Friday, June 23, 2017

Clone Wars -- Season Five

Season five of Clone Wars is almost the perfect Clone Wars season. Almost. If not for that pothole... um, actually, I think it's more of a sinkhole... right in the middle, it would be. Yes, I'm talking about the horrible four-episode arc featuring D-Squad and Colonel Gascon, the "frog general." As I'm reflecting over this particular season, I'm just left wondering, "What the f#$% were they thinking?"

I mean, look, season five starts off with a very solid story introducing us to Saw Gerrera, an arc which has a much stronger significance, now, after Rogue One, than it did when the series originally aired. It was a new perspective to go back and see it again because, though I liked the arc a lot the first time I saw it, it was much more enlightening this time.

And we follow that one with a story about younglings learning to build their first lightsabers, another good arc. True, it stumbles a bit at places, but, overall, it's good, and it gives us Ahsoka in her first guidance role.

Oh, but then! Then! I mean, where did this whole Gascon thing come from anyway? The story has absolutely no significance in the fabric of the series as a whole. It's entirely throwaway.

Then we have two of the strongest and most important arcs in the entire series. We wrap up the whole Darth Maul/Savage Opress story line, proving that the story of Opress was a tragedy (definitely not a comedy), but how could it have been otherwise? And...

And we see Ahsoka leave the Jedi. That final story of season five might be the most important of the entire Clone Wars run, though there is one arc in season six that's pretty important, too (and one that the Squid is sure to love), but I'll have to watch it again before I can decide which one I think is more significant.

Really, season five is Ahsoka's season. Three of the five arcs deal specifically with her, her growth as a Jedi, and her relationship with the Jedi Order and, specifically, to the Jedi Council. We watch her on more than one occasion choose to not follow orders in favor of doing what she believes is the right thing, something she learned from both Anakin and Obi-Wan but, possibly, more so from Obi-Wan. The season shows us that Ahsoka's story is also a tragedy.

I'm not sure I can say that you can watch season five without having watched the earlier seasons. Certainly, the Maul/Opress story arc won't make much since without the background from seasons three and four, but I think Ahsoka's ending won't have the power it should without having seen her journey. So, you know, if you like Star Wars, you really should watch The Clone Wars.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Clone Wars -- "The Wrong Jedi" (Ep. 5.20)

-- Never give up hope, no matter how dark things seem.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

And so we get to the end of the Alfred Hitchcock-inspired titles. "The Wrong Jedi," of course, comes from The Wrong Man and has roughly the same kind of plot. I say that as someone who doesn't really remember the movie very well since I probably saw it when I was 10, but the synopsis backs that up.

If you've been keeping up, you'll know that Ahsoka has been accused of a crime she didn't commit. And set up very solidly. And no one other than Anakin believes in her. It's the kind of thing that can really shake your faith, and her allegiance to the Jedi Order is a faith.

One of the underlying conflicts of this arc is jurisdiction. It was the Jedi Temple that was bombed, so they believe they should have jurisdiction over the case; but clones were killed, so Tarkin claims that the military has jurisdiction. The result of the conflict over that is interesting, to say the least, but to say more would be to spoil the episode for you, and, really, this is an arc that really needs to be seen. Probably more than any other single event in the series, this is the one where we can best see Anakin losing his grip on what it means to be a Jedi.

But, really, it's not about Anakin, as Ahsoka very pointedly tells him: "This isn't about you."

Really, this arc is pivotal to the whole Star Wars series. Not only does it reveal to us this critical moment for Anakin, but it really puts on display how it is that only a couple or few decades later that people have forgotten the Jedi. It's not so much that they don't remember but that they turned their backs on them.

Hmm... The people turned away from the Jedi in favor of the Emperor and the Dark Side... That's something that sounds rather familiar.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Writing and the Inspiration Dilemma

There are whole schools of thought about writers and inspiration and waiting for inspiration and when to write and where inspiration comes from and whether it's even necessary. As with most things, there's a spectrum here, with people who believe you should never sit down to write unless you're feeling inspired on one side, and those, on the other side, who believe you should treat writing like a job and sit down and do the work whether you're inspired or not.

Let's take a practical look at this.

