Monthly Archives: July 2016

Book Review: Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

The protagonist’s name in “Not Dark Yet” is Brandon Minamoto.  If you’re going to read this book, remember that because it is only mentioned in the very first sentence of the very first chapter.  In fact, I thought the main character was nameless throughout until I read someone else’s review and they said his name was Brandon.  I had to actually do a search of the ebook to see if the author actually did name him.  I can’t recall how far into the book I had read before I realized that I didn’t know this man’s name, but I do recall finally getting the style of the prose after I realized he was repeatedly not named.  It’s an interesting style and it reflects nicely the nothingness feeling of the character.  Until that point, I was quite confused and it was an ah ha moment that made me enjoy the novel much more than I otherwise would have.

The setting is somewhere in the near future and the planet is beginning to reap the whirlwind of global warming.  States and countries are mostly a thing of the past, though governments still exist.  Food and water shortages are rampant.  Riots are a daily occurrence.  The weather grows more unpredictable and more violent.  This is the world that Brandon is floating through.

The novel starts with a jumble of stories from random moments in Brandon’s life.  Only with some thought can you later piece together those snippets into some sort of chronological order.  By the end, the pieces are all there to figure out, but it’s quite the jumble.  The problem is there’s not much reason for you to want to care about reassembling the jumble since nothing really exciting happens throughout the book to make you want to care.  If you bother, you will see that despite the book’s bleak ending, the real ending is possibly hopeful.

Despite the zero-sum nature of the novel, I found it enjoyable to read, if slightly disappointing given the abundant attention to detail without the corresponding fleshing out of any real connection of the main character to anyone or anything.  For that reason, it’s difficult to recommend the book to those who are looking for a more novelistic read.  If upon reading my review, it still sounds worth it, I don’t think you will be disappointed reading it.

Jill Stein – Chaotic Good

I thought it would be fun to pigeon hole the presidential candidates into their respective Dungeons & Dragons alignment.  I recognize that these aren’t going to be perfect, but it’s one of those things that are fun to game out.  All references to alignments can be found on Wikipedia.

It can incontrovertibly be said that Jill Stein is Chaotic Good:

A chaotic good character does what is necessary to bring about change for the better, disdains bureaucratic organizations that get in the way of social improvement, and places a high value on personal freedom, not only for oneself, but for others as well.[8] Chaotic good characters usually intend to do the right thing, but their methods are generally disorganized and often out of sync with the rest of society.

It is tempting to cast the Green Party candidate as True Neutral because the Green Party are like druids and druids must be Neutral.  Get it?  No?  Good, because if you did you’d be a level 36 Dork.  First edition rules.

Jill Stein has had a pretty solid career as an environmental activist.  Her story arch shows someone who has gone from Lawful Good earlier in her activism to her present Chaotic Good as the 2016 Green Party candidate.  In her early activism, she worked within the system to help make Massachusetts more environmentally sustainable.  She fought against coal plants and trash incinerators and helped push the state towards renewables and green energy job growth.

Stein’s path towards Chaotic Good can probably be traced to a single event.  In 1998, she campaigned for a Clean Elections Law that was repealed by a Democratic legislature.  This caused her to leave the Democratic party permanently and join the Green party.  Since, she has run for elected office multiple times, mostly in Massachusetts.  Those offices include Governor, U.S. House, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Town Meeting Representative, and President of the United States.  Of those, she has only won Town Meeting Representative of the city of Lexington, MA.

Stein is currently trying to poach voters unhappy with the DNC and who don’t understand that Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic primaries a long time ago despite not dropping out.  She even crashed the DNC hoping to lure disaffected Sanders delegates to her.  Thus her move to Chaotic Good was complete.

Stein also has some pretty strange positions further enshrining her Chaotic cred.  She wants to “quantitatively ease” student loans into non-existence, whatever that means.  She wants to “nationalize” the Federal Reserve, which fine, but even Fed know-nothings like Rand Paul aren’t calling for that.  She wants to close all of our foreign bases claiming they are bankrupting us.  She was for Brexit before she was against it.  She wants to pardon and put Edward Snowden in her Cabinet.  The Green Party supports homeopathy and her stance on it is wishy-washy at best.  And last but hardly least, she has no chance of winning the Presidency and is knowingly acting as the Democratic spoiler in a close election where Donald Trump might actually become President of the United States.

Gary Johnson – Chaotic Neutral

I thought it would be fun to pigeon hole the presidential candidates into their respective Dungeons & Dragons alignment.  I recognize that these aren’t going to be perfect, but it’s one of those things that are fun to game out.  All references to alignments can be found on Wikipedia.

I hereby deem Libertarian candidate for president, Gary Johnson, to be Chaotic Neutral:

A chaotic neutral character is an individualist who follows their own heart and generally shirks rules and traditions.  Although chaotic neutral characters promote the ideals of freedom, it is their own freedom that comes first; good and evil come second to their need to be free.

