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One More Lego Christmas Display to Make

I've decided that I'm not done with the Lego Christmas displays just yet. I am going to recreate a scene from one of my favorite Christmas songs, but I needed to order a couple individual Lego pieces in order to properly render it. I feel the need to state that it is not Weird Al's "The Night Santa Went Crazy." Even if I was interested in doing that, I'm fairly certain that TeenLitGirl would leave me before letting me put that on display in our home.

In the meantime, you can see what I've already assembled over Facebook. I'll provide a full explanation of what's going on in that set sometime in the next few days.

Weekly Weigh-In, Week #3

While I'm satisfied with this week's results, I am not actually happy. Given I've spent most of the last six months somewhere in the 205-215 range, I don't think I will feel happy or excited about any results until I'm at least closer to 200 than 205. Nonetheless, this does partially compensate for my crappy start over the first two weeks.

Loss/gain for the week: -2.0
Cumulative loss: -2.0
Pounds from goal: 17.2

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Weekly Weigh-In, Week #2

I didn't make it to the gym last Thursday, in part due to Thanksgiving, so the first week went by without comment. Unfortunately, there was no good news to report after today's weigh-in. As I said two weeks ago, my problem for the last four-five months has been I've been doing a great job of maintaining when what I really want to do is remove some excess weight. This past two week period is a perfect demonstation of that. Well, holding my own feet to the fire is what this kind of posting is meant to do, and I know exactly what I did wrong -- I skipped a few days at the gym and I didn't stick to just one "bad" day per week. All I can do now is forget the last two weeks and don't make the same mistakes again.

Two-week cumulative loss/gain: 0.0
Pounds from goal: 19.2

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I'll Take Potpourri for 200, Alex

I'm sure that what I should do is split each of the following into its own separate post, but's that not the way I feel like operating...

  • Last week, Shout Factory announced the titles that will be included in MST3K: Volume XXXVIII. With this announcement, there will only be 15 episodes from the show's original run that have not been officially released on DVD. Given the minefield of rights issues that have plagued home video releases, which resulted in the Volume 10.2 reissue and the Amazing Colossal Man VHS recall, I am both thrilled and stunned that this many original episodes received such a treatment. I don't know whether it is really the case or not, but it wouldn't surprise me to discover that assembling a complete collection of the DVD releases like mine, which I have dutifully assembled by buying every release no later than a day or two after its releases, makes for one of the most expensive TV shows one could attempt to own. Off the top of my head, only the original run of Doctor Who competes -- though it almost certainly is worse.

  • The more I think about Batman's cell phone contact list in a recent episode of Teen Titans Go, the funnier I think it is. The fact that he has both Martha K. and Martha W. listed is wonderfully absurd on multiple levels. First, I'm imagining Bruce Wayne, at the end of a long evening of fighting crime, calling his mom's number and reporting in on his day. He keeps telling her how much he misses her and dad, and he hopes he's doing them proud. He tells her the things that he can't even tell Alfred, Nightwing, or whomever is his Robin of the moment. But then, I imagine that the number has been assigned to someone else who listens to these disturbing rants everyday, saying nothing, and not knowing what he/she should do about it -- especially since Wayne is smart and rich enough to make sure his cell number is unlisted and cannot be traced. Better still, the whole sordid scene turns into a bizarre mash-up with the new Will Smith movie, Collateral Beauty, and the frequent phone calls bring her back to life and on the doorstep of Wayne Manor. This is in turn causes him to freak out, thinking that some residue of older Scarecrow toxin in his system hasn't been properly dealt with, thus finally causing the psychotic break he's always been on the verge of.

  • Back in March, I decided that as part of concerted effort to properly clean-up my iTunes music library (removing duplicate tracks, correcting spellings, deleting songs I never liked but appeared on an '80s compilation that I imported in its entirety, etc.) I would create a play list of all the songs in my library that I actually enjoy. Well, this has entailed listening to everything, and in a non-trivial number of cases, I have albums in my library I've barely listened to -- these are mostly items that TeenLitGirl already owned when we met. I made the decision to listen to each of these albums three or four times in order to find new-to-me music to add to the list. I'm doing this alphabetically by artist, and at the moment I'm up to James. It's a lot further along than it might seem -- the amount of music in the Bs was ridiculous. Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds, Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Bowling for Soup... there was a lot there. J isn't shaping up to be much better, with Jonathan Coulton, John Mellencamp, Josh Ritter, Jason Mraz, and John Lennon. I hope to have completed this project by the end of this coming March.

Three-Part Info Dump

A few different things I've left as comments on other people's Facebook posts. Each of them I decided I wanted to preserve on an easier to search platform.

