Valentine’s Day, 2017

Can you tell I’m not a fan of this holiday?

If anyone knows the author of this image I’d love to credit them.
Image first used by me here. A long time ago.

What was your first clue?

J. Geils Band Love Stinks

The Wife and I did our Valentine’s outing at 9pm last night. I recommend not doing anything social on the Fourteenth of February unless you like lines, crowds and unpleasantness. Also, don’t buy flowers or chocolate until February 15th. Take this advice from someone who has been poor all their life. Take the hit to your romance, not your wallet. If they love you they’ll be even happier you saved a few dollars that the two of you can spend on something else.

A word of warning. Do not attempt to economize on Valentine’s gifts without getting the buy-in of your significant other. They will slam the door in your face if you fail to mention this plan to them in advance. You might also take the time to plan other activities you can engage in while presenting said love tokens. Just a thought.

TED’s idea of a valentine.

What’s interesting to me is that all of this happens in a culture that values lifelong monogamy. It seems like we want it both ways: we want love to feel like madness, and we want it to last an entire lifetime. That sounds terrible.

Coping With Dysgraphia

For Gregory


When I was a senior in high school I had a friend who would borrow one of the novels I carried everywhere with me and casually doodle the most amazing cartoons on the flyleaf. His cartoons were better than the things published in MAD or Cracked. My memory of that time may be a bit hazy now, but they were better to me then. Funnier. I marveled at the effortless way the pictures just came out of his hands, at his ability to draw, to write. It struck me as such a wonderful gift, to be able to take a pen and have it just make the lines you wanted to make and to make only those lines in the ways you saw them in your head.  Freehand artwork, freehand writing, is almost magic in my eyes.

They didn’t have a word for my disability when I was in school. I was never quite like the other children. Teased frequently, I hid in books and stared at my desk, afraid of catching anyone’s eye lest I be subjected to more derision. I didn’t know what made me different, but I knew that I was different all the same. The teasing I was subjected to originated with my second grade teacher who thought it would be a good idea to have the other kids torment me to make me write faster.

In my mind the first and second years of elementary school seem to blur together. It’s hard to separate one form of abuse from another. One of my teachers thought that teasing me was the ticket to getting me to perform. The other one thought that daily corporal punishment was it. Both were dissuaded from their delusions by my parents. The corporal punishment stopped, but the teasing continued until I moved away from that town. I wasn’t to be free of the hangups that this teacher’s cruel methods of instruction inflicted on me until well into adulthood. To this day I remain a public school skeptic largely because of my experiences in school at the hands of the children and this particular teacher, evidence of just how much damage one wrong idea can inflict.

My problems in school were bad enough that the school insisted my parents take me to see a specialist. We went to see the same diagnosticians in Denver two times; once in second grade and again in 5th grade. The school insisted that there was something wrong with me; it wasn’t the teacher, it wasn’t the other children. There was something wrong with me. So my parents paid for the doctors and paid for the travel, and off we went on what was a grand adventure from the perspective of my seven year old self.

I remember the experience because it was such a rare occurrence to be in another place. The Rocky Mountains around Denver were about as different from the grassy plains of Kansas as you can get. It was the first airplane flight I could remember, and it made me love flying. I have a great love of Colorado largely because of the experiences I went through in Denver on those two visits.

The doctors were nice. They gave me various tests. Handwriting tests, drawing tests. Clearly they were looking at motor control in the manner after the time (late 60’s early 70’s) trying to figure out why I couldn’t write well. Writing really hurt. It still hurts. The stupid pencils never went where I wanted them to go. Lines were never straight. Letters were never legible. Cursive? Cursive was a practice in slow torture. Every assignment in school made me suffer in silence; unable to write and yet required to write. Homework went undone. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because I literally would grow tired from the constant pain of writing and simply pass out on my homework.

My mother doesn’t remember the word dysgraphia being used at the time, but what I was suffering through was distinctly dysgraphic in nature.

I loved to read. Reading and writing are two completely different exercises in the mind. The words would sometimes get tangled up in my head, but the places I could go while reading were so much better than the reality I was facing that I just soldiered on through the occasional confusion. But writing? I flunked a semester of english my sophomore year in high school because half of my grade would be based on a term paper I would be required to write long-hand. The subject of the paper that was selected for me was of no interest to me. I asked the instructor for a different subject more than once, only to be told I would write the paper and to stop arguing about it. In one of my first acts of rebellion I flunked the class rather than spend a week or more in agony only to have the paper rejected because it couldn’t be read.

I have never taken notes in class. When told to take notes I would write a few lines and stop (a trick I learned early. If the page is blank the teacher will notice and scold you) Notes were pointless. By the time I had written down the first sentence I’d have missed the next three sentences. What I learned to do was listen and absorb so that I could repeat what was said almost verbatim, at least briefly. Eventually I learned to synthesize the information internally and was able to rapidly apply it to new problems without ever having to write anything on paper.

I only recently learned that the ability to synthesize data internally is itself a special skill. Most people cannot remember things, cannot apply knowledge, without writing these things down.

Few of my teachers believed that I could do this, that I could absorb and apply knowledge without first committing it to paper. They especially didn’t believe it because I failed so frequently to do anything demonstrative in front of the class. I was afraid to write poorly and so would take far too long at the blackboard to be able to demonstrate anything to anybody.

Even though the specialists who tested me in fifth grade issued written instructions, specific to each teacher about the challenges I was facing learning in a classroom environment, the instructions were discarded as lending favoritism to a child that the school teachers and administration frankly thought was the problem in the first place. My mother was livid at the time and still gets angry talking about the subject. Did they know how much all of this testing cost? Paid for twice out of my parent’s own pockets? At the insistence of the school? Testing and findings to be discarded as too much trouble to institute, to much trouble to turn into a different teaching model?

What they did instead was slap a label on me. They called me slow.

I carried that label with me from second grade through seventh grade. The label and the torment only stopped at that point because I moved away from my hometown in Western Kansas for a few years; and when I came back to Kansas for my sophomore year of high school it was to a different town, Garden City, and to a different school. I never did spend any significant time in Leoti from that point forward. My nostalgia for the place I long considered home is leavened with ambivalence and rebellion. Rebellion against the label slow.

My sophomore and junior years of rebellion in Kansas and the custody of my father got me sent back to Texas and my mother. The all too familiar plight of children caught up in divorce. Shuttle diplomacy and holidays with the other parent. Custody battles and missed child support payments. From Leoti, Kansas and slow to Stinnett, Texas and rebellion. Garden City, Kansas and missed opportunities to Sweetwater, Texas and make the best of what you have left.

My senior year of high school in the late, hot Texas summer of 1980. My friend and his artwork were also transplants to the town and the school. Since we were both new, we decided to navigate the terrain together. Watch each other’s backs. The counselor lined out the required classes we would need to finish the year and graduate. He and I would be in organic chemistry together. A class we both found so boring that I would read and he would doodle on my books. We also had a few other classes together.

This is small town rural Texas, education isn’t something they spend a lot of money on. In the Kansas high school I had attended the previous year I had automotive mechanics and welding and a virtual smorgasbord of other classes I could have picked through if I had wanted to test my abilities in other areas. In small town Texas I essentially had two elective choices; metal shop and woodshop. Home economics would not be offered to boys. There was an FFA group, but animal husbandry was not my thing even if we had a farm to raise animals on (we didn’t) When we were unimpressed with the first two options, the counselor did admit that they also had a typing class and technical drafting. These were clearly choices she didn’t think anyone should be interested in. When we went around to talk to the various instructors to see what we might be interested in, I had an epiphany.

An epiphany in the example drawings from the drafting class. Drawings that illustrated how to build things. I had been a model builder for years by that point, but it had never occurred to me that someone had to draw those assembly instructions. It was the drafting equipment. The drafting machines, boards, lead holders, straight-edges and triangles. The realization dawned on me. I didn’t need fine motor control as long as I had an edge to guide the pencil. I could focus on pressure and distance and not worry about direction. Writing? Slow, painful, tedious work; but block lettering gave me the ability to finally be able to communicate what I wanted to say clearly. Leroy lettering guides kept the hands moving, forming the correct shapes.

My mother could not believe I wanted to draw when I came home from school that first day. After everything I had been through, the problems I had writing and communicating all my life. Writing, she told me, was something I always wanted to do. I wanted to tell stories. She would write things down that I asked her to, and then I would meticulously copy each character onto another page. But drawing? She couldn’t figure out what the attraction was. If that was what I wanted to do, she wouldn’t stop me from doing it.

It was another senior class that finally showed me how to write painlessly. Typing. I knew touch typing would be a useful skill because I had already seen my first computer keyboard.

My uncle, Kenneth Zonge, was a genius. No two ways about it, the guy is hands down the smartest man I’ve ever met by several orders of magnitude. Smarter than I am by about the same distance. He did early research into electronic mapping of rock strata, using computers to analyze the data and produce results that would tell miners where to dig for various minerals. His company Zonge Engineering and Research still does work in various fields in countries all over the globe. Back in the mid-seventies we went to visit him on a family trip, and he wanted to show off his portable computer.

