Friday, November 24, 2017

Rebels: "Always Two There Are" (Ep. 2.05)

"You're like a broken protocol droid!"

Ooh... A haunted house story! Well, you know, derelict space craft/station story. I don't remember them doing one of these before. Of course, Rebels hasn't done one of these before, but I don't remember one from Clone Wars, either. I think the closest we've had to the feel of the beginning of this episode is Luke's visit to Dagobah. If someone had said, "I feel like...," I wouldn't have been surprised. It was an appropriately creeping beginning for a visit to an abandoned Republic space station.

It's good to have Rex in the series; he's a good foil to Kanan. I hope he stays around for a while.

Mostly, though, the episode is about introducing us to the new Inquisitor. Excuse me, two Inquisitors. The image of the new Inquisitor from last episode is appropriately imposing, but, as it turns out, Fifth Brother is just the muscle; Seventh Sister is the real creep fest, here, and it works to introduce these two in this episode.


The show has yet to tackle any of the more complex philosophical issues that Clone Wars often took on. Rebels has become more enjoyable as they've deepened the personal relationships, etc, but it hasn't really taken on any questions beyond the difference between good and evil. It seems like there will be a lot of that as Ezra has more individual contact with characters like the Inquisitors. So, yes, I'm liking Rebels more than I did, but it still lacks the depth and complexity of The Clone Wars. But more on that next time...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Rebels: "Relics of the Old Republic" (Ep. 2.04)

I'm a bit reminded of Howl's Moving Castle with this pair of episodes. The clones live in an old Republic tank, travelling slowly around the desolate planet they live on. There are things, like laundry, hanging off the outside of the tank. Being just a 20-minute show, they don't spend much time delving around the innards of their home, but there's just enough there to make me wish that they had. The fact that Gregor's kind of crazy just heightens that desire. I mean, who knows what kind of stuff he has stashed in odd corners inside that thing.

The only problem in all of this is that someone called the Empire. "Hello, we have a Jedi here..." As if Kanan didn't have enough against the clones already.

But it does give us a chance to see the clones scoff at and make fun of their first AT-ATs. That was a fun moment. Oh, come on, it's not anything people haven't said before, so it's good, I suppose, to see the creators making fun of their own thing. And what do AT-ATs care?

All of that, and a new Inquisitor is coming to town...

So far, season two is shaping up to be far superior to season one. The themes being introduced are much more mature and interesting than the rather juvenile season one. Which is not to say that I don't expect there to be more juvenile hi-jinks, because even Clone Wars had its more juvenile moments.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Rebels: "The Lost Commanders" (Ep. 2.03)

"There are questions, questions that need answering."

With those words Ahsoka is off to delve into the mystery of the Sith Lord she encountered last episode because, yeah, she doesn't know that Vader is Anakin. That conveniently takes her out of the picture for the moment, leaving our own little rebel band to go off on their own mission.

So... Ever wonder what happened to the clone troopers after the end of the Clone Wars? Did they end up on street corners holding bean cans while begging for handouts? I can't answer that question for you, not in a general sense, but we do get to find out what became of Captain Rex. Turns out he's on my least favorite planet in the galaxy. Oh! and hey! Gregor survived! Well, more or less. You remember him, right? The best part of my leasy favorite Clone Wars story arc ever.

The problem with all of this? Kanan was there when the clones turned on the Jedi. He watched his Master gunned down by clones she had served with for years, and he ran as they turned to do the same to him. They are both his betrayers and his reminder of his own guilt. Should be some interesting stuff if the clones stay around long enough, though there may be more betrayal in the offering.

Personally, I hope Rex stays around, and I hope we find out what happened to Cody, too, though I suspect nothing good if he's not with Rex.

Oh, and Zeb gets used as bait. Like worm bait.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Rebels: "The Siege of Lothal -- Part 2" (Ep. 2.02)

"We're going to have to smuggle ourselves off Lothal for a change."

Ezra meets Vader...

It doesn't go well.

It doesn't go well for anyone. 

Vader takes on a whole rebel fleet in his special TIE fighter, and we see why he's so feared as a pilot. Seriously, the stuff he does with his TIE is so far beyond anything we've seen from him, and we saw Anakin do a lot of impressive flying during Clone Wars.

The take away, though, and this is spoilery, is that Vader discovers his old apprentice is still alive.

Really, that's all I'm going to say about all of this (almost). It was a great start to season two and bringing Vader and Ahsoka together has me fully invested in where this is going to go.

All that and Lando makes an appearance.
And the Emperor.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Rebels: "The Siege of Lothal -- Part 1" (Ep. 2.01)

"I guess there is no going home."

It's Rebels week here at StrangePegs, which means two thing:
1. There will be an episode of Rebels reviewed each day!
2. No politics this week.
Except that it's Rebels, so there's a good chance there will be politics.

So... Kanan isn't happy. His and Hera's small rebel band of hooked up with the larger Rebel Alliance after the events that ended season one, and Kanan is feeling uncomfortable being a part of a larger organization. And taking orders. He really doesn't like having to take orders and be part of a chain of command.

Probably, he doesn't like having Ahsoka around, either, but that's just me saying that.  It doesn't come up in the episode.

Vader's not happy with the fact that our group has joined the larger organism, either, but that's because they're not on Lothal anymore, and Vader wants them back. Which means a plan...

Remember The Empire Strikes Back and that whole part where Han and Leia go to Bespin and... it's trap! This is kind of like that. Vader knows what's going to happen since, you know, he can see the future and all, which makes it a bit unfair. Evidently, Kanan never progressed in his training enough to be able to get glimpses of the future? I don't know. It's not a thing all Jedi can do, anyway, so maybe he just doesn't have that skill.

