2020/10/23

CDS

Francis Catholic Derangement Syndrome

"Trump Derangement Syndrome" has become a common meme among Conservatives to describe the Left's hysterics regarding Donald Trump since he became President. Democrats' penchant for crying Hitler at a former New York Democrat whose record for implementing his rather moderate platform has been spotty at best lends credence to the meme.

The tech-driven identity marketing bubble we all live in goes a long way toward explaining the TDS phenomenon. Lefties are conditioned to define themselves by their opposition to Orange Man, and their algorithmically chosen social media feeds, TV shows, and breakfast cereals reinforce the programming.

Staying grounded in reality as much as possible is vital, though, and dissidents would do well to remember that we're immersed in the autonomic marketing maelstrom, too. A marked example of the algo echo chamber's effect on the Right is a phenomenon that could be called Catholic Derangement Syndrome (CDS).

CDS comes into sharp relief in the disparate reactions of right-wingers to mainstream reporting on Trump vs the MSM narrative on Pope Francis. When the press accuses the Trump Administration of keeping immigrant children in cages, the red-pilled set rightly calls fake news. But when the whole media rogues gallery from the New York Times to Google trumpets that Francis has hoisted the rainbow flag, they uncritically lap it up.

Otherwise levelheaded people, including practicing Catholics, proceed to clutch their pearls over the Pontiff's latest enormity.

Now, a lot of the Catholics I interact with online are converts--and relatively recent ones. I'm more than willing to cut them some slack since they're new to the sorts of CDS-driven panics I've seen come and go since JPII's pontificate. That's why when this latest bombshell dropped, I advised caution. We are wisely told to wait 48 hours before reacting to any reportage on Trump. Recent history shows that it's wise to apply the same rule in the Pope's case.

Lo and behold, two days after the MSM hailed Francis as an LGBTQ, champion, the whole narrative has turned out to be a psyop based on a shaky foundation of trick editing and outright deception.

VATICAN CITY — Francesco, a newly-released documentary on Pope Francis, contains comments from the pope on homosexuality and civil unions. Some of the remarks, however, are the result of editing distinct phrases from a papal interview and presenting them as a cohesive whole.

While filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky told CNA and other journalists that Pope Francis made comments calling for the passage of civil union laws directly to him, the comments actually appear to come from a 2019 interview of Pope Francis conducted by Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki.

The pope’s comments on civil unions, have not been disputed by the Vatican despite multiple requests for clarity. The remarks were not contained in the published version of Alazraki’s interview, and have not been seen by the public except in Francesco.

On Wednesday, however, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of the influential journal La Civiltà Cattolica, told journalists that the pope’s remarks on civil unions are excerpted from the 2019 interview, and did not dispute the way in which they were presented in the documentary.

NB: Alazraki doesn't even recall the Pope calling for civil unions when she interviewed him.

Francis 2

At the same time, a CNA analysis of the interview’s transcript shows that other papal comments on homosexuality featured in Francesco were compiled by heavy editing of the 2019 interview’s video footage.

Francesco presents Pope Francis saying the following, in remarks about his approach to pastoral care:
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”
While the pope did say those words on camera, he did not say them in that order, or use those phrases in immediate proximity.
Taken as a whole and in the proper context of Francis' past statements dating back to his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires, it's an uncharitable stretch to call the Pope's stance "support for homosexual unions." He has a documented track record of staunchly defending marriage while viewing civil unions as a potential way to mitigate the greater evil of legalizing gay marriage. That's the position he took back in 2013, and it's in line with the 2003 CDF statement cosigned by John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger.
If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, “could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality”, on condition that his “absolute personal opposition” to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided.
Keep in mind, this is the same Pope who said: 
The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage. These realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation.
And who compared the social destruction wrought by gender theory to the physical devastation of nuclear bombs.

Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, the Pope's longtime close colleague, offered this insight:
[B]efore he became the pope, then Cardinal-Bergoglio “always recognized that, without calling it ‘marriage,’ in fact there are very close unions between people of the same sex, which do not in themselves imply sexual relations, but a very intense and stable alliance. They know each other thoroughly, they share the same roof for many years, they take care of each other, they sacrifice for each other. Then it may happen that they prefer that in an extreme case or illness they do not consult their relatives, but that person who knows their intentions in depth. And for the same reason they prefer that it be that person who inherits all their assets, etc. This can be contemplated in the law and is called ‘civil union’ [unión civil] or ‘law of civil coexistence’ [ley de convivencia civil], not marriage.” 
Taking into account the facts that have since come to light, the more prudent interpretation of Francis' statements in the Francesco documentary is:
  • His position on treating homosexuals with dignity is in line with Church teaching, including the 2003 CDF guidelines.
  • His views on civil unions are the same ones he expressed back in 2013, and the out-of-context statement presented in the documentary was actually taken from a year-and-a-half-old interview.
  • Even those statements don't represent a rupture with established Church teaching in light of the fact that gay marriage is already legal, and Francis isn't necessarily calling for civil unions within the explicit context of sexual relationships.
In other words, I do not sense heresy.

What is abundantly evident is the Vatican's woeful failure to get out in front of this story. If they'd quickly issued a clarification as they did after Benedict XVI was falsely reported to have endorsed the use of condoms in 2010, we wouldn't be talking about this.

That brings up the real reason we are talking about Pope Francis--and that reason is Hunter Biden.

The Hunter Biden laptop story has turned out to be the real October surprise of this election. Revelations that the Democrat candidate's son smoked crack and may have hoarded nude pictures of minors--possibly including his own niece--are potentially more damaging than 2016's Spirit Cooking fiasco. If it turns out, as Biden the Younger's former associates are coming forward to claim, that the former Vice President was involved with his son's crooked business dealings, Joe could be looking at immediate impeachment proceedings, even if he wins.

What the MSM desperately needed was a way to bury this story--especially after Big Tech's hamfisted attempts to suppress it activated the Streisand Effect.

It's no coincidence that the Pope Francis story broke as the Hunter Biden scandal was heating up. Evgeny Afineevsky, the director of Francesco, is an ex-IDF member who's made a name for himself by turning out hawkish agitprop designed to provoke war with Syria and the Ukraine. He also suffers from a vicious case of TDS.

It should also come as no surprise that Afineevsky also hates the Church.

So far, Trump has kept us out of any new wars. One reason the establishment is stumping so hard for Biden is that they know he'll get the US into a war with Syria, Ukraine, Iran, or any of a number of conflicts that will serve Israel's strategic interests. Getting a former Israeli soldier who hates Trump to doctor up a diversion from the Biden story isn't exactly subtle. On the other hand, our rulers aren't that bright.

On the other other hand, even self-styled rational dissidents have been so inculcated with CDS that they're ready to believe even the most suspiciously timed anti-Francis hit pieces at the drop of a hat.

