An Excerpt of Commentary on DFW’s The Pale King, sections 8-13

Some errors below, but for posterity:

Section 8

Although I have yet to read all of DFW’s corpus, this may very well be the most heart-wrenching and depressing chapter of his narrative work (in my opinion, it surpasses (sub-passes?) even the grotesque descriptions of heroin withdrawal and digestive functions in IJ). In fact, it’s this section’s ability to convey narrative through subtlety and omission, rather than explicit detail, that makes it so impactful. Later sections will describe in horrifying accuracy what exactly befalls poor (literally impoverished, at the very least) Toni Ware and her mother, but it’s the awful hope we have for Toni, only to be dashed in later sections, that makes her plight so distressing and nauseating.

Re: Daniel’s excellent point that DFW’s use of POV impacts how we view Lane Dean: I think this technique comes to its climax here. From an objective point of view, Toni is literally a mass-murderer. She’s used shards of glass and/or sheets of asbestos to kill at least three people, and while one of these people is a rapist and another a potential rapist, it must be objectively admitted that this is a particularly ferocious brand of “justice.” (I may even have some pity for the boy so deranged that he’d be willing to proposition a girl while handling her sewage.) Yet having read little Toni’s murderous story, with its homeless and starving for 8 days under a cloud of ash (a rather obvious metaphor for DFW to have used, I think?), I can’t help but feel sympathy, and even some admiration, for this child. She’s a survivor. I’m curious to see if I’m just all-around too empathetic here, or if you all share some of these views.

I think one of DFW’s masterful tricks here is in the manipulation of our intuitive sense of narrative. The “American Story” is one of triumphing over obstacles, and we read Toni’s story with a sort of implicit contract with the author that she’s going to have some catharsis or victory. Instead, and I’ll avoid narrative spoilers here the best I can, she ends her story with a disgusting and absurd bit of petty fraud. Then again, maybe so does Lane Dean, and maybe so does CS, and maybe so does the Pale King himself.

This leads inevitably to the largest question regarding Ms. Ware, which is: what the hell is she doing in this book? She doesn’t seem to have any narrative connection to the IRS, or to any of the other characters (this is only my second read of the book, so if I’m missing something obvious, please call me out with all of the attendant scorn as would be appropriate), but lacking a clear narrative connection, the remaining conclusion must be that Toni W bears a thematic connection to our poor bumbling drones and ghosts and supernaturals at the IRS center in Peoria.

I’ll add one superficial narrative rhyme, which is that both the IRS and TW+mom seem to have an affinity for “repossessing” vehicles for which they are ill suited. Not sure the significance of this, but I welcome your thoughts. An ill-suited vehicle on an ill-suited journey for an ill-suited goal?

Without offering any real insight, I do want to take a moment and point out the genius of TW’s critique of “The Red Badge of Courage.” DFW knew, clearly, that true submersion in horror allowed for any means of escape, and that’s something Mr. Crane never seemed to grasp. (It reminds me of Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” where Christoph Waltz’s Nazi remarks how willing humans are to degrade themselves for the sake of survival.) Toni W is able to exist outside of herself, unblinking and unfeeling, to survive her traumas. The first time she’s raped, it appears that something was put in her pop (date rape drug, clearly), and she then seems to take that same sense of unfeeling and apply it to future situations which happen to her outside of her control. To survive, she stops feeling. To live, she stops living.

Dragging that thought out, I’m wondering if DFW’s goal was to draw an association between the horrors little Toni W faced and the horrors of daily droning under immense bureaucracy, which inevitably deprives its workers of agency or ambitions or feeling. On one hand, that seems incredibly uncaring, a cruel comparison between violation and boredom, but on the other hand – DFW suffered immensely from mental health issues, and I don’t know if anyone can blame him for trying to draw connections between the pain he suffered in his life and the pain suffered by IRS employees or homeless teenagers.

I pause in my writing of this because I’m disquieted by this association, the thought that perhaps Toni Ware and her sexual assault and poverty exist, narratively, simply as a foil, a reflection, of the oppression of the IRS – I welcome other interpretations!

(N.B.: after considering the grotesque symptoms listed in Section 11, I’m more inclined to have sympathy for a connection between Toni W and workers at IRS centers who have postings in excess of 36 months.)

Section 9

A tonal whiplash, as this is my favorite and most enjoyable section. It’s clear on reflection that the “author” here is separate from the actual human being DFW, but even so, I can’t help but to feel a friendly affinity for the man. In fact, if it weren’t for the absurd little bits (like the idea of the IRS assigning its agents a new SS number), this section is written so believably and emotionally that I’m often tempted to think of its author as the real DFW, as opposed to the character of DFW.

Before going into a deeper thematic or narrative analysis, I want to pause for a moment and discuss style. I’ve spent quite a while thinking about footnotes in particular and DFW’s use of them across his work. As I said, I haven’t read all of his work, but I’d like to point out three instances of heavy footnote use:

1) In IJ, DFW doesn’t use footnotes but endnotes, which I think constitute a crucial distinction. I welcome dissention, but I believe that the vast majority of IJ’s endnotes exist as bits of encyclopedic knowledge which serve to make the world more real, more lived in. However, as endnotes, they aren’t necessarily essential to the story and are often overlooked by readers.

2) In his non-fiction work “Everything and More: A Brief History of Infinity,” these footnotes serve to *humanize* the author (the actual DFW), who seems perpetually ashamed of his intellect. Some of his footnotes contain tangential bits of trivia, but many more of them add personality and pathos to the author.

3) Likewise in TPK, the footnotes exist only in very certain section, and then they exist, in the main, to humanize that author (the fictious one). It feels almost that the weight of his own existence is so painful that DFW has transmitted his essence into this fictional shell, doing his best to humanize it and therefore escape his own pain. It’s entirely possible that I’m projecting, but that’s my sense.

So we have an author who uses extra-clausal annotations frequently, particularly considering that DFW uses more clauses in his sentences than most authors, anyway. These most often exist to expand a thought, but specifically in such a way as to also convey emotion, tone, or personality.

Apropos of nothing, I’ll also add that there are a few sparks of grief in this section, such as when the “author” DFW discussed the final drafts of the manuscript, which of course never existed.

We start this section with an ironic lie: the idea that DFW never liked “cute, self-referential paradoxes,” and that the book is anything except a “clever metafictional titty-pincher,” which of course it is (magnificently so).

