Friday, May 18, 2018

If This Goes On - II

My boy!

Hey! Before you dig in, did you know that subscribers to my Patreon can now read Galaxy of Zeroes every week in the virtual pages of The Hurting Gazette? 

The fourth issue is now available through my Patreon for subscribers. The double-sized premiere issue, featuring “The First Star Wars Essay,” is still available free here.

Thank you for reading!


(Spoilers ahead for the final season of Rebels)

So let’s talk about the Police.

It’s not Sting’s fault I’ll never again hear “Fields of Gold” without remembering that, and it’s really not Sting’s fault that I wrote it down for you to read. But now you know, and you’re welcome. 

Of course Kanan had to die. That’s how these things work. He would have been a perfect teacher for Luke, especially given his lack of an emotional connection to Anakin. But we’ve already seen A New Hope and it doesn’t end with Kanan Jarrus introducing himself to Luke and saying, “I hear you’re in need of an experienced teacher.”

I don’t mean law enforcement – hah, that’s a conversation for another time. Did you know my mom worked in law in enforcement when I was growing up? Meant I grew up without a lot of euphemism between me and what people with badges do when they think the only people watching are other people with badges. 

No, I mean the Police as in Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland. Those guys. I know. Yawn. 

What the “conservatives” who rejoice at the death of euphemism fail to account for is that “politically correct” euphemism at this late date does not exist to shield the feelings of liberals but to allow Republicans to maintain rhetorical distance from their own ideas. It’s for their protection. Without prophylactic euphemism American conservatives are left in the awkward position of having to tell the truth about what they believe. Some of them seem to think that’s a winning strategy, bless their hearts. 

Kanan’s first, or “Basic,” ability, is called “Disarming Strike.” When fully geared it reads:

Deal physical damage to target enemy and inflict Offense Down until the start of Kanan’s next turn. If this attack scores a Critical Hit, this effect can’t be Resisted. This ability gains +15% Critical Chance for each ally under full Health. 

What does that mean? Kanan’s basic ability isn’t very strong, for one. But he does (sometimes, if they don’t dodge) land a debuff – in this case, “Offense Down” – which significantly weakens a character’s offensive capabilities. Additionally the attack is more likely to hit and apply the debuff if his teammates have been weakened. 

It takes a great deal of time to type out how all this works, when all that I posted above happens in the blink of an eye. The developers have worked hard to make all these little tiny effects add up to something that feels like a remarkably character-driven attack. Kanan doesn’t usually hit for much but he gets stronger and does more damage when his teammates are hurt. No better way to illustrate how this guy works in one gesture.  

A while back I tried my hand at writing about politics.

Forgive me if my work seems overly moral. Considering the state of the world I regard it as a necessary corrective. It seems so basic, so elementary, to need to say that it’s important to be good, and to remember that there is a big fucking difference in this world between treating other people well and treating other people poorly. Grown adults really don’t like to talk about that. That’s why we must. Anything other than real invective only masks the severity of the disconnect between euphemism and atrocity. We become better versions of ourselves by helping the people around us, and by fighting for the truth in our lives and in our world. How is that a hard concept to understand? 

The people on TV with armloads of qualifications sound extraordinarily smart all the while being extraordinarily wrong. I don’t see value in making predictions that will be proven false by events. And they will. Absolutely nothing that has unfolded over the last two years has gone according to anyone’s plan.

The Prequels were built around the thesis that the Jedi were very unhappy people. They only thought they understood a situation for which they were completely unprepared. Kanan’s training was interrupted by Order 66. The Jedi were destroyed when he was still Padawan, and instead of the Trials he completed his education by learning how to be a smuggler and an outlaw. Living the best he could in the shadow of the colossal failure of the Jedi. He knew he could never give Ezra the training he had missed. But he also knew that the Jedi had died for a reason, and that if they were going to survive they were going to need to change. He could chart a different course. That meant potentially even getting married – but you know that old song and dance. The moment it seemed like he might get to live happily ever after was always going to be the moment right before his number came up. One week left until retirement, time to die!

The older I get the less tolerance I have for euphemism. Euphemism is the means by which power launders its consequences. Much of the political discourse in the past few years has been dominated by what happens when political discourse is decentralized. A decentralized political culture is one that has less ability to police euphemism: you could see the fissures burst when Trump was rewarded for breaking euphemism within the Republican caucus. 

