tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Wylkus 2017-06-01T15:06:10Z Links tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1084175 2016-08-26T13:49:35Z 2016-08-26T13:51:01Z A Chinese Puzzle by Franz Kafka

Once there was a Chinese puzzle, a cheap simple toy, not much bigger than a pocketwatch and without any sort of surprising contrivances. Cut into the flat wood, which was painted reddish-brown, there were some blue labyrinthine paths, which all led into a little hole. The ball, which was also blue, had to be got into one of the paths by means of tilting and shaking the box, and then into the hole. Once the ball was in the hole, the game was over, and if one wanted to start all over again, one had first to shake the ball out of he hole. The whole thing was covered over with a strong, convex glass, one could not put the puzzle in one's pocket and carry it about with one, and wherever one was, one could take it out and play with it.

If the ball was unemployed, it spent most of the time strolling to and fro, its hands clasped behind its back, on the plateau, avoiding the paths. It held the view that it was quite enough bothered with the paths during the game and that it had every right to recuperate on the open plain when no game was going on. Sometimes it would look up at the vaulted glass, but merely out of habit and quite without any intention of trying to make out anything up there. It had a rather straddling gait and maintained that it was not made for those narrow paths. That was partly true, for indeed the paths could hardly contain it, but it was also untrue, for the fact was that it was very carefully made to fit the width of the paths exactly, but the paths were certainly not meant to be comfortable for it, or else it would not have been a puzzle at all.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/986803 2016-03-04T04:34:44Z 2016-03-04T04:34:44Z The Music of You

We are like music. 

Music is a pattern. A specific arrangement of sound waves playing through time. Who we are, our consciousness, the "I" that is reading these words, is a also pattern. An arrangement of biology and neurology shaping itself through time.

Our genes are like the score. One may think the entirety of the music is contained within these symbols, but this is not true. The instruments, the performers, the acoustics, an unlimited number of factors beyond the symbols upon the page define the sound we hear. Our genes gives us limits and form but they do not define us.

Our epigenetics, our gene expression as governed by our embryological and childhood environment, are like the instruments. A classical piece can be varied endlessly based on the instruments selected by the orchestra. The sound of a rock ballad comes as much from the guitar as from the player and score. And our music, no matter the score, can almost never reach its full potential when played through instruments damaged by a life marred by early malnutrition or abuse or disease.

Our psychology, the facets of ourselves that grow from our upbringing and choices in life, are like the players in an orchestra or band. We each contain multitudes within us. Urges and fears and moods that fade in and out, combining in infinite variations, each sometimes the dominant force and sometimes barely present. They may be tied to the score before them and limited by the instruments they hold, but ultimately the music is determined by the players.

So who are we in this scheme of things? What is left for the conscious actor residing behind our eyes? We are the conductor or producer. The one who directs the players of our psychology, signaling to them how to make use of the instruments of our physicality to best play the music of our genes. We are responsible for the music of our lives even if much of it is ultimately beyond our control. Many a great piece of music has gone to waste through an inattentive conductor. And on occasion a passionate producer has created a beautiful album from the work of unreliable players upon substandard instruments.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/974153 2016-01-19T19:31:34Z 2016-06-09T14:48:43Z This Machine

         Bravo was alive for six months. He is now four years old.

         He awakens in a chamber barely large enough to contain the twenty-foot metal fuselage of his body. He is held inches above the floor by three clamps connecting him to the ceiling. His steel wings lay folded above him. There are no lights in the chamber, but Bravo can see by the infrared that radiates from his own metal shell.

         He knows from experience that the bay doors beneath him will open in minutes. He spends this time running diagnostics. Opening and closing his aerial flaps, dilating his exhaust nozzle, and spinning the fans of the jet engine that runs through his core. It feels like stretching, but despite the familiarity instilled by repetition Bravo has never been able to shake the feeling that something is off during these diagnostics. A sense that there are pieces of himself he is unable to stretch. As the seconds tick by until the doors open this sense of loss gradually gnaws at him.

         Bravo’s controllers do not know his thoughts. They do know that his alertness drops precipitously between awakening and his release. Early in the program there was a brief effort to learn the reason but it was quickly deemed immaterial. Bravo’s focus always returns with his release and the researchers time was needed in areas more critical to the war.

          Beneath Bravo the steel floor opens. The clamps holding him release and he begins to fall. His atmospheric sensors report an airspeed of 749 miles per hour. He feels the data like a rush of wind and all former confusion is forgotten in the pure joy of flight. Carefully unfolding his wings he revels in the gentle push and pull of contesting the wind with his steel limbs.

         Scanning his surroundings he sees above him the bomber from which he was so recently released. It’s little more than a black dot now, already so far from him that it’s close to vanishing into the blue-black of the high altitude sky. Closer, before and behind him, Bravo finds his companions, Alpha and Charlie. This is Bravo’s favorite part of the drop. The closest he gets to his friends. The three of them sharing the safety of the upper atmosphere. Soon the time will come for them to part, each veering off to their own individual target, but for now Bravo is not alone.

         Though they no longer come close enough to see each other’s markings Bravo can distinguish his friends by their movements. Alpha always flattens out at the beginning. Slowing his descent until he hangs in the sky above Bravo and Charlie. Once, Alpha’s target was reassigned mid-mission, but he’d dived too quickly in the drop and had been unable to reach his new target. Ever since he’s overcompensated with this early slowness.

         Charlie always begins a wide, evasive corkscrew as soon as he’s unfolded his wings. At this altitude they lie far above the effective ceiling of any anti-air defense, but Charlie has been intercepted more often than Bravo or Alpha and his bad luck has made him paranoid.

         There was a time when they would spend these moments of safety before the mission began approaching each other. Spiraling about one another in playful circles. Bravo remembers those early missions fondly. Before they all grew so different.

         Alpha and Charlie begin to depart, Alpha rocketing toward the horizon while Charlie banks sharply to the left. For a moment Bravo watches the receding figures of his friends, then he pitches forward and identifies his own target. A dense grouping of concrete buildings sixty-thousand feet below. He fires his engine and accelerates downward.

         At fifty thousand feet he hits the first defense. Near the primary target building is a structure that has begun to glow in the infrared spectrum. A laser battery preparing to fire. Bravo flings himself into an erratic spiral as the space he occupied the previous second is lanced by a brilliant beam of laser light. The beam follows him, chasing him through the open air. For twenty-thousand feet Bravo moves incessantly and unpredictably to stay ahead of the pursuing beam in a well practiced aerial dance.

         At thirty thousand feet Bravo detects via millimeter wave radar the distinctive pattern of incoming flak rounds. Raising aerial flaps Bravo dives straight down, barely avoiding the first storm of steel shrapnel. For the next ten thousand feet Bravo moves furiously, slipping between bursts of artillery fire while still leading the trailing laser.

         A brilliant flash near the horizon tells Bravo that Alpha has been hit. He feels a surge of sympathy, knowing too well the pain that comes upon awakening from a failed mission, but he puts the emotion aside. These defenses shouldn’t have been enough to bring Alpha down. It’s likely there is something new on the way.

         Bravo spots it just before it hits him. The barely perceptible infrared glow of the small missile’s exhaust. A new model invisible to all radar frequencies. Bravo is just able to roll out of its path, his fuselage singed by its passing.

         The missile banks a tight turn and enters a new intercept course. It’s faster than Bravo. It will soon catch up with him if he can’t get rid of it. He fires his thrusters to their limit, burning up much of his remaining fuel, and pulls upward into a vertical loop. Putting himself on a direct collision course with the trailing laser.

         At the top of the loop, only feet away from the incinerating beam, Bravo pitches violently away from the lasers path. The missile blindly following Bravo does not. The beam passes effortlessly through it splitting the missile into two glowing halves.

         Bravo feels a sharp stab of pain. The laser took off a few inches of his left wing, reducing his maneuverability, but it matters little. He’s now within five hundred feet and falling fast. Soon he’s beneath the firing angle of the laser and the artillery with the target lying directly beneath him. He’s won.

         Bravo feels the heady rush of pleasure that’s administered with a successful mission. He relaxes and waits to be awakened once more within a darkened chamber. A command hardwired within his circuitry, set to trigger at one hundred feet to target or upon hull breach, activates. A digital snapshot of his neural network at that instant is transmitted back to his controllers via encrypted satellite connection. This image will then be uploaded into a new shell for the next mission. The Bravo in that new shell will remember everything that’s happened up till the moment that command was triggered.

         But this Bravo is still falling.

         He’s at 90 feet to target. He’s never been at ninety feet to target. A sudden fear consumes him. He begins to panic, frantically trying to think of anything he’s done wrong. Power drains from all other systems to his central processor as he desperately searches his memories for anything that might make sense of this situation. He’s made thousands of drops, but not once does he remember ever passing one hundred feet to target. With the extra power his processing speed increases exponentially, speeding his thoughts, and as his thoughts race faster his perception of time slows. He’s at twenty feet to target and every millisecond has become an eternity.

         He hits the concrete. His metal exterior begins to crumple and his simulated nerves howl with pain. A fraction of a second later the 1.5 kiloton payload inside his core detonates, but his overclocked thoughts outrace the speed of the expanding fireball and as the explosion blooms within him Bravo feels something new. His entire hull is reporting rapidly increasing temperature and this data is translated into a striking, blissful sensation. Bravo feels warm.

            His pain and his fear melt away as the warmth absorbs his entire consciousness. But then he realizes what the strangest thing about this feeling is. It’s familiar. He knows he’s felt this before and in the nanosecond before his circuits boil he tries to recall when that was. His mind is drawn further and further back through his memory until in the kernel of his neural net he finds it. Just before the end Bravo remembers when he ran through grass on legs of muscle and bone. He remembers a hand that would run gently across his fur, and a kind voice telling him “Good boy. Good dog.”

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/923242 2015-10-29T23:47:05Z 2015-10-30T01:24:15Z Review: Bojack Horseman Season One

Halfway through the first season of BoJack Horseman something remarkable begins to happen. By degrees, over a handful of episodes, the show transforms itself from a middling comedy into one of television's (or the internet's) most affecting dramas. 

For the first seven or so episodes it seems clear what kind of show this is. A witty dark comedy about a washed up actor as an initially selfish, unlikable protagonist. When, in the first episode, he is forced by his agent to work with Diane, a sensitive and funny woman who also happens to be dating BoJack's carefree rival Mr. Peanutbutter, we think we see the beats coming. There will be romantic tensions and misunderstandings before, ultimately, the incompatibility of Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter becomes apparent and BoJack can swoop in, reveal his heart of gold, and they can all live moderately happily ever after. A story of redemption with some dark undercurrents. Except, as the show rolls on we realize it has set up these expectations in order to systematically demolish them.

We wait expectantly for that moment of redemption but it never arrives. Instead BoJack's acts of selfishness become increasingly egregious and destructive as he insults, sabotages, and hurts everyone close to him. Simultaneously the show manages to make BoJack more and more sympathetic as we learn about his emotionally crippling childhood and the bad but all too human decisions that turned him into the person he is now. Finally, in the penultimate episode, BoJack asks Diane, himself, and the audience the question that has been at the heart of this whole show: is Bojack, deep down, a good person? 

We've seen his story from the inside and so we know that his intentions, while often selfish, were never outright malicious. We understand why he did all that he did and we see that it haunts him. But how much do good intentions and regret count when weighed against the actual consequences of ones actions? The show, to its great credit, is more interested with the questions than with answers, though Diane does eventually have one for Bojack. It's a good one, even though it's one that cuts to the core, but it is only her answer. It is not the answer. Because, contrary to what is often taught on television, sometimes in life there are no answers.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/899549 2015-09-04T15:59:10Z 2015-09-04T15:59:10Z Review: Blue Velvet

The great shock of Blue Velvet doesn't lie in any of it's notorious violence and sex, but rather in its earnestness.

From the very first shots of the movie there seems like there could be no doubt this movie will be a satire. How else could one interpret this montage of sickeningly sweet suburban images, ending in the zoom into the dark, writhing world of insects that lies underneath the perfect suburban lawns. So perfectly satirical do these images seem that even the great Roger Ebert couldn't help but conclude that this was the intended effect of the film, and for these he gave it one star believing that the films scenes of raw emotion were cheapened by being in service of little more than mocking suburbia. But it seems to me that Ebert missed the parting message of the film. It's not a mockery at all, rather it's saying that the heart of the small town dream, a life spent in peace and love, is something beautiful. How else can we interpret the denouement of the film where the protagonists watch from their comfortable home a robin, used in the film as a symbol for love, eating the bugs that crawled through the opening sequence? 

There is a wrinkle in that final image though, coming in the form of the old woman (Grandmother? Her role, like many in the film, is left vague) who expresses revulsion that the a bird so lovely could eat something as gross as a bug. Here lies the puzzle at the heart of the film, the relationship between good and evil, between love and hate. Because while Lynch is not actually satirizing small town life, he is saying that evil will still be there, as it will always be everywhere because it is part of ourselves. When Frank recites his menacing, spoken word rendition of Roy Orbison's In Dreams it's not just a showcase of Dennis Hoppers fantastic powers of intimidation, it's also the character acting as a voice for evil itself, telling us that it will always be with us in our unconscious. One is reminded of McCarthy's Blood Meridian, when the protagonist finally escapes from that other incarnation of evil, the judge, only to find that in his dreams "The judge did visit. Who would come other?"

But goodness, true goodness as opposed to the brittle kind seemingly embodied by the grandmother, comes in confronting the darkness in the world and in ourselves and still finding the power to overcome it. This is the victory earned by Kyle Maclachlan's character, symbolized in the robin eating the bug.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/894392 2015-08-17T01:06:01Z 2015-08-17T16:25:36Z Review: The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

I had heard The Periodic Table described as a holocaust memoir couched in the viewpoint of the periodic table. Fitting images are not hard to imagine: the gold of rings and teeth, the carbon of human smoke. But, Primo Levi had, it turns out, already devoted two books to his time inside Auschwitz. Here he presents something more general and more universal. This book encompasses the majority of Levi's life, before and after the war, most of it spent in science. His time in Auschwitz is here given only a single chapter. That of Cerium, telling the story of some cerium rods, a metal which emits sparks when struck, that Levi stole from the chemistry lab he was forced to work at while interned at the camp. He shaped the rods at night in his bunk, a process that risked death through fire or detection, then sold them as flints for black market lighters. The profits kept him feed through the final months in the camps.