Still looking for an image of the “Red Baron”

The computer was built into a suburban; as in, it filled the entire inside of the vehicle aside from the driver and passenger seats. You had to open the side doors to get access to the input and output terminals, sitting outside the vehicle in the Arizona heat. As kids the science went right over our heads, but I do remember that he could type on a keyboard and the computer would print the clearest, most precise letters I had ever seen. It talked back to him. He played a text game for us and we were completely blown away by it.

Presented with the chance to learn how to touch-type as a senior, I took advantage of it. IBM Selectric III’s seem clunky and slow now, and error correction was a pain in the ass. But in the 80’s, for me, it was like being given access to electric light for the first time. I could type whatever I wanted on the keyboard and it would produce exactly what I wanted it to say almost as fast as I could think it. I had never had access to anything like it before. I asked to be able to do my homework in the typing lab, it was so much easier to just type it than it was to write it. I knew I’d never be able to afford a machine of my own, but if I could just be able to work in an office, there would be machines in the office I could use.

The pieces of my future were falling into place before me, whether I knew it or not. My intense interest in architecture could be accessed through drafting for architecture. My inability to write could be bypassed by access to a typewriter. After a year of drafting in high school, and a twelve month technical course at the local campus of TSTI, I took my label slow and my newfound tools and went out into the land of design and construction. Went out into the business world and was almost immediately flummoxed by the fact you have to sit still in an office. Sitting still drives me absolutely nuts. Give me some decent shoes and rugged clothes, and I’ll spend all day for weeks exploring every inch of ground around me for whatever can be found. I never really thought about it; but I imagine being cooped up inside revisited the torment of school, being asked to engage in rituals I found painful and to gauge facial expressions I found confusing at best, incomprehensible at worst.

Maybe I need the physical stimulation to make the mind work.

In any case, the first barrier to office work wasn’t actually the writing and drawing. No, the first barrier was getting over my own internal loathing of sitting still. That took years, longer than it took me to learn to type or to draw with precision. Eventually I learned to tap into what is commonly termed as flow now; and I could draw essentially effortlessly for hours at a time, longer and better than my peers. I had to be more dogged, more persistent. I had to be because I was slower than they were. That is an unpleasant, unavoidable fact.

My hand drawing production rate was much slower. However, because I had to take time to make sure the lines were exactly right, my drawings were also generally of better quality. This is not bragging, this is me relating the feedback that I got from dozens of years of work in the field. Yes, Anthony. Your drawings are beautiful. Can you turn them out faster? The same old label of slow coming back to haunt me.

“You are slow, Anthony.” Sounds like stupid in my ears, and it is meant to sound that way. Yes, I take longer to get there, but it will be worth the trip unlike some draftsmen I won’t mention. That is the line that ran in my head in response. I had to bite that retort back more times than I can count.

I learned to crib graphics as a method of timesaving. I would type or have someone else type notes and affix those transparencies to my drawings. I would draw details in such a way that I could duplicate them easily using a Xerox machine, or wholesale duplication of sheets of work. The whole industry of architecture was undergoing a change as I underwent these changes, but it was the echos  of “you’re slow, Anthony” in my own head that made it imperative that I cut every corner I could in order to turn drawings out as quickly as possible.

In the end, I did it.

Not because I got faster at hand drawing than anybody else. No, all of my peers can sketch rings around me. They always have been and probably always will be able to draw rings around me. The few times I’ve ever had to draw anything by hand in the field I was embarrassed to do so. My contractor friends, men who trusted my drawings implicitly, were always careful to assure me it would be fine, but I know just how childish my scribbles looked.

They were bad, and it was a barrier that kept me from advancing in the field of architecture. More than once I was offered promotion to supervisor or manager and I always balked at it. Why? Because supervisors and managers draw freehand right on the paper, and the draftsman just takes what they draw and cleans it up. I was really good at the clean up part of the process after years of practice. I was never going to be good at the freehand part. That was not something I would be able to do, and deep down in my heart I knew it was a barrier that I could not cross.

What changed things for me was the early exposure to computing at the shoulder of my beloved uncle. The exposure that made me understand the power of computers.

When you draw something in the computer, it can be duplicated endlessly without degrading the copy. The digital world allows you to be able to replicate whatever work you’d done previously by simply copying and pasting. Drawing guides are built in, so shaky handwork is irrelevant. The initial precision was the determining factor of replicability, and I had honed precision to a fine art already. It was just a matter of mastering the new tools.

Since I couldn’t get my employers to see the vision of my uncle’s suburban filled with computer gear, I took it upon myself to enroll in courses at Austin Community College so that I could gain access to contemporary PC’s of the time (386‘s probably) while the motor control problem makes me a klutz with hardware, software is just a matter of understanding the logic of the system in a way that allows you to utilize shortcuts built into it. Classes in programming were more than I wanted to deal with at the time, and programming itself means little to me still, but breaking security barriers on the simple GUI’s the school used at the time was child’s play, and I spent a year learning how not to get caught doing things with the computer that weren’t allowed, while learning the reasonably simple (for an experienced draftsman like myself) drawing exercises that I had to produce in order to pass the class.

When the classes were done and I felt prepared for what I saw as the inevitable future, my employers threw me a curveball and bought into a CAD program other than the one I had trained for. While I had spent a year learning AutoCAD, other CAD programs had made inroads in the architecture field and my employers purchased a program called CADvance and hired an operator from outside the firm to run the system.

Side note. It’s nice to know I was actually behind the times when I started my evangelizing for CAD and computers in the architecture sphere. I found this article over at Reanimation Library on Boyd Auger’s 1972 book, The Architect and the Computer quite interesting.  Quite interesting that in 1972 the trend towards digitization was this apparent to anyone, even if they were really only promoting the products they had created to digitize documents.  I really do hate to think that something that I thought was apparent was invisible to everyone else. Clearly, not everyone. /sidenote

Undaunted, I simply learned the far more straightforward command parameters for CADvance. The process took all of three days and I was already (unbeknownst to me) as fast or faster than the outside help my employers had hired. I mastered his system and improved on it before realizing I wasn’t going to be going anywhere in that firm and made the move to another firm. A larger firm that used both systems I already knew.

It was about the time that my new employers adopted a third system Microstation and I mastered that program (with the help of the Wife’s student software discounts, her then ongoing pursuit of an MLIS and her still invaluable proofreading skills. Love you too, dear) and then started helping my co-workers become proficient with this new third system that I began to realize that I wasn’t the slowest person on the floor. In the middle of a monologue of self-criticism about streamlining some process or other, the coworker I was talking to stopped me cold to inform me that you know you are the fastest draftsman on the floor, right? No, I hadn’t known it until he pointed it out.

Liberation from false constraints, from labels you never wanted, never accepted, is a feeling that is hard to describe. Hard to fathom. I will be eternally grateful to my friend and coworker who pointed this fact out to me. It was years of additional work understanding just what it meant to not be seen as slow and stupid. To not have to push back against a negative view, a constraint you internalized and never let go of until long after everyone around you had stopped holding the view and instead were puzzled by what continues to drive you to be faster.

A recurring argument that I had with a few of my supervisors and fellow architects (back when I had a license, back when I was one of them) was the common belief that people aren’t in nature when they aren’t working on a 2D paper surface. The misguided notion that the synthesis of ideas requires a fixed medium (paper) and a writing implement (pencil) to engage the creative brain.

Future architects are explicitly told by some college professors that they “cannot design in a computer environment.” This false limitation being taught to so many students appals me to my core. It invalidates everything about me, my experiences, my pain and trials and eventual triumph. Is it a good thing that I never went to college to learn architecture? Had I followed the traditional route, embarked on a master’s degree in Architecture, I might have had this additional bad information to wrestle with and put behind me. Computer design is wholly artificial and so it can’t be a place to design in.

Hogwash. 

If I accepted this falsehood as truth I would never have embarked on my journey in the first place. I’d be just as disabled and just as hopeless, but with no belief that I could ever be more than that. Paper and pencil are natural to the people who find them natural. If the characters will not flow from you hands using them, find some other medium to express yourself in. All of them are natural. Do what you can do and never apologize for having to take a different road than everybody else. None of them know what experiences you have, what disabilities you will have to cope with. What gifts you might have hiding inside.

This is the end of the story of Coping With Dysgraphia. It only gets me to the middle of my architecture story, a story I still haven’t told fully; beginning, middle or end. That story will have to wait for another muse, another time. My parting thought on the subject of dysgraphia is, I wish I could remember what the subject of that term paper was that I refused to write way back when. When I was a sophomore in Garden City in 1978 flunking out of english class. I could write a whole book on the subject now with the tools we have today. I wonder what kind of story that would have been then if I could have simply been able to do what I do now?

