Be Excellent to Each Other

I have, of late, become something of a fan of Keanu Reeves, not the actor so much as the human being. Every story I’ve heard about him. Every. Single. One. Demonstrates that he’s just a kind and compassionate human being.

Well, as a result of that I finally (finally) watched Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I didn’t watch it when it first came out because, well, I had a stick up my ass when I was younger. I didn’t care for the kind of music that was being used to promote it (this was before my “musical awakening” so it’s no great surprise). And, well, it just did not look interesting to me.

That was then. I just finished watching it (yesterday evening as this posts) and it. was. awesome.

No, let me rephrase that. It was excellent.

But I had a thought about it. In their future world, as “silly” as it might seem, the “philosophy” they took from Bill & Ted was summed up in two things:

  • Be Excellent to Each Other
  • Party on, Dudes.

It seems like silly, 80’s corn but if you think about it a moment and interpret “Party on, dudes” as something like “Enjoy life as it comes” and, well, that’s not a bad philosophy for life. Be excellent to each other. Treat each other well. And while you’re doing that, focus on the good. Take the time to enjoy what you have. Life, to a large extent, is what you make it. And while some ascetics will object to the whole idea of taking pleasure in things, believing that life must be full of suffering and angst if it’s to be “moral”, I do not think that there’s any shame, any crime, any sin in taking joy in life, provided that you don’t do harm to others in the process. That, however, is covered in “be excellent to each other.”

Indeed, when looked at that way it, frankly, is a better philosophy of life than has come from the pens of many people considered great philosophers and moral thinkers. Mind you, there is a great veil of uncertainty in what truly constitutes being “excellent” to someone else. Aiding someone in pursuit of self-destructive behaviors may be what they want, but is it what they need? Feeding into someone’s addiction, say, is that truly being “excellent” to them?

And yet, is it any better to let a man starve because the root of his inability to procure food is because of an addiction? By refusing to “help” them from belief that it just encourages them in self-destructive behaviors. And sometimes that is the truth. It can be hard to determine what “be excellent to each other” truly means in a given situation.

All we can do is do our best. Make the best choices we can and hope that, somehow, our best will be good enough.

Several times in the past I saw someone with a sign “will work for food.” I had offered them work in which I would feed them, allow them access to my washer and dryer (so they could clean their clothes), access to a shower. And a few bucks of cash on top of it.

Every time, I was turned down.

They didn’t want to “work for food.” That was just words on a sign. What they wanted was a handout.

For a long time, I simply would not give any money to such people because I was so jaded about folk asking for money or other help. But then one day it occured to me: it wasn’t about them. It was about me. What kind of a person am I. Am I a person who sees somebody in need, is able to help, and just walks away, or not?

Mostly, I prefer to donate to charities where I know the resources will go to people who truly need it, and who will put it to good use. But sometimes, when I see one of those streetcorner beggers, sometimes I’ll have an extra dollar or two and I’ll kick it in. Maybe they’ll use it to buy booze or drugs. Maybe they’re a “professional beggar” pulling down more than I make in a year. And maybe not.

In any case I’m following the dictate, to the best of my ability, to be excellent to each other. The risk, I think, is worth it for my own clarity of spirit.

And so, my friends, be excellent to each other. And take what joy you can in life as it comes to you. In other words, “Party on, dudes.”

Goth On Ice: Backward Crossovers, Hockey Stops, and Three Turns

I made some major, major breakthroughs in last week’s and today’s classes.

Last week, my instructor introduced me to backward crossovers. Now, this is a move that I really wanted to be able to do because it’s just so beautiful even as a fairly “basic” move–before we even get into figure skating type stuff.

You can see how they look, “properly done” here:

I, however, am not doing them anywhere near that well at the moment. (You think?)

