Friday, April 20, 2018

Random Thoughts VI

Syria


This will just be a series of questions:

Why has Donald Trump done a complete 180 on his views regarding Syria and American intervention in the middle east? Why are both the United States and Britain bombing the capital city of a foreign nation without a declaration of war or even bothering to seek approval from relevant legislative bodies? Why would Assad use banned chemical weapons against his own people when he was already winning the war in his country? Why did the countries that bombed Syria not bother to wait for proof of Assad's crimes given the fact that the United States spent over a year making the case to attack Iraq back in 2002-2003? Why are so few major media outlets questioning this narrative? Why is the anti-war left silent even though there is a hated republican president in the white house? Even if Assad did gas his own people, how does bombing him aid American interests? Why does anyone think regime change in Syria is a good idea given our experiences in Libya and Iraq?

Book Review: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius


When I was in school I read about half of this and then skimmed the rest. I recently gave it a second look and recalled why I read it the way I did. As interesting as Aurelius' thoughts are, he does tend to repeat himself a great deal. You can sum up about 70% of the book with this sentence: "Life is short, you will die very soon, live honorably." Given the way the book was written it isn't surprising. These are really just Aurelius' random thoughts (hey, wait a sec...) over the course of many years. He wasn't trying to write a philosophical treatise. Taken from that perspective, Meditations is a nice book to travel with and a good primer on Stoicism. It is easy to read in tiny bits - say taking in three or four aphorisms while waiting for your order at Denny's. 
 
Grade: B
Hogg and Ingraham


An old rhetorical tactic is that of the unimpeachable messenger. When you want to push an ideological message, you find someone that people cannot easily criticize - someone that, if they do actually attack, it will make the critic look bad. Such is the case with David Hogg. He's a poor traumatized kid which makes him a perfect attack dog. He's been vicious too. He dismissed older critics of gun control by just saying, "We will outlive you." He went after Laura Ingraham hard too, calling for a boycott after she mildly criticized him. Ingraham was taken off the air for a time and then apologized. Hogg refused to accept the apology, saying that the boycott should continue until Ingraham disavows all of Fox News.

Refusing to accept an apology is pretty mean-spirited. Ingraham's mistake however, was assuming that this was a human interaction - two individuals communicating in good faith. It was not. Hogg is not acting as a person but an ideological tool. He (well, his handlers anyway) smelled weakness, he pounced, and then twisted the knife. This is how you get your money's worth with unimpeachable messengers. Of course, to the more intelligent observer, the use of such messengers ought to make one MORE skeptical of what they advocate. If the only way you can get me to support gun control is with an emotional appeal from a victimized kid, then it doesn't sound like a very rational idea. The real question to ask is why the media has chosen to lionize these kids and not, oh let's say, children of terrorist attack victims who want tighter immigration restrictions.

Fundamental Differences Between the Sexes


This scene from Picket Fences is illustrative. I could not find the complete scene in one video on YouTube, so watch this clip and then this one. Just watch it and absorb it. Now imagine the sexes are reversed.

"I don't care about society"


There's an old saying that you can gauge the quality of a civilization by the number of old people who plant trees that they will never live to sit under. The generations that lived before we did cared about us - cared about their posterity. They prioritized leaving behind a functioning society for descendants they would never meet. After posting my article on MGTOW one of the common responses I got from self-described members of the movement was, "Well I don't care about society anyway, so it doesn't matter whether or not MGTOW will actually solve our culture's problems." This sort of nihilistic view is fairly common among this crowd, particularly those who have been badly burned by women in some way.

The thing is, it isn't true that you don't care about society. You care about having running water. You care about being able to buy food at the grocery store. You care about the fact that you live in a peaceful town because of the police and in a peaceful country because of the military that keeps out foreign invaders. You care about the million different unwritten rules people follow when they interact with you every day. Refusing to contribute to society through active work or helping to create the next generation is everyone's free choice. Making that choice while enjoying the myriad benefits society offers you and then claiming some kind of victim status is depraved. Really any adult that claims to not care about society is operating on a level of awareness comparable to a spoiled six year old.

There are two groups of people that morally have a right to not care about society. 1. People who produce more for society than they consume and 2. People who live completely outside of society in the forest (even then they benefit from that nation's military, police, fire departments, infrastructure, environmental policies, etc.). Everyone else ought to care. Also remember that if you don't care about society, society has a right not to care about you. One could argue that single, childless, unproductive people ought to be last in line for any public benefits and should suffer a higher tax rate.

CS Lewis Quote


“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

Game Review: Fallout 4


tl;dr - it's fun with mods.

Slightly longer: I played this a bunch during the winter. I loved New Vegas and was in the mood for some more post-apocalyptic open world goodness. What I got with Fallout 4 was a step down in terms of actual role-playing. The story is not nearly as open-ended as previous games. The factions are mostly lame. The endings aren't very satisfying. Overall it feels like a missed opportunity. Still, it is a lot of fun. The graphics are solid as is the core gameplay engine. The music is amazing. With the right mods on PC, you can make a really atmospheric game with just the right amount of challenge. The Far Harbor DLC alone I think makes it worth while. It is some of the best Fallout content of the last decade in my humble opinion.

Grade: C- (Vanilla) B (modded)

White Sharia


I just watched The Handmaid's Tale on Amazon and started reading the book. It's quite a provocative concept. I'll probably do a separate review. The series got me thinking about the white Sharia meme I started seeing among far-right types last year. There are rational arguments one could make for affording men and women differing legal rights because of differences between the sexes (I'll probably do a separate write up on women's suffrage and coverture laws). Sharia law, I think, is the reducto ad absurdum of this. I oppose it for several reasons, one being that I don't think men and women are that different. Furthermore, I find it odd that it is so-called "traditionalists" that have a favorable view of white Sharia. Sharia law is not traditional for whites. It isn't even really that traditional for Muslims, at least not some of the implementations in the world today. Advocating greater modesty and sexual propriety need not require denying women the right to read or travel without a male escort.

Jordan Peterson's Individualism


I actually spoke with Jordan Peterson not long ago. I have a lot of respect for him. He's one of the more thoughtful and brave public intellectuals of the day. Still, I do have my disagreements. One area where I think he is off base is in his complaints about "Identity Politics." This is a common whipping boy of radical centrist and civic nationalist types. It lets you attack SJW's while making it slightly harder for people to call you racist. However what I have noticed with Peterson and his ilk, is that they tend to only criticize white identity politics in majority white countries. They don't criticize non-whites having strong in-group preference. I recall another right-wing blogger quipping about how, on the issue of black South Africans murdering white farmers, Peterson would tell the black Africans to "stop buying into identity politics." Yeah, good luck with that.