But before we go on, let me just say that I have nothing against inspiration. I like it. It's great to be inspired and have lovely (or terrifying) ideas to sit down and play with. But I can almost never sit down to do the writing when I have those ideas. I think most of my ideas these days happen when I'm in the car. You can ask my wife; I make her send me notes when I have ideas and we're not home, so she would probably know best whether that most frequently happens in the car or not. I mean, the car is not the best place to write, not if you want to live through your trip.

I used to know this guy. A "writer." He strongly believed in the waiting-for-inspiration-to-strike-before-doing-any-writing model. He talked about it a lot, actually, about how he would lean back in his chair at his desk and wait for the inspiration to come to him. Wait for the universe to open and flood his head with ideas and words. He'd sit that way for hours. If no inspiration came, he didn't do any writing. As time went on, more and more often, his posts about his writing life were only about how he was never inspired and couldn't find any inspiration and was, as a consequence, never writing.

He's not a writer anymore. I'm not sure he could ever have been called a "writer" since he has no completed work to show for his time as a "writer."

The problem is that I know a lot of people like that, people who quit writing because they relied heavily on being inspired and never did any of the work of writing. It's like this:
Writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
And, well, inspiration doesn't come unless you're doing the work.

So you can probably guess which side of the spectrum I'm on.
The truth is that if you look at successful writers, the writers who make a living from their writing, with few exceptions, these are the people who sit down to do the work of writing whether they're "feeling inspired" or not.

"Writers" who wait for the inspiration to happen first lead lives of not writing and, thus, never have anything to show for being a "writer." Sure, they may have a few pages of this or a few pages of that, but you can't legitimately call yourself a writer if you can't finish anything. You can be a writer without ever publishing anything, but you can't be a writer without work to show for it.

Which brings me to my actual point.

The other day, I heard a bit of an interview with a "voter" about why he hadn't voted in an election. He said it was because none of the candidates had inspired him...
Wait, what?
Yes, he said he didn't vote because he hadn't felt inspired by any of the candidates to get out and vote.

Which I realized is what has bothered me so much about last November's presidential election, people complaining that they didn't like either candidate so they hadn't bothered to vote at all. These people are "voters" in much the same way as a writer waiting for inspiration is a writer, which is to say not at all.

Look, it's not a candidates job to be inspirational. It's not the campaign's job to inspire you. Sure, I get that it can help. Like I said, I have nothing against inspiration. It's great.
But that's not what voting is about!
As a voter, it's your job to make the best decision from the available candidates and to go out and vote!

For example, if you have two candidates and you've rated them on a scale of 1-10 and one of them is a 0 (because Trump didn't even make the scale) and the other is a 2 or, even, a 1, you go out and vote for the better one (not that I thought that Clinton was so low as a 1 or a 2, but I know a lot of people felt that way). You don't wait for a 7 or higher to come along and inspire you before going out and doing your job, because it is your job. If you have two candidates whom you don't like and one of them is an authoritarian fascist asshole, you go out and cost your ballot for the other candidate.


You want to know how I know? Because France just did just that! FRANCE! Dudes... if France can do it, if France can do the right thing, certainly we here in the United States of goddamn fucking America ought to be able to do the same thing. Ought to be able to.
Because, obviously, we're not capable of that, as the even more recent election of Greg Gianforte kind of demonstrates.
Seriously, what the fuck?
And you call yourselves Americans?
If the people of France can get themselves out to vote for Emmanuel Macron, a guy no one really liked, for the sole purpose of keeping Marine Le Pen out of office, then no one in the United States has any excuse.

When the choice is between the lesser of two evils, you fucking vote for the lesser of two evils.

So all of you people who didn't vote need to own up to your lack of doing your fucking jobs as citizens of the United States and get up off your asses now and register your protest against the fascist asshole "running" the country.
Running it into the ground.

Sorry (not sorry), fuck inspiration. And that goes to you "writers," too.
Do the work.
If you do the work, the inspiration will eventually come.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Gold Country (part 4)

This is the stream where we panned for gold. I think we lasted about 10 minutes.
Really, I was just more interested in taking pictures.
I did find some pretty non-gold rocks, though, not that I kept any of them.

