Friday Free-for-All #87: Perception, dog breeds, clones, language

This week’s questions, covering everything from perception to cloning, dog breeds, and how languages make us think.

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

Your perception of the world is just what your brain constructs for you from the signals sent by your senses. Plus, there is a slight delay, so you aren’t even experiencing the simulation in real time. What would it be like if humans could perceive what the world is actually like and do it in real time? Also, what are the ramifications of every single person’s reality being a little different and unique to them?

Wow. I hit a bunch of longer questions on this random harvest, but this one is actually very easy to answer, at least the “what would it be like” part.

See, removing the time delay and the sensory filters is exactly what happens when someone takes any psychedelic drug, but particularly LSD. And yes, I did the latter a good number of times when I was much younger.

The net result is that all sensory information comes flooding in uncensored and absolutely in real time, which often gives the perception of observing overlapping time — that is moments shortly in the past, right now, and shortly in the future all at once.

I liked to refer to this as “Hindu Time,” especially when talking to people, because the effect of trails would basically superimpose all of their micro-expressions and and facial movements over a few seconds in real time.

It was like talking to a Picasso painting, really.

The brain also tries to make sense of every random input in these conditions, so that listening to white noise or static can turn into the most complicated music, just as looking at TV static or a random pattern in stucco or marble will also try to take on order.

Not to mention that you will be able to hear and smell every single thing that your body is doing.

As for that last question on the implications of everyone perceiving reality differently? Well, I dealt with that one in depth not that long ago.

Would selectively breeding an animal such as a dog based on intelligence, increase its intelligence over time? If so, how intelligent could dogs become? If not, how does intelligence emerge in a species?

We’ve been selectively breeding animals, especially dogs, for millennia, and we’ve had pretty good results in producing exactly the traits we’ve wanted.

I mean, come on — how else could we have turned the mighty wolf into the annoying as hell Maltese?

We’ve also definitely seen increased intelligence in dog breeds, particularly terriers, shepherds, and Labradors — the ones designed to hunt and help humans.

Were it gets tricky is that whole part where a lot of countries insist on all rescue animals being sterilized at adoption, which is great for reducing the excess population, but can also really ruin any possibility of selective breeding to create super-intelligent dogs.

Which we could totally do, by the way. Maybe we could do it by creating vast egg and sperm banks from all those canine gonads we’re removing or cutting off from the vas deferens, and then getting permits to breed very promising candidates.

But if we pay close attention to the behaviors that we get, then there’s no limit to the behaviors we can create, especially since we can shortcut the whole “natural selection process” while we’re at it.

Find a dog that has an uncanny ability to mimic human speech? And another dog that is a one-trial learner? Smash that DNA together and repeat to see what happens. Personally, I think that there is no limit to how intelligent dogs can become.

As for how other animals do it, ask Darwin. Basically, those traits that confer reproductive advantages over time win out and get reproduced. Sometimes, those relate to intelligence, sometimes not — but when they relate to the latter, that how intelligence in animals develops and grows.

Just go ask your nearest neighborhood crow about that.

If there existed a perfect clone of you, would it also be you? Would it act in exactly the same manner as you (like a mirror) or would it act differently? If it acted differently then would it still be you? At what point would it not be you?

Short answers: No. Hell no. Of course not. From creation.

Nature’s perfect clones are called identical twins, and they’re really not. Yes, some identical twins are impossible to tell apart in general, but if you really look at them, then you’ll spot differences.

Some are “mirror twins,” meaning that they developed with different symmetry and so look like mirror images of each other. Others can look identical until you look closely at things like hair patterns, moles and birthmarks, shape and size of genitalia, muscular development, and so on.

And that’s just for two people who developed from the same fertilized egg that split into two after being a zygote and developed in the same womb.

As for a clone? Good luck. It would be nowhere close to being you. The idea of “perfect” clone is utter bullshit, unless you consider “perfect” to be one that doesn’t die in utero and actually makes it to a healthy adulthood.

“Cloning” simply means that your human DNA is used to create a genetic copy of yourself, but we can’t just do it with human sex cells. Why? Because both eggs and sperm only have 23 chromosomes, as opposed to the normal 46 in humans.

We haven’t yet figured out a way, either, to get two sperm or two eggs to mush together to make a baby. Instead, the technique has involved getting a donor egg cell, removing its contents, and then injecting it with all of the DNA from another donor cell.

So, technically, this cell would have all of your DNA, but there are other problems. For one thing, your DNA is not necessarily 100% identical in every cell in your body. You may have different junk DNA, you may have chimeral cells which are genetically different from the DNA that made “you”, or the DNA that got grabbed has already been degraded through telomere shortening to the point that your clone isn’t going to live long.

But let’s harvest that DNA from you, shove it in a denucleated egg cell, and sprinkle some magic science dust on it to make it start dividing to create life. Now what?

Well, naturally, it needs a host womb. And the ideal one for that, of course, would be your own mother, but if you’re old enough to afford to clone yourself in the first place, then she’s probably either long dead or not a fertile plantation for your clone.

Nope, you’re going to need a well-paid surrogate to carry your clone to term.

And this is where the second big “Not You” change occurs. Your “clone,” who already does not have your exact DNA and is developing in an egg that came from a complete stranger, has now been dumped into a pre-natal environment that not only has completely different body chemistry from the one that you grew up in but… guess what?

Your clone is also tethered to that womb and, therefore, that mother, via the umbilical cord, meaning that they are sharing blood chemistry, oxygen, and a whole lot more.

At the very best, your “perfect” clone would come out as maybe some kind of fraternal twin, and while they might share your DNA, the way that those traits got expressed could be completely different. Don’t be shocked if your twin doesn’t even look like you.

Finally, since from that point it would grow up with entirely different experiences, it would never act like you, it would never act like you, and it would never be you from the moment of conception.

Sorry, rich dudes.

If language influences how we perceive color, what other things could languages be changing our perception of?

Language influences how we perceive absolutely everything, from colors to directions to time to numbers to honesty.

Just look at Chinese, which has no verb conjugations or noun declensions, so relies on adding context clues in order to indicate things like past/present/future or gender.

“Today they go class together.” “Tomorrow chief boss review us.” “Now believe us Mao shithead.”

It also uses the same word-order as English: Subject, verb, object.

Contrast this to Spanish, where object, verb, subject is often the norm. For example, “me gusta los limones.” In English, “I like lemons,” but in Spanish it is literally “I am pleased by lemons.” (Even expressing it as “lemons please me” is just putting it in English word order again.)

One of the more extreme cases of this is in the Australian aboriginal language Guugu Yimithirr, where time is not expressed in terms of past, present, and future, but rather cardinal directions, and this is quite literal.

Meaning, of you ask a speaker of this language to line up a series of photos from past to future, the order they do so will depend entirely on which way they’re facing. For them, past to future travels from east to west, just like the Sun,

If they’re facing north, then they’ll line up those photos past to future from right to left. Face them south, and then they’ll go left to right. And if you face them either east or west, then they will deal those photos toward or away from them.

But because of this time and direction sense, any speaker of the language just knows which way is which, even if they’re in a windowless building.

