Patreon Milestones?

I’m considering adding some additional Patreon milestones between its current level of $40-odd a month and the rather lofty first milestone of $300/mo. Would any of these interest people?

  • Live commentary tracks (for shows I’ve seen and know well) or live reactions (for shows I don’t).
  • Analytical Let’s Plays/video game commentaries–basically, the idea would be to do a Let’s Play, but rather than either providing a walkthrough or going for comedy, I would be commenting on the game’s themes and narratives–for example, I might do a Xenosaga playthrough where I talk about the Gnostic and Nietzschean elements, or identity, alienation, and found families in FFVI, etc.
  • “Welcome to Virinat,” a surrealist-horror Let’s Play of Star Trek Online presented as broadcasts by the Romulan Ministry of Propaganda’s Virinat Colony Field Office.
  • Instructional videos–a series on how to conceive, pitch, prepare, and present a convention panel is the first that comes to mind, and I’m sure there’s other how-tos I could do. 

Any preferences? Things you’re definitely NOT interested in?

Vlog: Steven Universe S1E22-24

Reminder that Patreon backers can see these videos (including Korra, my panels on anime and the apocalypse and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and now Steven Universe) 4-5 weeks early AND Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early!
Those of you who follow on Tumblr, for whatever reason the videos don’t play there. Click through to to watch.

Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 20

A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • Defera Invasion Zone: In which someone worse than the Breen shows up.
  • Infected: In which Morwen and her team try to stop the Borg from taking over a starbase.
  • The Cure: In which old enemies find common cause against the Borg.
  • Khitomer Vortex: In which Battle Group Omega tries the stop the Borg from going back in time.
  • Khitomer in Stasis: In which Morwen chases the Borg back in time, and more than one loop closes.

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.
Also, I am still recruiting to found a new fleet (the STO equivalent to a guild), dedicated to roleplay and crossovers between people’s characters. Any Fed-aligned roleplayers welcome! Tentative premise is exploring the fact that we’ve pretty much all done the same story missions at different times, implying some weird temporal or parallel-universe shenanigans for us to investigate.

