Counting Digital Blessings

I’ve been ruminating on some things lately. Having a kid has made me more contemplative of life in general, I think, but I’ve also been considering my job and where things are going with my life. Not in a bad way, mind you, but we’re not as financially well-off as we’d like. Who is, right? But compared to many of my peers, my path has kind of meandered and I feel like I’ve traded some interesting life experiences for economic prosperity. And now I’m trying to make up for it, in a way.

At any rate, I have a lot to be thankful for. I think as a Christian this is especially important to remember, but everyone regardless of creed would do well to count their blessings from time to time.

Alex of Amatopia got me thinking the other day, about the Internet in particular. It’s something he’s been talking about recently, and on Twitter he asked whether people felt the Internet were a net good or bad in their lives.

Now I’m not sure such a thing can be determined, quite frankly. Would the world be better off without electricity? If Nixon hadn’t won the presidency, or if he hadn’t been found out in the Watergate scandal? Would my life be better if I had pursued a different career, or if I had Mexican food for lunch yesterday instead of a sandwich?

And of course if we’re being intellectually honest about this, “good” and “bad” and “better” should be recognized as distinct from more or less convenient.

Do I lead a “better” life because I can do a Google search to access something approaching the sum of humanity’s knowledge in seconds? It’s certainly helpful. But does it make me a better man? Does it bring me closer to God?

I honestly don’t know. As I said to Alex on Twitter and as he notes in the above-linked blog post, the Internet is a tool to be used for both good and evil. Most applications are probably morally benign or banal.

But I’ve been thinking about how it’s improved my life, and decided to list some of the ways. If nothing else, sometimes these thoughts need to be forced out and formed to word. It’s too easy to yield to anger and despair and bitterness in this world. So sometimes I need to count my blessings:

1. My Family

This one is pretty straightforward. I met my wife through online dating. If not for the Internet, I wouldn’t have met her, and my son wouldn’t exist.

2. Communication

The Internet has been a real boon in my life for keeping in touch with the people who are important to me. After college, I lived in Japan for several years. Because of the Internet, I was able to keep in touch with my family and friends. I recorded videos of my life there to share with them online. I frequently talked and played games with Kaiju. Hell, I’m talking to him online right now as I write this.

My wife and son have been in Thailand for the past three months visiting her family, and I’m so grateful that I can use FaceTime to see them almost every day.

And through this blog, I get to interact with you fine people!

3. Companionship

I can’t say that anyone I’ve met online, aside from my wife, has become one of my best friends, but I’ve made some good ones and otherwise forged some solid connections. Back in the Age of the Message Board, I befriended a few people who I still correspond with now and then. We’ve exchanged baby shower gifts, for Pete’s sake.

Nathan (Gita Bushi) is a good example of someone I’m grateful to have met online, as are a number of other people from the blasted landscape called Twitter. I’ve met some people who share my tastes in fiction and are of like mind in theological matters, and it’s been a blessing to know them.

4. Exploded Marketplaces

You no longer have to go to the library or the bookstore to get books (though they can still be fun places to visit). You can buy books online for mere dollars and have them arrive at your doorstep within days. You can download e-books online, in some places for free! Throughout much of history, literacy was a privilege many common people missed out on, and books were treasures. In this respect, we truly possess an embarrassment of riches through the Internet.

The big publishers’ and retailers’ ability to gatekeep has been significantly diminished, now that anyone can put out their own book on Amazon or another online platform. There’s a lot more out there, for good or ill!

Don’t even get me started on video games! The rise of Steam was a real gain for gamers. There’s a lot of crap out there, sure, but there have been a ton of excellent independently published video games now, and consumers are no longer at the mercy of AAA studios and their myriad loot box variations.

And of course there’s media. I’m grateful I can hop around the Internet gleaning news and information from a ton of online sources rather than having to rely on a handful of TV networks and newspapers to tell me what they think I need to know.

5.  Opportunity

Sliding into this from the last item, I’ve been afforded many opportunities in my life because of the Internet. I worked for a stretch as a contractor for a small publishing company, and I did all my work remotely from home. After returning from Japan, I also did a few jobs translating from Japanese to English, done online.

(Update): And geez, how could I forget – I’m a published SFF author because I was able to submit a story online to Cirsova magazine!

And several months ago my wife and I started a family business that’s run primarily online (still not ready to go into the particulars at this point). We are actively improving our lives and working to better our family’s well-being because of the opportunities provided by online marketplaces.

I should add that almost all of the jobs I’ve had since college were advertised online and were applied to online. Of course not all of us have to worry about this (I think many jobs are still gotten through connections), but can you imagine having to go back to searching the newspapers for job ads?

