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Friday, April 13, 2018

Slytherin is Best House?

Here is an article about how Slytherin is the Best Hogwarts House (and Not Actually Evil) that I'm posting to try and justify to myself how not to be depressed that I was sorted into Slytherin.

One thing I realized, one of the first things they do to convince you that you're not doomed is citing the good wizards that graduated from the snake pit. But... really the only one they can come up with is Merlin. The rest are from the Potterverse and while their evilness may be up for debate, they are certainly douchebags.

Horace Slughorn is a harsh elitist. All the rest were turncoats -- Regulus Black, Severus Snape, and Draco Malfoy. They all pledged allegiance to evil characters until something didn't go their way. Something that affected them personally BTW. It wasn't like they saw a bunch of innocents get killed by Death Eaters and realize that maybe they were the bad guys.

The closest to goodness was Black, who converted when he saw how Voldemort treated Kreacher when using him to hide the locket Horcrux in the Inferi pond. Of course, him trying to do the right thing resulted in his death, but...

Snape became a double-agent when his childhood crush was killed and Malfoy just wimped out. But the common thread is all these guys used deception and manipulation to achieve their goals. Using evil to fight evil. Not sure how much credit you get for that.

I do agree they have a pretty nice logo and color scheme though.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Pawlenty as Governor Part 2: What I Do Care About

I talked before about things politicians keep bringing up that aren't things I care about. Here's what I do care about.

Education - this is, and always shall be, my number one priority. Because my biggest fear is living in a country of ignorant. Ignorant people are like play-doh--they have no substance and even a mediocre leader can mold them into zealots. Smart children grow up to be smart adults who make smart advances. They make life better. They make medicine and businesses and inventions and because I don't want a world where being "ig'nant" is a symbol of pride, or you're supposed to hate school, or be a slacker/disengaged like a Kevin Smith movie. We are better off with educated people in the world. It benefits everyone. The effect isn't immediate, but the investment can never goes down in value. Plus it's a huge turn-on.

Net Neutrality - I realize this is more on the national radar than local, but other states are bucking the trend. Why can't we? Technology and IT is a staple of MN, so we should sign our own Net Neutrality treaty. Let's leap over that novelty chattering teeth with legs. Don't let him feed his greed or drench congress in a months-long trial over nothing.

Gun reform - I don't know if it's a big deal in Minnesota, but it's an my personal priority. I do not want my children shot. I do not want my children afraid that if they go to school, they could be shot. Let me elaborate.

Statistically, you are not likely to be caught in a school shooting. Or a victim of gun violence at all. They're declining, Since Columbine, 200 people have been shot in a school shooting. That's a 1 in 614,000,000 chance. It's not zero, and Minnesota is not an exception, but juvenile crime rates are dropping. It's the phenomenon of a single huge news event looking like it's a rampant problem (like airplane crashes). My daughters have a better chance of getting an STD or a lifelong sports injury than shot in a school shooting. Out of all the classrooms in all the schools in all the states in all the country, if you look at the numbers, it's not going to happen. (source)


The psychology of it all takes a toll on the psyche. You're not likely to be shot but you are guaranteed to see all the measures to prevent those shots. The constant state of fear and paranoia. Carefree days that kids should be experiencing are gone, and that results messed-up grown-ups.

Imagine your own elementary school. Little lockers, weird art on the walls, and crappy paper crafts hanging from the ceiling. The lunchroom, the classroom, the bathrooms. All those memories. The smells of corn dogs and breadtangles of pizza. Snicking scissors. Papers shuffling. The smell of glue and crayons.

Now add metal detectors. Now add police in your hall, monitoring everybody. Add monthly lockdown drills, doors that auto-lock at the start of class, and cameras in every corner. Now add clear backpacks and fencing that corrals you down a single path like cows in a stockyard. Now add teachers with gun holsters, students with bulletproof vests, and crisis conduct class instead of music. How does that affect your personality for the next thirteen years of your life? You thought schools were like prison before...

Like they say in the military -- it's not that you could die, it's that you will see your friends die.

I'm also looking at the police. They have guns too, and their indiscriminate use does nothing to assuage fear of firearms or law enforcement. Minnesota isn't an exception to Black Lives Matter. I've blogged before about my outrage at the Philando Castile verdict after the video was made public. It made me sick that it happened so close to my old house, like a desecration. Which segues to my number three...

