We have to use the indefinite article, “a base”, never … “your base”.

The current modern era of disgusting politics is inextricably linked for me with the use of the term “the base”. The first time I heard it, my body reacted with a bit of revulsion, as if someone had just spit in my food. I still shudder a little every time I hear it used. It is the embodiment of every nasty partisan impulse to overlook actions that might otherwise cause the viewer to pause and reflect on their shared humanity, to go too far in forgiving those hypocritical transgressions in the course of wielding what limited power exists only for the purpose of getting your way.

It has brought us to this.

Things about The Last Jedi with some spoilers and musings about the life we live in and the nature of stories

I saw The Last Jedi once, and I don’t know if one viewing is really enough to form an opinion about whether I liked it or not. There definitely were some things I liked about it, but overall I think I found it substantially lacking. This review is pretty much all spoilers.

My feelings of apprehension started right at the opening crawl. Not because of anything it said, and I’m taken to understand that Rian Johnson put a lot of effort into getting the text right, but I couldn’t even tell you what it said, because I was completely distracted by the fact that it was noticeably half a step too fast. It’s a tiny thing, but a historically important detail. Did they do it on purpose to signal a break from the past? Nah, too subtle a change. But it really threw me, right from the beginning, and made me dread what was coming next right off the bat.

Importantly: I love and embrace the diversity of Star Wars. I applaud attempts to include more diverse characters, and to broaden into telling different kinds of stories. I overwhelmingly do not agree with the viewpoint that seems prevalent among critics of this movie that “the SJWs are ruining Star Wars”. Most of those aspects of the film were the things I liked and wanted more of. I think it’s sad that the rest of the movie was so poorly constructed that it allowed space for these arguments.

Having said that, let’s get some technical nitpicks out of the way, and there are more than I’d like.

  • The opening battle makes zero sense. Even an overconfident captain would have TIE fighters flanking. They always have TIE fighters flanking. The Rebels always have X-Wings. Making a big deal out of this being a mistake doesn’t make it any less weird. But the biggest problem here is that one bomber has enough firepower to take out an entire Dreadnought. If they can do this, why not make bombing runs on Star Destroyers all the time?
  • Let’s not talk about hyperspace ramming, because that’s a whole other can of worms that definitely does not require human pilots.
  • In the attempt to make Poe not Han Solo, he’s really just kind of an asshole. But on the other hand, everyone’s kind of an asshole.
  • Apropos of nothing, I expected that the connection between the dead pilot and the engineering tech was going to be that they were lovers, but sisters is fine too.
  • I only watched it once and some things kind of went by in a blur, but I have independent verification that there really was a scene where BB-8 pelts a casino guard with, like, a whole sack-worth of gold coins drunkenly inserted in some convenient slot by an alien Rich Uncle Pennybags. I am angry about this.
  • At the same time as the entire resistance fleet is wiped out, there’s really no sense of urgency to any of this for most of the chase. Go watch ’33′ again, and you’ll see how this kind of sequence is done properly.
  • Where is the rest of the resistance? So… Leia puts out the call, and no one responds. What’s going on there? Yay, another mystery we have to wait two more years to solve that’ll be irrelevant by the time we get there. This ties into how I just don’t understand how we got here. 30 years ago the Empire fell. Did the Rebellion ever succeed in making a real government? Who bankrolled this thing? Maybe this is explained in one of the books.
  • The entire explanation of the hyperspace tracking system makes no sense. They only have this on one ship but if you disable it and they know about it, they’ll move it to another ship? What? Why don’t they just run it from every ship at once? But they’re only tracking the lead capital ship? What? How do you know this? This is all based on guesses. I have zero problems with our heroes trying something that doesn’t work in the end, but this is a huge stretch of believability.
  • Despite the fact that Laura Dern can act rings around most of these other people, her character was poorly written. Sure, it’s her prerogative to have secrets. But… why? Why keep the plan secret? Who are you even keeping the plan secret _from_? Surely the X-Wings are still going to be… going somewhere? Do you suspect that the First Order can track you through hyperspace because someone on the ship is a spy? Wow, that would be a cool and probably obvious thing that’s brought up exactly never.
  • Finn naked leaking was kind of funny, but… really. No one else noticed him walking down that corridor, and disconnecting whatever he was connected to didn’t set off any alarms? This was just stupid in the service of slapstick.
  • Rey’s parentage I think was supposed to be some sort of a shocker, but I guess I’m really not that tied to the idea that being a Jedi is hereditary. Mostly because that idea makes no sense given what we know about how the Jedi don’t have kids and take in young children who show Force sensitivity from parents who are not Jedi. Oh, I guess when you look at it that way, Rey’s parents being nobody is exactly the same as how this works every other time.
  • Please stop wasting Gwendoline Christie. You’re trying to recreate the mystique of Boba Fett, and it just doesn’t work. Oh, look, now you’re wasting Benicio del Toro too.
  • Speaking of which, seeing the master codebreaker your wise all-seeing ally told you specifically is the guy for you and then getting arrested and then not going back to find him again and going with the guy in your cell who can pick locks and why is he even still in there that’s not suspicious is the worst plan ever.
  • Crystal critters are cute. They’d make a fun action figure.
  • Porgs are delicious and don’t seem to be sentient. I am mad at Chewbacca for wasting a perfectly browned one.

