I Can’t Stop Watching This Trainwreck

My parents owned a restaurant when I was a kid, so I got to hang out there a lot and saw how it all worked. I’ve also heard plenty of “restaurant stories” throughout the years about what that kind of business was like, how things are supposed to be done, etc. The most interesting thing to me was my family’s perspective on the service of other restaurants; it’s amazing how many things I, as a member of the uninitiated, was ignorant towards. There’s this whole metric for how things should run, like how quickly your water should be depending on the size of the restaurant, the number of servers and the number of tables. It’s not just a single hard-and-fast rule. It’s actually really interesting to see how much tactical consideration goes into all the stuff I took for granted in food service, especially since I’m the black sheep of my family who hasn’t had a restaurant job.

Well, there were those two food delivery jobs I had, but that hardly counts.

With that said, I’d like to direct your attention to this little restaurant meltdown that’s making the rounds on the Internet. It’s funny, because I don’t like reality TV shows and I don’t really care about restaurants except for the aforementioned familial connection. And yet, I can’t stop watching this particular train wreck of a restaurant. The icing on this particular schadenfreude cake, if you’ll pardon my expression, is that they’re from Arizona. Of course they’re from Arizona.

Watch the clip. Even after that, it still flips my wig to see the clip where the owners threaten an angry customer and prevent others from trying to leave (link here, it’s the first video about halfway down the page). I think you’ll be impressed. Just don’t watch any it with the sound turned up too high. You’ll thank me in a few minutes.

For me, the best part is the vindication of the server who got fired during the filming of the first clip. True, she did get verbally assaulted to the point of tears which really sucks, but she got the best possible retribution: her asshole bosses made complete and utter fools of themselves for the entire world to see and she didn’t have to do a single thing to help them along. I tried to make a lame pun about revenge being a dish that was better when it’s self-served, but I couldn’t do it.

The Writer’s Desk: Before And After

Yesterday, I talked about my affinity for looking at other writers’ desks. I also worried about the fact that my desk was so very cluttered and messy, and what this said about the state of my brain. I resolved to clean up my work space and photograph the before and after so you can see the improvement. Well, the cleaning is done and the results are in. As promised, I took some before and after shots to chronicle the event. This will be an picture-heavy post so I’m including a page break. More below.

Continue reading “The Writer’s Desk: Before And After”

Writing Spaces

One of my particular interests is looking at pictures of other writers’ desks and offices. I know that it’s a common trait among bookworms to look at pictures of personal libraries; Neil Gaiman’s personal library is epic, in my opinion. I’m not certain whether writers do this as often, though the existence of various blogs and Tumblrs posting pictures of writers’ offices makes me think I’m not alone in my interest.

It doesn’t update very often, but Write Place, Write Time is a great Tumblr page of writer spaces. One thing that’s particular cool is that one of the writers featured on the page, Manuel Munoz, was my writing professor during my undergrad at the University of Arizona. He helped me develop my writing ability more than any other teacher I’ve ever had. It was cool to see what his writing space looks like, especially since it really matches his writing style in my mind.

If one’s desk represents the state of one’s thoughts, however, I am well and truly screwed. My desk is currently a nightmare. Without moving my eyes, I can see a stack of unopened mail, an empty beer bottle, my keys, a WarCraft III cd case, headphones, a coffee mug, a topographical map of the Chiricahua Wilderness, another pair of headphones, a bookmark of a vampire cat, two candles, sticky notes, two boxes of Magic: the Gathering cards, a signed picture of Boba Fett, a cartoon of Medusa blow drying her snake hair, and you know what, I think I’ll stop there. There’s more stuff.

In fact, I think this might be a sign that it’s time to clean my writing space. Maybe I’ll take some before and after photos to show you the horror.

Sincere Or Satire? I Have No Idea

You know how I know that things have gotten out of hand? I was convinced that this story about a Creationist science quiz was satire until Snopes confirmed its validity. Prior to that confirmation, I couldn’t possibly believe that something like this could actually be real. It just seems like the kind of joke somebody would make with a bit of Photoshop. “Man, look how insane those Creationists are!” But no, sadly, it’s the real deal, which makes the whole story much, much worse.