Accountability - We are no longer in the era where we can allow consequence-free conduct. This is the era of #timesup. Actions cannot be brushed off or ignored. Truth has outvalued thousands of dollars of NDA settlement money. Those blind eyes are what let everything get out of control in the first place. So much suffering, and we let it happen. How did we let it get so bad, letting the spin doctors and armchair psychologists brush off sociopathic behavior? It should not be this hard to act like a decent human being.

So when Tim Pawlenty says that Trump is unfit to be president but still votes for him, my nose wrinkles. In IT we have a thing called "code smell", where certain patterns or structures correspond to negative impact on the application. This is "rhetoric smell". Is he interested in improving the quality of life for his constituents or his own party? From that action alone, how can you trust a leader who's philosophy is "do as I say, not as I do"? That is not acceptable. We must demand better.

So Mr. Pawlenty starts, in my eyes, with a hill to climb. He's starting at the back tees. He better have a good drive to get back into good standing (I don't know why I'm using a golf metaphor, I don't even like golf).

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

So Pawlenty as Governor...

So I used to ignore politics. But in my state, the governor race has begun. This is going to be interesting because, for the first time in my life, I'm scrutinizing candidates and vetting policies. I even sent in a ballot for my Homeowner's Association election. So revel in the bantling thoughts of a guy coming to government as unsteady and moist as a newborn calf.

In my state, Tim Pawlenty is running for governor as a Republican.This is noteworthy because he already served from 2003-2011 (and then took six years off to go backpacking in Europe?). I don't know why he wants to run now. Is he afraid the backlash during midterm elections will eclipse the GOP? Maybe he thinks he's got a strong chance because the current governor, a democrat, won't be running again. Which means they're going to have a fresh candidate, while people already know Pawlenty's name. (Better the devil you know?)

Sorry, I don't mean to rag on the Republican party, though their actions in the White House have left a sour taste in my mouth. But there is no reason I wouldn't vote for a Republican candidate... as long as I agree with that candidate. It's just that I rarely ever agree with Republican behavior.

Democrats seem to focus on people (civil rights, economic equality, focus on domestic policy over international etc.) while Republicans focus on business and money. And don't get me wrong, I like businesses. I look at all the empty land between the Mississippi and Rocky Mountains and think "Build something there! Make some cities!" But I'd rather my friends be able to get married or emigrate to the US than if one of the tiny coffee shops or banks near me gets a tax break.

I do know I've had an assful of people like Bill and Bob and all the other conservative PSAs around me. Since I'm on the rural border, I gotta see all those anti-abortion billboards. At this point I know all the phases of fetal development (when the fingerprints form, when the heartbeat starts), but it's such a shallow tug, meant to appeal to emotion and not reason.

I have to drive by one every day that says "trashing an egg is the equivalent of wasting 55 gallons of water". Is egg-wasting really such a problem you had to spend money on a billboard about it? What is this supposed to stop? All those people throwing eggs into the river? You really think this is going to have ANY effect whatsoever? But I'm digressing.

Whoooooooooo cares?
Okay, let's try starting over. According to his introduction video, Pawlenty says he's going to focus on a few things, but the basic "slogan" is loosening the squeeze on the "middle". I don't know what that means. I'm middle class and I don't feel any squeeze. (BTW, I checked, according to this, I'm middle class, though on the high end of the range). I'm fine. I have plenty of taxes to pay and I don't mind paying them.

"We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?"
Sometimes I owe taxes. Some years they owe me. Seems balanced enough. I never worry about my financial situation because I don't spend stupidly. (That might change when the kids go to college, but chickens and counting). My health care premiums don't seem excessive, but I gotta believe he's talking about MNCare, and I don't have insight into that. I work for the largest health care company in the U.S. and after 5+ jobs and different health care plans, it's nothing I can't handle. I've even grown to like the HSA.

I do mind living in the wrong area. The county lines are drawn so that everything I do is in another county--schools, stores, etc. But my taxes and votes go to the Minneapolis one. I don't know if this counts as someone gerrymandering boundary lines per se but it sure doesn't feel right.