Now we have to talk about Luke’s character development, and by extension the entirety of the original Trilogy. The subsequent movies (Rogue One excluded) have done nothing but erode the legacy of Star Wars. First unintentionally, in the case of the prequels, and now intentionally, in dismantling everything they worked for. This started with The Force Awakens, and continues here. Han has failed, first as a father, then as a husband, then as a hero, then again as a father. Leia failed to build a functioning government out of her rebellion. Luke failed to rebuild the Jedi order. The message here is not just that your old heroes are unnecessary but that they’re actually detrimental and you should burn your devotion to them to the ground. Is that a useful message in today’s political climate? I like the heroes of the original trilogy, and I don’t need to see them ruined in this way. I felt the same distaste for how Logan approached that character. I don’t feel that we have to destroy the legacy of our heroes in order to distance ourselves from them and do something else great, and I honestly don’t think you’ve earned the right to treat these characters that way.

It’s hard to say because the plotting is all very muddled, but it seems like the point here is that Luke has reverted to his old whiny farm boy self in the face of failure, but his “redemption” at the end feels forced, unearned, and out of place. Luke and Rey’s interactions before that point are all very weird, as he does a number of rapid shifts between “I’m a Jedi master, here are a few tricks”, “The Jedi are all stupid”, “Feel my Force inside you (creepy as hell)”, and “watch me fetishly milk this slimy cow thing (so creepy)”.

(Side note: I haven’t seen anyone else point out that the original series had blue milk, and this series has green milk, paralleling the color shift in Luke’s lightsaber in a weird random coincidence. Also Luke’s green lightsaber is totally hanging out in his X-Wing and Rey is probably going to go get it first thing in Episode IX.)

But back to the matter at hand, this is a terribly ignominious end for the greatest hero the galaxy has ever known, who single handedly destroyed The Death Star and brought down the Empire with a little help from his friends. The explanation of his fall makes no sense. Like with Han and Leia, this is manufactured weakness for the sake of bringing down an idol. Why did Yoda wait 30 years to show up and tell him he was being an ignoramus? Where’s Ben? Where’s even Anakin?!? The whole thing about the end of Return of the Jedi is that Luke has these Force Ghost advisors to help him ostensibly rebuild… something at least.

I like the overall approach that The Jedi Order needs to go and everyone can harness The Force, but it’s approached without the explanatory context of the threats it evolved to counter. Are the Sith gone? Apparently Snoke is not a Sith, but he’s still a really powerful user of the dark side of the Force. What does that even mean? 

This piece makes a big deal out of how this movie subverts your expectations. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t have any expectations beyond getting a good story that’s internally consistent where the motivations of the characters make sense. The opposite of a trope is usually another trope, and this movie is full of opposite tropes without really cohering a reason to exist beyond breaking those tropes. It’s too blatant and glaring – “I did Y just because you expected me to do X”. The myth here is that breaking those tropes is something that explicitly needed to be done. I heard this all the time in The Force Awakens reviews – “It brings Star Wars into the modern age” as if it’s a car that’s run down or an obsolete computer. No, you don’t have to make it accessible to a new audience by breaking it. Just tell some great stories.

Can I watch the MCU movies out of order?

