Category: Opinion (page 1 of 18)

Admiration for an Admiral

“No one is immune from failure. All have tasted the bitterness of defeat and disappointment. A warrior must not dwell on that failure, but must learn from it and continue on.”

I’m trying to think of a villainous character that has affected me as thoroughly and deeply as Star Wars‘ Grand Admiral Mitth’raw’nuruodo.

Writing villains seems deceptively easy. Give them a plan of conquest, add some mustache-twirling or overtly abusive behavior, make them cruel to underlings, plant petards on which to hoist them. Wipe your hands, done and dusted.

Not so with Thrawn. Yes, he’s diabolical in thought. He’s ruthless in executed action. He’s the direct and diametric opposite of our heroes.

But, especially in the “new canon” — the Rebels animated series and especially his origin novel by the inimitable Timothy Zahn — there’s something admirable about the admiral.

The Empire, in Star Wars, is just as much a stand-in for Nazi Germany as Sauron is a stand-in for the Kaiser, or Adolf Hitler. It is a brutal, xenophobic regime, dedicated to a ‘purity’ within the galaxy and the utter destruction of unrestricted thought and the usage of power, not for its own sake, but for altruism and introspection. The Empire is always looking without, never within, and assaulting the opposition and the misunderstood with seething hatred and disgusting self-congratulation.

And hither comes Thrawn, an alien, a warrior, and seemingly, the last thing the Empire would want.

Thrawn is a free thinker. He is just as much a philosopher as a tactician. He is aware of how clever he is, but he applies that cleverness to his goals, which is always the defeat of his enemy. He has his moments of weakness, and of failure, but he uses those moments as lessons to be applied to future encounters. He respects his enemies. He despises incompetence and foolishness in his would-be peers. In an Empire full of hotheads, egomanics, and demagogues, he is cool, measured, respectful, meticulous, and, in species as well as thought, alien.

I find these qualities admirable, and I wonder: is he truly villainous?

Yes, he works for the villains. Yes, he exhibits ruthlessness towards the heroes. Yes, he employs occasionally brutal tactics to achieve his desired goals — which, as befits a warrior, is the destruction of his enemies.

But does he do these things out of malice? Blind hatred? Ignorant, projected rage?

No. He wages war because he’s good at it, he finds it a fascinating application of his abilities, and, in the end, he likes it.

Not inflicting pain, mind you. He’d much rather defeat an enemy expediently, demonstrate that they will lose, and offer them a chance to surrender and save lives. He is an artist, his medium is warfare, and his materials are the ships, troops, and officers at his command. He’s loyal, dedicated, charismatic, and cool under fire. He has the wherewithal to admit to mistakes he makes, admire his opponents, and do whatever is in his power to improve himself and those around him for the betterment of all.

Aren’t these qualities we often find in protagonists, in heroes?

We don’t really attribute honor, introspection, and respect for others to the Empire, or the Nazis for that matter. More often than not, it is those we admire and those cast as positive protagonists in our stories that exhibit such qualities. And, according to Zahn in the new canon novel, Thrawn may indeed be more than just another villainous tool in the Emperor’s arsenal. I’ll put this bit behind a spoiler tag.

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Thrawn explains to the Emperor that he was exiled from the Chiss Ascendancy due to his use of pre-emptive strikes. This is a lie. The Chiss sent Thrawn as a scout, to suss out the Empire’s abilities and strengths and evaluate them as potential allies in battling threats from deeper within the Unknown Regions. This is a huge risk for Thrawn: if he is caught or killed, he will be unable to relay anything to his true superiors. That, to me, is a heroic undertaking. By the same token, he shows a great deal of trust in Eli Vanto, sending the human officer to the Chiss as a contingency a calamity befalling Thrawn personally. A friend and confidant, Vanto can inform the Chiss of a great many things, and bridge the gap between the galactic powers if Thrawn is unable to do so.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m biased towards antagonists who favor brains and cunning over brawn and bluster. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see; there are aspects of Thrawn that personally speak to me. The same way that Sherlock Holmes or Tyrion Lannister are characters who rely on cleverness and discernment to achieve their goals, Thrawn is defined by his brilliant mind and careful application of deduction and strategy. I know I could use more of that in my life.

Either way, I’ll be sad if the last season of Rebels is the end of Thrawn’s story. He’s mentioned in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy (now available in paperback, go buy some books), but his fate is left ambiguous. It’s unclear to me, in the end, if Thrawn is truly a villain, but in this case, he’s certainly cast as one.

But not all those cast as villains truly allow evil to fester in their hearts.

