Wednesday, September 19, 2018

DC Metal and Clarity in Stories

Author's NOTE:  I'm going to talk about a comic book and your first impulse will be to say, "I haven't read that."  I know you probably haven't read it (or comic books in general).  Just be like a TV lawyer show judge and trust that I'm going somewhere with this.

Over a month ago I read DC's latest "event" series Metal.  I'd like to write a description but it's pretty much impossible because the plot made almost no sense to even someone like me who isn't a "true" comic book fan but who has read plenty of them in the last 6 years or so.

I can give you a basic gist.  Somehow Batman opens a gateway to a "dark multiverse" and the evil god "Barbatos" and a bunch of evil Batmen (and one woman) come out to take over Earth and try to "sink" it into the dark multiverse for...reasons.  And only by going to the literal "forge of creation" can Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman hope to save the day.  They discover a new metal and somehow reshape the universe.  Makes sense, right?

Now there are a few problems with this plot.  First, how can there be a "dark" multiverse and a "light" multiverse?  In strict quantum physics terms (which might be an oxymoron) a new universe would be created every time you make a decision.  So each decision 7 billion people make each day creates a new universe.  There is no inherent "dark" or "light" multiverse, just an infinite number of other worlds.

The way DC gets around this is that there's a "Monitor" and only 52 worlds of the "multiverse."  I guess the Monitor is like the curator of a museum and these 52 worlds are the pieces on display.  Which is pretty asinine, but whatever.  In these 52 worlds you have one based on the Batman: Vampire comics where Batman is a bloodsucking fiend who at one point slaughters every villain in Arkham.  Gee, that sounds like a really "light" universe, doesn't it?  So shouldn't that be part of the "dark multiverse?"  No, because...reasons.  Other universes are based on the graphic novels The Dark Knight Returns and Superman: Red Son, neither of which is very sunny and pleasant.  Earth-3 is traditionally the home of the Crime Syndicate--aka, an evil version of the Justice League--and Earth-X is a world where Nazis won WWII.  So the "light" multiverse is pretty dark already.

While we're talking math-type shit, writer Scott Snyder constantly confuses "nth" for "ninth."  He keeps saying that "nth metal" is the ninth metal.  In actuality, "nth" is mathspeak for just a bunch of stuff.  It's not shorthand for ninth.  It CAN be ninth, but it can be any freaking number you want it to be really; it's not a specific number.  I sucked at calculus and I knew that.  So a major plot point is courtesy of a dude falling asleep during algebra.

As I described in half-assed fashion, the plot is about this "god" Barbatos wanting to sink Earth into the dark multiverse.  Why?  If there are all these other universes, who gives a shit about just one?  And if you're the god of the whole dark multiverse, why do you give a shit about our pathetic little one planet in one universe?  Jealousy?  Multiverse envy?  It'd make more sense if like Galactus or Unicron he fed on universes, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  He just wants to destroy "our" universe, or the main DC comic book universe really.

To power his contraption to "sink" Earth, he lures Superman into a trap.  Why?  I mean there are all these evil Supermen in the dark universe; can't you just use one of them?  And why do you need Superman?  Sure his body is like a living solar battery, but so what?  If you take over the earth you should have plenty of power.

(BTW, reading some of the spin-off issues later on helped make the story...still not make a ton of sense.)

There are a whole bunch of other stupid things I could complain about.  The point--and I said there would be one--is that it makes no sense.  I bet you've read books similar to this before, where the plot just makes no sense at all.  Like pretty much anything by Thomas Pynchon.  Some snob might want to say that self-published books would be the most frequent offenders, but the self-published books I read generally make sense--even most of Tony Laplume's!  I did comment on one last year called Lightspeed Frontier that was just a long ramble.  So that's one for the snobs.

A lot of query letters on Critique Circle I see suffer from this problem.  Fantasy ones especially.  There's just all this gobbledygook that in a brief letter you can't really explain.  Maybe the book itself would make more sense, though I doubt it.

Whether you're writing a query letter or an outline--or a comic book series--it's a good idea to think beforehand about those journalism questions:  who, what, where, when, how, and (the big one) WHY?  Who is your hero?  Who is your villain?  What do they want?  Where are they?  When are they?  How will they get what they want?  And WHY do they want it?  If you have a problem answering any of those questions then you are probably in trouble.  You probably also need someone with a good bullshit detector to look over your answers to tell you how many of your answers are just BS.  I mean I'm sure if I had gone to ComiCon and asked Scott Snyder what the fuck was going on in Metal he could have gone on and on with a lot of BS until he was blue in the face and passed out.  But could he answer in just one simple sentence?  Probably not.

For fun let's try it with one of mine you might be familiar with:  A Hero's Journey.

