LEGO Star Wars – Project 30279

lego-30279-kylo-ren-shuttle

London and I like LEGO, Star Wars, and LEGO Star Wars, but we’re especially fond of the little polybag sets that pop up in department store checkout lanes. And our favorite thing to do with them, once we’ve built the models as intended, is to hack them. The goal is to come up with alternative builds that use only the pieces from the polybag set, but still look like they might plausibly be vehicles from Star Wars. Our latest round of builds is based on LEGO set 30279, a miniature version of Kylo Ren’s Command Shuttle.

Before I get into our alternative builds, I should say one thing about the Command Shuttle when built as intended: it sucks. It looks pretty much like the one from the movie, but the wings are fixed in the vertical position, which is not how the one from the movie flies around. This is like having a Lambda shuttle with wings that don’t swing or a B-wing with S-foils that don’t open. It was an embarrassing oversight when it happened on the big Command Shuttle set, and it’s simply inexcusable here. It would have been an easy fix, too, with a pair of hinges. Mediocre!

MOC 1 – Matt’s fighter

Here was my first attempt at an alternative build:

project-30279-mjw-fighter-1

If I’m super-picky, it looks more like something from Wing Commander or Renegade Legion than Star Wars, but I dig it anyway. Here are some instructions:

project-30279-mjw-fighter-1-instructions

MOC 2 – Matt’s cruiser

project-30279-mjw-cruiser-1

Next I tried a Star Destroyer-type capital ship, with a powerful axial laser. The bridge tower is elevated to get the sensors and comm gear up away from the weapons. This one’s a mixed bag, probably a little more obviously Star Wars-y than the fighter, but a less elegant and unified design. Instructions:

project-30279-mjw-cruiser-1-instructions

MOC 3 – London’s gunship

project-30279-lcw-gunship-1

While I was building my fighter and cruiser, London was steadily working away on something I couldn’t see clearly. When he showed me the finished product, I was blown away. I love this thing. Using the grey wedge pieces to make a double-tier cockpit would not have occurred to me in a million years, and the outriggers give it a rounded, Millennium Falcon-esque aspect ratio. It looks very swooshable, and I think it would make a killer gunship for Rebel special forces or a well-heeled smuggler.

This instruction set is actually interesting, because it shows some clever bits of building, like having the grey ridged bricks at the back only snapped in at the top (they’re just balanced on the smooth parts of the wing pieces in step 3, below), and hiding all of the little colored plates inside as structural elements.

project-30279-lcw-gunship-1-instructions

So, I think London wins this round. If anyone out there wants to play, leave a comment, and you can have space to show off your creation in a future post.

Posted in homebrew, Lego, MOC, sequels, Star Wars, toys | 2 Comments

Why (and who) your vote for Trump hurts

I originally posted this on Facebook, after some loved ones got upset that I posted links to this article and this one. I’m posting it here now for ease of access, both for my future self and for others who don’t have access to my Facebook feed. Your thoughts are welcome, but be warned I’ll be watching the comment section with extra vigilance.

– – – – – – – – – – –

I’ve heard from friends and loved ones in the Midwest that the things I’ve posted on Facebook in the past few days have hurt their feelings. I don’t take that lightly – but I didn’t post the things I posted lightly, either. I’m posting this now to hopefully open a dialogue. It’s depressingly long, because I lacked the skill to write it shorter.

If you don’t want to hit me back here, that’s fine. I’d actually prefer to have the follow-up conversations one-on-one, in messenger, email, or by phone. This is just a starting point for me. I realize some of the language below may strike you as inflammatory. I went as high as I am capable of going right now, and if it wasn’t high enough, I can only ask you to reach down and try to pull me up.

Part 1 is about why I’m hurt that people I love voted for Trump. If you didn’t vote for Trump, great, skip down to Part 2, which is about why I’ve posted what I have lately.

*** PART 1: Why (and who) your vote for Trump hurts ***

Let’s start with some background.

