Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Low expectations, but not low enough.

I watched X-Men:  Apocalypse on Monday.  At midnight the construction crews outside my house were using some incredibly loud machine that was literally vibrating my condo from 12 floors away.  Since sleep was not likely to come to me I had to figure out something else to do.  The solution I came up with was to watch a bad superhero movie that I wouldn't mind quitting halfway through if the machine stopped.

I went into Apocalypse with low expectations, you see.  I knew the critics hated it.  I picked it because I knew I would be willing to stop watching it partway through.

It failed to meet my expectations, even then.

When I think about superhero movies that utterly fail I find they have many things in common.  They regularly try to shoehorn too many stories into the movie and end up with boring characters and rushed plot.  Apocalypse did this spectacularly.  It tried to have a character arc for Jean Grey, Magneto, Cyclops, Angel, Quicksilver, Storm, Professor X, and Mystique.  That doesn't even include the main villain!

Now I get that X-Men movies are ensemble hero movies, so you are going to have some amount of story spread around, but that was WAY too much to try to do in a single outing.  You need a couple characters that the plot focuses on that have good development and go through changes and the rest of the crew just does the thing you expect and fills out the background.  Trying to do too much just leaves every single interaction feeling rushed, unsupported, and deeply unsatisfying.

Directors should bloody well know this.  Studios that hand directors hundreds of millions of dollars to make movies should bloody well know this.  When there is this much money on the line, how does everyone fail so spectacularly at knowing basic things?

It wasn't just the heroes that were overdone though.  Apocalypse himself was a total bore.  Powerful villains can be fun even though the best ones are usually not particularly powerful at all, like Joker or Lex Luthor.  Unfortunately the movie portrays Apocalypse in ways that are absurd.  He can wave his hand and simply cause people's heads to fall off.  He can level a city and reform the smashed bits of it into a fantastically complicated, kilometer tall temple in a few seconds.  He can teleport, regenerate, empower others, control all technology, and turn other people's powers against them.  He can shrug off outrageously powerful physical, psychic, and magical attacks like nothing.

Worst of all though is his powers were unbounded.  Each scene the director granted him some new and completely absurd power that he would conveniently forget to use in the next scene.  Where were his instant death attacks and city smashing powers when he was in a fight?  Why didn't he simply teleport away when things got bad, or cause all of the X-Men's heads to fall off?

Apocalypse also completely lacked any personality or unique features.  He wanted to destroy the world for no particular reason.  He had no weaknesses, no individuality, nothing to make him remotely interesting or relatable.  Apocalypse wanted to destroy the world because he was a villain, and that is what they do, right?

Apocalypse didn't frighten me.  He wasn't interesting.  It was clear that his powers weren't a problem for the heroes to solve, but rather a plot device that was made up fresh every five minutes.

Speaking of powers that weren't used, the heroes were just as bad.  Quicksilver is a hero who can move so quickly he can casually walk around explosions while they are happening.  Not just that, but when a massive explosion is wrecking a gigantic mansion he is capable of rescuing 30 people who are all simultaneously a few meters from an advancing wall of flame in various parts of the building.

And yet he forgets to use his ability to save the day to stop the evil soldiers, rescue the lad in distress, or to easily beat up the villains threatening his less powerful friends.  He could have defeated the plot of the enemies and pounded them all into submission quite handily.  Apocalypse himself was apparently a bit too powerful for Quicksilver to defeat, but any other challenge the heroes found out about was utterly trivial... unless Quicksilver conveniently forgot about his powers, which he did whenever the plot called for it.

The last thing that absolutely drove me nuts about this movie was the way the characters themselves ignored the plot of the movie.  Just before the ending Magneto, empowered by Apocalypse, was busy destroying the earth.  He was simultaneously smashing every city on the planet to rubble, shattering bridges, knocking down buildings, sinking ships, and launching pieces of metal in random directions across the globe.  The mayhem he was causing would have killed millions of people.  He finally had a change of heart away from total global annihilation and decided to fight against Apocalypse instead.