And tangentially, Pawlenty drops a line about us "trying to afford a decent life". Is that a problem here? The unemployment rate is 3.1% in Minnesota right now (compare to 4.1% nationally). That's five points below what it was eight years ago. Even industrial labor (I don't like the term "blue collar") wages are increasing nationally. Is there increased poverty? Well, in 2017, the number was 533,000. In 2011, almost 600,000. Again we have a drop (of 11% -- and we went from 10th place to 5th [source]). It doesn't mean poverty should be ignored, but when Minnesota has the second lowest poverty rate in the United States, it's hard to see it as a priority issue. His closing sentence (the one that's most important because it's what lingers in the mind) is that he's "finally going to put those in the middle first." ... implying he wasn't doing that before?

Here's another: "Working-class Minnesotans are sick and tired of politics-as-usual". NO. I want politics as usual. Please, take us back to politics as usual. Take me back to the times when I didn't have to attend two separate marches to feel like I'm doing something about this maniacal tyranny. When white supremacists were ashamed of their beliefs and had to hide. When I didn't want to punch Facebook in the face and I didn't have to pay attention to Russia and there wasn't a jaw-dropping news story every Friday. Take me back to when I wasn't worried nuclear war could start with a tweet.

And lastly--immigration. It's a "no-brainer" to make sure illegal immigrants aren't getting government benefits. Well, sure, no one would argue with that. No one likes freeloaders. But is it actually a problem in Minnesota? We don't have people sneaking across a border, so the immigrants we have here are legal. We've got a nice Hmong and Somalian population, two very different cultures that help us expand our horizons and increase perspective and empathy. This isn't like Arizona or New Mexico. We're not worried about the invasion of Canadians.

You know what I think? I think he's just jumping on the GOP's immigration platform because that's the only issue to get a reaction out of anyone. It's what Trump rode into the White House on.

Here's how it sounds overall: he's trying to imply there's a problem where none exists (and that he's the one to fix it). This sounds like how door-to-door salesmen did their thing back in the 1950s. Still exploiting the cult of personality. Focused on money, economy, and taxes. Not about advancing the human race, improving quality of life, or society as a whole. Immigration, a "middle-class squeeze", and poverty are non-issues right now (in this state).

I'm not saying none of these issues aren't problems. I'm saying there are bigger fish to fry. The mice in the kitchen aren't as important as the stove on fire.

Next time: what I do care about.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Nostalgia Critic No More

This week, former producers of Channel Awesome/That Guy With the Glasses compiled a list of grievances and complaints about their treatment, including sexual harassment and neglect. Others are seeing this and jumping ship (although I think that's a poor metaphor--it's more like a Klingon discommendation where everyone makes the Wakanda salute and turns their backs.)

I knew about issues behind the scenes with poor management and scheduling, but I thought those were part-and-parcel of amateur film making. I've heard many DVD commentaries that basically consisted of "this space was available so we took it", like Basket Case converting a hotel elevator into a lobby or Monty Python & the Holy Grail using coconuts or The Room being... the room.

And there were problems with... conflicting personalities? Well, that's the nice way of putting it. The NC is basically a basement-dwelling, ungrateful, insufferable bastard. Everyone who came after copied that acerbic MST3K style, because that was what worked. NC is the vent for our frustrations at greedy producers, apathetic directors, badly chosen actors, studio interference, writing to the merchandise/market/instead of the story.

When your job to portray yourself as Comic Book Guy turned up to 11, there are bound to be residual effects. But when you fight the monster, you must make sure not to become one. When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back.

Yes, I'm talking about Spoony, and no, there's no excuse for what he did. But I don't really know what transpired--I didn't follow that thread. I know it had to do with mental health, the "shieldy" nature of the Internet, and follower wars/information bubble. It made me sad, because I loved his work. I sat back impassively and watched, having no dog in the fight. Besides, here we are, years later. Noah Antwiler hasn't made a video in six months and Lindsay Ellis is getting retweets from Mikey Neumann, Hank Green, and John Scalzi.

But when you put it all together, there was more going on here that I should have been paying attention to. These things have poked their heads up from time to time. Like Allison Pregler's poor HR handling, on-set accidents (like everyone getting sunburned and dehydrated on Kickassia). Whoever leaves Channel Awesome leaves it in infamy. But I let it go, because these people are basically giving us good content, spending their time and money with no promise of reward, for free.

Now you should never work for exposure. Money should flow toward the artist. If the client is important enough that exposure means something, they can afford to pay you. If not, then it's not worth it. But just co-hosting/posting material on the site shouldn't require payment. TGWTG is a popular site, and letting others partake of that traffic, it's like advertising.