But, anyway, part of what happens is that Vader and Kallus order Minister Tua to make things... difficult... for the population of Lothal. This also echoes Empire; however, Tua doesn't have the stomach for it. Although she's a good little Nazi, um, Imperial agent, it seems that there are some things that go beyond even her ability to condone, very unlike our very own Republicans who seem just fine with rape as long as it's a good Republican boy doing the raping. [See, I told you. Politics.]

This episode is a good start to the season, and I didn't want to stop watching to write this.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (a movie review post)

Before I get started, this review is going to be full of spoilers. FULL! Seriously. I want to talk about this movie that, really, disappointed me, and I can't do that without talking spoilers. You've been warned.

But let's talk about Blade Runner first, which I reviewed a couple of months ago but didn't go into much detail when I did. I'm about to change that, so, if you haven't seen that movie, either, you might want to skip all of this.

We all know that Blade Runner was a visual masterpiece. It has been considered one of the most influential sci-fi movies of all time. Not as influential as Star Wars, of course, but, if you look at sci-fi movies after Blade Runner compared to before, you can see the difference.

However, it was the visuals that made the movie what it was. It's never just the visuals. The thing that was compelling about the movie, the thing that made it a great movie, was the question... I'll say it like this: What does it mean to be human? Which is actually the summation of many questions: Do I have a soul? Why do I have to die? What happens to me when I die? These are all questions Roy wants answers to.

Not that the movie definitively gives answers to any of these question, which is part of what makes the movie so compelling, but the scene at the end when Roy releases the dove is poignantly symbolic.

Blade Runner 2049 fails at all of the things that made the original so great.

Rather than the gritty realism that was so enticing in the first movie, 2049 is immaculately polished. Even the grit is polished. It's the difference between a box full of rocks and a box full of rocks that have been through a rock tumbler. Sure, they're prettier than a box of rocks, but all of the realism is gone.

Like, all of it. I mean, what the fuck is with the orange landscape with giant statues of naked women in high heels in porn poses? We're supposed to buy that as any sort of realism? And don't give me any "well, it's the future" crap, because that doesn't make the idea of that any more realistic, especially since that place would have to almost already exist so that it could be abandoned for 20-30 years by 2049. And a lot of the movie is like that: "cool" visuals for the sake of being cool but with no anchor to reality or purpose.

Not to mention how full of plot holes the movie is. Let's just talk about my "favorite" one:

Wallace has finally caught Deckard and wants some information from him that Deckard won't give up. Wallace informs Deckard that he will have to take him off-planet to torture him so that he'll talk. Wait, what? He needs to take him off-planet to torture him? What the fuck sense does that make? Wallace has already killed someone in his office, and he wasn't too worried about that. Sure, she was a replicant, but the movie tries to heavily imply that Deckard is, in fact, also a replicant -- though without coming out and saying it (it's like the writer, Hampton Fancher, can't decide if wants Deckard to be a replicant or not and, so, doesn't want to nail it down in case he changes his mind later) -- so what's the big deal about torturing Deckard in a place where, evidently, he routinely commits murder? Or whatever you call killing a replicant. Retiring?

Plus, no one knows Deckard is even still alive. He disappeared 30 or so years prior, so it's not like anyone is going to come looking for him.

The whole scenario is ridiculous and contrived so that Deckard can be put in a position for K to rescue him, something that wouldn't have been possible within the confines of Wallace's headquarters. I hate contrived bullshit that writers use to get themselves out of a hole they've put themselves in.

Other stupid things I'm not going to go into:
The threesome K has with his hologram and a prostitute. Not just that it happened but that it was inserted at a time when K should have been fleeing for his life, but, no, he has time to stop and have sex with a fucking hologram!

The junkyard people who decide to shoot down a police vehicle for no discernible reason and the divine intervention exercised by Wallace's lackey to get K out of it. Literally, K just shrugs off the fact that missiles rain down on his opponents and goes about his business, no questions asked.

The fact that this movie is no more than a bridge to set up for a replicant rebellion story line.

But the worst thing about the movie? It has no questions. There is nothing in this movie to give it any depth or, pardon the pun, soul. Its attempt to come to grips with the question, "Do replicants have souls?" is clumsy at best and results in a miracle-baby-orphan-savior cliche plot. Seriously, that's the best you could come up with, Fancher? It's not like that hasn't been done to death already. The child even has her own scar, of sorts, to mark as special, to mark her as "the one."

When the best sequel you can come up with to one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time is a cliche, maybe you should leave the original movie to stand alone. It didn't need a sequel. But, then, maybe you needed the money.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Unfinished Business" (Ep. ?.8)

-- Learn from the past but live for the future.

Well, here we are... at the end. End of the arc. End of the season. End of the show.
End of line.

Oh, wait, wrong movie. That's some other Disney franchise.

All of this started with Admiral Trench -- not the show, just this arc -- and we return to Trench's attack on the Republic's shipyards to finish up this bit of unfinished business, not that Trench isn't another piece of unfinished business.

One of the greatest moments in the series happens in this episode. It's a bit understated, but it's pretty awesome. Let's just say it this way: Mace Windu gives a speech.
To battle droids.
In front of Obi-Wan.

This is a good solid arc. The Bad Batch is an interesting idea, though a bit like the X-Clones (if I didn't say that before). Their introduction was obviously not intended as the series-ending arc it turned out to be. There's a lot left to be explored here, not least of which is whether there are more clones like the Bad Batch.

And, then, there's Echo, because it's clear from "Unfinished Business" that his story line was just beginning. It makes me hope he shows up in Rebels. Yes, I know I could check, but I'd rather be surprised.