While I was processing reserves at my library today, I came across the Brick Bible: New Testament. I thumbed through it to see how the Book of Revelation was depicted. Would it be the real deal or the watered down version?Well, it did not disappoint. All the gory details were there, lovingly recreated by horrifically torturing little LEGO people. There was something perverse about seeing little LEGO people in so much suffering, actually. It was like walking into the bedroom of the creepy silent kid who’s mutilated all of his toys. You just know he’s going to grow up to be a serial killer or something and it’s uncomfortable to see the insanity in those nascent stages.

As I was looking over the horror inflicted on those LEGO people who were not spared by the Rapture, I began to wonder: was this book satirical (look at how ridiculously gruesome these Biblical stories actually are) or sincere (LEGOs are cool, let’s get kids interested in Bible stories via the power of LEGO). I honestly couldn’t tell.

I had a few of those “My first Bible stories” collections growing up, but they were always the G-rated, sanitized version of any story. You don’t get the polygamy or the rape or the truly mind-boggling amount of murder, or if you do, it’s very quickly glossed over. The Brick Bible, though, doesn’t hold back. You get all the best parts, which is rather unique in my opinion. Seriously, where else can you see the Fours Horsemen, the Whore of Babylon, and the Beast depicted like this? Answer: you can’t.

Even after browsing the author’s website, I still can’t tell if he’s sincere or satirical. My general feeling is toward satire, although whether that’s due to cynicism (only a cynic thinks everything is satire) or idealism (only an idealist thinks nobody could possibly be this bizarre), I couldn’t tell you. The Brick Bible doesn’t quite go to the same insane lengths that Landover Baptist in the pursuit of satire which means that it’s just normal enough for me to think it might be sincere.

All I know is that I’m living in a time and place where I can’t tell the difference, which either means I’m irrevocably stupid (a distinct possibility, I suppose) or things have gotten so skewed that it’s impossible to tell.

This Is Why I Despise Psychics (And Sylvia Browne In Particular)

When I was a teenager, I went to a psychic medium. I don’t remember her name. She was hosting some sort of workshop at this New Age hippy crystal shop and I decided to attend. I don’t recall what the workshop itself was about; probably unlocking your inner potential or discovering your past lives or something. The whole thing was free, though, and after it was over, the psychic gave a few people free readings. I was one of those who received a reading. I’m glad it was free; in fact, considering what the reading did for my development as a skeptic, I’d say it was a bargain.

She looked me over for a while, mostly focusing on my eyes and face. Then she started in with the probing, open-ended questions. I wasn’t familiar yet with the term “cold reading” but I knew better than to provide her with any hooks. She was the psychic. She was supposed to figure me out with supernatural powers.

She asked if there was somebody in my life who I’d lost, somebody whose name started with “D.” My dad’s still alive, so that was out. Neither of my grandfathers have a D  in their names (unless you count the last letter of my maternal grandfather’s middle name, which seams rather circuitous). The only “D” I have is my half-brother, David, who is still very much alive and thus has more effective means of reaching out to me (like a phone call). So it probably wasn’t him, either.

When that failed to elicit any sort of response, she moved on to my future. “You’re good with computers,” she said. “I see that the thing you do with the computer, you need to keep doing it. You shouldn’t stop.”

Holy shit, you might say! She predicted that I would become an aspiring writer! That’s amazing!

Except, you know, not really. For one thing, she was very clear that the “thing I was doing with computers” was a current thing and that I needed to keep doing it. She didn’t say “in a few years, you will start writing on a computer.” At the time, the only thing I was working on was my fledgling HTML skills and designing horrible Angelfire websites. Needless to say, that was a phase that didn’t last and we’re all better off as a result.

So the HTML thing was a bust and she missed out on the fact that I wanted to be a novelist. I’d say she was 0 for 2.