For Vicki and me, Muslims, Hispanics, LGBTQ folks, and other minorities aren’t abstractions. They’re our friends, coworkers, students, and fellow parishioners (okay, not the Muslims, but our church does participate in an interfaith council and works with mosques to feed the poor, and we love it). People of other ethnicities, religions, and orientations are at our faculty meetings, our star parties, and our barbeques. And every year we have many, many minority students. Some of them are members of multiple minorities. Many of them came to America to escape repressive regimes and religious intolerance overseas (good thing they won’t see any more of that, right!).

The three things to note about this are, first, there’s nothing unusual about this level of diversity out here. It’s been the baseline for us since we moved to California 15 years ago. Second, we freaking love it. We love these people, and we wouldn’t trade the richness and love they bring to our lives for anything. And third, even with all of this diversity, things are far from equal even here. We see and hear about the struggles our minority friends, colleagues, and students have to go through just to be taken seriously or to avoid harassment, even here in lefty California, even in normal years. Just to be treated as full human beings instead of stereotypes. If you think the struggle isn’t real, I’m glad your life is so easy.

(Side question for red-staters: do you encounter these struggling people? Ever have a gay Hispanic kid crying in your office, or try to comfort a Muslim woman who’s worried her hijab will keep her from getting a job? Or is this just theoretical for you? I’m not trying to be snide – I thought I was worldly and tolerant when I lived in Oklahoma, but I had _no idea_ how much of a straight white Christian bubble I was in.)

So when Donald Trump kicked off his campaign by smearing Hispanic people, it didn’t land here as loose talk or something to be celebrated. It caused real pain and fear among people who have struggled their whole lives to be treated fairly. Same for the Muslims, LGBTQ, and other minorities as the campaign went on. Trump wasn’t talking about empty labels, “those people” who live conveniently off-screen. He was talking about the people all around us, in every part of our lives. (Okay, Trump has not said a ton about LBGTQ folks and even waved a Pride flag a couple of times, but Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, etc. are walking gay rights disasters, so he gets no points there.)

Now, Vicki and I are personally insulated from the worst of Trump’s bigotry because we’re still straight white Christians. But precisely because we’re Christians, we feel a responsibility to take seriously the pain of our neighbors, and to use our privilege to stand alongside all the unprivileged people who have been targeted as scapegoats for the past 16 months. (To the unprivileged: if we’ve let you down, we’re sorry – please tell us how to do better.)

So that’s point one: our values, our experiences, and our understanding of Christ require us to resist Trump’s bigotry, which has caused real pain to actual people that we know for almost a year and a half. Flag that for future reference.

Next item: Trump has lied to just about every person in his life, has lied obviously to the American public repeatedly during the campaign, cheated on his wives and bragged about it, stiffed the people he hired and bragged about it, and changed his mind on just about every possibly policy position. Until a decade or so ago, he was pro-choice. He’s a billionaire playboy who speaks and acts as if women and their bodies are just playthings for him, and at least a dozen people credibly claim that he sexually assaulted them. So the idea that he’s some kind of principled social conservative is ludicrous. (Although he’s surrounded himself with social conservatives, and in the case of Steve Bannon, white supremacists.)

So here’s my beef with “values voters” who went for Trump in the hope of getting more conservatives on the Supreme Court (if you voted for Trump for economic reasons, this ain’t about you – but let’s check back after bank deregulation and tariffs and see how things are going). Even if I thought a more conservative Supreme Court was a desirable outcome – and I don’t, because I love the people conservatives hurt – that leaves the following problems:

1. Trump has lied or shifted his position on just about everything. He clearly thinks that absolutely everything is open to negotiation, and that sincere people (including you) are suckers to be hustled. He’s already backed down on repealing the most significant parts of Obamacare and on building the wall, so even core planks of his campaign are fungible now that he’s won. He’s suddenly become very conciliatory toward Democrats, including Hillary and Obama, possibly because he knows that Pence is impeachment bait and he needs allies (we know people who voted for Trump for this very reason: they wanted Pence and think they’ll get him). Everything we know about Trump suggests that he would just love to play Republicans and Democrats against each other so neither group is strong enough to control him (see: his flip-flopping treatment of Fox News and CNN on the campaign trail). So what makes you think that he will actually carry through and nominate social conservatives to the Supreme Court? In short, why do “values voters” think that you’re the only group ever that Trump won’t stiff the minute it become advantageous for him – especially if by betraying you he keeps Democrats happy enough to not help impeach him?

