Monday, January 22, 2018

A Thinker's Book of Dangerous Knowledge (a book review post)

Some book reviews are more difficult than others. Which probably goes without saying except that I don't think it does since a "review" for most people amounts to "I loved this!" or "This sucked ass!"
Of course, those hardly qualify as reviews, but that tends to be the state of the world, and there's not a lot in between.

There should be a lot in between.

The stuff in between often requires a lot of thought, though, which is kind of the point of this book.

So let's get it out of the way that I know Peter. Like for real. Like he lives a few blocks away, and we go over to his house sometimes to do things like play Cards Against Humanity. I've known Peter for pretty close to 20 years now.

We like a lot of the same things, so I get all of the jokes and references in the book. However, there are a lot of them. At some points, I would say that there are too many, that the jokes detract from the message. I say that as someone who gets them. If you're not a Monty Python fan or a Doctor Who fan or... well, a fan of any of the other things frequently referred to, then this book isn't going to work for you. You're just going to end up confused by all the things you're not getting. And that's too bad, because there is some worthwhile material in here. But Peter has created his book, probably inadvertently, to appeal to fairly niche audience, most of whom probably don't need a book like this to begin with. The people who need the book are the ones who have the jokes flying over their heads.

Which would be the time to tell you that if you are unfamiliar with Monty Python et al. that you should probably check them out, because everyone should have some kind of passing familiarity with... things, but that reminds me of another thing from the book, because Peter mentions so many times that you should run out and buy... whatever he's referring to at any given moment, like the complete collection of Flying Circus... that you'd think he's getting paid for product placement. Or getting a commission on sales, and I'm pretty sure that's not true. Pretty sure. At any rate, while it's amusing to be told to run out and buy some other author's books once or twice, after a while, you begin to wonder why you're reading the book in your hand.

And that thought isn't helped by how often Peter tells you that you probably shouldn't be reading his book, anyway. Self-deprecating humor only goes so far before you start to believe the person saying it.

All of that aside, it's not a bad book. Despite that it deals with kind of a heavy topic, Peter keeps it light, and it moves along fairly quickly. If you're unfamiliar with more formal thinking strategies, this book could be part of a good introduction. It's the kind of thing that can put you on the right path, though it's not really the path itself.

I could go on about all the whys and wherefors, but in this day and age when the word on any given day consistently has something to do with "fake news," thinking and how to do it and why to do it ought to be something everyone is, well, thinking about. Especially before you forward any news bites. Or, even, before you believe what the President #fakepresident is saying. So the book isn't perfect and could use some shoring up in places (like the section about deductive vs. inductive reasoning), but it's a good start.

A good start which will never be seen or read by the people who need it most, which is, unfortunately, most people. Because most people never move beyond their search for confirmation bias and most people don't read... Hmm... There's probably a connection there.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Hidden God

Let's imagine for a moment...

Imagine you're a young child. Your circumstances don't matter. They could be anything: you live in an orphanage and don't know who your parents are, you have an upper middle class family with a stay at home mom who devotes her time to you, you live in a single-parent home and your one parent works all the time so that you have enough money to eat and have a place to live. Really, it doesn't matter.

So you have this particular living circumstance, whatever it is, and, one day, someone comes along and gives you a letter. The letter is a little lengthy, especially for a kid, but the gist of it is that the letter is from your real father. He's sorry that he can't be there with you all the time like a good dad would be, and that he can't even come in person to meet you, but he wants you to know that he loves you and will be watching out for you. He will even do what he can during your life to make sure things go your way and that you're provided for, though he will never be able to be there in person to do any of those things or even let you know when he's done something. You just have to believe that he's there and that he cares for you even if you never see any proof of this. Never. The letter will have to be enough.

He does want you to know, though, that you are his living heir and, one day, his immense wealth will pass to you. One day. If you believe enough and have faith. Because he will always be watching and will know if you forget he exists. If you don't honor him, you get nothing.
Even though he wants above all else to have a relationship with you, his child.