Anyway... It was not a bad arc to end the series on, though I rather wish they'd been able to craft a story that would have felt like a story that was bringing the series to a close. In most respects, with Ahsoka leaving the Jedi Order, season five has much more the feel of the series coming to an end. It certainly feels as if they were working up to... something, and I really wish Disney had allowed the series to continue. There's no real reason why Clone Wars and Rebels couldn't have run concurrently.

Oh, well...

Monday, November 13, 2017

So That You Understand

This was a neighborhood. My friend had a house here. Whole parts of the city look like this.

Friday, November 10, 2017

At the Mountains of Madness (a book review post)

Yes, I'm still working my way through Lovecraft. No, I wouldn't recommend him to anyone else, not in general. There are a few, just a few, stories I'd suggest for anyone wanting to try him out. This is not one of them. Especially not at its length.

Funnily enough, when Lovecraft wrote this story, it was considered a novella but, by today's standards, it's novel length. It's more than 12,000 words longer than his next longest story and, I'm pretty sure, he could have cut all of them out. All of them. No, Lovecraft is not an author who gets better with length; he just gets more repetitive. I mean, it's possible that all 12,000 of those words are instances of "cyclopean" (one of Lovecraft's favorite words) and "decadent" (a new favorite for this story (seriously, if I ever again hear the term "decadent statue," it will be too soon (What even is a "decadent statue"? Lovecraft never says. He just tosses in the descriptor at some point to differentiate between the earlier statues))).

I did have hopes for this story when it started out. For one thing, it has a new setting. A new setting for Lovecraft, at any rate, though it's not really a common setting: the Antarctic. And it starts out well enough as Lovecraft goes into the scientific mission of the team and setting up the base camp and all of that but, of course, there's an unexpected discovery and everything goes horribly wrong.

Also, of course, the narrator isn't present for any of the action. That's how Lovecraft do. But what that does is forces the author to only tell you what happened, never to show it. It just gets boring after a while. Even when Lovecraft puts the narrator into the action, it ends up being passive. The narrator gets scared and runs away and never even sees what he's running from. His companion does, but that thing, whatever it was, is never revealed. You just have to trust that it's something really scary. So scary that the narrator's companion can't speak of it, another trick of Lovecraft's: the nameless terror.

It's so old, Man! Get a new trick.
Oh, no, wait, this is one of Lovecraft's last pieces, so it's not likely that he's going to find any new tricks.

The real problem with the story, though, is a thing a lot (maybe most?) of sci-fi authors have a problem with: I came up with a really cool idea and I want to tell you all about it even though it has nothing to do with the story and my character has no reason to know anything about it. Like a Joe Shmoe explaining how warp drive works or something. Of course, Lovecraft has to surpass everyone else and spend half of his book explaining something that his character shouldn't know, the back story of an alien race.

Sure, Lovecraft tries to make it plausible for his protagonist (I use that term loosely since the character does nothing more than walk around then run away) to know what he knows, but it's a ridiculous supposition, and you have to have severe cognitive dissonance to believe that his character could decipher and read the entire history of this race in the short amount of time allotted to him to do so by Lovecraft. It hurt my head, actually, trying to pretend that I could go along with the idea long enough to finish this "book."

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Only Three (pictures I like)

"It looks like I only have three legs, doesn't it?"
Remind anyone else of elementary school?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Clone Wars -- "On the Wings of Keeradaks" (Ep. ?.7)

-- In war there is no such thing as neutrality.

Decimate is one of those words I can't stand to hear used, not because I have anything against the word itself but because no one uses it correctly. As someone who values language and the meaning of words, it's a little more than annoying. Imagine my reaction to the "organic decimator" device. Really? Because that's gross. Not to mention the part where "organic" is used as a substitute for... I don't even know, because, of course, this is a weapon designed for use against the clones, so Wat Tambor seems to be able to stand by while it's used without any care at all.

So, sure, I get that organic decimator sounds (sort of) cool, but, really? Be more on point with your terminology.

Anyway, as it turns out, Echo was still alive. Or being kept alive. It's not clear how much of what's left of Echo is still Echo, but they have to get him out of the hands of the Techno Union to stop the stream of tactics and information they've been streaming out of Echo's head.

Oh, and it turns out those creepy new battle droids are a bit like flying monkey droids. I really wish they'd made it into the series.

"I'm guessing no one wants to hear the odds of us making it across here... alive?"

Monday, November 6, 2017

La Traviata (an opera review post)

We all know that entertainment is subjective, right? Probably the most subjective thing there is, even more so than food. What's the best movie ever? You're not going to get any good agreement on that. Or the best book. Or pretty much anything else. Except, maybe, opera. If there is a "best" opera, La Traviata is probably it. At least that seems to be what the data suggests.

Not to get into the somewhat complicated history of the piece but, since its second performance  in 1854, it has consistently been the most performed, most requested, most viewed -- if there are other mosts you can think of, probably those, too -- opera each year. At this point, it's probably the most watched opera of all time. It's that popular.

Well, okay, to get into one piece of its complicated history, the first performance was -- I don't want to say sabotaged, because that wasn't the intent, but it was kind of sabotaged -- by the producers of the opera, because they insisted on a particular performer for Violetta and forced Verdi to use her over his objections. The audience found her less than compelling as the protagonist and reacted unfavorably to the performance. It was more than a year before Verdi allowed La Traviata to be performed again, this time with a singer of whom he approved. The second performance, as noted above, was a rousing success.

I find this particular opera fascinating, not least of which because it was based on a novel by the son of Alexander Dumas, also Alexander Dumas. I had no idea. So, now, I'm all interested in his work, which is not to say that I'll get to it any time soon, but I'm interested.

Having said all of that, I wouldn't say that La Traviata is my personal favorite opera, not that I could name my personal favorite, but I'm pretty sure this was not it. I didn't get lost in the performance as I have for a couple or few of the others. I did very much enjoy it, though. Top five for sure.