But that's as far as the exposure should go. Once CA starts pulling in producers for crossovers, movies, etc. they become employees. They are helping you make a product that you own, and they should be compensated for that labor. [Case in point: the "To Boldly Flee" sexual assault scene that no one wanted to do].

But all the sexual harassment? The lack of care for those under their wing (like not bringing their website out of the 1999 style). The bullying. The neglect. I cannot turn a blind eye to that.

When I read this manifesto, I was appalled. So appalled I actually tweeted at the conversation "what can we fans do to help"? (I think MarzGurl, Holly, and Lindsay Ellis were in that thread) And you know me--I never make contact with the outside world. Holly responded "don't watch CA content on the site or YouTube". I don't feel this is enough -- these people need to be accountable for their misconduct. A single removed subscriber isn't going to make an impact. We've got to stop accepting what we cannot change, we have to change what we cannot accept.

Bottom Line: I can no longer support or patronize Channel Awesome until they remediate these grievances.

Let me make this clear. I love the Nostalgia Critic. I wanted so much to be part of them because they looked like my people. People I wanted to be with, be friends with. Others had Friends, I had TGWTG. I've written many articles about their producers, how they've influenced me. I've watched all the NC videos. Sometimes I just binge-watched because I wanted to be part of that group. They looked so happy in those crossovers, working together, being creative, nerding out over stuff. Those were my people. But now I do not want to be associated with them.

It seems the biggest problem is their off-screen CEO. Basically, they've got a Charlie Rose junior in the driver's seat and he's got a choke chain around the Nostalgia Critic IP. That's a problem, because to call it the primary money-maker is disingenuous. Nostalgia Critic is basically the site. And if you need any bigger indicator of a douchebag, just look at that poor apology. The only good thing about it is that it exists. It means the backlash is loud enough that now they have to pay attention.

Now I'll write two letters a week.

But it's also that Doug and Rob Walker stay silent. They either just don't care or aren't allowed to. I see Doug Walker as just a guy who wants to make videos. He wants to be on screen and that's fine. And Rob is Rob. Like Bob Zmuda to Doug's Andy Kaufman. But their inaction makes them complicit. I'm waiting for some kind of statement. I'm waiting for them to be more than some goofballs watching TV.

If I could do more, I would. I'm writing this article, so that's something. But I can't let this one go. This is the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp. We've got to do better. They've got to do better. We've got to realize that sexual harassment and bullying can't be written off. No more eye-rolling. No more "boys will be boys" bullshit. No more excuses.

That means calling people out. That means consequences for actions. And I refuse to support, even with my ad-blocker in place, a smaller-scale version of the Weinstein company.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Lack of Quotable Presidents

I likes me some quotes, as you can see by the header. I collect them, especially if they pertain to my interests. But I noticed something--there's a lack of quotable presidents lately.

The last one I remember saying anything profound was JFK. There's been some memorable lines, like Nixon's "I am not a crook" and W. Bush's "Can't get fooled again", but those are ignoble. There's no "speak softly and carry a big stick" or "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".

Why is that? What happened after JFK? Does it have something to do with his assassination? Is it something to do with the information age? Did all the good speechwriters die out? Or is it that television's trivialized everything. I don't see anything on inspirational journals, web sites, or plaques they sell at the grocery store.

After JFK was LBJ. I couldn't give you a single word LBJ said, and Nixon had his "Checkers" speech which lived in ignominy. Ford, Carter, and Reagan give the impression of doddering old men on the cusp of dementia stumbling about the White House. Reagan had a few lines: "Tear down this wall", "Win one for the gipper", and so on. You'd think, given his acting background, Reagan would be a more memorable speaker. But both he and H.W. Bush ("Read my lips! No new taxes!") gave more slogans than substance. Something for SNL to parody. This was the eighties after all.

Then with Clinton you get into quotes associated with scandals, which are certainly nothing you want to write on a fortune cookie. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." "That depends on what the definition of 'is' is." Ridiculous. Come on, give me something. Obama seemed to give more speeches than previous presidents, but they tended to be visually emotional and didn't have any punch. They served the purpose of getting information across, not to wow you with a "Whoa, I never thought of it that way", which is what the best quotes do.