Everyone ignored the genocide part.  As soon as the fight ended he was buddy buddy with the X-Men again, and everyone was completely chill with the fact that he was the biggest mass murderer in history.  MILLIONS dead at his hands, and the other characters just shrug it off without a blink.

Its cool.  He's on our team again.  Until, you know, he gets in another one of his moods and tries to wipe out humanity a second time.

How can you expect anyone to take your plot seriously when the characters themselves completely ignore it?  I get that you want to raise the stakes and use CGI to show us world landmarks being destroyed, but why pay for that CGI if the people in the world pretend that it isn't even happening?

What a travesty.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Put a contract on me

I sometimes read advice columns for entertainment.  Partly it is interesting to see how other people would solve problems and what they value but I can't deny that there is an appeal to seeing all the ridiculous situations people get themselves into and thinking "Wow, at least I don't have to deal with *that*."

I just read an advice column about how to cope with the desire for a prenuptial agreement.  The person writing in wasn't sure if asking for a prenup made them an awful person - specifically, "dead inside".

That question is funny to me.  I think most people get married wanting to have all kinds of magical happy feels and they don't want to accept the possibility of a divorce nor acknowledge all of the monetary issues that might crop up.

But you can't avoid the monetary issues.  This is why the government created standard marriage agreements that you enter into when you get married, like it or not.  They cover things like how assets are separated after a divorce and how much money people get paid when there is a disparity in income.

You *can't* get married without a contract.  You just have a choice of accepting the default, unavoidable contract, or you can custom make your contract to suit the people getting married.  Which is more romantic, a boilerplate, government mandated agreement, or something customized just for the two of you?

(Yes, I am trying to sell you on how prenuptial agreements are romantic.)

Most people don't need a prenup, of course.  But I think people would be a lot better off if they acted as though a prenup was a normal way of doing things.  Sitting down and going over everyone's debt, assets, income, and financial expectations prior to getting hitched is a fantastic idea.  We should all have that as our standard model.  After looking at all that stuff if you then decide that the standard model for a marriage contract is a good fit for you, great!  Maybe it isn't and you should build your own contract, but at least making an informed decision is an excellent idea.

I didn't even consider getting a prenup when I got married, but that was because Wendy and I came in with assets and earning power that were both extremely close to one another, within 20% or so.  Normally in a prenup there is one person with a lot more wealth than the other, and in our case that just wasn't so.  We actually talked about it before getting married and both of us thought it was funny that we were both perfectly comfortable talking about getting a prenup and yet our personal financial situation made it completely unnecessary because we randomly ended up in such similar financial circumstances.

Plus I was young and in love and absolutely certain that it wouldn't matter anyway because I certainly was going to be with her forever.  Which so far has worked out, mind, but one should be realistic.

But all of you out there, you should definitely consider a prenuptial agreement.  At least enough to figure out what your entire financial picture looks like, at any rate.  Know exactly why you *might* want one before deciding you don't, that is my advice.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The best of the worst

I have seen some interesting posts out there trying to convince me to to give money to the Conservative party.  That isn't surprising in itself, the interesting part is that the people trying to convince me are lefties who support the NDP or Liberals.

The idea behind this push is that there is one person in the Conservative leadership race who is distinctly more progressive than the rest.  His name is Michael Chong, and after looking at his record and statements I agree with that assessment.  He isn't a raving Trump-lite lunatic like O'Leary or Leitch, he actively pushes back against Islamophobia, and in general most of his positions are a lot more moderate than the rest of the Conservative crop.  From what I have seen I would rate him as by far the best Conservative candidate among those that have any chance of being nominated.  Don't mistake that for glowing praise; the Conservative candidates make me cringe.

The downside to the push is this:  I would have to pay $15 for Conservative party membership in order to vote for Chong for leader.  While I would have to hold my nose to go vote in a Conservative nomination I might be willing to do that to try to prevent one of the extremists being in charge, but I can't justify doing so when I would have to give money to a party that stands firmly against all of my values.