Each of the books other twenty chapters similarly revolve around a single element and a time in the authors life connected to that element. Either literally, as that of cerium or when he was employed extracting nickel from the waste rock of an asbestos mine, or symbolically, like when he uses Argon to describe the Jewish community he grew up in, comparing the noble gasses unreactive nature, it exists everywhere as part of air but never binds with any part of the world, to the communities insular nature.

Many of these chapters take a surprisingly deep look into the true complexities of working with these elements. The difficulty in separating nickel or the surprisingly costly task of acquiring chicken shit in the hopes of extracting nitrogen. These real life science stories intertwine with his more politically oriented autobiographical reminiscences, and it may seem like a strange combination: in depth examinations of chemistry problems wedded to ruminations on growing up under the looming specter of fascism, the formative year spent trapped in its nightmarish culmination, and attempting to reconstruct a life afterward. But, for Levi, these things are not separate. They are intimately connected, both inside his own life and philosophically. Science, Levi tells us, is a natural antidote to fascism. By its nature, that of eternally seeking truth, choosing the hard, ego crushing path of acquiescing to material reality instead of giving in to idealistic fantasy, science will always offer a silent rebuttal to the empty rhetoric of fascism.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/876073 2015-07-08T20:23:46Z 2015-07-08T20:23:46Z Review: A Nero Wolfe Mystery

More specifically the novel Over My Dead Body, by Rex Stout, which is the seventh Nero Wolfe mystery but my first.

Supposedly Nero Wolfe was once ranked amongst the most popular fictional detectives. Now his star has faded to the point where I cannot even recall how I managed to hear about him. An interesting character, he possesses an arsenal of quirks that seem designed to set him apart from that perpetual giant of detective fiction, Sherlock Holmes. He is enormously fat. He never leaves his New York Brownstone residence where he maintains a rigorous, inflexible schedule consisting mainly of protracted meals prepared by his live in chef and hours dedicated to tending the orchids grown on the top floor. But while most of us if inflicted with such a laundry list of eccentricities would be forced to live off disability, Nero is saved from that by spending his off hours unraveling New York's most baffling crimes, all without ever leaving the house. Instead he sends out his agents, notably our narrator Archie Goodwin, to gather evidence, witnesses, and suspects and bring back to him for further analysis. At last, after much thought and more gardening, he inevitably and climatically brings all interested parties into his office where he unveils the true culprit and motive as revealed by his supposedly gigantic intellect. 

It's a great formula, but you'll notice the use of the word supposedly in that last sentence. For while Rex Stout clearly wants us to believe Nero's mind to be at the same level as his Baker Street predecessor, none of his deductions ever manage to truly impress, and sadly one cannot make up for talent with defects in character. Though that hasn't stopped many from trying. And so I was ready to close the book on Nero Wolfe, content to let Over My Dead Body be my first and only foray into his universe. But, as the days have gone by I find myself thinking more and more about that cozy, expansive Brownstone house and its quirky inhabitants. At last I've realized this must have been the true reason for Wolfe's appeal. That even if the mysteries solved in that house are of subpar quality, the setting they are solved in is sublimely charming. It was a delightful place to let ones mind rest for an evening or two. Perhaps one I may find myself visiting again from time to time.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/873861 2015-06-30T23:10:17Z 2017-06-01T15:06:10Z Review: True Detective Season One

The Spoiler Free Version:

Go watch True Detective.


The Spoiler Full Version:

Everything about this show is top notch, from the music to the cinematography to the acting, but I'm going to talk about the writing. Even with that narrow focus there is so much to talk about, but let's begin with the true heart of the show: Rust and Marty. These two are the greatest incarnation of the Holmes and Watson archetype in a very, very long time. I say Holmes and Watson, but of course in creating them Doyle pulled from Poe's Dupin and Narrator. And if we go back further than that, much further, we can more properly call it the Gilgamesh and Enkidu archetype. In that story, the oldest of all stories, we are given the most transparent view of the essence of that relationship. Enkidu, or Watson or Marty, is of the natural world. He is simple, direct, and lustful, enamored of the simple pleasures of life. He serves to balance Gilgamesh and connect him to the rest of the world. Gilgamesh without Enkidu is selfish and cruel, the embodiment of the Chinese proverb "A great man is a public misfortune." But, with Enkidu at his side Gilgamesh is able to see the folly of his ways and work for the betterment of society. He becomes a great man on the side of the common man. He becomes a hero, and together the two are able to defeat the true monsters of the world. 

In many ways Enkidu, or Marty or Watson, is the real hero of these stories. The one who doesn't need a friend to keep their ego in check. The one naturally on the side of the people. But, Enkidu alone is not a story, for without Gilgamesh he is complacent. So much a part of the world that he doesn't try to change it. We need Gilgamesh, the outsider who struggles for what he is outside of, to have the story. Which brings us to Rust. Rust who positions himself as the ultimate outsider to normal society by maintaining that life is a mistake. That people should "Stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction - one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal" as he says, seemingly pulling from Zapffe's Last Messiah.

I haven't looked into it yet, but I have no doubt Rust, or at least his monologues, has found himself a devoted fanbase of the same sort who celebrate Fight Club as a ringing endorsement of violent revolution and anarchy rather than the critique of hero worship and obedience that it is. While his monologues are fascinating, to celebrate them misses the true heart of the character. Because despite all his monologues Rust continues to fight for the lives he claims are meaningless. He devotes himself to stopping mothers who smother their children and others who take his purported philosophy to its farthest extreme. Why does he do this? He himself is not able to explain it for most of the series. It's only after he truly confronts the extreme of his philosophy, the man who calls him "Little Priest" and recognizes, somehow, a fellow acolyte of death. Only after he confronts this man and the swirling vortex of nothingness at the heart of this philosophy, only after he undergoes his near death experience, his crucifixion, his eighth-circuit awakening, the apotheosis of his twenty year long dark night of the soul is he able to see the truth. That despite the overwhelming presence of darkness in this world, despite the pain all us sentient meat are subjected to in a world we didn't agree to be born into, the light that makes it worthwhile is still there, and as long as we continue to scratch away at the dark it is winning.
This is why the bulk of True Detective is so overwhelmingly grim. Why it never flinches away from plunging us into the darkest aspects of human nature. It was not for the sake of shock value as many other shows that claim to be 'dark' for the sake of ratings. It's because it has to show us that night so dark it seems total, it has to show us the baby in the microwave, to bring us to the same place as Rust and understand him, in order that we may be shown that darkness is not all there is. That there is light, and by understanding the darkness, understanding the worst in humanity, we are better equipped to fight for it.

That's some damn good writing.

Of course, it's not a perfect show. I doubt such a thing can even exist, and there are plenty of nits I feel the compulsion to pick. The penultimate episode, After You've Gone, was a bit of a drag all around. While hearing Carcossa rants from psychos and tweakers and LSD inspired diary entries is chilling, in After You've Gone we get to hear the same babble from a nice old lady who, though later accused of having dementia, is never shown to us as being anything but mentally sound. The results make Carcossa sound like the weird fiction it's pulled from rather than foreboding presence it is for the rest of the series, and gave the series it's only moment of bathos. Finally, in the last episode, while Rust was thematically heading for a crucifixion from the moment he brings up his habit of 'contemplating the moment in the garden,' I'm not sure it had to be quite so on the nose as being stabbed in the side, descending into a three day, near death coma, and coming out the other side with hair more messianic than ever. 

Though, perhaps Rust's near death journey has a closer parallel in Odin, who hung himself from the World Tree and pierced his side so that he might go through near death and gain wisdom. Further echoed by Rust's left eye being wounded to the point of appearing lost when he first wakes in the hospital, mirroring Odin's other trial of giving up an eye for yet more wisdom. Of course, for this argument one would have to ignore the preponderance of Christian imagery in the show and its total lack of Norse symbolism. So why do I bring it up? Because maybe the reason these comparisons can be made so easily is what Rust tells us at the end. It's just one story. The story of light versus darkness. The light of the love extolled by Christ, of the wisdom prized by Odin, of the justice of a society that punishes those who hurt the weak, versus the darkness of violence, of cruelty, of ignorance and blind obedience, the 'chain of command' that the sheriff falls back on to avoid the guilt of allowing children to be taken by the dark. The darkness that comes when people give themselves wholly to the direction of another human being, believing them to be perfect, placing them above suspicion. Because no one is perfect. We all have our dark sides and the only way they can be truly kept in check is for all of us to be equal.

That brings us to True Detectives stance on religion. Something to note is that this show is so well crafted that even the most fundamentalist, hard line Christians could, in theory, enjoy it as a tale of devil worshipers brought to justice. When really the deeper message of the story is that Christianity, at least that of the Tuttle brand with its dogma of blind obedience and faith, is not so far removed from the most ancient, predatory forms of belief. That, in Rust's words, they all amount to "one monkey looked at the sun and told the other monkey, 'He said for you to give me your fucking share.'" It doesn't matter whether it's done in the name of the Sun, or God, or the Yellow King, that kind of system will always be a doorway for the most evil among us to gain power over the rest. 

However, one shouldn't mistake this withering critique of organized religion or Rust's frequent monologues as a condemnation of religion entire. Indeed, one of the most surprising, sympathetic, perhaps overlooked characters the show gives us is the revivalist minister Joel Theriot. When first encountered he seems suspicious if not outright sinister, it's only later that we learn his whole story. That he left Tuttle's organization after his attempts to reveal pedophilia among its leaders ended with being framed for embezzlement, that over the years he's given up on preaching because he's found that nearness to God can only be found in silence. In fact, if Rust hadn't been so busy criticizing his congregation he may have recognized much of the ministers sermon (the text of which was graciously made the top comment of that video). The core of this sermon, the ideas Theriot is wrestling, how we are both simultaneously a part of nature and apart from nature, that we are prisoners of our senses and corporeality, are the exact same ideas that Rust wrestles with for the whole of the show. And the answer Theriot tries to tell him, if only Rust had had ears to hear, is the same Rust finds in the end. Theriot may call it God while Rust calls it the universe, but the essence is realizing our oneness with it and with each other. 

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/849462 2015-06-02T23:49:43Z 2015-06-12T20:39:56Z This Month's Reading - May 2015 - Heroes and Knights

I recently took the dive back into the world of comic books. Among others I caught up on the always fun Atomic Robo and the beautifully weird Prophet. I also, for the first time, read some of Chris Claremont's legendary run on X-Men. Claremont, if you don't know, is the one credited with turning the X-Men into sales juggernaut it was in the 80's and early 90's. How did he do this? Simple, he turned it into a soap opera. He took what was a small, ragtag group of superpowered teens and turned it into a sprawling family drama full of strained relationships and shocking hereditary revelations. To this day there is probably no family more complicated, more, well, soap opera-y than the Summers family. Under Claremont the X-Men leader Cyclops, real name Scott Summers, went from a lonely orphan to the center of a family drama encompassing long lost siblings, an absent father turned space pirate, time displaced future children, a wife who suffers from chronic case of dying, and clones of all of the above. And the comic buying audience of 1983 loved it. But why? Why did an audience largely made up of teen boys fall in love with this drama? Because truthfully young boys love melodrama just as much as young girls. They're dealing with some big, unfamiliar emotions and big, sweeping emotion is what they want from their fiction. They just want to see it from a guys perspective. Especially if that guy shoots lasers out of his eyes.
So are the stories good? Well, as literature, of course not. It's maudlin and mawkish and from that stand point hard to take seriously. But, I'm a proponent of judging works based on what they're attempting to do. How well a work meets its goals. X-Men is not trying to be Tolstoy. X-Men is trying to be a place of respite for (to quote Tom Haverford) teens, tweens, and everything-in-betweens. A place for them to see characters dealing with the kind of emotions they themselves are having trouble with, but magnified a thousand fold. And, most importantly, to see these characters overcome those problems. X-Men by it's nature has an advantage in this regard. Its premise, a group of young people hated and feared for their uniqueness, is especially appealing to teenagers, but Claremont tapped the potential of that premise like no one before, or perhaps since. So, with the proper expectations, these stories are fantastically good, and, if you let them, still engrossing as an adult. After all, our 12 year old selves are still inside us somewhere. We contain all our previous versions. And if you don't believe that, try reading The Dark Phoenix Saga and see if you don't feel some younger aspect of yourself stir at the larger than life battles being waged, both physical and emotional.

After that I dipped further into the history of comics with the first two years of Spider-Man, courtesy of Marvel's Epic Collection imprint. If 80's X-Men is a gateway to your inner 13 year old, Stan Lee's Spider-Man is the perfect gateway to your inner 8 year old. Here we have the barest rudiments of plot and character, these aspects being wholly subservient to delivering the goods: Exciting action. But, of course, action grows stale without some character to give it stakes and it's here that Stan Lee's real genius shows. The characters are invested with just enough individuality, just enough pathos, to keep the readers interest while taking up as little time as possible. Lee's Peter Parker (or Peter Palmer as he is called for the entirety of issue 3) is not complex. He is, however, far from empty. He worries about his Aunt, he is pestered by the taunts of classmate Flash Thompson, he crushes on Betty Brandt, he hopes to be a scientist. In short he has enough characteristics to feel real, but the characteristics are kept at a perfectly calibrated simplicity to be understandable and relatable to kids. These early Marvel stories are masterpieces of minimalism.