As you grow up, you cherish the letter, reading it frequently and dreaming of the day when you might one day get to meet your father. Your real father. When you find a $5 bill on the ground, you know your father left it there for you to find. When your dog dies, you know it's because your father wanted you to get a new, better dog, so you shouldn't be sad about the old one. You see your father's hand in ever circumstance that happens to you. After all, if he's as rich and powerful as he says he is -- and he did say he would always be watching you -- you can't risk not attributing every good thing to him.


Now... Imagine that this is not you but someone you recently met. This person talks about his "real" father all the time (let's just say it's a "he") and to everyone he meets... because he doesn't know who might be an agent of his "real" father. He has to make sure his "real" father knows he believes and that he's keeping the faith.

What would you say to this person? It's not like he doesn't have "proof" that his father is watching out for him. I mean, what about that time he found the $5 bill? And what about that time he got the awesome puppy when his dog died? His father was there for him. Right there. His "real" father. Watching. And, of course, there's the letter itself. Even though some stranger whom he has never seen again gave it to him.

It wouldn't matter how much you tried to talk about how there was no actual relationship involved in any of what that person had experienced in his life. You'd tell him that an actual relationship includes interaction and that if his "real" father really did love him and want a relationship with him then he'd show up. In person. Relationships aren't built on... let's call it what it is: fantasy.

Of course, the real issue in all of this is that the letter is a lie. Even if the letter is real, the letter is a lie. So, sure, there might be some real father out there somewhere who is exactly who he says he is, but all of that stuff about wanting a relationship is a lie.  And, well, if that one thing is a lie, then the rest of the letter is suspect, at the very least.

How do I know it's a lie?

Because if you want to have a relationship with someone who also wants to have a relationship with you and that mutual desire is known, then you do that. If you don't do that, then there is something else that one of you wants more than the relationship so, then, any "desire" for a relationship, any "wanting to be there" for someone, is just lip service.
Seriously, ask any kid who has a parent who never comes to his games, performances, or birthdays, or, even, just never spends any time with her.
Like the kid I once heard say in response to a comment about how much her father loved her, "No, my daddy loves golf." (I knew him. She was right.)

To be cliche, love is a verb. It's about what you do, not what you say. The same is true of "god." If "God," any god, wanted to have a relationship with you, "God" could do it. A real relationship with tangible proof. Tangible, verifiable proof.

It's like this:
Let's pretend that one day I just took off and left my family. I called and told my wife and kids that I had things to do but that I loved them and that they should just keep believing that I do. That might work for a little while but, eventually, they'd all say, "Fuck that guy." Why? Because it wouldn't matter how many messages I sent them saying "I love you" if I wasn't going to show up or offer any compelling evidence that I was somehow being detained.

In the same respect, the idea of a god who hides himself away from the world while demanding blind faith and unrequited love is absurd. By "his" own standards -- if you're going by the "christian" Bible -- it's absurd. Double standards, even for "God," aren't okay.

Now, I'm not saying that there's not a Creator, not necessarily, but I am saying that the one presented by "christians" is a lie. That god who wants to have a personal relationship with you...? Yeah, he doesn't exist. If that's what he wanted; he'd do it. For real. Anything else is just a letter from someone who isn't going to follow through.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Rebels: "The Future of the Force" (Ep. 2.10)

"We're away from trouble now."

If there's one thing I can say it's that Ahsoka knows how to make an entrance. I wonder if that's a force skill?

During Ahsoka's investigation into whom the Sith Lord is -- that would be Vader, who she doesn't know is Anakin -- she uncovers the inquisitors' interest into... something. She doesn't know what it is; she just knows they're after something. Or somethings. She also knows that if the inquisitors want something, they probably shouldn't get to have it. At the least, the rebels ought to know what it is they're after.

She recruits Kanan and Ezra to help her find out what's going on.

