Unread Shelf: June 30, 2022

I was doing so well, and then a few books that I had preordered came out and I got a $100 gift card to Amazon, and … well, I’d tell you that I’m not going to buy any books in July, but my birthday is the 5th and there is no way I get through July without buying any books, especially since like 2/3 of these have sequels. Some have lots of sequels.

Sigh.

A political thought exercise

My training today was a nightmare, but not for any fault of any of the people involved. For whatever reason I couldn’t get to sleep last night– I was awake and mindlessly scrolling through TikTok at 1:30 in the morning– and I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually get to sleep until after 2 AM, only to be back up at 7:30. Somehow I managed to get to the training without getting any actual caffeine in my body, which … what? That shouldn’t have even been possible, as I’m generally less likely to leave the house in the morning without some form of caffeine consumption than I am to leave without my pants, but it happened.

And then the training was in this tiny, windowless, concrete-block shitbox of a classroom with no moving air and not a whole Goddamn lot of air conditioning, and on top of that the room featured those horrible one-piece desks that I am, at this point, simply too fucking fat to sit in comfortably. I eventually got up and commandeered one of the two teacher chairs in the room, pulling it up to an empty desk, because fuck it, I’m not going to be in pain for three hours, but between the lack of sleep and the temperature and everything else, staying awake was a nightmare, but not in any way that I blame the presenter for. He did fine, and the actual new textbook adoption seems initially pretty solid, although I’ll need to look more carefully at it later.

I actually took a nap when I got home, and slept so hard that I woke up three hours later convinced it was the next morning, and it took several moments of genuine confusion about why it was so bright in the room before I realized I’d only slept for a few hours. I think the boy’s still alive. I should go check on him after this post is done.

Oh, and when I checked the mail I had another jury summons, my second of 2022 so far. I will, I’m sure, still not make it into an actual trial.


Anyway. That thought experiment.

Let’s imagine that we’re a member of a political party. For the purposes of this conversation it genuinely doesn’t matter which one, and while I’m framing this as part of America’s two-party system, I don’t even really know that a two-party framework is necessary. Let’s further imagine that whichever direction on the spectrum our party generally leans, we are personally somewhat further in that direction than the average party member. So if you’re a Republican, you’re more conservative than most, and if you’re a Democrat, you’re more left-leaning(*) than most.

So here’s the question: your party is not a monolith, as I’ve said, and you’re more , I’ll say polarized, than most. Which of these two scenarios is better?

  • Your party has a slim majority, where the loss of more than one or two members of your party means your legislation isn’t going to get passed, but nearly all members of your party are generally reliable votes for your party’s legislation;
  • Your party has a considerable majority, but includes a significant centrist wing, so legislation from your party is more or less going to get passed, but virtually everything is going to require getting through that more centrist wing and therefore will require inter-party negotiation and, more than likely, watering down of the priorities that the people at the longer end of the tail– you, in other words– are going to want.

There’s been a lot of talk since the Dobbs decision about how Obama had a supermajority in 2008 and should have codified Roe into federal law while he had the chance. I am going to ignore most of the details of this argument and look specifically at one thing: that Obama did have said majority, for a few months at least, but that said majority included at least a dozen Senators who were considerably further to the right than any current Democratic Senator other than the oft-maligned Mr. Manchin, and I’m sure a couple of them– Joe Lieberman, anyone?– would have ended up to Manchin’s right if compared carefully. Nearly all of those people are no longer in the Senate. Why?

Well, most of them were replaced with Republicans. And it is very difficult to imagine that once Sen. Manchin retires he will be replaced with anything other than a Republican, and a considerably more conservative Republican at that. I remind all of you that I live in Indiana, and have counted among my Senators both Evan Bayh and Joe Donnelly during my lifetime. Neither were especially reliable Democrats, but they were Democrats, and their current replacements, Mike Braun and Todd Young, are not improvements over either of them.

The Democratic Party as a whole and particularly the Democratic Senators are considerably to the left of where the party was in 2008. Not to the degree that the Republicans have moved to the right; not even close, I don’t think, but the movement is undeniable, and at least part of the reason is that we’ve effectively pruned the right wing of our party during the last fourteen years. And as a result we have 48 more-or-less reliable Democratic votes, or at least reliable Democratic-caucusing votes, since I’m counting Bernie Sanders in that mix, and we have Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. I feel like Arizona could do better than Sinema; West Virginia will not be improving on Manchin.

So, again, your question: Are we better off? Why or why not?

(*) Left-leaning people currently being in a little bit of a civil war about nomenclature, I’m going to choose for the purposes of this post to stay agnostic about it.