Someone asked whether it was okay to see Thor: Ragnarok without having seen the previous MCU movies. I haven’t seen it yet due to scheduling conflicts, but here’s my answer generally for the MCU: none of the previous movies are strictly necessary but they all build on each other and add specific parts of the plot. The Iron Man movies establish the creation of the Avengers and introduce SHIELD. The Captain America movies build on that with a lot of SHIELD history and the introduction of the Infinity Stones. The Thor movies largely suck but they are foundational for some of the big enemies, the space context, and the Infinity Stones. The Avengers movies tie the Earth heroes to the space context (leading into Infinity War) as well as set up the context for Captain America: Civil War (3), which covers some of the core conflicts and is sort of an Avengers-lite sequel.  The Guardians of the Galaxy movies are fluffier but they also introduce a lot of the outer space context and lead into Infinity War. Doctor Strange and Ant-Man are fun throwaways that will probably have more implications later as the series gets deeper into the magic and quantum worlds. Watching the movies out of order will have some spoilers. Mostly this is some character or other mentioning something that happened in an earlier movie, but in some cases, it’s character relationships or the existence of characters, organizations, or objects at all.

[Edit: Someone else mentioned that Ragnarok has a lot of inside jokes you won’t get if you haven’t seen the other movies. I think that’s somewhat true of the others as well – there are definitely threads that weave the movies together, and that includes some of the running jokes.]

[Update: I have seen Thor: Ragnarok now, and Infinity War. The answer is no. Watch the previous movies first.]

On the sexism of Playboy

Hugh Hefner died, and a lot of people are suddenly talking about what a great figure he was.

I’m sure there’s a lot of history here that I don’t know – I only have what I’ve gleaned from what little personal attention I’ve paid over the years. I get that Playboy was the thing that broke the mold of porn sleaze and brought porn into mainstream “respectability”. Or at least, the thing the opened the door to that. But even in my youngest and most impressionable days, the porn it offered was never really all that palatable to me, and in retrospect whatever respectability it brought seems downright sexist and regressive. Sure, the women were naked, but they were also clearly being subjugated even if they were there by choice. The image of the Playboy Bunny was never appealing, for probably the same reason that I find strip clubs to be the least sexy places on the planet, including lamprey-infested volcanic bat caves (to the bat cave!). The Bunny has little agency, she’s a passive … thing, there only for the enjoyment of predominantly rich men or men who want to think or act like they’re rich.

I’m sure Hef had a bunch of fun parties and enjoyed his life, and gave voice to a number of writers who would otherwise have needed another platform, but that life has never been one I aspired to or admired. It always seemed exceedingly lonely and thin, surrounded by women who were only or primarily there because you had stuff, not as active or equal partners in anything. The Playboy lifestyle is very much the kind of thing that someone like Trump would enjoy. It doesn’t seem graceful, elegant, or stylish, but a bit boorish and somewhat repugnant. Second guessing history is a weird thing, and while I can acknowledge the liberation that Playboy did for sexual freedom, taken at face value, it seems like a relic best left to the past (which is probably fine since the internet seems to have mostly killed it anyway).

Game of Thrones may be the story of the Hero’s Journey for Winterfell Itself

This post contains spoilers for GoT Seasons 1-7, if that wasn’t blindingly obvious.

I started to write an entirely different post about some theories for Season 8, and midway through it hit me. Game of Thrones isn’t about the Hero’s Journey for any singular character, it’s about that progression for Winterfell itself. George R.R. Martin loves to turn fantasy tropes on their heads, and what better fakeout would there be than to have a bunch of characters who are all expendable, because the main character is actually a place. With that spark, this suddenly all makes perfect sense.

Here’s the paragraph I started, and then stopped midway through:

At this point, I’m about 50/50 on there being dragons under Winterfell. It would make a great season opener to have someone digging around in the crypts and finding a whole bunch of dragon eggs, just waiting to be hatched by Jon. Winterfell is important as a character unto itself – it’s a special place in the same way that the Starks are a special family, so this would fit with a lot of the puzzle pieces. It wouldn’t be weird to suggest that Winterfell is the main character of the story – we start there, and the story i

I don’t know if this fits directly with Campbell’s 17 stage journey, but there is definitely a lot of interplay here. It’s taken a long time to build, and I think we’re seeing what might traditionally be at the beginning of the journey as we approach the end of the series. Some of the aspects of the journey are embodied in the Starks, but not all of it. There is probably more, but here’s my general train of thought:

  • At the beginning of the story, Winterfell is somewhat idyllic, and certainly regular and familiar.
  • It undergoes a separation, losing its lord in much the same way that Luke lost his adopted parents at the beginning of Star Wars.
  • There is for sure supernatural aid and rescue from without – I don’t think I need to even list examples here.
  • There’s a call to action – the army of the dead is marching on Westeros, and Winterfell is right in the path behind the Wall.
  • In this scenario, the Wall is also a character – Winterfell’s mentor against Winter. Losing the wall is about to spur Winterfell into action.
  • What will that action be? I think it’s going to be hatching a dragon, or many dragons.
  • Winterfell can never go home again, but at the end of the trials, it will flourish into something new.