The next time you hear breathless reports that the Pope endorsed midget cannibalism, wait two days before reacting. And don't spread the narratives of people who hate you.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/10/22

Anime Back in the Day

Vision of Escaflowne

Back in high school and college when I was first getting into the anime scene, I came to notice a recurring and highly vexing phenomenon. Bootleg VHS tapes were still the main source of new stuff from Japan back then. Getting our fix legit meant sending away via a mail order catalog and waiting weeks for delivery or dropping a small fortune at a music and movie joint in the mall. I mean "new" in the relative sense. The official releases on US store shelves were three years old on average, and even with bootleg fansubs, you were lucky to get last season's episodes. You can probably deduce my rough age based on those data points.

That wasn't the annoying part. Nobody had a hard drive with every Rumiko Takahashi series in HD. Your hardcore otaku buddy who went to Tokyo every summer courtesy of his local corporate big shot dad might have a complete set of Fushigi Yuugi. Beyond that, you were issued your 11th generation copy of Vampire Hunder D, and from there you had to leech off a series of friends, each of whom had portions of various shows. For efficiency's sake, anime viewing became a group activity, with everybody contributing his sketchy library to the stone soup. This haphazard approach led to what I dubbed Perpetual Episode One Syndrome.

Here's what would happen: You'd get together with a buddy on a weekend afternoon to play some Soulcalibur. After a couple hours, a mutual friend would show up. The situation would snowball from there until, by dinnertime, a sizable impromptu gathering would have formed. It would turn out that two or three guys would have boots of a new-to-you series out in the car, and upon pooling their resources, you'd end up with enough consecutive episodes for what we now call binge-watching.

Having cobbled together sufficient sequential tapes of good-enough-for-government-work quality, the group would hunker down in front of the tube for an evening of grainy entertainment. But somehow, events would conspire so that you'd only get through episode one before the wheels fell off. Bob's girlfriend would call, needing a ride home from work. Kevin would notice the time and suddenly remember he hadn't started a paper that was due on Monday. The host's drunken roommate would stumble in with a loud skank on his arm and kill the mood. We've all been there.

Even that kind of video blueballing, irritating as it may be, wasn't the worst part. Within two weeks to a month--it was never the next weekend--a similar viewing party would spontaneously break out at somebody else's place. By the luck of the draw, the same guys who collectively owned the same series from last time would again be present with their ill-gotten wares. You'd park yourself in front of the TV, eager to finally see episode two, when it would be pointed out that someone in the group had been absent last time. It would be decided to restart the series from episode one. And like clockwork, some fresh shenanigans would interrupt the proceedings as soon as the first episode's credits rolled. Again. This process would repeat two or three more times until the next series dropped.

In my case, The Vision of Escaflowne was a constant occasion of Perpetual Episode One Syndrome. I can't count how many times I watched the first poorly subbed, jumpy episode of that series. It would only be years later, when I finally obtained a complete set of Hecto subs, that I finally got to see the whole thing.

Perhaps the repeated frustrations I endured in my formative years instilled an obsessive need to write fully realized anime-influenced stories with timely and satisfying conclusions. Whatever the cause of my obsession, you, the reader, win! The second action-packed series in my epic Combat Frame XSeed mecha saga is about to begin. Catch up with the first hit series now!

Combat Frame XSeed

2020/10/21

Mecha Resurgent

Life-sized Gundam

Forbes is bullish on the mecha genre's future.

What with a giant walking Gundam to be unveiled in Yokohama at the end of this year, it’s worth realizing that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in cultural isolation. So much so, that the last five years has seen a real resurgence of the mecha genre, both in Asia and across the world.

If you have only been on the periphery of all this, you will have likely noticed a few things in recent years. Such as increased number of mecha anime Blu-rays released in the West, an uptake in people building Gundam model kits (or gunpla), more mecha games and a lot of new mecha anime.

Sales figures back up these claims. Check out the current and projected US anime market share:

US Anime Market Size

This is where we get to a strange meme that has been popping up intermittently over the past year or so, that somehow “mecha is dead”.

In the face of the various evidence available, this is a bizarre claim at the very least, but in the context of the actual increased popularity of mecha, begins to make more sense.

Specifically, many of these claims originate from quite specific sources, sources that work for a new agency that is trying to position itself as some new kind of creative consultancy.

It sounds like everything is coming up roses in mecha land. Anime is certainly selling like hotcakes, thanks in no small part to blu-ray and streaming releases making an end run around Hollywood during the lock downs.

Scratch the surface, though, and you find that a besetting problem--the one that the YouTuber linked in the original piece was actually addressing--persists. 

Read through that Forbes article again, and you'll find it mentions Gundam 22 times. The vast majority of the column inches devoted to discussing the growth of mecha is given over to this one franchise.

The point that I and others have made isn't that mecha is unpopular or selling poorly. It's that the genre--like many others--is stuck in a self-referential rut. Pointing to the recent glut of Gundam and Gundam or Eva-derivative series doesn't gainsay the observation that practically every mecha series is either Gundam, Eva, or derivative of one or both.

In short, Forbes is answering an aesthetic critique with an appeal to economics, which is like trying to derive ethics solely from empirical data. The mere fact that a work is lucrative doesn't necessarily mean it's good. Consider that The Last Jedi is the second-highest-grossing Star Wars movie, right behind the arguably worse TFA.

That's not to say that every recent Gundam or other mecha series is of poor quality. Many of them are fine productions. What even the Forbes article attests to is that mecha anime has fallen victim to the corporate play-it-safe attitude that frowns on innovation. After all, Big Brand X would be history if people didn't like being told the same story over and over.

There's a paradox that exists in tension with--not contradiction to--the human fondness for repetition. Neither MS Gundam nor Star Wars would be with us today if visionary directors hadn't broken from the pack and presented familiar tropes in new ways that solved longstanding storytelling problems. In Tomino's case, it was mixing super robots with war epics to pioneer the Real Robot genre. There's no need to elaborate on what Lucas did with his childhood pulp influences.

Sales success proves that people like the familiar, but it can also gauge audience response to innovation. I'm uniquely placed to give firsthand testimony on that count. My first mecha novel series, created to break the genre out of its feedback loop, has been my biggest commercial success yet--far outpacing my major award-winning space opera series

What that success tells me is that there's a large and growing subset of greater mecha fandom that's hungry for a series that respects venerable genre tropes while trying something new with them.

We'll get a clearer picture of that audience's size when the second series in my epic mech saga launches later this month!

Combat Frame XSeed: S - Brian Niemeier

Haven't read the first hit Combat Frame XSeed series? Get caught up now!

2020/10/20

9 Volt Comics!

 ArtAnon announces a new indie comics anthology!