Who:  Dr. Emma Earl/the Scarlet Knight (hero), Dr. Ian MacGregor/the Black Dragoon (villain)
What do they want:  The Black Dragoon wants to take over Rampart City and then the world.  The Scarlet Knight wants to stop the Dragoon and thus save the world.
Where are they:  Rampart City, USA (a simulacrum of New York with a little Detroit in there)
When are they:  2000
How will they get what they want?  The Dragoon manipulates a crooked mayoral candidate so that if the candidate wins the Dragoon will have a safe haven.  The Scarlet Knight stops him with the help of her friends, who tip her off to the Dragoon's plan and help her find him.
Why do they want it?  The Dragoon is an ancient evil spirit and thus wants to destroy the world.  Emma wants to stop him because she's good and also it's the only way she can ever free herself of the burden of being the Scarlet Knight.

There you go, pretty simple, right?  It's pretty easy when your story is a fairly classic good v evil tale.  Like, say, a superhero comic book.  Right?  Right?!

Chance of a Lifetime might be more difficult.

Who:  Detective Steve Fischer/Stacey Chance
What does she want:  To become a man again and get revenge on the bad guys who caused her change
Where are they:  The unnamed city that again is a New York/Detroit simulacrum
When are they:  About 2011
How will they get what they want?  To the first goal (being a man again) Stacey gets the help of a scientist who worked on the project of the drug that changed her.  To the second goal she tracks down the bad guys and kills them one-by-one for the most part.
Why does she want it?  Why she wants to be a man again should be obvious--she wants her old life back even if it kinda sucked.  The other is just basic revenge; they pretty much killed her so now she's going to kill them.

OK, maybe not that much more difficult!  But let's try a literary story like Where You Belong:

Who:  Frost Devereaux and the Maguire twins:  Frank and Frankie
What do they want:  Frost initially wants Frankie but Frankie doesn't know what she wants.  Frank wants Frost and eventually Frost decides he wants Frank before deciding he doesn't really want anyone.
Where are they:  Lots of places.  Largely Iowa, Phoenix, and New York.
When are they:  1973-2008
How will they get what they want: Mostly Frost gets Frankie in a moment of weakness.  The same way Frank gets Frost.  It's not so much a conscious plan as just taking advantage of the opportunity.
Why do they want it:  Frost grew up with the twins and spent a lot of time with Frankie, which turned into unrequited love.  Frank is mostly jealous of his sister and wants what she has--in this case, Frost's love.

So it's a little less concrete, but still not total BS right?  Yeah.  Suck it, Scott Snyder!  You with your...lucrative comic book writing career and legion of fans.  Yeah.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Revisiting Babylon 5

Like Star Trek the Original Series I had watched a lot of Babylon 5 in reruns (on TNT and maybe Sci-Fi) but I'd never gotten the chance to actually watch the whole thing from start-to-finish.  To my knowledge it wasn't on Netflix or Hulu or even some other ones on my Roku to stream.  I heard last year or so it was on some weird service called GO90 that also had some Transformers shorts, but I never got around to looking for it.  Then it went under, I guess so then finally Babylon 5 was on Amazon Prime so in July I finally watched all 5 seasons in order.

Probably the thing that always worked against Babylon 5 is Star Trek Deep Space Nine came out around the same time--maybe about a year earlier--and they had a similar premise focusing on a space station.  And the stories wound up largely going the same way with an epic war.

There were of course some differences.  The universe of Babylon 5 is a lot grittier than the Star Trek universe.  Everyone still uses money.  There are homeless on the station in the "down below."  Characters have problems like alcoholism and drug addiction; they aren't the squeaky clean Federation officers.  The humans at least don't have artificial gravity and no one really has shields.  Instead of "warp drive" they use "jump gates" to traverse hyperspace from one point to another.  Part of this difference I would suggest is the involvement of Harlan Ellison as a "conceptual consultant;" Ellison was not a big fan of Gene Roddenberry and thus I'm sure he wanted the Babylon 5 universe as non-Trek as possible.  In that sense it is probably a lot more familiar to our 21st Century notions than DS9's 24th Century with the Federation where everyone gets along in peace and harmony.

Unlike DS9, which starts with the station being taken over by the Federation and Bajorans from the Cardassians, Babylon 5 just kind of throws you right into it.  The station has already been operating under Commander Jeffrey Sinclair.  As the somewhat overbearing intro explains, the Babylon Project was an attempt by humans to create a nexus point for all the known races of the galaxy for trade and political negotiation.  There were 4 other stations but 3 were sabotaged and the fourth mysteriously disappeared--which is the subject of three episodes, one in the first season and two in the third season.

The Earth Alliance (Earth and its colonies, no alien races) operate the station but there are representatives from other worlds.  The main races are the Minbari, who are sort of like Vulcans in that they're more dispassionate and philosophical only they have weird bone things wrapping around their heads that look like an HR Geiger sculpture; the Centauri are very human-like but the males have their hair standing up in fan shapes while the women are bald and in one episode its suggested they have sort of tentacles hidden inside that are sex appendages; the Narn are brown and spotted and more reptilian and like the Bajorans were occupied by the Cardiassians, the Narn were occupied by the Centauri before repelling them; and the Vorlon are a mysterious race that go around in "encounter suits" to contain their living energy.