The section then accomplishes two primary goals. The first is to build sympathy for the fictional construct of DFW as he recalls his long and mostly-unjust journey to the IRS, during which he was punished by his college much more ferocity than his customers were.

Secondly, however, is a profound idea: that we’re afraid of “dullness” because silence fostered by dullness allows us to ruinate on our fears and deeper psychic pain. The implication therefore is that our only hope to stay happy is to avoid the silence of our fears.

I’m afraid I don’t have much to add here, though I suspect this section stirred emotions for many readers of the novel.

Section 10

While the next section makes it abundantly clear that I am neither a doctor nor a psychologist, this section reveals my lack of legal training.

So – I assume the “Fourth Appellate Court” is the same as the “Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals,” which operates out of Richmond and covers part of Maryland, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia (per Wikipedia).

A Google search showed me a number of cases entitled Atkinson v. US, but none of them have decisions or dissents from a Justice Mealer, and they were in Texas (unknown appellate level), DC (the Fifth Circuit), Hawaii (Ninth Circuit), and the US Supreme Court.

Which begs the question – why did DFW chose the Fourth Circuit? Why the name HH Mealer? And most importantly – what does this quote, which exists only to be dissented from, do for the novel?

I suppose we can start with the fact that this quote is just silly and factually incorrect – as odious and labyrinthine as the US Government Bureaucracy surely is, it’s not larger that the US itself (the host to the parasite). Particularly in light of the fact that the bureaucracy of communist China or the USSR actually may have been larger than those countries, and this is almost certainly the case of, say, North Korea.

The only conclusion I see, therefore, is that the silly quote exists as a way to establish a silly truth in its reflection – that the bureaucracy (of which the IRS is an essential member) acts as a “parallel” system, operating as a puppet master on us poor citizens – and that, by metaphorical connection, the powers of the IRS operate as parallel puppet master on their droning employees.

These two points, the quote and its foil, lead to what DFW helpfully calls the “crucial part of the analogy” : the mastermind of this system of pullies and leavers is not uncaused.  Something larger than it, perhaps an uber-bureaucracy, is operating on the bureaucracy, which in turn operates on us (Bilderberg, anyone?).

I’ll add in full humility to DFW’s intellect, and cognizant that I may be missing the point entirely, that this section feels under-cooked. If his argument is indeed about a system pulling the levers of another, and that system itself being “not uncaused” and so presumably under the control of another larger system, then the key word “parallel” doesn’t fit nearly as well as something like “proportionally greater than” or “a shadow more powerful than it’s raison d’etre.” The word “parallel” seems to undercut his point.

Section 11

Few things make me quite as happy as the absurd use of abbreviations in the work of David Foster Wallace (TAUOAITWODFW), and “ACIRHRMSOEAPO” is one for the books.

I’m no doctor, and so on my first read of this book I simply gave the list a quick skim. I laughed at a few of the symptoms (I hope that’s an appropriate response?), but I didn’t recognize many of them.

For this analysis, then, I risked appearing anal and went through to decipher what I could, thanks to Google and my copy of the DSM IV (not having a DSM II handy).

“In reverse order of incidence”

Chronic paraplegia – (must be the last syndrome / symptom to appear): lower body paralysis, persistent or recurring.

Temporary paraplegia: temporary lower body paralysis

Temporary paralysis agitans: Parkinson’s Disease, which is not a “temporary” disease

Paracatatonic fugues: “a rare psychiatric disorder characterized by reversible amnesia for personal identity, including the memories, personality, and other identifying characteristics of individuality” (this one’s just from Wikipedia). My first chuckle of the section, as the idea of IRS work causing amnesia is just … wickedly, absurdly, gloriously funny (to me).

Formication: “the sensation that resembles that of small insects crawling on the skin” (Mayo Clinic)

Intracranial edema: Edema is puffiness caused by swelling, but this one in the brain. Sometimes fatal. Makes me think of a cartoon, where some angry office boss gets so angry that his head explodes.

Spasmodic dyskinesia: “disease caused by involuntary movements of one or more muscles of the voice box” (NIH). Again, laughing at the silent IRS processing room being disturbed by the random screeching and squawks of slowly un-hinging minds.  

Paramnesia: “a condition or phenomenon involving distorted memory or confusions of fact and fantasy, such as confabulation or déjà vu.” (

Paresis: Partial paralysis due to nerve or muscle damage

Phobic anxiety (numeral): This one made me laugh.  

Lordosis: Expected of people who sit too often, it’s an abnormal arch in the back

Renal neuralgia: Sharp nerve pain in the kidney (a quick google search suggests this one isn’t a particularly real diagnosis. Neuralgia is real, but I don’t see much evidence of it happening in the kidneys)

Tinnitus: Ringing in ears … an odd symptom for someone who works in an office that DFW elsewhere describes as unnaturally silent

Peripheral hallucinations: Perhaps not a symptom but simply a real ghost?

Torticollis: One of those symptoms that sounds horrible but also made me laugh out loud: “A rare condition in which the neck muscles contract, causing the head to twist to one side.” (Mayo Clinic)

Cantor’s sign (dextral): I love that this is only on the right side. As most of you probably know, DFW wrote a book called “Everything and More,” which is a lovely little journey through the history of infinity (as a mathematical concept). In it, he makes his adoration for Georg Cantor, who invented set theory, very clear. However, that’s the only link I can find to this “syndrome / symptom,” as neither google nor the DSM seem to recognize any such illness or disorder. 

Lumbago: Lower back pain, common for those who sit often.

Dihedral lordosis: Dihedral is a term for the angle which “is the upward angle from horizontal of the wings or tailplane of a fixed-wing aircraft,” and lordosis (see above) is an abnormal back arch. It seems that this is a DFW neologism (neoligstic diagnosis?).

Dissociative fugues: Again, sort of funny in the context of imposing bureaucracy: “a rare psychiatric disorder characterized by reversible amnesia for personal identity, including the memories, personality, and other identifying characteristics of individuality” (Mayo again).

Kern-Borglundt syndrome (radial): No clue about this one – the Google results I found were all about the book! No idea the provenance of the name.

Hypomania: Per the DSM IV, this (literally: under mania) is the same as a manic disorder except without delusions or hallucinations cannot be present. (Funny, as hallucinations are also listed above.) And, of course, there’s a certain irony to any manic diagnosis being called “under mania.”