I would like to think that if Thrawn truly feels emotions like hate, he can examine, disassemble, and reorient those energies. His few moments of anger are still incredibly restrained by Imperial standards, and it shows a quality of character rarely seen among the one-dimensional jackbooted thugs around him. It speaks to someone who is more than the sum of their parts, more than the mere sketch of the role into which they are cast.

And, in the end, who among us isn’t more than they seem or are reported to be?

Thinking Trek

There’s an article on Grunge that posits that living on the Enterprise-D, setting for ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, would absolutely suck. I read through the article a few times, gave it some thought in my off-hours, and I want to refute some of its points. I mean, I list all of the points, but to be honest, some of them aren’t completely wrong.

Just most of them.

The transporter killing you: “death” is too strong of a term. Yes, the matter of the body is broken down and then reconstructed elsewhere, but the neural energy of the person is stored and then transmitted into the reconstructed body. This is the ‘consciousness’, ‘soul’, etc — scientifically speaking, it’s the firing of neurons in the brain and the engrams stored within it, held in suspension by the computer. It’s possible that a glitch in the transporter’s functionality can create a copy of this energy pattern – see the introduction of Thomas Riker in “Second Chances,” and why he’s less morally inclined than William (DS9 episode “Defiant”). There’s more to this, but suffice it to say that “the transporter kills you” is way too simplistic an interpretation. Don’t get me wrong; I love CGP Gray and all he does. Including his video on the transporter being a “suicide box”. I feel this is the best refutation I can offer.

Bathrooms: The Galaxy-class definitely has more than one bathroom; we see Matt Frewer using a ‘refresher’ in the episode “A Matter of Time”, and there’s a ‘head’ specifically on a bridge layout I saw just off of the Ready Room and, iirc, the conference room. The design team for Star Trek are very smart folks; to claim that this meeting of the minds would put a ship populated by hundreds if not thousands has only one bathroom is ludicrous. Funny, but ludicrous.

Cabin Fever: Again, let’s consider that Star Trek has its own internal logic and structures. In this case, there isn’t just one counselor aboard the Enterprise. Commander Troi is the head of the counseling staff, she’s its senior officer. Sure, she could be a ‘senior officer’ because she is the one person on the counseling staff, but what sense does that make? Sources on this may not be ‘canon’, but it makes sense to have more than one therapist aboard the ship, just like it makes sense to have more than one bathroom. Let’s also consider that all of our real-world space-faring experience has been in very, very cramped quarters. A ship the size of the Enterprise affords plenty of opportunities for privacy and a break from contact with the usual coworkers or family members. There’s artificial gravity, fresh food, amusements & physical activities… many things current astronauts, unfortunately, do not have.

Spandex: No. There is no way they’re wearing spandex in the 24th century. It looks futuristic to our eyes, or at least it did in the late 80s/early 90s, but… just no.

Families: Yeah, it’d be really awful if your family was in the section the Borg cut out of the saucer in “Q Who” or died at some point during the events of “Cause and Effect” and, despite the time-loop shenanigans, stayed dead. I’ll grant this would suck.

Holodeck sex: This one’s probably true too. Thankfully, I suspect that there’s technology that can clean the place after things are over with. Some sort of technobabble pulse that scrubs the place down in a split-second.

No Time Off: See the Cabin Fever entry.

Holodeck Glitches: Cars glitch and crash, too. As for the consciousness of holographic characters, some are probably no better programmed than NPCs in Skyrim, and others are complex enough to evolve a form of consciousness yet do not simply cease to exist when the program is shut off. So no, they don’t ‘die’ when the program is ended.

Being Insignificant if you’re not on the bridge: We’re pretty insignificant on the whole as it is. This isn’t any different. … Let’s move on before that goes anywhere darker or deeper.

Replicator Breakdown: There are hydroponics labs for a reason, people. Medical science has probably progressed to a point where food allergies are cured via hypospray. So kale, soybeans, and other superfoods will be available. And speaking of eating in space, remember what Shepard Book said in Firefly? “A man can live on packaged food from here ’til Judgment Day if he’s got enough rosemary”. And you can grow rosemary in the hydroponics labs, too.

Wesley’s your superior: Wil Wheaton’s cool and Wesley got a lot less insufferable and a lot more human the further the show got away from its smug first couple of seasons. Let’s face it — everybody was an arrogant snot for a while, there. Once Wesley was humbled and managed to man up in Starfleet Academy (“The First Duty” is a great episode), he makes for a great officer. I’d be fine working with him.

Evil Bosses: This is, again, art imitating life. Many of our workplaces suffer from horrible bosses. We manage to make do, alien parasites notwithstanding.