So, yeah… there’s a really big example of how language can change perception.

Friday Free-for-All #59: Multiple viewings, theater or home, hobby time, techsplosion

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

What movie have you seen more than seven times?

For starters, I know that I’ve watched Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey way more than seven times. Once home video and DVD happened, watching 2001 on New Year’s Day instead of a certain parade became a long-standing tradition with me.

The more than seven viewings is also true of several of his films, including Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and A Clockwork Orange.

I can’t leave off The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m pretty sure I saw that more than seven times in high school alone, and The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Ten Commandments also make the list because they are still being rerun at least once a year on TV.

I can’t forget the Star Wars Original Trilogy and most of the Prequel Trilogy. The Sequel Trilogy hasn’t been around long enough yet. As for Star Trek, The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home are the only ones I’ve definitely seen that often.

There are a few James Bond films — definitely Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, and Moonraker (one good, one okay, and one cheesy as hell) again because of the TV return thing.

I’m not sure, but I think that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (that’s the amazing Gene Wilder-starring version and not the Tim Burton travesty) probably also makes the list. Oh. Also, Cabaret, All that Jazz, and Westside Story.

There are probably others, but these are the ones that I can definitely put in the more than seven list.

Do you prefer to watch movies in the theater or in the comfort of your own home?

This is an answer that’s changed enormously. Once upon a time, my reply would have been absolutely in a theater, because that’s where they were made to be seen.

But then as my interest in seeing all the latest MCU/DCEU franchise films fell to zero, waiting for home video or streaming became enough mostly — although I would still go out for the big event films that interested me, mainly Star Wars installments and Bladerunner 2049.

The last film I did see in an actual theatre was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, back in February 2020. It was a mid-weekday thing and there were about four of us in the place.

So already having discovered the joys and convenience of streaming, not to mention the lower cost if it’s something on a service you already have, by the time the theaters shut down it was a no-brainer, and I’m not really inclined to go back anytime soon.

Honestly, seeing a Marvel movie on a big screen doesn’t really add much to it, not compared to the quality I can get at home. Plus I also don’t have to put up with other people, sticky floors, or an endless parade of pre-show trailers and adverts.

What hobby would you get into if time and money weren’t an issue?

I would become a total model train geek, although it would be about more than just the trains. I’d want to create an entire miniature city in a dedicated room, like a full basement, and build it in something like N Scale, which is ¾” to 1 foot, or 1:160 scale.

This would make a model of the Empire State building just over 9 feet tall at the tip of its mast, although it would take 33 linear feet of model to make up one mile of street, so it wouldn’t be a very big city. (Z scale would cut this down to 24 feet per mile, but definitely sacrifice some realism.)

To get a scale model of all of San Francisco into an area 33 feet on a side, you’d wind up with city buses being just under half an inch long and a tenth of an inch wide. You’d only need to cut the N scale in half to model two square miles of Midtown Manhattan.

But wait… it does say that time and money aren’t an issue, right? So instead of building a single square mile of city in a basement, why not go for a warehouse or buy an abandoned big box store? Aim for something that would fit fifty or a hundred square miles of city, and if it had multiple floors, go for various layouts — urban mega-city, suburban smaller town, historical city — with a scale ten mile footprint, you could easily build two separate 19th century Main Street towns surrounded by countryside and connected by railroad and telegraph.

And I wouldn’t need to go it alone. Hell, it could become an entire project that would employ model and miniature makers, urban planners, painters, designers, builders, electricians, programmers, and more. Give the big city a working harbor and airport, also have miniature cars and people moving around, design it to not only have a night and day cycle but seasons and weather as well, and it could be quite a thing.

It could even become a tourist attraction. Hell, they already did it in Hamburg, Germany.

And why does the idea fascinate me so much? Maybe because I was into model trains as a kid, although never had a neat, permanent layout. But this also led to me becoming a big fan of games like Sim City, in which I could indulge my curiosity about building and creating things and see where they led — especially urban landscapes.

Hm. Give me all the resources, and I just might make TinyTowns a major tourist destination.

Why did technology progress more slowly in the past than it does now?

I believe that this is because technological development is exponential, not algebraic. The latter is a very slow, additive process. You go from 1 to 1+1, or 2, then to 2+1 for 3 and so and so on. Repeat the process 100 times, and you land on 101.

Take the simplest exponential progression, though, in which each subsequent step is double the one before it. That is, go from 1 to 1×2, or 2, then 2 to 2×2 for 4, and so on. After a hundred steps, your result is 1.25×10^30, or roughly 1 followed by 30 zeros, which is one nonillion.

For perspective, a yottabyte — currently the largest digital storage standard yet set — is equal to one trillion terabytes, the latter currently being a very common hard drive size on a home computer.  The number noted above is ten thousand times that.

It’s exactly how we wound up with terabyte drives being so common when, not very long ago, a 30 megabyte drive was a big deal. That was really only within a generation or so. This relates to Moore’s Law, stated in 1965 as “the number of transistors in a computer chip doubles every 18 to 24 months.”

What wasn’t stated with the law was that this doubling didn’t just affect the number of transistors, and therefore the number of simultaneous operations, that a chip could perform. It extended to every other aspect of computers. More operations meant more data, so you could either speed up your clocks or widen your data buses (i.e. length of allowable piece of information in bits) or both.

And this is why we’ve seen things like computers going from 8 to 64 and 128 bit operating systems, and memory size ballooning from a few kilobytes to multiple gigabytes, and storage likewise exploding from a handful of kilobytes to terabytes and soon to be commercial petabyte drives.

Perspective: A petabyte drive would hold the entire Library of Congress print archive ten times over. If would probably also hold a single print archive and all the film, audio, and photographic content comfortably as well.

Now, all of this exploding computer technology fuels everything else. A couple of interesting examples: Humans went from the first ever manned flight of an airplane to walking on the moon in under 66 years. We discovered radioactivity in 1895 and tested the first atomic bomb 50 years later. The transistor was invented in 1947. The silicon chip integrating multiple transistors was devised in 1959, twelve years later.

And so on. Note, too, that a transistor’s big trick is that it turns old mathematical logic into something that can be achieved by differences in voltage. a transistor has two inputs and an output, and depending how it’s programmed, it can be set up to do various things, depending upon how the inputs compare and what the circuit has been designed to do.

The beauty of the system comes in stringing multiple transistors together, so that one set may determine whether digits from two different inputs are the same or not, and pass that info on to a third transistor, which may be set to either increment of leave unchanged the value of another transistor, depending on the info it receives.

Or, in other words, a series of transistors can be set up to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. It’s something that mechanical engineers had figured out ages previously using cogs and levers and gears, and adding machines and the like were a very  19th century technology. But the innovation that changed it all was converting decimal numbers into binary, realizing that the 0 and 1 of binary corresponded perfect to the “off” and “on” of electrical circuits, then creating transistors that did the same thing those cogs and levers did.

Ta-da! You’ve now turned analog math into digital magic. And once that system was in place and working, every other connected bit developed incredibly over time. Some people focused on making the human interfaces easier, moving from coding in obscure and strictly mathematical languages, often written via punch cards or paper tape, into not much improved but still infinitely better low level languages that still involved a lot of obscure code words and direct entry of numbers (this is where Hex, or Base 16 came into computing) but which was at least much more intelligible than square holes a card.

