Going, gone, went…

When it comes to verb conjugations, English can be a little weird. Some verbs seem to barely change. For example, a regular verb like “to look” uses the present form look for I, you, we, and they. The only one that changes is third person singular — he/she/it looks. The past participle is looked for all persons, and so forth.

But then we get the irregular verbs, which can be even more irregular than they are in other languages: I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, they are. But one of the stranger ones, which I hear misused a lot by both English learners and native speakers, is the compound past tense of “to go.” (Note: for some reason, to be and to go seem to be totally irregular in every language, which is strange considering how common they are.)

The present of “to go” is regular — go or goes, the same as to look, above. But there are two forms we can use in the past: gone and went. You’d never say “I goed away.” It’s “I went,” and the form is went for all persons as well. This is great right up until you combine it with an auxiliary verb. Logic might seem to be that “I had went” would be correct, but it isn’t. This is where the other version comes in. The correct phrasing is “I had gone.” And, by the way, it’s also “had” for any person: You had gone, she had gone, etc.

The difference is that went is the past tense, while gone is the past participle. Again, this is one of those areas where sometimes English words change a little and sometimes they change a lot. For “to look,” for example, the past tense and participle are both the same: looked. The difference is that the participle always needs another verb before it while the past does not. So if the word before is not a verb, the word you want is went. Otherwise, it’s gone.

To add to the confusion: Gone can also be an adjective but went cannot, so we can have a sentence like “They will be gone for the month of November,” but not “They will be went for the month of November.” Even though gone in the first sentence follows a verb, it’s functioning as an adjective there, describing the state they will be in for November.

On a related note, I also hear the present continuous conjugation of “to stand” formed incorrectly a lot. Present continuous is the tense that combines the verb “to be” with the present participle of another verb, which is the –ing tense in English. For example, “We are looking for a few good men.” That one is pretty straightforward, so it would seem obvious that the correct form is “He is standing in the street.”

It might seem obvious, and yet I hear abominations like “He is stood in the street” all the time. Okay, that form of to stand doesn’t have the obvious –ed ending of a lot of English past participles, but at least it does have a D. On top of that, I never hear anyone say something like “You are looked for Waldo.” That just makes no sense.

So yeah, a sentence like “We had went outside and now are stood on the corner” would make my skin crawl. Oddly enough, the same thing can happen with the verb to sit, as in the incorrect “She is sat at the table” versus the proper “She is sitting at the table.” The former is non-standard English and should be avoided.

The article I linked in the previous paragraph has some useful examples of irregular verbs that do make the error obvious if you test them: I was ran down the road, and he is flown to New York. Even though they don’t follow the usual –ed construction of the participle, the incorrectness should be pretty obvious to native speakers. Ironically, though “he was flown” can be a proper construction if the verb becomes transitive. That is, “he” becomes the direct object of the sentence: He was flown to New York by the contest sponsors.

Isn’t language just so much fun?

The one thing I will say about the mongrel beast that is my native language English: It can put up with a lot of mangling and still make perfect sense, or at least be understandable. A lot of other languages cannot handle that. Misplace a pronoun or adjective or derp up a verb, and the entire sentence becomes gibberish.

One of the most classic examples of this, which long ago achieved meme status, is the entire opening dialogue from a 1989 video game called Zero Wing. I encourage you to click that opening dialogue link and read the “Official Translation” column, because it a glowing example of machine translation gone wrong. Nothing is right in how the words went from Japanese to English, and yet it still makes sense. This is the source of several famous internet memes, including “Somebody set up us the bomb” and “All your base are belong to us.”

And for an example that intentionally aims for gibberish and yet still makes sense, you can’t beat Lewis Carrol’s classic poem “Jabberwocky.” The man was weird, but he was a genius all the same. (Just check out “The Hunting of the Snark,” for example.)

Then again, English is also absolutely capable of sentences that make complete sense semantically, and yet still mean nothing. Try to wrap your head around “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” for example. It’s a noun adjective combo that can verb in an adverbial way, and yet…

Don’t think about it too hard, or else you may find that you have went mad and aren’t sure where you’re now stood.

That hurt to write.

The Saturday Morning Post #49: The Rêves Part 27

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 Los Angeles.

Book Three

Hunter sans Aisling

Joshua hadn’t slept well after that first bout, which was a long, disturbing dream in which he was chasing Simon down an endless Metro station, running while Simon walked, but never catching up. Rêves moved around them in slow motion, paying them little attention.

Joshua finally did catch up as Simon stopped to get on a train, pushing Joshua’s hand away and entering, the doors closing before Joshua could follow. The train started to pull away slowly and Joshua ran after it, but it started to speed up.

As the last car passed him, he looked in the windows and could see Ausmann standing there, laughing. After the train disappeared down the tunnel, there was a sudden burst of flames and a loud explosion, which woke Joshua up.

He didn’t see Danny or Simon, so he wandered around the place, had a glass of water, stood on the balcony looking at the stars when he wasn’t staring at the spot where Simon had landed. Fortunately, he had no intentions of following — Joshua just wasn’t like that.

He also knew that, since Simon had died, the police would be back for a statement, and he had to figure out what he was going to say. Tell them it was murder, or an accident? He knew that he owed it to Simon’s memory to insist that it wasn’t suicide, and at least he knew he was right about that.

And he’d been left weirdly free of complications. Simon had been an only child, and his parents and grandparents were all dead. They had their circle of friends, of course, but he could involve them later. He felt that he definitely had to let Brent and Drew know.

There were also the implications of what Ausmann had said about Joshua “needing his help,” as well as Preston and Danny insisting that Simon would be back. Yes, but not as himself. Would he just be an echo of Joshua’s memory? And, if so, how idealized would he be?

He returned to the living room and decided to play his hunch. “Preston? Danny? You guys still here?”

After a moment, the two of them materialized. They were on the couch, nude and spooning, so Joshua had no idea which was which until Danny’s clothes quickly materialized as well — he was the big spoon.

“How are you doing?” Danny asked.

“Oh, not great,” Joshua replied. “Look, you seemed pretty sure when you said that Simon would be back…”

“Well, yeah. That’s how it works,” Preston said.

“Are you sure though? And that it’s not all people who were already dead when they turned on the machine?”

“Sure we’re sure,” Danny replied. “We just met a guy who’d been killed the night before.”

“Really? Who?” Joshua asked.

“Some guy named Jerry,” Danny explained.

“And you know the guy who killed him,” Preston added.

“Ausmann,” they said in unison.

“Ausmann killed Jerry? Why? He was such a nice guy.”

“He knew too much,” said Preston in his best gangster impersonation.

“Ausmann offed his wife, apparently, and told Jerry,” Danny went on.

“Wait… what? I can’t even imagine why, but this is kind of helpful news. I mean, whether anybody knows his wife is dead yet or not, he’s killed at least two… fuck. Three times. So he’s definitely acting like a fugitive, which means he won’t go anyplace they’d expect him to go.”

“Unless he’s incredibly stupid,” Danny replied.

“Batshit insane,” Joshua noted, “But not stupid. It’s like he’s on a crusade to get rid of your kind, and if he can kill that many living humans that easily, imagine how little he’d think of the dead.”

“Hey, we don’t like being called ‘The Dead!’” Danny jokingly snapped.

“Yeah, please. ‘The Previously Lived-In,’ for sure,” Preston added, laughing.

“I’m going to stop him,” Joshua promised them. “I just have to figure out how. What time…” he glanced over at the clock visible on the kitchen microwave. Just after 3:30 in the morning. “Okay. I have some phone calls to make in the morning, but I’m definitely going to need your help, okay?”

“You got it,” Preston asserted, Danny nodding his agreement.

“But first, I really need to try to sleep again.” Joshua headed for the bedroom. “Oh. We’ve got guestrooms, if you want, or whatever’s most comfortable for you.”

“Ooh. A real bed!” Preston gushed.

“Not like we can really feel it, but it’d be a first in a long time. Thanks!”

They started for the hallway as well, stopping when Joshua called out.

“Hey, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but… were you two, like… fucking on the couch there?”

Preston and Danny looked at each other and laughed. “Oh, I wish,” Preston said.

“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Danny went on. “We can’t really… I mean, parts don’t work like that.”

“But we can swap energy and have what feel like the most incredible orgasms in the universe,” Preston added.

“Basically, all boom and no bust,” Danny explained.

“So… ghost fucking?” Joshua teased them.

“Don’t make me come over there and cover you in ectoplasm!” Preston replied.

“Good night, boys!” Joshua said, waving as he exited to the master bedroom.

“Good night, daddy!” Preston called out, Danny slapping him on the arm before they disappeared into the guest bedroom, not bothering to open the door first.

This time, Joshua slept through the night, only waking up one time who knew when, and he could have sworn he heard Simon lying in bed next to him, breathing until he realized he wasn’t. He cried again a little bit. He could be prone to insomnia, and one of the things that had always comforted him through that was lying with his back against Simon’s chest, listening to his slow inhales and exhales, and feeling his warm breath on the back of his neck.

The next time he woke up, light was streaming in the windows and when he checked the clock it was nearly ten a.m. He dressed casually and headed out into the living room to find Danny and Preston in the kitchen.

“Morning!” Preston called out.

“We were going to make you breakfast,” Danny said, “But it’s kind of really, really difficult for us to manipulate physical things all that well.”

“I mean, we can do it a little,” Preston added, “But it’s exhausting as hell.”

