Saturday, June 27, 2015

Legislating Marriage

First I want to say that the SCOTUS decision to lift the restrictions states have put on gay marriage is a giant step forward. Everyone deserves to have these basic rights that have been denied to homosexuals. I was planning on starting with Virtual Wars informational blog posts today, but in light of this momentous occasion I wanted to discuss marriage and how all of the resentment and anger towards gay marriage could have potentially been avoided. Plus I like rainbows and unicorns.

Definition of Marriage

It's hard to define marriage because there are multiple definitions, and depending on who you ask you may get several different answers. The conservative religious definition of marriage frames it as a sacred union between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation. Before the recent SCOTUS decision, the legal definition of marriage put it as a social contract between a man and a woman. Others may define it as a bond between two people who love each other and want to celebrate that love. Followers of Cthulhu define it as that thing that will make you irrevocably insane, but what would they not use that definition for?

I look at marriage a bit differently. I see it as a religious institution used to help guide people toward a lifestyle that falls in line with their shared beliefs. That leaves it open for different religions to interpret it in different ways. If your religion worships the Spiked Dildo of Chaos and requires sexual stimulation through a replica of said dildo during the wedding ceremony, that is your choice. I see marriage as something that should be left open for interpretation so people can define their marriage in a way that best fits them. As Ace Ventura would say, "Like a glove!"

Separation of Church and State

Using my definition of marriage as a religious institution, I do not think that the government should be able to exert any control over marriage. The first amendment supports this by stating that the government can make no law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. This means that any church that believes in gay marriage can perform that religious right whenever they feel like it. If you don't subscribe to gay Jesus in a rainbow tutu then you don't have to attend or support a church that does.

The problem with this interpretation is that if church and state are kept completely separate then it prevents the government from recognizing marriage in a legal manner. Which definition do they use? Will some religions get left out? Why can't I be green in Hungry Hungry Hippos? Without legal standing the benefits of marriage that are outlined by the government simply disappear.

I think that from a legal standpoint we should have a separate institution called a civil union. The civil union would be the legal standing recognized by the government. This would give the same legal rights and protections to any couple that would want to enter this social contract. Couples could still get married in a religious ceremony, but to have legal standing they would need to get a civil union through the state as well.

This would eliminate many of the arguments from conservative Christians who believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Nowhere in any religious teachings does it say anything about a civil union as a governmental institution. The Bible does make mention marriage though. The conservative churches don't have to join the party if they don't want to. We're having way more fun here though. I mean look at the disco ball.

The Problem

My idea of a civil union is not realistically possible. It seems like a good idea filled with the sugar in Pixie Stix of various colors, but it cannot happen. Marriage is too deeply ingrained into the laws of the United States. In order to make this change the wording in hundreds if not thousands of bills would need to change as well. By changing the name of the legal standing that couples have you would negate many of the rights those couples have had through marriage. It would be easy if we could apply a straight find/replace search that has been included in every word processor in the last 30+ years.

Lawyers make everything so complicated and they try to find any hole in the wording they can find to deny people the rights they deserve. I don't blame lawyers for this, but rather the judges who allow them to get away with such things. A change like this would have wide spread ramifications for married couples from health care to taxes to inheritance and so on. Since common sense cannot always have its day in our court system, we have to rip off the band aid and deal with the pain. That means we'll have to hear a lot of whining from those who disagree with this decision and want to deny a group of people the rights that should be available to all.

This is yet another reason why the SCOTUS decision is so important and special. Even with a conservative majority, they were able to make the common sense decision going against partisan politics. This isn't always the case in our court system, and it's refreshing that they would go against party lines to do what is right. The Republicans and Democrats in Washington, DC should take note of this and learn how to compromise on issues that make sense to every person on the street. It's time for them to stop acting like children, but I doubt they see it that way.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ted 2

Rated R / 1 hr 55 min / Comedy

What is it about?

