Thursday, July 29, 2010

One of a kind

I never knew people held stereotypes about only children. I mean, sure, I could see how an only child could wind up bossy and spoiled. I could also see how an only child could wind up just the opposite. It seemed like there was a danger of your kid turn out bratty if he or she were an only child, and I could see how that danger would be greater in such cases, but it never struck me as any kind of inevitable consequence. If you're an indulgent parent with lax discipline, you're probably going to have a bratty kid if you have one kid or ten. I was an only child (raised by a wolf pack and later, a panther and a bear) and I turned out pretty okay.

(Okay that last sentence isn't true. Obviously I didn't turn out okay. I mean, look at me.)

We were pretty sure when she was born that Lily would be an only child. Of course my mom started pestering us for another grandchild as soon as they were wheeling Jen out of the delivery room, but this was something else. We occasionally get the "When are you having the next one?" question, but that seemed like an extension of the "When are you having kids?" question that had followed us since marriage. and our families have generally been understanding our of decision. (Or at least accepting that they would be unable to influence it)

Someone we know has boy/girl fraternal twins. Someone else we know has two kids close in age, the daughter about two years older than the son. I think either of those would have overjoyed us, but that's just not how things worked out.

This was on my mind because I caught a Radio Times podcast "Rethinking 'Only' Children". (They had the only in quotes). One of the things they mentioned is that there is no one else to "dilute" the attention of the parents, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. (Or more accurately will be a good thing and a bad thing.)

(Also, it's come to my attention that I tend to use too many parenthesizes when writing. (Though I prefer to think that I use too few))

Anyway, the show went on to say that only children are, generally more mature, because they don't have any peers at home to serve as behavioral role models, so they use their parents for this yardstick. This also tends to lead towards a better vocabulary and problem solving skills.

It said that "singletons" (the term preferred by one researcher) also tend to try to bring similar age cousins into an ad hoc family unit. Lily adores her cousin Joey who's got a couple months on her. She also adores her cousin KK, who is ten years older. She adores her aunt Lori too. I don't know if Lily's love for Joey is search for a sister or just the quest for a playmate.

One thing they touched on was mourning, that an only child will have to mourn his or her parents without siblings. And presumably an adult will have a support system with a spouse and friends and relatives outside the nuclear family, but they're not really the same.

Hmmm...that's kind of a downer. How to end this on a high note? I think we're doing pretty okay with Lily so far. She's got a good head on her shoulders and she's kind to smaller kids and no more bossy than any other three-year-old. She's not spoiled (despite the best efforts of our family) and she really tries to help other people, kids and adults alike. We could be doing a lot worse.

I Often Dream of Trains: Josh's Inception Review

I saw Inception last night with Ancker and the Lord. Ancker hated it. But he likes Firefly, so I didn't expect him to appreciate anything more sophisticated than an actor in a trenchcoat walking towards the camera away from a slow motion explosion. Pete Postlethwaite had a small part in the last movie I saw with them. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was in the Rise of Cobra, which I also saw with them. I don't know why these actors are following us around like this. But that's okay. They were pretty good

Before the film start we first saw a couple previews for some terrible movies.

The Green Hornet: Pineapple Express II! No link for this stinker!

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps:
Starring Michael Douglas, the human from the Transformer's movie...and Sally Sparrow from Doctor Who! Yay!

I like the idea of sequels set a generation later. (I also chuckled at the cell phone gag) It's really kind of a neat concept. Reminds me a little of the Limey, where footage of a movie where Terrance Stamp appeared as a younger man is used for flashbacks.

: Oh noes! Will the most famous racehorse in the history of the sport and the only racehorse 99% of people can name be a winner or wind up as glue?! Fred Thompson, former Senator and presidential candidate is featured, and I can't help but think this is a step down for him. It would be a step down for me. This film marks Jame Cromwell's 5000th appearance of the year.

Red: Bruce Willis enters his fourth decade of complaining about getting too old for this shit with Red, where he plays a retired black ops agent, On one hand, old people are boring and smell strange, on the other, it has Mary Louise Parker.

The air conditioning in this theater was set very high and I was getting chilly by the times the previews ended. Fortunately, I had the foresight to bring a coat and I felt so smart about this that I'm mentioning it here.

And then the movie started. I'll keep this mostly spoiler free, but I'll be touching on some things that occur later in the movie, so read further at your own peril.

I didn't much care for Leonardo DiCaprio when I first saw him. I remember after seeing What's Eating Gilbert Grape, I already had a negative impression of him, and said something like "Well, DiCaprio gave a good performance there. Of course, for him, the role wasn't much of a stretch." He kind of grew on me, though, and my first thought of him in "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" was that "Hey, he's pretty good here, too," and that kind of evolved into "Wow, maybe the poorly remembered early performance by which I was judging him was an aberration, and he really is a really talented actor."

Also, Wikipedia says that he called his grandmother "Oma", which is what Lily calls Jen's mom, so bonus points there. And I'm sure one of the most famous celebrities in the world relieved to know he has my approval.

And Ellen Page was here, no longer my Indie Ingenue. There will be no more roles opposite J.K. Simmons. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Cillian Murphy gave a superb performance. You may remember him from the Scarecrow in Nolan's Batman films or as Jim in 28 Days Later, the zombiest zombie movie that ever zombied.

Also featured: Ken Watanabe, America's go-to goateed Asian actor! (I'm personally partial to Yuen Wah, but he never got much of a following over here)

Large portions of the movie are set in Paris, but we never have a big set piece with the Eiffel Tower. Despite what Hollywood believes, Paris is not a concentric circle of flats with one window facing the tower. I don't know that I've ever seen that kind of restraint in a movie, and it's an automatic +2 stars.

That said, the beautiful aerial shots of the various cities reminded me of Katsuhiro Otomo's elaborate cityscapes.

It had some nice foreshadowing, with a throwaway line about not liking trains. I caught this because I took five pages of notes.


You know, like normal people do.

The Freefall fight was awesome and apparently Joseph Gordon-Levitt did his own stunts, so go him! I know that Nolan eschewed CG for his earlier flicks and while it had to be unavoidable for some scenes, I wonder how many of the FX shots were non-CG. (I just don't wonder about this so much that I'm inclined to look up this readily available information on my own.)

The assault on the arctic fortress and the pursuit by machine gunners on skis made me think the scene would conclude with our heroes leaping into open air to their apparent doom, only to be saved by a union jack parachute opening out of their backpacks. This didn't happen, but rappelling down a mountain to race an oncoming avalanche is even more awesome.

I'm looking forward to the RiffTrax version when the hecklers will sing "Poor, Poor Pitiful me," when certain characters commit suicide by train, "I Lay my head on the railroad tracks and wait for the Double E, but the railroad don't run no more. Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me."

Overall, it was great. It reminded me a little of the Zelazny novella He Who Shapes (later expanded into The Dream Master), but less than I thought it might. Mostly because of the similar subject matter. It reminded me somewhat of the Matrix as well, but I think he was working hard to avoid these comparisons.

Dreams don't interest me as much as they used to, but I'm still very interested in the way we come to believe the things we do. I read an interesting piece on the anchoring effect just yesterday. I've talked once or twice about how the schema that Lily develops as a child will grow into the way she sees the world as an adult, and I'm always interested in the society of mind, to steal a phrase from Marvin Minsky and one of the reasons from why Eric is awesome from an upcoming post.

The whole "mythology" of the piece appealed to me. It's nice to see a stand-alone sci-fi property that's not an adaptation of a comic or an revival of something from the 80s. I liked that the dream world worked by its own logic. I loved the concept of totems. I was thrilled when Arthur mentioned the concept of the Penrose Stairs by name! I even liked the ending. I can't think of anything that I'd change, except to maybe expand on ideas introduced in the movie, but that would turn an already lengthy film into Cinématon.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Peas and Rice and Tinkerbell

For dinner on Monday night, we made up these rainbow colored, star-shaped pasta we had picked up from the local Indian grocery store. I boiled some water, threw them in, and did the things one does when making regular pasta and when we drained them, they were absurdly salty, gluey and generally horrible.

I usually add a dash of salt to the water to raise the boiling point and cook the food faster, and I thought that I must have used more than I realized and it had been absorbed by the pasta. However a (belated) look at the nutritional information on the bag showed that they were only superficially similar to Western pasta, with each serving having a full 50% of the recommended daily allowance of sodium. We didn't know what these things were, only that we had just cooked something to which Ramen noodles were a low sodium alternative.

So we knew that these pasta were somewhat different from the kind we were used to making, so we figured they'd have a special method of preparation. I googled the name of the product, Trupti, but it turned out to be a common name. I was telling this to Jen and we both looking at the package and we both had the same thought at the same time.

"Trupti's not the name of the product..."

"'s the name of the brand."

"They seem to be called 'fryums'."

"Do you think we..."

"...fry um?"

Heh. That was indeed the case. We also found a blog dedicated to vegetarian Indian recipes in the course of our search, so, bonus!