There's a certain amount of tension that exists in this show that didn't exist in Clone Wars. We know what happens to Anakin and Obi-Wan and many of the other characters, but we don't know what happens to Ahsoka and she's not the star of this series. It's plausible that she could go at any time, though, at this point, there's a lot of audience investment in the character, so it makes for situations like The Phantom Menace. I mean, no one expected Qui-Gon to die.

For that matter, we don't have any confirmed future inclusion for any of the characters past Rogue One, so it can leave you guessing during an episode like this.

"You would question me, Seventh Sister?"
"Only when you're wrong."

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Last Jedi (a movie review?)

Yeah, the question mark up there is legit. I think this is going to be less a review about the movie and more about a review of Rian Johnson, who thinks he is way more clever than he actually is.
But there will still be spoilers.

But let's get the most obvious question out of the way: Did I enjoy the movie?
Well, yes, yes of course, I did. It was, after all, Star Wars, and it did, as Leia would say of Han, have its moments.

But it also had its moments.
Like why are all of the resistance ships running out of fuel at the exact same moment. That this is a question that I was having during my first viewing of the movie is wrong on so many levels. I mean, when did fuel become a thing? Luke hyperspaces all over the galaxy in his x-wing during The Empire Strikes Back, and there's never a mention or need for fuel, which is good since Dagobah would have been a lousy place to find a gas station. And Han flies the Falcon between star systems without a need for fuel. And I'm not even going to touch the idea that the fuel consumption rates on all of the Resistance ships would have had to have been basically the same no matter the size of the ship (WTF!) for them all to be needling empty at the same time.
Clearly this was a plot contrivance by Johnson, who seems to believe that stupid ideas are justified if they provide for "cool" moments. To be fair, this is also a problem Abrams has.

So was all the dumb of this "chase" scene worth the moment when Holdo hyperspaces the Resistance command ship into Snoke's star destroyer? I don't really know. That was a cool moment, but my thoughts leading up to it revolved around: This is so dumb. And it was kind of painful to watch all of that the second time. Not the hyperspace moment -- that was still cool -- but all of the chase leading up to it.

I also think it's a little weird how Poe is kind of constantly running up to people and greeting them with extreme enthusiasm, "Hey, Buddy!"

And I could go on, bit by bit, with the things that poke at me, but let's just not do that. I'll sum it up this way:
There are no moments like that whole fuel thing in the original trilogy. There's no point where I stop and think, "Wait a minute... That's kinda dumb." The thing most like that is the dianoga in the trash compactor, but there are legitimate explanations for that, so I have to shrug it off. You can't shrug off the fuel thing, not after eight other movies have failed to mention a need for fuel and, not just not mentioned it, demonstrated a distinct lack of that need.

That's just an example of the kind of thing Rian Johnson must feel is clever but really just isn't.

However, that's not the thing that bother me most. None of the logic problems that Johnson introduced are the things that bother me most. No, what bothers me most is Johnson's lack of respect for the story. Not the Star Wars story but story in general.
Here's the thing:

In the movie, Kylo "reveals" to Rey that she's a nobody. No one from nowhere. And that would be fine if... It would be fine if it was the truth. It would be fine if it was Kylo lying to Rey to get her to join him. It would be fine if Kylo was just wrong, that he read things the wrong way. It would be fine if there was a story reason for Kylo to tell Rey that. But... there's not.
And Rian Johnson doesn't have any say in the matter.

In a recent interview Johnson revealed that the only reason, the ONLY reason, he had Kylo say that is that he believed it was the thing that would most piss off the audience. He wanted to get a rise out of them. This puts him on par with George RR Martin in my book. "I want to piss off my audience because it's fun so I'm going to kill this character they all love." He further revealed that Abrams is the one who has final say in who Rey really is and nothing he wrote about it actually matters. Sure, maybe Abrams will decide to go with it, but Abrams isn't bound by anything that Johnson did. I suppose that includes the death of Snoke (another stupid moment, cool or not).