I’m almost done gearing Kanan. He only has two gear slots to fill and then he’s done. (At least until the next time they raise the level cap!) I spend a lot of time describing parts of a game that most of my readers will never play. Now it’s time to walk you through what Kanan does within the game. 

Funny thing is, we did sort of succeed for at least a little while in making it socially unacceptable to be a bigot in public, in many places. Then they got clever and come up with new euphemisms. They learned how to mouth the words to the “diversity” cant all the while destroying it from inside out. Euphemisms worked for a while – compassionate conservatism had a good run, that was a big one. Euphemism let the center off the hook. They got to feel like they had “civilized” the revanchist conservatives by helping them see the error of their ways through moral suasion. Amazingly that somehow didn’t take quite like you’d have thought. The people who lost the 2016 election were literally unable to conceptualize the existence of a world where they could lose to such a patently unqualified candidate. That election doesn’t make any sense if your worldview is predicated on believing that bigotry is ignorance and therefore will go away if you “treat” it with education. The only way to treat it to recognize that it’s not a symptom of ignorance but a manifestation and inflammation of existing power relations. 

The reasons I disliked Kanan were good reasons to dislike him. He was a bit paranoid, defensive, kind of a jerk. He didn’t know how to do what he knew he had to do – therefore it was satisfying to see the character learn from his mistakes and grow into a wiser, more rounded, and effective person. It’s a good message for Star Wars, where so many stories are devoted to the consequences of people either failing to learn from past mistakes, or worse, understanding the past and deliberately choosing to do further wrong. Kanan was someone who was adamant about not being ready to be a teacher, and honest with the people in his life about what he saw as his weaknesses. I give Rebels credit for showing him grow out of his early self-doubt in a way that actually did seem genuinely felt. 

The people who run the party and the people who vote for the party on the right had a big disconnect. A few of the people in charge seem like they were starting to believe the euphemisms, not perhaps very convincingly, but just enough to be useful shields for the big money. A few of them, to be fair, genuinely seemed shocked to find out that the conservative “principles” for which they had fought for years were simply fronts for bigotry and greed, ways to launder authoritarian white supremacist fervor and evangelical fear into guaranteed voting blocs. (Also perpetually shocked – shocked! – to find gambling is going on in here.) The people who pull the lever, though, they never forgot what those words really meant. Eventually that bill was going to come due one way or another. As soon as the reactionary electorate felt the wind at their backs they abandoned all pretense. 

It felt healthy to spend some time with music I hadn’t listened to for any amount of time since I was a small child – that’s when the Police broke up. My parents loved those five albums. Then they went away, Sting did Dune (which is another essay entirely, a very long essay that I don’t think I’m probably going to write this decade), and he ultimately came back to music without the other two and completely bereft of interest. I remember specifically a real conversation between my mother and I, when the first solo album came out and the videos were being played in heavy rotation on MTV. I asked why she hadn’t been interested. She said it wasn’t any good. I listened twice and concurred, and nothing I’ve heard since has changed my mind about that. Rather cut and dried. 

There are a few honest ex-Republicans in this world, even if being such a thing means owning up to a great deal gullibility. 

Kanan has two “Special” abilities. The first is called “Intervene.” It reads:

Deal Physical Damage to target enemy and Taunt for 2 turns, then Dispel all debuffs on another target ally. While Kanan has this taunt buff, his Tenacity is doubled. 

“Intervene” hits a little over twice as hard as Kanan’s Basic ability, but it’s still not much. He’s never going to be a power hitter, but it’s a big enough hit to catch the attention of everyone on the opposite squad. Not only does be take the fire for everyone else for a turn, but he also directly helps one of his teammates with a targeted debuff, which makes him a bit more durable as well.

It’s na├»ve to believe that bigotry is ignorance. Bigots aren’t ignorant – or at least, they don’t have to be. They just have to understand how power works. How hatred is used to weaponize certain segments of society against certain other segments of society. If you believe that bigots are simply the poor and benighted of the world, and therefore will be working in more or less good faith out of a desire to become better, you’re setting yourself up to be a mark for no reason other than the opportunity to feel morally superior. Pick one: you can either feel good about yourself or pick an effective political strategy against people who feel no compunctions about ginning up racial animosity for votes. Choose wisely. 

Now here’s the thing about Kanan Jarrus: I kind of hated the character until he was dead.

