holding pattern

I feel like I’ve been in a political holding pattern lately.

Since the brief glimpse of hope offered by the November elections, there’ve been a huge number of setbacks:

– the tax bill, which is a huge leap towards modern class warfare
– the outright give-away of 2 million acres of public parks
– the supreme court temporarily upholding the 3rd travel ban
– net neutrality’s looking mighty grim
– Puerto Rico never really got any (federal) help
– ??? take your pick, there’s so much

Most of this is basically out of reach. These are all decisions made by people who have absolutely zero incentive to heed my concerns.

Traditional political activism feels useless by nature of the fact that I live in Brooklyn. I have literally never met a Trump supporter here. My representatives are already among the most liberal in Congress. That isn’t saying much, of course, but they’re not bad, overall.

Further radicalization seemed like the obvious next step, but as I’ve written previously, I’ve been turned off by what I see from the DSA. I love Jacobin’s insight and rigorous exploration of socialist policy, but then I see platitudes like “eat the rich” touted as a legitimate platform. I don’t begrudge the sentiment, but it’s just such a laughably short-sighted perspective on the problem.

I don’t see any major political actors making strides in the problem of how we dig ourselves out of the situation we presently find ourselves in. What do you do about a constitution that gives the state of Wyoming the same political weight as New York? How can an activist in California have any relevance to the problem of voter suppression in Alabama?

Absent any movement I strongly identify with or find convincing in its short-term proposals for change, I find myself just silently observing, taking notes.

I’ve been a lot more focused on the somehow herculean act of making friends, because I think it might be the case that creating real relationships with other human beings matters way more than keeping track of every ounce of Trump’s bullshit. Or maybe this is a roundabout way of justifying a measure of apathy. I genuinely don’t know.

What I do know is that I’ve been absurdly happy the last 2 months. This might be the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. That probably has had a lot to do with finding a community in Bushwick that I adore, and pulling back the throttle a bit on how much energy I devote to the news.

hot takes: vol. 1

i binged netflix for like two weeks, get READY for some HOT TAKES

CITY OF LOST CHILDREN was: REMARKABLE. delightfully bizarre. driven by a relentlessly creative series of events that play out within elaborate set-pieces. unique in a way that most films could never dream of.

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was: DISAPPOINTING. Anthony Hopkins is a genius surrounded by peasants.

JESSICA JONES was: DECENT. desperately needed comic relief. creative use of an excellent villain. cool way to tackle gender issues, but left me feeling emotionless at the end.

LUKE CAGE was: ACCEPTABLE. felt really similar to Jessica Jones in pacing and tone. refreshing to see an all-black cast without tired racial stereotypes. relationships between characters mostly felt forced. better than most Marvel fare.

SPEED RACER (2008) was: SURPRISING. visually intense, hyper-exaggerated, massively eccentric both to its benefit and fault. charming enough to smooth over some of its failures. it knew what it was about and stuck to its guns. terrible casting for the main character, excellent supporting cast. not for everyone.

GOMORRAH (2008) was: MEDIOCRE. like City of God without compelling characters or relationships. has the trappings of a gangster/mob flick, but lacks the requisite insight into power structures or delightful confusion of empathizing with bad people.

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT was: UNCOMPELLING. it reminded me of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, where the novelty of the technique being employed merits credit, but is still mostly a distraction. couldn’t get myself to care about the main character or his arc.

PARKS AND RECREATION was: DELIGHTFUL. i originally had it boxed in as a different flavor of the Office, but it is far superior. every character is worth loving for different reasons, and each has a unique kind of relationship to other characters in the show. they significantly evolve without losing their core identity. the writing is consistently good. it ends on an incredibly high note – one of the finest conclusions to a series I’ve seen.

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 was: EHHH. lacked most of the oomph of the first.

LOGAN was: ADEQUATE. the first half of the movie was genuinely great. the banter between Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart is gold. the second half is worthless.


hot takes for your SATURDAY AFTERNOON

AMERICAN VANDAL was: GOOD. much better than you would imagine a mockumentary about drawing dicks to be. it’s fun to watch them squeeze eight full episodes out of it without going flat. the way it incorporates instagram / facebook / snapchat everywhere in its storytelling makes it a genuine product of its time. it’ll be fun to revisit this in a decade or two.

THE SOPRANOS was: STILL GOOD. my first end-to-end rewatch since it ended ten years ago. first few seasons are definitely stronger; as it gets into the 5th season, you can tell it’s wearing thin on a lot of interactions. but it’s still just fucking great television. deep, evolving characters and relationships, that delicious dissonance of empathizing with terrible people, even rooting for them. a slice of the 90’s with its high-waisted pants and a glance at the before-and-after of 9/11. i won’t defend the ending, but i still think it’s fine.

BABY DRIVER was: ECSTASY. my god i loved this. not a perfect movie at all – shoulda been much shorter and it’s more of an action flick than it needs to be. but it’s goddamn clever, stuffed to the gills with pop culture savvy and a love for music.

also wow the latest season of GOT was utter balls. it’s sad to watch the series sink like that, but ultimately i’m not that upset. they got 4 or 5 good seasons out there. it had its time, and it was a good while it lasted.


oh hey what’s that oh oh it’s more HOT TAKES

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS was: CREATIVE. i won’t tell you this movie is good, but it’s a visual feast and i will always enjoy a movie that shows me something weird and flavorful. it’s kind of in the neighborhood of Speed Racer or Pacific Rim.

CREED (2015) was: COMPETENT. it’s just a well-made movie. the characters have depth, the relationships evolve, and it feels like a fresh, modern update to an old story.

STRANGER THINGS S2 was: TIRED. the main villain is just a horde of feral dogs. the 80’s references felt more ham-fisted. that said, i really enjoyed the interactions between Dustin and Steve.