I thought back to grade school about Melissa and Jen's peas and rice adventure from...I want to say 4th grade? I have memories of two otherwise very smart girls frying up some peas and rice without cooking them first, an event that was talked about for years afterward.

Lily enjoyed them, as it turned out, (I'm pleased that she's trying new stuff, but it's not like rainbow colored star shapes are a hard sell. On the other hand, she usually decries anything more nutritious than a dinner of Ring Pops as "yucky",) and Jen and I slathered enough alfredo sauce (with fresh basil!) on ours to make them tolerable.

Speaking of Lily, she was doing something slightly naughty over the weekend, and Jen raised her voice. After that was over, Jen left the room and Lily said to me, "I love mommy, but I'm mad at her right now. I'm not mad at you because you're more calm."

I was really impressed that she was able to make and articulate that distinction at her age, and I was also impressed by the maturity she showed in reaching that conclusion. It reminded me, of all things, of Peter Pan. Tinkerbell goes through extremes of emotions, and this is explained in the context of the story by saying a fairy is so small that she can only hold one emotion at a time. So when she's mad at someone, she has nothing to balance it out. Little kids are like that, to a certain extent, and I'm happy that she has the wherewithal to understand the emotions she's feeling at any given moment aren't the totality of her feelings towards mommy.

My Friends are Awesome: Greg

Latest in the ongoing series! I've got a bunch of these half completed My Friends are Awesome entries, and I was trying to decide which one to clean up and post, when Jen started reading something out of a book of poetry. It was by Emily Dickinson, so of course, it fit into the Gilligan's Island meter of all Emily Dickinson poetry.

For instance:

The distance that the dead have gone
Does not at first appear —
Their coming back seems possible
For many an ardent year.

Try it yourself someday!

Nowadays, it seems like everybody knows this little bit of trivia, but I heard it first from Greg. So this post is all about Greg, or as Facebook calls him, "G. Gregory", the "G", standing, of course, for "Gorgeous".

I usually bicker endlessly with Greg during our online (and offline) interactions, but sometimes we join forces to team up on his brother. I remember the time we first met. I was already dating Jen and we were meeting some of Dave's friends at a local carnival. Neither of use was impressed with the other. The only thing we had in common was that we thought that the other was kind of an aloof jerk. (And neither was wrong)

And we became friends because there was a large group of loosely affiliated gamers. We'd get together to play Magic and eventually I had a weekly game session with Greg and another buddy of ours, Timur. These were always fun because each of us knew with utter certainty that we were smarter than our other two guys in the room. Greg's catch phrase is "You're wrong and let me tell you why."

I cherish all of my friends, but there are things that Greg will appreciate that none of my other friends will. He's as big a fan of Dune and Lord of the Rings as I am (even to the extent to introducing me to a Middle Earth MUD that I played for a couple years) . I remember one time we were in Philadelphia for something. We'd been playing 20 questions to kill time. It had started out with animals and transitioned into fictional characters. The game had kind of tapered off until I started a new round with "I'm thinking of an elvish dialect."

Greg "Is it Quenya?"


"Well, is it Sindarin?"

Heh, heh. Always nice to have friends to share your geekery. ("Yeah, so how come Eagles didn't just fly the ring into Mordor?")

And Greg is among the geekiest of my friends. He's been building his own computers for longer than I've known him (and doing it now isn't all that unusual, but Greg's been building his own for more than 15 years.) He was the first person to correctly quote Moore's Law to me (most people, to the extent that they know it at all, they just simplify it by saying that computing power doubles every two years) and he's even such a gentleman, he's not going to point out that infinitive I just split.

He also laughed at this joke, when I was commenting someone's misunderstanding of science: "Max Planck is spinning in his grave. Whether it is spin up or spin down is for someone else to determine."

He's said that people have told him that he looks like Chris Elliot, but I really don't see it. He reminds me of Enrico Colantoni who is apparently even playing a character named Greg on his new show! The circle is complete!

Greg is also working towards his PhD in Hitler Studies (Don DeLillo shout out!), which is pretty cool, and will someday let him manage a Barnes & Nobels. (Okay, I was kidding about the Hitler studies. I can never remember his exact specialization, but it's some kind of Arthurian Lit)

Finally, my mom rates him at 996 milli-Tims on her scale of kissability, a very high score indeed. Who am I to argue with that?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Annotated Wandering Daughter

So, one of my favorite songs is Wandering Daughter by Kimya Dawson. I thought I'd post the lyrics here with some commentary.

Wandering Daughter - Kimya Dawson

I am the wanderer's wandering daughter
wrestle the pestle for the sake of the mortar
i love as i breathe and leave as i live
my cast iron shield's a titanium sieve

Not a lot to say about this line. I think Kimya Dawson's strength in her lyrics and playing more so than her voice, but she does have a very distinct voice, and I couldn't imagine anyone else singing this song.

Capitalization here is taken from her website.

and a castle that's built on confusion and doubt
is a nickel within and a dollar without
just when the shoes seem so big i can't win
i fill my own sneakers and take off again

Again, I just like the poetry in these lines, and the idea of a sneaker clad mensch wandering the world and doing good deeds wherever she goes.

i am the wanderer's wandering daughter
take all my pain and i mix it with water
it's sunny it's sweet and i don't purple stuff it
one day by the way i met little miss muffet

i blew my mind with the stuff that i taught her
i am the wanderer's wandering daughter
i said if a spider should sit down beside you
tell him your name and then tell him the truth

a great hairy spider appeared there and then
and the holes in my soul started letting in wind

(I love that line)

i felt like a lamb being led to the slaughter
i am the wanderer's wandering daughter

She said I'm miss muffet i'm very afraid
but something inside me is making me stay
i know deep down that if i run away
i'll just meet more spiders and still feel the same

One of my favorite lines in any songs. It's been my email signature forever, and I've been telling it to Lily since she was just a newborn. I do have a tendency to avoid confrontations of any kind, and it's occasionally to my detriment. Eventually you wind up defining yourself through all these things you won't let yourself do and it seems like you can't go outside because you're afraid you'll meet more spiders. That's why I try to encourage Lily to face her fears. I let her know that I'll be right next to her when she does it, and I don't force it on her, but I try to explain that until she does, the objects of her fear will still be there and she'll still be afraid.

the spider he smiled and said how is this true
when i am so terribly smaller than you?
My web it just went in the way the wind blew
what i was in for i hadn't a clue

Another set of lines that I really like. We talk about this when we're around little animals and Lily understands that she's very big compared to them, and they might be scared, so she always has to use her gentle hands.

he touched her face gently with six of his legs
and licked from her chin a speck of curds and whey
when i was certain they'd both be okay
i tightened my laces and i walked away

There's those sneakers again :)

as i walked away i was feeling excluded
wishing my impulses weren't diluted
the muscle i hustle is real for my friends
but the muscle i keep for myself is pretend

One time, Jen and I were at a restaurant with her friend Karen (not giraffe-loving Karen, but a different Karen) and the waitress messed up some minor aspect of Jen's order. I can't remember if she didn't give her a straw or forgot the silverware, but something on that level. Karen spoke up on Jen's behalf, politely asking for the situation to be fixed. It was and Karen saying at that point in her life, she was uncomfortable asking for help for herself, but had no problem doing it for a friend. I have the same outlook. I find it much easier to ask for something for a friend than for myself.

i am the wanderer's wandering daughter
travel the land and i live like a martyr
the things that i do aren't the things that i teach
if i spend my time practicing when will i preach?

I do what i must as you do what you oughta
i am the wanderer's wandering daughter
take all my pain and mix it with water
i am the wanderer's wandering daughter

i'm lost and alone and i'm fair and i'm free
you am what you is and i are who i be
what i'm lacking in strength i make up for in smarts
you keep your stability i'll keep my heart

fear finds october emotions are juices
beat around bushes and make up excuses
go out for ceruleans come home with chartreuses
snip and cut bonsais and turn them to spruces

That's an awesome couple lines there. I can rarely find an album where I like all of the songs (exceptions: Graceland, Ixnay on the Hombre), but I love every single line in this song.

miss muffet called me and she said don't cry
real friends are friends until after they die
still i romanticize all this disorder
i am the wanderer's wandering daughter
hop the next bus and run for the border
i am the wanderer's wandering daughter
give you my life if you give me a quarter
i am the wanderer's wandering daughter

so long it's been good to know ya
so long it's been good to know ya
so long it's been good to know ya
i've got to be moving along

Then I usually add "cha cha cha", because that's how I conclude all my songs these days.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I've always liked Ed McBain. His novels are the direct inspirations to Law & Order. Akira Kurosawa thought highly enough of the books to adapt one of them into the movie High and Low. The 87th Precinct novels are like the Anti-Firefly. (Bye, Dave!) You'll find no smirking Space Confederates kicking people into spaceship engines or throwing swords at people. Just good people solving crimes by being smart and thorough.

I owe my appreciation of the series to my mother. When she wasn't busy making out with my friends, she could often be found at the pool with a library copy of a McBain novel in her hand.