Our Friend The Computer: So the idea of a computer listening for commands at all times is, on its face, pretty creepy. But the computer is not recording anything unless its told to do so. Now, it’s possible that someone with nefarious designs can hack the thing to record and then use those recordings, but given the fail-safe procedures built into just about everything Starfleet touches (I don’t know if I ever heard the term “tertiary backups” before O’Brian on DS9), Engineering or Security is likely to get pinged if such a breach of protocol is even attempted. And speaking of Security…

The Worf Effect: Let’s look at the facts, here. Next Generation ran for 178 episodes, and only 150 or so of those saw Worf as chief of Security. 150 days is just over half of a year. The show ran for seven years, and even if the Enterprise wasn’t active for that entire length of time (someone would have to collate the stardates), chances are Worf was in that position for longer than 150 days. So I imagine that for the rest of the time, he did his job well enough to hold the position. When we see Worf in action on Next Generation, it’s usually against pretty damn huge threats. Klingons are strong and fierce, but Kahless himself would not be able to overcome every Borg in his way.

The Timeline No Loner Exists: Temporal mechanics is a very odd thing. Be it the “fixed points in time” as explained by the Doctor, or “multiverse theory” that’s been used in places other than Star Trek, a lot of thought on temporal mechanics argues that original timelines, as well as branches, continue on in their own continuity. This, unfortunately, implies that there exists a timeline in which the Earth was destroyed because Kirk and crew did not get back to the 23rd century with George and Gracie.

Being Boring: while Gene Roddenberry brought a great deal to the genre of science fiction, and nobody can deny his accomplishments, the idea of a future without conflict was not one of his better ideas. Which is why subsequent writers ditched that idea entirely.


I know that normally I post a bunch of political stuff on Wednesdays, but I think we all need a break.

Seriously, DFTBA

Courtesy Nerdfighteria

I am not composed of cells and tissue. I am composed entirely of awesome.

So are you, provided you haven’t forgotten that fact.

It’s an easy thing to forget, really. We live in a sad, fettered world that’s all about the gains and advantages, the one-upmanship and quick victories, the lionization of the false self-image at the expense of demonizing the other, among other poison of the patriarchy, and all of the other things that makes people like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin into ‘world leaders’. And when that world is coming at you in all sorts of forms, from the latest round of bad news from across the globe to someone close to you buying into nonsensical gossip that completely ignores facts, suddenly, we forget to be awesome.

Our viewpoints get skewed away from making the world around us better, and towards more self-centered goals.

When I see it happening, I tend to get angry. Because we are capable of being so much better than that.

I take a lot of stress on myself in trying to understand the positions others are in when they say or do certain things. This is especially true if I have some personal knowledge of or experience with a given person. “So-and-so has said and done X in the past; why are they acting in this contrary way now?” The answer is never simple; you can’t cut a complex individual with Occam’s Razor. First of all, cutting people in general is cruel and downright rude (unless there’s some sort of consensual act occurring, in which case, please have some antiseptic handy, and check in with your partner often). Moreover, if we want to be imagined complexly, and not merely reduced to a caricature of our inborn traits or the perception of our rumored outward showings, we must imagine others complexly as well.

That’s been my philosophy for a long time. And in spite of everything that’s happened to me, I refuse to change it.

One thing I’ve really struggled to integrate into that philosophy is the cold fact that not everyone will appreciate my efforts, or even acknowledge them. Because this thing I do where I treat others the way I want to be treated means I don’t always assert myself or leave room for myself to be myself. That tends to give others the implicit permission to treat me in a reductive fashion — to take advantage of me, use me, in some cases abuse me, and in others, discard me like a broken thing that no longer serves a particular purpose.

You see, being reductive is easy. It requires less thought, less time, and less consideration of others. A particular person may be more interested in furthering a personal agenda; they might distance themselves from a perceived threat, be it a threat of person — “this is someone who could hurt me” — or a threat of position, i.e. “this person could make me look/feel foolish/ineffectual”. They might even get triggered by the hint of past trauma, or are too indoctrinated into a particular zeitgeist. In all of these cases, reductive perception is the quick way to resolve a situation. You get to keep your place in the groupthink, you have an easily influenced bunch of cohorts at your beck and call, and you can paint your perceived enemies with the same, broad brush. Simple! Easy!

I may be hard-wired to make things harder than they have to be for myself (more on that later), but I will be damned if I take the easy way out in this regard.

Come to think of it, I already have been, if you ask some folks.

They’re not bad people, though. They’re not evil villains out to destroy people like me.