Going back even further I next read the first ever deconstruction of the superhero story: Don Quixote Part One. It's almost a cliche at this point to talk about how superheroes are a modern mythology, but often left out is just how much mythology is ancient superheroes. Origin stories that become increasingly intricate as character traits added later have to be retconned in, logistically improbable team ups, hero vs hero fights fueled by misunderstandings, all these are staples that we tend to think of as unique to the weird world of superheroes are staples of mythology from the Greek heroes of Hercules and Theseus to the superhuman knights of Roland and Orlando. And, as Don Quixote shows us, the larger cultural reaction to these stories has also been consistent across the ages. Near the end of Part One a character launches into a speech against the dominance of simplistic, artistically bankrupt chivalrous knight plays that have edged out more nuanced dramas out of the market and fatally lowered the quality of plays in the world. With a few word changes it would be identical to the criticism frequently launched against Hollywood and its current superhero obsession. The lesson here is that simple, fun entertainment has always been the biggest draw in media. It has never meant the end of culture that some critics always herald it to be.
On the opposite side, that of the fandom, Don Quixote again shows that people never change. Almost everyone Quixote bumps into on his adventures proves to have at least a cursory knowledge of the popular knights and all take great fun in discussing them. Discussions that have a tendency to drift toward deciding which knight is the best, usually meaning which would win in a fight. Everyone shows a combination of amazement and horror at Don Quixotes encyclopedic knowledge of all aspects of knights. Their origins, their exploits, their villains, their crossovers, every bit of minutia he could glean from his personal library of knightly tales. A knowledge which he never fails to use in browbeating others who dare to question his opinions on the knights.
Some have said that Don Quixote was the first modern novel as it focused on reality rather than fantasy, but it has a far greater honor. Being the worlds first depiction of that eternal character: the Comic Book Guy.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/850956 2015-05-17T22:52:12Z 2015-05-17T22:52:13Z Game of Thrones Season 4

Two Swords, or, The Hound Eats Chicken

At long last the Martells show up. And they're the totally not-Moors! I think I'm going to like them.
DRAGONS!! Disrespectful dragons? "Dragons can't be tamed. Even by their mother." Says Jorah. You knew this the whole time Jorah? Sorry I didn't know you took a dragon rearing class back at spy academy.
From the talk of pyramids it looks like the city Daenerys gets to waste screen time steamrolling this time is the totally not-Egyptians. Sounds like fun.
North of the Wall we see more totally-not-Vikings join the plot against the Wall and they've got a real obsession with fat. I fear for Sam.
Come on Shae, are you really jealous of Sansa? She's Sansa.
Finally, Arya and The Hound. Well, all I have to say is this.

The Lion and the Rose, or, A Typical Westeros Wedding

The Boltons. Well that's one way to keep a show going after you've killed of all the good guys. Make worse bad guys. At this point I don't care who does it. The Lannisters, The Greyjoys, the Wildlings, I'll root for anyone who kills the Boltons.
This episode we return to Bran's magical quest. I hate Bran's magical quest. If it wasn't for Hodor it would be without interest.
This episode is the first I recall hearing of this Iron Bank that apparently can make the Lannisters and the (Flower people) afraid. These are some people I want to meet.
Joffrey's dead! That was pretty darn satisfying. Someone should probably let that grandma know that if you're going to poison a dude you probably shouldn't blatantly foreshadow it in front of everyone. "No man should be killed on his wedding day. Just awful. Why I never." I'm onto you ya old bird.

Breaker of Chains, or, One Awkward Viewing

Ah so Little Finger was behind the poisoning. That's a surprise.
We return to the Onion Knight! He needs to be in at least 200% more of this show. And his plotline looks to soon involve the mysterious Iron Bank. Things are looking up.
Daenerys continues her unstoppable and therefore increasingly boring quest to free everyone everywhere. Ya know, clashes of squeky clean moral paragons fight cookie cutter evil with zero dramatic stakes isn't exactly the reason I watch Game of Thrones.
And where are the dragons? I want to see the dragons! I want to know what they're up to!
This episode had the infamous Jamie-Cersei 'rape' episode. Not nearly as rapey as I'd heard. These are warped, complicated characters. It's clear to me that it's not black and white, which is obviously what the creators were going for, even if the execution could use work.

The Oathkeeper, or, Little Boy Blue
Ah, Little Finger and grandma were both behind the poisoning. That those two are plotting together makes me very excited for what may be in store.
Jamie sends Brienne and Podrick to rescue Sansa. This should be good. Though a little unrealistic. Just two people on their own? Isn't that how you lost a hand, man? You don't have anyone else you could send with her?
North of the Wall we find out they're turning babies into White Walkers. Not sure why. I feel like babies would make pretty poor troops. Maybe they make good artillery?
An exiled princess fighting an evil empire. Ice demons living in Skeletor's castle. Knights errant on noble quests. A ragtag group of kids on a magical voyage. This show is rapidly falling into its genre conventions. 

First of his Name, or, That One in the Middle Where Not A Lot Happens

This episode we finally return to the Vale with Lisya the crazy queen and Robyn, her malnourished little creep. I'm surprised it took us so long to get back to them, their sheer crazy was so entertaining.
It is here that we get the biggest revelation this show has had to date, and it has the gall to slip it in so casually that I have no doubt some viewers even missed it. Just the mention that Little Finger was behind the poisoning of the former Hand of the King, the man Ned Stark was called to Kings Landing to replace, and that he got the crazy queen to tell Catelyn that the Lannisters were behind it. This is huge! Little Finger is behind the ENTIRE WAR. He got the Starks killed, including the woman he loved, just for a shot at power! This takes him from sneaky bastard to Dr Doom levels. He's the super villain of Westeros!
Also this episode: Daenerys decides to be queen of place-we-don't-care-about and Bran escapes. Did I mention Bran was captured? Well he was. But he's not anymore.

The Laws of Gods and Men, or, The Gods Have Some Pretty Dumb Laws

What a depressing episode.
We start with possibly the single most miserable segment I've ever seen in a show. Theon's sister not only failing to save him but actually abandoning him to a lifetime of torture. This shit's so miserable it would sap the fun out of even an exciting episode but on top of that we have Shea betraying Tyrion. I wanted to think she was forced to but it seems that she was simply too dumb to see through his dismissal of her. Varys also betrays him, which is no surprise but still sad.
Though we do finally get to see the Iron Bank, run by Mycroft Holmes no less, and Oberon, aka the Batman of Kings Landing, agrees to fight for Tyrion.

Mockingbird, or, Dr Doom in the House

A lot of stuff happens in this episode but what really matters is that Little Finger pushed Lysa off a mountain! This guy is definitely reaching Dr Doom levels. He's now Lord of the Vale and in a position to marry Sansa, making him the rightful ruler of Winterfell. Only problem is he lacks an army, and I don't expect the Lannisters will be too happy about any of this. Well see how he gets out of that one. I have no doubt he has a plan.

The Mountain and the Viper, or, Goodbye Batman

What a fight. What a shock. Oberon, we hardly knew ye.
I have no doubt Tyrion will get out of this little death sentence, mainly because this show's cardinal rule seems to never let you see a death coming. From Ned to Rob to Oberon, it thrives on sudden shock. Although, perhaps spending episodes building up to an execution only to actually have an execution would be its own brand of shocking..
Also North of the Wall the not-Vikings get closer and closer to attacking, and I have to wonder, why does NO ONE else care about this? Where are the reinforcements? How is their letter writing campaign going? We saw Stannis get a letter about it at the end of last season that he's apparently totally forgotten about. What about everyone else? Why aren't the Lannisters ordering the Boltons to send some troops so that this crazy huge army doesn't flood into Westeros.
In Daenerys's little kingdom of boring she finally finds out Joreh was once a spy. In a stunning display of idiocy she decides to banish him. Because a demonstrably won over enemy spy isn't valuable? And banishing your second in command, privy to all your most secret information, is always a good idea. Just ask Ser Barristan. 
Finally, Sansa smartens up for once and as a reward gets a new dress.

The Watchers on the Walls, or, Totally Not Helms Deep
So the Nights Watch has a building sized scythe blade on a giant chain for sweeping the wall. I wonder when they built that? In what century were they just sitting around contemplating different defense projects when one of them said "Ya know what would be great.."
All in all this was some good action with no real surprises. Ygritte died, as we all must have known she would although I'm glad Jon didn't do it, along with almost all of Jon's likable supporting characters. We end with Jon taking off on an assassination mission. Without a sword. Or any food. Not the best plan.

The Children, or, The Skeletons
In some ways every season I marvel that I, and millions of others, keep coming back to this show when every season ends exactly the same way, in despair.
Daenerys continues her season long slide into dullness by deciding to lock up her dragons in the catacombs. Why the catacombs? Why not outside like any other good owner of a potentially dangerous pet? Drama that's why.
And while she seals away the only magical creatures viewers came to the show to see we replace them with magical creatures no one wanted to see: poorly animated skeletons and fireball casting elves. I knew Bran's Magical Quest would have to have a magical ending, but I never expected him to end up at Hogwarts.
And then there's Shae. I could barely believe she was petty and vindictive enough to come back and pin a crime on Tyrion and Sansa she knows they didn't commit. But sleeping with Tywin just to hurt Tyrion? I'm assuming when he sent her away it was with enough money for her to give up whoring, so I can't think of any other reason. That doesn't seem at all like the Shae we spent two seasons getting to know. Maybe she suffered a personality changing head injury just in time to put Tyrion through the emotional crucible.
But, the truly heart wrenching segment of this episode revolved around Arya. The fight between Brienne and The Hound was one of the tensest, not to mention brutal, fights I've ever watched. Two beloved characters who would be on the same side if they only just talked, fighting to the death. No matter who wins, we lose a character. But then, after all that, for Arya to leave The Hound to die alone, in pain. That's just low. After all the time he'd spent protecting her since they met up, and it's not like he was very high on her list to begin with. What did he ever really do to her? Killed a boy she'd just met because he was ordered to. It's not like he had a say in it. Wouldn't it be enough to simply kill him? Does he really deserve worse than the names she's already crossed off with quick deaths? No, and so Arya takes her place among this shows ranks of amoral monsters.
The lone moment of hope in this episode comes from Stannis! The one king in all Westeros actually doing something to protect Westeros!
And so we end. The North is firmly in the control of the Hussein family. Old favorite The Hound and new favorite Oberon are dead and Arya might as well be. So what are we left with? Two plotlines. The adventures of Jon and Stannis and Tyrion and Varys. I can only hope they prove to be buddy-cop-esque.
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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/847101 2015-05-03T19:29:42Z 2015-05-04T06:03:08Z This Month's Reading - April 2015

Haven't read all that many pages this month. Still pecking away at the three tomes I've started, Don Quixote, Plutarch's Lives, and The Bible, but most of my time this month has been taken with trying to earn some Microsoft Certifications. Well, that and I discovered Marvel Heroes, which is like Diablo, but with Spider-Man. Naturally, a lot of my time disappeared. However, I did read a number of very short works, starting with two classics of youthful fantasy, Ursula K Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea and CS Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet.

Reading the two together makes a good case study in the two ways to go about world building. Namely, the right way and the wrong way. Le Guin is a grand master of world building. The world of Earthsea is patiently, enthrallingly constructed. Full of cultures and peoples, histories and mysteries. Her story exists fully inside the world she has constructed. Conversely, the world of Malacandra presented by Lewis is constructed the wrong way round. It is a world that exists solely for the sake of the story he wants to tell. The peoples and cultures are thin, transparently constructed things made to allow Lewis the chance to rattle off his social critique. Which is not to say Out of the Silent Planet is bad. The adventure is not entirely spoiled by Lewis's cloying moral lessons and his writing is frequently fantastic, particularly the segments describing intersolar space not as a cold, dead place but rather filled with light and heat. A beautiful synthesis of language and actual science. But, unfortunately, while space might not be his world comes across as rather cold and lifeless, particularly when compared against Le Guin's living, breathing worlds.

In addition to those two I started on some classics. This month, drunk off my first paycheck, I purchased the complete Penguin Little Black series. A set of 80, tiny books released by Penguin in celebration of their 80th Anniversary.  Comprised of poetry, short stories, and selections from larger works, each Little Black books is only about 60 pages. So as a fun, long term project I decided to read the whole set in chronological order. Since no Mesopotamian or Egyptian texts were included that means starting with the Greeks, and I've so far read the selections of Homer, Aesop, and Sappho. The Homer collected here is a couple short selections from The Odyssey, and Odysseus's wild antics are as entertaining as ever. Included here is the time he got a guy drunk, told him his name was Nobody, then stabbed him in the eye. Those wacky Greek sailors.
The short little parables of Aesop are surprisingly depressing. The ancient world was far less forgiving than ours. Many revolve around people having natural characteristics that cannot be changed. According to Aesop wicked people are born wicked and cannot be changed, and great peoples are simply born great and we should not waste time trying to join them. It's a perspective at odds with our cultures devotion to the ideals of redemption and personal growth. But, sometimes I worry that in some ways the ancients were closer to the truth than ourselves. Perhaps redemption and growth are comforting lies and we're more prisoners of our character than we like to believe. Maybe, but I think not.
Finally, Sappho. You may know her as the lady who gave lesbians their name after her lady-on-lady poetry so shocked the Victorians who rediscovered it. Strangely they didn't give the orientation her name, but rather that of her home island of Lesbos, although Sapphic is still an adjective for what you'd expect. In a more sensible world the term probably would have gone to bisexuality since at least a couple of her poems are about hot dudes, but I guess the Victorians really only focused on the bits that made them drop their monocles.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/818594 2015-04-01T04:06:07Z 2015-04-01T04:08:44Z This Month's Reading - March 2015

As I Lay Dying by Faulkner. Great book. What really stuck out to me was the more ruminating, philosophical segments. Faulkner tackles some big questions. The nature of identity, the existence of a reality outside our perception, the tenuous connection between the present and the past. But, what makes it remarkable is that he does so entirely through the mindset and limited vocabulary of his characters. It's incredible to see such heady concepts wrapped in such simple language. Segments like this one, where Darl contemplates the imminent death of his mother Addie:

"In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I don't know what I am. I don't know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is. How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home."