Where is the "Ask not what you can do..." anymore. No "buck stops here" or "I like Ike". "Hope" is not a quote, it's a word. "Yes we can" is a slogan. You don't even see presidents giving addresses on TV anymore. Come on, speechwriters. I think some quotable quotes could revive love for the executive branch.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

My Kindertrauma: Tidbits

For my second-to-last entry regarding Kindertrauma, I thought I'd go over some of the moments that didn't warrant an entire article, but were still evoke shivers when I think of them.

(one of HBO's Short Takes; also known as "Flesh Eating Film Reels")

I have no idea where or when I saw this, but I know I must have. Because when I was perusing old short horror films available on YouTube, this little gem came back, and I immediately had a Vagrant Story reaction (that's an inside joke I don't expect you to get).

My dad must have recorded this off of HBO (he recorded everything, we had over 200 video cassettes in our house) and then taped over it, because I only remember seeing the end. But the end is the scary part anyway. Strips of film from reels and cassettes come alive (in glorious stop-motion, I might add) and wrap around this guy who I always assumed was a film editor. Then they either suffocate him or consume him. Very evocative of my previously mentioned fears of drowning and lingering deaths when you're trapped and alive but can't do anything about it.

I never knew if it was the end of a movie or what, but HBO would air these short films very early in its life, presumably when they needed to fill gaps in-between movies. I don't think my dad intended to record it. He probably fell asleep in the chair and forgot to hit "stop" (he did that a lot). But thanks Dad for this unintentional snippet of childhood fear.

Cyborg-lady from Superman 3

Either Dad had this on tape for a time, I just occasionally saw it while channel flipping. And I'm not alone with this scene being a sore point for many kids. I wasn't into Superman, so I just caught it by chance. Especially since any good stuff happens near the end.

Again, we have our good friend stop-motion being used to portray a super-computer melding into a woman. The metal sears to her face, wires in her skin, while she screams. Even the most horrific animes at this time weren't this bad. Like, what did she do to deserve this? Comic book villains are goofy, they don't get tortured like this. All she did was fall backwards. Looking back now, this should have been Braniac, but it's a poor excuse for filmmakers pulling their punches.

I often had insomnia when I was a kid. Probably from drinking too many Diet Cokes (that was what my mom bought) and not knowing what caffeine was. Not to mention an overactive imagination. So sometimes, if my parents had gone to bed, I'd sneak into the family room and watch late night TV. Not like Johnny Carson or Saturday Night Live. I mean the 1 AM "what do we fill time with" cable stuff. Honestly, the TV guide was as entertaining as the other programs.

The only TV that didn't require much comprehension were horror movies. TNT or TBS was usually a good bet for these. I remember once I watched three in a row: some modern wolfman movie in a cave, "The Spookies" which I didn't understand, and Invaders From Mars. That sounded like a simple movie. Maybe it was like War of the Worlds. With a goofy title like that, it had to have something in it for kids.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Well, the title came from a cheesy 1953 film. But this is a remake. It's the difference between Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Night of the Living Dead (1990) directed by Tom Savini. The first movie (which I've never seen) had big-headed green-skinned Martians and capitalized on the alien invasion/"Red Scare" trend. But the second is directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), written by Dan O'Bannon (Alien), and special-effected by Stan Winston (every good movie ever).

The plot is essentially The Faculty or Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Tommyknockers. Of course, I hadn't seen any of those (or they weren't yet created) so this is the first time I saw the paranoia plot, and was thus terrified. And it combines well with the "no one listens to kids" trope. All the adults around little David are suddenly acting weird, and they all have scars on their necks. Of course, no one will believe him, because he's a kid. The only person he can get on his side, after much struggling, is the school nurse.

At the end, it's only the boy. Everyone else has been turned, even the army, so they're no help. Your parents are your enemies. Your teachers are your enemy. He's utterly alone and supportless, sneaking around the spaceship that buried itself in the desert (a little like the end of The X-Files movie or Predator 2), and there's all this freaky spaceship stuff and giant aliens that are just walking mouths. And at the end he confronts the leader, whose essentially a giant brain on his throne (reminded me a bit of "A Wrinkle in Time"). I forget what he does, either the aliens are vulnerable to salt, or he busts open a power core.

