Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Modernizing The Family Reunion

One of the reasons why I might go off the grid on this blog from time to time is that not everything I spend time thinking about is ... appropriate. Let me quantify that. If part of what makes this blog good is that it's interesting it stands to reason that I should find interesting stuff to write about and sometimes the most interesting thing occupying my head is something personal. Or more potently something that involves my interpersonal relationships, my family.

Yep this is one of those though its probably not going in the direction you think it is.

See in about a week and a half I'm headed to my annual family reunion. There is a lot I like but there is also a lot that frustrates me about it. And before I continue let me put up this disclaimer.

This specific family reunion will probably be awesome. I am a critical, snarky, smug bastard by nature but beneath all that is an actual affection for both my family and the institution the family reunion has become within it. Also planning one of these things is tough as a year long endurance run and I am in no way insinuating that I could do it better or that anybody else has sucked doing it or that this family reunion should shift wagons a week and a half before go time.

THE REASON WHY IT'S TAKING UP SO MUCH OF MY HEADSPACE IS BECAUSE I'M ACTUALLY EXCITED TO GO!

Remember I'm the guy who runs the website for this thing. If I really wanted to be a spiteful dick I would just blow that up.


But
If we're being truly honest the family reunion in general has a flaw. It's designed for kids and people with kids which kind of leaves people in my age bracket 18-30 kind of in the lurch. And I need to do it again.

I get it. Out of all the span of the ages that group might be the smallest one and it also might be the one with the least economic power in the planning stages. Before that parents and the family as a whole is willing to spend money on what kids want and after that time a lot of members of the family, though not all of them, may have enough money to just swing for stuff they want. But in the middle not so much. Money is a reality. And almost everything I'm going to say after this should have the asterisk "if we can afford it"

Fundraising
I know most of the time we do this anyway but it was an inevitable turn that this thing would become a how "Greg would plan the family reunion piece" IDEALLY the person running the reunion would know at least two years in advance. Financially the second year would be about individual and nuclear units paying their way but the first would be aimed at figuring out ways to get the family to financially support the thing as a whole.

Now that would mean that each reunion crew would be working wallets at the same time. But donations, merch, carwashes, and baked goods would be voluntary contributions so I don't think people should have much of a problem with it especially if we carry out another suggestion

Financial Transparency
My family plays nice but we are a catty bunch and nothing gets them talking like a scandal involving money at the family reunion. I've seen it happen.


The Onion Looks Back At 'It's A Wonderful Life'
I'm not going to do it because doing it if you're not the host branch would be a nightmare but adding a section to the website for financial transparency would go a long way. Just have a Google spreadsheet ledger or something so people can see exactly how much money was brought in and exactly where its going. You could even scan and put receipts and invoices in there.

If you did that you might even make the reunion fund revolving and be able to register as a nonprofit. It would increase the trust necessary to get those donations.

Furthermore doing that could act as a guide for guys like me planning this thing later. Do hotels require a down payment for things like the banquet room or group rates? How much does food for the picnic cost? How much for a charter bus?

While having a sit down with the elders might be good for that actual financial documents might be better.

The Hotel
Again stuff everybody already knows. One of the hardest parts is booking the right hotel for the events. There needs to be a balance between having a nice classy hotel and having it be inexpensive enough so that people can go.  If the fundraising and financial stuff worked out well the host family could use those funds to underwrite the hotel costs and negotiate a lower event rate. Meaning that individuals in the family could stay in nicer places.

I say that because if I were running things here in Detroit I would really like to book the GM Renaissance Marriott but that place is expensive as hell at $189 a night.  For the reunion most people swing something closer to $100.  I figure at the end of the day we would book about 30 rooms for 2-4 nights so it would take about an extra 10 grand to swing it sooo there goes that plan.

All the same It's right in the heart of downtown and has a lot of good event rooms that would make other aspects of the plan easier.

Learning from the Con Scene

Okay the real reason why I want to do it in the Renaissance building is because a few years ago I went to Youmacon and every time I think about updating the family reunion I can't help but think there is a lot we could learn from the con scene and if I were running things I would use Youmacon as a model.

How so. Remember the problem that got me thinking about all of this in the first place. I think the reason why that problem exists is because the family has an expectation that everybody in the family if they can will elect to go to all the events of the reunion. This means that every event has to cater to everybody and in doing so caters to nobody.

For instance a few years ago we tried to do an 18 and over Karaoke night but everybody ended up bringing their kids so the music got nerfed as the event slowly turned into a glorified daycare. (Remember what I said at the beginning about being a snarky bastard by nature and having an affection for my family.)

We need to have events that cater to different interests and age groups and cons are great at that. Almost every major panel has an 18 and up counterpart so the speakers can go off the cuff and man the raves. The raves.


You just can't pull that when there are a bunch of 9-year-old's running around in the room.

Planning
Again stuff everybody already knows and does.  But since I'm the website guy I've been in a position to observe a few things. Mainly COMMUNICATE AS SOON AS YOU CAN.

I almost never get info when I want it and I'm more or less a communications officer on this thing.

The success or failure of the family reunion often depends on the finances. And all of that depends on people realizing this might be something they want to spend money on long before they can't spend money on it. So as soon say you know the hotel, or have a price on tickets, or are opening up donations and fundraising options, or even just have a committee to investigate all that stuff, tell people!

That way they can give the money to support the endeavor while options are still open to do cool stuff.

And also you want people there. The family reunion for a lot of folks is their summer vacation and it's something they spend all year saving for. Without the intel they may forget to do that and you end up with a whole lot of folks who want to go but can't.

Youmacon has a year round website as soon as they start getting info they post it.

The Problem of Kids
Okay I have to speak for myself here. Some parts of the reunion just aren't for kids. Don't get me wrong a lot of parts are for kids, but some just aren't and it's unfair to both them and everybody else to pretend otherwise. They're bored and unruly. And everybody else is frustrated. Something that the family should have done years ago is just admit this and have a series of kids only events that they'll enjoy and will keep them out of everybody else's hair for the more adult stuff.

Or to put it another way from another event. You're not going to make a 8 year old want to hold it to keep him from interrupting a speech by Jennifer Granholm in her prime. It's stupid to try. You are not going to win that one. And its not the kid's fau...nope not doing that.  Where was I.


The Mandatory Stuff
My family's reunions tend to have three mandatory events. And not having them is not an option. But I think making them good requires some thought about why they came about and who they are for.

The Banquet
I have to be honest. I never liked the banquet. If I didn't go to most of these with my parents I would probably skip it, but I get it. The family reunions started right around the time African American's were starting to economically and socially do better and its an opportunity for the old guard of the family to do the sort of classy event they would have been barred from going to back in the day.

They worked hard for that. They earned that. It's not my place to take it away.

Part of the reason why I dislike it is because of the dissonance between that and trying to be fun and inclusive to everybody else who might not get it, but if you keep that in mind and do the event like say the corespondents dinner it makes that parallel all the more apparent, letting the younger crowd like me get it.


There are some parts of it where the kids do some stuff and the adults get a kick out of the cute factor and the tradition of it all  but let's be honest most of the night's fun for them is just hanging out with each other and all the glitz might make running around in their wee suits and dresses frustrating to them.

Do the thing then let them change and run around like they want and will do anyway so they don't get yelled at later for ripping or spilling punch on their good pants.

There is generally a good after party but honestly as I will mention later I would make that a separate event. Have a brief intermission. Clean the dance floor off move some tables a bit, set up some lights and then bring everyone back to cut loose like it were a club.


Of course because of the nature of these things... that might not be a good comparison. All the same there needs to be a bar and some tracks and the straight laced 1940's banquet atmosphere clashes with that.

The Picnic


This is probably the event closest to my temperament but its still not the reason I show up. To be honest I don't go for the big events anyway but that's another segment. The picnic is the big general audience event. Everybody gets something out of it. The kids get to run around outside. The older adults get to wist about days gone by, and the guys like me get to just hang out a bit.




Church

I'm not particularly religious and am flirting with outright atheism but I can't say the same for the fam and like the banquet. Who the hell am I to take that away from them. If they want to end it on a Sunday after prayer with one of my family's many reverends fine by me. Take 'em to church.

Intimacy
One of the things that always intimidated me about the family reunion is that I have a large extended family and honestly there are a lot of people there who I don't particularly care to interact with. I'm sorry but if I haven't heard from you in 5 years chances are yes I have forgotten your name. And yes doing the who are you again mambo is kind of awkward.

That's not why I go. I go because it's great opportunity for me to reconnect with the much smaller circle of people who I just don't get to talk to as much as I like for whatever reason.  Because of that I feel that the reunions have to have a place to facilitate those more intimate conversations and that's only going to happen if we admit that not everything can be for the entire brigade. Not everything can be a giant party. And like I said before the con scene has that on lock.

