Journal of the Virus Month, Entry 1

Well, shit. The world went to hell damn quick, didn’t it?

I stocked the house pretty well around the end of February. The rush on groceries didn’t begin proper until Friday the 13th of March – apropos. That afternoon, our Fearless Leader declared a state of emergency that was apparent weeks ago, and then everyone who hadn’t been paying attention suddenly decided they didn’t have enough toilet paper for the apocalypse.

I went out anyway that night to the local HEB but they closed early at 8pm. Went to Kroger instead. The basics were gone – paper products, wipes, bread, meat, canned veggies. Some diapers and miscellaneous that might be tough to get later I went ahead and picked up. I could have filled my cart with cake and wine, though.

UHD has gone fully online, like every other university since Seattle. I mostly teach online, so that’s not a big adjustment for me, but it is for others. Also, it’s going to sidetrack Faculty Senate for awhile as much of that happens in person, but I’m working on it, in my new half-day professor, half-day daycare for two kids schedule that I’m dividing up with H.

Big changes are coming for higher education during and after the end of this global crisis, and it’s not just more online courses. A full-blown recession is here. The loss of confidence is not going to lift for a good long time. This means better enrollment for UHD, with millions of suddenly unemployed service workers flocking to degrees for lack of a better option. Though, they will need to take on an unprecedented amount of debt to do so.

Our Fearless Leader doesn’t have the vision or will or ethical foresight to make a New Deal for 2020… so I don’t know. There’s too much in the wind to make predictions other than our now-obvious weakness to a pandemic is going to make ideas that seemed crazy just a month ago rather appealing. A service economy without a reasonable health care system is no longer sustainable.

I suggested to a few folks the other week that the coronavirus selected Biden as the Democratic nominee – he’s the tribal pick, the old seemingly wise male who folks rush to when the storm god gets too angry. Now, as a two-time Sanders primary voter, I am more partial to the cantankerous shamans, Warren among them, touting universal health care and anti-corporate policies. It is ironic that if those ideas had been enacted when Sanders first started advocating for them decades ago, they would have put America in a far better position to combat a pandemic. Now we’re helpless in the face of fools who think a virus checks your voter registration before it kills you, or worse, that anyone not wiping their nose on their neighbor isn’t a real Texan.

Maybe the surge in enrollment will produce a generation more aware of the fragility of life. I’m not optimistic.

The Not-Debate of the Impeachment Trial

Seems like forever since I stopped by. I have been writing this blog for 14 years, but never consistently. But I had a thought.

I find the most interesting thing about the impeachment trial is that it is a thorough mockery of dialectic. There is no actual debate, no meeting of the minds. All those doors were closed long ago, and well before the current administration. Probably the last time the U.S. Senate functioned as a forum for reason was Watergate, and that’s optimistic. A pessimist would say it never has, and ultimately the Senate is merely a place to display power.

Not exercise it. Display it. Mostly McConnell’s, of course.

The Senate is the accoutrements only. The desks, the formalities, the procedure, all stifling thought rather than germinating it. There is no more constitutional republic in that room than in a high school study hall. I don’t see how Sanders or Warren or Romney or any of them can stand to be in that stage play for more than a minute or two.

The “legal reasoning” deployed by Trump’s defense team is roughly the same to that employed by Preston Brooks on Charles Sumner’s skull in 1856. I suppose I should give them some credit, though, in their shamelessness; unlike Brooks, they performed their hit in front of the full Senate and C-SPAN. No reason. No rationality. No respect. Just power.

The next decade will be rough for Democrats, I suspect. But when the political pendulum swings back hard, as it always does when it swings too far in one direction, the GOP’s ongoing bizarre fling with cultist would-be fascism will be more clearly seen as a huge miscalculation in expediency.