Looking at this from a strategic standpoint I can't really say what I want to happen.  I thought it was good that Trump won the Republican nomination because I was pretty sure he would say a bunch of idiotic things and get crushed in the debates by either Sanders or Clinton.  I figured giving Trump the win was a sure way to get a Democratic victory.

We all know how that turned out.  I was dead wrong, like a lot of other people.

So while there is a temptation to wish that O'Leary wins and goes on to alienate all of the moderates to keep the Conservatives out of power, for all I know he could end up running the show in Canada and doing his best to create some kind of theocratic dystopia.

Chong at least would just do the usual Conservative thing of trying to slash taxes for the rich and tell the poor that they should just work harder, with a side order of wishing he could realistically push through 'traditional marriage' and 'bathroom safety' bills.  He wouldn't be a flaming dumpster fire that threatens to engulf the world like Trump, he would just be a kind of slow death, a fetid rot, sort of like Harper was when he was in charge.

Even if I liked Chong (which I don't) I wouldn't give money to the Conservatives in a vain attempt to put him in the seat of power.  He is the best of the worst, sure, but I am going to save my time, money, and energy to push for someone I actually want governing, not a backstop against even greater disaster.

I am so bitter at the Liberals for their election reform lie that I am left hoping that the NDP can serve me up someone to believe in for this next election.  Not that my vote matters in the slightest, mind you, since my riding is an absolute lock for the Liberals and has been for many years.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Choose your friends wisely

My brother linked me a parenting article this weekend that talked about how parents should choose their daughter's friends.  The quote below the title is this:

We “helicopter” over our kids’ wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects and then pride ourselves on how “hands off” we are on social issues.

When I read that statement my reaction is to think 'wow, these people really ought to stop helicoptering so damn much and just let the kid be'.  The author's conclusion was that parents should micromanage and meddle even more, carefully making sure their daughters circle of friends is firmly under the control of the parents.

To be fair, this article is posted on faithit.com, and from a brief glance at the writing there it is a safe bet I would be happy to set all of their articles on fire for one reason or another.  However, I don't think this is just an issue of religion, but rather one of feminist principle.

In the article the mother in question decided that her daughter absolutely had to be friends with a new girl in her class and forced her to start that process.  The story concludes with the two girls being good friends for years, which is fine and all, but I really worry about what message this sort of thing sends in the long run.

Women are socialized to be accommodating and nice.  They are expected to be the ones that smooth over social situations, putting their own desires after that of others.  There is already too much pressure put on women to let men get away with all kinds of crap and I really wouldn't want to contribute to that pressure.  When we say to a young girl that she must accept someone into her social circle, give them time and energy, listen to their story, and place their needs above her own, we condition that young girl to do the same in adulthood.

When these young girls grow up they are going to be subject to harassment from men who feel entitled to their attention, time, energy, or bodies.  Sometimes it is going to be catcalling, sometimes it will be sexual harassment at work, and sometimes it will be crappy behaviour at social events.  The message I want my daughter to have internalized is that she should be decent to people, but that she does not owe them friendship, love, relationships, service, or intimacy.  When walking down the street you have an obligation to not randomly punch people, but you do not have any obligation to sit down and have a chat with them either.

People do not have the right to demand your friendship.  It is all well and good to be pleasant to people at first, and to avoid being cruel to those who do not have a support network, but in the end you get to decide who your friends are.  Teaching children that others will decide who they associate with and that they should not expect to be able to set their own boundaries is a recipe for disaster in later life, both in friendships and in romantic relationships.

There is a crucial difference between encouragement and forcing.  When I have heard about other children who are struggling to find friends in school and I thought Pinkie Pie might enjoy their company I have encouraged her to talk to them.  If they are lonely then both children might really benefit from spending time together.  But I won't make her to do it.  I will give her the information, a bit of encouragement, and the freedom to choose.  Figuring out who to be friends with is tricky, but it is a thing everyone needs to learn, and you don't learn much with someone else making all of the decisions for you.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I don't want to

Sometimes I have weird conversations with people about what I want.  I have this way of looking at my own desires that most people find totally bizarre and yet it seems so natural to me.  For example, awhile ago I was talking to someone about rock climbing.  They were trying to convince me that rock climbing walls in Toronto were great and I should go to one of those places regularly.  They sound great and all, I said, but evidently I don't want to go to one.