At the same time, there had to be better outputs than another set of punched cards, or a series of lights on a readout. And the size of data really needed to be upped, too., With only four binary digits, 1111, the highest decimal number you could represent was 15. Jump it to eight digits, 1111 1111, and you got… 255. Don’t forget that 0 is also included in that set, so you really have 256 values, and voila! The reason for that being such an important number in computing is revealed.

Each innovation fueled the need for the next, and so the ways to input and readout data kept improving until we had so-called high-level programming languages, meaning that on a properly equipped computer, a programmer could type in a command in fairly intelligible language, like,

10 X = “Hello world.”

20 PRINT X

30 END

Okay, stupid example, but you can probably figure out what it does. You could also vary it by starting with INPUT X, in which case the user would get a question mark on screen and the display would return whatever they typed.

Oh yeah… at around the same time, video displays had become common, replacing actual paper printouts that had a refresh rate slower than a naughty JPG download on 1200 baud modem. (There’s one for the 90s kids!) Not to mention a resolution of maybe… well, double digits lower than 80 in either direction, anyway.

Surprisingly, the better things got, the better the next versions seemed to get, and faster. Memory exploded. Computer speeds increased. Operating systems became more intuitive and responsive.

And then things that relied on computers took off as well. Car manufacturers started integrating them slowly, at first. Present day, your car is run more by computer than physical control, whether you realize it or not. Cell phones and then smart phones are another beneficiary — and it was the need to keep shrinking transistors and circuits to fit more of them onto chips in the first place that finally made it possible to stick a pretty amazing computer into a device that will fit in your pocket.

Oh yeah… first telephone, 1875. Landline phones were ubiquitous in less than a hundred years, and began to be taken over by cell phones, with the first one being demonstrated in 1973 (with a 4.4 lb handset, exclusive of all the other equipment required), and affordable phones themselves not really coming along until the late 1990s.

But, then, they never went away, and then they only just exploded in intelligence. Your smart phone now has more computing power than NASA and the Pentagon combined did at the time of the Moon landings.

Hell, that $5 “solar” (but probably not) calculator you grabbed in the grocery checkout probably has more computing power than the Lunar Lander that made Neil Armstrong the first human on the Moon.

It’s only going to keep getting more advanced and faster, but that’s a good thing, and this doesn’t even account for how explosions in computing have benefited medicine, communications, entertainment, urban planning, banking, epidemiology, cryptography, engineering, climate science, material design, genetics, architecture, and probably any other field you can think of — scientific, artistic, financial, or otherwise.

We only just began to escape the confines of Analog Ville less than 40 years ago, probably during the mid to late 80s, when Millennials were just kids. By the time the oldest of them were second semester sophomores in college, we had made a pretty good leap out into Digital World, and then just started doubling down, so that two decades into this century, the tech of the turn of the century (that’d be 2000) looks absolutely quaint.

Remember — we had flip phones then, with amazing (cough) 640×480 potato-grade cameras.

Compare that to 1920 vs 1900. A few advances, but not a lot. The only real groundbreaker was that women could now vote in the U.S., but that wasn’t really a technological advance, just a social one. And if you look at 1820 vs. 1800, or any twenty-year gap previously, things would not have changed much at all except maybe in terms of fashion, who current world monarch were, or which countries you were currently at war with.

And that, dear readers, is how exponential change works, and why technology will continue to grow in this manner. It’s because every new innovation in technology sews the seeds for both the need and inevitability of its next round of advancement and acceleration.

We pulled the genie out of the bottle in 1947. It’s never going back in.

Friday Free for all #49: Tech, annoyed, coming, wish

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.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about?

Without a doubt, it would be CRISPR, which uses gene-editing in order to mitigate or cure serious diseases, many of them genetic. One way to think of it is that CRISPR functions as a pair of scissors that allows scientists to literally edit genes, and genomes.

It gets all kinds of sciency, but the short version is that this technology could one day achieve things like undoing genetic birth defects, curing inherited diseases, or even reverse aging by lengthening the telomeres on the end of our chromosomes.

What is something that is popular now that annoys you?

Influencers. Okay, not so much them per se, because I do find a lot of their videos entertaining. Rather, it’s their followers, who make the same mistake about this particular media that all the rest of us, when we were that young, did about whatever was the prominent media of our time.

I.E. that these people are our friends and care one bit about us.

Nope. They only exist to turn you into product for whatever corporate overlords they’re shilling for. It was the same when your parents were hanging on everything that (corporate) MTV VJs said and they geeked out over how “edgy” all the (corporate) videos were, or when your grandparents totally ate up rock and roll as it was sold to them via… ta-da… corporations like radio stations (the streaming service of the day) as well as corporate shills like Ed Sullivan, who was the old man influencer who brought the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to the U.S.

Even your great-grandparents wound up listening to all the big bands and singers who were radio approved during WW II, and probably also performed overseas, but only in government sanctioned USO shows.

See a pattern there? If you’re under 25 and it’s getting shoved in your face through tech, it’s probably an illusion created by your corporate overlords. I mean, after all, how is it otherwise possible for some just-turned-18 dude with no apparent day job to buy a warehouse, or for a 27-year-old-douche to be able to own properties in L.A. and Florida and to capriciously buy and destroy multiple vehicles, a Tesla among them?

I won’t mention any names, but if you know, you know.

What are you looking forward to in the coming months?

This question has been in the queue for a while. BTS clip: I’ve compiled a list of 42 questions from the website in question and use a pair of random number generators to reorder them, then give a suggestion, although I don’t always take the first suggestion. It’s a combination of random and mood.

This question kept getting suggested all through 2020, and I kept ignoring it because my answer was, “Hell if I know.” Now it’s 2021, and I finally have an answer. Well, two.

On the grander scale, I’m hoping that in the coming months the U.S. can fix the terrible mistakes of the last four years, as well as get us to a point where we’ve dealt enough with this plague to be able to return to some sort of normalcy.

Now, I have no illusions that live theatre, or indoor restaurants, or large public gatherings will be a thing before late 2021 or early 2022. But what I do hope is that every single negative change made by the previous administration is quickly undone by the current one.

Bring back protections for the environment and various marginalized classes of people. Resume agreements meant to protect the climate and wildlife. Ban drilling on protected lands. Then go further. Move away from fossil fuels and toward renewables, work on raising the minimum wage, providing a universal basic income, adjusting the tax structure so that the wealthy pay more than their fair share and the working poor pay next to nothing, and provide universal health care, student loan forgiveness and a reform of that whole corrupt system, then reform policing by reallocating fund so that police departments have mental health professionals and social workers to send out on cases more appropriate to them, leading to fewer young POC because the only police response they got was a knee on the ncek.

Oh… and statehood for DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, abolishing the Electoral College, increasing the number of Senators per state and making those numbers proportional, increasing the ability of people to vote early and by mail, pushing for a national system of redistricting via algorithm instead of partisan committee to kill Gerrymandering, and kick it all off with ending the Senate filibuster.