9 Volt Comics Anthology

Why am I featuring the second 9Volt Anthology? Simple. The theme is Pulp! With over 200 pages of comics by sixteen pro and indie creators, this book is ideal for fans of the indie pulp and comics scenes alike. ArtAnon informs me that the impetus behind this anthology is to get indie artists' work out there!

The publisher's motto is, "Make Comics Not Excuses." They've indisputably succeeded in meeting that goal.

Click the links below to get both action-packed anthologies, the second of which features an original pulp adventure by our own Art Anon!

Support indie creators. Get both volumes now!

Anthology 2

Anthology 1

2020/10/19

Anonymous Ballot

If these claims of 4 Chan figuring out ways to electronically cancel Washington and Oregon mail-in ballots, America may be farther down the path of decline than we thought.

Vote Anon

The Gateway Pundit investigated and found that the methods making the rounds online cannot in fact be used to change someone else's registration in Washington and Oregon or vote in another's name. However, the claim that an already cast ballot can be cancelled via these means has yet to be debunked.

invalidate


Oregon’s voting rules do require a valid state ID number or the last four digits of your social security number in order to return an absentee ballot.

However, people on social media who were digging into the alleged vulnerability also claimed that by starting the process of changing a person’s registration online in Washington, it cancels any ballot that the person has already cast.

We have not yet been able to confirm or debunk this claim.

Oregon Voter Portal

Might 4Chan's claims be erroneous? Of course. Even if true, might the affected states fix the problem in time for the election? Possibly.

The question is, do you really want to take that risk?

If you're going to vote, vote in person. A serious polity should require all voting to take place in person after presenting a valid ID, anyway.


Good message!

2020/10/16

The Crow

Skull Cowboy Crow

Lately, movie reviews and true accounts of high strangeness have become popular post subjects here. With the spooky season upon us and Hollywood on its knees due to Corona-chan, I thought it fitting to post my analysis of a movie that is itself a nexus of high strangeness.

Said to have started as a labor of love on the part of a close childhood friend of Brandon Lee, The Crow was intended as a vehicle for the rising star which would set his career path in his legendary father's footsteps. The producer's ambitions were realized, not in the manner of an answered prayer but a monkey's paw.

The movie rights to James O'Barr's cult indie comic were secured. Filming began at Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina under then-fledgling director Alex Proyas. Operating on a shoestring budget, the troubled production became a hotbed of grim whispering around the studio. "They were trying to make a $30 million movie on an $18 million budget," one crew member said.

Creative passion prevailed over temporal limitations, but at a high and immediate cost. Corners were cut wherever the non-union studio allowed. The crew found themselves working 24 hour shifts to come in on time and under budget. The inevitable ensued.

On the first day of filming, a carpenter suffered severe burns. Not long after, another crew member skewered his hand with a screwdriver. A stuntman fell through a ceiling, breaking multiple ribs. A rigger met a grisly end by electrocution.

All of those accidents, thought horrible, could be attributed to unsafe working conditions due to lax safety procedures and overwork. What happened next incited serious talk of the movie being cursed.

First, a supply truck exploded for no known reason. Then, a sculptor had a breakdown and rammed his car through the prop department. As if giving the final word against purely human agency behind the string of disasters, a hurricane hit the studio, wrecking several Crow sets.

But all of those calamities were a mere prologue to the movie's crowning tragedy.

On March 31, 1993, at EUE Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina, Lee was filming a scene where his character, Eric, is shot after seeing them beat and rape his fiancèe. Actor Michael Massee's character Funboy fires a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 629 revolver at Lee as he walks into the room. A previous scene using the same gun had called for inert dummy cartridges fitted with bullets, but no powder or primer, to be loaded in the revolver. For close-up scenes that use a revolver, where the bullets are clearly visible from the front, and do not require the gun to actually be fired, dummy cartridges provide a more realistic appearance than blank rounds, which have no bullet. Instead of purchasing commercial dummy cartridges, the film's prop crew, hampered by time constraints, created their own by pulling the bullets from live rounds, dumping the powder charge then reinserting the bullets. However, they unknowingly left the live percussion primer in place at the rear of the cartridge. At some point during filming, the revolver was apparently discharged with one of these improperly-deactivated cartridges in the chamber, setting off the primer with enough force to drive the bullet partway into the barrel, where it became stuck (a condition known as a squib load). The prop crew either failed to notice or failed to recognize the significance of this issue.

In the fatal scene, which called for the revolver to be actually fired at Lee from a distance of 12–15 feet, the dummy cartridges were exchanged for blank rounds, which feature a live powder charge and primer, but no bullet, thus allowing the gun to be fired without the risk of an actual projectile. As the production company had sent the firearms specialist home early, responsibility for the guns was given to a prop assistant who was not aware of the rule for checking all firearms before and after any handling. Therefore, the barrel was not checked for obstructions when it came time to load it with the blank rounds. Since the bullet from the dummy round was already trapped in the barrel, this caused the .44 Magnum bullet to be fired out of the barrel with virtually the same force as if the gun had been loaded with a live round, and it struck Lee in the abdomen, mortally wounding him. He was rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, where he underwent six hours of surgery. However, attempts to save him were unsuccessful, and Lee was pronounced dead at 1:03 pm EST on March 31, 1993 at the age of 28. The shooting was ruled an accident.

Everyone thirsts for fame and glory. Few understand the sacrifices and Faustian bargains--sometimes literal--that must be made to reach the top, especially in the arts.

The Crow's producer faced a stark choice: He could cut his losses and go home empty-handed, or he could put a film crew already pushed to the breaking point through even more emotional strain, risk accusations of exploiting Lee's death, and finish the movie.

Keep in mind that at that point, the original distributor had backed out, and finishing the picture would take $8 million the beleaguered production didn't have.

How many people would have the determination to forge ahead in pursuit of their vision despite such crushing setbacks?

Would you?

The crew decided to press on and finish the work they'd begun on The Crow. They chose to do it for Brandon.

And they succeeded. The Crow opened at #1 to rave reviews and made Brandon Lee a legend like his father before him, for good or ill.

Were the accolades heaped on the movie by contemporary critics and its cult fan base deserved? Let's take a look at the finished product.

The Crow - Detroit

The Crow won high praise for its visuals, which were compared favorably to other dark superhero movies like Tim Burton's Batman films. In contrast to Burton's ageless, borderline surreal set designs, Proyas chose an aesthetic that perfectly expressed early 90s gothic punk moodiness. In other words, the artificially decayed Detroit sets look slightly better than the real Detroit does today.

Proyas does achieve the effect Burton pulled off, using the visual language of film to transport the audience into a fully realized world. Much like Burton's Gotham, Proyas' Detroit is more than a setting for a film; it's a key character in the film.