I have never heard Peterson or any of the critics of identity politics complain about Japan's lack of individualism. Quite the contrary they often admire how Japanese people have maintained their culture and traditions for centuries. But even if they were consistent it would still sound chauvinistic to tell some Japanese guy to stop slurping his ramen, stop bowing in social situations, and not feel any sense of kinship with his ethnic group. He has every right to enjoy that sense of solidarity and value it. If he has that right, so do all other ethnic groups. So long as people seek an identity, identity politics are not going anywhere. At root, all politics are identity politics.

The Martian vs. Interstellar


Two space movies that came out around the same time. Both are well-acted with great effects, music, and all-star casts. The two films could not be more different thematically. The Martian is about the importance of the individual. Even the early trailers with Matt Damon's narration talking about how humans form search parties to help each other, emphasizes this theme. One man, stranded on Mars, is worth years of effort and billions of dollars of resources to save. (never mind how many starving Africans that money and time could have saved...) The theme appeals to the ego. "I am so important that if I were in trouble, the whole world would stop everything to try and save me."

Interstellar has the opposite theme. It is about the lengths to which an individual will go to try to save humanity. Cooper is not trying to save only his loved ones - in fact he ends up sacrificing his chance to be with his children. As Michael Cane's character says in the amazing trailer to Cooper, "We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species." Interstellar calls us as individuals to care not only about society and humanity at large, but also future generations - people we will never meet. It is a more challenging moral idea than what we see in The Martian.

"I just want a normal life"


What do you think of a person when they say, "I just want to live a normal life."? I have heard unmarried women in their 30's and 40's say this, seemingly burned out on a dead end career and a series of boyfriends who would not commit. I have heard middle aged men say this after spending their youth chasing super stardom and quick riches. "I just want to be normal." "I just want to have a nice husband and some kids, maybe stay home." "I just want a decent job and a kind wife to cheer me up." When you hear people say these kinds of things, do you think that they have given up on life - that they have resigned themselves to mediocrity? Or do you think, "Good for them. Sounds like they have finally grown up." Your response says a lot about your personality. My personal view is that strong societies make 'normal' seem like a great way to end up.

Movie Review: Gattaca


Gattaca is one of those movies that you wish were better because it deals with such an interesting issue. It is a story where people's lives are determined by constant DNA screens. It presents us with the sad vision of a genetic underclass. Of course a genetic underclass exists today, we just don't call it that. Ethan Hawke's character is a member of this class even though he is obviously brilliant. A bad heart makes him eligible only for menial labor, which doesn't really make sense. The hacker in me roots for him as he fools the system day in day out(though it's a pretty shoddy system in truth) even though what he does is incredibly dangerous and selfish. The treadmill scene demonstrates that he really is unfit to be an astronaut. Hopefully he doesn't conk out during the mission and get his co-pilots killed. Overall it's a nicely done flick. Uma Thurman and Jude Law were good and I enjoyed the aesthetic.

Grade: B-

Did Liberalism Fail?


I have read a few interesting pieces on this subject recently. Has liberalism reached the end of its rope? Understand that by "liberalism" we are not referring to leftism. What is meant here is the more classical western notion of liberal governance and the atomized society - the society of individuals liberated from one another. Are we destined to "regress" to tribalism because of the inherent incompatibility of the liberal ideal with human nature?

The thesis has merit I think because to a large degree I don't think even white western societies were ever all that liberal. The United States was a largely conformist tribal society throughout the 19th century. It just so happened that it was a tribalism based on constitutional rights and capitalism, so it prospered economically. It was a liberal monoculture. Throughout the 20th century the enfranchisement of women and the importation of millions of non-European immigrants has drastically altered the political landscape. Now America, like many other western countries, is trying to be a liberal multicultural society. This is historically new and very likely not sustainable. Most of the non-European stock act in explicitly tribal ways. Chinese immigrants in Australia form insular communities and are loyal to their homeland. African Americans and Hispanics vote as a bloc in the United States and many openly despise white culture. Muslim migrants in Europe seek to institute Sharia law and demand that countries like Sweden respect their right to practice polygamy with underage brides.

So my answer would be, "No, liberalism did not quite fail yet, but it is failing." Unless westerners can find a way to get the rest of the world on board with the liberal concept, or kick out all of their minorities (who won't be minorities much longer), they will be eventually swept aside by those cultures more in tune with man's evolved tribal nature.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Ten Hot Takes on MGTOW

These are just some thoughts and observations about the Men Going Their Own Way movement. They may be half-baked and contradictory.

1. MGTOW is logical


Marriage entails a great deal of legal and financial risk for men. Half of marriages end in divorce and a large percentage of the ones that stay intact are unhappy marriages of convenience. The vast majority of divorces are initiated by women, often for things like, "lack of contentment." In such cases a man can end up paying alimony and child support for decades. Even if the kids are not biologically his, even if he never formally married the woman, he can still be on the hook for large sums of money. Prenuptial agreements can help but many women won't sign them and they can be tossed out by chivalrous judges. Domestic violence laws everywhere from the UK, to Israel are written such that male victims often end up in jail. There are few shelters or support services for male victims as well.

Thus MGTOW is a logical response to the removal of incentives for marriage. Karen Straughan described the problem quite thoroughly in her video on the subject of men not marrying. She pointed out that on top of all of the legal and financial risks there is also the simple fact that the role of husband and father is no longer a source of masculine pride and respect for men. When society tells young men that husbands are either oppressive abusers or chumps, it is no wonder that men stop seeking to become one.

2. The issue is bigger than we realize
I don't think society needs to worry about self-identifying MGTOW as they constitute less than 1% of the population and are generally harmless. I think the bigger issue are "unofficial" MGTOW - men who have dropped out of society or been left behind. There is a natural hierarchy among men. It is based generally on skills, income, intelligence, and attractiveness. It is not nice to talk about but all men intuitively know their relative position on that hierarchy. The men on the lower end, say 25th percentile and below, are struggling to keep pace in a world where they must compete with globalism driving down their wages and automation destroying their jobs. There are many millions of such men in America alone and in other developed nations. They become MGTOW involuntarily because they are unable to find a spouse. When the proportion of these men gets too high, society will suffer.

 3. MGTOW is a good temporary solution for individuals but a bad way to fix society

 
Promiscuity I think is unhealthy and bad for society. Therefore I support men who identify as MGTOW simply because they want to do other things than chase women for sex. I support the young guys I see in MGTOW communities who read Jordan Peterson, start going to the gym, and work on building a career. They may intend to find a woman and start a family sometime later in life once they feel more established, and that's totally fine.

