Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The ISO friends

When I first started at Intel, it was for the Intel® AnswerExpress(SM) Support Suite. I hope I got that trademarking right—they were pretty finicky about that.

We were in the Internet Software Organization (ISO). It was a startup, but within a huge corporation, so there was probably better budget than the average startup has, and since we were the hourly contractors we did not have to work the extra hours that the real employees did, but at the same time, things were casual, and if you could do something, they would let you do it, so I got a chance to develop new skills. All of that was good.

The service itself combined virus protection, online data backup, an online library of PC tips, and support phone calls. I spent a lot of time working on the library, sorting tips, and a lot of my PC knowledge comes from this time period.

During the pilot program there were four of us contractors who did phone support for help with the service, not with the actual technical support phone calls—a different group did that. I think we have already established that my mind goes down weird paths and finds stories, and it happened again. After all, there were basically four parts to a computer (work with me): hardware, software, operating system, and the network. We had four team members. Could it be any more obvious?

The Net: Reclusive billionaire Jeffrey Poseidon, who used his intelligence and vast fortune to perfect the crime-fighting tools he needed. Yeah, he’s Batman, but more purple than black for the costume, and also he carried a trident and net. Sometimes he would use the net for swinging or catching a ride somewhere, but mainly it was used to drop on bad guys.

Captain Windows: Ossie was a mild-mannered window washer, but from his vantage point high above the city he could easily spot crime and swoop down to fight it, using his rather Superman-like strength and flying ability. He also carried a shield that was shaped like the Windows* logo.

Hardware: The ultimate geek, Chip lived in his mother’s basement, where he had a workshop where he developed a retractable armor suit that provided him protection when he needed to fight crime. I suppose that would be more like Mantis, but I pictured him as looking rather like C-3PO.

Software: This was the girl, so I guess this must be me. Incredibly intelligent, Corrine supported herself by writing books in the For Dummies series while working on her doctoral thesis in abnormal psychology. She also used her skills to develop a remarkable fabric that made her costume, allowing her to fly and she could occasionally cause it to do other things, like when She-Ra would transform her sword into a blanket or something. A better example would be the memory cloth in Batman Begins, but it looked cooler when they did it. Naturally she had a utility belt.

I guess she was an important transition for me—no special powers, but what she knew made her able to do things. Actually, most of the team was developing their own abilities rather than having them innate or via radiation. The only one who did not have to invent things was Chris, and I have no idea where he got his powers—he just had them. Maybe he was bitten by a radioactive beetle.

Trademark issues alone would have guaranteed that this would never see the light of day, but the team was disrupted in a different way, when it turned out that one member’s lack of social skills was worse than it initially appeared, and he was creepier than he appeared, and he was gone. Pete came in, and he was great, but he would not have been Hardware. I sort of had this idea for a virus storyline, but it faded away.

Oddly, Pete acquired his own special powers later, with one of those weird conversations that I enjoy so. I was talking with one coworker and somehow we got on the topic of things like the Donner Party, and Uruguayan rugby teams except I always thought it was a Chilean soccer team—anyway, we ended up asking Pete if he would mind if in a plane crash situation we ate him. That sounds worse than it came off. There were no illicit overtones anyway.

Pete agreed that would be okay as long as we made sure he was really dead. You know, poke him or something first. And my brain went here:

“Couldn’t you have poked me?”
”We cut off two arms and a leg. If that didn’t wake you up…but it’s okay. We’ll get you new ones. And this time, we’ll make them bionic!”

He’d be the $6 Million Pete. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why I didn’t write more in college

So far we have had superhero phases for grade school, junior high, high school, and then even though there were graphic novels in mind for college, I had no heroic roles. I did not even give myself a part in UI Trek. To be fair, I wasn’t an RA. I guess I could have been an alien. Ultimately I did not develop the story beyond what I posted, and honestly, I wasn’t developing much of anything.

It’s not that I wasn’t coming up with any new material at all. I had sketched out some ideas for two animated films. One was a version of the Snow Queen, and one was about homing pigeons used in World War II. They were not strong ideas though, and I have about one song from each, and that is it.

I also came up with ideas for about five LDS romance novels, and my vampire script went through some changes, though none of those changes were really left by the time it became Hungry. There was the introduction of one new character, and some of her traits ended up going to Selena, and some went to Christine, but you would not really recognize her in either person.

I think there were a few reasons why this was the case. One is that I was in college, and that takes up a lot. Writing essays and research papers and dialogues and all of those things was about what I could manage. I didn’t do much pleasure reading either, because there was just too much required reading to do.

What I did more of was drawing, which did not take as much. Granted, I’m not as good at it, either, but that was okay. I remember once I was sketching the lights of the buildings through the trees at dusk, and someone thought it looked like they were banana trees. (I was kind of going for impressionistic, but still.) Clearly, it was not my forte, but it worked. I could do sports posters, or spend a little time drawing, and then get back to studying, and if I had gotten into real writing streaks, that would not have worked the same way.

Drawing UI Trek would have come to close to real writing, and the limitations of my ability would have been more of an issue. I always had concerns about making one character consistently look the same, where you could always tell it was that person. In this reading section, I am seeing that the professionals don’t always succeed at that either, but they still come closer than I would. The Purple Man keeps changing his width, but I guess you still know it is him because he is the only purple one.

Besides all that, and this affected everything, there was a technology issue. I don’t write well by hand. I hold my pen awkwardly, and I know it is a bad habit, but it is deeply ingrained, and I am not sure that I can change it. My hand cramps and ink smears and I don’t get very far.

For my first three years in college I used a typewriter, and that was what I used all through high school and junior high too. With typing and writing, I had minimal output. I completed homework.  I also completed stories for friends. I think I wrote five for Danielle, always with her ending up with Nick Rhodes, and two for Ericka (one with Tim Farriss and one with MacGyver), and a spy one for Elizabeth where the love interest was just a regular CIA agent, not a celebrity. Because there were other people involved, I finished. With things that were just for me, I would get started and trail off.

For my senior year in college I finally broke down and brought a computer. That made homework easier, but it did not have an obvious effect on the rest of the writing because I still had homework. Senior year was tough. My father left my mother, one of our RAs died, I tried out for Jeopardy for the first time (failing, obviously), and I still made Dean’s List twice. There wasn’t really time for creative writing.

Still, when I graduated I took that computer home with me, and I hit job crises and my possible second adolescence, but also, I had tools, and my life started to normalize, and so it was not long before I wrote my first novel. Okay, that’s my only novel so far. Nonetheless, it would not have been possible without the computer. It was around that time period that I also found my next super identity.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bart Wars

Okay, a Simpsons/Star Wars mash-up is kind of an obvious one, really, and I can’t even swear there isn’t already one out there, but this was mine.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Bart Skywalker lived on the dry planet of Tatooine with his Aunt Patty and Aunt Selma, and Aunt Selma’s dewback, Jub Jub. (Yes, I can see where an Uncle Patty joke would work, but it never occurred to me to go there at the time.)

Buying new droids from nervous Jawa Gill, Bart acquires Lis-3PO and Mag2-D2. While working on them, removing Mag2-D2’s pacifier like bolt, Bart is surprised by a holographic message with Princess Marge saying, “Help us Krusty the Klown. You’re our only hope.” Although it is a long shot, Bart wonders if this might be connected to local hermit Herschel Krustofski. His aunts are discouraging, but the next morning the droids have taken off, and Bart goes to pursue. He finds them, but is then set upon by Tusken bullies Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney. After a pretty severe pink belly, they are shooed away by Herschel.

Herschel takes Bart back to his house and Bart explains about the message, which they watch. Admitting his true identity, Krusty explains that Marge was once a crusader against violent cartoons, but her reasonable concerns were twisted into a movement against all entertainment, especially humor, especially that mystical power known as “the Farce”. Marge has since been working with the rebellion, and has sent data that will be helpful and must be delivered to Alderaan. Bart should also know that the anti-entertainment forces caused the cancellation of Troy McClure’s show, leading to the breakdown of his marriage to Aunt Selma.

“That’s why she’s a lonely and bitter old woman?”
“Yeah, okay.”

Krusty wants Bart to come with him and the droids and be trained in the Farce, but Bart has doubts. Returning home, though, he finds it has been raided, and his aunts’ secret stash of MacGyver tapes have been destroyed, leaving them irritable and depressed. This seems like a good reason to leave. In town and looking for a pilot, shopkeeper Apu recommends his old bowling teammates, Homer Solo and Chewb-Otto, whom they can find at Moe’s Eisley Cantina.                   

A lot of the really fun sight gags would happen here. Obviously you have the regular barflies, like Sam and Larry, but I think if you also had a table of the aliens who were called in for the line-up in Homer and the Alien (Chewbacca, Gort, Marvin Martian, Alf, and okay, I don’t know if it was Kang or Kodos—they look pretty similar). Also, put the Martian from the Stonecutters musical number there with some Stonecutters, because that kind of gives you Patrick Stewart, and you could have some fun with it.