Which reveals the further problem of no one being in charge of these things. There's no controlling vision. You can say what you want about Lucas and the prequels or whatever, but, logically and plot-wise, all of his movies work together. He knew what he was doing and had a vision for getting there. The new movies, despite being completely entertaining, are beginning to feel piecemeal... because they are. This is something that Disney needs to get a grip on before the franchise begins to drift apart. They need to actually take a good look at what Marvel has done in keeping all of their movies moving forward within a unified vision.

I suppose I feel about the whole thing the way Mark Hamill put it when he said he didn't agree with any of the choices Johnson had Luke make but, after all, it's just a movie. That and, despite the enjoyment factor of Force Awakens and Last Jedi, I would much rather have seen what Lucas had intended to do with these than watch clashing egos slowly erode the franchise.

Friday, January 5, 2018


My first experience with flippers came in the mid- to late 90s when I worked at Toys R Us. We didn't call them flippers -- the words we used were much less kind, though there may have been some flipping (of the finger) involved -- and, actually, that may not be the correct term at all for what they are. I'm using it because these are the same kind of people as house flippers, which is the correct term for those particular people, so I'm applying it here, too.

It all had to do with Star Wars.

The few years prior to the release of The Phantom Menace saw a huge resurgence in Star Wars action figures and collectibles, and there was, evidently, a lot of money to be made from it on eBay. Every morning by the time the store was ready to open, there would be a group of about a dozen men waiting to get in and race -- and I do mean race, as they were each trying to get to some section of the store first, mostly to the Star Wars action figures but also to the Hot Wheels -- to the action figures to get first grabs at the rare figures that they could resell on eBay. And it wasn't just Toys R Us. They ran a circuit every morning to each store as they opened. Toys R Us, with the latest opening time (9:30), was last on the list after Wal-Mart and Target and wherever else these guys would stop to raid shelves.

Their behavior -- and none of these men were what you could call "nice;" in fact, they were often nasty and vile and were constantly angry at employees when they couldn't find the pieces they were looking for -- served only to deprive actual collectors or kids from being able to find the action figures they wanted. It wasn't uncommon to have a customer come in later in the day, someone who just wanted to finish a set of figures or, god forbid, open it and play with it, and ask about a particular figure that we were out of only to have one of these guys pop up and say, "Oh, I have one of those. It's in my car right now, in fact. I'll sell it to you. Just $20." Something said dude had paid $6 for just that morning, that being why it was still in his car.

Then there was the issue of them bringing back bags and bags of unsold figures every few weeks, once the craze for a particular figure had died down, and wanting their money back, something we were obliged to do since these guys kept every receipt ever for just this purpose. It was kind of a nightmare, and everyone dreaded the opening of the store each morning and having to deal with the orc horde.

At least with house flippers there are some positive things that can be said. Generally speaking, they do do work on the houses they buy so that they can jack up the price for the resell. It made it hell when we were trying to buy a house several years ago, though, as we were constantly losing out to cash bids, often lower than our bid, from flippers. Of course, one of the big problems with house flippers is that many of them make only cosmetic changes to a house, cheap fixes, and leave any underlying issues for the new owner to deal with, issues that are frequently more difficult to spot because they've been "painted over."

Which brings me to my recent experience on eBay in selling off my comics and stuff. As I mentioned in the linked post, one of the guys I dealt with is a flipper. Actually, it was several guys. I know because they all told me that the reason they were interested in my auction was because they thought they were going to be able to take advantage of me to get some cheap comics they could resell. No, they didn't state it precisely like that, but I'm sure that since I mentioned in my auction text that I'm trying to clean out my garage they all thought I didn't really know what I had. That tends to be how that goes. People who at one time or another when they were young collected something and stored it for some length of time until they've come across it again and decided to get rid of it without doing any research about its current value. [And having worked in several comic shops when I was younger, I've witnessed comic shop owners steal from people frequently by offering them the equivalent of nothing for very valuable books because the people bringing them in didn't know the value. But that's a different kind of story.]