Where I take issue is with those MGTOW that believe men turning away from women en masse is a viable solution for curing society's ills. For one I think attempting to convince any large percentage of men to cease having relations with women is a nonstarter. We're just not wired that way. Throughout history human beings have created families under far more extreme circumstances than today's dicey cultural and legal landscape. 

Even if the number of MGTOW increased ten or twenty fold there would still be plenty of men willing to give women sex and children. One or two men can easily impregnate dozens of women. 'Who will provide for all these children in single mother households?' you might ask. Who does so today? Taxpayers. The welfare state will happily step in to replace fathers as it does today. The inner city black communities where I worked for many years offer a vision of this grand future. In any event, I cannot imagine more than 10% of men voluntarily choosing celibacy and the end of their genetic line on the blind hope that it will pressure society to enact a number of specific reforms. It is more likely that it will lead to some sort of ugly backlash or the gradual replacement of MGTOW with other communities of men.

4.  It is indicative of a culture selecting against its own survival


Nature's gold standard for fitness is reproduction. Any cultural trend that reduces fertility is maladaptive. MGTOW, though logical in itself and perhaps not bad for individuals, is a sign of an unhealthy culture. Back in my social libertarian days I would have said, "Well, so what if some people want to be hermits? Everyone is individual! Just let everyone do whatever, man." However individual choices are not made in a vacuum. They are often the product of incentives. If society incentivizes lots of men to avoid making families, there will be consequences for all of us. We will have demographic crises that could lead to economic depression, political instability, and general cultural malaise. Politicians might respond to the problem by claiming that the country needs more immigrants, which could lead to erosion of cultural identity, social friction, crime, and depressed wages. The individual choices people make behind closed doors matter, especially if you have children and care about your society's future. The growth of MGTOW is a canary in a coal mine.

5. It's a white people thing

 
The vast majority of MGTOW I see online are white. There are exceptions, especially when we include the unofficial MGTOW I described earlier. Yet there are no comparable movements in South America, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia. It is only in white western countries that MGTOW has any sort of relevance, and within those countries, non-white minorities are not terribly interested in MGTOW. African, Arabic, Asian, and Hispanic men in America do not seem to be afraid of having relationships with women. Among blacks there is certainly a decline in marriage, but this is a different problem. Black men are still making babies and pursuing women like it’s going out of style.

Some argue that Japanese "grass eater" men are an Asian form of MGTOW. They also rope in South Korean and Chinese men who spend all their time playing online games and not pursuing women. I disagree that these east Asian communities are analogous to MGTOW. These men do not really have issues with women or their society or marriage laws. Rather they just have not adapted to the rapid westernization of their cultures that has introduced a dating paradigm in which they feel they cannot thrive. They do not see themselves as part of a movement, and most would be happy to get married if an agreeable woman came along and did the work. Even if we use the looser concept of just men who have dropped out of society Japanese grass eaters would not be a part of that trend. Grass eaters have not been left behind by society. Most of them pay taxes and take care of themselves just fine. So I reiterate, MGTOW is by and large a white western phenomena.

6. MGTOW won't have much affect until higher status men start joining


In the 'manosphere' there is often mention of Apex Fallacy. The idea is that women generally don't notice lower status men. As an example of this, consider the common complaint from young women that men just like to sleep around and never commit. In reality only a tiny fraction of men get to have casual sex whenever they want. The average guy is looking for a girlfriend or at least a chance to date every now and then.

Assuming there is some truth to the Apex Fallacy concept, it means women won't really notice MGTOW, not while they are at their youngest and most attractive anyway. Higher status men, say the 80th or 90th percentile, are very unlikely to go MGTOW. They have too many options and too much self-esteem. They want a family and have the resources to deal with any obstacles in their way.

7. Middle status men are increasingly outsourcing to foreign women

 

Middle status men, say 30th to 70th percentile, are increasingly turning to foreign women when looking for a bride. This is not the same thing as MGTOW but it will have important ramifications on society. For one, it will alter the demographic makeup of the country. Also, as it becomes more common, middle status women will grow more annoyed about foreign women taking their men. Some will double down on Feminism and claim that the men are Patriarchal abusers and the women are just doormats and scam artists looking for a visa. Other women will try to compete with the more traditional and feminine foreign competition by loudly disavowing Feminism and trying to convince quality men that they aren't like other girls. For men whose priority is to influence the behavior of white western women, replacing them with foreign women is likely a more effective solution than MGTOW. For various reasons western women really cannot do the same thing as men and just get a mail order husband up to their standards.

8. It may be eugenic


ThuleanPerspective argued that MGTOW may actually help improve the gene pool by preventing less fit males from reproducing. There are two questions to consider: Which males are choosing not to reproduce due to MGTOW and do those males have traits we want to see passed onto the next generation? The key traits necessary for human thriving have changed over time. In the ancient world, men needed aggression, physical strength, and some degree of intelligence. In the modern world, intelligence is by far the best guarantee of success. Unfortunately IQ correlates negatively with fertility.

Do MGTOW men have a higher than average IQ? It’s hard to say. It depends on who we define as being part of the movement. I suspect self-identifying MGTOW may have a slightly higher than average IQ just based on my own impression of the men who frequent MGTOW communities. But what about all of the effectively MGTOW men I described earlier? The 25th percentile guys who have nothing going for them. In an earlier period these guys might have been lower working class tradesmen who eventually married and had kids with a woman on their level. To the extent that MGTOW is weeding them out of the gene pool, we could argue that MGTOW is eugenic.

9. The activists have conflicting goals

 
Among the activist MGTOWs (the ones that think mass adoption of MGTOW will fix society) I have observed two camps with opposing goals. On the one hand you have the MRA egalitarian types, such Karen Straughan. Their goal is to see men and women treated equally. They want women to have to register for the draft, get joint custody by default, and split housework and financial responsibilities 50/50 with their husbands. They basically want the same thing as feminists – the elimination of gender roles. On the other hand are the tradcon MGTOWs. They see MGTOW as a way to get women back into the kitchen.

Both groups I think hope that the damage done to society by large numbers of men going MGTOW will force changes in the laws. The problem is, the changes these two groups want are very different. Tradcons don’t want women registering for the draft. They want to get rid of no fault divorce. They want to end affirmative action employment discrimination that encourages women to work. The more extreme don’t even want women voting. Meanwhile MRA’s support the Equal Rights Amendment. They dream of a future where women will ask men out on dates, propose marriage, and happily allow their husbands to stay home with the kids if he wants.