To some extent, that is due to the story, the story of a young woman who sacrifices her own happiness to facilitate the happiness of someone else. Which is not something I have a problem, because I think that too many people are unwilling to make even small sacrifices to help other people. However, in this case, she was asked to make a sacrifice to satisfy someone else's selfishness, and that's a thing I have a problem with.
"I know I have 1000 and you only have the one, but I really won't be happy unless I have yours, too."
"No, I could never give up my sheep. I love my one sheep."
"But I won't be happy unless it's mine."
"Are you sure you won't be happy? Well, okay, you can have my one sheep." >dies of a broken heart<
Actually, this sounds a lot like the Republican party, right now. "Look, we know we and all of our super-rich friends have all the money, but we really won't be happy until we take the tiny bit you have, too."

Yeah, sure, this is not a direct analogy, because the opera is a love story, but it's close enough. What I wanted was for Giorgio to do the right thing early enough to matter, like going and slapping the dude his daughter was supposed to marry and telling him to go fuck himself. Of course, that didn't happen.


SFO has been running this particular production of La Traviata for something like 30 years, and with good reason. It's definitely worth seeing. Not this production but the one prior, was, in fact, the opera that caused my wife to fall in love with opera, so I'd say if you ever get a chance to see it, you definitely should.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Elektra (an opera review post)

The first thing I can say about Elektra is that it was not my favorite opera. It also was not my least favorite opera, but it's much closer to that end of the spectrum. Unfortunately, that was all about the music. It was like this relentless, grinding machine that just wouldn't stop. And, since the opera is just one act -- one long, two-hour act -- it really, literally never stopped. Until the opera was over, that is.

Unfortunately, it kind of puts me off of Strauss, which may not be fair, exactly, since it seems that Elektra was part of his experiment into modernism. Not all of his operas are like this, basically with the whole thing done recitative (which you may remember I also didn't like in Usher House (still at the bottom of the list in ranking the operas I've seen (not that such a ranking exists but, if it did, Usher House would rank last))), but his most famous and most performed are. So I don't know what that says about me, especially since this particular production seemed to get rave reviews.

Just not from me.

Having said that, there are some good things to say about the production. For instance, the set was interesting. They chose to set the piece in a museum which was holding an Agamemnon exhibit. Elektra hides so that she can get locked in over night. So that's interesting, yes, but, overall, that didn't work for me either, despite that it looked really good and they had sliding rooms and stuff.

But the opera is clearly set in Elektra's family household (where she's basically being held prisoner by her mother), so the bedroom and kitchen and other rooms of that nature that slide into the museum broke the structure of the narrative for me. The two things didn't go together. Plus, to go along with the museum atmosphere, Elektra is supposed to a kind of goth kid rather than a half-starved prisoner, which would have been fine if the opera itself didn't refer to her appearance on multiple occasions. So... "A" for effort? I don't know...

Unequivocally, the performances were very good, especially Christine Goerke who played Elektra. She's on stage the entire time, most of it singing, so it's an impressive amount of work. Even though I didn't like the music or the presentation, I could tell that the actors did a great job.
I'm cool like that.

Oh! Also... The opera is supposed to end with some big death dance by Elektra but that didn't happen. It's supposed to emblematic of the special kind of crazy from which Elektra is suffering, so it's kind of important, I would think. Instead we just got some vague arm waving by the actress. Maybe she can't dance? Maybe the director didn't think it fit the tone of his presentation? Whatever the reason, I was let down.

So, yeah, whereas most of the operas I've seen so far I would like to see again or, at least, would be willing to see again, this is one that I'll avoid in the future.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Clone Wars -- "A Distant Echo" (Ep. ?.6)

-- Wars are not won with superior weapons but with superior strategy.

Padme is sexy nose art on the Bad Batch's spacecraft, and Anakin is not pleased. Ah, the amusing things this show throws in and just another reason I'm still sad it ended.

Rex believes Echo is still alive and mounts a covert operation to rescue him, so covert even the Jedi Council doesn't know about it... because, well, they said "no" to the idea of the mission in the first place. And, of course, if there's something going on that the Council has said no to, it's a safe bet to assume that Anakin's involved, which he is. It's also a safe bet to assume that Obi-Wan knows about it but is standing the side. I just realized I don't know what I think about that.

Basically, Obi-Wan, by repeatedly allowing Anakin to disobey the Jedi Council without consequences, has completely undermined the authority of the Council, at least in regards to Anakin. Maybe it's no wonder things turned out the way they did?

But I digress...

Though there's not much left to say about the episode other than that it looks as if it was introducing a creepy new type of battle droid. It's too bad those didn't make it into a final version.

Oh, and Rex gets into it with one of the members of the Bad Batch.

Good stuff.

"Hope nobody's scared of heights."
"Well, I'm not scared of nuthin'. I just... When I'm up real high, I got a problem with gravity."

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Waiting (part 5)

This is a view of a small part of the fire from downtown Santa Rosa one week after it started.
That's miles away.

I could go on but, really, overall, things weren’t that bad for us. After the initial Monday and Tuesday and the stress and anxiety that went along with everything, in the end, we suffered nothing more than some inconveniences. And I know that. This whole piece is not to talk about how bad we had it or invite people to feel sorry for us or anything like that. All I can do is offer my perspective.

Which was this: It was the waiting that was the killer. It was the waiting to know what was happening and not knowing whether we would need to evacuate that was the worst thing. Waiting is always the worst thing, I think. The not being able to do anything. Even for those who had to flee the fires. You evacuate and, then, you have to wait. Did my house burn down? Or maybe you know it did, but you’re stuck in some center waiting to be able to start doing whatever comes next. You wait, and you’re stuck with your thoughts, and I think that’s worse than just the knowledge that you lost everything.

