I have two insurance plans through my employer. One is the
major health plan, covering everything from wellness visits to the pneumonia
our youngest son had a year ago. The other covers dental and vision. But the
major health plan also covers vision.
So there’s that overlap. Which you’d think would be nice.
But I’m afraid it’s about to get ugly.
I’m now in the process of letting both companies know we
have overlapping vision coverage. I’ve had to fax information to one of the
companies twice. The other wants information through the mail.
I just know this is going to end in tears.
In the gentlemanly world, you’d assume with overlapping
coverage that the companies would say “Huh. How about that. Well, we’ll split
Anyone who believes that is going to happen, stand on your
I mean, I hope it all works out. I want to be honest and
show I’m cooperative. But these days, with health insurance in the mix, you
know the more likely reaction is going to be a he’ll pay/she’ll pay and then
the eye doctor is coming to repossess our eyeballs kind of situation.
I suppose I could have ignored their requests, but they
print scary things along the bottom of their requests like “Failure to inform
may result in loss of benefits!!!” And they’ve stiffed our eye doctor for more
than a month now, waiting for said information.
Mr. Huph, I’m sure, would be pleased. Because I’m no expert.
I am NOT penetrating the bureaucracy.
I can’t decide if this is just a matter of perspective, or
if Richard Thompson has mastered the art of telling, rather than showing.
Why not show the clown falling from the ceiling, scaring the
Timing might be a part of it.
This year (the Cul de Sac comic strip is in repeats) this
strip appeared June 20. For context, you have to go back to February 23:
Thus, the offending clown appears only in the second panel
of the first comic, leaving its menacing presence (is it in the ductwork or in
the plumbing – which is worse!)
In only two of the four strips do we get a firsthand
account. The final two strips in the sequence are told from different
perspectives. And in that June 20 panel, the only clue we get that might get us
back to the clown (aside from Panel No. 4) is Miss Bliss’ repeated use of “For
Why am I babbling about this?
It’s just an interesting bit of perspective and narration
playing with the notion of “showing, not telling” by putting it on its head in
the fourth strip. It’s somehow funnier when we don’t see the clown fall out of
the ceiling, but instead only get to see the reaction of the kids to the clown falling out of the ceiling.
Important lesson: Sometimes our characters’ reaction is the
most important thing we can show.
Though I have basically shuttered the blog where I put my kids' drawings, they do still trickle in from time to time.
I present here two doodles I discovered on a bit of scrap paper stuffed into my scouting binder. Given that it's the Truffle Shuffle, I'm pretty sure these are from the oldest, who suddenly thinks "The Goonies" is the funniest movie he's ever seen.
He doesn't know how happy that makes me. I'll even forgive the booger drawing.
One of the Internet’s least endearing attributes is the
slavering hunger its denizens have for reactions.
Did something bad happen – like the massacre at The Pulse
nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 50 died and 53 were wounded at the hands
(or bullets) of a madman? You had better react,
and react now. And appropriately. In
a politically-correct manner. Or you are part
of the problem.
I’m tired of reacting.
I feel like Daffy Duck, trying to rob yon rich slob of his
money in order to feed the poor, a la Robin Hood. No matter how many times I
react, there’s a tree in the way. And just when I think I’ve got it right,
smack, there’s that pesky rock.
Not getting my meaning? Let’s look at a few reactions.
Inappropriate, as far as I can tell, per the denizens of the
reactionary Internet: Thoughts and prayers.
Appropriate, as far as I can tell, per the denizens of the
reactionary internet: Candlelight vigils; the shading of profile pictures in
whatever shade is deemed appropriate for the latest atrocity.
There is sincerity and emptiness in both reactions – but
those making the reactions see only the sincerity in their reaction and the
emptiness in the other, so both, as far as social media goes, are pretty much
empty gestures at best or grounds for screaming matches at worst.
If you react, you
show solidarity. Empathy. Understanding.
If you don’t react,
you show coldness, indifference. Callousness.
In the eyes of the reactionary internet.
Do not tell me how to react. And when I react in a way you
or your ilk deem inappropriate or ineffectual, bite your tongue and concentrate
on your own reaction without condemning the reactions of others.
And if I do not react at all, do not assume I have no
reaction. My reaction may be personal, private, or internal.
And – worse yet, worse yet, oh ye seekers of truth or
whatever the hell it is you seek – when I react please parse my reaction and cheerfully identify its weaknesses to
the world so all may know my reaction was not appropriately reactionary enough to merit a reaction
in the first place.
To insist that everyone react demonstratively and in the
same manner reminds me of this (taken from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag
At the conclusion of
the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone
stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at
every mention of his name). ... For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes,
the stormy applause, rising to an ovation, continued. But palms were getting
sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting
from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really
However, who would
dare to be the first to stop? … After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall
applauding and watching to see who would quit first! And in the obscure, small
hall, unknown to the leader, the applause went on – six, seven, eight minutes!
They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they
collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they
could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so
eagerly – but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them?
The director of the
local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the
presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation,
he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the
secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop.
Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking
at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on
and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out
of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter…
Then, after eleven
minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression
and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the
universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else
stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!
The squirrel had been
smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel. That, however, was how they
discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about
eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They
easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But
after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his
interrogator reminded him:
“Don’t ever be the
first to stop applauding.”