As much as I love Roger Zelazny, I think his earliest work was his his best. (Donnerjack was pretty good, though.) Not so with Ed McBain. He wrote fifty four 87th Precinct novels, one or two a year, every year, for half a century, from 1956 to 2005, and each one was better than the last. Think about that for a minute. Fifty years. That's enough time to be born, grow up, fall in love, marry, become a parent, and then become a grandparent. And here I still think I'm hot shit because I've kept a blog for four years.

That's not to say that the older books are bad. I like them because they're period pieces and they are such interesting looks into the culture, technology and police practices of the time. Just dialing a phone in that era is different from how we do it today. Most older folks don't adapt well to changing technology and culture, but McBain never, ever had that problem. His books were always topical and he always seemed to understand modern society in a way that many senior citizens don't.

The books follow the detectives of the 87th Precinct in Isola, a a fictionalized version of Manhattan. Since the series has run so long, it follows a kind of comic book continuity, with a character with a background of serving in WWII in a book published in the 50s seeing that revised to a tour in Korea for the 60s, and up through Vietnam and the Gulf War for more modern books.

They're all pretty awesome, but my personal favorite is Money, Money, Money.

It was first published on September 6 2001, and the gist of the plot is that radicals affiliated with Osama Bin Ladin are planning a terrorist attack in New York City. It also predicted the government response to terrorism as both extreme AND ineffective. Also, a tiger at a zoo mauling someone to death over Christmas weekend as happened in the end of 2007 . I'm going to start looking for random sequences of numbers in the book and use them to play the lottery, because, clearly, this book has the power to predict the future.Coming soon, "The Ed McBain Code" by yours truly.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Josh's clearinghouse

Time to make a post by jamming together the random stuff that never coalesced into discrete posts of their own. The scrapple school of blogging theory, as it were.

Work is tense lately. For the fifth time this quarter, we've had a lengthy meeting about a new process or technology that will revolutionize the way we do business, followed by a much shorter meeting where the idea is quietly abandoned.

I was unfriended by someone on Facebook. That happens from time to time. I log off with 160 friends and log back in with 159. Then I try to do the process of elimination thing to figure out who dropped me. Just when I have it figured out, a nagging voice says, "Maybe he dropped you before and you just didn't notice."

My Grammy stopped by to give us a vegetable tray out of the blue(as has no doubt happened to all of you reading this) and while she was there, Lily threw me a beaded necklace. I said, "Thanks. I feel like I'm at Mardi Gras" and my Grammy absolutely cracked up. I was expecting it to go right over her head, but on reflection, it's not like Mardi Gras is an obscure phenomenon, and she wasn't always old.

When I was putting Lily to bed, she asked "What's Mister Tim to me? Is he my grandpa?" I tried explaining that he wasn't part of our family, but that made her very said. She said that he should marry Grammy Kathy, and then he could be part of our family.

And you know, I don't even know how this thing got to be a running joke around here, but even Lily's getting into it. I wonder if I'll have to call him dad.

Speaking of running gags, Karen loves giraffes.

When Jen and I go married, our wedding invitations had a pair of frogs dressed up like a bride and a groom. For YEARS, my family thought this meant Jen loved frogs (she doesn't. She started off neutral on frogs, merely thinking that the image on the invites was cute, and slowly grew to dislike them as the years went on and the gifts mounted) and would buy her every tacky frog knickknack they came across. It is now my mission in life to convince people that Karen loves giraffes. At the very least, it will become one of the running gags of my blog, right up there with my mom kisses all my friends, House is stupid (he is) and Firefly sucks (it does).

We watched Pooh's Heffalump Movie this Wacky Wednesday. Lily got really into it. Jen cried at the end. The whole thing reminds me of a Belle & Sebastian song.

Oh, I'll settle down with some old story
About a boy who's just like me
Thought there was love in everything and everyone
You're so naive!
After a while they always get it
They always reach a sorry end
Still it was worth it as I turned the pages solemnly, and then
With a winning smile, the boy
With naivety succeeds
At the final moment, I cried
I always cry at endings

Lily's still young enough to be surprised by a happy ending and Jen's there to cry at them. What's my job? I dunno. Hold the box of tissues? I could do worse than that.

Life in Post Racial America

So, last week, the NAACP made the measured criticism that there were vocal racist elements in the Tea Party, and that the Tea Party leadership should condemn these elements if they don't want to be judged by them. A reasonable, measured critique, I thought. The leader of a local Tea Party chapter quickly put to rest the notion of racist elements within the Tea Party by posting a satirical letter from "the Colored People" to President Lincoln praising slavery.

It begins:

Dear Mr. Lincoln

We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

and concludes with


Precious Ben Jealous, Tom’s Nephew National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Head Colored Person

I'm not going to post the whole thing, but you can find it easily enough. It's the most racist thing I've read in the modern era. It's absurdly, breathtakingly racist.

Anyway, the author was asked to resign, because there's no way to spin that, and he refused and his chapter refused to oust him, so the larger Tea Party removed them from their ranks. In retaliation against the NAACP for the unforgivable sin of pointing out that racists say racist things, Andrew Breitbart posted a heavily doctored video of a minor USDA official apparently saying that she discriminated against a white farmer.

A little background on Breitbart. This isn't the first time he's done this. You might recall Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which was destroyed by a series of videos where a young man apparently dressed in an outlandish pimp costume gets advice from ACORN employees on how to run a prostitution ring.

ACORN, which had done good work for poor people for decades, working to stop predatory lending, pushing for aid for education and assistance for Katrina, collapsed overnight. The former chair of the Maryland chapter said, "That 20-minute video ruined 40 years of good work."

Later, the videos were exposed as almost total fabrications. The audio had been heavily edited and in some cases, entirely redubbed, the kid who was presented as fur coat clad pimp was really dressed as clean cut college kid, and his story he told the ACORN employees was that he was the boyfriend of a prostitute, trying to save her from a pimp who was stalking her.

Well, "exposed" may be overstating it a bit. In defending their stance on not printing a correction, the New York Times said "The story says O'Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on Acorn counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time"; Source: Christ. Even Lily knows she wouldn't get away with a dodge like that.

Anyway, it's not like this is an isolated incident for Breitbart.

Afterwards, the full video of her speech came out, and it's revealed that the point she was making was that it was important to get over the barriers of racism and realize that this is a problem of the poor of every color. The farmers who she'd been initially reluctant to help (by now longtime friends) came forward to say that her efforts had saved their farm.

To recap: An African-American woman is accused of racism through use of a doctored video. Fox News takes up the story and flogs it relentlessly. The Obama administration buys wholeheartedly into the narrative, and sacks the poor woman. The next day, after the damage is done, the media gets around to doing some legwork and figures out that the whole thing was taken wildly out of context. (Here's a timeline of the coverage.) Then Fox and Brietbart started bawling, screaming that they are the real victims, and that the NAACP and the White House are at fault for believing what they said.

Honestly, I'm not sure I dispute that very last part, because they should know better. I mean, Jesus, how many times do you have to fall for the same trick before you stop asking Lucy for another crack at that football?

Back to Sherrod. Her early life reads like a super hero origin story. Her father was murdered by another farmer and an all-white grand jury declined to press charges, and Sherrod vowed then that "I would not leave the South, that I would stay in the South and devote my life to working for change." How admirable is that? To her credit, when it became clear that the President was going to offer an apology, Sherrod has said that she didn't need an apology, but would rather use the time to discuss the issues facing struggling farmers. It reminds me of a line from a Doctor Who story, "I know that out of their great evil ... some ... great ... good ... must come."

That may be what will happen here. It looks like this has done more to publicize the plight of the people Sherrod was trying to help than anything almost anything anyone could have done. And I'm big on enjoying the misfortune of others, but Breitbart brought this on himself, and tonight for dessert, I'm treating myself to heaping helping of schadenfreude pie.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

By the way, I know your path has been tried and so, it may seem like the way to go. Me, I'd rather be found trying something new.

Shout out to The Offspring! I like the Offspring. Probably one of the few things I'd agree on with all of my brothers. And even if you're not a fan, who doesn't love listening to them providing the soundtrack during a good game of Crazy Taxi?

I'll return to the Offspring in a minute. In apparently unrelated news, somebody who works as a contractor for my company was on Jeopardy! on Tuesday night. I told Lily that he was one of my work friends. (He wasn't, exactly. He was actually a contractor who occasionally works with my company and is apparently kind of a jerk, but that was more information than she needed.) She was intrigued and wanted to know how real people get on TV.

She knows that most of the stuff on television is pretend, and I touched on this with Ancker in the comments section of a previous note, where he said "God and prayer = bad. Dreamcatcher to catch bad dreams = good. Got it." and my reply read in part "I don't see any benefit to saying "THAT'S NOT REAL!"

