Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Clone Wars -- "An Old Friend" (Ep. 6.5)

-- To love is to trust. To trust is to believe.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season six, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

Padme has proven to be a very difficult character for the writers of the Clone Wars series. Obviously, she's a character they felt obliged to include, but she doesn't have a place in the action of most of the series, so most of her appearances, like this one, have shoehorned her into stories where she didn't belong. That doesn't mean that some of those stories haven't been good, anyway, but my reaction always tends to be, "What? Why is Padme doing this? She's a senator!" But in this arc she's acting in the position of some kind of bank investigator. I mean, doesn't the Republic have people for this?

It would have been much more interesting if there had been some kind of ongoing political story line that involved her and her role as a senator. That would have made sense.

None of that is to see that this is not going to be a good and/or interesting arc, but I'm still having issues with Padme in a heist plot where she's the one breaking into the bank vault. Sort of.

All of that and the return of Clovis, Padme's ex who betrayed her and with whom Anakin has... issues. As we know, Anakin doesn't handle jealousy well. As my wife said, "Man, he's a real dick." Seriously, Anakin is the jealous boyfriend/husband no one wants to have.

Also, those banking clan dudes are just freaky looking.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The New Civil War

240 years ago, we fought a war that we say was a war for freedom. For independence. But it was only a war for white freedom and white independence. From other white men. At least, that's what it became because the Founding Fathers couldn't work their way through the issue of slavery.

So we had to have another war 150 years ago to finish the first war and state that freedom is for everyone. Freedom is for everyone, no matter their skin color.

Evidently, not everyone got that memo, so, now, here we are again in the midst of another Civil War, the New Civil War. Sure, this time it's not being fought on the battlefield with guns and bullets (yet) because this war is more like a spiritual war. Last time, the Civil War was fought with actual bodies, but, this time, it's being fought for the Soul of America and what kind of soul it will be, and it's mostly being fought in the information realm.

Will we be an America filled with hate and fear, or will we be an America filled with respect and tolerance?
The irony? Those who claim to belong to the religion of love -- and not just love, unconditional love -- are the ones preaching hate and fear the loudest. I suppose they think "god" is racist, too, just like them. I don't think you can come to any other conclusion if you look inside their churches.

Of course, the "Christians" tend to forget that it is the Jews who are "God's" chosen people. I don't seen anywhere in the Bible where it says "God" changed his mind about that, so, maybe, white people shouldn't be so stuck on themselves about how cool and important they are.
But I digress... [Actually, I do digress, because that's for an upcoming post. Sort of.]

But it sort of brings me to my point, and the point is this:
All of this is still about slavery and race. Still.
I mean, Fuck. What the fuck, people? It's been 150 fucking years since the Civil War. It's time to get over it and quit idolizing your fucking moments to racism and slavery. Tear that shit down.
Look, if Germany can do it, so can you.

And my other point, which is that you can't actually talk to those people, and it's time for liberals, those on the left -- whatever you want to call the people who aren't part of the 25-33% of the country who make up these hardcore Conservative GOP asshole Trump-followers -- to stop trying to reach over to the 25-33% of the country who make up these hardcore Conservative GOP asshole Trump-followers and convince them of the wrongness of their ways. They're NOT going to be convinced. Ever. You're wasting your time and, frankly, everyone else's time, too.

Look, these "people" know that Trump is a lying pile of shit -- which is an insult to lying piles of shit, but they don't make words that go low enough to accurately describe what Trump is (and my mind just isn't degenerate enough to make that kind of stuff up) -- and they have repeatedly shown that they don't care. They don't know or care anything about what "America" means or stands for (the fact that there were people who got upset about NPR's presentation of The Declaration of Independence on fucking Independence Day is proof enough of that). They have repeatedly shown that all they care about and, thus, all they know is some deranged fantasy where white people rule the world and they get to lay waste to it as they please without suffering any of the consequences. They are not going to be talked out of that delusion.

The truth is that this is a war. An actual war, and we on the Left need to start treating it as such. This is really not a time for debating. We're long past that. The world is teetering on the brink, a lot of brinks, actually... Maybe it's better to say that world is currently finely balanced on the head of a pin. Anyway, we're all teetering on the edge of destruction, environmental destruction even if there weren't other things, and we have to stop letting asshole idiots make the decisions. Decisions which have as their sole goal of making them more rich and damn the consequences because they won't be around to suffer them.

I'm not saying we need to arm ourselves and take to the streets or anything like that (though it would be disingenuous not to point out that a significant portion of those on the Right have been stockpiling weapons for decades), but it is time to quit pussyfooting around and trying to engage in conversations. Get the fuck out and do things like voting. It's not hard! [There is no reason that Ossoff should have lost in Georgia or that Measure C should have failed here in Sonoma county other than that Liberals didn't get out and vote. And that's just messed up. At that point, you're basically just -- and I'm going to be crude here, even for me -- bending over and taking it.]

Here's the deal:
If you're Liberal or anti-Trump or whatever you want to call yourself and you're whining about how things are going, but you're not doing anything about it, then shut the fuck up! Seriously, if you're not going to take action and do simple things like voting, then you don't have the right to complain. It's time to take this shit seriously. It's not a game.
For all intents and purposes, this really is a war. The New Civil War.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Big Sick (a movie review post)

Have you seen Silicon Valley? You should see Silicon Valley; I love it.
Which has nothing to do with The big sick other than that Kumail Nanjiani is in it, and that's where I first came across him. He's pretty great, actually. The relationship between his character, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle is possibly the best part of the show for me, and I love Silicon Valley. Did I say that already?

So, anyway, when I heard that Kumail was doing a movie... Not just in a movie, but doing a movie. He wrote the movie, too, along with his wife, Emily Gordon, so he wrote and starred in The big sick, and... and it's a fictionalized true story about how he met his wife.

