Moving Beyond

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I'm still sad, but this movie was a good salve

I've been pretty dang depressed this last week. Losing Pixel has been hard, and when things start to level off into a sense of "normal," I'll run across a clump of her fur between couch cushions or something, or just realize that my big new condo feels really empty without my lovely ball of fur and attitude running around it. It's kind of refreshing in its way, because being depressed when there's a clear, external reason to be depressed is a kind of novelty for people like me that take medication to keep the personal black hole that follows them around at bay. But I am working my way through it. Still procrastinating on some things, but starting to get other things done and putting my mind to positive things. Intermittently.

One coping mechanism this week has been one part lazy/one part distraction/one part mood-enhancer, and that's movies. I've watched a few movies this week. Erik suggested one, People, Places, and Things, about a cartoonist with a fucked-up love life. He thought I'd relate. He was right. It's a nice little movie. I also watched Irreplaceable You, which is about a character dying, which I thought might be good perspective but just turned out to be sad (though Christopher Walken has a fun curmudgeonly supporting role). Also Laggies, about a directionless 30-ish woman who backslides into adolescent habits, which I rather enjoyed. But also some good old reliable "comfort food" movies: Spider-Man Homecoming (as fun as I remembered), Thor: Ragnarok (funnier than I remembered), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (fun, but too dumb/shallow for repeat viewing and more violent than necessary), and tonight, Star Trek Beyond.

I'd watched Beyond once before since it left theaters, and liked it well enough but maybe not as much as I did when I first saw it. This time I give it a lot more credit. Simon Pegg and his writing partner (whose name escapes me at the moment) pulled off something really impressive: They made a movie that has the modern-studio-mandated action set pieces and spectacle that also has a solid Star Trek story. It is much better than the 2009 J.J. Abrams Star Trek and a billion times better than the idiotic mess that was Star Trek Into Darkness. Granted, that's a low bar.

Still, it's a really enjoyable movie. It has its issues—Captain Kirk is really stupid in one critical point, something that could have been avoided with a few lines of dialogue to propel the story/action without making him an idiot—and the Villainous Plot™ has a MacGuffin (two, actually) that doesn't have enough explanation to make any sense. (Oh, and a motorcycle? That's 100+ years old and runs great and has fuel in it? Really? OK, I'll let that one go.) But the villain at his core has a nice backstory (not well-developed enough, but points anyway given the need for ACTION SPECTACLE), the story flows well, our heroes are handled (for the most part) well. And the in-jokes/callbacks/homages are organic and serve the story (unlike in Into Darkness, where whole sections of the movie are poorly done callbacks/recreations there for no reason except to be callbacks). And they're funny. Simon Pegg does subtly funny really well. 

It's a shame it didn't do the box office business its immediate predecessors did. But as Erik has pointed out time and again, a sequel's ticket-selling success is largely based on the quality of the previous movie, not its own. And STID, let's be generous here, sucked. But there may not be a follow-up to this one. Which might be OK. Star Trek is not nearly its best when treated as an action franchise, and that's what Paramount Studios seems to think these movies need to be, and the rumor mill has a possible sequel written or co-written by Quintin Tarantino, of all people. Hard. Pass.

Anyway, Beyond is a fun movie. I liked it (again). And it picked me up a little bit.

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Pixel (4/15/2000 – 8/22/2018)

pixtube

My cat died today, and I am profoundly sad.

People who don't have pets won't understand. Not really. It's a different kind of attachment than you find among people. Not better or worse, but unique. At least that's been my experience, and I think other pet guardians will back me up on that. But regardless of whether non-pet people get it or not, this is its own kind of hellish grief; profoundly sad will have to do as a descriptor.

It was semi-unexpected. Pixel had been visibly ill for about six weeks and her condition had deteriorated to the point that I knew her days were numbered, but today's visit to the vet wasn't supposed to be the end.