MEN IN BLACK (1997) was: CLASSIC. i hadn’t watched this in at least 15 years, and it has aged delightfully well. it’s gross and silly but, again, creative and fun. it’s also got a lot of cute New York humor that totally flew over my head as a kid.

MORTAL KOMBAT (1995) was: STILL FUN TO MOCK. it’s the right kind of bad movie for the non-stop peanut gallery.

CLOUD ATLAS was: INSTANTLY FORGETTABLE. a mess of cheesy dialogue and heavy-handed motifs strung together with a plot that offers no real engagement or thrill. i watched it like a month ago and honestly can’t remember the main arc.

WONDER WOMAN was: LIFELESS. i’m definitely burning out on superhero movies, that’s for sure. but i heard boatloads of praise for this as a feminist masterpiece and i don’t see it at all. she gets dragged around london getting dolled up as the beautiful-but-naive foreigner while all the men around tell her what she needs to do. as far as female empowerment in action movies go, this doesn’t come close to Mad Max.

hindsight

The thought I’ve been coming back to the last two days is that, if he hadn’t been elected, I would be less politically engaged. I’m sure the same is true for many others.

To be clear, it’s not like I’m putting in any herculean effort here. I called my representatives for the first time. I marched in my first protest last year. I voted in my first local election yesterday. Maybe I’m reading and writing a bit more. But all it takes to bring change is just a little more engagement from a lot of people.

If Hillary had been elected, would we see anywhere near the same levels of participation? Given how slim the margins have been for these disastrous bills in Congress, it seems quite plausible to imagine that they would pass if there were fewer calls and protests. Does that outweigh the damage from Gorsuch, the executive orders, and his appointments? Perhaps not, I don’t know.

November 2016 was a major shift in my perspective. I spent weeks feeling utter dread. It was so hard to imagine a good future in world where Trump could be elected. I’d never felt such a persistent mixture of disappointment and disgust.

But over the last year, I’ve seen tons of powerful activism, which has stayed strong even though the news is so relentlessly, oppressively terrible. More than ever, we’re painfully aware of the problems in our society. I don’t see anyone with the answers, but I see a lot of people searching for them. More than before. There has been horror, but also solidarity and reassurance in seeing that there are many people as horrified as me.

We’ve survived our first year. This year’s election bodes well for 2018. Nothing is yet broken that cannot be fixed. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’m hopeful, but I do see plausible routes for our country to recover.

part of the problem

I’ve been very lucky to know a lot of women who never hesitated to call me on my sexist bullshit.

I remember, many years ago now, when an ex called me crying because a total stranger had slapped her ass and I shit you not the first thing I asked was what she was wearing. Thank god, she did not stand for it one bit.

That conversation was the beginning of a long process of change. It sucked to realize that I had all this toxic nonsense lurking in my mind, that I’d hurt someone I loved with thoughtless sexist garbage. But meaningful change and growth aren’t usually as fun as people make them out to be.

So, here’s a big thank you to all the strong ladies in my life who took the time to tell me when I was wrong.

d-a-n-c-e

Unsorted thoughts on dancing:

I remember when i turned 21, i was so desperate for a place to dance. I think the first time i danced at a bar (the Haunt) I was out with some coworkers, and that song with the apple-bottom jeans came on and i got up on this stage by myself to shake my ass. Then I went to this one place up the street from my house (Level B) a dozen times because that was the only place to go. It was terrible and the music sucked but at least they had a spot that was meant for dancing.

The first real taste i got was an Infected Mushroom concert. I never broke it down so hard in my life, there was this trance opener that i couldn’t get enough of, i sweat straight through all my clothes by the end.

I sweat a lot. It’s just a thing i have. When i dance it’s absurd, i have no idea why it’s so excessive, but i will admit i get embarrassed about it. There are these moments where some cute lady smiles at me and then does this weird look of confused horror when she notices i’m sweating like nuts. I have come to accept it…mostly.

I love watching how the crowd relates to the music. There’s an ephemeral but totally real relationship between the DJ and the crowd. A great DJ has immense control; they can make the crowd bust it out at a moment’s notice and it’s a beautiful thing.

The scene is getting more progressive, and it’s awesome. The good places are banning phones, getting tough on harassment, seeking out ways to make it safe and comfortable for everyone. It makes a world of difference.

When you get to the end of the night – 4, 5, 7am – it’s amazing. Everyone is just exhausted and ecstatic. The whole thing is a series of pure moments; great music, the satisfaction of moving your body to the beat, the glee of seeing nothing but happy faces around you. The trip home makes for great moments of reflection and synthesis.

It’s hard to put these things into writing; it’s all nebulous stuff. But i’m so excited to be diving deeper into the dance community the last year.

between centers

it’s like, yeah, i get it, she’s out of touch. for such an intelligent and composed person, she doesn’t understand how politics and society has changed. she lacks self-awareness. she is unwilling to acknowledge her own flaws and failures, not that she’s unique in that regard.

but man, nothing makes me less interested in participating with the far-left than the endless stream of vitriol that they spit at her.

one thing that’s clear from listening to her is that she actually believes her “between center-left and center-right” stuff. it’s true, she’s not a liberal, never really was. but in that sense she is totally authentic. she is, to her core, a boring realist who lacks vision, not because she doesn’t care, but she has genuine faith in her milquetoast strategies for change. she believes in the system that we have. this is the game she knows and it’s the game she wants to play.

fuck me for seeing merit in a diversity of political ideologies. do i agree with her? god no, but i recognize she comes from a place of experience and knowledge, that she does offer meaningful insight into the realities of bureaucracy and politics, that she still has value and power even in the shame of defeat. there are people who like and even love her earnestly for who she is, and there is no virtue in shitting on them for that.

mostly i’m just feeling politically isolated. sign me up for that sweet luxury automated gay space communism but leave me out of the endless pissing contest over bernie.

never forget

if you have strong feelings about 9/11, you might want to skip this one. this is one of those days that i can’t nod along and bite my tongue.