“Hey, speaking of that,” Joshua asked, “If you can walk through walls, why don’t you fall through floors?”

“We don’t really walk ‘through,’” Preston explained. “It’s more like we push. So floors and the ground always feel squishy to us, but we don’t fall through the floors because we’re not trying. Although we can if we want to.”

“Wow. That answers that question,” Joshua replied.

“That’s a thing?” Danny asked.

“You kidding?” Joshua replied. “That’s like Sceptic vs. Ghosts question number one.”

“Oh, about the ‘G’ word,” Simon admonished him.

“Eye roll, okay, what?” Joshua replied.

“I’m sure you’ve been told, but we are not ghosts, we are Rêves. Kind of a difference.”

“Right, right, sorry,” Joshua demurred. “Ausmann got a little bit into my head with the ‘G’ word.”

“Have you managed to get into his head?” Danny asked.

“Into batshit la-la land?” Joshua answered. “No. But I’ve got some business to take care of. Hey… are you guys at least able to maybe scroll a mouse and read stuff on a computer?”

“That, we can do,” Preston said, excited. “It takes both of us rolling the thing, but we can manage.”

“Great,” Joshua said. “While I’m calling people, I’ve got some files I’d like you to look at, give me your opinions on them from your Rêve point of view.”

“Sure thing!” Preston replied.

“Is it about science? I hope it’s science, because I am such a science nerd,” Danny gushed.

“Me too,” Preston protested.

“It is,” Joshua told them.

“Sweet!” Danny smiled, high-fiving Preston.

Joshua led them to the cache from Ausmann’s computer and set them loose, then went out on the balcony with his phone.

His first call was to the hospital, to determine how to claim Simon’s body, only to be told that it was on hold pending a police investigation due to the circumstances of his death.

Well, that wasn’t good.

His next call was to Brent and Drew to break the news, and he got them to join a Zoom conference — surprisingly, it was the older one, Drew, who was the tech whiz with that. Or maybe not surprising, considering his years in the entertainment business. When Joshua told them that Simon was dead, the two of them just lost it, and Brent immediately said, “We’re paying for the funeral, shut up and don’t say no.”

“Brent, we’re both heavily insured, so thank you, but it’s taken care of.”

“You two were always so smart about money,” Drew chimed in.

“It’s going to be a small ceremony, but I don’t know how soon, because his body is kind of tied up. Possible homicide and all that.”

“Was it?” Brent asked, clutching invisible pearls.

“No,” Joshua lied. “I was kind of the only one there, but I wasn’t out there when he fell.”

“Fell!” Brent and Drew exclaimed together.

“Do you mean fell,” Brent started, “Or could he have ju— ”

“No. No, no, no. A hundred times over. Simon would have never done that.”

“Let us know when the ceremony is,” Drew added. “We’ll be there, of course. Oh, we’ve been spending so much time in cemeteries and with the dead lately, haven’t we? Weird times.”

“Indeed,” Joshua said. “Thanks,” and then he disconnected.

He thought about what the hospital had told him, then went online on his phone to look into who handled the whole death thing, only to find out that it was county — and then remembered Brenda. He found her number on his phone from when she’d called them both, and dialed.

“Joshua? What’s up?” she asked. “Are you all right?”

“Uh… no,” He started, trying not to cry. “I hate to tell you this, but… Simon is dead.”

“What?” she exclaimed. “Did Ausmann find you two?”

“No, no he didn’t,” Joshua insisted, and then he told her the whole “fell off the balcony” story. She sounded skeptical but seemed to buy it, and then he explained how the body was being held up, but that Simon personally believed that a corpse should be buried as soon as possible after death.

“Oh. Was he Jewish?” she asked.

“Um… yes,” Joshua lied, not realizing that was an actual Jewish thing. “So, it’s apparently the county that handles the whole death thing and all that, and since you work for the county…”

“You’d like some strings pulled?”

“Pretty please, with sugar and sprinkles on top?”

Brenda laughed. “Well, there’s one little snag here,” she explained. “You two really, really pissed off my boss.”

“Um… you told us to do that,” he reminded her.

“I know, I know. My bad. Which is why I’m inclined to help you, as a make-up for it. I just have to figure out who at county hates her with enough blazing passion to help you all out. Give me a couple or two, okay?”

“Oh, thank you, Brenda. Oh — couple of days…?”

“Minutes or hours,” she replied. “All I ask is that we get to come to the funeral.”

“We?” Joshua asked.

“I’ve got a family,” she replied.

“I… I had one,” he said.

“I know. I’ll do my best and get back to you. Bye.”

“Good-bye. And thanks — ”

Although she’d disconnected before he could say thanks.

Having no more calls to make, he came back inside to find the boys huddled together over the laptop, absolutely enthralled with the screen. He had to clear his throat before they noticed he’d returned.

“Oh, dude!” Preston exclaimed. “Did you read about what this thing does?”

“Telegrams to the past?” Danny shouted. “That concept just made me jizz myself. Well, figuratively.”

“I mean, do you see what you’ve got here?”

“Oh… fuck…”

Joshua just stared at them and sank onto the sofa, a wave of possibility and hope thundering over him. Of course! He’d read it but forgotten the most significant part. Ausmann’s machine turning the dead into Rêves was just a side-effect. Its real purpose was something completely different and…

“Telegram to the past…” he muttered. “Kind of like an instant re-do.”

“You’ve got it,” Preston replied.

“Holy shit.” Joshua exclaimed, moving to his laptop and sitting, not really realizing that he kind of sat in Preston and Danny before they moved away. He read the page they were looking at, then brought up a Word doc and started typing.

When he was finished, he looked up and added the exact coordinates, address, condo number and time, then saved the message and copied it to the USB drive hidden in his fake car key.

“Now what?” Preston asked.

“Now… I need to get to JPL, and you two need to go see whether Simon is back yet.”

“Are you sure that JPL is safe?” Danny asked.

“Completely,” Joshua replied. “I told you. No way in hell that Ausmann would go there.”

“I hope you’re right,” Danny called out.

“Oh, so do I,” Joshua said.

As the boys Supermanned off of the balcony, Joshua closed and locked the doors, then headed down to the garage and drove the Tesla like a madman out to Pasadena.

* * *

Friday Free for all #47: Better cook, media influence

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website, although it’s been on hiatus since the Christmas Countdown began. Here, I resume with this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

Who is a better cook your mother or grandmother?

It depends on which grandmother! As I’ve written about here before, my mother was an amazing cook, while her mother had to basically make due on a very limited budget with a lot of kids.

On the other hand, my dad’s mom was an amazing cook, even if she didn’t dabble in the exotic ethnic cuisines that my mother did. Of course, my dad was a lot older than my mom, and his mother grew up with a pioneer and Great Depression background.

For as long as I can remember, she and her second husband (my step-grandfather, but the only grandfather I ever knew) grew pretty much everything they ate, and she was into making preserves, apple butter, and canning everything. She was also always in charge at all the Thanksgiving dinners that would be held annually at her place.

My mom and my only west coast aunt (my dad’s sister-in-law) assisted, but Grandma Neva was large and in charge despite her tiny stature.

When it comes down to it, though, I’d have to say that it’s really a draw between Grandma Neva and my mom. They were both excellent cooks, but Grandma excelled in a few things, while Mom was an expert in many.

Both of my grandmothers, by the way, absolutely put the lie to the “horrid mother-in-law” trope.

What piece of media (book, movie, TV show, etc.) changed the way you viewed the world? In what way?

There are a few, but I’ll start with the one that set me off on the whole stupid idea that I could be a filmmaker, and that’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The initial release was way before my time but, thanks to the vagaries of Hollywood, it was one of those films that would get slapped up in a rush at the Cinerama Dome or other super big-screen cinema whenever some would-be widescreen Hollywood blockbuster tanked and they needed to fill out the engagement.

It was to one of these screenings, when I was nine years old, that my dad took me on a movie date, and the film blew me away for so many reasons. First, it was just stunning to look at. Second, his use of music in it was amazing. Finally, the story made total sense to me (I had to explain it to my dad later), and it cemented my love of hard Science Fiction.

It also made me aware of the idea that “film director” was a thing, and so from that point forward, I read all the Science Fiction I could get my hands on, started writing my own, learned about film directors, and decided that I wanted to be one myself.

In retrospect, a totally stupid decision, because I really didn’t have the patience or the people skills (at the time) to get that far into the minutiae, so instead I focused on screenwriting, and that led to an entirely different but rewarding career path. And it all happened because a nine-year-old kid was enthralled by the sights and sounds on a gigantic movie screen in the dark.

Two other influential works of the literary variety, in chronological order: First would be Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar, which I somehow wound up reading in middle school. I don’t remember the exact reasons why, except that I was already a Kurt Vonnegut fan, and a friend of mine had said something like, “Oh, if you like Vonnegut, check out Vidal.”

So I did, because there used to be an annual and ridiculously cheap used book sale at the local mall that was worth riding my bike three miles for every day of it, and the thing that The City and the Pillar taught me was that “gay people exist.”

Now, although it was written at a point in time when publishers absolutely demanded that gay protagonists met sad ends, Vidal still made the ending ambiguous enough so that I didn’t get it at the time. (Hint: on a later reading, and probably a revised edition, the gay hero basically rapes and kills the straight best friend he’s been obsessed with, and is probably later arrested for it. Oops.)

But this did lead me to read more Vidal. His histories are fantastic and worth looking into, and his Myra Breckenridge is a masterwork.