While politics is of deep interest to me I don’t see value in most punditry. When I sat down last year to write about current events – a few of these pieces are still up behind the paywall of my Patreon, but aren’t very good – I found myself hampered by the fact that even though I believed myself adequately informed about current events I also felt completely inadequate to the task of making predictions or prescriptions. I’m nobody. There’s nothing more fatuous than a well-informed amateur. I wasn’t about to lie and say I had any real insight. I just pay attention, but that does seem to be more than most. 

How funny, to see that the right has so thoroughly tarnished the existing idea of “character” that an emphasis on character coming from the left seems radical. What a concept – that the words people say, the people they associate with, and the ideas they entertainment might be important. Maybe words don’t exist solely as floating signifiers in the Free Marketplace of Ideas, all of which carry equal value as manifestations not of genuine political exigence but of craven obeisance to a misleadingly “scrupulous” specter of fair-mindedness? Perhaps at some point it should be important to make a purchase in the Marketplace and stand on it? But then, you know, some people seem to have trouble with the idea that consequences actually exist for real people, and that life is not just an infinite lobby of TED Talk attendees waiting to follow you on LinkedIn.

He’s so intensely charismatic and perpetually, overwhelmingly popular with the core of his earliest fanbase that even if you find his solo material completely awful, you’ve never lost touch with him. Even if it’s been a completely unwilling relationship on your part for a very long time. Score one for the recording industry, I guess? It’s been three decades. You turn on the TV periodically and there he is. That fucker again, always showing up with some old bullshit. Remember when he was cool? No? Neither do I.

Honest writing about politics is polemical. In reality much writing about politics is chummy – because much writing about politics is primarily concerned with projecting the appearance of acumen. And it’s a brutal field, where everyone is wrong all the time. 

His second Special ability is “Total Defense.” It reads: 

Dispell all debuffs on Phoenix allies and grant them Defense Up for 3 turns. Kanan grants himself and another target ally Foresight and Protection Up (40%) for 2 turns. When each of these Foresights expire, Kanan gains 100% Turn Meter and other Phoenix allies gain 50% Turn Meter.

Four lines of text necessary to communicate a very simple concept: Kanan helps everyone else in the Phoenix Squad with debuffs and buffs, and then he and another teammate have a guaranteed dodge against their next hit. When they dodge that they get a bunch of turn meter. It usually takes me weeks and months of plays to get the hang of these, but if the people who make the game have done their job it’s quite intuitive once you see it happen a few times. And sure enough, once you see it there it is: he draws fire and gives everyone else big boosts. Do it enough and you’ll remember all the little details, as they come up. 

The greatest canard of modern politics is that the entreaty to treat fellow human beings with respect is a manifestation of some kind of multifarious and intricate progressive boondoggle. It is the height of disingenuousness to feign as if some vast psychic bureaucracy had been erected to inspect every errant joke for inscrutable “political correctness.” People act as if the expectation that what they say might be a reflection of their character is some kind of ancient myth. Why, one might be tempted to think, it’s almost as if assholes are assholes, and people who are just trying to figure out who it’s “safe” to make fun of this week are probably not evincing a sincere desire to come to any kind of ethical revolution. 

Kanan’s final ability is his “Unique” ability, “Clear Mind.” A Unique ability is a status effect, and this one reads: 

Kanan has 70% Counter chance and recovers 25% Health whenever he suffers a debuff. 

This doesn’t seem like much, does it? Very straightforward? Oh yeah, 70% chance to strike back when he’s attacked. That’s good. But what’s that next thing?

I can show you what it says but you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that “recovers 25% Health whenever he suffers a debuff” is a remarkably weird mechanic in execution. What that means in practice is that I have seen Kanan go from something like 3% health back to full as a result of getting hit by everyone on the opposite team all at once. It’s weird and swingy and never really works quite like I think it’s supposed to, but damned if it doesn’t work to convey the feel of Kanan being a guy who is never completely out of the fight, and who can come roaring back to full health at literally the last possible second. When it happens like that it’s – pretty cool, actually. I hope it put a smile on whomever in the development team figured out it, because it’s quite fun.

Here’s a free one for the comedians in the audience: make fun of things people do, not who they are – i.e., invariable traits or ethnic signifiers whose presence in “comedy” is purely a function of power differentials between in- and out-groups. If you can’t figure out how to make fun out of the myriad foibles and frailties of the human animal without either insulting or bullying people who don’t look like you, maybe comedy isn’t your thing. More to the point maybe comedy shouldn’t be your thing. 