There really isn’t much information about Gary Johnson to hang any individual alignment on, but his record is certainly Libertarian and no alignment screams Libertarian like Chaotic Neutral.  He is huge on personal freedom (he was big on ending the war on drugs before it was cool, which kudos).  He believes in a minimalist government with zero interest in the consequences of what his policies (or lack thereof, really) will do to his constituents.  He was big on privatization of prisons and school vouchers.  As two-time governor of New Mexico, he holds  the record for number of vetoes (47% of all bills in his first term).  His governorship is generally considered a success and he was well liked, but I’ve not been able to find much evidence for or against Johnson’s term.  It looks to me like New Mexico grew at about the same pace as the rest of the country during his term in office.  I can concede that Libertarianism may be able to work in states whose population density is 17 people per square mile.

One thing I can say about him is Gary Johnson is the one person running for president that I would love to get a beer with.  He really does seem like a fun guy and you just know it wouldn’t end with just one beer.  Suddenly, you’re six beers in and Gary’s all like “Shots!” and you’re all like “I don’t really do shots” but suddenly you’re draining one down and there’s already another one in front of you and you’re like “What the hell!” and you pop that one down your gullet as well and then you regain consciousness at Gary’s house and everyone’s dropping LSD and Gary is offering you some and you take it and suddenly there’s this psychedelic music playing and all these colored lights and you have this absolutely mind blowing experience and as you come down,Gary’s there with some weed to help you mellow and you realize that it’s already 6 AM and you have all these chores to do before visiting your family so you say good bye to Gary and thanks for a fun evening and as you’re leaving Gary says to you, “We’re still on for next weekend, right?”

Donald Trump – Chaotic Evil

I thought it would be fun to pigeon hole the presidential candidates into their respective Dungeons & Dragons alignment.  I recognize that these aren’t going to be perfect, but it’s one of those things that are fun to game out.  All references to alignments can be found on Wikipedia.

When I said these aren’t going to be perfect, that was in respect to all the other candidates.  Donald Trump fits the definition of Chaotic Evil to a T.  Check this out:

A chaotic evil character tends to have no respect for rules, other people’s lives, or anything but their own desires, which are typically selfish and cruel. They set a high value on personal freedom, but do not have much regard for the lives or freedom of other people. Chaotic evil characters do not work well in groups because they resent being given orders and do not usually behave themselves unless there is no alternative.

Is that not spot on?

No respect for rules? Check. Check.

Other people’s lives?  Just read his Twitter account which I am not linking to.

Anything but their own desires, which are typically selfish and cruel? Check.

They set a high value on personal freedom, but do not have much regard for the lives or freedom of other people? Check. CheckCheck.  Really, there’s way too many examples of this.

Chaotic evil characters do not work well in groups because they resent being given orders and do not usually behave themselves unless there is no alternative?  Witness his fairly laid-back attitude at the Convention (at least by Republican Convention standards, that is) versus his actions both before and after, for example.

And yet, some polls have this man in the lead to be our next President of the United States.  With Brexit, we were finally able to lord our political superiority over the United Kingdom for the first time in decades.  Now we’re just going to throw that superiority away by electing Joffrey Baratheon.  What a total waste of a good lording.

Can We Get Back To Politics? Please?

I’ve been avoiding commenting about politics because primaries are a depressing shit show that reveal sides of humanity that should probably stay bottled up. It’s like that giant pimple that you just want to pop all over your bathroom mirror even though you know you shouldn’t but you do anyway and then you look at that mirror with all that puss and blood and you exclaim how gross it is before you wipe it off with some toilet paper and move on.  Well, the primaries are over and it’s time to move on.

I find the “both sides do it” argument tiring and obviously false.  As I like to say, if one side throws a rock at you and the other side shoots you, sure, on the surface they’re both committing violence, but to say they’re equally bad is absurd.  Well, this time around, one side brought a nuclear missile in the form of Donald J. Trump.  It is fairly well recognized how much of a danger a man like him is to, well, everyone, but that hasn’t stopped many Republicans who were, a scant few months ago, exclaiming that danger from being all like this:AzEAPZ

So please, cut the crap about both sides do it.  Especially now.

And to all you Never Hillary folks and especially those who were Bernie supporters, take a look at your skin.  Almost assuredly you are white.  Take a look in your pants.  More likely than not you have a penis.  Things will be fine for you even if Trump gets elected.  Congratulations.  You think now is a good time to issue a protest vote against the system?  Take a look at your black friends or your female friends or even better, your Muslim friends.  Things will assuredly be worse for them under a Trump presidency.  This is a man who has said he will ban Muslims from entering the country.  This is a man who said that we should keep a database of All Muslims living in the United States so we can keep track of them.  This is a man who thinks that women should accept sexual harassment from those who give them jobs or offer them advancement.  This man is currently the Sword of Damocles hanging over all of their heads and you would help him swing it?