Listening to The Hero’s Journey on the TED radio hour inspired me to put this story into words. Specifically it was the story of Ismael Nazario who was convicted of a crime and sent to Rikers as a teen. There but for grace go I. The difference that the color of your skin can make.

Triskaidekaphilia not Triskaidekaphobia

Written reference to the superstitious fear of the number thirteen dates to the late 1800s. Its origin is conjectural (a matter of guesswork). The term triskaidekaphobia first appeared in the early 1900s. It was derived from treiskaideka, the Greek word for thirteen + phobia, fear of = a fear of thirteen.

Google search result

This was in my news feed today.

Rebecca Watson, Did the Patriarchy Steal Friday the 13th From Women?

Thirteen is supposedly a bad number because the twelve disciples plus Jesus equals thirteen, the first reference that she offers for the fear of that day and/or number.  I hadn’t heard the cycles (moon, menstrual) argument before. I have never (and I do mean never) heard the triskaidekaphiliac women’s day argument before.

The thirteenth is my lucky day. I was born on the thirteenth. I got married on the thirteenth because the wife insists I remember things that fall on the thirteenth day of the month. She also scheduled the births of our children (C-sections are like that) for the thirteenth of the month. It isn’t her fault the children didn’t actually emerge on those days (birth is like that) So when Friday the thirteenth rolls around I enjoy the double-whammy of good luck; my favorite day of the week and my favorite day of the month combined into one great day to celebrate. I am the biggest promoter of triskaidekaphilia that I know of aside from this guy.

What I’m trying to say is I of all people should have heard the women’s day argument before, and I haven’t. So I’m going to say Friday the thirteenth being a women’s day is the fiction. Hope that clears it all up for you.

Can’t Do a Western Top Ten Either

David Gerrold requested a quick list of Westerns the other day. I immediately fired off a quick list of ten films that fit the bill in random order;

Silverado, Two Mules for Sister Sarah, The Outlaw Josey Wales, True Grit, The Sons of Katie Elder, Unforgiven, McClintock, Dances With Wolves, Tombstone (with Kurt Russell), The Cowboys, Young Guns, 3:10 to Yuma which was the last western I watched.

But as you can see, I can’t count.

Not only can I not count, but I left off at least a dozen films that I know are better than the ones I put on it. I know that, because I read back through the hundreds of posts and kicked myself for not putting them on the list.

For starters, I’ve been doing a Netflix Clint Eastwood retrospective. Not exhaustive, just felt like I wanted to see some of his films I enjoyed back in the 70’s and 80’s and hadn’t seen since. The son wanted to watch Dirty Harry, so we’ve made our way through all five of them and now we’re about to start the spaghetti westerns. His middle work, the westerns that followed Sergio Leone’s films, those I’m just going to add to the home library, which is why I kicked myself for not including Pale Rider or High Plains Drifter, just to name the next two films I’m planning on buying.

But that’s just to name what is going on in my head right now.

I completely forgot I watched The Hateful Eight quite recently, and that is damn annoying because it was such an excellent tribute to the vanishing art of super 70 wide screen films. It was good too. Not as good as 3:10 to Yuma which I own and did remember. Not even as good as Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s previous film.  I’ve seen all of Quentin Tarantino’s work, it is all worth watching if just for the experience. There is a reverence for the art of filmmaking in his films that you can’t find anywhere else.

I also forgot The Revenant along with the 60’s original Man in the Wilderness (h/t to Jim Wright) both based on the true story of Hugh Glass, and if you don’t know that name, you have some really interesting reading to do over the next few hours.

But again, that is just scratching the surface. Reading back through the other comments reminded me of Little Big Man which I haven’t see recently but remember fondly. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a mainstay of my childhood that held up well the last time I watched it. Many mentions of Shane. I hate to admit to the cardinal sin of never having watched Shane, but I guess I can always atone for it by watching it soon. So I will.

I just barely scratched the surface of the impact that John Wayne had on my young life. I literally didn’t even have to think to name three films of his that I rated top ten. I could have done all ten as John Wayne films and still had some left over. I remembered True Grit because I saw the remake recently. Really can’t watch the John Wayne version without watching the unofficial sequel Rooster Cogburn. Really can’t watch McClintock without watching its unofficial sequel Big JakeThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance had the most mentions, but I think The Shootist is the most memorable of all his films because he was already dying of cancer when he made it.

High Noon had the most mentions of any film (rough count) but truthfully I didn’t find it that memorable. I mean, I’ve seen it. I don’t recall anything about it. I don’t think I’m a Gary Cooper fan, to tell you the truth. I remember more about the movie tribute to the TV series Maverick than I do about that film. Both the series and the film are worth watching just for the experience, but then I grew up watching The Rockford Files so go figure.

For the many people who recommended Magnificent Seven (or the more recent remake that is on my list to see) I suggest you watch the original. No, not the 60’s American film which was so popular they made a sequel and a series. No, I’m talking about Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa.  I’ve seen three or four of his films and I have not been disappointed by any of them. Fair warning, be prepared to read subtitles.

Finally I suggest Cowboys & Aliens because, why not? You have cowboys and they are fighting aliens. What could you possibly hate about this film? Just joking, save your criticism, I’m well aware of its failings having seen it four or five times. It is one of the Wife’s favorite films, and it really is quite good once you’ve seen it a few times.  This from the guy whose favorite episode of recent Doctor who featured Cowboys & Aliens, just different ones. Episode title A Town Called Mercy. Give it a try.

Weirdest film I’ve run across in reply to David Gerrold’s hive mind query? Well, weirdest film that could be called a western anyway? Zachariah. Just watch the trailer. If you can that is. I couldn’t, but I’m going to try to watch the film.

So as you can see, I can’t do just ten, and I’ll be kicking myself for forgetting something that just has to be part of this list the minute I hit the publish button.  Such is my life. 

Santa Claus, the Spirit of Giving, 2016

“There is a Santa Claus but it’s an idea, it’s not a person. Santa Claus is doing good things for people, just because; and so long as you keep doing that throughout the rest of your life, there will always be a Santa Claus” Rebecca Watson relating her father’s words in SGU#74

I find that atheists and skeptics generally step on the sense of wonder in their haste to squash pseudo-science, religiosity, false-piety and fear-mongering.  I understand their goals and for the most part agree with their principles if not their ham-handed practices.

One of the subjects that gets trodden most savagely in the dust of shattered illusions is the story of Santa Claus.  I’ve lost count of the number of people (Penn Jillette in particular) who have specifically targeted Santa Claus in their personal lives, trumpeting raising children without fostering a belief in imaginary beings. I couldn’t disagree more.

I celebrate the secularized solstice holiday referred to in the US as Christmas, which involves a jolly fat guy who delivers presents dressed in a red suit. We spend the holiday with family and friends, giving gifts and trying to brighten the dull central Texas winter days. I also spend time reflecting on what the passing of this year means to me, and preparing to celebrate the New Year.

The Wife and I discussed whether or not to share the myth of Santa Claus with our children before they were born. I was all for bursting that bubble; better yet, just not even going there. My memories of Santa Claus are anything but pleasant.

My mother and father did Christmas to the hilt. Large tree, Santa decorations, pictures with Santa, the works. Once, when we were staying at our grandfather’s house in Sacramento, my sister and I heard a noise in the living room. We nearly made it to the door before our fear of being discovered, and not getting any presents, sent us scurrying back under our covers where we finally fell back to sleep. When we awoke the next morning, there were snow footprints on the fireplace hearth. That was the best year. The next to worst was the year when we were particularly nasty to mom and dad, and got switches (sticks to get spankings with, for the uninitiated) in our stockings instead of candy.

Why is that the next to worst? Because the worst year was when we found out that there was no Santa, and suddenly the magic was gone from the holiday. Santa never came to our house again. Not too long after that, there was divorce and hardship of an all too real nature as the family was torn apart, and there was no more talk of silly little things like Santa Claus. So you can imagine the mindset that I carried with me to the discussion.

For her part, The Wife never experienced an end to the myth. Even after she knew there was no physical person named Santa Claus that visited her house on Christmas eve, the presents from Santa still showed up. The stockings still were filled, even for mom and dad. It wasn’t until I met and married her that there was any magic during the holidays for me, and then only because of her.

She presented an argument that I couldn’t defeat. That there was something good in nurturing a sense of wonder in the children. That perhaps Santa isn’t a person, but is instead the charitable spirit that lives inside all of us. That the giving (and receiving) doesn’t have to end at all.

So, I tell my children that Santa comes to our house, and there is no lie involved in that statement. Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving, the anonymous benefactor who gives out of the kindness of their heart and doesn’t seek to be recognized for charity. He leaves presents that are from no one, and fills stockings for the people sleeping under our roof, no matter the age. His is a kindly old soul that doesn’t get recognized enough these days.

The Daughter figured out that spirit meant just that, a feeling that comes from within, a few years ago. I know that she has figured it out, because gifts appear under the tree, or in the stockings, that The Wife and I have never seen before. Santa Claus lives on in my house.

