Starmind: Chapters 3 and 4

It’s not often I find a novel where every damn chapter is worthy of comment. Starmind, by Dave Van Arnam, turns out to be one of those. Not because it’s good, oh no, not all all.

When last we left this little yarn, I was wondering what possible excuse the author could find for medical professionals to even want to try to put the halves of two different people’s brains into one body.

Dr. Brian pretty much says he just wants to see what will happen. There’s a first time for everything, after all.

Yeah, Dr. Brian. The Brain surgeon. I have stopped correcting myself as I read. Nascent writers out there, if for some reason you want to call your guy Dr. Brain, just do it. No need to be coy. (Or better yet, call him Dr. Mtumbo.)

At this time, there are six characters of note. Inside the head, there are two men and one woman (although one of the men is more of an emotive blob). Outside the head, there are also two men and one woman. Both women are attractive, in nonspecific ways. Only one of the men has been described at all.

In chapter three, two of the three men capable of this sort of thought decide it might be kinda cool to have their brains installed in a hot female body. Both women find the idea of being installed in a man’s body to be loathsome. So… 1969.

On the second page of chapter three I laughed more than once. The dialog! Holy crap!

Here’s a choice nugget — the doctor, talking to the reporter:

I will not speculate on any emotional ties that might exist between you and Miss Rost, but it is obvious that your concern runs deeper than I, as a medical researcher and practitioner, dare to take cognizance of.

He better not dare to take cognizance of it! Or this gem three tiresome paragraphs later, as Parker, the reporter, continues his stilted verbal sparring with Dr. Brain Brian:

I am a professional in my own field, as you are in yours, doctor; and in my case it means I know how to research those necessary background facts that make conversations such as this more meaningful than the customary exchange of platitudinous awarenesses of each other’s position.

Both those quotes are parts of much longer paragraphs. Despite this unbearable verbal mass, they do little more than exchange platitudinous awarenesses of each other’s position, along with a heapin’ helpin’ of as-you-know-Bobs. The reporter, for instance, tells the brian brain surgeon that it has been eleven years since the first successful brain transplant.

But I will say this: although there are some horrible moments in the discourse between the characters inside the head, it is way better that the interactions outside the head. At lest so far; the head occupants aren’t to a stage where they can engage in stilted verbal exchanges. Though there are plenty of problems inside the cranium, as well. Jailyn is witness to one of Joe’s sex fantasies, then exercises her will to make it stop. She apparently has none of her own. Sex, it seems, is something men want and women allocate.

There’s a nice twist, though, as the “simple” thoughts of the Idiot Adonis unexpectedly rise from the previously-unmentioned surviving lower parts of his brain and provide an emotional foundation for the two intellects who discover themselves so intimately connected. In the hands of a skilled writer, that might make the premise of a great story. I could picture a one-act play based on that theme.

Alas, we are not in the hands of a skilled writer, my friends. Yet still I read on, finding comedy where none was intended, hoping the pretty nurse kicks her boss of irrelevant appearance in the balls, knowing she won’t. The mystery of “why would anyone do something so stupid” has been answered with a “why not?” and on we go. The next question is: how will the author contrive to expose this odd trio to pseudogravitic multiwaves? And will he manage that before the ridiculous dialog slips from funny to tiresome?

Stay tuned, dear readers, for the answers to these burning questions!

1

A Long Night

Lying in bed, left hand clamped over my eyes, my right arm wrapped around my head to apply pressure so my sinuses don’t blow my face off. Everything hurts. My teeth hurt. Looking forward to the next sneeze, building somewhere in the background, a feeling of squirrels chewing my nasal passages, but when it comes, fifteen seconds of bliss. Or at least reduction in discomfort.

There are no more pills to take. I lie, wheezing, and think, “Maybe whiskey will help…”

Trump and Idiots

I have, on several occasions, said that people who vote for Trump are idiots. Having read the excellent article Why Trump Voters are not Complete Idiots I have been forced to question my stance.