Spoiler Alert: If MGTOW becomes popular, neither of these outcomes is likely.

10. It is cowardly 

Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club said the following of the men of his generation: “We’re the middle children of history – no purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives.”

I sometimes imagine my ancestors looking down on me. I think of what my father went through as a child growing up in Jamaica in the 1950’s. I think of my grandfather’s struggles, and his father, and his father before him. Some of them were enslaved. Some suffered horribly. The men who came before us tore civilization out of a cruel and indifferent Earth over the millenia. They battled in the trenches and foxholes of Europe, were racked with infectious diseases while exploring the new world, fought wild animals and braved natural disasters while protecting their women and children. When I think of the horrors those men faced for thousands of generations that we might sit at our computers and complain about bitchy women, it gives me pause.

I am not implying that the dangers men face today are not real. I am simply agreeing with Tyler Durden: Our war is a spiritual war. Our grandfathers had to fight to pass on their heritage. We are not exempt. We are not entitled to their legacy or heritage. We too must fight – we must make the choice to work to fix our societies. What men ought to be doing is raising the loudest possible fuss at every state and federal legislative body imaginable to fix the bad marriage laws. There should be daily demonstrations that are extremely disruptive as well as endless phone and letter campaigns that make it impossible for politicians to get any work done until they act. Men also need to rebuild their communities - male only spaces where they can mentor one another. The internet is helping with this. At the individual level, men can still go off the grid to build families, or move abroad, use prenups, marry foreign women, or do some combination of the above.

In other words, men need to do what they have always done - be aggressive and innovative. MGTOW is neither. It is passive and unmanly - a collective silent treatment built on the hope that it will be properly interpreted by women and the wider society. Boycotts are fine for punishing retailers that sell insensitive T-shirts. I doubt they are the best answer for preserving civilization.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Movie Review: Black Panther


Black Panther is okay.

It's an okay movie.

I'm black so I know I'm supposed to care more. I am told this movie is a big deal for my demographic. I have indeed been somewhat curious about the movie because as I pointed out, its titular character is philosophically in line with the alt-right. Yet after watching it I have to say that the movie just did not leave that much of an impression.

For me, "okay," is a pretty big compliment for a cape movie. Most of them are trash. At best they have a few good scenes or elements, but as films they are exercises in corporate mediocrity. Occasionally you get some that are really polished and work as campy fun, like The Avengers or Blade. Even rarer are cape movies that transcend - that work as well-crafted thrillers or dramas on their own terms, such as Batman Returns or Dredd.

Black Panther is not in either of those categories. It falls squarely in the 60th percentile range of above average watchable action movies with decent plots. There is some quality acting here as well. Chadwick Boseman I thought did a great job as T'Challa, the young king finding his way. The supporting cast was generally solid. Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, and Forest Whitaker were all great.

The directing is pretty good. There are some breathtaking shots of the city of Wakanda. The set and costume design is pretty cool. Unfortunately the special effects are not very good. The best action scenes are the simplest ones - the ritual battles on the waterfall. The scenes where T'Challa is suited up as Black Panther looked like a Playstation 2 game. The sound was okay. I liked the tribal music a lot but felt the modern hip hop stuff was mostly out of place. Overall, this isn't a film worth seeing just for the songs or the spectacle.

The story is not bad though. While there are definitely things that don't make sense it is for the most part a coherent plot. T'Challa's character ark is well-drawn as he evolves from wanting to follow in his father's footsteps to striking out on his own path. Black Panther deserves some credit for tackling timely political issues even if it isn't particularly deep about it. A line early in the film about refugees potentially bringing problems to the kingdom of Wakanda certainly resonates with the issues of the day. The Black Panther kings apparently all took a lesson from Trump spending generations focusing only on their own people. Wakanda is, after all, a wealthy autocratic ethnically homogeneous society that elects not to help poorer countries. Remember, they are not wealthy because of anything inherent in the Wakandan people - above average IQ, scientific discovery, a culture that values hard work and education, etc. Wakanda is wealthy through the sheer luck of having a magic meteor land in their backyard.

I stand by my claim that Black Panther is an alt-right character. Some might dispute this because the film ends with T'Challa choosing to make Wakanda a more open country that shares its knowledge and opens outreach centers around the world. Speaking again of Trump, T'Challa not-so-subtly references the Donald in his speech at the end when he talks about wise leaders building bridges not walls. Of course the film doesn't give any numbers on how many refugees Wakanda will accept, how much of its wealth it will give away, or how much of its culture it will deconstruct to be more accommodating to outsiders. Wakanda is choosing for itself to help the world on its own terms. It is not being invaded, forced, pressured, or guilted into doing so.

Since this is Disney you can be sure that the film takes pains to be faithful to leftist platitudes about race and the history of Africa.  This is disappointing but not surprising. I take issue with this one-dimensional view of black history - this taken for granted idea that Africans were just peacefully chilling out in glorious kingdoms when white people showed up and stole everything. The more controversial reality is that Africans enslaved and fought each other long before Europeans came. Among all the races of man, slavery and conquest have been constants throughout all of human history. In fact, they still are, just some societies have forgotten. When white Europeans showed up Africans and Arabs were largely the ones responsible for selling people to white slavers. Furthermore, messed up as it is to admit, many nations benefited from colonialism. Europeans brought advanced technologies, medicine, education, and science that led to a higher standard of living. South Africa today is less safe than it was under Apartheid. Zimbabwe was also better off under the British. Hell, so was Hong Kong. 

A bolder movie would have been willing to tackle the complexity of race relations across history. In Black Panther we get some sanctimonious lines from Michael B. Jordan's villain Killmonger. We're actually meant to sympathize with him too. When he talks about how blacks have been oppressed and he wants to use Wakanda's power to even the score, we're supposed to feel he is at least somewhat justified. Even lead actor Boseman agrees that Killmonger isn't really wrong. Killmonger displays strong racial solidarity when he laments having, "killed his own people," during his career as a U.S. soldier fighting in Africa and the middle east. No white character would ever be allowed to express such a sentiment in a favorable light.

Double standards aside, Killmonger is an above average villain in my view. I was caught off guard by the scene where Killmonger speaks to his dead father in the dream world just as T'Challa did earlier in the film. The movie did not need to go there; any other Marvel movie would not have bothered trying to add dimension to the villain in this way. But Black Panther is not just any other Marvel movie. It took precious run time that could have gone to quips, ham-fisted politics, or action scenes, and decided to give us this really great moment between a father and son. It is these sort of creative decisions that make Black Panther a notch better than its contemporaries. 