Look, I’m glad you’ve had an awakening.  I’m glad that you’re finally realizing that our system is rigged.  I’m glad you’re motivated to do something about it.  But you don’t start complaining about a leaky faucet when the fucking levee is about to break.  Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are not going to win a single state.  Heck, they likely won’t even be on the ballot in all 50 states.  They can’t even get enough support to hold primaries in all 50 states.  Voting for them is grabbing your wrench and attempting to fix that leaky pipe while the rest of us are hauling sandbags attempting to prevent the country from flooding.  You owe it to all the people who don’t look like you to help them.

Stay angry, though!  Your anger is justified.  Keep that anger and filter that anger into local politics.  You can not and will never affect change at the top without first establishing a ground swell from the bottom.  Run for local office.  Support those who want to change local offices.  The changes there will rise to the top as assuredly as money rises to the 1%.

Oh, and you should also watch Michelle Obama’s speech from last night.  It was gorgeous


Movie Review: Star Trek: Beyond

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: An enjoyable action movie that throws physics straight out the window.  Karl Urban is a better McCoy than DeForest Kelley ever was.

“Star Trek” has largely been a cerebral franchise.  It embraces science even if it has to make the science up in order to do so (see inertial dampers).  Sure, wars and fights occur, but the focus has been more towards the “meet new civilizations” aspect than the blow the crap out of everything aspect that most action movies boil down to.  With the reboot, “Star Trek” began its slow embrasure of the latter at the unfortunate expense of the former.  Now, with “Star Trek: Beyond” and Justin Lin in the director’s seat, we’re at the point of full on action movie.  The Star Trek geek in me weeps a little.  But, whatever, I know what I’m getting into, let’s review an action movie!

No, wait, the physics.  Can we talk about the physics for a minute?  I can ignore the holographic projections that are somehow smart enough to interact with the rough natural environment so perfectly that they can fool seasoned warriors (a new technology, by the way, that seems to be in the sole possession of one woman abandoned on a planet).  I can even ignore the action movie trope of a vehicle falling off the cliff and the person jumping and catching onto the cliff edge as it falls.  What I can’t ignore is the saucer section of the Enterprise crashing through mountains and remaining mostly intact.  What I can’t ignore is the same saucer section, now on the ground, also being used in a chase scene where the whole thing flips over and the villain gets crushed by it while the heroes somehow manage to clear the area and not even in one of those cool “the villain gets crushed by the very edge as the heroes slightly outrun them” ways.  What I can’t ignore is taking another, much older, ship and crashing it through even more mountains.

The movie also criminally under-utilizes the star villain.  I won’t say who it is because it’s kind of a reveal, but I’ll give you a hint: He’s black.  A movie where a black man is the villain?  Shock of all shocks! #blackrolesmatter

All that said, “Star Trek: Beyond” is a fun action movie.  It moves at a brisk pace so that the plot doesn’t really matter, which is good because it’s kind of weak and produces more questions than it answers.  And sure, there’s a bunch of technology created for the sole purpose of making a cool action scene, but those scenes actually work.  I sincerely hope that the movie franchise veers back to its more cerebral roots, but in the meantime I’m just going to enjoy the ride.

Oh, and Karl Urban! I want to see an entire movie of his Dr. McCoy riffing off of both Kirk and Spock.  I know it’s hard to say that someone does a character better than the original since Urban is basically out-DeForest Kelleying DeForest Kelley, but man does he nail the role.

Book Review: The Narrator by Michael Cisco

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 1/5 stars

I can only imagine that this novel was an experiment.  Populate a world with both the mundane and the fantastical and blur them all together.  Add to it a special character called a “Narrator” whose job it is to follow along on the action and put into words all that he sees and does.  Make that Narrator very bad at his job.  Write a novel from that Narrator’s perspective.  What you are left with is a jumbled confusion.  While I was able to track the basics of the story, at very few points did I have a concrete picture of the how or the where or the why or the what of what people were doing.

Many of the descriptives in the book read like the author picked the most obscure words out of a thesaurus and sprinkled them throughout.  I have never used the dictionary more than while reading this book.  There are also many instances of the Narrator making simple grammatical errors and then correcting them in the next sentence.  Add to that the fact that this Narrator is describing a fantastical world with places and characters that require well thought out narratives in order to understand and you have one hell of a confusing jumble of a mess.  I mean, there’s never really even any explanation as to why there are these Narrators to begin with or why they’re entrusted with the telling of history.