Finally, there’s Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! Trilogy, and while this one really turned my head around when I was (appropriately) 23, in later years, my opinions have somewhat changed.

The origin of the book — actually, three books that were eventually published in one omnibus volume — was this. Wilson and Shea were both writers for Playboy magazine in the late 60s and early 70s, and they saw some crazy shit in the reader mail.

Remember, despite being a titty mag, Playboy was also very respected for its editorial content, particularly interviews with celebrities and politicians, and investigative articles. Hell, that’s why my gay ass was a subscriber in college.

Their editorial content was top-level stuff. Not to mention that they snuck in plenty of man-cake via frequent “Sex in the Cinema” articles.

Anyway, the two Bobs plowed through their share of insane conspiracy theories, so they finally decided to write a novel based on the idea that every batshit theory of the time was 100% true.

Imagine doing that now. Toss in everything QANON, the flat-earthers, 9-11 Truthers, chemtrail and UFO believers, anti-5G and anti-vaxxers, and so on. That’s basically what they did, pulling from the extreme left and extreme right at the same time.

They also modeled the whole story structure on James Joyce’s Ulysses, and stuffed it with parodies and references to things like Atlas Shrugged, the Beatles, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and so on.

Now, when I first read it, the main point I took away was that reality is different for everyone. I perceive a universe unique to me, and you do the same for you. And that really stuck, and still does because it’s true. Wilson referred to it in his later works as everyone having their own unique “reality tunnel.”

This meshes well with the current concept of everyone having their own bubble when it comes to beliefs.

I proceeded to read everything Wilson ever wrote, and also attended several seminars that he held in L.A., and for years he was basically my guiding light and guru.

But then I got older, grew up, and drifted away, and I revisited the Illuminatus! Trilogy several times over the years, the last one fairly recently, and it was a quite different experience for two reasons.

One is that while Wilson’s brand of non-Randian Libertarianism was attractive when I was in my 20s, it makes less than no sense now. Also, I don’t buy into his total cynicism regarding our elected officials and political parties. He landed on the side of “no politician can ever do anything good.” I’ve wound up in the place of “pull you panties out of your ass and give them a chance.”

Finally, my latest read of the book gave me a big “Whoa, dude,” when I realized that there was quite a seam of rampant homo- and transphobia running through it and its sequel trilogy.

Imagine that. Coming from someone claiming to be open-minded and accepting of the idea that everyone perceives reality differently. Wow.

Although he did lead me down the path of trying hallucinogens, which only led to good things. Probably the fastest way to heal the country and set everyone on the proper path of “We are all in this together, and whatever divisions we think we have are illusions,” would be for everyone to drop acid in a controlled setting and with trained guides.

It and other hallucinogens are different than most other drugs. Opiates, downers, nicotine, and alcohol just numb you to everything. Cocaine, amphetamines, caffeine, and sugar just hype you up without focus.

But LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and ecstasy do the opposite of both. See, what they do is remove the filters on our perceptions that exist to keep us from overloading. We only experience a small fraction of everything our senses actually take in. Our brain filters a lot of it out.

Hallucinogens let it all in but at the same time they also allow us to focus on all of it at once as well. So it’s literally the opposite of both other opposites, which is some heavy Hegelian shit right there. It really is the synthesis that goes beyond the thesis and antithesis of downers and uppers.

Thanks to reading about it in Wilson’s works, I eventually gained the courage to try LSD, and it was truly life-changing. I did it a number of times, and every experience was amazing. The other great part about it is that it is non-addicting. It was a secular spiritual experience in a lot of ways, and so something to be treated as a special ritual.

Of course, most of the acid in the U.S., if not the world, went away with a gigantic drug bust back in 2000. Which is silly, really, especially considering that this drug was quite legal from its synthesis in 1938, although Albert Hoffmann didn’t realize it was an hallucinogen until 1943.

It was used in mental health settings, the CIA considered weaponizing it, and everything was good until it was outlawed in the U.S. in 1968 — not coincidentally because it was popular with the “counterculture” (i.e. people who didn’t like Republicans) at the time, and the so-called “War on (Some) Drugs” was initiated specifically with them as targets.

Yes, that’s something I learned from Wilson as well. Hopefully, that tide is finally turning.

When it’s “its”

Even Microsoft Word’s spell-check gets this one wrong sometimes, but you shouldn’t. Here’s the scoop on possessives that don’t take apostrophes.

I could write tons and tons on the use of apostrophes, but there are already plenty of guides online. So, instead, I’m going to focus on one area that causes a lot of confusion: Possessive pronouns that do not have apostrophes.

There are eight of them, five of which end in an S and one of which ends in an S sound, although the mistake is most common with only two of them — and it’s a very common error. I’ve even seen it happen on presumably professional sites like CNN and the Huffintonpost.

Here are those eight possessive pronouns:

My
Your
His
Hers
Its
Whose
Ours
Theirs

The most obvious thing about them on sight, of course, should be that there are no apostrophes to be seen. They aren’t necessary because these words are always possessive. For some of them, that doesn’t seem to cause any problems. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone use hi’s or her’s or our’s or their’s. That doesn’t mean this hasn’t happened; just that I can’t remember seeing it.

But I see “it’s” and “who’s” get misused all of the time — probably because both of them are perfectly legitimate words. It’s just that these two are contractions and not possessives. They just happen to look a lot like possessives, hence the confusion.

At least in the case of its, it’s a very easy typo to make, and I’ve caught myself doing it accidentally from time to time — hence the importance of proofreading. Of course, before you can proofread, you have to know the rules.

For “it’s” and “who’s,” the easiest way to remember is to always read them in uncontracted form. It’s helpful that the apostrophe even sort of looks like a little letter “i.” (Well, only sort of, but go with me on this one.) So, when you see “it’s” or “who’s,” read them in your head as “it is” and “who is.”

This makes it easy to spot their misuse:

The cat licks it’s paws.
The cat licks it is paws.

Oops. Wrong word! “The cat licks its paws.” Conversely:

It’s time to go.
It is time to go.

Right word!

Yes, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that we have these words that are possessive but don’t use apostrophes, but I never said that English does make sense. However, it is a fairly standard feature of a lot of languages that possessive pronouns work a little differently than regular possessives.

English used to have — and many languages still do — an entire grammatical case to show possession, so at least take heart in that fact: You only have to learn a few apostrophe exceptions instead of a completely new set of inflections for nouns!

More iffy situations with Excel

As I’ve written about before, getting disparate sets of data from different sources and different formats to play together nicely in Excel can be a challenge. One of the big parts of my job is regularly entering my boss’s commission statements into spreadsheets and making sure that what I end up with balances with what the insurance company told us.

So we have our spreadsheets in one format, insurer data that sometimes is conveniently available in Excel format, but is more often PDF format, which adds a whole layer of stupid in actually trying to get the data into usable form, and any client information comes from our CRM software, which I swear has a UI that was designed for Windows 3.51 and hasn’t been updated since.

You can see the challenge, I assume.

For my non-nerd readers, here’s a relatable example. Somebody gives you a recipe for an entrée that’s a bit complicated. Say it has about 24 ingredients. Now, one third of those ingredients are written in English and give Imperial measurements in cups and ounces and so on. Another third of those ingredients are written in French, and all of the measurements are metric. Finally, the last third are written in Greek, and every measurement is something obsolete or obscure, like a minim, hogshead, or grain.

You have to turn that all into a single recipe in the same language and measurement system — it doesn’t matter which one, it just has to be one of each. And you have to do it automatically, by creating formulae to do it.

That may seem like a lot of work for a recipe with 24 ingredients, and you’d be right. But a lot of the time, I’m dealing with commission statements with hundreds of entries.

Good times!

A recent situation I ran across was a company that was playing a game of “Oops, missed paying you for a few months,” so that one statement had multiple entries for the same client and policy — anywhere from six to nine.

Meanwhile, the tracking spreadsheet is designed for one entry per person per insurance plan. Complicating it, this is a company that deals with both Medicare Supplements and Prescription Drug Coverage, so a client might have one, or the other, or both.

Finally, at least they do it right by breaking the client name into first and last but they don’t include policy number, so there isn’t a single unique identifier. Not that policy number would help, since they use the same one for both the Supplement and Drug Coverage, so you can see how it gets messy fast.

Now, elsewhere, I’ve discussed the joys of INDEX and MATCH, which allow you to do a more elaborate version of VLOOKUP that lets you search on multiple criteria anywhere in the data. It’s basically creating a matrix that will build a hidden array of zeros with a single one in it. Counting across columns and down rows, the position of that single “one” highlights the only cell with the data you want in it.

When you need to total up amounts based on multiple criteria, the stalwart SUMIF won’t do it anymore. But that’s okay, because there’s a matrix version of this function as well, and it’s called SUMIFS.

The format is simple, really. Start with “SUMIFS(.” Then you enter the target range — that is, the column you want to sum. After that, knock yourself out with as many following arguments you need in the pattern “Criteria Range,” “Criteria”, lather, rinse, repeat.

As always, the Criteria Range is the column you want to look at, and the Criteria is the single cell value you want to look for.

Let’s say that we want to use the client’s last name, first name, and plan type to sum up the commissions that were paid. Well… oh, fooled you, because we first have to create a list that only includes single instances of each of these.

Bonus round!

The Data Filter function in Excel is very powerful, and I recommend using it. In the simple version, you can set you header row to be clickable as a filter, so if you suddenly only need to see January dates or clients named Oswald, you can do it in a couple of clicks.