And I don't. I don't want to give her sharply delineated lines of what is possible and what is not at this age. The last thing I want to do is throttle her sense of wonder right out of her. Just the same, there are certain pernicious beliefs that I don't want to encourage. (And nothing fills me with more NERDRAGE!!! than someone shutting down debate on some aromatherapy cures cancer/Atlantian crystal healing fantasy with the "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" line from Hamlet. Some things are just plain bullshit) But on the whole, just because she doesn't have the exact same ideas about how the world works as I do, it doesn't mean there's a problem. To paraphrase the philosophers in the Offspring, she's got to go make her own mistakes.

Anyways, I told her that real people get on TV the same way videos of her get on the computer. Somebody makes a movie of them with a camera and then that movie is played back on the TV. She had no follow up questions, so I guess that was a satisfactory answer.

But who knows? I once heard a story that applies to this. I thought it is was a really apt analogy, and I copied it from from wherever I originally read it.

Elmar Schmeisser, who practices Shotokan karate, has a great image that relates to this problem. Picture the task of learning a martial art as the process of carving a cube into a sphere. In the beginning, you have few corners, and they are easy to see. As you cut off those corners, you create a whole bunch more corners. From the perspective of the intermediate student, there comes a time when all you can see is corners; your ability to spot the flaws in your technique increases much faster than your ability to correct those flaws. At the same time, a beginner looking at you may see a close approximation of a sphere; they're not good enough themselves to see the flaws in your technique, while you may be ready to give up because you feel you're getting worse instead of better. (Paraphrased from a thread on )

Sometimes, parenting seems that way. But usually, it's pretty good. And we've got a lot of time to get it right.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hey, neat!

My blog, is now the top hit on Google for the phrase "Where there had been darkness" in quotes, or number six for the phrase without quotes. Booya!

My Friends are Awesome: Dave

Dave said at first that he'd prefer if he left him out of the series. It is with great reluctance that I honor his request. This will be my shortest post ever.

And in conclusion,


(Dave told me that he automatically stops reading my posts as soon as he gets to the (sudden but) inevitable betrayal (Firefly shout out!) Firefly insult, so I thought I'd just trick him into stopping early.)

But I couldn't leave him out of the series! He's too awesome! I always introduce him as the person who introduced me to Jen and he must be getting sick of it but it's a good way to buy him instant goodwill with the person to whom I'm introducing him. When you come down to it, almost every friend I've made since becoming an adult, I know though Dave. Jen, of course, but also Greg and Geoff (and through them, Timur), Eric (who was dating a friend of Dave's) and through Eric, Frederick.

Dave's a pretty awesome dude. He's witty, charming, and a pretty good Street Fighter (Pro tip! Dave can't reliably perform the dragon punch motion if his character is facing the left side of the screen. So if you play against him, try to get him oriented that way.) My mom never kissed him, which puts him in a distinct minority among my friends, but she always calls him the boy with the nice nose, so I bet she would. Pucker up! He may be the biggest Star Wars fan, EVER! He's always willing to come over and help out with something, for the price of dinner or nothing at all.

I remember when we were first becoming friends, and I was still at the stage where I thought that if I pretended to be something that I wasn't, then people would like me more. (Well, that arguably is the case, but it's more hassle than it's worth, and the people you end up with aren't your real friends.) He asked me if I were into smoking and drinking and, thinking that's what this cool guy whose friend I wanted to be was into, I said "Sure!" to which he promptly replied, "Then you're no friend of mine."

I think the best thing about him is that he's a fundamentally decent guy. He's great with kids and Lily thinks "Mister Dave" is awesome. (He was in the local cemetery for her first snowball fight.) Whenever we walk past his house, she always wants him to come along on our walk. I'm happy that he'll be there for her as a role model as she gets older.

Bonus! When I first started dating Jen, I worked the overnight shift at a local store and Dave worked days. We'd often leave each other notes on our time cards. One time I asked him to write something that would make me look good. This is what he provided. (Click for larger image) It still makes me chuckle.

My Friends are Awesome: Karen Z

I have three brothers. I always wanted a sister. I never had one, except briefly, when my father pulled a Brady Bunch and married a woman with two daughters, (all of them with hair of gold, like their mother.) If I did have a sister, I would want her to be Karen.

How awesome is she?! Let's look at the tape. Karen is the one person who emails me every day at my stupid job. She humored me when I suggested asking for reasons why she was awesome, receiving numerous replies.

I met her at my first full time job out of college. We mostly just talked about work stuff, but I struck up a conversation because I saw she was reading David Sedaris.

Karen shares my love of depressing songs. She is of the people who encouraged me to write a blog and she still reads it no matter how geeky it gets.

She reminds me of my favorite paintings, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. I think it's worth observing that I would not have given this painting a second though if I had not recognized something of Karen in it when I first saw it, so I owe it to her that I recognized something of her awesomeness in the painting when I did see it.

I think most importantly, Karen is also a tireless advocate of reproductive freedom, and rather than bitching impotently on a blog no one reads off in a corner of the internet, she actually does something about it.

She's also a loving foster parent to five giraffes.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Better off dead

Since my recent posts have been pretty relentlessly cheerful, I thought I'd go for a change of pace.

I had a rather horrifying nightmare the other night. I think I was at a wedding. There was something vaguely doglike around, and people were acting like it was a dog, but I knew it wasn't. It reminded me that robot dog from the original Battlestar Galactica, but smaller and somehow monstrous. I saw that my recently deceased uncle Dave was the owner of the dog and I looked at him and said, "Uncle Dave...but aren't you...dead?"

Then he started decomposing, and I remember thinking that his skin was like runny cheese. It was kind of creepy at the time, but I went back to sleep. When I mentioned it to Jen the next day, there was that sense of distance that comes with morning, but that creepy feeling crept back to me as I described it to her.

Lily had a nightmare the other night too. She wouldn't say what it was. I usually ask, but Jen just wants to get her off the subject. Lily commented that the dreamcatcher near her bed didn't catch the bad dreams, and Jen made what I thought was a good save, observing that Lily had taken off some of the feathers and that's probably why it wasn't working.

Lily usually spends Fridays with her great-grandmother on Jen's side. Lily is getting very conscious about Great Nanny's age and the infirmities that accompany it. Lily has occasionally said "I never want to get old!", which reminded me of a Woody Allen line, "It is a sad fact that 50 percent of marriages in this country end in divorce. But, hey, the other half end in death. You could be one of the lucky ones!"

I was thinking of that when she came right out and said "I want to die before I get old."

I'm not sure she what she thinks death is ("The undiscovered country, from whose bourn, No traveller returns"), and I'm reluctant to bring up the topic because it does tend to be traumatic for her. She talked about her hamster getting better and I told her (gently) that dead is forever, but I don't think she accepted that.

Heck, I don't know if I've accepted it yet.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I would walk 100 miles, and I would walk 100 more

Taking a momentary break from the "My friends are awesome" project until I wrap up the next batch. See my blog at for previous installments in the series. Or you know, just read them as they post on Facebook. But where's the fun in that?

I try to walk every day at lunch for at least half an hour. I've got the cardiotrainer app on my phone and use it to track my walks. I broke 100 miles today. Specifically, in 49 walks, over the course of 23 hours and 42 minutes, I have walked 100.74 miles. That makes me happy. (And healthy!) So, yay me!

While walking, I'll usually listen to podcasts of NPR shows, which usually manage to be interesting, even if I don't really care about the topic they're covering. (Which is my goal with blogging. I try to keep my writing engaging enough so that my mom doesn't mind reading about the new lineup for the Green Lantern Corps) The subject of yesterday's show was "How do you know your pet is getting the right nutrition?" I don't have any pets. I don't even especially like animals. Sorry Tim! Not that I'm mean to them. I just don't like being around them. I just try to avoid them. If I wanted something smelly and subhuman rubbing against me, I'd hook up with the cast of Firefly. And I still listened to the whole show anyway. I'm such a dork.

I was reading Lily a story at bedtime the other night, about a girl named Marty being jealous of another girl named Kris, because Marty had been the best kicker on her soccer team until Kris showed up. While reading to her, or watching a show, I'll ask Lily how a character feels or why an act was chosen or what the best choice was to make in a situation. "Why does Marty feel that way?" "What would you do here?"

We were talking about Kris, while Lily had previously used a female pronoun to refer to Kris, she later called Kris a boy, probably because she knows several boys named Chris. I asked her about it and I think she just got confused when she spoke, and she owned up to the error, saying "Mistakes are another way to learn."

I think that's a great attitude. If we can expand that to losing, I think we'll have a healthy kid on our hands. (She's still a terrible loser)

I also ask her about words she might not know. She's pretty good at guessing things from context, but sometimes we'll come across a word whose meaning she can't guess its context. We were reading "Come Rhyme with me", which Jen hates, but I enjoy. It's 26 pages, with one rhyming couplet per letter (the final word being hidden behind a flap of page) and the accompanying illustration providing additional clues. I usually read everything but the last word and let Lily guess it (though I'm sure she has them all memorized by now).

Last night we were at D:

D is for dragon, who is a skillful flyer
be careful when or you tickle him or he'll roast you with his ????