The Internet has definitely had some negative impact on my life, as well, but I’m not going to dwell on that right now. For the time being, I’m grateful.

-Bushi

bushi

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Hustling…and Zombies

I know, I know – I kind of dropped off the face of the earth. Posts have been sparse here for a while now, but I haven’t even been writing over at SFF Central.

Truth be told, my wife and I started up a business a couple months ago and that’s where the majority of my time has been going when I’m not at my full-time gig or rearing the bushi kid. No, we’re not exactly growing and selling premium pickles. I’m not willing to say much more about it right now, though. The super tolerant crowd is always ready to destroy your life for your wrong opinions and I’m not overeager to expose my family to that.

have scraped together a few moments here and there – on lunch breaks and stolen chunks of sleep time – to play Plants vs Zombies: Heroes. I’m sure the superhero bubble is poised to burst at any time now, but I love me a good collectible card game. PvZ Heroes has a lot going for it – it’s got enough variety of cards and strategy to make things interesting and frequently different, but it’s simple enough to learn and play quickly. Matches are usually only a few minutes long and so far it doesn’t feel unfair in the same way that these kinds of games too easily can.

Of course it’s taken certain elements from Hearthstone – you get an allowance of spend-it-or-lose-it sun or brains (aka mana) at an increasing rate each turn. But there are enough differences from Hearth to make it its own unique thing. You manage lanes, you get periodic super powers unique to each hero, and zombies and plants have different turn dynamics.

Oh and there’s also PvP. I love that wood tier is actually a real starting placement here and not just a put-down.

I’ve also been crawling through Jack Vance’s The Last Castle in small increments. I can sometimes find 15-20 minutes before heading to work in the morning, but if the baby wakes up early then all bets are off.

At any rate, I’m still alive.

-Bushi

bushi

Big Mother

Julia sank wearily down into the deep cushions of the staff lounge couch. The TV was on, set to some new reality show where politicians cooked meals for celebrities, but Julia hardly noticed. She was still processing.

A grueling, 36 hour labor. Normally a C-section would have been in order, but the patient refused to be cut. And at the end of it all…

Her eyes flicked up to the door. She could still hear the baby crying, though she knew it was just in her head. The Repose Room was soundproof.

Shaking her head as if to expel such thoughts, she looked down at the coffee table. The various sections of Today’s USA were scattered across its surface. The top-most, “Health and Living,” prominently displayed an article titled “New Healthcare Law Protects the Most Vulnerable.” Her eyes scanned the text; apparently it was a story about how the newly expanded universal healthcare system would greatly improve the lives of underpaid journalists.

Julia heaved a heavy sigh and buried her face in her hands. She had known that remaining in perinatal medicine would eventually test who she was. She just hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. Not here. Not at St. Agnes.

But they had allowed it to happen. Jennifer and the doctor spoke for a few minutes, in private, with the patient. And then the baby was wheeled out to the Repose Room.

Julia imagined her own daughter lying in the darkness, alone, left to expire. It was too much. The shock and confusion were gone, replaced by anger and determination.

She pulled herself up and hurried out of the staff room.

Kathy was leaning against the wall next to the Repose Room and nursing a cup of coffee while fiddling with her phone. The healthcare liaison looked up at Julia’s approach and smiled plastically.

“Hi, Julie. Are you okay?”

“No. Nothing about this is okay.”

Kathy reached for Julia’s arm, halting her entrance. She lowered her voice to a hush.

“Look, I know this is difficult. But we have to respect the mother’s choice.”

Julia shook off the restraining hand and entered the room. It was complete dark inside. The baby was no longer crying, but Julia could hear a soft whimpering. She paused as the door closed behind her and Kathy’s surprised exclamation was cut off.

She reached for her phone and unlocked the screen, using the light to look around the bare room. A sink and cabinet fixture was set against the wall – the same one found in nearly every modern examination room. In the corner opposite her stood the bassinet, mounted atop a sterile, steel cart. The baby lay swaddled inside.

As she stepped toward the infant, the door opened behind her and in stepped Kathy, accompanied by Jennifer, the shift supervisor.

“Julie, what are you doing? You shouldn’t be in here,” the senior nurse admonished softly, frowning. She reached into a pocket and drew out her own phone to further illuminate the dark room. Her other arm cradled a clipboard – clearly she had been interrupted while doing important paperwork.

“This isn’t right, Jen. We can’t do this.”

Jennifer’s face softened. It was Kathy who replied.

“It was Mrs. Peters’ decision after speaking with Dr. Danton. Even Mr. Peters agreed. It’s her right. Come on now, everything is going to be all right. Let’s just…leave it alone.”