Yesterday afternoon was my first chance to get on the ice after last week’s class. (Weekday public skate sessions are mid-day so day job gets in the way.) After going around the rink a few times to warm up, I started with some more work on backward edges. They are improving:

This was also the first time I started practicing what I am told is the correct way to do the back-to-front two foot turn (I use it to turn around after each set on a particular edge). It’s still kind of shaky but should improve with practice. In this set, I’m still not getting up the speed I should be getting as I go around the circle for those edges. It really is easier to hold them at speed than going slow. But “at speed” requires a level of confidence that I’m still working on. Going backward is just scarier than going forward. And at my age, you worry more about falls–it’s just easier to get hurt and injuries take longer to heal. That’s one of the reason I wear the knee and elbow pads every time I get on the ice.

Previously, Every fifteen minutes or so during the public skate session, I would stop my ordinary skating around the rink and go to the big circle at the center to work on my backward edges. This time, I just did backward edges that first time. Additional technique drills were all working the backward crossovers. I recorded the first one. Remember, after about a five minute introduction in class, this is my first time ever trying it.

Yes, it was awkward and clumsy. No, it didn’t look anything like Kseniya and Oleg’s graceful moves. Nevertheless, the basic movement was correct. I need to work on getting farther over in the cross and on having better control of my balance but the basic motion is there. So, yes, I was stoked at the end of that set.

And, indeed, over the course of the skating yesterday and today, it did improve. Going forward it’s practice practice practice practice. Indeed, in class today while working on it with my instructor (a different one from last week–who I work with is often a matter of who’s available at the time) she noted that I was actually doing a fairly advanced form, working both legs in the cross–outside/front leg moving forward and in while back leg pushes out. And indeed, at least occasionally I would manage to get a “full cross”.

An amusing side note: Someone was having a birthday party at the rink. I saw one woman and her daughter struggling at the entrance to the rink, the little girl clinging to the wall so I skated over and asked if it was the little girl’s first time on the ice. Turned out it was both of them actually. I pointed them at the skate rental counter and explained that they could get a stack of buckets for the little girl to use. Some folk don’t like the buckets because they teach bad habits, but I like them because they help build confidence on the ice and that’s really what the absolute beginner needs more than anything else.

Fast forward to forty minutes or so later. The mother approaches me on the ice (I’m guessing she has experience roller blading or at least roller skating given how well she’s doing at this point). She asks me how to do that “leg crossing thing you do.” (I do forward crossovers at both ends of the rink to turn around.)


I explain that before you can learn forward crossovers, you have to first learn forward edges. And before you learn forward edges, you really need to learn forward one foot glides. I go after with her a bit on the one foot glides and explain to her that if she’s interested, for herself or her daughter, the new round of classes were about to start (today’s was the first of the eight week session). And if you take classes, you get free public skate sessions.

And then I left her to practice and continued my sessions.

One of the other techniques I needed for my current “level” in the Adult progression is a forward outside 3 turn. This is like that “two foot turn” I showed in previous posts only it’s done on one foot rather than two. Like this:

It’s called a “3 turn” because, notionally, the skate traces a “3” on the ice.

Well, during the “practice session” before my class (when the small kids and the lower “Basic” levels had their class) I tried it a bit. And, well, I was surprised. Very hit-or-miss but the surprise was that I “hit” at all. This is one of those things that you need to be confident in your edges, both forward and back. I’m pretty confident with my forward edges, but not so much on the backward, although they are getting better.

The final thing I did new this week was the hockey stop.

Now, I can do snowplow and “T-stops” readily enough. The reason hockey stops intimidated me is that they tend to be all-or-nothing. You get them right or or you fall on your face. At least that was my impression. So, my instructor worked me with it today, starting quite slow.

In the end, I was doing them, still very going very slow but it will take time and practice to get to the point of doing them at speed. Still, I think I got them well enough to count as closing out “Adult 4”, meaning I’m now working fully at “Adult 5” with one technique, the “T-Stop” an “Adult 6” technique.