Congratulations, Mother Brain, it's a beautiful baby... something.
But what prevents this from being its own entry is the stupid stupid "Phew, it was all a dream" ending. Not only that, but the spaceship lands again just like in the beginning, like he's about to relive all these events, but for real. Even an nine-year-old isn't fooled by that kind of lazy storytelling. Well, mostly.

I never liked math, but I never missed an episode of Square One. Well, occasionally I'd change channels once Mathnet came on--not a fan of detective stories. But every time Mathman came on, I had to flip away for a minute or two. I don't know why, maybe it was something about that music, or the ominous coin-slot drop, or the black screen, but it scared the crap out of me. It hit that sweet spot of uncanny dread and fascination like I had with Braingames.

It didn't help that the bad guy almost always won and ate the good guy. Maybe that's why I could never watch it--Mathman was doomed. He'd would solve a few correct solutions, then chomp something wrong. (And being too young to understand fractions, his demise was unpredictable but inevitable. It was never a matter of if, but when). And suddenly the bad guy (him being a tornado didn't help) would get the go-ahead to chase him. Being a maze, there was no escape, and as decreed by fate, the bad guy would eat him. (Really, he just covered him and Mathman would expand into pixels and fade out). But seriously, fuck that tornado guy.

Fun fact I just learned: the company that produced this segment was Blue Sky Studios, which has since made Ice Age and other average CG-animated movies.

House II: The Second Story
(at least the ending)

In the same way I caught Night of the Creeps and Invaders From Mars, House II was also frequently featured on afternoon TV. But I always caught the end of it. And as one might expect from an afternoon movie, it can hardly be called horror, unless you're a small boy with nothing to do.

I'm not sure I was so much afraid of this as I was weirded out. From what I can remember, the ending sequence starts with a kind of revolving wall gag with a beautiful woman (who's meant to imply woman trouble for the main character, who I think was the straight guy from Perfect Strangers? Or at least looked like him) disappearing and reappearing. There's a green dog puppet, who's super-cute until you realize it's probably undead. There's another puppet too but I forget what it is. And there's an old man who looks like the guy on the cover of Phalanx.

And he's undead too. Green mottled skin, rotten teeth. Like a zombie prospector or something. Like he got lost on the way to Mad Dog McCree. My guess is this guy's an ancient relative of Perfect Strangers who got resurrected/summoned into the house and hijinx ensue, like Down and Out in Beverly Hills or Uncle Buck.

And there's a big climax at the end, but I forget what it is. I think it's got to do with being sucked into the afterlife or some other dimension. But the grandpa sacrifices himself, and then Perfect Strangers is holding him as he dies (again?) saying he's sorry, but the old man says not to be. "I got to meet my great-great-grandson." Then there's a gravestone. And Perfect Strangers, his two supporting cast (including the girl who I think might be a "Imprinted Love Interest"), and the puppets ride a wagon off into a field, which seems to be nowhere near the titular "house" where everything happened. Like did they fall into the bad dimension? Or get trapped in the past and now where are they going?

I've never seen the first House or this movie all the way through. I'm not sure it would make any more sense if I did.

The Vacuum from Mr. Mom

Jaws was absolutely verboten to watch. Not because my parents wouldn't let me, but I wouldn't let me. I knew it was too scary for me. Even the music was scary. And I already had that "going down the drain" thing. Add a shark to that and forget it. But in the early eighties, people were still copying all the iconic bits. You may not have seen the movie, but you knew the music, which also sent down an occasional shiver.

I also had a blankey. It was white. It was made by my grandmother. Baby pictures show that it had a scene from Bambi on it, but it was worn off by the time of my first memory. I carried that thing everywhere. It was my cape, my sword, my whip, my blindfold, my all-purpose rope, and my lovey. Technically I still have it, or what's left of it, which is a strip of wrinkled fabric, no heavier than a washcloth. In short, Linus was my idol.

Now Mr. Mom is a movie about a stay-at-home dad, which was progressive for 198-something (see also: Baby Boom). And of course, there's the requisite scene where everything's gone butt-knuckle crazy. Like in that Goofy cartoon "Father's Day Off". The baby's crying, the sink is flooding, the phone is ringing, and so on and on. But what's notable is that the vacuum starts taking off of its own accord. I don't think vacuums could do that, then or now, but it was a "thing" in old comedy. My house had a similar vacuum with the gray dust bag and headlight for scaring the cat.