Most of the first season is just a grab bag of episodes with different problems facing the station like an alien couple that refuses treatment for their child and a strike by the dock workers.  There's some set up for the future with mention of the Shadows and the episode about Babylon 4's disappearance.  That season more than any other has episodes from a variety of writers like original Trek writer DC Fontana, Trek novelist Peter David, and Beast Wars writer/story editor Lawrence DiTillio--who was also the story editor for the first two seasons of B5.  Really after that first season most of the episodes are credited to series creator J Michael Straczynski.

The first season especially was one I don't think I'd watched as much of in reruns.  I always thought the departure of Sinclair was handled a little more smoothly, but it wasn't.  Season 2 starts with an announcement that Sinclair has been abruptly transferred to Minbar as an ambassador.  At the end of the first season he proposed to his girlfriend but she was never seen or heard from again--maybe she joined Richie Cunningham's brother and that middle child from Family Matters in the TV Character Witness Relocation Program.

Anyway, season 2 introduces Captain John Sheridan as the new commander of the station.  He was played by Bruce Boxleitner, who you might remember from the 80s series Scarecrow and Mrs. King.  (He was the Scarecrow, obviously.)  That season starts to ramp things up as the Centauri ally themselves with the Shadows and take over the Narn homeworld.  There's a brutal scene where Centauri ambassador Londo has Narn ambassador G'Kar banished from the council meeting because he's no longer an ambassador since his planet surrendered.  Up to that point the two ambassadors had been sorta frenemies so that was really a turning point.

Season 3 slowly builds up the war against the Shadows.  At the same time as the Centauri with their Shadow allies are running roughshod across the galaxy, the Shadows are also making a play for Earth.  The Earth president is killed in an explosion that's ruled an accident, but eventually information is uncovered that the ship he was on was sabotaged so that the vice-president could take over.  When the evidence is leaked and an investigation begins, the president declares martial law and basically sets himself up as Dictator for Life.  As the new president turns the main TV network into a propaganda network that even Fox "News" would think goes too far; creates a government agency to dispense "alternative facts;" and sets up a secret police force, it's not too hard to see how our own shady president might act should the Mueller investigation get too hot for him.

During the third season Captain Sheridan declares Babylon 5 to be an independent state and with help from the Minbari manage to fight off Earth forces to keep it free.  It then becomes the focal point for gathering resistance to the Shadows.

At the end of the season Sheridan is lured to the Shadow homeworld of Za-ha-Dum (Za-ha-doom) by the wife he thought died on an expedition to the planet.  (She was played by Bruce Boxleitner's real wife--at least at the time--Melissa Gilbert.  It's funny that in the episode they actually reshot a message she had sent to him before leaving on the trip.  In a second season episode where the message was first shown there was a different actress--probably someone they got on the cheap--but the third season episode they replaced her with Melissa Gilbert; kind of a George Lucas deal there.)  Sheridan turns down their offer and instead crashes a ship loaded with nuclear bombs into the planet, obliterating the Shadow base.  As the ship comes down Sheridan presumably jumps to his death.

The fourth season begins with the search for Sheridan.  While no one from the station can find him, he's brought home by an ancient alien named Lorien who was living on the planet.  Then the war goes into full swing, though it ends after about 6 episodes in a fairly anti-climactic way.  Basically the Shadows and Vorlons and other "First Ones," or the oldest races around, decide to pack up their shit and leave the galaxy when they're brought together by the oldest of the old, Lorien.

Then the season turns its focus on liberating Earth from the evil president.  Sheridan begins gathering Earth Alliance forces willing to turn on the president along with the Rangers, a group of humans and Minbari trained to fight the Shadows.  Meanwhile undercover agents work on helping to free Mars from Earth control.

The season ends with Earth being freed and Sheridan forming a new Interstellar Alliance--basically a Federation.  Sheridan is elected the president of the new Alliance, which for the immediate future is based on Babylon 5.

It seems watching the end of that season that they weren't really sure they were going to have a fifth season.  Everything is pretty much wrapped up.  The last episode of that season sort of echoes that old song "2525" that went "In the year 2525, if Man is still alive..." and then each verse would be a different year like 3535, 5555, and so on.  Only in this case it goes from 2262 to 2362 to 2762 to 3262 to a million years in the future where basically humans have evolved into Vorlons.

Maybe that's why the fifth season just seems so slow and dull.  With Sheridan as the Alliance president, a new commanding officer of the station is brought on.  But after the epic Shadow War and human civil war, going back to more minor crises like with "rogue telepaths" and a dust-up with the Centauri was just kind of disappointing.  By the end of the season the only one left on the station from the first season is Vir the assistant Centauri ambassador--now full ambassador.  There were more goodbyes in the last half-dozen episodes than Return of the King.

The final episode is sort of an epilogue set 20 years in the future, when Sheridan is set to die.  That's not really a spoiler as in the 4th season it was established that after he was brought back from the dead on the Shadows homeworld he would only live 20 years.  So he says goodbye to all his old friends and then goes to Babylon 5, which like him is also being shut down.  Finally he's taken "home" by the First Ones.  The station is blown up in a scene that's heart-wrenching after you've watched the rest of the series.