Transportation is arranged, but they need to take off a little bit more quickly than desired, due to some problems with a debt owed to Homer’s former friend and current rival, Gumble the Hutt (Barney) from some losses on their snow plow business. I imagine a plow still attached to the school bus like ship

Well, you know how it goes. They get taken onto the Death Star, which looks somewhat like the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, and knock out some Storm Troopers, though neither Homer nor Bart fit the outfits particularly well. They are able to rescue Marge, which is great, but sadly, Krusty falls to his rival and former student, canceller of television shows, Darth Bob (Terwilliger).

The rest escape and join up with rebel forces, where the fighter pilots are basically Springfield Elementary’s 4th grade glass, so Bart’s peers: Nelson, Data, Richard, Lewis, Wendell, and Milhouse as Wedge. Let’s forget Biggs, because he dies, and Bart just lost Krusty.

Fast forward to the ice world of Hoth, where that snow plow comes in handy. The rebels are found so need to split up, and while Bart ends up training in the Farce in the swamps with Sideshow Mel as Yoda, Homer, Chewb-otto, Marge, and Lis-3PO end up in the cloud city of Bespin, ruled over by Lando Carl-rissian and his assistant, Len-bot (Carl and Lenny). Everything initially seems fine, but Darth Bob is there.

Now, most of these character choices have felt very obvious to me, but there was not an obvious choice to play Boba Fett, so I think it would just be funny to have it be Flanders, operating not for strict greed but more with a commitment to everyone having to pay debts and adhere strictly to the rules, and you know he would be on the side of the Empire.

Luke goes to try and help, but he is only able to have a major showdown with Darth Bob, featuring this exchange.

Bart, I am your uncle.
You canceled my uncle!
No, that was your other uncle. I was also married to Selma.

This blows Bart’s mind enough that he loses his hair spikes, which are later surgically reattached.

Marge and company go to rescue Homer which is eventually successful, although she does briefly end up as a slave girl of Gumble the Hutt. Her slave girl outfit is basically a short, strapless green dress. That being done, they take off to the moon of Endor, to destroy the new Death Star.

Marge gets separated and meets special Ewok, Ralphie. Actually, if the 4th graders are the fighter pilots, then the 2nd graders are Ewoks. The Ewoks team up with most of the rebels to take over the ground controls, but Bart has gone up to the Star to confront Darth Bob, and the evil Emperor Burns. Things are not looking good for Bart, but he taps into the power of the Farce, and he gets Darth Bob to laugh so hard and feel so good that Bob realizes that when you are laughing like that you can’t turn into a ball of ice and slush (it would be a shout-out to Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, and it sounds awkward there, but I think it could work).

Joy and entertainment is restored to the galaxy. The end.

At least it was the end until the new movies came out, and then I started thinking about expanding, and then I just kind of started to hate everything. I like to pretend that Episodes 1-3 don’t exist, but if that were true then I would not have all of these bad feelings towards George Lucas. Yeah, the end.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hey, I’ve done this before!

While I sometimes drive myself a little crazy with my new projects and jags and heavy to-do lists, there is neat stuff that goes on too, and I learn things, which is probably why I keep doing it. Actually, I have learned a lot about fan fiction.

My view shifted when I revisited “The Breakfast of the Gods” page at http://breakfastofthegods.com/ and noticed this line:

“Okay, it’s ‘fanfic’ but it’s worth your time – trust me.”

It caused me to redefine fan fiction in my head. I had never heard the term until I started frequenting the Television Without Pity message boards, and even then, I never really read any, and I would just see other people referring to it. It tended to sound pretty twisted.

From Jones’ standpoint, it is fanfic because he is using characters he did not create. Really, that’s all it is. That many people seem to explore the genre only for sexual purposes probably has some deeper meaning, but ultimately that characters or situations set in place by someone else might inspire you and lead you down other story paths is not in itself twisted. Thinking about it that way, I realized I had done this many times.

I was always taking off from television shows and movies and thinking of expanded scenarios when I was younger. Most of them look pretty stupid now, but there is one spin-off from season 5 of The A-Team that I still revisit. (That was a horrible season, so that may be why I think of my innovation more than the original. Stupid Stockwell.)

There were two things, though, that I specifically had in mind to draw as comics, and both involved other people’s work, though with some changes. Why I did not get to them I will explore soon, but for now I just want to go over those, hitting two major sci-fi franchises,

UI Trek

It’s been interesting reading about fake geek girls lately, because I am sure for people who keep score I am not geek enough. There are a lot of things I find interesting, but do not go crazy about. Star Trek has been one of those. I have watched many episodes, and I usually enjoy them, but it has never been must-see for me. In college, I had friends who were much more into it. Our College Bowl’s team name was Pon farr, from episode 30 of the original series. This is the same episode that introduced T’Pau, who gave her name to a British pop group. Everything I know about that, I learned from when we were forming our team, with an assist from Wikipedia during writing. This was not my thing.

(My favorite memory of College Bowl is not Star Trek related though. It was when a question was asked about a new stamp series, and three of us looked at each other blankly, but Melissa shyly answered “Love”, and then even more shyly explained, “I like stamps.”)

Anyway, I had already learned Sid was a Star Trek fan my first year, but in my second year he was an RA over at the University Inn, and I guess he found more kindred spirits there. His Spock had a Kirk (Aaron, but not any of the other ones I have written about), and there was a Scotty, whom I seem to remember as David, but then I think maybe David was Chekhov. The thing that I know for certain is that there was someone who identified with Scotty, but also there was someone who was actually from Scotland, who could have been an obvious choice, and that was where the story idea started. (Though I guess to be accurate to the series, the real Scotty would have to be the one who was faking his accent.)

The idea I had in mind was that a transporter would split Scotty into two. This happened once with Kirk, initially believed to have been split into good and evil Kirk, but it was more complicated than that, and eventually they were put back together. Since Scotty would have to either be transporting himself, or have someone else running the transporter, a malfunction makes more sense. However, instead of physically identical but with different personality aspects dominating, these two would be completely different in appearance and personality, and they would eventually decide that two Scotties were better than one. However, the little Scottish terrier that materialized after them both? Pure evil.

Fun parts were going to be the argument between the two Scotties—“I dinnae know who ye are, but you’re nae Scotty!”—and also Christine.

Christine was one of the other RAs, and Sid had recently accidentally hit her in the face with a softball, which she was good-humored about. Anyway, the obvious thing was to make her Nurse Christine Chapel, as played by Majel Barrett Roddenberry, but what if you combined all of those roles? Giver her Nursel Chapel’s attraction to Spock but Number One’s sleek appearance and coolness, and Lwaxana Troi’s aggressive confidence. Okay, I did not do anything with the Computer voice part, but with the rest, Spock was going to be raising an eyebrow.

I really wanted to do this, and I told Sid I was going to do this, but I never did get around to doing it. One thing with a lot of ideas is that they have an expiration date. I had been working over fall term, so I started meeting all the new people and got this idea in Winter or Spring of 1992, and then in May I realized I needed to go on a mission, so after finishing up spring term, I started working, served the mission, worked more, and did not return to Eugene until Spring ’95. The only person who was still around was Sid, who had graduated but was now attending law school there.

Now, even though that idea was not fully developed in its time, I can still put it out there on the internet, where some people may find it mildly amusing. There were a lot of inside jokes, so it had a definite target audience, but there are enough pop culture references that it is not completely inaccessible.

The other idea, which I think I started shortly after college, was all pop culture, so should be accessible to anyone who is a fan of two distinct but big pop culture phenomena. It’s too long to do here though, so tomorrow!

Friday, July 27, 2012

How do you like that? Even among misfits you're a misfit

I do love Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Anyway, there were two stories that were happening in high school. Both were based on dreams. One was straight-up superhero, and the other was post-apocalyptic mutants. There was one other commonality between them; see if you can spot it.

In the first dream, I was hanging out with a bunch of superheroes. I was the only one with no powers. Will it seem less mystifying if mention that the superheroes were all guys from the basketball team that I managed? Initially managing seemed like a fun thing to do, and it was. I did enjoy it, and I was being helpful, so that’s all good. It was also just something that maybe was more for losers, and where you are always aware that there are people who party and date and you are not one of them. I tried to spin it in my mind that I was the spunky reporter, but that didn’t really go very far.

For the other dream, the mutants were basically kicked out of town so were exploring in the post-Apocalyptic wasteland, but I was with them and not a mutant. Again, the only one with no powers. I did not recognize any of the mutants though, so in this case it was not inferiority to specific peers.

That one actually ended up getting pretty complex. As I filled in details I decided that it was about 500 years after whatever happened, and it did involve radiation. At our starting point, there have been two things going on in this cut-off community. One is that initially you had a high percentage of mutants born, but the percentage kept going down, until at the time you have ten mutants left. In addition, a powerful family stepped in and filled the government void and became royalty, and then began losing power, so all you have is a figurehead princess, and the people with the real power want neither mutants nor royalty.

The stated purpose of the “mission” is to map out the surrounding area and establish communication with other groups if possible, and you send the royalty as an ambassador and the mutants because they have special powers to equip them for the trip, but really, it’s just to get rid of them, with the assumption that they will die. No one in the group has any illusions about what is going on, but it takes a while for them to accept the princess.