And, honestly? How fucking hard is it to predict that a socially awkward white teenage male “does things on the computers?” Hell, you could tell just be looking at me that I was a nerd. It was a safe bet and an easy guess. And that’s all it was: guessing. Even worse was that I could feel the urge to help her along by supplying clues. I wanted it to work and I wanted to know the secret knowledge she had. If I’d been more forthcoming with clues, I’m sure she would have had lots to tell me about me.

When I learned about cold reading a few years later and compared it to my own experience, that was the nail in the coffin for so-called “psychics.”

Normally, that would be the end of that. I didn’t get conned, so why should I care?

Sylvia fucking Browne is why I care.

Like everybody else, I’ve been following the Cleveland abduction story with a sort of morbid fascination. There’s something chilling about this story that gets to me even as I imagine the extraordinary survival of these three women. The level of horror is only surpassed by the resilience of the women involved and the heroism of those who came to their aid. It’s a powerful story.

And then there’s Sylvia.

Sylvia fucking Browne, who predicted in 2008 that survivor Amanda Berry was “in heaven and on the other side” and that her last words were “goodbye, mom, I love you.”

Yeah, except not. The icing on this particular horror cake comes from the fact that Berry’s mother would die a year later and thus not live to see her daughter’s survival. So that’s awesome.

Here’s what Sylvia fucking Browne has to say in her defense:

For more than 50 years as a spiritual psychic and guide, when called upon to either help authorities with missing person cases or to help families with questions about their loved ones, I have been more right than wrong. If ever there was a time to be grateful and relieved for being mistaken, this is that time. Only God is right all the time. My heart goes out to Amanda Berry, her family, the other victims and their families. I wish you a peaceful recovery.

There are two ways to read this. First, psychic powers aren’t 100%. Sometimes they get things wrong. Sometimes, I don’t know, the spirits aren’t cooperative or whatever. Only God is right all the time, she says. But that brings up a relevant question: if that’s the case, why the fuck should we listen to spirits then? The allure of psychic prediction is that you’re getting supernatural knowledge that you can rely on. If it’s more faulty than a weather forecast, what’s the point?

If it “might be right, might be wrong,” that’s an even worse argument for psychic predictions, because you can’t test them. If you can’t know that the information is good, it’s worthless. You can’t trust it if there’s a margin of error the way you could with more mundane information, where you could test the information and hopefully reduce the margin.

The other possibility (and let’s face it, this is what’s actually going on) is that Sylvia fucking Browne is just guessing. She’s just making shit up. Her predictions are just guesses. Her track record seems to suggest that this is the case.

It doesn’t matter which way you go with this: believe in psychic powers or don’t believe, her predictions are equally worthless.

The worst part is that she fucking manipulates grieving people when they’re at their most vulnerable. It’s not even that she’s giving them false hope; she wrongly predicted that Berry was dead. She took what hope might have been there and fucking crushed it.

In any crisis, it’s always important to keep your morale up. People have lived or died because of their hope or lack thereof. If Sylvia fucking Browne was offering false hope, that would well and truly suck, but you could say, hey, she’s giving them something to cling to. But this? Making a guess about a girl’s death? This is how you make your fucking millions of dollars?

I hate her. I hate what she does to people like the Berrys and all the other families who she has harmed with her lies.

Here’s the worst part: there is no vindication forthcoming. Due to the confirmation bias of human cognition, our brains are extraordinarily good at filtering out information that disproves our particular hypotheses. If you start out with the belief that “Sylvia Browne is a real psychic and has real psychic powers,” it doesn’t matter how many times she gets it wrong. If you want to believe, you’re going to believe, evidence be damned.

The confirmation bias is why it’s so difficult to remove beliefs even after they’ve been discredited. The brain wants to cling to the belief and weighs it as more important than the evidence disproving the belief. We just don’t hold on to the relevant facts, not when the personal cost of being wrong (whether emotional, social, or economic) is so much worse than the payout, which is just the satisfaction of being right.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how many times Sylvia fucking Browne gets it wrong. She can get it wrong every single time. She’ll still be there, telling lies, making guesses, pretending she has special powers and hurting people who need real answers, not charlatanism. It is possible to overcome the confirmation bias but it’s not easy and you have to really want it.