There’s a lot more to chew on here. I’ll have to think about this.

Or maybe after all of everything, the army of the dead just wins and turns out to be unstoppable. GRRM does like his twists, and I wouldn’t put it past him. It doesn’t necessarily have to end with humanity saving the day.

A Climate Change Embarrassment at the NYT

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Bret Stephens wrote his first op-ed column for the New York Times this weekend, and it’s worse than I feared.

Here’s the argument in a nutshell, peppered with sophisticated-sounding words like “traduces” and “overweening” that are meant to distract you from it’s vapidity: Climate Change may be right, and hey – on the other hand, it is right and we all know it’s right, but because Hillary Clinton’s team lost the election, nobody can ever actually be right about anything.

The problem, he says, is that we’re all so gosh-darned certain about things. If only we’d have some doubt, we could maybe convince people who already have doubt to give up their doubt. (Yes, I’m scratching my head at this point.)

No, the problem here isn’t that people trust the conclusions of the data and use that to form a viewpoint, even if they’re really sure it’s correct. It’s that people who are once faced with an incorrect conclusion lose all trust in everything. Let’s say this again: just because someone is wrong once doesn’t mean they’re always wrong about everything. Granted, there’s historically been a bit of an arms race here, and presumably some people have raised their alarm higher because raising it a little bit only had the effect of people ignoring it and thinking it wasn’t a big problem. More hysteria, such as there is, is a response to lack of response to rational discourse. “None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences.” he writes, and naturally all of it does.

But even if all of that was accurate, I’m having trouble seeing what the argument here is. What’s the upside to climate change denialism? Mostly increased profits for petroleum companies and the people who own land with petroleum deposits? The desire to prove those dastardly scientists wrong once and for all? For everyone else, not so much. Sustainable energy, if we concentrate on it and develop it, shows every indication of being not only cleaner, but also better for the economy than petroleum ever was. Sustainable energy already provides more jobs. And it’s just getting started.

Why are we fucking defending pollution again? We can have cleaner air and water, and better economic growth. Let’s do that. Happy Loyalty Day!

Some thoughts about Logan

I liked a lot about it, but I also found a lot of things that bugged me. The more I think about it, the less well it holds together. Certainly, these are just my observations from one viewing, and I probably need to watch it a few more times to have a firm opinion, but here we go.

Spoilers abound.

First the good stuff. The fight scenes were astounding and brutal. This movie earned its R rating, also with some oddly out of place seemingly gratuitous nudity (here are some boobs, but now this is not what our R rating is about). Even though he’s clearly not intended to be at his prime here, Wolverine is the best at what he does, and Hugh Jackman is amazing in the role. Patrick Stewart is a gem. Pretty much the entire cast is great. The movie is well paced, it never feels rushed or draggy, the music is great, and almost everything about it is exquisitely crafted. The X-24 reveal was pretty perfect, as was the beard trimming scene.


While I don’t feel like the story itself was very interesting, or any particular part was very well fleshed out, my primary complaint is that I didn’t feel like the movie really earned the right to write the resolution of these characters in this way. I continue to hope that Wolverine offers the world something better than the death of an alcoholic uber driver, and this take is a very cynical view. The essence of Wolverine as a character is his continual struggle to escape the combination of his destiny, his instincts, and his past, and his corresponding continual lapses in doing so in search of the greater good. As soon as his destiny wins, it’s just depressing. The world as depicted here is pretty fucking lawless and bleak, and it’s unclear what hope these mutant kids are adding to it, why they or the world are worth saving in the first place – this looks like it’s all just the same cycle beginning anew. The resulting message here is that if you want to “save the world”, the best way to do it is to remove yourself and others like you from it. That’s… not very encouraging. Is the movie supposed to be about how these powers are dangerous and can’t be controlled, and mutants can tragically never live a normal life? Maybe – but then what are the ones who survive going to go do? And if they’re making a better world where that’s not the case, why can’t Professor X and Logan and all of the others share in that? There’s no compelling reason offered here for why they needed to die to make this happen. Maybe it’s just some stuff that happens.

