Let Cursive Go

Cursive handwriting is the epitome of nostalgia. Many a screed, always repeating time-honored truths forgotten by the hasty modern world, has been written lamenting its demise. “It’s faster, prettier, easier, and flows better.” I used to have really bad handwriting, cursive or otherwise. It got so tiresome that I’ve spent the better part of three years analyzing and working on improving my handwriting, while this past year I’ve finally dove into calligraphy as my art. The progress has come from abandoning all pretenses to cursive and focusing on using engineering/architect letters for anything I want other people to read. Along this path, I’ve wondered to myself why that is so, despite all the conventional wisdom. Studying calligraphy has given me the answer.

First, some cold water for cursivists: no study has ever shown even a slight consistent advantage in speed between print and cursive. Shocking, I know, but not surprising when you think about it. It’s quite a difficult topic to study. How do you control for all the variables? Practice is a big one, and the mother of most of the differences people perceive casually between the two styles. Grandma Mavis who never learned to type and spends all her day writing letters will probably scrawl faster than her grandson Zachary who writes a birthday card maybe once a year. There’s also a standard of fairness to consider: both scripts have to be equally legible in order to count. My mom’s cursive was a legend in our family for just how awful it was to read. I’m pretty sure she could write “faster” than me, though. Does that count? No, but this leads into why cursive isn’t as awesome as its practitioners think. Even if there is some minor speed advantage for cursive in a Platonic pocket dimension somewhere, it doesn’t matter. There’s a reason forms say “print please.” Cursive is inherently less legible than print, and always will be.

All glyphs are bound by rules, but the most crucial is the dance between positive and negative space. The empty space between the script we draw is just as (and often far more) important than the script itself. If you look carefully at the modern scripts we use on our phones and letters, you’ll see this immediately: there’s a lot of empty space that makes the letters pop out. Essentially, letters are tiny pictures your brain has to form into words. Developmental psychology can attest to how children, when first learning to read, approach letters as individual parts as opposed to a greater whole. Overcoming this leads to literacy.

So here we peel back the first myth of cursive, speed. What even is cursive? What’s it trying to do? Hint: it’s not trying to be fast. It never was. Did I just blow your mind? Good. Look carefully at any sample of cursive you can find. What is its goal, its raison d’etre? It’s staring at you in the face: don’t lift the pen. Lift the pen as little as possible. But if glyphs consist of both positive and negative space, how much versus how little you write, how does that even work? Simple: you keep writing, messing with that dance, creating more positive space, much more than would otherwise be necessary, thus encroaching on legibility. This is really obvious when you compare print and cursive exemplars:

Who’s doing more work?

Cursive has to do this, because otherwise you have to (gasp) lift the pen, so you have to swerve, back and forth, coming up with clever, awkward, and downright silly alternatives to simply stopping the glyph and moving onto the next. You’re basically inventing new characters, squishing more and more into the same area until it collapses into squiggles. The basic principles of writing demand that cursive slouch towards illegibility no matter how hard the scribe tries to perfect their vaunted penmanship.

Cursivists appeal to the purported advantage of this and the “natural flow” it generates, again likely mistaking practice and mastery for inherent advantage, but it also doesn’t make sense from the standpoint of sheer physics. With cursive, all you’re doing physically is trading vertical distance—lifting the pen up and moving it to the next position—for horizontal distance. Instead of a single, simple stroke for l, you have to cover the same distance twice, plus a little more for the joiner. There is no advantage to be gained in the first place. It’s a wash, through and through, which explains why what few studies there are can’t find any speed advantage at all. In fact, the literature says a combination of print and “cursive” that joins some letters, but definitely not all, is the fastest.

Now, let’s say you’re back in 1985 or something and have to write a 40-page thesis by hand. Cursivists go back to this time that doesn’t exist anymore and talk about how much easier it is to do that, appealing to how people who print get tired easily. Kids, let me give you some life advice: anytime a Very Serious “Adult” cites some magical paradise in the past that neither you nor they can check to see if it was true…they’re lying. There was no magic time when people’s hands didn’t get tired from writing thanks to the mystical flow of cursive. Scribes doodled in the margins a thousand years ago praising God that the sun was going down because they could finally stop writing for the day, and that was slow, methodical work in a quiet monastery. Discomfort and pain involving writing is almost always an issue of technique or management: your grip is too tight, you’re forming letters only with your hand and wrist without employing much shoulder-work, you’re taking too few breaks, etc. Long-form handwriting is damned exhausting no matter what technique you use. As scale increases, you have to make trade-offs, usually through abbreviations, summarizing, etc., so that you have to write less physical material. A crisis in handwriting has little to do with the script and mostly to do with the scribe.

This begs the question: why is cursive trying to lift the pen less? Why is that such a bad thing? In an age where all the fundamental instruments of writing are both superior to and cheaper than what scribes had in the past—the ballpoint pen is one of the greatest achievements of humankind—it’s easy to forget how much of a nightmare the physical act of writing used to be. It’s a long history, full of wonderful twists and turns worth seeking out, but, briefly: in the West, the place we’re discussing, you used quills, while your paper was either awful-but cheap (papyrus) or AMAZING-but-definitely-not-cheap (parchment). Economy of materials was key, not time. Scribes came up with tons of abbreviations to an insane degree just to save paper, which is half the reason why older manuscripts seem like gibberish, because they’re actually written in an ancient form of texting. Yeah, it’s been around for a long time. Here’s a transcript of part of the opening to Titus (i.e., the Holy Bible, the most important book ever) from a random 13th century manuscript:

Paul’ servus di’ apls’ aut’ ihu’ ch’ scdm’ fed’ elector’ di’ & agnitione’ v’itatis q’ sm’ pietate’ e’ i’ spe’ vite et’ne.

Paulus servus dei, apostolius autem ihesu christi secundum fidem electorum dei et agnitionem veritatis quae secundum pietatem est in spem vite eterne.