2. At what point is _maybe_ getting the person you want on the Supreme Court a Pyrrhic victory? In addition to mocking the disabled and bragging about sexual assault, Trump definitely said that he was going to deport millions of people, take away health insurance for millions more, re-institute torture, and bomb civilians. You can say that was just loose talk on the campaign trail, but one, it had real-world effects on your fellow humans (cue future reference, above) and corroded America’s political and moral standing in the world, and two, if you think Trump wasn’t serious about that stuff, why would you think he’d be any more serious about appointing your preferred justice? Since the election, we’ve had a spasm of hate crimes against all kinds of minorities by people who were definitely emboldened by Trump’s campaign-trail rhetoric, and he’s made an alt-right anti-Semite misogynist (Steve Bannon) his chief White House strategist and senior counselor. Now, _maybe_ Trump will actually appoint a social conservative to the Supreme Court, if it suits him, and _maybe_ a case will come up that will let the court overturn Roe v Wade, and _maybe_ they’ll actually do it. (Although conservative justices can surprise you – John E. Jones [District-level Bush appointee Republican] struck down both a gay marriage ban and the teaching of intelligent design, and John Roberts has declined to participate in opinions condemning Roe v Wade.) But does that string of maybes outweigh the actual fear and pain that millions of people have been experiencing for months and continue to experience? If you’re a Trump voter, I don’t think you’re necessarily racist, but you joined almost all of the actual racists in voting for a bigot, and that legitimized his bigotry whether you meant for it to or not (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/11/10/the-cinemax-theory-of-racism/). When I hear from people who voted for Trump because of the Supreme Court, what I hear is, “the actual suffering of real people right now means less to me than the chance for a possible future political victory.” I don’t see how that math adds up for anyone, especially not for people who call themselves Christians. At least when Esau traded his inheritance for a bowl of soup, the soup wasn’t hurting anyone!

I’d love to hear how that added up for you. I’m really trying to actually understand that, despite my exasperation.

*** PART 2: Why I’ve been posting the stuff I have ***

I have more than 600 Facebook friends (at least for now!). About a tenth of them don’t even live in the US. Most of the rest are Left Coasters we met in grad school or work, because that’s who was around when Facebook was taking off. I post on stargazing, paleontology, Dungeons & Dragons, movies, travel, teaching, and, yes, politics. I expect people who subscribe to my feed to be able to figure out which parts are and aren’t aimed at them.

None of the things I’ve posted lately have argued that every person in rural America is an incurious fundamentalist, only that there are a lot of incurious fundamentalists in rural America. So if you don’t consider yourself an incurious fundamentalist, why would you assume the article is about you? Or are you denying the idea that there are incurious fundamentalists in rural America? Because that’s a tough sell – it’s my lived experience from having grown up and gone to school and college in Oklahoma.

My intent has not been to hurt anyone, but to call out things that I’ve actually seen and experienced that are a huge problem for the country – people who have been on a steady drip of Fox News for 15 years and Rush Limbaugh for 30, who don’t see the damage their Trump votes caused because they don’t live alongside any of the minorities who are living in fear right now. (Okay, statistically, you almost certainly do have LGBTQ acquaintances. If they haven’t come out to you, it’s probably because they’re _afraid_ of _Christians_. That makes me weep.)