Somewhere along the way, either pack the fuck out of the Supreme Court, increasing its size to thirteen members to match the number of Federal Circuit Courts plus one presiding judge, or create a separate Constitutional Court and limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

Pauses to breathe. Okay. Did I forget anything?

My personal goals for the coming months are much simpler. I’ve suddenly come into circumstances where I will soon be able to have a dog in my life again, so that’s on my radar for somewhere around May. And that will make everything better again, whether or not everything in the first part of this entry happens.

Although almost everything in the first part of this entry damn well better happen before late 2022.

What do you really wish you knew when you were younger?

The same thing that everybody should know: Everyone else is just as insecure and scared, so you might as well be the bold one who does not give a single fuck. Be outspoken. Be ballsy. People will follow.

Just look at the history of pop stars over the ages. Which ones became enduring icons? The ones who said “fuck it” and marched to the beat of their own drummer.

David Bowie, anyone? He was a gender-bender from Mars from the beginning. Parents hated him and called him a freak. By the time he died, he was one of the most respected artists in the world. Q.V. Liberace and Elton John — flamboyant queens from two very different eras, but both went on to be ridiculously rich and famous.

This even includes the ones who maybe later went down in scandals, i.e. Boy George and George Michael.

If you don’t stand out from the crowd, you’ll never stand out, and there’s the lesson. Actually the lesson is this one: Never fear standing out from the crowd, because the more different you make yourself while being confidant in your difference, the more you’ll make everyone else want to follow.

Key word: Be confident in your difference. Announce loudly and proudly, “This is who I am,” and then just fucking be you.

Friday Free for all #44: Flavor, tech, and the truly visible

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 flavor combination is kind of weird but you really like it?

Okay, this probably isn’t that weird because I’m sure a lot of people have discovered it, but maple syrup and bacon. I mean, it’s basically dumping a ton of fructose (yes, I’m talking real maple syrup, thanks, not that high glucose crap) on top of cooked, processed meat.

But it’s a collision of sweet and savory that works. Then again, since maple syrup invades everything that shares a plate with the pancakes, I’ve also tasted it with scrambled eggs, sausage links, hash browns, and wheat toast, and it works with them all.

Maybe that’s because maple syrup, having Canadian roots, is just polite like that and gets along with everything. I don’t know. But if you never have, make sure it hits every part of your next classic American diner breakfast — except the beverages, of course — and see what you think.

What is your favorite piece of technology that you own?

This is probably going to sound trite, and will be the answer that most people give, but hands down it is my phone. How could it not be? It’s a device that I can carry in my pocket that replaces so much other bulky tech that it’s ridiculous.

If you took a time machine back to thirteen-year-old me, then gave me a tour of my phone and said, “One day you will own this,” I would have probably cum in my pants and then passed out from the huge nerdgasm on the spot.

I mean, come on. It’s a super computer, for one thing. Your phone is more powerful than probably any office PC or Mac you’ve worked on since the early aughts. It’s a communication device that can do audio, video, text, and email.

And when it comes to revolutionizing making phone calls — as if any of us really do anymore — one of its biggest innovations was the complete destruction of the concept of toll calls and long distance, as well as the relevance of area codes.

Once upon a time, if the person you were calling lived a certain distance away, then it was a toll call, and incurred extra charges per minute. And if they were farther away, it was long distance and the charges were bigger. Also, you could always tell where someone lived by their area code.

You could also tell when you’d made too many toll calls by Dad bitching at you and Mom about the current phone bill, but those days are long gone.

Nowadays? Nope. You can call anyone in the North American Numbering Plan as if they’re local, and all that someone’s area code will tell you now is where they’re from (probably) and not where they live.

Your phone is also your music collection and player, a still and video camera, a calendar, alarm clock, timer, voice recorder, universal translator, GPS navigator, and so much more.

And, since they follow Moore’s Law as well, they’re only going to get more powerful and amazing as time goes on.

What do most people think about you that is absolutely not true?

Over time, I’ve found out from people, directly and indirectly, that they often think that I’m the smartest kid in the room. Honestly, when I hear this assessment, it kind of blows me away, because I have a ton of friends whom I consider to be a lot smarter than me in ways where I’m just dumb.

Like… adulting. And motivation. Yeah, technically, I’ve got a ridiculously high IQ, but that really means nothing. Well, not nothing… it just means that at seven years old, I was really good at taking tests designed by upper-middle-class white men.

Yeah, no big deal when you’re the seven-year-old son of an upper-middle-white-class father. It’s called privilege, and I fucking hate having been born into it, goddammit.

Now, what I am good at is learning things fast and remembering trivial shit forever. I think that if I ever decided to go on to Jeopardy! that I could Ken Jennings the shit out of it. But, again, that’s not intelligence.

That’s just a brain that assimilates new information quickly, and then holds onto it for easy recall for whatever reason. But there are so many ways in which I’m just stooped and rely on friends to bail me out.

What’s invisible but you wish people could see?

This one is easy, because it’s something that would save (and would have saved) me and a lot of people I know a lot of grief in our lives. Hell, it would even save the world the same.

It’s this: make toxic people visible from a mile away in some manner. I don’t know… maybe they glow green or something?

But can you imagine how much better all of our lives would be if we could just see and avoid them from the outset? The liars, abusers, users, gaslighters, incels, haters, rapists, killers, Karens, Trumpers, Berners, cultists, fanatics, and other dross that we’d all be better off without?

There’s an old, old comic hero catchphrase I had to look up, but it goes like this: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” Now imagine if we did all have that super power.

How many of your exes would be people you never even dated? How many jobs would you have passed up, probably for the better, if you’d had warning? How many people would you not have voted for?

Yeah. Our lives would be a lot easier if everything kind of looked like The Sims, and everybody had a little twirling status crystal above their heads that clearly indicated, “TOXIC! Avoid.”

Or, conversely, “GOOD PERSON! Say hi!”

And if it were that easy to initiate Woo-Hoo…

Free-for-all… Wednesday?

Since Friday will see the beginning of my annual Christmas Countdown of various music videos themed to various holidays, regular features will not be as regular until 2021. This is basically my way of being able to take a vacation while not leaving my loyal readers without content.

So, since during Thanksgiving week Wednesday is really Friday, here’s Friday’s regular feature, in which I answer random questions from a website. Enjoy!

When’s censorship warranted?

Whenever someone wants the DJ to play Nickleback.

Okay, serious answer: We first have to remember what censorship is and is not. If a private entity, like a business, a website, a blog, a chatroom, or any other entity not affiliated with the government wants to prohibit the saying of any particular words or phrases or the posting of any kinds of images or videos, they are completely within their rights.

This is not censorship, and it’s why I’m ambiguous on the concept of, say, a bakery not wanting to make a cake for a same-sex couple because it offends the owner’s religious beliefs.

Honestly, and I say this as a queer atheist, that’s their right — just as it’s the right of people who do not agree with that stance to not patronize the business. Likewise, if I owned a business, I’d be within my rights to ban any clothing or jewelry with religious imagery or symbolism but, again, I’d also be free to suffer the economic consequences.