I could be wrong about that.

What I’m not wrong about is how fortunate my family was, and we know that. And I don’t just mean that we know we’re fortunate in that we only suffered some inconveniences. Here’s the thing: No one stopped that fire from getting to us. When the fire came down the hills and tore through Fountaingrove, there was no way it could be stopped. Not even the freeway stopped it, which, I have realized, is a thing firefighters depend on, freeways serving as a “natural” firebreak.

Initially, the firefighters set up in the parking lot of K-Mart to serve as their staging point because they believed that the fire would not jump the freeway. And it’s a big freeway right there, effectively eight lanes plus the central median. But the fire did jump the freeway and the K-Mart burned down. Along with so much more.

But, then, the fire had those Diablo winds driving it on and, in this case, “Diablo” was certainly the correct term.

No one expects a wildfire to run through a city. A city! Fire is a thing we don’t much worry about in our city living. Sure, a house may burn down every once in a while, but we have fire stations and, generally, fires stay pretty contained. Fires like the Tubbs fire are unheard of in our modern American life. Just like cities, big cities, getting flooded by hurricanes used to be unheard of in our modern American life.

But I digress… No one stopped that fire from getting to us. The Tubbs fire destroyed whole subdivisions in Santa Rosa, something like 5% of the housing market. In a city that was already dealing with a housing crisis, the Tubbs fire destroyed thousands of homes. And it would have destroyed more, but…

The wind stopped.

And that is the only reason the fire didn’t reach us.

If the wind had lasted an hour more, it would have burned through the mandatory evacuation zone just north of us, an area that includes my daughter’s high school and many of her friends. If the wind had lasted two hours more, our area of town would have also burned, which would have been half the city at that point.

But the wind died down, and the fires were able to be held back from encroaching farther into the city center.

It’s at this point that many people want to praise and give thanks to “god,” or whatever kind of higher power they believe in; however, to say that some god caused the winds to die down and spare them from the fire is to tacitly say that that same god allowed or caused the devastation that occurred for other people. I just can’t buy into that.

That kind of thinking suggests that the people who were spared are somehow more worthy than the people who weren’t, that the people who suffered somehow deserved it. Which, by the way, is exactly how Trump (#fakepresident) is treating Puerto Rico, that they deserved what they got from hurricane Maria and, thus, they don’t deserve our help.

To think in this way, I have to believe that I am better or more worthy or… whatever… than the people who lost their homes, and I know that’s not the case. I don’t have that much hubris (unlike some #fakepresident we have). Maybe that way of thinking is a way of dealing with survivor’s guilt; after all, if you were saved because you’re better than the guy who wasn’t, there’s no need or reason for guilt. Actually, it’s cause to feel even better about yourself which is, for lack of a better term, kind of disgusting.

All of that to say, we know how fortunate we were. Thousands of people were not.

When we were looking to buy a house (before we bought the one we live in), we looked at houses in the burned out section of town. They were affordable family homes. We’re fortunate that we didn’t choose one of those. Before we bought this house, we lived in an apartment complex that was in the mandatory evacuation zone, a complex that was threatened by the fire, though it didn’t quite make it that far. But it could have.

We know people who had to evacuate. We know people who lost their homes. We know people who lost everything. Everything except what they were wearing and what they could carry when they got out the door as the fire was coming down their street. It’s a sobering thought.


It's at this point, I suppose I should say that if you want to help with the fire relief efforts that there are ways to do that. I would suggest Redwood Credit Union, but there are plenty of other trustworthy places to go through for donations.
Before doing that, I would actually suggest supporting the relief effort for Puerto Rico. In the long run (and the short, for that matter), they need it more. I mean when we have a #fakepresident who is actively undermining the relief effort, it's time for the people to step up and do the right thing. I'm not telling you not to help with the fire relief effort here but, if it's a choice for you, support the relief effort in Puerto Rico.
Also, just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that there is some kind of mandate that you send help to... well, anywhere, BUT, if you want to... That's all I'm saying.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Grass (a book review post)

One of the modern myths of American protestant religion is that God wants to have a personal relationship with you. With you, specifically. The best part about that is that "christians" think that's how it has always been, that that thought about God has always been there. But that's just not true. The idea of a "personal God," a God who wants to be "friends," originated with Enlightenment thinking and has only been around a couple or few centuries, but didn't really take off till the middle of the 20th century through evangelists like Billy Graham and his whole inviting Jesus into your heart schtick.

Prior to that, the thought about God had been more... communal. God didn't know or care about you as an individual person, only as part of humanity. That's the reason in the Catholic church you didn't appeal to God directly but worked through advocates. God didn't have time for you, but St. Joseph or St. Matthew might. It's something like the owner of a large company not knowing who every employ is, but your manager knows who you are and you can talk to her with any concerns.

As such, according to Tepper's presentation in Grass, people don't have individual purposes handed down to them by God. People have a purpose as a race, and God isn't up in Heaven handing out purposes to everyone like ice cream cones. It's up to the individual to help make sure the purpose of humanity is fulfilled, and that's as close as you get to having a purpose.

I like Tepper's view. It makes sense.

Not that that's how she presents it.

But if mankind were to have a purpose, what would it be? Something like taking care of the Earth, maybe? Which we have done a piss-poor job of and many of us, especially those in power, try to pretend like everything is perfectly fine. Nope, no climate change happening here! Move along. Because, you know, it doesn't really affect them, and they all have the money and position to avoid the negative consequences of the global devastation that is already beginning to happen. If they, the rich and powerful, are going to survive, why worry about anyone else or curing the plague at all?