Usual But Not Mandatory Events
Quick Hits

  • Fish Fry
  • Meet and Great
  • River Cruise
  • Golf 
  • Bowling
  • Poker Game 
  • Breakfast
  • Kid Swim Time
  • City Tour
  • All but in Name Room Open House

None of those are as institutionalized but they're stuff people like and if the planning process is open stuff people will generally ask for.  There is a part of me that thinks I'm an introverted freak for that past part but really as I think about most of my thoughts on the matter aren't so out of the ordinary. People like breaking into smaller groups and having some fun.

But a lot of those events aren't fun to me so let's go through some other suggestions.

Stuff I Would Like To See

Pub/Club Crawl

This is a recent idea from the last couple of reunions and it always hits a brick wall for the same reason. One avoidable problem, transportation. A lot of the people being in their early 20's might not have cars and almost definitely wouldn't have driven them out of town, so transportation becomes a nightmare and the plan falls through.

If you plan it early and rent a charter bus you can avoid that problem. Boom. Pub Crawl.

Rave/Club Night
Like I said before I would like to chop up the banquet into three parts. The first would be the banquet for most of the older crowd. Than maybe a old school dance for folks in the middle. And then for the 35 and under crowd a late night wild ass rave.


Breaking it up would let each group know exactly what they were getting into. You wouldn't get young folks bored at the Isley Brothers and old people outraged at Jason Derulo. Everybody would get the party they wanted.

Movie Night
Simple to explain a room that shows movies. You schedule stuff in advance maybe even polling the family about what they want to watch and when so you can get some good stuff. Maybe even a few movies that are hard to find.
 

You would have to program it right though.



Video Game Tourney/LAN Party/D&D Room/Card Game Tourney


The hardest part of this would be the kid problem. No matter what you tell people they hear video games they think kids. And it would downright piss me off if I actually managed to make this work only to have a bunch of parents screaming at me later that they didn't want their kids playing M rated games or that they're kids got locked out by more experienced players.

It might be a good idea to just play it like pools and have adult and kids swim on this one.

And while I'm at it the same basic set up would apply to TGC's, Role Playing Games, sports and any competitive activity I might want to throw in there.

FINISH HIM!

But like with movies you would have to program it right. What's the game. DOA, Soul Caliber, Smash Brothers, Mario Party, Mario Kart, WoW, Warcraft 3Starcraft 2, Diablo, Rise of NationsMinecraft, Total War, Civilization, Call of Duty, Halo, Madden, Saints Row, GTA, Doom, Street Fighter 2  or good old fashioned PowerstoneWhat?

You need to give people some lead time to practice or even bring their own rig and buy the game if we're doing a LAN thing. Heck even if they aren't it would be good to agree on what the games would be ahead of time so nobody wastes any money buying a game nobody wants to play.

You know for real kicks you could have the competitors and one room and another room for spectators. You know TV and controllers in one and maybe a projector and even live streaming in another.

Yeah you could even do a few overlays if you had the right gear.

I'm getting ahead of myself.

Anime Night

Hey I said I was basing this off Youmacon. It would be kind of cool to marathon Cowboy Bebop...or Bacanno... or Beck or Hellsing... or Fujiko Mine ... you get the point is all I'm thinking.

Also it has the same problem as the video game tournament a lot of people think cartoons=kids and if a bunch of us decide to have a late night Rin marathon some idiot is going to drop off their kid and then yell at everybody else for showing them that.

It's got to be programmed in advance with some sort of rating system.

Basketball Tournament

I'll be honest Everything up until this point has been about injecting stuff I dig into this thing but you know what surprises me. Despite how much I know my family digs sports specifically basketball we haven't just bit the bullet and made a basketball tourney a regular thing we do at these things. It wouldn't even be that hard to organize. Just figure out the size of the court maybe the player count on the teams and build a roster and bracket with maybe a few age divisions. Boom. I can think of no fewer than 5 guys qualified to ref the damn thing off the top of my head.

P.S. One idea I didn't think of until after I wrote this was having three permanent merchant accounts. One for the reunion 3 years away, one for the reunion 2 years away and one for the reunion 1 year away. A month after each reunion the funds in the accounts would be transferred accordingly.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Television Review: Misfits Series 1 (Spoilers)

It's old but I was in the headspace for it.
Let's do this.



I caught Misfits a while back and it was one of the funniest shows I'd ever watched and I was in the mood to laugh.

There is a lot to like about the show and it was fun to revisit it. I guess the best place to start is the set up.

The Set Up
So a group of teenagers and young adults are doing court ordered community service when a freak storm hits. The storm grants them and a bunch of other people...powers.  Since the show is heavy on the superhero refences that's the right word but a lot of the powers are pretty weird. And Funny, and Weird.

On top of that almost every one of the main cast members are in some form or another dysfunctional.  These are not your save the world types and they know it. Or as one of the characters, Nathan puts it, "You lot superheroes? No offence, but in what kind of fucked up world would that be allowed to happen."

But here is the thing each of the superpowers is tied to the character's own personal baggage and while being relatively light the show is often about them learning to get over it.

Tony The First Probation Worker
Before I get into each of the Misfit's hang ups I feel I need to talk about Tony the probation worker. As his shadow hangs over most of the show. The power he gets is basically uncontrollably Hulking out. Of course his anger issues create the problem of most of the first and for that matter second seasons.

Tony's not a bad guy especially in contrast to the later probation workers who are... kind of assholes. But he's got a temper that he's been struggling to control and the storm messes him up somethin' fierce.

In self-defense the kids off him but rather than call the cops who they feel probably won't believe a bunch of "anti-socials" anyway they decide to just bury the body out back.

If the first season had any sort of an overarching plot it would be the cover up serving as a catalyst for character development. Sort of like a messed up Breakfast Club.


Also while I'm at it there is a later episode where Tony comes back as a ghost and seems pretty well adjusted about the whole affair once he gets over the shock of it all. Like I said even though he gets mad at the kids he's probably the nicest and most competent probation worker the show had.

Let's Meet The Misfits
So again the emotional plot of the story is these guys figuring out that its them vs the world and dispite there reservations they actually need each other.  So lets go with it.

Nathan
Nathan is a walking id. Not in the Hulk smash sense but he's the kind of guy who's going to say and do whatever he wants no matter what.

And most of the time that means he gets saddled with the funny lines.  He's kind of like Eric Cartman except not evil.  He's not a bad guy he just can't stop himself. In real life Nathan would be annoying as all hell but the writing is so good that you can't help but like him. His lines are really really really funny. And his actor Robert Sheehan has damn near perfect comedic timing.

In most of the shows character interaction moments Nathan is the proactive one and everybody else is more or less reacting to him. The other characters are put off at first but again he's not a bad guy and his is really really funny. Did I mention that yet. He takes things the least seriously and can act as comedic relief whenever things get too heavy.

Again everybody's power is tied to their personalities and Nathan's is perfect for the kind of stunts he pulls. But its also the last to be revealed and the arc of being the only guy without a discernible power is pretty funny.

Simon
So Simon was bullied alot. How he wound up with community service is by peeing through a letter box but his back story is really interesting. See one night one of the guys who bullied him drunk dialed him and Simon thought they were going to go for a beer and that would be the end of it. Well again the guy was drunk and said some stuff and it caused Simon to snap. He decided to burn down the guy's house. He threw the tinder into the guy's letter box but as it was starting to burn he noticed the cat panicking and thought. "The cat never hurt me."  and put the fire out the fastest way he could think to.

Simon gets a lot of the character development out of the series and that moment sums him up so perfectly. Simon is socially awkward and is really frustrated by it. Most of the people around him don't do him any favors on that count either, but he's also the most emphatic of the group eventually evolving into the most moral of them.

He never really stops being the shy awkward kid but he also moves beyond it. Also the casting was great. Because of how Simon looks and acts the audience never knows which side he's going to shake out on and when he's the guy stopping everybody else from crossing the line even though he's played by the same guy as Ramsay Snow it sends a message. He's creepy but there is more to him than that.

Simon is desperate for friends, and his arc is learning that his path to that is being the good guy. That's all he needs and the rest will follow. Out of everybody he most embraces the role of the superhero.

All the same he really wants to be noticed and his power is invisibility, which kicks in when he mostly feels ignored anyway. Eventually he loses invisibility and gets precognition. I always felt that the idea to shift powers made the show lose its personality powers angle but with Simon it makes sense.

Curtis
Curtis was training to be a U.K. Olympian when he got caught with coke. As everybody else is quick to point out "Nobody gets community service for just one vial." Don't he know it. His catch phrase through most of everybody's shenanigans is an exasperated "I'm not even suppose to be here." The judged decided to make an example out of him since he had such a high profile giving him a two year ban in his best years.

