cue goofy elevator music

2018.jpg

Moving abroad late next week, that’s where we’ve been, and we’ll still be down for a while before we can write again.  I’ve missed this, but been too busy.

See you all in 2018!  Happy New Year.

Oh, and yes, my Guests are coming with me.

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we use our first ride hailing experience to ponder the future downfall of the human brain

I took my first car app ride a few weeks ago. Most of you will probably wonder what took so long. You must understand, part of me wishes for the return of the stone age. I could probably do without the tetanus, lack of running water, or everpresent ancient angry demon gods, but otherwise a lot of that simplicity appeals to me. If it wasn’t for my dogs, I’d spend most of my evenings at home lit only by candles. Because night should be night and day, well, day.

So when on travel, and for whatever reason I don’t have a rental car, I’ll typically either walk or just call for a traditional cab. If I have a rental and can’t or don’t want to drive because alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, then regular cabs or walking work then too.

But a few weeks ago I just figured I’d try ride hailing apps. I’m moving overseas for work in a few weeks and the country has ride hailing there. Which I figured would be vastly superior to some of my prior international cab experiences I’ve had where I threaten to debark the cab while in motion because the crook in the front seat refuses to run the meter.

Work is sending me out the door so my colleagues (who I actually like) want to do a farewell party downtown. I’m in a hotel in the suburbs that’s an hour away by train. The hotel is three miles from the train station. Usually if the weather is decent and the walk is safe, I’m walking those three miles. In this case, the weather was rainy, chilly and it was most certainly not a safe walk.

Ironically I could’ve just driven to the train station. We all had to work very early next morning and so we hardly drank at all. My need for a ride from the hotel to train station and back later in the evening turned out to be entirely unnecessary. But I can’t see through time, so I used the app. I won’t tell you which app I used because that’s not really the point of the post.

The driver ends up at the hotel in less than 15 minutes. I found this timely and easy to arrange, so far so good. I’ve been driving around this area a long time so I know my way around. The driver clearly has no idea where he is. I offer to guide him but he refuses and says he’ll follow ‘her’ directions. The app takes us the wrong way, and then down an industrial access road that adds about five minutes to what is otherwise a short three mile drive.

But then the app starts to tell him to go the wrong way. At the intersection the train station is right. The app tells him to go left. He has no idea where he’s going and so is in the left lane to obey the app. I tell him the app is wrong and he should turn right. He refuses. I have to tell him three times that the app is wrong. He keeps saying he has to obey ‘her’, like he’s the app’s mind slave or whatever.

Eventually I talk him to the train station. The entire time the app is telling him to turn around blaring in the car. I get out and the driver mentions to me that he’s going to have to drive back to where the app tells him to. I ask him if the app can’t just be told he dropped me off where I wanted to be, that the app is wrong? He says no and drives off.

While I’m waiting for my train out of curiosity I observe his movements on the app. He does indeed drive the wrong way for ten more minutes arriving at the ‘destination’ of the train station. Even though I’m sure what the app thought was the train station was just a parking lot. Only after he arrived at this mythical area did my ride close out and I was prompted to tip him. Total cost $10 with tip.

Following the evening’s abbreviated festivities I’m back at the same station off the train. Now I need a ride back to the hotel. I use the app to hail a ride and it refuses to work. It keeps telling me that where I am, where the train station is, is at the mythical parking lot to the north. I can’t find a way to fix this.

This goes on for ten minutes until I finally just decide to acquire the ride and then call the driver once he’s chosen, or whatever. Again, this is my first ride app experience, what the hell do I know? The driver agrees and I see his car is a mile down the road. Awesome. I call him and let him know the app says I’m way up north, but I’m actually at the train station. Please come to the train station and get me here.

The driver says he doesn’t know where the train station is. I’m at the only train station within five miles. He’s one mile away, on the same road as the station, he doesn’t know. I offer to talk him to me, but he refuses, gets frustrated and starts to run his mouth against me. I immediately hang up.

I then call a regular traditional cab company. I tell them where I am on the phone to the dispatcher. A cab arrives in about 90 seconds. When I get into the cab, I tell the driver my hotel name and the street it’s on. He agrees and we’re off. That’s it. He needed no additional information, he needed no directions, he knew exactly where to go.

I ended up talking with him for the whole ride back. He was a bit of an older guy, been driving cabs for a long time and knew the whole area. We talked about my brief ride hailing experience, which amused him, as if a master wood craftsman saw a child trying to build a chair with a hand grenade. He also told me where all the cop speed traps were. He then made various belligerent comments about fellow members of the human race, which we won’t get into, but had me laughing my ass off in the car. He was a well thought out guy. He drops me off at the hotel. Total cost $15 with tip.