PixelBag
Bags: the ultimate fortress

We don't know for sure, but it's likely that Pixel had lung cancer. There was an indeterminate something on her x-rays, and finding out for sure what it was seemed like a very expensive academic exercise; if it was Bad Cancer, there wasn't anything we could realistically do about it, and if it was something else, we were already doing what there was to do. Meanwhile, her lungs had begun to fill with fluid. The vet drained what she could, but initially it wasn't manifesting outwardly as a big deal, just an occasional cough, so we went about our lives while keeping an eye on things. A few weeks later, Pix went from seemingly OK to scarily very much not OK overnight and we went back to the vet. They did another chest tap and drained enough fluid from her little lungs to fill half a standard soda can. Test results on the fluid ruled out a few things, but didn't give us much useful diagnostic info.

Pixel
Baby Pix

After that tap, Pix was so much better. Not her old self, but back to near-normal behavior for a geriatric kitty. That lasted a couple of days. The third day she had some mild decline, but it wasn't immediately worrisome. The fourth day she was obviously miserable and by the fifth she was putting all her energy into breathing. Today was day six, and we went in hoping to do another fluid drain to give her some comfort for a couple of days, at least, during which I would make The Tough Decision about what to do next. But she wasn't strong enough to handle another drain, which was not a variable I had anticipated.

They told me the x-ray-then-drainage procedure would take a couple of hours and I should check in if I didn't hear from them by 1:00. They called me around 11 to tell me she didn't survive the tap.


"This little one's not worth the effort..."

It wasn't supposed to be today.

We were supposed to get a few more days together.

I fully expected to pick her up and take her home and she'd feel better tomorrow.

I know she was scared. She was always scared when we'd go to the vet, even for routine exams. She was so scared on exam days that a couple of times she peed on me, another she peed on Dr. S. She'd cower in a corner when she didn't need to be on the table. She was terrified of the vet clinic even under good circumstances, and I left her there without me this morning, and I know she was terrified and that makes me even sadder and makes me feel guilty even though I know there's no rational reason to feel guilt. I did everything I could think of to do right by my special feline friend. But she was still scared, and that makes me cry.

Pix in box
Master of all she surveys

I am trying to see the big picture. That is, I'm trying to take some comfort in the fact that, if she had to go down by cancer/illness, this was pretty much the best way that could go—a quick transition from no appreciable symptoms (that we knew about) to the end of the line in just a few weeks, no long and drawn out period of misery. I'm also trying to keep in mind that for 18.1 of her 18.35 years of life she lived happily with me and her kitty roomies—first I-Chaya, then Bansei—and that even in her last night, when I stayed up throughout the night with her to lend whatever comfort my being nearby would bring, she still mustered up a purr for me.

I went through a series of cats when I was a kid. My pets seemed to have the lifespan of the average Spinal Tap drummer. That changed when I got Pixel's predecessor when I was 13; she broke the curse and lived to be 17 before dying of complications from hypothyroidism, aided by incompetent veterinary practice (whole 'nother story). I-Chaya entered the picture about five years later and lived to be 15½; she died of cancer too. Pixel is now the record-holder, and I hope Bansei breaks it and I hope whatever kitty I end up adopting next will break that mark.


From the long-ago time of land lines

Because I know I will. Adopt another one. Probably soon. Maybe that's a little crazy, because when I adopt one I know I'm signing up for another day like this someday. Not precisely like this, of course, but close enough. And days like this are awful. They hurt. A lot. But the reason days like this are so awful is that all the days and years beforehand are made richer and better by loving and being loved back by a loyal feline friend.

My cats have meant so much to me throughout my life. Even the short-timers, but especially the ones that got full lives. Two in particular were real symbiotic bonds, I think, where cat and human shared a particularly strong attachment to each other. Pixel was the second one.

The principle of conservation of energy demands that something happen to a creature's life-essence after death. I don't know what. Nobody does. But physics tells us it can't just disappear, it becomes something else. Maybe something mundane, maybe something more in the realm of what my dad's husband might call "woo-woo cosmic stuff." Either way, I hope Pixel is in some way aware that her brief time suffering is over. And that her human loved her very much, and did everything in his power to keep her healthy and happy.

I miss you so much, ピクシュル-chan. You made my life better. I'd like to think you thought I made yours better too.