Black Panther suffers many of the recent Disney / MCU trappings such as lame politics, forced humor, and phoned-in CGI. It isn't quite as polished as a Guardians of the Galaxy nor as daring as The Dark Knight. Still, it's an above average cape flick and one of the better Marvel Studios projects. I'm genuinely curious to see where it goes in the sequel given the social and political implications of King T'Challa's decision regarding Wakanda's role in the world.

Grade: C+

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Treehouse


Once upon a time there were two little boys named Andrew and Frank. The two boys were friends and frequently played together in a park down the street. Andrew and Frank did not have many other friends; the other boys thought they were weird. While the other boys played sports, Andrew and Frank liked to paint and build models. The two boys bonded as outcasts.

One day Andrew had the idea of building a treehouse. Frank liked the idea and suggested they build it in the middle of the park, where there were a number of big trees linked together. The boys' parents got permission from the town and provided the boys with tools to get them started. Excited, the boys immediately set off to work.

It was a very difficult task, building a treehouse. Before they could actually make anything, the boys had to climb around the trees and survey the area. They had to use their savings and do odd jobs to make money for additional needed materials. It took them a long time to finally create a small floor built into a cluster of strong branches.

The work was hard, but the boys had fun. They laughed as they got sweaty and dirty hammering nails in the hot sun. They drew up elaborate plans for ways they could improve the treehouse over time, imagining multiple floors, game rooms, and other cool features. Once Andrew and Frank had gotten their first set of walls up, some of the other boys in the neighborhood took notice.

Other boys in the neighborhood began asking Andrew and Frank about their treehouse. Most were just curious, asking what the boys were planning. Some were mean, mocking Andrew and Frank or teasing them for being so focused on one thing. Andrew and Frank didn't mind; they were happy to share their interest with anyone who came by. A lot of the boys seemed interested.

The girls, however, just thought Andrew and Frank were weirdos.

After a few weeks of work, Andrew and Frank had several walls up and almost a full room complete. Now something interesting happened; a couple of boys offered to help Andrew and Frank build their treehouse. Andrew and Frank were delighted. “Of course you can help us!” they replied. These boys were named Tim and John, and they were ecstatic to be a part of Andrew and Frank's cool project.

The four boys had a great time together building the treehouse. They drank lemonade together and made salty jokes. They laughed at the bruises and cuts they earned from building and working with tools. They stayed out together late into the night, sanding and sawing and laboring away at their project. It was the happiest time in any of their lives.

By now a number of boys from the neighborhood had seen Andrew, Frank, Tim, and John hanging out up in their unfinished treehouse. They were all getting curious and a bit jealous. Boys from the neighborhood started asking if they too could go up and check out the treehouse. Frank was not sure about this at first. The treehouse had been just a private space for he and Andrew. They let in Tim and John because they had offered to help.

Andrew believed that this was the fairest way to let people use the treehouse. He told the boys that they could only go up in the treehouse if they agreed to help build it. Time spent toiling away making the treehouse would translate to time boys could play inside of it. Some of the boys didn't like this and went off to do something else. A number of boys, however, stayed.

The girls still just thought all of the treehouse-building boys were weird.

That first afternoon, there were seven boys building the treehouse. All took turns fixing up the newest room and adding supports to the infrastructure. The next afternoon, there were a dozen boys. The day after that, twenty. The treehouse was not strong enough to support all of them at once, but with all of the new help, it was growing fast.

It wasn't long before just about every boy in the neighborhood was spending time in the treehouse. Andrew, Frank, Tim, and John, enforced the rule that boys who played there had to help build and maintain it. By keeping to that standard, the treehouse continued to grow and expand. Any rough edges or loose screws were quickly dealt with.

Before long, the treehouse was a gorgeous, massive affair. It had four big rooms with chairs and tables. The boys started adding games and toys as well. They put up posters of action heroes and pretty girls. They played cowboys and Indians using the treehouse as a fort. They slept up there in sleeping bags and walked around in their underwear. They spat and cursed while they talked, joked, and argued about whatever they pleased. The treehouse became the most fun place to hangout in the entire neighborhood.

With the layout of the trees in the park, there was room to expand even more, and possibly add a second floor. One day, while Andrew was working on some plans in the treehouse's smallest room, he noticed a couple of boys playing with toys in an adjacent room. He had never seen them before. He introduced himself and asked the two boys to show him what part of the treehouse they had built.

“Oh, we didn't actually build anything. We're from out of town and Dan said it would be cool.” Andrew explained the rule to them and the boys frowned. They argued for a few minutes until Dan showed up. He took Andrew aside and apologized. “Look, I'm sorry for not telling you, but Tim said it would be cool so long as it was only for a little bit.” Andrew didn't like it but decided to let it slide. This created an unofficial policy of allowing boys into the treehouse even if they didn't contribute so long as it was “only for a little bit.”

Andrew and especially Frank did not really like this new policy. It led to a lot of boys taking advantage of the treehouse. People would bring friends up and leave a mess, break toys, eat up snacks, and not contribute anything in return. The boys gradually began informally policing themselves about guests, and it helped a bit. Still, a new paradigm had been established. Andrew and Frank tried to focus on building the second floor and adding other new features to the treehouse. They didn't want to get too bogged down in 'politics'. Besides, with the new policy, the treehouse was more popular than ever. Every boy hung out there. Boy scouts and sports teams met there. It became the coolest place in town.

The girls started to notice.

The girls in town were usually content to play separate from the boys. They had their own tea parties and social groups. They went on outings together and made a point of not inviting boys. Girls and boys only mixed at school or church. Aside from this, both groups were happy to leave each other alone. That is, until a few girls noticed just how popular the treehouse was.

One day a large group of girls got together for a birthday party. They had fun playing with their dolls and telling stories. Eventually they began talking about the boys and the treehouse. At first they laughed at how silly the boys were to spend so much time on it. Then, one girl named Sarah suggested that they should build a treehouse of their own. The other girls laughed at her and told her that her idea was 'stupid.' “I don't want to get all sweaty and dirty!” they said.

A few days later, Sarah decided to go to the treehouse. She met Tim outside and asked if she could go up. Tim was very surprised by this. There was no official rule about keeping girls out, but it was informally understood that girls were not welcome. He decided to tell her the rule about helping to build the treehouse, figuring this would discourage her.