“Not it, Kathy. Her. You want to let her die!” Julia had difficulty controlling her voice now, and the baby started to whimper loudly.

“It’s not up to me,” Kathy answered. “And it’s not up to you. The infant simply isn’t viable.”

“What the hell do you mean she isn’t viable? She’s laying there right now, breathing on her own. Alive.”

Jennifer cut in. “What Kathy means is the baby can’t survive on her own, without state resources. You know that. She’d have to be put up, and that’s expensive. And there will be no legal parents to put up climate credits…I don’t like it any more than you do, but there’s nothing we can do.”

“For God’s sake, she’s perfectly healthy, Jen!” Julia was practically shouting.

Kathy answered “It’s an unfortunate rarity, but post-birth abor-”

“Don’t call it that,” Julia snapped. “We’re letting a healthy baby die. And for what? Why? Why are they doing this?”

Jennifer and Kathy exchanged an uncomfortable glance and the former answered “Her eyes.”

“What? What about her eyes?” Julia asked.

“The Peters ordered blue eyes, but the baby’s are brown. It’s not what they paid for. Mrs. Peters said that she always wanted a daughter with blue eyes and blond hair, like a doll. She said that…that having to raise a botched child would be too traumatic for her,” Jennifer muttered.

Julia shook her head in disbelief. They were all silent for a moment.

“I’m taking her,” she said finally.

Jennifer’s eyes widened in surprise. Kathy looked scandalized.

“You can’t do that, Julie. It’s illegal!” the liaison exclaimed.

“Think about this,” cautioned the supervisor. “They’ll fire you. Hell, you’ll probably go to jail.”

“I don’t care,” replied Julia. “I can’t do nothing.”

Kathy glared angrily at her, looked meaningfully at Jennifer, and then exited the Repose Room quickly.

“All right,” said Jennifer. “But you’d better hurry. No doubt Kathy has gone for security.” Jennifer, too, stepped out.

Julia switched off her phone and flicked on the room’s fluorescent light. The baby girl squinted and began once again to cry.

 

-Bushi

bushi

 

 

My favorite Liam Neeson deaths

 

I can’t remember what thought process lead to this, but I was going to attempt a list of all the movies in which Liam Neeson dies.

It’s been done already, though. Of course it has.

liam neeson

So instead, here are my favorite Neeson deaths, of the ones I’ve seen:

1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Voiced by Liam Neeson, I’m not totally sure if Aslan’s death counts here, since there wasn’t really much (any?) voice work during the scene in question. However, it was probably the most affecting death on the list. Because Aslan is a good lion.

 

2. Krull: He was almost a no-name character here, but after having seen Krull so many times now, I can more deeply appreciate Kegan’s sacrifice.

Good start, Liam, to the years of deaths to follow.

 

3. Gangs of New York: Not everyone likes this movie, but I find it quite entertaining. What’s not to like about brutal hand-to-hand gang warfare in the streets of early New York? We don’t get to know Priest Vallon very well, but he’s painted as a good leader, a beloved father, and I guess a decent man (as decent as these street warriors can be?). Good death, Liam.

 

4. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace: Maybe not a great movie, maybe not a great performance, but when I was younger watching this, Qui Gon’s death was the highlight of the film. Not that I was glad he died, but it was exciting.

 

5. Batman Begins: I remember this being a pretty good movie, but honestly neither the film nor the Neeson death here were that memorable for me. But there are worse ways to go than in a runaway train crash, right?

 

6. Excalibur: Off-screen, so not really sure how much this counts. But Gawain was kind of a dick, so serves him right. Awesome flick, for what it’s worth.

 

7. Schindler’s List: Another off-screen, just mentioned at the end of the film, I believe. Good movie, though.

-Bushi

bushi

 

 

Christmas Music

Merry Christmas (Eve), everyone!

Every year, right around Thanksgiving, radio stations start saturating the airwaves with Christmas music. Some people eat it up. Others get sick of it before Christmas Day even rolls around.

Over the years I’ve vacillated, and have landed somewhere around mild forbearance and occasional flickers of enjoyment. Some Christmas music just feels so vapid and asinine to me these days, though, that I have trouble recapturing anything near the pleasure felt in youth. Have you ever really listened to “Santa Baby?”

It’s become quite a cliched complaint – “Christmas has become too commercial.” It’s also become too secular. How many Christmas movies and songs these days completely leave out Christ? Many? Most?

Ironically, in voicing this observation it’s all too easy to sound the Grinch. I do think about this stuff a lot more now that I’m a dad, though. It’s not like I’m going to gatekeep everything my kids are exposed to, but I can certainly exert my influence. In fact I’d say it’s a parental duty.