So much to say

Here’s the thing, y’all: I actually have too much shit to talk about, and the weight of it is breaking my brain. I have legitimately been spending time every day for the last week or so trying to fix American politics, and Lord, the rage-filled rant I could be posting today after the (entirely stuff we already knew but it’s nice to see it testified to in public) January 6th committee hearing. And I came in here an hour ago with no other intent than to sit down and write, one way or another, a barn-burner of a post, and instead I’m listening to Counting Crows, picking at my fingers, and burning zero barns.

In fact, I stared into space for most of an entire song after writing that paragraph.

I’m tired, and I’ve earned it; I’ve gotten an immense amount of shit done around the house in the last few days, with still a couple of big projects left to go before my wife gets home on Saturday. I’m planning on mostly taking tomorrow off from the list because I have a morning of teacher training to get through about our new Math curriculum, so I will either be coming home energized and excited about a new school year or demoralized and disgusted and ready to start job hunting again. I figure it’s 50/50.

Maybe it’ll give me something to write about. We’ll see.

SPOILER #REVIEW: Obi-Wan Kenobi

I’m going to be honest, here: if I had written this post a couple of days ago, closer to when I actually watched the show, it would have been much longer and, frankly, more interesting. All of my brain space for the last couple of days has been taken up by working my way through my To Do list and trying to rewrite the Constitution, which I wish was a fucking joke and isn’t.

Here’s the non-spoiler review of this show: It was pretty good until the final episode, but only pretty good, and the final episode was fucking stellar. Lemme toss a little separation line here, so that those of you who don’t want to read the spoilery parts have adequate time to dip out and come back later:


In some ways, the show’s most amazing trick happened in the first episode. I wasn’t exactly digging around for spoilers on this show, but I wouldn’t have bothered avoiding them, and the fact that I’d not even seen a rumor that Lil’ Leia was going to be a major character? Is fucking unbelievable. I have been a frequent and noisy proponent of casting Millie Bobby Brown as Leia and giving her a movie or two (and there are rumors flying recently about that finally happening) but she’s too old to have been in this show and, my God, Vivien Lyra Blair was amazing. I was entertained at the idea that people were complaining about her looking too young, as the actress is the exact same age that Leia was supposed to be; I can only assume that these people haven’t seen children in a while. Sometimes they are small! It happens. I promise.

And this gets right to the crux of the weirdness of the show: at first glance, everything about it seems to utterly screw up the continuity that A New Hope set up, or at least screws up all the assumptions that absolutely everyone made, but are never actually specifically stated in the film.

Because Leia never says she and Obi-Wan have never met.(***) And Vader’s line about “when I left you, I was but the learner” does not actually mean that the last time they met was the battle on Mustafar. In fact, and I’m literally just realizing this right now as I’m typing this sentence, it’s really hard to reconcile the words “when I left you” with what happened there, since Obi-Wan left him for dead. And knowing that Obi-Wan already knew Leia adds a nice resonance to his last moments during the fight in ANH with Vader; just before he dies he looks to his left and sees both of them, at which point he recognizes that his job is done and sacrifices himself. I’d always assumed before that he was just looking at Luke, y’know?

So this show is, in a lot of ways, the best kind of retcon: never (that I’ve noticed, at least) does it explicitly contradict anything that came before, but it recontextualizes some moments in ways that are really interesting. The whole “from a certain point of view” conversation with Luke, where Obi-Wan says that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Anakin? Vader literally told him that, and it’s interesting to think about that (outstanding) sequence in the final episode where Vader’s voice synthesizer is flipping back and forth between Anakin’s voice and Vader’s, because I genuinely don’t know if that’s Anakin talking and he’s trying to assuage Obi-Wan’s guilt or if it’s Vader talking and he’s bragging.(*) And what happens next? Obi-Wan calls him “Darth” for the first time.

Again: we all know that the real reason that Obi-Wan Kenobi called Darth Vader “Darth” on the Death Star is because at the time George Lucas hadn’t really decided that “Darth” was a title and not Vader’s first name. But from within the story? It’s kind of awesome, because to my recollection Obi-Wan never once uses the word “Vader.” Once whoever that is tells him that Vader is responsible for Anakin Skywalker’s death, Obi-Wan reverts to calling him “Darth,” because as far as he’s concerned there’s no person there anymore. There’s just the Sith. And in context, it makes perfect sense. Frankly, it’s disrespectful, and in a way I really enjoy.

You could probably criticize the show for setting up yet another situation where Kenobi leaves Vader for dead. At this point, he’s absolutely convinced his friend is gone, and they don’t give him any kind of out for not killing him; Vader’s incapacitated and he’s right there. I get why Obi-Wan leaves him on Mustafar. I don’t get why he doesn’t end Vader here, on whatever (very cool, by the way) planet that was.