I don’t indulge in scatology very often but this is simply too good a story to let pass, no pun intended. I listened to the Police a lot over the winter, driving around running various errands for my parents while blasting songs I hadn’t heard in over three decades. Felt like getting back in touch with some very old friends. Then in the midst of all this I had to use the restroom in Raley’s one day, you know, as people do. It was one of those stalls where through some accident of acoustics the sound of the intercom echoes in just such a way as to seem significantly louder in a small enclosed space, and as my behind hit the toilet seat in the tiny stall, I mean that exact moment, I heard the opening strains of “Field of Gold” at ear-splitting volume. I was, as you might imagine, instantly transported to a magical realm. 

That fucker. Again. 

I should have studied politics in grad school. I might have a PhD today if I’d bothered to seriously apply for Political Theory programs. Why’d I pick English? Well, I sure do like writing . . .


Galaxy of Zeroes

The next chapter is already posted behind the paywall for $5 subscribers. 

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Friday, May 04, 2018

If This Goes On - I

Fuckin Lobot 

Hey! Before you dig in, did you know that subscribers to my Patreon can now read Galaxy of Zeroes every week in the virtual pages of The Hurting Gazette? 

The third issue is now available through my Patreon and features the subscriber exclusive essay “Let’s Talk About Thor: Ragnarok: Part II!” The double-sized premiere issue, featuring “The First Star Wars Essay,” is still available free here.

Thank you for reading!

So let’s talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

Let’s talk about suddenly at age thirty-seven less than one year after leaving my actually pretty nice (if finite) teaching job at a pretty good university getting a sharp reminder of what it feels like to be hungry. Hollow stomach hungry. 

Let’s talk about sneaking out to the kitchen in the middle of the night to have a spoonful of sugar on an empty stomach because sugar is the only thing left in the cupboard after everything else has been stripped bare. It had been a while. It had actually been a while for my parents, too, even though they, like lots of people who rely on Social Security for their sole source of income, as well as me, have been hungry before. Between their income and what I could scrounge we managed to get by last year, but eventually you can only rob from Peter to pay Paul so many times before you run out of people who’s names start with P. 

Sometimes I like to play coy and tease out my point over an elaborate and certainly tortured structural metaphor – you know, as I am wont to do – but sometimes I also like to say exactly what I’m about. And right now it feels important to be as honest as possible. Because things are better now. And I don’t want to forget what it felt like to be hungry again. 

The problem with Rebels is that it could have been the greatest cartoon in TV history and it still would been “the one they canceled Clone Wars for.” And even though it’s technically true, it also misses the point that the show itself was aware of this. The first season was kind of a dud, but the second was better. The third season was better still. The fourth season had a couple weird bits (such as the fucking Loth-Wolves) but overall the series ended in much, much stronger shape than it began. It felt more lived-in. The characters had grown a bit from the two-dimensional first season. And the series itself had changed over the course of its run to incorporate more and more aspects of its predecessor, from supporting cast to themes. 

Funny thing is . . . when I was starving and going rather delirious with self-loathing I also managed to finish writing two fantasy books. And I am very proud of those books – as proud of them as of anything I’ve ever done. I am intensely eager for the world to read them. But the joy of creation and achievement was stifled somewhat by the circumstances of being hungry and trapped in the house with my parents who were likewise similarly hungry and pissed. 

That’s life. Considering that my marked increase in productivity since the first of the year shows no sign of abating, I think it will prove to have been a generative period regardless of how painful. Nothing like suddenly having the bottom rung of Maslow’s ladder knocked out to make you reflect on priorities. 

Every day it seems like the news can’t get any more comically pathetic, and yet the administration keeps on, like a fat tick stuck too deep to be coaxed out with a match. Nothing less than a full extraction will do. That takes time. 

I feel good enough about the work I’m doing lately that without even realizing it I have begun to think in the future tense – something I hadn’t done in over a year. When I blew up my old life I didn’t have a direction other than “recuperate at my parents’ house.” There’s no way I could have known that we were going to have such a rough time of it, but overall it’s been a blessing that we just happened to consolidate households during a time when my parents’ and my finances both imploded for separate unavoidable reasons. 

Weird thing about life. It goes in seasons. 