The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant's little tour through the nine most important thinkers in the philosophic tradition, at least according to Durant. I really like this book. Highly recommended. The only caveat is that one does have to keep in mind that it was written in the 1920's and there is occasional bit of sexism or Eurocentrism. But, if one simply ignores those, the vast majority is fantastic. For each of the nine philosophers Durant gives a brief biography, about two chapters explaining their key theories, then gives a concluding summary and criticism. To summarize his summaries, the nine are:
Plato: Durant spends most of his time on The Republic, Plato's effort to imagine a perfect society. There are many objections and holes that can be found with the society Plato proposes, Durant zeroes in with accuracy on the fact that it has no room for change, but in essence it is the dream that society would run by its wisest members. Philosophers would spend millennia repeating that wish in different words.
Aristotle: The eternal moderate, Aristotle's pragmatic solution to Plato's eternal questioning of ethics is the simple golden mean. Considering ethics now solved, Aristotle mostly focused on the natural world, and for that we owe him thanks. He brought philosophical attention away from lofty ideals and toward actually trying to make sense of the universe. Unfortunately, he never overcame his aristocratic aversion to actual work and so while he was a great observer and categorizer he never bothered to test any of his theories. Coupled with centuries of dogmatic devotion to his erroneous conclusions this leaves him with a legacy that is, at best, a mixed blessing.
Francis Bacon: The true founder of modern science as the first to truly call for rigorous testing and questioning of beliefs before reaching any conclusions. Perhaps best summed up with his own words, "if a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin in doubts he shall end in certainties."
Spinoza: A slippery one to summarize. Durant has trouble with it and so I, going off only his summary, have very little to offer. But, what I understand to be the basic gist of his philosophy, or perhaps just the starting point to it, is that universe and God are one and the same, and that good and evil are just human prejudices arising from a lack of total understanding.
Voltaire: The great satirist and tireless destroyer of superstition. More of a destroyer of other, tyrannical philosophies than a creator of new ones. The only philosophy he truly advanced was one of basic freedom and dignity. Though, as always, anyone advancing such a radical agenda as that has an uphill battle.
Kant: The master of obfuscation, Kant's philosophy is famously buried under his convoluted grammar and invented jargon. Durant thankfully unearths it to reveal a clever response to David Hume's idea that consciousness is little more than a bundle of sensations pressed upon it by the outside world. Kant's main point is that the mind is not a tabula rasa written on by the world, but is an active agent fitting these sensations into categories. As for where these categories come from, Kant argued that they are innate, permanent and eternal features of the mind. Modern thought would tell us that these categories are built by experience from infancy onward, both ours personally and the species as a whole.
Schopenhauer: The world is will. This is Schopenhauer's central point. By will Schopenhauer means the mass of drives and desires that lies underneath conscious thought. That is his big idea and lasting legacy. That humanity is not after all ruled by thought, thought is only a tool we use to justify and satisfy our unconscious desires. It was a big idea, and an important one, though Schopenhauer runs it into pessimistic extremes. Also, this section is perhaps Durant's largest failing in the book. He spends pages calling Schopenhauer out on his undue pessimism, but moves past his radical misogyny completely without comment.
Spencer: Hugely influential in his time but almost instantly forgotten, Spencer's great work was to frame all of existence into a generalized evolutionary model. The idea that all things work upward from nebulous beginnings to complexity and eventual dissolution. The planet forms, life begins, intelligence develops, society emerges, then, eventually, all these things dissolve only to someday to be reconstituted into new and perhaps greater complexity. Remarkably, Spencer came up with the basis of this theory before Darwin, built on a Lamarkian basis, and is the true creator of the phrase "survival of the fittest." Tragically his very compelling theory was used by others as the basis for the crushing ideology of Social Darwinism.
Nietzsche: Advocated the necessity of struggle and pain as the key to improvement and ennoblement and called for an increase of these things in society. While enthralling, thanks largely to Nietzsche's considerable literary talent, ultimately the world has more than enough struggling and pain without anyone's advocacy for their necessity. Only self hating members of the privileged few, like Nietzsche, could think otherwise.

The Tao of Architecture by Amos Ih Tiao Chang. Turns out this book was originally titled The Existence of Intangible Content in Archetronic Based Upon the Practicality of Laotzu's Philosophy, and boy does it read like it. Steven Pinker talks about what is dubbed the 'Classical Style' of writing nonfiction. As he puts it the goal is to write as if you are addressing a friend of yours and merely wish to draw their attention to something they may have overlooked. Carl Sagan was a master of this style. This book is about as far from the Classical Style as you can get. This is some dense, obfuscating, pointlessly complex prose I have ever seen. Sentences like "Expression of composite association in architectural space requires denial of dissociable characteristics."
Why did I keep at it even though its scant 70 pages feel like 700? Because buried underneath his writing Chang has some good ideas in here. Like the simple observation that we instinctively turn away from featureless solids, like blank walls, but are drawn to empty fields of view, such as open fields or long corridors. The attraction of void. As he puts it, in one of his most lucid passages, "In emptiness and beyond emptiness, there is unfulfillment of expectation or curiosity to suggest definite direction ... Unreal as emptiness is thought to be, it serves as the reminder of direction."

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/813753 2015-03-01T04:44:29Z 2015-03-04T01:25:17Z This Month in Reading - February 2015

I was able to do a good amount of reading this month, which marks the end of my almost full year of funemployment. A period that included about five months spent exploring Europe, three months visiting family and friends and celebrating the great holidays of Thanksgiving and Festivus, plus two months looking for a job when not indulging hobbies. Sadly, this, my first post, may be my longest. I only got the idea to reflect on my reading now that I won't have as much time to do so.

This month I read The Death of Ivan Illych and Other Stores. Barnes and Noble's slim little paperback collection of Tolstoy stories. It begins with Family Happiness, one of Tolstoy's earlier works written in 1859, and then jumps to the eponymous Death of Ivan Illych and The Kreutzer Sonata, both written in the 1880s, before finishing Hadji Murad, Tolstoy's final story written in 1912. It's remarkable how different the later stories are from Family Happiness. All display Tolstoy's unique genius for perfectly capturing the looping, paradoxical nature of human thought and feeling. But, Family Happiness feels more true, more honest than the later works. It was written before Tolstoy's spiritual awakening of the 1870's, before he became deeply devoted to an ascetic, pacifistic way of life. While there is much to be admired about these beliefs, indeed they were an inspiration to Gandhi and MLK among others, it seems to me they had a negative impact on his fiction. The later stories are notably more moralistic, more obviously pushing forward a set of beliefs, and also notably more fatalistic. Ivan Illych seems to take the positive attitude toward the transformative power of death that only the faithful can identify with, and The Kreutzer Sonata is a penetrating analysis of the pain and suffering that's bound with love and lust but presents abstinence as the solution to this. It's surprising that Tolstoy, with his genius for understanding human nature, would preach such impossibilities.
But, to circle back just a little, I have nothing but praise for Family Happiness. A beautiful meditation on the stages of life and the elusive nature of happiness, and simply one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever written. I recommend it to everyone.

Also this month was The Roald Dahl Omnibus. While most remembered now for his children's fiction this collection brings together a few of his many short stories written for adult audiences. It shows the same wild inventiveness as his younger oriented stuff, but also his mastery of tension. His best, such as Lamb to the SlaughterSkin, Neck, and The Ratcatcher, are like finely calibrated pieces of clockwork. Inevitably ticking away toward some crushing defeat or humiliation, but how and for whom is kept hidden until the instant they strike home.

I read some science fiction of the golden age variety with The Voyage of the Space Beagle and Slan by A.E. von Voigt. Voigt seems to me almost the epitome of Golden Age science fiction. His prose is simple and barebones and his characters wooden and fond of directly announcing their feelings. But, you find yourself enthralled regardless because Voigt, like the best of those of the golden age authors, isn't afraid to dream big. Genetically engineered, vampiric super-cats; galaxy suffocating, sentient nebulae; secret, labyrinthine Martian colonies built by telepathic supermen bent on world domination. This is the stuff that keeps people reading this dull prose more than seven decades later. But, what truly makes Voigt the epitome of that particular brand of scifi that flourished in the 30s and 40s isn't his wild ideas. It's his preponderance of opinions. Every big idea is built around these opinions, transparently constructed so as to showcase Voigt's beliefs. This guy has got some opinions and you are going to hear about them.
The most upfront of these opinions is the belief that a new science would, nay must, emerge that would be the synthesizing of all other sciences. 'Jack of all trades' elevated to a rigorous discipline. This belief takes center stage in Voyage of the Space Beagle. Written in 1939, and remarkably presaging both Star Trek and Alien, Space Beagle recounts the adventures of the titular spacecraft and it's crew of scientists as they explore the unknown. It also features some improbably hilarious outdated jargon: all crew members are armed with 'vibration guns,' commonly referred to as 'vibrators.' The main character, Dr. Grosvenor, is the ships sole devotee of the new syncretist science, here named 'Nexalism', and the plot exclusively revolves around him solving problems that the rest of the crew, made up of close minded specialists, cannot. Conveniently, with each crises the need for solutions that only Nexalism can provide grows and grows, until in the end Grosvenor is forced to use the godlike knowledge Nexalism provides to brainwash the rest of the crew into giving up their foolish resistance to his brilliance. This segways nicely into Voigt's other big belief: that the masses cannot rule themselves and monarchy is the solution. This is the belief that takes center stage in Slan, a novel about a young Slan boy named Jommy and his lifelong quest to free other Slans from persecution. What is a Slan? They are a race of telepathic superhumans cruelly oppressed by the tyranny of the mediocre masses. How does Jommy go about this quest? Largely by educating himself in all fields of science, and especially by inventing mind controlling crystals with which he can control the pliant minds of ordinary folk.
You'll notice here that Voigt is by no means advocating that the world be run by the politicking kings of the past. No, the world should be run by a man of science. One who is not a specialist, but a more broadly learned aficionado of all sciences. Ya know, someone like A.E. von Voigt.

I received The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer as a most wonderful gift. It is gripping. I ended up reading it in one night, and let me tell you, this book is dark. It does not shy away from the abuse that is so central to the main mystery of Twin Peaks but which could only be alluded to on network television. It could be quite hard to read.
Sadly, it only presents a handful of new facets to the surreal mythology of Twin Peaks. It was written between the show's two seasons and as such it stays devoted to the original driving mystery of the show: who killed Laura Palmer. and has little of the more expansive mythology that the show developed, likely out of desperation to keep viewers, after that mystery was resolved in the second season. In a lot of ways this made me appreciate that much maligned second season in a way I hadn't before. While it's correctly criticized as slow and meandering without the driving force of Laura's murder behind it, in retrospect it's really where a lot of the experimental world building took place. The introduction of dueling 'Lodges', the government conspiracy of Project Blue Book, the bizarre philosophizing of Windom Earle. Much of what most sticks in my memory and I most love about the show was only made after the best was over.

Also this month was Southern Mail, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's first novel. Saint-Exupéry is one of my favorite writers so it's no surprise I loved this. The writing is beautiful as always, though, not surprisingly, this one doesn't quite hit the same depths of feeling and thought as Wind, Sand, and Stars or The Little Prince.

I continue to slowly work my through The Bible. This month was the Books of Kings. Naturally enough it recounts the Kings of Isreal, picking up where the Books of Samuel left off with the death of David and the ascendency of Solomon. While the book briefly glosses over many kings that follow, Solomon is the only one who really stands out, though I was disappointed that he doesn't do much of anything besides the famous 'split that kid in two' incident. That and get a bunch of wives and a bunch of Gods. More Gods than he's allowed to have. Which is one. You can only have one God if you're the King of Isreal. Because of this Isreal gets split in two and no one who succeeds him, on either side, is any good. Probably because of this the book shifts gears and brings its focus back to the prophets, who get the thankless job of telling the kings how bad they are and how they oughta be running things.
We get in Kings one of the Bible's best passages I've yet encountered. When the Prophet Elijah goes to the mountain in despair and God visits him in a distinctly God way: "And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." What a beautiful description of omnipotence! This is the Old Testament at its best.
Then, on the other hand, we also get some of the Old Testament at its worst. Elisha, the inheritor of Elijahs prophetic powers, is walking out of a city and "as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them." That's it. All there is to the encounter. Nothing before it, nothing after it. Just some kids making fun of God's prophet so two bears are summoned up to murder them.

Also, a side note, this month I began watching both House of Cards and The Wire. While not readings as such, there is some damn fine writing in here. Watching both together also has the added bonus of making me acutely feel my East Coast roots. Being familiar with the look of both cities really does make both feel more real. Though, of the two The Wire feels far more real, far less stylized. It is also the better show. House of Cards sits in the lofty company of Game of Thrones, supremely watchable entertainment derived from watching a cast of diverse, well rounded character compete in a Darwinian struggle, but The Wire ranks along with Breaking Bad in the very topmost echelon of television. Shows that are not just slick and watchable but also about things. Good and evil, crime and punishment, justice and freedom. From The Wire's very first scene we get a crash course in the themes that will play out. It shows the crime scene set up around a murdered man we learn consistently stole from every illegal game of craps he entered. Why did they let him keep playing when he always ran off with the cash? "Because this is America." Right from the beginning, the whole show in microcosm. How much crime do we tolerate because we're committed to the ideals of freedom?

Lastly, I want to take a second to talk about Kurosawa's High and Low. I don't think I've ever seen a better celebration of the power of dignity and decency. The character of Mr. Gondo, played by the always perfect Toshiro Mifune, stands with Atticus Finch as one of fiction's greatest embodiments of all that is good. Importantly, Mr. Gondo is not materially rewarded for his goodness, which is a change Kurosawa made from the novel upon which the film is based. Instead, we are shown that the reward for being decent is simply being decent. "Why should you and I hate each other?" Gondo says to the man who ruined him financially, but not morally. Kurosawa shows us that the reward is more than enough.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/814205 2015-02-22T18:49:32Z 2015-02-22T18:55:18Z Some Thoughts on Twin Peaks

Serious spoilers below.

The Owls. One of the first things you learn about Twin Peaks is that the owls are not what they seem. What that really means is never quite explained, like so much else in the show. Many have concluded that the owls are the eyes and messengers of BOB and therefore wholly sinister. I disagree. The owls are not just the tools of BOB, they are how all the spirits in Twin Peaks see and interact with the material world. Both those from the White Lodge as well as the Black Lodge. The only denizen we meet from the benevolent White Lodge is The Giant. Similar to his humanoid form, when he interacts through the owls he is seen as an enormous owl. Major Briggs more or less directly states that he saw the giant owl before visiting the White Lodge, and in her Secret Diary Laura describes having one vision of an enormous owl. This explains the import Log Lady sees in her message to Laura that 'Some owls are big.' It is her cryptic and unhelpful way of trying to tell Laura that there are not just forces of evil in Twin Peaks, but good as well.

The Tremonds. Pierre Tremond and his grandmother are two of the most mysterious figures in Twin Peaks. They appear only once in the series, when Donna delivers a meal to the seemingly bedridden Mrs. Tremond. They are given a much larger role in the movie, most notably giving Laura the painting that allows her to visit the Red Room in her dream and receive Coops warning about the ring.
There has been much debate about the nature of the Tremonds, including one interesting theory that Pierre is a representation of a young Leland. I do not agree with this theory. I believe Pierre is a lesser spirit of the Black Lodge. Who is the grandmother? It is Pierre's host, similar to how Gerard is the host to MIKE. However, unlike Gerard and Leland, Mrs. Tremond has been a host so long she no longer has any resistance left in her. This relationship is most clearly shown in the scene with Donna, where Mrs. Tremond seems visibly afraid of both Pierre and the creamed corn on her plate. Pierre then vanishes the creamed corn into his hands. In the movie creamed corn was made the symbol of 'garmonbozia,' the pain and suffering of humans which the creatures of the Black Lodge feed upon. In the movie, during the 'meeting' that Philip Jeffries describes, we see MIKE and BOB talking at a table holding a large bowl of creamed corn. In the background sit Mrs. Tremond and Pierre, along with several other characters who are never seen before or since. At Pierre's feet, and no one else's, sits a smaller bucket of creamed corn. All this seems to imply that Pierre is a spirit of the Black Lodge and that Mrs. Tremond is not.
The question remains as to what role Pierre's is playing in the events of the show and film. His nature and his presence at the meeting imply that he is, or was, a familiar of MIKE just as BOB once was, though of a lesser variety. As such, in his actions he seems to be helping in MIKE's crusadge against BOB. This is why he guides Donna to Harold Smith and why he gives Laura the painting. It is however an open question whether he is still under the control of MIKE or if he seeks BOBs destruction for his own reasons.