Of course, my second example isn’t quite the same, because it would take aim at everyone. To be similar in idea to the bakery example, I’d have to limit it to one particular religion.

What is censorship? It’s this same thing, except when it’s done by any governmental entity at any level. The analogous example to the bakery in this case is a city clerk who refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses because it conflicts with her religious belief.

The baker is making a business decision. The government official is practicing censorship. The logic behind it is that the former is a private entity that has the right to choose those with whom they will or will not associate or do business.

On the other hand, since the government is financed by all for the benefit of all, it has no right to refuse service.

So the answer to the question, “When is censorship warranted?” is never. That’s because it’s up to us, the People, to keep an eye on things like hate speech, and incendiary language, and use the powers we have to shame and shun.

Does it work both ways, in terms of political leanings? Of course it does. And if you’re going to push in one direction against the beliefs and statements of the other side, you have to accept that they’re going to push back.

At the same time, the government has no right to shut either or any side up, with one exception, and that falls under the concept of clear and present danger. But you can look into that yourself. It will make for fascinating pre-holiday reading.

Where do you like going for walks?

As usual, for my contradictory self, I love walking in two places: in a dense urban setting with plenty of buildings and people around, and in nature — in particular beaches and forests.

I love the former because there’s always something new and interesting to discover, especially if you’re doing it in a city you thought you were very familiar with but in a neighborhood you’ve never walked through. I’ve had many an amazing photo safari on the streets of L.A. neighborhoods I’d only ever driven through before.

The flip side of that is a good walk in nature, and a large part of why I enjoy the beach and forests is that the sensory overload is just so relaxing. The seashore has a distinct smell of salt and sea-life, and the air always feels electrically fresh.

Meanwhile, the sound and rhythm of the waves, particularly as they crash on shore, is like the Earth’s heartbeat, reminding you that she is a living thing as well. Visually, there’s nothing better than the beach to remind you what you live on: a big ball of wet dirt, and from the edge of the beach to the horizon at sea, you’re seeing the transition from the minority to majority surface of the planet.

That is, there’s a lot more water than there is land, and if you watch very carefully and live close enough to ports, you can watch the ships come and go over that horizon and vanish around the curve of the Earth.

Forests are just as enchanting, though. Not only are you surrounded by the smells of the dirt and trees, and any flowers or other plants that might be around, but if you just listen, you can hear that the place is full of life that you don’t necessarily see, but you can certainly sense it.

You’ll hear birds and insects, as well as small animals skittering around in the bushes and underbrush. If you’re lucky, you may even encounter a deer and be quiet enough to get to watch for a while before they sense you and pronk off into the deep woods.

If you’re not lucky, you might encounter a bear or mountain lion, but that’s why you have to choose your forest strolls wisely.

What should they teach in high school but don’t?

Well, other than critical thinking and a combination of political science and physics, the big things missing in high school education is a course covering basic life skills.

These are things like managing your own household and finances, and preparing for that transition into that time when mommy and daddy won’t be doing it for you anymore.

Ideally, this should be when you turn 18, but some parents still can’t let go, and they’re a big problem.

Anyway, it could be a multi-year course called “Adulting 101.” Modules would include things like budgeting, covering how to balance your checkbook and why you should, why you should avoid getting credit cards as long as possible, alternatives to student loans, and whether an expensive college is really worth it anymore, depending on your career track.

Other things to cover would be the “Domestic Bliss” module. They used to teach this in high school and call it “Home Economics.” But, guess what? That was eons ago, and the classes were meant for only the girls.

Why? Well, home economics was all about cooking and cleaning and baking and making the home a castle for hubby. It was also all about figuring out how to make the household budget work based on the allowance he gave you out of the salary that he went off to earn.

It should have been called “How to be the perfect little housewife.”

But forget all that sexist hoo-hoo. The core stuff is genuinely necessary for everyone: How to cook, how to bake, how to clean, how to stretch the food budget the farthest and in the healthiest way, and to keep it practical and modern, “How to get along with your roommates” is definitely a part of this class. How to allocate chores, how to settle disputes, how to split bills and finances, and so on.

And then there are all those other bits, like laundry, auto maintenance, negotiating a lease/rental agreement and tenant’s rights, how to open a bank account, how to make a resume and do a job interview, how to negotiate a raise, and so on.

The problem is that, currently, the schools are too focused on teaching the kids how to pass standardized tests instead of actually teaching them, and that’s got to change.

But I think another disincentive to bringing back the basic “blue collar” vocational-style programs that schools used to have is the mistaken belief on the part of the schools that the parents are teaching this stuff to their kids.

And the parents probably either think the same thing about the schools, or just assume that their kids will figure it out.

Well, I didn’t learn any of these from either entity, at least not officially. I sort of learned cooking by watching my mom do it, but she never officially trained me.

Hell, I didn’t even learn typing in school, I had to learn that myself — but that’s probably the reason I can often hit 95 wpm by touch without errors. I didn’t learn the “right” way. I learned the right way for me.

What would happen to a society in which no one had to work, and everyone was provided enough food, water, shelter, education, and healthcare for free?

This seems like the inverse of the previous question. If we can’t train our kids how to Adult and take care of themselves, then why not provide everyone with all of the necessities?

A common answer, I’m guessing (and I’m not trying to strawman) is that if people were given that kind of freebie, then they’d all just become lazy and dependent and never do anything.

Fortunately, that’s not how human nature works. You’d get maybe 20% of the population that would decide, “Okay, this is great,” and just kick back and enjoy all the freebies.

But the key to it is this: We’d only get the necessities for free. Your food isn’t going to be steak and caviar. It won’t be crap, but it won’t be fancy. Likewise, depending on your family size, you might get anything from a studio apartment up to possibly a small single-family home of the type that was once called a “starter,” but nothing fancier.

Oh yeah — clothing falls under shelter, actually, but it would be a basic wardrobe — maybe enough tops, bottoms, socks, and undies for a two week cycle, one or two fancy outfits, and the minimal assortment of shoes — business, business casual, and sport/leisure.

But again, all of it off the rack and not fancy, although you should be able to choose your colors, designs, and sizes from a catalog.

Education could be handled through the tons of existing online free courses that libraries and universities already have, and educational advancements could actually serve as a credit system to up the “niceness” of the previous categories. “You’ve mastered Italian 1? Congratulations, your food and clothing allowances are now increased by 20%.”

Healthcare would cover all the keeping you healthy and not dead stuff, but none of the unnecessary procedures like rhinoplasty or breast implants or liposuction.

Note that entertainment, hobbies, and any other luxury items are not covered, and this is where the system creates incentive.

See, it doesn’t say “Nobody ever needs to work again.” It says, “No one who doesn’t want to has to work again.”

But if you want to, and there’s something you’d like to earn money for, then the jobs are out there for you to find. The best part is that you don’t have to work full-time because you’re not trying to pay for the basics.

Instead, it’s an ad hoc thing. For example, say you want to go to a concert and take your SO, and the tickets you want are $250 each. Not covered under the basic minimum programs. However, you’ve got an app and can pull some gigs, and you can plan exactly what you need to do and win to earn enough for the tickets and some incidental cash on top of that.