But rock climbing walls are so great, they insisted.  There are so many reasons to go!

I wasn't saying that I had good reasons not to go, just that I know about rock climbing.  It sounds interesting.  In the past I have enjoyed climbing walls.  But I don't go to them, despite this knowledge and experience, so all the evidence says that I don't want to go climbing.

To me this just makes sense.  I could go climbing, it isn't like we are talking about visiting the moon or yachting, both of which require resources I don't possess.  I just don't do it so my conclusion is that I don't want to do it.  Not for any good reason, mind you, but facts don't necessarily require good reasons.

I want to go to the gym and lift weights.  I can tell because I end up doing that.  I want to play video games and slay internet monsters.  I can tell because I do that.  I don't want to go climbing, because I don't do that.

To me it makes all kinds of sense to put evidence above subjective feelings.  I experience the feeling of wanting to go climbing, so in that sense I want to, but I don't do it, so I conclude that I don't actually want to.  I just experience a feeling of happiness associated with it.  I suppose that temporary feeling is weak, or short lived, and it isn't enough to convince me to schedule it into my day.

Normal people don't think like this.  They look at me like I have lost my mind when I talk this way.  They measure their wants based on their temporary feelings rather than on the evidence of what they have done in the past.  I get that this is the way most people operate, but it seems so foreign to me.  Shouldn't you use science to figure things out, even things like "how do you feel?"

I guess the answer is no, for the populace at large.

This is one of those ways in which I try to fit in when other people talk.  Most of the time I know that speaking like this will confuse, anger, or frighten the person I am talking to so I just pretend that I am a regular person and respond in ways that they expect.  I put on my person face and say things that make no sense to get through social interactions.  I suppose I am lucky that I can figure out what to say when I want everything to be smooth, even if I often choose not to say it.

I wonder which of the people that read this will nod their heads and say "yup, that makes sense!"  I suspect Sthenno will, but as for everyone else... I just don't know.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Just friends

Last weekend I was at a party where the subject of polyamory was discussed in some detail and at great length.  As often happens it took the form of me standing there answering a seemingly endless series of questions from a crowd of monogamous people.  In this particular case The Flautist was with me and that changes the tone of the questions substantially.  When it is just me there is usually an overtone of disbelief, mostly from the straight men in the crowd who don't quite believe that my life can be what I claim it is.

Most of the questions I get are some form of the questioner being sure polyamory must be dysfunctional and/or evil, and they try to catch me up in some manner.  This past weekend there was one person insisting that polyamory must not work because people need someone who will stay with them their entire lives and be willing to change their diapers when they are old or sick.  I find that sort of thing kind of hilarious because it is so obviously an attack of desperation.  People don't refuse friends because those friends aren't going to wipe their asses when they are 95.  I don't meet someone at a board gaming event and say "Wait, random board gamer #5.  You won't come visit me in the nursing home in fifty years.  Fuck you, I don't need you in my life!"  And yet somehow this is necessary for somebody I am going to go on a date with?

I don't always know how to approach that sort of question when it comes with a slick of vitriol.  For many people I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and answer their questions straight up, generally with the phrase "Just substitute 'close friend' for 'person I am dating' in your question and the answer will be obvious."  At some point though I really want to just stop them and demand to know what about polyamory has them feeling so defensive and desperate to justify their life choices.  It isn't actually that hard to tell the difference between someone who is curious about something outside their realm of experience and someone on a mission to discover my deep dark secret and reveal it to the world.

I wonder how I should decide when to switch from patient explainer to telling people to take their passive aggressive shit and stuff it.  For someone who genuinely wants to understand and has an open mind I have a nearly endless patience to explain.  Trick is, if I go all nuclear on someone who is being a jerk to me people then I get written off as the irrational, angry man who must then clearly be wrong.