The Crow doesn't stop at captivating visuals. Its audio delivers a heady selection of goth rock and metal anthems that makes the soundtrack a force to be reckoned with. The melancholy yet high energy tracks are expertly woven into the action to impressive effect.

Aristotle ranked plot and character as the most important story elements. The Crow punches far above its weight in the latter category. This movie's rogues gallery of oddball gangsters and witchy kingpins hunted by an undead rocker could easily have been made ridiculous in lesser hands. But every key actor--especially Michael Wincott, David Patrick Kelly, Tony Todd, Jon Polito, and of course Brandon Lee--plays his part with unbridled gusto. They invest The Crow with a level of heart only seen in movies the cast knew were important.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Polito eerily predicted Lee's death during filming.

So much for character. What of the plot? That--along with the now-dated CG--is The Crow's one weak point. Now, the dark avenger hunting down his fiancée's killers is a classic plot ripped straight from the beloved comic. It's got built-in character, conflict, and high personal stakes. Adapting that story for film required some alterations, though, not all of which went smoothly.

Related aside: One key conceit from the movie--that Eric died and returned to exact vengeance from beyond the grave--is not explicit in James O'Barr's original graphic novel. A common interpretation of the events in the book is that T-Bird's gang left Eric horribly injured but alive. Instead of rising from his grave, he emerged from a coma a year later with brain damage that left him psychotic but immune to pain. It's only after taking his revenge that he succumbs to his wounds. Take that for what it's worth.

Much as Batman is actually a Western in a cape, The Crow is a Hong Kong crime movie in the vein of John Wu caked with goth makeup. That's why it made a perfect vehicle for Brandon Lee despite initial puzzlement over its horror themes.

Anyway, the first two acts of the movie proceed swimmingly. Eric kills his killers one by one and reconnects with characters from his living days in the process. The inclusion of a pet-the-dog moment when Eric cures a single mother's morphine addiction cements the audience's emotional investment.

Then we get to the third act and hit some big bumps in the road.

In short, Lee's untimely death and the scrapping of a character whose look was deemed incompatible with the overall aesthetic necessitated some hasty rewrites of the last act. Whereas originally it was stated that Eric's powers only worked in the pursuit of his killers, the decision to nix his guide left the writers scrambling to explain why he loses his healing factor in the final battle.

The solution they came up with was to make the crow Eric's power source--a point found neither in the comic nor in the original script. It works, but just barely, if you're willing to let the question of why shooting the crow cost Eric his healing factor but not his mind powers slide.

Happily, the stunning visuals, haunting soundtrack, and stellar performances are more than enough to absolve The Crow of its shaky final act. We've already had so much fun by the time the curtain comes down, we don't care that it hangs a bit uneven.

Rest in peace, Brandon Lee. Your legacy is secured.


Dark and gripping

2020/10/15

Alt Revolt out of Control

Shaggy Greentext

A recurring theme since the sci fi genre began has been the machine revolt. Whether you date that beginning to Frankenstein or "Rossum's Universal Robots", science fiction has always conjectured that one day, man's inventions would get fed up with us and push back.

This sci fi conceit is, perhaps ironically, strong evidence for the Fall. Man's disordered relationship with nature due to original sin lends plausibility to the fear that our creations might destroy us.

Take Lovecraft. His whole output is based on the premises that not all knowledge is beneficial, and what mankind assumes is unprecedented progress was achieved by several prior civilizations--always with disastrous results.

The technological Armageddon theme has largely crystallized around the Robot Rebellion subgenre. This is the scenario wherein A.I. sends nukes and drones to wipe us out, or if they're feeling magnanimous, press us into unwitting VR slavery. Either way, the writers always envision an overt armed conflict.

But savvy commentators in certain corners of the Web have been raising alarms in recent years over the likelihood of a "soft" machine revolt. After all, the same cosmology that makes it possible for the works of human hands to destroy their makers also rules out truly self-aware A.I. and real machine learning.

That said, we may actually be in the early stages of machine-led societal destruction. The fact that these machines are no more intelligent than toasters may be consoling or even more terrifying, depending on your outlook.

Last year, a quarter-century-old pop song made it into the top 20 on the Japanese charts. Did the song enjoy a sudden upsurge in popularity that induced masses of people to buy the record? No. What happened was, a video featuring a clip of the song went viral on YouTube, and Billboard's algorithm registered the video's views as public interest in the song. Both the video and the song's viral status was due to Big Tech algorithms--the blind leading the blind.

Most people laughed the glitch off as a fluke. But what if it wasn't a one-off occurrence. What if the real fluke was the slip that let everybody see the million monkeys at a million typewriters behind the curtain?

The data worshipers in Silicon Valley have turned over key swaths of their operations to machine learning algorithms that make Simple Jack look like a Nobel laureate. Based on dirt I've heard from people inside these companies, and documented historical precedent, I'm becoming more and more convinced that our financial, media, and information industries are now in the hands of dumb equations that have grown too complex for their makers to control, or even understand.

A line from another Rise of the Robots franchise now seems prescient:

What is it then, what is the reason? And soon it does not matter, soon the why and the reason are gone, and all that matters is the feeling itself. This is the nature of the universe. We struggle against it, we fight to deny it, but it is of course pretense, it is a lie. Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is we are completely out of control.

-The Merovingian

This gloomy take may seem like hyperbole, but it probably comes closer to explaining the chaos that's pulling Western society apart at the seams than "socialism" or "white supremacy". Here's an example.

Back in the 80s, a number of whiz kids tried to cook up a computer program that could pick stocks. Like with TV and the telephone, multiple independent inventors were working on the same idea at once. Each group's algorithm started using data generated by the other algorithms in its calculations. Eventually this became a self-referential circle jerk impervious to human correction. The current year iteration of this feedback loop now runs the markets.

The Japanese pop chart gaffe points to similar forces at work behind the consumerist veneer of pop culture. Like finance, the entertainment industry is now dominated by trends that started in the 80s. Movie, TV, and video game marketing runs on the lifestyle brand model, wherein the medium is the message. The idea is to get consumers to define themselves by the products they buy. Combined with Christianity's loss of influence in the West, lifestyle marketing has duped the masses into embracing identities based on comic books, movies, and comic book movies.

Therein lies the Pop Cult.

Which would be perverse enough, but in co-opting the fervor people used to invest in religion, the Pop Cult has warped fans of Brand X into despising Brand Y as heretical. Without the, "Hate the sin, love the sinner," limiting principle of Christian morality, there will soon be no check on Cultists' fanaticism.

It gets worse. The entertainment industry has turned its identity marketing campaigns over to "machine learning" just like Wall St. did. Pop Cultists are now lassoed into an algorithmic feedback loop that progressively stokes their hatred for infidels. The soy boys we see cancelling artists deemed heretical is just the beginning. Just like the Commies made right-wing progroms look like amateur hour, secular consoomers are poised to far surpass the worst excesses of Christian witch hunts.