If you’re more ambitious, with all the time you have not working for mere survival, you can create — whether it’s art, music, ideas, businesses, whatever. And, again, you’ll still have enough consumers who will be able to afford your stuff because there are plenty of people for whom “just the basics” are never enough.

Finally, there are those who would not go back to work for money in any active way but, instead, would volunteer their time and talents because now they could — and that’s the 20% of people on the other end of the spectrum.

So, we have probably 20% never working at all and 20% volunteering, leaving the 60% in the middle. Out of that bunch, maybe 10% would start their own businesses or other creative ventures, and the remaining 50% would effectively be the workforce.

And there’s a lot of work, because you have either corporations or government who have to manufacture, allocate, and distribute all of the aforementioned freebies.

The obvious question is this: If no one is paying for those things, then where does the money come from? The honest answer is that we’d have to redefine money first — but given the scenario, we already have.

Remove the need to pay for the basics, and you’ve removed the need for money. Everyone is provided everything when we all share all the resources with each other. So the subsequent economy is one in which skill and knowledge are directly traded for needs and desires.

It becomes the ultimate barter economy. And yes, maybe we create a currency based on that — but instead of it being “This piece of paper is worth X amount because the government says it has credit enough to cover it,” we’d wind up with something like “This barcode (or blockchain) is valid in exchange for 250 standard labor units based on work done by the bearer,  [Name].”

The person or entity receiving that code has now acquired 250 standard labor units, which they can turn around and spend on what they please. And the economy is still flush with money. The only difference is that it is now truly capital produced by the workers — who are controlling the means of production — and not bullshit produced by bankers.

But don’t call it communism. That’s naïve. Call it what it really is: A future that will leave no one behind, but reward those who really do have ambition and talent. If you’re the kind to bitch about “lazy welfare queens” (a myth created by Ronald Reagan), then you should actually love this system.

Why? Because under this system, there’s no way that someone who doesn’t want to work at all is going to get those mythical big-screen TVs, or even be able to buy alcohol or weed or whatever. If they want it, they’ll have to become part of that 50%.

And wasn’t that the goal all along?

Happy Thanksgiving, all! Here’s to smooth sailing on into 2021.

Friday Free-for-all #33: Museum, pride, regret and genre

Would you rather spend the day at an art, history, or science museum?

This is like asking me, “Which one of your dogs would you keep if you had to give up two.” Well, rhetorical, since I’m down to none now, but meaning if I only ever could have ever had one of them, which one.

But… I’d prefer a museum that manages all three, and the closes I’ve ever come to that was the time that my greatest boss over, the late and great Dave Rogers, took us (meaning his digital team of nine) to LACMA to see the Stanley Kubrick Exhibit, on his dime and during work hours.

And it was all three — the history he researched to make his movies, and the art he created to help out his team, including tons of actual models, highlights being the Space Baby and scale models of the entire spaceship Discovery and the gimbaled set that created the famous rotating section; there were also cameras and lenses and explanations of how they worked and what they did, including the famous f/.07 Zeiss lens from NASA that he used to shoot Barry Lyndon by candlelight.

Barring that ideal combo, I’d take a science museum any day.

What have you created that you are most proud of?

Well, I’m kind of proud of my novel, The Rêves, that I’ve been serializing here on Saturday mornings, but since I haven’t quite finished it yet, I can’t say whether I’m totally proud or not.

But then there’s this: Strange Fruit. Duh… obvious plug. Part 1 was read back in August, and the video is still available online. It’s my intentionally epic, four-act, six hour tribute to plays like Angels in America that deals with racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism in America in the 20th century, but which has only become more relevant today. Part 2 is being read… tomorrow, at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, and you can watch it on the LA Writers’ Center Facebook page or at Howlround. End plug.

When was the last time you immediately regretted something you said?

One of those moments when I had an “Oh shit, words do matter” bit of reverse l’esprit de l’escalier. In other words, rather than thinking of what I should have said after leaving, I thought about what I shouldn’t have said.

Short and sweet set-up: I saw an online request for extras for a music video that was very political and related to a recent case of police violence against a Black human (a few years ago already), so went down to a nearby park on a weekend morning and was one of the dozens of performers backing up the writer/director/performer.

It only took a couple of hours and multiple takes. In several of them, we were buzzed by a drone to get footage that was ultimately really impressive. Later that afternoon, we were all invited to come down to a photo studio to do some individual (or family/couple) shots on a seamless background.

Now, as I was leaving the morning shoot, I went over the woman responsible for the whole thing, and not even thinking I said, “Thank you so much. That was a ton of fun.”

That’s just something I’d say, mostly because my writer brain likes rhymes and whatnot. But after I left, I realized that our erstwhile producer/director/writer/performer was a bit on the short and rotund side, and my brain said, “Oh, fuck…” I literally could have said anything else; I could have expressed that in a shitload of ways that didn’t somehow bring in terms that could seem judgmental.

Or was I just overreacting? I don’t know. What I do know is that I came down for the individual shoot, did a few minutes in studio and left, and then in the final cut, I realized that I got like one shot from the studio stuff while a bunch of people were featured multiple times, and in the group shots, same thing — face in the crowd, nothing more.

Now, in reality, given the subject matter of the video, it was just more likely that me being an older white guy with resting bitch face didn’t quite fit the theme as well as  all of the lovely BIPOC extras did, so it was probably just that. But, to this day, I still wonder: “Did she think I was calling her fat? Because FFS, I was absolutely not.”

What’s your favorite movie from each genre?

Oh, dear. That’s a long list, so I’m not going to link any of them because that would take forever, but you can search the ones that interest you. Here we go… in alphabetical order by genre.

Action: Die Hard

Adult: Caligula

Adventure: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Animation: Coco

Blaxploitation: Dolemite Is My Name

Comedy: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Crime: The Godfather

Dark Comedy: Serial Mom

Disaster: Earthquake

Docudrama: Kinsey

Documentary: F for Fake

Drama: amoresperros

Epic: The Ten Commandments

Experimental: Holy Motors

Fantasy: Excalibur

Foreign Language: Y tu mamá también

Heist: A Fish Called Wanda

Historical Drama: The Lion in Winter

Horror: Theatre of Blood

Martial Arts: Kung-Fu Hustle

Mockumentary: All You Need Is Cash (TV film, but it counts)

Musical, Adapted: Cabaret

Musical, Original: Moulin Rouge

Mystery: Murder by Death (genre jumper)

Parody: Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Play Adaptation: Noises Off

Political Thriller: The Manchurian Candidate (original)

RomCom: Jeffrey

RomDram: Parting Glances (which gave us Steve Buscemi and Kathy Kinney, a fabulous twofer)

Satire: Network

Science Fiction: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey

Screwball Comedy: The Hudsucker Proxy

Shakespeare: Titus

Slasher: Absolutely fucking none of the them

Space Opera: Star Wars (absolutely fucking all of them)

Splatter: See “Slasher”

Sports: Million Dollar Baby

Spy: Gold Finger

Superhero: Deadpool 2

Teen: American Pie

Thriller: North by Northwest

War: Full Metal Jacket

Western: Blazing Saddles

Zombie: Shuan of the Dead

Phew! Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments.</div>

 

Friday Free-for-all #29: More questions

This originally started as me answering one random questions generated by a website, but the questions eventually got to the part where they didn’t really need long answers. So, instead, it’s turned into a slow-motion interview with multiple queries. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments — or ask your own!

