not always right. People have different ideas and different ways of understanding issues. Because they disagree, I can receive deeper understanding of issues. And it’s divergent opinions that push progress as well. If we all accepted something as best, no one would ever try to make it better.
    And at the very least, an intelligent discussion of different opinions is good for an excellent conversation.
  7. My cat
    It’s stupid sounding, but I really was inspired to adopt Pippin. I’m very affectionate toward him. After all this time with us he’s learning how to accept and even enjoy petting and scratching. And he’s excellent with the children. He’s even learned to game that system. The other day when Erica grabbed his tail, he didn’t retaliate and just left, which earned him four cat treat snacks. Later, he was found encouraging Erica to grab him again, so he could get more treats.
    It’s also very cool that he has one ear. It makes him look tough and manly. So when he kills small critters, it’s easy to be proud of his accomplishments.
  8. My mind
    My mind doesn’t work like most other people’s do. This can be a detriment when I haven’t been able to adapt to new situations, but on the whole it’s given me wonderful ways of looking at things and has brought me access to a variety of things I would never have tried if I was stuck in your focused brains. I don’t know what it’s like to have a non-ADHD mind, but it’s not infrequent that I pity you for not experiencing life like I do.
  9. Good books
    Moving books, educational books, inspiring books, well-written books. Books of wit, books of adventure, books of instruction. I have gained so much from so many different categories of books. Insight, catharsis, fascination, understanding. It’s because of books that I write. It’s because of books that I’ve learned to do most of the things I do. I’m not talking about nostalgia for traditional “dead tree” books, though I love those plenty, but any cohesive, discreet combination of words with the possible addition of images – those have enriched my life.
  10. I can write
    I enjoy it. It’s responsible at least in part for my livelihood. It allows me to share my ideas. It helps me to remember my own ideas and keep track of other people’s ideas. It’s not the only way to tell stories or to organize thought, but it is the most effective and common way I do it.
  11. I can write code
    Because creating a web site or a program really feels like doing something. It can be shown off. It helps me see the relationships between points of data. And, ideally, putting good code together makes the world just a tiny bit better for me and possibly others.
  12. Turkey dinner
    Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and while turkey dinner with stuffing, potatoes, and green bean casserole is far from even half the reason for it, this particular meal is a non-trivial contributor to making Thanksgiving so wonderful to me. It makes me fat, but it makes me happy.
  13. Kirsti
    It’s a wonder I ever got anything done without Kirsti in my life. I look at all the other relationships I had and I wonder sometimes how I ever thought I was in love. I am literally a better man because she’s in my life. Plus, she keeps me grounded. I would be off in la-la land. Being near her helps me remember what is important.
    And let’s face it, nobody doubts that it’s her genetics that made my kids so beautiful.
  14. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth made me a papa. Ok, maybe it’s more accurate to say Kirsti did that with me. But before Elizabeth, I wasn’t a papa. With Elizabeth, I am suddenly a papa. She’s a smart kid finding her way with a lot of the same issues I had. She reminds me of my past. But she’s not the same as me, she has her own ideas and her own loves. It’s fun to talk with her.
  15. Sarah
    Sarah is a ball of energy. She is also brilliant and creative. So often I finding her giving of herself. After Hurricane Katrina, she donated one of her blankies to the relief effort. I almost cried in that moment. I’m not sure that I did anything right to teach her to give that way, but it’s a thing of beauty to have a person like that in my life.
  16. Rachael
    Rachael has the most awesome smile of anyone I’ve ever met. As the middle kid, it seems she often gets lumped in with other kids or completely overlooked. Then, when she does something that catches my attention she stands out with a radiance that makes me wonder how I could have paid attention to anything else. She has a dynamic and a powerful spirit, and she is going to change the world.
  17. Maire
    For the longest time, Maire was the baby in the family (for almost five years, in fact). She sometimes resents being so far behind her sisters, but she really shouldn’t. She’s a shining star where she is. No one else in our family has invented nearly as many songs, or given so many smiles to other people. As she finds herself, she becomes a more amazing person.