Sciatica: Another lower back issue

Spasmodic torticollis: “is an extremely painful chronic neurological movement disorder causing the neck to involuntarily turn to the left, right, upwards, and/or downwards” (Wikipedia). Notice how many of these diagnosis refer to involuntary movement of the face or neck.

Low startle threshold: Not a diagnosis

Krendler’s syndrome: The only link I could find is that “Krendler” is a character in a series of the Hannibal books by Thomas Harris, and one or two people use this as a way to acknowledge self-cannibalization.

Hemorrhoids: Not fun

Ruminative fugues: See “fugues” above, though there doesn’t seem to be any medical precedence for the “ruminative” qualifier. (Neo-diagnosis?)

Ulcerative colitis: IBD, also not fun.

Hypertension: Irony to see it so closely next to:

Hypotension : Ironically so close to the above.

Cantor’s sign (sinistral): On the left side this time, see above.

Diplopia: Double vision

Hemeralopia: “is an inability to see clearly in dim light” (Mayo). I suppose this happens if you live in a room lit by florescent lights.

Vascular headache: Also not fun

Cyclothymia: A “chronic, fluctuating mood disturbance” involving manic and depressive symptoms of insufficient severity to warrant a manic-depressive diagnosis. The second or third (or first, based on perspective) instance of manic behaviors.

Blurred vision: See “Diplopia” above. (If you can make it out…)

Fine tremors: Not hard to see this graduate into formication

Facial / digital ticking: Not hard to see how this evolves / graduates into spasmodic torticollis

Localized anxiety: Not fun, though I’m not sure the meaning of “localized”? Perhaps anxiety in reference to specific triggers? Still “localized” seems like an odd choice of words.

Generalized anxiety: Also unpleasant.

Kinesthetic deficits: A fault in your movement? Not a great second symptom to have happen, either.

Unexplained bleeding: the first system to appear, which is a bummer.

As you can see, DFW made up a few diseases, used his own terms for another few of these symptoms, and repeated symptoms often as well. I suspect a large part of this is his humor, and I suspect it’s also his tremendous ability for auto-didaction that he’s come up with these “syndromes/symptoms” outside of a traditional medical education or terminology.

Section 12

I have very little to add to this since Daniel covered Stecyk (LS) so incredibly well, but in regard to viewing him as a type of Jesus (as I think a later commentator added), I feel compelled to point out that Jesus, as a teacher, a storyteller, and a moralist, was incredibly unconcerned with consequences. He didn’t say “embrace the Leper unless you don’t want to get ill,” and he didn’t say “visit the imprisoned unless they’re bad people or dangerous,” and he didn’t ask us to “invite the stranger into your home unless it’s not prudent.” None of his moral admonitions, in fact, really examine the what next which they imply.

Likewise, LS is simply unconcerned with how people view him or how his actions impact them – he’s simply interested in these actions in and of themselves. He exhibits a complete disregard for anything except the moral value of his actions themselves (as perhaps Aquinas would have endorsed). He does, however, understand the world outside of himself, as we see when he adds in extra asterisks near the deaf and hard of hearing sections for the old lady with whom (at whom?) he is talking.

Section 13

Most particularly in the footnotes and asides in “Everything and More,” but honestly across his work, one gets the sense that DFW feels tremendous insecurity and unease in regard to his intellect. This isn’t a groundbreaking analysis, but I point it out as I wonder if his oppressive genius tortured him in the same way that attacks of the sweats attacked young Mr. Cusk (play on “cuck”?).

There must be some sort of underlying metaphor pushing the thematic and narrative trajectory here, and DFW makes it clear that Cusk feels a psychological connection to his hyperhidrosis. Perhaps being in constant fear of attacks of the sweats might feel something like a constant fear of an inner analysis: always prodding, never satisfied. I’m certainly of the opinion that DFW intended for there to be a relationship between attacks of sweats and attacks of anxiety, not simply a causal one but also a metaphorical one.

Likewise, TPK uses footnotes almost exclusively for sections written by the “author,” with this being an interesting exception and therefore making it feel more personal.

A random note, but it’s in puberty that both Cusk and Toni Ware learn “the terrible power of attention and what you pay attention to.” Both seem to prefer distractions (a body-less doll head / Dorian Grey) to facing the real world. This isn’t unusual, but I think they are the only two characters in TPK about whom this can be said.

An Open Letter to the Police Officer Who Ticketed Me

Officer –

I’m writing to apologize to you, because I feel shame for my behavior when we first met. You pulled me over under dubious circumstances and after following my car for a significant amount of time; I was scared. You approached with your hand on your gun, and your cool demeanor conveyed nothing but hostility and the threat of easy violence.

After your callous and condescending attitude had its way, you issued me a ticket. You asked me if there was “anything else.” I was scared for my life, for my legal liberty, for my safety. I responded “no.”

But that’s simply not true, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t risk my safety and my liberty to tell you the truth. The truth is, you make me ashamed to be an American. You revolt me; you disgust me. As Americans, we’ve spent so much time either “Making America Great Again” or (alternately) trying to prevent its demise at the hands of federal pseuo-fascists that we’ve forgotten a simple truth: most governmental abuse happens at the local level. Donald Trump or Barack Obama have infinitely less power to destroy America than you wield on a daily basis.

I took a left turn on a green arrow. You say there was a “no U-Turn” sign there; I didn’t see it. For the sake of argument, let’s assume you are correct, and the green arrow was contradicted by another sign. I drove on a nearly-empty road. I didn’t even see you, at first. You pulled up behind me, tailgated me, followed as I drove down a safe and slow road, and proceeded to pull onto the highway with me. Only then, while I was in a less save vehicular position, and after you’d had time to ascertain that I was from California, so not likely to challenge your “authority” in court, did you flip on your lights.

I was on the side of the road, a highway, by your design. An 18-wheeler roared past, swerving and going well over the speed limit (likely as the result of texting, if the vehicular undulations were any indication). I asked about the possibility of contesting my ticket in court; you responded with scorn. You’re just fulfilling a quote; my perfect driving record and the facts of the situation (I was driving slowly, operating my vehicle safely, and on a nearly-empty road while preparing to move to China) were irrelevant. You pushed on me some “driving school” that I could take online, provided that I also pay around $160 in fines to your city. I decided to pay the ticket; your city charges a one-time $36 dollar fine for any “first offenses.” Why? Because you target foreigners. You target people from outside your state, you fulfill a quota, and you impose on travelers a tax because you can.