While you can nitpick about the effects and stuff not being that great--even by 90s standards--it was still a great show for the most part.  It's kind of ironic that with Enterprise and Discovery Star Trek has been trying to become grittier, becoming more like Babylon 5.

There was a follow-up series called Crusade made for TNT but it only lasted 13 episodes.  The premise of that was the Shadow allies the Drahk unleash a disease on Earth that will kill the planet in 5 years.  A human ship called the Excalibur is sent to look for a cure.  It was an interesting show but didn't really have time to gel the way the other series did.  Interestingly the premise is pretty much the same one ABC used later for The Last Ship, only that involved a US military ship on the high seas, not in space.

Something else interesting is there are actually a lot of Star Trek-Babylon 5 connections.  Besides writers Harlan Ellison and DC Fontana involved, I mentioned Trek novelist Peter David wrote an episode.  Original Chekov actor Walter Koenig was a frequent guest star as the evil telepath Bester.  David Warner, who was in Star Trek V/VI and the Next Generation episode where Picard is tortured by the Cardassians, guest starred as a guy searching for the Holy Grail.  Worf's father guest stars as a rabbi in a first season episode.  Some episodes were directed by Mike Vejar, who also worked on the Trek shows of the time, and Leonard Nimoy's son Adam.  Even Gene Roddenberry's wife Majel Barrett appears in one episode as a Centauri noblewoman.

Some more pop culture connections:  Neil Gaiman wrote a fifth season episode where one alien race has a "Day of the Dead" and crew on part of the station are visited by ghosts.  In that same episode magic/comedy duo Penn & Teller play a comedy duo called Rebo & Zooty.  The guy who played Basil in the Austin Powers movies plays a guy who thinks he's King Arthur, which was weird because he was also in the adaptation of Shatner's TekLab that features a lot of Arthurian legend stuff.  The cast of B5 included Bill Mumy, who was in the original Twilight Zone as the kid who wishes people into the cornfield (and another episode or two), and Steven Furst, who was the fat nerd in Animal House, directed by John Landis, who directed part of the Twilight Zone movie that I think Bill Mumy appeared in.  In one of the episodes leading up to the climactic battle with the Shadows, a then-mostly-unknown Bryan Cranston played the captain of a Rangers ship that sacrificed itself to lure the Shadows into a trap.  Since Babylon 5 ended, J Michael Straczynski has had runs on iconic comic books like Spider-Man and Superman.

While Star Trek shows pretty much have the same credits every season with slight variances, Babylon 5 had a new credits sequence every season with a different theme song.  I actually liked the 3rd season theme best.

This I think is a compilation of the different seasons:

I'm sure there are plenty of nerd debates about which is better:  Babylon 5 or Deep Space Nine.  But really, can't we like them both?  They are both really good shows.  Now if you've seen both shows, here are some questions to answer:

  • Who's your captain:  Sisko or Sheridan?
  • Who's your tough-as-nails second:  Kira or Ivanova?
  • Which is your ship:  The Defiant or the White Stars?
  • Which is your smaller ship:  Runabout or Starfury?
  • Who's your security chief:  Odo or Garibaldi?
  • Who's your alien hottie:  Dax or Delenn?
  • Who's your doctor:  Bashir or Franklin?
  • Who's your blue collar hero:  Chief O'Brien or Zack Allan?
  • Who's your alien comic relief:  Quark or Vir?
  • Who's your know-it-all aliens:  Wormhole aliens or Vorlons?
You can answer in the comments or just answer to yourself.  Or more likely say you haven't seen one or both shows.

Here, I'll go first and answer:

  1. Sisko
  2. Ivanova
  3. Defiant
  4. Starfury
  5. Garibaldi
  6. Dax
  7. Franklin
  8. O'Brien
  9. Quark
  10. Vorlons
That's not so hard, is it?

(Finally, here's a little joke for you:  if you think about it, "Minbari" is an anagram of "Minibar."  So I bet J Michael Straczynski was in a hotel when he was working on the script.  What would be a good name for these aliens?...[look around hotel room] minibar!  No, wait, Minbari!  Eureka!)

Told you it was a little joke.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Logic Problem

Another one of those examples from Critique Circle.  Someone posted a query and it was kind of funny to me because it says:
When H discovers that one of her ancestors was among those murdered by S's witch hunters, she calls upon the best witch she knows—her sister B—and together they travel back in time to save the girl’s life. 
[Names redacted]

This really made no sense to me.  You find out some ancestor was murdered and so you go back in time to save her.  Wait, what?  It's so super casual in this query how in one sentence she decides to go back in time to save a complete stranger she only read about recently in a book.

I guess you could say I'm being picky but it seemed like a gap in logic.  If I have a sister who can use magic to time travel, am I going back to save some ancestor 325 years ago first thing?  I mean I think I'd go back to buy a lottery ticket first.  Then maybe save JFK or kill Hitler or keep Trump from running for president.

When I mentioned this the author got all snotty about it.  Isn't saving a child's life enough?  Wouldn't anyone do that?  Um...not really.  I mean if it's a child I know then maybe I would if I have the means.  But a child I read about in a book who died 325 years ago?  Am I going to just drop everything and travel back in time to the Salem Witch Trials?  That's a lot of danger to undergo for a complete stranger and basically on a whim.