Just to be clear, I don't have a problem with people trying to make a buck. What I do have a problem with is people taking advantage of other people to do it. And I find it extremely annoying when people do it within the same venue as the seller and the buyer, as with the kid who wanted the Star Wars action figure who had to pay $20 for it from some unwashed guy's trunk. These guys basically want money just for standing there.

Here, let me give you an example:

Some years ago (like 20), I wanted to get rid of a few comic books that were pretty hot at the time. Probably, I wanted to buy Magic cards with the money; I don't remember. I took the few issues in to the shop I frequented to see if he was interested. I already knew he didn't have any of the issues available. They were hot books, and I only wanted a fair price. They guy wouldn't have had a problem moving any of them. He looked through them and handed them back to me, saying he wasn't interested. Which was fine.

However, a customer had come in while were were talking and after the owner had handed the issues back to me, the customer said, "I'll take that one," pointing at one of the issues.

Talk about being trapped. What I wanted to do was walk out into the parking lot and sell the guy the issue, BUT I was standing in this dude's store, and I didn't feel right about that. I allowed the owner to play middle man and give me $10 only to turn around and sell it to the other guy for $20. (Or some approximation like that.) The store was, after all, the owner's venue.

The problem with these eBay dudes is that eBay is not a venue which belongs to them. They're just people milling through the crowd getting in between sellers and actual buyers, people who want to own the pieces, not resell them at a higher buck. They damage both sides, and they feel entitled to do it, as demonstrated by the anger aimed at me when they were denied something which didn't belong to them. Each of these guys, these assholes, felt as if I had cheated them from something they deserved. It's that attitude that is the problem. A white dude entitlement problem. These are, essentially, the same guys who would hang out outside of Toys R Us waiting for the doors to open every morning. Only those guys, the Toys R Us guys, were actually a step above these guys on eBay.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Clearly, It's MY Fault

As I mentioned many weeks ago, I've decided it's time to clean out my garage and sell off my old comics, most of them, and a lot of my old gaming stuff. Well, I probably didn't mention the gaming stuff, but I've been coming across things I don't want to store anymore, so a lot of that is going to go, too. Naturally, I turned to eBay as my platform for moving stuff out of my garage.

Okay, so maybe it's not "naturally" to other people, but it is to me. I haven't used eBay in a lot of years, but I was one of the early adopters... wow! That was back in the 90s! Yeah, I was using eBay all the way back in the 90s! So, yeah, it was natural for me to pick eBay back up and use it to start clearing things out.

One of the reasons I quit using eBay was the people. Using eBay as a seller is like working in customer service at Toys R Us, which I have done and is why I know that it's an apt comparison. Not everyone has a complaint, but no one is happy to be in Toys R Us. None of the adults are, anyway, which means that if someone is at customer service, you're already at two strikes. All of which leads me to believe that no one is happy to be on eBay, either.

Then there's the problem that a lot of people on eBay, mostly white dudes, are hoping/expecting to get stuff for nothing; like, if you're selling on eBay you must not want whatever it is anyway, so you should just hand it over to said white dude for free, but I'll get to more on that in a minute.

Also, there was the whole thing with constantly packaging things and long trips to the post office, but that's another beast entirely.

But, for the sake of garage clearing and possibly making some bucks off of my stuff, I was willing to venture back into the wilds of eBay again. Let me just say that things are worse there than ever before.

So I ran up a comic book auction. It wasn't really complicated, but it was non-conventional. I have a LOT of comics, and I don't want to try to run separate listings for each and every one of them, and you can't make any money selling them in bulk. For the amount of trouble that is in comparison to the lack of significant return, I might as well throw them in the trash. What I decided to do was to list a few hundred comics for the auction winners to choose from. The auction was clearly stated as being for ONE comic book only with the winner getting to choose the issue s/he wanted. A few of the issues had a minimum bid before they could be chosen. It's really quite simple.