“Sure, I'll help. What can I do?” Caught off guard by her response, Tim reluctantly showed Sarah some simple things that needed to be repaired. She struggled at first, not knowing how to properly sand down rough edges or hold a hammer. Still, she focused and took the time to learn. Tim, impressed with her enthusiasm, was patient, and taught her how to make a number of simple repairs. In a couple of hours, she had fixed a damaged part of a new room on her own.

She had earned her keep in the treehouse.

Other boys saw Sarah hanging around. At first they ignored her, unsure what to make of the intrusion. Some didn't mind and eventually made small talk with her. Others were more hostile. They talked about her in secret meetings. Andrew and Frank were divided. Frank thought that they should institute a strict 'no girls' policy. “The treehouse is a space for boys. Those girls make no bones about excluding us from their activities, why should we not do the same?” Andrew and many other boys felt differently. “Why don't we show them that we're better than them by being more open-minded? We just keep the same standard for allowing them to join.”

Sarah helped win the boys over to Andrew's side. She was a diligent worker; thanks to her, the boys finished the foundation for the second floor and got up a few walls. She wasn't afraid to do heavy lifting and get dirty. She cleaned up after herself and kept things organized. What's more, she adopted the boys' mannerisms and attitude. After a few weeks, she began dressing and talking like them, swearing and spitting alongside them. She laughed at their dirty jokes, played war games with them, and actually liked their posters of action heroes and sexy models.

The other girls thought Sarah was weird. Well, most of them did. Sarah's friends Michelle and Jenny were the only two girls that still talked to her. One day they saw Sarah with the other boys by the treehouse. They asked if they could go up and check it out. Sarah told them about the rule that they had to help build the treehouse in order to go up. When the two frowned at this, Tim mentioned the “only for a little bit.” part of the rule. They smiled at this, which encouraged Tim, and he led them up to look around.

Michelle and Jenny were very impressed with the inside of the treehouse. They admired Sarah's hard work and complimented her. They wanted to come and hang out at the treehouse more often. The two girls offered to tidy up and bring snacks instead of doing the more difficult labor. Sarah did not really like this idea, but she figured it was better than nothing. Andrew and Frank, trying to avoid conflicts, deferred to Sarah when it came to dealing with other girls. Michelle and Jenny became regulars at the treehouse, often bringing some other friends. The first few times they came, they made a big show of bringing lots of snacks and helping to clean.

Over time Michelle and Jenny started to bring lots of other girls into the treehouse. They reminded the boys of the “only for a little bit” rule. While Michelle and Jenny still tried to occasionally clean and make food for everyone, the girls they invited up did nothing. Like the first boys to take advantage of the “only for a little bit” rule, they left messes everywhere and would break things without fixing them.

The boys tried to police this behavior from the new girls but found it difficult. For one, a lot of the boys had crushes on some of the new girls, and so they felt bad about punishing them. What's more, the girls would always stick up for each other. If one of them did something bad, all of the others would make excuses for her. Sarah was the only exception to this, but even she struggled at times to fairly criticize the girls' bad behavior. The other girls constantly told her, “It's no big deal! Why get upset over such minor things?” She found herself silent often during meetings, wanting to stay out of 'politics' like Andrew and Frank.

One day John took a walk through the treehouse and was shocked at what he saw. The first floor had fallen into a state of general disrepair. The floor had a number of damaged boards with splinters, there were loose nails and broken hinges on doors, and there was mess in every room. By now there was at least one girl for every two boys going in and out of the treehouse, and very few of these people, boys and girls alike, contributed anything to maintain the space. These girls had also started inviting in new boys from different towns – many of them older, all of them uninterested in maintaining the treehouse.

John spoke with Andrew and Frank about this. The two boys agreed that there was a problem but did not know what to do. They wanted to focus on finishing the second floor. Their work kept getting postponed because of damage and hazards created by the irresponsible behavior on the first floor.

Andrew, Frank, Tim, John, and a few other boys, got together one day and kicked out the freeloaders. There was some pushing and shoving, but eventually, most of the freeloading boys left. The girls however did not go quietly. Andrew and Frank's group did not want to get rough with them. Even Sarah reluctantly intervened and tried to persuade the girls to either change their ways or go.

Led by Michelle and Jenny, the girls protested this, and complained to their parents. The parents got together and discussed the conflict. “I don't see why the boys can't share the space with those girls!” the mothers argued. “It's only fair that they should share it and try to make the girls comfortable. Give them a chance to be a part of the boys' world.” Most of the fathers simply looked at their feet. They didn't want to argue. They told Andrew and Frank to let the girls use the treehouse, and to be nice to them.

The boys reminded the parents of the rule about people having to help maintain the treehouse. The mothers replied, “Oh that's so old-fashioned. Why be so rigid? Besides, surely the treehouse is strong enough now that it doesn't need so much work.”

When a few other boys continued arguing, the mothers said “Why don't we have a vote?” All of the kids in the neighborhood, boys and girls, were allowed to decide on whether they wanted to keep the strict rules for using the treehouse, or make it open to everyone. Frank protested this; he believed it was wrong for kids who had done nothing to build or maintain the treehouse to have a say in how it was used.  However he was ultimately out-voted. The vast majority of the kids wanted there to be no restrictions.

In a few days, the treehouse was back to the crowded, hazardous squalor it had been before Andrew and his friends had kicked everyone out.

Emboldened by the parents' support, the girls began making more changes to the treehouse. They redecorated the rooms, taking down the posters the boys had liked. They criticized boys who didn't dress properly. They complained to their parents when the boys swore or told dirty jokes. When the boys complained, they were told they had to make the treehouse a “safe space for everyone.” Everyone had to feel safe and comfortable there, regardless of their contributions.

Many of the local boys who had helped build the treehouse began to grow frustrated. John was no exception. He wondered why the boys were being forced to let the girls dictate everything in their treehouse when the girls already had their own social events. He suggested that the boys should go to the girls' events and see how they like it. The girls (and several boys) made fun of him for this suggestion.

He asked his mother, “Why can't we go to their tea parties if they get to run our treehouse?” She replied,

“You want to go to tea parties now? What are you, a sissy? And besides, that wouldn't be fair. The girls need a safe space without any boys around. Sometimes they just want to be around other girls. What's so bad about that?”

“But what about us boys? How come we can't have a space just for us?”

“Oh come on, you boys can't handle having a few girls around? What kind of wimps are you guys!”

One day the floor collapsed in one of the treehouse's rooms. By then, no one respected (or even knew) the weight limits for the treehouse. It became crowded with kids roughhousing, teenage couples fooling around, older teens doing drugs at night, and occasionally smaller kids using it as a toilet. When the floor collapsed, it had three times as many people in it as was known to be safe.