They had various encounters in different places, and I think I still have the beginnings that I had written out. While I had initially envisioned it as a novel, it felt like too much of a shaggy dog story for that, because there are many parts. I then got the bright idea that it could be a concept album, but I had only worked out one song for it and then did not get much further. And even that was not really songwriting but setting an existing poem (High Flight) to some kind of Iron Maiden-ish guitar that I would never have been able to play.

I am still fond of the whole idea, but I can’t help but think of all the things that would make it impossible now, starting with the fact that nuclear fallout may cause mutations, but not the kind resulting in really attractive people with special abilities. I bet that would make the Chernobyl Diaries a completely different film.

There is one thing that I find really interesting in putting these two together, and I had not realized it before. I was a pretty good kid as a teenager, and I sometimes felt like I had put off all my teenage angst for an extra decade, After Dad left and I came back after college to help out, I felt a lot of responsibility, possibly more than I needed too, and sometimes I just did not want it and felt really rebellious, sometimes getting angry, and sometimes moody and withdrawn. I thought maybe those were my teen years, belated.

Looking back now, I can see a definite thread of alienation during my actual adolescence. Maybe I was developmentally on target after all.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Super Clutz

Yes, that should be a “k” there. Auto-correct knows it. I know it now, but I didn’t until after I made the cape, and someone asked about it. This is indeed embarrassing for a four-time school spelling champion. I guess there’s a reason I never made it past district. If I had developed the character I would have corrected the spelling, but for right now I’m just letting all my foolishness hang out, in the hopes that it’s good for my soul.

It all started at Five Oaks during Spirit Week. I always participated in Spirit Week, dressing up every day, but also not ever going really elaborate with the costumes. That time, there was a super hero day. I could have gone with an existing superhero of some kind, but I did not have any costumes like that, and sometimes I get weird ideas, so it occurred to me to locate my super self, and that was someone who was pretty awkward but got the job done.

My costume was simple, but someone who was super only in her clumsiness would not have a really sleek costume. It was definitely a white t-shirt with no logo, paired with blue shorts (I think), and then my cape was a red towel with felt cut out letters along the bottom that gave the name. Obviously despite the homemade nature it was legible, or no one would have noticed the spelling error.

That really just was the one day, but she did take hold of my brain. Still influenced by Wonder Woman, she transformed by spinning around, but in her case she would often fall out of the spin, or at least get dizzy, and the time she changed in a bathroom stall she ended up wrapped in toilet paper, which she broke through easily because she was strong and could fly. (I do not remember the origin of her powers, but it might have been aliens, like the Greatest American Hero.)

Again, she did get the job done. She foiled a bank robbery by crashing it, literally, but whether the robbers got knocked out by the swinging door due to a flight gone wrong or through an intentional “bonk”, it’s still foiled, right?

So you would think. In fact, the other heroes in the local Justice League-type organization found her to be an embarrassment, especially the elegant, sophisticated female one, and forbade her from using her powers or practicing as a hero, or they would send her through the trans-dimensional portal.

Well, that was all well and good until a particularly effective super-villain took all of the competent superheroes out of commission, and there was no one else left. Super Clutz went in and saved the day, and then, knowing she had broken the rules, went through the trans-dimensional portal on her own.

Meanwhile, her love interest had figured out her secret identity, and after giving all of the competent heroes a piece of his mind for even creating a situation where she would feel like she needed to go through the portal, regardless of whether they would have been jerks enough to enforce it after she saved them all, went in after her.

Unfortunately, the trans-dimensional portal is not completely consistent in its destination selection, initially placing them both in separate dimensions. One was very Hoth-like.

I didn’t actually ever come up with a resolution for the whole situation, but my thought was that all of the heroes were going to work together, initially encountering obstacles in many different dimensions, but overcoming them and learning valuable lessons about devaluing others by the time they eventually reunited. Perhaps it was too complicated for me to develop it much beyond that point.

There is a footnote to this. Years later I was watching Saturday Night Live. The guest host was Catherine O’Hara, making it 1991 or 1992. In one of the sketches, she was a superhero being called up in front of her league. Her offenses included flying upright instead of prone (it reduces cape welts!) and when she confiscated guns from criminals, using them to shoot the criminals rather than crushing them into little metal wads. Well what do you expect from a league with members like Sissy Boy and Calcium Man? (And why can I never find SNL skits online?)

It was not all a loss though. She defended herself, and Zombie Man agreed with her. They did not win the support of their fellow heroes, but they flew off together in the upright position. Preach it sister! I know exactly how you feel.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My first superhero identity

Yes, when I say first, it does indeed mean that I have had several superhero identities over the past. None of them involved any real world crime-fighting, and most of them never even got written out, but they were there. As my recent reading and writing has been bringing back memories, I notice some interesting trends and things about them. The problem with any of these retrospectives that I do is that there tends to be a lot of lameness involved, but hey, I am who I am.

This first memory, is something that I had gone for years without thinking about it until December 2008, when I was on my way to a memorial service for one friend with another friend. We were talking about Josh, as it would have been impossible not to. Although we had both been close to him, it was at completely different times, so we didn’t really have shared memories of him, and we had seen completely different sides.

I first met Josh in first grade, and I can’t honestly swear to you whether this memory happened in first or second grade, but it wasn’t any later than that. Anyway, on the playground one day we were deciding what kind of superheroes we would be, and working out the details of our costumes, and the next day Josh came with drawings of them. I was telling Karen that and she said “That’s so adorable,” and I really could not feel that. She was looking at it as an adult looking at two young kids, and so for her it was, but somehow even though I could understand that perspective, my emotional memory is so strong that no, that’s not adorable, it’s awesome. He was being really cool!

Where I can have a different perspective now is to see how incredibly lame my concept was. I think I just need to shudder, cringe, and get it out. “Fantasia” wore an outfit that was remarkably similar to Wonder Woman’s, in that basically it was a bodysuit and boots, but instead of the red, blue, and gold with those patriotic stars and eagles, it was just all pink. Well, maybe the boots were red. Her superpower was that she rode a flying horse.

I don’t even remember being into pink as a color then. I know I could not pick a favorite color, but pink was not in the running. (Eventually, because people are always asking kids for their favorite color, I started saying orange because no one ever picked orange, and I felt sorry for it.)

Basically, with the questionable taste and judgment shown by the name, outfit, and lack of any actual powers, I am mainly grateful that somehow I did not grow up to be a stripper. I had not realized how close I had come to that path.

Having safely dodged that bullet, I still think Josh coming back with the drawings was really cool. By the way, Josh’s costume was somewhat similar to Superman’s, mainly blue with some red, but he also had a red mask that I think had three red points sticking up. Obviously our concepts of how superheroes dressed came from the existing dominant constructs, which could lead to a discussion on gender bias and objectification of women in the media, but I am not going there, at least not yet.

I do not remember us working out any superhero adventures at that time. A few years later recess consisted of playing Graveyard Airlines, which basically meant heading to the tire trees (upright logs with two clusters of four tires grouped around them, meant for climbing, I guess) and imagining that we were on an airplane that was always running into trouble, possibly due to the sometimes poor judgment of the deranged pilot (me). Josh was my navigator, though, so technically if I was flying into trouble he was charting the course.

(My friend Jennie was co-pilot, and Jonathan was usually with us. Jason and Lara and some of the younger kids would sometimes join us as crew or passengers. I mention this because obviously we sound weird, but we weren’t shunned for this and clearly some people enjoyed it.)

Eventually, that started getting repetitive, and Jennie and I got really into Dungeons & Dragons (not with dice and a board, just going around and imagining stuff), but we didn’t do that at school. We both went through a jump rope phase, and then I started playing basketball a lot. Josh and I would still hang out at times, but usually with Stephen too, whom I liked. (What they did not know is I wrote out one Dungeons & Dragons story for an English assignment where our characters met up with Stephen and Josh.)

After that, I went to Five Oaks with the three other sixth graders who were affected by the boundary changes, and everyone else went to Mountain View, and I only kept in touch with Jennie. When we all ended up back at Aloha High School, Josh was in Drama, and he was great at it, and I was doing more sports and speech. Karen and I had become good friends at Five Oaks, and she did both speech and drama, so that was where their bonding started. Actually, most of my junior high friends got into Drama, but I’ve already written about that.

Josh and I never ended up hanging out much after that. There were no bad feelings or anything. I got to see him in plays, and I have seen clips of his role as Gilbert, sidekick shared by the Amazing Men, but that was more his adult life, and for me it always goes back to being kids. It is having superhero dreams and flying around disaster but having worked it all out by the time recess was over. It was Josh and I comforting Stephen after Lora had dumped him (even though I was secretly thinking he was an idiot for going out with her instead of me). It is Josh briefly removing the hat he always wore so I could sell it to him in a skit we did for English class, where I owned the hat and shoe store, “It’s Raining Hats and Clogs”. It is working on our short animated film, “The Garden Tragedy”, where long before anyone had heard of South Park we had construction paper vegetables succumbing to a crow, drought, and car exhaust from the new freeway.