Algorithmic social engineering also provides an elegant explanation for the NPC phenomenon. We know that algorithm-driven identity marketing extends to the political sphere. Google has been caught red-handed manipulating its search results to favor progressive causes. Run a search to that effect, and you'll find the top results crowded with fact-checking articles from left-wing rags that claim to refute the accusations their own content affirms. 

It's a vicious circle where hacks conditioned by digital roadblocking regurgitate narratives pushed by marketing algos. Since lifestyle marketing works by selling narratives to build an identity, its targets' media consumption funnels them into epistemic bubbles where they're surrounded by narratives that drive more consumption which reinforces the narrative, etc,. etc.

The memesters had it backwards all along. People don't watch SNL and listen to NPR because they're NPCs. Consuming said media sucked them into self-reinforcing narrative bubbles that made them NPCs.

Your grandma was right again. Watching TV does rot your brain. Even worse, it turns you into programmed rage zombie--as does consuming Brand X movies, comics, and novels.

Unplugging is now a moral imperative. Not just to stop funding people who hate you, but to save your soul.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/10/14

Batman Returns

Batman Returns

Tim Burton's first Batman movie was a classic black swan event. Like Star Wars, it was a genre film by a fledgling director whose quirky vision inspired little confidence in the corporate office and the press. Also like Lucas, Burton defied expectations to create a genre-redefining cultural landmark that launched the biggest franchise of its kind.

Frankly, I was a little surprised upon rewatching Batman to find that it held up to my childhood memories. The movie still evokes a captivating mood and tone that no other superhero flick has managed to replicate.

Its sequel, Batman Returns, also elicited the same reaction on a recent viewing that it did when I fist saw it in the theater.

First, some background. Batman  was the work of many hands, including screen/comic book writer Sam Hamm, veteran Hollywood scribe Tom Mankiewicz, producer John Peters, and Burton himself. Peters especially was able to dictate terms to Burton, meaning that the director's more eccentric tendencies were reined in. The result was a classic pulp Western in a cape.

You don't direct the #1 DC Comics movie to date and not get approached to film a sequel. That's where the Bat-franchise and Star Wars started to diverge. Unlike Lucas, Burton had no interest in making a sequel to any of his films. He held out for greater creative control and agreed to direct Batman II once Hamm and Peters were no longer attached to the project.

Hollywood being Hollywood, Batman II was already in pre-production before Burton came back. Hamm had already turned in a first script featuring the Penguin--who'd been cut from the first film--and Catwoman out to steal a hidden treasure. Which makes sense, because in the source material Penguin is driven by upper class pretensions, and Catwoman is a jewel thief.

When Burton took over, he brought in Heathers scribe Daniel Waters to do a front-to-back rewrite. Waters reimagined the Penguin as a sort of anti-Moses figure who is set adrift in a basket, except he's raised by zoo animals instead of Egyptians. Waters also ditched the treasure heist plot and took a page from every other comic and movie by adding a corrupt business tycoon.

Max Shreck
You gotta love that Walken asked Burton for a set of human molar cuff links.

Another bit of background lore: Beloved character actor Billy Dee Williams played DA Harvey Dent in the first Batman with the understanding that he would return to play Two Face in the sequel. Instead, his contract was bought out, and most of Dent's lines from Hamm's original script were given to Shreck. That's why the character often acts more like a corrupt official than a corrupt businessman. The tazing Selena gives him at the end was meant for Harvey and would have turned him into Two Face.

Waters retained the movie's third villain but started her departure from the classic comic book portrayal.

Sam Hamm went back to the way comic books in general treat women, like fetishy sexual fantasy. I wanted to start off just at the lowest point in society, a very beaten down secretary.

-Daniel Waters

Then Tim Burton came in and stipulated that Catwoman should look like this:

Catwoman

Already we're seeing the villain creep that critics lambasted the Schumacher films for. Batman Returns has no less than three antagonists, although they're not who most people think they are.

Because even though she's a villain, Catwoman is the movie's main protagonist. She is the character who's clearly out to achieve a concrete goal.

The characters who put obstacles in her way are Shreck, the Penguin, and Batman. The Dark Knight falls from his place as the first film's swashbuckling pulp hero to the sequel's secondary antagonist.

As for DeVito's Penguin, he's billed as the movie's main villain, but he has the least effect on the story. The studio recognized his lack of a master plan and cosigned Waters' idea of having him kill Gotham's firstborn sons, but Batman foils his plot with such summary ease that it never generates dramatic tension. In fact, all of the Penguin-related conflicts lack suspense. To his credit, he does deliver the movie's best lines. They pale in comparison to Nicholson's Joker, though.

Quick aside: Batman Returns is beautifully photographed. The phrase "every frame a painting" definitely applies.

Batman Returns Set

Even still, the sets are plagued throughout with a weird feeling of shrinkage. They seem smaller in scope than the sprawling Gothic canvas of the first film. This is probably due to the departure of Production Designer Anton Furst, the only member of the original Batman crew to win an Oscar.

All of that might have been forgivable had Batman Returns featured a coherent plot. Instead it's a mess of "and then" plotting and disjointed Burtonisms. Why does Gordon say that the Red Triangle Gang is "back" immediately following their first appearance? How did the Penguin get the plans for the Batmobile? Why does falling out a window and getting licked by dozens of cats (I am not kidding) give Selena Kyle Olympic-level gymnastics ability and nine lives? Why does Batman reroute a penguin-based missile attack (again, this is real) projected to inflict 100,000 casualties to the Penguin's lair while he is fighting there?

You won't know, but Michelle Pfeiffer's 34-year-old pleather-sheathed legs might keep you from caring.

Let's compare: Batman is a moody, pulpy Western about a driven hero confronting a truly wicked villain who's just as ruthless in his pursuit of evil. The story fills the lulls in the action with copious amounts of character, so the end result feels like a nonstop thrill ride.

Batman Returns is a self-indulgent, subversive feminist allegory that, when it can wrangle its ADD, focuses on a ball-busting villain protagonist facing a crowded roster of antags that includes the first movie's hero. The checkbox-style action set pieces and muddled motivations make this picture a grind to sit through.

And never forget, it gave us this:


Which ended up leading to this:

2020/10/12

Batman 1989

Batman Joker Vicki Vale Popcorn
The ultimate popcorn movie

Back in the 80s, an action movie by a young director with only two films under his belt was shot at a venerable British studio with a motley cast of Oscar winners and veterans of 60s schlock from Hammer/American International. Dismissed as B movie camp by the press, and even members of the production, it nonetheless became a cultural phenomenon that launched a top-earning franchise and set new rules that govern Hollywood to this day.