“never forget” is an awful motto.

sure, there are countless stories of heroism and selflessness that we get to recount, and that’s what many people will say they refuse to forget.

but the legacy of 9/11, as it will go into history books, is not of first responders running up the stairs and passengers taking down a plane.

“never forget” is a commandment that we stay bitter, harbor resentment, and relive painful memories so that we stay angry and foster ill will.

“never forget” is a cynical phrase used to perpetuate our endless conflict in the middle east and our farcical war on terror.

9/11 is the beginning of my acquaintance with america as a nation that abuses its power on the global stage. someone bombed us, and in return we bombed the poorest nation on earth into oblivion. then we invaded another country on false pretenses because, hey, we were in the neighborhood.

extract whatever heartwarming memories you want from 9/11, but the terrorists got exactly what they wanted. our country has never been weaker or more unstable than it is today. 16 years of unjust war may have something to do with that.

maverick

I see a lot of sudden celebration of John McCain as a legendary hero in response to his diagnosis of brain cancer.

I don’t wish illness or death on anyone. This isn’t about withholding sympathy or empathy. You can be sad that someone is sick or mourn their passing without ignoring their flaws. But our collective willingness to suddenly cast the sick and the dead as heroes is not honest or helpful.

When it comes to the life and death of public figures, it’s a chance for society to reckon with the quality of their character. Famous people, whether they like it or not, become role models by mere virtue of their presence. They are examples of what sort of lives can be lead. How we talk about their example is one of the many ways that we define the meaning of a good life, of a life well-lived. When we speak in glowing terms of someone’s story, there is an implication to everyone listening that this person’s actions are worth mimicking.

I’m not a student of John McCain’s life. All I know is what I’ve seen for the last decade or so.

To me, he’s the guy that picked a woman he barely knew as his vice presidential candidate. He launched Sarah Palin – a dreadful harbinger of Trumpian behavior and rhetoric – into the national spotlight. He’s a guy that frequently goes on television to critique Trump, but still votes with him over 90% of the time. He’s an active participant in the political party that denies climate change, limits civil rights, that actively enacts policies that intentionally harm the poor, the needy, and the suffering.

No doubt, he appears to be a more decent human being than many of his colleagues. He shows respect for others. He has a history of voting across party lines (even if that hasn’t been the case recently). He went out of his way to call Obama a decent human being during the ’08 election. He doesn’t speak with venom or malice.

But that doesn’t make him a hero. It means he’s not a terrible person, that he does what a lot of us do every day of our lives. He looks great because he’s surrounded by such abhorrent individuals.

I think that’s what people are reacting to, more than anything else. It’s not about him specifically, but the fact that the one guy who lets out even a fart of reasonable attitudes might be out of the game. That we’re one step closer to political insanity.

dear FCC

My comment to the FCC on net neutrality:

As a software engineer that works entirely from home, my livelihood is dependent on a fair and open internet. None of my work would be possible if my colleagues and I had to wrestle with bandwidth caps, throttling, or unequal access to the internet. The current proposal to eliminate Title II protections will cause enormous damage to all users of the internet by stifling the growth of new websites, technologies, and communities. Just like electricity and water, the internet is a utility that all of us depend on, every day of our lives. Treat it as such, and preserve Title II regulations.

tweets’n’such

Twitter is easily the worst place for my mental health with its relentless formula of cynicism and groupthink masquerading as irony, but it provides an incredible wealth of information and perspectives on current events.

It took over a year, but I finally curated an excellent mix of people that provide a reliable stream of useful insight with a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives. The direct access it provides to journalists and political insiders is a thing of beauty. It can often be its own, isolated world, where people continually mistake the shared catharsis of mocking opponents with meaningful engagement. But there is legitimate, educational, enlightening discussion going on there. It just takes a lot of digging to find.

I still don’t feel comfortable contributing or interacting on Twitter. I don’t think I have much to contribute in that format, but I’ve also never really tried. I think it would be quite difficult to navigate towards an experience that would be fulfilling rather than soul-crushing.

Meanwhile, Facebook is utterly dead to me as a place for evidence-based discussion. I have seen zero constructive disagreements take place here since the election. At the same time, this is the only reliable window I have towards seeing actual, confirmed human beings express sincerely-held conservative beliefs. Finding that on Twitter or Reddit is impossible, so I do appreciate the occasional glimpse of “my god he really believes that trump is doing the lord’s work” as a reminder that our election was not a joke.

That leads me to conclude that there is still merit in putting thoughts out there as a means of bolstering representation. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll give some words to thoughts that others have not yet been able to articulate.

But it’s important to recognize these efforts for what they are. My posts are little more than thinking out loud, an outlet for the stuff that gets bottled up in my brain over time, a mostly selfish act rather than some benevolent community service. I’m not changing the world with my words. Nobody’s going to be won over or convinced solely by what I write.

community

When I was 7, I remember faking sick to stay home so I could play word games on AOL all day. I loathed school, so it was a win-win for me. After winning rounds of off-brand Boggle and Scrabble, I would brag to the other players about how young I was, and then be disappointed when no one was impressed.