Pixel080518

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Powerless Panic

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So, yeah, I've neglected the poor blog. No posts here since Discovery was on and I had to nerd out on that. What can I say, there's been a lot going on.

I bought a condo. I moved (still unpacking). Went to California for a bit. Got sick for a bit.

And I've been running the baseball site GrandSalami.net as a way of keeping up the brand and maintaining some tenuous connection to what had been my favorite client gig until Grand Salami magazine stopped publishing last fall; I guess most of my writing has been dedicated to that online outlet for a while. (Aside: It would be really great if I had some help over there. It isn't making any money so far, but in order for it to ever make any it needs more traffic, which means more content, which means either I devote even more time to a one-man show over there or some other writers help me out. It's baseball! The Mariners are having their best year in ages, surely people have opinions to share. Doesn't have to be the Mariners, necessarily, any baseball-related writing would be welcome. I can't pay yet, but contributions will be greatly appreciated nonetheless.)

But that doesn't mean there hasn't been lots I've wanted to say. Because the country is going to shit.

I mean, it's been headed there for a while now. Depending on your calculus, it started November 8th, 2016, or when Cheeto Hitler first announced his candidacy, or in 1980 when Ronald Reagan conned Republicans into believing in trickle-down economics and got elected. Whichever period you point to, the descent into madness has accelerated to superluminal speeds this year.

The elections of Barack Obama gave me hope, and not just as a campaign slogan. After two presidential elections that I remain convinced were "won" by cheating (see: Florida 2000, Ohio 2004), the country actually showed up to vote and surpassed whatever GOP shenanigans were in place and did it handily. Twice. But I hadn't counted on the backlash being quite so forceful.

That backlash gave us the Tea Party and a rise of attitudes espousing (overtly or covertly) racism and jingoism and fear of equity. And a degree of that was to be expected; having an African-American president was bound to rile up the bigot brigade. What I and apparently a lot of other people underestimated was the size of that brigade and the degree to which that entrenched, ingrained hatred and fear would overwhelm reason and principle.

Even when we witnessed this abhorrent behavior all through the Obama years, both at street level and where it hurt society writ large (talking to you, Mitch McConnell, you criminal sleazebucket), it didn't register how truly threatening and pernicious the cancer of small minds was. The carcinogen had already taken root and metastasized all through the Republican party. That was evident all the way back to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and seen daily with McConnell, Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachman, et.al. Yet the significance still didn't penetrate through our illusion of safety, because we believed—not even with conscious thought, we simply took for granted—that the laws and egalitarian principles of the United States, however lacking in certain areas, were strong and there to protect us.

But the cancer of small minds ultimately gave us President von Clownstick. And he and his Russian masters will—if not stopped very, very soon—literally destroy those laws and principles and then all bets are off. It is really and truly time, if not to panic, then to scream loudly and often.

There's a problem with that, though, and it's a problem the cancer-ridden Republican party has deliberately created and nurtured with either long-term calculated planning or dumb luck. They've peppered the media and culture for years with enough whacko conspiracy theories and tin-foil-hat level nutjobbery—Alex Jones, birtherism, Whitewater murder stories, "pizzagate," etc., etc.—that we have two major problems: One, society is numb to the absurdity of prominent figures and public officials saying ridiculously false things, from the more abstract tax-cuts-will-pay-for-themselves to the visceral everyone-seeking-asylum-is-from-MS13, and thus presenting such poses no consequence to the liar; and two, the crazy from the political right was delivered in ways designed to stir fear, to panic the listener, and was always, of course, too stupid to take seriously and deserved to be mocked. Because of that, when the political left, now, is correctly saying what I'm saying here, that we're in severe danger of descending into fascism because of what the Trump Administration is doing, it presents in a similar fashion—not because we want to instill fear and cause panic with what we say, but because we are afraid and panicked because of what the right-wingers have done. But that's not a distinction that penetrates to many. Thanks to Republican manipulation and deliberate spread of the cancer, we live in a society in which false equivalences are accepted.

And I don't know what to do about it.