Tami-Lynn and Ted get married with Yogi, Scrappy, Smokey, and several CareBears there to bear witness. After a year of marriage things seem to be falling apart. To fix their marriage they decide to have a kid. Everyone knows kids fix everything, but they can't just go to Build-A-Bear. They want a real boy and to perhaps get Ted's nose to grow when he lies. Ted searches for a sperm donor, but it turns out that Tami-Lynn can't have kids because they need to make the plot more complicated and add jokes about vaginas (gotta balance out the penis jokes). The couple tries to adopt, but it turns out that the state doesn't recognize Ted as a person. A chain reaction of events based on Ted's status as property causes him to lose his job, his marriage, all his credit cards, his baseball cards, and his Han Solo collectible watch. Now he has to sue the state for his person-hood.

You will like it if...

You like Seth McFarlane's brand of humor. Seth has built an empire of humor based off random references that are relevant to today's and yesterday's society. Ted 2 is similar to the original in many ways. Yes it's a teddy bear doing all sorts of stupidity. It is hilarious and insulting, but it is also poignant. The subject of equality is a solid theme throughout the film. That subject has garnered as much attention as the Kardashians lately and deservedly so (the subject of equality not the Kardashians). The message delivered is important while not being overbearing. There are many scenes where Ted equates his plight to those of slaves or to those within the civil rights movement in the 60's. These are told in a joking or ironic manner because the consequences for Ted aren't as grim as those of a slave, but at the same time those scenes don't feel like jokes. It hammers home the feeling that we can't allow people to be treated as if they are subhuman or have their basic rights taken away for any reason. Ted 2 doesn't get close to the emotional height that the original does. The script also suffers from a bit of meandering throughout as the characters seem to get sidetracked into moments where McFarlane thinks "wouldn't it be funny/cool if". Those moments add extra jokes, but it also pulls the audience away from the main storyline causing the film to lose focus. Most may ignore the message within the movie because of the film's flaws, but this feels like the most serious movie of McFarlane's short career thus far. In the end I feel like Ted 2 falls short of being as good as the original, but it makes a much more profound statement for those who think about such things. I read a few reviews on the film and I'm surprised more critics aren't picking up on this or maybe they are just ignoring it and hoping it will go away.


Next Week

Terminator Genisys

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Journey Toward Publishing

It's usually not a good idea to go into a large project without a plan. Writing a novel is a huge project, but what do you do when you finish? I am going to build a Lego tower that reaches to the ceiling to run around while setting off confetti cannons. Once I have fallen over from dizziness, what's next? Now the real work begins. Pull up your socks folks.

So talking about work is about as fun as pulling your own teeth out with a rusty chainsaw, but if this is your passion and you want to be successful then you have to take it seriously. I want to succeed to the point where I can write for a living without needing a day job to support myself. I don't expect to have overnight success, but not doing everything I can is like stepping on a land mine repeatedly and hoping it doesn't blow up. Where do you start with your publishing journey?

Promotion

Everything starts here. I'm not going to claim that I am an expert of yelling "Buy my book!" from the top of a mountain while people look at me like I am crazy, but I thought about staying in a Holiday Inn Express at some point. At least until Godzilla lit it on fire. Besides at this point I don't have a book to pimp out anyway. Figure out what your passion is and start a blog on it, or just blog about anything you are passionate about. Pull people in and tell them "This is who I am! Purple with Pink Polka Dot Boxers and all!" Tell everyone you know face to face about your book, especially anyone you come across that likes to read. Not everyone will read or be interested in reading the subject you write about, but if they know you perhaps they will give it a try or even help you when you need it later. Getting social is important in the early stages before you publish.

That brings us to Social Media! Find your place on any/all the social media outlets and start interacting with people. No one has time to message all day on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr. Not if you want to get some writing done at some point anyway. Pick the one(s) that work for you and make them your bitch! Once you have forced out the dragon in your small cave, you can make some cave drawings and invite others over to discuss. Keep building your social media presence there with a focus on interaction. Make friends not spam! This is like your "Hello World!" program. The first baby steps towards building an author platform.