I would hop on my brother’s IM accounts and talk to literally any of their friends that would respond. I would go into all sorts of chat rooms and try to understand what was going on. I remember emailing a pen-pal through Juno a few times a week, then later learning that she was schizophrenic and thought that the government watched people through their TVs. (sidenote: it amuses me that this is probably among the more plausible and less offensive methods of surveillance available in 2017)

There was so much raw curiosity, no inhibitions whatsoever. I didn’t care what was being talked about, it was all interesting and I just wanted to talk to anyone and everyone about anything. I liked the challenge of being interesting enough to much older people that they wouldn’t mind talking to a small child.

Later, when I was 12, I was homeschooled. I would spend entire days in my bedroom, alternating between reading textbooks and timing myself to see how quickly I could rebuild my Star Wars Lego sets. At that point I was already obsessed with computers, but we only had the one family PC, so my time was always limited, and I usually spent that time on games.

Once we got a second computer that I could hoard for myself, I explored further. The first forum I ever got invested in was on a site called YouThink. It was a place for debate, where people would submit questions and polls that you could vote on, ranging from opinions about the best action movie to whether abortion should be legal. I had hundreds of lengthy posts where I defended my nascent concepts of fundamentalism.

In high school, I got into blogging, and I delighted in building up a blogroll and a readership. I was super invested in the off-topic forums for the games that I played, and made lasting friendships through those engagements. I had half a dozen different chat clients – ICQ, YIM, AIM, gChat, IRC, each connecting me to a different set of people.

In the past, I had lots of people to talk to from around the world. A diverse network of friends I could hit up at any moment, ask for advice, shoot the shit. If I was up at 4 am wrestling with anxiety again, my friends in Greece would be probably be awake, or maybe my friends in Australia. I didn’t worry about whether I was boring people with my petty problems, whether I was interesting enough to hold their attention.

There were multiple spaces online where I felt at home. Fluent, comfortable, in my element. I no longer have that. Facebook is not, and has never been that place for me.

Objectively speaking, I have spent the majority of my life in solitude, what with spending easily 10+ hours every single day on a computer since I was a child. But it hasn’t been until the last 6 or 7 years that this solitude meant isolation.

Some of it is just the facts of growing up. Children aren’t burdened with stereotypes and presumption. They can freely engage and connect because they’re blissfully ignorant. Adults have motives, schemes, scars, and responsibilities.

I know that some of this shift is from my end. Events in my life lead to me become more aloof. I started worrying a lot more about what other people think, because I knew some people were thinking very poorly of me. I crave respect almost as much as I enjoy attention, and I have often remained silent when previously I might have reached out.

There’s also the premise of connection. Games are no longer my primary hobby. They’re a frequent curiosity, a point of interest to me as a designer and an artist, but my brain can no longer justify the absurd waste of time that’s baked into most online games. But shared interest and experience is the foundation for most relationships in our lives.

I live now in the heart of Brooklyn. I can go out onto my roof at any point in the day and see a hundred other human beings out on the sidewalks. But I have no connection to these people. I have never met my neighbors, and likely never will. This does not bother me, but I acknowledge the irony of it.

I yearn to be a part of an online community again.

paris

It’s hard to keep talking about climate change because it’s depressing and relentless and the more we learn, the more we realize how much trouble we’re in. It’s also challenging from an individual standpoint; we’re each a tiny gear in an enormous machine, and it’s difficult to feel relevant or effective.

That’s why it’s so important for governments to lead the way in taking action. They can set the standard, raise the bar for what to aim for, draft goals and provide the resources to help everyone reach those targets, and most importantly, establish firm rules and take corporations to task that fail to meet those rules. No other entity in the world has the ability to do this. If you believe that market forces will be sufficient, the behavior of oil companies is a very clear indicator that this is not the case. The interest of the shareholders is rarely in line with the needs of the environment.

Trump has abandoned the country – and the world – on this issue, and for no clear reason. No sane person believes that coal is coming back. What’s good for the people and the environment in America is also good for the rest of the world – there is no reason to make this an issue of protectionism.

This is how America ceases to be relevant. This is the sound of faltering progress. History will not be kind to us, and the future will not be kind to our children.

collective dogma

One of the problems with obsessing about politics and society as much as I do is that it means I am constantly thinking about life in an abstract sense. I often ponder about other people’s lives, imagining what it is that makes others happy, fantasizing of the ways that we can eliminate sources of pain and suffering, creating opportunities for people to fulfill their dreams and capture their desires.

When I do this, I try very hard to remove my concept of fulfillment from the equation. I don’t want to be hegemonic, to prescribe my preferences to others, to assume that what satisfies me is at all sufficient for anyone else. I operate on the premise that my life, as I experience it, is not what most people want. Yet I have to recognize that it is dishonest to think that I can be political without being prescriptive. If I have an opinion about public policy, that is a moral stance about what the best way of life is, of what other people’s lives ought to look like.

Yet, these stances do not construct any tangible notion of a life well-lived. My generation has few role models, hardly anyone that we can all point to and say “they did it right, that is the way it should be done”. Is that a sign of enlightenment, that we recognize there is no one path that works for everyone? Or is it a sign of being lost, that we find ourselves without specific or concrete direction?

To many of us, it sounds great that we should each search and discover our own purpose in life. But I find it to be a great irony that we are so strongly driven by individualist ideas of self-determination, of shedding dogma and doctrine, yet we are so eager for a more unified and collectivist society.

cooking reality

A brief interruption from your regularly scheduled political programming to discuss The Great British Baking Show.

I want to make the argument that this show is genuinely great. Not just a feel-good cooking show oozing with quaint British charm, not just a rousing volley in the post-ironic/new-sincerity wholesome media wave, but something that is worth watching for its own merits.

Before I go further, let me drop these opinions to provide some context:

1. reality tv is a cancer developed from our collective apathy and narcissism, a toxic genre that preys upon humanity’s basest instincts for voyeurism.