The path through China Garden.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Clone Wars -- "To Catch a Jedi" (Ep. 5.19)

-- Never become desperate enough to trust the untrustworthy.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

The title of this episode is another reference to an Alfred Hitchcock film: To Catch a Thief. As far as I know I've never seen To Catch a Thief, though that might not be true. There are a lot of old movies I watched as a young teenager that I don't remember anymore, and I watched a lot of Hitchcock films, so it is actually possible I've seen this one. Either way, I still get the idea they're going for from looking at the summary of the movie. It does make me wonder if "Sabotage," the first story in this arc, is also a reference to a Hitchcock film, a reference that I'm just not getting. Oh,wait, it is! And it's actually called Sabotage. I suppose I'm going to have to watch all of these again, now, or for the first time, depending. I'm pretty certain I've never seen Sabotage.

Ahsoka's on the run...
Now, let's step back a moment:
Much of the tension in Clone Wars is derived from Ahsoka and the fact that we know she's not around for Revenge of the Sith. We know something has to happen to her, which is something my kids started asking me during season one back when we were first watching the series. So what does happen to Ahsoka?

This arc is the beginning of the answer to that question, which is about all I can say without spoilers. What I can say is that this is one of the best arcs in the series. Plenty of action, plenty of drama, plenty of character development. Because, you know, anything that affects Ahsoka is also going to affect Anakin, and, more than anything else, Clone Wars is here for us to see the subtle shifts that led to Anakin's fall.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Day 21 (a future history)

Friday, February 9, 2018

We had to get pictures for our ID cards today. I don’t like having my picture taken ever, but this was even worse. We’re going to be required to carry them “at all times” so anyone who wants to can “verify our identity.” If we ever get stopped for something and don’t have our card, we can get taken to a detention center.

It’s bullshit.

We’re also going to have to use them to check into school everyday. They’re going to have some kind of chip in them, like a credit card, and we’ll have to use them in some in some card reader thing when we get to school AND when we leave school! It’s ridiculous!

Next thing you know, we’ll have to use them to get in and out of our own houses.

We also have to use them anytime we buy something, even if we’re paying with money. I mean paper money. They’re going to start making us use the stupid cards for everything!

If they make us use them to go to the bathroom, I’m going to start peeing on the floor!

Getting the pictures done was weird. A lot of my friends were treating them like school pictures and came to school all dressed up. My mom wanted me to dress up, especially because I didn’t dress up for actual picture day, but I hate taking pictures and I’m certainly not dressing up for it.

But none of that’s what made it weird.

My group went in, and there were still a few people from another class having their pictures done, and no one was smiling. All these girls all dressed up and not a single one of them smiling. They all had these super serious expressions on their faces, even Katy, who always smiles. Always!

Then Joe went up, the first person from my class because his last name is Anderson, and he, of course, smiled.
And they yelled at him for it!

“Don’t smile.”
“What?” looking confused.
“Don’t smile. Just look at the camera.”

Joe looked at the camera more as a reaction than because he was doing what he was told. He had a kind of bewildered look on his face, but that’s when the guy took the picture.

Then they called “Baker, Abigail,” and, of course, Abi smiled, and the photographer yelled at her, too. Abi argues with everyone, so she tried to argue with the guy, “But I want to have pretty pictures…”

“You’re not getting pictures. You’re getting an ID card.”
“You don’t get any pictures, just the card. Now, look at the camera and don’t smile.”

Abi scowled, but he just waited a few moments, looking bored, and took the picture as soon as Abi relaxed her face a little. She was so mad! And stomped off like she was going to try to go get him in trouble.

It would have been funny if it all hadn’t been so weird.

After one more of those, no one smiled anymore.

Until it was my turn, because I was mad.

And I never smile for pictures.

“Just look at the camera. Don’t smile.”
“I’m not smiling.” I wanted to be laughing, so it was actually kind of hard to hold the smile.
“I’m serious, kid. Quit smiling.”
“I’m not smiling.”

I got detention, but I’m smiling in my picture.

It was worth it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Gold Country (part 3)

We spent two nights at Malakoff Diggins where we stayed in an actual miner's cabin that's still standing from sometime in the 1860-1880 range.
Yes, the chairs are new.
The cabin is located in what is left of the town of North Bloomfield which is located within Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park. They have camping, too, but staying in an actual miner's cabin was something we couldn't pass up.