I can look back and see how innocent that was. Other than the Stephen/Lora thing, and some other stuff that started happening towards the end of sixth grade as I was contemplating being separated from my friends for three years, and starting to like other boys just before Stephen got the message, making me dump him even worse than Lora did, but he didn’t even remember it happened in high school, you know, other than that, it was kind of angst-free.  I guess we just start getting stupider in sixth grade. Maybe that’s why most schools run K-5 now.

The song that keeps coming to mind as I remember is “Kids in the Street”, by the All-American Rejects. Looking at the lyrics, it does not match at all, but emotionally it fits. There is something bittersweet, with knowing that it is gone but that it still happened, and a little bit of awe at the velocity with which it fades away and new things come head on.

That being said, I still don’t look back and think it was cute, because we were fully invested in those moments, and we were very serious about it. We were not cute; we were amazing. And odd. I can look back and see that we were pretty odd, and perhaps a little morbid, though it didn’t feel like we were. Still awesome!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Something about Eugene

I mentioned yesterday that CulturePulp was special to me, and this goes back to my love of comic strips.

Yes, even as a poor college student I maintained my subscription to the Oregonian (not only for the comics, but still), but I was also an avid reader of the Oregon Daily Emerald, and that included its comics. In my first year that involved Hudson Van Curren by M.E. Russell. I missed fall term so I came in a little late, but he later released a book with all of the strips, which I still have.

In the next year Hudson had moved to the Oregon Commentator, and changed its format from a strip to a page. This made sense as the Commentator was not a daily paper. Honestly, I did not care for any of the other papers. The Emerald was the official student paper, and I think journalism students got credit for working at it, but there was a bit more of a sense of professionalism and objectivity.

There were several other, smaller papers, and I don’t remember any of them not being annoying, especially the Commie-hater, as it was frequently called. (It was right-leaning, and the school was more left-leaning, which may have made the staff feel a little more aggrieved and besieged beyond the normal young Republican attitude.)

However, many of these smaller papers did have pretty good comics, so I did at least have to look through them for that. In addition, the Emerald had gotten a new regular strip, Oscar the Freshman, by Neal Skorpen. Neal, although not a Resident Assistant, was good friends with one, as was I, though not the same RA, so running with that crowd I did know who he was, and also he planned some amazing interactive mystery nights. I want to say murder mystery, but with the one I did, Red Riding Hood was not dead, just missing. Snow White was dead before the end of the evening though.

(I never met M.E. Russell, though another friend that I met through Sid had apparently attended a party thrown in honor of Liberace’s birthday that he organized.)

The Emerald also added Weasel’s World, by Kraig Norris, which I enjoyed a lot, and though I don’t remember exactly when they ran Flaxen, by A C Smid, and I think I actually first saw Hairlis Kat (Vernon C. Wallingford III) in a guest appearance in someone else’s strip, but this is going back twenty years. Anyway, there was cool stuff going on, and another book came out, which I have right in front of me or I would never be getting these spellings right. That was “Panels: UO Cartooning 1991-92. Russell was listed as the editor, but Skorpen, Norris, and Adrian Wallace also assisted with production.

Time goes on, and college is far behind, and I still read the Oregonian. Some time ago they add CulturePulp, and there was something familiar about the drawings (especially something about the legs and feet), and it was Mike Russell, whose middle initial is in fact E, and although he does not only draw but also reviews movies and things, he is in fact still drawing and making a living at it.

Go on a few years later, and this thing called Facebook is developed, which I join in October of 2008, and slowly start reconnecting with people. It is mainly people from high school, church, and work, because in college I almost never knew anyone’s last name, but I was able to locate a few, and one of them is Neal.

Not only is Neal a graphic novel instructor at PNCA, but he still organizes things like 24-hour cartoon projects and things like that. So I did some more searching, and a lot of the featured cartoonists are still drawing. Some of them still seem to be in touch with each other.

I don’t know that it makes sense how happy this makes me. I guess it is a lot like the musicians I know who are still always in some kind of a band (even though they have day jobs) and get paying gigs. There is that creative need to fulfill, and I relate to that, but also it is great that they get some recognition for it. They find an audience. Well, maybe I’m not too hard to please, but I like it.

For the record, my own contributions to the Emerald included two cartoon submissions (only the political one was selected), an article on recycling that may not have been printed, several letters to the editor, and one picture that gave some incorrect impressions. Pretty typical, I would say.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The funny papers

One of the landmark events of my young life is when the Oregon Journal and the Oregonian merged. Both had strong comics sections, and you would think that normally they would have just kept one or the other, but they didn’t. From then on, the Oregonian had two full pages of comics.

(Okay, one page is not exactly full because it also has the crossword and horoscope, but still, it’s pretty impressive.)

I don’t know why I love them so much. I just do. Some of the strips I truly love, and there are some that I kind of hate and they annoy me, but I still read them. Sometimes I try and remind myself to just skip The Family Circus, but I never do. I should quit reading the Judge Parker they have hidden in the classifieds with For Better or Worse reruns too, because it has really gotten stupid, but somehow, I just keep going back.

I have a hard time letting go of strips that I like. With the Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, they were retired—there was nothing you could do. With others though, they were still happening, just no longer in the paper I was reading. Once upon a time there was nothing you could do about this, but through the magic of technology that changed, and you could find things on the internet. This led to me discovering new strips, and rediscovering old ones. Also, sometimes they just lead to unexpected places. Basically, I’m going to tell two stories.

For my web comics I use gocomics.com, but it started with a different page, and things are changing online all the time too, including sometimes having to take a strip that is losing its presence on that site and follow it to the artist’s personal site. This happened with Little Dee, by Christopher Baldwin. One year I saw that he was going to be at Stumptown Comic Fest, and I realized I could totally go and get him to sign my book, and then look around some.

This is nothing like San Diego Comic Con. I don’t remember seeing any costumes. It was just a bunch of tables in a big room, and I did see a pirate on my way to the hotel, but that was just a Portland thing.

I found him, I handed him the book, and he asked who was my favorite character. I have always had a hard time picking favorites, and I said “Well, all of them,” which I thought was a good answer, because it confirms my appreciation for his work, but he looked a little dismayed or puzzled or something, and when he handed the book back I realized why.

When an artist is signing your book and asks about your favorite character that is because they intend to do a small sketch with their signature. It’s really very sweet, and it makes a lot of sense, and I am an idiot. Sorry Christopher! I get it now. Obviously I should have chosen Blake, the well-meaning but not that bright dog.

The other story starts with a print comic that was not in the comics section but in A&E. I speak of course, of CulturePulp: http://culturepulp.typepad.com/

CulturePulp has a special place in my heart anyway, for reasons that shall be dealt with in the next post, but also it is good at covering cool and interesting things, and one of those was the most awesome graphic novel based on the web ever, The Breakfast of the Gods:


When ME Russell covered it, it was still in production, so I remember reading until I was caught up, and then anxiously waiting for the next installment.

It is kind of like The Lord of the Rings done with classic breakfast cereal characters, and don’t be fooled by the cute background—it gets gritty. There is blood and death and some language. (Dig’em, the Sugar Smacks frog, is especially street.) And it is epic! It is well-drawn, it is clever, and it is a satisfying story. It is emotional. The structure is really well thought out, too. My appreciation for it keeps going up, actually. And the book’s page describes it as “fanfic”, which makes me feel a lot better about my efforts than reading about the genesis of Fifty Shades of Gray. (Shudder.)

Speaking of which (the thing I am working on, NOT 50), I wish you all a wonderful International My Chemical Romance Appreciation Day. It would be nice if I was actually back to blogging about them again, but I think we will be there in about a week and a half.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Graphic content ahead!

Amy: Sheldon I'm disappointed, as a brilliant man you're entitled to a vice. I could understand frequenting an opium den or hunting your fellow man for sport, but this lame-o!
Sheldon: A, comic books employ story telling through sequential art, a medium that dates back 17, 000 years to the cave paintings of Lascaux and B, you play the harp. Like that's cool.

Time to leave the gloom and doom behind, and start that section now where we talk about comics and graphic novels. (Actually, there will be some gloom and doom.)

Writing one made me think I should read more, but as I have been working on both, I have realized that I have a lot more history with both than I thought. I think part of that may be that I spent a lot more time than I realized with nerds.

The people whom I am going to mention are not people that I ever thought of as nerds, but looking back on the Star Trek obsession, the action figures, the games of laser tag (which I participated in) and the games of Magic: The Gathering (which I did not participate in), I may have missed the obvious. Maybe nerd-ism expires after high school, Big Bang Theory aside. They will come up more as we get into my comic writing history.

My introduction to comics predates all of that, going back to the girl next door. Shaila was a year older than me, and she was only there part of the time due to her parents’ divorce and their custody arrangement, but she had a lot of cool stuff in that garage, and she was reasonably generous about sharing. Because of her I got to play with Lite-Brite and many fine board games, but also she had boxes and boxes of comics, and they were printed material and I devoured them.

We were respectively a third and fourth grader, when we met, and we weren’t that much older when her father moved, so none of it was too hard-core. There was lots of Archie and Richie Rich, but there was also some Teen Titans, and some superheroes in the future that were trying to keep the earth from being suffocated by a giant chain, and also, there was Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.