The article, if I may be so bold as to recast, turns the US into a two-story house. The folks on the ground floor get by, the folks upstairs do well. By any measure, I’m living upstairs.

It’s important to note that while money is a big factor in where you think you live, it is not the only factor. Income is only one way one’s value in society is defined. Respect from those around you is another. Upstairs people feel more valued.

There’s no guaranteed pass to the upper floor, but a college education is pretty damn close to one. Go to college, move upstairs. And here’s where the core resentment toward immigrants comes in. It’s not the illegal immigrants coming in on the ground floor that rankle, it’s the legal immigrants, the educated ones, who step right onto the upstairs that piss people off.

It’s not how well you’re doing, it’s how well you’re doing compared to the other guy.

So Liberals and Democrats (not at all the same groups) make two basic promises: 1) we will make living on the ground floor suck less, and 2) we will make it easier for your kids to go upstairs.

But for a man just getting by, with his kids already past “college age”, there’s not a lot of upside there. He remembers when just being a hard-working man doing his job and not bitching too much was enough to feel secure in this country. Maybe he couldn’t get upstairs, but hard work meant something, and he could be confident that his family would be taken care of. For that guy, that was when America was great.

Trump, while not offering anything specific at all, implies that he will restore America to those good old days. But he isn’t offering to make living on the ground floor better, he wants you to believe that he’s changing the rules for who gets to live upstairs. For people who feel stuck downstairs and degraded by assholes like me calling them idiots, maybe it’s time to change the rules.

It gets a little ugly, though, when you consider that during this mythical period when America was great, the upstairs was occupied almost exclusively by white men. So when he talks about going back to the good ol’ days, he’s talking to the working white men whose fortunes have flatlined while all the other demographics in this country have caught up. But he’s making it a white-men-vs-the-world proposition. Sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much.

These folks have heard all the political double-speak before, but there they sit, downstairs, even while brown and yellow college-educated kids skip up to the luxury suites without breaking a sweat. Time to shake things up! Time to value the people who work with their hands, who actually make stuff. So people in the making-stuff group who want to shake things up are not inherently idiots. They are following an agenda that, at least superficially, gives them the better chance to get upstairs. The Democrats are telling them their grandchildren will have a more fair shot at the stairs, but that’s far away.

Blow up the system. When the debris stops falling, who knows who will be on top?

So far, that makes sense. But there’s still the question: Is Trump the guy to do that?

Let’s take another look at those good ol’ days. When a working man could provide for his family and maybe even send his kids to college. Or at least technical school, or a skilled apprenticeship. Those days actually existed, not long ago.

Was it the Republicans, or the white men upstairs that created those conditions? Well, no. Not even remotely. It was the labor unions. The Great America Trump wants us to remember is the America when workers had power. When there was dignity in labor and a comfortable life even while the fat cats upstairs got rich.

So, white men who remember a better past, is Trump really going to return us to those days? Will he restore the power of the unions?

Hell, no.

He couldn’t if he tried, and he’s not going to try. Among the many lawsuits Trump has settled, there are the union-busting ones. He is famous for shitting on the working-class people. Gleeful, even. He is the worst thing that could possibly happen to the working-class joe in this country. He is a spoiled rich man with a long history of disregard for the people he is now asking to put him in the White House.

So, back to my premise: are people idiots for voting for a fundamental change to the system? No. Not if they don’t believe that we are on a path that makes things better for their grandchildren.

But are they idiots for voting for Trump? Yes, absolutely. Trump is one of the people who put them where they are, and he has no intention of changing that. Just ask that man of the people over in Russia.

4

Email Security 101: A Lesson Yet Unlearned

So it looks like the Russians are doing their best to help proudly racist Trump, by stealing (and perhaps altering) emails passed between members of the Democratic National Committee. It seems like the Democratic party preferred the candidate who was actually part of the party over a guy hitching his wagon to the Democrats to use that political machine as long as it was convenient to him.

But that’s not the point of this episode.