Star Trek had a number of time travel episodes but the lamest was when they went back to 1968 (what was then the present) for basically no reason except to set up the pilot for a show that never happened anyway.  It was really dumb because there was no reason to go back in time except that the story called for it.  So on some flimsy excuse they just go back in time with like no setup.

Other episodes were done much better.  The famous City on the Edge of Forever they go back in time when Bones goes crazy and jumps through the gateway, altering the history to destroy the Federation.  Kirk didn't see the gateway and say, "Hey, I'm going to go save Edith Keeler!"  And then jump through.  It wouldn't have made sense.

Similarly in First Contact the Borg go back in time to destroy humanity before it can contact the Vulcans and usher in the Federation.  The Enterprise follows to prevent Earth from being assimilated.  It's not like Captain Picard read about an ancestor dying in a book and decided to go back in time to save her.

Anyway, I'm not saying the story is a piece of shit, but there needs to be a logical bridge from cause to effect.  Now if H reads about her ancestor's death and then some of S's goons try to kill her so she can't reveal their activities then it might make sense that she wants to go back in time to stop them in the past.  Or if the girl's ghost shows up to beseech H to save her.  Or you can always just make it an accident:  she opens a book or touches an artifact and goes back to that era.

The point being stories aren't like the real world; you don't want a lot of just random stuff happening.  And especially when you write a query you need to have your logic so the agent's intern can follow it.  If your query seemingly makes random jumps--or just very weak jumps--they'll probably figure your manuscript is that way too.

It was one of those weird moments when other people on the board actually agreed with me.  I figured there'd be some mushheads who'd say, This is Fine.  There usually are.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Another Amazon Mystery

I check my Amazon sales graph a few times each day.  June 28th I had checked it early in the day and it was at about 5 units.  Then later my eyes just about bugged out of my head to see it had jumped to 170 units!

Wow, 170 units would be a lot of money--provided some asshole didn't just refund them all, though have fun refunding 165 books.  Since most of my books are $2.99 you have to figure that would be like $300 in the US, maybe less if some were overseas.

Yet when I checked the next day and days afterwards it was only $75.  That's nice but a lot less than it should be.  There had to be an explanation, right?

Well here's a partial explanation:  the sales chart isn't really your actual SALES.  It's ORDERS.  And apparently there can be orders that aren't actually sales.  If you don't believe me, here's the Excel chart for June 28th.  On the left are the royalty-paying SALES and on the right the ORDERS from the "Orders" tab on the workbook.

Now you see the SALES are only 39 units, which if you do the math actually makes sense.  39 x $2 would be $78 so if a few are less than $2 royalties then that would make the $75.

The interesting thing is when I lined them up.  You see a lot of them are the same but where there was 1 or 2 SALES there were 6 or 7 ORDERS.  There were also two books in the SALES that aren't in the ORDERS and vice-versa, which is weird.

The only explanation I can think of is someone placed an order for those books that have 6-7 orders and it didn't go through the first five times or they accidentally hit the button a few times or it was just a system glitch that caused it to be repeated for the chart.

Asking Amazon seemed pointless, so I didn't bother.  I asked the Kindle Boards and someone else had noticed a similar problem and never got an answer from Amazon.  But no one could really explain it.  Of course you get one or two "geniuses" who have to Amazonsplain to me that different countries have different rates and stuff.  Like I haven't been selling on Amazon for 9 fucking years now.  Also you can see on the chart they're all US and UK and only one has 35% royalty.  Hence that's not the reason.

We'll probably never know the exact reason.  But I guess it's a good reminder that just because that bar graph shows a number, doesn't mean that's what you're actually going to be paid for.  What a gyp.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Everything You Know About Food is FAKE NEWS!

On Pluto TV I watched the documentary Fat Head, in which a computer programmer named Tom Naughton decides to take on Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me.  In Super Size Me, Spurlock ate McDonald's 3 meals a day for 30 days and guess what?  He gained weight.  No shit.

So you think the premise for this is going to be this guy is going to eat fast food all the time and lose weight.  Which is true--with a caveat.  It's what he eats that's different from Spurlock.  Basically he does a low carb diet.  He eats some hamburger buns and breading but mostly he stays away from carbs like French fries, ice cream, and sugary sodas.

See that was the real problem with Spurlock's diet:  he was gorging on French fries, regular Coke, ice cream sundaes, apple pies, and buns/biscuits/English muffins.  So in a way he was right, but for the wrong reasons.  It wasn't just McDonald's making him fat, but the type of food at McDonald's he was eating.  By eliminating most of the carbs, Naughton lost 12 pounds in 28 days and what you might think is really weird, his cholesterol was improved.

With doctor interviews, bad animation, Jay Leno-type man-on-the-street questions, and a lot of sarcasm, Naughton talks about how everything we've been told about food from about the early 70s on has been totally bass ackwards.  Or as Trump would say:  FAKE NEWS!