To finish out Adult 5, I need to get that Forward Outside 3 Turn relatively reliable, get a technique called “Swing Rolls”, and a two-foot spin (at least two-turns). And at this point, I can see myself getting there. It will take time and work yet, but I can see but it no longer seems an impossible challenge.

Go me!

Do We Need To Change the Two Party System?

People say we need to have more than two viable parties but, well, I look at countries that do and have to ask myself “does having multiple parties produce better results in anything that is important to me?” Looked at that way, I really don’t see the advantage.

The alternate of “remove parties entirely” raises the question of how? People organize. They group. Without violating pretty several provisions of the 1st Amendment, how exactly do you prevent parties?

So parties are going to be with us no matter what we try to do and adding more parties doesn’t seem to help in terms of improving human freedom, so what can we do? Well, one thing to remember is that the problem isn’t “the two party system.” We muddled along reasonably well for for over a hundred years counting from the last big replacement of one party with another, leaving us with the current Democrat and Republican parties. It’s not that we have two parties that’s the problem, but the changed character of those parties. For example, John F. Kennedy would have been, at most, a “moderate Republican” if not outright “far right” as things are counted today. So it’s not the mostly two-party system that’s the fault. (“Mostly” because their have been minor third and other parties right along.) Looking at what’s happening it seems clear to me that the problem is that we’re reaching the culmination of a century of Soviet agitprop–agitprop that ironically has long outlasted the Soviet Union itself. Agitprop that has marched through education, entertainment, and the news media, filling them with true believers in Marxist-Leninist doctrine (even if not so named) and indoctrinating our young into those philosophies.

We don’t need to change the party system so much as we do to work to create a groundswell of support for liberty and especially to work counter to that indoctirnation. As Milton Friedman said, we don’t need to change Congress. We don’t need to elect “the right people” (of whatever party). It’s nice to elect the right people but what we need to do is create a climate of opinion so that it’s politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.

Sarah Hoyt is big on “build over, build around, build under” to work around the Leftist control of things like the Media and education. Modern technology is making that possible. Back in the day Walter Cronkite was “the most trusted man in America” which simply meant he could lie through his teeth with a straight face and nobody would gainsay him. Today we have alternate channels of information that allow people to gainsay the lies. Imperfect those alternate channels may be, and still at a tremendous disadvantage when compared to the entrenched media, but they are there…and growing.

It’s this ability to challenge the official narrative that’s behind a lot of the current troubles. The Left is getting effective pushback for the first time in living memory. Their lock on information is cracking and so they’re doubling down. Other folk are starting to say “enough.”

Births are generally accompanied by pain and blood. What will be born out of the current chaos, I don’t know. I have my hopes, but I also have my fears.

So it’s not the two-party system we need to change. It’s the people we need to convince of the values of living in a free society. Convince the people and it sill become politically profitable for even the most ardent “statist” politician to promote policies that favor freedom and he’ll either do so or be replaced.

And I really don’t care what they want or believe so long as the policies they enact favor freedom.

The Deceptive Lure of Grimdark: A Slightly Updated Blast from the Past


I look around at fiction and so much of it seems be be trapped in unrelenting darkness, the crushing distopia, heroes you can’t tell from villains (except by whose name is on the title page maybe).  Some folk have told me that this is a reaction, an introduction of “realism” to other fiction that is more Pollyannaish.  More real?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  As I have quoted elsewhere “the passionflower is as real as the potato.”

Now, I’m Goth.  I appreciate darkness in storytelling and strive to find beauty in darkness even in the real world. (There’s a saying I saw:  “if you don’t find joy in snow, there will be just as much snow, but less joy”,  Same thing with darkness and beauty.)  It’s nihilism, the absolute and complete descent into hopeless darkness that I despise.  There’s no beauty in that.