But there’s a more powerful version and it works like this. Say you want to take a list with multiple identical entries in order to turn it into a key for something nifty cool like SUMIFS. Here’s what you do.

Let’s say that the columns you have are Last Name, First Name, Plan, and Commission.

The one you want to sum is Commission

First highlight the data you want to reduce, including all of the columns, then cut and paste it to a new document. Copy only the header row two times to the right, leaving a blank column between the source data and the copies.

Important: delete the header names for any columns that are not unique — but only delete the cell info. Don’t delete the columns, because it breaks the following operation for some reason.

Now highlight that copied data again, except for the Commission column.

Next, smash that Data button in the ribbon, and select filter, all — or hit alt-D, F, A, if you know the value of using the keyboard over the mouse every time.

A menu window will pop up. The first field will be the data you’ve highlighted. In the second, which is “Criteria,” you want to click and then highlight that copy of headers just to the right of your highlighted data.

Next, click the “Copy to Another Location” button, highlight the second copy of the headers in the “Copy to” field, and then check the box next to “Unique records only.”

Click okay, and you now have a list of, well, just what it said on the tin — unique records only. These will be the source for your SUMIFS. You can delete the blank columns between the two if you’d like now, leaving a blank between them.

Add back the “Commission” header to the right of this. You’re going to put your SUMIFS into this column.

Let’s say that you have 100 rows of unfiltered source data, you’re going to be looking at the Last and First Name Fields and Plan Types (A, B, and C) and you’re going to be summing the Commissions, in column D.

The corresponding columns in your criteria set of unique records are F, G, H, and I — last, first, plan, commission.

Here’s what the formula in the first cell (I2) looks like:

SUMIFS($D$1:$D$100, $A$1:$A$100,F2,$B$1:$B$100,G2,$H1$H100,C2).

In plain English, this says, “Look at the column in the original data with all the money. Then, Look at the column with all the last name and find the last name on this row that matches it. But wait! Now also look at the first name column, and match it to this first name row. Then look at the plan column, and the unique name on this row.”

It’s another matrix function, building that map of ones and zeros, so to close it out, instead of hitting enter, you have to hit Shift+Ctrl+Enter. The last step in the process is to sum the results in column I and then match them to the sum of column D. If they’re the same, you’re good to go.

Copy the data from F1:I100 to wherever you’re going to connect it to the final Excel spreadsheet, but then brace yourself for when those numbers don’t match, because they rarely do on the first shot.

But I’ll save my tricks for dealing with that shit for a later post.
Kirlf, (C BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

It ain’t over ‘til…

Last week, I focused on Schubert, Chopin, and Liszt, who were three of the giants of the Romantic Era, but I left one out. I did hint at an important connection, though, and that comes via Franz Liszt’s second daughter, and only child to survive past her 20s: Francesca Gaetana Cosima Liszt.

Of course, history knows her better as Cosima Wagner, which was her married name. She started an affair with the composer Richard Wagner in 1863, when she was 26, and married him seven years later, when she was 33 and he was 57.

They were married for thirteen years, until his death in 1883, but she continued to direct the Bayreuth Festival for another twenty years. In fact, she lived long enough to see Hitler come to power, surviving until the age of 92. She died in 1930.

And how did she feel about Hitler coming to power? Well, this is one of those little dark corners of music history, but Wagner and his wife were famously anti-Semitic.

One anecdote that my music history teacher taught us was that whenever Wagner had to conduct the music of Felix Mendelssohn, who was Jewish, he would make a big point of only handling the conductor’s score while wearing gloves, which he would toss aside when he was done.

Yeah, that much of an anti-Semite. And yet, he did have an impact on music, although for kind of assholey reasons. He didn’t want to create any opera stars, so contrary to existing style, he didn’t write them soaring arias or pretty duets.

Instead, he elevated the concept of the leitmotif, which is a short theme associated with a character or mood. This concept is extremely common in movie soundtracks to this day. Think of the Star Wars movies, which have short themes associated with the heroes and villains. It’s the same with other major franchises in particular, like the MCU or Harry Potter.

John Williams is a huge proponent of the leitmotif concept.

Beyond this, Wagner was a huge champion of what he called Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art.” That is, his operas wouldn’t just be about the music. Rather, they were about the sum total of everything — the stagecraft, the music, the singing, the acting, and the special effects.

He definitely felt that the music should take a back seat to the drama and the story, and he certainly shot for this goal in his most well-known work, the epic Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung, that last word being plural, by the way.)

Based on ancient Norse and Germanic texts, it chronicles the saga of the Teutonic gods from their rise to their downfall. The piece consists of four separate, full-length operas, culminating in Götterdämmerung, or Twilight of the Gods.

And it’s this last bit of the opera that has lent a very famous expression to the language. One of the main characters of the cycle is Brünnhilde, a Valkyrie cast as a soprano, and generally played by a plus-sized woman.

We first meet her in opera number two, Die Walkure, as she rides around on flying horses with her sisters (and yes, they flew them on that stage), and sings the number made most famous by the film Apocalypse Now! as Robert Duvall is enjoying the smell of Napalm® in the morning.

She makes her exit in the aforementioned Götterdämmerung, but her final scene takes twenty minutes and sets the rest of the actions of the piece in motion. And although the phrase wasn’t coined until maybe the 1970s, but its exact origin is murky, this is the reason that we still may say, “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.”

Another twist Wagner added to music was his use of chromaticism, which facilitated rapid tonal shifts in the keys of his music.

Very short version of what that means: I’ve written before about how musical scales are based on a progression of seven notes (which lead back to an eighth, which is just the first note an octave higher.)

But there are twelve notes, or tones, overall. It’s just that any particular diatonic scale will not use five of them. Again, think back to that keyboard layout of white keys interrupted by repeating, alternating groups of two and three black keys.

The key of C Major has no sharps or flats, so those black keys are not naturally a part of it. It’s the same thing for every key, just not as obviously marked.

In chromaticism, composers will use any of the twelve tones in any of the keys for all kinds of effects. Although not unheard of in previous eras of music, Wagner heightened it, and his work is often considered the birth of the Modern Era in music.

And yet, there’s always that dark cloud that will hang over his work. It’s not for no reason that the Nazis embraced his compositions and philosophies when they came along, and while his music is technically not banned in Israel, it isn’t acceptable to play it, and the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation had to apologize for playing the final act of Götterdämmerung on-air, even though it was from a performance at the Bayreuth Festival, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, who is Jewish.

The most blatant example of his anti-Semitism has to be his essay Das Judenthum in der Musik, first published under a pseudonym in 1850. While the title is translated in English as “Judaism in Music,” that really doesn’t do justice to the vitriol in the original, which at the time would have been more along the lines of “Jewry” or “Jewdom” or “Jewishness.”

Judaism is a respectful term for the religion and its followers. The other three, not so much. They all carry negative connotations. It’s the difference between saying of someone, “He’s Jewish” and “He’s a Jew.” The former is acceptable, the latter, really not, unless it’s one Jewish person talking about another.

Of course, we also run into that tricky bit: At this time, in European culture, it was totally okay to be anti-Semitic. The Jewish people were these weird folk who had been run out of Eastern Europe in the pogroms.

They were not Christian, they had their own strange practices that outsiders were not privy to, and what was with the clothes and hats and beards and all that, anyway? It was a classic example of white Europeans of privilege refusing to even try to learn about or understand people who were different than them.

Hey — that’s still going on with white people in America today!

What it all leads to is a culture of blaming one particular group for the problems of the whole. The targets may vary over time and place, but there’s a common term for it: Scapegoating. And, ironically, this concept comes right out of Judaism itself.

The real reason for this misplaced blame, of course, is to avoid responsibility on two fronts. First, people don’t want to take responsibility if, for example, they can’t find a high-paying job because they don’t have the skills for it, or if they get fired from the job they do have.

That’s not their problem. No it was because the (fill in scapegoat du jour) are taking all our jerbs, man!

And it’s definitely not because of the ridiculous income inequality in America (or the Europe of Wagner’s time) when a lot of people lose their jobs because one billionaire buys a company for another and decides that he’ll make an extra half a million this year if he lays off 10,000 people, and doubles the workload of 5,000 more without raising their salaries.

That’s because they’ve managed to propagandize enough of their workers to not see who the real villains in the piece are.

That was an interesting road to wander down, but it just shows you how divisive and toxic Wagner’s views were, because just reading about them gave me the visceral need to pushback.

Fortunately, I’ve never been a really big fan of his music because it can be so jarringly unmelodic, and I’m not an opera fan, either. But I do have to admit, dammit, that he was the primary gatekeeper for the next phase change in musical eras — just as Beethoven brought in the Romantics, Wagner brought in the Moderns.

But I think I might still have a few more bits to say about the Romantic Era — with much fewer Nazis, but a lot more Russians.

Image: Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Momentous Monday: Backwards and in high heels

The famous astronomer Herschel was responsible for a lot of accomplishments, including expanding and organizing the catalog of nebulae and star clusters, discovering eight comets, polishing and mounting mirrors and telescopes to optimize their light-gathering powers, and keeping meticulous notes on everything.

By being awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and being named an honorary member thereof, holding a government position and receiving a salary as a scientist, Herschel became the first woman to do so.

What? Did you I think I was talking about the other one? You know — the only one most of you had heard of previously because he discovered Uranus. Oh, and he had that whole penis thing going on.