The point is this: Had the Democrats taken the time to adopt email encryption, this would not have happened. When the state department emails were hacked, the same criticism applies.

It is possible to:

  1. Render email unreadable by anyone but the intended recipient
  2. Make alteration of emails provably false

But nobody does it! Not even people protecting state secrets. I used to wonder what email breach was going to be the one that made people take email security seriously. I’m starting to think, now, that there is no breach bad enough. Even the people who try to secure email focus on the servers, when it’s the messages that can be easily hardened.

There is no privacy in email. There is no security in email. But there could be. Google could be the white hat in this scenario, but they don’t want widespread email encryption because they make money reading your email.

Currently only the bad guys encrypt their emails, because the good guys seem to be too fucking stupid.

I Agree with the Republicans about One Thing

At the convention the delegates on the floor are getting all frothed up. One of the signs they’ve been given to wave around reads, “We deserve better.”

Yes you do, Republicans. You deserve better. But you hitched your wagon to a racist xenophobe child-king and now we have to embarrass your whole party as monumentally as possible to make sure you grow the backbone to not be railroaded again.

1

The RNC Drinking Game

trump_1868826aMy cousin, over in Facebook-land, has been soliciting ideas for drinking games for the Republican National Convention. It’s going to drive you to drink anyway, why not make a game of it?

The major political conventions have been reduced to noise and flashing lights anyway, since the conclusion is foregone. In smoky rooms where cameras never reach, actual policy decisions might be made, planks laid for the coming campaign and whatnot, but those meetings hardly need the hoopla of the convention. It is, really, just an extended political ad that the major networks offer up for free.

The Establishment will now do pretzel contortions to pretend they liked Trump all along. But they didn’t like him then, and they don’t like him now. A large chunk of the party just wants to punt this one over to Hillary and try to take it back in four years. There will be agonizing moments of discomfort durning the RNC.

So, the drinking. I figure there are a couple of easy categories, and one tricky one.

Things People Say
These don’t have to be an exact match, it’s the spirit that counts.
“Donald Trump is a savvy businessman.”
“Donald Trump cares about America.”
“Make America Great Again!” (if you accept this one, you will get hammered).
“Donald Trump undertands
Untruths that can be verified within thirty seconds.
“The beautiful city of Cleveland”
“The great state of Cleveland” — With Trump, it’s possible. You know it is. 10 drinks.
Any attempt to use Cleveland’s NBA championship to generate excitement.

Images
Weeping male zealot (1 drink)
Weeping female zealot (3 drinks)
Big crowd shot with all the signs pumping to insipid piped-in music
Trump, with his hand raised in a gesture that might not be Hitler but is definitely in Mussolini territory
A black person. (1 drink)
The same black person (2 drinks)
The same black person another time (Ok, there will be four black people there, and the cameras will be hungry for them. Your call whether to go linear or exponential here.)
Beauty shot of Cleveland from the air.

Tongue-Biting
One of the greatest travesties of this election is otherwise-rational people will be backing Trump out of misguided party loyalty. Moments when those people are captured by the cameras will be the most precious of all.
Party leaders golf-clapping.
Top Republicans forcing smiles only made possible by the intake of copious cocaine.
Conventioneers wearing Hillary buttons.
Mentions that if Trump doesn’t win in one round, delegates are free to back other candidates.
“I’m not saying Trump is [racist/sexist/stupid/unethical]…”
Referring to his campaign as unorthodox.

Things you will die if you include
“The great state of…”
“The next president…”

If the list gets too long, the game gets too complicated (and dangerous). It might be too long already. Still in the spirit of the convention, I’d like to open the floor to proposals for other planks in the game platform. Comments left here at the blog will live on long after Facebook comments are lost in noise, so I encourage the conversation to take place here.

5

Complete the Analogy:

The 1970’s are to food as ___________ is to ____________.

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Exhibit A: a dish made from hot dogs, published by Weight Watchers. Remember, this is the decade during which anything could be put in green jello.