2. the skyrocketing popularity of cooking shows is something that future historians will write about as evidence that we, as a society, have lost touch with ourselves and each other as human beings. it is an absurd reality where we have somehow come to prefer watching people prepare and consume gourmet food rather than enriching our own lives, particularly as a billion people go hungry and obesity is the greatest threat to our longevity.

The Great British Baking Show is both a cooking show and reality tv. I believe it dodges all the failures of its peers and predecessors with a combination of sharp but minimalist editing, great casting for participants, and by letting humans be humans wherever possible. What results is a heartwarming and enriching composition that is genuinely educational at times.

Paul and Mary are model judges. Their criticisms are always fair, succinct but dense with expertise about the craft, rarely personal or overly familiar, but still sensitive and human. They never shame or twist the knife. They genuinely want everyone to do their very best. This is exactly what constructive criticism ought to look like.

There is never any mention of rewards or prizes. If there’s money on the line, it’s never spoken of. There’s no gimmicks or mechanics to the competition. The only thing that matters is making the judges happy, and this works because the participants have such obvious respect and admiration for Paul and Mary.

The participants love the craft for its own sake, and this means there is zero need to generate drama or force conflict. You get to watch creative, talented people work hard. Sometimes they fail, sometimes they succeed. You get to know them through their work, not as some trope pulled from a hat by the producers.

I recommend this show without qualification. It restored my faith in humanity a little bit, and that is something I find myself needing quite a bit recently.

not zelda

Zelda. There’s a new one. I finished it.
 
Here is my surely unpopular opinion on the matter.
 
Breath of the Wild isn’t Zelda.
 
It’s Skyrim with much better weapons, movement, and navigation. It’s Horizon Zero Dawn minus badass enemies or a world dripping with history. It’s The Witcher with beautiful particle effects but god-awful voice acting and a terrible story.
 
In other words, it’s another open-world sandbox RPG. A lot of people wanted exactly that. I don’t begrudge that desire. It’s a perfectly fine game. But it’s not Zelda.
 
I have three reasons for saying this: music, themes, and dungeons.
 
Zelda is nothing without its music. This has been true for every worthy entry in the series. Breath of the Wild is silent. Barren. You roam across vast plains and climb tall mountains to the tune of absolutely nothing. You stroll through towns while a faint tune drifts in and out, devoid of any worthwhile melody. What little music does appear is yet another rehash of the same melodies from Ocarina of Time.
 
Then there is the total absence of any musical instrument as a usable item – a constant in nearly every Zelda ever made. In particular, for Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, music is itself a central mechanic in both games. You use the ocarina everywhere. To teleport. To trigger events and quests. To solve puzzles. It marks your progression through the game. By virtue of playing the tunes so frequently, you instinctively memorize them, searing them into your brain as an explicit part of the experience.
 
More importantly, music is just omnipresent in Zelda, constantly playing, setting the tone wherever you are. The melodies are strong, unique, and memorable. It is not part of the background or periphery, but front and center at all times. You walk into a shop and hear a cheery browsing tune. You step into Zora’s Domain and it just feels like you’re surrounded by water. The Song of Storms feels hypnotic and cyclical like the windmill you learn it in. Epona’s Song evokes the warmth and devotion of a loyal steed. These songs are iconic and unforgettable. Zelda completely relies on its music to build its themes.
 
Every Zelda has distinct themes. Complete, immersive concepts, either to the whole game, or in parts and pieces within the game. Windwaker is a flooded waterworld where you sail everywhere and use a conductor’s baton to control the wind. There’s the light and dark world of Link to the Past where every object in the game has a demented counterpart. Majora’s Mask is obsessed with time, and everything is in service to the manipulation of the days and understanding of schedules and routines. And of course, Ocarina of Time’s child/adult paradigm.
 
As an aside, my favorite interpretation of Ocarina of Time is that it’s actually a coming-of-age story where a young, naive child goes on an heartfelt adventure, only to wake up as an adult and realize the world is a terrifying and chaotic mess.
 
There are no discernable themes in Breath of the Wild. People keep describing it as post-apocalyptic, but this is simply not the case. It is a lush, bright world where once in a while you come across unexplained mossy rubble and the same damn model of broken-down machines over and over. The tiny populations of Hyrule are all quite happy in their lives and seem to be carrying on with relatively little worry or internal conflict. There are some drones and robot spiders with lasers but mostly it is goblins and lizards. Oh, and there are fugly animal gundams piloted by ghosts.
 
Which brings us to dungeons.
 
One of the strangest facts about Breath of the Wild is that there are no caves. Not a single one. Barely even a crevice inside of a mountain. Yet, the story goes that Shigeru Miyamoto’s inspiration for the first Zelda was his childhood exploration of forests and caves, diving deep into mysterious and unknown territory not knowing what he might find.
 
At its best, that is exactly what Zelda’s dungeons provide. This sense of delving further into a labyrinth, not knowing what lays around the next corner, the uncertainty of where to go next, forcing you to study the map to make sense of what you might have missed or which room holds the key you need to go further, the excitement of finding a brand new item that will change the way you traverse the environment around you and the world as a whole. All set within the theme of the dungeon, which itself is a piece of the world’s theme.
 
The shrines and divine beasts in Breath of the Wild evoke none of this. They are austere laboratories that rarely challenge the mind, that offer no sense of mystery or curiosity, rarely providing meaningful rewards. They are a shallow, hollow parody of Zelda’s oldest feature, lacking tension, joy, or personality.
 
It seems unfair to skewer Breath of the Wild for this, because I would hardly praise Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, or the Windwaker for the quality of their dungeons. They often relied on contrived mechanics and useless, even comically stupid single-purpose items. But at least they tried. They knew that this is what Zelda is about, that no other game has ever successfully replicated.
 