So why should we care about that, you might be asking yourself. Well, a few reasons.
1. It's a touching story.
2. It deals with the complexities of interracial relationships.
3. And intercultural relationships.
4. And, especially, what it's like to be from a Muslim family growing up in the United States. [I use the term "growing up" loosely since Kumail was already 18 when he moved to the US to go to college.]
5. Not to mention that Kumail is a stand-up comic, so it's funny. And romantic. You know, a romantic comedy, and there aren't too many of these around anymore.

Kumail is from Pakistan and plays himself in the movie. His not-yet-wife Emily, who is from North Carolina, is played by Zoe Kazan. That should be enough to tell you that there will be... issues.

Surprisingly, the larger issues for the relationship are from Kumail's side of the family because his mother is determined that he should marry a good Pakistani girl and is working on arranging a marriage for him. Not that the problems are actually because of his family; they're not. The problems are because Kumail neglects to tell his family that he's dating a white girl. And he continues to meet these women his mother is trying to set him up with.

Those dates are more like job interviews. Seriously, they bring what can only be called resumes accompanied by a head shot.

And that should be enough to get you started.

Nanjiani is great in the movie. Of course, he is playing himself (remember: true story), so I suppose you could say that the role was written just for him. Especially since he co-wrote it. Kazan is also good. But I think the true gem of the movie is Holly Hunter. She plays Emily's mother, and she's wonderful.

Oh, also, Ray Romano is in the movie as Emily's father, and he's good, too. Which actually says a lot, because I don't particularly like Romano. Not that I dislike him, per se, but I always thought Everybody Loves Raymond was pretty dumb, so I never developed any kind of liking for him. But he's good in this.

The bottom line is that you should see this movie. No, seriously, see the movie.

The other bottom line is that this movie represents all that is good about America and what America stands for. Kumail Nanjiani is a more valuable member of our society than Trump has ever been or could hope to be. Nanjiani adds value to society and to the world while Trump is just a leech, a parasite, taking value from everything he can to engorge himself only.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Orders" (Ep. 6.4)

-- The popular belief isn't always the correct one.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season six, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

What's worse than looking for a needle in a haystack? Looking for a needle in a needlestack,
I mean, sure, the clones have adopted identifying markings and such, but being tasked with finding one specific clone among, at least, thousands... Well, that's a job I wouldn't want to have.

But it is the job of the security forces on Coruscant after Fives take flight after a frame up to make it look like he was trying to assassinate Chancellor Palpatine. And, of course, we know it's a set up, and that's part of what makes this episode so difficult to watch. We know who Palpatine is, and we know how those around him are playing into his hands, and we want to yell at Shaak Ti, "No! Don't do it! Don't leave Fives alone with him!" But she doesn't listen to us.

To say this episode ends tragically is an understatement, because we now know just how close the Jedi came to finding out about Order 66, how close one clone came to changing everything...

For me, that makes Revenge of the Sith even more sad.

Aside from all of that, it seems pretty clear to me as of this episode that Count Dooku had no idea that Darth Sidious and Palpatine were one and the same. Interesting...

"Have you seen this clone?"

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Point of Dissent

When I was young, my mom used to tell me things like, "Don't rock the boat," and, "Don't speak up; it won't do any good," and, "Just go along; it's easier that way." This was never an idea I was able to buy into, even at a young age, probably because I had a string of really great teachers from 4th through 6th grades, teachers who taught me that it was not just okay but good to question authority.

Don't get me wrong; I don't mean questioning authority just for the sake of questioning authority. I mean that you don't accept something just because it's being told to you by someone "in authority." Of course, the fact that I grew up in a house where my father expected to be believed "because he said so" didn't leave me very inclined to think anyone in authority knew what they were talking about.

By high school, I was quite adept at "asking questions" when I thought the person in authority was wrong. That translates into, "I was very good at pointing out when the person in authority was wrong and asking for the data." This was something that especially happened at church where I found out that in most circumstances, because I did my own studying and research, I was the authority on whatever subject we were studying. More so than any of the Sunday school teachers, more so than the youth pastor, and more so than even the pastor in many instances. It was very common for both my pastor and my youth pastor to say to me, "I'm not going to tell you you're right, but you're not wrong."

I felt good about bringing these things up, about dissenting with what was being said, because, frequently, it led to a redaction of false information and/or a correction of what was being taught.

Which brings me to the point of dissent...
It brings me to the point of dissent and, more specifically, why you should bother.
(And I'm not going to elaborate much here; I'm just going to go through the points I want to make.)

1. Dissenting can cause people to take a second look at the information being offered and catch errors that might not otherwise come to light.

2. Dissenting in a matter of a position (such as a political or moral position) [see this series of posts] clearly states which side you are on, which can be incredibly important [just ask all of the Republicans in a couple of years when they lose their spots in the House for not standing up to Trump].

3. Dissenting can give others who agree with you but who are staying quiet the courage to stand up along with you. Sometimes, it takes only one person to stand up and do the right thing to give other people the strength to also stand.

Look, folks, we're at a crux in history. It's not a dissimilar crux to that of the one that caused the American Revolution. There are a few corrupt but rich and seemingly powerful people in control, but there aren't really that many who agree with them, even among those who supposedly agree with them. It's time to dissent.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (a movie review post)

I don't think I've made a secret of my longtime love of Spider-Man. Spider-Man goes back before Star Wars for me, back to at least when I was four. As such, I waited a long time for a Spider-Man movie. When that movie finally came in 2002 -- the Sam Raimi/Toby Maguire feature -- it was pretty perfect. Toby Maguire really captured Peter Parker, and I couldn't have been happier.

I was less happy when Sony decided to reboot the series. It's not that Andrew Garfield didn't do a fine job -- he wasn't as good as Maguire, but he was fine -- but a reboot just wasn't needed. Sure, change the actors, but keep the continuity of the series going.