If you don’t think the articles I’ve posted describe you, good – I never intended them to! I didn’t post those articles AT you any more than I posted them AT our fellow scientists who happen to live and work in red states. I know full well that there are a lot of enlightened, compassionate people in Oklahoma – even as I try to grasp how a whole state and a whole region that identify as evangelical just legitimized months (and potentially years) of bigotry and violence by pulling the lever for Trump.

And if you choose to self-identify as an incurious fundamentalist or a bigot, um, I hope you’ve had a good ride? You may be geographically and culturally insulated from the harm your attitudes cause, but that does not mean your attitudes aren’t harmful, and I’m not about to stop calling them out. If that means we can’t be Facebook friends – if my feed is no longer a “safe space” for your intolerance – okay, I’ll do my best not to choke on that irony. Just remember that you left, not me.

If you are offended because you feel like I’m ignoring your individuality and treating you as one of a huge group, well, one, you’re probably wrong, for reasons explained above, and two, if you think this hurts, try and imagine what it would feel like if the President-elect and VP-elect labeled you as an undesirable and then threatened your whole group with registration, deportation, the loss of marriage rights, or electroshock therapy to ‘cure’ your sexuality. Because that’s what Trump voters actually inflicted on my friends, colleagues, students, and neighbors. And right now the real pain and fear my neighbors _can’t escape_ matters to me a lot more than whether privileged people I wasn’t necessarily talking to _choose_ to be offended by what I posted.

I love you. Your move.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Fat and skinny, elegant and brutal

This line of thinking started when Mike pointed me to the Simple Game System, which I had somehow not heard of before. I was prepared to be skeptical, as most minimalist systems leave me cold,* but I like that dice mechanic.

* What I mean by that is that minimalist systems almost always sound appealing at first, but seem to fall flat in actual play. It turns out that what I most often want is a Fat Game from which I can pick and choose which bits I actually want to use. I don’t know that I have ever played a pen-and-paper RPG exactly as written – I always strip out that which strikes me as stupid and bolt on that which strikes me as awesome. After a while I realized that this is what everyone does, and I stopped worrying about it.

Y-Wings in Death Star trench

That gave me a realization about BattleTech vs the X-Wing Miniatures game. Since London and I got into X-Wing minis last fall I’ve been pretty hot on that game and pretty cool toward rusty old B-Tech, which always takes forever. But one of the appealing things about BT is that it’s a box of parts that you can play with – there are rules for making up new mechs and tanks and they allow people to do things that the game’s designers never anticipated. Whereas X-Wing is very, very lean and balanced and playtested to within an inch of its life, but it doesn’t invite experimentation – in fact, it discourages it, at least for me, because tinkering with the stats or the rules is probably going to break the game.

endgame 2

Also, I’ve been thinking lately about how interesting it is when the playstyle of a game mimics the content. Like, the lean rules and quick play of X-Wing really do make it feel more like a dogfight. It’s all desperation and snap decisions and trying to out-guess your opponent on the fly. By comparison, BattleTech is massive and clunky and takes forever. It’s the opposite of lean. But in a way this is good – sometimes you really want to get down in the mud with some clanking, brutal 75-ton monster and stomp someone’s ass in exquisite and excruciating detail. Or at least I do.

Posted in BattleTech, wargames, X-Wing Miniatures Game | 2 Comments

Star Wars homework: Brick (2005)

Brick movie poster

Part of the Star Wars homework project.

Star Wars connection: written and directed by Rian Johnson, the writer and director of Episode VIII and writer of Episode IX.

From having seen Looper, I was pretty sure going into this one that (1) it would be a mindfuck, and (2) I would love it. I was not disappointed.

The short-short take is that it’s a noir murder mystery set in a high school. I suppose comparisons to Veronica Mars are inevitable. Both feature unusually smart, well-spoken high school sleuths unraveling histories of iniquity that are surprisingly, satisfyingly complicated. Both are set in towns on the California coast where public high schools bring together teenagers from all levels of an otherwise economically segregated community. They even came out at roughly the same time – VM aired from the fall of 2004 through 2007. But all of these appear to be genuine coincidences, since Rob Thomas (VM) and Rian Johnson were developing both projects independently, and apparently as fairly quiet, personal projects, for a long time before they came to fruition.