(If you're playing at home, Doctor House, the answer is "fire")

and I asked her if she knew what skillful meant. She answered "Ummm..I think it means 'scary'" and I explained that it meant being good at something. If asked her what she was good at doing. She said she was good at running, then she caught on without any prompting and said, "I'm skillful at running!"

When Jen came upstairs, Lily was eager to show off her new word, "Mommy, Do you know what skillful means?! It means being good at something! Daddy's skillful at cooking," (I think happened to be on her mind just because I was the one who cooked dinner last night "and I'm skillful at running," (she's proud of how fast she runs. She calls herself "The Blur") "and you're skillful at driving your car because you hardly ever run into any trees!" Heh.

Also that night, she asked if she were pretty. I said, "You're the most beautiful kid I know," and she said "You shouldn't say that. It's not nice to other kids out there." We've been trying to avoid that kind of comparison, and I was glad she called me on it. I want her to be confident enough when she gets older so that she won't have to measure herself in comparison to other people. I want her to know who she is and what she is, and to be happy with that.

I remember reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, and one of the things that stuck with me from the book is a conversation that Siddhartha had with his friend Govinda, where Siddhartha says that the lessons taught by the ascetics are circular, but Govinda likens them to a spiral staircase, where one arrives at the same place, but at a higher level.

I was thinking about that as I get older, I'll sometimes arrive back at viewpoints I once held, but later discarded. And the whole process is strange, returning to beliefs you once dismissed, but now hold for entirely different reasons. I'm not sure of what to make of this, except to remember to be less certain that the views I now hold are the right ones. As Anubis said to Wakim under similar circumstances, "That may be the beginning of wisdom, then." (Roger Zelazny shout out!)

Part of it is being a parent and saying things to Lily that I can remember my parents saying to me, and understanding all this time why my parents acted as they did.

Speaking of parents, I asked Lily how I got my name and she said "Grammy Kathy named you after the Joshua tree."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Friends are Awesome: Jen

Jen and I were talking about friendship at one point during our first year dating, and Jen said that she considered me her best friend. At the time I thought it was a very sweet sentiment and said so, but I also thought it was such a girly girl thing to say. I mean, sure, I thought she was a friend, but your boyfriend/girlfriend isn't your best friend! Everybody knows that other guys are best friends for guys and girls are best friends for girls! That's just how it is! Are girls going to stay up late playing video games, watching terrible movies, eating candy and drinking soda?

And yet, somewhere along the line, I started not just thinking of her just the woman I loved or a person I liked, but my best friend too.

I always liked Jen before I loved her. I first hung out with her when I was dating a crazy girl. Jen was a friend of Dave's, back home from college and looking to hang out with some of her buddies. So she hung out with me and Dave and crazy girl and later that night we decamped to the Lord's house to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I remember thinking that she seemed really nice. I suppose I thought she was pretty, but I didn't really notice that except in the abstract sense, because that's something I don't tend to notice when in a relationship with someone else. I've always thought Jen was pretty. I still think she that she has the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen.

We had another close encounter when Dave and I were working at a local Laneco (a chain of combination grocery/general merchandise stores. The entry on wikipedia implies that they were the model for Wal-Mart's super centers).

I was working outside pushing carts around the parking lot. Dave was doing something in the store. I saw someone put a note on his car, so I went inside and mentioned it to him, "A little red-headed girl put a note on your car," so he went out, got the note, looked at it and said, "That's my friend Jen. You should go out with her." I said that I couldn't, because I was already dating somebody. (I was still with crazy girl)

But I eventually broke up with crazy girl and started dating Jen. I'll leave that for another post, since this is "My friends are awesome", not "How I met your mother".

Eric once said that if he ever met someone who said that they didn't like Jen, he'd want to know why.

When Jen and I met with the UU minister to for pre-marriage arrangements, the minister said that while she was advising us to get married, sometimes she'll advise a couple not to. She expressed a little concern about my tendency to put Jen on a pedestal. And I do that. And I understand the danger in that, when someone you've been holding up as an ideal fails, the more you have built that person up, the more devastating the eventual disappointment will be (Here lies a fallen god/ His fall was not a small one/ We did but build his pedestal/ A narrow and a tall one)

But here's the thing. She's too modest to admit it, but I believe that Jen is really as great as I think she is. She's kind and she's smart and she's a good and loyal friend and a great mommy. One time when we she was still out at college, near Pittsburgh, I sent her a letter (snail mail!) that said that she should never change. She should evolve and become more of what she is, but that she should never change from that fundamental Jen-ness.

One time Greg mentioned that I got the better deal out of the marriage. And I think he intended that as an insult, but is there any way I can deny really that? She's better than I deserve, but being with her helps me become a better person. And I don't want to use Jack Nicholson's line from As Good as it gets, but I guess I might as well, because I'm sure you're all thinking it. She makes me want to be a better man.

My Friends are Awesome: Tom

Tom! The very name sets the blood afire! From the dawn of time he came, moving silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives, struggling to reach the time of the gathering, when the few who remain will battle to the last. There can be only one, and that one is Tom!

Tom! He's smarter than Rose and more beautiful than Davros, with the compassion of "Doctor" Greg House and the maverick cred of Mal Reynolds.

Tom! What can I say about Tom that hasn't been written with brightly colored pen in the notebooks of a thousand schoolgirls already, their first names followed by Tom's last name in curlicued practice signatures?

Tom! His father was an elephant, his mother was a crocodile, his grandfather was a gorilla, and his other grandfather was a gorilla who had been trained in Ninjutsu! He stands ten stories tall and has radioactive acid breath. He kills five men every day before putting on his pants, which he does both legs at a time! He bends steel with his pinky toe and extracts wasps from stings in flight!

Tom! It is Tom who ghostwrote the Goosebumps books for R. L. Stein, burning his holy writ in thirty-foot-high letters of fire on top of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet Preliumtarn, third out from the sun Zarss in Galactic Sector QQ7 ActiveJ Gamma.


To understand the person he has become, you have to understand the boy he was. From birth until age 12, Tom lived in an attic, united with his conjoined twin Hugo, with only fish heads for sustenance and DVDs of Firefly for "entertainment". Eventually they were separated in a radical but compassionate procedure Tom pioneered, with Hugo achieving modest success as an actor under the stage name Matt Smith and Tom marrying a woman who worked with me.

I knew Tom's then-fiancee Jen from the bookstore where we both worked, and of course his legend is whispered in hushed silences in even the most sheltered portions of the globe, but I would not be lucky enough to finally met Tom in person until shortly before the wedding. Instead of wearing a tuxedo, Tom would dress up in a Cyberman outfit but rather than a Mondasian Cyberman, he dressed as of one of John Lumic's parallel universe Cybermen from the modern series, which hadn't even been invented yet!

Tom went underground after that, partially due to his increasingly public feud with Dick Cheney and well as the fact that sentiment was turning against his grassroots organization CAMOS (Committee for the Advancement of Mediocrity in Outer Space Westerns)

Someday, when the world is at its darkest, and hope seems gone, Tom will return to save us from ourselves. Until then, we must strive to live up to his impossible ideal. It is to Tom's credit that his nigh-infinite awesomeness serves not to invoke jealousy, but to inspire us all to live up to the Tom-spirit that lives with all of us.

I leave you with a quote from America's first poet laureate. It is fairly well known in certain circles that Raymond Chandler's stories of Philip Marlowe are thinly disguised accounts of Tom's more mundane adventures. In the The Simple Art of Murder, Chandler writes of Tom.

"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world."

And that is our Tom in a nutshell. The best man in his world, and a good enough man for any world.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Friends are Awesome: Tim

Since I got myself a real blog last month ( is the address if you're reading this on Facebook) complete with tags and everything, I thought I'd do a series of posts with a theme. The theme is "My friends are awesome" and I'll dedicate a post to one particular friend and explain why he or she is so awesome.

I'll start with my buddy Tim. He introduced me to two of the things I blog about regularly, role-playing and Hong Kong action movies. He's also a big video game and anime enthusiast. I would totally cast him as Scott Pilgrim, which looks like such a great movie! Suffice it to say he shares my nerdery

I think the trait that I admire most about Tim is that like Neil Gaiman, Tim is capable of keeping his mouth shut if he can't say something nice, a skill I've never been able to master. I am completely unable to restrain myself when someone says something I don't like. Hey, that Clash of the Titans movie was crap. I think I'll go on a three thousand word tear about it. God forbid that someone mention something vaguely complimentary about Firefly, because it's the only thing I'm going to talk about for the next three weeks.

More than that is that Tim is genuinely decent guy, a trait that counts for more and more with me as I get older. He works at animal shelter and draws all sorts of cool pictures for their promotional stuff. He's an artist too, you see! We share a sense of humor and I think he's a pretty darn funny guy. He's smart and well informed, and he had the guts to teach English for a year in a country as far from his home as you can be and still be on the planet, something I don't think I'd ever be able to do.