My life is a privileged one, that I only have to deal with that particular bind in one way, and that I didn't have to deal with it until middle age.

The other really weird sort of thing that happens in this sort of situation is a hero worship sort of thing.  With me wearing a wedding ring standing there holding hands with the Flautist while we both sport a 'just fell in love ' stupid grin it is easy to see why other people would want a piece of what we have.  Usually it is the straight men who look at me like I am some sort of wizard who has broken the rules of the cosmos.  You would think bangin' people and falling in love by accident were equivalent to tossing fireballs out of my fingertips and flying.  They often act as though it is an impossibility for any mortal human to do these things, as if perhaps I was The Chosen One and born with some astounding power.

Hell, wouldn't it be a great super power to be filled with love all the time?  Better in the long run than being super strong or having invisibility or some other thing people usually wish for.

If I do have a super power it is the ability to not give a fuck.  I was not born with it, that is for sure!  My garden where I grow the fucks I might give was incredibly fecund when I was young and it took years of pouring poison on it to keep the fucks from growing back.

I want to get across that treating polyamory like magic is in fact the barrier.  When you just look at it as a choice with benefits and costs, smiles and sorrows, a thing anyone could do, suddenly it becomes possible.  These folks often say that polyamory sounds great and they would love to do it but their partner / parents / neighbours / extended family / coworkers / etc would disapprove so it is impossible.  It isn't an impossibility, just a cost, but they have been trained to see that cost as infinite, rendering all possible decisions incurring that cost as moot.

I get that for many people that cost is too high.  Fair enough.  But it is important to see it as a cost, a finite number, a thing that can be reckoned with.  How your reckoning ends up isn't a thing to me either way but thinking that you can do this whole polyamory thing if you want but after thoughtful consideration you chose not - all good!  Just consider, is all I ask.

And while you consider, I am going to go make a sign that says "replace 'girlfriend' with 'close friend' in your sentence and ask again" so I can flash it to people at parties to reduce my workload some.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Book burning

A Danish man is being charged under Denmark's blasphemy laws for burning a Quran and posting a video of doing so on the internet.

This is the sort of headline that gets my attention immediately.  It drives me nuts that someone could be prosecuted for the crime of not believing in someone else's fairy tale, but that is what is happening here.  Blasphemy laws are a disaster wherever they are found, in spite of the fact that what they do is make it so that if a bunch of people believe something ridiculous they can get the state to attack anyone who dares voice disbelief of the ridiculous belief.  It doesn't apply if beliefs are reasonable or provable, because that isn't religion.  Perfectly fine to insist that climate change is a myth, because we can prove that using science.  Insult the idea that a person walked on water and rose from the dead?  A crime!

Of course one must consider that the man in question will not do any jail time even if he gets convicted.  He will only be fined, in what I assume is the courts trying to placate the religious nuts without actually wanting to do something serious.

Perhaps I ought to be focusing instead on more serious events like war, or famine, or whatever it is that Trump did today.  You know, things that result in thousands of deaths and massive upheaval.

I don't though.  Trump said another disastrous thing, war still exists, people are dying.  But blasphemy laws in a progressive western state being enforced?  That is interesting, not least because it could very well be me getting dragged into court next time.

I suppose this makes it rather selfish of me to focus on this sort of news since it is insignificant compared to many other things I could talk leap upon.

However, I do think it is a good thing to keep in mind that we ought not to accept small erosions of our basic liberties in stride.  The freedom of expression of religion is important.  That includes the right to not be religious, and in fact to do the opposite of what other religions want.  When the state decides to recognize some religions and not others and is willing to prosecute people for following the wrong one we step ever closer to a theocracy, and that is an awful place for anyone who doesn't happen to be following the chosen religion.

People need to be free to talk about how their book is the literal word of the creator of the universe and post that message online.  Also people need to be free to set books on fire and post that online.  The state should have no concern about either, except insofar as people obey the laws about fire, of course.