November 18: Six earth-shaping events that happened on this day

Important events happen every day on Earth, but some days get an interesting assortment. Over the course of the last 925 years, November 18 has seen a few events that went on to change history. Here are five.

  1. 1095 C.E.: Pope Urban II convenes the Council of Clermont. This council ran for ten days, until November 28, but on the penultimate day, Pope Urban gave a speech that included a call to arms in order to invade and capture Jerusalem.

This little invasion became known to history as the First Crusade, in which the members of one “peaceful” religion (Christianity) went to a foreign land and killed members of two other “peaceful” religions (Islam and Judaism) and claimed for themselves the city claimed by all of them, because reasons.

The real causes weren’t so much religious as they were the Roman Catholic Church coming to the aid of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I in his effort to drive out the Muslim Seljuk Turks and take control of Asia Minor himself. So, as usual, it was a personal thirst for power dressed up in lofty religious reasons.

Have to make the Holy Land safe for all those Christian pilgrims going to Jerusalem, right? Unfortunately, the Crusades continued on for nearly 200 years, and the Muslims ultimately won. That didn’t change until the Reconquista — which itself had begun in the 8th century — took back Muslim lands in Northern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.

That ended in 1492, just in time for a King and Queen in that peninsula to finance the expedition of a genocidal madman to the west so that Europe could go on to be bloodthirsty on an entirely new continent or two. You might have heard of the dude. He was named Columbus…?

  1. 1872 C.E.: Thirteen days after the fact — proving that the government being slow to move after an election is nothing new — a horrible act of voter fraud is uncovered and Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women are arrested for the heinous crime of voting while having vaginas!

It was the presidential election of 1872, which was an interesting one. Ulysses S. Grant, famous Civil War General, had been elected in 1868 after the single term of Andrew Johnson, one of the four U.S. Presidents who were never elected to that office. Grant was the favored nominee of the Republican Party, but (shades of 2016) disgruntled “party purity” members put up their own candidate, Horace Greeley, of “Go west, young man” fame.

He ran as a member of the newly minted and so-called Liberal Republican Party, but was actually nominated at the Democratic National Convention, so the mental-political mindfuck of all those terms crashing together is quite astounding, especially if you know the politics of the parties at the time.

The end result? Grant received 286 Electoral Votes. Greeley received none.

So it was on top of this rather odd background that fifteen women decided to just say “Fuck it” and go cast their ballots. Susan B. Anthony was the driving force behind it, and she basically went into the registration office before the election, demanding to register.

When she was told that state law only allowed males to do so, she cited the 14th Amendment —the post-Civil War Amendments granting equal protection — and so talked the workers into allowing her to register.

November 5, 1872, she and 14 other women voted. November 18, 1872, she was arrested, exactly as she expected. She proceeded to use her trial in order to bring attention to the concept of universal suffrage and giving women the right to vote in national elections.

The young men who accepted her registration and then her ballot were interviewed in her trial, and the transcripts make for a fascinating glimpse into politics and mindsets of the era.

  1. 1883 C.E.: Believe it or not, it took until the late 19th century for the U.S. and Canada to finally create something that we now all take for granted, especially in this era when a lot of our interactions are interstate if not international, and happen in real time.

On this day 137 years ago, U.S. and Canadian railroads instituted the five standard continental time zones, which at the time, of course, did not include the zones for Alaska, Hawaii, or any of the U.S. Pacific Island possessions.

Breaking things up into one-hour chunks, they begin in the east with Atlantic Standard Time (AST), which is four hours behind UTC, formerly known as Greenwich Mean Time, aka “The clock Queen Elizabeth II watches.”

AST really only effects two small chunks of eastern Canada. Otherwise, things kick in with Eastern Standard Time (EST), aka “The reason that things like presidential debates begin at 6 p.m. on the West Coast, when people are still driving home from work.”

This is also why the Academy Awards begin way too early, but at least they’re on Sunday now.

If you’re not from the U.S., the big time zone landmarks are these: New York, Boston, etc., five hours behind Queen Liz. Chicago and that slice, six hours. Denver, seven hours. L.A. and San Francisco, eight hours, Alaska and Hawaii, nine.

This is arguably much better than the system in China, though. Although the country physically crosses five time zones, everyone is on the same clock, set to standard time in Beijing, which is UTC+8.

This can lead to some really bizarre things. Imagine the case in the U.S. if everything were set to Chicago time. People in L.A. would have to do things two hours earlier, so the work day would be from 7 to 3. Meanwhile, New York would have to do them an hour later, so work from 10 to 6.

Then again, China is fucked up in a lot of ways that I won’t get into. (Hello to my Chinese readers, and I know you’re out there! Love the people. About the government? Not so crazy.)

But… how did we wind up getting time zones because of the railroads? Simple. Back before people could travel at such blazingly fast speeds by rail (OMG — it’s a 300 baud modem!) it really didn’t matter how each particular little town or county set its clocks.

The most likely thing would be to just say that noon was when the sun was directly overhead on a certain date, and calibrate everything from there.

Well, we live on a big ball, and a few degrees of latitude or longitude can make quite a difference. If it’s noon in the town you live in and what the folks fifty miles to your west call noon there is actually 12:45 your time, it’s not really a problem, because they aren’t going to get to you in any sort of time that will make the difference count.

Note: I’m not going to do the math to figure out the actual time difference based upon the number of degrees longitude at a certain latitude, so the numbers above are arbitrary. But you’re welcome to pick two places and do the math yourself.

Anyway… this loose designation of local time was fine until the trains started barreling through, and then there was a big problem — it made it ludicrously difficult to create schedules.

Why? Because it becomes a problem not just in space, but in time. How, exactly, do you describe on a train schedule that the 2:52 westbound out of Hutchinson arrives thirty minutes later in real time in Coffeyville, but when the train left Hutch it was 2:22 in Coffeyville.

Does it arrive at 2:52, 3:22, or at some other time? So you list both times and hope for the best? And has it progresses down the line, do you have to keep adding the individual arrival times translated to the departure stations?

So, yeah. Total nightmare, and it’s probably the reason that to this day so many algebra problems take the form of, “Train A leaves the station heading west at 40 miles an hour, while Train B leaves the station heading east at 60 miles an hour. They start out 150 miles apart. At what time does the Conductor of Train A realize that his wife has been cheating with the Engineer, and confronts and attacks him, causing the worst derailment in the history of Kansas City.”

The railroad industry wisely went for the easier solution, and so standardized time zones were born. Et voilà! On long trips, it would only be necessary to notify passengers of time changes about every thousand miles.

  1. 1978 C.E.: This is a very sad one, and also the origin of the phrase “Drink the Kool-Aid” when it’s used to indicate that someone has swallowed the thinking of a political cult hook, line, and sinker.

The setting is Jonestown, Guyana, where a man named Jim Jones had set up a cult called the Peoples Temple. Now, it started out benignly and benevolently in 1955, with an anti-racist, socialist bent, but eventually devolved into the typical cult of personality.

Eventually, after Jones moved his operations to Guyana, an American Congressman decided to visit to investigate charges of abuse brought by temple members, and everything went south once his plane landed.

The Congressman and most of his entourage were assassinated. Meanwhile, Jones ordered the members of the cult to kill themselves with cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, hence the origin of the phrase.

Those who didn’t voluntarily drink were shot, and Jones himself committed suicide.

It was a total shitshow, but it also elevated the concept of cults and awareness of their traits into national awareness, so a lot of the splash-back may have been positive.

Arguably, the events in Jonestown gave incentive to the people who had been going after Scientology, so there’s that.

    1. 2003 C.E.: I now pronounce you husband and husband. Or wife and wife. This was the day that the Massachusetts Supreme Court gave their 4-to-3 ruling declaring the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, giving the state legislature 180 days to change the law.

Goodridge v. Department of Public Health was the camel’s nose under the tent that eventually led to the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the United States.  

Here’s an interesting side-note: The concept is not “gay marriage.” It’s “same-sex marriage.” So, in theory, it doesn’t mean that it has to be a fucking couple (a couple who’s fucking?) that gets married.