He's pissed that his life as an athlete is more or less over. While he's not a saint he's the most normal of the group.  He's still got his baggage. Curtis regrets. He can't move past his mistakes. He just wants to do it all over again and so that the power he gets. Mental time travel which kicks in whenever he desperately wants a do over, whenever he can't get over his guilt.

Over the course of the series he gets into the swing of things and becomes less and less the straight man. Later in the show Nathan's actor left and the comedy duties were split between him and another character who I'm not going to talk about right now.

Kelly
Kelly puts up a good front but she is really insecure. The first rule of combat is get in the first punch. So that's what she does. The moment she thinks somebody is having a go at her she lashes out.  And she gains the ability to know exactly what people think of her and most of the time it aint good.

Her arc is basically about her learning to give people a chance. Even when their thoughts betray them they might just surprise her. For instance Nathan is a horndog but eventually gains genuine affection for her and once she and yes he can get over the "She knows I want to shag her" stuff they make a pretty good couple.

It doesn't matter so much what other people think about her.

Alisha
Here is the thing. Alisha craves attention and uses her sexuality to get it. Its what she does. But living like that has its downsides and her power explores that. Nathan will jokingly airhump at the drop of a hat for laughs but Alisha will deliberately try to turn everybody else on buy "fellating" a water bottle and faking orgasm.

The condition of being sexy makes her feel good. And as much as a lot of people hate to admit it feeling good is good. But sex does obscure actual human intimacy. She can never tell if guys are interested in her or that thing.

..

Her power makes anybody she touches want to have debauched sex with her, giving her a crash course in practical sex ed.

That said this isn't the type of show that's going to condemn sex period it just wants to portray a character who doesn't have it all figured out yet and show her slowly doing just that. Figure out the thin line between love and lust without condemning either except in one case I'll get to later.

The Dynamic (At least for the First Series)
I more or less already described the plot of the show but again what makes it is the characters and how they interact. Curtis and Kelly generally plays the straight men to Nathan and Alisha.

With Simon hanging back and lampshading various superhero and movie tropes while being ignored and told to shut up right up until the point when those superhero and movie tropes start running the show.


He was the first one to compare the group to superheroes.

Old People Need Relationships Too

I'm trying to figure out the best way to do this and I think is run down interesting themes and ideas. Apart from the set up the first two episodes focus a lot on Nathan and his problems at home.

It takes a lot to get Nathan down. The guy can bounce back from anything and has a comeback at the ready for just about any shot anybody is going to take at him. In a weird way he's the most well adjusted or at least the least insecure of the cast but at lot of folks aren't like that.

His give 'em hell attitude has been causing rifts between his mom and her many attempted relationships after his Dad left. She thinks she found the one and wants to make it work so she kicks him out and the first few episodes are about him dealing with that.

One of the community service trip involves going to an old folks home and helping out where he meets a knock out. Did I mention Nathan is a horndog and The Misfits weren't the only ones to get powers.

"I SHAGGED SOMEONE'S GRAN!"

Like I said powers tend to be based on the personalities and hang ups of their recipients and one elderly lady just wanted to be young again. So she was. In trying to get over it he realizes that despite age people aren't so different and his mom is justified in wanting to have a life separate from him in particular wanting to find someone.

"Woman your age, if you don't settle down before your looks go you got no chance."

She Who Hunts Monsters
So Tony had a girlfriend. Sally and she takes his death not particularly well.


But here is the rub his death was totally self defense. In the show Curtis does his time travel stuff and sees first hand how that day could have gone the other way. The show is explicit if Tony hadn't have died The Misfits would have.

All the same because of how they handled it there is no real way to tell Sally that. To her, these kids are a bunch of murderers who need to get got and as the show goes on it becomes more and more clear the cops are not going to facilitate that.

Sally becomes the show's first villain. Not the show's first supervillian but the first largely external force of the show. Up until she starts doing her thing most of the problems were caused by the cast's own insecurities and in some cases downright stupidity and subsequently are solved when they stop acting like idiot teenagers but that isn't the solution for this problem.

For better or worse the reason why the cops won't investigate more is because Simon oddly enough is really smart about cover ups.  For instance he has the idea to steal Tony's credit card and use it so the cops don't think he's dead just on vacation somewhere. It's a TV show just go with it.

In another show or movie Sally would be the heroine especially contrasted with Simon's general creepyness.


Simon In The Dark
See here is the thing about Simon he actually is a creepy mofo and at the start of the series is kind of off. Remember he's there on an arson charge. But like I said in his character description he is the most empathetic and desperate for friends of the cast. His greatest desire is to be a part of the group and because of that he's intensely loyal to anybody who shows him a hint of human kindness. "The cat never did anything to hurt me."

Sally realizes this and works a Machiavellian plot to ingratiate herself with him enough that he will let stuff go or even better for her decide to turn on the group as a whole.

Here is the thing I really really related to Simon. In a way his vulnerability of "Because you were nice to me" is one of my same vulnerabilities and and her machinations hit me kind of in the gut, especially since at this point other than the stuff that landed him with community service in the first place, he hasn't really done much wrong.

Sally tries to seduce Simon, literally, remember Simon is a nerdy kid who doesn't now how to deal with that type of attention, into admitting what happened to Tony and giving up the rest of the group as she to prays on the darker aspects of his personality pointing out that they treat him like shit and it would be a good way to strike back at them.

But despite it all Simon considers the group the first real friends he's had and it becomes clear he doesn't have it in him to betray them.

She finds Simon's phone with video of idiot Nathan talking about the murder and in a matter of seconds every shoe that could drop does. Simon figures out her plot and when it becomes clear he's not going to just go with it she smashes his head into a mirror.

From there there is a fight for the phone and Simon accidentally kills her on a door handle, all while looking like the psycho killer he's afraid he is.

And like I said before he has a creepy talent for covering up murder so for the next few episodes into season 2 he's carrying that and it makes him sort of bitter whenever any of the rest of the case go with their normal teasing.

He's killed for them. And moreover he's the type of guy that destroys. I'm not talking about season 2 but more or less the entire point of the first episode is to rebuild him afterwards into a better, stronger person than his season one counterpart after what for most of the show will be the lowest and worst moment of his life.

Alisha and Curtis
So there's a relationship nobody so coming. Well by the third episode its established that the two have a real chemistry with one another and find each other sexually attractive.  But there is one major hick up. Remember Curtis is the straight man to the rest of the casts craziness and does not view sex as casually as everybody else. And he's not wrong about that.

But remember sex is the primary way Alisha experiences male appreciation. She knows Curtis is into her but is thrown off her game by the fact that he's not instantly up for doing the horizontal mambo.

It's not as though she has some way to magically make him get over it and... oh... she wouldn't...

Curtis justifiably does not take it well. The show is clear here he feels that she raped him.

"You can't be doin' that to people! THAT WASN'T ME!"

But he eventually gets over it and they carry on a fairly sweet relationship for a while.

The situation also leads Alisha to have some character development. Like I said for her sex has always been a good thing. This is the first time in her life where its bitten her in the ass and made her ruminate a little. The show for the most part still comes down clearly on the side of sex-positivity (one of the running jokes of the show is finding ways for Alisha and Curtis to be sexual and sensual with each other without actually physically touching) , but also seems to find Alisha's sex is the way I feel good about myself views flawed and juvenile.

Curtis Let It Be
It's subtle but the reason for Curtis exasperation at everybody else is that he's fully aware that he just ruined his life and feels like ass about it. It's ripping him up. Normally life has no do overs. But that's not the case for Curtis. His guilt activates his power almost every time he flashes back in the first season it's because he's realized he made a bonehead move and wants to fix it.

The fourth episode allows him to go back and fix the big one. He goes back to the night he was caught with drugs and tries to manipulate things so he doesn't get caught but slowly realizes he's a butterfly of doom. The first time he goes back ends up getting his then girlfriend. But the second trip has the bigger consequence. In the first episode Curtis in disbelief of a panicking Kelly opened a door allowing Tony to get in and brain her. His power kicked in giving him just enough time to convince everybody that Tony had gone nuts and react.

If he doesn't get caught, he's not there and Simon, Alisha, and Kelly die.

After some rumination he comes to realize despite whatever mistakes he's made, or how his life turns out he has a life, a life that matters and he needs to let go of the past and realize not everything, especially not past events that have already transpired lies within his control.



People Are Flawed. Deal With It.
If the show has any sort of grand thesis it is that people are more than their worst traits and that you can't just fix them. For better or worse people are the sum of their parts and changing a part fundamentally changes the person.  Like it or not you have to deal with people warts and all.

The show thrives in the gray.  Nobody is wholly bad. Nobody is wholly good. People are just people. We do things and things happen.