I say this as the trial is really a political choice between keeping Trump, and Pence serving the rest of the term. This is the GOP’s last chance to eject Trump and reforge a more moderate-friendly party before the 2020 election. They would have had to sell it carefully because agreeing with Democrats on anything is dangerous for their reelections, and they could have done so if they had built the case slowly over a year or so, but no serious groundwork has been laid, so acquittal is a foregone conclusion. They are with Trump all the way.

The reasoning (cough) seems to be that Trump, unpredictable and dangerous as he is, has such a lock on the “base” that this is preferable to the more malleable and passive Pence, who might not be able to retain the most rabid Trump cultists in the swing states.

But that’s a short-sighted solution for November 2020. After that, it gets darker. When Trump is acquitted, he will be uncontrollable. Answerable to no one. If you think the Ukraine call was bad, just wait. No one will be able to rein him in. No amount of evidence will blunt his actions. I don’t know what form his eventual overstep will take. But it won’t be good. He’s not getting better. And then this trial will be a clear missed opportunity.

If I were a conscience-free GOP senator, which I am not, I’d be moving toward Pence. Or, rather, I would have moved toward Pence in 2017. Same policies, more predictable. I wonder if this happened already in a few cases, and we simply haven’t heard about it yet. Perhaps Bolton’s book, or someone else’s, will reveal 25th amendment scenarios that never played out.

Rough seas ahead. Brace yourselves.

Star Wars Emails #17-19

I could probably write these indefinitely, but I’ll stick to the original trilogy as long as I can.

From: Chewie (


Subject: Protocol Droid Diagnostic Module?

Date: 3280 LY

I saw your recent post on E-Droid and I was wondering if you could help me out. I’m working on an obnoxious custom-made protocol droid, guessing 200 years old or so, without my usual tools in a stressful situation. The only way to get decent feedback is to keep his head attached with the voice on. Is there a simple diagnostic module on these things I’m overlooking? He is the very definition of annoying, and I can’t tell half the time if I’m making the right connections or giving him an orgasm.




Date: 3280 LY



From: Chewie (


Subject: Jawa, Well Done

Date: 3280 LY

I have always wanted to eat a Jawa. Now I have a reason to accelerate my gastrointestinal ambitions.

On Tatooine. Outside Mos Eisley. Yeah. I know what crawler you’re in. Not much room in those hoods for brains, much less network protocols.

Might have to cook our four, five, maybe ten of you little assholes to get a reasonable amount of protein.

Might have to kill three or four times that, just to find the best cuts.

Might go with an open fire, I’m thinking. You on a stick.

I recommend reconsidering your technical support etiquette.

From: Vlipu Q’ehee (

To: Chewie (

Subject: Protocol Droid Diagnostic Module

Date: 3280 LY

That vintage usually has a Holowan diagnostic module placed beneath the TranLang III that bypasses the language circuit.

We are just honest traders trying to make a living. Just a joke.

From: Chewie (

To: Vlipu Q’ehee

Subject: Found it.

Date: 3280 LY

Your joke is a lot funnier now. I would work on the delivery.

Star Wars Emails #11-16

I have always wondered about this.

From: Boba Fett (

To: Darth Vader (

Subject: Millennium Falcon

Date: 3280 LY

Solo was hiding behind your shield generators. He detached with the garbage just before you went to lightspeed. He is headed for Cloud City at sublight. I am following.

Clarify your “no disintegrations” policy on this job – is that a hard and fast rule? What about one disintegration?

From: Darth Vader (

To: Boba Fett (

Subject: Re: Millennium Falcon

Date: 3280 LY

Good. Meet my flagship there for your substantial reward.

The crew of the Millennium Falcon are to be undamaged. I have need of them.

From: Boba Fett (

To: Darth Vader (

Subject: Substantial Reward

Date: 3280 LY

Of course. Although, what is my reward, exactly, given that I could just shoot an email to Solo right now, telling him he’s walking into a trap? The rebels give out “substantial rewards,” too.

From: Darth Vader (

To: Boba Fett (

Subject: Re: Substantial Reward

Date: 3280 LY

I will allow you to continue living. I do not bargain, bounty hunter.