They weren’t trying to be fast; they were trying to literally not run out of space. In addition, it was advantageous to write at a slight angle to avoid smudging the (meh-quality) ink, which would waste even more paper. Another concern was keeping the writing instrument working. The more you stop, the more opportunity the ink in the nib has to clog, while the more times you put the quill down on paper, pressuring it harder in that initial moment of contact, the more likely the quill would snap, blowing ink across the paper, ruining more materials (potentially an entire page), and costing you additional time in having to reshape a new quill point. This was the impetus to keep the hand flowing with minimal interruptions, not TEMPVS FVGIT. In fact, our predecessors had far more time to work with. Travel was inefficient, as was work. They could take their time and did. Their constraints weren’t your constraints. That’s why cursive came about—and why it’s dying.

By the way, this all applies to print too. Studying the history of Western writing, you’ll notice two-ish major font styles in illuminated texts before the Renaissance: insular and blackletter. Blackletter descended from insular, and it’s really easy to distinguish from the rest:

Blackletter is like cursive print, in that it focuses on one thing to the exclusion of all others, in its case: regularity. It forces you to keep everything straight, angled, narrow, never deviating from its prescribed rules. All letters are strict variants on a basic shape, differentiating glyphs only through what amount to mere flourishes or diacritics. By eliminating the curve and shape variety, it slaughters legibility to create an inimitable aesthetic. When Italian scribes rediscovered “ancient” insular manuscripts from around the turn of the millennium, they were shocked by how legible they were compared to blackletter. Being the subtle bigots they were, they of course ascribed this mastery to the Greeks and Romans they wanted to praise, despite being only a few centuries old. What commentary that survives on writing at the dawn of the Renaissance gripes bitterly about how illegible blackletter. With that spigot opened, Italians and all those they influenced (the Dutch, English, etc.) dropped blackletter like a hot potato. It looks cool but suffers from the same flaws as cursive. All modern type is based on the Humanist scripts that arose in blackletter’s wake, when Italian scribes refocused on legibility and approachability. Just see for yourself:

Humanist minuscule

I keep harping on legibility because that’s the whole point. Writing is meant to be read. An illegible squiggle you write out 0.5 seconds faster is utterly worthless. A squiggle you write 0.2 seconds faster means nothing if you have to spend more than 0.2 seconds reconstructing what it means. Bet you haven’t thought about that, have you? You’re always better off doing something right but slowly once than quickly but sloppily 3-4 times. I changed my handwriting because that’s what kept happening to me. Haste makes waste. As for cursive’s aesthetic appeal, here’s another hard fact: good penmanship looks good, period. Honed handwriting is always beautiful by its very nature, no matter its form. If you care about how it looks, there is always time. If you’re stuck with handwriting for some arcane reason and speed still troubles you, you’re going to get a lot more mileage out of refining your note-taking techniques than your penmanship. Eventually, handwriting will fail you. We invented typing for that reason. Before you start, no, the studies that show handwriting helps aid in retention are really showing that concentrating on information and summarizing it to yourself in the process of absorbing it aids in memory. Which, uh, duh. Handwriting does do that, but so does proper note-taking in general.

If you want good penmanship, you need to want it for its own sake. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter which form you use. In this nascent scribe’s opinion, cursive is a flawed approach to writing because it messes with legibility for the sake of priorities that haven’t mattered in generations. There’s a lot of grace and elegance in cursive forms, but beauty has nothing to do with the science of it. Calligraphy/typography are not the same as writing. Writing is meant to be read. Make the thing legible and sensible. Let God sort the rest out. The cursive-ignorant kids are all right.

Homeschooling is a Lie

Oh ho ho, a provocative title! (Though that’s the very point of a headline, you pedantic philist—)

“Homeschooling is a lie” in that the term is extremely dishonest. The giant elephant in the homeschool room is how rare it is for a kid to be tutored entirely within their own home throughout K-12 or whatever, and usually those kids are, how did Liz Lemon put it, crazy. (As one would expect.) Rare is the homeschooled kid that hasn’t stumbled through some variation of what is, for all intents and purposes, some form of traditional education. This is what my own experience was like. We did, what, two or three years of Abeka VHS training in our house? Even then we had a school day and homework and a curriculum. Then I started taking college classes at 11 and did a simultaneous co-op (a mini private school based on social circles) for most of what we’d call “high school.” How is that “homeschooling?” Because that’s what we called it so we could avoid talking about the elephant.

Think about it. It’s impossible for your parents to provide you what we consider a modern education. By definition, a modern education is a very broad knowledge base taught to you by specialists, either in how to educate and handle a mob of tots or subjects like math and geography, a base we expect everyone to have just to be a productive member of society. Such a thing didn’t exist in 1620. We created an education system to make that happen. It’s incoherent to try to do that, but differently. You can try to make paper on your own, I guess. Most of the time it’ll be crappy; some people might get lucky and get it right, but the reason we systematized it is to take luck out of the equation and make crappy paper a rarity. We want the most number of people to as educated as best they can. Trying to homeschool kids is missing the forest for the trees in perhaps the most pristine way possible.

Now, setting aside illegitimate reasons for wanting to homeschool your children—namely religious/ideological ones hiding behind legitimate complaints about the public school system, or a wicked desire to control every possible aspect of the rearing of ANOTHER LIVING BREATHING HUMAN LIKE YOURSELF as if they’re some pottery vase you’re trying to perfect, or laziness, or sheer fear and ignorance—, the most common reason for parents to “homeschool” their progeny boils down to something like “I think they could do better in a different environment.” Schools, private and public, specifically those common in the developed world (YES, I KNOW FINLAND EXISTS, BUT IT’S 5 MILLION WHITE PEOPLE WITH A CRAZY LANGUAGE. WOULD YOU STOP TRYING—) are kind of zoo-like, often stifling children’s creativity, focusing way too much on metrics, tests, and the quantifiable aspects of education, fostering bullying, cliques, bad social habits, etc. Legitimate, as I said, although please make sure (really, seriously, no honestly, check yourself) that those are your actual concerns for trying to wing one of the most important parts of your child’s development. Being worried doesn’t qualify.

