Sunday, January 22, 2017

Myths of the Oligarchs: Charity is Bad

I can only counter that with a subjective story of what I did yesterday. I gave all my cash away. I had a twenty stashed in my billfold for weeks. I broke it the other day at the copy store, paying for a few copies of forms I had to send in. I was out running yet more small errands - when you're poor, all your errands are small - when I began to meet homeless people. A lot of them. I gave each a dollar. I wish I made enough to give each a twenty, but that's not possible. These are mostly old people out begging on the streets. Old people begging in the USA. Also several vets, two with missing limbs. Disabled vets begging.

Long story short: I ended up with five dollars in cash at the end of the day. I stopped off at Dollar General to pick up a few canned goods. Some sweet little girls were in line in front of me, buying Elmer's Glue, construction paper, and snacks. School project, most likely. Their little minds hadn't quite grasped math yet, they were three dollars short. Their little faces were saddened and embarrassed. They asked if they could put some stuff back. I pulled out the five and gave it to the clerk. The little ones thanked me on the way out. The oldest one, the one in charge, came up to me, very solemn, and gave me their change. So I guess I have two dollars left. Their sweet, stunned little faces, surprised that a stranger would help them, it would have made me smile...but the left side of my face was aching as usual. The lymphedema acting up again. I couldn't smile, on the outside at least.

I'm happy that I did it. Overjoyed. Charity, good works, helping others, they bind the community together. The oligarchs will put you in jail for feeding the poor, helping strangers. For real. All over the USA, cities are passing ordinances banning charitable works. Why? To fragment us, to keep us fragmented. If people give to me, I am obligated to give to others. By my actions, in a very small way, I unite the community.

Go give. It feels so damned good. Give it all away and it will come back to you in unexpected and joyous ways.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bad Writing 101 - Episode 1

Here's an article from the LA Times...

Thanks to hundreds of records of lunar and solar eclipses carved in clay tablets and written into dynastic histories, modern scientists have determined that the amount of time it takes for Earth to complete a single rotation on its axis has slowed by 1.8 milliseconds per century, according to a report published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society A....It may not sound significant, but over the course of 2½ millenniums, that time discrepancy adds up to about 7 hours.

Except, no, it doesn't. The writer confused two different things, real increase and "cumulative error" (aka propagation of uncertainty). In other words, the error that a hypothetical clock running for the last 2500 years would show between terrestrial time (based on atomic clocks) and universal time (the rotation of the Earth) is pretty large, but it isn't a measure of the actual increase in the length of the day. The author did make a rather stumbling attempt at explaining the two different types of timekeeping, but never realized her fundamental mistake.

To reassure you, it will take around 140 million years before we have to add another hour to the day.

Oh, and it's "millennia" not "millenniums." Not that I'm a grammar nazi, normally I don't care, but SHE WORKS FOR A MAJOR NEWSPAPER.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Something other than Cancer: Half Life 3?

Some days I'm tired of talking about my cancer and all the myriad problems that come with it. Like Christmas in hell every damn day. So I will talk about something almost as depressing: why Half Life 3 will never be made.

The Half Life franchise from Valve is the most beloved in all of gaming. Half Life 2 holds up even years after its release. The memorable characters and their relationships with the protagonist Gordon Freeman - one hell of a bad ass post-doc in physics - really take the game to another level. Half Life 2 Episode 2 ended on a compelling cliffhanger. It was so integral to the plot, almost an insult to call it a "cliffhanger." So what's the deal? This should be a no-brainer, Half Life 3 writes itself.

From an author's point of view, the ideas and characters would drive Half Life 3 into creation. They are just too compelling to resist for any creator. But for a company, a collective, there are only down sides to this project. It is the difference between the individual artist and the committee.

"What down sides?" you might ask.

So, so many of them. I'll only list a few.

First, the Half Life franchise is the foundational first person action shooter. Just about every FPS made since its release is a homage to Half Life. There is nothing new in the FPS for Valve to play with. The genre is all used up. Remember, gimmicks did not put Half Life into our hearts.