I once had my car broken into; about $6,000 of computers and camera gear was taken. The police at the scene had a fingerprint (in perfect condition on a camera lens), security camera footage, and *the exact location of the thief*. My computer had tracking software on it. They knew his address. But any theft under $10,000 “wasn’t worth their time,” they said. Six months later, in another city, my car was stolen. It was found days later, full of liquor and used condoms. The insurance company complained, but they paid their claim. Your “brothers in blue”? They did nothing.

You, Sir, are disgusting. You are an example of the corruption that felled Rome, the agent of a system which evinces banal brutality to suppress and tax citizens: primarily men and women of color. You participate daily in a system which plants evidence to cover murder[1], rapes teenagers[2], and kills men who “can’t breathe.”[3] I’m an upper middle class white man; I literally cannot image the fear a black woman would have had. Or an immigrant man.

I drive through intra-state border checkpoints operated by your corrupt brothers at the ICE and Border Protection; they wave me through with one look at my face. My brown and black siblings have no such privilege. Where is due process? I should have had every right to contest my ticket, but you targeted me on my way from Los Angeles to Shanghai, making only a small stop in Atlanta. You asked invasive questions; I knew that any attempt on my part to protect my privacy could result in jail time. Your authority was un-checked.

I can’t return to Arizona to plead my case. Instead, I pay a $130 fine plus over $40 in rubbish “fees.” This is corruption incarnate. I’m leaving America because there’s greater opportunity on the pother side of the world. America is no longer the land of the free when I *know* that to have spoken my mind in public, you’d have arrested me. You’d have thrown me in jail, and any future employer would see my mugshot. My innocence wouldn’t have mattered. You’re a cop, which makes you complicit in a system that makes you a killer.

For a year after college, I worked for a non-profit that taught film to inner-city children. Middle schoolers, boys and girls who were 12-13. They were all black, and my advice to them was always the same: the cops are the enemy. Avoid them, and if they corner you, obey them. We’ll settle this later. You have no rights in the country because they are oppressors. You may fail to see the truth of this country, but I’ve traveled and lived across it, and my white sisters often say the same things as many of my black brothers: the police are the enemy.

Are you a bad person? I’m not saying that. But testified across history, up to even the flawed methodology of the Stanford Prison Experiment, comes a simple truth: the empowered abuse their power. And you’re in a situation where when you wield your power, it lessens the freedoms of America.

Sir, every day that you work erodes the freedoms that our veterans have died for.

With revulsion,





This Is Water

In his seminal commencement address to the Kenyon College class of 2005, David Foster Wallace told the story of two fish, one of which had never heard of “water” before. His friend replied that “dude, this is water,” and the audience laughs. DFW goes on to discuss the essential value of staying aware, of elevating our observance and our consciousness to an active engagement with our environment even as we pass through the tedium of daily life.

He proceeds, however, do bring this idea to something of its opposite conclusion. DFW goes on to argue that we cannot possibly know the circumstances or situations in which people find themselves, and so being cognizant of the “water” around us, we should mentally treat them with charity. For example, instead of mentally shaming the larger woman for eating too much fast food, perhaps an understanding of our “water” will allow us to consider that eating may be the only link she has to her dead husband who was a chef, or perhaps it’s simply how she avoids crippling depression.

In short, an awareness of “water” allows us to further rationalize with the end goal of charity. Sure, the man in the Mercedes just cut you off in traffic, but perhaps he’s rushing to a hospital. Sure, that person did X, Y, or X. But they have motivation A, B, or C.

His argument isn’t that these things do exculpate, but that they might exculpate, and so we can consider this in allowing ourselves to be more charitable to the people by whom we find ourselves surrounded or attacked.

Our current cultural understanding of “charity” comes more or less directly from Jesus, who urged his followers to “love those who hate you.” This is a fundamental difference. He urged not rationalization, but acceptance. The message spoken by Jesus was one of unreserved love, charity, and compassion.

Yet even Jesus had a human moment. As He hung from the cross, His prayer wasn’t “Father, forgive them,” but rather “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” As He hung dying, even Jesus found Himself praying with a spirit of what I call “empathetic forgiveness.”

And while the charity of empathy is lovely, admirable, and incredibly difficult to practice, I find myself working to mentally dismiss it. Because the fact of the matter is that some people simply act without regard for my well-being or happiness. Or yours. A significant portion of the population will cut you in line, knowing it delays your day, simply to advance theirs. They do this not on a special day, or because of emergency, but because they simply don’t think about you as an equal, if they think about you at all.

As a human, as a man, and as an unabashed narcissist, I find this incredibly difficult to swallow. Even today, it was with relish that I sped up in my car, refusing to allow a car to cut in front of me after I’d waited in traffic for 45 minutes. If he (or she) think that they can cheat the system, the norms of society, then they should be shown that they cannot, for the good of society.

And yet … this is a mindset which I find repugnant, and which I work actively to overcome. Because a more accurate, and a more fortified, charity is one which can forgive those who mean you harm.

This is still a lesser charity because it is a passive charity. Forgiveness happens in a passive manner, alone and in one’s heart. The greater charity is active, seeking to help those who contact you, who ignore you, who hate you, or who solicit you. Each can be difficult. But first, I try to focus on a simple dedication towards “objective forgiveness.”

In Defense of Transformers

Near the beginning of Transformers: The Last Knight, Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock) dismisses the fantasies of her young female students:  brawny, beautiful, men fighting for freedom and righteousness are a myth, created so as to give us hope in ourselves, hope in something greater than the mundane. It’s stupid to give ourselves examples of heroes, because the world simply doesn’t work like that.

Except, sometimes it does. Sometimes it does humanity good to have heroes, to have an inspirational rallying point for our hopes, ideas, and goals. In the end, that’s all the Transformers series is, wants to be, or needs to be: a silly story about good and evil, which untimely rests on its excesses to make a point about its simple truth: good can beat evil, and there’s an inherent good to watching that happen, to emotionally participating in that moral victory.