Amethyst introduced me to one of the hard facts of the comic world. I was really into the series, and Shaila was portioning them out to me, because I seriously would have taken the stack home and read them in one night, but being one year older (and the owner) gives you a certain amount of authority, and she was into that. One day she tells me…

“I shouldn’t have let you start reading those.”
”Why not?”
”The end is going to come out while I’m here, so we won’t ever get to see it.”
”Can’t we still get it?”

I think the reason she had so many comics was her mother had some sort of connection in Salem, and yet why her being in Aloha for the summer meant that she could not take advantage of that is still not clear. Regardless, I don’t know what happened with Amethyst. I assume the good guys won, but with some sad losses, and that somehow she reconciled her Gemworld ancestry and Earth upbringing.

Anyway, this taught me a very important lesson, in that continuing storylines will leave you hanging. When I had the opportunity at times to buy a comic of my own, I almost always went for one of those that was a collection of ghost stories. That was it was self-contained, and spooky!

Looking back has also clarified another spotty memory for me. I remembered sometimes going with Misty to what I thought was Dark Horse Comics, like it was a store, but that didn’t seem right. Well, I remembered comics and a horse, is what it was. Actually we were going to Pegasus Books, which is now Things from Another World. I know I bought an Elfquest there.

Misty would buy things that were special, like the Spider-Man where he and MJ got married and Bob Mackie designed the gown (that’s why I knew about Gwen Stacey before), or this pretty cool one going over various Star Trek characters from both the show and the movies.

I would read those (without her permission!) and I would occasionally pick up a Simpsons or something, but I was more into comic strips, as they ran in the paper, and that eventually led me into web comics where I found some other interesting things.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I just keep putting this off

I mentioned earlier that I had been making good progress on my task list. There is one that I just finished, after promising myself to do so for a long time, and continually getting distracted. This was frustrating to me because it was for someone else, and I really wanted to do it, but also the thing that kept thwarting me is stupid, and embarrassing. Obviously I need to write about it.

I hope I have made it pretty clear that I am grateful for my religion because it gives me a lot of purpose and joy. I also feel exceptionally lucky to have been raised LDS, because some of the practices kept me from things where I would be very susceptible. With my longing for physical touch and doubts of the possibility of actually being loved, I could easily have been prey to a string of bad relationships. Actually, I had one friend where we had a lot in common, except for the religion, and yes, I can see how things might have gone.

Also, I have a kind of addictive personality. There is some history of the males on the Harris side having trouble with alcohol, and based on some of the doctor prescribed medication I have taken at times, drugs have a really strong effect on me. Also, I tend to be a little compulsive, so just the fact that I never even considered trying alcohol, tobacco, or other types of drugs seems really, really fortunate.

I say this realizing that my vices could be a lot worse, and I am lucky, but the vices that I do have are very frustrating, in addition to being really lame. I get addicted to games. Not even cool games, where lots of people are obsessing over them in a massive multi-player format or where you can make money off of them. No, at various times they have been Solitaire, Freecell, Spider Solitaire, Minesweeper, Marble Drop, Speed Marbles, Jewel Quest, Diamond Mine, and pretty much every type of Pac-Man (Regular, Plus, Super, and Pals) out there, plus Mappy which came with Ms. Pac-Man. Sometimes Sudoku is an issue, but it is easier not to spiral out of control on that one.

I think one thing that contributes to it is my tendency to be a little OCD. I fall into spells rather easily, and I do have great concentration, which is clearly being misused at these times. But always, even when I play really well, there is the thought that I can do better. That round was too easy, or that round was too hard, or I should try it this way. I can be really persistent too, but again, it is really misused here.

Where I start doing it, though, is due to procrastination. I think I will play one game of Spider Solitaire, or five rounds of Marble Drop, or something, and then start what I really need to do, and then I far exceed my allotted play time, not only not getting what I want done, but also generally staying up later than I should, which will then affect me into the next day.

I have never known a writer who does not procrastinate, so at least I come by it honestly, but it is really not helpful.

I know some of it is fear. With the one thing I was putting off, it was something that I wanted to do a good job on, but I was not confident in my ability to do so, and then the longer I was delaying the better I felt it had to be so it was worth the wait, and this was just not helpful. (It was helping someone with her resume.)

I think it is more so with the writing, though this is stupid. I mean, it doesn’t always come out well, but that’s what rewriting is for. In fact, sometimes you have to write something badly before you can write it well.

The frustrating thing is that I had actually stopped. I had a really good week where I was working full days and commuting and I would get home and write12-14 pages, which is amazing, and I tried to think what was different, and I think it was just that I was only writing and not procrastinating. However, I hit some scenes that were hard to write, and I had some things come up that made me broody (not a helpful coping mechanism, but I do it), and I fell off the wagon. Badly.

So, now I am trying to incorporate shame to get back on track. I am telling you that I do not intend to play any more. There are people who can do it with no ill effects, but not me.

Actually, I tried to block the web site, because while it is easy to give in to temptation and visit the site, I thought it would be significantly easier to resist going in a removing a block. However, again the lack of deeper technical knowledge becomes an issue. I may need to coax a geek to help me, and maybe to uninstall Windows Gadgets for me too, because I think it is dragging down my system performance.

For now though, telling you, in the hopes that the sense of shame and self-loathing will be deterrent enough when I make it public. In a way, it’s just a stupid little thing, but sometimes I worry that it is more.

There is a pretty famous quote from Marianne Williamson (often attributed to Nelson Mandela):

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I don’t know. I really think I am more afraid of being inadequate, but if I am meant to shine, I can’t be frittering my time away.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Why it matters, part 2

I find myself in an awkward position today. I was planning on referencing Bowling for Columbine and school shootings today, and I find it is so timely it feels almost exploitative. It’s not as satisfying as you might think.

So, I did end up getting the digital copy of the My Chemical Romance debut, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love. I haven’t listened to it enough to be sure, but I believe my favorite track is “Cubicles”, perhaps because so much of my life has been spent in that world, and they kind of nail it. Just to capture some of it…

And I'm only two cubes down

I'd photocopy all the things that we could be
If you took the time to notice me
But you can't now, I don't blame you
And it's not your fault that no one ever does

But you don't work here anymore
It's just a vacant 3 by 4
And they might fill your place
A temporary stand-in for your face
This happens all the time
And I can't help but think I'll die alone

So I'll spend my time with strangers
A condition and it's terminal

Really, we have some strange quirks about avoiding contact. I wrote about saying goodbye to someone at Regence when I was switching to telecommuting. I had been seeing her around the building for just under two years. I knew she had a dog, a crockpot, and a boyfriend. I know she has struggled with her weight more recently as it has gone up. I do not know her name. Somehow there is this thing where we are reluctant to do that. I think of her as the girl who looks like Christy. At Intel Jones Farm there was a guy I would smile and say “hi” to that was the guy who looks like Ethan Embry. He noticed when I was gone and when I came back, we recognized each other, but somehow, we don’t go through introductions. Even then, that level of friendliness is only possible because we are people who do smile instead of avoiding eye contact, of whom there are a lot more.

To be fair, some of it may be information overload. When I started at the company I was introduced to several people whose names went in one ear and out the other. That was not intentional, but I was being introduced to about fifty new people. I learned the names of the people I interacted with the most, but others I forgot. Sure, everyone wears name tags, but not usually in a way where you can read the small print.

Even with as many people as we met and enjoyed in Australia (some of whom we spent significant amounts of time with, depending on what we were doing), the only people we exchanged information with were two whom we ran into again in New Zealand by chance, and we could easily have pretended not to see them.

Obviously, you can’t be close to everyone, but you can care and be interested in a lot of people. I’ve seen that. Social networking even takes a lot of the work out of it, though what emotions and honesty you bring to it depends on you.

There is an environment of lies out there, but there is also one of hostility, and the two probably go together. Sometimes it gets me pretty down, but I am going to try to make a point in here somewhere, even if I have to draw a lot upon movies and books to do it. Actually, I have a story that involves music, a movie, and Facebook.

I have recently been missing Joe Strummer (lead singer, The Clash, died 2002). I was thinking that what I wanted to do was re-watch The Future is Unwritten, but I couldn’t find it, so I just set my status update that I was missing Joe Strummer, and a former coworker agreed, and he wrote “Without people you’re nothing.”

The truth is, it was that quote that was haunting me. I wrote that I couldn’t find the movie, so was just listening to the Clash, but Stace pointed me to where you could watch the movie online. I did watch the last part, and that did not quite do it for me. I still felt like something was missing. So today I had the whole thing running in the background while I was working, and then it did.

It’s not just what he was saying, but what was pulling at me was a catch in his voice as he said it. There was this underlying emotion that I have been feeling in my own heart lately, and hearing it from someone else helps. So here’s the full quote, but if you can listen to him say it in his own voice, I recommend it:

“And so now I'd like to say - people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks - I am one of them. But we've all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything - this is something that I'm beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other. That's because they've been dehumanized. It's time to take the humanity back into the center of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain't going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you're nothing. That's my spiel.”

Well, I’ll go one further than him, and say that it’s without charity that we are nothing, because I think you can have people and get it wrong, not realize what you have, or how it could be, or how it should be. With that concern about the dehumanization though, he is exactly right. And the easiest way to dehumanize people is to lie about them.