  18. Erica
    A frenetic wiggler. That’s enough to bring joy to my heart. She adores her sisters, and seeing that adoration is enough to bring joy. She gives everyone something to care about. And in her seven months she has often been a source of comfort and emotional warmth for me when I have felt dark times upon me.
  19. My parents
    It almost goes without saying that my parents have made me who I am today. It’s possible that I would have found many of the things that make up my psyche anyway, but it’s doubtful. My faith grew from their faith. My loves grew from their loves. They gave me emotional and physical shelter, and I can never thank them enough for that.
  20. My in-laws
    We have strikingly different outlooks at times, but I owe them everything for turning out my wife like they did. And yet they continue to give, encouraging us, loving us, and giving my children new opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise. They are amazing people, and I don’t give them credit for that often enough.
  21. Bob Dylan
    The single best songwriter. Ever. Maybe you could argue against that, but I’m firmly convinced it’s true. He helped shape culture for nearly five decades now. Music wouldn’t be anything like it is without his input. So much joy and art has come out of his existence.
  22. Ray Davies
    I almost feel like I’m cheating by putting two songwriters in a row, but it’s my list, so my rules. While Bob is the best songwriter ever, Ray Davies is my favorite songwriter. I have had hundreds of hours of bliss listening to the music of Ray, his brother Dave, and the band they formed. Ray’s music literally formed the way I would listen to music throughout my life.
  23. Speculative Fiction
    Because reality gets so boring and its impact decreases when it gets too personal. Speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, and the like, fixes all that. It puts a layer of metaphor in between all the problems it addresses. And also, dragons and aliens are fun.
  24. Fun games
    This is simple and I worry I’ll make it sound deeper than it is. I love playing interesting games. Working through the relation of the rules and the goals, inconsequential competition, entertainment. I can’t understand people who don’t like games.
  25. A safe home
    With so many troubles, it’s so nice to have a safe place to turn to. It keeps us dry, and warm (or cool, if appropriate), gives us a home base to rest and let go of stresses. And it gives us a place to relate with each other and bond. The value of a home, even a small one, cannot be overstated. The stability it affords alone is worth more gratitude than I can give.
  26. The gospel
    I can really be a screw up. And you know what? That will always matter, but because of the gospel, I know it’s not terminal in a spiritual sense. I can change on a fundamental, identity level. Change into something infinitely more than I am. Even better? My family can go with me in that change. The gospel and its implications are beautiful.
  27. Best Friends
    The identity of my bestest best buddy has shifted over the decades of my life. But there are very few people who have moved out of the category of people I think of as my best friends. These people are emotional and social bedrocks for me when I feel I’m otherwise cut adrift. There are people who have been as literal a second family to me as you can get without a marriage license. They are at the core of my being.
  28. Friendships with interesting people
    There’s a lot of overlap between the last item and this one. But there are people in my life who have inspired me by their interests and their friendliness to me. People who, because they were in my life, have shown me proof positive that I can achieve amazing things if I pursue those things. These friends have done things worth talking about, and because of that, I know I can do things worth talking about as well.
  29. My job
    I say bad things about my job a lot. This is because at least 80% of the time my job is a waking nightmare. But even given that, a nightmare job is better than no job at all. The idea of where I could be because I was unemployed for the last 2 years is orders of magnitude more terrible than my actual job is. Someone paying me to do stuff for them is, on the whole, pretty darn awesome, and I’m grateful I’m in that situation.
  30. Seeing my grandmother
    Last Saturday may be the last time I ever see her. Not because I think something is happening to her (or me) soon, but it’s already been years since I last saw her. Neither of us can travel across the country that often. My heart is full just because of the time I got to spend with her. She is a true matriarch and an inspirational life. It is an honor to be her descendant.