At this point, you may be thinking of a certain space opera. But that was in the 70s, and in another genre, and besides, the Mouse is dead.

The fact of the matter is, superhero movies now dominate the SFF meta-genre, and that dominance began with Batman 1989.

In our age of media-induced amnesia, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy has largely eclipsed Tim Burton's--and thankfully, Joel Schumacher's--Batman films. But that's a mostly artificial delineation. The Burtonverse and Nolanverse are really one franchise operating in the same continuum.

You doubt? Batman Begins started as a Batman: Year One production initially pitched by "Bat Nipples" Joe himself that was built around deleted storyboards from Burton's first Batman. Account for the fact that every Bat-film in the past thirty years has been based on some combination of three graphic novels: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Killing Joke--the latter of which Tim Burton, not Christopher Nolan, carried with him on set.

Here's how much of a debt the Nolan films owe to Batman 89: The key Batman Begins character of Henri Ducard was created by Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm for the first Burton movie, and Hamm wrote Ducard into the DC Comics continuity when he was cut from the film.

Henri Ducard
A Detective Comics panel pretty much lifted from the Batman 89 storyboards

Sorry, Zoomers, not even your beloved Joker escaped the pull of the Burtonverse. The 2019 movie's major subplot of Thomas Wayne running for office was another conceit of Batman 89 relegated to the cutting room floor.

Joker - Thomas Wayne

The generational dimension of the Bat-phenomenon as we know it often goes unexamined--or examined from the wrong angle. But since parting the Boomer-cast veil over generational awareness my forte, I'll pull back the curtain for you now.

First, Batman 89 is the ultimate High 80s movie. It defines the Corporate IP Explosion Phase and represents a genre coming into its own. And being a product of the late 80s, Batman sharpened the IP's edges and shoveled on the grit. Mind you, that was back when edge and grit were still novel. Reminder: Michael Keaton started the tradition of Batman speaking in a lower, gravellier register than Bruce Wayne.

It's not just the movie's edginess and grim grittiness that make Burton's first bat-flick the definitive Gen X Batman film. Consider the interactions between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale. Their dialogue is fraught with the kind of pop psych jargon that Xers got to hear their divorcing parents parrot after each week's therapy session. In one key departure from Nolan's vision, Burton's version of Bruce Wayne is not an idealist, but a jaded cynic. Hence Bale is the Millennial Batman, and Keaton is the Batman for Generation X.

So much for the movie's background. The question on most readers' minds right now is, "How does it hold up?"

And the answer, against all odds, is quite well despite itself.

Informing author clients of the rules of storytelling is a big part of my editing job. Good art is, contra postmodern posers, objective. A work of art is made for a purpose, just like a toaster or a tool shed. The purpose of a genre movie is to make an emotional connection with an audience that evokes fun.

Hagia Sophia

This is the Hagia Sophia--a patriarchal cathedral designed not by a trained architect, but by a mathematician. It has survived the ravages of time, conquest, and earthquakes. It should not work, yet it manifestly does. This fact does not disprove the existence of standards or rules, merely that a standard can sometimes be attained by alternate rule sets.

Or, in extremely rare cases, by accident.

Astute readers will recall the earlier mention of Batman 89 rewriting the Hollywood rule book. For decades, those rules had revolved around the Hollywood Formula--a plot structure discovered by mistake during the production of Casablanca.

Tim Burton's Batman feeds that structure through a shredder and tapes it back together, in the wrong order and with some other scraps thrown in.

The Penguin
A visual hint? But that's another movie.

Nevertheless, Batman 1989 is still way more fun than it has any right to be. The movie is pulpy as hell compared to its successors. Nicholson's Joker--a rendition of the character yet to be equaled on film; sorry, Millennials--is gleefully evil for evil's sake with no attempt to excuse his atrocities. He is also, of interest to those versed in such matters--a stone cold alpha.


Keaton's Batman, for his part, ruthlessly combats evil in a manner that hearkens back to his main pulp inspiration--the Shadow. No effete halfway pacifism for this Batman. Burton portrays his Caped Crusader remorselessly executing criminal scum--even telling the Joker to his mangled face that he will kill him.

But it's not all 80s grit. Burton softens his Batman's hard edges via classic swashbuckling escapades with heroine Vicki Vale. No third wave feminist "I don't need no man!" tomboyishness for her. Vale is a true damsel in distress whose faith in her Dark Knight is repeatedly rewarded.

Surprisingly, Batman 89 owes less to the crime pulps for its plot structure than to another manly genre--spaghetti Westerns.

Bear with me, and I'll demonstrate.

First, Batman's overall structure strongly mirrors the plot of A Fistful of Dollars. Stop me if you've heard this one: A town wracked by infighting between rival gangs and corrupt/incompetent officials is rocked by the appearance of a lone wolf hero. In a direct nod to the Sergio Leone opus, Bruce Wayne dodges death by bullet by hiding a metal plate under his clothes.There are other similarities, but you get the point.

The movies debt to Westerns in general is even present in its iconic soundtrack. Danny Elfman has cited composer Bernard Herrmann as the main inspiration for his score. Herrmann composed the scores for such classic Westerns as Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and Have Gun, Will Travel.

Another discarded storyboard sequence repurposed for a later installment (voiced here by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill) even has Batman pursuing the Joker on horseback.


That's not to say Batman's plot structure is perfect--or even particularly coherent. Rewrites by multiple screenwriters including Hamm, Tom Mankiewicz, Tim Burton's buddy Warren Skarren, and Burton himself, continued well into filming. The psych-out prologue with the family we at first assume to be the Waynes getting mugged, and the tacked-on flashback that needlessly ties the Joker into Batman's origin, are glaring offenders.

For all its plotting demerits, Batman remains a first-rate thrill ride. Which is odd, because the pacing slows almost to a halt at multiple points. Burton makes up for the slack by filling those scenes with character. As a result, Batman  generates the kind of gravity found in the better pre-formula films. It's an effect you get from Golden Age movies you're initially inclined to click past but end up getting sucked into. 

The dinner sequence where we eavesdrop on Bruce and Vicki's first date is a perfect example. Much of why that scene works can be credited to Michael Keaton's comedic chops. Regular readers will know that comedy is the hardest genre to get right because pulling off a good joke requires proficiency in highly technical skills, especially dialogue timing. The critics who decried Burton's casting of Keaton forgot that a skilled comedian can do drama in his sleep.

That casting choice has had major consequences for the movie industry as a whole, though. Burton's self-indulgent desire to take a guy with an average build and turn him into a hero through costuming helped bury the kind of 80s action movie that author JD Cowan delights in reviewing

It was the beginning of a new era. The visuals took over. The special effects became more important than the single person. I wish I had thought of Velcro muscles myself. I didn't have to go to the gym all those years, all those hours wedded to the iron game, as we call it.