They’ve just forgotten to be awesome.

Being awesome isn’t about winning. It isn’t about getting what or who you want. It isn’t about always getting your way. Your victories do not make you awesome. Your friends do not make you awesome. Your game collection, your bank account, your liquor cabinet, your list of potential booty calls, your Instagram — none of that, in and of itself, makes you awesome.

You know what makes you awesome?

Asking hard questions to get the facts. Making hard choices to make the world suck less for a stranger. Standing up for people who aren’t able to do so. Getting out of your own way enough to make room for others who are getting held back. Seeing something inside of yourself that needs to change, and no matter what, changing it. Doing things for yourself that are positive, happy, progressive, and constructive, of your own volition, with your own permission, that do not hurt others, and that stoke your own fires. Occupying the space you occupy without being afraid that you don’t deserve to occupy it. Being yourself and owning what that means, even if it means you’re going to make mistakes, because like it or else, you’re merely a human being.

But doing that stuff I just rattled off means you are the most awesome human being you can possibly be.

Try not to forget to do that today.

And if you do, that’s okay. Don’t forget the next day. And the next day. And the day after that.

The world needs you to be awesome.

So be the awesome you want to see in the world.

Tuesdays are for telling my story.

The Internet’s Not Just For Porn

Courtesy andrebarcinski.blogfolha.uol.com.br

I’ve spun up a new project, since I’m still stymied in my attempt to write a YA fantasy novel with a female protagonist that doesn’t entirely suck. I’m something of a perfectionist, to the point that I am extremely hard on myself when I do not live up to my own standards. I need more test readers but am hesitant to have my worst fears confirmed: that I am too male and out-of-touch to get this important job done.

So I’m keeping that on the shelf while I try my hand at something new, different, and downright scary, but in a different way.

To do the research I need to complete this new work, I turn to the Internet. And getting lost down rabbit holes of character analyses and Star Trek essays, I was struck with a realization.

Considering what it is and can become, it’s easy to forget what the Internet was intended to be in the first place, and still is if you use it a certain way.

From it’s inception, the Internet’s purpose is a repository of data and knowledge. Try as you might, you can’t burn down the Internet. At this point, the data is so wide-spread, so diverse, and so cataloged that to destroy it and the knowledge it contains is a fool’s errand. You can’t accidentally touch of a conflagration in the Rare Webpages Section; there will be no Library of Alexandria repeat here. And thank the stars for that — so much knowledge was lost in that time, and in some circles, we’re still reeling from the losses. (Personal aside: so much of the Work I am doing away from screens and data streams may remain unfinished because there is simply a lack of resources upon which I can rely.)

Moreso than it was when I first encountered it, the Internet is extensively cataloged and searchable. There are multiple engines to do so — perhaps foolishly, I still rely upon Google to do my fetching, among other things. A few cursory searches brought me a plethora of resources for my projects, old and new, and also linked me to undiscovered essays, new treatises, and authors whose voices resonate with my own, individuals with whom I’d love to sit down, away from the constant barrage of distractions, and just have an eye-to-eye chat about our art, the world, and what’s to come.

In the meantime, I follow them on social media, and hope they’ll follow me back.

This turns my thoughts to social media, and how the Internet becomes sorely abused.

Instead of using it for data and enlightenment, so many individuals choose to use the Internet as sounding boards, echo chambers, and podiums to espouse their personal points of view as if they’re gospel. I’ve been guilty of this, myself — on more than one occasion, I’ve pontificated on our political climate from my perspective and bemoaned the nature of my illness. I’ve shown how hard I am on myself, and how I’ve abused myself; this in turn has given others implicit permission to use and abuse me.

Beyond my personal traumatic experiences, so many people use the Internet as forums to spew bile and hatred upon those just struggling to survive. They twist and mold the world as they see it to shove their supposed superiority and righteous indignation into the faces of the populace, like thunderbolts raining down from Olympus. It sickens me to see so much arrogant presumption, so much faux righteousness, so many smug miscarriages of justice. I just want to grab people by their collective collars, shake them until their eyes wobble (not to be violent but to get their damn attention), and say “NO, YOU ARE BEING MYOPIC, YOU DO NOT GET TO PICK AND CHOOSE WHAT THE FACTS ARE.

It’s people who shit on fundamentalists who pick and choose parts of holy writ that support their viewpoints, then turn around and pick and choose the narratives that support their viewpoints, that truly piss me off.