Breath of the Wild is not a bad game. It is a good game with many merits and many flaws. But it is not Zelda.

panorama

This weekend, I built a prototype for a kind of news aggregation I’ve had on my mind for a while, which I’ve called Panorama.

The idea is fairly straightforward: look for all possible articles on a specific story, across many different sources, then put all the headlines in one place, in chronological order. That’s pretty much it.

For my proof of concept, I picked Michael Flynn, for a few reasons:
1. His brief tenure made it easy to scope down the time range
2. It’s not an ongoing controversy (Turkey lobbying aside), and a relatively self-contained story with a beginning an end is easier to grok
3. Responses to the scandal are mostly polarized

The notion is that, by placing all news sources together, trends will emerge. It should be possible to identify an agenda, for bias to be (more) self-evident when placed in the context of news as a whole.

In terms of methodology, some things worth making note of:

  • This was all collected by hand. There are certainly errors.
  • I did a lot of googling and did my best to find every relevant article on the Washington Post, Breitbart, and the New York Times from the election until now. Other sources are just articles I found along the way.
  • I did not include syndicated articles – AP, Reuters, UPI, etc.. These articles don’t really represent what I’m interested in. Also, it turns out that Breitbart buys almost every syndicated article, no matter how redundant, so there are hundreds of these articles just for the last month of news on Flynn. I assume this is for SEO purposes, since it makes Breitbart much more likely to show up on any given search on a topic.
  • Just getting reliable publication times can be a huge pain. For all of these, I had to open up the source for a timestamp – sometimes I could get an ISO string, other times I’d have to convert from a plaintext time.
  • Some articles just don’t have accurate publication times recorded, e.g. there are articles about Flynn’s resignation showing up before he’s actually resigned.

Deeper thought on this experiment to come later.

greatness

One of the understandable but misguided responses that Democrats had during the election was that “American never stopped being great” or “America is still great”.

I get the sentiment. It feels like a natural response to MAGA. It made for a heartwarming speech from Michelle at the DNC. But it is very much the kind of fairy tail that the left must divest itself from going forward.

The cold, hard truth is that America was never great.

We’re a country whose initial wealth came straight from the blood and sweat of slaves, whose children we now imprison at ten times the rate of any other racial or ethnic group in the nation.

Our land was stolen from Native Americans, whose genocide was actively sought by our founding fathers and early presidents. The most aggressive and murderous of those, we still honor with a place on our currency.

Our dominance in the 20th century has nothing to do with our democracy, our capitalism, or our Judeo-Christian values, but the mere fortune of being separated from two world wars by two giant oceans, the pure luck of sitting on enormous quantities of oil that we discovered right as we entered the industrial revolution.

Stop painting the past as a place that we should have any desire to return to. Cease this pretense that our wealth and stability are the result of any genius or invention of our own. It is an insult to the memory of the many people who have suffered and died at the hands of American injustice.

No, America was never great. Not once. Not ever.

But it can be.

We should look forward. The future is a place of enormous possibility. We have incredible luck on our sides. A rare chance to write our own destiny. Fleeting, slippery though it might be, we can turn the tides of climate change, of racial, social, and economic injustice, of bureaucratic gridlock, nepotism, and corruption.

The window is closing. A decade or two of inaction, and our chance will be gone. We’ll find ourselves cast back onto the roiling seas, our fates determined more by the whims of weather and inheritance than our own designs.

too many

too. many. things.

mass coral bleaching

record arctic circle temperatures

dakota access pipeline, ugh

talk about fascism a bunch cause we’re intellectually lazy

every. single. nomination.

the inauguration is coming

brief pause for biden memes

oh god i keep forgetting the supreme court

he’s literally going to run his business from the oval office

the media keeps chasing his stupid tweets

(i mean sure they’re bonafide insanity but this didn’t work during the election, why the hell would it work now)

the electoral college is not going to stop him

a recount is not going to elect her

republicans are not going to disavow him

stop it with these fantasies

breitbart is growing

aleppo is crumbling

another log on the fire of xenophobia courtesy of ohio state

la pen is a nightmare

merkel’s losing her edge

too. many. things.

golden age

Westworld might be one of my favorite shows ever. It is a fully-fleshed out idea executed by an ultra-competent team with a clear vision. There are so many nuances to its universe. It raises all sorts of juicy questions about consciousness, power, and storytelling – without being glib or self-absorbed. Its premise is damn near perfect – plausible to the point of being vaguely familiar to concepts we already know in the real world, foreign enough to merit curiosity, but not so much that it competes with its characters and arcs. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

There’ve been so many creations in the last few years that have raised the bar for what we can hope to find in our media. I feel like we might be in the middle of a renaissance of film and television.

Mad Max is probably my favorite action movie ever. It Follows is easily the best horror movie in several years, and Stranger Things clearly builds on the elements that made classics like The Thing and Alien so good. Black Mirror is so damn prescient and thought-provoking, and never more timely and relevant. Rick & Morty is as funny as it is creative. Game of Thrones is possibly the first genuinely respectable fantasy series.

There’s fabulous shows for kids, too. My generation occasionally likes to get nostalgic about the cartoons we grew up with, but nothing I grew up on holds a candle to Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors, or The Last Airbender. These are actually great shows that don’t treat their younger audiences like unthinking krill.

This, for me, is a bright light in the recent darkness. I’ll take whatever I can get.

false media

okay fake news let’s go

1. the term itself is overloaded & ambiguous
2. it implies a false binary between real and fake
3. sometimes when we say fake news we actually mean propaganda
4. poorly handled but factually correct news was at least as damaging in this election as fake news – e.g. instant media freakout over Comey

Nonetheless, fake news is a major problem. I personally hadn’t considered its relevance until the last few months but it fits right in with my current favorite narrative that the relationship between news and social media is toxic. Depending on where you get your news, you could be living in a completely separate reality from everyone around you. Facebook already demonstrated that you can dramatically influence mood and opinion based on the general tone and content of your feed.