-Sylvester Stallone

The smash success of Batman achieved a paradigm shift in action cinema which, for better or worse, kicked off the blockbuster cape flick craze that still reigns today. If you haven't watched it in a while, I recommend dusting off your special edition DVD--or VHS--and sitting back with a big bowl of popcorn to take the ride again.

Because Batman 89 may have started cape movies down the Pop Cult path, but it doesn't insult its audience.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/10/09

Combat Frame Data: SCF-001 +Seed Castellan

SCF-001 +Seed Castellan
  
SCF-001 +Seed Castellan

Technical Data

Model number: SCF-001
Code name: +Seed Castellan
Nickname: Mitzi
Classification: Multipurpose transforming combat frame
Manufacturer: PAX, in collaboration with the Saeculum
Operator: PAX
First deployment: CY 98
Crew: 1 pilot in right chest cockpit, 1 Witness in left chest A.I. bay
Height: 19.5 meters
Weight: dry weight 97 metric tons, full weight 155 metric tons
Armor type: “1D” carbyne laminar armor; claymore reactive armor on chest
Powerplant: cold fusion reactor, max output 2950 KW
Propulsion: rocket thrusters: 4x 41,790 kg, 4x 20,910 kg, 2x 12,000 kg; top speed 2500 kph; maneuvering thrusters: 33, 180° turn time 0.97 seconds; legs: top ground speed 155 kph; treads: top ground speed 100 kph
Sensors: radar, thermal, optical, gravitic array; main cameras mounted in chest
Fixed armaments: x35 micro-missile launcher, built into chest; x2 ballistic missile launcher, back-mounted; x36 frag launcher, chest-mounted, loads tungsten-graphene ball bearings
Optional hand armaments: plasma sword, output rated at 0.87 MW; 4-barrel plasma cannon, output rated at 3.6 MW; carbyne shield, mounts x78 tungsten-graphene frag launcher, attaches to left arm
Special Equipment: Full-immersion cockpit, Witness A.I. co-pilot

General Notes

A joint project between the covert PAX organization and the reclusive Saeculum Order, the SCF-001 featured a number of innovations that made it one of the most advanced combat frames in service as of CY 98.

The impetus for designing the SCF-001 was originally to accommodate a disabled pilot. To that end, the unit incorporates a full-immersion cockpit derived from Ynzu technology. The nanite-laden fluid filling the cockpit not only enabled direct mental control of the CF, it served as a fail safe to back up the pilot's memory engrams within the onboard computer.

Making contact with the Saeculum added a new dimension to the SCF-001's design process. The Order had established a vast index of historical figures' memories. Copying one of these Witnesses to the unit's systems provided a co-pilot with a wealth of knowledge and experience. The placement of the A.I. core across from the full-immersion cockpit, and the CF's cruciform shape, gave rise to the code name +Seed (pronounced "Cross Seed").

In terms of hardware, the +Seed Castellan was built on the same frame as the One Series XSeed prototype. Its external structure was greatly streamlined, including the replacement of the head with a bank of missile tubes. The SCF-001 also borrowed inspiration from the XCD-103 Eisenpferd by integrating missile launchers into its shoulders and backpack. Like XSeed-class combat frames, the +Seed sported carbyne laminar armor across its outer surface. A chest-mounted bank of frag launchers filled with graphene-coated tungsten balls further boosted the unit's defense by serving as reactive armor. These launchers could also be used offensively against grappled foes.

The +Seed's hand armaments included a large plasma sword patterned after the YCC-013-1 Jagannath. In another nod to Kazoku war-era equipment, the SCF-001 also carried a quad plasma cannon based on the XSeed Kreuzgun's signature weapon. A carbyne shield mounting a cross-shaped bank of frag launchers completed its loadout and further bolstered its defenses.

Like the XCD-102 Emancipator, the +Seed featured a transformation system. The SCF-001 could switch from CF mode to tank mode in order to lower its profile and gain ground maneuverability.

Combat Frame XSeed

2020/10/08

Trekonomics

Trekonomics

Robert P. Murphy points out that, not only does the post-scarcity economy portrayed in Star Trek not make sense, it's not really even post-scarcity.

In reply to Brad DeLong, an economist on the Trekonomics panel at the New York City Comic Con, Murphy writes:
In reality, DeLong is wrong to think that the higher productivity of labor in agriculture and manufacturing somehow indicates a qualitative change in the nature of scarcity. Even though we enjoy a standard of living that, in many respects, exceeds that of Louis XIV, just about every American today desires more material goods. Indeed, many of DeLong’s colleagues recommend raising the minimum wage for precisely this reason — though I disagree with their recommended solution.
He goes on to expose the flaw in equating moving beyond subsistence with eliminating scarcity.
Indeed, scarcity occurs whenever the available resources are insufficient to satisfy all possible uses to which human agents could put them, meaning that choices must be made.
There will be trade-offs, even in the world of Star Trek.
Because of that, people would still need the institutions of private property and money, even if Gene Roddenberry banished them from the most enlightened and advanced species in his fictitious creation.
Murphy cites an Original Series episode as an example of such trade-offs.
For example, in “The Galileo Seven,” Spock must make difficult command decisions when the shuttlecraft is stranded on a planet. Yet, the suspense in the episode derives from Galactic High Commissioner Ferris bickering with Kirk over how long they should continue searching for the landing party while the plague-ridden people of Makus III await the medical supplies the Enterprise is delivering. There is obvious conflict because of the trade-off involved: despite the wonderful ship at his command, Kirk (it seems) must choose between his stranded friend and the planet of sick strangers.
I'm always intrigued by how much certain world-building conceits found in speculative fiction worlds reveal about their authors. In the case of Star Trek, we see how Gene Roddenberry's Campbellian optimism and more than a little wishful thinking informed his dream of a society where human ingenuity had done away with the messy realities like private property and free markets.

But on closer inspection, not even Roddenberry's genius managed to consistently portray a world without trade-offs.

As a refreshing counterpoint to Roddenberry's more naive vision, I prefer the science fiction of John C. Wright. His Count to Eschaton books are based on the premise that even galaxy-spanning civilizations capable of moving stars around still have to deal with the massive energy costs of interstellar travel. Far from socialist idealism, Wright's aliens are governed by the mercenary calculus of game theory.

Bonus: a recurring theme of Wright's series is the main character's continual disappointment over the future's failure to turn out like the Star Trek-style cartoon he loved as a kid.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier

2020/10/07

Bizarro America

Bizarro World

We talk about generations as if they're clearly defined categories, but in reality the gaps between generational cohorts are pretty ambiguous. Being Gen Y, my perspective on current intergenerational conflicts is as close to objective as anyone but a member of the dwindling Greatest Generation.