Your Budget

What can you afford to spend overall? Don't go over your budget. I don't want to see anyone on the side of the street with a piece of cardboard that says "Will work for Formatting help!" Things you will need to spend money on include editing and cover art. Those two are mandatory. Some of it you can do yourself, but be realistic here. If the spell check in your word processor routinely finds errors every other word then you might want to hire a copy editor. I have almost 20 years of experience working with graphics in Photoshop and other programs (not all of it Pikachu fan art!), but none of that was spent making book cover art. I hired someone else to do that, but I have the confidence to be able to make small edits to that cover art if needed. On the other hand, I found out that book formatting is done in HTML. I used to do web development, so this is like easy peazey lemon squeezy for me. I can format a book while standing on my head in the middle of a field where a marching band is practicing.

Research

Figure out what you need and see how much it is going to cost you. You need to cram as much stuff as you can back into Pandora's Box or your piggy bank as you can. Your budget is going to scream at you and beg for mercy, but you have to find a way to make things work. Find a cover artist that will give you the best art for a price that will work for you. I have found that Fiverr is a fantastic resource for these things. The base services are $5, but very rarely will you be spending that amount. You are going to need some of the add-ons which will cost you a bit more, but I have found some nice bargains on there. Make sure to preview their work before you hire anyone. I found one guy on there making book covers with a stick figure theater vibe to it. Not sure how he got positive reviews, but hey you get what you pay for.

Marketing Plan

OK so you have your novel. It has been chopped, sliced, diced, mashed into a meat paste, put through the Play-Doh tube, and now resembles a beautiful work of art. So all you have to do is click that submit button, but wait... What's your marketing plan? What are you going to do to try to make sure it doesn't flop? Some great advice I read from Lindsey Buroker is that you should do something new every day to make your book visible to more people. There are tons of services and advice out there for this portion. I am at this step currently where I am coming up with a plan written in magic marker because I want as much magic involved as possible. I don't have any experience in this arena, so is the fat guy with lots of back hair a tough fight? I will just mash on the controller's buttons like I normally do in fighting games. I plan to document everything I try and measure the results accordingly. Anything that doesn't work won't be used again, but anything that does work will be stored in a shiny gold box for future use.

Once you have a plan in place, it's time to execute. Come up with a release date and begin promoting it early. Ask for help from friends and family. From what I have read, a month after release the best way to promote a book is to write another. So don't forget to keep writing no matter what happens. Each new addition to your library of works adds a bit to the snowball you hope to nurture and grow. Perhaps one day you will have an army of Frosty the Snowmen who will help you conquer the world, or at least help stop the One Direction Apocalypse.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Inside Out

Rated PG / 1 hr 34 min / Comedy - Drama

What is it about?

Inside each of us there are various emotions at play within our heads controlling our every move. Anger, Gummy Bear, Joy, Fear, Silly String, etc. are all characters vying for control. Riley has had a happy childhood with Joy at the controls. Sadness is a kleptomaniac who wants to take all the memories for herself. Joy confronts her and challenges her to a duel to the death where Twizzlers are the only weapons. The fight ends with the two of them being sucked out of the control room and into the maze of long term memory. Sadness knows the way back, but she is far too sad to move. Without Joy at the controls everything is falling apart. Now she must fight her way through a cotton candy monster, a clown, and Lakitu.

You will like it if...

You like movies made by Pixar. Pixar has had a bit of a lull with Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters University being decent films but not fulfilling their promise of greatness inferred from their previous films. I have no idea what possessed them to make Planes with Dane Cook as the lead, or how Planes got a sequel. It's one of the great mysteries of film, like how Brandon Routh got to play Superman. Inside Out is a return to greatness for Pixar and it reminded me of what they are capable of. It plays out as a roller coaster for your emotions. I don't know why it's listed as a comedy. A few amusing moments do not magically transform a movie into a comedy. Harry Potter couldn't pull off that trick. Perhaps I feel that way because many of the funnier moments are in the previews or perhaps because of how powerful of a drama it is. The animation is flawless. Pixar always seems to find ways to innovate in the realm of 3D computer animation, and this film is no exception. The cast does an excellent job, but without a doubt Lewis Black is the absolutely perfect person to play Anger. Go to see this film. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Inside Out is an emotional tugboat that will entertain anyone that can get past the fact that it is an animated film.