Needless to say, I was a little unsure of how I felt about another reboot of the series. On the one hand, Marvel Studios was taking a hand in it, and Marvel has proven themselves a master at handling their own characters. [Unlike Warner Brothers, who continually show they don't know crap about how to make a super hero movie. For their one real success so far (Wonder Woman), they had to steal the plot of Captain America: The First Avenger to make it work.] On the other hand, it was going to be another reboot.

But Marvel, evidently, felt the same way I do about the idea of doing another reboot and went around it by not doing another origin story. It was pretty brilliant, actually. They summed it all up with one line, "I was bit by a spider." It was great.

And Tom Holland was... Okay, I'm going to skip the "amazing" joke. Tom Holland was incredible. Better than Toby Maguire, which I didn't think was actually possible. Of course, I thought that might be the case after Civil War, but I wasn't certain. Homecoming dismissed any doubt within the first few minutes. Seriously spectacular. [Sorry, I had to slip something in.] It's not that he's a wisecracking super hero; he's a nervous teenager. I'm looking forward to more from him.

All of the cast was great, though I wish Donald Glover had had a bigger part. I hope he becomes a recurring character. However, summing up everyone with "great" is probably devaluing Michael Keaton, and I wouldn't want to do that. Keaton was a better Adrian Toomes than Toomes ever was in the comics. Yeah, I was never much of a Vulture fan. But Keaton was wonderful and believable. And more than a little frightening. And I'm not going to say more than that because of spoilers (but my son was in full suspense mode as we watched, so I know it was working; he's a tough audience, even tougher than me).

I also really liked Bokeem Woodbine as The Shocker.

Oh, and Damage Control. That they introduced them was pretty great. I have the original limited series from 1989. Not that it seems it's done anything for the prices of the issues. It's still fun.

My daughter came out of the movie saying it's her favorite Marvel movie ever. I think Homecoming probably lands in my top three super hero movies. I'm not sure what that order is, actually. The top five, at this point, are all pretty great movies, and it's very difficult to tell which is better than another. It might be somewhat flexible depending upon how I'm feeling at the time. Right now, I just want to go see Homecoming again. Seriously great movie. And you don't really need to have seen any of the other Marvel movies to "get it," so don't let that get in the way if you haven't seen the other movies or aren't up to date on them. Just take the Tony Stark bits in stride and enjoy the movie.

Oh, and the Steve Rogers cameos are brilliant. Especially the one at the end.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Fugitive" (Ep. 6.3)

-- When in doubt, go to the source.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season six, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

What is life?
And is it yours?
I mean, that's one of the fundamental questions, right? And it's a question becoming more and more difficult to grapple with, especially as we become more and more able to produce life on our own terms. This question they deal with in the Clone Wars about whether the clones are independent beings or just property isn't really hypothetical anymore. We could clone people at this stage. To a certain extent, we can even make them to order. Are they property?

And, for that matter, aren't my kids just products? It's not like they made themselves. Or raised themselves.

So where do we draw the line?

It seems not even the Jedi have an answer to this one. One the one hand, there's Yoda, who seems to see each individual clone as an individual, independent being; but, on the other hand, you have some Jedi who see the clones as no better than droids, just biological machines.

It's hard to tell precisely where Shaak Ti falls on the scale, but she seems to lean more toward the "we own you" side of things.

All of these are the conflicts driving Fives to go rogue in order to figure out what killed his brother, Tup. Because, sometimes... actually, frequently, especially in this day and age of corporate law and Trumpism, doing the Right thing means going against the establishment. And not because there's any kind of conspiracy, but because of things like implicit bias. That's really what Fives is up against, the bias in the system against clones because they aren't full people. Probably, they only count as 3/5 of a person.

"I am not a piece of hardware! I'm a living being!"

Monday, July 10, 2017

We Are Not Your Machine

Let's imagine for a moment that you have a great machine. When I say machine, I mean machine. This is a purely mechanical contraption, no electronic parts. No internal computer. Nothing digital about it.
It's all gears and cogs and nuts and bolts.

Machines are fairly straightforward devices, even the delicate and complex ones. I mean that from the stance of that when a piece wears out or breaks, you remove it and put a new piece in its place. The old piece is, at that point, a piece of trash.

Machines are built with a purpose, to do a particular task, even if that task is purely ornamental. But they only work if all the parts are good.

And herein lies the problem, the corporate view of people, and, thus, the Republican view of people, is that we are all parts of some great profit machine. We are all here to generate money for them. For them, and that's the part you have to understand. We, the people, are all parts. Cogs. Gears. Pegs.

It is this view, the inherent view of people from corporate America (and the Republicans), that makes them disdainful of the "unproductive members" of society. "Unproductive members" equates to "broken pieces" of the machine. And what do we do with broken pieces? We throw them away. We do not keep them around as clutter, and we certainly don't "take care of them." That's just wasted resources.

And you wonder why the healthcare plans being offered up by the Republicans are so bad for the sick and elderly and poor...? Really? You wonder about that? These "people," because the Republicans barely view them as people, are a waste, a drain. They suck up resources that are more deserved by "productive members" of society, i.e., the rich, the 1%, the [leaches]. [Yes, let's feed the parasites even more.] So you're cries of, "But people will die if you take away their healthcare," do really fall on deaf ears because, you know what?, that's the actual idea.

Get those broken pieces of the machine out of society!

Of course, then, the problem (it's not a problem) is that we are not a machine. We are not some great biological wealth machine for the rich despite the fact that we've allowed them to turn us into one. [Over and over and over again throughout history, I might add.] That's the actual problem, we have allowed them to use us as this, and we need to stop.

Well, that's part of the problem. There's also the part where the "Christian" (because they're not really) Right, the Evangelicals, have abandoned charity and mercy in favor of the more hard-line Pauline philosophy of "if they don't work, don't let them eat." And they've taken up this philosophy because it fits in with the whole "God rewards [with money!] the just and worthy, and punishes [by taking away their money] the sinners." So, you know, if you're having financial difficulties, it's because you're a lousy sinner being punished by God and, if you'd just "get right with God," he'd reward you financially and you wouldn't need any charity or mercy. [These people are fully behind Trump and the Republican agenda, just by the way.]