Stories of unrelenting darkness have a long history to them:  The Volsung Saga begins with the tale of how Andvaari’s Ring becomes cursed, and the rest is the horrible working out of that curse on the various possessors of the ring over time (and unlike another cursed ring, there’s no Mount Doom to see to the destruction of this one).  The various tales of the Greek Heroes are mostly tragedies, where despite initial successes the Heroes almost inevitably come to bad ends.

More recently, Le Morte de Arthur, the collection of tales of the legendary King Arthur and his knights, is well named: “The Death of Arthur” for it all builds to the destruction of the Round Table, the fall of Camelot, and the death of Arthur.

And so on.

In all these cases, overwhelming forces beyond the power of mortal men to overcome end up crushing the aspirations of mere mortals.

However, to a certain extent from that, but also in parallel to it we’ve also seen the rise from this, a different literary tradition, tales of folk who rise above the forces opposing them and opposing, overcome.

I think part of that, not all certainly, but a large part, comes from the ideals of the Enlightenment.  New understanding of the natural world, new technologies that new knowledge.   This period saw the Age of Exploration and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, bringing with it the idea that we were not helpless before incomprehensible forces but that we would instead overcome them. (Note:  Not all the things to come out of the enlightenment were necessarily good things, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.)

Even then, much literature was, like the tales listed above, about the inevitable fall of its heroes.  The D’Artangnan Romances (“The Three Musketeers”, “Twenty Years After”, and “The Viscount of Bragalonne:  Ten Years Later”–this final one often split into three or four parts of which the last is titled “The Man in the Iron Mask) is very much in that mold.  Don’t rely on movie versions for these.  They often–particularly in the case of “The Man in the Iron Mask”–retain nothing but titles and character names.

And don’t get me started on “Frankenstein.”

But there were other tales as well.  Any of Shakespeare’s comedies (with The Tempest being my favorite) generally have the main characters emerging happily however daunting their trials before might have seemed.  Jane Austen is reputed to have things work out well for her characters in the end.  And Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre even pulls in a bit of a miracle to allow Rochester to witness the birth of his son.

However, I’ve never been much for 19th century and earlier literature.  I’ll read it from time to time, but generally prefer more recent items.  Indeed, we’re well into the 20th century to get to the stuff that I read, and re-read, for enjoyment.  And in particular, early in life I discovered Science Fiction.

And here, I think is where things went off the rails.  While Science Fiction has always had its cautionary tales (going all the way back to Frankenstein), a lot of it made certain assumptions, particularly about the supremacy of, well, not always human life but intelligent mortal life in the Universe.  We had writers who based their stories on the presumption that if we encountered alien life they would be so beyond us that we would be nothing but gnats to them and any attempt by a human to comprehend them would drive one mad (H. P. Lovecraft).  But we also had others who presumed that even if the aliens were more technologically advanced than we were, we could learn what they had and, eventually stand up to them as equals if not superiors.

As an example of this, the late Isaac Asimov in his autobiography told of the also late John W. Campbell had a policy that for a story to be acceptable to Astounding Science Fiction humans had to be superior to any other life forms.  This was why the Foundation stories were set in a humans only universe so as to avoid the need to have any aliens be somehow inferior to humans.

Along about the time I was getting into science fiction, reading old books mostly (it’s what the libraries had), certain writers and editors decided that science fiction was too “stodgy” and “adolescent” and started a “New Wave”.  And part of that was stories that were decidedly dark in tone.

Now, in addition to the science fiction I was reading (old stuff that was “juvenile” and “adolescent”?  Well, I was juvenile and adolescent so…) I was also into comic books.  I started reading them sometime in the mid to late sixties–basically as I learned to read–and that carried on into around 1987 or so (more on that in a bit).

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really get into this “new wave” at the time.  As I said, most of what I said was old stuff and newer stuff that I read?  Well, it was far and away outside the “New Wave”. (Dray Prescott–probably the last great “Sword and Planet” series, was certainly not “New Wave”.)