And, now, I've told you a bit about the book without telling you anything at all. I suppose you'll just have to read it to understand what I mean.

Which brings us to the question of whether the book is worth reading...
I would say yes. It's a quite good book. Generally speaking, Grass is regarded as Tepper's best book, though I would say The Gate to Women's Country is better. I can't do better than that; those are the only two of Tepper's books I've read so far, though I do have a couple more on standby and just discovered that Grass is the first of a trilogy, so I'm going to have to look into the other two of these, also.

What I can say for sure is that Tepper is under appreciated as an author, and I can't really figure out why that is. Unless it's because she was a woman writing in the male dominated sci-fi field, and I'm not saying that, but I probably could, and could probably make a strong case for it. As someone who's read a lot of sci-fi (A LOT), I would say that Tepper is among the best I've read. But, then, I wouldn't expect The Gate to Women's Country to be raking in the male fans, and men and the patriarchy don't fare much better in Grass.

None of which is to say that the book isn't without its flaws. She gets a little overly explain-y when she gets into the plague, what causes it and... all of that (no spoilers!). Also, it takes a while to get to what the point of the book actually is, but, then, the protagonist, Marjorie, takes a while to come to grips with that herself, so I suppose that's understandable.

But the flaws are slight, like coming across a salty bite in your eggs, a momentary unpleasantness before returning to your scrambled goodness.

I would mention, though: Tepper seems to like telepathy and mind powers. Out of two books, so far, both have had elements of this. And I'm assuming the next two books in the Arbai sequence will also contain these elements since they're sequels to Grass. On a personal level, I'm not sure how I feel about all the telepathy and stuff. That's still something I'm dwelling on.

Anyway! Read the book! It's good!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Clone Wars -- "The Bad Batch" (Ep. ?.5)

-- The battles are over, but the heroes live on.
Thank you Clone Wars fans.

It's been a while since we've had Cody and Rex together in an episode. Thinking back on it, it seems that it's been that Cody has been missing for a while. Or not mentioned. Rex pops up here and there, but I can't remember the last episode with Commander Cody. Sure, yeah, I could go look it up, but it's not that big a deal, just an idle curiosity now that they're teamed together again.

Against our old pal Admiral Trench... who just keeps coming back. He's worse than Grievous.

They're joined by a squad of defective clones, Clone Force 99. If you remember way back to season three, you might remember clone 99, for whom the squad is named. These are clones who didn't turn out quite right but who have beneficial, let's say, mutations. Sort of like the X-Men of clones. Basically, they have a special mission, and they need a group that is a bit... unconventional. You can't get more unconventional than Clone Force 99.

Of course, things go to hell almost immediately.

And then we have an echo of an old character long thought dead...

That's all I'm going to give you. The hint should be enough.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Day 35 (a future history)

Friday, February 23, 2018

Nothing is getting better. And so much stuff is happening that I can’t keep up with it or figure out what’s going on. I’m going to spend the weekend trying to figure out how to get out of here. Maybe I can take the train, but the train station is all the way downtown, and that’s a long way to walk.

The other thing I didn’t say about Tuesday is that it wasn’t just my school that had all the vandalism. It was all the schools. I didn’t find that out until later though. We were the only school that the soldiers came to, all because of Caleb, and we were the only school with an incident. An “incident.”

The only school with an incident on Tuesday.

Because then Wednesday happened.

Wednesday morning, one of the Nazi bastards came to school early to see if he could catch anyone putting graffiti on lockers. Evidently, Caleb and all of them had been talking big about staking out the school and catching people in the act, but Trevor was the only one of them to actually show up to do it. And he did do it. He caught a group of the basketball players vandalizing Caleb’s locker and burning his stuff.

But he was alone, and they beat him up. Bad.

That’s all we know, and we don’t even know that, because Trevor said it was guys from the basketball team, but they all say they didn’t do it. It didn’t matter, because the soldiers came and took away almost the whole team. All of the black boys on the team. Until they can “sort it out.” None of them have been back to school.

Things like that happened at a lot of the schools. Like gang fights. Gang fights with Nazis.

Parents are protesting.

There was a riot Wednesday night that was supposed to just be a protest, but soldiers went to it and there was fighting and a bunch of people got shot and some of them were killed. Mostly black people.

It’s really scary because I wanted to go to the protest, but mom wouldn’t let me. We had a big fight, and I tried to march out the door anyway, but dad got involved and threatened to lock me in my room except for school if I went out the front door and, like a dummy, I said I would just go out the window, so, now, he’s going to buy bars for my window. That’s what he says, anyway, and I kind of believe him. All I know is that I don’t want to end up locked in my room all the time like some kind of Rapunzel but without all the long hair.

But, then, I was glad I didn’t go because mom was listening to the stuff about it on the radio, and I was listening but trying to pretend not to be listening, and all of the gunfire started happening and there was screaming and all kinds of chaos and mom turned the radio off because she was crying and didn’t want to hear any more of it and all dad could say was how they all deserved it.

And I don’t even know what he meant by that. Black people deserve it? People who protest deserve it? People who don’t like what’s going on deserve it?

I hate my dad.

And that makes me sad when I think about it, because I didn’t used to hate him, but it’s like Trump being president has made him into the worst person he can be. I never knew he was all racist and stuff before Trump started running for president. And I know he used to play football in high school, so now I wonder if he was one of those horrible kind of jock guys that bully people and use girls.

And it makes me wonder what my mom ever saw in him because she spends a lot of her time crying, now, and they hardly ever talk to each other anymore. So I don’t know what’s going on at home anymore either, but I don’t know if I care because I’m leaving. I’m going to. I can’t stand being here, and I’m going to go to California.