One of Sylvia Browne’s most vehement critics, James Randi, is a personal hero of mine. He is a personal hero because he took the skills of deception and illusion that he mastered as a stage magician and used those skills to improve people’s lives by exposing frauds like Sylvia fucking Browne. You might say I’m trying to follow in his footsteps, in my own small way, by using my talent for spinning bullshit to call another bullshitter out.

As a writer, telling stories and making shit up is my stock and trade. I tell stories all the time. I tell stories to amuse people. Sometimes, I’ve even tried to trick people. I can keep a straight face while spinning a line of bullshit and I’m roguishly proud of that fact. But at least I’m honest enough to label all my stories as fiction. I don’t put my shit in the non-fiction section of the library and tell people it’s the real deal and that I can talk to angels. I don’t tell grieving families that their little girl is dead just because of a fucking whim.

I just tell stories to entertain people.

Why does Sylvia tell stories? Does she tell stories to make the world a better place?

Or does she do it to sell another book, charge another $20 dollars a minute for a phone call, or to keep herself relevant in a digital age that’s making her lies easier and easier and easier for all to see?

Orson Scott Card: the Tom Cruise of Sci Fi Novels

This one’s going to take a little bit of explaining.

With the trailer to Ender’s Game making the rounds, it’s only natural that Ender’s creator would get some attention as well. The problem is that with Orson Scott Card, the kind of attention he seems to attract in the media is never the good kind. Mind you, I’m not blaming the media for this; it’s not their fault that OSC has a tendency to say homophobic things in public, in earshot of a reporter, or to a reporter.

Look, let’s just get it out on the table: the man’s a homophobe.

Here’s where the comparison to Tom Cruise comes in. I’m not saying Tom Cruise is a homophobe or that Tom Cruise is gay. That’s beside the point.

The Last Samurai is one of my favorite movies. Yes, I know it’s a samurai movie where white-bread Tom Cruise somehow manages to be the last of the Japanese samurai and that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yes, I know it’s basically the plot to Dances With Wolves. I don’t care. I like the movie a lot. The score is kick-ass and I like the part where he kills all of the ninjas.

The problem is that, although Tom Cruise does a fairly good job acting the part of his character, there’s never a moment where I forget that final-samurai-aspirant Nathan Algren (Cruise’s character) is anybody other than Tom Cruise. I can’t get into the story the way I could with a lesser known actor or an actor who’s better at concealing himself within a role. It’s always “oh, hey, there’s Tom Cruise.”

I understand why you don’t want to hide Tom Cruise in your movie. He’s fucking Tom Cruise. You have to pay a billion dollars just to use that name and face; you better get your money’s worth. But it’s still a distraction. That “hey, it’s Tom Cruise” reaction is going to diminish my experience of the story, no matter how good of actor Cruise is. It’s just going to happen. It’s the curse of superstardom.

Orson Scott Card’s homophobia is the same kind of distraction. I love Ender’s Game. It has a special place in my heart, because it’s a book that my little brother recommended to me. He doesn’t know this, but it’s one of those little things; he doesn’t read much, so when he suggested a book that he really enjoyed and I read it and really enjoyed it, it became a special thing to me. Ender became more than just a good book; now it’s a good book that also has a personal memory for me.

But now there’s this distraction. It doesn’t matter to me that I loved the first book and would probably like the later Ender books. When I see OSC’s name on the cover, I can’t help but think about all the homophobic opinions he holds, opinions that offend me on a deep and personal level.

He’s allowed to have his opinions, of course. It’s just unfortunate that they’ve eclipsed his work and become a distraction. Just like Tom Cruise’s recognizability  distracts from my enjoyment of the Last Samurai, OSC’s public homophobia distracts me from immersing myself in Ender’s world.