Caroline Lucretia Herschel, who was William’s younger sister by eleven years and was born in 1850, did not have a penis, and so was ignored by history. Despite the honors she received, one of her great works, the aforementioned expansion of the New General Catalogue (NGC), was published with her brother’s name on it.

If you’re into astronomy at all, you know that the NGC is a big deal and has been constantly updated ever since.

While she lacked William’s junk, she shared his intellectual curiosity, especially when it came to space and studying the skies. It must have been genetic — William’s son John Herschel was also an astronomer of some repute — and it was his Aunt Caroline, not Dad, who gave him a huge boost.

She arranged all of the objects then in the NGC so they were grouped by similar polar coordinates — that is, at around the same number of degrees away from the celestial poles. This enabled her nephew to systematically resurvey them, add more data about them, and discover new objects.

Caroline was not the first woman in science to be swept under history’s rug by the men. The neverending story of the erasure of women told in Hidden Figures was ancient by the time the movie came out, never mind the time that it actually happened. Caroline was in good company.

Maria Winckelmann Kirch, for example, was also an astronomer, born 80 years before Caroline and most likely the first woman to actually discover a comet. But of course history gave that honor to her husband, Gottfried Kirch, who was thirty years her senior. However, Herr Kirch himself confirms in his own notes that she was the one who found it:

“Early in the morning (about 2:00 AM) the sky was clear and starry. Some nights before, I had observed a variable star and my wife (as I slept) wanted to find and see it for herself. In so doing, she found a comet in the sky. At which time she woke me, and I found that it was indeed a comet… I was surprised that I had not seen it the night before”. [Source]

Maria’s interest and abilities in science came from a person we might think of as unlikely nowadays: a Lutheran minister, who happened to be her father. Why did he teach her? Because he believed that his daughter deserved the same education any boy at the time did, so he home-schooled her. This ended when Maria lost both of her parents when she was 13, but a neighbor and self-taught astronomer, Christoph Arnold, took her on as an apprentice and took her in as part of the family.

Getting back to Hidden Figures, though, one of the earliest “computers,” as these women of astronomy were known, was Henrietta Leavitt. Given what was considered the boring and onerous task of studying a class of stars known as Cepheid variables, she actually discovered something very important.

The length of time it takes a Cepheid to go through its brightest to darkest sequence is directly proportional to its luminosity. This means that if know the timing of that sequence, you know how bright the star is. Once you know that, you can look at how bright it appears to be from Earth and, ta-da! Using very basic laws of optics, you can then determine how far away the star is.

It’s for this reason that Cepheids are known as a “standard candle.” They are the yardsticks of the universe that allow us to measure the unmeasurable. And her boss at the time took all the credit, so I’m not even going to mention his name.

And this is why we have The Leavitt Constant and the Leavitt Telescope today.

No, just kidding. Her (male) boss, who shall still remain nameless here because, “Shame, shame,” took all of the credit for work he didn’t do, and then some dude named Edwin Hubble took that work and used to to figure out how far away various stars actually were, and so determined that the universe was A) oh so very big,  and B) expanding. He got a constant and telescope named after him. Ms. Leavitt… not so much.

There are way too many examples of women as scientific discovers being erased, with the credit being given to men, and in every scientific field. You probably wouldn’t be on the internet reading this now if no one had ever come up with the founding concepts of computer programming, aka “how to teach machines to calculate stuff for us.”

For that, you’d have to look to a woman who was basically the daughter of the David Bowie of her era, although he wasn’t a very dutiful dad. He would be Lord Byron. She would be Ada Lovelace, who was pretty much the first coder ever — and this was back in the days when computers were strictly analog, in the form of Charles Babbage’s difference and analytical engines.

The former was pretty much just an adding machine, and literally one that could only do that. So, for example, if you gave it the problem “What is two times 27,” it would find the solution by just starting with two, and then adding two to it 26 times.

The latter analytical engine was much more like a computer, with complex programming. Based on the French Jacquard loom concept, which used punched cards to control weaving, it truly mimicked all of the common parts of a modern computer as well as programming logic.

Basically, a computer does what it does by working with data in various places. There’s the slot through which you enter the data; the spot that holds the working data; the one that will pull bits out of that info, do operations on it, and put it back in other slots with the working data; and the place where it winds up, which is the user-readable output.

The analytical engine could also do all four math operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

An analog version of this would be a clerk in a hotel lobby with a bunch of pigeonhole mail boxes behind, some with mail, some not. Guests come to the desk and ask (input), “Any mail for me?” The clerk goes to the boxes, finds the right one based on input (guest room number, most likely), then looks at the box (quaintly called PEEK in programming terms).

If the box is empty (IF(MAIL)=FALSE), the Clerk returns the answer “No.” But if it’s not empty (IF(MAIL)=TRUE), the clerk retrieves that data and gives it to the guest. Of course, the guest is picky, so tells the Clerk, “No junk mail and no bills.”

So, before handing it over, the Clerk goes through every piece, rejecting that above (IF(OR(“Junk”,”Bill”),FALSE,TRUE), while everything else is kept by the same formula. The rejected data is tossed in the recycle bin, while the rest is given to the guest — output..

Repeat the process for every guest who comes to ask.

Now, Babbage was great at creating the hardware and figuring out all of that stuff. But when it came to the software, he couldn’t quite get it, and this is where Ada Lovelace came in. She created the algorithms that made the magic happen — and then was forgotten.

By the way, Bruce Sterling and William Gibson have a wonderfully steampunk alternate history novel that revolves around the idea that Babbage and Lovelace basically launched the home computer revolution a couple of centuries early, and with the British computer industry basically becoming the PC to France’s Mac. It’s worth a read.

Three final quick examples: Nettie Maria Stevens discovered the concept of biological sex being passed through chromosomes long before anyone else; it was Lise Meitner, not Otto Hahn, who discovered nuclear fission; and, in the ultimate erasure, it was Rosalind Franklin, and neither Watson nor Crick, who determined the double helix structure of DNA.

This erasure is so pronounced and obvious throughout history that it even has a name: The Matilda Effect, named by the historian Margaret Rossiter for the suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage.

Finally, a note on the title of this piece. It comes from a 1982 comic strip called Frank and Ernest, and it pretty much sums up the plight of women trying to compete in any male-dominated field. They have to work harder at it and are constantly getting pushed away from advancement anyway.

So to all of the women in this article, and all women who are shattering glass ceilings, I salute you. I can’t help but think that the planet would be a better place with a matriarchy.

For all of the above histories and more, it’s plain to see why finally having a female Vice President of the United States (and a person of color at that) is a truly momentous and significant moment in the history of the country and the world.

Sunday nibble #49: Adverse selection

If you want to buy most kinds of insurance, you can do it whenever you want. Need to start or change your auto, homeowner’s, renter’s, fire, disaster, liability, or life insurance? You can pretty much do that at any time.

But there’s one huge exception, and that’s health insurance. You can only sign up or change it during certain designated annual or open enrollment periods.

President Biden recently extended the annual enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so that more people could get insured, but you’re probably wondering, “Why do they have these restrictions at all?

On the surface, they do sound stupidly arbitrary. Full disclosure: I work for a broker who only deals with Medicare insurance, it works like this. If you want to change your prescription coverage, you can only do it from October 15 to December 7 every year. You can only change a Medicare Supplement plan from your birthday to 60 days after, and only change MAPDs or dump an MAPD to go back to “original” Medicare (Parts A & B) from January 1 to March 31.

Okay, technically, you can change any of these plans at any time, but outside of these periods, you have to answer health questions and are subject to underwriting, meaning you could wind up paying a lot more if you have a pre-existing condition.

But, as if to emphasize the apparent arbitrariness, some health insurance providers will suddenly say, “Hey, we’re having an underwriting holiday, so you’ve got an extra three months to switch your Part D, or you can change your supplement no matter when your birthday is!”

So… it’s clearly not a hard and fast Medicare rule. In effect, it’s a system to confuse the hell out of people, and every commercial you see on TV referring to Medicare exploits that big time. For example, when it’s only the time to change your prescription coverage (Part D), you’ll be bombarded with commercials trying to sell you Medicare Supplement Plans.

These unscrupulous advertisers also like to pitch the idea that “You, yes, you, can get $144 back every month  (hey, that’s four bucks less than the whole Part B premium!) if you call now.

Except, you can’t, unless you qualify for Medicaid/MediCal, meaning you have no assets and earn a ridiculously tiny amount each month.

These ads are designed one goal in mind, because they’re not selling you a product, they’re looking to turn you into the product.

You (i.e. being Boomer over 65) call the number on the screen. You give them info and then they lower the boom, based on your birthday. If it’s in the 60 day window, great — they’re going to hard sell you a supplement plan, but it’s going to be the one plan from the one carrier the company who ran the commercial represents.

And that is not necessarily the best option, since the specifics of coverage can vary.

Now, if it’s not within 60 days after your birthday, congrats. After the person on the phone takes down enough info to be able to contact you again, you become a “prospect,” and you are going to get pounded with ad material, again trying to sell you that one plan that may or may not be the best for you.

Are there differences? Oh, you betcha, and my boss bases his entire business on it, especially when it comes to Part D coverage. He’s one of, if not the only, agent who makes it a point to annually review the current coverage and updated prescriptions of each of his clients to find out whether they’re on the best plan or not — and this can make a huge difference.

Why? Because different insurance providers offer different rates for the same medications. Company A might consider all of your meds to be Tier 1, which are pretty much mostly covered with little or no copay. Company B might put one or two of them on higher Tiers, which cost more. And beware the company that declares one of your meds not covered, because then you get to pay full retail.