As soon as I figure out how to get there.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Turandot (an opera review post)

The 2017 opera season is underway. This is a short season, only five operas which will all be presented this year, but that's because the San Francisco Opera is presenting Wagner's Ring Cycle next summer! I can't wait. This is such a big deal that we had to purchase the tickets for it LAST YEAR. I have almost an equivalent anticipation for this as I did for The Phantom Menace or Raimi's Spider-Man. But none of that has to do with this opera, so let's get to that.

Turnadot was Puccini's last opera; in fact, he died before it was finished. That he died is just part of what makes this particular opera problematic and, often, controversial. The ending most often performed is by Franco Alfano and was written from Puccini's notes; however, that did not keep it from feeling inauthentic to me, not least of which was because the ending is happy. I'm not saying the ending wasn't good, and Puccini may have intended a happy ending for this one, but it didn't feel quite right to me. It's not really what he's known for.

That said, the opera was amazing. Turandot contains one of the most famous arias in all of opera: "Nessun dorma" or "None Shall Sleep." In the role of Calaf, Brian Jagde (seemingly becoming the SF Opera's tenor De Niro) performed it admirably.

The other big issue with this opera -- skipping over the issue of the name and the disagreement about how it should be pronounced -- is the... Well, I don't know if it's accurate to call it racism, but it certainly caricaturizes the Chinese. In fact, the opera was banned in China for a while because of it. But, then, the opera is kind of a cultural muddle, for which there are reasons of a sort, but you can look up the origins of the story on your own if you want to know about them.

At any rate, seeing that we are much more culturally sensitive these days than people were in the 1920s, and rightfully so, the San Francisco Opera staged it as a fairy tale. Of sorts. Which has a basis in the original story, so it all works out.

With that in mind, the sets were amazing! I mean, they were seriously amazing. I've commented previously about how great some of the sets have been at the SF Opera, but I think Turandot has had the best set design of any opera I've seen. By far. It was almost like watching a dream. Especially the scene during which "Nessun dorma" is performed. It was like a fairy forest with a bridge... Well, it was really great.

And the costumes were also really good, especially Turandot's. Actually, a couple of her gowns rivaled the sets.

The only possible negative I have about this presentation is that there was actually a lot of that whole standing and singing thing. However, possibly due somewhat to the richness of the sets and that, often, there were background chorus people milling around, it didn't often feel that way, and, when it did, it felt more natural.

This production of Turandot is definitely one of the best operas I've seen so far.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Power (part 4)

It was difficult to go to sleep that Monday night. Not that it was hard to fall asleep – after all, it had been a stressful day, and I hadn’t really slept the night before – but the idea of going to sleep was difficult, no matter how tired I was. What if something happened? It’s not like we could keep the radio on all night, not with it being powered by hand, and neither of us had any kind of cell service to speak of, so we weren’t sure if alerts would come through. In fact, I didn’t receive any alerts on my phone through the entire event.

We also knew we couldn’t just stay up. After all, what if something did happen and we were too tired to respond appropriately? We were just going to have to trust that we would respond if evacuation sirens went off in our neighborhood. So, with no small amount of hesitation, we went to bed, and I went pretty much straight to sleep. Fortunately, there were no sirens in the night.

Smoke was heavy in the street the next morning, Tuesday morning, worse than it had been on Monday. The wind had died down to almost nothing, fortunately for the fire fighters, but that meant the smoke was settling down to the ground and hanging out like June bugs on a screen door on a summer morning in the South.

I got the radio going first thing, hoping for some good news. There was none. None of the fires were at all contained. Evacuations were continuing, though they were moving north.

Theoretically, my wife was supposed to go to work. Theoretically, she was supposed to have been at work on Monday, too. She had almost gone on Monday, a half hour commute north, but had made the decision to work from home, something that hadn’t much happened due to the power loss and poor internet reception. It had been a good thing, though, because they had shut down the freeway north of us about half an hour after she would have arrived at work. The freeway was still shut down on Tuesday morning, so she would have been stuck there overnight with no way to communicate with us. That would have been a nightmare.

That didn’t change the fact that she needed to do something about work. She couldn’t go there. Not only was the freeway closed north of us but all of the roads that would have allowed her to get there were closed.

While we were trying to figure that out – and doing things like eating peanut butter from the jar because there was nothing else to eat – my daughter managed to get a text through to me that she wanted to come home – she would rather be at home with us and bored than at her grandparents’ – not that I was able to respond to her. So we went and picked her up, got coffee, came home, and ended up back there anyway, because there was internet at my father-in-law’s, and my wife needed internet so that she could “go” to work. And she had a meeting she needed to do later in the day so that everyone could freak out about the fire and the danger to the various vineyards. Yes, my wife works in the wine industry.

We had dinner over there again on Tuesday night, this time with actual food. Not that hot dog spaghetti wasn’t actual food, but my father-in-law and his wife stopped by the grocery store on their way home from work (because their office is also in the south part of town, and not everything could come to a standstill because of the fire no matter how weird it was to have so much completely closed down on one side of town and some areas still functioning normally) and bought stuff for dinner to go with some things I brought over from our now warm fridge.

During dinner, my wife got word from one of our neighbors that the power was back on so, after dinner and talking, we loaded back up, kids included, and went home. After all, if they had turned the power back on in our neighborhood, they must have believed that the immediate danger had passed. I have to say that it was a nice feeling to all go home together.

Not that everything was back to normal. Even though we had power back, which meant the internet, the internet itself went down the following morning. That, of course, meant more issues with work for my wife – she still couldn’t get to her office – and general boredom for the kids, but we got that back on Thursday morning. We didn’t get our gas back on – we were safe enough for electricity but not for gas – until Saturday, and it was so nice to finally have a hot shower again! Which is not to say that the lack of hot water, in comparison to the losses so many people suffered, was more than a minor inconvenience, but I did have a renewed appreciation for the miracle of hot water right from your tap.