OSC is free to express his opinions. It’s just unfortunate that his particular opinions constitute a barrier me for towards the enjoyment of his work.

May the Fourth – Recap

Last night did not end up with my ascension to notoriety as “geeky Star Wars arbiter.” Due to some miscommunication, the trivia contest was not in the “8-10pm” window as I had been led to believe, but actually happened during the day, around 2pm. Which, you know, was when I was working at my job, so that was a pretty good reason to miss out, I think.

No matter; I was told that the trivia questions were well received and the highest score was 21 out of 30. I feel pretty good about that! The tricky part about doing a trivia contest is you really want to find the right balance. If every single question is a brain-buster, you’ll discourage even the most hardcore fan. If every question is a softball, though, things will be boring.

Since the contest is over now, I decided to post the questions here. Feel free to give them a try and let me know how you scored. I’ll include the answers in a comment attached to this post, so I suppose you could cheat if you really wanted to, but what would be the point? I’d know, and you’d know, and more importantly, Yoda would know.

Anyway, here are the questions:

Jedi Padawan: (Basic Questions)

  1. Who trained Obi-Wan Kenobi?
  2. What are midichlorians?
  3. What is Queen Amidala’s first name?
  4. Which Sith took the name Darth Tyranus?
  5. What is the first thing Admiral Ackbar want to do as soon as the battle starts in Return of the Jedi?
  6. Why is it logically impossible that Han Solo claimed his ship made the Kessel Run in “under twelve parsecs?”
  7. Which planet is covered entirely by a single, sprawling city?
  8. What is a Wilhelm Scream?
  9. Which of the six films has the lowest on-screen body count?
  10. Who really shot first? If you get this question wrong, you have to leave.

Jedi Knight: (Intermediate Questions)

  1. Who was Anakin’s main rival during the Podrace?
  2. True or False: the word “Ewok” is never mentioned in Return of the Jedi.
  3. In the Expanded Universe, who is the first prominent Original Trilogy character to be killed off?
  4. What is the Millenium Falcon’s original model designation?
  5. What was the name of the Star Destroyer that captured Princess Leia in the opening scene of Episode IV?
  6. Who is the only human character to directly fight in and survive both Death Star space battles?
  7. In the first draft of the script, this Original Trilogy character was described as “a huge green-skinned monster with no nose and gills.”
  8. How was the effect for Darth Vader’s distinctive breathing made?
  9. Of the six films, which was the only movie to be nominated for a Best Picture academy award?
  10. What was Boba Fett’s first appearance as a character?

Jedi Master: (Advanced)

  1. What mundane item was used to create the prop for Luke’s lightsaber hilt in Episode IV?
  2. Who was Malakili?
  3. On which planet does Jedi General Aayla Secura meet her demise?
  4. What is Blue Harvest?
  5. What does TIE stand for in the term TIE Fighter?
  6. What product does Cloud City harvest from the planet Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back?
  7. Before being retconned by the Prequel Trilogy, according to the Expanded Universe, what was Boba Fett’s real name?
  8. Due to the uncomfortable fit of his boots, this otherwise imposing character wore a pair of fuzzy slippers in every scene that did not show his feet.
  9. What was the title of the first Star Wars novel ever published?
  10. What is the name of the written alphabet in the Star Wars universe?

So how did you do? Post your score in the comments below!

May The Fourth Be With You

Yes, it’s Star Wars Day. I’m particularly excited because yesterday afternoon I received an email from a co-worker about tonight’s Hotel Congress event. It seems that the person who was helping put together the questions for the Star Wars trivia event didn’t come through, so an alternate source was needed. It goes without saying that I leaped at the chance and came up with a list of questions. I’m not 100% certain that my list will be used as I think somebody else also procured a copy of Star Wars Trivia Pursuit. We’ll see how that goes.