All of it is about money, and,while I don't really agree with Paul on the whole "money is the root of all evil" thing, it is the root of an awful lot of evil.

No, I don't have "an answer" to all of this or how to deal with it, but I think "the answer" begins with people realizing that they've been "turned into" a money-printing machine for the wealthy. People need to realize that they are not cogs, not pegs, at least not round ones. Not even square ones.

If people are pegs, they are all strange pegs. At least, that's how we all start out, with weird little growths and arms and awkward angles and edges. Unfortunately, many of us spend our years as parents trying to take of the edges and angles of our kids and make them into these unified little round pegs that can grow up and fit into any hole. If not that, we don't do anything to stop the education system from doing that for us.

But it's time to stand up for the things that diversify us, differentiate us, make us unique. We are not pieces of a machine, and it's time that we stopped acting like we are.

Friday, July 7, 2017

La Boheme (an opera review post)

Roughly translated (okay, not so roughly), "la boheme" means "the bohemians." It's loosely based on characters from a series of short stories by the 19th century French novelist Henri Murger, and, when I say "loosely," I do actually mean it.

Giacomo Puccini, having been himself a starving artist at one point in his life, felt a great affinity for the characters of his opera and, evidently, caused a lot of frustration with his librettist because he kept changing the words. He seemed to be a believer in the "ask forgiveness, not permission" philosophy. You can't argue with the results, at any rate. La Boheme is one of the top operas in the world more than a century after it's introduction and has been the most performed opera at the San Francisco Opera House.

As such, any production of it seems to have a really high bar it needs to meet with the critics. This being my first viewing of it, I have no such bar, and I thought this production was great.

First, the set was great.They did a great job of putting together something that looked like a studio apartment being shared by four poverty-stricken artists: a poet, a painter, a musician, and a philosopher. But, even better! The apartment piece of the set separated and turned around to form the city streets. It looked nice and gave the right feel.

Then, the cast was great. All of them. The opera has a lot of comedy in it despite the fact that it's a tragic love story and, as such, requires some serious acting. This is definitely not an opera that would work if the performers just stood in place when they were singing. They were all great. I can't even pick out a favorite.

Here's where it really works for me:
When Picasso first went to Paris, he was exactly one of these starving artists. His first winter was so hard that he was forced to burn all of the paintings he had thus far produced so that he wouldn't freeze to death. It's a horrible thought. The opera opens with Rodolfo and Marcello burning the manuscript to one of Rodolfo's plays just so that they can have a little heat. This production did a good job of making that real, of making the poverty and the desperation that goes with it real.

Not just in that they had no fuel for the fire and no food but, also, they had no access to healthcare. You could make a case for this being a play about poverty and how people with no access to healthcare deal with illness: They try to pretend it isn't there. Rodolfo knows immediately upon meeting Mimi that she's not well, but what are they going to do? There's no money for a doctor. And Mimi? Evidently, she's been dealing with her illness for so long that she's able to pretend even to herself that she's perfectly fine -- "It's just a little cough." -- so she's surprised, later, to find out she's sick.

But, you know, no one has ever died from lack of access to healthcare.

The only complaint, and it was a small one, was from my wife. She said Mimi and Rodolfo spent too much time looking at the audience during their love duets rather than at each other. I didn't notice, but, because they provide viewing screens for those of us up in the nosebleed section, I may have been watching the screen instead of the stage and I wouldn't necessarily have noticed that particular issue.

What I can say for certain is that La Boheme is definitely an opera I want to see again. In fact, I would go back to see it again today if I could, and we just saw it last night (as I write this, not as you read it). Puccini is my wife's favorite opera composer, and I can definitely see why. I don't know that I have a favorite at this point, but Puccini definitely wrote some of the most memorable opera music ever written.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Conspiracy" (Ep. 6.2)

-- The wise benefit from a second opinion.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season six, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

The Jedi have sent Tup to Kamino to find out what caused him to assassinate Jedi Master Tiplar. This is somewhat like Brer Fox throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch. Not that it's exactly the Kaminoans fault. Apparently, they really just don't "get" the Jedi and don't understand that "Lord" Tyrranus is a Sith and not part of the Jedi Order. And it doesn't really seem to bother them that they are taking secret orders from one "Jedi" that they must not let any of the other Jedi know about.

Or maybe they just don't care because why question the money?

At any rate, it puts the Kaminoans at cross purposes with the Jedi and, specifically, Fives.

Fives, of course, doesn't much care for anyone else's agenda if it puts Tup, his best friend, in danger, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to save Tup's life, a life the Kaminoans plan to end to cover up the fact that clones have inhibitor chips in their heads put there at the behest of the Sith.

Again, this is a great arc and one of the most significant ones in the series. You should do yourself a favor and watch it.

Also, the droid character AZ-3 is a good addition for the episode. Its relationship with Fives is interesting to watch.

One other interesting note: There are empty seats on the Jedi Council. I'm not sure if they've shown that before, but there are at least two seats empty during a consultation in this episode.

"I always wanted to have human feelings. But I do not. Goodbye."

Monday, July 3, 2017

Don Giovanni (an opera review post)

At long last, we're finishing up the 2016 opera season at the San Francisco Opera! We have three this month (June, as I write this), the first of which is Don Giovanni by Mozart.

Don Giovanni is rather appropriately timed considering our political climate. Not that Don Giovanni is at all political, because it's not. However, it is about a man, Don Giovanni, who has no control over his impulses and has no problem with the idea of grabbing a woman by the pussy. Or a girl, for that matter. He's a noble, a star, and expects to get to do whatever he wants, which is mostly how it goes for him.

Until he kills someone.