I was watching Bill Maher's show tonight. He had Michael Moore on at the tail end of the show and Ben Shapiro on at the beginning. Shapiro demonstrated how the small-mind cancer had already ravaged his brain as he did ethical contortions to justify support for Trump, even while claiming to object to some of the things Trump has done. He has lost his ability to reason because the fear cancer has overwhelmed the logic center of his brain and thus he could be fine with the Hail Hydra horror show of Trump because he got a tax cut and an oligarch on the Supreme Court with another on the way. Moore, on the other hand, was justifiably panicked about our slide into dictatorship but was presenting like a crazy person, in much the same way Republican crazies went on about their baseless fever dreams that Barack Obama was going to proclaim Sharia law and melt down everyone's guns.

The thing is, Moore is essentially right. But he isn't going to reach anyone not already there with him that way. Shapiro is utterly wrong, but can claim "civility" and look more "reasonable" to many with his calmly stated support for an unabashedly offensive criminal bigot who is at this moment building internment camps for brown people. Because the cancer of small minds is everywhere now.

A point made repeatedly on the show was that Democrats must "play hardball" and push back as hard as Republicans have historically done. I get that. I agree with it in many circumstances. But how it's done is important. Yelling just as loudly isn't going to do the trick. And it doesn't address the basis of that particular complaint. Democrats have not pushed as hard or been as stubbornly assholish as Republicans because of a fundamental difference in makeup: Democrats respect the opinions of other people enough to allow for compromise, and respect rules, laws, and traditions enough to work within them. Republicans have no empathy or respect for anyone else and are happy to subvert rules, laws, and traditions if they become inconvenient. (And I'm talking about modern Republicans here, the 21st century models. Go back to even the end of the '90s and there were still plenty of human beings in the party that hadn't been overtaken by the cancer yet, along with the true scumbags like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani that have always been there.)

For all the whining last week about "civility" after Sarah Huckabee Sanders Thurmond Gohmert was asked to leave a restaurant, what's lost in the story is that she was asked to leave, politely and with great civility, because she is a vile individual doing the bidding of a much more vile and much more powerful threat to democracy. What's the response been from these alleged defenders of civilized behavior? Death threats to the restaurateur. Vandalism at establishments with similar names. Hypocrisy is a prerequisite for the modern Republican party and a necessity in Trump support, so none of that is surprising, but it illustrates the problem. One side is basically respectful, the other side isn't.

I've always held to the belief that one cannot succumb to the level of one's enemy. My ethical standards reflect Mr. Spock and Spider-Man: the bad guys kill people, we don't. In this case, the bad guys get their way with intimidation and manipulation and violence. The good guys are better than that and are above such tactics.

But this is a "desperate times" situation. Do we need desperate measures? Do they need to be as vicious as the Trumpers'? Are there still enough people in this country with the ability and means to stop this fall of American civilization before it's too late without resorting to dubious tactics?

Without such desperate measures, all we have left to work with is political pressure. And if the Trumpers have their way, that won't matter much longer. As much pressure as we can muster has to be applied to Senators who need convincing to prevent this criminal president from stacking a Supreme Court that will surely be asked to rule on his own conduct. To congresspeople and other officials to oppose and act against the incarceration of legal asylum-seekers. To media publishers who regurgitate propaganda and fail to communicate the severity of the current government's un-American behavior and the blatancy of its seemingly boundless dishonesty.

It just doesn't seem to be enough. And I don't know what else to do.

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Discovery Thoughts

NCC1031
So...is it good?

When it premiered in September, I wondered if Star Trek: Discovery would end up being good Star Trek, or just good science-fiction? Due to the serialized nature of the new show, it wasn't obvious from the pilot, or even the first half of the season, if we were seeing something that fit within the overall Trek concept or something that was taking way too many liberties in the interest of being "fresh" or "appealing to the masses." Now that we've completed the first season, I can say, yeah, this is Star Trek. Even pretty decent Star Trek.