Episode six is probably the smartest, most fun episode in the first series. A girl who gets picked on because of her conservitive views gets the ability to more or less ...eh how many of you have watched Code Geass. Well she's Lelouch.


She thinks that at the end of the day the world is a better place without all that pesky sin so she more or less brainwashes people into well ...Cardigan wearing pod people. And its up to the Misfits to slap everybody out of it.

What's interesting is that the last men standing are Simon and Nathan and its Nathan who gives the big speech.



Once you scrape off all the Nathanness of its an argument for free will and individualism and since its Nathan giving this speech its lampshades that both of those things are not about being good or being right but about being yourself.

That a person who is accepts themselves and their flaws is generally better off than someone who is in denial of them, and more over no outside agent has the right to take that away from people by forcing their version of morality upon them.

And then spoilery stuff happens so I guess I'll leave it here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Southfield Police Citizen Observer July 14-20, 2014

July 23, 2014 League of Woman Voters Michigan 35th State Congressional District Debate

On July 23, 2014, the League of Woman Voters held a Candidate Forum at the Southfield Public Library, allowing for debate between Michigan 35th District democratic candidates, Darryle Buchanan, Nicole Brown, Jeremy Moss, and Charles Roddis.

The debate featured questions relating to, proposal 1, The SMART public transportation millage, budgeting, and education.

All of the candidates were in opposition to the Education Achievement Authority Board, EAA with Buchanan, a former Southfield Board of Education member, calling it, "A Tuskegee experiment on our children".

Moss said, "The EAA has been an administrative and public relations disaster."

The candidates differed on the issue of the upcoming SMART millage vote. While all of the candidates stated that they were in favor of public transportation Roddis, who works in finance with the River Rouge school district and Brown, an assistant prosecuting attorney were hesitant about a tax increase. Roddis in particular was wary of how it might affect lower and middle income families who do not use public transportation.

Moss cited the lack of public transportation as a hindrance on the region's economic growth and was fully in support of the millage.

Brown was in favor of proposal 1 but with reservations feeling that the initiative would not replace all of the funds from the repeal of the personal property tax. Moss, a sitting Southfield councilman was more in favor of it stating that the repeal of the property tax without the measures in proposition 1 would be a "$9 million hit to (the city's) budget."

Buchanan had a similar sentiment and said regarding the Southfield Board of Education, "we've cut into the fat, we've cut into the bone, and now we've cut into the bone."

On the issue Roddis said, "As a Democrat you have to vote yes. It's essential."

All of the candidates were in opposition to fraking in Michigan with many of them bringing up environmental concerns and the conservation of the State's lakes.  Moss also pointed to a resolution the Southfield City Council passed on the issue.

All of the candidates said they would fight to repeal Right to Work legislation and the senior pension tax.

Moss, Roddis, Brown and Buchanan said they were pro choice with Brown adding that she would work to repeal Michgan's abortion insurance law.  Moss also said that he felt that pay inequality was a form of discrimination.

Information about when the debate will be rebroadcast will be eventually posted to the League of Woman Voter's Website.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Southfield July 21, 2014 Regular City Council Meeting


Regular City Council Meeting held in Southfield, Michigan on July 21, 2014
Topics Include

  • A Tax Abatement From Maxitrol
  • A Tax Abatement for Federal-Mogul
  • A Site Plan For the Miracle League Concessions Building

An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Southfield City Council July 21, 2014 Committee of the Whole Meeting



City Council Meeting Held In Southfield Michigan on July 22, 2014

Topics Include

  • 11-Mile and Inkster Construction
  • Administrative Changes to the Building Department and the Involvement of an Evaluation Firm


An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Frozen, Paranorman, Jumanji and Bullies AKA. Life Sucks But That Doesn't Mean You Have To Be an Asshole About It (Spoilers Abound)

Okay so upon supsequent viewing Frozen is actually getting better to me. Partially because I'm in the head space for it right now. Like I said I really really like Elsa and Frozen almost seems to be written as a guide book on how I and people like me should deal with certain hang ups.


So yeah that made me tear up a little. At its core its a movie about dealing with isolation and the fear of not being accepted as who you are.  I almost wish I had this thing 20 years ago. The closest I got as a kid was Jumanji.


Part of me doesn't want to talk about that movie as it would wind up being 1500 words of "I have daddy issues" and God knows I've done that enough but yeah it warrants a talking about. So the movie is about Alan a kid who gets the crap kicked out of him on a daily basis and goes to his dad for protection. And his dad, though well meaning gives him the worse advice he could and Alan goes along with it knowing exactly what's going to happen because the kids outside aren't the only bullies he has to deal with.

Yep the movie makes this explicit by having the big antagonist, at least the big human antagonist anyway be a caricature of everything Alan fears (which also happens to be a lot of my own hang ups) about his Dad, being even played by the same actor and his "victory" at the end of the movie is a great big ole metaphor for him gaining the guts to stand up to him.


I'm kind of jealous of kids today. In my day most of the media we had about how to deal with bullies was crap advice that had no real meaning. The sort of pandering touchy feely crap that would get your ass kicked. Yes you should stand up to bullies but not because standing up to them will magically make it stop and make them your friends but because not standing up to them and giving them the power to control your day or when things get really bad your life is no way to live.   All the same as an authority figure I do feel kind of guilty.

See as a substitute teacher I can't always act as the ref I would like to be, putting an end to the bulling that kind of messed me up as a kid. I don't have the benefit of knowing the class well enough to figure out who started an inciting incident if I don't actually catch it myself and in a class that mostly doesn't respect me anyway with kids who may or may not be doing things that are actually dangerous that demand my immediate attention often the best I can hope for is to try to do damage control as fairly as I can in the name of order. There is nothing in the universe that hates order more than a class of rowdy 1st graders.

I don't want to harp on it but it bears saying the hardest challenge of that job, at least for me, is figuring out how to divvy out attention to students who need it, deserve it, and demand it. And well sometimes that slider just can't pan out as well as I would like it to.

For instance sometimes there is a student who wants and is accepting help on an assignment but my attention gets grabbed from them by the student flicking crayons at everybody in the back row and I have to spend 10 minutes in a stupid circular argument with that guy because he's keeping everybody else from getting anything done and left unchecked will cause... well one of those inciting incidents I was talking about.

And I would be lying if I didn't say that as a member of the human species, I have my limits too. Sometimes a stupid kiddy fight is obviously a stupid kiddy fight and I just can't help but be annoyed that so much trouble is being caused by something as small as losing/borrowing/stealing a pencil. Once I had to negotiate giving away 5 of my own stock to stop a fight in its tracks.

Part of me would like to ban pencils for all the fights they've caused but then that would be bad. And for the record as a guy who was there I know that sometimes a fight about a pencil isn't really a fight about a pencil. All the same...

But back to the movies.

So Frozen hit me at juuust the right time, with just the right script, to give me an emotional gut punch but I feel the movie in one regard didn't have guts to follow through.

See both the marketing and the narrative itself plays with the idea of Elsa going evil. Basically saying screw all ya'll and becoming well the "Snow Queen" but in the movie itself Elsa never seems to go in that direction, not even a little. Sure she's frustrated and sometimes angry but she never seems to be wrong in that frustration and anger. Remember she didn't freeze Arendelle on purpose and is just as panicked as everybody else when she realizes the trouble she caused.

To put it another way Elsa never goes dark.  I'm going to be honest all the bullying and crap I went through has made me somewhat of a jaded cynical bastard. And there was a period of my life and mentality, which yes does on occasion come back when I'm pissed enough, where all of that stuff caused me to be apathetic and mildly amoral. Let's just say on my bad days I look and sound a like like Al Swearengen.




Most of my idealism or what idealism I have left is in effect me trying to fight my own demons and somehow wind up on the side  of the angels come the last battle.



But you know what movie did have the way to go full Nelson on that one. Where the villain is somebody who got screwed with too many times and for legitimate reasons now just wants to watch the world burn.

See the thing that solves the problem in Paranorman is that the protagonist is just enough like the villain and sees enough of himself in her to want to help her. I don't mean he wants to help her raze the town. Nope he wants to help her land on her feet. He knows what she's doing now isn't right but how she was treated before wasn't right either. There has to be a middle path and the movie finds it. Forgiveness. In the third act his brave brilliant decision is to try to talk to "The Witch" and get her to forgive the slights against her and move past it all, to get her to a place where she is no longer an enemy to all of humanity, is what provides the movie with it's best possible outcome.