Also, my mom says he's a great kisser. But she says that about all my friends.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Seasons of Love

Recently, Lily has started making wishes on little puffballs. Anyways, she's generalized this to wishing on dandelions. She'll pick one up and say her wish out loud and blow. For a while, she was all about wishing for more wishes, but now she's hoping to influence real world behavior. Eric and Gavin were at our house past her bedtime on that day that they visited. They were getting ready to walk back, but I told Lily that we could walk to the corner with them, but no further. She immediately seeks out a dandelion, picks it up and blows on it, saying "I wish I could walk all the way to Gavin's house!" My usual explanation is to cite The Princess and the Frog movie, the moral of which is that wishing isn't enough for your dreams to come true; you have to work at them too. Unfortunately, that wouldn't work in this situation, because she would have been quite content to make her dream come true by walking halfway there, and then asking daddy to carry her the rest of the way. I think the problem is that she didn't stock up on enough wishes. She should have wished for more wishes, then wished to walk all the way with them and that would have worked.

The other day she made a wish that mommy and daddy would never get mad at her. And I told her that's a wish we can work on together. Mommy and daddy can be more patient, and she can think about what she does that makes us mad and do it less.

She's been very cute. We were playing Candyland, and she was very careful about assigning us each the proper color for our game piece. "Mommy, you get red because flowers are red and you like flowers, daddy gets green because he likes green and mine is purple!"

Jen and I saw a performance of Rent at a local playhouse. I wanted it to be a surprise, but I was having difficulty reserving the tickets, so I mentioned it Jen, who was happy that she had the chance to anticipate the show. We got to Belvidere early and got some Chinese food and wandered around town for a bit. It was nice to get dressed up and have a real grown up date.

and I wasn't sure how I'd take to a stage performance, because I associate the characters so strongly with the actors who played them in the theatrical release, but I got over that pretty quickly. The actress who played Maureen reminded me of Kimya Dawson. Everyone was really excellent, and it's a pretty demanding play, with lots of singing and climbing.

Rent always makes me think of the one story in the Wake, the final book of Neil Gaiman's Sandman (which itself reminds me of Roger Zelazny, as the Wake based directly on his memorial service in 1995. I can connect anything to Zelazny in six degrees or less!) Anyways, Hob Gadling's girlfriend said to him something like "When I first met, you, I thought you were gay" and Hob says, "Why, because I'm English?" and she says, "No, because you have so many friends who are dead."

And on that subject, When we were at Eric's house, I complimented him on his blue shirt. Specifically, I said it brings out his eyes. I took a little flak for that and sure, it sounds a little gay when you take it out of context like that, but can't one guy tell his buddy that he has eyes like two limpid pools of azure without having it misinterpreted?

Jen was telling us that she was trying to get home early, but got delayed by a train crossing in front of her, so she told us that she started singing "Hello, Goodbye by the Beatles". Lily thought about this and asked, "Mommy can you sing the Hello, Goodbye song by the bugs?"

We watched Charlotte's Web. I still remember the first time I saw it. My parents were still together so I couldn't have been that much older than Lily. We were moving some furniture around and the big couch was in the middle of the room. I always liked it. The name Charlotte A. Cavatica reminds me of Vecna's skull fortress Citadel Cavitius but probably just a meaningless coincidence. Charlotte was the perfect friend to Wilbur. I think she may have been the first cartoon character whose intelligence was presented as an asset. Also, I happen to like spiders. Plus, she's Princess Leia's mom! It's a sad story and it's all about dying, but I was pleasantly surprised that Lily watched it all the way through without a freakout.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Justice League

On Wednesday, Ancker and I walked over Eric's house and watched some of the Justice League series. Eric actually prepared a mini-arc for us, by playing certain episodes that advanced the overarching plot for the season and skipping most of the standalone character episodes and monster-of-the-week things. When viewed together, they were pretty awesome and made for nice storytelling. I'm not sure if I'm a bigger comic nerd or Eric is. I think he's read more comics, but I've read more about comics. Poor Dave was the odd man out.

Sample exchange:

Eric: I was reading a comic where John Constantine pees on the Phantom Stranger's shoes.
Josh: I remember that! That was his birthday issue!
Dave: (Sighs, covers eye with hand)

Every time he went outside for a cigarette, I thought he was just going to keep walking until he got home.

But the Justice League series is really cool! The animation is a bit clunky in parts and the stylized look for some of the chracters was distracting. The exaggerated character design works for Superman, but not so much for mere mortals. Green Arrow, in particular, was about as wide as he was tall. Seriously, he looked like Gorilla Grodd. However, the dialogue was top notch and the character interactions were believable. They retold some cool, classic comics stories and showcased some nice ongoing stuff. One episode was about twenty minutes of super-powered brawling and you'd think it would get boring after a while, but it didn't!

And it was nice to see some of the B-listers. (A C-listers. And you too, Vibe. I'm not sure which list you're on, but I'm pretty sure we'll need a letter from Grant Morrison's 64-Letter alphabet to describe it. Hey-o! Invisibles Shout Out!)

Me: (Squinting at dude on screen for half a second) Was that Aztek?
Eric: No, I think was the Ray. But there's Aztek

And it was! Fucking Aztek, man!!! Huzzah!

I really like Aztek. Grant Morrison wrote most of his appearances, and he thus had some great stories. Corey sometimes accuses me of stealing shamelessly from published materials to populate my games, but he's just seeing patterns where there are none.

Consider this line from Aztek.
Now consider this threat from a Mazeworks character.

"You're gonna love this! Arcanowave devices are powered by a Fourth-dimensional energy field. The only thing preventing it from erupting into third dimensional space with an explosion more powerful than any weapon on earth is this little fader switch on my belt. And guess what I just pressed! So unless you want Avalon to look like Tunguska, I'd back the fuck off!"

Corey's probably going to claim that I "stole" this too, but he's just got an overactive imagination. Now that we've put that delusion to rest, let us press on and leave Crazy Corey to his conspiracy theories..

Anyways, part of the story arc was the US government assembling their own team of superbeings to take down the Justice League in case they went rogue. I commented, "Bah. They can't even handle a bunch of zombies" in reference to the ongoing World War Z debate and got a couple of chuckles for that.

Dave brought up a criticism that I've never seen adequately explained. If you've got Superman on the team, why do you want Hawkgirl? Eric said that they try to explain this in the series by saying that Superman can't be everywhere. While I'm glad that they made the effort, I'm not buying it. "Oh noes! Amazo is tearing up Coast City! Quickly, this looks like a job for the Star-Spangled Kid, Liberty Belle, and possibly...Mister Terrific ("Fair Play!")

Fortunately membership seems to have ballooned to roughly five thousand members, so they can afford to use human wave tactics.

I've always loved superheroes. (Except for Batman, of course. He just sucks) I think I always will. I think they're like the heroes of ancient myth, updated for the modern world. (I know, not an original observation, but an apt one.) Grant Morrison explicitly modeled his version of the Justice League on the twelve gods of Olympus. I just reread, "Soon I will be Invincible", which rocks on toast and when Eric and Gavin were over the other day and Lily couldn't name her favorite superhero, I felt like I had failed her as a father.

Now I must take her on my invisible jet to the fortress of solitude where we will sit atop the giant penny, and I will teach her the manifold ways of geekdom. We'll start with Wonder Woman. She liked Adam Hughes' Wonder Woman piece,

and I think she could do worse for a super hero role model than Wonder Woman. (Though Wonder Woman's new costume is crap. Even Gloria Steinem says so. Wonder Woman needs a Sassy Gay Friend to prevent these kind of fashion missteps in the future.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hey mom, a little bit of Lily stuff!

I've been trying to get enough material together for a post my mom might enjoy, but it never seems to gel, so I'm left writing about zombies and video games.

At the dinner table last week, Lily said "That scared the HOUSE out of me!" It was clear what she meant, but she had apparently misheard someone swearing. Dave was there and he asked "Someone scared you out of the house?" so hopefully her nascent profanity will transform into something unrecognizable.

Lily's picking up some good phrases too. When she tells us that she loves us, sometimes we'll respond, "Well, I guess that works out!" and she did that yesterday, but the other way around. I said, "Come here. I've got a secret to tell you. I love you!" and she smiled and says "I guess that works out! Cause I love you too!"

Jen had a girls night out with her sister on Friday and they had some exciting adventures, but I'll leave her to blog about that if she's so inclined. For my part, I just stayed home, watched a little TV and played video games. I decided that I wanted some Chinese food, so I figured I'd just use my smart phone to order it on the way and then pick it up when I got there. Everything is integrated on my phone. I push the voice search button and it recognizes what I say and performs a Google search from it. Then I can click on the phone number in the listing and make a call.

So I said "Chinese Food" and since the phone has a GPS and knows where I am, it just does a search for all the restaurants in the local area and pulls them up on an interactive map. Maybe twenty places popped up, little pushpins on the map. I was driving at the time and I couldn't give this my undivided attention, and I was suddenly struck by something a friend had said.

My buddy Tim keeps a blog too. One of his posts has the observation: "I love Chinese food but let’s face it, most Chinese restaurants have name issues. They use so many of the same words for their names that eventually you forget what that place around the corner is called when somebody asks the name of your favorite spot."