[Note: I'll be finishing this up next week with one final post. Everything was in a slow denouement for us after Tuesday so, though there is more I could say about our experience, it's not of much consequence. After the post next week, I'll be pulling all of these prior posts down so, if you haven't read the earlier ones, now is your chance.]

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Silent Night (part 3)

That said, Monday was a waiting game, like being stuck in traffic behind a terrible accident. But a terrible accident involving a bus full of people you know. All you can do is sit and wait to hear if there are casualties, but you know that emergency services are having difficulty getting there because of all the backed-up traffic.

All of our information was coming through the radio and my wife’s phone. We have different carriers because her phone has been supplied through her employer. My phone lost service fairly early. Hers only got spotty and, if she went and stood out in the street in front of our house, she could get her email and check Facebook. For a while. Eventually, the radio was all we had left. Later, we found out that more than 2/3 of the cell towers had gone down; some to fire, some to loss of power.

Let me rephrase that: If my wife went outside and stood in the street and the smoke haze and the falling ash, ash falling like a light powdering of snow, she could get a signal on her phone. Except not all of the ash was like snow, because some of it was burned pages of books drifting silently out of the sky like pages from people’s lives. Some people found burned photos, a testament to the specific lives which had gone up in flames.

By noon, we started hearing about places that had burned. We started hearing about places being evacuated, including two of the three hospitals: the largest and the second largest. It’s hard not to panic when places in the city you generally consider completely safe are being evacuated, and what’s safer than a hospital? We started hearing about people we know and how they had lost their homes, people who had escaped from their homes in the middle of the night with only the clothes they were wearing.

Fire moves fast when they’re being powered by 60 mph winds.

Having no electricity, I had to keep the kids out of the refrigerator as much as possible. It’s amazing how difficult it is to get through to teenagers that they need to open the fridge and take out everything they need all at once. That means they have to know everything they need before they open the door. Then, open the door and put everything back all at once. I suppose that’s harder than it sounds.

And I had to keep them completely out of the freezer. Of course, there was ice cream in there that my daughter wanted, but, without knowing how long the electricity would be out, I couldn’t have them letting all the cold air out just for the purpose of stress eating.

Which meant there was nothing that my daughter wanted to eat. She wanted me to cook something, but we have an electric stove, so that was out. It was like she reverted to being seven, though, because every hour or so, she would come out of her room to ask what there was to eat. The answer never changed.

Eventually, we decided to drive across town to my father-in-law’s house. Last we’d heard, they still had electricity and, being in the south part of the town and relatively far from the massive fire, they had said to come over there if we had to evacuate. At the point we decided to go, we had no way of contacting them because cell service had deteriorated to nothing.

We had the kids bring their go bags with them, and I packed mine in the car; after all, what good would it do to have it ready to go if I wasn’t there to grab it if we had to go. I’ve lugged my notebooks around with me all week, now, actually. It was good that we had them bring them, because we left the kids there when my wife and I went home that night.

At that moment, though, standing in front of their door, the kids with their bags in their hands, they thought we were there to stay. And my daughter was looking forward to food that wasn’t cereal, which she had used up at breakfast anyway, or peanut butter, especially since we didn’t have bread. She was looking forward to food right up until we found out that they didn’t have any because they hadn’t done any grocery shopping for a couple of weeks. And there was no grocery shopping to be done that evening with the city in a state of… Well, what can you call it other than “panic.”

But it’s amazing what you can throw together when you need to do that. My father-in-law dug around and threw together a hot dog-spaghetti dinner, a real summer camp meal. It’s not fine dining, but it made my daughter happy; well, really, it made everyone happy. Not so much the meal as being all together.

So we ate and we sat and we talked, sometimes about the fire but mostly about other things and, eventually, my wife and I went home, leaving our kids behind in a place which was theoretically safer than where we were going. That’s also harder than it sounds.

The city was quiet as we drove home. Really quiet. The kind of quiet it used to be on Christmas morning when I was a kid. Still. We were almost the only car on the road. About halfway home, we crossed 3rd Street, the street which, effectively, divides the north part of the city from the south part, and everything went dark. You forget what it’s like to drive without street lights because they’re almost everywhere and, even in places where they’re not, there’s generally the lights from nearby houses or stores or whatever. But above 3rd, there was nothing. No lights. No sounds. Other than the sound of our car, and we were in the Prius, which is like a normal car in stealth mode, so it was pretty silent.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Clone Wars -- "The Big Bang" (Ep. ?.4)

-- If at first you don't succeed, destroy it.

This may be my favorite Clone Wars story arc in terms of sheer enjoyment. Many of the arcs, even the good ones, will have an episode that's a little off, but not this one. Each episode contained topnotch dialogue, and I frequently found myself LOLing. Actually, dialogue is a big thing for me. Justified is my favorite TV show in large part because of the excellent dialogue throughout the entire series (and I think it must be difficult to sustain that kind of great dialogue through five seasons of a show since so few shows manage it). This arc is like that: excellent dialogue throughout, especially the banter between Obi-Wan and Anakin.

It doesn't hurt, too, that this arc teases things to come in the movies. Most of The Clone Wars is self-contained and, other than the characters, does not relate to the movies at all. It seems the thrust of season six was to change all of that. Between the opening arc with the ties to Order 66, the Yoda arc, and, now, this one; I get the impression that the creators were working to bring the series into closer synchronicity to the movies. I like it.

And, again, it makes me sad that they pulled the plug on the series because, if season six was a taste of what was to come, The Clone Wars was only getting better.

"Cavalier! You're cavalier all the time and no one says anything about it."
"I'm just better at it; that's all."

"It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't get captured."