If you had to get rid of a holiday, which would you get rid of? Why?

Also known as “How to piss someone off.” There are so many possibilities, but I’m going to have to go for Christmas. But hear me out, because this is the opposite of what the “War on Christmas” people would think.

Yes, we need a solstice holiday for sure, and one that celebrates all beliefs because most cultures have a certain reverence for the winter solstice. But we need to do three things.

One: Give Christmas back to the Christians. Let them have it, they can celebrate however they want to in private, fine. The tradeoff is that we don’t need to mention it or memorialize it at all in the secular world which, if you come to think of it, really just serves to diminish the religious meaning of the holiday in the first place. Next…

Two: We need to remove completely the idea that this winter holiday is all about buying each other shit that we don’t need. That was an invention of capitalism, and it is toxic. The idea of the winter holiday should be for groups of friends and family to variously gather together during the entire period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s for the sole purpose of being together.

Plague permitting, of course — but there are always virtual meetings.

But get together. Share a meal. Binge-watch a favorite show. Have a game night. Go hiking, or biking, or ice-skating, or to a museum. And agree to not exchange presents. Rather, exchange presence. Be there for each other, because that’s the real meaning of any holiday.

Three: Create your own private traditions, religious or secular, and share them. Reject the commercial crap that has been pushed on us for generations in the singular interest of making rich people richer. Sure, you can give someone you say you love a really expensive present, but in the end, that’s really pretty shallow. The greatest gift you can really give is yourself — your time, your attention, your love.

That’s what people need, that’s what they really want, and that’s what we should really be celebrating in the final month of every year.

What fad did you never really understand?

Although it’s been highlighted by the internet, especially since the rise of smart phones, it really isn’t anything new, but the idea of “challenges,” especially ones that can be physically dangerous, just boggles my brain-box.

The cinnamon challenge immediately comes to mind, and this one (like many of them) was actually dangerous. The idea was for someone to video themself swallowing a spoonful of ground cinnamon. One big problem, though: that’s basically like shoving a shitload of dust in your mouth, and that stuff flies into the air at the slightest provocation.

Or, in other words, you suddenly have a cloud of dust in your mouth and flying down your throat, and it also tends to clump when it gets wet (as your mouth and throat are wont to be), and so you can also suddenly wind up with very viscous clumps of spice jamming up your airways or even loose dust going into your lungs.

No matter which way, it’s not a great combo at all — and it can be fatal.

So can other stunts, like jumping out of a moving car and dancing next to it to a track by Drake. If that’s too easy, there’s always the internet fire challenge, which is just what it sounds like, and just as stupidly dangerous. If you don’t like fire, then you can always try the hot water challenge.

And there are many, many more. But, again, taking stupid dares is nothing new. Stupid human tricks from the past perpetrated by our grandparents, great-grandparents, and even great-greats included things like phone booth stuffing, swallowing live goldfish, sitting on poles (the object, not the nationality), or walking on the wings of airplanes.

Some of these still happen, by the way. But the nutshell answer to the original question is that I don’t understand any fad that involves a bunch of people doing really stupid and dangerous shit just to get attention.

What inanimate object do you wish you could eliminate from existence?

Guns. And in the broadest sense of the word — pistols, side-arms, handguns, rifles, shotguns… Okay, let’s shorthand it to “all ballistic weapons.” Note that this does not exclude useful ballistics, without which we could not put astronauts into space.

Ironically, it’s a way to make humanity more civilized by making us more primitive. You want to kill someone? Then do it the old-fashioned way — hand-to-hand, close quarters, or with a pointy weapon that has a range of one to four feet, depending on what you’re wielding.

Slingshots and bows and arrows are probably somewhat acceptable, but we’d need to determine rules of engagement on where we can aim — slings never at the head, arrows never at the head, throat, or torso.

You can stop someone with a club or a sword at close range and, provided that you also aim for those stopping points without aiming for fatalities (see above) , you’re only going to put them down, not out, so everyone lives — even you, who felt threatened enough to draw that weapon.

Or you can shoot an unarmed father of three in the back seven times for absolutely no discernible reason. And that is only one of way-too-many reasons that yes, we need to take these dick-compensators out of the hands of man-babies who absolutely don’t need them.

Friday Free-for-all #28: Two questions

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

Since last week’s potpourri went so well, I decided to answer multiple questions again. I find that as I progress through the list, what remains seems less interesting to me. Although I can answer, I really can’t or don’t want to at length, so in interest of not needlessly padding things out, here we go.

What’s the worst injury you’ve ever gotten?

You know, I’ve actually managed to live a remarkably injury-free life (knocks wood.) I didn’t break my first bone until I was 21, in college, and it didn’t even have anything to do with drinking. It was the first day of the second semester my junior year (technically first semester of my senior year, but that’s a long story), and my birthday.

I was about to head off to my first class, but opened the living room window in our student apartment to check to see if I’d need a jacket since… February. It was cold, so I decided that I did, then slammed the window shut… right on the tip of my left index finger.

Did I mention that the apartment mate I shared a room with was in the living room on the phone talking to one of the Big 5 Accounting Firms in hopes of setting up a last semester of senior year internship that would turn into a job? Because that’s important.

Why? Because as soon as I slammed my finger in that window, I screamed something along the lines of, “Oh Jesus fucking fuckety fuck fuck fuck fucking Christ goddamit!”

There was a pause, and then I heard my roommate saying into the phone, “No… I think that one of my roommates just hurt himself.”

Hairline fracture of the tip of that finger, which got put in a splint for six weeks — and hooray for free student health care! But damn if that fingertip did not become a magnet for getting banged into everything for that month and a half.

The only other time I broke bone, ironically, was one in my wrist, and I never realized it. In fact, I didn’t find out until I thought that I did break a bone in my wrist and got it checked out only to find out that the little bone fragment in there was from a really old break. Like, what?

So, yeah. That’s pretty much it. One really minor break, one that was apparently unimportant enough for me to notice, and one false alarm.

Did your family take seasonal vacations?

Um… sort of? One thing I know is that my mother hated to travel, while my father loved to. Then again, she grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania that was a suburb to an exurb of the city Joe Biden was born in, and she only ever lived there before moving to Los Angeles, basically as a way to escape there.

Meanwhile, my dad, who was much older than her, enlisted in the air force as soon as possible — he was actually only sixteen — in order to escape here, and he wound up traveling all around the U.S. and a lot of the world.

But the only seasonal vacations we ever took involved visiting relatives — either his parents not so far up north, generally at Easter and Thanksgiving, or her mom and family all the way across the country, usually in the summer, and which I can remember doing exactly four times in my life, although it was actually five.

The first two times were by air, one for my aunt’s wedding in which I was ring-bearer. The time before that I have no memory of because I was a baby, but it was one of those “wave the infant in front of grandma” trips.