While Paranorman is a good but not great movie the decision to basically make the big climatic action fight basically talking someone with legit beef out of a locked room took some balls. There are so many easier paths to story could have taken and for the first half, yeah that looked like that was the way it was going to go, but nope they took the hard one.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Just So We're Clear on One of The Reasons Why I Like Frozen

Skip to about 4 minutes in. Oh and by the way when winter comes and ice has mucked up the porch steps who do you think spends hours trying to hammer, pick, chop and whatever it is off. Part of me would like to take a blowtorch to it but then it would just refreeze worse and there are other concerns. Nope playing with fire is bad.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Southfield July 14, 2014 City Council Meeting


July 14, 2014 Southfield City Council Meeting
Topics Include

  • Michigan Ballot Proposal 1
  • The Brownfield Plan For the Former St. Bede Property
  • The Miracle League Concession Building
  • Smart Zone Economic Development


An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Michigan State Representative Discusses Michigan Proposal 1 With Southfield CIty Council



On the August 2014 Ballot Proposal 1 Will Be Put To the Voters. According to the Detroit Free Press It Reads

APPROVAL OR DISAPPROVAL OF AMENDATORY ACT TO REDUCE STATE USE TAX AND REPLACE WITH A LOCAL COMMUNITY STABILIZATION SHARE TO MODERNIZE THE TAX SYSTEM TO HELP SMALL BUSINESSES GROW AND CREATE JOBS
The amendatory act adopted by the Legislature would:
1. Reduce the state use tax and replace with a local community stabilization share of the tax for the purpose of modernizing the tax system to help small businesses grow and create jobs in Michigan.
2. Require Local Community Stabilization Authority to provide revenue to local governments dedicated for local purposes, including police safety, fire protection, and ambulance emergency services.
3. Increase portion of state use tax dedicated for aid to local school districts.
4. Prohibit Authority from increasing taxes.
5. Prohibit total use tax rate from exceeding existing constitutional 6% limitation.
Should this law be approved?

On July 14, 2014 Michigan State Representative Vicki Barnett (Dem) and a representative from the Michigan Municipal League made a presentation to the Southfield City Council in hopes of explaining the ballot language and what the proposal will do.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Anime Review: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: First Gig (Holy Navel Gazing Batman Oh and Spoilers)

So I want to talk about my favorite western  animated movie. Except I already did. Titan A.E.



Ah good times.

So let's see what else do I have to work with? Screw it. Wagons East!

Let's get with that cyberpunk night I promised myself.

Okay so when ever I talk cyberpunk I'm probably going to name drop one of two things. But here is something you have to remember. I came of age in the minst of the anime boom so I didn't see Blade Runner until college. Cut me some slack. It was made before I was born. But you want to know what I did see.




Even then, while I like the movie, what blew my mind was the series, Stand Alone Complex. And it hit right around the time when I was becoming interested in computers and the internet was starting to look more or less like it does now.

See in the early 2000's the internet was starting to become a thing everybody had and used. You didn't have to explain what email was anymore you could just ask, "what's your email address". And the show seemed to be the best I'd seen at articulating all of the changes I saw around me.

How this non-physical space which until now was thought of as wholly separated from reality now was affecting the world in ways that could no longer be ignored as distinct from that reality.

This show reads like Nostradamus' quatrains.


And it was damn cool. Oh classic Adult Swim how I miss thee.

Seriously my 16-year-old head exploded.

Largely I think the reason was the world it created. Ghost in the Shell presents a world where the digital has been so integrated into society that it's impossible to view it as distinct from it. There is no longer a line separating digital avatars and the actions they take in that space versus their real world counterparts. And yeah that's where I thought and still think the world is headed. It's our future and arguably our present. I may have separate email and twitter accounts but all of them still represent different aspects of real world me as I act through them.

Let's Meet Section 9
So the show and the movie largely revolve around with the adventures of Public Security Section 9, a cyber-terrorism task force as they try to do their jobs.

That job is largely to protect the status quo, to keep the bad guy of the day from using, abusing, manipulating, or revealing the types of information that sort of networked world makes available for those with the skill and interest in it.

The first episode deals with the group trying to stop a terrorist from using a politician's, Japan's Minister of Foreign Affairs, sexual fetishes to kidnap him and pull a Manchurian Candidate by swapping out his brain case. Or in real world terms think about all the shit that could happen if President Obama's cell phone got hacked. All the texts, emails and tweets that would carry presidential authority before anybody figured out it wasn't actually him.

Which is why secret service protocol is the POTUS doesn't get a iPhone.

Almost nobody is going tell someone they think is the president no. Think of all the the crazy insan...that's the plot for another movie me thinks.

Alright but let's do this

Aramaki- He's the brains of the outfit. He's an older dude and doesn't do much field work but has the Rolodex-O-Power. Whenever our guys need assurances that they won't be punished for breaking protocol, going outside of the chain of command or eventually going after government corruption Aramaki, the Chief is the guy who makes it happen.

He also tends to be the smartest guy in the room and remember this is a political thriller featuring g-men, hackers, and cabinet ministers so that's saying something. The reason why he has that Rolodex-O-Power is because everybody knows he's probably the smartest guy in all of Japan at least when it comes to sheer clock speed. Once he has the pieces he can figure just about anything out, and formulate a counter plan that will take everybody else about 10 minutes of story time to understand let alone foil.

Despite that he's mostly in the background acting as the big good when the rest of the team can't figure things out by themselves. Since he's thought of as being the the country's intellectual powerhouse he's a busy guy and can't micromanage them. His showing up is normally the cue that things have the potential to get really bad and that somebody on the inside might be working against them.

The Major- She has a name, Matoko Kusanagi nobody calls her by it so I'm not. She is the face of the franchise and is normally the mouthpiece for all of its heady philosophy. Case in point in almost every version of Ghost in the Shell she is mildly insecure about the fact that she's a cyborg and her body is almost completely artificial.  Is this Robocop still human? How much of her is her. Or to get into specifics. She could choose just about any model that's functional but tends to stick with a female casing. Why? In a lot of ways she is the eponymous Ghost in the Shell.

That having been said while its still there that is not the focus of her character here. At least the human after all bit. For that watch the movie.

She's professional and somewhat aloof but when shit hits the fan it's clear her team matters to her. She's a cipher and a good portion of her arc is about her team figuring her out.  Realizing that though it might not look like it she is more than just the job. She may hide it but she does have it in her to be sentimental.

In a lot of ways her personality is like a younger more physical Aramaki. She's still smart, probably the second smartest person in any room featuring her boss but she is also the show's highest ranking field agent. In the action scenes she's the one leading the charge and giving commands.

Aramaki may come up with the plan but The Major executes it, flawlessly I might add.

Batou- He has a few roles. First off he's The Major's best friend being the only person to really call her by her name and as such is the person on the team most likely to give her the benefit of the doubt when the plan calls for some risks. He's the walking proof that she isn't the unfeeling robot the series makes her out to be.

All the same he is also probably the guy with the most military experience and questions authority the most often as he and people he cares about have been screwed over A LOT.

Overall the plot is about the team making the decision that the status quo, which it's their job to protect, on occasion isn't always worth protecting and he's the guy who is most outraged at government corruption as it is soldiers like him who end up paying the price when policy gets set by self-interest and personal greed. These are the guys he risks his life to protect and more potently cover for?

In general he tends to be the most emotional of the group. Everyone else is able to stay detached, stoic. But Batou feels. And through that feeling regrets. Why do people, why do we, keep making the same mistakes? When tragedy hits he's the guy who takes it the hardest because he feels he was in a position to do something about it and didn't.

Togusa: The thing about Togusa is that he has the least prosthetics and cybernetics of anyone of the team. The show downplays The Major's human after all act for Togusa's mild inferioity complex. This show was made nearly a decade after the movie and in this day and age not having computers puts you at a disadvantage.

All the same Togusa acts as the heart of the team. Without all of that "gear" risks for him are more real than they are to the rest of the team and everybody knows it.  When he says, "this must be done and if you won't I will" it signals how important things are, and can force the team to question themselves and enter action.

He also rounds out the team being the most normal of them. He's the guy who closest to the series' probable audience, a running joke is that he is a guy from another age, an old-school cop and family man who wouldn't feel out of place in Lethal Weapon, who holds his own among these machine men who can bench probably three times as much as he can.

While there are others on the team these are the most important and have the most distinct personalities.

Trans-humanism and Digital Dualism
So while there is a plot the first few episodes serve introduce the world and get the audience used to the series' motifs.

The big innovation of the series is cyberization. The interfacing of the human brain directly to computers by mapping and grafting the biological onto the digital. And what makes the series tech even more interesting is that they've taken it further. Since the human brain is basically a computer it can interface directly with other brains.

This is fundamental change in the human experience.

The mind apart from perhaps the body is the most intimate space I can imagine. One of my common idioms is "My head is a dangerous place". If I were to invoke God or something and go for a tree of knowledge metaphor, which I won't because the tech in this show is so damn cool and I don't like saying there are places science shouldn't go, this would be it.