Strong Women in SF

    Because I’m the kind of guy who makes lists

    And because I have daughters (five of them)

    I started making a list of strong women characters in SF. Not damsels in distress. And not fantasy or urban fantasy or horror or comics. But movies that are more SF than other genres.

    I even got out some lists of SF movies and for ideas.

    People, there’s a paucity of truly good female characters in SF.

    Here’s my list so far:

    • Ripley (Aliens)
    • Samus (Metroid) (I may be pushing it here)
    • female Jedi (Star Wars) (most are not actually portrayed, but here’s some that are)
      • Shaak Ti
      • Ashoka Tano
      • Darth Talon
      • Jayna Solo
    • Princess Leia (Star Wars)
    • Padme Amidala (Star Wars)
    • Mon Mothma (Star Wars)
    • Tuvoc (Star Trek, various)
    • River Tam (Firefly)
    • Zoe (Firefly)
    • Kaylee Frye (Firefly)
    • Sarah Connor (Terminator series)
    • Seven of Nine (Star Trek Voyager)
    • Captain Janeway (Star Trek Voyager)
    • Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica)
    • Quorra (Tron: Legacy)
    • Akina (Titan, AE)
    • Aeon Flux (Aeon Flux)
    • “Franky” Cook (Sky Captain vs World of Tomorrow) (i’m on the fence about Polly from this film)
    • Trinity (The Matrix)
    • Scarlett (G.I. Joe)
    • Lady Jaye (G.I. Joe)
    • The Baroness (G.I. Joe) (yeah, she’s a villain, but often she’s portrayed as very independent)
    • Leeloo (The Fifth Element)
    • Uhura (Star Trek, most recent movie)
    • Arcadia “Arkady” Darell (Foundation)

    Yes, I know this is very incomplete. I haven’t even mentioned Star Trek DS9, for example, and i’m sure there’s one or two there, but I didn’t watch it because I didn’t like it. So please, tell me more and I’ll update.

    My requirements?

    1. Must be a strong character, not just tough (that’s why I left Dejah Thoris and Lara Croft out).
    2. Romantic interest is ok, but that cannot be the definition of her character).
    3. Can’t be simple background material. There’s at least half a dozen other female Jedi for example, but they never show up in the stories, even in the EU. They don’t count. She doesn’t have to be the primary character, but she does have to have an important role as more than just window dressing
    4. Any media is acceptable. I’ve focused on film and TV so far, but books, comics (as long as it’s not a superhero book), and video games are ok too.
    5. Mothers can be strong too. This doesn’t have to be action heroes. Amidala, for example, does participate in firefights, but she’s not strong because she kicks booty. She’s strong for her convictions, even if they are poorly portrayed.
    6. Should be primarily Science Fiction. It may have fantasy or horror elements, but the focus should be SF. I may do a list of other genres later, but this is not it
    7. Should be from a reasonably well known property.

    You know, it looks to me like if a series gets it right, they get it right several times. But still, i mean, I have 6 named Star Wars characters here. And that’s out of 6 films and a TV series. And how many strong male characters are portrayed in that? Ditto for Star Trek. Trek has a better ratio than Star Wars, but I mean, 7 of 9 is lucky to be there. She was written in for looks. Arguably you could put Dr. Crusher and Troi on the list, but I wasn’t impressed with them, and there are a half dozen strong male characters on the standard cast list, not to mention repeating characters.

Nerdy Intellectual Exercise

spaces... everywhere

click to embiggen

This is intended to be a representation of a hierarchy of literary genres.

Big concerns? Are the Supernatural/horror and Supers genres seem valid?

So I would like some feedback on this because I’d like to do soem stuff with it. Things I missed? Disagreements? Smart remarks?

note, the final product will have interactive notes to explain things.


In 1944, during World War II, DC Comics published The Big All-American Comic Book. It was nothing particularly remarkable other than it being the first “here’s a bunch of stuff from all over what we do, and it’s all original.” This was the cover:
The cover of The All American Comic Book, December 1940, DC Comics
It’s iconic, in a way. All that golden age art. The price of 25 cents. The kid and his dog. The hero worship. It was definitely All-American.

Shortly after September Eleventh, DC Comics published two comics to raise funds for victims and workers at the crash sites. Here’s the cover for volume 2:
The cover to 9-11, Volume 2, DC Comics, 2001
It doesn’t take much to see where painter Alex Ross got his idea.

There were heroes who sacrificed their lives that day. The men and women who took control back of their plane over Pennsylvania. Men and women inside the towers who helped others get out. And of course the first responders who ran into the danger, even though it was impossible to breathe and there was no way of knowing when the next building would come down.

My senior thesis in college was about the heroes a society produces. In that sense, I spoke of the heroes in literature. Heroes, naturally, have the virtues that the society values most. When those values are in upheaval, the traditional hero is unable to accomplish heroics.

I have since written, more than once, that because of this thesis, the heroes I see honored in our pop culture disturb me. The Punisher is a cruel, vindictive, serial killer. Wolverine is an animalistic dealer in violence with little control over himself at times. We spend so much time looking at the dark side of stories and then finding fault with established role models. It makes me scared for what we’ll develop into.

