Saturday, July 29, 2017

Evasions, Fibs and Whoppers

We live in a post-truth era. Nothing is certain. You can believe whatever you want and the other guy is always wrong.

There was a time when I believed in ideals such as truth, justice and the American way. Now it's hard to tell what any of those things are. Truth used to be an absolute, but now it's gotten very subjective, distorted by preachers, politicians and propagandized by pundits and news outlets. Justice used to mean something. Now it just refers to which side won in court. Prosecutors ignore proof of a defendant's innocence, insisting that a jury's verdict outweighs everything else. As for the American way, there are simply too many factions with too many opinions. I won't even try to name all of the different isms.

Nothing can be counted on. Photographs and videos can be altered through Photoshop or even simple phone apps to create whatever false narrative the editor wants. Audio can be faked with Auto-Tune and other pitch shifters so that even those without an ability to sing can sound good. Fiction passes as non-fiction, legend passes for history, and even history can be tweaked to fit an agenda.

Social media tells me my favorite actor or musician has died, but the person in question insists it isn't true. Who do you trust, Facebook or some dead celebrity? Memes can be completely fake, but no matter how often they are fact checked, they come around again and convince a whole new group of people of their validity.

The Earth has been proven round any number of times over the centuries. By the time of Columbus, the "Round Earth" was an accepted fact. Now an entirely new flat Earth movement has taken hold, along with "proof" that the Moon landing was faked. Unfortunately, the truth of both positions seems clear from direct observation. Only scientists can figure out the truth of the matter and nobody trusts scientists anymore.

Global warming, which causes climate change, is another one of those elusive truths. There are too many subtleties. We can predict a lunar eclipse, but accurately predicting how many hurricanes we'll have, how much ice will melt and how high the seas will rise this year is impossible. Scientists can do computer models and pick the most likely one, but if they are wrong, then their credibility is shot in the eyes of those who are skeptical or have an agenda.

I could go on and on, but the point is, these days, the truth is what you choose to believe is the truth and no one will ever change your mind. If facts can be faked, then you believe anyone who supports what you already believed.

As Fox Mulder said on The X Files, "the truth is out there." Trust me. I only tell the truth, present the facts and support the American Way.

Stephen P.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Vast Wasteland Report

It seems as though I rarely have any good news about the current state of television.

Sitcoms have been off my viewing list for decades now. I'm happy for people who love Big Bang Theory. I'm not interested, but that's just me. I don't care for anything with a laugh track. By the way, I'm sorry to predict that Young Sheldon will be cancelled mid-season. And I won't care.

Let me apologize for being harsh, but I'm bitter over the cancellation of Rosewood. It was a great crime drama with a great cast chemistry and I will miss it greatly.

Bones has finally ended. It was time. I've enjoyed the show, but I think it had run its course and keeping it on life support would have just been cruel. I like David Boreanaz, but I doubt that I will watch Seal Team--or any other military/Middle East war dramas. Some things are just too real and too dramatic for me. I don't need to punish myself by watching reenactments of a conflict that makes me very sad.

Survivor is still on, I don't know why. I've never watched more than fifteen minutes of the show and I don't understand why anyone would. Reality television has never caught my attention for very long. Pawn Stars, Gold Rush Alaska and American Pickers were entertaining for awhile. I might still watch Gold Rush, scripted though it is, but I got rid of cable.

All of the medical dramas kind of run together in my consciousness, so that I can no longer tell them apart: Code Black, Night Shift, Chicago Med, Saving Hope. I'm not saying they aren't good, they just aren't very distinctive. The strong female leads are probably the best part, but all four have them. I still miss the short-lived Monday Mornings. Now that was an original series. I've still never watched Gray's Anatomy, although I used to have a copy of the book.

Pure Genius, APB and Scorpion were all shows about very smart people and I never missed an episode of any of the three. Scorpion is the only one still on. Katharine McPhee is the highlight of a really good cast. The plots all follow a very structured formula and Scorpion is more fun than intense drama.