However, as it happened, comics I was reading as new stuff.  Getting old stuff back then was expensive!  This was before digital editions, graphic novel collections and so forth.  If you wanted an old story you had to go browse specialty stores and dig through their boxes of back issues and pay a small fortune (or a large fortune for particularly rare and popular issues) to get a copy which you hardly dared to read for fear of damaging it.

Fortunately, for me, the same forces that created the New Wave in science fiction waited a while before hitting comic books.

Let me give you an example:  Batman.  I have a whole Batman Rant on this, but let me give a brief precis here.  Most people these days have a view of Batman that’s either a cowled psycho, monomaniacally obsessed, with plans for everything so that he could apparently single-handedly take down all the other superheroes in that universe, who drives sidekicks like some martinet and will “fire” them for the least mistake, barely if at all better than the criminals he fights–a character so dark he makes pitch black look white.  Or they think the campy 60’s TV Batman (and it is a tribute to that series’ popularity that people still recognize it today).  But the Batman I grew up with, the one I came of age with, was neither of those things.  Driven, yes.  But not to the extent of that psycho I just described.  His parents’ death got him on the road he was on but he continued because he was good at it and, indeed, had mostly come to terms with their deaths…mostly.  See “Night of the Stalker” for a very good example of that “mostly”.  He was clearly a “good guy” even though he would bend/break the rules as needed.  You could tell him from the bad guys.

Let me offer a slight digression here.  In art there’s a concept called “chiaroscuro”.  This is basically the interplay of light and dark. You have a picture, dark only within it there’s a spot of light illuminating some figure or object in sharp contrast to the darkness around it:


It’s in this interplay that you make interesting things happen. “If you want to paint pictures like that, you’ve got to use some dark colors.” (A great line from an otherwise “meh” movie.)

This is what “grimdark” misses.  It’s not dark alone that makes for exciting, compelling stories with depth and richness, no more than it is light alone.  It’s the interplay between the two.  An unrelenting grim story, a hopeless dystopia, inevitable doom which cannot be stopped, simply does not compel.  Even those mythic tales of the past had the doomed hero rise above their troubles for a time.  Bellerophon did defeat the Chimera before attempting to ascend to Olympus and fall.  Sigurd did defeat the dragon and win its horde before the curse (from the ring that was among the horde) brought him down.  Roland was a mighty and successful knight before the battle of Roncevaux Pass and his defeat and death.

I suspect back then most people stopped the stories on the success rather than carrying through to the end, much like the movie “Jason and the Argonauts” stops with Jason and Medea sailing away from Colchis (and thus avoiding the really grim follow on to that story).

You can’t have just the dark.  You must have light in it.  Now, going back to Batman, back in the days I read, the villains, particularly Joker and Two-Face, were incredibly dark.  Gotham was a pit of darkness with corruption and rampant and only Commissioner Gordon on the side of law trying to stem that black tide.  Yet despite the dark-colored costume, despite his back story, despite his use of fear as a weapon, Batman was a beacon of light in that darkness.  He’d long since grown passed displaced revenge for his parents death to protecting the people of Gotham for their own sakes.  And while some have pointed out that Bruce Wayne could do more good with his wealth than Batman could ever do with his fists and gadgets, the Batman/Wayne of that era did both.  The Wayne Foundation on one side, and Batman on the other.  The serial format meant that he could never completely clean up Gotham, and the popularity of certain villains meant that they could never be permanently taken out of action. (“Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?” “How many times has the Joker ‘Died’?”) But in the individual stories he wins.  People saved (not everyone, every time, but enough to create some hope).  Bad guys put away or “dead” through misadventure (for now, anyway; the future will take care of itself).  The stories were about hope and victory–traveling through the dark to reach the light.

And that is why I can still go back and read some of these old stories with pleasure today.  The dark that I travel through in the reading lets me worry to be relieved by the light at the end.

So remember, you need the dark to make good stories.  But you also need the light, if only a single candle, working against that dark, to make them great.