That’s right. Two straight friends or roommates could just as well tie the knot, and if they have compelling financial or medical reasons to do it, it might not be a bad idea.

I don’t know whether there are many states left that allow lack of consummation (i.e. “he never fucked me!”) as a reason for a no-fault divorce, but I certainly know of none that require sex and or the production of crotch-fruit to consider a marriage valid.

So this day in history 17 years ago was the beginning of a win for a lot more than just the LGBTQ+ community, because the right to marry brings so damn many protections with it, especially when it comes to legal, medical, financial, and end-of-life decisions.

I work in Medicare by day, so I see this a lot, when somebody who is, unfortunately, old but without spouse or children has to ask a friend to deal with all their medical decisions. And that friend can get a durable Power of Attorney.

This is well and good up to a point, but doesn’t quite give the absolute rights that being a spouse would. And if that friend is of the same-sex and not married, it would make so much sense to use marriage to make their caretaker role so much stronger.

Which is why we need to remember the real lesson of same-sex marriage.

People easily forget. There are two versions of marriage, and they need to be kept separate. One is the ceremony. The other is the legal contract.

The ceremony is the religious (or not) one and, while it may have enormous cultural, emotional, or symbolic meaning, it has absolutely no legal effect.

Guess what? Nobody wants to force anyone to perform these kinds of symbolic but non-binding ceremonies. Your church won’t marry two men or two women? Great. That’s your right. Knock yourselves out.

But… the other part, the legal contract, is something set up by the state, and that’s where everyone gets equal access to sign their names to that contract, and all those Karens claiming “Mah religious freedoms” can just step the fuck off, because when you took that government job, you agreed to follow government rules.

Back in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court got this. Church marriage and State marriage are two different things, Church can define it however they want; State must define it to include all.

Period, end of discussion.

What things have happened for you on a November 18? Tell me in the comments!

image source: Sammy Six, (CC) BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Talky Tuesday: Punctuation

One of the side-effects of people texting and posting online — particularly if they do the latter with their phones — is that punctuation and, often, capitalization go by the wayside. I can understand this if you are using a phone, because the keyboard can be tiny, even on our modern oversized smart phones.

Generally, messages and posts done this way are short enough that missing punctuation, as well as regular paragraphing to indicate changes in thought, can’t hinder the meaning from getting through, at least not that much. Everyone is going to know what you mean in a short text, right?

But the longer you go and the more you write, the more you really do need to punctuate and paragraph your text. For example:

one of the side effects of people texting and posting online particularly if they do the latter with their phones is that punctuation and often capitalization go by the wayside i can understand this if you are using a phone because the keyboard can be tiny even on our modern oversized smart phones generally messages and posts done this way are short enough that missing punctuation as well as regular paragraphing to indicate changes in thought cant hinder the meaning from getting through at least not that much everyone is going to know what you mean in a short text right

How much harder was that paragraph to read than the two that opened the article? Same text exactly, just without any punctuation marks, so no road map. Which one would you rather be handed to read out loud with no preparation?

That’s pretty much the raison d’être of punctuation in any language — to clarify meaning, and especially to facilitate reading the words, whether out loud or in one’s head. But did you ever wonder where those punctuation marks came from?

Today, I’m going to focus on English, so we won’t be dealing with things like cedilla, which you see in the word façade, or the tilde, which is common in Spanish words like mañana. I’ll even pass on the French punctuation seen above in the italicized expression which just means “purpose” — literally, reason for being.

Depending upon the source, there are either fourteen or fifteen, but I’ll be focusing on fewer. I don’t agree with the latter list’s fifteen, which is a bullet point. I consider it more of a formatting tool than a punctuation mark. In a numbered list, while the numbers may or may not have period after them, nobody thinks of the numbers as punctuation, right?

I’ll also be skipping brackets and curly braces because they really aren’t in common use. And, finally, lists of more than five items tend to get cumbersome, so I’m going to stick with the most common ones and take a look at where they came from.

By the way, missing from both of the above lists: our friend the ampersand (&) which I definitely consider a punctuation mark, but which actually used to be the 27th letter of the alphabet. In fact, under its original name, you can’t spell alphabet without it, but those two letters eventually morphed into the pretzel or, as I see it, Panda sitting down to eat bamboo, that we all know and love today. And yes, you’ll never un-see that one.

Here are the origin stories of five heroic punctuation marks.

  1. Period: While the period, known in British as the “full stop,” is probably the most common punctuation mark in European languages, it came from the same forge as all of the other “dot” punctuations, including the comma, colon, semicolon, and ellipsis. The concept of the period was originally created by a Greek playwright, Aristophanes, who had grown tired of the published works of the time having no breaks between words, making the scrolls very hard to read.

Originally, his system involved placing dots either low, in the middle or high relative to the heights of the letters, and the position indicated the length of the pause, much as a period, comma, and colon indicate different lengths of pauses nowadays. However, his system did not pass directly to us. The Romans were not big fans of punctuation, and a lot of their works were copied down in so-called scriptio continua, or continuous writing.

Ironically, punctuation didn’t come back into it until Christianity began to take hold in the crumbling Roman Empire. Monks tasked with copying manuscripts by hand brought back the marks they knew from the classical Greek of Aristophanes’ era, largely to preserve the meaning of the frequently biblical texts they were copying.

And, again, if they were working to translate the Old Testament, which was largely written in Hebrew, they were going from a language that lacked punctuation, word spacing, and vowels, with the added bonus of only being written in the present tense. Yeah, that must have been a hair-puller. And, no doubt, the New Testament stuff they were working with probably had many of the same issues, since it was written in the Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic of the late 1st century.

These were the people instrumental in writing down the first official version of that bible in the early 4th century, starting with the Council of Nicea, and over the next 1,100 years, they also kind of invented emojis of a sort. What? They were bored college-aged dudes who weren’t allowed to get laid. What else could they do?

So things proceeded on the punctuation front without a lot happening until that dude Gutenberg got to printing in the 15th century. And that was when all of the existing punctuation got locked down because it had to be. That’s what standardization via mass manufacturing does, after all. Not necessarily a bad thing by any means.

  1. Question mark: This was another punctuation mark created by a person, Alcuin of York, an English poet and scholar who was invited to join the court of Charlemagne, who was first King of the Franks, then King of the Lombards, and finally Emperor of the Romans from the late 8th to early 9th centuries. If you have any western European blood in you, he is probably an ancestor.

Alcuin was a prolific author and very familiar with the old dot system of the Greeks, but he sought to improve it, so he created the punctus interrogatives, which is pretty much the Latin version of what we call it now, although his probably looked more like this: .~.

And while you may think that the question and exclamation marks are connected, with the latter just being the unsquiggled version of the former, you’d be wrong. In fact, no one is really sure where the exclamation mark came from, and it didn’t even appear on typewriter keyboards until the relatively late date of 1970.

  1. Hyphen: In the present day, hyphens pretty much exist only to join words that haven’t quite become full-on compounds But once upon a time, before computers had this wonderful ability to justify text and avoid breaking one word across two lines, hyphens did exactly that. They told you whether a word had been broken and to look for more of it on the next line. In practice, it would look something like this:

 He contemplated the scene, not sure what he was going to find, but fully ex-

pecting it to be something dangerous; something he’d rather not have to con-

front on his own.

Yeah. Messy and awkward, isn’t it? And yet, if you read any published material from earlier than about the late 80s, this is what you get and, honestly, it’s as annoying as hell.

The hyphen itself goes back, again, to ancient Greece, where it was a sort of arc drawn below the letters of the words to be joined. It was still common enough when Gutenberg got around to creating his moveable type that it was adapted. However, since he couldn’t figure out how to include punctuation below the baselines of his letters, he moved the hyphen to the medial position we all know today.

  1. Parenthesis: These most useful of marks were a product of the 14th century, and also brought to us by the creativity of monks copying manuscripts. And, again, I’ll remind you that these geniuses happened to be a part of their era’s version of what we’re currently calling Gen Z. You know. The ones after the Millennials that you should be paying attention to.