But when this vacuum took off, it started playing the Jaws theme. And it goes right for the son's blankey. Vacuum + Jaws + loss of blankey = DO NOT WANT.

I didn't watch Mr. Mom until decades later, at my girlfriend's (now wife) house. And obviously, it wasn't as scary as I remember. But I steered clear of that movie for a long time. Didn't hurt that I didn't understand the material at the time anyway.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Books I Read: January - February 2018

The Elven by Bernhard Hennen

It took me two months of dedicated reading to complete this. Of course, I took breaks along the way, but still, I feel stories can wear out their welcome. We're not in the era of television-less-ness anymore. We don't need War and Peace to keep us occupied. And this is a callback to those kinds of books. It's a saga rooted in high fantasy and Norse/Germanic myths (like elves and dwarves).

We've got three main characters. Two are elves who have been rivals for a girl elf's love for whatever thousands of years elves live. The last is a viking who gets treated like the comic relief throughout the book. Seriously, you think he's going to be a badass, but the elves treat him like Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies. Every place they go, the elves cluck their tongues at him for drinking, fighting, and being crude (although no more than any normal viking) and go "look at this boorish human, ha ha". They're like Legolas in every way--eagle vision, can do magic, nimble, skilled warrior, and so on. Very few female parts that don't involve a queen or someone more important's daughter, so don't look here for any diversity.

It is well-written, it's just so damn long. You forget who characters are, what places are. There's a map in the beginning but it only covers a small portion of the world. Maybe I'm a dummy, but if you're going to make a novel this big and sprawling, add a few cheat sheets in there.

And as a result, I don't think I can recommend this book. It's good enough for a normal size novel, but not for something this long. It took me eighteen hours--I could have read three or four other books in that time. I can't help but think I'd have been better off continuing The Expanse.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

I found a few books recommended for people who liked "Ready Player One". And I needed it after finishing some long fantasy sagas. I wanted something funny and contemporary. I'd read David Wong before and liked it so I thought this would hit the spot.

And it did. Wong's not good at titles (or is he too good?) but it's exactly what's on the tin--fast action and men-in-black doing gratuitous violence. It's a big that stew that combines cyberassasins, superheroes, horror movies, anime, future dystopia. Much of them reflect (but aren't directly coded as) eighties weirdness like "Rock and Rule" and MTV's bizarro years.

It's not a story that holds up to scrutiny. The plot moves so fast you don't have much chance to learn character backstories or reflect on anything. You're onto something new before you can digest the old. Characters turncoat from bad to good without explanation. Plot coupons come from nowhere. Chapters are short and action-packed. The character is dragged through events by the seat of her pants, rather than making decisions for herself. And none of the cast is likable. It's like a Jason Statham movie.

So this should only be used for amusement and entertainment. It won't give you anything profound. It won't be taught in high school. But it is a great book for a reader who likes Marvel movies and video games. It's a trip and a joke and an action movie.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

This is the story of a twelve-year-old girl coming to terms with the absence of her mom. It's told in two parallel narratives. One is in present-time, on a road trip with her grandparents. The other is the story she tells to her grandparents that involve her mom and what happened with her and her dad after she left.

The classic trifecta ensues: 1) they move somewhere she doesn't like 2) Dad starts seeing another woman 3) No one in school likes her. In the process, she befriends another girl, and HER mother leaves. This is the interesting part, as our main character gets a taste of what a pill she was, having to console someone in the same situation.

It's a good story, especially if you know what a broken home is like. And the style, full of odd quaint country expressions and quirky humor. It's not a cheesy Hallmark story. It reminds me of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie or "Holes" by Louis Sachar or "I Am the Cheese" by Robert Cormier. All of these have an unreliable narrator and implication of something sinister going on below the surface.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I was nervous about reading this at first. John Green highly recommended it, dedicated a whole vlog to it. But in the past, he'd recommended Kendra by Coe Booth, which I didn't like. And The Boy in the Black Suit was only so-so. So I thought this genre wasn't for me, because I couldn't be more white and it's a big leap to sympathize with... what are we calling them now? Underprivileged minorities? Then I saw it on a bunch of Year End Top Ten lists and thought I'd give it a try.

Days later, I was still thinking about it. Yes, it's an "issue" book, but it's more about the aftermath of what someone goes through. Other issue books miss the point entirely, skipping over roots & causes and capitalizing on a hot button to sell books (like 13 Reasons Why or This Is Where It Ends).