It was in the 70s when the government started saying we should be lowering fat intake and eating lots of grains.  In the process they ended up telling us to eat a lot of carbs.  And then were baffled at why people were getting fat and issues like diabetes became so prevalent.  Ironically, "health" food advocates around that time also protested using animal fats at fast food places and the like and insisted on using what became known as "trans fats."  30 years later those same groups then said to stop using trans fats!

While the movie is a little over-the-top with some of its criticism and simplification, I still buy into most of it.  Why?  Because when my doctor put me on all the diabetes meds he said to do what?  Stop eating carbs, especially refined sugar.

Which is easier said than done.  Not only because I really like things like French fries, but our whole society is largely geared towards eating carbs.  Look at breakfast foods:  cereal, toast, muffins, donuts, pancakes, waffles, French toast--all loaded with carbs.  You want something portable for lunch?  How about a sandwich?  Made with bread of course.  Or have you looked at most "Lean" Cuisines or the like?  Most of them are filled with pasta or potatoes or the like.  Why?  Because those are cheap and "filling" and "healthy" by conventional standards.  And dinner?  Potatoes, rolls, or whatever.  Look at our favorite foods:  hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken, ice cream, etc.  It's all loaded with starches and sugars, which is what leads to fat and diabetes.

There's also a section debunking something we've long been told:  high cholesterol diets lead to heart disease.  In reality there's no correlation.  Even anti-cholesterol drugs claim in the fine print that they don't cure or treat heart disease.  In many ways cholesterol is good for us; basically every cell in your body uses it.  The worst "bad" cholesterol doesn't come in the foods we associate with high cholesterol like bacon or sausage or eggs.  It's actually in "good" foods like bread.  Like I said earlier, Naughton ate plenty of fat and yet his "good" cholesterol level went up and his cholesterol ratio improved to "excellent."  So forget that noise about fat = cholesterol = heart disease.  It's a load of crap.  (I watched part of another, better-looking documentary on the paleo diet that said the same thing.  Confirmation!)

Now you might say this is just an anecdotal example (the same way Spurlock's movie was) but the thing is, there really is no scientific evidence supporting the government guidelines on "healthy" eating.  In fact, it's largely the opposite.  The guidelines that became the food pyramid weren't made by scientists; they were made by politicians and bureaucrats and rubber stamped by a few tame scientists.  In other words:  FAKE NEWS!  One of the earliest studies called the "lipid hypothesis" showed that in countries with high fat diets there was more heart disease, but this conclusion came by excluding a lot of countries that didn't fit the data, like where they eat a lot of fat but don't have heart disease--Norway for instance.

Another thing is that when people go on low fat diets they often get depressed.  Why?  Because our brains want salty animal fats.  We might be more "evolved" and yet our biology is still mostly the same as it was tens of thousands of years ago when they ate animals and wild grains.

WILD grains, not what we have today.  A thing at the end talks about how in the late 70s they started growing a modified "dwarf" wheat that's shorter but has more yield.  By the mid-80s pretty much everyone was doing it.  And not long after cases of food allergies and gluten sensitivity skyrocketed.  Because our guts weren't used to this new wheat.

Now the problem is what Naughton does in the end is buy a farm and grow his own food and raise chickens to provide eggs and so forth.  What about those of us who can't afford to buy the farm?  The problem I have trying to be low carb is it's not all that portable.  And it's expensive.  I mean for breakfast you can make sausage/bacon and eggs but try eating that in the car without toast, English muffins, or biscuits.  The best substitute I can think of are low carb tortillas.  I'm not sure how well that really works.  Lunch is more problematic.  Sandwiches are out if you want to eliminate carbs.  And things like TV dinners as I've said are loaded with pasta or potatoes usually.  There are Atkins meals but those are like $4 a pop and take about 6 minutes to cook.  Most of the time I just say fuck it and make tuna sandwiches that I eat at my desk while I'm working.  Dinner is easier since I can just make it at home.  Except that I love French fries and pizza too much.  I should probably eliminate those entirely.

Then there are all the hidden sugars in products.  Things like ketchup, pasta sauce, and even canned peas all have added sugar in them.  Reading labels for bread the problem is many breads--even "healthy" ones--have sugar/corn syrup and molasses.  That's part of why they have so many carbs.  The problem for poor people is so many of the cheapest most convenient items are full of carbs:  mac n cheese, ramen noodles, spaghetti, etc.  In cities like Detroit it's really hard for poor people to find and buy fresh vegetables (low carb ones, not like potatoes or peas for instance) or fresh, lean meat.  So they end up buying a lot of high carb stuff and that can lead to problems.

Anyway, if you're looking to lose weight, you're probably doing things wrong.  Instead of low fat or low calorie, you should be doing low carb or paleo.  Your body will thank you.

(BTW, if you're wondering, it says at the end the movie was entirely self-funded, not produced by McDonald's or Atkins or anything.)

Friday, September 7, 2018

How Not to Respond to Mild Criticism

I don't often react well to negative reviews.  And sometimes I can be a dick in reviews online.  But in this case it's someone else reacting badly to what I didn't think was a nasty criticism at all.  Decide for yourself.

So here's the original post on a Twitter Pitch:
(This will be under "MG.")