In the case of you being stuck with a brand name drug that has no generic, this can get really pricey. Since I’m the one who runs those drug comparisons in Medicare, I’ve seen nightmare situations in which somebody with a couple of not covered meds could have prescription insurance, and yet still pay more than $50K per year out of pocket just for the drugs, not including the monthly premium for the insurance.

Yeah, it’s nuts. But this does circle us around to why enrollment periods exist, and why getting us to Medicare-for-All or a Single Payer plan is so important.

Here’s an analogy. You decide that you don’t need car insurance, and you drive around without it. Then, one day, you get in an accident that’s decidedly your fault. So you call up an insurance broker on your phone to buy insurance. Yeah, sure, they’ll sell it to you, but good luck with that claim.

Why? Because the loss clearly predated the coverage, so you’re SOL.

This is also why most jurisdictions require people to have auto insurance as a condition of being a licensed driver. Those other forms of insurance from the first graf, not so much.

Why? Because you can do a lot of damage to someone else or to property as a driver getting into an accident, and that asset called your car isn’t going to cover it. On the other hand, homeowner’s insurance isn’t required (although it’s a damn good idea) because the equity in your home would probably cover anything. Just too bad, so sad, if you have to dip into it when somebody trips and breaks their ankle on your badly maintained front walk.

But here is the really logical reason that there are set periods during which people can change their particular health insurance plans, and it’s a statistics game, really.

In the business, allowing health insurance without underwriting at any time is called Adverse Selection, and it goes like this.

You’re generally healthy, so you think, “Why do I need to pay a ton of money for insurance I don’t need?” So you don’t, and you slide without it, and then one day your doctor says, “Hey, you’ve got cancer!”

So you run to the nearest broker and say, “I need health insurance,” but you’re not lucky enough for it to be during an enrollment period. So, he can get you insurance, but you have to answer health questions, and one of those is going to ask whether you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.

Oops. You can get insurance, but you’re going to pay premiums out your ass. in America, cancer be costly.

Not to play devil’s advocate, but the entire point of insurance companies is that they gamble the premiums of people who will never make claims in order to cover the costs of people who do. It’s why auto insurers give good driver discounts.

There’s also an entire skilled profession of people called actuaries, who make it their business to calculate exact risks. So they will tell the insurance company, “In order to not lose money because X% of people will develop conditions that will cost you $Y per year in benefits, you need to have Z many people likely to have no claims signed up and paying premiums as well.”

Hence, enrollment periods. They are designed to greatly reduce the odds that people who are going to suck more out of the system than they pay in are able to sign up.

Side note: This does not explain at all why young, healthy people pay so goddamn much for health insurance. Given their numbers and their health, they should be paying practically nothing. That’s not what I’ve seen or experienced first hand.

The good news? I’ve seen some really lucky people come through our system, like the ones who are diagnosed with cancer a week before Annual Enrollment, or develop some chronic condition with expensive meds right after their birthday.

But those are rare, and probably factored into the system.

Here’s the deal, though. Single-payer eliminates all that shit for one simple reason. If every single citizen were signed up for healthcare, with most of that being covered by a combination of employer contributions and employee deductions, with children under 26 and non-working spouses also being covered, there would be no need to worry about Adverse Selection. Everybody is already covered. Boom. Done.

It’s called Economy of Scale. If everyone is covered, no one becomes a suck on the system. Everyone benefits. Ooh… scary Socialism. Although that’s exactly what Socialism is.

Hey — driven on an Interstate lately? Or, more to the point, have auto insurance in a state that requires it? That’s exactly why it’s fairly cheap, and you can change your coverage at any time. When everybody has it, everybody pays less.

The Saturday Morning Post #48: The Rêves Part 26

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 Los Angeles.

This is the last chapter of Book Two, and let’s just say brace yourselves for a huge twist.

Wheeling and dealing

Pearl had tasked Danny and Preston with keeping tabs on Ausmann as he left the mountain and beyond, and they had taken up position for the rather boring duty of watching his ass after he’d parked at the bottom.

After sunrise, and as soon as one of the two auto businesses opened, Ausmann sprang into action. The car dealership opened first, and he grabbed a briefcase from his car before heading on in.

They watched as the lone salesman toured Ausmann around the lot, and then took him on a test-drive in what Preston recognized as a dark blue Chrysler Pacifica, probably about a 2017 model, a hybrid, although its mileage wasn’t really all that impressive — 84 per gallon on electric power, 32 per for gas, clearly visible on the info poster on the back driver’s side window.

The most notable bits were its four doors and an obvious butt-ton of storage space, not to mention that all of the rear windows were tinted.

“I thought that was illegal here,” Preston mused.

“How would I know,” Danny replied. “I’m from Idaho.”

“Emphasis on ‘ho,’” Preston reminded him with a playful ass-slap.

“Hey — I taught you everything you know.”

“Oh, I learned plenty on my own.”

Ausmann and the salesman disappeared into the store for what seemed like forever until they both emerged and shook hands, the salesman handing Ausmann a set of keys and a thick pouch full of documents. A few moments later, someone who obviously made nowhere near as much as the salesman drove the SUV around and parked it. As Ausmann started to unload his stuff from his trade-in to the other, the driver stopped him, and a whole crew descended to carry out the off-loud in about two minutes.

Then Ausmann was on his way, heading west, and Danny and Preston Peter-Panned their way after him, leaving him none-the-wiser.

Still, as they followed him, they noticed something that they’d first kind of picked up on back at the cabin but really hadn’t paid much attention to until it was just them following him in his new SUV.

Ausmann was sort of… well, flickering. That was the best way they could describe it. It was like he was two people at once, although both of them were him.

“Dude, this is like that time we did shrooms behind the Gern Island Complex,” Danny said.

“I never did…” Preston started until he remembered. “Oh. Right. With, like, that whole Hindu god multiple face and arm shit going on?”

“Exactly,” Danny replied. “But I know that I’m not tripping, and you’re probably not, so that’s probably him. What do you think is going on?”

“I have no fucking idea,” Preston answered. “I guess all we can do is what Pearl asked us to.”

“Agreed.”

So they followed Ausmann back into L.A., where he parked at the Universal City Metro Station and took the escalators down to the platform, where he waited. Danny and Preston followed him down as well and didn’t show themselves — to humans — but fired out a warning to any Rêve who thought about entering that station.

It was only after a few hours and by the point that Ausmann got kind of vocal that it became clear that he was hunting for his ghost hunters, which Danny and Preston quickly determined would have been Joshua and Simon.

“Well… fuck,” Preston finally said.

“Yeah, we kind of like them, don’t we?” Danny asked.

“Yeah, they kind of introduced us,” Preston replied. “So what do we do with Captain Shithead here?”

“I have no idea,” Danny said. “Except maybe stick to his ass and protect those hunter dudes?”

“Agreed,” Preston said.

“Hey… you remember where they live?” Danny asked.

“Shit. Vaguely?” Preston replied. “Why?”

“Um… shouldn’t we go there first and warn them?”

“Yeah, duh,” Preston said, “But… do you remember where they live?”

There was a long pause before Danny replied, “No. I thought you did.”

Another long pause before they looked at each other and muttered, “Fuck.”

“I know it was in the Valley,” Preston said. “And near a Metro station. That’s where they caught me.”

“Which station was it?” Danny asked.

Preston thought about it, and then realized that there was a blank spot. He remembered being in a station, just not which one. “I think being in that trap messed with my mind,” he said.

“What was it like in there?”

“Complete unconsciousness, so no time passed at all from when I went in to when I got out.”

“I wonder if Anabel remembers.”

“She’s not exactly our biggest fan right now,” Preston explained, “Seeing as how we ran off with Pearl.”

“Wouldn’t she want to protect Joshua and Simon?”

“When they’re the ones who turned her over to Ausmann?”

“Oh, right,” Danny realized. “But if we told her we knew where Ausmann is — ”

“She’d probably just turn her army on him.”

“Yeah, but wouldn’t that save Joshua and Simon, then?”

“I don’t think Pearl wanted Ausmann harmed,” Preston said. “Otherwise, she would have just had the Hadas take him out back there in the mountains.”

“That storm sure looked like a serious attempt to take him out,” Danny said.

“Or was it just a very elaborate way to send a message?”

“What, like storms are some universal language?” Danny joked, but Preston suddenly went wide-eyed.

“Universal. Universal City Station. That’s where they caught me! Right here. I remember now. Thanks, dude!”

“Uh… you’re welcome?”

They headed upstairs and explored the area around the station, but the closest residential buildings and the neighborhood in general looked nothing like what they’d seen when they’d fled Joshua and Simon’s place.

“So… north or south?” Danny asked.

“I’m pretty sure it’s north,” Preston said. “Nothing we flew over on the way out looked like Hollywood.”

They traveled OG Rêve style, down the subway tunnel, one southbound train traveling through them, which was always a total rush when it happened, then arrived at the North Hollywood station and headed up. As soon as they exited to the plaza above, Preston pointed.

“I remember that black tower!” he exclaimed, indicating the Kaiser Permanente Medical Office Building at Lankershim and Weddington. “And this station, too,” he said, pointing back at the three metal arches above the entrance, in shades of orange, yellow and green. Danny had always assumed that they were a reference to oranges, lemons, and limes, which had been a major part of California’s agricultural economy since forever.

That probably wasn’t the case, though.