I have seen the future. It goes like this.

As soon as five or ten years from now all my frustrating moments with ride hailing won’t exist. Using voice recognition, I’ll tell my phone simply, “Need a ride back to the hotel.” Within five minutes a car will arrive and take me there. That’s it. No problems with directions, or location finding, or drivers who are angry or incompetent. In fact, within a few decades I think the car that shows up will be driven by a computer. But, because tech freaks are the new robber barons of the Giant Octopus, the ride will cost $20. And something will have been lost to the human race.

Ponder if you will, that on one hand I had two app drivers, who were so utterly unaware of their surroundings that they were entirely reliant upon the app to tell them how to get from point A to B. Otherwise they couldn’t do the most basic aspect of their job. It’s like a nurse who can’t treat a patient without a computer telling them the commands step by step.

But hold on a minute, why can’t nurses be told exactly what to do on command by a computer in say 20 years? Why not? And why when I’m driving do I need to know where I’m going anymore? Why can’t I just always follow the map app’s directions? Why do I have to think or do things that can be done by an app for me?

Let’s leave aside the horrific privacy, security, financial, and ethical arguments of this brave new world for the moment. What I’m most interested in is what this does to the human brain. On one hand you have two dudes who can’t do their jobs, at all, without machine assistance. On the other hand I had a cabbie who could recall in his brain the entire map of a city on command. Without machine assistance. Without error.

We’re turning more and more of our most basic and timeless brain functions over to machines. What happens to the human race, to the human brain if say 50 years from now most people can’t get from point A to B without machines. What if 100 years from now there are no people, cabbies or otherwise, who can recall in their brain the entire map of a city on command?

Tech freaks will convince you their future world is going to be a swell place for us. Where technology can and will make all our lives easier.

At what cost? Technology is just a tool. The human brain, human thought, human knowledge are supposed to be timeless and eternal. I’m not sure what happens next.

jury duty – CNN, inspiration, and the grand escape

No sane person wants jury duty.  But unless you recently ran into a car, know a judge to bribe, or are willing to give the state another reason to claw you, you’re going.  And so I did.

I got in there bright and early with several hundred of my fellow citizens.  My first impression walking in the door?  They’ve got seven televisions in the room.  All of them have CNN on, fucking CNN.  One of the most solemn and important duties in somebody’s civic life and they’ve got garbage television on the walls.  Man, just put some camels and giraffes on there so people’s blood and mental lunacy isn’t fired up by stupid CNN before they go play with somebody’s life in court.

The jury duty leader gives the introductory speech about how she knows nobody wants to be there, but how important it is to freedom, democracy, and justice that we be there.  She inserts humor and the crowd is eating out of her hand the entire time.

She’s graded on a curve because she gives the same speech every day, but still, it says something about the state of our political leadership that the most inspirational and motivating political speech I’ve heard in years was given by a jury duty director at a random county courthouse.

They call out the names by the dozen assigning to each case.  It’s great to hear the breadth of unique America, name by name.  We’re doing just fine people [gives finger to haters on each political side using both hands].

I get picked with 49 others to sit the panel for a criminal trial.  This didn’t sound fun.  I’d have probably gotten struck anyways because of my day job and second job categories (moving that sweet, sweet Columbian pure across the International Date Line) [sips coffee], but still, even if you know you’ll get struck you wonder.

Lawyers and judges are crazy people.  Who only knows what they’ll do with you once they’ve got you.  But apparently, most criminal trials they said are quick and easy.  It’s the medical malpractice trial you don’t want to get.  Four to six weeks.  Six weeks?  Man, modern medicine is a shithouse apparently.

The 50 of us sit, waiting to be called back to the courtroom.  But after sitting in there for five hours they finally start to dismiss everybody.  I mean everybody who showed up that day.  My case got continued, another one they cut a deal, etc, etc.  They sent everybody home.  Nobody got selected that day.  Everybody was off the hook for three years of jury duty.

Sitting at the bus stop on the way out was like emerging from a hospital delivery room where people got to hold the baby.  Everybody was gleeful and talking.  Such a release for everybody.  Courthouses suck.  They’re necessary for modern society, but almost everything that happens in there destroys somebody’s life.  So nobody wants to be in there, certainly not to sit a jury for days or weeks.