The Interloper Obsession and Star Trek Online

Sorry this is a bit late. 11:30 AM is probably not a good time to decide I hate the post I have scheduled for noon and start writing a replacement…
It has been observed before that Americans have a particular obsession with the concept of the interloper, the seemingly innocuous neighbor who is actually a terrifying Other in disguise. Certainly this fear is not unique to American culture, but the U.S. does seem particularly prone to panics over it, from witchcraft scares in the Colonial period, to the fear of “seditionists” in the early 19th century, anti-immigrant panics in the later 19th century, the Red Scare, the Yellow Menace, communists in the State department, Satanic Panic, pedophiles in your neighborhood, the gay agenda, President is a secret Muslim, terrorists are plotting to blow up your hick-town suburban mall… There is an undercurrent of paranoia that appears a permanent fixture of American culture, just waiting to burst out at its current target.
And of course it’s in our fiction too. The science fiction classic The Puppet Masters posits people who look completely normal (while clothed, anyway), but are actually under the control of evil alien parasites; given its publication in the 1950s, it’s usually interpreted as a sort of allegory for communist infiltration and the fear thereof, but really it can be adapted to any of the U.S.’s paranoid panics, which is why its basic concept (and the closely related “pod people” from Invasion of the Body Snatchers) keep getting repeated.
Star Trek is no exception. Mind-control parasites were introduced in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation as a hasty replacement for a rejected plotline involving an attempted military coup on Earth. Because of course We (or future-space-We in this case) would never do such a thing, except as a result of infiltration by Them. You know–Them, the canny, evil ones who are always trying to infiltrate, undermine, and destroy Us. They hate our freedoms, you know.
The plan was for the parasites (called “bluegills”) to be forerunners of the new series villain, the Borg, but a writer’s strike, major staff turnover, and budget issues got in the way. When the Borg finally did show up, any relation to the bluegills was gone, and with them the metaphor–the Borg have presented many faces over the years (massive corporate behemoth, dark mirror of the Federation, and the most enduring and least interesting, zombies), but devious, sneaky interlopers has never been one of them.
But we definitely got more of those! Deep Space Nine introduced the Changelings, shapeshifters who could replace people with dopplegangers to act as agents in their war of aggression against the Federation. But cleverly, it turned the classic infiltration narrative inside-out in the two-parter “Home Front”/”Paradise Lost”–instead of secretly replacing key figures and subverting the Federation government, the Changelings deliberately allowed the presence of a Changeling (who later claims there are four, but there is only evidence for one) on Earth to be discovered, and then relied on the paranoia and suspicions of the legitimate military leadership do their work for them.
Oddly, the Changelings barely show up in Star Trek Online, and there is no case I’m aware of where they engage in this kind of doppleganger trick. I say oddly because STO is borderline obsessed with the infiltration narrative. The opening premise of the game, war between the Federation and Klingons, is the result of a different species of shapeshifters, the Undine (renamed from Species 8472, which is what Voyager called them) replacing key figures of various governments. This in turn is revealed to be the result of someone else invading Undine space with fake Klingon and Starfleet ships. Over the course of one story arc based on Deep Space Nine, the player has to deal with a ship taken over by Undine infiltrators, then Deep Space Nine itself taken over by Undine infiltrators, and then a few missions later Deep Space Nine gets taken over again by dopplegangers, this time its crew’s evil Mirror Universe counterparts.
Later in the game, the bluegills make a comeback, controlling the leadership of another species that has suddenly become very aggressive and destabilized the region (they are, of course, working for the same people that sent the fake ships after the Undine). Meanwhile, the Romulans have mind-controlled spies (and are being manipulated by–guess who–the people that sent the fake ships), the Undine pull the same infiltration trick on Deep Space Nine, but this time on Earth Spacedock and nearly destroy the place…
And this is a real problem. Part of the aesthetic of Star Trek is that the unknown is an opportunity–a source of excitement at the possibility of discovery. The insular, paranoid fear of the Other that underlies the infiltrator narrative works directly against that.