Part I: The Art of Debating While Saying Nothing

Nothing irritates me more than somebody trotting out the hoary, mindless "taxation is theft" argument. It's a juvenile, loaded construct that completely ignores the fact that there are a litany of services that must be provided by the government, either because various industries have proven over the years that they cannot be trusted to do these things, the profit margin is too small for capitalist enterprises to be bothered, or it's simply in the public's best interest and well-being to keep it out of the hands of any kind of business.

Society is, at a fundamental level, a socialistic construct... Why, the two words even derive from the same root word! Thousands of years ago, our ancestors figured out that if we banded together and pooled some of our labors into the public good, then we all would do better than if we continued a Darwinian Battle Royale out in the wilderness. If we just went full-blown, laissez faire libertarian, we'd end up back in a feudal society (or worse) faster than you can say "primae noctis."

Part II: My Problem With the Electoral College

Each state receives a number of electoral votes that equals the combined number of its Senator and Representatives in Congress. However, the formula that originally that determined how many Representatives each state received differs from we we do today. This formula required the increase of representatives in a manner that correlated with the increase of the general US population. According to Article I, section 2, clause 3: "The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000, but each State shall have at least one representative." Thus, the states were represented in the EC in a roughly proportional manner.

However, once the House hit 435 Representatives, it was decided to freeze the number. While doing so, it was decided that the minimum of Representatives for each state would logically be 1. The problem with this is that when any state's population falls below the threshold for 1/435 of the US population, its Representative actually represents fewer people than any of the Representatives from any state large enough for 2 or 3 Representatives. this problem becomes even more exacerbated when dealing with states such as Texas or California.

This proportionality problem is reflected in the Electoral College today. Yes, it was always there to a degree, by design, but the bias towards rural states over the more urbanized ones in the college has gotten worse over time.

That is the problem I have with the current make up of the Electoral College. If you are going to go by the founders' original intent (an admittedly dicey proposition, especially in light of Time's article on the origins of the EC) then the formula for electors for each state should equal two for each Senator plus a formula that more equitably assigns additional electors based on percentage of US population, as splitting 435 just isn't sufficient when spread out over 50 states and a population of over 300 million. The 2010 census reported 308.7 million people in the US. Clearly, 30,000 is too small by today's standards, as that would require over 100,000 electors. But solely for Electoral College purposes, I think I can get behind a number somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000. That should be sufficient to deal with the rounding problem.

Part III: The Trump-Pence Dilemma

I cannot state just how much I loathe the thought of it; we might in fact be better off with a President Pence. Yes, I am suggesting that if the Republicans can use any reason to invoke the 25th Amendment to impeach Trump as soon as possible, then they should do so. Whether it is literally or behind the scenes, I think that Pence will in fact be doing most of the string-pulling anyway. Based on some of the examples neocon David Frum has presented, Trump may very well be a national security risk -- and this should give the Republicans they leverage they need to impeach. This more than anything else is the reason why I think we are better off with Pence actually in the Oval Office.

Don't get me wrong, all the domestic implications will suck balls. But, at least there will be an adult in the chair.

Thanksgiving 2016

I don't typically make posts, of any length, of what I'm thankful for when this particular holiday arrives. I wouldn't say it's a daily occurrence, but I am frequently mindful of how fortunate I am in life, which in a limited fashion makes this holiday seem a little superfluous. I have a job that provides for my family and allows me to lead a lifestyle I am incredibly happy with. I married an amazing woman who, as I've stated on Facebook on a few different occasions, makes this agnostic almost believe that the two of us were put on Earth for each other. I also feel blessed to have a wonderful son who brings so much to my life that it feels silly to attempt to list it all. In short, In the ways that truly have meaning, I have just about everything I could ask for in life.

And, I will never retake any of it for granted.

This is because my life wasn't also this good. In fact, at this exact time 10 years ago I was, without doubt, at the nadir of my life. My first marriage was in shambles, and I was spectacularly burning out in my professional life. The stress, which had been inducing regular, intense headaches for some time, ultimately weakened my immune system so much that I ended up in the hospital with viral meningitis. I was absolutely miserable.

At that time, if you had told me where I would be 10 years later I just would've looked at you, shocked, jaw agape, with a gobsmacked expression. The life I have now would have seemed like some sort of fantastical invention created for the express purpose of calming and soothing me. Yet, it still wouldn't have made me feel better. From the perspective of that time, I would have found two elements absolutely distasteful: the end of my marriage, which I was still fervently fighting to save and repair, and a custody arrangement where I didn't get to see Manchild on a daily basis.