Anyway, I’m not going to dwell on the bad right now. Instead, I’d like to share some renditions of a few of my favorite Christmas songs.

-Bushi

bushi

The Sword of Doom

The latest samurai flick I was able to watch, The Sword of Doom, was unfortunately a bit of a disappointment. I’d read positive reviews of it by fans of the genre, so I picked it up during my last Barnes and Noble Criterion Collection sale binge.

There were some definite bright spots to the otherwise dark, unsatisfying watch, though.

First off I should note that The Sword of Doom is based on a novel of the same name. It’s also, I believe, the third take on said novel. There was a movie adaptation in 1957, then the Satan’s Sword trilogy in 1960, and finally The Sword of Doom in 1966. The Sword of Doom only covers the first part of the story, and it seems a sequel was planned but never made.

Anyway, the story focuses on a twisted swordsman played by Tatsuya Nakadai – a name you might not know, but whose face you’ll surely recognize if you’ve seen enough samurai films.

The movie starts off by letting you know what you’re getting into – a girl and her grandfather are traveling as pilgrims along a mountain path. The girl goes to fetch some water, and while she’s doing so her grandpa prays at a little shrine. Before long he’s interrupted by Ryunosuke (Nakadai), out for a little stroll. He’s overheard the old man praying for death so that his granddaughter can be free of obligation to him. Ryunosuke unfeelingly obliges, cutting down the old man.

Throughout the rest of the film we follow Ryunosuke in his cruel, violent exploits. We also get a look at some other characters, mostly victims whose lives he’s affected for the worse.

Toshiro Mifune makes an appearance as a sword master, and thankfully we get a nice action scene out of him.

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There’s also another cool character – a seemingly mild-mannered merchant who in protecting his foster daughter shows that appearances can be deceiving. The dude is actually a rogue ninja-type who knows how to handle himself (and others).

Camerawork and acting are noteworthy; the use of shadow is especially noticeable. The plot does get bogged down from the amount of minor characters bouncing around; I sometimes had trouble keeping track of all the names.

The most disappointing part of the story is that it’s all one big Chekhov’s Gun fakeout. The brother of one of Ryunosuke’s victims, seeking justice for his kin and begged by Ryunosuke’s own father, sets out to train under Mifune’s character in preparation for an ultimate confrontation with the evil samurai.

In the end, though, nothing comes of this. The film ends on a cliffhanger, with Ryunosuke descending into a berserk madness fueled by the weight of his sins. Even were there to have been a sequel, however, the Internet informs me that the novel itself never allowed for a battle between Ryunosuke and his heroic antagonist.

sworddoom-nakadai

Disappointing, and yet I’ve come to expect these kinds of endings from Japanese films. Still, the acting is good, the action is good, and there are some interesting characters. Worth a watch, but there are plenty of other samurai movies I’d recommend above this one.

-Bushi

bushi

Single-Issue Voting

Recently I was talking with Kaiju and a mutual friend about “lesser of two evils” voting. That is – both are bad choices, maybe both support an abhorrent policy, but one is clearly a worse choice, so you vote for the other one. Like Bob and Jim both favor cannibalism, but at least Jim is willing to let everyone walk around with a pointy stick to defend themselves. Jim’s got my vote!

I’m not sure if I’m 100% on board with the lesser of two evils vote, but it’s at least a reasonable and justifiable position.

What I’m not sure I get is the reluctance of some people to be “single-issue voters.” Ok, I mean if you’re talking about trivial issues, fine. If you won’t vote for Karen soley because she supports an ordinance to put up more city traffic cameras, that might be kind of dumb. You should be not-voting for Karen because she also supports selling weed in school cafeterias and claims it’s part of a balanced diet.

But if there’s something you think is an intrinsic good or evil, I honestly have trouble understanding how a bunch of much less morally gravid issues can alter the calculus.

thanos

Sure he wants to wipe out half the population of the universe, but he also supports universal healthcare and sees education as a human right! I’m voting for Thanos.

negan

I don’t like that Negan practices slavery, or that he executes people without due process. But the economy is booming and crime is down, under him, so…

1722_moloch2

I don’t like that Moloch demands child sacrifice, but I don’t want to be a single-issue worshiper…

I know it turns some people off, and no one wants to be judged, but seriously. If you honestly think abortion is murdering an infant, or if you honestly think the second amendment is rudimentary in one’s right to defend oneself and one’s family, or hell, even if you think cow farts and cars are going to spell ultimate doom for mankind – those are serious enough issues that you should probably vote for the candidate who falls on your side of the aisle on them, no?

But anyway don’t mind me. I’m just some internet schmuck.

Just go vote your conscience.

-Bushi

bushi