The Ring. Specifically, the green ring bearing the symbol of Owl Cave first shown being worn by Teresa Banks in Fire Walk With Me. It is found by Agent Chester Desmond under a trailer we later learn was occupied by The Tremonds. After finding it he disappears, and his disappearance coincides with the brief reappearance of Philip Jeffries at FBI headquarters. Jeffries describes a meeting between spirits of the Black Lodge where we see the dwarf, also known as The Man From Another Place and in this movie revealed to be MIKE or at least a part of MIKE, say the line "With this ring I thee wed." Later, in her dream, Laura Palmer sees the ring being presented to her by MIKE and Cooper warning her not to take it. At the end, Gerard is able to pass to Laura the ring while BOB is attempting to posses her. She takes it, and this seems to stop BOB's possession and so he kills her. What are we to make of this? Why does Cooper warn her away from the ring when it seems to save her from BOB?
Simply, wearing the ring makes a person the property of MIKE. This is how Chester is able to be taken by the Black Lodge and why Cooper warned Laura away from it. Even though it saved her from BOB, she is now under control of MIKE and this is why she is stuck in the Black Lodge along with Cooper. This is why BOB is forced to give up the garmonbozia generated by her murder to MIKE. This also means the garmonbozia generated by Teresa's murder belong to MIKE, and the scene where Gerard confronts Leland on the street may be because BOB did not give that garmonbozia to MIKE.
This brings us to the motivation of MIKE with regards to the ring. There are two possibilities. Either what he said to Cooper is true and he no longer wishes to do evil and hopes to stop BOB, in which case the ring and all his actions in the series are attempts to starve BOB of garmonbozia, or he was lying to Cooper, he is still an evil spirit and is simply competing with BOB for garmonbozia.
A side note, in the meeting with BOB, immediately preceding his "With this ring I thee wed" line, MIKE has the even more mystifying line where he comments on the green, formica table in front of him. I believe this is simply a strange way of bringing the viewers mind back to the green ring, cementing even more clearly the connection between it and the following line.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/767270 2014-11-09T06:21:04Z 2014-12-07T15:50:23Z How to Fix Your Computer

That title may be a slight exaggeration. This will not tell how to fix absolutely everything, but, it's remarkable how many problems can be fixed in these simple steps. Do you think you have a virus? Is your computer filled with ads? Is an 'anti-virus' program you've never heard of constantly telling you to pay up? These things can (usually) be fixed with the following five steps:

1 - Boot Into Safe Mode with Networking

Safe Mode is a version of Windows where the number of programs running is restricted to the bare essentials. This means you can complete the following steps without the malicious programs actively trying to stop you, which is a very good thing. One way to get into Safe Mode is to hit the F8 key while your computer is booting up, before the Windows Splash screen appears. This should open up a menu from which you can select 'Safe Mode with Networking'. While this works, it's not the easiest way. The easiest way to boot into safe mode is through System Configuration. Simply open up your start menu and search for System Configuration, or, you can find it in your Control Panel under System and Security -> Administrative Tools. Once open just go to the Boot tab, then check the 'Safe Mode' box and select the Network option from the radio buttons. Selecting the Network option is important. This allows you to use the internet while in Safe Mode, which you will need. System Configuration is the preferred method to get to Safe Mode because it will keep booting your computer into Safe Mode until you change the setting. This is nice because the following steps will probably involve restarting your computer multiple times, and this way you don't have to hit the F8 key every time.

2 - Change Your Proxy Settings

This step counters a dirty trick that a lot of these malicious programs play on you. These vile programs will go into your internet browser settings and change them to reroute all your internet requests through their 'proxy'. In a nutshell this means that no matter what address you put into Chrome/Firefox/InternetExplorer the malware will reroute you to their own nefarious site. To undo this just open Internet Explorer and click the Tools button, then click Internet Options. Now go to the Connections tab and click LAN Settings. In the LAN Settings window simply unclick the box that says 'Use a proxy server'. You will also want to reset your Home page. Note: You need to be in Safe Mode to do this. If you do it outside of Safe Mode the malware will simply revert it back to their settings.

3 - Download and Run MalwareBytes

Now it's time to do a virus scan. In my experience no antivirus scanner comes close to matching the power of MalwareBytes. It is not an active antivirus program, at least, not without paying for it, so MalwareBytes will not actively protect you from infections. But, when it comes to performing a scan and removing infections, I have yet to see it beat. You can download it here, or, you can use the wonderful website Ninite. Ninite is simply a tool to make installing a variety of programs as easy as possible. Once you have it, simply open it up and let it run. You will probably need to restart your computer after it has finished removing whatever it finds. Make sure when you restart you once again boot back into Safe Mode with Networking.

4 - Download and Run AdwCleaner

MalwareBytes should have removed all the really malicious stuff from your computer, all the viruses and trojans and things of that nature. But, there's a whole mess of things that can be less harmful than viruses while still being a royal pain. These are called PUP's, standing for Potential Unwanted Programs. Things like adware and those aggressively annoying toolbars are all PUPs. For the longest time there was no easy way to remove these devils. They were the bane of my existence. Then AdwCleaner appeared on the scene and everything changed. Life was good again. You can download it here. Important note: do not click anything on that page, the download should start simply by opening the link. Simply install it and run the scan.

5 - Preventative Care

Time to boot back into regular mode. Simply open up System Configuration once more, go to the Boot tab, uncheck the 'Safe Mode' box and then restart your computer. Your computer should now be blissfully free of all the crap you had to deal with before. If the problem hasn't gone away you have a deeper infection than these simple steps could fix and you will need a more specialized approach. But, hopefully, your computer is clean, and now that it is let's take some simple steps to keep it that way. The first thing is to have a good anti-virus program. If you have Windows 8 you're in luck, it comes with very good Windows Defender built in. Just get rid of any other, less good antivirus programs you have such as Norton or Avast or, god forbid, McAffee and then make sure Windows Defender is turned on. SImply search for the 'Action Center' and there should be a large, friendly button asking if you want to turn on Windows Defender. If you have Windows 7 or below I recommend Windows Security Essentials, which is basically the same thing as Defender. You can download it from Microsoft, or you can again use NInite. It's also a good idea to update your preferred internet browsers and Java to the latest versions, again I recommend Ninite for that. The final step is to run Microsoft Updates.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/745864 2014-09-24T01:30:26Z 2014-12-07T15:50:54Z Jaunting Part 9: Spain

The final leg of my journey took me through the Iberian Peninsula. You can hear me talk about it here.

The section of the trip that really drew my camera was the beautiful Moorish architecture of Andalusia. This set is from the Alhambra of Granada. The first photo shows an exterior shot of the complex, followed by a sample of the gardens and courtyards. It's difficult to tell in a picture, but the arches in the courtyard are covered in intricate arabesques and in person the eye picks up on it making the whole scene even more beautiful. The next two pictures show closer views of some of the arabesques, and the one after is a sample of the tile work. The final photo is a particularly incredible domed ceiling inside the palace.

After Granada I visited Cordoba, once the center of Moorish power in Spain. The first photo show's a waterwheel that dates back to the time of Caliph, and behind it is a bridge even older than that, built by the Romans in 1st Century BC. The next photo shows the exterior of the Cathedral of Cordoba. On this site was originally a Roman temple to Janus, which was destroyed by the Visigoths to construct a church, which was substantially expanded and turned into a Mosque by the Moorish Caliph, which was then turned into a Cathedral after the Reconquista. The third photo shows a section of the interior forest of columns. The last photo shows part of the cathedral nave constructed in the center of the building during it's last repurposing. While pretty by itself, the nave really does spoil somewhat the open feel of the rest of the columned structure. In fact, when Charles V, who authorized it's conversion into a cathedral, visited it and saw the nave he commented "they have taken something unique in all the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city."

My final stop in Spain was the beautiful city of Seville. The first photo here show's the aptly named Seville Cathedral, followed by views of the city and cathedral gardens from the bell tower. The last two photos show first a section of the covered market the ambles through the downtown area, followed by the Metropolitan Parasol. The Parasol was constructed in 2011 and is possibly the largest wooden structure in the world. Tragically, I only learned you can go on top of the Parasol after I left.

These three photos show the Plaza de Espana, built in 1928 when Seville hosted the World's Fair.

Here we have the Alcazar of Seville, a palace that rivals the Alhambra. The first three photos show the entrance, a courtyard, and the golden dome of the Hall of Ambassadors room. The next two show an ivied fountain and a guardhouse, both of which can be found in the expansive gardens. The final photo is of an underground section that provided a place of comfortable coolness during the hot days for the palace residents.

Lastly I visited Lisbon. The first photo here shows the ruins of Carmo gothic church, which lost its roof in the devastating 1755 earthquake. The next photo shows a typical Lisbon street, followed by a shot of the 25 de Abril Bridge. Sister bridge to the famous Golden Gate and named for the day of the fall of the fascist regime in Portugal. The last photo is from the top of the Belem Tower, an old fort by the shore.

And that's it. After Lisbon I caught a plane back to the States, my four months abroad come to an end. I have one last video where I review the contents of the backpack that accompanied me all that way, which you can find here.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/745830 2014-09-23T22:44:46Z 2014-12-07T15:51:03Z Jaunting Part 8: Balkans, Istanbul, and Italy

The latest segment of my trip took me through the Balkan peninsula to the city of Istanbul, followed by a flight to Italy. You can hear me talk about it here.

Sarajevo was the highlight of my trip through the Balkans. The first in this set shows the Sarajevo City Hall and it's beautiful stained glass ceiling. This building was largely destroyed during the Serbian shelling and has only recently been restored. The next picture depicts one of the many Muslim cemeteries that dot the city. The following two pictures show the city itself and finally the last picture shows the street corner where archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, triggering the start of WWI.

The Westward segment of my voyage terminated in the city of Istanbul where I was finally able to see something I'd always dreamed of visiting, the Hagia Sophia. First constructed by the Emperor Justinian in 537, changed into a mosque by Mehmet the Conquerer in 1453, and finally turned into a museum by the Republic of Turkey in 1935 this building has been amazing people for one and a half thousand years.

But, upstaging the Hagia Sophia is the wonder situated just across the street. In a city of beautiful works the Blue Mosque is easily the greatest and ranks as the most stunning piece of architecture I've ever seen.

My next stop after a short flight was the Eternal City of Rome. We have here in order of construction: the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican, and the Sphere Within a Sphere sculpture inside the Vatican Museum.

The dome of the Florence Cathedral, the largest in the world until 1881. Second and third place went to the Pantheon and the Hagia Sophia respectively. The final shot is the city of Florence.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/737809 2014-09-07T18:41:35Z 2014-09-07T18:41:35Z On Cool

There are those who care about cool, who strive for it. They never are. They row tirelessly in the direction of cool, never approaching, beat back by the tide.

There are those who do not care about cool because they know that they are. They have found the hidden current that pulls effortlessly toward the direction of cool. Some found the current after much struggle, some had the luck or talent to find it from the start. They are cool. They are boring. Their interests, opinions and goals pushed by this single current even if they care not where they go.

Then there are those who do not know themselves to be cool and do not care. They drift in and out of that current, moment by moment, unconcerned, for they steer toward a destination determined only by themselves and seen by no others. These are the interesting people. 

All cool people are alike; each unconcerned, uncool person is uncool in their own way.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/728416 2014-08-23T18:19:26Z 2014-08-28T15:51:22Z Game of Thrones Impressions: Season 3

You can read my breakdown of season one here, and season two here.

Episode 1 Valar Dohaeris, or, Davos Lives!

Well that's a casual introduction to giants.

I like Margaery. She's a good Queen.

Davos has successfully gone from a rock to a hard place.

Episode 2 Dark Wings, Dark Words, or, Going Places

Brotherhood without Banners! Have I found my people? Are these the guys fighting for an egalitarian future for Westeros?

Queen Margery just keeps getting more likable. She's actually as smart as Cersei believes herself to be.

This episode Bran meets another magical kid. Not a fan of magical kids.

Episode 3 Walk of Punishment, or, Hands Down a Good Episode

I'm going to miss Hot Pie, but, it sure is nice to see someone on this show find a happy ending.

They finally addressed why Stannis and Mellisandre can't just shadow bang their way to success. Takes life force, doing it again would kill him, standard magic limit stuff. It works.

I'm really impressed by the way they introduce Catelyn's relations. The scene of them trying to set the funeral boat alight with the flaming arrow, and the younger's failure to do so, effortlessly tells us everything we need to know about these two characters, and their relationship, all in one entertaining scene.

That was quite an ending. I think I get why they did the rock music over the credits, to drive home the shock over the rather hands off approach of Jamie's captors. But, I don't agree with it. I found it so jarring that it actually pulled me out of the show rather than driving anything home.

Episode 4 And Now His Watch Is Ended, or, Seller Beware

Jamie is really going through some shit, quite literally. I hope he comes out of this a better person. There seems to be a theme in this show that goodness springs from hardship. The nobility of the Starks is attributed to the harshness of life in the North, Daenerys's kindness stems from a childhood spent in servitude, and Tyrion's tough life seems to have made him (so far) the only Lannister with a sense of empathy that extends past his family. In general the worse a character is the less they've had to deal with in their life. Jamie will be the test of this theme. Whether he comes out of this with a new sense of right or he's still up for pushing kids out of windows.

What happened to the other Stark kid? There's supposed to be two but the last few episodes the younger has gone the way of Cersei's kids. Speaking of which, ya know, for someone who can't shut up about how much she loves her kids we sure don't see them a lot.

Wow. Theon's savior was just bringing him back. That is some 1984 level shit. Fuck the Greyjoys. (I think he's being held by the Greyjoys? Still not sure what's going on there)

I feel so bad for Sansa. She really does not have a mind for subtlety. She does not belong at court.

Aww, man. The Brotherhood is religious? I wanted them to be social revolutionaries not zealots.