Look, Giovanni is so smooth (and rich, because you can't leave out the influence of money) that he walks into the wedding of a young couple and walks out with the bride after sending the groom on his way.

You should also keep in mind that this opera premiered in 1787. More than 200 years later, it's one of the top 10 most performed operas worldwide. It is, after all, Mozart.

Being Mozart, the music is very solid, but none of it really grabbed me. It's the kind of stuff that would, say, make great background music, but there's none of it that I wanted to sing along with. So to speak. Because I'm not likely to ever be singing along with opera. That's just a bit beyond me.

My experience so far with Mozart (this is my third Mozart opera) tells me that he's very good at "sidekick" characters, and this was no exception. The character of Leporello provides the comic relief, and Erwin Schrott gave an amazing performance. He was easily my favorite even though Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, as Don Giovanni, was also great.

Generally speaking, all of the performers were great... with the exception of Stanislas de Barbeyrac as Don Ottavio. de Barbeyrac had that problem of standing in place when he was singing and not emoting at all. Even when other people were singing. He tended to do nothing more than stand around on stage when he was on stage. It was kind of weird considering that all of the other performers were also acting their parts but this one guy just stood there looking bored all the time.

The set was also kind of... well, I don't know. It was almost cool but, then, it fell short. They had these large mirror/screen things on the stage that they did some interesting things with, but one of the things was projecting images of people onto them. So, like, when Don Ottavio is singing of his love for Donna Anna, there are images of her in the "mirrors" as he sang. But that's really the only scene where they effectively used those. At other times, a face might pop up and would be gone within moments; considering that there were at least half a dozen of the "mirrors" on the stage most of the time, it always made me wonder if I missed something because I was looking at some other part of the stage. Overall, I think they were underutilized and a distraction rather than adding anything to the production. Wasted potential.

So let's get a bit spoilery.

Don Giovanni is completely unrepentant about his lifestyle. He uses and damages people and considers it his right to do so. He never apologizes. [Does that sound like any orange gremlin you might know?] At the end of the opera, Giovanni is visited by the man he murdered. Giovanni somewhat inadvertently invited the dead man to dinner, and the dead man accepted the invitation. Not that Giovanni expected him to actually show up despite the supernatural occurrence in the graveyard. But the dead man does show up and explains to Giovanni that there are bad things coming for him unless he repents. Giovanni, being true to his nature, refuses... and gets dragged into Hell because of it.

Now, seriously, who does that remind you of? This philosophy of not apologizing but always hitting back harder only goes so far, and I think some prominent people in our government (>cough<Trump>cough<) are about to find that out.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Day 24 (a future history)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Mrs. Madison still isn’t back at school. They said she’s having a sabatical. Or a cebatical. Something. I’d look it up to find out what it means if I could, but I can’t google it, and we don’t have a dictionary.

That seems weird to me, now, not having a dictionary, but I don’t think I’ve used one since, probably, 2nd grade. I think that’s when we learned about alphabetizing and using a dictionary, but you don’t need a dictionary when you have the internet.

I want to talk to her and find out what really happened to her, but I don’t know where she lives. I tried asking in the office, but they wouldn’t tell me, just kept saying “it’s policy” blah blah blah. Which, fine, I understand that about not giving teachers’ addresses to students because they’d get egged all the time if everyone knew where they lived, but this isn’t like a normal circumstance!, and you’d think they’d make an exception. But, no! It’s policy blah blah blah.

Which leaves the internet… Oh, wait, it doesn’t! Fucking Trump and the internet. What I need is a dictionary for people and where they live, but we don’t even have a dictionary, so I’m sure we wouldn’t have one of those, either, even if they made them.

So we’re having subs in her class, a different one every day. Some old lady who used to be a teacher who just wanted us to sit quietly and nothing else. Some young college guy who was an IT major or something but doesn’t have anymore, right now, because, basically, there are no more computers. I haven’t touched my computer in over a week. What’s the point?

He was funny, though, and told a bunch of stories about his friends getting drunk that he would probably get in trouble for telling us if they knew he had. And I suppose he was cute, but ALL of the girls crowded around him at the end of class and it was SO stupid because he had to be, like, I don’t know, at least 22 or something, but Gretchen swears she got his phone number, but she wouldn’t show it to anyone because she didn’t want anyone else to use it. I bet he gave her his cell phone number, so a lot of good that will do her!

Today’s sub was a black guy who wanted to know what we’re studying, or what we WERE studying before Mrs. Madison “left,” because there was no lesson plan. We told him we’re studying poetry but it didn’t matter because the soldiers had taken all our English books.

He asked us what poetry we’d learned and no one could answer. Or no one wanted to. After all our books were taken, it was pretty clear no one wanted to talk about books. I certainly hadn’t told anyone I had a copy of Fahrenheit 451. I even kept it hidden when I wasn’t reading it. Again. Because it’s the only book I have, and I don’t have a lot else to do, so I guess I’m kind of trying to memorize it, just like in the book. Which is kind of funny, I think. And ironic. I think. I think the word is ironic.

I flipped through my English notebook, but the only things I had written down were

Walt Whitman

I still think Thorough is a weird name for someone to have.

I was thinking about saying something when Abi said, “Walt Whitman.” Then, without really stopping to think, I said, “Yeah, something about leaves and grass.”

And he started laughing! He started laughing and I could feel my cheeks turn red, and everyone else started laughing, too, but I know they were just laughing because he was laughing, not because they knew what was funny. It made me mad which made my cheeks burn more.

But the sub knew, too, and started asking some of them why they were laughing and none of them could answer, which made more people laugh, even me, and it was okay after that.

Then he explained that it was Leaves of Grass and that he would bring his copy from home if he gets to come back.

He talked about poetry for a little while after that and quoted some poems to us that he had memorized, which I thought was cool and was like Fahrenheit 451 and the way I was starting to remember that back, but he did it just because he wanted to or liked to or something not because he didn’t have anything better to do. I never met anyone before who had memorized poems and books and stuff.