It's not without flaws, and I don't mean the sort of things I complained about in September. Mostly, anyway. It's a much less egregious form of the problem with the recent JJ Abrams movies, which is simply lazy writing. (There's a common element between those with executive producer Alex Kurtzman, who is also listed as "co-creator"; not saying it's necessarily his fault—especially since screenwriter Bob Orci was the prime screwup on those films—just noting the connection.) There are plot points that either don't make a lot of sense or are just way too convenient, plus fairly obvious alternatives that would have made for stronger storytelling. TV constraints might factor into this—not budgetary, as Discovery seems to have everything it wants there, but available time, as in, "there are only so many screen-minutes we have available to us." But the streaming model might take most of those away, so perhaps allowing for time constraints is too generous.

Take the season finale episode, for instance. (SPOILERS AHEAD, proceed at your own risk.)


See full post: "Discovery Thoughts"...

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Occam's Razor Applies to Coding, Too

In the previous post I mentioned temporarily frakking up the comments here aboard StarshipTim.com, done while testing a feature I was putting together for a different project, and thought that since I'd solved the issue over there, fixing it over here would take all of five minutes.

Three nights later, I finally have it working. I still don't know quite why it broke in the first place; a compatibility issue with PHP versions and software updates and associated whooziwhatsises, to be sure, but specifically...still beats me.

However, I still could have fixed it in maybe half an hour instead of three days if I'd remembered the Holmesian credo to respect the simpler solution in the face of more complicated ones. I wanted my code to work within the bounds of nested PHP and MySql tables and cooperate with the database-oriented CMS. But the conflicts were making me tear my hair out (which is thinning enough on its own, thank you very much) and it finally occurred to me that I could accomplish the same goal with two lines of Javascript.

If you don't need the whiz-bang goodies and fancy whatsises, then—revelation—you don't have to use them. Go figure.

Anyway, the comments work now.

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The More You Overthink the Plumbing...

I've been spending a lot of time over the past couple of weeks delving more deeply into web dev stuff, creating some site guts that can be offered as "ready-made" sites that might compete ever so slightly with the Squarespaces and Wibblys of the world. (I hate those guys. I hate those guys so much. They steal potential clients with their marketing and phony promises of "low cost" sites that are only low cost until you've paid them for a few months, and then you have to keep paying them every month for the life of your site. After a year's worth of monthlies you'd have spent more than you would have if you just paid me to build you something custom up front.)

Anyway, in so doing, I've used StarshipTim.com as a guinea pig when I've needed to test something out in a live setting and occasionally in doing so I frak something up.

Right now the comments are frakked. Oops.

I've solved the problem on the dev side, but you know what, I'm tired and I choose to let it be for now and fix it here later. Not like I get many comments here anyway, it's just a matter of professional pride. All must work. And it will, just not tonight.

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It Was a Different Time

BHO
Those were the days...

I'm a little late to the party on this, but I just tonight watched David Letterman's new Netflix episode interviewing Barack Obama. It was kind of refreshing, really, to remember that it wasn't so long ago that we didn't live in the clown-car universe of the Trumpster fire--it reinforced the idea that we could one day live again in the reality-based community.

Dave closed the show by telling Barack that, even though he was taught to respect the office of the President no matter who holds it, that he, Barack Obama, is the first person to be President that he genuinely and wholly respected. I don't quite echo that as I retain a great affection/admiration for Jimmy Carter, and despite Carter's flaws (micromanagement, difficulty communicating to the masses), I respect him fully. But Barack Obama is definitely the only other one of my lifetime and maybe further back than that (who else? Lincoln, one would think, at least, but even FDR has internment camps to answer for).

The fact that we went from one of the best Presidents in the history of time to the absolute worst overnight--or, orvernoon, if you want to get technical--might turn out to actually be a good thing. The extra shock to the system, switching from extreme to extreme, might give the added impetus necessary for us to enact protective reforms to prevent Trump 2.0. Once he's gone, assuming there's still a USA then, many of the norms we've taken for granted as a society need to be codified into law, and new laws addressing one of the points Obama made in this interview--that ours is the only advanced democracy on Earth that actively discourages voter participation--need swift enactment.