(Oh, one criticism, just for the hell of it: the show leans a bit too hard into the idea that every Star Wars planet is two or three square kilometers in size and exactly the same climate everywhere. I generally liked Reva as a character but that bit where she just shows up to some random-ass spot on Tatooine and asks the first random-ass moisture farmer she meets where to find “Owen?” Come the fuck on. Also, I absolutely hate the post-sequels decision that anyone can get from anywhere in the galaxy to anywhere in the galaxy in seconds. It’s lightspeed, Goddammit, not, like, Warp Ninety.)(**)

Anyway. This is another place where the overarching story constrains what Kenobi was able to do. Obviously he can’t kill Darth Vader nine years before A New Hope, because Vader’s got three movies left. But they should have given us a reason Vader survived, and they didn’t. Obi-Wan just didn’t kill him, because reasons.

I also really liked Vader’s final conversation with Palpatine. The last thing he does before (he thinks) leaving Kenobi buried and dead is call him “Master,” and while I don’t remember the precise line of dialogue in the conversation, he has to tell Palpatine that he is his only Master who matters during that last conversation. Nicely done, and again, gives Vader a reason not to spend the next nine years constantly chasing Obi-Wan like we all felt like he ought to be doing.

So yeah, this is in Definitely Watch territory for me. Better than either season of The Mandalorian, and infinitely better than Book of Boba Fett. I’ll watch Andor, I suppose, but I don’t have especially high hopes for it, as Cassian Andor was one of the few characters in Rogue One that I didn’t feel like I wanted to know more about. Give me the Goddamn Baze Malbus/Chirrut Imwe show that I want! Give it to me now!

(*) It’s not clear at all how much actual work Hayden Christensen had to do in this show. Obviously Young Anakin shows up a few times, and guys, if there was ever a time to use your creepy de-aging magic, this was it, because Hayden’s got some serious crow’s feet– but a robot imitating James Earl Jones does the voice, there’s someone else in the suit doing the fighting, and I think there was even another person involved in the costume somewhere– but I’m pretty sure that’s him under all that makeup during this scene, and for what it’s worth, for a guy who’s trying to convey a whole lot of complex emotions with, effectively, one eye, and that eye covered by a contact lens nonetheless, it’s a really impressive little bit of acting.

(**) Last gripe: way too many people survive getting stabbed with lightsabers in this movie show. Okay, granted, it’s a self-cauterizing wound, so I suspect getting stabbed with a lightsaber is actually a little better than getting stabbed with a blade, but in general lightsabers are surprisingly nonlethal in this series– Reva survives getting stabbed twice!– and the bit with the Grand Inquisitor felt especially unnecessary.

(***) This is the third postscript because I didn’t realize it until after hitting publish, so this is a late edit: this also recontextualizes Han and Leia’s otherwise completely inexplicable decision to name their son Ben, which you might now was the name of Luke’s son in the pre-Disney Expanded Universe books. Han thought Kenobi was nuts, and Leia, as far as anyone knew, barely even laid eyes on him. It even makes “Ben” a better name choice than “Obi-Wan” might have been, because Ben Kenobi was the guy who Leia was saved by. I don’t know if they even thought about this when they were writing the show, but it fixes one of the more nitpicky problems I had with the sequel trilogy in a way I really like.

My new best friend

This isn’t tonight’s post, but it’s not going to fit with tonight’s post, so it gets its own entry: the Gelatinous Cube is probably my favorite D&D monster of all time, and if it isn’t it’s super close, and the fact that the absolutely fantastic Gelatinous Cube Funko Pop is virtually impossible to get one’s hands on without expending ruinous amounts of money has been and continues to be deeply depressing. But yesterday? Yesterday I discovered of the existence of this beauty, and today it’s in my office, where it belongs. (Forgive the messy desk. Or not. I guess I don’t actually care what you think of my desk.)

Fun fact: I got this from GameStop, where it’s apparently an exclusive product, and they offered either free 3-6 day shipping or $10 for overnight, which would have been same-day if I’d ordered when it wasn’t already nighttime. Normally I don’t worry about shipping speed, but for some reason I shrugged and went ahead and paid for it, only to discover that what they mean by “overnight shipping” is that they look to see if they have any at the stores in your area, and if they do, they fucking DoorDash the thing to you. Only they don’t tell you that right away, and there’s no way to tip the driver, nor is there any real indication of how much of that $10 goes to the driver who, in this case, had to drive all the way across town to bring me my stupid Gelatinous Cube statue. So I got her CashApp from her and tipped her that way.

But anyway. I now have a Mimic and a Gelatinous Cube in my office. Now I need a Hook Horror and I’ll be all set.