As an aside, it should be noted that, indeed, some children with learning disabilities might not do well in a more traditional classroom. That’s a thing, yes. Still, A) go back to the previous paragraph and make sure that’s relevant to your concern, B) a highly developed school system with a long history and lots of resources is a lot more likely to be able to find a happy medium between educational needs and specific learning limitations than your own household. This isn’t an argument against the traditional school system per se, only for expanding its ability and performance in accommodating such needs. Stick to your lane.

Now back to the lane. You know those issues are par for the course, right? Parents have been complaining about them since public schools came into existence. Nobody likes seeing Junior struggle with multiplication tables they couldn’t care less about. Fine. But…what are you going to do? Not have them know their multiplication tables? Do you think they shouldn’t know multiplication tables? Then make that argument. (I’ll wait.) If you do think they should know them, how are you going to teach them then? Wait around for them to decide they want to? Great parenting, that. If not when their five, at the most crucial time in their physical and mental growth, then when exactly? And how are you going to structure your approach to this? How are you going to organize their day? How are you going to get them to stick to task when their mood swings? In short, how are you going to get s— done? It’s not going to do itself. Walk down that path and you’ll find yourself making many of the same decisions as those evil, soulless teachers who just won’t leave those kids alone.

No matter what, schooling requires some amount of rigor, some amount of scheduling, some amount of discipline, some amount of control, some amount of focus, and some amount of give-and-take in what things you want the curricula and philosophy to emphasize. Yes, kids don’t react to that as well as adults—because they’re kids. They’re full of energy, their bodies and brains developing at an astonishing rate. You can’t just let them run around in fields sniffing flowers all day. They won’t learn anything in the end. Learning is a skill. It’s work. You have to do sit down and do it. It’s the same thing as teaching them how to sit still quietly, to take no for an answer, and be nice to people. They don’t naturally learn these things. They have to be taught. Being taught is more than worth it.

One larger motif in this line of thought is that we’ve recast growing up and “adulting” as some sort of miserable injustice that shouldn’t be foisted upon innocent young souls in the prime of happiness. One, that’s projection—your early years aren’t coming back—, and two, it’s called infantilization. Childhood is not the point of life. It’s supposed to go away. You can’t build a civilization on children. My God, man. Think of what you speak. The mess, the chaos! When Junior is in first grade or fifth or whatever, they’re not even remotely mature. They’re useless. They can’t function on their own. They don’t know enough about the reality around them to make sense of it, to go out into the world and own themselves. That’s why we sit them down in these zoo-like buildings. Left to their own devices, kids don’t magically turn into scholars, engineers, writers, or even worthwhile laborers. Education is a massive infusion of worth. It’s not all they amount to, yes, but yikes, it’s pretty crucial, don’t you think? Please, argue this point with me. I’d love to hear about how being school-smart is somehow a bad thing. No, an overemphasis on school-smarts isn’t healthy, but neither is eating French Fries at every meal. This is obvious. Debate class was ages ago.

It’s good to be an adult with a broad scope of knowledge and capability. It’s good to be be able to do your own laundry without (much) griping, to socialize and interact with people of very different backgrounds and worldviews, to be knowledgeable, smart, and wise. These things are virtues. We as a society have spent untold amounts of effort making sure the next generation receives the fruit of the toil of the previous one. Kids don’t do that. If we’re being honest, they’re mostly little idiots who haven’t learned how to behave. That process never stops, by the way. Remember the kind of person you were ten years ago? Wow, were you stupid. So was I.

Back to homeschooling, it should be pretty obvious a better term for it is “ad hoc schooling,” as my friend Rob put it. No two homeschooled kids have the exact same experience, because the crux of the enterprise remains throwing different books, programs, teachers, and schools at the wall and seeing what sticks. You don’t want to shove them through the traditional system (boooo! hiss!), so you form one by the seat of your pants, yanking them in and out of stuff that doesn’t seem to work (far too often just based on a gut feeling or how much you’re pitying them in the moment), ignoring the serious downsides to that approach, then hoping your socioeconomic status will take care of the rest.

Yep, that’s the gist of it. Don’t lie. Do you see lots of single black mothers among the ranks of homeschooling apologists? No. Most glowing stories are of kids who would’ve almost certainly come out fine going through the public school system anyway, because their parents had the ability and, just as importantly, the desire granted by that ability, to guide their child’s development with a strong, steady, loving hand. Just as war is mostly determined at the outset by those boring macro-factors of economics, demographics, and logistics, just as parenting comes down to mostly how stable and loving a home environment you can create, the range of your educational outcomes for children are determined overwhelmingly by your socioeconomic status. Parents like to concoct Great Men Theories about how they were the deciding factor in why their Junior is so special and awesome. Individual actions do have an impact; sometimes they can be a deciding factor. But scale is a thing, and scale brings all valor and cowardice low. Sorry, Eustace and Margaret, but putting kale in Junior’s cereal and deciding to enroll him in the Parkside Afterschool Program for Excellence did not make or break his path to success, just as one more bayonet charge didn’t decide WW1. I know you know this, Homeschool Success Story. If you don’t, that begs an inconvenient question.