I’m not saying that people don’t get rotten enough on their own—I believe that I’ve been fairly clear that they do. There’s just this tendency to vilify now, and people lap it up for reasons that I do not get. The greed mention—I totally get that greed is the motivation for a lot of the people who pull the strings, but why would anyone fall for it? And what bothers me the most is that you have people who consider themselves good people and are good people, but they are building up such a hard edge through the judging and the anger at the sinners and the cheaters and the wasters and all those people whom they just know exist that they are going to lose that goodness.

I’m not going to go into full on religious preacher mode here, though I believe that time is coming, so I just want to make a point from Bowling for Columbine, and I was planning on doing this yesterday, without any idea of what was coming.

There is a lot of talk about gun control now, and as a stereotypical bleeding-heart liberal, naturally I am for that, but one of the interesting points of that Canada has similar gun ownership to the United States, but much less violent crime, and they go over possible reasons, but two that stuck out to me were news coverage focusing on violence and also having a society with strong safety nets, so people were supporting each other, rather than competing with each other.

Well, if our safety nets were inferior to start with, they’re not getting any better, and there is growing resentment of what is in place. I believe that the resentment is largely based on misinterpretation and lies. And greed is an issue.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that additional tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations will create more jobs or improve the economy. Buying into that gives a bad economy, and a bad society, and I do have a problem with that, but it also gives a bunch of bad hearts. I have a worse problem with that. Whatever situation you find yourself in for this life, it is temporary. That heart that you take with you, not so much. That matters. It matters for the enjoyment that you are going to get out of life. It matters for the state of your soul. And it matters to everyone around you, because we are all connected whether you like it or not.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why it matters, part 1

I regret that this may come as a shock to some, but you need to know it—the world is filled with lying liars who lie.

It is possible that once upon a time this mattered less, because people would be called on it, but now that doesn’t happen that much. People say blatantly false things, and other people repeat it and share it and validate it, and there is no reckoning for it.

Let’s look at the Donald Trump thing:


I have since been able to determine that the quote did not originate with Donald Trump, but has been floating around the internet for several years now. This makes sense because the Supreme Court decision was just the last step in a fairly long history for the Affordable Care Act.

My post went over the falsehoods in the quote, which people were not really bothering to correct. In addition, no one is bothering to correct the misquote. It is a false attribution attached to false information that is flying around the Internet, and quite popular.

(It would be reasonable to ask me if I feel guilty about the title of that blog post now, and you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But it’s still true for other reasons, and it has a nice ring. I may just be a bad person.)

The lying is pretty bad, and will be getting much worse soon, as this is a campaign year.

For example, in March there was a Romney ad quoting Obama, making it sound as if he was not confident about the economy, but it was actually Obama quoting a McCain ad. Now there is a different ad where it sounds like the president is giving no credit to business owners because the quote has been so distorted and taken out of context, and there is just no shame in this. People pass around the altered quote and they get all hot and bothered over it, and maybe they wouldn’t like the original quote, but they should at least be deciding on full information.

This is not to say that the other side is innocent. Romney’s “I like to fire people” quote was referring to healthcare choice, and there have been recent references to Romney’s tax plan sending 800,000 jobs overseas, though apparently the initial study was not specific to Romney’s plan, but with similar priorities.

My bias towards the Democrat side could me let this go, because those distortions are closer to the truth than the Romney ones. Actually, “I like firing people” seems really close to being a Freudian slip. However, mainly I want more. I want better. If people disagree with me, that’s okay. I’m a big girl and my self-worth is not caught up in never facing any conflict. I want it to be for real reasons though.

Unfortunately, the lack of regard for the truth is tied in with a lack of regard for other things as well, and it’s leading down a bad road. For example, I just found this article today:

The level of discourse has sunk so low that they are actually blocking efforts to protect workers in a dangerous field. It doesn’t matter that things are getting worse. It doesn’t matter that previous measures worked without destroying the industry. There can’t be any compromise. Generally what gets me upset here is that you have people voting against their own interests, and my mind boggles at the stupidity of it all, but there is actually something even more destructive going on, and I intend to hit that tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Free your mind, and the rest will follow

I’m embarrassed to realize that I left out print media yesterday. (I am also embarrassed that in an earlier post I referred to Bachmann as O’Donnell. I know they’re not the same person. I just find certain similarities.)

Anyway, the omission is not a slam on newspapers in any way. I will hang on to my paper as long as I can. However, for me that is basically the Oregonian. I sometimes grab the Willamette Week or the Portland Tribune if there is a headline that grabs me, but I don’t read any papers on the national scene (unlike Sarah Palin, who reads all of them). I can’t get behind the Wall Street Journal at all. Sometimes I end up reading things from the Post or the Times online, but I don’t make any concerted effort to do so, and I am not really into any of the news magazines.

I will say, though, that I appreciate the calmer tone that comes with print. There is a certain amount of remove that seems to lend itself towards being a little more neutral and less casual. Plus, the letters to the editor section has its ups and downs, but it will never make you weep for humanity the way web comments do.

So, back to things to help you break out of a limited viewpoint. Speaking of bias, my list is pretty much things that I do or have done. I don’t mean to be an egomaniac, but I think it helps illustrate my point. Our thinking is geared towards things in our experience. There are probably things that are really good that can’t come to mind because I have never done them, but these are things that I have done that I think have helped.

Recently I posted about my mission, and that was huge for me. It was also very much a religious thing, which worked for me, but not everyone would want that. I imagine that serving in the Peace Corps or studying abroad would be somewhat similar.

Those are all big time commitments of course, and not open to everyone. Also, they won’t necessarily work. I had a schoolmate who was an exchange student to South Africa and came away convinced that Apartheid was necessary, and that we only got very biased reporting on it here or we would understand. That disturbed me. We weren’t really close enough for me to ask him if he has changed his mind since the end of it did not result in wholesale slaughter of the whites, but maybe. I hope so.

Not everyone can take months to years off to spend abroad, but you can often manage a few weeks, and it is enlightening. When we were in Australia we talked to Australians, but we also talked to Scots, French, Japanese, Belgians, Germans, and Irish. I think there was a family from Hong Kong in one of the groups. So there are those conversations, but there is also watching the television, both the commercials and the shows, and there is shopping in the stores, wandering the streets, and absorbing the atmosphere.

Something that can make travel easier is learning another language, another great way to open your mind. Remember when I was blogging about writing to my family in Italy, and how hard it was to just switch my mind back into Italian? It’s not just the words, but there is a mindset that develops with the language, and you get to understand that better. Actually, studying other languages improved my English as well. The only reason I can use “who” and “whom” correctly is because it clicked in when I was studying “qui” and “que” for French. (The correct use doesn’t always sound right, because of how other people use it, but at least I know.) And of course, studying Spanish is why I was watching Univision.

So now that we have covered my first major in college, let’s get to the second major! I think another great way is studying history. One thing I like about history is that you learn so much about everything else, because geographical terrain and political trends and human psychology and any other discipline you could imagine will pop up at times. The underlying result of that is that you see how it keeps repeating, and you see how we are the same. When you can read something from the 4th century BC, and relate to that person over time and space, how can you not relate to someone in your own time and country?

It’s not that you don’t find anything disturbing about your fellow man when you do this—you totally do—but you find good things too, and are reminded of your own humanity. I’m always going to think that’s important.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Things that might help

“Louise, people in this country aren't interested in details. They don't even trust details. The only thing they trust is headlines” Senator Keeley, The Birdcage

If it is not obvious, I am in another spell where I have not written ahead, so am still playing catch-up, which makes me feel less organized and like the quality is worse. (Though I have knocked many things off my to-do list!) This one seems to be morphing into multiple posts.

My original thought is let’s say that you are feeling like you want to be more informed and open to different points of view, but you are not sure where to start. It’s an interesting question, I thought, but it looks like it might actually be as many as three interesting questions: reasons we don’t engage, ways of getting better information specifically for politics, and also just opening up a mind to other points of view.

I think I am going to start with news. I refer back to the study that found that Fox News viewers are less informed than people who watch no news at all. The best informed were the ones who watched Sunday morning news shows. The speculation was that this was because those shows will generally have the entire show focus on a topic, so it can be explored in more depth. Honestly, it may also be that people who are more informed are more likely to watch those shows, but it’s worth trying out. I have three on the DVR now for investigation. If I find any to be particularly better or worse, I’ll pass that along.

NPR listeners and John Stewart viewers also got better scores. It is saddening that the comedy show keeps viewers better educated than the channel that’s nothing but “news” but I think you have to decide at this point that Fox actually intends to mislead. There is a documentary about that, Outfoxed, that is interesting viewing.

One thing I like about the internet is that while you are there it is easy to look up additional information, but the internet is nonetheless very much a mixed bag in terms of accuracy and balance. Huffington Post, which gives AOL its headlines, has some good articles and some pretty ridiculous ones, but what I really hate about them is how misleading the headlines are. If you just read the headlines and think you know the story, which a lot of people like to do, you are lost.

That’s a big part of the problem right there. There is so much information, with varying degrees of slant, and sorting through it all requires some time and effort. I know many days I don’t even feel like I have the mental energy to care to put in the work. It doesn’t last, but I can see why people would give up.