The other exciting thing is that the same co-worker gave me a call and asked if I’d help “officiate” the trivia contest. Max Cannon is signed on to emcee the event but the word is he’s not as much of a Star Wars geek as yours truly. The contest organizers wanted a Star Wars geek on hand to act, I guess, as arbiter or sidekick or something. I’m not sure how big my role will be, but it’s a chance to wear my Darth Sidious-style cloak and act like a nerd in front of a crowd. How could I say no to that?

I could not. So I did not.

The 21+ event starts at 8pm at Hotel Congress.

Where I’ve Been

It’s been quiet on the blog for the past few days. There is a reason for this silence. This past weekend, I went backpacking in the Rincon Mountains with a couple of friends. Now, I’m a pretty experienced backpacker (in my opinion, at least), if not an avid backpacker, since I usually only make it out a couple of times each year. This is important background information.

I’ve been the Rincon Mountains once before and it wasn’t the best experience. At the time, I chalked it up to relative inexperience. I hadn’t been backpacking for several years and during those previous trips, I was always a follower. Everybody I went with had the necessary equipment. All that was really expected of me was that I show up and be able to carry my gear.

My first backpacking trip to the Rincons was difficult for a couple of reasons. First, I lacked some very important gear and second, I grossly miscalculated the water situation and ended up taking three gallons with me for the trip. You can Google the weight of that much water if you didn’t do the math in your head. Now add that number to the weight of a typical pack and you can see why this first venture was doomed before it even started. Perhaps doomed is the wrong word; we did survive the trip, after all.

It’s been a few years since that first effort and I’d completed many more backpacking trips since. I was familiar with my equipment and my needs. I felt comfortable trying out new bits of gear to see what worked. And since I’d been to the Rincons before, I knew the area and what to expect. These were all factors that I felt would guarantee a good trip and if we’re willing to redefine what makes a “good trip,” I suppose I could call it that.

There are two kinds of backpacking trips, in my experience. There are the ones that resemble a nature walk. Your mileage isn’t terribly high or the terrain isn’t terribly rough or both. You don’t really have to push yourself; it’s more about you and nature than any feat of physical endurance.

Then there are the other backpacking trips. The one that seems to be uphill the entire way. The one that burns your leg muscles until they feel like corded steel for days afterwards. The ones that aren’t as comfortable or relaxing as the nature walks, but they’re also the ones that, when it’s over, you can look back on your trip and say, “damn, I really achieved something there.”

This return trip to the Rincons was an achievement trip.

It started out well enough. We got an early start and the weather seemed cool enough. The problems didn’t develop until we were well underway.

1st problem: half my water supply leaked out in the first few hours.

I’d planned on bringing 6 liters of water for that day, with a resupply at the camp site. So imagine my surprise when I found that my 3 liter Osprey was already empty after only a few hours. Maybe I’d been drinking more than I realized? It wasn’t until I saw the puddle collecting in the bottom of my pack that I realized I had a major leak. That was bad. Now, instead of having six liters of water with me, I had three. Not good.

2nd problem: the “mountain spring” did not live up to its name.

This is a mountain spring.

This is not a mountain spring.


Care to guess which one we drank from?

Fortunately, my water filter did its job well enough and prevented horrible giardia infections. Still, it was pretty gross to expect the flowing stream that I’d encountered on my previous hike and be confronted with a stagnant puddle that challenged me to relive all the best Survivorman episodes I’d ever watched. Even when I resupplied our water, I was still down to 50% of my intended carrying capacity, which meant I was running on empty almost immediately on the second day.

Anyway, this all added up to the fact that water was a huge issue for me during the entire trip and as a result, I was rocking a pretty good case of heat exhaustion and dehydration by the end of the trip, which contributed to my overall bleak mood. I’m glad that we toughed out the trip and I did have a good time. But it was more a result from what I achieved and was subjected to, rather than the aforementioned nature walk.

I’d be willing to tackle the Rincons again; I’ve yet to make it beyond the first camp and I want to see what else is out there. I have a feeling that there’s some pretty beautiful scenery hidden beyond its craggy borders. But for the meantime, I think the next trip will be something nice and restorative at good old Aravaipa Canyon.