One girl ended up breaking her leg. The parents of the neighborhood were very angry. They blamed Andrew and Frank for not properly taking care of the treehouse. Many parents refused to let their kids play there until it was fixed. Andrew and Frank's parents encouraged the boys to fix it.

Andrew agreed to try.

Frank refused.

For the rest of the school year, Andrew and a few other boys did what they could to fix the treehouse. Unfortunately, nothing stayed fixed. Once the floor was replaced, a large wall was destroyed by a group of out of town kids fighting. Once the wall was repaired, the unfinished upper floor got trashed one night after the girls threw a big party. Once the boys tore down the second floor and used the parts to patch up the first floor, an unsupervised little kid lit a match and accidentally burned down a large section of the treehouse.

Epilogue

The parents of the town blamed Andrew and Frank for the fire. They decided that the treehouse was a “staple of the community” and should be rebuilt, but without input from the two boys. Michelle and Jenny were put in charge of a committee to build a new treehouse for the whole community. They received a lot of money, attention from local media, and support from local businesses. After spending five times as much money and time as Frank and Andrew had, they managed to create one plain wide room up in the trees before heading off to college. Though it was not as complex as the previous treehouse, it became a popular community space. The parents created a 'Code of Conduct' for the treehouse and began using it for community events, and school functions.

Andrew did what he could to support the new community treehouse. Though some in the community were still upset with him, Michelle and Jenny relied on him a great deal. He eventually got a formal position with the town and a bit of money for his effort. He did not enjoy the work this time though. It just was not the same without his friends.

Frank, Tim, and John created a number of new projects together. They made go-karts, created a garden, and even built their own computers. They retained the spirit of the old treehouse meaning their activities were generally boys-only though they occasionally invited Sarah.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How I Ended Up in the Japanese Matchmaking Industry

I just wanted to improve my listening ability.

Seriously.

A year after moving to Tokyo I had signed up to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in February of 2017. I registered for Level 1, the most difficult exam that certified adult level fluency in Japanese. It was already January and I was panicking because I had been too lazy to study. So I started watching Japanese dramas to train my ear.

I caught this fantastic show called Nigeru no wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu. I wrote a review of it. More importantly, I became familiar with the idea of contract marriage. The Japanese equivalent term is keiyaku kekkon. That phrase was trending on Google and Twitter as a result of the drama. So on a lark, I checked and saw that no one owned the domain of keiyakukekkon.com.

So I bought it. For $11.

And I said to myself, "How hard can it be to spin up a simple dating site?" I figured I could maybe make a little cash on the side. So by April of 2017, I had a really shitty WordPress site up and running. And crazily enough, people actually started registering. Not a lot, mind you, only a few dozen. Nevertheless, real live human beings were actually using the site to find a spouse. Realizing this gave me pause. I felt a sense of responsibility.

So I started reading.

I did some research about Japanese culture and demographic crisis. I have written a bit about it on this blog. Over a period of several months, I came to realize that marriage is a more important institution than I had realized. It isn't just an arbitrary arrangement two adults set up because they like each other a whole lot. It is actually the foundation of modern civilization and a core adaptation that enabled homo sapiens to dominate the planet in the first place.

I went to various meetups and events and got feedback. The site was a mess. It needed a better marriage contract builder. It needed more tutorials. It needed a better UI. I started getting more invested in the idea. Then, one fateful day in August, a Japanese friend called me. He knew someone at the Japan Finance Corporation, a government agency that invests in startups with socially beneficial missions.

I was very skeptical about applying. I didn't think they would hand over millions of yen to some random black guy working out of his home. Yet somehow, we got an interview. My friend and I spent two hours being grilled about the concept. They asked for details about our financials. They wanted to be sure it wasn't just another shady hookup site. There were several phone calls and follow up meetings. And then the decision came at the end of October of 2017: We were to receive three million yen in funding to build a viable business.

By then I had already given notice to my day job (it had been a bad fit and I had not been there long anyway) and I prepared to invest a few months into making a real business out of my little experimental site. I still had a good amount saved and figured it wouldn't be too hard to get another job if necessary. I spent a month working on marketing content - an animation, a commercial, billboard ads, etc. I also invested in hiring a contractor to clean up the UI. That latter effort ended up being a waste of money and time, sadly. Now in late January of 2018, I find myself just fixing what I can on my own. Yet the site is pretty stable and has hundreds of alpha users. We will make a serious go of promotion and marketing in the next week.

Who knows how it will go? I'm not expecting the world to explode. Hopefully we get a couple hundred more users over the next few weeks. I intend to disable the free alpha membership option soon and limit some key functionality only to paid users. The monetization scheme is such that the site only needs a few paid users to pay for itself. Sure, I'd love to go viral and get a million users, but I have no delusions of grandeur or megalomania about my little app. Honestly if even one happy couple is able to get married because of my service, it will feel worth it. Still it'd be cool to earn enough to work on it full time and have my own small business.

I have tinkered around with the site for the better part of a year and now worked on it full-time for a month and a half. I am actually hunting for a new job now (hit me up if you need a good devops guy!). I'm reading a book called Traction and trying to learn how to market the service. Maybe I can sell it to someone with more vision than I. Ultimately it just feels nice to actually have a finished project that works. I start so many of these side projects and they never go anywhere. For this I can at least say I completed a working service and have a cool thing for my portfolio.

So anyway, that's how I ended up in the Japanese matchmaking industry.

Also I passed that Japanese language exam too. I intend to write a blog post at some point titled, "How to learn Japanese in one year."

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars the Last Jedi


I am struggling to figure out the motive.

How and why could they make such a stupendously awful Star Wars movie?

The film is a masterclass in anticlimax. The vast majority of what you see on screen is of zero consequence. Hour-long subplots about infiltrating enemy ships go nowhere. The return of Luke Skywalker, a character that we just spent an entire movie building up, turns out to be almost totally pointless. The much teased mentorship of Rey by Luke ends with him teaching her nothing. (like she needs to be taught anything anyway...) The great mystery of Rey's parents turns out to be irrelevant, doubling down on the Mary Sue criticism of her character. The enigmatic Snoke, a powerful Force user able to throw lightning and use telepathy across light years, is tossed away with zero payoff. If you were at all excited about any of the mysteries and questions raised by the previous film, The Last Jedi does a thorough job of both disappointing you and insulting you for caring in the first place.