I would like to put in a plug for Wonkblog, Ezra Klein’s blog on the Washington Post site. Don’t let the “wonk” part put you off. Yes, he is into fine details and charts, but his results are usually quite readable and relatable. (Also, relatively short.)

I don’t watch Rachel Maddow, but I sometimes see clips of her where I am very impressed by her research too. Maybe that’s one thing to look for—someone who does the research, and is using reputable sources, and multiple sources.

One other thought, and this kind of goes into where I think we are going tomorrow, consider watching other news sources. I remember when I was studying Spanish in high school I would watch Univision, and I didn’t get everything because they talked too fast (soap operas were great for being able to get the gist), but they sure did talk about the Contras differently than American broadcasts did, and they did not seem to consider them freedom fighters. Consider sometimes checking with Al Jazeera, maybe, or BBC. And it’s not necessarily that they won’t have their own slant, but still, you get to see a different side.

More thoughts from my weird disordered mind tomorrow, but give me a few more days and we’ll get to comics. After all, it makes sense to let the dust from Comic-con settle before we go there.

Monday, July 16, 2012

How I’ve been lucky

I feel like “blessed” is more accurate than “lucky” for this topic, but it didn’t sound right for the title. I was thinking about how lucky I am to have been able to get to know different types of people, specifically on my mission. I served as a missionary with Laotian refugees in Fresno and Modesto.

I have mentioned working with the Lao before, especially when talking about racial prejudice, because they said that they did not think of us as white, which was sweet, but also a sign that they some preconceived notions about Caucasians that were probably not ideal. That comes from not that many white people getting to know and be known by them. As I hear more stereotyping going on, I think more about the effect on me.

There were many things that could get you into trouble with the Communist government, where you might find yourself as a refugee, and where your only other option was death. If you helped the Americans, of course that was dangerous. Obviously, if you were loyal to the king or the old regime, or related to the king, that was dangerous. Between those, a lot of soldiers were affected. Also if you were educated, that could be a problem. Being Catholic was bad, but also if you worked for the Catholics, that was enough, and getting an education often meant associating with the Catholics, so it all went together. Being rich was not helpful either. I think that covers most of the people I knew.

A lot of them spent time in reeducation camps before escaping. Those were bad. If you were caught trying to escape, you were beheaded right there as a deterrent, but people did still try, and some made it. If you were lucky, you ended up in a refugee camp in Thailand, waiting for some country to take you in.

While I was doing this (1993-1994), I think there was one camp left and it was scheduled to close soon. This is years after the war, and I knew one family who was able to safely go back to Laos and visit relatives, so that should give you some idea of how complicated getting everyone settled was.

It was important to get people out quickly, and you could not always spend a lot of time on teaching them English and getting them settled well. I knew one man who had been a doctor there, but was working security at a meat packing plant here.

Many of them also had health problems after their ordeal. I remember one woman who could not sit up for more than twenty minutes without having horrible headaches due to a back injury. Actually, I am pretty sure that there was always some pain there, but it got a lot worse when she tried staying up. There was another woman (whom I did not meet, but people I worked with did) who had a bullet in her brain and it caused her some perceptual problems that resulted in some real hygiene issues but she was generally very cheerful about them.

There were also emotional issues that they carried with them. Some had post-traumatic stress disorder, some had depression, and there was a weight they carried with them. One woman had to walk with her four young children through the jungle on their way to find the husband and father, and there were mines. Even though they made it safely out, even then, years later, she would still have nightmares about her oldest son stepping on a mine.

I mention this because a lot of them were on welfare or disability of some kind, and it was common for people to just think of them as leeches and as a drain on society.

That was hardly a fair view. First of all, many of them did get schooling, or work through different programs. There was one couple that, if I understood correctly, were making jumpsuits for the prison system in their apartment. There were two sergers and lots and lots of bright orange fabric. There were people who could not get regular work, so they did day labor at farms, or they did their own farming or gardening and fishing to try and supplement what they had.

I’m not saying no one ever made any bad decisions. It was not hard to find groups of men smoking, drinking beer, and playing cards at various times of day. However, Griffin says some interesting things in Black Like Me about how people in despair, with no hope of improvement, will give up and seek pleasure where they can, and yes, that seems to be largely true.

I have been thinking about it largely because of these postings on Facebook like “If you can afford beer and cigarettes, you don’t need food stamps”, and things like that. It goes in with the assumption that these people are just wasting it. I bet if we looked around we would find a lot of people who are not drinking and smoking, and are using food stamps. I know that some people also don’t get very much. Maria had a friend who got $10 a month, which I think basically meant that she could eat ramen every day.

“Oh God, to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust.” (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)

I have had a lot of good associations, besides that, but often they were limited, or where we might have some differences, we had other strong similarities. Here, I was participating in another kind of life. I never even left the country, but there were times where it was like I had. I am a better person for it.

It is really easy to judge others. It’s easy because you can do it in ignorance, and it keeps looking stupider all the time.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Why I am so disappointed with Mitt Romney

I think I have been pretty clear in that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as Mormon. It is quite well known that Mitt Romney has a similar religious background. Because of that, I suppose I expect more of him.

The truth is, we have had two prominent LDS candidates for president, and both have been inferior to their fathers, and neither of them have been people whom I would choose as representative of my faith. I would also rather that no one judges us by Glenn Beck, or any of the Osmonds.

Perhaps the real problem is that becoming famous twists you in weird ways, and that wealth can corrupt you as well. Obviously, I am grateful to be poor and unknown. I should remember how lucky I am more often.

With Romney specifically, the thing is that I know he can do better. He apparently was quite competent with the Olympics, and in Massachusetts he reformed health care in a manner that was quite successful, and did become a national template as he suggested it should. I could totally vote for that Mitt, even though he is a Republican. That Mitt is long gone.

The current Mitt has turned around on everything that was moderate about him. Actually, it was kind of funny because there was a quiz where you had completely opposite statements on five topics, and you had to guess which candidate said them. All ten were from Mitt. That would be so crazy if it were not true.

As it is, Romney just seems to have no core. Was he faking moderation and common sense to gain support in Massachusetts? Is he faking harsh neo-conservatism now to win support from his party? Or is it all fake? Does he truly care about nothing but gaining support?

Now, someone with no actual beliefs except for political expediency would be scary under any circumstances, but he’s active in a church that really asks a lot of its members. Not only are there the meetings and the service and the tithing and the abstaining from alcohol and things, but you are supposed to be really seeking after truth, and it is really easy to just give up and not go if you are not into that. At some point, he should have developed some spine and some passion and it really bothers me that he missed that.

Believe me, I get that it’s nice that he does not seem crazy, something that was lacking in the majority of the Republican slate. Probably his flip-flopping helps with that, because people just don’t believe that he will be as severe as the Republican platform would call for. I think they are wrong, because if he wins in 2012, and wants to keep his party behind him for 2016, Romney will need to be Paul Ryan/Mitch McConnell harsh.

I had blogged in 2008 about my fears that he would turn out to be the Anti-Christ (and other things—the piece was not 100% serious), but I’m taking some comfort in the fact that I don’t think he’s charismatic enough to pull that off. As it is, he’s just kind of embarrassing and a little scary.

To be fair, again, he is the least scary of the options. Imagine Santorum there, not only saying that Kennedy’s saying he would not be swayed by the Pope nauseated him, but saying it when you have someone like Benedict in as the Pope. That’s terrifying.

I will say that when we were coming back from Mexico, in one airport we were watching a Republican debate, and I had to at least find it gratifying that the candidates seemed to be dropping out in order of craziness, except that Santorum really should have dropped out before Huntsman, but that Cain and O’Donnell were already gone seemed promising.

(Of course, we still don’t know Romney’s running mate, or what’s going to happen in November, so I suppose the terror could still be on.)

There are plenty of disturbing things in today’s political environment, and perhaps Romney is a victim of those, in that maybe he does have real values, and he is suppressing them in order to be popular. Just the fact that he can be that tone-deaf and still be politically successful is kind of a testament to how off priorities now. However my personal problem with him is that he should know better, and whether the actual issue is his values or his integrity in upholding those values, he is not fit to be president.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

In sickness and death

I want to go back a little bit to support of the death penalty. The line that I quoted was only part of a paragraph about people who support it. I am now reproducing the paragraph in full:

“ Solicitor Jones was a member of the same Episcopal church as Dorothy Edwards. But he wasn’t looking for Episcopalians, because their church is opposed to the death penalty. Jones wanted Southern Baptists, members of the most conservative church in a conservative region, among the staunchest believers in capital punishment. Get more than four Southern Baptists on the jury, and once your client is convicted, he’s doomed to be sentenced to die, death penalty lawyers say. Whites tend to support the death penalty more than blacks, men more than women, married persons more than singles, wealthy people more than poor people, suburbanites more than urbanites. And individuals who believe in capital punishment are generally more inclined to convict, to believe the police and the prosecutor.” (Anatomy of Injustice, Raymond Bonner, pp 50-51.)