Then he told us that poetry isn’t about just poems, and we talked about music for a little bit, and he quoted some songs to us and told us to yell out the songs as soon as we knew what they were, which was funny because it was harder than it sounds like it would be and just because there was no music to go with the words.

At the end, he said poetry can also just be beautiful language, and he quoted some speech my Martin Luther King. I don’t really know who he is other than that he has a holiday and everyone jokes about it being milk day. Oh, and he was killed by someone. His speech was really good, though, but it was a little long. I wanted to write it down, but I got too far behind and gave up. I wish I could look it up, but I have no way to do that at home or anywhere, really. I do remember one part:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Clone Wars -- "The Unknown" (Ep. 6.1)

-- The truth about yourself is always the hardest to accept.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

Technically, we could be through with the whole Clone Wars thing since season six was never aired; however, they did release part of it on disc, so we, of course, own it. And season six has some important stuff in it; in fact, this first arc is easily in the top three arcs of importance in the series and arguments could be made for its being the most important.

So why didn't it air?

I may have mentioned this before, but let's touch on it again.

The Clone Wars was not "cancelled" in the way that TV shows generally get cancelled. This is why season six was so far along in production when the decision was made to end the series with season five. See, Clone Wars was a Cartoon Network show, licensed to them from Lucasfilm on a five year contract but, before the contract was up, Disney bought Lucasfilm. Not a big deal in a general sense except that Disney has its own TV station and didn't want to be licensing out their new Star Wars property to some other network so, when it came time to renegotiate the licensing agreement, Disney made the cost too high to make it worthwhile for CN to pay it and, thus, The Clone Wars abruptly ended at the end of season five with season six production in full swing.

Why didn't Disney just move Clone Wars over to the Disney Channel?
That was about branding.
And, so, Rebels was born as a Disney channel show and Clone Wars was allowed to drop away.
Fortunately, Disney allowed some of the episodes to be completed for a DVD release.

Which brings us to the first episode of season six, as I said, one of the most important arcs in the series as it has to do with Order 66. It also introduces us to the only set of Jedi siblings that I know of. Or, at least, can think of at this moment. Also, Tim Curry as Darth Sidious! And I'd say more, but you should just watch it.

"I am programmed to resist intimidation."

Monday, June 26, 2017

Trump's Economic Plan: Hydraulic Mining

These past few weeks, I've been talking about this trip through gold country that my wife and I took at the beginning of May. It was an enlightening and educational trip aside from the fact that it was just a lot of fun. I mean, I didn't even talk about how we made sourdough pancakes roughly based on the way miners' would have eaten them (evidently pancakes were kind of a thing because sourdough was fairly portable) or any of the other food we made (all amazing!) or any of the places we ate at. Of course, I also didn't talk about the mosquitoes, which reached a horrible peak the night we stayed at Indian Grinding Rock.

And I'm still not going to talk about any of that stuff:
1. Because I don't want to talk about the mosquitoes.
2. I don't have pictures of any of the food, and I probably wouldn't remember all the things anyway.

But I do want to talk some more about hydraulic mining and how Trump wants us to return to those days.

I mentioned that we stayed a couple of nights in a miners' cabin in North Bloomfield. North Bloomfield which now has a population of 8-12 (yes, that's actually what the sign said). However, at one point, North Bloomfield had a population of something in the 2000 range and was a "thriving" mining town. I say "thriving" because, obviously, it was only thriving via illusion. So let's talk about that...

The town of North Bloomfield was settled as a mining town, which means all of the industry there revolved around gold mining. Gold mining for "the Man." Let's just be clear about this, this was not a town settled by "small business" miners working for themselves and making a living at it. This was a town run by the North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company. The miners worked for them, and the miners made shit wages. The miners made shit wages while the owners of the mining company got rich. Super rich.

And remember, this is what the area looks like more than a century later:
Of course, at the time, none of the trees in the foreground were there. Everything below the treeline in  the background was wiped out by the hydraulic mining. Remember, this is a picture I took to be "attractive;" I didn't take any of what's left down in the canyon where it's still full of scummy water and piled rocks. Most of this area will never fully recover. [How do I know? Because there are similar areas to this where the Romans did the same kind of thing to gold mine more than 2000 years ago, and that land still hasn't recovered, either.]

But jobs, right? The destruction of this land supported the jobs and livelihood of 2000 people. But, you know, the government got involved and made hydraulic mining illegal and, so, today, North Bloomfield has a population of 8-12.

By Trump logic, though, we should strike down that regulation against hydraulic mining and put those miners back to work! Put them back to work making their shit wages so that the Mining Corporation could continue to get fat and rich (like a tick) off of them. But, you know, jobs!

Now, let's look at why the state of California stepped in and shut down hydraulic mining, because it wasn't because they wanted to flex some government muscles and put people out of work.
A view across some of the gravel piles and sparse vegetation on the edge of the "pit."

All of this hydraulic mining was happening up in the mountains, and it used a lot of water. "A lot of water" is an understatement. I'm talking about millions of gallons of water a day. All of the water and everything it carried with it went... down. Whole towns got covered in mud and rock and there was devastating flooding in the Sacramento valley, the most fertile area of California and, possibly, the whole United States, considering how much of the nation's food is grown here. Farms and lives were destroyed. Food that was being grown for broader consumption was destroyed so that a few corporation owners could get rich. And, you know, pay shit wages to their employees.

Some of what was coming out of the mountains even made it out into San Francisco Bay, causing even more environmental damage.

So, sure, there were 2000 people in this one town benefiting from the mining and a lot of those people had jobs related to the mining. And there were some other nearby towns that had jobs dependent upon the mining, like Lake City, which existed to upkeep one of the water reservoirs they used to power the water cannons.