The Last Jedi is methodical in its deconstruction of the franchise. The Force, that mystical thing that required both a natural affinity and years of study to master, is now just a random super power. Luke Skywalker, the great hope of the galaxy who risked his own life to redeem his genocidal father, is a useless hermit who considers murdering children in their sleep. Just as The Force Awakens cheapened Han Solo by making the former hero into a bumbling old smuggler shown up by Rey at every step, The Last Jedi continues sullying all of the good elements of the previous movies. Some have argued that the purpose is to push a feminist agenda.

I don't know that I agree with that theory but it is true that there are no competent male characters in the story. Not a single male character achieves the goals they pursue. Finn spent the last film being shown up by Rey. He spends this one being shown up by a no-name pudgy Asian chick. Kylo Ren, the only decent character remaining, is completely neutered as a threat as he is again bested by Rey and then later by a Force hologram. Luke has nothing to offer Rey and offers nothing to the rebellion except five minutes of stalling time before keeling over and dying on a rock. A wondrous sendoff indeed for cinema's most famous hero of the past forty years. Ace pilot Poe is a reckless fool who gets most of the rebel fleet destroyed senselessly and wastes an a chunk of the movie's runtime on a cockamamie plan ending in a failed mutiny. Snoke and Hux of the First Order are also both miserable failures.

Honestly I really hope female empowerment was not the goal here since all it takes is a moment's reflection to see that the women are just as dumb as the men in this movie. The purple-haired commander gets most of the rebels killed by simply not telling people her plan. Leia, revealed to be a Force user of near godlike power, does nothing of value. The previously mentioned Asian chick (I refuse to be bothered to remember her character's name or look it up) fails at disabling the First Order's tracking system and then helps the bad guys break into the rebellion's fortress by suicide ramming Finn's ship. She does this to save his life by the way in spite of the fact that this move should have killed them both. The only female of real talent is Rey but she barely counts as an actual character. Apparently women are supposed to feel empowered by a young girl who never makes mistakes, never needs to learn anything, and never fails. Were I a woman I would find this insulting.

There's a cynical flippantness to the film. The joke's don't feel like the old Star Wars movies where they helped develop characters and had an air of optimism. The humor instead feels like Reddit. Spiteful, forced, self-aware, and unfunny - eager to undermine any sense of reverence. The incredibly powerful moment when Rey hands the lightsaber to Luke is played for laughs with Luke petulantly tossing it away. The First Order are shown to be bumbling fools unable to defend themselves from a single small fighter, overtake a single rebel ship, destroy a single rebel base in spite of overwhelming military might. Oh, and light-speed kamikaze ramming is a thing now. A single ship can destroy an entire enemy fleet by just using warp drive. Why this was never done in the seven other films is inexplicable. The rebels could have crushed the Death Star with a single warp speed fighter had they wanted.

I could go on for days about all of the plot holes and stupid details that ruin earlier Star Wars movies. Not one scene bears scrutiny. Here's the thing though: They know all of this. Disney, Rian Johnson, all of the producers, writers, actors - they are not idiots. It's not like they would gasp in surprise if you pointed any of this out to them. They know how dumb all of this stuff is. They know the implications for the previous movies. They know how thoroughly the older characters have been destroyed. Believe me, they know.

With all the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and films like Frozen and Moana, it should be obvious that it is well within Disney's power to make simple crowd-pleasing films. There was some effort in that direction with The Force Awakens. That film was basically a copy and paste of the original Star Wars movie. Derivative as it may have been there was at least one clear goal: They wanted to please the fans.

You can't say that about The Last Jedi. The entire film is basically Disney spitting in the face of anyone who has been invested in the franchise for a long time. So again, the question is: why? Why do this to a flagship franchise that you spent billions procuring? Surely they knew it would be easy enough to buy the needed critical acclaim. Surely they knew they would make tons of money no matter what dreck they put out. But I would have happily taken cliche-ridden schlock over this. The Last Jedi is worse than just a bad movie. It is a bad movie that goes out of its way to drag down other good movies and good characters. It is a film that proudly soils one of the most iconic franchises in all of modern culture. Worse still, it doesn't even seem to have any profound reason for doing this. There is no big dramatic twist. No grand idea or challenging theme. It's the cinematic equivalent of an artist tearing up a beautiful hotel room and vomiting all over the walls and then proudly showing off his work expecting praise for being bold enough to "break conventions," and not give the fans what they want.

The Last Jedi is the worst movie I have seen in a very long time. It is the last time I will ever spend a penny on a Star Wars movie while Disney owns the property. It is, quite simply, a shameful film.

So the question remains: why?

Grade: F

Movie Review: Justice League

Justice League


Justice League was more fun than it had any right to be.

It should have been absolute trash. It almost was. Coming off of Batman vs. Superman, it should have been impossible to make a decent movie. Killing Superman was ridiculously stupid. As a result of that decision, they were unable to have Superman in any of the trailers. Imagine how much more hyped people would have been if they had seen three trailers with Supes leading the full team and kicking ass. Tonally, Justice League is at odds with all of the previous DC extended universe films, including Wonder Woman. The movie feels like it is actively trying to forget that Suicide Squad and Batman vs. Superman exist.

Justice League is a film riddled with flaws. The villain was forgettable. The plot was sheer hokum. Some nonsense about human fear attracting space bugs. The acting was mediocre and the writing even worse. Aquaman didn't have enough to do. Cyborg looked awful. The Flash wasn't even that funny. All in all, it is a surprisingly forgettable film for the first live-action film of the most well-known superhero team in the world.

And yet somehow, in spite of all that, the movie put a smile on my face. Maybe it's just that I have gotten really good at lowering my expectations. I went into the theater expecting it to be awful. Instead, I got some really great action scenes, some very fun anime-esque moments (Superman vs. Flash was awesome) and by far the best version of Superman on screen since Christopher Reeve back the 1970's. The effects were good and the action was scripted in a way that demonstrated consideration about the different heroes' abilities and power levels. Maybe that's a nerdy thing to worry about but I don't care. After The Last Jedi I will take any instance of directors actually caring about details.

I can't emphasize enough how much I liked Superman here too. This was the version of Superman that we should have had at the end of Man of Steel. He's strong, bold, hopeful, and yet still human. In the middle of battle he makes it clear that saving civilians is top priority. He cracks a few jokes and takes his rightful place as the boss of the team without a moment's hesitation. Who knew Cavill could do such a great job? Flash and Aquaman didn't do much for me. Cyborg was well-acted but looked terrible. Wonder Woman was the opposite of that. Batman was solid and it's a shame that Affleck may be on the way out. Yet Superman easily steals the show. I don't care if they scrap every other future project for the DC movie universe. I want a Man of Steel 2 now.

Grade: C