Anyway… in their wisdom, these monks decided to draw half circles around certain parts of the text (mostly to indicate that it was connected to but not part of the main idea) in order to set it off from the rest. In a lot of ways, parentheticals became a mental aside for the reader — hear this in a different voice.

And, like tits and testicles, parentheses are intended to always travel in pairs. (Yes, I know that not everyone has two of either, but note the “intended” part. Nature tries. Sometimes, she fucks up.)

  1. Quotation marks: These are yet another thing that the Greeks created, the Romans ignored, and medieval monks brought back. Originally, Greeks in the second century B.C. used sort of arrows to indicate that a line was a quote, and they stuck them in the margins. This form of quotation mark is still visible in modern languages, for example in the Spanish «quotation marks», which are pairs of little arrows.

When we got to the sixteenth century, they became a pair of commas before a line and outside of the margins, and indeed to this day, you’ll see this in ,,German quotes,‘‘ which have two commas before and two open single quotes after. Nowadays, you can’t say he said, she said without quotation marks.

So there you go. The origins of five-ish common punctuation marks. Which one is your favorite, and why? Tell us in the comments!

 

Monday’s mentor to many: Che’Rae Adams

I started a new Monday thing of spotlighting my talented friends. Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Those covered a triple-threat actor, improv artist, and impressionist; and a filmmaker, editor, and writer; and an artist, writer, and actor, respectively. This time around, we’re going to meet a friend of mine who helps creators become better at what they do.

I first met Che’Rae Adams eons ago when she produced my second ever full-length play to see the light of day onstage in a professional production, but she’s been a champion of my works ever since. And not just mine, but everyone’s, whether developing, producing, or directing.

Although she vanished for a while to go get her MFA in Ohio, she definitely came back into my life in a big way in the later 90s, and especially after she founded the L.A. Writers Center in 2006, also allowing me to be very involved with that. Although I don’t think I have any official title, I did co-write the book she still uses to teach her methods to writers.

At the same time, before I left LAWC to focus on improv, she and the other members helped me develop a hell of a lot of work there, both stage plays and screenplays. I can’t even count how many works I cranked out through her Monday night advanced classes.

The thing about her is, though, that she does this constantly for writers of all levels, nurturing and mentoring them and taking very personal interest in the development of their works and the improvement of their skills.

And I can tell you that this is no easy task, because I co-taught a few workshops with her, and it just bent my brain. It’s one of those weird cases of when you’ve done something for so long you’ve internalized it so much that you just can’t explain it to anyone else.

That’s my problem with trying to teach writing or music. My brain is at the point of only being able to say, “You do this because… duh,” which is no way to teach at all. If I want to try to teach, I have to sit down and force myself to work out the steps and, ta-da… that’s why I feel like I can do in writing, like I do here, but never spontaneously in person.

Che’Rae, on the other hand, is just the opposite, and I’ve seen her give many a lightbulb moment to both newbie and seasoned writers — myself included.

Of course, beyond our professional relationship, Che’Rae and I have become really good friends over the years to the point that she really does feel like she’s my true sister — and she has always, always been there for me when I’ve needed her, tossing me that life preserver a couple of times when I reached out for it.

One of the biggest impacts of COVID-19 for me, in fact, has been that she and I (and our regular game-night crew) haven’t been able to hang out together at all since March, 2020.

This didn’t stop her from producing a successful Zoom reading of my play Strange Fruit, Part One and Part Two, in August and September — but it’s still not the same.

Beyond her incredible artistic skills and ability to teach, she has a gigantic heart, with empathy and compassion to spare, and will not hesitate to give what is needed to those who ask. Plus, just being in her presence is always a huge dose of instant comfort.

She is one of my several human anti-depressants, and while chatting or Zooming online helps a little, it can’t compare to being together IRL in the same space. And missing her annual Thanksgiving gathering because I’m pretty sure it’s not happening doesn’t help either.

But… there’s always the art, and neither she nor I nor her students have given up on creating and producing that during this really weird year. If you’d like help in developing your own play, screenplay, or one-person show, you cannot go wrong with Che’Rae.

Sunday Nibble #43: A short guide to knowing your shit #7

I originally wrote these pieces for my friend Peter’s website, TheFlushed.com, back when they had been planning to expand their editorial content. However, the actual shitshow that 2020 turned into intervened, and we sort of forgot about it. Until now! Here, at least, you can read all about the anal emanations you’re likely to encounter in this ongoing series. How many of them do you recognize?

This is the rarest poop of them all, and one you’re lucky to encounter once in a very blue moon. You go to the toilet as normal and begin your routine. Of course, none of us ever knows what to expect. Will it be a cheek-ripping Decepticon, or the disappointing Phantom? Is it time to bless the Chocolate Rains down on Aquaman, or experience the wonders of an endless Anaconda?

Every time you come here, it’s literally a crapshoot.

Then comes that magical time when you squat and everything comes out almost immediately, in two or three solid plops that follow one after another like paratroopers leaping from the plane. No muss, no fuss, barely any clean-up, and you’re done. You didn’t even get a chance to open your browser.

This is Nature’s way of telling you, “Yes, you are getting enough fiber, and your diet is good.” This is the one that starts your day off right or makes your afternoon a thousand percent better. This is the one you want to share with friends, co-workers, or family by proudly stating, “I took the most satisfying dump today!”

By the way, did you ever wonder why the expression is “took” and not “left?” But I do digress.

When you experience this poop, it’s as if the heavens open and choirs of angels sing. You almost expect this one to smell like rainbows and cotton candy. You plan to buy a bunch of lottery tickets as soon as you get out of the bathroom, and you might even let someone else have the remote tonight. It’s just that good a moment.

If this happens for you every single day, then your gastrointestinal tract is truly blessed and your colon is probably more sparkly than the clean-room at JPL. You most likely pity your fellow humans.

But if this is a rarity for you, like it is for most of us mere mortals, count it as a lucky day when it’s snap, crackle, plop, and done, for you have just had the most wondrous poop of them all.

This rarest of poops is called The Unicorn

* * *

The Saturday Morning Post #41: The Rêves, Part 19

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Southern California.

To sleep, perchance…

Rêves actually did “sleep” — not in the same way that humans did, but they could sort of “power down,” at which point they would lose all physical visibility and substance. A Class I Rêve might be able to detect their presence, while Class II and III probably wouldn’t. Pearl, of course, was always aware of where every single one of them was at any moment, regardless of class or waking state.

But Preston didn’t know that yet.

All he knew was that he had curled up with Danny, who may or may not have been him but who was hella handsome nevertheless, and as they sheltered against the storm they both wound up falling asleep in each other’s arms.

It was a cold and foggy morning when Preston woke up. Okay, to be fair, it was visibly foggy, so he just assumed it was cold, which was something he couldn’t feel, although he and Danny could feel each other. He sat up and listened, and all he could hear was the distant crow of a rooster, and then drops of moisture falling from one level of leaves on the trees to another.

He nudged Danny to wake him — Preston could still see him for some reason.

“What?” Danny asked as he woke up and opened his eyes.

“Storm is over,” Preston said.

“So we lived?” Danny asked.

“No, dumbshit,” Preston replied, smacking his arm. “We’re still dead, but we’re still here.”

“Oh. Right,” Danny said. “So… now what?”

Before Preston could answer, there was a shout — “

¡Quédense. Manos arriba!

“What did he say?” Preston asked.

“Fuck if I know,” Danny replied.

Preston stood slowly, raising his arms.

“Y ¿por qué está desnudo en mi jardín, pervertido?” the voice called out again.

“Oh, wait, I think I knew one word, it’s about me, and it’s not happy,” Preston said, getting a good look at the angry father with the shotgun standing just outside the patio door.

“Tengo tres hijas jóvenes,” the man said, shotgun aimed right at Preston’s chest. “Qué ellas no vean sus cuerpos ni sus partes masculinos y forman ideas pecaminosas, si ustedes no se quitan del mi jardín en tres segundos, les voy a disparar y puedan decir hasta la vista a las nueces.”

On that last part, he lowered the shotgun to aim at Preston’s crotch.