But the environmental damage was extensive, to say the least, and the lives affected by the damage they mining corporation was causing was way more than 2000. Seriously, did you get the part where there were whole towns buried in mud due to the runoff from the mine? And entire seasons of crops were lost due to the flooding. So, yes, the State of California stepped in and made hydraulic mining illegal, but it wasn't without a legal fight because the corporation owners didn't want to quit. They didn't care about the damage they were causing because they were getting rich. Richer. They were getting more rich.

When hydraulic mining was made illegal, people moved away from North Bloomfield. Lake City doesn't even exist anymore. Yes, jobs were lost. Those people, though, went on to other things, because that's what you do. So, sure, jobs were lost, and I'm sure that was horrible for those people, especially the shop owners who suddenly no longer had enough business to stay open. But the net effect was tremendously for the good. Incalculably for the good.

Let's not mince words:
Trump's plan for coal, for bringing back coal mining jobs, is the same as if he came to California and made hydraulic mining legal again. There's still gold in them there hills. Billions of dollars worth. It wasn't a lack of gold that made people stop mining. It was the environmental cost.

And the environmental cost of coal is just as high. Climate change is real. The flooding and the droughts and the effects on our ability to produce crops is just as real as the flood waters and debris coming out of the Sierra Nevadas to cover the Sacramento plain and destroy... everything.

The best part is this:
He doesn't care about the jobs. He wants to pay shit wages, too. He's one of the corporation ticks wanting to suck you dry while he gets rich. And I hear you, "But Trump doesn't own coal mines!" (Actually, we don't know that since, you know, he won't release his tax returns.) Sure, Trump doesn't own any coal mines, but his buddies do, and, with them, it's all about scratching each others' backs.

Do I feel bad for the people who will and are losing their jobs because of the dying coal industry? Sure, I do. But I also believe the cost is too high to support the metaphoric 2000 jobs of a few miners at the expense of the rest of the world, because, yes, it is the rest of the world. For the moment, though, why don't you go to south Louisiana and talk to the folks there who are losing their coastline due to climate change. People who are having to move due to the destruction that other people are causing so that a few (a few!) can get rich. Richer. So that a few can get even more rich.
The monster in the mountain. (Doesn't it look like a Pac-Man ghost?)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Clone Wars -- Season Five

Season five of Clone Wars is almost the perfect Clone Wars season. Almost. If not for that pothole... um, actually, I think it's more of a sinkhole... right in the middle, it would be. Yes, I'm talking about the horrible four-episode arc featuring D-Squad and Colonel Gascon, the "frog general." As I'm reflecting over this particular season, I'm just left wondering, "What the f#$% were they thinking?"

I mean, look, season five starts off with a very solid story introducing us to Saw Gerrera, an arc which has a much stronger significance, now, after Rogue One, than it did when the series originally aired. It was a new perspective to go back and see it again because, though I liked the arc a lot the first time I saw it, it was much more enlightening this time.

And we follow that one with a story about younglings learning to build their first lightsabers, another good arc. True, it stumbles a bit at places, but, overall, it's good, and it gives us Ahsoka in her first guidance role.

Oh, but then! Then! I mean, where did this whole Gascon thing come from anyway? The story has absolutely no significance in the fabric of the series as a whole. It's entirely throwaway.

Then we have two of the strongest and most important arcs in the entire series. We wrap up the whole Darth Maul/Savage Opress story line, proving that the story of Opress was a tragedy (definitely not a comedy), but how could it have been otherwise? And...

And we see Ahsoka leave the Jedi. That final story of season five might be the most important of the entire Clone Wars run, though there is one arc in season six that's pretty important, too (and one that the Squid is sure to love), but I'll have to watch it again before I can decide which one I think is more significant.

Really, season five is Ahsoka's season. Three of the five arcs deal specifically with her, her growth as a Jedi, and her relationship with the Jedi Order and, specifically, to the Jedi Council. We watch her on more than one occasion choose to not follow orders in favor of doing what she believes is the right thing, something she learned from both Anakin and Obi-Wan but, possibly, more so from Obi-Wan. The season shows us that Ahsoka's story is also a tragedy.

I'm not sure I can say that you can watch season five without having watched the earlier seasons. Certainly, the Maul/Opress story arc won't make much since without the background from seasons three and four, but I think Ahsoka's ending won't have the power it should without having seen her journey. So, you know, if you like Star Wars, you really should watch The Clone Wars.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Clone Wars -- "The Wrong Jedi" (Ep. 5.20)

-- Never give up hope, no matter how dark things seem.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

And so we get to the end of the Alfred Hitchcock-inspired titles. "The Wrong Jedi," of course, comes from The Wrong Man and has roughly the same kind of plot. I say that as someone who doesn't really remember the movie very well since I probably saw it when I was 10, but the synopsis backs that up.

If you've been keeping up, you'll know that Ahsoka has been accused of a crime she didn't commit. And set up very solidly. And no one other than Anakin believes in her. It's the kind of thing that can really shake your faith, and her allegiance to the Jedi Order is a faith.

One of the underlying conflicts of this arc is jurisdiction. It was the Jedi Temple that was bombed, so they believe they should have jurisdiction over the case; but clones were killed, so Tarkin claims that the military has jurisdiction. The result of the conflict over that is interesting, to say the least, but to say more would be to spoil the episode for you, and, really, this is an arc that really needs to be seen. Probably more than any other single event in the series, this is the one where we can best see Anakin losing his grip on what it means to be a Jedi.

But, really, it's not about Anakin, as Ahsoka very pointedly tells him: "This isn't about you."

Really, this arc is pivotal to the whole Star Wars series. Not only does it reveal to us this critical moment for Anakin, but it really puts on display how it is that only a couple or few decades later that people have forgotten the Jedi. It's not so much that they don't remember but that they turned their backs on them.