The "Made in America" Act has tossed most stuffed animals aside. Now, Spaulding the teddy bear and his kind must create their own community or be exterminated by dogs, rats, buses, and skateboarder.

And here's my response, which I think is pretty tame:
Agree this doesn't really do anything for me. A Twitter pitch—or elevator pitch—needs to be short and punchy.

It's like Toy Story with stuffed animals! [Or Toy Story meets Animal Farm....or whatever.]

What if you had to give up your favorite stuffed toy? In [whatever] a bunch of discarded stuffed toys seek to build a new community, but have to avoid dogs, rats, and a nasty skateboarder.

Don't get bogged down in details.

To which this dude just completely jumps down my throat:
Toy Story is stuffies. Woody and Buzzy are both stuffed. A Twitter pitch isn't an elevator pitch. And, no, really, a pitch isn't a comparison. And no, it really should never include a question in it. And, no, "a bunch of" doesn't belong in it. And, yes, details matter, otherwise pitches would all look like what you wrote.

I really was looking for help, but when "help" is teaching someone how to do something completely wrong, that's not helpful. Have you ever truly helped someone on this forum?

That doesn't seem like a proportional response, does it?  For once I didn't really waste time going head-to-head on this except to point out the obvious:
Buzz Lightyear is an action figure, not a stuffed toy. He has a battery powered laser and sound effects for crying out loud. (And wings!)
I don't know if Woody is stuffed or if he's wooden, though I think he was patterned more on Howdy Doody than a stuffed toy.  I mean to me "stuffies" are like Winnie the Pooh or Spot Mangy Mutt II.

For the record I think a Twitter pitch is like an elevator pitch.  You're in a confined space and thus have to quickly hook your audience.  It was tougher when you only had 144 characters.  Still the point is you have to do something short and punchy to get your foot in the door.  Like a query letter you have to consider than an agent is going to see hundreds of these things so if you just do some boring standard line you're not going to get much interest.

It just didn't seem like any point wasting the time or energy with someone who immediately becomes so irrational.  I guess this was just one of those who really only wanted a pat on the head and a cookie.  Maybe it's not a surprise the dude got no more advice from anyone after this.    Who'd want to bother if you're going to get snapped at like that?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

HBO's Believer Shows How Religion Becomes Toxic

On a slow Sunday afternoon about two months ago I turned on HBO and started watching a documentary called Believer.  I'm not an Imagine Dragons fan--I think I only heard their songs in commercials--but it was a pretty interesting story about the group's lead singer trying to put on a music festival called LoveLoud to bring together Mormons and LGBTQ people.

The lead singer--Dan Reynolds I think; mostly I thought he sorta looked and sounded like Chris Pratt--is a Mormon and got his wife to convert.  This brought up some problems because his wife had lesbian friends and the Mormon church was big into Proposition 8 in California to keep gay people from getting married.  The lesbian friends refused to even go to the wedding.  Then once his group started to hit the big time he started to hear from some gay fans who were feeling suicidal because their Mormon families wouldn't accept them.

Around the same time the Mormon singer of the group Neon Trees came out as gay and found that not all his family and friends were all that supportive.  This guy talked to Dan Reynolds and they came up with the idea of putting together a music festival.  It seemed like a slam dunk; Imagine Dragons was routinely selling out stadiums and the other group was doing well too.  So together they should be able to sell out a park or something, right?

Well first there was the issue of finding a location.  It took a while before someone agreed to let them hold the show on a baseball field that could hold about 20,000 in Provo, Utah.  And then ticket sales were pretty sluggish.  Imagine Dragons could sell out the basketball stadium in Salt Lake but they could only sell 7,500 tickets for this.  Hurm...

It wasn't until the Mormon church gave its OK that the show sold out.  You basically had 11,000 people who couldn't decide on their own to go; they needed some old guys in a temple to say it was OK.  Were they afraid that Mormon spies would rat them out and get them excommunicated?  I guess it could happen with social media or whatever.  But if your church is that anal, maybe it shouldn't be your church?

Despite singing some songs and some testimonials from LGBTQ Mormons, nothing changed.  The old white guys in charge said it was this generation's challenge to resist "temptation" and whatnot.  So I guess they're going to have another festival this year.

The documentary shows the ways that a religion that can otherwise be fine to bring people together can become toxic.  Mormons who come out are basically shunned by the rest of the church and can be excommunicated.  I'd say six of one, a half-dozen of the other, just find yourself some other church, but to these people it's a big deal.  It gets to the point that many of them attempt suicide, if not actually succeed.  Suicide rates at Brigham Young University are well above other schools.

Religion should be about bringing people together, not pushing away.  And sure as hell not killing them.  That's why there's been fighting in the Middle East for about 4000 years now.  If you're more concerned with words in a book than actual people then there's just something wrong with you.  Books are great--except when they justify hatred.  As I said before, if your church is this anal, maybe it shouldn't be your church.