“What did he say?” Danny asked.

“I have no idea on the specifics,” Preston replied, “But I think that the general idea is ‘Run like fuck.’”

“Oh, right,” Danny replied. “But wait,” he added. “Why are we running?”

“Because I get the idea he’s going to shoot us?” Preston answered.

“Right, and…?” Danny answered, refusing to move even as Preston got more antsy.

“I… dude, come on. Let’s not waste time. Let’s go!”

“You’re forgetting one thing,” Danny replied.

“What?” Preston barked back.

Danny just smiled at Preston, then turned to the clearly the angry dad, and gave him the finger.

“Are you fucking nuts?” Preston demanded. Danny just grinned and shook his head — and then dad unleashed the shotgun.

And… nothing. Well, nothing happened to them, but a flowerpot behind them exploded.

Preston looked at Danny, confused.

“Dude, we’re already fucking dead,” he replied. “How is he going to do anything to us?”

“Really?” Preston finally asked.

“Really,” Danny replied.

Preston laughed, then turned and marched right up into Dad with Shotgun’s face.

“Look, dude,” he said, “I didn’t want to be here, and I have no desire at all to wave my dick at you, okay?”

Dad with rifle seemed more scared than anything, but Preston pressed on. “On the other hand, I seriously wouldn’t mind slapping my dick on your chin, or you slapping yours upside my ass-cheeks. My name is Preston. What’s yours?”

Preston waited patiently as the dude reloaded two shells with shaky fingers, then fired right at Preston’s chest point blank, this time managing to blow apart a hanging potted plant behind him, at which point he retreated into the house.

There was a long silence, and then Danny just laughed.

“What?” Preston demanded.

“You scared him off, dude. “So… where do we need to be now?”

“I have no idea,” Preston said. “Maybe with my mother?”

“She’s not our moth — ”

“Fake mother, shut up, asshole,” Preston said.

“Okay, okay,” Danny replied. “So which way is that?”

“Follow me,” Preston explained, grabbing Danny’s wrist and Peter-Panning his ass all the way to the cemetery in Glendale… only to find the place empty. Well, not empty. It was full of corpses. They just didn’t see any Rêves around, of any class.

“Notice anything strange?” Danny asked.

“No,” Preston said. “Beyond the lack of visitors.

“Ground’s dry. Everything is.”

“So?” Preston asked.

“You saw the mess the storm left out there. Mud all over the place, some streets still flooded, everything still a little wet.”

“I’m still a little wet,” Preston said, unable to resist.

“Shut up,” Danny replied. “You remember that big flood back home in the summer of ‘10?”

“No,” Preston explained sadly.

“Great, whatever. My point is, during that flood, the cemetery out on Highway 52 was covered with water, and a lot of the graves got washed out. They were finding coffins all over the place for months.”

“Oh. Now I remember,” Preston said.

Danny gestured. “And yet, here…?”

Nothing was out of place, and the ground was still solid, all tombstones intact.

“Weird,” Preston said. “Maybe the flood didn’t get up this far.”

“You didn’t notice the road outside, did you?”

“Oh, right…”

“So what do you think happened?” Preston asked, warily.

“We both already know,” Danny explained to him. “We saw the storm, and what was causing it. There was nothing natural about it. I think it was an act of self-defense.”

“Self-defense, or war?” Preston pondered.

“I guess that definition will depend on who ultimately wins,” Danny said. “Who’s fighting, anyway?”

“Well, we know that the main enemy is some crazy mad scientist from Pasadena,” Preston explained. “What we don’t know is how the classes of Rêve are going to split up.”

“Wait… classes of what?” Danny asked, and Preston sighed.

“Oh, shit, right. I guess no one had a chance to explain this to you. Sit down. This is going to take a bit.”

Danny sat on the marble cenotaph that guarded the buried corpse that he and Preston shared, and then Preston launched into an explanation of what the Rêves were, and how they broke into classes.

The what, as far as they knew, was that they were not ghosts, but rather psychic “echoes” made manifest by human memories. But how close those echoes resembled the originals depended on two factors.

The first: How well did the living beings doing the remembering actually know them in life?

The second: How many living beings remembered them in any capacity, whether they knew them or not?

And so, the three classes.

“What it basically breaks down to is this,” Preston explained. “If you died with a lot of friends and family who knew you, and if they made it a point to commemorate your memory or pass on your stories in any way, then you wind up Class I — an echo of your true self who pretty much remembers your actual life. That’s why recent arrivals are Class I, after all!”

“So I’m not Class I,” Danny pouted, “Since my whole family wants to forget me.”

“Fuck ‘em,” Presteon said. “Now, Class II are the ones remembered by a lot of people who never met them and who died long enough ago that people only know them through cultural artifacts… movies, books, songs, whatever. Or, in other words, celebrities. They come back the farthest from themselves because they can only come back from what people who never knew them experienced of them.”

“But what about a celebrity who died last week?” Danny asked.

“I’m getting to that,” Preston said. “Hey, you met the Marx Brothers, right?”

“Oh, yeah, right. Not helpful at all.”

“Of course. They would have been in real life, but the echoes you met all came from their films. And you didn’t meet Gummo or Zeppo, did you?”

“Nah. Just the big three — ”

“The Groucho, the Chico, and the Holy Harpo,” Preston said.

“Wow. But, yeah.”

“The last of them died almost fifty years ago, so there aren’t a lot of humans left who knew any of them. So, there you go. Class II. But every Class II started as a Class III for one simple reason.”

“Social climbing?” Danny offered.

Preston laughed. “No, silly. Because even famous people tend to die while they still have a lot of friends and family left behind. So when people die with a lot of people who knew them really well in person and a lot of people who didn’t know them well by proxy, they wind up as Class III.”

“That sounds like a demotion.”

“Apparently there were a lot of politics behind creating the designations. Don’t ask… Fake Mom told me. Anyway, These Rêves are in a weird unique position, because they can remember both their private lives and their public ones, and switch back and forth. Ironically, even though they’re Class III, they are probably most in control of their echoes.”

“So, you’re Class III, then?” Danny asked.

“Actually, no. I am Class II, since most of the people who remembered me never met me, but only knew my porn persona. Why the fuck do you think I keep showing up nude, dude? The same reason you probably saw the Marx Brothers in full costume. This was my costume.”

“Okay, but… what if nobody remembers someone? What happens to them?”

“That one, I have no idea,” Preston said. “I’ve never heard of a Class IV. Although if you’re here because I remember you, I guess that technically you’d be Class I.”

“But if I remember you…” Danny started.

“How can you?” Preston countered. “You didn’t live through my porn career —”

“The hell I didn’t,” Danny cut in. “Who the fuck do you think was there the whole fucking time? And yes that pun was intended.”

“I…” Preston hesitated, then looked into Danny’s eyes, and suddenly everything came crashing back as far as he could remember, and he could remember back to staring at the mobile of pink and yellow stars spinning above his crib and hearing screaming and slapping.

Meanwhile, Danny flashed forward from the moment he’d submitted his proof of age documents — a moment that his old mind had kind of put down the shutters to indicate “You died here,” and suddenly rocketed through Preston’s entire porn career and up until his death.

And damn if he didn’t love every second of the ride.

And Preston got to re-experience everything he had lived from the ignition of consciousness until he signed that contract, and damn if he didn’t love every second of the ride.

When they both snapped out of it, they just looked at each other with new admiration and a stronger sense of security that told them, “You are two separate entities.”

“So… what class are we now?” Danny asked just before Preston did.

“Fuck if I know,” Preston replied.

Then, there was a sudden blast of white light from the Chanler mausoleum, and Anabel strode out, lighting flashing around her hair, and she looked pissed as fuck as she strode right to… she didn’t even know what to think of them as any more. Surely not her sons.

“What did you do?” she demanded.

Danny and Preston stared at her, looked to each other, then back to her and laughed.

“What do you mean, mommy?” Danny asked in a fake-innocent voice.

“I mean that you are upending the order of things at the wrong time!” Anabel shrieked back.

“But wasn’t that your thing, mommy?” Preston replied sarcastically.