Hmm... The people turned away from the Jedi in favor of the Emperor and the Dark Side... That's something that sounds rather familiar.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Writing and the Inspiration Dilemma

There are whole schools of thought about writers and inspiration and waiting for inspiration and when to write and where inspiration comes from and whether it's even necessary. As with most things, there's a spectrum here, with people who believe you should never sit down to write unless you're feeling inspired on one side, and those, on the other side, who believe you should treat writing like a job and sit down and do the work whether you're inspired or not.

Let's take a practical look at this.

But before we go on, let me just say that I have nothing against inspiration. I like it. It's great to be inspired and have lovely (or terrifying) ideas to sit down and play with. But I can almost never sit down to do the writing when I have those ideas. I think most of my ideas these days happen when I'm in the car. You can ask my wife; I make her send me notes when I have ideas and we're not home, so she would probably know best whether that most frequently happens in the car or not. I mean, the car is not the best place to write, not if you want to live through your trip.

I used to know this guy. A "writer." He strongly believed in the waiting-for-inspiration-to-strike-before-doing-any-writing model. He talked about it a lot, actually, about how he would lean back in his chair at his desk and wait for the inspiration to come to him. Wait for the universe to open and flood his head with ideas and words. He'd sit that way for hours. If no inspiration came, he didn't do any writing. As time went on, more and more often, his posts about his writing life were only about how he was never inspired and couldn't find any inspiration and was, as a consequence, never writing.

He's not a writer anymore. I'm not sure he could ever have been called a "writer" since he has no completed work to show for his time as a "writer."

The problem is that I know a lot of people like that, people who quit writing because they relied heavily on being inspired and never did any of the work of writing. It's like this:
Writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
And, well, inspiration doesn't come unless you're doing the work.

So you can probably guess which side of the spectrum I'm on.
The truth is that if you look at successful writers, the writers who make a living from their writing, with few exceptions, these are the people who sit down to do the work of writing whether they're "feeling inspired" or not.

"Writers" who wait for the inspiration to happen first lead lives of not writing and, thus, never have anything to show for being a "writer." Sure, they may have a few pages of this or a few pages of that, but you can't legitimately call yourself a writer if you can't finish anything. You can be a writer without ever publishing anything, but you can't be a writer without work to show for it.

Which brings me to my actual point.

The other day, I heard a bit of an interview with a "voter" about why he hadn't voted in an election. He said it was because none of the candidates had inspired him...
Wait, what?
Yes, he said he didn't vote because he hadn't felt inspired by any of the candidates to get out and vote.

Which I realized is what has bothered me so much about last November's presidential election, people complaining that they didn't like either candidate so they hadn't bothered to vote at all. These people are "voters" in much the same way as a writer waiting for inspiration is a writer, which is to say not at all.

Look, it's not a candidates job to be inspirational. It's not the campaign's job to inspire you. Sure, I get that it can help. Like I said, I have nothing against inspiration. It's great.
But that's not what voting is about!
As a voter, it's your job to make the best decision from the available candidates and to go out and vote!

For example, if you have two candidates and you've rated them on a scale of 1-10 and one of them is a 0 (because Trump didn't even make the scale) and the other is a 2 or, even, a 1, you go out and vote for the better one (not that I thought that Clinton was so low as a 1 or a 2, but I know a lot of people felt that way). You don't wait for a 7 or higher to come along and inspire you before going out and doing your job, because it is your job. If you have two candidates whom you don't like and one of them is an authoritarian fascist asshole, you go out and cost your ballot for the other candidate.


You want to know how I know? Because France just did just that! FRANCE! Dudes... if France can do it, if France can do the right thing, certainly we here in the United States of goddamn fucking America ought to be able to do the same thing. Ought to be able to.
Because, obviously, we're not capable of that, as the even more recent election of Greg Gianforte kind of demonstrates.
Seriously, what the fuck?
And you call yourselves Americans?
If the people of France can get themselves out to vote for Emmanuel Macron, a guy no one really liked, for the sole purpose of keeping Marine Le Pen out of office, then no one in the United States has any excuse.

When the choice is between the lesser of two evils, you fucking vote for the lesser of two evils.

So all of you people who didn't vote need to own up to your lack of doing your fucking jobs as citizens of the United States and get up off your asses now and register your protest against the fascist asshole "running" the country.
Running it into the ground.

Sorry (not sorry), fuck inspiration. And that goes to you "writers," too.
Do the work.
If you do the work, the inspiration will eventually come.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Gold Country (part 4)

This is the stream where we panned for gold. I think we lasted about 10 minutes.
Really, I was just more interested in taking pictures.
I did find some pretty non-gold rocks, though, not that I kept any of them.

The path through China Garden.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Clone Wars -- "To Catch a Jedi" (Ep. 5.19)

-- Never become desperate enough to trust the untrustworthy.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

The title of this episode is another reference to an Alfred Hitchcock film: To Catch a Thief. As far as I know I've never seen To Catch a Thief, though that might not be true. There are a lot of old movies I watched as a young teenager that I don't remember anymore, and I watched a lot of Hitchcock films, so it is actually possible I've seen this one. Either way, I still get the idea they're going for from looking at the summary of the movie. It does make me wonder if "Sabotage," the first story in this arc, is also a reference to a Hitchcock film, a reference that I'm just not getting. Oh,wait, it is! And it's actually called Sabotage. I suppose I'm going to have to watch all of these again, now, or for the first time, depending. I'm pretty certain I've never seen Sabotage.

Ahsoka's on the run...
Now, let's step back a moment:
Much of the tension in Clone Wars is derived from Ahsoka and the fact that we know she's not around for Revenge of the Sith. We know something has to happen to her, which is something my kids started asking me during season one back when we were first watching the series. So what does happen to Ahsoka?

This arc is the beginning of the answer to that question, which is about all I can say without spoilers. What I can say is that this is one of the best arcs in the series. Plenty of action, plenty of drama, plenty of character development. Because, you know, anything that affects Ahsoka is also going to affect Anakin, and, more than anything else, Clone Wars is here for us to see the subtle shifts that led to Anakin's fall.