Next Week

Ted 2

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Intolerance and Anger

My twitter feed lately has been filled with hot laced anger. Anger at the Sad Puppies, gamer gaters, sexism, racism, inequality, and everything else under the sun. Yes people are hating on cotton candy. There have been epic battles featuring monsters with tentacles vs. Naruto vs. space mech suits vs. Godzilla vs. etc.. The tweets have been emotional calls to battle or outright attacks on others. I was even pulled into the emotional torrent that was swirling at one point.

This blog post isn't about any of those issues in particular. I wanted to focus on something else I noticed that I found to be interesting in the way these various conflicts developed. It has to do with the mindset of the groups involved. I'm not here to say that everyone in these groups subscribe to either mindset as I am about to outline them any more than I would say that everyone must love chocolate ice cream. It doesn't matter if I think you should love chocolate ice cream. If you don't want any then that means more for ME, and if you do want some...  I hid the tub. Good luck finding it!

I'm going to try to avoid the political pitfalls of what this blog post is about in favor of focusing on how these conflicts arise. Many of these conflicts are overflowing into the political arena with gay marriage becoming more of an accepted eventuality across the country. I want to delve deeper into the thinking behind these conflicts. The voices in my head want to probe your mind with PEZ dispencers, LEGOs, and other such plastic instruments that may have been covered in a child's drool at one point.

The groups that I am going to address here generally label themselves as "conservative". This isn't necessarily true of all conservatives or conservative groups. These groups are very good at rallying support. Once they have decided to back a leader, no one questions that leader. If the leader messes something up completely they may have to walk the plank, but their hardcore supporters will not abandon ship. They are more likely to double down on the embarrassment rather than go against the tide. A good example is the advent of the Sad Puppies. They have had success promoting their slate at the Hugos. There has been at least one author who has asked not to be associated with their slate because of the push back they have received. Bottom line is that they have been effective due to their ability to rally their following into action.

The leaders of these groups don't feel the need to explain themselves. I've seen this time and again. At some point someone asks how the group works or why is it the way it is. The response is to deflect by stating their goal. Their stated goal always sounds like a great idea that everyone should sign up for. "We do it this way because puppies are cute!" If they don't deflect then they will refer to something that happened at the beginning and put the onus back on the person asking to look it up. If you try to look it up then more often than not you will find smoke. Sometimes there isn't anything there to back up their assertions, it's not easy to find, or only partially explains things.

These groups don't let the truth stand in their way. If what they are pushing is based on lies then they repeat those lies until they seem like the truth. They get their supporters to repeat the lies so it doesn't seem like something one person made up. This is how you get people who adamantly oppose the idea of climate change. Climate change has been a fact in the scientific community for quite some time, but you still have politicians who publicly announce that they don't think it is real. I've seen people argue that the latest science shows that climate change isn't real, but they are unable to provide any credible evidence. I send them a link to a recent article from NASA and they still deny it. It simply baffles me how these people can stare in the face of truth and say "Nope!" There's a brick wall in their way and they keep walking into it because they refuse to believe it's real.

Many times these groups promote a hidden agenda that can seem obvious to outsiders. An agenda that many of their supporters fail to see no matter how obvious or in some cases they might try to defend the agenda anyway. In the case of the Sad Puppies it seems obvious that they are promoting their own works and the works of their friends while trying to diminish the influence of other authors they don't like. The gamergate supporters are obviously promoting a sexist agenda.