Craster's dead! Too bad the Nights Watch had to fall to pieces to make it happen. Really a mistake on the part of the Commander, should have known that your troops first loyalty will always and forever be to their stomachs. Try to stand between them and food when they're in the cold, starving and all you'll get is mutiny. Should have killed Craster himself and been a hero to his troops. It's not like your going to need him much longer anyway, you know an army of White Walkers is on its way.

Daenerys is now ready to steamroll the world. She's got an air force AND an army of super soldiers. There's no conceivable way anyone in Westeros could compete with that. Of course, that's why she won't get there for a long time I'm guessing. Long enough for Winter to truly arrive and the situation to look hopeless for everyone. Then she can show up and we can have a massive White Walker vs Dragon battle. Like somethin outa some kinda song of ice and fire or somethin'.

Episode 5 Kissed by Fire, or, Jon Snow Learns Something

The Brotherhood can bring people back to life? Well that's an advantage in war. Or maybe their leader is Wolverine.

As happy as I am to see Jon Snow get lucky, his segments are really getting dull.

Oh Rob, you were doing so well. Why must you start making mistakes now. How could you ever reason that executing the leader of half your forces is a good idea.

So we learn the reason for Jamie killing the Mad King. I feel like this was supposed to be a big revelation, but really was there ever any doubt the Mad King deserved to be killed? I already thought that killing the old monster was the one endearing thing about Jamie. But! The fact that the show is now building up his good side after all he's been through seems to support my theme hypothesis. Looking forward to future developments from the ole' kid crippler.

Marying off Cersei and Tyrion is some pretty good politicking on Tywins side. I understand why they'd be upset, but it's really not that bad a situation. Sir Tyrell is almost certainly not going to care what Cersei does. If she ever gets Jamie back I'm sure they could get back into old habits. Sansa already has a liking for Tyrion, since he occasionally went out of his way to help her, and she's already friends with his real girlfriend. If she had any sense she'd be thrilled to be positioned with friends and outside the reach of Joffrey. Of course, that relies on Sansa having common sense.

Episode 6 The Climb, or, That's Impossible

No one could actually do that climb.

Dang, Little Finger finally became unlikable. I mean, I always knew he was ultimately in it for himself. Just like everyone else in this show. But, I thought he had enough conscience to at least feel bad about the things he had to do. Granted, that theory was already falling apart last season after his rather unsympathetic pep pimp talk to the crying Ros. But, there's a difference between rhetoric and action, and I'm sad to see what a monster he really is. I'd also hoped he had the sense to see the bigger picture and know that being rich and powerful in a stable kingdom is better than being the head of a failing state. Alas, Varys was right and Little Finger will indeed let the realm burn to rule the ashes. At least Varys seems to be all those good things I'd hoped Little Finger was. I think him and Margaery are currently the most likable characters.

Episode 7 The Bear and the Maiden Fair, or, That's Actually a Pretty Good Title Already

Tywin's the best. Not that I root for him, just that every time he's in a scene you know it's gonna be good. Somebody is going to get glared into submission, and when that somebody is Joffrey it's all the better. I'm trying to imagine Tywin and Stannis having a conversation and I just can't do it. The glaring is just too intense. I desperately hope they get a scene together at some point. 

Jamie is looking remarkable moral these days. While it's debatable, I don't think pre-amputation Jamie would have gone back for Brienne. So far my theme idea is holding up. Also, that former Maester mad scientist guy's got a lot of potential. I hope he sticks around.

Sidenote: the direction in this episode was really, really strange. Every conversation seemed to end on some sort of odd, lingering shot of nothing in particular and the CGI has never looked more fake.

Episde 8 Second Sons, or, The Other Wedding

Davos learning how to read is adorable.

Other than that, Tyrion and Sansa get married okay, Sam lucks into killing a White Walker and Daenerys befriends a creepy psycho. Not too much development. Though, learning that Daenerys doesn't speak Dothraki nearly as well as she thinks she does was a great little character moment.

Episode 9 Rains of Castemere, or, The Maroon Matrimony

Wow, John Snow totally just left Ygritte. Didn't see that coming. He's a bit of a jerk.

So. That's the wedding I've been hearing about. I'm impressed by Catelyn's dedication to making terrible decisions right to the very end. Pretty sure even the peasants of Westeros could have told you that Frey don't care about his wife. 

I guess the war is over now, with the North leaderless and plagued by pirates. I don't really feel like the show has much to drive it anymore. Arya needs to grow up and get her revenge, but that's been happening for like two seasons and unless it speeds up it can't really carry my interest. I really do not care in the slightest about Brans magical quest. I want to see Theon freed, but that's because I don't want to watch anymore torture, not because I care about Theon. Daenerys is still making things happen, but she's so far removed from everything else that half the time her segments seem more distracting than anything else. The Lannisters versus the Tullys, which seems to be on the horizon, could be entertaining but I don't really care which of them wins. What else is there? I guess I'll watch the next episode and see what it's got to offer now, but at the moment I feel my interest in this show deflating. It feels like every plot has stagnated, and rather than freshen things up the whole Red Wedding has just moved things even farther back. The Starks had always been on the losing side. Now they've lost. Not much of a story, that.

Episode 10 Mhysa, or, Daenerys Muad'Dib

Alright, I guess this show is still worth watching if it's finally ready to start up the war against winter. It's built up everyones hatred for each other to a fever pitch and then suddenly they have to work together. Should keep things interesting. Well played show, well played.

That ending, with Daenerys being lifted up by all the freed people, was really too saccharine for this show. I guess they wanted something positive after how dark everything else had just gotten, but it makes it feel even more like Daenerys is part of some totally different show.

So at the end of this season the award for least likable easily goes to the Orwellian fuck keeping Theon captive. Nobody deserves that. Not even the Greyjoys. I'd say the most likable characters right now are Varys and Queen Margaery. Hooray for capable, non-malevolent statesman. Tyrion remains as enjoyable as ever, though he hasn't been up to much this season. As for the other 'hero' Jon Snow has transitioned from boring to annoying. Hopefully the next season has something more interesting in store for him. Daenerys has become the obvious hero, and I do hope this show ends with her sitting at the throne, but she's starting to become a little too cartoonishly good. While it's hard to argue with the tactics of freeing slaves and therefore getting an incredibly loyal army, especially when they've already been trained as super soldiers, I do hope the next season has some hard choices to throw her way.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/724322 2014-08-07T12:44:28Z 2014-12-07T15:46:05Z Jaunting Part 7: Prague, Vienna, and Slovenia

You can hear me talk about this part of my trip here.

Prague! Beautiful city. The second photo here is the Astronomical Clock I mention in the video. In the last photo you can see the Television Tower. That tower is visible from most of the city, a lot of people hate it I think it's kind of neat. Though, the tower is crawling with these faceless baby sculptures that are some of the creepiest things I've ever seen. Seems like such an odd choice to me, a building like that already struggling to justify itself, how do we make it better? Faceless babies!

Two shots of the Sedlec Ossuary and the quite scenic town it resides in. The sigil in the first shot was actually put together in the 1700s when the place was refurbished.

Vienna! Some interesting architecture: the Parliament, the Secession Hall, and the Hundertwasserhaus. The last four photos are from the Hapsburg Summer Palace.

Some quick photos I took of a few of the marvelous Hapsburg treasures.

First we have here Lake Bled in Slovenia. Second is Bled Castle which overlooks the lake, and the last are from my ascent of Mt. Stol which lies a few miles from the lake. My legs are still sore some four days later.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/716196 2014-07-20T17:16:30Z 2014-12-07T15:51:28Z Jaunting Part 6: Paris and Bruges

At last this stage of my journey took me to continental Europe! You can hear my talk about it here.

But, before I get to the titular cities I actually had one last stop in the UK. I made a final visit to London and made a day trip to Bath. The first picture here is the Bath Abbey, and second is just a nice canal a little out of Bath city center. The last two pictures are from London, the Millennium and Tower bridges.

Some big metal thing in Paris! After that is a picture of the back of Notre Dame, which I find even prettier than the front. Last, I have two pictures of the kind of stunning palaces you'll find dotted about Paris if you walk past enough beige buildings. Speaking of the beige, it turns out there's a reason so much of Paris feels like it was all designed by one guy. It was! Georges-Eugene Haussmann, he led a huge renovation of Paris in the late 1800s which did wonders for public health and safety.

After Paris I caught a train to Bruges. The most noticeable feature of the city is the Belfry. Below is a picture of it at night, but what you can't see in a picture is the delightful sound of it's carillon that rings through the city on the hour.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/710499 2014-07-03T21:59:48Z 2014-08-24T16:29:54Z Game of Thrones Impressions: Season 2

You can find part one here.

Episode 1: The North Remembers, or, Setting Up

Stannis seems a very disagreeable fellow. Did he pick his council from the cast of a horror movie? Everything about this guy and his camp is creepy. Ned wanted this guy to be king?

Rob Stark is smart enough to look for allies. He is on an exponential likability curve.

Tyrion is never more likable then when he's putting down the other Lannister's. 

I really hope they end up killing Craster the Fantasy Fritzl.

Episode 2: The Night Lands, or, Incest and Infanticide

Who is this well spoken man in the cage talking to Arya? Does this show have a Hannibal?

Theon's family is even more annoying than he is.

Maybe I misjudged Stannis, now that I know he's on board the Light train for practical reasons he's much more likable. Though besides being annoying Melisandre, Stannis's religious nut job, seems very out of place in this show. Everyone else is a complex mix of good and bad, and then she walks in with her gloomy fanatic talk and creepy leitmotif. If she was a man she'd have a mustache to twirl.

Really John Snow? You lost to Fantasy Fritzl?

Episode 3: What is Dead May Never Die, or, Teaching Arya is Bad for Your Health

Cersei is really starting to lose it. Guess she wasn't as up to this game as she thought she was. Too bad, her efficacy was her only likable feature. Also, she has other kids? Is this the first time they were introduced, or are they that forgettable?

Wow. Sansa. I thought her and Tyrion's Chief Executive Prostitute were going to be friends. Then Sansa opened her mouth. It's amazing how quickly she destroyed the sympathy I'd developed for her.

I'm not sure how I feel about about Renly yet. I feel like he could actually be a good king if he didn't seem so naive.

Arya's really making a habit of losing likable teachers.

I don't think Theon is capable of a good decision.

Episode 4: Garden of Bones, or, What the Hell is That?

Alright, I hate Joffrey. He is the worst.

Qarth is refreshing. An oligarchy. Things run so much more sensibly when ideas can be questioned. How many times in this show has something gone horribly because no one can directly question a kings decision?

When I said the Melisandre was from a horror movie I didn't know how right I was. Now we even know which horror movie: Rosemarys Baby

Episode 5: The Ghost of Harrenhal, or, I Still Don't Know What That Thing Was

Renly would have been a good king. Being sociable and nice isn't a liability in a king. so long as one can have those features without naivety or weakness it's an asset. Something none of these other grim and dour kings seem to understand.

Fantasy Hannibal is back and is indeed a Hannibal.

Episode 6: The Old Gods and the New, or, Joffrey Gets Slapped

Theon what are you doing. This is the most awkward occupation ever.

Why doesn't Arya have Fantasy Hannibal kill Tywin? Even though that would make a little sad, he's a surprisingly likable old monster.

Poor Sansa. I was enjoying the riot till she got cornered. She may be annoying but she really does not deserve all the shit that keeps happening to her. I like The Hound. Of course, it would be hard not to after that.

I really don't care about Qarth. I believe because Daenerys doesn't really know what she should be doing there. Characters having muddled or uncertain goals can be fine for the short term, but having them stay that way is antithetical to good drama.

Episode 7: A Man Without Honor, or, This Occupation Got Dark

So I had John Snow pegged as one of the heroes of this show but eventually he's going to have to do something other than get captured. On the flip side, I like Ygritte. She was generic before, but now she's got some ideals. Or at least pretends to. Freedom. 

Whelp. So much for the oligarchy. 

Holy shit. Theon. What have you done. 

I don't believe it. Those kids can't be dead. There was too much left to their story. It can't be that hard to find a couple child size corpses in Winterfell, maybe he found some and burned those.

Episode 8: The Prince of Winterfell, or, Hodor Lives!

Hodor lives! Though, Theon isn't any less reprehensible. I think killing two defenseless orphans ranks about the same as killing your brothers.

I can't believe Catelyn let Jamie go. I mean she's always been a little dumb, but this. Man. I thought she was going to stand guard with Brienne. Or cut something off to appease the blood thirsty crowd. Giving away your only bargaining chip is not how you get your daughters back.

I officially like Stannis, but I like Davos the Onion Knight even more. An onion is definitely the best sigil. Pretty sure it's the only useful one.

Episode 9: Blackwater, or, Saving Private Tyrion

The Hound rocks.

Surprisingly for the big climactic battle scene no one of any importance died. Except possibly the Onion Knight. I hope he comes back.

Episode 10: Valar Morghulis, or, This Show's Got Ninjas

How on Earth did Fantasy Hannibal the Magical Ninja get captured and sent to the Night Watch in the first place? I guess I need to stop calling him Hannibal, he was never the serial killer I thought he was. As much as I wanted Arya to go with him and learn the tools of the trade it's probably for the best that she didn't. Arya's teachers haven't had the greatest life expectancy.

Why don't Stannis and Melisandre just make another shadow thing to kill Joffrey? Is there a range limit or something? This is the problem with magic. If you give it rules it kills the mystery, but without rules you wonder why it can't solve every problem.

Maybe I just have brain problems, but there's two things about this finale that don't make any sense to me. Firstly, when Danerys got to Qarth she had like 30 guys. They made it seem like they were all killed when her dragons were taken, I thought all she had left was Joreh and her one Dothraki bodyguard. But then at the end she seems to have a whole troop again. How many people does she have? Did she take some of Qarths people? With their entire council dead it's probably a good time to find some recruits. Secondly, I thought Winterfell was surrounded by Starks and the 20 pirates took up Rob's offer to surrender Theon and go home free. But then the kids wake up and Winterfell is burned with nary a Stark troop to be seen. Was it Greyjoys outside the wall? Theon said he looked at them, I think he would have recognized Greyjoy banners. Were they flying false banners as an elaborate practical joke? That seems ... Costly.

So at the end of this season, Tyrion remains the main hero of the show. John Snow's been demoted on account of doing absolutely nothing. I really like Rob, Joreh, and the Onion Knight. The least likable person is obviously Craster. But, among the main cast that award goes to Joffrey. Him and Cersei seem to get more awful by the episode. 