I remember discussions with people after September Eleventh. Conversations full of anti-Semitic statements that grouped not only all Arabs, but all Muslims into easily derided segments. Conversations full of violent, vengeful wishes to torture those responsible. Conversations that made many ordinary people look like the dark anti-heroes put before me in pop-culture. And I was frightened more than what any terrorist could inspire in me.

But then I remember these pictures. The heroes of reality, not of literature. How these people are honored. And how, no matter what heroes they were presented with in the media, they chose saving others over their own lives. And many of them kept putting their lives at risk.

September Eleventh revealed what we are like under pressure. In the moment, There is still a shining model of heroism in humanity and Americans.

We are not supermen.

But we have those who are worthy of the awe of supermen.

I Can’t Forget

Remember, remember
The ‘leventh September
Airplanes and terror and plot.
I know of no reason
The two towers treason
Should ever be forgot.

I really hate it when people call it 9-11. “Nine-Eleven.” It sounds like the name of a convenience store. I’m not even sure why it’s so popular, other than the coincidental similarity to the emergency call number in the United States. Nine-Eleven has the ring of a sound bite, which is probably why it’s so frequently used. It’s lingo-y. Jargon-y. Insipid.

We don’t say “Seven Four” (which has a cool, CB trucker vibe to it). We don’t say Twelve-Seven either, just to cover the two most likely comparisons out of the way.

Of equal distaste is “Patriot Day.” Before September 11, 2001 I was good with the term. But it’s been co-opted by political actors and has been twisted so that “patriotic” means “people who agree with me.”

Whenever I talk about the day the world ended (if you’ll indulge a bit of dramatic hyperbole) I eschew abbreviations and euphemism. “September eleventh” is what I say. The “2001” part is unnecessary. For the last ten years, if you mentioned that date, it has been understood which day you meant.

It is an event that has occupied our national mind-set for this last decade. I don’t think I’ve had a single day of the last 3652 days where the thought of the disasters that happened hasn’t come to mind.

As a writer, I sometimes wonder if I should be ashamed that I am unable to find the words to communicate better what that day means. There’s a deep emotion that stirs whenever I consider it. Yes, there’s a deep love for my country. But that’s not it. Yes there’s a deep grief for the unnecessary death. Yes there’s anger that there are people who thought that not only was that death a good idea, but a righteous, holy idea. There’s mystification at how to make sense out of tragedy. Inspiration that there are those who can go forward. Tears of joy that there are people willing to sacrifice their lives to help others who might not even be around to appreciate it anymore.

Art Spiegelman created a 42 page biopic in graphic novel format about his reaction and explanation for that day called In the Shadow of No Towers. It’s a magnificent work, artistically interpreted and finely communicated. Nothing else I’ve read about September Eleventh is nearly so clear. Yet in all that, there are more questions left or opened than are ever answered. And his thoughts are very dense.

I can’t condense it. I can’t explain it properly even when I don’t condense it. We could speak for days, weeks, even years and not work out the meaning of that day. As a nation, we’ve tried for ten years and haven’t accomplished it yet.

When I watch movies or TV shows where something apocalyptic happens, particularly something like a nuclear detonation in a U.S. city, my mind still blocks it off. Despite the fact that I watch the events of September Eleventh unfold on my TV in real time, a part of my mind is unwilling to make the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept a story where Baltimore or Los Angeles is laid waste by weapons of mass destruction. There’s a mental block. Am I just unable to accept the reality of the world? Is it just the way I’ve dealt with not being terrified of the universe?

Because of all this, I don’t know how to react. I don’t really know how to honor. I know that there is a feeling in my heart. Some big combination of sympathy, grief, fear, admiration, love of country, and loss. I can’t begin to muddle out how much of each is in there or where it is. I have emotions in quantum states — I can identify emotions or I can identify the intensity of the emotion. I can’t do both simultaneously.

And that’s why I hate it when people say “nine-eleven.” When you wrap something as complex as the events and reactions of September 11, 2001 into a neat little phrase, you obviate all those emotions and thoughts and struggles. You minimize what happened and how significant it is. Saying “September Eleventh” is my way of acknowledging that there’s so much I don’t know about it, there’s so much I don’t understand about what I do know, and there’s so much left to feel about it.