The conflict arises when people start to question what these groups are doing. Inconsistencies are pointed out, the hidden agenda exposed, and individuals begin to fight back. It's better if something like this happens early where people can squash it before it gets started. The destruction of Clean Reader is one example of this happening. Eventually the truth will come out for those who look for it. It's up to those who find them to bring those truths to light and share them with others.

On a final note, I just want to shortly address a personal annoyance of mine. What irks me the most is when these groups try to cling on to conservative "Christian" values. Then they go on to support sexist, anti-carebears, racist, anti-LGBTQIA, unicorn killing, etc. agendas. Jesus taught a message of love and tolerance. It is not our job to judge others based on their differences whether we agree or disagree with them. When anyone does so they are not representing "Christian" values of any kind.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jurassic World

Rated PG-13 / 2 hr 4 min / Action - Adventure - SciFi

What is it about?

Twenty years after the first Jurassic Park was a complete failure, a new park is open. Jurassic Disney World has been a success as an amusement park on Isla Nublar for a few years now. Mickey Mouse has sharp teeth and scales here. Two teens are visiting their niece who is one of the administrators at the park. Yes she gets to wear a princess costume. In their infinite wisdom of not learning from past mistakes, they have designed a new dinosaur. One that is an aggressive predator with more teeth. They have engineered a mecha-toothbrush to take care of the obvious need created by the new monster. The new dinosaur is smarter than your average bear and it wants all the picnic baskets. How are they going to stop it when it has a giant mecha-toothbrush at its disposal?

You will like it if...

You liked the first two Jurassic Park films. This one is a new Jurassic Park for the next generation. It has a mix of the first two films. The awe and wonder of a child first seeing dinosaurs roaming the land like the original. It is later supplanted by the fear and terror of having to run from fast hungry dinosaurs similar to the second film. I would feed them skittles, I hear Velociraptors like them. Chris Pratt has a space pirate charm about him that has been missing from the characters in the series since the first Jurassic Park. Vincent D'Onofrio has also become quite adept at playing the villain. He gets to expand on his role as the Kingpin here. While the special effects are just as amazing as the originals, this film needed a better script to set it apart. They managed to recapture the awe of the original while building upon the story. Still Jurassic World doesn't fully break free of feeling like a rehash of the original films. Many of the same messages are hammered on once again, but instead of beating a dead horse they have a dinosaur. Jurassic World ends up being a better than average action movie, but fails to do enough to set it apart from the previous films. If you haven't seen any of the Jurassic Park films or if you were a huge fan of the originals then you should enjoy it.


Next Week

Inside Out

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Chasing the Dream

Everyone has a dream. Something they strive for. Something they wish for the future. We all know pain, longing and defeat. These are the things that keep me up at night like the infused sugar high of eating too much PEZ candy. No one likes to feel the pain of falling short, of failing to reach your goals. These fears chase me as the Grim Reaper does, whipping me like a cart horse.

Most people think their dreams or goals are impossible, so they don't even try. How can you know for sure if you never get to the first step? The best time to begin chasing your dreams is always right now. Even if you try and fail, at least you tried. You looked up at the mountain and vowed to yourself that you would reach the top and touch the beard of Zues.

I tell you now that the longing you feel, the dream that you wish for more than anything, is your destiny. You have only to reach out for that brass ring and grab hold of it. It may try to buck you loose like a rowdy pissed off bull. Don't let go. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to. That bull may knock you senseless causing you to lose that grip. Grab the ring again and again.

The only way to fail is to quit trying. Try until you can't try anymore. Each failure is just an attempt at future success. Your dream is like chopping down a tree. You can't stop after a few chops of the axe! How are you going to build that writer's shed for me if you can't even get one stinking tree down? Keep chopping at that dream until it submits. Make it cry out in extacy as you tie it up in some kind of weird bondage thing.