Let me preface what I'm about to say with this:
All of the six auction winners I've had so far were white dudes. Yes, I'm sure. All of them.

Of the six, five did NOT read the auction text. That means that only one of them contacted me with his requested issue along with his payment.

I had to send requests to each of the other five to find out which issue was wanted. All five requested issues which 1. were not listed in the auction or 2. was an issue that had a listed minimum bid requirement that was higher than their bid. So, even after it had been pointed out to the them that they needed to read the auction text, they FAILED to read the auction text adequately enough to make a valid choice.

After a second email about choosing a comic from the supplied list, only ONE guy came back with a valid choice. One guy, after much discussion, apologized profusely and asked if I would let him out of the auction (that's a longer story, but that's what it boils down to). Another guy sent me about six or seven requests for books that were more expensive than his bid or not included in the auction (naming the same issue numerous times) before he he landed on one that was available (my guess is that he was using a dart board for his decision making).

Which leaves two guys, 1/3 of the auction winners, which fits in with the greater demographics of asshole dudes in the United States. These two guys got so mad about their own failure to read the auction text and know what they were bidding on that they filed complaints against me to eBay. That is pretty much the definition of white dude entitlement.

One of these guys thought he had won the entire lot of 300+ comics for $2.50 with only a $4.00 shipping fee. Seriously, the shipping fee should have tipped him off. The cost of shipping that many comics all together is EXPENSIVE. Like in the triple digits expensive. Anyone with half a brain firing working at even half capacity would have realized something was up, but no... Not him. No, he accused me of changing the auction text AFTER he won the auction, something which isn't even possible to do. Once a bid has been entered, eBay doesn't allow auctions to be edited. But stupidity and entitlement never let facts get in the way.

The other one... Well, the other one literally thought he was going to get something for nothing. He wanted a comic on which I had placed a high minimum bid because the comic, for those of you who know what this means: a silver age book, is worth about $150. My minimum was less than half its value, though. So this guy had a bid of about $10 and demanded the silver age comic anyway. Here are the things he revealed to me during our email exchange:
1. He intended to re-sell the issue. On eBay. He felt like he could get at least $15 for it, which, as far as he was concerned, was all the issue was worth. [Just to be clear: This is not what he believed. This was his tactic to try to get me to believe that I was getting a good deal to just let him have the issue.]
2. He had a coupon from eBay which would reduce his effective payment to $0. He would literally be getting the issue for FREE, giving him 100% profit on the re-sell. [I know this because I asked him why he was willing to pay, after shipping, more for the issue than he believed he could sell it for, and he told me about the coupon which would allow him to get it for nothing. Something for nothing.]
3. He's a flipper, which is something I'll get into in another post.

You know, I can understand being disappointed in discovering that you had misunderstood something and that you're not getting what you thought you were getting, but I really don't understand the unwillingness to own up to your own mistake, especially when it's right there in front of you. I know that it happens and that a certain group of people do it all the time (roughly 30% of white males, for sure), but I really don't understand it. Both of these guys acted as if their lack of reading the auction text was MY fault, and both of them accused me of doing things to try to cheat them, cheat them out of what was rightfully theirs. They both felt they DESERVED, were ENTITLED, to have my stuff. For FREE.

Because they're white dudes, and that's what white a significant portion of white dudes believe. They believe they deserve to have their cushy life provided for them with no effort on their part. And, yet, they also believe that other people are freeloaders, people working much harder at making a life for themselves than they are. The alt-right is full of these guys.

And, no, I'm not saying these two guys are alt-right, because it's not JUST dudes on the alt-right who believe this kind of thing, but I couldn't get away from the percentages. It's too perfect an example of white male entitlement.

I don't know... If this is what I'm going to have to deal with on eBay, maybe I will toss the comics in the trash.