Would we have done it?  Yes, all of us.  And I hope we would have served with honor and wisdom.  But for yesterday, all of us were making our grand escape.  Even the cold rain couldn’t dampen anybody’s spirit.

what’s within the ‘big void’?

Great news, everybody!  There’s a front page news story that doesn’t involve politics, sexual assault, destroyed human flesh, or politics.  It’s the question of what’s up with this supposed big empty space discovered inside of Khufu’s giant ode to human waste, aka the Pyramids.

For the uninitiated, the Pharaohs built the Pyramids as giant teleportation chambers that were intended to take their souls to eternity as gods.  The structures took decades to build and cost countless human lives.  But as I’ll always say, who the hell are we to say this was stupid and didn’t work?  For all we know Khufu is indeed seated upon his throne in Valhalla swilling barley wine from a highball glass shouting, “Foools!”

So basically a bunch of scientists have used new technology to look inside the rock of the Pyramid and have determined there are two empty voids inside the Pyramid, as shown in this diagram I ripped from the BBC:

the void.png

Oh my, what the fuck could those be?  Who knows.  But we’ll speculate here, because why not?  We’ve got nothing better to do.

1) These voids don’t actually exist, the technology is wrong, and instead these areas are just solid rock.  Human hope and adventure are destroyed in agony as we realize all the breadth and scope of the human spirit still can’t develop technology capable of scanning a five-thousand year old piece of stone.

2) The bigger void is actually the Valhalla Purgatory Sexual Assault Branch Clinic.  It was established by Pharaoh Apophis II after his demise in 2867 BC at the hands of an aggrieved female attendant.  Weinstein, Spacey, Trump, and Clinton are all bound to do time there.  They all get there down the road, and they find Louis XIV is seated in a wicker chair at the entrance.  Louis pulls on his cigarette, and wryly states, “Welcome Gentlemen, pull up a chair, you’re going to be here for a while.”  [pulls on cigarette]

3) The rock in the voids has crumbled for some reason due to the Pyramid settling, or natural erosion, or through mistakes by the original builders.  In ancient times these weren’t voids but solid stone, but now they’ve emerged over the thousands of years since construction.

4) The voids were created in 2008 in secret by Jeff Bezos.  It houses the “Arcane Division” of Amazon Web Services.  Held on the bank of servers within is the hopes, dreams, fears, and buying habits of every man, woman, and child on Earth, to include whether the most destitute man alive wants to buy a comb or not.  Bezos figured the Pyramid was the safest place to build this as, “No matter how crooked I am, how many politicians I bribe, or how hated I am, they can’t possibly blow up the Pyramids, right?” [lights cigar with Ben Franklin; puffs on cigar]

5) Khufu had a handball court built in there, just because he could.  3K slaves died to make it happen.  It was sealed inside the rock.  He never played on it once.  This amused him every time he thought about it.

6) It’s where the aliens hid the bomb.

7) The Pharaoh’s builders made the voids to account for star fluctuation based upon their astronomical measurements (yes, they did this) and mathematical calculations.  The intent to was to mass accelerate the Pharaoh’s divine journey into oblivion.

8) Beer repository for the afterlife.  Khufu had 9K years of beer stored in there so he could swill in Valhalla with glorious abandon.  What happens after the beer runs out in 4K years?  Khufu hasn’t thought that far ahead, it makes him sad when he does.  And in any case, all things being equal, Khufu never thought humanity would last this long anyways without blowing ourselves up.

9) Khufu had the chamber built just to mess with people’s brains.  They’re entirely empty.  They serve no purpose.

10) The chambers were hand carved from the bare rock by one time Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, closet Bayern Munich fan, amateur bridge player, and perverse sexual deviant Zahi Hawass.  Within the confines of the void he toils on a daily basis to supplement his meager millions of previous income with his own line of Indiana Jones custom hats, archeology lectures, commentary upon the Jewish race, boom mike operator temp assignment business for the National Geographic, Discovery, and History Channels, and his own independent line of male perfume “Pharaoh’s Shaft”.  None of this is a lie, just ask the great man himself!  @ZahiHawass “TUTANKHAMUN – HIS TOMB & HIS TREASURES is in Sweden! Come to my lecture on Jan 31st at the Oscarsteatern, Stockholm”  [Editor’s Note: the ALL CAPS is ALL ZAHI! ALL THE TIME!]

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FOOOLS!  AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHA!  [swigs barley wine]

Ripper Street – a show with potential that ultimately fails because it tries to be Game of Thrones

My Granddad was hugely into detective stories. I’m currently going through his combined anthology of Sherlock Holmes, more on that much later. He also enjoyed television mysteries as well. Perry Mason was perhaps his favorite. Yet as best as I can figure a good chunk of detective and crime fiction changed at the beginning of this century.