Once you have spent your last bit of energy, when you can no longer stand and fight, when every option has been exhausted, when the time on the clock finally ticks to zero, then maybe you can admit failure and give up on your dream. Or you could try again. If you still have passion and blood flowing through your veins there is still hope for a bright happy future filled with rainbows and uni-kitties. I know it's hard. It takes blood, sweat, and tears to build a future like this. As long as you are physically able to try there is hope. That last shining ray of light beckoning you to move forward.

I am never giving up on my dream. These stories overflow in my mind and compel me to write them. I cannot contain them. They will vault me to the mountain top, and it will be glorious. I have a confetti cannon for you. Will you join me?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Spy

Rated R / 2 hr / Action - Comedy - Crime

What is it about?

Agent Cooper with the CIA is stuck in a rut. She works in the office giving support to Agent Fine who is one of their best. She is in his ear guiding him through his missions, tipping him off to threats, filing his taxes, and waxing his back. Agent Fine accidentally shoots a terrorist in the head while trying to get the location of a nuclear Furby. Now his daughter Rayna is the only one who knows where the Furby is. Agent Fine goes commando on a mission going after Rayna, and gets shot in the face for it. She makes it clear that she knows the identity of all the Pokemon too, so the CIA has to send an unknown to gather intelligence. Agent Cooper volunteers to come out from behind her computer, to go out into the field, and do what she was born to do. Act like Betty White in a catsuit.

You will like it if...

You like action/comedies similar to The Heat and 21 Jump Street. This movie goes a bit heavier on the action than McCarthy's previous films, but there is still plenty of comedy to go around. Some of the special effects and action stunts are quite impressive. Seeing a walrus tumbling around on wires like Jet Li is unique. I was expecting Spy to be funnier than it actually is. I can't remember a single big laugh throughout although there were many chuckle worthy scenes. The script is well written with the usual bells and whistles you would expect from an action movie. The best scenes are when Byrne and McCarthy get to play off each other. Byrne is simply fantastic in this film as is her hair. She has a better beehive than Marge Simpson. The end result is a highly entertaining film of the action/comedy variety that should satisfy any fan of Melissa McCarthy.

Next Week

Jurassic World

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Entourage

Rated R / 1 hr 44 mins / Comedy

What is it about?

Ari Gold is on a mission to talk fast and kick ass. He retired, but then convinced his wife to let him return to work as long as he has fun doing it. So now when he curses someone out for messing with him he says "Weeeeeee" afterwards. He has been offered the job of being the head of a major motion picture studio. Of course for his first film he wants Vincent Chase to star. Vince won't do it unless he can direct and gets to throw a party with several partially clothed women. Fast forward several months. The film is almost done, but they are over budget and need more money to finish it. Apparently the CGI animated dancing penguins cost a lot in his update of Mary Poppins. Ari goes to Texas to speak with Billy Bob Thornton who is financing the film. He wants his son to see the film before he approves any more money. He makes it clear that if his son isn't happy then he will take a dump on the film then put it in a paper bag, place it on Tom Cruise's doorstep, and set it on fire.

You will like it if...

You liked the original Entourage TV Series. The film is like one long episode of the original series. Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold was always the most entertaining character in the series and he gets an opportunity to shine again. Each of the side characters in the entourage gets their own subplot. Johnny Drama is still summoning his inner Rodney Dangerfield. Vincent gets to sit there and be pretty. He feels like a minor character even though he is cast as the "star" since everyone else steals every scene he's in. Turtle gets to drink slim fast and chase Ronda Rousey's rabbit. Eric gets to play Hugh Heffner while his ex is pregnant with his child. Some parts of the storyline seem way over the top, but the rest is interesting enough to keep you entertained. Much of it seems like it is unresolved at the end, but the original show was similar in nature. Bottom line is that if you are a fan of the series then you must see this film. It is a fitting send off for the cast, but they leave it open for a sequel just in case it does well in the box office. If you missed out on the series then I would suggest checking it out first. You don't need to see the series first, but there is a lot of back story you will miss out on if you skip it.

Later This Week

Spy