There has arguably never before been a Hollywood film series as consistent as the Transformers saga. From Bond to Indiana Jones, Star Wars to Harry Potter, never before has one series of films so singularly reflected a cohesive and consistent vision. This alone is no mean feat, and it is due in significant part to the genius of the narrative’s auteur, Michael Bay (I’m not alone in calling him a genius, either:

Consistency isn’t necessarily a mark of talent (though it can be), but it does allow us to holistically evaluate the merits of the series without falling into the danger of over-generalizing. And as a whole, the series offers consistently excellent cinematography, engaging mis-en-scene, strong performances (we’ll get to that!), and genius (I said it again!) directing.



These movies look incredible. My number-one complaint with most Hollywood cinematography involves the depth of the compositions – they’re so flat! Not in these films. Each frame operates on multiple levels, both as an aesthetically pleasing image and as an efficient way to convey narrative information. Moreover, the cinematography never falls into the trap of bland mono-chromatic monotony. The films burst with bright, highly saturated colors, with camera movement and light flares operating in conjunction with each other to convey a sense of realism through color. The films are stylized, but not alienating; the color serves to bring the audience into the story. Not to mention, Bay does an incredible job of using composition to convey a character’s emotional status. Even when there are technical errors (the 4th film’s grain structure is all kinds of wack), the beauty and momentum of the images, the passion in each frame, carry the narrative effortlessly.


Action Directing:

Directing is honestly just a sum of all elements involved, but I wanted to specifically point out the merits of how Bay handles action in these films. He’s the best in the business. On one level, he often juggles 5-6 story threads happening at the same time, effortlessly establishing time, location, and consequences. In his action sequences, we cut from scenes of battling robots, to the protagonist chasing some goal, to the love interest doing something (usually something empowering and active, by the way), to soldiers doing something, to bad guys scheming, to military folks at a command base, then back to the robots. Through it all, the chaos and the destruction, each plot point is established, the geography of the locations is clear, incredible and inventive action is displayed, and it only ever feels overwhelming in the best sense of the word.

The Transformers films never fall victim to the insidious disease of “if we shake the camera enough, blocking and special continuity won’t matter.” There’s a clear trajectory to each action beat, the cameras are kinetic but never sloppy, and even though the line is crossed all the time (the 180 rule), Bay is able to explore scenes from every perspective without disorienting the audience. That takes an immense amount of talent and care.



I don’t want to bad-mouth any film in particular, but I’ll say this: while recently watching a very successful big-budget blockbuster, I was shocked and appalled at the acting, particularly in relation to the VFX and SFX. Looks of mild fear during “life or death scenarios,” or just half-assed scenes of “running for your life.” It couldn’t have been clearer that the actors were merely “running” in a comfortable room between naps in their trailers.

That can never be said of the Transformers films. Those actors are sweaty, they’re dirty, they’re bloody, and they’re participating. They’re living it. Michael Bay may be a tyrant and a workaholic, but he gets performances.

Even more importantly, the performances in his films are mostly unexpected. Why pay an actor to interpret a role that anyone can do? So many big-budget films play it safe. The characters may be well-written, but the actors never take any risks. They’ll starve themselves, or take on a daring role, but the choices within that context are so bland … crying, not crying, yelling, whispering. Yawn. Not in a Michael Bay movie. Juvenile? Sure. Silly? Yep. Boring? Never.



Before we get into most people’s biggest complaint (story!), I wanted to point out that the production design consistently conveys futuristic authenticity, the coordination between wardrobe, camera, and production design melds seamlessly, and these films have some of the best sound design ever recorded.


Script and Story:

No, the scripts for the Transformers films aren’t Shakespeare. But neither are the scripts for masterpieces like “The Tree of Life,” “The Master,” or even “Tokyo Story” or “The Leopard.” Likewise, I can’t imagine that reading the script for “Ail: Fear Eats the Soul” or even “JAWS” would be that much fun. But the atmosphere of those films brings an almost transcendental evolution, raising the mundane to the profound. Analogously, the trite narratives featured in Transformers, good vs. evil, basic hero’s journey stuff, provides nothing more than a framework for the true intent of the film: thrill, passion, hope. In a narcissistic and cynical world, Transformers offers audiences a silly plot: one in which we can easily thrust ourselves, easily lose ourselves, and live in a world of thrills, in a world of danger and bravery. We spend our lives in the safe haven of the first world, and Transformers offers audiences an opportunity to feel the passion of adventure. If the cost of that is a bland screenplay, consider me sold.



We’ve been so conditioned by film critics to “know” what a “great” film is: what it looks like, what it feels like, how it handles itself. But I’ve noticed that criticism of the Transformers films tends to build on itself; in the theater, everyone is a fan. Laughing, gasping, holding their breath. It’s not until after the movie, in the cold light of reality, that people criticize the films. Maybe that’s because the films don’t stand up to scrutiny, but maybe that’s just an effect of group think, or a let-down from such an adrenaline-fueled experience in the theater.

At the end of the day, these gloriously messy films achieve greatness because they do exactly what all great cinema must do: they entertain, they enliven, they engage. Art aesthetically explores the human condition, and in order to do that, it must adhere to its prime directive: it must entertain. How can you instruct inattentive students? A film cannot engage a bored audience. So many films try for greatness without ever considering if they’re even good, while the Transformers films find greatness as a function of being good. Through technical excellence and narrative competence, these “popcorn” films offer a shot of life, a visceral experience of *experiencing*. Say what you want about them, but in a packed movie theater (and those showings are packed), every single person is held captive by the reality of the world they’re experiencing on screen. We might be divided politically, our nation may be belligerent with yours, but for the few precious hours that we have together in the cinema, we’re all fighting as one.

The Strategy to Dismantle the Trump Administration: Introduction

If you want to demolish a building, don’t target the ugly stained-glass windows. Target the load-bearing beams and walls.

The efforts to politically undermine the Trump administration have been thoroughly disappointing, in-effective, and neutered. They’ve lacked vision and cohesion.

It almost makes me think that there isn’t a consortium of Democratic Party leaders, elders, and strategists who meet in a smoke-filled room, debating the future of their party. If there isn’t, there should be. This county is a republic more than a democracy, and republics require strategic leadership.

The steps are simple: follow Sun-Tzu and know your enemy. President Trump is remarkably consistent, and the patterns and schedules that he so disdainfully eschews in his management style ironically appear regardless with magnificent frequency in his administration, his political life, and his emotional trajectories.