Let’s say my Granddad and I sat down to watch a new show Circa 2017. The protagonist is a guy we’ll call Smith. Smith solves crimes as a bitter disgruntled detective. He’s an alcoholic estranged from his wife and doesn’t always play by the book. Good so far, right? And so the usual stereotypes play out for the first few episodes. Then, in episode 5 Smith has a moral crisis based upon some situation. He’s forced to make a choice.

In 1988, Smith would choose the lesser of two evils and make a hard but ultimately moral decision. Then the episode would end with him getting tanked in a bar. In 2017, Smith would shoot somebody in the back of the head and dispose of the body. My Granddad would get up, turn off the television, and walk away never to return.

And thus do we get 2017’s version of television detective fiction in BBC’s Ripper Street. A show with limitless potential that ultimately descends into a nightmare of confusion, awfulness, and moral ambiguity that leaves you wanting to go hide under some coats with a flock of puppies.

This is all the more depressing because all the pieces for a superb piece of detective fiction are in place at the start of this show. Series lead Matthew Macfadyen, who the ladies will best remember as Keira Knightley’s Mr Darcy, is a cloth cut leading man late 19th Century thinking detective even down to the way he holds his lapels. Jerome Flynn, of Game of Thrones fame, is the brutal sergeant with the heart of gold. The unknown Adam Rothenberg is the rogue American doctor with a chip for life.

The three of them are put into a depiction of 19th Century London that’s both gorgeous and hard earned. Victorian Imperial Britain doesn’t look like much fun from the gutters of Whitechapel. Every detail of the set, the costumes, the music transports you to this age of humanity. And for a while this show works as a decent piece of detective fiction, if some of the plots are a bit far-fetched, and is a generally good watchable show. Not coincidently, season one has the highest ratings. Then things go downhill, both for the show and in ratings. Why?

Because this is a show run of 2012-2017, it’s important to remember what a successful television show thinks it must achieve. The legendary crime shows of our era are apparently Breaking Bad, or Narcos, or whatever similar program is out there. In other words, the focus is either on the criminals, or an anti-hero. I think this all began with the success of The Wire, an admittedly spectacular show which was one of the first to take a real long hard look at the reality of policing in the modern world.

But now things are in overdrive. Now it’s simply not good enough to run a standard piece of detective fiction. This is too soft, considered naïve, or not what the audience wants. The audience apparently wants Game of Thrones, a show where no character, no one is worthy of total admiration. Where there is no good or evil, just eternal grey. Where brutality reigns, and nobody’s hands are in any way clean.

Ripper Street avoids all of this in the first season or two, then it dramatically and noticeably turns. And thus we get what instead? Before we’re done Macfadyen’s reputable Inspector Reid commits two cold blooded murders and cheats on his mentally handicapped wife at least twice. Now here’s a protagonist you can root for!

Indeed, at one point or another every single major character in this series commits a murder. Several of them are accomplices to many other murders. It’s hard to tell who has a higher body count by the end of this series, the criminal underworld of London, or our supposed main characters.

If one goes by the theory that the intent of television is not to make you feel depressed or awful and is meant to entertain you or help you escape from the routine of a grinding life, then you generally need to imagine that some of the characters in a show you should root for. You want them to succeed, be happy, or at least find some measure of peace. Every single character in Ripper Street loses. Every single character is worse off at the end then they were at the beginning. There is no redemption, no answers, only chaos and despair.

This is very much in the vein of Game of Thrones. I no longer watch Game of Thrones but generally keep abreast of what happens in the show. And I’m always struck in discussions with friends or coworkers who still watch and who try to self-rationalize what they see on screen. They seem to think somehow that by the end of Game of Thrones it will all somehow all work out. They talk themselves into it. Almost as if they need it.

They typically will focus on Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen as an example of the good one, or the one to root for, or the one who by the end of the series will emerge with at least some sense of accomplishment. This is in fact a specific plot point brought up within the show itself, where Danny is there to break the cycle, to stop the chaos, to bring some sense of peace to an absolutely horrific world.

But I always ask my friends and coworkers why this must be so? Why must, or should, Game of Thrones end in such a way? Why can’t the white walkers just kill everybody in the last episode? Why can’t Daenerys end up on the throne atop a pile of murdered corpses? Why must there be any redemption or peace at all, when all that’s occurred thus far is chaos and has no meaning?