Second. The enduring power of Half Life is in the characters. That means story. Valve pushed story as far into the FPS as it will go. This is no typical FPS storyline, levels of subtlety are in the game, from the backstory told through newspaper clippings to the constant subliminal appearances of the G-Man. Let us not forget Alyx. Her backbone is a specially constructed AI over which the developers fussed for countless hours. All that effort to put a story into a place where stories don't usually appear. This should tell you that there is only one place this can now travel, a place full of fear for Valve. Half Life defined the FPS. To carry the franchise forward to the end requires that they abandon the FPS. For the same reason that Disney required Han Solo to abandon his maturity to remain the same, Valve will not do what is necessary. They can't figure out how to squeeze Half Life 3 into a FPS. They can't go back, they can't go forward. They are stuck.

What am I on about? I hate to denigrate fans, but man, you guys don't like change much, do you? Fuss over changes made to a beloved comic book hero, even down to the color of a uniform. Or Han Solo. He's the one easiest to talk about. In the original trilogy, we see him change from a drug smuggler low-life into a responsible leader, a general. Just what happens to people like that after the battle's won? They sure as hell don't go back to being drug smugglers. Most of them remain generals. Some become presidents. What happened when Disney took over? They put Han back into his smuggler outfit and stuck him in the Falcon again. "We're home, Chewie."

Valve is afraid of us. If they do what is necessary to take the story forward, a backlash from hardcore gamers might ensue. "Might"? I'm giving you too much credit. You WILL lash out. Serious money is involved. I imagine Gabe Newell has nightmares about a horde of outraged fans abandoning the Steam game portal out of spite, breaking Valve's cash cow.

Three. Mass Effect. This is a very innovative, character driven, powerful game trilogy. Bioware created a fusion of the role-playing-game and the action shooter, the RPG shooter. Not only that, they managed to stuff a great story into that innovation. Bioware was on track for gaming heaven until they botched the ending to Mass Effect 3. A storm of complaints, controversy - everything a company hates. This was largely brought by the leaders of the development team, who made several very, very serious storytelling mistakes...but companies don't notice things like that. Valve, as a corporate entity, only noticed the shit storm of disapproval and thought: "That could be us! Don't make Half Life 3!"

Too bad. Because Mass Effect, right up until the last moments of the last game, was the role model for how to pull off Half Life 3. It's not very technically innovative, but it does bring story and character to the front. CD Projekt has put together a wonderful franchise with the Witcher. Except for the graphics, the gameplay is hardly more sophisticated than the original KOTOR. Doesn't seem to matter. Valve should use the RPG-shooter fusion format. Don't make another tired FPS game. Give Gordon a way to interact with the other characters. Fill up every moment with story content. Expand on the squad play in Half Life 2, give him a team to control. Answer all the questions. Sure, fight the Combine, shoot monsters, hit people with a crowbar. More interaction with the environment. Maybe go third person.

They won't do it. All the hardcore fans expect a FPS. They expect no change in Gordon or the other characters. There would be controversy, risk in this approach. Valve is risk-adverse. Money makes them that way. Half Life 3 cannot go forward as an FPS. It cannot go forward as a fusion game. So it will never go forward.

It's done.

Please donate. Thank you.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lost Another Tooth

Lost another tooth this morning. My lower teeth are still fine, it is the upper back teeth that are dying or dead. They shatter like glass and I spit out the little pieces. There is no pain, none at all. The radiation they used to kill the tumor passed right through the upper back teeth on either side. They were trying not to cook my brain, you see, and used different angles to attack the tumor. But it was all over the left side of my face and only a few angles could get to some of it. Those angles - or trajectories - went right through my upper back teeth on either side. They are completely dead. My front uppers are going strong, though they are stained from the thrush infection I had.

My thanks to Ruthanne for putting flowers on my parents' graves. I deeply appreciate it. They were loving people who touched many hearts. They're still with me. Mom and Dad are in my thoughts every day. I'm deeply grateful for this feeling. Even the Greensburg of my youth is still out there, somewhere, waiting for me to find it. When I do, I'll rush to the front door of my house and throw open the door to find their smiling faces. They'll ask me how the journey was, while our pets play about my feet. I'll tell them. We'll talk late into the night.