“I guess we can go up and see if we recognize any landmarks we flew over,” Danny suggested.

“It would be so much easier if it was nighttime now,” Preston said.

“There’s probably no time,” Danny replied. “I mean, Ausmann was their boss, he must have their address, right?”

“Shit. Okay. Let’s fly.”

They shot up into the air and started looking, almost immediately recognizing the G Line bus transit station across Lankershim from the B Line Metro station — and then veering to the left to a building just north of North Chandler at Tujunga — a square tower of fifteen stories with wraparound balconies on the front and back sides.

“That’s it!” Preston called out, ecstatic. They made their way to the nearest top-floor balcony and strolled inside since, being Rêves, they could just do that, but it looked like nobody was home.

“Now what?” Danny asked. Preston just shrugged.

“Now what?” Ausmann thought as he parked in a far and empty corner of the lowest level of the Westfield Fashion Square mall garage. Since the mall itself had been mostly abandoned in the plague years and then subsequently converted to homeless and low-cost housing, the garage didn’t see the kind of traffic it used to.

That was true of most indoor malls in the U.S.

He wracked his brain, trying to remember anything that would give him a clue to where Joshua and Simon lived, coming up blank, so he went back to his video archives, searching through all of the Metro footage he had of them until he came to a rather interesting bit from the Universal City Station, when they were actually approached by an employee.

The video was high-res enough that he was able to grab her name from her badge: Brenda Mason. And he also checked the footage showing her driving off with the two of them from the station.

So he’d found his way in, checked in the several databases he was (still) privy to as a Federal employee, found her address in Baldwin Hills, and headed on over.

Meanwhile, 88 miles (or 141 kilometers) almost directly due east and many hours earlier, Pearl and the Hadas were startled as the ground under Ausmann’s cabin erupted in a shower of dirt followed by a blue fireball that sent the above-ground building itself skyward in a storm of blazing splinters.

The ground collapsed in a gigantic crater that took out even more of the land, followed by a secondary explosion of fire.

The shattered cabin flew in all directions into the forest, igniting the trees, and the Hadas flew into action immediately, gathering high above and firing down a sudden and very localized hail storm that managed to quench the flames before they did much damage.

Pearl watched with a sigh of relief, but then another of the Hadas materialized next to them — one of the few who would have been Class II if he hadn’t been cremated instead, and that was Rock Hudson.

“And you just want to let him go like that?” he asked.

“Yes,” Pearl replied. “Number one, because I do not believe in killing, even if it’s to fight genocide. Number two, because what hate he’s going to show us now is also going to show us how to defeat him.”

“Ah,” Rock replied. “Know thine enemy?”

“Exactly,” Pearl answered with an awkward fist-bump.

Meanwhile, Esme innocently answers the door to find Ausmann pointing a gun at her face. “Hello,” he says. “Is this where Brenda Mason lives?”

“What do you want?” she demands, tensing up in preparation to using her taekwondo training to kick his ass, but he’s already grabbed her by the throat, spun her around, and put one of her arms in a compliance hold. She grunts and leads him to the living room.

Jonah and the kids are playing another game, Exploding Kittens, when a madman with a gun enters. Jonah doesn’t hesitate and goes full-on linebacker (flashback to his college days) in order to take this motherfucker out, except — he gets smacked hard in the temple with the butt of a gun and goes down.

And then Brenda comes in from the hallway to see what all of the commotion is, and crazy man points his gun at Malia.

“Pick one,” he says. “If you tell me nothing. Save both if you tell me what I want to know.”

“What the fuck do you want to know?” she demands, gesturing for her kids to come to her, which they do, hiding behind her legs.

“Where do your little ghost hunter friends live?” the gunman demands.

“You think I know?” Brenda replies.

“You have three chances to say no without people dying,” the gunman replies. “Husband, this kid or that kid. Boom, boom, boom. Who do you really want to protect?”

“I never went to their house, you fucking asshole,” Brenda replies. “God’s honest truth?”

“Really?” the man replies, pointing his gun at Jonah’s head. “Want to try again?”

“I only ever went to Denny’s with them!” Brenda practically screamed.

“Which one?” the gunman demanded.

“Lankershim and Burbank,” she replied.

“I think you need more incentive,” he said, turning his gun toward Malia. “Where do they live?” he demanded again.

“I don’t fucking know!” she screamed, and then she pulled out her phone and flung it at his face with all her strength. Remarkably, it hit dead-center on the bridge of his nose and brought him down, gun flipping from his hand and tumbling to the carpet.

To their credit, Brenda didn’t have to say anything. Malia threw herself on top of the gun while Jonah grabbed the gunman in a chokehold and Sam restrained his arms.

“I’m calling the cops,” Brenda announces, but this just sets the gunman off. With a burst of strength, he manages to break free from Jonah and Sam’s holds.

“Bring it. Asshole,” she announces, adding, “Sorry kids.”

Before she can say anything else, he flees out the front door. Esme restrains Jonah from following him and Sam slams and bolts the front door.

“Okay,” Esme finally says. “What was that all about?”

“I think I know,” Brenda replies, grabbing her phone and dialing.

Joshua and Simon had just arrived home, ready to settle down for a quiet evening of binging the latest series of Doctor Who when they were interrupted, first by finding Danny and Preston in their living room, and then by Brenda’s phone call.

They all had the same message: “Ausmann is looking for you both, and it’s probably not good news.” Of course, Brenda didn’t know their intruder was this Ausmann until Joshua asked her, then explained who he was.

“Do you happen to know where he is now?” Simon asked.

“Um… no,” the other three answered.

“Last we saw him was at Universal City Station,” Danny explained.

“And does he know where we are?” Joshua and Simon asked.

“No,” they agreed.

“And he’s looking for us because, why?” Joshua said.

“I have no idea,” Brenda responded.

“Because I think he’s out to kill you,” Danny and Preston said.

“Well, that’s one hell of a difference,” Simon said.

“True,” Joshua agreed, then asked Brenda, “Wait. How the hell did he find you?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m guessing that he was watching Metro videos, like I was?”

“Not encouraging,” Simon muttered to Joshua.

“Not at all,” Joshua replied.

“What do you mean?” Brenda asked.

“You know how much we all had access to via video as county employees?” Simon asked.

“Well, yeah,” she said.

“Well, Ausmann — and both of us — had Federal access, meaning that city, county, and state shit was free rein.”

“Meaning…?” Brenda asked, sounding scared to death.

“If he found you and tied you to us — ” Simon started.

“He’s fucking found us,” Joshua finished.

“Not your fault,” they both added. “At least we’ve got warning,” Simon continued.

“So thanks!”

“You’re welcome,” Brenda said and then signed off. Immediately afterwards, Ausmann kickied in the front door, leading pistol first and grinning like an idiot when he saw them. Unfortunately, he’d had to leave his favorite gun behind at Brenda’s house. This was one of his back-ups from the car.

“Hello, boys,” he announced. Danny and Preston immediately faded into the shadows, but neither Joshua nor Simon took it as a bad thing. Rather, it was probably the Rêves’ best attempt to protect the Vivants.

“So… what the hell do you want?” Joshua demanded, his usual defiant self.

“Oh, you know,” Ausmann said. “Self-preservation, protection, loyal minions… although I don’t think that either of you can provide any of that. At least without incentive.”

“There’s no incentive you can offer us, you asshole,” Joshua replied.

“Ooh. Burning bridges already? I like that. It’s spunky!” Ausmann said. “You haven’t even listened to my offer.”

“I think my husband said we’re not interested,” Simon replied in a totally uncharacteristic moment of candor. “So… no, maybe?”

Ausmann laughed. “All I’m asking for is the key to winning this goddamn ghost war, nothing more nor less, and since you’re both living, I assume that that’s the side you’re on. Right?”

“You’re assuming that we see this as a war,” Simon said. “But we don’t.”

“Ah,” Ausmann spat back at him. “So you’re traitors to your kind?”

“You want to blow that dog whistle any harder, fuckface?” Joshua chimed in.

“No, I want to recruit an ally,” Ausmann said, marching outside onto the balcony.

Joshua and Simon exchanged a look, Simon restraining Joshua from picking up a heavy lead bust near the doorway with obvious lethal intent.

Out on the balcony, Ausmann gestured at the landscape. “This belongs to people,” he said. “Living, human people. Fuck the dead. And I have figured out the way to figure out how to defeat them, but it requires one tiny bit of your help.”

“Okay, I’ll humor you, but I won’t say yes,” Joshua replied. “What tiny bit do you need?”

“Simple,” Ausmann replied. “Bring me the spirit of Peter Lorre. That’s it. He’s going to share all of the secrets to destroying them, and guarantee my mission.”

“Peter Lorre?” Simon scoffed. “How are we supposed to find him?”

“I suppose you’ll need to find an ally on the other side,” Ausmann said.

Joshua wanted to tell him, “We’ve already got two,” but restrained himself — there was no telling how this madman would take the news. Besides, he didn’t exactly want to call out Danny and Preston when they were most likely watching but hidden.

In fact, they were watching, and the thing that they noticed was that Ausmann was doing his weird “Hindu Time” bit again, seemingly stronger than it had been before, and that was when time blurred.

“I can’t think of any of those existing ghosts who’d trust either of you,” Ausmann said. “But I know who would.

Abruptly, Ausmann started to spin around but then there were two of him, one a ghostly image and the other more solid. Both of them spun together to hit Simon hard in the chest, knocking him backwards over the balcony raining and into fifteen stories of air. As they turned back, it looked like the back of the ghostly one’s head exploded in a spray of red mist, and then it fell.