And in fact, Brick and Veronica Mars feel very different. From reading around online I see that VM is referred to as a noir mystery but I would not have pegged it as such – more of a teen mystery with noir trappings. Whereas Brick is a noir mystery with teen trappings. It’s so noir that if you’re not familiar with the genre, you may spend the entire movie wondering what the hell is going on (and if you are familiar with the genre, you’ll know that is a central part of the appeal).

It’s so noir that it’s strengths and weaknesses are approximately the same as those of the genre itself.

To me, the major failing of many noir mysteries, including Brick, is that the plot only works because characters – especially the minor characters – behave predictably, almost to the point of being Pavlovian automatons. How many times in one of these stories does one of the main characters leak a specific piece of information to X, knowing that X will go tell Y who will then do Z? It may be fun to watch, but it’s not how real people act.

Also, it must be said – no teenagers in the world are as clever and articulate as the ones in Brick. Hell, no people are that articulate for that long. But that’s a trope of both noir mysteries and most teen fiction, so no surprises there. And indeed, it’s more fun to watch unnaturally clever, pretty people for two hours than to watch plodding, average ones, even in movies where rat-a-tat dialogue isn’t a selling point.

What about the movie’s strenghts? The stock noir characters (mastermind, goon, seductress, etc.) translate over very smoothly. Being set in a sunny California town, the movie sort of perches on the edge of the mid-20th-century Los Angeles noir tradition that served up genre-centric hits like Chinatown and LA Confidential and revisionist send-ups like The Big Lebowski.

A lot of reviewers don’t like the complex lingo used by the characters, and admittedly it does take some time to pick up everything that’s being said. That’s almost a noir trope in itself. And for me, the weird argot spoken by the jaded souls in teenage bodies, combined with the standard noir complexity of the plot, had the cumulative effect of worldbuilding in almost a science-fictional sense. As Stephen King once wrote in one of his “Pop of King” columns for Entertainment Weekly, “It doesn’t bear any resemblance to life as I know it, but damned if I can take my eyes off it.”

It is either ironic or deeply fitting that he was referring to Veronica Mars.

Star Wars verdict: I think it bodes quite well. At this point, Star Wars is kind of a genre unto itself, so Johnson’s ability to make an engaging story within the constraints of a genre with very particular tropes is a good sign. Because Brick is a noir, it’s also a sort of picaresque. Noir characters don’t grow, they just bounce off each other. If mapped out, the web of interactions will be complex but each individual interaction will be simple – indeed, so simple that the sleuth can start reaching in and fiddling with the machinery by the midpoint of the story. That facility with what we might call logistically complex stories will come in handy for Star Wars, and Johnson has shown elsewhere that he can write more complex characters that do develop over time. I am hopeful.

 

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Star Wars homework: Ex Machina (2015)

EX-Machina-Movie-2015

Part of the Star Wars homework project.

Star Wars connection: lead actors Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleason play Poe Dameron and General Hux, respectively, in The Force Awakens and the upcoming sequels.

I saw Ex Machina about a month ago. It has a tight, almost claustrophia-inducing focus on the three leads – indeed, with the exception of one other character, there’s almost no-one else in the movie. I thought that worked well for the story. And it unspools at a very deliberate pace. Which can be maddening – I wanted some parts to go by faster and others to last longer. BUT I think that pacing was deliberate and for me at least it added to the tension, just as the inescapable one-second-at-a-time pace of life out here in the real world can be brutal at times.