Perhaps, with some hindsight, the lesson to learn from Rebels is that anything would have palled after Clone Wars. But that show was a total fluke: Lucas spent a lot of money and expended a lot of effort to make a cartoon that was every bit as authentically Star Wars as anything else he’d ever done. He certainly spent more on that show than Disney was ever willing to spend on Rebels, and you can see the difference in every frame. Considering the kinds of stories and the kind of smart writing that show had - once you get past the first season, that is, and disregarding a few bits like just about everything involving the Hutts – Lucas did a fantastic job putting together what has to stand as his most fully-realized vision of what Star Wars can be. Rebels was fun but it was designed to be a lot smaller.  

It felt weird to achieve such profoundly significant personal milestone – proving not just that I can write fiction, but that I might actually have a feel for it – in the midst of such a trying and exhausting time. Writing now is the most natural thing in the world for me. I need to type for a certain number of hours a day or I get antsy. I’m getting it down. I see a future for myself now that I was too afraid to see before, because I didn’t understand what I really wanted. The impact of this realization was dulled by circumstances. 

To get by this year I had to confront deep-seated and longstanding problems with money. I’m afraid of money. There’s no other way to put it. I hate being broke but it at least eases me of the responsibility of keeping track of money. When you’re broke it’s easy to split the world into two parts: must and wait. That necessary clarity is missing whenever I actually have financial stability. 

This essay is about getting older, I guess. A familiar theme. Aren’t I always yammering on about maturing and learning from one’s mistakes and all that bullshit? That’s important, right? It is important. It’s so important that I have spent almost a year living out in the middle of nowhere on an almond farm, trying to avoid making the same mistakes I always make, that I have always made. 

The days got a bit longer. The end of March was very hard – the last gasp of a very punishing Winter. Another hungry time. Then April kicked over and things resolved. A bunch of ships came in around the same time. Bills got paid. Plumbing got fixed. Dog taken to the vet. Turns out the home health aide didn’t have to quit after all. The date for my mom’s operation is in a couple months. 

And I’m ashamed of how bad I am with money. It’s a terrible source of anxiety. When you have just enough it’s easy to skate along without ever having to challenge the sources of longstanding problems. It’s easy to think about it only when absolutely necessary, and privately, and with the fortitude of a pearl diver. But then something happens to strip away whatever meager safety net that you thought you had and you realize with a sudden shriek that, oh yeah, sweeping shit under the rug doesn’t make it go away. It just makes it pile up. 

Rebels was a bit less challenging, by design. As good as the show got it had no desire to do anything as challenging as, say, the Pong Krell sequence of Clone Wars, as intense and desperate a military sci-fi setpiece as anything the Battlestar: Galactica reboot ever attempted. It was trying to tell a different kind of story, something smaller and more character driven. As the characters struggled to define themselves over the first couple seasons, so too did the show. 

No one else seems to want to fix broken things. Often the world seems content to blunder forward making the same mistakes over and over again until the end of all time. So many problems could be solved by people sitting down and having an honest chat with themselves about where they feel things went wrong. 

For the first time in my life I had to rely on help from friends to get by. Just to eat. Had to learn some real fun lessons about how much pride weighs when you’re hungry, and how much pride weighs when you have to get your mom down to a doctor’s appointment in San Francisco and don’t have two dimes to scratch together for gas. 

My Phoenix Squadron is really coming together, too. I’m going to tell you about Kanan Jarrus in a little bit. Maybe talk about Rebels.  

Maslow’s Hierarchy, in the most simple bastardized form that I carry around on an index card in my brain, is a shorthand for understanding the way human beings prioritize need. The bottom of the pyramid is physiological – that is, oxygen, water, food. Basic stuff of life. As you go up you pass through shelter, love, esteem, and finally, at the tip of the pyramid, self-actualization. 

And that leads me to Sting, but we’ll get to that in a minute . . .  


Galaxy of Zeroes

If This Goes On - I
If This Goes On - II

The next chapter is not quite behind the paywall for subscribers yet. Blame the bonus features in the first few issues of the magazine. 

Subscribers also receive access to tons of other goodies, including complete ePub files of my first two fantasy novels The Book of the Loam and A Darkness in the Time of the First, as well as ePub files of “Delaware” and Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life.

Your support helps create new content for this blog while paying my bills, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who subscribes. Every dollar counts and is appreciated. 


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