The truth is a complex, multi-faceted thing. Like perfection, it is something deeply desired, but we can only chase after the truth; catching it is a monumental task. We have to be honest with ourselves and the role we play in constructing our narratives, and imagine the other perspectives that confirm that narrative, or run counter to it. Sticking to the facts is difficult when the facts may reveal parts of ourselves that we don’t like — our human frailties, our capacity for making bad decisions, our actions that hurt one another.

When we see one another as people with hearts and minds, rather than things made of straw and bad wiring, it becomes much harder to push one another out of the light and into the shadows, to shove those who deserve love, support, and trust into an oubliette to the cheers of enablers and potential lovers.

The Internet can be the biggest enabler of all.

For months I stayed away from the Internet, both loathing what people used it to do to me and fearing what I might say or do in response. But allowing fear and self-loathing to keep me in the dark was not only unhealthy for my own sake but succumbing to the will of the zeitgeist, kowtowing to people who pretend to be rebels but represent a new establishment. We only tolerate what we feel we deserve; we serve as screens for others to project upon us only as long as we allow it. And I finally got to a place where I dropped the curtain on the screen I was (and perhaps still am) and decided it was past time to re-define my Persona and unearth my true Self. And the Internet helped me do that.

The Internet is, at once, a potent tool and a potentially deadly weapon. It’s all in how one chooses to use it. How will you use the Internet today? How will you leverage its articles, the discussions that take place, your presence and impact in social media? Will you build one another up, to stand against those who refuse to do the same? Or will you tear one another down so you can push your Persona to new heights? The power to both help and harm is at your very fingertips. I hope you choose wisely.

Thursdays are for talking tech.

(N.B. I was in flight on Tuesday so I’m telling a bit of my story, here, in case you couldn’t tell.)

Agency and Redemption

In case this week’s vlog didn’t tip you off, I am a huge fan of Mad Max: Fury Road. Long after having seen it several times in cinemas and at home, I still want to talk about its greater meanings, implied or intended, regarding personal autonomy and agency, the depth of truly human characters, and all of the great moments of storytelling in what is, on the surface, a bone-crunching action romp about weird cars and weirder wasteland denizens.

I’ve already talked at length about the film’s merits in both this review and this post about characters. But what about its influence upon folks like me when it comes to inspiration and motivation?

Courtesy Warner Brs.

There are messages woven throughout the film, but one of the most simultaneously potent and subtle one is that of personal agency. When the film opens, Max is seemingly a pawn of his own unbridled emotions – his anxiety, his rage, his fears, and the memories that haunt him. He gets muzzled, restrained, and used for his blood, completely at the mercy of the people around him. It takes external influences – Furiosa’s escape in the War Rig, the subsequent pursuit, and the incredible windstorm – to give Max the opportunity to seize control of the situation as much as he can.

Once Max is able to focus on reclaiming agency of his life, an interesting thing happens. He initially goes after selfish goals – hijacking the War Rig for his own escape, ignoring the plight of the women, and getting the damned muzzle off of his face – but the more time he spends in that Rig, the more he finds himself supporting those around him. He seems to realize how important it is for Furiosa and the wives to seize their agency, make their escape, and in Furiosa’s case, seek redemption for everything she had to do in order to survive. Because the War Boys immediately reduced Max to a thing, and Immortan Joe has been using people as things for presumably a long time, their drives and motivations become aligned:

Courtesy Warner Brs.

I mentioned in the vlog that idealizing, romanticizing, or demonizing the people in our past is an awful thing to do. It robs them of their agency. It makes them things. See above. There are very few things in this world that can be more harmful to those we care about than to view them in such damaging, dehumanizing ways.

To my great shame, I have found myself doing it, up until recently. (Like, a week ago or so…)

Seeing the people we care about with clarity, without any shade of glasses (rose-colored, ash-colored, etc), is the best way to respect them. If they have passed, it honors their memory. If they yet live, it frees them to be who they are and, ideally, grow into better versions of themselves tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, as they push themselves down their hard road of self-realization and self-actualization.

As I said, that’s the ideal situation. Others may arise. But that is how others live.

Your focus, my focus, must be on how we, as individuals, live.

The roads ahead of us stretch out to the horizon, into the unknown quantities of our futures. One is the desolate, plain, unthreatening road of doing what we’ve always done, avoiding facing or challenging ourselves, and letting go of opportunities to grow and change as individuals. The other, harder road, fraught with the perils of facing truths about our words and deeds we do not wish to admit, can be intimidating and unnerving, leading as it does through the Shadow and the hard lessons of the past. But I maintain that it is the right road to take.

It is the road to agency. To growth. And, ultimately, to redemption.

Don’t you owe it to yourself to be the best human you can be?

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