And this... Well, this is a water cannon:
Hydraulic mining wasn't invented in Malakoff Diggins, but it really became a thing there. See, here's what happened:
You know how people thought during the gold rush that they were just going to "zip" over to California and find gold lying all over the ground and become rich? Of course, that wasn't true, but in Malakoff Diggins it was almost true. There was so much gold in the streams in the area that it took a couple of years for them to clean it all out. Except they realized there was always new gold in the streams after a rain, so they began searching around in the dirt, but that's hard work. Not that panning isn't hard work, but it's so much easier than digging around in the dirt. So someone asked the question: How do we get all of this dirt to the water so that we can sift all the non-gold away?

Which is where the water cannons came in. I'm not going to go into the whole process of hydraulic mining because the important part is that you aim the cannon at the mountain and wash everything down. Everything.
The bare rock, there, and everything below it was hydraulic mined. Prior to mining, the whole area was just like above the mining zone. All of the trees in the foreground are new growth from the last century, but let me make this clear: It's been more than 130 years since this happened, and the area still looks trashed.
Bear in mind, these are the "scenic"pictures, because I didn't take any pictures of the really horrible looking areas, because they were horrible looking. Of course, I wasn't thinking about this post at the time, or I would have.

All of this runoff caused problems. Lots of problems. Basically, it all ended up down around Sacramento and caused all kinds of flooding and damage. People weren't happy. Someone sued. It was one of the first, if not the first, environmental cases in American history, and the result was that in 1884 hydraulic mining was made illegal in the state of California.

Let me state again: It's been more than 130 years since hydraulic mining in the area of Malakoff Diggins was halted, and the land has still not recovered!

And I just want to point out that the kind of environmental regulation that Trump wants to do could very easily lead to more environmental disasters of this nature. Thousands of acres of farmland ruined every year on top of the destruction of some of the greatest wild areas of California. But, you know, if there's profit to be gained, Trump and his ilk don't care about any kind of destruction anyone else might face. Let the future deal with that. They're too old to care what kind of results there will be in 20-30 years.

Next time: More Malakoff Diggins, but only the pretty stuff.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Is It Real or Is It...? (pictures I like)

The above two pictures are the original pictures and, interestingly enough, they looked photoshopped, like the image of the trees have been laid on top of a landscape of dead grass, even though they are not.
The below picture has, though, been manipulated, which is funny (at least to me) because it now looks more natural, as if it is the unedited picture.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Clone Wars -- "The Jedi Who Knew Too Much" (Ep. 5.18)

-- Courage begins by trusting oneself.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

I'm sure the title of this is a reference to the Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much, but it's been so long since I've seen that movie that I don't know how the episode relates to the film.
Fun fact: The 1956 film featuring Jimmy Stewart and directed by Alfred Hitchcock was a remake of his own 1934 film of the same title. I've only seen the Jimmy Stewart version so, now, I need to watch both of them!


This is one of the most pivotal story arcs in the entire Clone Wars series. Everything changes here, and I think this story more than any other one gives insight into the fall of Anakin, though, ostensibly, this arc isn't even about him. Having seen it before, it's interesting re-watching it now and seeing how they put it together, because it feels like I should have known what was going to happen before it happened, kind of like watching The Sixth Sense for the first time.

Tarkin is back and back with a renewed agenda to cut the Jedi out of... well, out of everything but, initially, out of the clone war. Tarkin's presence in this arc is also a sign of the significance of this story.

And all of this, again, makes me really wonder where they were going to go with this series because it feels like everything before was just leading up to this stuff here at the end of season five (and the limited amount of season six that was later made available), and this stuff is great. It's intense. It's moving. It's powerful. You should watch it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Voice of Freedom

There's been a lot of talk in the last six months or so about the lack of leadership in the Democratic party, which is true. When Obama left office, he also stepped away from any and, seemingly, all roles of leadership. And that's too bad, because he's the closest thing to a unifying leader the Democrats have right now. But, honestly, it's not a lack of leadership that's the problem.

It's the lack of a voice.