Opening up your mind directly to the rest of the world is dangerous and the show explores that in depth but also relishes all the stuff it allows our protagonists to do. The entire world becomes a GUI but its more than that. Its complete augmented reality. Sounds, sensations, recorded thoughts and impressions. All of that can be used to improve the experience of life.

In this show a director who can't find funding creates the perfect movie in his mind. The movie is so splendid that people spend their entire lives interfacing with his brain preferring to die than walk out of the flick.

Still though a door once opened can be walked through in either direction.

The only thing keeping our brains from being hacked now is that we don't have machines that can interface with them and that acts as a natural firewall. If I really wanted to build the most secure network on the planet I would probably build it out of old gear nobody knows how to program anymore and is incompatible with modern languages anyway.  Of course that would severely limit its functionality, bringing into question the old security vs convenience dilemma. There is a reason why nobody still uses punch cards.

What happens when the mind itself is no longer private, when it rather than the body becomes the interface through which we interact with the world?

Since the transmission of data and ideas has become so easy we are living in a world where more and more those ideas and the minds that birthed them are less and less limited by the physical body. The sound of my voice is not bound by the the location of my mouth.

All the same the body isn't completely divorced from my concept of self. I am both more than my mind and more than my body. In a world where the tools we use to interact with the world are digital constructs and fabrications what role does our physical biological bodies play?

We are living in a world where the mind and the ideas it creates do on occassion live divorced from the body. I write a lot. Would it be possible after my death for somebody to reconstruct my mind from my recorded thoughts. THIS AINT CAPRICA MILES. Though there is that one episode where a South American guerrilla clones his mind and sticks the copies into prosthetic bodies to keep the spirit of revolution alive after his many assassinations.

Anyway like I said the show didn't have to work very hard to make it's point of digital transhumanism. That's not its purpose if your watching your probably already in the mindset to explore the division between the physical body and the digital mind. And that was what the movie and original manga were for anyway.

What You Know, What You Think You Know, and What Is
Part of me wishes J-schools would be bold enough to show this thing in class and analyze it. Part of Section-9's job is to deal with things before they get to the media. And we get more than a few information wars in this show.

Since Aramaki has everybody in his contact list he's generally the most informed about everything and has to make decisions on who needs to know what and also when he needs to straight up lie in order to manipulate someone for the greater good.

He has to predict what people will do with the information available to them and also assume everyone else is doing the same calculus as he is.   He's king of psyops and information misdirection. Like I said clock speed.

See as I said a lot of the episodes deal with political blackmail, so nobody wants to tell him everything even when not knowing is going to put his guys in danger or risk the operation. So as the group in the field finds stuff out he often has to bluff how much he knows and how much he doesn't to get a fuller picture, and on occasion also bluff that things are bad enough that he would or in some cases already has gone to the press, since we're talking some career ending stuff here.

Of course the press is mostly state controlled anyway so even then he has to do political calculus. How important is the g-man of the week to the political status quo and how likely is it the system will save him? How expendable are these guys?

Also how good is whoever he's bluffing at jumping through the same logic hoops he is. How well are they able to assess their own political importance and how much should he arm twist before the people around him realize he's got nothing.

Or on the other end of things if he overplays his hand he becomes more of a problem than a solution and even bigger fish might come around to swallow him whole. While people tend to keep him around because he solves problems they also don't like that they need him so there is always the chance that if he steps too far out of line scary things will happen. It's not paranoia when four out of five characters are espionage agents that probably hate his guts and would prefer to permanently seal the vault that is his mind. Though that's stuff is mostly the 2nd Gig (season).

The Laughing Man
I'll get to who The Laughing Man is later but right now I want to talk about what The Laughing Man is.

Anything digital can be manipulated. Especially in transit from one computer to another. It's that simple. The Laughing Man is a superhacker who has godlike power in this digital world because he can hack directly into people's brains. Again the transmission of digital data has implications for the physical world.

And we're not just talking about the obvious make 'em do what you want type deal. A hacker who's smart wants to infiltrate a system and gain access to its information. Sure a computer's credentials on a larger network might be useful but the valuable thing is the information and data contained within, and if a hacker reveals himself the opportunity to gain more of it will be lost as security is increased.  Or think about it like this. What if your head had a key logger. And we're not just talking your internal monologues. Every visual image of the eye, every sound of the ear, every sensation of the skin, every thought even the non-linguistic ones recorded and transmitted to an outside observer.

My point is that the dude is covert. Most of the people he hacks don't even realize it. Everyone's eyes literally act as his security monitors. And when he does decide to reveal himself he tends to do it in big showy dramatic ways that suggest if he wanted to he could unravel the entire government just with a few leaks.

He is Julian Assange four years before Julian Assange became a thing.

You want to know why people are afraid of that guy watch this show. Oh and the proto-metephor goes deeper but I'll get to that later.

He directly hacks into observers brains and any digital cameras and superimposes his logo over the face of whoever he's using as his puppet so nobody even knows what he looks like.

Since the guy is basically a digital god, in the omniscient, omnipresent sense, the powers that be are scared shitless.

It doesn't help that the guy has gone full on ubermench believing himself to be beyond morality or at least morality as espoused by the government. Well to be honest that's the show in general. As cops our protagonists, especially at first aren't really concerned about  the right or wrong of things. They're job is to enforce the law and protect the government. Morality has little to do with it. It's not their place to judge.

All the same and this the thing that makes him so scary and is key to the case, nobody understands his M.O. Why does he do the things he does? What are his goals? What is his endgame? What does he want?

When The Laughing Man is introduced, the show explains that he's been quiet for six years so nobody was expecting another incident, again adding to their fear when he does show up. You never know when he'll strike and he can't be bargained with.

The Major At Home
You know I want to talk about the scene where the Major is expositioning about the Laughing Man a bit. It's one of the few times we see the Major off the clock when she's reflecting on the case and as such reveals the most about her outside life of the job.

She's relatively well off living in a penthouse above the city, is a lesbian or at the very least is bi and is a bit of a hedonist when off the clock.  The big subtle reveal is that its implied that she's in a polygamous relationship with two girlfriends.

Part of me wants play a lot off that as fan service but it serves the purpose of telling us about who she is outside of the office.

"The Major" is a role she takes on at work, but isn't the whole of who she is.  And the same can be said about her home life as well. It's unclear how "serious" either of these relationships are yet its also clear that there is a genuine affection there.

Since her body isn't her body she doesn't have the hangups most people have about it. It's a piece of hardware to be explored. Or at least that's what I tell myself when she spends half of the series in a "camosuit" that requires her to be half naked, with the exception of a leather jacket over let's call it a tubetop and stockings. Oh god I am a pig.

That said for her character it doesn't feel as exploitative as it usually would since she has brains and a personality and is more than just eye candy. Also I feel all of that other stuff I mentioned is trying make an overt statement about how we attach unnecessary meaning to sexuality. The body is a nothing more than a physical tool to interact with the world but it is not her at least not the important irreplaceable part of her self.

Where We're Headed
While the plot of the show is about the laughing man the show takes its time exploring the ways in which the world has changed to give him so much power.  Let's explore.

Information Is The Reality
In order for society to work instructions and information have to be transmitted. And that transmission is often accepted as a proxy for its source or even its subject. Think about it like this. If I tell you to do something you don't think about the fact that before my voice reaches your ears it has to travel through the medium of air. I am still the one who gave you the command.

Since like it or not we live in communal society communication is necessary and that communication always travels through a medium. Is always transmitted. CAN ALWAYS BEEN HACKED!

How many times have kids played the well so and so "said it was alright game".  Kids don't think about communication theory! They don't think how the operator on the switchboard could control the ... (Miles you're at an eleven I need you at about four.  Remember that thing you said about not wanting to turn in to Izaya aka the guy who talks people into committing suicide by preying on personal information and nearly destroys his home town through rumor mongering both for shits and giggles. Don't be that guy. If Larry Page can control his inner Blofeld so can you. Dude don't be evil.)

Anyway this is made all the more clear by the political structures of the show. How and when they act is based on intelligence. The information they have on hand. It's not the reality they act on but rather the information. The information. The interpretation of available transmittable evidence, is what matters.



The Mind Divorced From The Body
Let's talk transhumanism for a moment. Transhumanism is the idea that sometime probably within our lifetimes the human body and by extension the human experience will transcend the strictly biological. Prosthetic limbs, pacemakers, hearing aids, and voice boxes are already common how long before more complicated organs and even the entire body become so as well.

Since people are no longer strictly limited by biology the body itself has lost some of its importance and is viewed as more of an interface or output device to allow the mind interact with the real world.

I never think of my monitor or my printer as my computer and view both as pretty interchangeable. Further more like with communication in general information has to be transmitted from the CPU to them. Somebody could totally screw with your display drivers and basically brick ... I got to try that..