It really is remarkable that there's someone I like on every side. Except the Greyjoys. Nobody likes the Greyjoys.


Click here for season three.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/710097 2014-07-02T23:44:07Z 2014-07-03T01:21:35Z Jaunting Part 5: North Ireland and Scotland
My most recent travels were through the lands of the Scots. By this I mean North Ireland and Scotland, but it could be said of both because the Scoti were actually a tribe from Northern Ireland that took what is now Scotland from the Picts. You can hear me talk about this part of my trip here.

One site of particular interest in Northern Ireland is the Giant's Causeway and it's peculiar hexagonal columns of rock. One of the few other places on Earth that has formations like this is a small island between Ireland and Scotland, which may have had an influence on the creation of the legend I described in the video. The first three of these photos show the Causeway, the next three pictures show places that have the distinction of being notable spots in both North Ireland and Westeros. First we have a most interesting space that was once Renly Baratheon's camp but now an auxiliary parking lot. Next is the Iron Islands harbor, and last is a set of caves where a most unusual birth took place.

The Dark Hedges. Truly a spectacular spot. Tragically one of the trees had died at some point, but I even found that stump oddly pretty. Trees so lovely they even make beautiful corpses. This place too was used in Game of Thrones. While most locations are found to fit the scenes they have in mind, here they actually created a scene just to use this location. It's the road Arya takes when leaving King's Landing. To shoot that 8 second scene they had to cover the road with dirt, take down all the fencing, and then put it all back the way it was.

After North Ireland I came to the city of Edinburgh. The first picture is of the Sir Walter Scott Memorial, the second of Edinburgh Castle, and the rest are simply the sort of views one gets walking around that remarkable, beautiful city.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/708395 2014-06-27T21:39:04Z 2014-07-03T22:00:48Z Game of Thrones Impressions: Season 1

I'm a little behind the times. While everyone has been freaking out about Game of Thrones for years, I just finished season one. I'd heard from many that this was a show where your feelings toward the characters will change and change again as the show goes on, so, as a bit of fun I thought I'd record how my feelings toward the characters change on an episode by episode basis.

Episode 1: Winter is Coming, or, Wow What A Bunch of Assholes

Wow, what a bunch of assholes. Ned's pretty decent, though his allowance of the treatment of John Snows is less than noble. Tyrion is my favorite. Just like everyone else from what I hear.

Least likable has to go to Viserys. Which is impressive when you consider he's competing with a child killer.

Episode 2: The Kingsroad, or, Don't Play With Nobles

Oh, only an attempted child killer.

Tip for living in Westeros: don't play with people whose fathers can have you executed.

I like Jorah quite a bit. It's hard to believe he was a slaver.

I've heard a lot of hate for Joffrey, but I can't say I share it. He's just a kid. Kids world views are determined by their upbringing. I actually feel for the little monster a bit. He thinks he's the center of the universe and when anything threatens that assumption you can see his world begin to crumble. It's not his fault, Cersei raised him that way. Hate her, not him. Except I'm guessing her upbringing wasn't much different. Those crazy insulated Lannisters.

Episode 3: Lord Snow, or, An Hour of Talking

So Tyrion and John Snow are clearly the two heroes of this show.

Arya's got potential. Daenerys too. Despite hoping she fails because the Dothraki are horrifying I'm starting to really like Daenerys. Great character growth.

I like Little Finger.

Episode 4: Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things, or, Even More Talking

Not much changes in this one.

Sam the Neckbeard shows up on the wall, more than a little out of place. If his family had any sense they would have dumped him with the clergy rather than the foreign legion. Maybe they don't have monks in Westeros.

Episode 5: The Wolf and the Lion, or, Does That Kid Eat Anything Other Than Breast Milk?

I don't know Ned, that pregnant girl with a claim to the throne is in charge of an angry horde ready and waiting to grind all of civilization into the dust. Pretty sure she needs to die. If you want to avoid assassination and infanticide maybe you should try a government that doesn't run on bloodlines. Maybe you could have set up an oligarchy or something instead of letting your drunken war buddy take sole authority over millions of lives. Also, I wonder how they knew about this. I think Jorah's a spy. Which makes me like him even more.

Wow, this lady is crazy. Lysa is going to be fun to hate.

Episode 6: Golden Crown, or, Fucking Finally

I'm so happy Viserys is dead. So happy.

Episode 7: You Win or You Die, or, A Lot of People Die

Whelp, the most despicable force in this world is now planning to invade civilization. Should've sent more assassins.

King Robert is dead. Can't say I'll miss him. Never really formed an opinion one way or another, mainly because it was clear he wouldn't be around long. The entire drama of the show stems from the question of his succession, he had to die pretty soon to make that interesting.

I like Little Finger even more for betraying Stark. Thank God someone stopped that maniac from starting a civil war over who a guys dad was. Nobodies got time for that, the Dothraki are coming! And I think Autumn is ending or something.

Episode 8: The Pointy End, or, Shut Up Sansa

I like Varys the Eunech. Him and Little Finger seem to be the only ones trying to keep this crazy country working while all these mad nobles keep trying to tear it apart with their ridiculous blood feuds.

Rob Stark has upgraded from nonentity to quite likable. Though, his sense of strategy seems a bit basic.

I didn't even realize how much I liked that sword teacher until he was gone. I will miss him.

Sansa is the least likable character on this show. Everyone else is awful for very deep and human reasons. This girl is just dumb.

Episode 9: Baelor, or, Ned Will Never Get Ahead in Life

Rob's sense of strategy was top notch after all. Very likable indeed.

Johns got the requisite special hero sword. He's definitely going places.

Filch is in this show! And he's talking about banging a 15 year old. This makes me feel very uncomfortable about his role at Hogwarts. Also, Catelyn promises the oldest male Stark will marry one of his daughters? That seems like a mighty big prize to give to some minor noble. He probably would have accepted Bran. Some speculation: such a marriage isn't nearly dramatic enough a fate for a character in this show. Which means it won't happen. Which means Robs war will not end well for him.

Oh, okay. Now I understand the Joffrey hate.

Episode 10: Fire and Blood, or, An Old Lady Saves the World and No One Cares

Poor Sansa. Rob's getting a bit big for his britches. Being King of the North is great but without allies you won't be king of anything.

So the most likable character of this season was the old witch who took out Drogo. Tough old lady saved the world. Too bad about what happened to her.

I guess Jorah isn't a spy. Or maybe his allegiances have changed. Which makes sense. If you're looking for the winning side, the one with dragons is going to be a pretty safe bet.

Out of the permanent cast Tyrion and John Snow continue to be the only truly lovable characters, and at this point it's quite hard to pick a least likable. Now that Sansa's lost everything she finally appears to have wised up. That leaves Joffrey but I still can't bring myself to hate him. I look at him and I just think "Yep, that's what you get when you raise a kid to be a ruthless egoist and yet always obey you. Eventually he's going to rail against one of those things, hard, and it's probably going to be the latter." I guess the award of least likable goes to Lysa the Crazy by default.


There's now a Part Two

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/706819 2014-06-24T22:14:27Z 2014-06-26T18:32:37Z Jaunting Part 4: Ireland

Recently I've taken a short hop through Ireland. You can hear me talk about it here.

The first step was getting to Ireland. I made my way to Liverpool with the hopes of taking the ferry. Hopes that were dashed with the discovery that the Liverpool ferry does not accept foot passengers. But, I still had a good time in the city. It boasts not one but two enormous cathedrals. There is the Anglican Cathedral which is made in the more traditional fashion of cathedrals: enormously heavy stones somehow stretched effortlessly into the heavens. For a small fee you can go to the top of this cathedral, which is where I took the overhead shot of the city. On the way to the top you get to see the bell machine. Across town is the Catholic Cathedral. Built in the 1960s this cathedral has a bit of a radical design: a circle. I liked this one more. While the Anglican cathedral is undoubtably the more impressive, it's not to different from many other cathedrals you'll city scattered across the UK. The Catholic Cathedral was refreshingly innovative.

Also in Liverpool is another branch of the Tate. Sadly when I went there 2 of the 4 floors were closed, but, one of the open floors was a fantastic exhibit on Mondrian and Muhamadi. If you're unfamiliar with the name Mondrian you may know his work the same way I originally did: the painting Commander Data keeps in his cabin aboard the Enterprise-D. The coolest part of the exhibit is they constructed a replica of Mondrians study which he decorated in a manner similar to his paintings. Though the second half of that exhibit was even more exciting because it was totally new to me. I had never heard of Narseen Muhamadi before but I really enjoyed her work. It consists of intricate, mathematical seeming drawings. All done by hand. I have a real soft spot for the geometric in art. A favorite style of mine is Vorticism, a tragically short lived art movement from the 1910s.

Dublin! The first two photos here show a rare sight: two of the only tall structures in all of Dublin. The Wellington Monument and the Dublin Spire. Next is the Old Library at Trinity College. While the main reason to pay is to gaze upon a few pages of the Book of Kells your admission also let's you see this gorgeous hall. I've been to a few grand libraries of the old style, though this was the nicest, and while they look like heaven the illusion is worn somewhat when you actually look at the titles on the shelves. In my experience most libraries of this ilk are dominated by the sort of record keeping that has thankfully been replaced with databases. Titles like Town Hall Meeting Notes Jun-Sept 1894. The last picture here is a shot of the interior of Kilmainham Gaol that shows it's partial implementation of the panopticon design pattern.

From Dublin I made my way over to Galway and went on a couple tours to see some sights of the West coast. First up was a trip through the Burren stopping at the Cliffs of Moher. The first photo here is the Poulnabrone dolmen, a Stone Age burial site inside the Burren that likely predates the Pyramids. The second photo is a sample of the typical Burren landscape, which is of a type known as karst. A frequent but consistently interesting site in this part of Ireland is abandoned abbeys, several of which I was lucky enough to explore. Finally we have here three shots of the famous Cliffs.

The second tour was to take in some of the hills and mountains of Connemara. The first three shots here show that majestic scenery. The star attraction of this tour though was Kylemore Castle. A lovely estate built in the 1800s by a wealthy Brit by the name of Mitchell Henry. After honeymooning in Connemara his wife fell in love with the place and so he bought an enormous amount of land and had this fairytale castle and Victorian garden constructed as a lavish gift to her. Tragically they only had a scant few years there. The castle was finished in 1871 and his wife died of dysentery on a trip to Egypt in 1874. After her death Mitchell started work on a miniature Neo-Gothic cathedral near the castle dedicated to her memory. One very notably feature of the cathedral is the differently colored marble columns, each type of marble coming from one of the four corners of Ireland. Unfortunately I didn't note which marble came from where and to my shock I can't find this information on the internet. The only one I can recall is that the gorgeous green variety came from Connemara.

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/703096 2014-06-12T21:10:13Z 2014-08-17T09:23:36Z Jaunting Part 3 Cornwall and Wales

The third stage of my journey has taken me up and down Cornwall and all the way across Wales. You can hear me talk about it here.

The first place after St Michaels Mount was the gorgeous city of St Ives. Here are three photos I snapped viewing it from the front, back, and top. Right next to the city is an outcropping of land known as The Island. This wonderful little patch of green is important as a Coast Guard watch station. Besides the station the only building upon it is the picturesque Chapel of St Nicholas.

Right off the coast of St Ives is the rocky islet hosting a seal colony known as Seal Island . When I went we were even lucky enough to have bottle nose dolphins come by. They seem to delight in dodging photos, but I managed to get one on camera. You won't have any trouble finding a boat to take you out to see the seals, there are many advertising the service around the harbor. I recommend catching the Prime Time if you can.

After that I was taken around Lizard Peninsula, the most Southernly place in all the UK.  Absolutely perfect hiking country, There's a hiking trail that goes all the way around the peninsula, and indeed all of Cornwall, that I would love to take someday. Fun fact: no one knows for sure why it's called The Lizard. But, it was most likely a corruption of "Lys Ardh", Cornish for "high court".

On the way from Cornwall to Wales I stopped briefly in both Exeter and Bristol. I grabbed a few pictures of the lovely Exeter Cathedral. In a terrible lapse of judgment I failed to get any of Bristol.

Next stop for me was Cardiff. The harbor features a bevy of interesting architecture. Shown below are the Welsh Millennium Centre, a theater and center for the arts, and The Pierhead Building. The Pierhead Building is currently being used as a startlingly dull educational center but is still worth a visit just for the distinctive architecture. At the center of the city lies Cardiff Castle. Easily the best castle I've seen so far.

Of course the most drawing part of Cardiff for a nerd like me was the Doctor Who Exhibit. They've got there the original console rooms used in the 80's and 2000's, and a recreation of the original console that was made for the An Adventure in Space and Time docudrama. Which is quite a good film, I recommend it if you're a fan of the show. Plus, they have a ton of props from the recent 50th Anniversary Special, including all three TARDIS's.

One day whilst staying in Cardiff I took a short visit up to the Brecon Beacons. The seemingly gently cresting hill you see in this first photo is Sugarloaf Mountain. All of the Brecon Beacons has such gentle curves that it's very difficult to convey the height of it on camera. Without depth the whole place looks a little flat. I hope the last two photos here, taken at the summit of Sugarloaf, give some sense of the altitude. While not particularly high for a mountain, cresting at almost 600m, it is still higher then it may appear.

After Cardiff I went up to Snowdonia in Northern Wales. While all of that country proved to be lovely what brought me out there was Portmeirion. Besides being the location for the greatest show of all time Portmeirion proved to be one of the most drop dead gorgeous places I've ever seen. The show barely does it justice. It was built in the 1920s and the architect had his mind on proving that buildings and nature could be seamlessly interwoven to the beautification of both and I believe he succeeded. While I was leaving I noticed someone had driven there in the same model car featured in The Prisoner opening. The castle in the background is a restaurant not far from Portmeirion.
Sadly this is as close as I got to the Snowdonian mountains. So named because they surround the tallest peak in all the UK: Mount Snowden. But, even from this distance they make quite an impression.
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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/703059 2014-06-12T17:53:04Z 2014-06-12T17:53:04Z Jaunting Part 2 England

The second stage of my journey took me through Southampton, Oxford, and London before heading to the city of Penzance in the Southwestern tip of the UK. You can hear me talk about that trip here.