Aye, sure, there are lots of great homeschooled kids out there. There are also, what, eight billion people on planet Earth at this point? If you’re a homeschooler or parent wanting to tout the virtues of your tribe (that’s what it is) and the esteemed caliber of your education, maybe, I don’t know, avoid making such basic scholarly mistakes in public. It doesn’t matter how many potential scripts for a Lifetime movie you can reference off the top of your head. What’s relevant is the overall breakdown of success and who benefits from it. Spoilers: we don’t have that. All we know is that homeschoolers represent maybe 1-2% of the educational population in the US, i.e., a very small fraction. The rest is largely speculative nonsense, tainted by a mountain of pro-homeschooling organizations with every impetus and motivation to inflate the prowess of their particular shtick. The HSLDA is notorious for playing up every possible public school horror story, protecting parents blatantly guilty of abuse, and tainting the whole idea of public schooling for their own obvious selfish gain. They aren’t looking out for you, and they sure aren’t making sure whatever literature they publish extolling the virtues of their cause are rigorous and accurate.

Speaking of which, are you citing rigorous studies in your defense of homeschooling? No, because there basically aren’t any. And if you aren’t citing rigorous studies, then cease and desist. If you really are an amazing HS student who’s As Good as the Rest, odds are you got lucky. That’s not an argument for an educational paradigm. There are just as many (if not far more) homeschooled students whose parents didn’t make a combined $250,000 a year and who had serious gaps in their upbringing, adults who will now carry that burden for the rest of their lives. Those kids are ignored, forgotten, and outright erased from that gilded narrative. If you don’t take into account the full horizon of outcomes, to include the failures—the myriad of abused, neglected homeschoolers—you’re doing yourself, them, and your cause a disservice, not to mention selling someone else’s snake oil. In this day and age, you have no excuse. Their stories are a Google search away. Here’s one. Now go find another. Do your homework.

Finally, if you want your child to be raised in the Finnish education system, just move to Finland. Here’s a chart of all fifteen Finnish grammatical cases. You’d better start Junior on them now! They grow up fast, after all.

Water Runs Downhill – 1

I’ve been asked to comment on the recent pullouts in Syria and Afghanistan announced by Trump. Allow me to exploit this as a springboard for a continuing analytical series on the topic of geopolitics as I feel like.

To the matter at hand, both these statements are correct:

  1. We have and haven’t had any strategy governing our presence in the Middle East since I was a tot.
  2. No strategy governs our announced pullout from Syria and Afghanistan, which may end up helping antagonistic actors like Russia and Iran.

I say this because geopolitics is a godless morass of competing concerns and interests. Boiling it down to a simple equation, moral or otherwise, is the province of charlatans. Now, people rejoice at the withdrawal, others decry it. While I can see arguments for both, I’m divided, highly inclined to agree on Afghanistan, where we’ve been spinning our wheels for nigh two decades. If our presence has proven so ineffectual, it begs the question as to what possible calamity our absence might work. Regarding Syria, I’m more skeptical. The question there is “why.” The larger conflict is decided insofar as a butcher like Assad will survive, a tall king of ashes. What lies beyond is unripe speculation, and I’m not sure it matters much anyway. If one’s concern bends towards Iran, I’m sorry to say that ship has sailed. There was little we could have done to blockade it. Even in an intervention scenario, Iran would have attained a net positive increase in its influence and reach. If, on the other hand, the concern bends toward Russia, well, that’s a different story. I’m not terribly concerned by even a stark victory for a dying power squandering its last frail spring on more misplaced imperial adventures. Let the little people blow. Sauron will deal with them later.

To specify, my only real concern with the Syria pullout is the motivation of those who made the decision–a single mendacious Individual-1–and those reacting to it with either dismay or welcome. The presence of a few thousand American troops, such formidable currency in such parts, cannot be said to be the crux of the conflict. I agree that the Kurds don’t deserve to be abandoned again, but again, see #1. If we wish to support the Kurds, there must a goal and vision for that other than mere maintenance. Maintenance, prevention, deterrence, etc., are better called “idling” without those. The bitter truth is that Trump has brought some much-needed sense to the analysis (broken clocks, man), bolstered entirely by a question that hasn’t been asked in a shameful while: what the hell are we doing there? There are worse things to do than throw up his hands and withdraw when no general or expert can give him a convincing answer. “Bad things might happen” or “the bad people might win” aren’t that, but how children answer questions about a bedtime story. The American Empire ought not be run with such scholastic dotage.

I suspect Trump is tainted by an atavistic, selfish sympathy toward Russian whispers, but I can’t help but think that here his instinct just saw a vague, interminable mess and said “screw it.” That’s how the readout seems to me. It’s not his fault that American Middle Eastern doctrine is bankrupt and can’t meet basic questions. That such an approach is better than what we have is a condemnation of the latter, not the former. There a number of better approaches to tackle this issue, the best of which lies not in bases or allies or scheming above a map, but by building insane amounts of solar panels, wind farms, and nuclear power stations, rendering the one thing that keeps this region’s medieval squabbles relevant a sunbleached relic. For Iran, the better approach was the goddamn deal we made that opened a path to rapprochement, also known as neutralization. The best way to thwart Iran is to transition from a hated to a neutral potential partner across the wide sea. As long as Tehran can cast us as an acute enemy, they’ll be a threat, as we’ll be one. Were we to become something more benign, their scheming would fall by the wayside, their eyes and hands turned elsewhere. Oftentimes the best defense is a dodge.

That’s it. One minor Parthian shot: there’s a tendency and temptation to treat every last development in the Game as apocalyptic. No. Everything matters, not everything is key. Most waves cancel each other out.

Space Gaslighting

Fans suck, especially the Star Wars variety.

I don’t have much pity for The Last Jedi. It’s a terrible movie, as I’ve explored at length. That said, I’ve despised the alt-right bullshit “reactions” around it from the very beginning, exploiting the existence of a banal, weak character like Rose (as opposed to every other character in the same movie) to rally around an anti-SJW agenda. SJW is pronounced “s’jewwwwwwwwwwwwww”, by the way, just in case it wasn’t clear it’s become a meaningless slur in direct harmony with its anti-Semitic predecessors. These are liars, idiot bigots who want to go back to a magical time when there was no progressive message in their media and everything was just nice and timeless and oh wait X-Men the Animated Series was more leftist and hardcore than most things on the air today and remember how Captain Planet was overtly anti-corporate with a highly diverse cast?