If we'd gone from Bush to our current nightmare administration, the shock value wouldn't be as great. We'd be in worse shape, of course, as we'd have started the nightmare from an already-low point, but we might have been more complacent.

(On the other hand, we wouldn't have gone from GWB to DJT nonstop because the existence of a non-white POTUS was a catalyst for much of the DJT cult in the first place. Still, hopefully you take my meaning.)

Regardless, the interview is great and worth an hour of your time. Check it out.

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Abuses of the Department of Justice by Congress

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Congressman Devin Nunes, R-Donald Trump's colon

So, the memo was released. I read it. I’ve not heard any news about it today yet, but I sure heard all the hype ahead of time that Republicans and Fox “News” have been spewing. I was concerned that it would be so much cherry-picked information and half-truth nuggets about the FISA warrant process in general and Carter Page in particular, with so many key omissions and maybe some outright BS added in for fun, that the lemmings that watch Fox “News” and listen to Alex Jones would be so convinced of a nefarious “deep state” oppression of poor, poor Donald Trump that it would spread to mainstream media outlets and actually gain traction with the public.

It still might; I mean, Americans can be pretty damn stupid. Trump’s approval ratings actually went up after his apocalyptic State of the Union speech that announced zero policy or agenda items and stoked fear of immigrants with bullshit about how brown people are coming to kill your children.

But the memo itself? It ain’t all that. If one actually reads it fully—and, you know, knows words, the best words or even some words—it actually undermines the Trumpster brigade’s claims.

It’s also full of shit, of course, no doubt with the intention of confusing and distracting from the big picture by giving us other things to refute and argue about. Even if you allow the title—“Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” which itself implies a conclusion not found—it chooses not to be subtle in propagandizing.

Referring in section 1) to the Steele Dossier as compiled “on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign” omits the fact that before anyone associated with the DNC was involved it was started by and funded by the Washington Free Beacon on behalf of Republicans. It goes on to allege “political origins” of the dossier—which may be true, but those origins were not from the DNC or any Democrats—and claims that Christopher Steele was “working on behalf of—and paid by—the DNC and Clinton campaign,” which is utter bullshit.

It goes on in section 2) and 3) to attempt discreditation of Steele himself, alleging violations of protocol and suggesting that his “desperation” that Trump not become President was the source of, rather than result from, his findings while investigating Trump. Section 4) characterizes the dossier as known to be “salacious and unverified” (portions have since been verified) with the implication that those terms somehow mean “incorrect,” which they do not, and reiterates the suggestion that Steele fabricated his findings due to a pre-existing political agenda. Section 5) ties in the “scandal” of the Pete Strzok/Lisa Page text messages that were critical of Trump (the memo makes no mention of the fact that these messages were also critical of Clinton, Sanders, other Republicans, other Democrats, and evidenced no clear preference for any one person or candidate; nor does it mention that Strzok was removed from the investigation when these text were found, lest there be any appearance of bias), but to do so has to acknowledge that the investigation that the Carter Page FISA warrant was a part of actually originated with another Trump staffer, George Papadopoulos, in July 2016. The memo begins with stating that the issue at hand is the October 2016 FISA warrant, which is the date of a renewal of an already existing warrant to surveil Page.

The thing is, none of the bullshit matters.

In terms of factual, relevant information that shows an improper granting of a FISA warrant or other abuse of power, the memo has exactly zero content.

The origins of the Steele Dossier might have relevance if it were shown to be false, but to date nothing in it has been disproven and several items have been verified. Christopher Steele and his agenda are not the issue, the issue is whether or not Trump staffers (in this case Carter Page and Papadopoulos) are acting as agents of a hostile foreign government. Probable cause had to be shown at each renewal of the warrant, and the memo itself describes the Steele Dossier as “part of” the warrant application. This means that there was other evidence in addition to Steele’s findings that went to establishing probable cause. Nothing in the memo even suggests that any item within the dossier is inaccurate, it simply impugns the investigator. It also admits that at the time of the initial FISA warrant on Page that examination of the Steele Dossier was “in its infancy,” meaning it would not have had much bearing on whether or not to grant the warrant, and that even then it was “minimally corroborated,” meaning that what little they had examined had been corroborated.