I’m sure much of what I said above is exactly the point of the novel.  It’s an accurate description of what it must be like to go through war.  A jumbled mess of marching from place to place with randomly interspersed bouts of extreme violence.  Perhaps the Narrator lost his mind in the process and the result is the jumbled mess of his attempts to do his job.  Good reading material it is not, however.  If I had to describe the novel in a way that you might be able to understand, I’d say you start with the story of “Heart of Darkness”, add a hint of Lovecraftian horror, then sprinkle with a dash of “A Clockwork Orange” then mix with some “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, but that makes “The Narrator” sound much better of a read than it actually is.


Ok, see, ok, last night I had a dream where I was in an episode of Scrubs and JD was in the bathroom of a macaroni and cheese restaurant and he was going to write a message on a strip of paper and leave half of it in a bowl of mac and cheese on the sink and put the other half of it in his mouth and then he would wait to see who got to it and ate it first, me or Turk, and then reveal to us what the other side of the message was.  Ok, bye.

Movie Review: The Secret Life Of Pets

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A mildly entertaining kids movie.  Not much for adults.  Visually gorgeous.

Pets have secrets.  The minute you leave them alone, they throw wild parties and visit other pets and talk and behave all around like teenagers.  Well, at least for the first fifteen minutes of the movie they do.  Then they mostly do all the same stuff right out in the open for all humans to see.  So really the movie should have been called “The Not So Secret Lives of Pets”.  The “Secret Lives” parts of the movie are clever and fun, but there’s only so much you can do with it while also trying to tell a story and advance a plot.  Except if you’re Pixar.  In fact, upon seeing the previews for “The Secret Life of Pets”, I started calling it “Toy Story 4” because of the similarities, but the truth is this movie is lazier than the worst Pixar film (“Cars”?).

The basic premise of the plot is that Max (Louie C.K.) has a loving owner who one day brings home another dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet).  Max doesn’t like Duke and tries to get rid of him.  Duke returns the favor.  They find themselves alone on the streets.  If you had to guess what would happen to two pet dogs that find themselves in this situation, what do you think would happens next?  If you said, “They get caught by the dog catcher”, you win a prize!  Like I said, lazy.  The rest of the movie is them trying to get back home.  There’s enough to be entertaining, but nothing particularly worth recommending.

And now a brief word on stereotypes in Hollywood.  While the cast for this movie is slightly more diverse than a Republican’s list of summer interns, it still lacks diversity.  Where it does have diversity is in the form of the main villain, a psychopathic bunny named Snowball played by Kevin Hart who, you may know, is black.  So the one main role that goes to a black man happens to be the villain.  Wonderful.

If you want to see a good animated movie that’s out now, go see “Finding Dory“.  If you’ve already seen that, “The Secret Life of Pets” pales in comparison, but is still not bad, especially if you have children.  There’s plenty of cuteness, a tad of cleverness, and lots of beautiful.

Movie Review: Finding Dory

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: One of the best shorts Pixar has made.  Not quite as good as “Finding Nemo” but still very enjoyable.  I like shells!

“Finding Dory” has the adorableness knob turned to 11.  This begins even before the movie starts with the ubiquitous Pixar short that runs before the main attraction.  This time it’s “Piper”, a story about a newly fledged sandpiper and it’s first experiences on the beach.  The animation is gorgeous.  We’re talking almost lifelike.  You’d be hard pressed to be able to tell the animated ocean from a real ocean at times.   The short also introduces a theme that bleeds into “Finding Dory” itself; there is always more than one way to do something.  In the baby sandpiper’s case, it’s a clever way to catch shells 100% of the time.  If you don’t enjoy this short, you have no heart.

My main concern with “Finding Dory” was the ability to make an entire movie centered around a character whose shtick is constantly forgetting things.  It’s a great concept for a secondary character and Ellen DeGeneres is wonderful and the only person I can imagine in the role, but how do you translate that into a full length animation?  Partially, the answer to that question is backstory.  And you can not find a more adorable backstory than the one featuring baby Dory.  It really sets the stage for adult Dory’s adventures.  Another answer is you cram as many disabled characters as possible into the story.  You have Nemo with his one little fin.  You have Dory with her memory loss.  You have an octopus missing a leg.  You have a near-sighted whale shark.  You have a beluga whose sonar doesn’t work.  All have a part to play in helping Dory reunite with her parents.  It’s a great lesson for the kiddies.

The one thing I could have done without is the car chase scene.  “What’s wrong with a car chase scene?”, you might ask?  I would answer that it involves sea animals driving the car, or truck in this case.  If it were a quick five minute bit, it would have probably been ok, but this went on for some time and it just pushes the suspension of disbelief a little too far.  Other than that, it was a thoroughly enjoyable movie.

Parents be warned, taking your children to this movie may result in seeing this movie over and over and over and over again.  But since you’ve already decided to spawn, you’re probably already well aware of that fact because of all of the other Pixar movies known to man.  Others, this is a fun movie well worth watching and you’ll likely enjoy the hell out of it.