As I indicated, it was the last sentence that really chilled me, but there are some other interesting things there. Generally speaking, people who believe in the death penalty are those at the top. Setting aside the Southern Baptist thing for now, you have white, male, and wealthy. Those are people for whom society has tended to work out pretty well. Maybe that makes it easier for them to believe that the police and the prosecutors, the enforcers of society, have it right. Married versus single may indicate that they are more financially established, or more conformist.

The suburban versus urban surprised me, because out here in the suburbs we are not particularly wealthy, but there may be two factors here. I believe back East it is more of a thing that people who can afford some property, and can afford cars to get to the property, are the ones who move into the suburbs. In the West we have the whole sprawl thing going on, and also poor people are getting priced out of the city by urban renewal, and moving out here. I suspect in the sense used in the book it is still, hey, society works for us, it’s a good thing, surely they wouldn’t be accusing this person of murder if he didn’t deserve it.

Now I want to take this mindset over into healthcare.

Remember, I spent eleven years at Intel, but I think less than two years of that was as an Intel employee. During that time period, the health plan was great. I had a $5000 hospital bill that did not cost me a dime. Yes, I was a good employee for them, but I still have to consider that basically being lucky. I was a really good employee for the various contracting firms too, and none of them had a health plan like that. I know people who are excellent Intel employees now, and they don’t have health care like that. I didn’t even have a monthly premium back then!

I remember sometimes discussing the issue of healthcare back then, and it was a common refrain that if people didn’t like they health plan that their employer offered, they should just look for another job. There was a strong subtext of “I deserve this.”

Well, let’s fast forward a few years—how many of those people are still completely satisfied with their employer offered healthcare, I wonder? I’m a strong believer in demand-side economics, and I promise you, those great perks of the late 90’s were due to a thriving economy where lots of people were hiring, and so employers had to make themselves attractive. Yes, being a good employee was helpful, and gave you more choices, but employers offered those perks because they needed to, not out of the goodness of their hearts or their deep love for you. (Oddly, this all happened before the Bush tax cuts.)

I am truly grateful that I had that good health coverage when I needed it. Even at the times when I had kind of crummy health plans, I was grateful for those. When I was unemployed though, in a down economy, I did what so many others too, couldn’t manage maintenance care, and ended up in an emergency room. I did not personally deserve that anymore than I deserved to have a free hospital stay ten years earlier. A lot of it was due to forces completely outside of my control.

It truly bothers me when people find it so easy to assume that the problem is that other people are lazy. The laziest person I’ve ever known has been pretty steadily employed, actually, as well as one of the most incompetent. (It’s kind of amazing what some management will put up with to avoid admitting that they have made a mistake.)

One of the things I appreciated about Wealth and Our Commonwealth, by Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins, is that they acknowledged that much of their success was possible due to services and opportunities that were provided through the government, ranging from transportation infrastructure to army and police. It’s not that they didn’t work or that things were handed to them, but they realized that their success did not come in a vacuum.

And there are so many places one could jump off from here, but for today, I am stopping.

Friday, July 13, 2012

And that’s when I gave up on the death penalty

What I have noticed in the case of many wrongful convictions (not just where it seems wrong, but where there is enough evidence to get the conviction overturned) is that generally the side of the law and the victim's family never seem to be convinced.

In the case covered in Anatomy of Injustice, the prosecuting DA still thinks he did it. I had also recently read about another case in Texas where DNA found at the scene did not match any of the four people convicted. They were released, but the DA's office was still convinced it was them and was going to look for more evidence to retry them. (If they were found innocent you cannot retry them, but an overturned guilty conviction is fair game.)

There are a lot of examples of this. I guess the best term for it is confirmation bias, and it is something that really worries me--that people get a wrong idea in their head and they will just not push it out, regardless of reason. So what I wanted to know from Bonner was if he had found anything to be effective against this.

He said "no", but he had not really thought of it. With Bonner, his mental training is geared towards the law and justice, and his morals are that the death penalty is wrong, so he is not thinking about that question, and that makes sense. I am geared towards psychology and motivation, and how to get people to be better, and so I have different questions. That's okay.

Marquis answered too, though, and said you could not generalize because he had victims' families who asked for him to not seek the death penalty. That wasn't really my question, so I tried to explain, and he still answered a different question. I gave an example of another wrongful conviction, from a book, A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger. In this case a black man is convicted of the murder of a woman whose home he had worked at earlier in the day. However, she was strangled, and the man who was later arrested as the Boston Strangler had been working a few blocks away that day at the home of the Junger family, which is what personally drew Junger to the case. There were later doubts, which led to the original man, Roy Smith, having his sentence commuted, but he died in prison before he could be released.

Anyway, Junger had originally interviewed the murder victim's daughter, but she later demanded that part be removed from the book, and he complied with that. Despite that, when he came and read at Powells the Multnomah County DA and a victims’ rights group came and disrupted the reading because he still had the audacity to think it was a wrongful conviction, I guess.

This was a good example because Marquis was familiar with all of it. He had reviewed the book and was familiar with the case, and sort of familiar with the group at the reading, though he said they just wanted to ask the author some questions. That's not how the newspaper described it, but okay, fine.

Anyway, Marquis felt like the book was dishonest. As an example of that, he said that Junger wrote what was in the daughter's mind on a specific day in the courtroom, and she wasn't even there, and the thing is, I do not remember the daughter being mentioned. I remember that specifically because of the issue with her wanting her content removed. Also I remember that the book was very frank in that there are some things that are impossible to go back and know. Roy Smith is dead. Albert DiSalvo is dead. Bessie Goldberg is dead. I thought Junger was very balanced and fair. All of that stuck in my mind, because it offended me that they were acting like Junger didn't have a right to write about this story.

I don’t think he Marquis was lying about the book. As a reviewer, maybe he read an early draft, before the excisions were made, if that’s possible, but mainly, I think he was mistaken. Without going back and reading the book again, I can’t say for sure, and maybe I should to that, but in this context, my question was clearly pointless, and I did not want to be derailing things like the people I wrote about yesterday, so I gave up.

Marquis, without answering the question I wanted, certainly illustrated it. His mind was not open. Actually, even with Bonner's book, which he complimented, Marquis never came right out and said that he still thought the guy was guilty, but there were different points that he raised that would lead one to believe so. For example, the way this man, Edward Lee Elmore, got out of prison was that after the most recent conviction was overturned, he entered a plea that is not accepting guilt but not denying it either, and Marquis' point was now that he has a good lawyer, and he would certainly not be sentenced to anything worse than time served, why not go for it and prove innocence? Well, from the point of view of the legal team, the prosecution played dirty three times in a row, and they did not want to risk it again, and maybe Elmore would just like to be out after 28 years in jail.

Marquis gave several examples of people who swore they were innocent and later when DNA testing became possible they were not exonerated. Actually one of his points with the Elmore case was that it was not a capital case, so yes, the a lot of these overturned convictions are ones where the death penalty was not in play anyway. Well, good, but some of these people who have spent thirty years in jail for something they didn’t do might still have some complaints, no matter how grateful they are to be alive.

The funny thing is, I went there not one hundred percent against the death penalty. I do think there are crimes where death is a reasonable punishment. However, I have grave concerns about the way we carry it out, so that while I may not be against it in principle, I tend to be against it in practice, and least how Texas does it.

To be fair, Oregon is pretty good. Very few criminals are even considered for the death penalty, they are usually ones for whom it seems to make sense (I don’t think Fanus should ever have been a death penalty case, but most of them make sense). We have a careful appeals process and give them good lawyers, and really are pretty responsible with it.

Here are the problems. First of all, most states are not like Oregon. Some are awful. Oddly, that seems to be especially true in the South. I do somewhat share the concerns about making society an executioner. Again, it seems that if it can be morally right for people to die, then it follows that it must be possible to for that to happen in a way that does not degrade society, but I don’t know.

For the issues with wrongful conviction, if we focused on abolishing that rather than the death penalty, that would be more useful, because a lot of these horrible stories you hear of people being exonerated after years in jail are not death penalty cases.

Where I came away firmly against it is in the practicality. Oregon spends $3 million on the average capital case, because in a case that serious they want to make sure that they have good lawyers, and that costs more, and then you have the three appeals. Okay, what if we used that money to get better legal representation for the non-capital cases. You know that court-appointed lawyers are not the cream of the crop. And those are things that Marquis feels good about, and I am glad that we are careful about our capital cases, but I'm not sure it's enough to justify it.

I think a large part of the motivation, at least here in Oregon, to be careful with the death penalty, is the knowledge that it would be awful to be wrong. So when I see people unable to accept that maybe someone has been wrong, that just seems like a recipe for disaster. Actually, that trait goes badly with a lot of situations, but where lives are at stake, maybe it’s more. And here is the thing that truly chilled me:

And individuals who believe in capital punishment are generally more inclined to convict, to believe the police and the prosecutor.” (Anatomy of Injustice, p. 51)

One thing that I should make clear is that I truly believe that Marquis is an intelligent man and a good man and he knows the law well. Some of the other things I have been reading about are good people doing horrible things and not seeing any contradiction.

I’ll have to see if I can write coherently about that. In the meanwhile, I guess I just think that maybe there are better crusades out there than one for the right to execute.