None of these alt-right losers care about “cinematic integrity” or “ethics in game journalism.” It’s an excuse to act out their bigotry in public, pure gaslighting meant to reframe and reshape reality to fit their goals, to restore public acceptability for their hatred, to make their bile seem like good ol’ common sense. Meanwhile, the alt-right is about as natural as a nuclear bomb. It’s an artificial monstrosity, one that has been deliberately fostered by its advocates and tolerated by corporate hacks in favor of profitability, as well as the occasional naive moron in a comical position of power who probably has sympathies towards them.

The insulted male wracked with grief over the injustices foisted upon him by the FEMINISTS and a rabidly leftist world is a farce. They’re assholes seething at a world that now might punish their obnoxious, childish antics instead of rewarding them. Everything else is a smokescreen. An angry man ranting about how a bad corporate turd of a movie is RUINING THEIR FRANCHISE WITH A POLITICAL AGENDA (whatever that is) should not be given any benefit of the doubt, let alone respect. Can they define what that agenda is? Can they explain what the hell they’re talking about? No, because that’s not the point. The point is to find an excuse to make their hatred and bitterness sound reasonable, whatever form that takes.

You want to know why these fans, authors of 10-hour-long videos about how Rose is somehow the worst Star Wars character ever, really hate Rose? It’s because she’s Asian and has chubby cheeks. That’s it. They’re racist woman-haters. End of story. Nothing that Rose does in TLJ is remarkable. There’s that one stupid line at the end where she says “Love Will Save Us” as the Space Empire’s Lazer Ram breaks through the door. Oh no. As opposed to this:

This scene pissed me off way more than anything else Rose ever did. Why? Because it’s also gaslighting. Noticing a theme here?

“The height of their power?” Have you all forgotten that the Jedi were consistently stated to be at a worrying nadir in all three prequel films? Go back and watch them. The Jedi were in trouble the whole way through, and they knew it. It’s not like they were being deliberately undermined by an evil Sith Lord. Oh no, it was all the good guys’ fault for being mercilessly slaughtered by a power-hungry tyrant while trying to keep the Galactic Republic from falling apart. No no no, the legacy of the Jedi was total failure…apart from over a thousand years of peaceful, stable, democratic rule. More than we’ve ever done. If that’s failure, then what’s success?

How odd that all these defenders of integrity don’t seem to care about a movie rewriting history. They know few, if any, will go back and watch what amounts to a historical record, so they can just lie and say whatever they want, tweaking Star Wars to appeal to the tired cynicism of the 2010s, reinforcing the caustic idea that good and evil are lies, no different from one another, legitimizing distrust in our institutions and the good people in them. This is far more insidious than Rose saying something stupid in one scene. There’s way stupider shit in the movie itself anyway. Luke Skywalker cynicizing the entire legacy of the Jedi? Who cares! Rey wanting to save a murderous asshole who killed his father showed no remorse for it? Eh! Finn forgetting about Rey, the person who changed his life? Meh! Leia having no plan and flying through space like Mary Poppins? Whatever. Poe having no character arc? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But “LOVE IS WHAT WILL SAVE US” is what gets you riled up. Sure, Jan.

Stop taking these people at face value. Their grievances are a performance to themselves, curated rage, all to enjoy the experience of being an awful human being while gaining power. Most of all, they want you to defend these movies. That’s their game: to put you between a rock and a hard place. Do I try to justify TLJ because defending representation in movies is more important, even though, yeah, Admiral Holo’s actions make no sense?

No. This is a Disney movie made to sell toys. You don’t owe it a damn thing. Captain Phasma being a woman doesn’t make her character good. That plays right into their hands. It makes you seem like a zealot out of touch with the real world. Here we have a corporation and racists exploiting your well-meaning idealism from different angles. As a different example, the new Ghostbusters was a travesty, and everyone who tried to defend it simply because it had an all-female cast fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. This harms our cause, as less informed, less insightful people on the sidelines will watch the movie and think of us as fools, reinforcing the cynical message of the alt-right: we weird coastal elites and liberal activists don’t care about the truth that us common folk can grasp; we’re just purple-haired activists who don’t care about whom we trample to remake the world in our image. Unlike them, beleaguered guardians of reason and justice.

Don’t fall for it. TLJ is bad. Why? Because most movies today are bad, because studios have turned an artistic exercise into a focus-group-centered mathematical puzzle. There’s no mystery to it. It just so happens that nowadays putting more women and people of color into them stirs up hype. I just saved you hundreds of hours of arguing on the internet.

It should be noted that even this half-hearted effort is worthwhile. Black Panther is a good example of how it can pay off eventually. Cultural change has to start somewhere. You just have to approach it with some cunning and patience. There are countless good movies out there pushing the bounds of diversity and social justice. You don’t have to die on any particular hill. Save your blood for something worthy.

By the way, the climate is changing really fast and we’re so far behind on addressing it that we’re probably completely screwed.

Dear Blue – I

Dear Blue,

We won last night.

No, we didn’t clinch the slaughter we hungered for. That was always a distant dream, best used for motivation, not a serious performance metric. The true prize was the House, which we have. With it we’ve paralyzed Trump and his Red minions until 2020 at the worst. Obamacare is safe. Most of Barack’s legacy lives intact (for good and ill). That long battle is over. Rejoice.

All this is only as much of a “defeat” as you make of it. It’s only a disappointment in the sense that we didn’t get everything we wanted, if you frame total victory–seizing both House and Senate with iron claws quick-rusted in the spent blood of our enemies–as the only victory. That’s not how you win a war. Remember how poorly the first half of the Civil War seemed to go for the Union. Self-inflicted despair, treason of the spirit, is our greatest foe. Rome didn’t give up after Cannae. This was Fabius’ first stroke.