The biggest revelations for me were the performances of Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleason, whom I’d only seen before in The Force Awakens. In TFA, Poe (played by Isaac) is an emotionally open guy who wears his heart and his deep goodness on his sleeve. The kind of guy who smiles with genuine happiness as he steals an enemy fighter, and greets his lost robot with a completely un-self-conscious shout of “Buddy!” And General Hux (Domhnall Gleason) is a kind of stereotypical Hitler Youth type who keeps his emotions on a tight leash except when demogoguing an imminent genocide, and who plays power politics with the best of them – sending the TIE fighters to blow up Finn and BB-8 when Kylo Ren said he wanted the droid back intact, and then later pointing out Ren’s error in letting BB-8 escape in a joint audience with Supreme Leader Snoke. Kylo Ren probably spent half the movie thinking, “The freaking balls on this guy!”

Wow, was I in for a shock. In Ex Machina, both actors play characters that are so removed from their Force Awakens roles as to be almost antithetical. Oscar Isaac’s Nathan Bateman is a closed off, manipulative enigma, and Domhnall Gleason’s Caleb Smith is a tentative, geeky nice guy. He’s not even a good guy – he’s a nervous guy who wants to be good. If you get the chance, try watching both movies within a day or two of each other and prepare yourself for some whiplash.

If I have less to say about Alicia Vikander, it’s because I’d never seen her in anything else, and she’s kind of beside the point, Star Wars-wise. But she certainly gave a remarkable performance as Ava. In fact, she creeped me the hell out, which I gather is not her usual MO, at least from interviews she’s given and people not talking about her as if she’s a psychopath. Vikander’s character is like Isaac’s and like the movie itself: a piece of tighty-wound clockwork that only shows you what it wants you to see.

Oh: the special effects were incredible, in that they did not appear to be special effects at all.

A common theme among people who dislike the movie is that it’s predictable. I think it’s predictable in exactly the same sense that Titanic is predictable. We all know or can intuit the broad strokes of what’s going to happen from about 5 minutes in – but the enjoyment comes from watching it actually unfold.

Star Wars verdict: it bodes well. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleason can act. I hope Rian Johnson gives them some work to do in the next two episodes, as they’re clearly up to it.

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Kylo stabbed first

IMG_6933

Shirt by Mike Taylor. Get your own at Mike’s RedBubble shop, here.

Geez I have an immense forehead.

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Star Wars homework: the other movies of the actors and directors

Looper poster

The guy who wrote and directed this is writing and directing Episode VIII.

I thought it would be fun to catch up on the non-Star Wars films of the creators and actors of the Star Wars sequel trilogy and stand-alone films.

Here’s the list of people, their roles in the sequel trilogy, and the 14 movies I’ve chosen for homework. I assume that most people have seen Godzilla (2014) and Jurassic World (2015) already, but as the movies closest in budget and scope to the upcoming Star Wars movies, I felt compelled to include them. Beyond that, I have made no attempt to be comprehensive – instead I’ve listed the movies that I have the most interest in seeing. If you want completeness, IMDB and Wikipedia await.

I also did not include any of J.J. Abrams’ work. I assume he’s a known quantity by now, and this list is really looking forward to Episodes VIII and IX and Rogue One, not back (or sideways) to The Force Awakens. But for what it’s worth, I think the JJ film that most directly anticipates The Force Awakens is Super 8.

When I first composed the list last week, the only thing I’d seen from it (other than the two big summer blockbusters) was Looper (2012). Since then I’ve also watched Ex Machina (2015), which is streaming for free on Amazon Prime. More on those movies in other posts.

John Boyega – FN-2187/Finn

Oscar Isaac – Poe Dameron

Domhnall Gleeson – General Hux

Rian Johnson – writer for Episodes VIII and IX, director for Episode VIII

  • Brick (2005) – hardboiled detective story among high school students
  • The Brothers Bloom (2008) – caper comedy
  • Looper (2012) – time travel crime thriller

Colin Trevorrow – director for Episode IX

Gareth Edwards – director for Rogue One

  • Monsters (2010) – science fiction monster movie
  • Godzilla (2014) – science fiction monster movie

 

Posted in movies, sequels, Star Wars, Star Wars homework | 6 Comments