(courtesy Berkeley Breathed)

You can point to the Wiki entry on Santa Claus and tell me how he’s actually St. Nicholas, how his gifts were given personally. That he was a real person and he is really, very dead now. Or you can say that he’s the mythological figure, Father Christmas, and that as a mythological figure he never existed at all. It’s all fine by me, I love a good story. The Red Ranger came calling is an excellent story about Santa Claus, and it’s just about as true as any of the rest of them.

You just go right on believing whatever suits you. I know Santa will visit this house on Christmas Eve, no matter what anybody else believes.

It is a game, the same game it has always been. A game shared by adults and children down through the years whether they knew it or not.  It can be a fun game or a hurtful one, but it is a game; as an inveterate gamer myself, it’s one I’ve come to enjoy now that I understand it.  It can be a valuable teaching tool when used correctly, and a crushing burden when used incorrectly. So play it wisely, always with the knowledge that a game should be fun. If it isn’t fun and you have a choice, why play?

(compiled from two previous posts. 2006 & 2012)

The Reason for the Season, 2016

The solstice approaches.

I know this because my self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder is kicking in. I want to stay in bed all day. I can’t be bothered to go out to do routine shopping.

Well, the latter isn’t just the SAD.  No, that comes from my cumulative experience with this time of year, which is why a self-diagnosis for SAD may just be my hypochondria (also self-diagnosed. Well, self-diagnosed if the wife calling you a hypochondriac for 30 years constitutes self-diagnosis) kicking in, reinforcing my disgust with the crass commercialism which denotes this slowly expanding season.

There was a time in my youth when we waited until after Thanksgiving to start hyping all things Christmas. I remember going out in the yard after Thanksgiving to admire the life-size nativity scene that my grandfather always put up (complete with genuine hay bales borrowed from farming relatives) in the front yard across the street from the Methodist church in Leoti where he sang in the choir regularly. Setting up the tree and decorating it was generally a part of the Thanksgiving celebration.

These days if you are into labor-saving you put up “Halloween lights” which can be color-changed to “Christmas lights” or just put up the Christmas decorations early. In this household you will find Christmas decorations that stay up all year, the ultimate in labor-saving.

Holiday shopping madness hits just about the time that November rolls around; consequently I refuse to go out amidst the press of people who are willing to knife total strangers in order to get the last dublafluwhitchy that is the thing to have this year. I won’t go shopping between Thanksgiving and New Years unless I run completely out of an essential food item (eggs, oatmeal, tea) and even then I won’t go gladly. I won’t go gladly because I hate Christmas music and it is played non-stop in most retail businesses between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Basically I turn into the Grinch promptly following Halloween, and stay that way until Christmas Eve, when I put on my best face in order to not spoil the holiday for the family. Christmas and the solstice holiday it supplanted are celebrated when they are because of the effect that shortened days have on the human psyche; and it would be pointless to attend a celebration as the Grinch when it is thrown specifically to drive the Grinch away.

But the real reason I know the solstice is approaching is that even in my current boycott of the news cycle the War on Christmas, the incessant whining of the christian majority of the US that they are in fact an oppressed minority, has made its way into my information stream despite my best efforts.

The Winter solstice is a pagan holiday. This year it will occur on December 21st for the Northern hemisphere of planet Earth. The pagan holiday (which went by several names) spanned across the current date of Christmas, traditionally for about two weeks, until a few days after the current New Year’s day.

Retconning Christmas: David Kyle Johnson on the Real Reason for the Season

This task that I set myself periodically, this attempt to push back against the wilful ignorance of the average American, this attempt to enlighten the masses as to the true breadth and depth of the history that is expressed in the secular holiday we call Christmas seems hopeless. Even the simple idea that facts when presented without bias can change minds seems hopeless in light of current psychological studies into things like Motivated Numeracy or the Dunning-Kruger Effect especially when polls conducted by the Pew Research Center show,

…that most Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story reflects historical events that actually occurred. About three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. And eight-in-ten U.S. adults believe the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger.

In total, 65% of U.S. adults believe that all of these aspects of the Christmas story – the virgin birth, the journey of the magi, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the manger story – reflect events that actually happened. Among U.S. Christians, fully eight-in-ten (81%) believe in all four elements of the Christmas story. Even among people who are not affiliated with any religion, 21% believe all these events took place, and 37% believe at least one (but not all) of them occurred.

But still I soldier on, year after year, attempting to point out the silliness that surrounds us.

The word christmas is a bastardization of Christ’s Mass, which is specifically a Catholic celebration. The Catholics, being the earliest example of admen on the planet, realized that they could more easily sell their religion if they simply adopted the holidays in the areas that they wished to convert. When they moved into Northern Europe, they took on the holiday known as Yule and incorporated it into their religion as the day of Christ’s birth (even though it’s considered most likely that the date would have been in spring) and it is even more likely that the celebrations of Saturnalia spread around the Roman Empire, influencing the the celebrations held informally long after Rome had ceased to be a power in the region. Whereby Roman celebrations influenced Yule which in turn influenced celebrations in the later christian eras.

Christ’s Mass (Mass being what a protestant refers to as a ‘sermon’) was thereby invented, placing a holiday that directly coincided with celebrations already being held on the shortest day of the year, accurate calculations of which could be made (and were and still are essential for agriculture) with the crude technologies of the time.

What I’m getting at is this; if you are calling the solstice holiday Christmas and you aren’t a Catholic, then you are referring to the secularized solstice holiday officially celebrated in the US, which doesn’t observe holidays for any recognized religion including christianity. There is no need to further secularize your solstice celebration by calling it a Holiday.

This sort of silliness knows no bounds. The Son attended a charter school that was hosted at a Catholic Church for a few years while he was in grade school and they used the phrase Holiday Party to describe their Christmas Party. If there is one group that should be using the word Christmas it’s the Catholics.  They certainly didn’t hesitate to tell him all about god in that school, which was the main reason his attendance there was brief. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t just say Christmas.

Christmas being Yule modernized isn’t nearly the earth shattering revelation that FOX and their devotees might think.  A good number of the names for things that we use daily, even the names of the days themselves, are derived from Germanic/Northern European traditions, whose gods were not the gods the Romans worshipped (Remember to think of Odin on Wednesday next time it rolls around) nor the later god of the christians that Rome would officially adopt. Our traditions in the US are a literal smorgasbord of celebrations cobbled together from every major culture on the face of the planet.

If you hear me wish you a Merry Christmas, it is because May your feast of the Winter Solstice be Enjoyable is too cumbersome to say repeatedly. It certainly isn’t because I revere Jesus, or self-identify as a christian.

“Jesus is the reason for the season!”

Axis tilt (22.5 degrees) is the reason for the season. Lack of sunlight causing depression is the reason for the celebration. Christmas has as much to do with Odin as it does with Jesus, and has even more in common with Coca-Cola ads from the early 20th century than it does with any god; Coca-Cola having created the figure of Santa Claus that most of us recognize today.


(courtesy the Coca-Cola Company)

Jesus was not a capitalist. Jesus does not want you to buy gifts to give away on the winter solstice; not only because he wasn’t born then, but because you should give gifts every day of your life. If you really want to know WWJD? Then I’ll tell you, that is what Jesus would do as well as washing the feet of the poor and feeding hosts with loaves and fishes. Give gifts every day to the people around you who need them. Be thankful you have them near you every day that you can, because those days are finite like the number of days remaining in our lives.

If you remain unfazed by these facts; if you are still determined to insist that Christmas is a christian holiday, I’ll go a few steps further to illustrate my point. The Puritans that the average US citizen credits as founding the American colonies specifically targeted Christmas as being a pagan influence introduced by the Catholic church. They exorcised it’s celebration from their religious practices, even punishing celebrants caught loafing during the early years of the colony.

The US is not a christian nation. The authors of the Constitution had little evident love of religion. Having just escaped religious persecution in Britain and the rest of Europe, and being besieged by the mandatory religious practices written into several state charters, they consciously kept all mention of religion out of the document aside from the proscription against religious tests. If you go beyond their ranks you are faced with the fact that there were French colonies as well as Spanish colonies, and if you want a contrast with the straight-laced Puritans it’s hard to find one more glaring than the types of celebrations held in New Orleans down through the years.

The United States exists as a celebration of reason not religion. Reason is the basis for Humanism and the Enlightenment, this country’s real foundations.

I apologize for ruining Christmas for you, I’m sorry.

The world isn’t as simple as any of us want it to be, wish it would be. It won’t change just because you or I think it should; and like those toys you bought for the children, it won’t go back in the !@#$%^&*! box so you can return it. Next time buy the pre-assembled one that has all the pieces in the right place. The child will be happy for the gift anyway, they probably won’t notice the missing parts, and the world will continue to spin on its (tilted) axis whether we will it or not.

Just relax, sit back, and have some more eggnog (or whatever your beverage of choice is) it’s just a few more weeks and then we’ll have a whole new year of problems to deal with. Now isn’t that a refreshing outlook?