Devin Nunes, probably with help from the White House, concocted this document for political reasons only, to attempt to paint Christopher Steele as a partisan who fabricated his dossier because of a hatred of Trump, rather than a concerned investigator who developed a fear of Trump because of what he found while compiling the dossier. It is supposed to be a document that shows “abuses” by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but gives no evidence of any kind that the FISC issued a warrant improperly.

No careful reading of this memo can lead to conclusions other than motives of purely partisan obfuscation and distraction by someone with something to hide.

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STS-51L

cghallenger
Space Shuttle Challenger - 1/28/86

As a futurist/sci-fi nerd kid, there were two ways one could've gone when it came to following the space program: rapt attention and obsessive cataloging of every development and mission, or a blasé acceptance of its ordinariness and general disappointment in the lack of "real" progress in every development and mission. By the '80s, I was in the latter camp.

In late 1985, when I was 16, things at my school were a little bit space-happy because the principal, Sr. Judy (yes, my school was run by nuns, though they were rather unconventional nuns), had applied to and was a finalist for the teacher-in-space project. She had a shot at being on the January '86 space-shuttle flight (she would ultimately lose out to Christa McAuliffe). So it became a thing, lots of NASA-based stuff being taught and a mock space shuttle was built for students to go on "missions," which would parallel actual shuttle missions and approximate some of the astronauts' experiments and other educational goodness as well as give the experience of living in a confined space for days, just like the astronauts—except for the pesky gravity, which kind of ruined a lot of the approximation stuff, but still it was a great thing.

I, however, was in some ways already living in the future, being a sci-fi nerd and Star Trek expert, and was even teaching a course on Star Trek to my fellow high-schoolers (based on a college course I read about that tackled philosophical and scientific questions and issues presented in the episodes). Space shuttles were old hat. Primitive, even. Wake me when there's warp drive.

So, on the morning of January 28, 1986, while most of the school was gathered around a TV and a "crew" was in the mock space shuttle, monitoring the launch of STS-51L, I wasn't with them. I was in a smaller room, with a group of a dozen or so others, introducing Episode 5, "The Enemy Within," ready to engage in a discussion on the makeup of personality, whether traits are inherently "good" or "evil," and whether one needs the unpleasant elements of humanity to be a functioning whole person.

Just as the transporter malfunctioned and split Captain Kirk into two people, someone burst into the room and said "the shuttle blew up."

It was a stark reminder that this old-hat, primitive stuff was still, in our real world of the 1980s, the frontier.

We abandoned the Enterprise for the day and I spent the next several hours doing what I could to improve the TV reception and follow along while the school debated whether or not to continue the mock shuttle mission (they did) and ponder Sr. Judy's good fortune at not being chosen for Teacher in Space. Also figuring out what O-rings were and trying to fathom why we depend on such fragile materials for things like a spacecraft.

Anyway, Challenger is in some ways my generation's "where were you when Kennedy was shot" moment; it arguably stalled NASA and set back space exploration for years, and remains a potent moment in personal history.

So. Here's to the crew of STS-51L. May we keep on exploring and advancing, and risking, out into the big black, boldly going where humans have yet to go.

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Cognitive Competence

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So, the "President"'s doctor says Trump's cognitive ability is fine and there's no reason to believe he's suffering any kind of decline or dementia.

I have no trouble believing that.

As much as it might be in some weird way comforting to think that President VonClownstick is a demented old man and that's why he says and does the horrible things he says and does, there's no reason to think so. It'd be one thing if there had been an observed change in his behavior, but aside from Michael Wolff's observation in the Fire and Fury book that he's taken to repeating himself more often than he had been previously, I don't know of any. He's been this same sort of racist blowhard misogynist ignoramus moron the whole time he's been a public figure. Presumably before that, too.

He's completely compos mentis. He may be (and is) a narcissistic, vain, incredibly insecure egomaniac; he might be (and is) a bigoted, mean, willfully ignorant sociopath; he may be (and is) a weak-willed, greedy, and fundamentally cruel fool whose lack of intellect and dearth of knowledge makes him an easily-manipulated danger to all of humanity; but he's perfectly sane.