I blinked and thought "China Wok? Golden Bowl? Great Wall?" I was suddenly struck by how apt Tim's observation was. When we want to place an order at home, we grab the duck-sauce stained menu, pick up the phone, call in an order and then get in the car to go out to pick it up.

I think Tim is right that there's not a lot of point coming up with a clever name because people are just going to call it "That Chinese Place on the corner." It reminds me of something that I heard about That 70s Show. I'm told that the producers came up with any number of clever names before deciding that people would just call it that 70s show anyway, so why not go with the flow?

Anyway, if you want to buy me some Chinese food, the local place is called China Fun. (Amusingly, Tim made a rather exhaustive mix and match list in that same post, with words like Golden/Jade/Peking/Szechuan/Hong Kong etc in the first column and Palace/Treasure/Blossom etc in the second, but Fun is not in fact part of the list.)

We watched "Looney Tunes: Back in Action", which I am convinced that is a movie that is impossible to be enjoyed non-ironically. I happen to like Brendan Fraser, Steve Martin and Jenna Elfman, but the movie never seemed to rise above a level of abstraction.

It has cartoons interacting with real people, but the toons never seemed a part of the environment. There's a scene early on where Daffy was moving across the table. Also, some pencils spilled where he was. It didn't seem like he had knocked them over, but rather they fell over on their own. So that was crappy.

On Sunday we were supposed to meet Jen's friend Sandy for fireworks near where she lives, but we couldn't find her there. We had a good time though and Lily enjoyed the fireworks. It was a bear getting home though. It was like escaping from a rock concert. We were parked 15 feet from the edge of the lot, but it took us a good half hour to get out of there because of the way the traffic patterns had formed around us.

Eric dropped me a line on the way home last night, and he and his oldest son braved the hundred degree heat to walk down to our house. Lily had a ball, though they insisted on gravitating inside to the parts of the house that don't have any air conditioning. She incorporated some of his vocabulary expanding her phrase of cuckoo head to "Silly goose cuckoo head."

Everybody's a cuckoo head.

"Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!" "He was a zombie?"

Over at my play by email game (plug!, click on the link to join today! We're awesome!) we were discussing the Battle of Yonkers from World War Z. Tim gave me an advance reader's copy of World War Z a couple years back

I said that I liked almost everything about the book, except for the Battle of Yonkers, which fills me with untrammeled NERDRAGE!!!

Bob said that he liked it because it was so true to the military way of thinking and that it sounded just like something he'd have seen as an enlisted man.

We talked about it a little further, and since I don't post enough on my blog, I thought I'd put this up here. This post is revised from an email exchange with the Lord a while back.

Zombie fiction works best on a small scale like in Night of the Living Dead, or if you have a plague/comet/what-have-you wipe out 90% of the human race, devastating the infrastructure and leaving the zombies outnumbering the living. As All Flesh Must Be Eaten tells us, if you can't beat a bunch of slow moving stupid undead things in a straight up fight, then you deserved to die.

If you have a bunch of rednecks beat a ton of zombies in Night of the Living Dead, then the army can do it. The US military has its flaws, but that's true of any large organization. I think they're pretty good at what they do, and modern weapons are absolutely devastating. I think they might lose the first several engagements, but once they comprehend what they're dealing with, they'll be able to hit back with overwhelming force while taking almost no casualties. With a couple exceptions, the US military has generally done well at adapting to changing situations and circumstances, and we've already established at this point that they're familiar with the zombies.

Mostly it comes down to this: Zombies are essentially humans who keep shambling at you until they are so damaged to be incapable of doing so. Those are their assets. The also lack assets human beings have. Range, instincts of self-preservation, tool use, mobility, tactics and planning, for starters. On the whole, their liabilities significantly outweigh their assets. They're certainly in worse shape structurally than a healthy adult human (they're dead after all), but the thing is, they don't stop moving until they're unable to move. And they move, in a slow, steady, straight line, directly at their targets. People say "how do you kill something that's already dead", but if it's still bound by the laws of physics, it needs its bones and muscles to move. Damage slows them down, and it's not they're Steve Prefountaine to begin with. If the knee bone is no longer connected to the thigh bone, it's going to move even slower.

I logged on to one of the message boards I frequent to find that this topic was already being debated. They were talking specifically about the Battle of Yonkers in the novel World War Z, with "full military might of the United States Army" against a couple million zombies. The zombies won, and those with actual military experience cried foul. Since they express my points better than I can, and have broader experience with these matters. I've included some of their comments, italicized below.

Air Burst Fuses: If you're going after soft targets, like infantry, light armor, supply convoys, etc., you use airburst fuses to increase the efficiency. 155mm HE artillery rounds with airburst fuses set at a 50m altitude will pretty much guarantee a lethal headshot on every last zombie withing 120 meters of the point of detonation. And with a range topping 11,000 meters, they could have parked a half dozen batteries of Army and USMC artillery on the north side of Yonkers and walked the fire right down the damned highway into the heart of freaking Manhattan, easily annihilating all 4 million of whatever zombies that were clogging the highways. Forget zombies, the damned highway wouldn't have survived as anything recognizable.

Not only that, the 270mm artillery rocket systems (HIMARS and MRLS) Have their lovely M326 rockets which explode in the air and scatter 644 submunitions each of which sprays fragments in a lethal radius of 4 meters. I'll let you figure out the coverage they get when a single MLRS launches its full load of 12 rockets. A full artillery battery of M270's can launch 108 rockets simultaneously. That's 69,552 little bombs covering 4 meters each. And it doesn't matter if the zombies are full packed. Those bombs go off when they impact something, which means the 'ground zero' zombie gets a shaped charge burning a hole through it from brain down to crotch, while easily a dozen or more zombies right around it take head shots from nickel-sized fragments of steel travelling in excess of 3600 feet per second.

I went to the effort of digging up that youtube video of a 155mm shell exploding again. VT fuzes (the kind that expode before impact) have been in use since the later half of WW2 and before then we tried to get the same effect with mechanical timing. Artillery shooting at people does not use impact fuzes. Fragments would be coming from the top down, hitting heads and shoulders before anything else. The kill radius is commonly quoted at 50 meters and a causualty radius of 100m. Zombies not caring about how scary artillery is would only increase the casualties because they wouldn't do common sense things like dispersing.

For a 155mm shell, that "very center" where things pretty much vanish or get reduced to gobs is pretty decent sized. And when fired into a shoulder-to-shoulder mass of bodies?

If one shell hits a spot with densely packed zombies, there will be dozens surely "destroyed" with possibly dozens more destroyed or at the very least greatly reduced in threat.

Multiply this a thousand-fold and keep the shells coming at a steady pace and the Infantry shouldn't have had to fire a single shot.

That's discounting shrapnel removing heads, arms, legs etc. Yeah, a zombie with only 1 arm is still coming at you, but he'll at least have a harder time grabbing on to you.

Any shells that actually strike the ground will also create nice big craters that the shamblers will have a hard time negotiating. If they move around it, that creates additional choke points to pick them off with marksmen.

It's unlikely that the military would do something they have rarely done since Korea.. dig in and conduct a static defense. Why no hit and run or methodical withdrawal as the shamblers came closer ?

A unit that looks remote close to be overrun can be evacced by vehicle or chopper, redeployed 300 yards down the street and resume firing trivially.

The reason why artillery is not such a great Infantry-killer as it was in WWI? Modern Tactics. Squads tend to disperse and not walk in close formation. Guess what a few million brainless Zombies will not posses?

This should have been a turkey-shot, even with 4 million zombies walking.

Hell, they could've done it with a couple of C-130 gunships.

Damn, why not, rig a few steam-rollers to head on forward and let 'em roll forward!

Also, as others have pointed out: Artillery will create trenches, destroy bridges and generally distort the landscape to a modern-art sculpture look-a-like. This will slow down the horde immensely!

Everyone should be carrying at least 180 rounds in their pockets and the enemy is giving them all the time in the world to aim. Then if there seems to be any danger of getting overrun, the scenario we are presented with allows the men to escape easily by walking away.

You don't have to think very mobile warfare to just keep backup up/avoiding close combat with a foe with nothing else.

Tanks, APCs, IFVs, etc. are immune to zombies, save via starvation/dehydration of the crew if they're trapped in there for too long.

If you did firebombing with aerial units it'd also do quite a lot of damage.

I think that in a straight up engagement, the army would win, and win overwhelmingly. The whole book was a critique of policy the author didn't approve, and the chapter assumes the worst possible mix of leadership, tactics, and weaponry and presents it as if this was the only possible outcome of the encounter.

I get the idea of the chapter is that they let Lieutenant "Flame units only. I want rifles slung." Gorman run a Dog and Pony Show for the cameras, but the contortions Max Brooks goes through to justify a zombie victory (digging trenches for tanks? Really?) cross the line from poor decisions to outright absurdity. And there is something clearly wrong with me in that this is the part of a zombie book that I'm complaining about, but there it is.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Now for something topical! A review of Working Designs' video games for the Sega CD

What's the phrase for the opposite of a "sweet spot"? "Falls through the gaps" is the best I'm coming up with. Anyway, this post about some obscure video games from a decade and a half falls in the anti-sweet-spot of geekery. If you 're familiar with the games, you probably know most of the stuff I'm going to discuss. If you're not, you almost certainly won't care.