“I’m not your mother, you little shits!” Anabel screamed. “And you both know it!” Danny and Preston turned to each other, smiled, and fist-bumped.

“Yeah. We know,” they said in unison.

“So… which side do you want us on?” Danny asked.

“Mine!” she replied.

“Sure,” Preston said, “But you’ll have to win us over. And keep one other thing in mind.”

“What’s that?” Anabel spat back.

“Well, it’s a real riddle,” Preston explained. “What class are we in?”

“That hardly matters,” Anabel said. “Two of you cannot outnumber the rest.”

“No?” Preston asked. “Here’s another way to put it. What if one or the both of us no longer fits into any of your three Classes?”

“That is impossible!” Anabel replied.

“Is it?” Preston asked. “For one thing, I’ve now moved up to Class I, thanks to Danny.”

“Who the hell is this ‘Danny,’ anyway?” Anabel demanded.

“Me. Only he died out here unremembered. And he managed to pick up one little detail from, oddly enough, a Class II, that meant nothing to him until, well, we remembered each other, and it’s this one… and it’s a nice puzzle, really.”

“Spare me your puzzles and choose a side!” Anabel demanded.

“Cool your panties, ‘Mom’,” Preston ordered her. So, we all know how the three Classes of Rêve work, right? Remembered personally, only remembered from fame, or combo. But there’s that awkward other one… not remembered by anyone, and generally commended to nature. Yeah, I think that happens to be right in the middle of Pearl’s territory.”

“What are you trying to say?” Anabel spat.

“Um… I just combined the actual person I used to be with the force you fear the most, thereby proving that there is another Class beyond the three, although calling Pearl’s domain Class IV would be really, really bad form.”

“Stop saying — ” Anabel commanded.

“What?” Preston replied pointedly. “Pearl?”

“How dare you!” Anabel shrieked, but Preston just smiled and laughed.

“Sorry, Mommy,” he said. “What did you expect? I think the game we’re playing here is like chess and gay life. It takes one Queen to defeat another.”

“Stop calling me Mommy, you son of a bitch!” Anabel hissed at him.

That was when they all noticed that the wind had kicked up, creating a slight whistle. Preston suddenly sensed a presence, as if hundreds of warm arms embraced him and he felt he a flow of positive thoughts, as if an endless line of people were marching by to greet him, saying, “You’re going to be okay.”

Then he heard the voice in the rustle of the grass, “Preston, Preston” it seemed to say.

“Yes?” he and Danny both said out loud, and both of them sensed a hint of confusion in the presence around them.

A woman appeared before them, and Preston assumed that this had to be Pearl, or some physical manifestation of the thing Anabel had described as a vast collective. She actually reminded them both a little bit of their real mother back in Idaho, little knowing that the original Pearl was from Southeast Texas, but was in fact a second cousin, once removed, of their mother’s.

She studied the two of them, raising a warning arm to Anabel before she could say a word, then Pearl circled them, completely intrigued.

“This is certainly new,” she said. “Not unexpected, it’s just that we’ve never seen it happen.” She pointed at Danny. “You should be one of us,” she said, before pointing at Preston. “And you should be part of that shallow celebrity class that has decided to turn against us.”

She seemed to be almost beaming as she turned things over in her mind. “But each of you is something completely different,” she explained.

She looked at Danny and told him, “You combine a Class I Rêve with one of us, Las Hadas Silvestres, or Pearl, if you will.” She turned to Preston, “And you managed to somehow go from Class II via Class III to pure Class I but strictly on his memories of you. You’re no longer a celebrity echo.”

“I’m Danny, by the way,” Danny explained.

“And Preston,” Preston added.

“Pearl,” Pearl replied. “But this is about to become a war zone, so we’d best do what they did in London before the blitz.”

“Oh, don’t you — ” Anabel started, but Pearl, not even looking at her, knocked her twenty feet back to land on her ass with a gesture.

“We need to evacuate to the countryside, and you two need to meet your real family. Ready?”

They both nodded and Pearl took their hands. The next thing they knew, they were standing in a clearing somewhere in the woods. Preston recognized it as Big Bear. He’d made a couple of films up here back in the day — Lumber Jack-offs, Bears in the Woods, and one of his favorites, Night on Bone Mountain, which actually managed to be artsy. Come to think of it, those were about half of all the actual films he had made. Winston had been right — nobody really wanted full-length story porn anymore.

He wondered briefly whether Anabel had seen any of them, although he was pretty sure she hadn’t.

All that Anabel had seen as she sat up, royally pissed, was Pearl taking the boys’ hands and then the three of them vanishing in a black wisp, like a puff of smoke blown up a chimney to quickly dissipate in the sky.

Her scream sent every bird within three miles scattering frantically into the air, and set dogs to barking as far away as China Town.

Image: Daniel Lobo, (CC) BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

* * *

Friday Free for all #40: Job Tips, TV, and Music

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What should parents stop teaching their children?

I’ll start with the softball, because this one is way too easy to answer. Parents should stop teaching their children hatred, bigotry, selfishness, bullying, and the idea that anyone “different” than them is somehow inferior.

Because, remember, treating people different from you as “less than” just gives them license to do the same right back.

What tips or tricks have you picked up from your job/jobs?

Oh, so many tricks from so many jobs, and in such a weirdly eclectic array. The first one relies on the fact that most people in upper-level management are dealing with so many things at once that they have really shitty memories for the details.

How to exploit it? If you want to get a policy that you thought of implemented, make them think that it was their idea. , then bring it up that way. Never say, “Hey, I think it would be a big improvement if we did X.”

Instead, when you have the chance, say something like, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about what you mentioned about us doing X, and I think it’s a great idea.”

Bingo — you’ll probably be put in charge of writing up how to do X. Congratulations. And yes, this one has worked for me more than a few times.

The other most important office survival skill — especially if you’re in corporate or entertainment — is to learn every last one of your immediate boss’ and their boss’ likes, dislikes, and personal quirks, and then learn how to cater to and gatekeep around them.

This one will insulate you against angry clients inclined to send snarky emails because after you cut them off and make them leave a message when they think they deserve to speak to the Executive Producer, Showrunner, CEO, or Owner right this second, dammit!, you can send a quick email to said management type, leaving the info and explaining that so-and-so was very insistent on speaking immediately but — important part — because you’ve made it your business to learn exactly which few people or organizations are on the “Please, dear god, disturb me” list and which ones aren’t, you can explain exactly that.

I’ve cut off a good number of complainers at the knees this way when they bitched to my boss, who basically told them in diplomatic and polite way to fuck off.

Learned from working in improv: Always be listening. These skills in particular have elevated my customer service and phone skills beyond anything I ever though I was capable of.

The one thing I used to most hate about any job where I had to take calls from clients was, well… taking calls from clients. Now? I treat it like an improv game because, in a lot of ways, we are making up a scene on the spot. It’s made the calls really fun.

Final skill, which really comes from long history with computers (I first met them when I was a wee lad) and my total disdain for Macs and all things Apple is this: Learn and use the keyboard shortcuts whenever possible, unless you’re a graphic artist working mostly with mouse, stylus, or touchpad.

Why? Simple. If you’re dealing with things involving typing in words or entering data or formulae, the fewer times one of your hands leaves the keyboard the better. This is especially useful in Word and Excel.

Learn the shortcut keys to do most everything you need to do, and you’ll save a ton of time. And that is my biggest pro-tip. Well, that, and if you’re an Apple fan… I’m sorry.

What will be the future of TV shows?

This question has been in the queue for a long time, and I’ve resisted answering it because I didn’t really know. However, by this point, I think the writing is on the wall.

The major cable outlets have long since established their streaming services, and even the big three networks have done it with CBS All Access, Peacock, and Disney+ having taken over CBS and the CW, NBC, and ABC/Fox, respectively.

All this leaves are local channels, which are limited to news, local programming, and whatever they can syndicate, and they are probably going to start failing in the next decade as they become less and less relevant.

Meanwhile…the content wars between all of the above streamers is going to become intense, with each one of them trying to bring the content that gets the most subscribers, and for a while, available content on all of the platforms is going to explode.