What we know:

  • The President cannot stand to have anyone rival his fame or oxygen. The minute someone becomes too “influential,” or the center of attention, they’re destroyed. Steve Bannon is the most obvious example, but this is also apparent to anyone who dares question the size of his inauguration crows, his approval ratings, or his genius. Numerous reports indicate that the President has a penchant for belittling his team, both privately and publicly, thereby ensuring that he’s always the alpha.
  • The President clearly has the intellect to get elected, but he seems to lack any sort of grasp, at all, about the nuisance or details of the job – particularly foreign policy. His first foreign policy trip was a “success,” which offers a significant opportunity; the President feels secure in an area that he should not.
  • President Trump’s most significant approval jumps seem to have come about from military action in Syria, and “imminent” military action in North Korea. The timing of the Syrian action is questionable … right as larger Trump/Russia collusion implications were being raised, Trump does something to piss off the Russians, who complain loudly and publicly. e He then changed the subject a week later with North Korea … which nevertheless succeeded, for a time.
  • President Trump starts trends: from “fake news” to “deep state,” the President is the one dictating the conversation.
  • His only loyalty seems to be for certain members of his family.
  • He and his wife appear to only have one thing in common: a mutual distain for each other.
  • He likes his golf!
  • His budget negotiations were a complete disaster, and Democrats didn’t capitalize on that at all.

Let’s focus our attention on the first point, and perhaps the later observations can come into play further into our strategy. Mr. Bannon was an easy target: his extreme views made for a fascinating accusation of a “shadow” presidency, and the fame and notoriety surrounding him quickly demoted him. A scathing double-punch by SNL also damaged the career of Sean Spicer.

Those were the worst possible targets. Their incompetencies / failings / extremism speak for themselves, and the average America won’t learn anything from their attacks. The more Trump degrades Mr. Bannon or Mr. Spicer, the more attention will focus on the competent members of his administration, such as Def. Sec Mattis, or even Mrs. Huckabee-Sanders. Why attack the ridiculous members of the Trump administration, when they do the opposition so much good?

If you want to demolish a building, don’t target the ugly stained-glass windows. Target the load-bearing beams and walls.

As seen above, President Trump offers a unique opportunity. We don’t need to target with criticism, but with kindness. In this way, the American Political Left kills two birds with one single stone. Firstly, they “go high,” and appear magnanimous. Vicious and mean attacks on incompetent fools and shadow presidents won’t change the minds of any partisans, and they arguably will only help the Trump Administration. Mr. Trump has at least 2 more years to figure out his message before re-election happens, and that’s more than enough time for him to drop the dead weight that he identifies by the criticism. Mr. Trump is so ignorant that he won’t recognize ignorance or stupidity in others, which is why Mr. Bannon is valuable. He’s a tumor that could (and should) go un-recognized by the host.

Instead, the fastest, easiest, and most effective way to destroy the Trump Administration is by constantly praising Vice President Mike Pence. Get a few friendly reporters to publish headlines like “Vice President Pence Stabilized Chaotic Administration” or “Pence Saves the Day,” or “Pence Pushed Legislation X,” or, best yet, more and more “Republicans Whisper … President Pence.” With any amount of talent and finesse, this will remove the President or the Vice President within a year. Internal strife between the boss and the competent #2 cannot last for long.

During the deluge of Republicans, Independents, and conservative Democrats praising the Vice President, all of the “villains” of the left need subtly praise someone else. Senator Schumer, Senator Warren, Rep. Pelosi, and maybe even Rep. Waters need to mention the stabilizing influence of …. Jared Kushner. While *always* maintaining the caveat that his Russia connections are dangerous, a tone of “thank God, he at least stopped the President from X” or “it’s a blessing that he made the president do Y.” (Keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, not cut XYZ from the budget, concede on the budget re: the wall, etc.) Mr. Kushner won’t leave, but it may make the President a little less secure, a little more paranoid, a little less effective. It helps that Mr. Kushner was a registered democrat; the entire Bible Belt needs to know that.

Democrats can’t yet win a special election. The American public hasn’t seen or heard of a Russia “breakthrough” in a few weeks. The economy isn’t in the toilet. Trump is becoming normal. His administration is stabilizing. Resistance is tiring. The president golfs, and the VP runs the country. There’s only one solution: remove the VP.

Praise him constantly through back channels. Make him the story. Get under Trump’s skin. Invite the VP, publicly, to events usually attended by the President. Don’t let it slow down.

And for goodness sake — *don’t* go ape-shit over the next SCOTUS nomination if Kennedy retires. You didn’t fight over Gorsuch, and a serious fight now (over the direction of the court) will only seem political, animated by partisan ideologies. Feign weakness, and let Trump nominate an extremist. Hell, even broker a “back room deal” where Trump gets to nominate an extremist in exchange for something “big-ish,” then torpedo the nomination after it’s announced, based on the textual ideologies of the nominee.

Focus on the fundamentals; the Republicans are already tearing themselves apart, ruining the ACA repeal. They clearly don’t have their act together, so go after the foundations. Praise the VP.

This is only part one of many, many parts. The president is playing checkers, and his better people are playing chess. We need to be playing WeiQi (Go), an ancient Chinese game that focuses on deception and entrapment.

The Opposite of Meek

Nietzsche, of course, postulated that the deity had died, and then every college freshman with the intelligence quotient of a toddler found it amusing to then retort on God’s behalf: no, Frederic, it is instead you who have died.

While moderately amusing as the meme of choice on less hip corners of Facebook, this joke also reinforces a belief of which Nietzsche himself would have been a vocal advocate: Christianity (the most common end result of “deity” in the western lexicon) stands in stark and diametrically opposing contrast to the works, beliefs, and values of the outspoken German philosopher.

In “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” (part 1), the nominal protagonist establishes a contrast between the weak and the strong, the sickly and the healthy, the feeble and the intelligent, and the meek and the Uber-Mensch. He is aided by our language, which inadvertently belies a weakness within the western ideals of virtue. To both Frederic and the implications of the English (German, too, I suspect) language, “meek” is the opposite of “confident” or “proud,” and “sickly” is the opposite of “strong.”

Whereas “big” and “small” are opposite, and “short” indeed finds its antonym in “tall,” suppose that “strong” and “sickly” are more akin to “love” and “hate.” Fort “love” and “hate” are not opposite, but cousins, each fundamentally opposed not to each other, but to “apathy.”