Here’s what they’ll find on my Form 206:
Bless them which
persecute you: bless, and curse not.
Rejoice with them that
do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. (Romans 12:14-15)
And I sincerely apologize if my Christian reaction triggered
you and all you want to do is parse its inefficacy rather than take the time to
communicate with another human being about the sincerity of that reaction. I know
it’s a reaction, not a reaction, but
I will not apologize for that.
And if that’s not reaction-y
enough for you, I offer the following:
It is so short and
jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a
massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want
anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre,
and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is
to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”
If Benjamin’s efforts are representative, then fiction
writers have nothing yet to fear from artificial intelligence. Unless those
fiction writers are Ingmar Bergman.
Benjamin is a “recurrent neural network called long
short-term memory,” per Ars Technica, where writers still marvel at the
technobabble of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” He was fed the scripts of
several dozen modern science fiction movies and spat out an eight-minute script
that makes Billy Pilgrim’s story in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaugherhouse-Five appear
Yet there’s something endearing about this screenplay – it
gets back to the core of science fiction, as Ars points out:
kept coming up again and again. "There's an interesting recurring pattern
where characters say, 'No I don’t know what that is. I’m not sure,'" said
Goodwin. "They're questioning the environment, questioning what’s in front
of them. There's a pattern in sci-fi movies of characters trying to understand
the environment." Sharp added that this process has changed his
perspective on writing. He keeps catching himself having Benjamin-like moments
while working: "I just finished a sci-fi screenplay, and it’s really
interesting coming off this experience with Benjamin, thinking I have to have
somebody say 'What the hell is going on?' Every time I use his tropes I think,
oh of course. This is what sci-fi is about."
For Sharp and Goodwin, making Sunspring also highlighted how
much humans have been trained by all the scripts we've consumed. Sharp said
this became especially obvious when the actors responded to Sunspring's script
as a love triangle. There is nothing inherently love triangle-ish about the
script, and yet that felt like the most natural interpretation. "Maybe
what we’re learning here is that because of the average movie, the corpus of
what we’ve watched, all of us have been following that pattern and tediously
so," mused Sharp. "We are trained to see it, and to see it when it
has not yet been imposed. It’s profoundly bothersome." At the same time,
it's a valuable lesson about how we are primed to expect certain tropes:
"Ross [Goodwin] has created an amazing funhouse mirror to hold up to
various bodies of cultural content and reflect what they are."
In other words, it learns to write like a human learns to
write – and is as bad at writing as humans are on the first attempt. We tend to
have to consume a lot of writing – both good and bad – in order to even begin
sorting out things in our own stories and in our own heads. And as science
fiction is pretty tropey as writing goes, those tropes have to be digested and
processed as well in order for them to be reproduced with any quality. I’ll
bet, given time and additional stuff to churn through its algorithms – and I’m
tempted to think a better story could come by feeding the AI novels rather than
screenplays (which require more human-level interpretation ) AI could complete
a more coherent story.
With both the Republican and Democratic
parties finally having a clear path forward to the nomination of candidates for
president, I have this to offer:
Defeated Bernie Bros sound so much like
Donald Drumpf supporters I have a hard time telling who is who. They’re all
anti-trade agreement. They all hate the media (though their names for the media
are different; the Bros deride the “corporatist” media while the Drumpfs deride
the “librul media”).
And both parties are going to have to
grapple with the fact that they’re nominated individuals with the highestdisapprovalratings of any candidates ever offered by any party.*
I will go on the record as saying I prefer
neither candidate the parties are offering. Nor am I likely to vote
Libertarian, as Libertarians generally, while nice people, are completely
Anyway, I’ve been struggling for a way to
describe how I feel about this election, until it hit me this morning: I don’t
have to. George Orwell has already done so. See:
"Gentlemen," concluded Napoleon,
"I will give you the same toast as before, but in a different form. Fill
your glasses to the brim. Gentlemen, here is my toast: To the prosperity of The
Manor Farm! "
There was the same hearty cheering as before, and the mugs were emptied to the
dregs. But as the animals outside gazed at the scene, it seemed to them that
some strange thing was happening. What was it that had altered in the faces of
the pigs? Clover's old dim eyes flitted from one face to another. Some of them
had five chins, some had four, some had three. But what was it that seemed to
be melting and changing? Then, the applause having come to an end, the company
took up their cards and continued the game that had been interrupted, and the
animals crept silently away.
But they had not gone twenty yards when
they stopped short. An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They
rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in
progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious
glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that
Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously.
Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question,
now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked
from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it
was impossible to say which was which.
And before anyone of any political stripe
claims you saw the “All Animals Are Equal but Some Are More Equal Than Others”
and believe you’re fighting the good fight, I say: HOGWASH.
Trump thought the system was rigged until
he won. And Bernie Bros would not be complaining
bitterly at all had their boy “clinched” anything this week rather than Hillary
Do not tell me otherwise because I will
never believe you. Remember, the “revolution” depicted in some versions of Orwell’s
story DOES NOT HAPPEN in Orwell’s novel. The democratic socialists become
indistinguishable from the totalitarians they replace (and this goes for any
revolutionist to ruler journey you can offer).
*Or so the conventional wisdom goes, as
it’s hard to pin these numbers down.