Off the top of my head, I can think of these paid outlets: Netflix, HBO Now, Showtime, DirectTV Now, Acorn TV, Amazon Prime, Sling TV, Hulu, CBS All Access, Peacock (is that paid or free, I forget?) Disney+, and YouTube TV.

That’s twelve streamers, and ain’t no one gonna pay for every one of them, because the cost would be ridiculous.

So we’re going to probably see this. Phase one: An insane ratings battle that will involve these outlets vying for the most alluring content through cast, creators, effects, whatever, and which will lead to a renaissance of creativity akin to the dawn of the silent era in Hollywood.

That’s the one that made California’s first millionaires, and we’ve already seen it happen on social media in the present day. All of the competing streamers are just going to try to gobble up the most popular Insta and TikTok stars in order to gain ratings.

And then, in about five years when they realize that it isn’t working, we’re going to start to see the great mergers, in which one by one the individual streamers finally come together to create one unified streaming service that combines all of their channels, and which will bring back viewers because it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg like a la carte would have.

The downside to that is the sudden drop in rabid need for new content, so the door that opened for creators in the 2020s slams shut in the 2030s.

Oh well. Meanwhile, all of those local VHF and UHF bands that haven’t been used for broadcast by air since early in the century are auctioned off by the FCC, and an entirely new social media crops up because of the rise of low-cost home transmitters, so everything that used to television as we knew it becomes the pinnacle of public access cable, also as we used to know it.

This will eventually turned into hipster social media, and create an entirely new and weird wave of entertainment in the 2040s. Enjoy!

How has technology changed the music industry?

The final question is one that, as a musician, I have lived through, and the short answer is, “Oh, so much for the better.” I started studying music very early in my life to the extent that I consider it my second language.

I was well-versed in music theory even before I left elementary school. But… everything was analog. I played keyboards, so it was either an accordion that pumped air via a bellows through a bunch of reeds modulated by keys, or a piano that slapped metal strings with cotton-clad hammers to make them vibrate.

You wanted to record something? Microphone and tape-recorder. That was it.

And then digital started to happen — sort of — but even then it was analog and, anyway, the first synthesizers were way out of reach of what I could have afforded at about 12 years old.

I’ve got a ton of keyboards now, two of them rescued relics that just remind me how different it was in my childhood. One is a Moog Opus III (IIRC), an analog synthesizer that can create some really interesting sounds.

Now, modern day, you’re probably thinking, “Hey, if it’s a synthesizer, how can it be analog?” Well, the answer is simple. The three tone generators that make the sound are controlled by dials and switches, instead of by entering exact digital values.

Digital instruments use computers to set values and transmit data. Analog instruments use rheostats (dials) and toggles (switches) to approximate the same.

The other relic keyboard that I picked up for about 1/10th of its original retail price at a music shop one day is an Ensoniq Mirage, which was the first sampler available to consumers. I actually knew someone in high school who owned one because their parents were richer than fuck, and I do have to say that, up to that point in my life, it did have the most realistic instrument sounds I’d ever heard from a synth.

Modern day, though? It’s kind of digital, kind of not, and falls into that weird hybrid land. For one thing, if you own one you damn well better have two things on hand: A 5-inch floppy disc that at least has the operating system and default samples on it.

More importantly: The manual that gives you all of the codes you need to use in order to sample and save shit, because this puppy works along the lines of “If you want to start recording a sample, enter A0, 46, and press start.” Totally made up, but that’s as basic as it is.

Bonus points: not in stereo and no MIDI out, although I do remember that someone created hardware hacks to make both happen.

Anyway, the reason that this keyboard is both analog and not is that the controls are digital, but the outputs aren’t.

Next, though, came my beloved Roland Junos, of which I own two, and they are just fantastic, except for their tendency to eventually have overly used keys break down. The first one served me well in my “trying to be a musician” days, while the latter worked out when I later wound up being the accompanist for a late-night musical.

The latter also was instrumental (pun intended) when I wrote music for two musicals that never actually happened.

Which brings me back to MIDI, which is the greatest thing ever invented, at least for music. It dates back to, I think, the 80s, but the idea is that it creates a signal that simultaneously can carry data on notes, the all-important ASDR (attack, sustain, decay, release — it’s a music thing), touch velocity, instrument, left/right panning, vibrato, and tempo.

This is an amazing thing, especially since most MIDI devices can transmit all of that into across 256 channels at once.

My lovely Junos were MIDI monsters, but during the pandemic I found a ridiculously cheap ($250)  workstation from Casio that just blew everything else away.

Like the Ensoniq, for example, it samples, but through a much simpler process. It also has a lot more instruments than any of my others, as well as built-in rhythm patterns…  and MIDI.

So, yeah… this cheap babe can help me do everything simply that it took me way too long to do ten or twenty years ago. But, of course, that’s because I haven’t mentioned all of the other msuci programs that make people who have no musical training able to string together shit-loops.

You know — things like Apple’s Garage Band (fuck Apple), or any other app that allows people to just drop in music chunks and mix and match.

I’ve got mixed feelings on those, actually.

On the one hand: Oh, you’re creating. Yay!

On the other hand: Oh, you don’t realize that you’re just throwing shit on the wall. Boo!

If you’re tacky and you know it… er, happy…

It feels like we’re finally stepping out of a worldwide nightmare. Oh, we’re not out of the woods yet. COVID still rages in the U.S. and abroad, as does a certain recent election loser who cannot accept reality. Beloved celebrities continue to die, not to mention the toughest blows of all in the losses of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Lewis — although he may have gotten his posthumous revenge.

So I’m taking a bit of a breather in my busy schedule, and giving you a little moment that is the perfect combination for the Right Now. The original song is Happy by Pharrell Williams, and I think that describes the mood for all of us on the progressive, positive, right side of history.

But I present in its Al Yankovic parody version, Tacky, which describes the behavior we’ve been seeing from a certain (soon to be former) First Family and their enablers of late.

Bonus fun points: This was shot in one take — or there were very clever editing cheats — in a typical downtown L.A. theatre building, meaning five floors up and, though we don’t see it here, five floors down. The cast is also stuffed with some pretty well-known names and faces.

Enjoy!

The Information Age? Part two

Continuing from the previous installment, inspired by a conversation at a grocery store checkout and looking at the rise of the Information Age. Here, I return to that conversation, which concerned whether Camila Parker-Bowles was about to become Queen of England, based on a single magazine cover.

First of all, why do the British Royals seems to be such an endless source of fascination for Americans? I mean, we did fight that whole war to get rid of them at one point, right? But thanks to new technology, they suddenly started landing in our backyards again.

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953, was televised in the U.S. — sort of. We didn’t have the capability yet to transmit television signals across the ocean, but they could transmit radio waves, and send images via a primitive sort of fax machine, even called MuFax, that could send a still image by wire in “only” nine minutes.

Apparently, though, probably the moment when the former colonies started to have a thing for the Royals started with the investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales on July 1, 1969 — right before the Moon landing — but it was broadcast around the world, quite likely in a convenient test-run of satellite technology twenty days before the Real Big Event.

Twelve years later, Charles would be back in American consciousness when he married Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981.  Their worldwide TV audience comprised 750 million people. And, of course, his bride would capture worldwide attention upon her death on August 31, 1997.

I definitely remember that evening, because my then-boyfriend and I had just come home from a Sunday evening movie date, got to his place and he turned on the TV. There it was — the top story on American network news on every channel.

While the previous weird fascination seemed to be just a fluke of technology making delusions of monarchy appealing to some Americans in a sort of fantasy/soap-opera way, the growth of the Internet also seemed to blur borders, at least in another way.

By this century, the only cultural divides among the English-speaking countries seem to be superficial, like word-choices, culinary decisions, and major brands. And Americans have continued to fawn over Charles and Diana’s kids, and then their grandkids, and his second marriage, and no, I don’t get it.

What I did get, though, when the woman finally turned the magazine to us after asking, “When did Camilla become the queen?” I realized that it was a copy of InTouch, which answered everything.