Setting aside irresponsible historical metaphors for a moment, we won big on the policy front, one of several rising bastions that will lift us to the ultimate victory: Florida re-enfranchised its felons, Medicaid expansion surged forth in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah (our enemy’s heartlands), Michigan defeated gerrymandering and voter suppression, more states decriminalized marijuana in some form, on it goes. Our vision has become reality. It hasn’t yet come to full ripeness, nor may it ever in some crueler fields, but it’s survived a harsh frost..

A quick, easy lesson you should learn, Blue, if you haven’t yet somehow, is that narratives are a double-edged sword, vital and dangerous. Like all guides, they can go astray. We need them and our own eyes, ears, hands, and legs. There’s cause for frustration and hope in everything we see. So many of our bitter defeats were within a hair’s breadth in places we had no right to threaten: Georgia and Florida, for one, but one can find a plethora of contests all across the country within a 5-point margin, shedding further light on the existential crux of voting rights, which we’ve long neglected. Red persists in it because it still knows this better than us. In the deepest crooks of its cunning, it grasps how just much it must cheat to survive. It’s why they’ve trudged away at it for generations and why we must do the same. Our enemy remains strong, but so do we.

Instead of narrative, focus on reality. There now exists an undeniable check on Trump’s power, our check, to drag his grosser excesses into the pitiless light of day, to dismantle the charlatan’s image propping up his standing in the eyes of fools. We already know he doesn’t stand up well to actual scrutiny, while his success has painted him into a corner from which he can’t easily dart, his trademark survival tactic. It may seem unwise to focus so much on the person of Trump instead of things that seem to have more weight, like pet policy issues, but again, consider reality: Trump’s image is his policy. He’s the epitome of a rich, white bigot, the kind that flouts the most basic norms, says the terrible things his racist kind has wanted to say for so long, makes stupid, selfish decisions with wild abandon, all while getting away with it. By showing the way, he lets others do the same. To its benefactors, it’s as concrete a policy as any other, the only one he has, a mighty one indeed, and now the Republican Party has cleaved unto it. There’s no going back. The die is cast.

Is that disgraceful to our country and its professed ideals? Of course it is. Still, remember that those have been a convenient facade from the beginning. America aspires both to equality and a vicious racism that has inspired many. It remains a Great Experiment, worthy of love and praise, now fanaticism and fawning. As for their hate, it’s wicked, still wickeder for the fury and power it gives their limbs, letting them punch far above their rightful weight. It’s wickedest, though, in that it’s an untruth. These always have their due. “Nothing matters?” No. Everything matters, this most of all. Those who truly love him will never leave him, not even perhaps when the river rises. Those that use him have their limit, and those who hate him outnumber him on every level. It’s a gamble on genetics, culture, and socioeconomics, hoping that chance will have rendered someone vulnerable to its lies, just enough to cobble an army together.

But they remain lies, sound and fury, signifying nothing. They will pass and are passing. I take this as an opportunity to address the forlorn hope of Demographics is Destiny, which we’ve abused. What is meant by that is so simple: the old bigots aren’t replacing themselves. The polarization of the country continues unabated: the farms and wide spaces rush right, the suburbs and cities, the beating heart of our nation, flee left. It does not and has never meant that we will win the day by automatic math, because Latinos and Blacks and women are ours to command, without minds and feelings of their own, whose oaths to us they must respect. It means that those capable of holding forth the banner of modern conservatism are decreasing unto its doom. Red has mortgaged its future to win its present.

Understand, Blue, that this doom may not come in a form you or I expect. Before us lie many defeats unlooked-for and victories unforeseen. As I say, this is a war, of words and ideas. In such wars, things shift. What was “conservative” and “liberal” yesterday in America isn’t that today. We may see tomorrow’s climate “conservatism” as being pro-nuclear and opposed to a harsh carbon tax in the face of a bold Green New Deal. That’s a good future. Should a new Red Phoenix arise, one that shifts left and embraces our greater causes–universal healthcare, gay rights, etc.–we ought to welcome it with open arms. We destroy the Republican Party not to blot out the word “Republican” from every text in the universe, but to erase what it’s chosen to represent. When they remind us that “Democrat” used to signify slavery, they make this point for me.

None of this is to lull you or me into complacency. War is a hell fraught with risk. However, this one is no evil. Ours is a holy war, most holy, for we know our cause is true, not through faith in tomes and saints, but the stronger knowledge of science, reason, and judgment, the careful, disciplined uncertainty of evaluation and reevaluation that gives rise to true certainty, reinforced by the preponderance of the evidence, strictures mightier than any commandments of hate. They win every time because they aren’t that: they don’t rely on having to whip idiots into a frightening, fragile furor, because they don’t have to expend that energy in the first place, because they’re their own witness that stands the test of time. All we have to do to keep them alive is to practice them.

Here’s a most instructive illustration: do you remember how bad things were when Germany had conquered Europe and Britain stood alone? Imagine how much worse things might have been had Hitler stood back, consolidated his gains, and asserted what he’d won in a calm, confident manner? He didn’t have to commit the Holocaust. He could have written a Novus Ordo Seclorum, accepting Jews and others into his cause, rolling back the dreaded tide of revolutionary communism and other feared hordes on the horizon. But he couldn’t, could he? Crafty and cunning, formidable and fearsome, yet when all was said and done, when all the theories and speculation as to what he was really up to passed into history, he was a plain and simple bigot. He believed in his hatred with heart and soul, in the fevers of his mind with an unwavering conviction. He couldn’t resist invading the Soviet Union, in pushing his luck, making mistake after unnecessary mistake, until he died at his own hand in utter humiliation. Evil is both devilishly wily and incredibly stupid, capable of such comical errors Good could never imagine. Fear most the Evil that hasn’t yet fallen so low. Trumpism has.