So of course I’ll never forget. I can’t forget. I’ll never be finished processing my thoughts and feelings about it. That’s too big to forget.

Predicting or Preventing the Events of September 11, 2001

Let me tell you something about predicting.

In 1999 The Leading Edge, a science fiction and fantasy journal published by Brigham Young University, printed a (very) short story called “Y2K+5.” The premise of the story was that society collapsed due to the Y2K Bug — a hypothetical but likely glitch in older software (of primary fear was software used by the financial industry) regarding how it kept dates (using 2 digits). The concern was that when the 2-digit representation of the year rolled over from 99 to 00 it would cause a host of errors and confusion. The financial system and other infrastructure IT systems would crash and data would be lost. Societal collapse would be followed.

Everything in that premise was true. At least, the fear and potential was true. The story simply made a joke about what the world would be like 5 years after the collapse of the world as we knew it – since media attention had made The Doom all but inevitable. In reality, nothing happened.

In 1994 Tom Clancy had a book published called Debt of Honor. At the end of this book a member of a failed plot to restore primacy to a fallen empire took his revenge by crashing a passenger jet into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. He did it just before the president was to speak to the assembled joint-houses of Congress. Naturally, the president and most congresspersons died. The sequel, Executive Orders, details events that followed this act of terrorism. Another terrorist plot using bio-weapons is included, as well as near-war in two southern Asian nations.

This one didn’t come true either. But it echoes eerily for some of us.

Most of the world, even if they didn’t expect anything to happen, was aware of the potential of their world changing at midnight on January 1, 2000. But nothing happened. We were able to go back to our regular lives. We were convinced that the foretold doom was nothing.

None of us were ready for the world to change on the bright, clear morning of September 11, 2001.

On that date, terrorists, using passenger airlines as kamikaze missiles killed thousands by crashing into the two World Trade Center towers in New York City and into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Another plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania when its passengers learned what was happening and heroically gave their lives to foil the terrorist plots.

In the aftermath, the terror meant to be inspired by these terrorists became real: civil rights were revoked in some of the most free countries in the world to stem unspecified potential attacks. Anthrax was used as a biological weapon. War was started with multiple Asian nations on sketchy premises. The world became a political thriller, except that there was never a neat conclusion.

So maybe somebody knew something could have changed things and nobody listened to him. It was human nature if that happened, and it wastes time and breath to try and blame people.

Because we predicted Y2K and nothing happened.

Y2K + 1 was when society as we knew it died.

Capitalizing on Emphasis

So my friend Chris and I were talking. And because we are Nerds we got to trying to label some literary terms. This is the sort of thing for which I keep a copy of The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms at my desk. Irritatingly, it’s the opposite approach for which the book was designed — which is all alphabetic with no index. So give me a term and I can look it up. But it’s a bit harder to look for a term based on the function that term has.

The stickler term was when you capitalize a phrase to create a proper noun. Usually this is done for emphasis, and even more often this emphasis is used at least a little ironically, to point out Pomposity or Overthinking the Issue. A. A. Milne did it a lot in Winnie the Pooh stories.

Now, to be clear, there are some terms we looked up that are similar but which Are Not Accurate:

Metonymy is where you use a phrase describing an aspect of something as a replacement for the something itself. Ie, it’s like saying “by the sweat of your brow” to tell Adam he needs to start working hard if he wants to survive.
My sister, who is a scientist Master of Poetry (meaning she has her master’s degree, in poetry composition) wants to insist that this is personification. However, I could say The Holocaust was a Very Bad Thing and I don’t think there’s much comparing to a person there at all. Though I suppose a person (let’s continue the trend and say it’s Hitler) could also be a Very Bad Thing.
One list of terms I saw called this simply “emphasis.” This smacks of weaksauce to me, however, and I refuse to accept that there isn’t a more specific term for this literary device.
Note that this is not the same thing as labeling Pooh as The Bear of Very Little Brain (which is antonomasia – using a descriptive label in place of an actual name). It is however, exemplified by “My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.”
We also decided that it wasn’t as simple as denomination (giving a Proper Name to an object) or its ilk.
Sobriquet (a given nickname, as opposed to a pseudonym which is a chosen nickname) was also suggested, but I shot it down because capitalized term or phrase can also be literal. The sentence often makes sense without the emphasis or tone lended by capitalization.
I thought I was on track when I found Archetype Name. However, that refers to the person, place, or thing which is thought to have lent his/her/its name to proper name category, like The Fisher King.