In this post, I'm going to review three of the games Working Designs localized for the Sega-CD! It's got spoilers for some games that are almost two decades old, so reader beware and all that. This will be your final warning.

I covered covered Popful Mail in an earlier post, so I'll skip it over here. Suffice it to say, it was awesome and hilarious. Life is like a box of fish indeed!


Vay is a fairly run-of-the-mill turned based RPG with a neat twist. It's pronounced Vye, by the way. A thousand years ago, some high-tech power armor crashed to earth and went on a rampage until the world's five greatest sorcerers lack away its power and seal it in five McGuffins scattered across the world. Other than that, it's really pretty generic. An evil empire to fight, some stuff to find, new spells to learn, and random encounters to fight every three steps. The Evil Empire reverse engineered technology from the power armor, but I had already played Final Fantasy 3 (FF6 for you purists) by this point and I think they handled the idea better in that game.

One thing it did handle extremely well was that it discouraged backtracking, and the dialogue gave a real sense that things were changing in the game world as a result of your actions. "Oh, we' know who you are! You shut down the Empire's military base on the peninsula? Because of that, X, Y and Z happened."

Later in the game, you're fighting your way through a submarine. The ship's captain is observing your progress and taunting you over the loudspeaker every few minutes. Her name is Betty June, where most of the characters in the game have weird pseudo-medeviel names. The main character is called Sandor, for example. The fight to the bridge is kind of a slog, but I laughed when I finally got there and had this exchange.

Sandor: And now we fight! But first I have a question. Betty June. Is that your real name?
Betty June: What's wrong with my name, San-dork?

Overall, it's pretty standard. I enjoyed it at the time, but the plot isn't good enough to let me overlook the tedium of the dungeons and the random encounters. Interestingly, it's been released as a download for the i-Phone. That's kind of cool.


Lunar was awesome. I played it when I was working nights and before I met Jen, which was just a strange time in my life. I'm much happier now than I was then, but part of me misses being able to spend fifteen hours a day working through a video game. I remember renting Final Fantasy II for the SNES. Tim said "That needs at least 36 hours of play time and the rental only lasts for two days. You're never going to finish it in one try" and I said "That sounds like a challenge!" Lunar used actual speech in the cut scenes and I had the volume turned low because I was playing at 3 AM on my day off and then a cut scene begins and Ghaleon starts mumbling, "My apprentice Nash speaks well of you" and I had to run to the TV to hear what he was saying. Speak up, dude! You're the Premier of the Magic Academy! Do you mumble like that during graduations?!

I was looking through old posts to see if I had mentioned Lunar before, and I had forgotten this, and when she was really little, Lily was sitting in her little pink chair and I was singing to her. I was taking Fur Elise, the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth, and Ode to Joy, and singing "La" for each of the notes. She was smiling broadly at each of these, but what really made her laugh was when I "sang" her the song from an old video game. I think Tim is the only one who'll know the song I'm talking about, but it's the La La La song from Lunar: The Silver Star, which really does have "La" in the place of the notes. It's a catchy little tune and she laughed out loud at this. That was her first laugh.

I figured out two of the big revelations in Lunar pretty. I had just finished up another game called Lufia and the Fortress of Doom and it had the same plot twist, which is an element of Asian folklore that goes back to the Princess and the Cowherd, that of a goddess falling in love with a human and choosing to live out a mortal life with him. In each Lunar and Lufia, the amnesiac blue-haired girl is a fallen goddess who falls in love with the main character, recovers her memory but renounces her divinity to be with him.

The other plot twist in Lunar that Ghaleon, the Premier of the magic academy was a bad guy. If you watch the opening cinema, he's practically twirling his mustache and that gave it away. I'm not sure if knowing that diminished my enjoyment or not. It certainly provided a different experience than I would have had otherwise. It's a great game. The gist is that the world is in trouble, you have to save it, blah-blah, crying cakes, and that the people who saved the world the last time are the parents or the mentors to this generation.

Ghaleon is the one who drives the plot. He's probably my favorite video game villain of all time. He saved the world, but then ten years after that, he and his best friend had to save it again. He hates the goddess that empowered his friend for turning away from him. He hates himself for being unable to save the world.

As part of his plan, he feebleminds one of the former heroes, turns another to stone, butchers the dragons he was sworn to defend, enslaves a goddess and uses her power to blast a floating continent from the sky. And yet, there's this bit at the end... As you're fighting your way through the final levels of his fortress, where the most powerful monsters in the game are hurling themselves against you, there is this level where peaceful music plays and gentle pixies flit around in an idyllic garden. The faeries will talk to you and it's clear they have no idea of the things Ghaleon has done. It's like he's trying to convince himself that he's not a monster. They believe him a kind, gentle man. And he was, once upon a time. One of the characters remembers how he used to take here on long walks when she was a little girl and wonders what must have broken inside him to make the monster he has become.


As good as Lunar:TSS was, the sequel was even more awesome. It was the last game I did without easy access to a walkthrough and Jen bought it for my birthday when we were first dating, so it's special in that way too. It's set a thousand years later and the broad outline of the plot is pretty similar at first. You rescue a mysterious girl named Lucia, and run all over the place, assembling a ragtag band and eluding the White Knight Leo, who pursues you like Javert across the country. While fleeing him, your team arrives at an ancient temple where a recording shows you the events of the last game. As it's showing the defeat of Ghaleon it's suddenly interrupted by Ghaleon himself, somehow back from the dead.

It's worth noting that I was thinking it was great game and the only thing that could possibly make it better would be an appearance by Ghaleon.

Part of the game is to become the heroes out of legend, the Dragonmaster, the White Knight, etc, only to discover that...those roles are already filled. And Ghaleon, the traitor from the first game is their leader.

The game had so many scenes that I loved. You know how in these kind of games, you're always running against a clock before the the villain takes over/destroys the world, but nobody on the team has any problem stopping to get a kitten out of a tree. When you get to one village, Lucia, who was raised away from humans, says "Fuck this noise," and quits the party when you delay the main quest for yet another humanitarian mission.

When traveling through a Sherwood Forest type area, "We're close to Taben's Peak, everyone. Keep your eyes peeled and your hands on your valuables. Ronfar! Get your hands out of your pants!"

Lunar:EB has a lot of the tropes of that era of game, and one of them is that the main character has stats that are significantly better than those of the secondary characters. Leo is a special exception, as he has stats that match the main character's precisely. There's a bit where you've just finished a punishing boss battle and Leo catches up to you. One of the cultists shrugs and activates the runes that summon the boss again, and Leo and Hiro team up to smack it down.

Leo was pursuing you because he believed that Lucia was really the Destroyer, but he was starting to have doubts. When he asks you if you really think that Lucia is the destroyer, you have the option of answering "Only once a month". Heh.

The characters are awesome. I mentioned Ronfar, the lovable rogue who had been a priest, but who fell into despair and all manner of vices because he was unable to save Mauri, his beloved and Leo's sister.

There's Jean, who was raised as an assassin, but who found peace as a dancer, who is fleeing from her former mentor, Master Lunn. He is one of the four false heroes, and she has to defeat him in single combat. Everything about the game feels epic.

Leo was another great character. There's a scene where he realizes that he's been played and that he's been serving a false goddess all this time, and he faces up to the consequences.

It has the best scene ever in a video game. Zophar, the dark god that had been impersonating the goddess Althena, Lucia, the mysterious blue-haired girl whom you had rescued absorbs Althena's power into herself to destroy Zophar, thereby eliminating all magic in the world. Zophar then reveals that such power would destroy the world of Lunar as well. She hesitates, beat...beat...beat...each accompanied by a party member's face, and then she does it, "Althena's light shine forth!" unleashing the forces that will destroy a world.

She hesitated too long to actually do, and Zophar siphons her power, but she still has enough to teleport our heroes to safety. Cut to a town where Hiro is absolutely crushed by despair. Ghaleon shows up and threatens to kill everyone in the town unless you can stop him.

When you do, he reveals to Hiro that he allowed Zophar to revive him so that he could atone for his actions in the first game, but because Zophar could withdraw his power at any time, he could never overtly aid the heroes. And now that he has betrayed his master openly in order to rekindle Hiro's spirit, he will return to the grave once more.

At the very end, Lucia returns to her duties in a spire on the moon and the heroes go back to their lives. There's an ending song and a montage showing the fates of the main characters, and then it goes back to the title screen, where you have the option for a fully playable epilogue! It's not just a tacked on thing, but a full scale trek as Hiro gets the band back together and you get to see the outcome of all the good you've done as you search for a way to be with your beloved. At the end of it, you find Lucia, and the game ends while together they watch the Earth arm in arm.