While it’s an American magazine, it has a particular fascination with the British Royal Family. It also lies its ass off, and their cover accuracy (from the editors and publisher) and content accuracy (from the writers) are both well below 25%. — although I knew that without looking, because the drug store next to my place that’s been a really convenient quick drop-in during the pandemic stocks it by the registers, so I’ve had plenty of time to look at their cover stories and just shake my head.

Then again, I kind of know stuff about British royalty and how it works, outside of this pop culture fascination with them. Why? Because I learned a lot of history in school, as well as on my own, because I’m just curious like that.

Like the British stuff before our revolution that was later important to the Western world. I’ve also paid attention to the stuff behind the tabloid headlines on the Royals, which led to a nice moment, actually, because if this woman had just gone off of the very inaccurate and IRL click-bait headline, she could have walked away thinking that Camilla Parker Bowles was about to become Queen of England.

Fortunately, I knew enough to be able to tell her — and the checker, who seemed to be going along with the headline — that InTouch was incredibly unreliable and, if anything, the cover title was satirical at best, because “Queen Camilla” would never happen.

And that much is definitely true, because part of the deal of allowing Charles to marry Camilla after Diana died was the specific stipulation that she would never become the queen should he ascend to the throne, but rather only gain the title of princess consort, which is a polite royal way of saying “the chick the king is fucking, but his relatives totally disapprove.”

I didn’t explain it in quite those terms. I just said that because of her divorce and the deal Charles made, she could never become queen, and that seemed to settle the issue.

On the way out, it struck me — and this article was born — how is it that modern humans (and it’s not just Americans) can have access to so damn much information and yet seem to know so little about what is really going on?

No, I’m not pushing conspiracy-theory bullshit there. It’s a legitimate question. How is it that so many people do not seem to engage with actual, fact-based information?

Unfortunately, I think a big part of it is that in modern culture (late-stage capitalism largely to blame) too many people have been ingrained with learned helplessness.

“You cannot get ahead, so you never will, so just soldier on and buy our shit! It’s better than trying to learn, because learning is hard, right?”

Well, wrong. But this is the message that has kept people disengaged from curiosity and education. Consumer culture, particularly in the west, is focused on one thing: Selling you artificial substitutes for happiness.

If they let you learn and get smart, then you’ll learn to not buy into their bullshit, so they start to try to get you when you’re young. McDonald’s Happy Meals, anyone?

Modern capitalism has really adopted an old idea that has been attributed to several sources, but which really has none. St. Ignatius Loyola never said anything like, “Give me the child until seven and I will give you the adult” (original version, substitute “boy” and “man” for the subjects in the sentence.) Not was it said by Aristotle.

But… it somehow crawled into the Zeitgeist, especially in marketing, and voila… your kids became targets. How do you think that companies like McDonald’s and Disney became so damn huge in the first place? Each of them had you as kids, probably your parents as kids, they’ve got your kids, and they’re going to get your grandkids.

And how do these companies do their thing? Oh, they will never, ever tell you, “Not happy? Maybe you should learn a new skill!” Instead, they’ll hide the question, make the problem seem like it’s your fault, and then sell you the solution.

“Feel like a loser today? Pick yourself up with Pakolyze candy!” (Hidden message: Because you’re a stupid, useless loser without us.)

This is literally the basis of every single ad that is trying to sell you shit you don’t need, including those fact-free magazines in grocery store check-outs, but also including most of what you read on the internet.

The only way to unlearn learned helplessness is to ignore the (corporate) voices that tell you, “Nah, I can’t,” and instead focus on your inner voice, which tells you, “Oh, fuck yeah, I can, and I am going to!.”

And you will. Just become your own gatekeeper and filter info — after you find the least biased sources, which an internet search actually will give you.

Then stop obsessing on the Royals because, after all, while Queen Liz Jr. is hella cool, we did kick her ancestor out a couple hundred years ago via violent revolution.

So… honor, but don’t obsess. Hey, Elizabeth II is my 36th cousin (and I think also 35th and 37th — no, really), but… no American needs to waste that much head canon on any of the Royals, okay?

Unfortunately, we moved from The Information Age into The Post-Information Age, or maybe even the Dis-Information Age at least five years ago. We’re only just making an attempt at crawling out of it now, but please stand by.

After all, if an otherwise apparently intelligent, affluent, and educated woman in a very liberal suburb in a very liberal county in a very Blue state can almost, for a moment, think that Camilla Parker Bowles is about to become the Queen of England and that Elizabeth II can do nothing to stop it all because of a trash tabloid magazine cover, then there is definitely some breakdown in keeping the people informed.

Which leads to the either/or salvation or danger of the Internet as it is now, because, in essence, it empowers anyone on it to be their own media platform.

Think about it. If you’re reading these words, then you probably have a device that is capable of allowing you to become any or all of the following kinds of creators: film or TV producer and distributor/broadcaster; radio producer and/or broadcaster; magazine or newspaper writer and/or publisher; artist with gallery and shop, or museum curator with likewise; designer with online store; adult entertainer with your own private studio, theatre, and fanbase; and I’ve probably missed quite a few.

The point is that the technology that capitalism has given us, ironically, will also be the tool we can use to destroy the monolithic entities that have come to dominate market share of everything. The trick is that we have to be willing to let go of the stories and franchises we’ve been sold, trust our friends and acquaintances, and then trust the acquaintances of acquaintances, and so on, to create our market.

That and… tax the fuck out of the super-rich, just like Republican Eisenhower did, and look how well off the Middle-Class was at the time. Hell, his policies created the Middle-Class in the U.S.

Combine that with progressive policies to give everyone access to education, health care, affordable housing, equal treatment under the law, and equal representation at the ballot box, and we could create America’s Middle-Class 2.0.

That is the real way to Make America Great Again.

Image source, Old computer that used punchcards, found in the London Science Museum, (CC) BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Information Age? Part one

This was originally going to be a single piece but, as often happens, I got so into the subject at hand that I had to split it. The second installment will appear tomorrow.

“When did Camilla become the queen?” a voice behind me in line at Ralphs suddenly blurts out. The clerk and I look over to see a thirtyish woman who otherwise seems well-off and intelligent holding up a magazine with a cover story title along the lines of “Elizabeth and Camilla face off over the crown!”

The course of that conversation was rather illuminating for me — and I hope for the woman — but before I can get to that part, let’s take a little detour, shall we?

The so-called Information Age, also called the Computer Age, among other names, began around the 1970s, and its major hallmark was that the gathering, processing, and dissemination of information was rapidly moving away from analog media and devices — snail mail, paper files, and typewritten documents among them.

Telephone landlines were also moving away from using analog encryption and decryption of signals, as well as rotary dials that literally told the switches what digits you’d dialed by the number of clicks.

I could swear I’ve written about it here before, but can’t find the link. But this “number of clicks” thing is why the most populous regions at the time they instigated area codes got the ones with the fewest number of “clicks”: 212, 312, and 213 going respectively to New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Digital technology had existed by this point, ever since the invention of the transistor, first demonstrated in 1947. However, the earliest computers were huge — the size of entire rooms — very expensive, and ran ridiculously hot because they used vacuum tubes instead of integrated circuits, which didn’t exist yet anyway.

In addition, they were programmed either by physically flipping switches to set parameters, or in the more “advanced” models, data was fed into them — and read out of them — using either punch-encoded paper tape, or the infamous punch card, yards of the former and tons of the latter. To store just one gigabyte of data would have taken over 16,000 typical punch cards, at 64 bytes per card.

That’s bytes, using the 8-bit standard. The highest eight-digit number in binary is 1111 1111, which equals 255. Add in the extra number zero, 0000 0000, and that is why the number 256 is so important in digital technology.

In contrast, a 16-bit system gives you 65,536, which happened to be the original number of possible colors on the first VGA monitors eons ago. Beyond 16-bit, you’d need scientific notation. A 64-bit system would give you 1.85×10^19.

These are physical limit on how big a number any sized system can generate and use at one time, as well as how many binary digits can pass through a serial bus at one time.