The last three were when I was a tween and teen, every other year in the summer, by car. To me, it was amazing. I was fascinated by seeing all of these new places, many of them definitely far different in a lot of ways from L.A., and my views untainted by any kind of political perception.

Wyoming is an absolutely beautiful state, for its mountains, clouds and spreading green, cow-splattered landscapes. So are Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah — and in New Mexico, you can actually feel the point when you reach the “top of America,” on a lonely road that passes between granite boulders strewn on deep-looking mossy lawns. The air thins and the path grows steeper and you meet the Rockies.

Small towns along the way in Iowa and Nebraska just fascinated me, and I will forever have memories of the seemingly abandoned and ancient buildings along the main street of a place called Kearney, Nebraska. Although we never actually stopped in Chicago, again, it fascinated the hell out of me — especially since I grew up in a city that technically had a river which was mostly a concrete ditch, whereas in Chicago I remember driving on a freeway past one row of skyscrapers only to pass over a substantial river right in the middle of the city before passing into another row of skyscrapers.

Most of Indiana just seemed… sad and broken. And Ohio through most of Pennsylvania just got monotonous, endless views of rolling green hills and not much else.

On the other hand, I entertained myself by either reading tons of books or, on the later trips, writing, and it was on one of those trips, I think when I was 13, that I actually wrote most of the first draft of my first attempt at a novel, inspired by the spaces we were driving through.

One other thing I should mention: We made the trip in record time because my dad would drive for at least 12 hours a day. I distinctly remember that the first leg of one of them left L.A. before five in the morning, and we didn’t stop until Rock Springs Wyoming, until at least six p.m. Go look that trip up on Google maps!

Still, I don’t think that it was that Dad was a maniac. Mostly, I think it was that Mom didn’t want to travel without the dog, didn’t want to put her in cargo on a plane, but wanted to make the trip as quickly as possible.

The only touristy bits I remember were the day that my dad and I went into New York City and took a tour (loved it!) and the time my uncle took us both into Philadelphia to show us all the historic stuff (also loved it!).

Meanwhile, trips to visit my father’s mother and my step-grandfather involved about a three-and-a-half hour drive and no tourism, but the great part about that was that she and her husband lived on a 14-acre farm and orchard, so there was plenty of nature and there were plenty of animals to hang out with — and this locale also inspired my writing.

Friday Free-for-all #27: Potpourri

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

I’m going to mix it up a little bit, because I have a long list of possible questions that I chose from at random, but there are certain ones I really don’t have answers for, or the answers I do have are too short for an article.

By the way, I really do mean at random, thanks to the “RANDBETWEEN” function in Excel, which gives me two choices every time I update it. One is based on the question’s actual order in the list, and the other is based on a random number assigned to it at the time. The number chosen is itself random.

Anyway here we go with a few that have been on the list unanswered for a while, and you may see why shortly.

  1. What is the opposite of a koala?

And how stoned was the person who came up with this one? I mean, which attributes do you use to determine the opposite in the first place? Living marsupial? Then any dead non-marsupial would suffice.

Furry and squishy? How about… a rock? Native to Australia? You’ve got 194 not-Australia countries to choose from. So, I don’t know. Living, furry, squishy marsupial native to Australia? Maybe a dinosaur fossil from somewhere in Wyoming?

  1. If there existed a perfect clone of you, would it also be you? Would it act in exactly the same manner as you (like a mirror) or would it act differently? If it acted differently then would it still be you? At what point would it not be you?

This one starts from a flawed premise, because a clone is not an identical copy. Hell, your own clone might only look like a fraternal twin, and would definitely not be identical. The reason for this is that in cloning, DNA is used the same way it is in more traditional baby-making methods — i.e., fucking.

Now, there may not be two separate bits of RNA from different parents being tossed into an ova to develop, so that starting material is 100% your DNA — but from that point on, nothing resembles your own development.

The uterine environment will be totally different, and if you implant that ova in any womb not your own mother’s (highly likely) the physical and chemical influence on the developing embryo will be wildly different.

Hell, even if you do convince your mom to give re-birth to you decades after the fact, her own prenatal environment will be entirely different, and she may even be incapable of doing it anyway if enough time has passed to push her into menopause.

Now if we imagine some magic machine, like the Star Trek replicator, which is really a non-destructive teleporter, then yes, you could in theory create an exact duplicate, or non-biological clone, of yourself.

But… the two of you are only identical in the very first instant that the new you becomes conscious. From then on, that clone is living a different life, with a different set of experiences, and you will both slowly diverge from identical, at least mentally.

Oh — and if you felt the need to clone yourself in the first place, good luck resisting the urge to do what you probably made the clone for: the ultimate act of non-solo masturbation.

  1. You are about to get into a fight, what song comes on as your soundtrack?

I always thought of this one as the “toxic masculinity” question — as in if you have an answer to it, especially an instant answer, you are probably a toxic male. I don’t find it necessary to get into fights. I never have. If I were ever attacked by someone physically, then yes, you can bet that I’d defend myself. But I wouldn’t be hearing Eye of the Tiger or any other typical song like that in my head. I’d be more concerned with stopping the person assaulting me.

  1. If your job gave you a surprise three day paid break to rest and recuperate, what would you do with those three days?

I’m just coming off of a surprise five-month paid break, which offered neither rest nor recuperation, so I think I’d either just say, “Thanks, but pass,” or go hole up in a resort in Palm Springs, season permitting, and once the lockdown is over.

  1. What outfit could you put together from clothes you own to get the most laughs?

It’s one that I actually pulled together from several thrift shops for a specifically-themed costume party in the first place.

The outfit comprised a predominantly orange floral-patterned sun dress that I wore as a skirt instead, paired with a pale peach tone fuzzy sweater, topped off with an orange blazer.

I had plenty of cheap costume jewelry, like bracelets and a necklace, mostly bronze tones, and topped it off with fake glasses in orange frames, orange nail polish, and a long brunet (or is it brunette?) wig.

Finally, I found a matching bag and women’s high-heeled boots in my size — 15W after translating from men’s, and ta-da. Betty Duzzet was born. Slapping on those five-inch heels made me at least 6’7”, and the wig probably added another inch or two, so I was an amazon, but far from a glamazon, since I didn’t go nuts with the make-up beyond lipstick and eye-liner.

The outfit was actually a hit, and people told me that I looked like a lesbian English teacher at a small Liberal Arts College in the upper Midwest. She probably won’t be coming back, but the outfit is still hanging in my closet. And yes, she and I share the same favorite color, but this blog probably gave that away already.

  1. Which season are you most active in?

It’s definitely changed over my lifetime, but I’d have to say that I’m currently most active during the summer. Well, caveat: Up until 2019, I was. All bets on “active” are off for this year, and possibly next. I’ve come to enjoy the sun and the heat and being outdoors, and the need for a lot less clothing.

  1. What is the “holy grail” of your life?

This one is easy, and probably just as mythical: Owning a home. Nothing fancy, just a place with enclosed front and back yards for dogs, and a pool for me. Maybe a guest house for either rental income or to help out friends in need when necessary.

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