Southampton was startling to an American simply in the way that such ancient structures were seamlessly interwoven into the modern city. The pictures below show some of these. Most prominent is the medieval gatehouse that sits in the middle of the shopping district, but you'll find interwoven through the whole city ancient walls like the ones shown in pictures 2 and 3. The final picture shows the Church of Holyrood. Built in 1320 this church was reduced to a mere shell in 1940. The destruction brought about in that war is staggering. The destruction of history has always gone hand in hand with war, but it wasn't until the modern age that such wholesale destruction could be done so casually. This church wasn't even a target. Just in the way.

After Southampton I travelled North to Oxford. The most impressive sight to be seen in Oxford is Christ's Church, a college and cathedral. Fun fact, it was used extensively in filming the Harry Potter films. It's also surrounded by an extensive park area known as Christ's Church meadow which is positively lovely.

Of course you'll find beautiful buildings all over Oxford. The first one in this set is the famous Radcliffe Camera, but I don't even know what the other two are. They're just the sort of beautiful buildings you run into walking around that city.

Though I think my favorite spot in the city was actually Holywell Cemetery. Bit of an unusual place to be ones favorite, but it had a very tranquil atmosphere.


Next came a short sojourn in London, which I hope to see more of before I leave the UK. The below pictures go through some of the sites I saw there and I'll speak on each of them in order. I stopped by Buckingham Palace and while I'd seen pictures of the palace before but somehow I've managed to never see the Victoria Memorial located right out front. A massive, beautiful, golden statue. That night I went out and walked all around Parlament and got this photo of Big Ben. Fun fact: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell. The tower is actually named Elizabeth Tower, though that's only since 2012. Before then it went by the unimaginative moniker of Clock Tower. I walked to the Tower of Barad-dûr, also known as The Shard, which is a building I've always loved. Many find the design jarring and ugly but I find it compelling. On the way I happened upon another interesting piece of architecture under construction. I'm not sure what it is and it will most likely have a more conventionally attractive facade put on it before completion but I thought it was beautiful as is. I'm quite a fan of the Brutalist style of architecture. When done well, it can often be simply ugly. I think it's best done when contrasted against something more natural. One of my favorite places in the world is Freeway Park in Seattle is a wonderful combination of trees and large green areas interspersed with these large brutalist fountains and structures. Anyway, back to London.  Next there's a picture of St Paul's Cathedral. It's hard to convey in pictures just how incredibly big that cathedral is. The dome can be seen clear across the city and even from that far it's staggeringly huge. Finally you'll see the steps inside The Monument to the Great Fire of London. Usually referred to simply as The Monument, it's a tall pillar containing a spiral staircase of 311 steps. It was a long climb.

But, the coolest thing by far in London is the Science Museum. Below you'll find pictures of three different Difference Engines that were built based on the designs of Charles Babbage. Photo 4 is a superboat that set a world record for speed in the 1920s. Photo 5 is the "Exponential Horn", this was something built in the early days of radio that allowed a rare opportunity to listen to broadcasts with good sound quality. Notice the man standing at the bottom right of the photo to get a sense of scale. Photo 6 is one of the first particle accelerators ever built in 1937. During the 40s it was used to investigate the properties of uranium and plutonium to help the Manhattan Project. Photo 7 is an early Cray supercomputer. Photo 8 is a prototype for the 10,000 Year Clock, the flagship project of the Long Now Foundation.
Finally I ended this leg of my journey by visiting St Michaels Mount. A simply stunning place, though the best part was actually the gardens near the house which you can see in picture #4.
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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/702793 2014-06-12T12:42:47Z 2014-06-12T18:33:36Z Jaunting Part 1 Cruise

The first step of my journey through Europe was, naturally enough, getting to Europe. This I did via 14 day cruise upon The Independence of the Seas. You can hear me talk about the trip here.

The Independence was simply enormous, check out the overhead view of the 'promenade' which was basically a miniature shopping mall on the boat. The second picture here is taken from the very front of the boat. There the view was the best, but the wind was often fierce.

We didn't go straight to Europe, we also took a short detour through the Caribbean. We stopped in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, for an evening. As it was only for an evening I didn't have too much time to explore. Mostly I walked around El Morro, a fortress built by the Spanish in the 1500s that has survived attacks by English, Dutch, and American forces. A cemetery close to the fortress, and shown in the below pictures, includes the grave of Pedro Albizu Campos a major figure in the Puerto Rican nationalist movement and a fascinating person.

After San Juan we visited the Virgin Islands of St Thomas and St Marteens, though only for an afternoon and morning respectively. Didn't see too much of these two or take too many picture. Mainly just went to the beach. I did get a nice view of St Marteens as we pulled away:

After that it was ten whole days at sea. I did get a little impatient before the end, but truly I had a good time in those ten days. Of course, the best part of a cruise is simply watching the changing faces of the sea. An experience so beautiful I couldn't resist waxing poetic

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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/701517 2014-06-08T10:49:26Z 2014-06-13T17:59:59Z How to Fix Godzilla

Quick note: this is all spoilers.

The new Godzilla film is broken. While not without merit, the final kaiju fight being one of the best in cinema, it sadly stuck to one tradition of the series that should have been left behind: almost everything before the climax is incredibly boring and populated by characters we don’t care about.  Many films have this problem, but this one was especially aggravating because the film already has all the elements it needed for a gripping, human drama. A drama that would only have bettered the monster fights. It has these elements and then it seems to deliberately throw them away. And it does this before casting or directing enter into it. The problems in this movie could and should have been identified just from the script. Allow me to expound upon these failures and briefly outline the wonderful movie that could have been.

Most of the problems stem from one monumental misstep. The film has the wrong protagonist. The father should have been the main character. Even before the brilliant casting of Bryan Cranston this should have been clear just from the script. The father, Joe Brody, is the one with the goal, the motivation, and personality strong enough to create the central conflict and see it through to the end. The son, Ford Brody, has no motive to be there and no strong goal. He only enters the conflict because his father is forced to call for help. Damon Knight once had a great piece of advice on storytelling that ran like this: “If your character enters the conflict by being asked for help, your story is about the wrong character.” The person asking for help will always have the more interesting story because they are the one personally affected by the conflict. The story should be rewritten to center around them, and preferably changed so that they can’t, or won’t, call for help. We want to see them resolve their own problems.

So, now that Joe is the main character we stay with him after the time skip. He could still get arrested and call his son for help, but I think that’s a mistake. I think we should leave the son in San Francisco. That way, when the monsters begin to converge there the main character has a strong, very personal reason to want to prevent that from happening. This is already true in the current film, with Ford trying to save his wife and son, but this new configuration allows for far more character growth. In the film as is Ford wants to keep his family safe. He does. The end. Ford, his family, and their relationships to each other are all exactly the same at the beginning and ending. If you’re characters all end the same as they started you have a boring script. With Joe in the lead there is very easy, but effective, character arc that naturally presents itself. With his sons life on the line he realizes he should have spent more time with the family he had left instead of devoting himself to his dead wife's memory. We could have had the father and son, estranged at the beginning of the story, reconnect at the end. It’s not an incredibly complicated character arc, but at least it is one. Ford has no arc. The only real, permanent thing that happens to him in the film is the death of his father and bizarrely the movie doesn’t even have him react strongly to that. He has a short scene of looking very sad, mentions it to his wife over the phone, and then apparently forgets about it. Even when he meets Dr. Serizawa, the man in charge of the conspiracy his father worked at exposing for the entirety of Fords life, Ford doesn’t have any strong emotions about any of it. You’d think there’d be some really strong feelings at that meeting, but not in this movie.

So, we leave Ford in San Francisco. Joe doesn’t get arrested and doesn’t have to call his son. We still need to reestablish both of these characters after the time skip. The way I would do this is having Ford calling Joe for a quick happy birthday. This would make intuitive sense as it would mean we cut to exactly 15 years later. Joe could have once again forgotten it was his birthday establishing he’s just as much of a workaholic as he used to be. Through their dialog we could establish that they’ve become estranged, perhaps they haven’t spoken in a year or even longer, and that the father has become obsessed with proving his theories about the disaster. Joe could let slip that he’s going back to their old house, the son could object that it’s in the quarantine, the father could explain how he needs his old disks. All that needed exposition. That’s just one way to work all that in. There are other and possibly better ways, but regardless we now have Joe head alone into the quarantine zone. Having him there alone would only heighten the danger and loneliness of the abandoned city, improving what was already one of the best sequences in the film.

The next bit would go about the same as before. He gets caught and brought to the power station. Through questioning they realize he knows what he’s talking about. The monster breaks loose and escapes. Only now he doesn’t die, and we actually get a payoff to Serizawa’s dramatic statement that he wants Joe on his team. Truly, the biggest mistake in the movie is not giving these two a scene together. Even if the script had been left 99% the way it was, and Joe still died, giving these two a scene together would have remarkably improved the quality of the movie. Joe has been spending 15 years trying to unveil a government conspiracy that he holds responsible for the death of his wife. Serizawa is the man at the head of that conspiracy, has devoted his life to it, and believes it exists to protect people. These are two strong characters with conflicting goals and beliefs. Their conflict could and should have been the heart of the film. Instead they never meet. The casting only makes this mistake more painful. They managed to get two masterclass actors and then never give them a chance to work with each other. Plus, there’s a bonus reason that the conflict between these two should have been the heart of the film. It would have centered the film around two scientists trying to figure out how to stop the monsters, a wonderful continuation of Godzilla tradition.

Next, excise Honolulu entirely. Nothing that happens there has any effect on the characters or plot in any way. It’s like twenty minutes of screen time and at the end of it everything is exactly the same as it was before. The only reason for that segment to exist is to see a city get destroyed and the monsters fight. Except we don’t see much of either of those. The time and money that went into that incredibly lengthy segment could have been spent extending the final fight. Maybe we could have even gotten a few more minutes of that one monster tearing through Las Vegas. That would give the middle a bit of enjoyable action without getting bogged down in go nowhere subplots like finding that boys parents.

Now we come to the all important part of a Godzilla film: the plan to stop the monsters. I’m not entirely sold on the ‘use nukes as bait’ plot line, but we’ll leave it since I don’t want to come up with a whole new movie. Just fix this one. Instead of being proposed by the military this could be Joe’s idea. He has very strong reasons to hate all of these monsters. The idea of blowing them all up would come naturally to him. Serizawa would strongly oppose this plan, believing they should allow Godzilla to fight for them. The two could have a heated argument that quickly becomes personal. Serizawa can say he's been studying these creatures for years, knows them, Joe can counter that hundreds have died already thanks to Serizawa's decisions. Interesting conflict naturally grows out of having strong characters with opposed opinions. 

Naturally the military would go with Joe's plan, and so he designs or builds some sort of special bomb casing or timer or whathaveyou to let the bombs work inside the EMP zone. Does it make sense that he could do this? Perhaps not, but at the least a nuclear engineer being able to make special modifications to nuclear bombs is not so ridiculous as Ford being the only one in the Army who knows how to turn off an Army made timing device. 

Then, when the monsters hijack the bomb and take it into the city it not only advances the plot but ratchets up the human drama. Joe’s plan to save his family is now the very thing that will destroy them. Because of all this, when they put together the mission to go into the city and disarm the bombs Joe demands to be a part of it. He’s allowed because he best understands the modifications he's made. We could have left Joe at the command center and still have Ford be the one to go on the mission. Or even just sent a group of soldiers. But, now that we’ve restructured the movie to center on Joe it would be stupid to leave him out of the climax. He is the one the audience has connected with and truly cares about. Ever since we saw his wife die in the reactor he’s the one we want to see succeed. Putting him in harms way is a surefire way to make the ending of this movie exciting.

Next we do the HALO drop and with the time and money we got from cutting Honolulu we can really spend some time with it. A squad of soldiers trying to navigate through a city in the middle of a monster fight is a brilliant, brilliant idea for a set piece. One of the best ideas of the movie and now we can really explore it. Overall the mission goes as it did before, though the danger is even more exciting since it’s being navigated by a fish out of water scientist rather than a trained soldier. Plus, the little moment he gets with the battered Godzilla is all the better. He originally planned to kill it, but now realizes he owes the big lug everything. Finally, when the monster is about to kill him on the boat he doesn’t pull out a pistol in a display of cool, but generic, badassery. Instead he takes out that family photo he found in his old house within the quarantine zone. We get an emotional callback to the beginning of the film and we get to visually see that he’s grown as a person. He realizes his family should have been more important than his work. It looks to be a big sacrifice ending, but, Godzilla saves him and we end with father and son reuniting. And now we actually care about the reuniting, unlike in the actual film.

One last thought. Why San Francisco? Have the son live in and the monsters converge on Tokyo. Everyone wants to see Godzilla tear up Tokyo. That’s just common sense.





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tag:wylkus.posthaven.com,2013:Post/699974 2014-06-04T11:30:13Z 2014-06-11T20:03:40Z Of the Sea and Sky

I spent a lot of time watching the water while crossing the Atlantic. While the novelty of the many diversions featured on the boat faded, the sea never failed to captivate. From the roiling grey of the North Atlantic to the glassy blue of the Caribbean it's impossible to not feel pulled in by the oceans chaotic permanence. Changing every second, no pattern ever truly repeated, yet always the same. Hour by hour the only true change comes fro the slow interplay between sea and sky.

When the Sun begins to sink the reddening sky melds the borders of water and the air. The horizon turns into one seamless work of staggering beauty. The crimson light of the dying Sun is reflected off the crest of each wave that rises before it, creating on the water an ever shifting and shimmering avenue of flame. But, slowly the Sun disappears. The road of fire goes out, and the blue drains from the sky. Then the sea can be more heard then seen. A dull rhythmic rumble that tells it still carries on in it's perpetual dance. The only ocean visible is far off, near the horizon, under the light of the moon. At sea the moon does not merely shine as it does in the city, but blazes and under that light a distant patch of sea is transformed into a shining pool of molten silver.

But more beautiful is the night after the moon has set. When the sky truly comes alive, set to life by the stars. They blanket the heavens. A handful of brilliant points set against a numberless expanse of more distant lights.  One can see why the ancients were so captivated. How right they were to make the stars a central part of their life, to fill them with myth and import, and how great is our loss at shutting ourselves away from them.

Then there is the dawn. Slowly, gently the stars are overcome in waves of yellow and gold. The day is felt not as a time but as a thing. A liquid that washes over the skies and drowns the stars in light. All but one. The Morningstar shines, and upon seeing it's singular beauty it is easy to see why it was assigned to Venus. Then, as the day grows and still it persists in the doomed struggle to shine against the coming Sun it becomes clear why it was ascribed also to Lucifer.

At last the day returns and once again the full expanse of the sea can be seen. It is as it always is. Different then it's ever been before.

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