…Oh, and Merry Christmas!

(abridged and enhanced from this post)

Those Halcyon Days of the Rolodex

Jim Wright over at Stonekettle Station on Facebook is a frequent read of mine. I have moved his notifications to view first in the Facebook interface. Why? Because he makes me laugh, and I need a good laugh these days. Today was no exception,

Once upon a time an address book was a simple list of names and phone numbers that you scribbled onto little squares of cardboard and put in a little indexed box and kept by the phone — which was a big black plastic box with a dial and a handset, attached to the wall via wires, and heavy enough to bludgeon somebody to death with.

Back then, how many people did you really need to call? A few dozen maybe. Relatives. Friends. Anybody else was listed in the phone book.

My mom still has such a box full of cards next to her phone in the dining room. I knock it over nearly every time I’m there. Damned cards, why do you still have this mess? I ask as I’m picking them up off the floor. Why?

See, with the invention of computers, an address book became something you laboriously copied from those little cardboard rectangles into electronic storage. In fact some of the earliest programs for home computers (remember when we called them “home” computers?) were address books and contact lists. Periodically something would happen, a crash, an upgrade, something, and you’d have to retype the whole damned list into a different machine. So you hung onto that little box of cardboard rectangles, the ultimate backup.

The first Smartphone, a Handspring Visor

This image is representative of the first smartphone. A device which was available long before Saint Jobs invented the iPhone. It had a music player before there was a iPod, too. I graduated from the Handspring Visor in the center to the Treo on the left, a device that was also available before the iPhone. It was cheaper, too.

I haven’t used a Rolodex (the little squares of paper) ever in my life. Other people kept Rolodexes which I transferred once to my daily planner (a 5 ring planner with transplantable address pages) and then transferred them one more to my Handspring (Palm) device. Every transfer after that has been electronic. To quote Egon “print is dead”.

I have never attempted to recreate my list of contacts because (and this is important) I never wrote anything down that I didn’t have to and I never kept things I wrote out of embarrassment at my poor handwriting (more on that here) consequently my address book exists in a few digital places and pretty much nowhere else and the sad part is I can’t think of anyone’s number aside from The Wife, the city emergency number and information number.

Or maybe it isn’t sad. There are a whole host of things that people remember for no good reason other than their lives require them to remember them. The Wife is my link to sanity and the rest of the world, so her number I really do need to know. Everyone else is findable through lookup or the eight or so social platforms that I would utilize if I wanted to talk to someone. I would use them because who calls anybody anymore? I don’t even talk to people I pay bills to unless I absolutely have to. The phone is as dead as print is, for all intents and purposes.

However, I may have run across the problem Jim is talking about. Android creates a phone-only contact that is your contact information, and it will delete your contact of the same name from the gmail interface. It will do this pretty consistently no matter how many times you create that card. I know this because I used to beam my contact information to others with Palm devices, which meant I had to keep a digital card of my information to beam. If there had been more Palm users this may have been more useful back then, but it is the reason I still have a card of my information today. Or had until Android removed it from my contacts list when I moved to Android and identified the phone user as the same name on the card. Android is probably trying to be helpful and is only helping me to discover more colorful forms of cursing in the process.

Facebook Status post expanded and backdated to the blog.

Sleep Apnea, Anxiety Dreams, Cpap Experience

Allergies have been kicking my ass for the last month. The Mother-in-Law has been declining in health for the last three months, requiring The Wife to be away for weeks at a time coordinating her care. This development has laid more burdens on my shoulders, more responsibility than I have had to maintain stress levels under than I have had to endure since going on disability.

The Son is a senior in high school, The Daughter has a job and neither of them drive yet. I have to train them to drive in one direction, getting them to their respective appointments on time in the process, and still be able to drive myself back home without triggering Meniere’s symptoms.

ascending to 15,000 feet

With all of this going on, health of relatives, my health, my children’s demands on my time, etc, I’ve still written more in the last few months than I have in years. You may well ask “why is that?” because I’m writing this article to tell you why that is, even though this is starting to feel like an infomercial from the inside, my writing of this piece. I’m three months into my CPAP experience and I credit my clearly improved outlook to my much improved sleep patterns.

To start from the beginning; I don’t think I’ve ever slept right at any point in my life.  I have never gotten up in the morning on my own. It takes me hours to wake up (still does sometimes) to feel as if I am present in the world. Mornings have always been my enemy, and early arrivals have almost always been impossible to attain. The crime here is that I never thought to ask why this was.  Not one time.

I accepted the blame for attendance problems, all my life. You are lazy. You need discipline. You need to do this or that fad thing. More light at different times of the day. Take these sleep aids, take this wake up pill, drink coffee in the morning, etc, etc, etc. The list is never ending  and all of it has been wrong. All of it.

I used to get by on 4 hours of sleep a night, pretty routinely. Go to bed at 2am, wake up at 7am, go to work. Usually driving in the morning while not really feeling awake, having had to be shaken awake by The (ever faithful) Wife and pushed out the door with a cup of go juice after the mandatory wake up shower. I have always hated naps. I never feel like I wake up from a nap. The lethargy just continues until I succumb to sleep for several hours.

Weekends were sleep catch up times (something which has been demonstrated not to work) we would sleep well into the afternoon most Saturdays and Sundays, and still not feel well rested come Monday morning when the process started all over again.

Then the Meniere’s symptoms got worse, expanding from the Fall and Spring weeks of suffering to the months of suffering to almost every other day suffering. Rotational vertigo every week, sometimes more than once a week. I had to stop working. I had to figure out what went wrong. Why was this happening to me?

When I started paying attention to how I felt, when I started allowing myself to follow my own rhythms rather than the imposed rhythms of modern society; sleep when I was tired, eat when I was hungry, expend effort when I felt strong enough, I started noticing something about my sleep.

I slept way, way too long.  I’m not talking about 9 or 10 hours. Sixteen hours was common, sometimes as long as a full 24 hours. At first we chalked this up to the side effects of the anti-nausea drugs for vertigo symptoms.  I’ve always been easy to medicate. I’m a lightweight drinker, and generally another person’s half-dose of medication will have the desired effect on me. But the long sleep wasn’t limited to days when I had been taking medication. I also had very, very long periods of intense dreaming sleep. I’ve written about a few of these in the past.  Most of them were unintelligible upon waking, but I really enjoyed them while in them.

Finally this year I decided to start looking into my sleep patterns to see if there was something that could actually be done to get me to sleep something like normal hours. Normal in a modern sense, not a historical sense, which is different.

I went to see a sleep specialist on the advice of one of my doctors. The sleep specialist said sleep apnea before I was even scheduled for a test. Well, that wouldn’t do. I’m not going to a doctor to be sold a treatment without a diagnosis. I was raised by a car salesman, I know when I’m being sold something, and this guy was a salesman and a half. Definitely not a doctor. So after getting another doctor, a real doctor (second opinion time) to understand that I actually wanted to be tested first, I did the sleep study. Eight hours of misery with hardly a wink of sleep from my perspective, trussed up like a turkey with wires and monitors the whole time. The technician swore to the fact that I actually did sleep, and that I stopped breathing just under 30 times an hour while I was asleep. Well within the range of needing a CPAP machine to help regulate breathing during sleep. So a second study wearing the CPAP mask was scheduled.

I was very anxious about sleeping with a CPAP mask.  Sleeping with a mask on has always horrified me, in an Alien stuck to your face kind of way.  Don’t believe me? This was the nightmare I had while waiting to be tested.

May 19, 2016 2:52 pm – Just woke up from another intense dream. Another architecture dream. But the dream wasn’t architecture, the dream was a video game. The particulars of the dream, the game, the architecture in the game, are not important.What is important is the meaning of the dream, the game, the architecture. I awoke with a profound sense of loss.  A future fraught with anguish. Is this what my life is now?  Am I defined by my abilities to play a game? It’s been 8 years or so since I picked up World of Warcraft. On the one hand it has kept me attached to people, given me a reason to get out of bed even if I didn’t feel like doing anything besides stare at a screen. On the other hand it consumes a lot of time that I increasingly feel should be devoted elsewhere, if only I felt well enough often enough to do something else.

If that is true, that I am defined by my abilities to play a game, then even by that limited measure I’m not doing too good. I cannot see the game well enough to follow the various bits on the screen and know where to move in time to keep myself alive. As a raid healer, that is a serious problem. I not only have to stay alive, I have to keep others alive. When they start telling you “your job is to stay alive” they are including you in their raid out of the kindness of their hearts and not much else.

My health is deteriorating further. The dreams are a signal. They have become more intense and lengthy as my health has worsened. I can fall asleep one day and wake up almost a full day later and not feel as if I have rested. How is this even possible? The notion that someone who used to brag about being able to get by on 4 (and one half. Most important bit that last half) hours of sleep a night could sleep 9, 10, 12, 16, 28 hours and not feel rested is baffling.