Keep faith, Blue. Never stop. Never give up. Take your victories and know what they look like. Hope lives. The Republic fights another day, in the form of you and countless others. We won and will win, if only you want it.


Politics, Violence, Centrism, and Guillotines

I wrote a thing the other day on my Facebook that ended up causing some consternation:

2050 comment

It should be first noted that this was little more than a casual, random thought, a variation on a theme I’ve shared before. Take this lazy meme-a-thingie I posted long long ago on November 22, 2016:


I should think the basic sentiment is obvious: politics is the continuation of violence by other means, to echo von Clausewitz. In the universe which we inhabit, force is the only method by which things may happen. They must be caused, not willed, and the best way to do this has often been to randomize the mass in critical areas of other people’s bodies and acquire their stuff. Through a massive (and comical) amount of trial and error, we’ve slowly discovered violence isn’t a particularly efficient form of getting things done and ought to be used more sparingly. As an alternative, we’ve turned to Politics *dramatic music*, creating a new battlefield out of whole cloth that has at least as much consequence as the old, but is fought on with ballets instead of bullets.

I am a very clever writer.

The problem is that people forget this basic history and seem to want to think that violence is a dirty relic of a ancient era of barbarism, a cadaver of Voldemort we mustn’t ever name again. I will remind them that we in the First World killed, like, 100 million people in our last major war less than a century ago. We’re not so far from violence as we like to believe. The clean, polite, gentlemanly political systems we’ve worked so hard to build over the centuries are, like everything else we’ve ever built, very fragile things. They rest upon an abstract sense of “legitimacy,” a scholastic word that means “buying into nice-sounding bullshit.” None of this “democracy” stuff is objectively real. Ballots are just pieces of paper. Their power, influence, and authority exist entirely in our minds. Ergo, it’s very important to ensure our political systems remain something people can continue to buy into without feeling like chumps or suckers. If we’re going to continue playing this artificial game of politics in order to not play a slightly less artificial game of killing each other, enough people need to think the game is fair and has sensible rules. Otherwise that relic might seem appealing to them again.

Which brings us to that Theoretical Republican Senator of 2050-something I mentioned. Let’s call him, uh, Don Eagle, because freedom or something. Don Eagle is part of the Republican Party, which is currently really keen on putting a fifth judge on the Supreme Court of the United States so that they’ll have a majority out of nine judges, which they can then use to force their ideological vision of America onto a huge majority of Americans. The more popular topic of discussion of the moment is Roe v. Wade, but given that Americans support that ruling by a solid 2-1 margin, I’m a little skeptical as to whether their potential cabal might actually pull that lever instead of bunting the question to the states. What worries me about this cabal is more, you know, global warming, that thing we have maybe ten years to really do anything about before we enter completely uncharted territory, dealing with climate parameters no human has ever dealt with before. Can you guess what a hardline conservative majority on SCOTUS would say to, I dunno, magical bipartisan legislation in 2024 (which will definitely happen) that might move the dial a bit away from utter disaster?


Again, a decade.  Meanwhile in the decade, SCOTUS conservatives strike down every attempt to reduce the effects of climate change at any level: federal, state, local, and it’s pretty obvious as to why: it’s not because they sincerely believe in keeping Big Bad Brother from butting into your very private affair of spewing carbon into the atmosphere that everyone and everything else depends on, so obviously nobody has any legitimate reason to be interested in it ever, certainly not the GOVERNMENT, but because they’re ideological hacks who couldn’t care less if that’s a reasonable position to hold on such a vital issue. Couch it in whatever legal gobbledygook you like, but eventually people will catch on. This would turn SCOTUS into nothing more than an arm of the Republican Party for a lot of people, i.e., not an independent watchdog of the law. Guess where that goes after enough mistakes.

So when I say that, yeah if you remove yourself 30-odd years into the future, where global warming is likely to be much more Serious Business with increasingly longer, more brutal summers, Miami under water, and China finding out the hard way that aging is a thing that happens, you can imagine the people of that era being sick and tired of our crap. I’m gonna be sixty in 2048. I wouldn’t be surprised if my great nephews or whoever might be a little pissed when they ask me why we didn’t do anything to stop this and all I have for them is this lame “Well, you see, rules were rules at the time.” If we screw it up so badly, they might decide to kill us all, especially Don Eagle crowing haughtily lifetime appointments for their guys in fancy robes who keep hindering every attempt to address the problem that’s making everyone miserable and/or dead. Should ballots stop working, they’ll go back to bullets. And why wouldn’t they? What rational person would persist with something ineffectual that no longer serves even its ostensible purpose? Returning to violence as a tool for resolving social disputes wouldn’t be a good thing, but it would make perfect sense to the people doing it, and none of the arguments from our time would mean anything to them. What good is politeness or civility if this is where it got them?

So, can we not bring back guillotines? Can we not let things get so awful to the point where that seems like the sane alternative? By the way, that doesn’t mean being more nice to people. It means getting off your cozy fence and putting your feet down on some uncomfortable ground. There’s a growing consensus around many important issues that’s going to leave a lot of people out in the cold: climate change is real and we need to act; women and minorities still aren’t getting a fair chance; the rich don’t pay what they should; big companies have too much power. There are a myriad of ways to go about fixing these problems, but the problem isn’t that we’re too mean to each other when discussing that myriad. The problem is that too many people don’t agree these are problems in the first place. They think they’re lies or hoaxes. What do you say to that? Like, what’s the compromise? Seriously, what is it?

Remember how I said politics is a battlefield? Well, what’s happening in our country right now isn’t a new era of incivility we ought to lament, but the culmination of a protracted war between two opposing sides whose views are incompatible. This isn’t the first time this has happened: we used bullets once instead. We’ve only gotten to this point because all attempts to find common ground have failed. None of this would be happening if there were any left. Too many people in too many important positions think global warming is a Chinese gimmick or something, and they can’t be reasoned with. They have to be defeated first and driven from the battlefield. Once that camp isn’t a viable political force, then we can hash out how much of the free market and government we want to use to stop the world from burning.