Maybe he and I have something in common after all (Two-Face)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 LogoBatman is defined by guilt.
The most obvious guilt is his parents’ death. Some versions of the story have young Bruce Wayne be the cause of their presence in that alley where they were shot, but it’s unnecessary; he survived a traumatic event that they didn’t, and that nearly always brings intense guilt to the survivor, especially a child. He was helpless, left alone alone with his anger and his guilt, the big, bad Batman (reflection of, and fundamentally the same as, the monstrous Man-Bat), until it ate him away from inside and turned him into a shadowy figure that punches criminals, knowing it cannot accomplish real change, that it serves no purpose except trying and failing to exorcise his pain and guilt and rage.
This is the darkest episode we have covered yet. It lacks the overt misogyny and castration-fear of “Pretty Poison,” true, or the corruption of innocence that lies at the heart of “Christmas with the Joker,” but as origin stories go this is a pretty brutal one, and one the episode explicitly ties to Batman’s own origins. The dream sequence where this connection occurs, early in the second part, is worth unpacking: at first glance it appears to be Harvey’s dream, paralleling his dream of being chased by Big Bad Harv in the first part. However, with the appearance of Bruce Wayne we find it is his dream, and Harvey falls off a bridge into a red glow, screaming for help, only to become Martha and Thomas Wayne, the latter of whom–played by the same voice actor as Harvey Dent–asks why Bruce didn’t save them.
Batman swears to save Harvey, to bring him back from wherever he is hiding inside Two-Face, but he can’t; his skills are focused on gadget-creating, crime-investigating, and villain-punching, none of which are particularly useful in resolving psychiatric issues. Of course, they’re not actually particularly useful in reducing net crime, either, since they do nothing about its underlying causes such as poverty, social unrest, and hopelessness, so he’ll press on trying to save Harvey anyway.
He has to, because that’s the only way to save himself. Harvey is Batman–driven by guilt over an incident when he was a child, over which he had no control; crafted out of equal parts fear and anger (Big Bad Harv is as much bully as Batman is a bat); lashing out at those he blames in an often needlessly elaborate fashion that turns it almost into a game (everything in twos).
The machinations of chance drive relentlessly to destroy Harvey and create Two-Face: the incident as a child that led him to repress his anger; the incidents at the raid and the party that drew Candice’s interest; the stray bullets, pushed off target by Batman’s attempt to save his life, that caused the explosion that cemented his transformation–all are accidents, coincidences; it is no wonder that he becomes a mercurial creature of chance, basing all his choices on a binary between “good” and “bad” determined by a coin toss.
And all because of a single mistake–by Batman, adding still more to his guilt. But like Dent’s childhood bully, the triggering incident wasn’t the real cause; another disease existed from the start. (There is a great deal to be said about BTAS’ treatment of mental illness, little of it good. However, at least this episode shows that the stigmatization of mental illness can be more damaging than the illness, so perhaps that criticism can wait for an episode that is directly about mental health treatment.)
There is nothing anyone can do to save him; there is simply too much bad luck to oppose. In the end, even Batman is reduced to just flipping a coin and making a wish, once again feeling the guilt of failing to save someone he cared about.
It’s September 25 and 28, 1992. Topping the charts are, as always it seems, Boyz II Men. The Last of the Mohicans opens at number one this weekend, knocking Sneakers into second place. In the news, Spanish artist Cesar Manrique dies; the Provisional Irish Republican Army destroys a police lab in Belfast; and a joint US, Colombian, and Italian operation arrests 165 people on money laundering charges associated with the cocaine trade.
On Batman the Animated Series, we have “Two-Face,” a two-part tale of a divided soul obsessed with binaries, twos, and twins, who reminds us that every coin has two sides.
It’s September 25 and 28, 1992. Boyz II Men top the charts, as they have for many weeks and will continue to do for many more, while The Last of the Mohicans opens atop the charts this weekend. In the news, TV and film actor Keir Gilchrist is born; Mexico reestablishes diplomatic relations with Vatican City after 130 years of silence; the Cartoon Network launches in a few days.
There are many pairs in Two-Face: Harv and Harvey; Two-Face and Thorne; Batman and Two-Face; the twins Min and Max who become Two-Face’s goons. But perhaps the most interesting is the pair of Candice and Grace, the only two prominent women. Candice is fairly straightforwardly a “bad girl” cut from the same cloth as Poison Ivy–very nearly literally, as she wears a red dress reminiscent of the earlier villain’s hair and has a similar scene of sauntering away from the camera. She is an active and menacing figure, who conceives and carries out not only the scheme to uncover Harvey’s secret psychological treatment but also the trap that uses Grace to capture him. Grace, by contrast, is the innocent, loving, passive “good girl” who calmly waits (albeit with occasional prodding) for Harvey to set their wedding date and is happy to subject herself to the dangers posed by Big Bad Harv or Two-Face if it means helping Harvey.
This is the classic Madonna-whore complex, the binary division–fueled by the sexist fear of feminine power and sexuality–of all women into wicked, dangerous, active, powerful, sexy “bad girls” and good, safe, passive, submissive, loving “good girls.” But perhaps such a binary division is appropriate in an episode about Two-Face, who divides all the world and its myriad choices into binary opposites of “good” and “bad.”
It ties in, too, with the themes of chance and guilt, by denying both. After all, there’s at least one blatant religious allusion in this episode: when Two-Face stares at the picture of Grace in his wallet, a credit card is visible and has on it the number 666, the traditional Number of the Beast. It’s just remotely possible that a Madonna-figure who is named Grace and tries desperately to give Harvey forgiveness and salvation, whose love is stated to be the source of hope, might possibly have an outside chance of being another one.
No, the show isn’t exactly subtle, but Grace still represents a direct rebuke to Two-Face’s belief that life is ruled by chance. As she says, he has made choices that mattered: to run for office, to take on Thorne, to be with her. He has friends, allies, and loved ones, who can help him weather the vagaries of chance–and they are not his by luck, but because he chose them and they chose him.
No one will ever truly save Harvey. Not for long. The weight of narrative is too strong; he is more interesting as Two-Face, and therefore, given time and sufficient episodes, will always become Two-Face again. But if anyone could save him, it’s Grace. That’s why, when Batman tosses Two-Face’s coin in the fountain at the end, it lands “good” side up: there is always the possibility of a lucky break, even if it has to happen after the series is cancelled.
That is one of the defining traits of Batman, at least as much as his guilt: he tries to save others, because it is his way of trying to save himself. He is so often a protector of broken or endangered children because he was one himself–and largely still is, on the inside. He sees himself in Man-Bat and Two-Face, and tries to rescue them, too–but not just them. He tries to save all his enemies. That’s why his villains always end up in Arkham Asylum–a hospital–rather than prison. Why he never kills them, even after the dozenth time the Joker has escaped to kill others.
Batman believes there is a possibility that every single one of his villains could someday turn their lives around. He has to, because he sees himself in too many of them; if they can’t be rescued, neither can he. So he goes on fighting for them, trying to find grace, forever.
Batman is defined by hope.