So in the end I came up short. Instead, I started coming up with new names. I considered metonymic personification but rejected it for much the same reasons that I rejected its component terms. However, emphatic archetyping settled with me better. Though perhaps I’ll leave it as simply archetyping.

So literary nerd friends, I Call Upon You to help me find this name. Tell me what this literary stylistic device is supposed to be called. Or, if I’m right and there really is no specific term for it already extant, lets do some neologistic work.

After all, this is really Important Stuff.


In The Android’s Dream There is a minor but important character, named Sam, who’s gender is never identified. There are several readers, myself included, who were under the impression that there is a single passage where the masculine pronoun is used to refer to Sam. Since Sam is in a relationship with a less minor character named Harry McClellan (who is clearly identified as male), Sam’s gender could mean something about Harry. Is Harry gay?

In the end it doesn’t matter. Dream‘s author, John Scalzi, realized this and after writing an entire scene without once identifying Sam’s gender, he stopped and thought, “‘Hmmm, that’s interesting, I wonder what sex Sam is,’ and then I thought ‘Hey, I wonder if I can pull off not saying what sex Sam is all the way through the book’.” (This is all according to Scalzi’s blog, I’m not making his reactions up).

I bring this up because of the last thing Scalzi writes in that blog entry: “And then, when you’ve settled the question of ‘What Sex is Sam Berlant?’ to your personal satisfaction, you can ask yourself another question about The Android’s Dream: What color is its hero, Harry Creek?”

Good question. He never describes it. Yet no one even talks about it until Scalzi points it out to you.

Because his skin color is irrelevant.

There’s not issues of racism within the human species. There’s no cultural information important to character or plot or setting. It’s a non-issue.

So we come to what’s brought this up. There’s a lot of complaints going around the Internet (and by “around the Internet” i mean “my friends on Twitter” — I’m too insular to look further than that) about the “white-washing” (ie, the portrayal of characters of varying ethnicities with white actors) of The Last Airbender.

I’ve never watched Avatar, cartoon or movie. So I don’t know how egregious a crime this is.

I will say this. I assume, most of the time, that a character in an anime is Japanese until I’m given reason otherwise. They aren’t big on accurate portrayal of racial characteristics. Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach has orange hair. It’s not just a visual convention, they refer to the color in dialog in the anime. But he’s clearly Japanese. So when someone wants to make a character with big eyes and blue hair, and someone adapts it for the screen and chooses a white actor. Are they really doing much to change the work?

I argue no, with certain obvious exceptions. If the ethnicity of the character comes into play, as a character driving factor, or an element of the plot, or a flavor for the setting. You are making changes to the main work just by changing the skin color of the actor you use, whether you are doing it on purpose or not.

But such is not the case every time it happens. Shakespeare is performed constantly with different colored actors in various roles. Most of the time it doesn’t matter. If you get a white guy to play Othello, on the other hand, you’ve got a play that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

My favorite case in point is Ursula LeGuin. She complained noisily when Sci-Fi made a movie of Wizard of Earthsea using a white actor in the lead role. In the Earthsea books, it’s a stated fact that most of the characters have dark skin. LeGuin takes umbrage and claims they make thematic changes to the story by this decision.

But she’s wrong.

Yes, she describes her characters with dark skin. But that’s where it ends. It’s a standard fantasy setting, plus islands. It has no overtones of Polynesian culture or plot. It has no themes of any other race either. In fact, they build castles, which is not something islanders I’ve heard of have ever done. Sure, there were fortresses built in the Caribbean, but they were built by white Europeans.

So what, exactly, is the damage done if a producer chooses a white actor to play Ged?

None, really.

So let me break it down. Am I claiming that “white washing” is a non issue? No. Far from it. The term itself bothers me on many levels for the implications it has. White Washing is especially bad when it is used to eliminate cultural information to make it more marketable. If you’re saying that about a producer, you should be careful. Accusing someone of intentional racism is a serious charge.

But is every time they change a skin color a case of rewriting a work and participating in the suppression of minorities? I don’t think so.