Allow for clarification. “Love” and “hate” are mirror inverses of each other (perhaps one definition of “opposite”), in a similar way to how communism and fascism are “opposites” that resemble each other in practice. However, “apathy” and “democracy” are the true opposites of these examples. Not mirror inverses, but ideals standing in firm contradiction.

Likewise, Nietzsche presented the uber-man as the opposite of the Christian, but in reality, Frederic’s uber-man stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the man of Christian strength. True humility does not lie in worthlessness, or a lack of self-respect, but an ability to have the strength to accept one’s self-worth, then voluntarily sacrifice it to help others.

The old idiom advises “if you love her, you have to let her go,” because true love is free, yet always returns. So much the same with humility. Humility requires the self-confidence to abandon dignity for the sake of others, in the full confidence that said dignity will not abandon you when called upon. Humility, meekness, charity: they require the exact virtues espoused by the nominal Persian demagogue.

Jesus did not wash the feet of his followers out of self-loathing, but out of a confidence that this humbling and socially degrading act would instead further inspire his followers. When the church now-in-days washes the feet of their congregation on Holy Thursday, the image loses all potency for this very reason: it is not a proud act because it is not a humble act. The priest or celebrant washes for the sake of washing, for the sake of acting as a leader, for the symbolic-ness of the act of it. Feet today are clean (at least relative to the feet of Jesus’ time). A truly equivalent act would require radical confidence, strength, and weakness. Not characteristics in contradistinction to each other, but as a harmonious act within itself.

Zarathustra, and Nietzsche, in his writings, feared that the Christian embrace of the meek prevented strength. Yet the gospels themselves refute this: Jesus was a carpenter who worked with his hands, Peter was a strong fisherman, and John was a fast runner. Jesus even advocated that he could, with a word, unleash armies of angels to save him. In cinema, perhaps the most appropriately analogous example is in “Schindler’s List” – true strength comes from the act of forgiveness. Nietzsche thought forgiving, pardoning, helping was weak. So did the German commandant; he was so insecure in his command that he couldn’t stop himself from killing a child.

The confident man needn’t declare his confidence; the rich man needn’t pronounce his wealth. Nietzsche’s Uber-Mensch could only have strength if he was able to surrender that strength. Otherwise, it’s simply a mask of insecurity hiding a man who “doth protest too much.”

Privatize Prisons

Let’s start this discussion with a simple axiom: the American prison system is broken. There are significant breaches of justice, atrocious mistakes, and poor conditions to be found in penitentiaries across the country. The recidivism rate is off the charts, and prisons punish more than they rehabilitate.

N.B. – this is an axiom, which means that the objective truth of the statement is assumed, and thus irrelevant to the rest of the argument.

The solution posited most frequently, from a quick survey, involves the elimination of private prisons. This argument, flawed as it is, follows the basic logic of a free market: people (and companies) respond to incentives. These private prisons are paid X dollars by the government, and they then will do their best to minimize their costs to maximize their revenue. Prisoner recidivism is a good that they require: the more prisoners they house, for longer, the more money they can get from the government.

Eliminating private prisons will address this concern. However, the solution replaces one problem for another. Exchanging the brutal efficiency of private prisons for the bureaucratic indifference of state or federal prisons doesn’t seem much better. Surely we must have learned by now that the government can rarely be trusted to do anything efficiently, cost effectively, or humanely. [See health insurance, wars, and the death penalty, respectively.]

Furthermore, the lessons of the infamous Stanford Prison experiment remain: human nature has some vile tendencies. We as a society can try to fight those tendencies through government regulation, but the question always arises: who watches the watchmen?

If, as the free market suggests, it is in human nature to work for self-interest, wouldn’t it simply be more efficient to change the nature of the incentive? Instead of trusting private prisons to be humane, or government prisons to be self-regulated, why don’t we harness the power of self-interest into something worthwhile?

Suppose: all prisons are privatized. For each prisoner who earns a degree (AA or BA or BS) from an accredited online college, the prison gets a bonus. For each prisoner who committed a crime under the influence, the prison gets a financial incentive if said prisoner completes AA or NA. For every legitimate anonymous complaint lodged by the prisoners, the prison is fined. For each prisoner who remains out of the penal system for 6 months after release, the prison gets a token bonus. That bonus is increased for 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, etc of successful life outside of the penal system. For every prisoner who completes vocational training, the prison is incentivized. And, perhaps most importantly, every prisoner who agrees to reside in a state other than the state in which he was arrested gets a personal bonus. This would splinter and break gangs, dispersing their members, influence, and mob mentality to the point of lethal strain. Vicious criminal groups of local offenders (gangs) would be effectively broken if, after a member serves time for an offense, they were sent to Kansas or Alaska or Wyoming to start over. The streets of LA and South Central would change in just a few years.

Violence begets violence. A system which incentivizes healthy living, while penalizing physical aggression and rape, will do more good than any current system. Too often, criminals go from “offender” to “hardened criminal” while they are incarcerated. It’s how they survive, and humans are survivors. What if, instead of a prison hierarchy based on toughness and the ability to survive, residents of the penal system arranged themselves into a social hierarchy based on education? Good grades for early release? Might go a long way towards fixing a system that, by almost any standard, isn’t working.

Using Stupidity for Good

Question: Is there a correlation between the quality of an internet posting and its associated comments? I.e. can the vitriol, stupidity, and hate found in anonymous comment sections of the internet be found to have an inverse relationship with the quality, intellect, or veracity of the target material?

Simply put: do stupid articles attract stupid people?

If so (as I presume there is some relationship…) can this be reverse engineered to “crowd-source,” in a sense, the best ideas on the internet? Search engine algorithms could theoretically judge intellect based on online postings … could this result in an easy way to find the best of humanity’s ideas online?

Rethinking Computer Passwords

Ancient Egyptians purportedly used crocodile dung as a contraceptive. The Greeks practiced pederasty. And Abraham Lincoln is older than the doorknob. Which is all meant to say this: sometimes, the common practices of the past are simply absurd by modern standards. It therefore goes to reason that today’s common axioms will be absurd, barbaric, cruel, and perhaps even bafflingly stupid to our descendants. How often, if ever, do we stop to really challenge the dogmas and practices of everyday life?