To up the stakes, the intelligence community is on the record – multiple times this year – in saying that there are other countries actively promoting fake news in the US. This is one of those issues that i cannot understand why it isn’t front-and-center on every outlet, on repeat.

This kind of attack is absolutely trivial. Botnets are dirt cheap – you can get thousands of computers signing up for accounts on every platform, promoting a simple, unified message. single individuals have been doing this with spam since the beginning of the Internet. this is effectively state-sponsored spam, but instead of ads for dick pills we’re getting propaganda about our election.

Part of me wonders if this isn’t just karma for Stuxnet, PRISMA, and the countless other violations of global trust from the NSA.

Facebook and Google might be more technologically sophisticated than what Russia and China have at their disposal currently, but the notion that Facebook alone can handle this problem is unrealistic. We cannot ask corporations to do battle with other countries and hope that they’ll stay on our side.

We’ve evolved into a system where quality journalism is worth less than clickbait. That isn’t the fault of mainstream media or alternative news or any nation-state. I doubt anyone dreamed up our current state of affairs, saying “yeah I’d love to see a landscape of news where everything is reduced to all-caps headlines paired with evocative stock photos and investigative journalism is nearly extinct”.

But this is where we are. We should not be surprised that there are people taking advantage of this state of affairs.

guilt by association

I have friends that identify as part of the alt-right. I would like to think that I understand their reasons for identifying with the movement. It is a fact that not all of them are racists or sexists. But the window for immunity from association is closing.

This is a movement whose strongest catalysts are actually racist, literally sexist, seriously anti-Semitic, genuinely bigoted. Every single day, Trump names a new cabinet member that is at best, deeply questionable in their commitment to serve all Americans, and at worst, shows active disdain for minorities or anyone who disagrees with them. We have not gone a single day without new revelations about people fundamental to the alt-right movement who are waving loud and proud the banner of white nationalism.

I want to empathize. I want to humanize. I want to understand. But the alt-right – questionable as it was before – is quickly becoming synonymous with white supremacy. We are entering into territory where it is supremely difficult for me to give the benefit of the doubt. And that makes it all the more challenging to know what to do.

burden of proof

There is an ongoing debate in the left, right now, about what conclusions to take away from this.

To my dismay, I am seeing a lot of folks double-down on their contempt for the Trump voter. The ideological divide in this country has never been larger, and there does not seem to be much hope of closing that gap right now. I am genuinely concerned that we could see violence of consequence in the next decade, given our current arms race of outrage and other-ing of entire demographics.

What has helped me reach an understanding of how someone could ever have voted for Trump, is realizing exactly how much they hated Hillary. That, in hindsight, was my largest mistaken assumption over the course of the election. Now, I will continue to argue that the hatred of her is totally unwarranted, arbitrary, and augmented by (if not rooted in) sexism. But in the final days of the election, we had:

– Comey’s absurd double-blunder, wherein he causes a media firestorm over literally nothing, and then further enhances the perception of corruption by retracting it days before the election
– Fox News running a false story based on a tip from an anonymous FBI employee that Hillary was being indicted. This ran for an entire day.
– An endless stream of emails from WikiLeaks. While none of these contained much information of consequence, they drew attention, fueled speculation, and plenty of them were vague enough to inspire all manner of conspiracy theory.

Every one of Trump’s horrifying tirades was buffered on each side by a controversy from Hillary. Yes, this is a false equivalence of the highest order. It’s an insult that we would ever compare the two as equals. But the fact remains: there was a compelling and legible narrative from the right, readily available for all.

What was the narrative from the left?

For all our talk of inclusiveness and equality, what tangible vision of change did we offer for rural working-class Americans? To the person who does not see climate change as an imminent threat, who does not know any black or hispanic or Muslim Americans and thus has little reason to care about how we treat them, who does not see sexism as a relevant force in the story of their lives, whose quality of life is more immediately threatened by the price of gas than nearly anything else – what did we offer?

Look, I’m as bleeding heart liberal as you get. I believe firmly in the policies of the left to bring meaningful, positive change to people in every walk of life.

But my belief in this stems from a vivd, tangible concept of what these possible futures look like. My fear of climate change is rooted in a very clear image of a world with a billion more refugees. My love for basic income stems from an understanding of how soon robots are going to be replacing all of our unskilled labor. My passion for feminism and anti-racism comes from listening and hearing stories from people I care about, learning the ways that my friends have suffered at the hands of bigotry and stereotypes.

You cannot expect people to just get it. Nothing in this world is as obvious or clear-cut as we like to think. It is on us to explain ourselves, to justify our ideas, to fill in the blanks, to populate the imaginations of people across the world so that we can have a shared vision, a unified goal.

It is time for the left to take up the burden of proof and run with it.

facebook UX

Facebook is a horribly under-developed platform for discussion and engagement.

Anyone who has spent time on forums, blogs, chat rooms, Slack – anywhere else, really – knows there are a wealth of simple features that would be really useful and powerful.

We need something, anything to alleviate this cramped hellscape of noisy presentation, constant misunderstandings due to limited tools for expression, and complete dearth of tools for curation and moderation. This is where important conversations are happening nowadays, and we deserve a platform that is capable of far more than what it currently offers.