What I do have some trouble believing is that the man weighs only 236 pounds. That rings about as true as the back of Terry Forster's baseball card.

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The New Normal

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The avalanche of crap coming from the White House has been impossible to keep up with. There's just too much. Every day brings news of a new outrage from President VonClownstick or one of his toadies. If it's not the "shocking" racist statement about immigrants form "shithole countries" (this shocks no one who has been paying attention, that's who this idiot is), it's the neverending stream of lies coming from Sarah Huckabee Sanders' press briefings or tweets that parrot Fox News and cause national security officials to go into frenzied damage-control spasms. And that's just the "big" stuff.

Rachel Maddow did an exceptional "A" block the other evening that pretty well covered my feelings on the subject; there is just SO MUCH in terms of outrageous behavior, bad policy, overt meanness, and basic incompetence and stupidity coming out of 1600 Penn. that we're numb to it. It takes the exceptionally salacious or brutal to be given its proper reaction and attention, otherwise it's just Trump being Trump and so much yadda yadda yadda.

We humans only have so much bandwidth to devote to keeping up with the details of this crisis in history, but even if we don't pay strict attention to the yadda yadda of it, we have to remember that's what it is. Life keeps on chugging forward day by day, but we are living through a pivotal period in history that demands attention—as much as we can bring ourselves to give it, anyway.

 

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New Year, New Post

2018

I don't generally do well with the whole New Years resolution thing. Like a lot of people, if I make any at all, they tend to get followed for a few days or weeks and then fall by the wayside. Last year I made some; nearly all of them didn't take. (I did make the cabinets, though. This year I need to make some more, slightly different ones.)

This orbit, my thoughts are similar to last—fear and trepidation from the Trumpster fire at 1600 Penn., anxiety and impatience about my housing situation, dissatisfaction with personal stuff—and I could almost copy and paste last year's post here without much tweaking and it'd be just as appropriate to the moment.

But let's go through the exercise, just for the hell of it. So, Things I Would Like to Do Going Forward in This the Year 2018:

  • Get back to sketching. This is one from last year that failed pretty spectacularly.
  • Resolve the house issue. This is not entirely under my control, there's a big element that depends on the real estate market, but I would like to think that in a year's time I will be living in a different domicile. If nothing else, for the satisfaction of telling my landlord what I think of his 25% rent hikes. This issue has been something of an education this past year, as the already-tight Seattle market has gotten even more ridiculously expensive and choices even more sparse. My primary motivation for wanting to buy a home had been to ensure I don't get financially forced out of the city, but I'm starting to concede that I may have to do just that. Goddamn Amazon and other outfits bringing more and more people with money to burn into town are really screwing the rest of us as housing prices and rents keep skyrocketing. I've been seriously considering homes in Shoreline and less-seriously considering places even further out just because that's where they're for sale at asking prices that I can afford. It's depressing. I'd put Tacoma in the realm of possibilities if it didn't seem like it'd make my existence even more isolated living down there; the options seem to be a lot more plentiful there, but it would genuinely feel like a defeat if I left Seattle.
  • Grow my business—not a lot, just some. Enough to make up for the loss of clientele that have gone out of business in 2017. To that end, I'm working on some ideas for ways to appeal to folks that aren't rolling in dough, but it'd be better to land more clients that actually have the means to pay for custom work.
  • The old standby: More exercise. I've been a sedentary lump more often than I'd like to admit lately. Walk and/or ride the bike with some regularity, even when I don't have anywhere to necessarily go.
  • Once again, do better with the blog. How is it I don't have anything to say? C'mon, son. Even if it's nonsense about TV and comics, surely I can fill a post now and again that's reasonably interesting to, well, me if no one else.

The larger macro picture of the world promises to be plenty interesting, of course, and here's hoping we all survive it. Everyone—at least, ever American—make sure your voter registration is up to date and be ready to fight when the corrupt Republican party tries to rig another set of elections. 

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