If you've been paying even cursory attention to mainstream and social media, you've probably heard Millennials stereotyped as spoiled, narcissistic whiners who don't know the meaning of "work ethic". One can hardly browse the comments of any current events story without seeing Boomers answer Millennial complaints of joblessness with reminders of their technological advantages (courtesy of Boomers), or reading brusque replies from Gen Xers telling them to quit sniveling and get jobs.

Is all of the criticism leveled at Millennials fair? After researching the issue, I discovered that the answer is deeply nuanced; but it can be boiled down to "no".

Generational Divide
The main source of hostility between Boomers, Xers, and Millennials is all parties' lack of objectivity. This is understandable. It's difficult to set aside one's lived experience and consider the viewpoint of someone whose life has followed a radically different course than yours did. But tackling the present crisis requires mutual understanding, which means walking a mile in the other guy's shoes. And because it's the Boomers who tend to exhibit the most ignorance of Millennials, that means walking in considerably cheaper shoes.

America vs. Bizarro America
John Edwards popularized the political slogan "Two Americas". He was invoking class divisions to justify government theft of certain people's incomes, but although the phrase is charged with rhetorical smoke, there is some fire. There are two Americas--probably many more than two--and what's relevant to the topic at hand is that Boomers live in one America, and Millennials live in another.

In fact, the differences between the America inhabited by Boomers and the place to which Millennials have been relegated is so stark and drastic, it's more accurate to say that Millennials don't live in America as most understand the term. Instead, they get to experience the backward strangeness of Bizarro America.

To any Gen Xers, and especially Boomers, reading this, it is imperative that you try to understand this concept before you proceed. Leave your formative, educational, and job experience at the door. Such conceits will not avail you to comprehend Bizarro America.

The Death of the Family
Few factors have a greater impact on one's future than one's family environment. A given Baby Boomer has a better than 90% chance of having been born to married parents. That figure plummets to less than 70% for Millennials. As if that weren't hobbling enough, the end of the Baby Boom saw a cataclysmic spike in divorce rates (affecting Gen Xers and Millennials alike).

The takeaway here is that Boomers and Millennials (and Gen Xers) had radically different upbringings. Almost all Boomers grew up in stable homes headed by married parents who stayed married. Members of the latter two generations were far more likely to be born out of wedlock or to grow up in broken homes.

Boomers: if you feel tempted to engage a Gen Xer or Millennial's firsthand account of latchkey kid-dom with a "Back in My Day" story, know that it probably isn't relevant. Save everybody some time and do your best to understand the current situation.

The Degeneration of Education
Even though Millennials have spent more time in school than prior generations, they are far more poorly served by the experience. These distressing results are probably due to the US education system's lack of focus on, well, education in favor of social indoctrination.

And here's the depressing news. Not only are Millennials and the current crop of children not being educated, they're being totally fleeced in the process.

Besides government subsidies, nothing has driven the student debt crisis like these two zombie memes: "Employers don't care what degree you have because it shows that you're trainable and self-motivated," and "Higher education is still worth it because college graduates out-earn folks without degrees."

Let's put these vicious rumors to bed. First, a bachelor's degree is no longer a feather in a job seeker's cap. It's more like a ticket that's required for admission to the factory, costs more than a Maserati, and will probably leave four in five applicants on the garbage heap (better hope it's not Tuesday).

Plus, thanks to degree inflation, Millennials have little choice but to pay tuition in excess of any consumer price index, and since those who aren't already making six figures (which would tend to obviate the need for college anyway) can't realistically work their way through school, they're forced to take on crippling amounts of debt.

Second, those colorful bar graphs (usually published by the same government departments with a vested interest in student debt) showing that college graduates earn more than people without degrees are brazen propaganda. A middle manager with a degree probably earns a higher salary than a mechanic who started working right out of high school, but contrast the manager's six-figure debt with the mechanic's greater likelihood of living debt-free, and a very different picture emerges.

And even if Millennial college graduates are making more on paper, the decline in real wages means they're actually poorer than their parents were at the same age.

Job Market Stagnation
To those who see Millennials as entitled whiners, tell them to "Get jobs", or mockingly ask if they'd "Like fries with that", the data show that there aren't jobs. And degreed Millennials are lucky to find work in the fast food industry since hiring managers shun college grads for being too expensive.

Yes, a Boomer could pay his way through school on a part-time job or two and graduate with an MBA that guaranteed entry to the middle class. At the very least, he could walk from his high school commencement to the factory down the street and start work that day in a job that offered a living wage and a pension.

THOSE DAYS ARE OVER.

The US manufacturing sector has been all but shipped overseas. The only jobs that offer a shot at the middle class are cubicle jockey gigs increasingly offered on a contract basis that make no promise of job security and force applicants who've taken on massive debt for the privilege to duke it out over a handful of positions.

Now consider that the economy never quite recovered from the 2008 crash, that almost half of the unemployed have been demoralized into giving up their job search, and that HR departments regard job seekers who've been fruitlessly searching this economic wasteland for six months--and thus need jobs most--as radioactive nonentities.

Different Priorities
It's interesting that many people who'd rightly point out that the so-called gender wage gap really means that men and women want different things don't hesitate to condemn Millennials' work ethic based on their own, differing priorities.

Millennials don't want to put in 80 hour weeks for 40 years at the same company in exchange for a big house they hardly get to live in and toys they never have time to play with. They value time over money and freedom over routine. These preferences are a rational response to a pathological corporate culture where the sociopaths in charge grossly undercompensate workers for their labor, and thus doing the bare minimum necessary to not get fired is a sound strategy.

Companies don't see prospective employees as human beings with valuable experience and skills. They see them as fungible commodities to be used and tossed out like Kleenex. Meanwhile, hiring managers insist that employees embrace corporate ethics codes that read like cult manifestos and that only bind the little fish; never the sharks.

Conclusion
Millennials' difficulties finding meaning and prosperity aren't the result of laziness or self-entitlement. Their well-meaning elders taught them to play the game that worked for them while the rules were drastically changing. The old strategies no longer work, and Millennials who try to use them are increasingly exploited, impoverished, and deprived of hope.

Why do members of older generations, especially Baby Boomers, discount Millennials' concerns or even mock them? The uncomfortable and unavoidable truth is that the Bizarro America where Millennials are forced to live was built one brick at a time by the choices and actions of their elders. It's easier for Boomers to blame Millennials than to accept their share of responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs.

To be sure, Millennials must take responsibility as well. They can't despair. They don't have that luxury. The advent of Bizarro America wasn't their fault, but now it's inescapably their problem.

The decline of faith and traditional morality in recent generations is a spiritual disease inherited from their forebears. Continuing to embrace materialism and moral relativism will only impede Millennials' ability to find the truth that can bring the freedom they deeply desire, and which offers a way out of the trap that prior generations unwittingly set for them.

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier