That Forest Moon: Admiral Ackbar’s Ambiguity

star-wars-forest-moon-of-endorIt’s no secret that I love Star Wars, and therefore no surprise that Star Wars has given me my favorite example of what ambiguous prose can do to a story.

You may recall, if you’re a total fucking nerd, that in Return of the Jedi Admiral Ackbar describes the Death Star as “orbiting the forest moon of Endor.” (Grainy bootleg clip here if you’re interested.)

That’s an ambiguous description. It could mean “the forest moon belonging to Endor,” in which case Endor is presumably the planet that the moon orbits (although it could also be a government, a corporation, or even a person). It could also mean that “Endor” is the name of the moon itself, as in “the land of Oz” or “the kingdom of France.”

If Ackbar had said “the planet Endor’s forest moon,” or “the forest moon known as Endor,” we’d know for sure. But all we get is “the forest moon of Endor,” and since that’s the only time anyone mentions the moon by name, that’s what we’re stuck with.

No big deal —  until Star Wars became a massive media enterprise with literally hundreds of contributing authors, and thousands of obsessive fans. The subsequent attempts to fix Return of the Jedi‘s ambiguity, as laid out on Wookiepedia, are frankly hilarious:

The planet Endor was never visible in any scenes in Return of the Jedi set on the forest moon, a fact which the novelization explains by asserting that it was destroyed some time earlier, and that the moon now orbits its star in a planetary orbit of its own. It should also be noted that in two of the space battle scenes, a pinkish planet can be seen in the background, in the vicinity of the forest moon. Another shot showing TIE fighters flying towards the Death Star (and camera) with several Star Destroyers in the background shows the pinkish planet. This, coupled with the fact that a moon without a planet should itself be defined as a planet in its own right, has caused some fans to speculate that this pinkish planet is in fact Endor, and the novel is wrong. In addition, a large body, probably the planet Endor, can be seen in the sky during some scenes in the two Ewok telefilms (Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor), though this does not closely resemble the planet seen in Return of the Jedi. Star Wars: Battlefront IIshows the planet Endor as a large blue planet, possibly a gas giant, when in Galactic Conquest mode.

Apparently there’s also stuff in other Expanded Universe novels about how the planet Endor (not the moon Endor) was destroyed, leaving the moon to orbit its star on its own, but later that turned out to be an elaborate hoax? Something like that, anyway. The point is, a lot of people have tried very hard to turn “the forest moon of Endor” into something that makes sense and stays consistent throughout a massive and badly-organized canon.

It’s almost like Admiral Ackbar was laying a massive…linguistic…wait a minute…

Sex Ed Website Scarleteen Goes On Strike – and We’re the Management

When the self-employed aren’t making enough to sustain their business (or their family), what do they do?

“Get a real job” has always been the traditional answer. On Monday, the popular sex-ed website Scarleteen.com announced a rather different approach:

Come May Day - May 1st – unless something radically changes, Scarleteen will begin a strike.

Striking is something we can try to stay afloat and get what we need in order keep doing all we do, not a skeleton of what we do. Striking is what we do, as teachers, as workers, when all other attempts at getting a living wage and reasonable working conditions fail. We’ve tried many approaches in seeking support over the years, and have worked hard doing so, but despite our best efforts, we’ve never had the level of response we needed.

This is, as far as I’m aware, a novel approach for a donor-supported business, though it echoes the Kickstarter mentality of “if there aren’t enough donations to do the project in full, none of the project happens.” The difference there is that Kickstarter projects are proposals, whereas Scarleteen.com is an existing business that provides several popular services.

scarleteen

There are also echoes of the SOPA/PIPA protest blackouts from 2012, when many websites self-censored their pages as a way of drawing attention to the potential effects of the bills. Scarleteen has proposed a similar awareness-highlighting “strike blog,” combined with a drastic reduction in their usual content and services, that would continue until their funding needs were met:

With only $3,000 each month to work with, that means shutting down all our direct services…and halting the creation and release of any new content…Our social media, save that pertaining to the strike, will also go dark.

We don’t have a picket line to stand on, so if we strike, we will publish a strike blog to keep these issues and our need visible each day to try and end the strike as quickly as possible. That will be the only new content we create while we strike.

It’s a fascinating approach. Most strikes are targeting owners or managers with a threat to their profits; here we instead have a direct action against the end-users of the product. I’d feel better about it if a lot of those end-users weren’t teenagers who may have no way to make donations — but it’ll still be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Of course, if Scarleteen can generate enough interest and donations with their announcement, they won’t have to experiment with striking at all, which would be the best-case scenario for everyone.

So please, even if it’s only $10, think about giving Scarleteen something today to help sustain the web’s best free sex-ed resource before they make labor history!

Want an AA to Go With That MA?

MaunualLet’s play with acronyms!

I went to a SLAC school, which depending on who you ask is either a Selective Liberal Arts College (an official organization), a Small Liberal Arts College (a general description), or a prophetic homonym.

That was six years ago; in a stunning display of the math/science skills you get with that kind of education, I will be attending my five-year reunion this year. (It’s a “cluster” thing. Don’t ask.)

The schedule is about what you would expect of such things: 5ks and bike rides and something called a “golf scramble,” which sounds a lot like what we did when Security came after us for streaking past the president’s donor golf brunch thing back in my sophomore year.

One recurring event every morning of the reunion caught my eye, however:

college-reunion-alcoholics-anonymous-schedule

There’s one of those every day. Much respect to my AA peeps — it is an important thing for some people — but I can’t help but wonder what it says about the Grinnell College experience that, when planning reunions, the committee sits down and thinks “Have we provided enough support for our alcoholic alumni this weekend? Let’s make sure we’ve got a meeting for them every morning.”

Okay, I take that back. I don’t have to wonder what it says about the Grinnell College experience at all.

My Life Since the Last Photodump, Part 1: California

You know what I’m great at? Taking pictures with my iPhone.

(Not, like, I take great pictures. Just that I’m great at pulling it out and snapping a photo whenever there’s something cool going on in my life. Which there almost always is, because my life is very cool; hence, lots of pictures.)

You know what I’m terrible at? Doing anything with those pictures.

They just sit on my iPhone, amusing me whenever I flip back through them but otherwise not doing a whole lot. God knows I never get them onto Facebook — I think the last major trip or event that I successfully turned into a Facebook “album” (or whatever they’re called) was a Milwaukee museum trip in 2010 or 2011.

By the time I remember to put photos up on Facebook it seems kinda stupid, because it’s not a “Hey, here’s a cool thing I’m doing right now!” update so much as a “Oh, yeah, I did this cool thing a year ago” update, which reduces the “you should give a shit” factor considerably (and it wasn’t all that high to begin with).

So guess what that means? This week you get to suffer through the photodump!

It’s cool, though. I’m mostly picking out the ones that are either funny, beautiful, or weird and interesting, and subjecting you to an absolute minimum of my goofy face. Without further ado:

Part 1: California, Summer 2013

I suspect I cleaned my phone’s memory out for this trip, since it’s where the pile of old photos starts. It was awesome. I went with one of my girlfriends at the time, who realized that the easiest way to secure me as a +1 for a wedding was to offer an excuse for camping. It worked.

yosemite-entrance

Gas, however, was more expensive than I’ve ever seen it:

yosemite-gas-prices-2013

I suppose those prices are going to look awfully dated in another year or two. Ah well.

Most of it was what you’d think of as the default Yosemite experience: beautiful waterfalls, towering cliffs, and massive crowds on all the day-hike trails.

crowds-yosemite-national-park

I think one of my favorite photos from the whole trip is this one, of crystalized sap on a live tree’s rockfall damage:

tree-sap-rockfall-damage

We were there for a wedding, which is why you get the slightly odd combination of me in a tie and Half Dome in the background:

yosemite-half-dome-wedding

The wedding couple were big backpackers. Best “Just Married” sign ever:

just-married-backpackers-yosemite

We took a few days to hike much less populated trails in the Sierra National Forest, where we found wild raspberries:

wild-raspberries-sierra-national-forest

(We also found a lot of raspberry-seed-filled bear poop, which encouraged us to eat quickly and then get the hell out of the raspberry thicket before someone else came along for a snack.)

And on the way out we had just enough time before our flight for me to nip out and dip my feet in the Pacific Ocean. Good to check that one off the list!

geoffrey-cubbage-pacific-ocean-2013

So that was California. Ready to suffer through some more outdated pictures? Stick around, because that’s the plan for this week!

Insert obligatory joke about word count and pictures being worth a thousand here, yadda yadda yadda. You know the drill.

Baboon Fart Story: Amazon Will Sell Anything, Until It Won’t

How much is a book worth?

What about an e-book?

What about the word “fart” printed 100,000 times in a row, with a baboon on the cover?

These are some of the core questions at the heart of the modern self-publishing business, or at least they have been since February 16, 2014, when indie publishing success Chuck Wendig commented in a blog post that:

I can literally write the word “fart” 100,000 times and slap a cover of baboon urinating into his own mouth, then upload that cool motherfucker right to Amazon. Nobody would stop me. Whereas, at the Kept Gates, a dozen editors and agents would slap my Baboon Fart Story to the ground like an errant badminton birdie.

The internet being the internet, someone immediately decided to test his theory.

baboon-fart-story-ebook-phronkUnder the pseudonym “Phronk,” another author uploaded the book Chuck Wendig had described to Amazon, adding sales copy that informed shoppers “This book is the word ‘fart’ written 100,000 times. You are literally about to buy the word ‘fart,’ written over and over. There is a picture of a baboon drinking piss on the cover.”

Artistic genius at work, no?

Well, no. Or at least, not in Amazon’s opinion. They pulled the book after less than 24 hours (during which time it had already climbed into the Top 10 rankings for the ‘History & Criticism’ subcategory it was published under — not a lot of lit-crit activity on Amazon, apparently). And as of Amazon’s latest e-mail to Phronk, they say it ain’t coming back. “Baboon Fart Story” is done.

So much for the “no gatekeepers” theory.

President Obama’s Latest Initiative Named for Brotherly Love; Murder

Peter_Paul_Rubens_Cain_slaying_AbelIt’s time for another of those heartwarming Christian “did you guys even read the book?” moments!

And this time we go all the way to the top, with President Obama’s newly-announced “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. This seems to be a public-private partnership program meant to help young minority men find employment and stay out of prison, though what it consists of beyond encouraging businesses and community groups to do some outreach isn’t exactly clear yet.

But that’s beside the point, really. The point is that they just named an effort to reduce criminal convictions after the first murderer’s defense statement:

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

(For those that haven’t read the book, God doesn’t buy it. Cain goes down for murder.)

This gets even weirder when you think about “My Brother’s Keeper” being a minority outreach program specifically, given that a number of prominent American Protestant denominations interpreted black skin as “the curse of Cain” and used it as a justification for both slavery and segregation well into the 20th century.

I honestly can’t tell if this is a case of no one quite remembering where the phrase came from and just liking the classical sound of it, or if this is President Obama being incredibly tongue-in-cheek, safe in the knowledge that most of America won’t get the joke.

But probably the former, what with him being a secret Muslim usurper and all that.

A Very Generation Y Valentine’s Day

Trader-Joe-logoWhat do you do when you’re a twenty-something in a major metro trying to class your dinner table up a little?

You go to Trader Joe’s, of course, where the same four basic cheeses are mixed, coated, and sprayed with every flavor and color imaginable to give them a thin veneer of exoticism. I’m honestly surprised they haven’t cut the middleman and started selling a “Toscano with Class” platter for dinner parties.

So when my girlfriend said that what she wanted for Valentine’s Day was a quiet evening in with a nice light snack and no outside interruptions, I did the twenty-something thing and went to TJ’s to put together a fancy-looking cheese board.

So did she.

Two completely independent and unconsulted shopping trips later, there we were, unwrapping two different kinds of brie, two different Toscanos, two different bleu cheeses, and (this was the kicker for me) two different helpings of pomegranate seeds, one packaged and one from an actual pomegranate. Apparently we both thought they’d make a sexy little accent piece on the cheese board.

About the only difference in our shopping trips, in fact, apart from some minor variations in the cheeses, was that she picked up a loaf of bread and I picked up some prosciutto. Some gender stereotypes for you right there.

Neither of us is really a Trader Joe’s shopping kind of yuppie in our day to day lives. But hey — sometimes you gotta spice Valentine’s Day up with a little roleplay, know what I mean?

And then make fancy mac and cheese for dinner for like a week straight.

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