Until then, being too fixated on the mere ugliness of politics just brings us one step closer to Don Eagle’s unfortunate date with a giant French bread-slicer.


This is one of Giphy’s search results for “guillotine” and now nothing makes less sense.

Dark Souls: The Final Verdict

The Dark Souls trilogy is utter nonsense, a polished turd in From Software’s Great Crown of Fraud. I have hated every From Software game I have ever tried. This time I got roped into Dark Souls 3 by a friend, who assured me that the game’s design has improved and been sufficiently streamlined to be tolerable. I am afraid this was a mistaken evaluation. The game is only slightly better than the last FS game I experienced, Dark Souls 1, which I played for ten hours until I realized what manipulative little shits these developers were, wasting my time, intellect, and effort with a soul-draining pallid color schema, an obnoxious, gluttonous fetish for grotesque necromantic aesthetics and monstrous parodies of European castles, and a game paradigm so Frankensteinian in its precise manipulation of human psychology. Abuse, punishment, reward denial, and an indoctrinated community of adorers who slurp every splash of urine that spews from this putrid fountain. I hate it with every fiber of my smoldering soul.

Oh look, it’s a swamp filled with poisonous enemies that have been mutilated by some mystical disfiguring contagion. Oh look, they all went to the same fencing school, all possessed of the same bizarre, awkward, unconvincing, insulting timing, as if they’d tested their swings hundreds of thousands of times against a particular humanoid with the exact same movement parameters. Oh look, that lumbering skeleton whose face twitches with indescribable torment and strains with its atrophied muscles just to lift its comical ax above its head also has the presence of mind to pause mid-swing for 0.3 seconds to catch a dodging enemy off guard. Oh look, I’m fighting a knight with slightly different armor. Oh look, no matter how good my gear is or how experienced I’ve become, they can all still two- or three-shot me. Oh look, there’s a quadruped monster who screams a bunch. Oh look, there’s a biped monster who screams a lot. Oh look, I’ve done all of this shit before. Why am I still doing this?

I have spent 120+ hours playing Dark Souls 3 over the past few weeks. It’s still hard to explain that previous sentence to myself. The best parts have been cooping with my friend, simply because coop puts the game on a more even playing field where every mistake is not punished to absurdity and the mere presence of another target disrupts the entire fragile paradigm, giving a poor player time to, dare I say it, recover from the normal vagaries of reality and the intended vagaries of this nightmarish holodeck. The worst parts have been the dull chore of finding out whatever arbitrary bullshit UNDEAD SKELETON #2187 has been programmed to do, learning how to vary your timing against its awkward timing over the course of an hour, maybe, and then repeating a sufficiently balanced sequence of button presses until the thing’s HP bar reaches zero. Lather, rinse, repeat until you want to break your controller.

The few bright spots in solo mode have been stumbling across bosses that minimize the bullshit and test your ability to fence and dance and time your shit in a way that doesn’t feel condescending. The Abyss Watchers, the Dancer of the Boreal Valley, Pontiff Sulyahn, the Lothric Princes, to name some. They’ve all been quite wonderful to fight, and they’re all connected by a common thread: there’s some lore behind their characters you can feel and experience as you duel them one-on-one on open field with no other mobs, adds, or ridiculous filler features to waste your time. Everything and everyone else sucks. Vordt is a barking frostdog. Treeballs is a test to see how well you can handle the game’s awful camera. High Lord Wolnir, a imposing behemoth of a skeleton trying to crawl his way out of the Abyss and whose single hand could crush you with ease, is just a check to see if you’ve ever played a video game ever. Hit the shiny things on his body a few times. Watch him die.

But no, what broke the straw’s camel back for me wasn’t even the gimmicky boss fights. No, it was the trash, as in the trash mobs between the bosses. Specifically one sequence in the last DLC, the Ringed City, in which I had to face off 20-30 mobs of the following types:

  • Frail undead peons in ragged robes who scream at you a lot and jump down and ambush you.
  • Shielded undead knights with glowing red eyes who do stupid amounts of damage.
  • Hulking giant undead knights who do stupid amounts of damage.
  • Frail undead caster peons in ragged robes who scream at you a lot and jump down and ambush you.

Wow, nice creativity, From Software. Working for you must be easier than EA’s Madden division. What skulking undead aberration should we put here in this next hallway? Eh, take this model of Undead Slave #2187, tint their clothes a little purpler, change their move-set a bit, and spam-populate the place. Done. Next. It’s amazing we’re not on Dark Souls XV by now, that From Software isn’t a giant assembly line with bored artists pumping these games out every four months. Why? What’s the obstacle? What’s the excuse? Everyone loves these games for some inexplicable reason. They make insane amounts of money. What’s the problem, From Software? Is that too shameless?

But what made me finally flip solo mode off for good was one of those caster mobs put on a secluded ledge behind the staircase of a descending spiral chamber, a ledge that served no purpose whatsoever and no one would ever build, a ledge that can only be accessed by jumping down onto a chandelier from a precarious rafter, then jumping onto the purposeless ledge, but since this is From Software’s majestic engine of wonder that won’t let you fall off any ledge until you’re either ten meters or ten millimeters from it, there’s a high probability that you’ll just miss the chandelier ledge and fall to your death. Oh, and you can’t ignore this caster mob because he can somehow see/hear you from fifty feet away and can cast through walls. I tested this. I tried ignoring him and found him casting on me through a dozen meters of pure stone while I’m fighting Mob Type #3 from the above list. HOW CHALLENGING.

Then I look up a guide and find out the next bonfire is still at least five minutes away. Oh, these developers are still manipulative little shits and I’m wasting my time. Bye, Lothric. Link your own damn fire, you hack frauds.