The likely reason that the Information Age finally took off is directly tied into the birth of what would become the Internet in October 1969. It developed on into the 1980s. At the same time, the first small-ish computers that were affordable — at first to business, and then eventually to more affluent consumers — started to come onto the market.

Those early machines didn’t do a whole lot, but they created the first generation to go digital: Gen X. To this day, that seems to be the dividing line, and I know very few Boomers who seem comfortable with computers if they were never exposed to them during their professional lives.

I’m not generalizing Boomers, though — I know Millennials who couldn’t even manage to turn on a laptop, and I’ve met octogenarians who can work their way around a computer like an expert.

And then, about a decade after the first really affordable personal computers, the Internet happened. Well, I think it was the World Wide Web (WWW) at the time, although people didn’t used to distinguish the two.

The short version is that the WWW is the stuff you see online — the web pages that actually come to your machine. The Internet, meanwhile, is the vast network of computers that hosts the WWW, along with lots of other stuff, and which makes the magic happen that gets a document on somebody’s private server in Tierra del Fuego through an elaborate route that can sometimes cross the entire planet before it shows up on your laptop while you’re on vacation in Iceland, usually in under a second.

Another way to think of it is that the WWW are the letters and packages, and the Internet is the postal service. Of course, anyone who refers to the World Wide Web nowadays will just get looked at funny. There’s a reason that the “www.” Part of a URL hasn’t been required for a long, long time.

End result? The Information Age, which has been a wonderful thing.

If I’d tried to write this article, or something like it, in 1970, with all of the above information, it would have involved one or more trips to a physical library or a few, lots of manual searches and pulling out books to look for information in a very analog way — by reading it.

Notes by hand, or by using the library’s copiers, paying per page. And if said information weren’t in the library, I would have somehow had to find someone with expertise in the field and either (gasp!) call them on the phone, or send them a neatly typed letter nicely asking for info and waiting for however long it took them to respond, if they ever did.

I could never have adulted in that age. So that’s the upside of The Age of Information.

But there are several downsides, one having to do with quantity (and quality) of information, and the other having to do with a frequent lack of engagement, which is not unrelated to the first part.

I have a terabyte hard drive in my computer, and another terabyte external drive connected to it. These are ridiculously huge amounts of data, something we couldn’t even have conceived of needing back in the 1990s.

Now, multiply those two drives of mine by five to bring it to ten terabytes, and that’s enough storage space to hold the entire collection of the U.S. Library of Congress, digitized.

The amount of information available via the Internet dwarfs that number by a lot. It’s been estimated that just the “Big Four” of sites — Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook — store at least 1.2 petabytes of data.

Note that it’s not clear from my source whether this data includes YouTube and Instagram under the umbrellas of Google and Facebook respectively.

A petabyte is two steps up from a terabyte, meaning that one petabyte is a million terabytes — and the figure above doesn’t even include all the other storage spaces out there for all the other people. Granted, a lot of smaller sites contract to Google, Amazon, or Microsoft for cloud storage, but I’m sure that many of them don’t.

Have an email account that isn’t Google or Microsoft? Multiply the storage they allow by their users and add it in. Toss in all the university and library servers, as well as private industry servers — banking, real estate, finance, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, media.

And then don’t forget publicly accessible government servers which, in every country, go from a national to regional to an administrative to a local level. In the U.S., that’s Federal, state, county, city. The U.S. has 50 states and well over 3,000 counties. A county can have any number of cities, townships, unincorporated areas, boroughs, parishes, or whatever.

It all adds up.

Again, on the one hand, it can be the greatest thing ever. I certainly love it for writing and researching, because when I want to create a link, I just need to tap a couple of keys and do a quick search.

Since I’m a stickler for getting it right if I happen to be writing a period piece, and I want to know what the weather was in a certain place on a certain day, or what was on TV on a certain day and time, boom, done. The information is out there.

Nerd stuff. But that’s what I’m into, that’s what I love to do, and I know how to filter — as in which news and websites to ignore, which to use with caution, and which to trust.

Speaking of which, the main thing that Wikipedia is good for is a broad overview, but if you want the real story, always follow their external links to sources. Yes, I will link to them if I’m only going to give a superficial dash of info, especially if it involves pop culture, but they’re the card catalog, not the book, to dredge up an old analog metaphor.

But we live in a paradox in which information very much fits the old line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: “Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

This referred to being stranded in the ocean, so surrounded by water, but since it’s sea water, it is too salty to be drinkable.

Modern version: “Info info everywhere, oh fuck, I’ve got to think?”

A lot of people, for various reasons, don’t or can’t take the time to filter, and each of us is getting bombarded more in an hour than, say, our grandparents would have been in a week when they were our ages.

The interesting part is that analog media — like checkout lane magazines and TV and radio ads — are still very much a part of the mix. So back to the story I started with.

(To be continued…)

Image source, Old computer that used punchcards, found in the London Science Museum, (CC) BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday morning: Meet Michael

I started a new Monday thing of spotlighting my talented friends. Check out Part 1 and Part 2. Those covered a triple-threat actor, improv artist, and impressionist; and a filmmaker, editor, writer respectively. This time around, we’re going for the finest of fine art.

I first met Michael Lightsey almost two decades ago, at an audition for what turned out to be a very strange production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. I was a member of the theater company that produced it, but he was not. He came to audition because he had seen our production of Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real and loved it.

Anyway, our meeting was one of those rare moments in my life that’s probably only happened about three or four times, when I randomly met a stranger, and after two minutes of conversation, it felt like we’d known each other forever.

In fact, I don’t remember which one of us auditioned first, but we both wound up in the tiny theater lobby afterwards, and hung around just talking for at least two hours.

The “just talking for two hours” thing, by the way, is the major sign for either a) We’re going to be really good friends from here on until the end of time, or b) We’re fucking tonight.

Michael and I have never fucked.

But put us together in a room, and we can talk each other’s ears off, and spin ourselves into such ridiculous riffs and scenarios that we’ll both wind up giggling like we’re stoned off our asses when, in fact, we are both completely sober.

That’s one of the best attributes really good friends can share — the ability to make each other laugh unto the point of pissing themselves.

Okay, that’s never happened to either of us literally, although laughing so hard that we couldn’t breathe and the airport called to complain about the noise — um, the one in Orange County, not L.A. — is a really good indicator that we’ve both got something great here.

This man always lifts my spirits, challenges my mind, and supports the hell out of my creative endeavors.

So here are some of his creative endeavors and, honestly, I am utterly jealous of his artistic ability. His pencil portraits are unreal in their absolute accuracy, and I should know because one of the best surprise Christmas presents I ever received was his portrait of me that he drew from a photo he took one day when we had lunch together in downtown L.A.

He doesn’t just do pencil portraits, though, and his figure studies and abstract art are also things to behold. I am very proud, in fact that one of his abstract pieces hangs right above the computer I’m writing this on, and it brings me comfort — a constant reminder that he’s still a part of my life even if COVID has kept us physically apart.

Bonus points on the beauty of his very colorful abstract works: He’s actually colorblind, and yet I’ve never seen a hint of on his canvases.

Finally, I was incredibly honored when he asked me to help adapt his nascent graphic novel, Strophalos, into an actual novel, in order to create IP that would generate interest in financing and creating the graphic novel in turn.

It’s an amazing story and was very fun to be let loose on. I was incredibly flattered that he asked me and trusted me, but also reminded in the process that we are kind of Yin and Yang in that I’m absolutely scientifically minded while he leans toward the mystical.

But it’s also a reminder that when the friendship is grounded on such a solid and loving foundation, that kind of difference doesn’t matter at all. Neither does the fact that we haven’t been able to get together in person since last March due to COVID — about six weeks after my and one week before his birthday — and yet are still both there for each other.

He worked at Center Theater Group, comprising the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson theaters in downtown L.A. and the Kirk Douglas in Culver City, so I got to come down a lot to see shows for free, and we would often hang out before or after. He’d also come by my place after work as well.

Maybe, some day, we’ll meet again. Meantime, enjoy his art and support his work. He deserves it.

Image: Portrait of Dame Edna Everage and Barry Humphries, © Michael Lightsey.