At the same time, Joshua screamed and ran to the railing.

“You’ll need his help,” Ausmann said as he wheeled around Joshua, keeping the gun aimed at him until he’d exited via the condo and out the front door.

Joshua didn’t want to look down. Meanwhile, the ghostly Ausmann had fallen to the ground and winked out of existence.

“What the fuck was that?” Danny asked Preston.

“I have no idea.”

Noticing Joshua moving slowly toward the balcony railing, they materialized and hurried to stand on either side of him. Joshua finally looked down. Simon was lying in the middle of the southbound lane of Tujunga and a small crowd, probably from the shops on the ground floor, had already gathered. Since the fire station was a block away, an ambulance arrived almost immediately.

“Dude, trust us, he’ll be back,” Preston explained, putting an arm around Joshua’s shoulders even though he couldn’t really touch him.

“But not like himself,” Joshua said before he turned and ran inside, grabbing his phone and keys, throwing on a coat and heading out, locking the door behind him. He got to the street as the EMTs were transferring Simon, strapped to a body board, onto a gurney, then wheeling him into the ambulance.

Joshua felt some relief when he saw that they had put him on oxygen. Good. Still alive. There was still hope.

He turned and saw a police officer nearby and went to her.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m his husband. Can I… what can…?”

“You can ride to the hospital with him, of course,” she said. Give me your name and number. I’m not going to bother you for a statement right now. Except — was it an accident, attempted homicide, or… um…”

She trailed off, avoiding the “S” word, and Joshua had a dilemma. If he said that it was murder, he’d have to say who did it, and that would lead to revealing way too much information about everything. He’d have to stop Ausmann on his own, and he was not unaware that even if Simon came back as a Rêve, he’d still be obliterated if Ausmann carried out his plan.

“Accident, I’m pretty sure,” he said. “I wasn’t out there, but I looked when I heard the siren. He… he didn’t have any, you know, suicidal thoughts at all. Simon was a happy guy.”

“Simon. That’s my brother’s name. Your husband is still breathing, so there’s that. Go on, get in the ambulance.”

“Thank you,” Joshua told her, then went to one of the EMTs and explained the same. It was the longest ride of his life, even though they went with sirens blaring for just under seven miles to the Kaiser ER in Panorama City.

Simon was admitted immediately and the surgeons went to work as Joshua waited. About forty-five minutes later, a surgeon entered through the back doors. There were other people there, but Joshua could tell from her body language that what was coming was not good news.

“Please be for someone else,” he told himself, but then the surgeon spoke the three words that would destroy his world.

“Joshua Hunter-Aisling?” she said to the room.

He raised his hand and walked toward her, but all he could remember were the tears that would not stop and the violent sobs that wracked his entire body.

“I’m so, so sorry,” she said. He only heard random words. Extensive trauma. Gross insult to internal organs. Multiple fractures. “Most people who fall from that height are dead on impact,” she finally said, and this phrase burned itself into his brain. “I really thought we had a chance with him.”

Everything after that was a blur as he wandered out of the hospital, called a cab, and headed home. Danny and Preston were still waiting there, and read his mood immediately. The three of them just sat in silence, Danny and Preston leaning their heads on his shoulders as best they could.

“We’re here for you,” Danny said.

“Whatever you need,” Preston told him.

Joshua looked at the two of them, thinking, “You’re dead and not really corporeal. What could you possibly do?” He started laughing at the absurdity of it, but then looked at their sincerity, and it hit him that despite their deceased state, recent experiences actually had matured them both. Preston was much less the shallow porn star and Danny less the naïve L.A. import who had not yet gone down the porn path.

The tears came again until he fell asleep on the couch between the two spirits who did not emanate any heat, but showed plenty of love.

* * *

Friday Free for all #46: Superpower, character swap

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website, although it’s been on hiatus since the Christmas Countdown began. Here, I resume with this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What would be some of the downsides of certain superpowers?

A lot of people would like the power to be invisible, but if we’re going to be completely realistic about it, in order to be invisible, you have to be completely transparent to light. This is all well and good except… if you are transparent to light, then when you’re invisible, you can’t see a damn thing.

The only workaround would be if the essential parts of your eyes — iris, lens, cornea, retina, and optic nerve — were still sensitive to light, but if they were, then they would become visible. Ergo, you would be a pair of creepy eyes on stalks floating around, and that defeats the purpose.

The abilities to fly or run super-fast also seem like cool powers, but they come at a cost, and that is caloric intake. To do either would take enormous amounts of energy, and we’re talking numbers that would put triathlete-in-training 10,000 calorie a day diets to shame.

At least flying, at the right speed, would actually be akin to swimming in terms of course control. Running, though, would be a different matter, and to get up to Flash speeds, the human brain just doesn’t have the perceptive power to navigate that fast.

Unless, of course, the brain also ran as fast as the body, but that would up the energy requirements even more, and it would probably be physically impossible for anyone to consume enough calories to power that.

Super strength? Year, sure, maybe — if we replace the calcium in your bones with iron, which weighs 40% more. But then we also have to do something about your joints, particularly knees and elbows, so that they don’t blow apart, so you’d need something stronger than cartilage which would also likely be much, much stiffer. Finally, you don’t want to rip a ligament on every power move, so those things would need to be made of something stronger as well and, likewise, less stretchy.

So you’d probably wind up super strong, but also super slow and clunky

If you could switch two movie characters, what switch would lead to the most inappropriate movies?

This was a fun question, and I came up with a few fun pairs. Strap in and enjoy.

Annie Wilkes (Misery) and Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins)

To refresh your memory, Annie Wilkes was the crazed fan who inadvertently ends up taking in her favorite author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) after he has a car accident near her home. She proceeds to keep him prisoner and terrorize him and brutalize him because, after he lets her read the draft of his latest Misery book, she is outraged by the profanity in it, not to mention that he dares to kill off the character.

Meanwhile, Mary Poppins is a nanny in Edwardian England, hired by a banker who doesn’t exactly know how to deal with his kids — although, interestingly enough, watching the film as an adult, Ms. Poppins is actually kind of a bitch.

On the other hand, she never intentionally smashes someone’s ankles with a sledge hammer, and she probably would have taken Sheldon on a series of adventures to colorful, animated places.

The Banks family, on the other hand, would probably not have fared as well.

Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) and Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)

This one could get messy. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) never met anyone he didn’t despise, and while the argument could be made that the killing spree in the book and movie is entirely in his head, he’s still a pretty vicious person at heart.

The imaginary spree angle isn’t specious, by the way. American Psycho was, above all, a critique of the “Go-go” Reagan era in which greed trumped everything. Bateman was just the embodiment of that attitude, and the murders real or imagined in the book are targeted at everything Republicans were taught to hate in that era and still do — the poor and homeless, the LGBTQ+ community, women, and people of color.

Meanwhile, we have Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) who, while being a completely despicable character in a really bad movie for entirely different reasons, also seems to have never met anyone he didn’t like — and he met everyone.

And this is where it gets messy. Forrest wouldn’t last five minutes in the power-suited, high stakes world of New York wheeler-dealers of the 1980s. At the same time, Patrick Bateman would suddenly meet absolutely everyone, and the path of death and destruction he would cut through the rich and famous, assuming he actually did, would be devastating.

Aileen Wuornos (Monster) and Mia Thermopolis (The Princess Diaries)

The former character was a female serial killer, which in itself is a rarity, although she did seem to only target men who were really shits to women. Meanwhile, the latter was a normal American teenage girl who suddenly finds out that she is actually heir to the throne of one of those obscure made-up movie countries that is vaguely somewhere in a non-controversial corner of Europe.

The princess would not fare well in Wuornos’ sleazy world. Meanwhile, drop the patriarchy-hating serial killer in a land that still has monarchs and, presumably, what’s actually a patriarchy in waiting only temporarily stalled by a lack of heirs with a Y chromosome and, yeah. Heads are gonna roll.

Caligula (Caligula) and Dave Kovic (Dave)

Caligula is one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies, because it has an all-star cast, a script by Gore Vidal, and is a pretty accurate rendition of events told in The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius. Thanks to having been produced by Bob Guccione of Penthouse fame, it’s also full of hardcore porn and very graphic violence. That’s what makes it such a romp.

Meanwhile, Dave is the Kevin Klein vehicle in which a comic who impersonates the current president is enlisted to actually pretend to be that president, due to the real deal having had a stroke while banging his mistress and winding up in a coma.

I think you can see where the fun is going here, especially if you transport the plot of Dave into both movies.

Dave Kovic would be out of his depth in Rome, and probably poisoned secretly or assassinated openly within months. Meanwhile, as soon as Caligula realized that he was essentially in charge of the planet’s greatest super-power, and what kinds of weapons and military forces he controlled, then it would be game over, because he would probably proceed to invade the shit out of every other country, friend or foe.

Hannibal Lecter (Hannibal Rising) and Julia Child (Julie & Julia)

For this one, I specifically chose the movie that tells young Hannibal’s origin story with the background of Nazi Germany because… Julia Child happened to have been a resistance fighter at the time, and quite a badass one. Why do you think she’s so good with kitchen knives.

But, the swap is just so wrong and so right. Julia gets to go on to get revenge on Nazis. Meanwhile, Hannibal would definitely be cooking up some really odd meals on that TV show. Bon(e) appétit!