Something I like to remind smug Christians of:  they're the minority.  Christianity in all its forms is the largest religion but even that is only about 1/7 of the world population.  You have a billion plus Chinese, nearly a billion Indians, and almost that whole Middle East and Africa that aren't Christian so before you're so sure you're on the winning team, maybe you ought to do the math.  And then maybe not take it so fucking seriously.  It's not worth anyone's life.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Laboring Day II: End of the Year Clearance

If you're wondering, this was the first "Laboring Day" post

With my Eric Filler books I try to release them every two weeks.  I got into doing that after I read that one book about setting up a newsletter and stuff.  The idea is not to overload your readers by having too many new books all at once.  I figure every 14 days or so is usually good enough so they won't forget me but it's not necessarily too much stuff.  No one's told me any different yet.

So a couple of months ago I realized I had a glut of unreleased material.  I made an Excel sheet to plug in the titles and saw I pretty much had enough for the whole year!  If I wrote a Halloween and XMas story that would fill out the schedule until 2019.

I did this by writing 11 stories in the 24 Hour Gender Swap series and 4 in the Dark Gender Swap series (that's 15 books or 30 weeks right there--over half a year) and a few other projects besides.  This freed me up in May-June to write a short novel to conclude the Gender Swap Heroes series.

It also gives me some freedom to work on other, longer projects.  Like Casting Change, which is still a gender swap story but a longer one that's more like a real novel.  It ended up about 65,000 words so kind of a short novel but long for that sort of story.  It'll probably be out this month in Kindle and paperback.

I might even do an actual non-gender swap book!  I've thought of writing my Dognapping story that I wrote about last November.  I thought maybe I'd do that for Nanowrimo if I have the story all worked out by then.

Anyway, happy Labor Day.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Politics and Relgion, Carrot and Stick

On Fourth of July I had one of those weird thoughts I sometimes have.  (Shocking, I know.)

The thought came to me that when it comes to politics Democrats are like the nice preacher who says if you work hard and act nice then you'll go to Heaven.  Whereas Republicans are like the fire and brimstone preacher who says if you don't do exactly what he says then you'll go to the pits of fire and damnation!

Democrats like Obama and Bernie (less so Hillary) are always about the "high road" and the vision of everyone getting along and working together.  Republicans like Trump and W Bush are more about being afraid of immigrants, terrorists, Obamacare, and whatever else they want to scapegoat at the moment.  One is the carrot and the other is the stick.

Weirdly the stick has been winning.  I guess besides being a nation of grumpy bulldogs we're also a nation of masochists who like being hit with a stick.  Or just sheeple who need someone to tell us to be afraid of this or that so we'll get our asses to the voting booths.

Growing up a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars and all that, I'd like to believe the carrot would eventually win out.  The better angels and all that.  That doesn't seem to be the case so far.  Of course for Democrats now Trump is a stick all on his own without them having to do much to wield it, much like Bush's blunders in Iraq and tanking the economy in 2008.  Sometimes you have to find the stick and sometimes the stick finds you.  Or whatever.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

How to Win the Argument for Socialism

The other day I was thinking about the problem with talking about socialism.  Bernie Sanders and other "democratic socialists" often talk about runaway corporate greed and how much the 1% has vs the 99%.  How unfair the system is to regular people.

That's the core of the problem.  When you frame it as an issue of "fairness," all these blue collar people, especially in the Midwest and South say, "Oh boo hoo, poor you.  Life isn't fair...yadda yadda yadda"  Because they're proud, tough, salt-of-the earth people and they don't want "handouts."  All that talk about fairness is just liberal elites whining, right?

The Left needs to do what the Right does:  wrap it up in the flag.  Though the Right loves putting soldiers in harm's way and cutting funding for healthcare, they also love trotting out veterans and flags any chance they get--like the thing with NFL "anthem protests."

The Left should borrow from their playbook and say socialism is good for America.  When rich people pay their share of taxes, they're investing in America.  They're investing in better schools and roads; cleaner air and water for our children; and yes more secure borders.  And for the xenophobes, it means borrowing less money from China.  The Koch Brothers and their ilk trying to get out of paying taxes and hoarding money aren't just greedy--they're UNAmerican!  They're traitors!

That's how you get all the dupes with flag decals on their pick-up trucks to stop thinking socialism is a dirty word.  You have to appeal to their misplaced patriotism, not talk about fairness.  That's just a dead-end.

If you want to cite historical precedent, you can go all the way back to the founding of the USA.  After the Revolution, the first national government was guided by the Articles of Confederation.  It was a loose system without a strong national government.  And it was an utter failure.  Basically each state was like its own country.  It made it a real chore if you wanted to ship goods from Massachusetts to Virginia or something.  And it would be really hard to do something like negotiate treaties.

So they replaced it with the Constitution right wingers claim to know and love today.  Because the Founding Fathers--those guys on our money--realized there needed to be a strong central authority for some things in order to have a functioning nation.  Even Jefferson, who wasn't big on a strong central government, embraced it for the Louisiana Purchase, fighting Barbary Pirates, and his own disastrous trade war.  So, what, are all these right wing conservatives and Libertarians are smarter than our Founding Fathers?  I don't think so.

Socialism is how we all pitch in and Make America Great For Real. #MAGFR!


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