So I’m seeing sleep specialists now. Sleep specialists who are hinting that my sleep has probably never been normal. That I have a problem with sleeping that they can fix. Should I let them fix it? The dreams are all I have anymore. If they make the dreams go away, what will be left that is mine?

So the anguished dream I just woke up from?

I know I am real, but the characters in the dream, they are movie characters even though they stand in for caricatures of my bosses from the past.  Frank Gaffney is in charge of the firm.  Grace Ripley (blonde in a blue wig?) runs all the operations. The game is part of the business, the architecture of the story.  The game mirrors the events that occur in the ‘reality’ of the job, serving as an oracle for what happens next. Except that the dream, the reality, is coming to an end. The game is bugged and can’t be completed.  It has to be reset.  It resets reality. The characters reform in different roles and the game/reality starts over.

Without my dreams, what am I? If my dreams directed me to take up architecture, informed my designs and my goals, will fixing the sleep problem I’ve apparently had all my life destroy the creative side of my life? Will I finally fully wake up and discover all of it was a dream? The certificates and licenses? The rolls of drawings? The wife and children? What is real? What is the dream? I don’t think I can tell anymore.

I am stuck. Stuck in a cycle that has to be ended. I have to figure out what is ailing me so that I can get back to some sense of normality. I cannot continue to sleep for extended periods and marvel at the texture of the dreams. I guess it is time to really wake up. Hope I see everyone on the other side of treatment. Would hate to lose anyone to a reset.

Trussed up like a Christmas turkey

These were my thoughts about the dream, and the dream itself, before going in for the CPAP test. You are being over dramatic, The Wife objected. Don’t publish that right now. Do the test first. See what happens. So I decided to quash my fears until after the test was completed.  Let them remain unvoiced for the time being. But I did vow to start this article at the time. I would record my thoughts about my CPAP experience during and after the diagnosis and treatment. I wanted to at least do that much. Record my fears. The facehugger nightmares. The vague fears that life is passing me by and I can’t do a thing about it. But also to record my experiences with the treatment just as they occurred.

The weird part is, once I tried sleeping with the mask on, I knew I was hooked. Right away. The first test was torture. The wires woke me up. The sensors woke me up. I tossed and turned all night. The second test, the test with the mask on, was the best sleep I had had in years. Years.  Longer than I could even remember. Never even noticed the wires and sensors until the next morning. Breakfast was ecstasy. My mind bounced everywhere.

I quite literally could not wait to get a machine for the house so that I could try it out regularly in an environment that I felt was comfortable.  That process took a few weeks. Medicare pays, but it isn’t fast about doing it. Eventually I did get a machine for the house and that is when the actual work with the machine, the company that supplied the machine, started.

From the first night I realized that I needed to get something to hold my mouth closed at night. I would wake up with my mouth dry as a bone. The chin strap they sent me was of cheap manufacture, but The Wife is the granddaughter of a seamstress, so there was a remedy for that cheap chinstrap that fell apart problem.

Getting the supplies from the machine supplier is probably the most worrisome part of this process. They are completely unwilling to give you extra parts just in case you might need to swap out straps or masks or filters or anything.

Other than that process, dealing with insurers and medical aid suppliers, the experience with the machine has been pretty smooth sailing so far. I put on my flight mask at night and “ascend to 15,000 feet.” I am in my third month with the machine and although I still sleep as much as twelve or 13 hours on occasion (especially when the allergies trigger Meniere’s. Like today) I can get up in the morning when I need to, for the first time since early in my career as a draftsman. Get The Son to school on time with more regularity than we’ve probably done in his entire life.

I haven’t had time to play many games, what with all the other problems that have had to be dealt with this summer.  I think I only managed to go swimming one time, which is a record for me. I generally spend days at a time in the pool. Not this summer. There was definitely no time to start the new version of World of Warcraft, even if I had wanted to (luckily I didn’t) and I still haven’t finished the one game I wanted to play, Skyrim.

I have done some writing though, a lot more writing than I really felt I could pull off. I’m still working on some other articles that I have to publish before the election ends, but I have little fear I’ll get to those too, as well as pick up some articles I’ve left laying around for far too long.

Best of all, the dreams continue. I don’t know why I have these extended dream periods, but I am thankful for them. They are more hopeful these days, at least. Not fraught with horrors and endings like they had been for the last decade or so. Still pretty grim, but a better shade of grim. I’ll take that.

Abramanations Multiply

It doesn’t matter if it premieres the resurrected Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, I won’t be going to see this film in a theater. This will be the first film in Star Trek history that I’m actually hostile about before I’ve even seen it, and one of three that I loathe ever having been created (FYI, it’s the last three) I cannot express the level of revulsion that I feel when I contemplate what kind of depraved acts will be enacted on the corpse of one my most cherished memories from another time. Better to just pretend it isn’t happening, I guess.

I did catch a “edited for television” version recently. It was every bit as bad as I imagined it would be, and then some. Somehow the internet haters really failed to communicate just how ridiculous this farce of a film was. I’m not sure how this is possible, but it is. Magic blood. A Khan that isn’t South Asian. Starfleet officers engaging in conspiracies, taking the lives of their own people when they fail to submit to aggression.

That Khan failed to pervert the crew of the Enterprise in the TOS episode “Space Seed” because future man is no longer susceptible to terroristic threats of this kind is a philosophical achievement lost on the creators of nutrek and the Abramanator himself. 

The number of violations of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future are almost uncountable. They will remain uncounted by me. It was enough for me simply to confirm that the film was bad and not just bad Trek.

My apologies to the ghost of Gene Roddenberry for having witnessed this narrative of depravity.

My review for Star Trek: Into Darkness on Rotten Tomatoes

I give the film half a star on the Rotten Tomatoes 5 star rating system. I can’t rate it lower than that or I would. Having failed to keep up my end of the bargain and actually never watch the film as the first paragraph of the review goes into, I felt I had to come clean and admit to my transgression after having watched Abramation II. However, this article isn’t just about Star Trek: Into Darkness.  I haven’t been a Trek fan for quite a few years.  I quit following the show or hanging around with fans of Nutrek ages ago, not long after declaring Star Trek dead in 2009. I have no interest in being an internet hater.  I have even less interest in spending time in the presence of people who like things that I think are unforgivable violations of the intellectual property of a long-dead inspiration.

I am quite happy sitting here alone in my office. I am forced to revisit this subject because the abramanations continue, and the general movie-going population remains vacuously enamored of J.J. Abrams’ tripe. I sat down and watched Star Wars VII a few weeks ago with the Wife. We had planned on watching that film on the big screen and we missed it because it left theaters within a month of coming out, it left screens and moved to video release quicker than any other Star Wars film in history. I distinctly remember saying, when it was announced that J.J. Abrams would write and direct, that Given what George Lucas has done to Star Wars, I can hardly imagine how J.J. Abrams could fuck it up more than he has. Having now watched Star Wars VII I can honestly say I owe George Lucas an apology.

I owe George Lucas an apology because Star Wars VII is just Star Wars IV told even more poorly as a story, while millions upon millions more are spent on meaningless effects sequences.  It is a marvel to watch from an effects standpoint (much like Mad Max 4) while being almost incomprehensible from a plot and story perspective (also like Mad Max 4) And since George Lucas filmed Star Wars IV with less money and with no example to script by, I have to conclude that his is the superior intellect when contrasted with the abramanator.

It is nice to be proven wrong on occasion, even when the proof takes a few hours out of my life and a few yards out of my intestines due to the indigestion caused by stress.  Stress caused by having to watch bad filmmaking being rewarded so lavishly.

I blame LOST.

I never did do a post series write-up on that show, even though (as the link illustrates) I was quite the fan, following all the crumbs and clues and waiting for the next episode and the next season with breathless anticipation.  Until the story stopped making any sense at all, sometime during season four. I doggedly continued to catch every episode even then, and bought the DVD collections for each season, trusting that somehow it would all make sense in the end.

Except it really never did.  LOST is singularly the worst written story arc ever to be completed in a television show. It is the only show that, having gotten to the end, I really wanted all my invested time back. Not only does the story not make any sense, but the finale attempts to make every possible fan prediction about what the island was, and how the characters survived, be true simultaneously.  It is the series that best manifests the truism trying to make everyone happy is the surest way to piss everyone off.

Every season following the third season became harder and harder to watch.  Far from being the finale that ruined the show for me, it was the reliance on tropes and heuristics to ‘sort of’ move the show along to the conclusion that most of us saw coming years before the confirmatory finale; the finale which so deflated everyone’s expectations about the meaning of it all.

Why season three?  Remember the season three cliff-hanger ending? (I despise cliff-hanger season endings. Loathe them. What happens if the stars die or back out of their contracts? Just pretend the viewers weren’t left hanging?) Charlie’s big sacrifice? Didn’t mean anything.  It might have meant something if the Oceanic 6 hadn’t then gone on to… What? Go home, become helpless invalids? Fail to raise children and then return to the island? Return to the island in the past (a past that the smart guy in their midst says can’t be changed) Return to the island and be blown up by a nuclear explosion (an event that historically didn’t happen) which traps them in a time bubble. For all eternity. With people they hate as well as the friends they love.