Ripper Street ends this way. Inspector Reid himself is reduced in the final episode to admitting to his corrupt boss that there is only chaos. That he believes there is no meaning in his work. That all his efforts are/were pointless. That after decades as a policeman he has nothing to show for it but an empty street consumed by violence, murder, dead friends, and hopelessness. He ends the show alone in his office reviewing menial reports, alone, without purpose, without hope.  How uplifting!

I think my Grandfather would ask of such a show: What’s the point? What in the end is the point of Ripper Street? If you want to feel awful about life, about humanity, you can just read the news each morning. It’s right there in your face. To me, fiction’s purpose is to entertain, to give you an escape from the grind, and to explore some of the deeper themes of life on this floating rock. It’s there to give you some characters you can relate to, get to know, and ultimately to cheer for. You share their journey, learn with them, and learn about their life, and yours too.

But when Game of Thrones is your template, none of these things are evident. Ripper Street just leaves you a blank slate, without emotion, an emptiness. So I must ask: Is this the show’s point? Is this how they wanted the viewer to feel? Perhaps, and if so, the creators and writers achieved their goal. But why is this a valid goal for a detective fiction television series? Why is any of this necessary? What’s the point?

Does detective fiction need to be some kind of bubble wrapped clean shaven fairy tale where the protagonist is a constant paragon of virtue and can do no wrong? Of course not. This is a much more mature world and smarter television audience than 1988. But, I submit that what we have on today’s television has gone so far over the mark as to be just about unwatchable.

I don’t need my detective fiction to go so far over the edge of nihilism that we can’t even get a lead character who doesn’t commit murder. This says something about our culture, or at least about the state of television today. This is, to me, both a very sad state of affairs, and in the end, is just not very entertaining.

ripper

Our heroes?

they get away with it

Being rich and powerful must be sweet.  You can basically do whatever you want.  You can buy expensive cars or booze or giraffes.  Or I guess sexually harass whoever you want.  Now you might have been shocked by the idea that Harvey Weinstein could do so many horrible things to so many women for decades without getting exposed, but when you really think about it this is pretty straightforward.

Why didn’t at least one of his many victims (especially in this twisted age of social media) say even one or two things to someone that made this stick before last week.  Some of the most well known and powerful celebrity women and feminist advocates on the planet have now fingered this guy.  Why didn’t one of them tweet like three years ago, “Harvey Weinstein is a deviant sexual predator, he tried to rape me. #rape #yesallwomen”

Why?  Because Weinstein was powerful.  It’s as simple as that.  Weinstein was one of the top five guys in Hollywood.  He ended people’s careers in seconds.  It’s the way of things.  One of the themes I’ve noticed these last few days as women finally spoke out is their internal dialogue about what was going through their brains when Weinstein did his evil acts.

All these women in their own way mention some kind of cost / benefit analysis.  They’re in fear and protection mode as they try and escape the clutches of this shit creep.  But at the same time their brain is in fear mode about what Weinstein will do to them if they don’t give in.  This type of analysis is older than humanity itself.  It’s been playing out with evil rich and powerful men since before fire was invented.

We’d like to think in our super modern and connected culture that people can no longer get away with this.  But they still do, because it’s still human nature.  All the tweets in the world can’t change the human brain.

Regardless of what you think of Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy I think you can make a reasonable claim that if either of those guys worked at the Sizzler for minimum wage, that both of them would have done severe jail time and been disgraced.  Instead, they are both essentially American heroes.

I’m shocked that Dennis Hastert ever got caught for the horrible things he did to boys.  But if you’ll remember, Hastert wasn’t initially caught for sexual crimes.  They wrapped up Hastert for violating the government limit of how many $10K bank account withdrawals you can make without reporting it to the tax man.  Only later did the authorities realize what the money was for.  Otherwise Hastert would have gotten away with it.

I’m not sure what all this means, other than that as always humanity is on a perpetual quest to self improvement.  It also means you have to take a rather cynical view of what people say.  Especially if the person talking is rich and powerful.

Weinstein’s been a big time bankroller for women’s rights and so forth for decades.  And that whole time … , well, that’s also why they get away with it.  It’s the smokescreen to cover up who they really are.

Notice how Weinstein is already making the usual public relations statements about screwing up, learning, personal growth, etc.  He doesn’t seem to realize he’s truly done.  He still things he’s in control.  That’s how twisted his brain is.  He still thinks he can get away with it.  That’s the biggest thing to learn about this above all.

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Rich and powerful bad dude, rarely caught.