Wednesday at 4 pm I'll find out what's next in this drama. More chemo, more pain? Or a respite from the battle and a chance to continue healing?

Please donate if you can.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Still in Limbo

I delayed to write because I had hoped to have some news about my latest PET scan. It will be another week. I'll know next Wednesday.

Sent this to Gabe Newell at Valve, a shot in the dark.

My mind sings, my body weeps. I'm a writer. A year of cancer has left me nearly destitute, weak, broken - but my mind is bright, alive, spinning with ideas. I seek work to keep myself alive. Commissions are welcome. Hire me to explore an idea, take a beloved character on a journey, or even dance on a cosmic string.

My past work:

My CV:

My cancer survivor gofundme:

Even a few dollars can help.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Cancer Money Blues

Let me briefly recap the financial hurricane that is my cancer. There are lessons here for others facing their battles. I'll try to remember to do a sketch on this subject, remind me if I forget.

I had my perfect little life. Perhaps the universe thought I needed this respite before the current trial. Mom had passed. After years beyond count as a part-time and then a 24/7 caregiver, my life was my own again. It took me most of a year to function again, but then I went on a writing spree of amazing proportions. If it were transposed into a martial arts movie, I'd be Donnie Yen against ten black belts in Yip Man. Essa came first, even though Causality was in the works. Then Causality. Then Contravallation. After that, Suzie. Rewire. So many short stories and novellas! A book of them in fact. Something like 700,000 words of fiction in less than five years. Yes, I was saving it up. All those years of caregiving for my parents, of deferring my life because they needed me. A tsunami of words engulfed me, drowned me.

I had a part-time job I really liked. It was enough to pay the bills and gave me time to write. I even had some money in the bank.

Then the pain began. One morning I woke up and I couldn't open my mouth. I went to several different doctors. "TMJ." "TMJ." The last one said something a little different: "Parietal infection."

The word pain just doesn't capture the agony I was in. I couldn't work. My savings began to disappear. Quite suddenly, I was dead broke. I ended up in the emergency room twice. Finally I met a doctor who recognized my symptoms. It was confirmed by biopsy and PET scan. There was a massive tumor in the left side of my head.

My money was gone. I was dead broke. I was probably dying. But I didn't die. I'm still broke, though.


The pain had left me unable to work or do much of anything. This had started in April. By May, it was debilitating. Funny how money just disappears. My memories of this time are a little vague, due to the intense pain and the opiates the doctors prescribed. It couldn't have happened overnight. That's how I remember it - Boom! - in an instant. I know that's wrong. That amount of money can't just vanish. Time gets compressed here. I don't really have any memories of May, June, and July. I know I was making Facebook entries, at least I think I did. I know I took a picture of my first chemo. I have no idea what I said. All my money was gone by this point. Thank goodness I'm a nice guy. The apartment manager and I were friends. He let me slide on my rent. I was eventually evicted.

This next part might come in handy if such a thing happens to you. My buddy the apartment manager couldn't shield me forever. He got a new job and left the complex. The owner wanted me out. Most owners don't really like courts and lawyers. Mine didn't. It was quite civilized. We went back and forth for a couple months. He must have been frustrated with me, since I was a little out of my mind. We finally came to an agreement. I would consent to leave, he would not seek my back rent. Further, he agreed to help me a little financially in my new rental if I were out by the end of the month. I was very lucky that Jolene and her husband were available to help me move my stuff into a small storage unit. "Helped" is not really an accurate word to use. Jolene and her husband moved me. The morphine helped, too. Surprising the things a person can do when the sense of pain is deadened by powerful opiates. I became a lodger, renting the spare bedroom at a nurse's house.

If cancer smashes you low and ruins you financially, remember my story. Explain it to management. Some states have tenant protections in the law. Negotiate on the back rent. Sometimes it can just "go away." Press management - or the owner - on assistance in moving out. This is highly situational. Sometimes there is no give and you're out of luck. In that case, salvage what you value most and leave the rest behind. There are kind people in the world. There are cruel people, too. As to who you have to deal with, that's a highly randomized occurrence.