Bachelor and Bachelorette are two more shows I have no interest in. I haven't watched soap operas since I worked swing shift back in the Eighties. I don't watch dance shows, either. However, I do respect people who watch these shows, I mean, what else is there to watch.

Fargo and Better Call Saul are definitely worth watching, but I got rid of cable, so I don't. Okay, I do, on Hulu/Netflix, but I've already bitched about internet providers limiting me to a few episodes of each per month.

This past season of Criminal Minds was a mess. Firing Thomas Gibson was a mistake, but the show can still go on. The whole Spencer Reid goes to prison mini series within the series went on way too long. They can catch a serial killer in twenty-four hours, but they can't get Dr. Reid out of jail? While Criminal Minds has been going on for twelve seasons, I see no reason it can't keep going. Penelope Garcia is the thread that holds the fabric together. Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders was a dumb idea.

Doubt was a good show. Why they cancelled it after two episodes is a mystery to me. If they had aired the remaining episodes sooner, the ratings might have improved.

Another dumb idea was ABC's drama/comedy The Catch. Mireille Enos was brilliant in The Killing, and it's nice to know how beautiful she is when she let's her hair out of a pony tail. The Killing was so good, I used my precious data allowance to download and watch the entire series twice. The catch was awful. If you are going to do a ripoff of White Collar, at least make an effort. While the show had a good cast and some interesting fragments of character complications, it seemed like the actors knew it wasn't going anywhere and didn't make much effort. Enos deserved better.

Supernatural still won't die. There are things I like about the show: the cast, the characters, even the original premise, but I'm not really interested in vampires, demons, zombies, fallen angels or any of that, so no matter how good the show is, I'm not likely to watch. I hope it keeps making its fans happy for years to come.

Super heroes. I was a big fan of Marvel comics for decades and I was bummed that there weren't any good comic book series on TV. Now there are too many and it waters down any novelty there might have been. Enough! Stop it!

Mysteries of Laura was entertaining. I'm sorry it's gone.

Chicago Fire is mostly good. The cast is great and I will keep watching, but as usual, I'm interested in what the characters do for a living, not how their lives are going at home. Is that so wrong?

Chicago PD: don't care. Game shows: not interested, but I'll watch if I'm desperate. How to Get Away with Murder: don't care. Quantico: not even. Secrets and Lies: nope. Scandal: don't think so. All of those time travel shows: try again, Quantum Leap had a good gimmick.

Blue Bloods is the only thing in that Friday night time slot and I still don't watch it. If I'm going to watch Tom Selleck  brood, give me Jesse Stone.

Zoo is too convoluted for my taste. Primeval did it better.

That's enough. It hurts my head to think about it anymore.

Oh, wait. One more. I love Steve Harvey, but I'm starting to get an overdose. Take a break, Steve, six shows is enough.

Stephen P.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fast Lane Blues

The world seems to be changing fast these days. Or maybe it's just me getting old.

This planet has always seen bursts of rapid development, from hunter-gatherer to agrarian--okay, maybe not that, but aviation between 1914 and 1919, for instance. So many things have happened since World War II. Television has gone from limited availability analog black-and-white broadcast to unlimited high definition digital satellite-direct, interactive. Computers have gone from massive mechanical devices, to analog vacuum tube monstrosities, to analog transistor monstrosities, to digital microchip handheld devices. One iPhone now has more computing power than all of the computers in existence in 1968 combined.

Sadly, human space travel hasn't gone very far in the last forty years, but unmanned exploration has discovered amazing things--few answers, but lots of new questions.

Many "advancements" in chemistry and biology have been ill-advised and potentially disastrous, but the world of physics has made great new discoveries--few answers, but lots of new questions.

Now here is what really put a burr under my saddle. It started with home computers. Every time I got the latest, fastest model with the biggest hard drive and the most ram, software developers came out with a new version of their program, which my computer was only marginally fast enough to run, which took up most of my hard drive, and which required a ram upgrade to run. Fine. When I could, I bought the latest, fastest new computer with an exponential increase in ram. Bingo. The new programs made my computer seem like a snail.