  1. Basic rich-text formatting. Allow bold, italic, underline, and anchors (inline links) for everything. For top-level posts, bulleted/numbered lists and blockquotes. That’s all you need.
  2. Inline images for posts. One image preview shoved at the bottom of a post is not enough. Obviously problematic for comments, but we should be encouraging high quality top-level posts.
  3. Locking posts. Sometimes threads have gone to shit and just need to end. Thread necromancy is fun for memories and jokes but annoying for heated or controversial discussions that just won’t die.
  4. Deeper nesting of comment replies. Even just one more level would go a long way.
  5. Sort comments on posts by replies, reactions, or timestamp. Provide more ways to sift through the noise.
  6. Emoji reactions to comments. Emoji add bandwidth, empathy, and humor.
  7. Emoji reactions to paragraphs or phrases. Like Medium’s highlight feature, except actually useful and fun.
  8. Sharing for comments. A single comment can be the best part of a thread. You can link directly to comments, but this is awkward and unreliable.
  9. Leave a placeholder text when comments are deleted. Threads become unintelligible when it isn’t clear a part of the conversation has disappeared. Indicate whether the comment was deleted by the author of the post vs. a page admin vs. the author of the comment.
  10. Move Like and Reply to the left or right of comments. Replace text with icons. Vertical space is a premium and for any post longer than 3 lines, this is wasted space and noise.
  11. Hide name / profile picture / timestamp for successive comments by the same author. It’s noisy and makes it much harder to read long threads.
  12. Allow highlighted / sticky comments. Let authors select a comment that appears first to set the tone of the conversation. Many blogs and news outlets do this, and it’s useful.
  13. Notify commenters when visibility has changed on a thread they’ve posted to. I’ve seen people get burned by this, and that has a chilling effect on discussion.
  14. Create a separate field for hashtags on posts. Allow posts to join the global conversation without necessitating noise in the post itself.
  15. Scheduled posts / future posting. Sometimes you find stuff you want to share but you’ve already posted a few times today already and don’t want to spam. All the major blogging platforms have this feature — let authors set a time and date for posts to appear.
  16. Allow filtering of your news feed. There are times when you want to see the news, other times you want to see what your friends are posting. There’s filtering by reactions, hashtags, posts with links to articles vs. posts with photos vs. posts with just text. Give people the ability to control the kind of content they’re exposed to.
  17. Separate notifications into reactions, comments on your posts, and replies to your comments. Notifications are ridiculously noisy right now.
  18. Show view counts to authors. We have this for videos, why not for everything else? It’s important.
  19. Add searching for your timeline. There’s no way to find a thread you commented on. It’s hard to find something you posted a long time ago. There’s no easy way to say the things you’ve liked or reacted to. There’s no way to search your photos.
  20. Show the profile intro in the hover popup for profiles. Give people a space to present themselves to people who don’t know them. A profile picture / cover photo / location are not enough. More bandwidth here facilitates more human interactions between strangers.
  21. Tag friends on any post without commenting. Tons of spam / noise is generated by people tagging friends because it’s the only way to generate notifications without putting things on someone’s timeline.
  22. Give control over the size of thumbnail images. Scrolling through your feed, almost half of the real estate at any given time is taken up by stock photos that offer no meaningful information and server only to draw attention.
  23. Colors, damnit. Zebra stripe comments. Apply a pastel background color for comment threads, or colorize the left-hand border. Differentiate threads with unique colors.

de-termination

Up til this point, I have felt okay with my level of participation in the political process. I spend at least an hour or two every day reading the news, trying to learn stuff. I post links. I write my little essays. I vote. I try to stay informed on the issues that matter and share that information with my friends and family. What else is there to do?

But this election has changed the way that I think about the future. I already knew that progress was not guaranteed. But I still figured it was likely. There might be setbacks, but they would be temporary.

I no longer feel this way. There is no hard floor to this descent. There is no inevitable march forward. It will be far easier for this administration to burn bridges than it will be for us to rebuild them. It may take decades to rip down the walls that he builds in a few years.

The point of this being, I think you are going to see me getting a lot more political in the coming months and years. My now perpetual state of anxiety dictates that I take action and do whatever I can to subvert the incoming tidal wave of xenophobia and racism. I cannot abide my own existence if I am not actively working towards a future that doesn’t suck.

I am going to keep pondering what, exactly, this looks like. I know relatively little about law and have a lot of reading to do before I can hope to meaningfully change a system I do not understand.

I will be looking for ways to get involved with my local government so that I can see how the system works at the lowest level. I will be sketching out ideas of tools to build that can alleviate the major pain points in our system. I will be searching for ideas and inspiration wherever I can find them.

And, of course, I will keep writing, trying to improve my grasp on the slippery eel of social media that I have never felt comfortable with. But it is clearly a necessary tool of the trade, now, and I will learn whatever necessary to be an effective actor in this system.

crying wolf

One recurring thought for me is that what most of us feel right now must be similar to how Trump’s base felt when Obama was elected.

This isn’t to say that the feelings are equally legitimate. But an entire sector of our media was devoted to painting Obama as the antichrist. There was endless FUD about FEMA concentration camps. Or that he secretly hated America as evidenced by his refusal to wear a flag pin for a few days. Or that he was a black supremacist. Remember the whole thing with death panels? And, of course, the birther movement. A lot of people believed all of that to be true.

Now we have someone that really is what the media says he is. There’s no hyperbole when we express fear that he would deport millions of Americans or begin racial and religious profiling en-masse. He truly does think that climate change is a Chinese hoax. He actually sees nothing wrong with sexually violating women. The fires of bigotry, sexism, racism, and xenophobia have been stoked by this election, and minorities throughout the country are justified in their terror.

How can you make clear the difference to someone who really thought Obama was a terrorist? What words are available to use when we’ve already been running on maximal hyperbole for nearly a damn decade? Is there any possible phrasing that would bring home the gravity of this mistake? Or have we been screaming for so long that we’re just deaf to one another?