I keep forgetting to ask for donations. A friend reminded me of that in an email. "This is for donations! You need to ask for a donation!" He's right. If you can, please donate. Things are on such a knife's edge, even a tiny donation can help.


My personal financial disaster just doesn't want to end. It goes on and on. Is there a way to dodge this bullet if you get cancer? Though my answers might seem humorous, this ain't no joke.

The easiest is to be rich. This is out of our control. A study somewhere puts wealth as a family affair, Over 70% of wealthy people have wealthy parents. If you're rich, my friend, no worries.

The second, get lucky on the type of cancer you get. This is totally out of human control, so I mention it only in passing. Even colon cancer doesn't have to be this debilitating.

Which brings up the third answer, catching the cancer early. This also isn't always possible. As good Dr. Lee, my radiation oncologist pointed out: "Most cancers can't be distinguished in symptoms from more mundane illnesses, not at first." Some tumors aren't metastatic, not at first, so antigen counts might miss them. But early is better than late. Also, cancers are weird in their behavior. Some will hit suddenly, over a matter of mere months, going from stage one to stage four in a flash. I'd class this one as partly beyond human control.

Fourth, marriage to a wife/husband who works. At least a little income will be coming in. You and your family will take a hit. Kids might have to drop out of college, you might have to sell that nice car to get something cheap. You might even have to move. But mostly you and your family will survive, if only barely.

Fifth: retired, you must be. Your income won't take a hit and Medicare will work wonders for you. If you aren't, hope you meet one of the criteria above. This is the best cure for what cancer ails you, but you have to be over 65 or 67 or 69 or whatever the cutoff age is for you.

That's it for part one. I can't think of any other ways to avoid my fate from the start. This second part is shorter. How to ameliorate the financial damage?

The reason I still have a ride: I bought a used minivan outright back when I had the money. No car loans. Perhaps I have should have bought a mobile home when I had the chance, but after taking care of my parents for all those years, I didn't feel like settling down. I know I've been in Albuquerque for years, but before the cancer hit, I was thinking of hitting the road again. But in this game of hypotheticals, I should have protected myself by buying a mobile home or an RV outright. The modern habit of living the borrower's life will leave you worse off than I am...if that's imaginable.

Here's what would happen if you had my cancer, and it's much worse than my present fate, as low as my current condition has become. No car, bank repossessed it. No home, bank repossessed it. No internet, because you're homeless. No gofundme as a result. Maybe if you're lucky, you get passed around from one spare bedroom to another among your friends. This last part is the worst. If you aren't in a state that adopted the ACA's Medicaid expansion, no insurance. You are dead, my friend.

To recap this amelioration, I'll list the things you need.

First, own a vehicle outright.

Next, a place to live without a loan on it.

Third: live in a state that accepted all of Obamacare (the ACA).

That's it for this cycle. As my friend reminded me to do the other day, I need to ask that you either donate or pass along my gofundme link.

I'd like to point out one thing to those with hard hearts, it shouldn't matter who you are, no one deserves this. I didn't deserve this. I'm a nice guy. I took care of my parents with great devotion. Unlike some of the people in my life, I never grifted or stole anything. I've always endeavored to be a good person. Bad things happen to good people, it's a rule of the universe. Being good might reap a reward in the afterlife, but in the here and now it makes no difference to the ills of this world. I didn't ask for this. This is no one's idea of a good time. I did everything right and still the cancer came for me. I had a head-and-neck cancer, which mostly happens to people who smoke and drink heavily. I haven't had more than one beer since 1991. I don't smoke. I even ate well. I was the proper weight. I am, as the saying goes, as tame as a Methodist at a picnic. But saying "I don't deserve this!" will only drive one insane. Bad things happen. A bad thing happened to me, through no fault of my own. I accept it as part of this life.

Even if you drank, even if you smoked, even if you were mildly bad, you don't deserve this. No one - with the possible exceptions of Attila, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, the Big Four of Evil - no one deserves this.

Thanks for your help.