Part of the problem, I think, is that it is both trying to be a serious drama but also a superhero movie set in the X-Men universe, and it feels like it steps a little too far into the serious drama territory. A lot of people clearly like this, but to me it just fails to explain the way the world is with the rest of that fantastical setting. A lot of things are just glossed over with little explanation, and I was left with a great number of “but what about…” questions. I can sort of see why they did it, but this is clearly a much more involved and complicated world, and I’m not sure they really figured all that stuff out for a consistent story. What actually happened to the rest of the X-Men? There are references to them being hunted down, and probably Professor X killed some of them in Westchester, but it’s never made clear. In the X-Men universe as it’s existed until now, there would have been resources to draw upon when this first happened. How did we get to the right response to this being to hole up in a tank in the desert, and how did Logan get to be in charge of this? It’s never explained how we got here, and without that explanation, I don’t find it fully plausible. Ironically, like much of DC’s recent work, in trying to make it more “realistic”, it just ends up in the uncanny valley where it’s sort of like our world, but things are subtly out of place.

A few other random thoughts:

  • In retrospect, Logan’s sacrifice at the end of the movie was wholly unnecessary – those kids all had the powers to save themselves, and they were able to use them at any time without being previously released (or presumably before they were captured). That they didn’t do so until the very end seems contrived.
  • I don’t understand why the Reavers were capturing the kids when the stated intent was to kill them. They brought X-24 to that fight, so why just tie them all up first?
  • I don’t understand why crossing the border is “safe”. The Reavers clearly don’t care very much about national borders. Are the kids going to Canada to meet Alpha Flight? Little things like this don’t add up.
  • That serum doesn’t last very long even if you take it all at once.
  • I don’t really understand who owned that compound at the end or why it was there. I like the idea that Eden was made up, but a bunch of people read the same comic and all took a leap of faith, and then they went there and built it. But the movie doesn’t really answer that.
  • I was surprised at the level of anti-technology sentiment in the movie. HFCS and automated farmers are destroying everything we love in the world, the gig economy is viewed as the last resort of washed up superheroes (not entirely unfair), and autonomous trucks are explicitly portrayed as an inhuman destructive force. This level of commentary is not out of bounds for a superhero movie, but I wasn’t expecting it.

Finally, though I appreciated the lack of a post-credits scene, what I was really expecting was for there to be one last hurrah, where Logan would dig himself out, brush himself off, find half of that stogie he took from the convenience store, and walk off into the sunset while lighting it up. Bub.

Everything in its Place, or the opposite of that?

There are two schools of what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, “stuff accumulation interaction design living”, the art of how you approach the minor physical objects in your life. Nail clippers. Scissors. Flashlights. Tubes of ointment. You know.

School #1: Have a place for everything. Buy one of that thing and put it in the place for the thing. When you need the thing, look in the place for the thing. When you’re done with the thing, put it back in its place. Repeat.

School #2: When you need a thing, look for it in some obvious places it might be. If you can’t find a thing when you need it, you don’t own enough of them. Buy three more and put them in places you might think to look for them next. The critical mass of owning enough of a thing to be able to find it when you need it will vary with each individual thing. When you’re done, put the thing back in some obvious place you might think to look for it again. If there is already a thing there, re-evaluate. Repeat.

This says something about you, how you interact with your spaces, and the rest of the decisions you make in your daily life. Choose your school carefully. I want to know what you chose.

Trust or Believe

I had an interesting exchange with a co-worker yesterday. It was unseasonably warm outside, and I’d just come into the office to drop off a bag before heading out to lunch. When we were leaving, I told him he didn’t need to bring his coat. He shrugged a bit, considered it, and left his coat. When we got downstairs, he expressed surprise that wow – indeed it was warm enough and he didn’t need his coat.

“You didn’t believe me?” I said.

“I believed you, I was just skeptical until we got outside.”

“Ah – so you didn’t believe me, but you trusted me anyway.”

Having gone through this interaction, this comes up frequently. Trusting someone’s opinion is not the same as believing them, and convincing someone to follow you is not the same as convincing them that you’re right. (On the other side, just because you don’t believe what someone is telling you doesn’t mean that you’re not going to accept it.)