What happens when people can swap their bodies which have become just another piece of hardware?

All the same those devices are still expensive. Part of the reason why Matoko joined the military in the first place is that when she was young her body was damaged beyond repair and her gig gives her access the best gear. She's keenly aware other folks are often not so lucky. Their minds, their self, is not so easily divorced from the body.

And despite herself neither is hers. Organ trafficking pisses her off something fierce. All the same the job often requires her to use another body when she goes undercover. Since she is going undercover and has to keep up the act it is really difficult to tell that she is herself and the show often asks the question is she.

Synthetic Manufacturing And The Internet of Things
So again we're in a world where the idea is more important than the physical product. For instance the instruction to build a product are often more valuable than the physical product itself because the template can be used to recreate it.  Or at the least create a satisfactory facsimile. Words are more valuable than paper because its the sequence of words on the page that give the book meaning.

All the same in the case of humanity can a facsimile ever replace the original. If I could create a perfect copy of myself would I be able to still call that copy me.  We would not just have the same body but we have the same thoughts as well. The exact same thoughts.  If two books contain all the same words in all the same order we consider them to still be the same book. But would we do the same with people?

Probably not because experience alters us. But let's look at things another way. Let's go sideways.

Fabrication of Identity
Early on it becomes clear that we might be dealing with a copy cat. That's the reason why its so hard to get a bead on The Laughing Man's MO. The reason why that can even occur is because identity itself exists. Like I said before in this world we communicate but lets go more broadly. We act. And those actions are almost always associated to a source. What made the laughing man interesting is that early on his actions never had a clear source. A clear agent.

Stuff would just happen. And in that way The Laughing Man didn't exist because he didn't have an identity. Since his actions weren't associated with him he did not act in the world.

Then he got angry and reckless. There are reasons. But later. The association between action and identity is in and of itself data that can be manipulated and when that association can be made. When it becomes clear that these actions do have an agent and that they can be associated to that agent they give him an identity. And that association itself can be hacked.  That identity can be hacked.

Okay let's say you have a guy who posts anonymously on a message board.  While he never reveals is name or any personal information it becomes clear that its the same guy because of certain ticks.  Since the only information anybody has about the guy are the posts those, posts become what identify the person as an agent. 

Since those actions don't have a physical body to be connected to the identity isn't of that of the physical author but of the abstract construct author.

This show predicted the future.

The Stand Alone Complex
But let's take it further. Let's say that thought is in and of itself an action. So is my identity merely the aggregate of all of my actions rather than any physical form? And if it is am I a sum of all the actions associated with me not just the ones that I initiate. My actions are the instructions. The blueprint for my identity.

What if I gave someone permission to tweet on my behalf. They in a sense would become me. Or is my concept of myself based wholly on my own will? I'm making my brain hurt and I'm only on episode 10.

By the way this is the show's eponymous stand alone complex. How actions taken by multiple agents can come together to form a singular identity and how in the modern collaborative environment the individual is a myth. This is why you can't kill Pirate Bay or Wikileaks and why trying to destroy Anonymous is impossible.

Taken even further this the direction of modern warfare where nobody and anybody can claim to be responsible for military action. Where the identity of combatants aren't based on the bodies on the ground and the physical associations of their actions, but the actions themselves making negotiation almost impossible.

This Show Predicted The Future

This by the way is why anti terrorism is a job for the police and not the military. The best you can hope for is the prosecution of individual acts rather than the neutralization and victory over entire organizations. In this new paradigm there will never be the last of anything. Some idiot will always claim to be a part of Al-Qaeda. And if you say you're Anon you're Anon. The struggle for stasis is never ending and in and of it self requires flux.

The actions themselves matter more than their supposed source. And the entire show is about Section 9 figuring that out.

Who Is The Laughing Man
Strap in kids this is going to get complicated. When humanity started digitizing their brains there was a small percentage of patients whose  brains would reject the process, hardening and slowly killing them. A doctor found a cure or at the very least a preventative treatment for the disease,  But that treatment used old school biological techniques that were out of vogue verses the series more modern nano machine technology so the powers that be sabotaged it for the sake future health industries.

A LOT of people died, because of that chicanery. Even then the machine treatment had its own share of risks and its hinted the biological one in some ways might be better.

The big wigs who were holding the treatment back were using it, unwilling to forgo the cure. They saved themselves at the expense of everybody else for money.

Originally The Laughing Man's or at least the man identified as the laughing man, it gets weird,  goal was to gather enough evidence to blow the lid off this thing. His hope was that if he went to the right people with what he knew they would rather stop suppressing the treatment and give people a choice rather than have the truth come out and deal with all the subsequent scandals. Even if it wouldn't bring the people who died back it might reduce a lot of suffering.

He kidnapped the director of  a nanomachine pharmaceutical company that had recently received the go ahead from this stories version of the FDA and was cited as a reason why the biological treatment wasn't needed. The two talked for a few days in rather interesting intellectual debates, and actually came to respect one another but the cops viewed the incident as corporate terrorism, which yeah it was.

After that plan backfired the original guy Aoi calmed down and decided to just give up and disappear. You just can't beat city hall.



That's why nobody's heard from him for 6 six years.

All the same the attack made the guy a hero and icon to anybody who had beef with the government or capitalism in general.  A bunch of copycats crop up reinvigorating his will to fight. He doesn't like that a lot stuff he disagrees with is being done in his name, especially corporate theft.  And feels that he has a duty to carry out his original plan to make up for all the chaos his antics have unleashed. In his mind what he was doing was about saving lives not money and it makes him sick that people are using his methodology for things like theft and assassination.

When it become clear that he actually is back the powers that be decide to do everything they can do discredit him so that when he does eventually go public nobody will believe him. Furthermore they were using the threat of this boogie man to manipulate the public as well as stock prices.

We have a classic false flag operation on our hands.

An investigation was given to the cops, not Section 9 mind you, but guys a little lower on the ladder. They weren't suppose to find anything out just give the public a good dog and pony show, maybe do a few press conferences about the threat of cyber brain hacking but when they do get close there are some "mysterious accidents".



One of those guys was a friend of Togusa's and he's not going to let it go, especially when it becomes clear that those guys were being illegally bugged. Togusa's friend called him when he thought things were getting too hot. Look you know how these things go. Dude dies in a bridge accident 6 hours later.

While there is some evidence of foul play its still not Section 9's  case and they really don't want to get involved. But Togusa keeps digging deeper and deeper get his ass kicked more and more until he ends up shot and on a hospital bed.

If what he was into was worth taking a bullet everybody else feel they owe it to him to take a look.

And that's good plot but let's talk about the head stuff.

The guy, or at least the original guy never named himself in his operations. Again he didn't want to be found out."The Laughing Man" was invented by everybody else. The Laughing Man is a construct distinct from its original agent. An amalgamation of anybody who wanted to bare the identity, even the bad guys.

When things get bad and its clear shit has hit the fan the original guy completely repudiates that identity. He wants to kill it but can't because it isn't him anymore.

You can't destroy an idea and that's what The Laughing Man has become as much as his creator Aoi regrets it. A construct not bound by flesh and blood but only by the actions associated with him.

Despite that the story frames him as good but fundamentally flawed, a modern Holden Caulfield with all the same personality problems. He acts as an arrogant rebellious teenage without thought to the consequences of his actions merely his disgust of the status quo and all of the "phonies". Except unlike Holden his skillset gives him the power to act as a catcher in the rhy, guiding the innocent from the path of sin or at least it does to him.

One reading of that novel is that Holden's quest futile and that his problems arise because he's fooled himself into believe that it is possible to walk the path of the righteous man, never compromising in this world which demands the compromise nessisary for the societal living that kept us alive when the universe wants to eat us.

And in a way so have Aoi's problems. The last few episodes are about him realizing how much damage that delusion has caused and trying to do what's in his power to minimize the damage.

Another interesting bit is that what got Aoi involved his reading of a document. A document which he didn't author. All though its convenient to call him the original laughing man he's not. He's just one more guy who's actions contributed to to the constructed identity that is The Laughing Man and the show never reveals who actually wrote the document that kicked this whole thing off.

Game On
Back to Section 9 once they actually do start investigating The Laughing Man Case seriously, with their rep, IT IS ON!

No more information wars, misdirection, media propaganda. Nu ah. Its an us or them dogfight. Especially once Section 9 is legally disbanded...by force. It's basically as if congress decided to outlaw the CIA and put the entire organization on trail  oh and forget modern prosecutions we're talking old school Knights Templar style . How do you think that would play. A boom boom boom.