Current status of the Patreon:

Vision of Escaflowne Episode 20 and MLPFIM S5E4 Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:  Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting! Option 2: Go to Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching Vision of Escaflowne and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST. We will then be watching MLP at 2:30. 
Chatlog below the cut!
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Sorry for lack of post today

I’m sick, and this is my first time spending more than an hour out of bed since I got home from work yesterday. Current plan is that the post that would have been today will go up tomorrow, and there’ll be no Fiction Friday this week.
If you’re looking for something to read, and on the off-chance that anyone who follows me hasn’t already seen it, here’s Phil Sandifer providing us the best thing on this year’s Hugos anybody has written or will write.

Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 19

A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • Aiding the Deferi: In which the 147th helps protect the Deferi from Breen raids.
  • Out in the Cold: In which the Phoenix saves some Deferi from Breen slavers, and Morwen figures out who is betraying her to Section 31.
  • Rescue Deferi Captives: In which Jhimyn finds a novel way to deal with slavers.
  • Cold Comfort: In which Morwen meets a friendly Breen and does some field medicine.*
  • Cold Case: In which there is Adventure Archeology.
  • Cold Storage: In which the Preserver Archive is opened.
  • Defera Invasion Zone: In which someone worse than the Breen shows up.

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.
Also, I am still recruiting to found a new fleet (the STO equivalent to a guild), dedicated to roleplay and crossovers between people’s characters. Any Fed-aligned roleplayers welcome! Tentative premise is exploring the fact that we’ve pretty much all done the same story missions at different times, implying some weird temporal or parallel-universe shenanigans for us to investigate.
A whole new mission chain is dropping today, plus the best change since I started playing: they’re getting rid of Sector Blocks! For those of you who don’t play, Sector Blocks were artificial barriers (probably due to technological limitations back when the game launched five years ago) that split the galaxy into 20 or so small rectangular sections, with passages between them that required a confirmation dialogue and a load screen. Now the galaxy will be just three sections, corresponding to Alpha Quadrant (Cardassians, Bajorans, Deep Space Nine, all that good stuff), Beta Quadrant (Klingons, Romulans, the bulk of TOS), and Delta Quadrant (where Voyager happened). (There are a couple of missions where you enter the Gamma Quadrant too, but you never get to freely fly around in it, so it doesn’t need a map section. So far.)
Anyway, I’m excited, because Sector Blocks are the primary cause of my second-biggest criticism of the game, the fact that space feels small, crowded, and tamed. I’m hoping the new system will improve on that.
*Either this mission or the cold-puns mission chain in general originally had Tran joining your crew at the end, but at some point they dummied that out. Which sucks, because it turns “Cold Comfort” into a dangling plot thread that goes nowhere. Grr.