Well, I'm not satisfied that I don't get to see him everyday, but I've made my peace with it and adapted. It's a good thing too, because that is what allowed me to find TeenLitGirl and forge the life we have together. In every way imaginable, my life is markedly better than the one I was living at the end of November 2006. Hell, I'm even taking better care of myself through more regular exercise and heathier eating.

The point is that I'm thankful not just for what I have, but also for what I've gained. Yes, where I am today is due to my own efforts and hard work. However, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that luck played a role too, as well as the fact that I am playing this game on the easiest possible setting. I will never take what I have for granted, and I will continue to be thankful, even if I don't publicly express it every Thanksgiving.

White Privilege Illustrated

A little something that's been going through my head since the morning after the election. I've rewritten this a couple times, and I'm still not satisfied with the way it reads. However, I'm tired of wordsmithing it:

White Privilege Illustrated

First, white America bemoans and berates blacks in Baltimore and Ferguson for the damage caused to their communities when protesting and rioting against a system that treats them unjustly. "How dare they do that to their own neighborhood? Don't they see they're doing more harm than good?" Then in a fit of anger over how they perceive their country is treating them, white Americans elect the most uniquely unqualified candidate for President in American history: a thin-skinned narcissist whose entire business career demonstrates that he has never worked for anyone other than himself and his own interests; someone who has consistently enriched himself while defrauding business partners, creditors, contractors, and his own employees. He promises to tear down the entire system that they are unhappy with -- even though his actions will almost certainly make their lives and their communities worse. Furthermore, they go so far as to tell the people who backed the other candidate, an individual who received over 1.7 million more votes, to stop moaning about the election and deal with it. Yet, they will almost certainly refuse to believe or accept the idea that his election is doing more harm than good.

The Weekly Weigh-In Returns

Oh, no... Here go hell come. For the at least the fifth or six time since I took off all the weight back in 2011, it's just too high again. After all this time, I still don't have a proper handle on maintaining my weight in the range I need to be keeping it. Interestingly, I've actually done a fabulous job of keeping it in the 205-215 range for the past four months. Unfortunately, I want it to be in the 190-195 range, and for the past few months I have been half-assing the proper eating habits and exercise patterns needed to get it back down.

So, it's back to weight loss as public performance/self-fat-shaming, since that seems like the only way I ever properly take the weight off. As an added bonus, I start this just as the holidays are getting underway -- which seems, perversely, to probably be a good time to begin such an endeavor. Ugh.

But, it is actually more than just about the weight. I need to get back into my proper exercise patterns as well. My cholesterol levels shot back up over the past six months, and while the diet has something to do with it, I know that inconsistent exercise has played a role as well.

Anyway, here are my baseline numbers as of today:

Weight: 209.2
Goal: 190.0 (using this since it is the floor of the range I need to keep my weight within.)

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2016 Stuff Read, #s 16(a), 31-33

Well, I am now behind the pace I needed to maintain from the start of October if I'm going to reach 40 books for the year. The goal is not unreachable, but I will need to set aside more time for reading. This, however, should not detract from the fact that it's mid-November and I have already consumed more books this year than I have in any other year since I started keeping track back in 2011.

16(a). "Lullaby for a Lost World", by Aliette de Bodard (short story, ebook)

When I listed The House of Shattered Wings in a Stuff Read post earlier this year, I didn't write about it because that particular post was just a giant infodump of what I recently read. I didn't even provide a cursory "like" or "dislike" for any of the items. Well, I loved The House of Shattered Wings, which was a worthy recipient of the BSFA Award for Best Novel of 2015, but its unnamed sequel still doesn't even have a release date. Thankfully, de Bodard has revisited the universe with a few short stories, and I will happily take those while I wait.

31. Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff (dead tree)

This was a companion purchase to Victor LaValle's Black Tom, which was also listed in the same Stuff Read post as The House of Shattered Wings. My original intent was to read them one after the other since they shared a theme: addressing the racism embedded throughout Lovecraft's work. Lovecraft Country isn't a novel in the common sense; it's constructed like a fix-up novel in that is a series of short stories and novelettes tied together with a unifying plot. I have no problem with such a construction. Some of my favorite books are fix-ups, and my reading patterns dovetail quite nicely with such constructs. I enjoyed both of the works, but I think I liked LaValle's novella a little better, if only because it felt more like a story properly set within the Lovecraft universe than Ruff's. However, that might be because Black Tom was actually set during the same time period as Lovecraft's work whereas Ruff chose to place his novel in the context of the 1950s.

There's one final tidbit I would feel remiss in not mentioning. One of the characters is the editor and publisher of a fictional version of The Negro Motorist Green-Book. I had no idea such a thing existed -- at least, I don't recall it ever being discussed in any of my history classes that discussed segregation and racism in 20th century America -- but once you give it a single moment of thought, it's brutally and painfully obvious why such a guide was a necessity before and during the civil rights movement. Score one for learning about the past through fantastical fiction.

32. Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie (audiobook)

A thoroughly satisfying and fitting conclusion to a trilogy that deserved all the priase and awards it gathered. One aspect I loved about this part of the story is that it presented something I have rarely seen in science fiction, either in print or (especially) on screen: truly artificial intelligent machines that want to coexist with and assist humankind because that's what feels right to them. I think that far too often we are presented with AIs that upon reaching a certain level of sentience either want to completely disassociate with us (Spike Jonze's Her) or destroy us (Skynet/Terminators.) We rarely see them wanting of their own free will to be our partners. Even Asimovian robots, who were posited as a rebuttal to the science fiction trope of our creations turning against us, were constrained by The Three Laws of Robotics.

I have no doubt that at some point in the future I will want to reread this entire trilogy.

33. Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman (dead tree/ebook)

One of the things I love most about fantastical fiction is that many of its best authors write both novels and shorter pieces of fiction. Neil Gaiman is one of the current examples of this. Whether its a short story collection or novel, I know that I am going to enjoy any Gaiman book I decide to read. Because I didn't properly start appreciating Gaiman until a few years ago, I've been blessed with being able to read plenty of his work in a relatively short period of time. The count is currently at seven novels and short story collections since I started making these posts. Not counting his children's and graphic novel output, I have three more books of his (Coraline, Anansi Boys, and Good Omens) that I still haven't read. I'm sure that will be more than sufficient to get me through the release of his next book.

As with Lovecraft Country and Ancillary Mercy, there's thing from Fragile Things I want to highlight before I close out this post, a quote from "Monarch of the Glen":

“I am something of a monster myself. Like calls to like. We are all monsters, are we not? Glorious monsters, shambling through the swamps of unreason…”
I love Gaiman.

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Miscellany

A potpourri of random tidbits, each too short for its own post -- a couple of which are transcribed from Facebook, most are not:


  • I was really annoyed when I discovered the minimum hardware requirements set by Aspyr Media for its Mac port of Civ 6. I bought my new Mac in February 2016, and because Apple hadn't updated that line in quite some time, it shipped with an Intel HD Graphics 4000 1536 MB card. Now, I understand that computer game makers have to set limits on backwards hardware compatibility, but it seems to me that for a game like Civ 6, which doesn't require that type of video card needed by a first-person shooter or a real-time RPG, whatever Apple has been shipping in the months preceding the release of the game should be sufficient to run it.

  • I was highly amused when it was brought to my attention that the words "ninja" and "moose" are similar in that the plural and singular of each are identical. I absolutely relish the thought of my animal spirit guide as ninja.

  • I don't know if I jumped the gun on this, but I decided to upgrade my LJ account to paid status for the first time in months, if not over a year. Although I've used the same user pic on every post since the end of April, I wanted to have some flexibility with my choices if I truly am going to continue posting here on a regular basis. I may even take the time to select a new theme and change the appearance for the first time in years.

  • Last weekend, TeenLitGirl helped me assemble the Lego Jurassic World Indominus rex Breakout set. At 1,156 pieces, it is by far the largest set I have ever pieced together, and it took the two of us nearly four hours to build it. I had a lot of fun, but the experience left me a little terrified at the thought of tackling the Lego Batman Classic TV Series Batcave, which contains 2,526 pieces and has been sitting unopened in its box since I purchased it at the end of August.

  • When driving home from bringing Manchild back to his mom on Sunday night, "Brian WIlson" played on my iPod. Given my mood for much of the past week, it seemed like the perfect song at the perfect time, and when it was over I was left wishing that there was a late night record shop that I could drive to.

  • Completely unrelated to the previous item about ninjas, a couple days ago I left the following as a comment on Facebook: "I always wished someone would stalk me. I've never been stalked -- unless it was by a ninja. Then, there was no way I could've known." I was going for humor, but as with many jokes, there is a warped kind of serious foundation to it. See, as far as I know no woman ever had an unrequited crush on me. It's possible that a platonic friend carried one and didn't tell me, but that still means I never knew. I don't need it ever happen, but when I was much younger I would've been thrilled to discover I had a secret admirer.

  • Earlier today I read the news that to celebrate the 15th anniversary of its original release, Spirited Away will return to theaters on December 4 & 5. This is one of Manchild's favorite movies, and thankfully it is showing at noon rather than the early evening, as is the case with most Fathom Events. Suffice it to say that I would love nothing more than to take him to the Sunday showing.

That's all for now, folks. Carry on.