And I don't mean the lack of a voice for the Democratic party; I mean the lack of a voice for Freedom. The Voice of Freedom, right now, is silent.

Which is not to say that there are not rumblings from it, but, so far, since the rise of Trump, no one has picked it up and shouted it with a unifying Voice as key individuals have done in the past:

Abraham Lincoln
Mahatma Gandhi
Winston Churchill
Martin Luther King, Jr.
even Ronald Reagan with his stance against communism in the 80s

Sometimes, that voice is sung, as it was in the late 60s by people like
Bob Dylan
Peter, Paul & Mary
Simon and Garfunkel

Or in the 80s by
The Alarm

Today, the Voice of Freedom is silent and needs to be picked up as a unifying cry against the Voice of Fear that Trump continues to spew out of his horrible maw in the same way that Hitler did.

See, the Voice of Fear is loud and has provided a rallying point for Conservatives (because studies show that Conservatives are more prone to fear and have a much greater fear of change (and, let's face it, the times they are a changin')), and they have responded to that call with a vengeance. A vengeance which includes white supremacists feeling like they have been empowered to murder and terrorize and that that is somehow patriotism (to use the words of a white supremacist terrorist).

Not to go all Star Wars on you, but the Voice of Fear is the Dark Side. It's not more powerful, but it is quicker, easier, more seductive. People like quick and easy and don't like or want to put in the work for Equality and Freedom.

And, just to be clear, the Voice of Freedom is also the Voice of Equality, because real Freedom, true Freedom, cannot exist without equality. The equality of all people to have the same access to healthcare. The equality of all people to have the same access to education. The equality of all people to have the same access to opportunity. The Voice of Freedom, the Voice of Equality, is the Voice of the People.

The Voice of Fear is the voice of slavemasters, those who want you to put up and shut up and just do as you're told. It's time to throw off Fear.

"We want to play for you now a gospel song. A gospel song with a restless spirit."
It's time to pick back up the Voice of Freedom, the Voice of Equality, and sing it and sing it loud.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Gold Country (part 2)

Day two of our trip through gold country took us up to Empire mine, one of the richest hard rock gold mines in California. It was also extremely informative. For one thing, gold mining is not what we think it is. At least, it's not what I thought it was, and I'm pretty sure my thoughts on it were not outside of mainstream thought.

Well, okay, one part is what I thought it was: gold panning. That's a form of placer (the "a" is like in cat) mining. We did that, by the way, but I'll get to that later. But mining for gold down in the ground is nothing like what I thought it was. There are no "veins of gold" just running through rock that you can go in and pull out. The gold is infused in quartz, so the process of hard rock mining is much more complicated because it involves bringing vast quantities of quartz out of the ground, smashing it up, and using dangerous chemicals like mercury and cyanide to draw the gold out. According to our tour guide, they got about 1/2 an ounce of gold per every TON of rock brought up. To me, that's just insane.

There's still plenty of gold down in the mine there, by the way, but, even with gold at over $1200/ounce, it now costs more to bring it up than they can make from doing it.

How about some pictures?

This is a three dimensional map of the mine and its tunnels.
The little paper signs  on top are the locations of various businesses and buildings.
I don't think you can see it in this picture, but there's a sign for Safeway and one for the post office.
Core samples.
A drill used for boring holes into the rock walls for the placement of explosives.

The mine administration building.
None of these trees existed when the mine was in operation.
The entire top of the mountain had been clear cut as fuel for running the pumps (to keep the mine shafts free of water) and to operate the stampers (the rock crushing machines).

William Bourn II had a vacation home and elaborate garden built on the mining site. He stayed there two weeks a year. Because it was there, it was also used to entertain guests, but the purpose of it was just to be there for those two weeks when Bourn was on site each year.
Those were the tennis courts off to the left.

And a few more shots of the mine grounds:
I believe the open area here is where the stampers used to be.
They ran non-stop (yes, 24/7), creating a constant pounding, which is probably why Bourn only visited for two weeks out of the year.
This is a piece of a small stamper, nowhere near the size of the ones the mine used.
A shot down the primary mine shaft.
You're looking down 100-150 feet.

Next stop: Malakoff Diggins.