And don't make the mistake of thinking that these guys would just going be reassigned to other agencies with a few prosecutions of the top dogs.  Ha ha ha. NO. What type of dystopian future would it be if that were the case. Section 9 is too dangerous to let go civilian. The weapons training, the intelligence. You don't want that to just be in the wind. Even before the legal stuff they tried to assassinate Aramaki, The Major, and well Togusa was already on his death bed. The only reason they made it out then was the intervention of Aoi and his interference gives the other team a pretext go at 'em sideways or rather stop going after them sideways.

Once that happens they bring out the heavy hardware. Or do they?

All of stuff happening put the powers that be in a corner where hey couldn't hide the original disease scandal any longer. Once that happened its clear who's going to fall on their swords and since Section 9 which has been publicly disbanded they can go back to their original purpose, covert ops.

And that's where the first season ends.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Film 101: The Three Act and Five Act Structure and Revisiting Frozen (Spoilers)

Okay so I kind of want to explain the three act structure but to do that it might also be a good idea to explain the five act structure.

So in study classical Greek drama as well as Shakespearean drama which was deliberately trying to evoke classical archetypes scholars found the trend of the five act structure, or Freytag's pyramid. While what's being taught in schools today is mostly Freytag's the 5 act structure has been a centerpiece of drama for a long time being formalized way back in Rome. Though I tend to think that modern teachers tend to be too literal about it applying it and asking students to apply it to non-classical stories or less traditionally structured stories.

All the same, it's a tool to help people understand narrative and on occasion better write it. Even without taking it literally the pyramid helped create the language we use to describe and understand narrative.

It consists of

Exposition- This is the part of the drama that tells the audience what they need to know in order to have context for the central conflict. It includes, explanations of characters, their relationships, setting, backstory, macguffins all that jazz.

The Rising Action- This is the part of the story where stuff typically first starts to happen. Now that the audience has an understanding of the status quo it can be shaken up as the plot forces things to change. Think about it like this. In Othello we the audience know Iago is doing a bunch of stuff behind the scenes long before anybody else does.  But we don't really start to see the effects of his machinations on Othello, Othello's doubts about Desdemona's fidelity and the beginning of his repudiation of her until Act 3 and .

The Climax- What makes the climax the climax is that it's more or less the point of no return. It's the moment in the plot where it's obvious there is a plot. In modern jargon it's become synonymous with the biggest point in a story and while that's not exactly right it does make a certain amount of sense. The climax is generally where most of the big changes in characters and settings are realized. The place where the conflict, crisis, and problems of the story are made explicit.

The Falling Action- This is generally the point where the conflict of the story that was made explicit in the climax plays out.   In a lot "movie speak" this is what people would often refer to as the climax. Though it's weird. This typically is the big show piece battle in your blockbusters.

The Resolution/Catastrophe/Denouement a bunch of other names- So the conflict has played out the day has been won, but what now. In dramatic terms this is all about getting things back to "normalcy" and describing what happens to characters after their ordeal. What do they do after the problem of the story has been solved or in the case of tragedy has played out?

So in the old days this was how you structured a story, and to a degree it still is. But around the mid 1800s playwrights aka those guys who would become screenwriters started playing around with the idea that you didn't need to have literally 5 clearly delineated acts.  Still though having a beginning middle and end to a story makes sense and just seems to be how people naturally write and conceive narrative.

Thus the  five act structure became the three act structure.

One of the reasons why its important is that it helps writers budget their narrative time. How long do I have to explain things to the audience? How much time do I need to resolve the ending? How much time do I have to faff about with all the cool plot stuff? And the answer for all of it is about a third of the narrative.

The First Act- Mostly consists of exposition and typically ends with the falling action.

Second Act- This is mostly about the dramatic climax ending at the darkest point of the film. Big showy onscreen character death is normally a clear signal that we're exiting the second act and entering the third.

The Third Act- Goes about resolving things, fixing the problems established in the second act.

Let's go for a twofer and do this with Frozen.

Frozen's First Act
So obviously that whole little kids segment falls well within the movie's first act It explains who these two crazy kids are, what Elsa's powers are and what her and for that matter Anna's hang ups are, their relationship and dynamics with each other, and their parent's death. But I would also argue that it extends a little bit into the ball,  where we get to see who Weasleton and Hans are and get to see more of Anna's genki personality. "Do You Want to Build A Snow Man" may be sung by Anna but it's all about explaining Elsa while "For the First Time in Forever" is really about introducing Anna herself to the audience.

We also get a meet cute. While not particularly dramatic it does set up the events that will later create the big conflict of the story. That these two are courting each other and more importantly how they met is necessary context for later events, especially after Hans' reveal.

It also sets up all of the plot's red herrings to not only give later events narrative context but emotional context. While I might not dig the movie as much as I feel I should, it does have brilliant twists and they wouldn't be as brilliant if the movie didn't do such a job of making the audience feel like they have it figured out in the first act.

And also feel okay with what they figured out. If the movie was just a love story between Hans and Anna within the usual Disney framework there is a good chance the audience would still have dug it so the movie does it's damnedest to make them think that's the movie they're getting until it can't. .

So the first act more or less ends with Hans' proposal, Elsa's not blessing and her retreat to Da Mountain.

Frozen's Second Act
With that it becomes clear that there is an overt problem that needs to be solved. I need my guy mountain so... hey.


The world is the world. But I am the wolf that roams the mountain. He who travails the storm to devour his enemies. Alone and unknowable. A force to be feared, for once unleashed this beast, voracious and insatiable, is destined to devour the world. I AM FENRIR, SON OF LOKI! I am now bound by choice, but when these chains are broken Ragnarok shall be hence and all shall know this beast and my name shall have been earned.
...
Dogs are better than people. Rex don't you think that's true. Yeah people will beat you and curse you and cheat you... everyone of them's bad except you. ...But people smell better than dogs. Rex don't you think I'm right.  I miss my dog. He always got me out of my funks. Rex listened. He had to or no treat, though his dookie was a pain to deal with.

Miles. Back to Frozen. Right.

So with "Let It Go" the plot of the movie can get going. Anna knows more or less what she has to do, journey up the mountain and get Elsa to relent in her ... let's just call it "me time". And that's what the 2nd act more or less is.

We get some banter, a few action beats, and a fun tribute to one of the best scenes in Beauty and the Beast

Speaking of which I really dig wolves.

In analyzing the structure of this thing I think I figured out my problem with it. For about half of the second act nothing interesting happens. While the chase was "cute" and the banter was funny, you could take it out and nothing in the story changes. Same with Olaf. There's about 20 minutes where nothing necessary and therefore interesting is happening. Say what you want about "Hakuna Matata" but it created a smooth transition from Kid Simba to Adult Simba and explains the character of the latter.

"When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world."  (Miles, you're taking life advice from Timon? From Timon?)


Anyway  it's a kids movie and well without all the yucks the movie is kind of dark. You need some levity. Laugh Miles, laugh. The movie goes meta. You love that.

Eh,  but the true love thing was done better in Cinderella nearly a decade ago.



But of course "Falling in Love with Love" was sung by the "evil" step mother so as a legit critique on Disney formula eh.  The whole point of the movie is to prove her wrong.

Next they'll want me to sing "Make 'Em Laugh" and do prat falls while performing Olympic level  mugging... Like I haven't.

"Fixer Upper" has the same problem though thematically it fits and does further the red herring for the thing that solves the problems in the third act. The act of true love that saves the day is of the sisterly variety not romantic though I'm getting ahead of myself.

You could argue the second act closes when that plan bombs and bombs spectacularly and the reprise of "For the First Time in Forever"

Of course I would argue it actually ends with Hans' reveal  From there on we know more or less  who are bad guy is, what his plans are, and all what the problems that need solving are.

Like I said the second act typically ends with things being at their lowest point so the third act can go about building them back up and fixing everything. And things are pretty low. Anna's dying. Elsa's captured, Arendelle is still a barren frozen wasteland. Hans has been making papa Palpatine proud, it looks like he's going to win, and nobody knows how to fix any of it.

Frozen's  Third Act
So now things start going right. Kristoff and Sven show up to get the band back together and give the dying Anna a much needed morale boost. Elsa figured out the properties of steal at subzero temperatures. Mainly that her ice powers can let her pull a Toph.


Mystical jail breaking through metallurgy. You know you dig it.

And Anna shows up just in time to pull an epic sword block of science. The scene is almost enough to make me take back what I said about the movie lacking spectacle. I mean that stance is just visual poetry as are those shots, but two minutes of splendor, five if I count "Let It Go" just isn't enough.

So after our "falling action" battle we get a bunch of resolutions. Anna punches Hans. Olaf get's a microclimate. Weaslton gets embargoed.  Even Kristoff gets a new sled. I totally forgot about that line but the movie didn't.

Everything get's tied up in a nice little bow so the kids can blow this thing and go home.

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