I hate to break it to this guy, but if you have to explain what the ending meant in order for people to get it, then it really wasn’t closure of any kind, much less a good ending for a series.  The only reason people still talk about LOST is because J.J. Abrams is Hollywood gold for some inexplicable reason, and so people feel obliged to say nice things about the series that launched him to success.

I watched in disbelieving horror when Damon Lindelof was paraded out a few years back on The Nerdist, which was airing on BBC America at the time.  Damon Lindelof paraded out and held up as some kind of authority on time travel stories, horrified as I watched him taking apart what were, in my estimation, more interesting stories that used the story-telling vehicle in question.

Damon Lindelof? An authority? An authority on time travel? An authority on time travel as a storytelling vehicle? An authority on stories about things which most scientists will tell you are theoretically implausible, which is about as close to impossible as you can get a scientist to go. The mind boggles.

Let me put it this way. My reading of time travel stories and watching time travel movies, my being obsessed with the concept of time travel for as long as I can remember. My discovery of Doctor Who in 1972 on a hotel television screen in Denver, Colorado (on a channel called PBS that I’d never heard of) makes my left testicle more of an authority on time travel than Damon Lindelof or J.J. Abrams himself.  They so screwed up time travel as a story vehicle in every episode of LOST and in the Abramanation, making the story vehicle a distraction from rather than the method of telling the story that I can’t even begin to explain how they might fix it other than to tell them to go talk to actual speculative fiction writers about what they did wrong.

Which brings me to the real reason I started this post. I ran across a clip on Youtube (see, I said it was bad news) advertising an HBO series that riffs off of another movie and story that I grew up on. That would be Westworld.

This is one of those rare films I was allowed to go see as a child. What is most interesting to me looking back at it is this; Westworld and Andromeda Strain mark the beginnings of my exposure to Michael Crichton, a lifelong dance which ended with his death in 2008 and the novel State of Fear, a novel which many people mistake for non-fiction. In the middle was Jurassic Park as a high note and the poorly adapted Congo as a low note (the novel was much better than the film) it seems that his imagination has served as punctuation marks along my journey through science and speculative fiction.

I liked the original film. It is quite campy now and probably barely watchable. I don’t know for sure. I haven’t rewatched it in at least thirty years.  What I do know is that J.J. Abrams is highly touted as having a hand in the HBO series.

Westworld promo trailer courtesy of Youtube and HBO

J.J. Abrams having a hand in the series creation spells doom for the series from the outset, in my less than humble opinion.  I doubt that most people will agree with me since most people think that Star Wars VII is a good film. However, I’ll stand by this equation,

The watchability of any media offering will be in direct inverse correlation to how much actual control J.J. Abrams has over it.

Westworld could be a good series, but I won’t be holding my breath.  I won’t be able to watch it anyway until it hits Netflix or some other third party site since I don’t pay for HBO any longer.  That is one fine trailer though. Gunshots and partial nudity. Deep bass vibrations in the music to amp up the fear. Lots of famous actor cameos. It hits all the marks that advertising executives require. Just like the trailer for Star Trek: Beyond. Haven’t seen that Star Trek either, but I might watch it. I might even pay to watch it. Someone else wrote and directed it, so it might be OK as an experience. Remember, an inverse relationship to Abramanator control. The Star Trek trailer sports the Bad Robot logo, though. Not a good sign.

HBO is riding the crest of a wave that they hadn’t expected to be on.  Who would have thought that George R.R. Martin would hit it big on television, with HBO as a backer, creating the adaptation of his long running A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series which only people who live in caves without the internet won’t recognize as Game of Thrones. I am now obliged to offer an apology to George R.R. Martin as well as George Lucas. Not just because I’ve first mentioned him in this article about the dreaded Abramanations; but also because, unlike the rest of the family and probably the rest of Austin if not the entire US, I haven’t seen, read or listened to his stories. I can’t name one title of his I’ve read even though I distinctly remember sharing a table with him at an Armadillocon somewhere in the murky past.  For that, and for mentioning you here, I truly am sorry George.

But HBO is the channel riding the wave now, as AMC was riding the wave of popularity following Breaking Bad and the first few season of The Walking Dead. We’ll just have to see if AMC continues to ride the wave with the next seasons of The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul (which I like more than Breaking Bad, but my liking things is usually bad for their continued existence. Just a word of caution) After the lackluster reception for the cliffhanger ending season 6 of The Walking Dead, they’ll just have to keep their fingers crossed.

Since Westworld isn’t likely to include nuclear weapons or time travel, it is probably a safe bet to watch it. A safe bet for HBO to back it. I’d be on the lookout for the Abramanator to find some way to include those devices in the show, if I had money on the line. If he does, take your money, run and don’t look back.  You’ll thank me for it later.

Top Ten Science Fiction Movies. Can’t Do It.

This is going to be a bit like stream of consciousness to the reader. My apologies in advance for this if you find it impossible to follow.


I clicked a Youtube video link not realizing I was going on a journey that would take all day.

Archangel Films Unbelievable!!!!! The Movie – Official Trailer 2016

This kind of slapstick comes across as too funny. Too funny as in 90 minutes of this would kill me with stupid. I might watch it. I might not. I can’t say. It is billed as featuring 40 previous iconic “Star Trek” actors so I might have to see it. But then that is what the filmmakers are counting on when they make these kinds of movies.

While I’m sitting there contemplating whether to hazard my diminishing quantities of brain cells watching so much stupid at one time (like a Marx Brothers film) the dreaded Youtube autoplay kicked in. First it was this short.

Looper, 6 Movies That Audiences Walked Out Of

Camera motion, blood effects. Chopping one’s own arm off. Yeah, I can see walking out of all of these (I haven’t watched any American Horror Story. It’s just not my style. I am surprised the wife hasn’t wanted to watch it) which is why I haven’t seen some of them. Infrasound would explain a lot of things about certain horror films and my reactions to them.

Crap. Autoplay kicked in again while contemplating Tree of Life (Should I, shouldn’t I? Have I already? Is this me thinking?) What the hell will be next is anybody’s guess.

WatchMojo, Top 10 Underrated Science Fiction Movies

I’ve seen all but three of these (those three are now in my Netflix queue)  Two or three of them are on my “must see” list when someone asks me what to watch next (hint; I have a soft spot for Bruce DernRoy Scheider and Sam Rockwell) For the inquiring minds, Heavy Metal was a movie about an adult comic book which apparently nobody ever admits to reading, not about the rock music which may or may not have been either inspired by or the inspiration for the magazine.  The artwork in the movie is drawn directly from the various illustration styles in the magazine. Yes, I will admit to reading a few copies in my youth. Regrettably I don’t own any of them anymore.

Had Pitch Black made it on their list, it would have been four movies. I am once again victimized by autoplay.

WatchMojo, Top 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen

Not sure all of these films are worth watching, much less being best films you should watch but haven’t. Foreign language films are not for everyone, so I don’t generally recommend them to people I know who won’t be up for reading subtitles, even if I might watch them myself.

I would personally recommend A Boy and His DogThis is where the list starts to go sideways for me. This and the list that follows this one. It starts with the still image that introduces the list.

Don’t get me wrong, I think 2001 is a fine film. I think you should watch that and 2010 back to back. But 2001 is a snooze-fest. It is glacially slow as a movie.  I don’t think a lot of people watch that movie over and over. They remember watching it as a child, but haven’t tried to watch it recently. I have, several times.  Like the 60’s it was created in, it takes the right kinds of drugs to appreciate this film properly.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Stanley Kubrick.  He has three films at least that I would put in the category of best science fiction films. Not just 2001 but also A Clockwork Orange and Doctor Strangelove.  Most film critics will speak highly of Stanley Kubrick and his films. He is an auteur, his films bear the indelible mark of his authorship.  But few of his films are light or fun to watch.  You don’t just pop in A Clockwork Orange for a bit of light afternoon entertainment.

If they can recommend Strange Days without a caution (and I wouldn’t do that. Be prepared for murder and rape scenes conducted in the first person) then A Clockwork Orange is a walk in the park to watch.

WatchMojo, Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

No top ten list of science fiction (SF) is complete without Metropolis and Forbidden Planet.  You cannot be a SF film fanatic without having seen those two films and recommending those two films. They can’t be on a list of films you haven’t seen; and if they are, your fan credentials will be subject to revocation.

Metropolis is arguably the mother of all modern SF, a film that has been revisited and reimagined in nearly every tale of dystopia, every film that questions who we really are, any film that posits the difference between man and machine.  In the same vein Forbidden Planet is the forebear of Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.  Those two films have to be on the top ten list or the list is invalid, in my opinion.