Today, the information from two websites on computer passwords will be used as the basis for an examination of computer passwords and their future.[1],[2] These aren’t academic sources, and like Gödel, I’m not concerned with the factual veracity of my axioms. Instead, I will proceed as if they are true, simply for the exercise of arriving to a new conclusion.

In short, a computer password like “Password” is currently translated by the host website into something of a unique code, comprised of numerous binary characters. The simple example from one site is this, “ADD = 1 + 4 + 4 = 9.”[3] This process, grossly simplified here, is apparently called a hash. Slightly more complexly:

  1. You tell them you want your password to be marbles
  2. Instead of storing marbles, they hash it and store something like 3832c** instead.
  3. Next time you want to sign in, you say “my password is balloons!”
  4. They hash balloons and get d0eea, which is totally not the same as what they already have stored (3832c). REJECTED!
  5. You try again with marbles – they hash it, get 3832c, and since it’s the same as what they stored already you’re good to go. SUCCESS!
  6. Hackers hack the database, get your email address and 3832c, which they totally can’t use to log in to your Facebook account. BUMMER FOR THEM![4]

As any curious reader could surmise, then process has significant variables, including techniques called salts, which made the hacking of information exponentially more difficult (or logarithmically more difficult?). Regardless, I suspect this is why, when “hackers” invade the sanctus sanctorum of the DNC, or Target, or wherever, they can steal CC information, email addresses, SS numbers … but never (rarely?) passwords. This is because the system hacked stores the passwords as encrypted information, linked to a specific email address, and useless when taken out of context.


All of this is well and good, but it seems to me not only a missed opportunity, but a serious flaw. Encryption can always be out-thought, from what I understand, and anything that “exists” can be stolen, somehow. (My citation is the Soderbergh Ocean’s 11). Instead of encrypting, trans-mutating, and distorting passwords that *do* exist in the system – why not use passwords that *do not* exist?

Think of it like this: in the current system, when a user enters his login information (usually his email address), it links to a (encrypted, blah blah blah) password. If the email address and password match what is on file, then, like a key, the door is opened and the user gains access. Somewhere, the password exists in some form and must match that which exists in order to grant access.

Now, imagine this conception instead. An email address or user ID is entered, bringing the user to an impenetrable Rubik’s cube of a wall, an encrypted barrier through which no entry is permissible. All email addresses lead to a unique wall (unique to each site, that is), made of millions (billions? trillions?) of random matrices, each of which defies any reason or logic. It would be un-hackable, because there is no logic to it (and most hashing requires some sort of calculated guess as to the nature of the user’s password).

Okay, so this is quite stupid and useless so far. Let’s look at an example for, say, Each Amazon account is identified by the email address used, correct? So I enter my email address,, and instead of seeing if my password matches one stores in its servers, I am brought to a digital Great Wall of China, impassible to everyone due to its absurd complexity.

However, when I created my account, I was also asked to create a password. This passcode is a simple series of letters or numbers (eg: Password) that, when created, makes a *one time* hole in the billions of characters that comprise the internet wall. That is to say, when I create my account any my password, the act of creating that password slightly but fundamentally re-writes the revolving, morphing, matrix of code that a hacker could not pass or deduce.

Then, conceptually, instead of my password being a key that lets me through, the password is the fingerprint which, when aligned perfectly with the revolving matrix, allows light to pass through. No metaphorical door is swung open because of an entered passcode that is verified by a stored passcode; instead, the passcode exists only as a subtraction from a veritable morass and avalanche of digital noise and fortifications.

Additionally, of course, we add on things like the amount of time the passcode entry takes. For instance, if an intruder was to hack and try hundreds of billions of combinations, even a supercomputer would take a few minutes. But a user’s fingers have a certain rhythm – the passcode must be entered with the same rhythm and speed, constancy and tonality, as when it was originally created.



[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


Tinder Executives:

You have either not figured out a decent pricing model, or you have refused to implement it. Either way, what you’re doing will crash an impressively useful and ubiquitous app.

First off: cut the “Tinder Plus” spam. There will always be other start-up apps that will offer unlimited free swiping; there’s just too much competition. From my personal experience, the quality of options on Tinder has had an unmistakable inverse correlation to your new pricing system.

Instead, your revenue stream must build on your greatest strength: your massive market share. Like I said – Tinder is ubiquitous. You were there first. Why would you possibly want to erode your own strength by implementing “Tinder Plus” – alienating users?

A much more efficient system of monetization is right in front of you – once two people “match,” they chat. They flirt. Whatever. If a date is a possibility, give either party the opportunity to buy movie tickets, a dinner reservation, put-put tickets, etc – through your app.

All you have to do is start with a simple beta test – partner with Fandango. The film ticket industry is in a perpetual state of worry; they’ll love the increased revenue. Obviously customer service matters – the tickets will be purchased for $25, but it must be completely refundable (dates do fall through). In return, the tickets will be made out with the names of each partner, and they can be made up to one week in advance.

Then you upsell – coupons for popcorn, suggestions for romantic restaurant reservations, etc. Here’s the key – currently, once two people enter into a relationship, “deleting Tinder” has become a milestone (much like becoming “Facebook Official” once was). This is bad for you. What is good for you? Allowing users to *privately* upload their address. Once the users inform Tinder that they are dating, then partner 1 can use Tinder to spontaneously order partner 2 flowers, chocolate, massive teddy bears … etc. All through your app. Of course, this feature only becomes unlocked once both partners indicate that they’re in a relationship – which automatically blocks them from swiping other users. As long as each partner knows that the other is still listed as their “partner” on Tinder, then they have the peace of mind that the app won’t let their partner swipe others.

All the while, Tinder can offer encrypted picture swapping, messaging, and one-swipe purchases – Fandango movie tickets, restaurants, flower delivery, whatever. would jump at a partnership opportunity. So would Redbox, or Amazon Instant Video for at-home movie rentals.

This is incremental revenue – what is massive revenue is the data this provides. Hell, you could probably offer most of these products to your customers at a loss, simply because their preferences would provide very, very valuable data to any of the companies. What’s more – each date a Tinder user goes on can earn them “points,” which earn discounts to the above services. And the app grows at an incredible degree.

I could be way off base … but it’s better to try something than just make your users constantly swipe left on beer ads … Which you do for the data feedback, anyway (I assume).