Our main character is split between two worlds. By day she goes to school in a white neighborhood full of preppies, thanks to a school voucher. By night, she's back in the ghetto, with her family of half-siblings and Dad who's done time and now runs a grocery store. She never lets either side know of her other life because she'd be called a traitor or ostracized for some other reason.

That all changes when she witnesses a cop shoot her friend and can't toe the line anymore. But it's more about what her neighborhood goes through, how they react, from gang leaders to barbers, and the whites & lawyers reactions. It's about what it means to be "ghetto" when that's your life, not just a thirty-minute sitcom. Even when you live among gangs and broken families, a young black teenage girl can still want daddy snuggles. No one is a one-note or ghetto caricature. It's modern life and helps a great deal with empathizing and sympathizing and, most of all, understanding the POV of "Black Lives Matter".

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

It's a solid C. The main character lacks a "Save the Cat" moment, so he's not very sympathetic. And women won't find anything for themselves here. The only female in the book is the person the main character is trying to ask out. She's a prize to be won. Also there's no plot, no bad guy, no goal (either inner or outer) besides "learn a thing". So it's a little like Disney's The Sword in the Stone in that way. But at least in that movie, Merlin was grooming Arthur to be king. Here, the wizards' objective is to live easy bachelor lives, geek wish fulfillment, and to conjure burritos whenever they want.

After that, you'd think I'd give it a low rating. But despite its flaws, I realized, halfway through, that I still wanted to know how it ended. This is what I wanted Wizard's Bane to be--a computer programmer in medieval times using programming to do magic.

This is a book for people who like comic strips, not characters. It's light-hearted, fun, and humorous. But keep in mind that means the plot is going to be held by shoestrings. So don't come in with expectations of Harry Potter.

Also, the cover is bupkiss. There's no video games here.

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

This was way better than I thought it would be. King's known for horror, not high fantasy. Before this point, the only other fantasy he wrote (if you don't count The Gunslinger, which goes beyond genres) was The Talisman. And after this point, he didn't go back to it for a long time. So I thought it would be a disaster. When an author writes outside their wheelhouse, you get wary. But it was also written in 1987, around the same time as It, Misery, and Skeleton Crew. And before he got sober.

The whole book has a fun storyteller vibe, like an old man in a tavern telling you the saga of King What's-his-face. And since it's a secondary world, you don't have to worry about those Stephen King cliches.

However, the weird thing is the story never seems to start. It keeps describing characters, giving anecdotes, showing the history of the kingdom, etc. but you're halfway through the book and the inciting incident hasn't occurred. The narration consistently feels like it's building towards something all throughout, which is disconcerting.

But overall, yes, I recommend it. It's a good book even for the non-Stephen King fan and I plan on reading the sequel.

John Dies at the End by David Wong

I remember reading this when it was free online, many many years ago. At the time, it felt like a life-changing work. So many books consist of dull introspective characters, plodding plots. This was a story for the MTV generation, with creative monsters, gross-out moments, and complete rejection of post-modern literary crap.

But it's a flawed narrative. Many scenes take up space and reflect what you'd see in a movie. They don't drive plot, reveal character, or restate theme. Also, all the events happen without being tied together, so it gets long and boring when the characters don't want anything except to survive.

It's like a Transformers movie: every scene is framed as MAXIMUM importance... which means nothing is important.Things happen, but you don't care. It's not a character-based story, it's event, then event, then event. There's no quiet scenes where we get a chance to absorb the impact. There's sort of a beginning but there's no middle or ending. The imagery provides information that isn't necessary, like reading a book while listening to a different one. It's all spectacle and no information.

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View by various authors

This is an anthology of short stories that tells the story of Star Wars, but from the point-of-view of all the little characters that don't matter. Like the Jawa that finds R2-D2, the Tusken Raider that cold-cocks Luke, various droids and rebels, even the stormtrooper that bonks his head on the doorway. All the parts that didn't even earn scale.

It's actually one of the better short story collections I've read. Maybe because A) there's one unifying element tying them all together and leading to a conclusion and B) it's Star Wars. It was enjoyable, but not pull-you-in enjoyable. There is a LOT of time spent on Tatooine. I think there's a story for every character in Mos Eisley. If you like Star Wars, this is definitely worth looking into.