Especially any list that credits The Empire Strikes Back as the best SF film of all time. I doubt very much that anyone who wasn’t raised on Star Wars will think that Empire Strikes Back (much less any other Star Wars film aside from the original) should be on the list, much less topping it.  Well, perhaps the original Star Wars; not the now-titled Episode 4, but the film which aired back in 1977, the film that may single-handedly require my maintenance of a functioning laserdisc player in my home.  You remember, the movie where Han is the only person to fire a blaster in the famous bar scene? That film goes on a top ten list, if I could ever settle for ten.

I’m lying by the way. I won’t maintain the laserdisc player just for Star Wars. I will do it for the making of disc for The Abyss, for Tron, for the pressing of Highlander 2 Renegade cut and the copy of 1776 with the bits Jack Warner personally cut out of the film spliced back in and the splice marks still visible. I can link the version of 1776 that says “director’s cut” but there isn’t any way to watch the version I like other than on laserdisc. Same for the making of the Abyss which goes into the ordeal of constructing a set inside of and then flooding an abandoned nuclear reactor vessel so that real underwater shots could be pulled off with that deep water feel. The Abyss (special edition only) is one of the many, many films I would have to include in any list of SF films worth compiling.

There are a lot of good films included in their list, but I disagree with most of the films in the top five. I like them but they are all modern films. Derivative works of derivative works, unless you are talking about the Matrix or the Terminator (Not Terminator II. It’s good and a decent rewatch, just not as good as the first movie which it is derived from) both of which should be way up the list, higher than the Matrix actually appears.

Ten through six are all good solid films. I need to rewatch the War of The Worlds. I haven’t seen it since the 70’s on broadcast TV.  I have the box set of all the original Planet of the Apes films. They all rewatch well aside from the last one.

Children of Men was a heart-wrenching film to watch, but I have little doubt it will survive as a cautionary tale of meddling with mother nature. The original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still was almost unique in its time period with the portrayal of aliens as not being hellbent on destroying us (a fact that the equally good but not as memorable remake decided to change) which lends it the credibility to withstand time. Children of Men is actually one among many films which portray humans as our own worst enemy.

Jurassic Park is showing signs of age, despite their insistence that it isn’t. Maybe it is the weight of the miserable sequels that colors my impression of it. Can’t tell yet. But Aliens? Really, Aliens but not Alien? I agree the sequels that follow are best forgotten, but how do you watch Aliens without first watching Alien? Can’t be done.

Which is the problem with derivative works and especially sequels.  Without context the film is divorced from most of its meaning and has to survive on its own merit alone.  This is why The Empire Strikes Back will not be remembered as the best SF film ever. Because without the first film (1977 Star Wars) you don’t know who the Empire is. Why the villain being Luke’s dad is a problem. Who the hell Luke is in the first place.

If we’re just going to recommend sequels, movies that you have to have watched the previous versions to be able to appreciate, I’d like to put in a shameless plug for Terminator Genisys (deja vu if you’ve read my last post carefully) As I’ve noted when recommending previously, the first 10 to 20 minutes of the film (after the first time jump) is a shot for shot tribute to the original film. It is the most beautifully made and scripted film that I’ve seen for awhile now, and it builds on established previous entries into the film canon, builds on them then knocks them all down, in ways that the viewer will not see coming. If you want to watch a good sequel, this is one for you to enjoy.

If I was going to make a list of ten films you probably haven’t seen recently (if ever) but speak highly of, 2001 is going to be top of that list. In fact, most of the Top 10 list that WatchMojo put together are films that I guarantee the compilers have not rewatched recently.

If you surf over to the WatchMojo website you will notice that they do an awful lot of top ten lists. Way, way more of them than is healthy, quite frankly. In fact, I can’t even find the films-by-decade lists that are mentioned in the Top Ten list just to see if the films I think are relevant are on those lists. I think that creating these endless list films that they produce keeps them from taking the time to enjoy the life that they rate in top ten increments several times a day.

I appear to have stumbled upon the kind of site that internet surfers loathe.  The dreaded clickbait. The site that sucks up all your life and time, without giving you much in return. This explains why their films list is mostly modern films, or films recently remade with modern versions, like War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Not an in depth analysis of any real kind at all. And I’ve written how much on this subject now? Several pages, at least.

So what about a real Top Ten List? The ten best SF films ever made? I don’t think I can create a list of only 10 of them. I tried to create one of those kinds of lists ages ago on Flixster. I soon found out that limiting the list to ten films requires that I eliminate films that are essential to understanding the artform.  Films like Metropolis and Forbidden Planet.

The profile link for my list says I have 15 films on it. I can’t see them because their website enters an error when I go to click on my own created content.  The web 2.0, more broken than the web 1.0 and now featuring more advertising. Luckily I copied a version of it off and posted it to this blog. I have no idea if it is the last one or not, but here is at least one of my lists.

Avatar should be in the top five. We can start with that. A lot of people love to hate on Avatar, but it is the film that inspired the resurgence of 3D and it wasn’t the 3D in the film that was remarkable. It is the fact that you cannot tell the animation from the real images in the film that makes it so remarkable. That you can have such a realistically animated film and not cross the uncanny valley in the process.  It is an amazing film, soon to be a series of 4 films.

Top Ten worthy films produced since Avatar? I can offer a few.

Ex Machina. Highly rated and very watchable, it explores the boundaries of what is or isn’t human better than any film I’ve seen on the subject.  A film worth mentioning that is also in the vein of Ex Machina is Transcendence, one of those poorly received for no good reason films, consequently not a film that would make a top ten list.

Why won’t Transcendence be a top ten listed film? Because commercial success figures into the calculation of what is or isn’t good, what is or isn’t preserved, what is or isn’t watchable by people who pick up the material to watch later.  If the film was highly rated and it made a lot of money, then it is also still a valuable experience to have, even though I don’t know who Luke Skywalker is (spoken figuratively, from the future) if you want to make lists that don’t make you sound like an idiot, you have to take all of those metrics into account. And since future prediction is something we humans suck at, most of our lists will be utterly worthless.

Take, for instance, Gravity. This is a fine film. Highly rated. Made lots of money. Probably won’t be remembered (my apologies to Sandra Bullock) because it deals with current technology and doesn’t do that really well, even though the cinematography is excellent an the acting is nearly faultless.

In the same vein of discussion, the mainstays of current cinema, the sequel, the franchise, none of those films survive without the other films in the series, just like the Saturday morning serials of old.  Consequently no Star Wars, no Star Trek, no Mad Max, no Alien will go down in history as worthy of mention, unless the first in the series merits it, or there is established a place for serial media (like television) to be consumed in the order it was produced.  This gives the viewing experience context, gives it meaning it doesn’t contain within its own constrained run-time.

That is why Alien appears at number five in my old list, and Aliens at number 10, and those are the only sequelized films on the list. Because films that are part of another genre, that can’t hold their own alone, will not be remembered. This means most of the comic book movies will also not be on any lists, if we can call those SF and not Fantasy. And whether they would be considered SF is an open question, so don’t dismiss it.  If we’re talking fantasy films, we’ve opened an entirely different discussion. A discussion where the film Legend figures prominently.

Continuing the SF list. Blade Runner would also have to be on the list. It is iconic. Worth mentioning is Dark City a twisted little film with the same feel and a completely different storyline. Both of those border on fantasy, so I could see how they would be excluded from a hard SF list.  That is, if anyone actually knew what hard SF was, could meet others who thought they knew and that group could then agree on what the term meant.  I consider that presumption fantasy in and of itself.

As I go down that old list, I can discard several films as being temporarily relevant. Films like Serenity. I still love it, but I am reconciled with the show never returning now. I keep hoping the Firefly online game will release, but I’m beginning to suspect that is also not going to happen.

Vanilla Sky and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind really are hard to rewatch. The Truman Show is still watchable, but really not surprising in the current age of reality TV. You can easily see someone pretending not to be on camera, deluding themselves into thinking the illusion is real. Sadly, it is all too believable now. Truman not knowing he was on camera? That is hard to believe.

I think A.I. should still be on the list, but it may fall off soon. We are just now getting to the point where robots are real things, much less making them capable of passing for human. The singularity that futurists are still fascinated with is portrayed loosely in that film, making it still relevant. Once the robots are among us, there is no telling what will happen next.

The last film that I’ve seen that should probably be included in any top 10 list is The Martian. Worlds better than Red Planet or Mission to Mars (Hollywood is so incestuous) both of which I paid money to see (Red Planet is good fun, just not good SF) The Martian holds up to the most intense scrutiny of scientists (other than the storm at the beginning) making it the most solidly science based fiction film since 2001.

Worthy of mention is Interstellar. Almost a time travel story (almost!) it mixes science and fantasy and comes up with a decent little film exploring the near future and what we might be facing soon if we aren’t careful.

Which brings me to the last great film that Robin Williams was in before he died, the movie The Final Cut; the story of a man afraid to live his own life, so instead spends his time authoring the stories of other people’s lives.

What else would be on the current list? I’m still working on that.