Then came the internet and the problem was modems. Each time I got the fastest modem, websites became more graphics intensive and I had to have a newer computer to run a faster modem. WiFi came along and modems seemed to become irrelevant, but I needed a newer computer with a faster graphics board, or whatever. Every time I upgraded my computer, web developers added more video to their sites, higher definition and anything else that would exclude my computer from full participation. Fine.

So computers get faster, with more ram and higher definition video capabilities and what happens? Internet providers limit my data usage to a maximum twenty gigabytes. If I'm lucky my internet works for a week out of every month. Not fair.

Most of the time when one advancement is made it makes something else obsolete. Now we have a technology that throws a big wrench into the usefulness of all these other technologies. One of these days maybe everything will work together, but for now I'll avoid watching videos, Facebooking or downloading music. My favorite technological advancement is having a massive library of information and imagination at my fingertips. From my point of view, that's a great change.

Stephen P.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Remember When

Nostalgia is one of those things I always associate with older people. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an older person, but I've always had a fascination with things from the not too distant past.

When I was growing up, at least half of the adult males I knew were World War I veterans. I loved listening to their stories about the Great War. You might say I was a bit of a history buff.

Where I grew up, we were less than an hour from half a dozen or more Civil War battlefields. The school, parks and most city buildings in my hometown were built by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a program of the New Deal that provided jobs during the Great Depression.

My favorite books were about the flying aces of WWI and I still love the old biplanes. The Golden Age of Aviation fascinated me: the air racing, the aerobatics and the barnstormers.

The modern milking machines and stainless steel milk tanks of modern farming never interested me as much as the wooden stanchions, Dutch doors and hand cranked cream separator of our old milk barn.

Recently I've subscribed to a couple of farming/country living magazines, Grit and Capper's Farmer--revivals of publications from the past hundred years, that have a mix of current articles and nostalgia features. While I gain useful information for my own gardening and homesteading efforts, I'm really enjoying all the glances back at a different time. You notice I didn't say simpler. I believe that all of our modern conveniences have been a result of trying to make life simpler, even if it wouldn't seem like it for someone from the past.

Would I go back to the old days? I'm more realistic than that. There are a few things I might like better, but I realize that life was tough then and always is. On the other hand, I might like to travel back in time and buy a nice big piece of farm land with today's money at yesterday's prices.

Stephen P.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Writing Space

Last year I was offered an opportunity to co-author an episode of a new science fiction series. I have to say I was honored, since the series was created and is co-written by T.Y. Carew and the first episode is co-written by Jess Mountifield, one of my favorite contemporary authors. The series, published by Red Feather Writing in the U.K., is titled Adamanta. My contribution, the second episode, is subtitled The Shafts of Kudos.

In the series, Earth has been destroyed and all humanity is threatened by an army of drones and their controllers, the Beltines. Humanity's first best hope rests on a telekinetically controllable metal and the ship's crew trained to use it.

Writing my episode was great fun. The Shafts of  Kudos is my first old school science fiction piece and I hope to do more. Maybe I'll write another episode of Adamanta.

Stephen P.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Spring Fever

Spring began at the end January this year--and again in early February, then again later in the month and every two weeks after that. The temperature even reached 90 degrees in February. It's been great weather for working in the garden, but a little too confusing for the plants. May and June were pleasant, with very civilized temperatures, and now July is somewhere just east of hell.

When we have to go into town we stick to shady back roads as much as we can, but sooner or later we find ourselves in the blazing sun of the concrete desert. I see new housing developments going in, moving closer to our rural refuge, and I just don't understand how anyone can live in a neighborhood without trees. Out here the abundance of trees keeps the temperature several degrees cooler. We have to move our chairs once in awhile, but we can always manage to sit in the shade.

Our house sits hundreds of feet from the road, so dust isn't a problem for us. I feel bad for all the people who built their houses thirty feet from the dirt track. Whenever I drive by I try to slow down to spare them some dust, but I'm not sure it helps.

All winter long I look forward to warm weather, but I'm already looking forward to the cool of autumn.

Stephen P.