From: Boba Fett (

To: Darth Vader (

Subject: Re: Re: Substantial Reward

Date: 3280 LY

I wonder if Anakin Skywalker bargains.

From: Dark Helmet (

To: Boba Fett (

Subject: Bargain

Date: 3280 LY

Once the Millennium Falcon and its crew are secure, Solo is all yours. Jabba the Hutt’s contract is substantial.

Anakin Skywalker is dead.

From: Boba Fett (

To: Dark Helmet (

Subject: Re: Bargain

Date: 3280 LY


Hold fast

Impeachment is picking up steam. House is going to vote. They don’t have to, but now with the writing on the wall, it would be a missed opportunity to not get the Republican sycophants on the record as opposing a slam-dunk case.

It is very important that the inquiry not waver from this point forward. Trump’s rhetoric will only get worse, and his supporters more desperate to slander anyone associated with it, but everyone has to hold fast to allow more people to feel comfortable enough to testify.

The officer that testified today, Alexander Vindman, is a perfect example of that. He knows he will be pilloried by fools. But he makes it possible for more to step forward, including, I would imagine, the original whistleblower.

One-Screen Bad Endings from 1980s and 1990s PC gaming

PC games in the 80s and even early 90s didn’t have much in the way of disk space or graphical whiz-bang.  An interesting side effect of this limitation was the failure states for many games were rather stark and inventive. They were more than a simple GAME OVER in the arcade, but far less elaborate than the now common fully-orchestrated 15-minute branched-ending cinematic.

I’ve collected ten examples that I think are illustrative of ‘one-screen bad endings’ of that era.

1. Ancient Art of War (1984)

Let’s start simple. The granddaddy of all real-time strategy games is AAW. As it is entirely scenario-based with no campaign, and slow-paced to boot, the arrival of the triumphant warrior ‘victory’ screen as opposed to the below ‘defeat’ screen was always an interesting payoff.

2. Amazon (1984), the Telarium entry.

The Telarium games, easily recognizable by their distinctive box art design, were essentially text adventures with CGA graphics. And they were brutal and cruel, with Amazon, a tale written by Michael Crichton, being the harshest of them. Amazon could, and would, cheerfully kill the player after any use of the parser, and loved giving you just one more chance to type a command even though nothing would work, letting you gaze on then-wondrous CGA art and contemplate your impending death… before kicking you summarily to DOS.

3. Oregon Trail (1985)

There are as many versions of this game as lineups for the Rolling Stones, so I’m not positive this screenshot is from the 1985 PC version. But you can die of dysentery in all of them. Myself, it’s usually cholera.

4. Life & Death (1988)

Given the game is chiefly about not botching two operations (an appendectomy and an aortic trunk replacement), you’re going to see this screen a lot before you finally master the good old McBurney’s incision.

Note the lack of text. None is needed.

5. Manhunter: New York (1988) and Manhunter: San Francisco (1989), the Sierra entries.

All the classic Sierra adventures, from King’s Quest and Space Quest on down, produced endless variations of amusing death sequences, making failure as fun as success. The Quest for Glory series probably has the funniest, but the first Manhunter game is the gold standard for mocking the player’s apparent ineptitude. Death in the game is always accompanied by a customized and horrible pun which is delivered by a depiction of the game’s three designers in apocalyptic cosplay. The sequel doubles down on this method.

6. Midwinter (1989)

This stylized screen is the one that inspired the writing of this article. General Masters is clearly working out his frustrations over his wasted conquest of the Hair Club for Men and his further inability to conceal his lack of a chin. REBELLIOUS DOGS! Clearly you require the use of an appositive to identify me!

7. Sword of the Samurai (1989)

SOTS’s art design was impeccable, allowing single, static screens to communicate major events in its “samurai simulator” in elegant ways. I’m working on a journal article right now about this beautiful game. The following screen is not a game ending – the game allows you to continue after death if you have a male heir. But there is another screen in much this style, calmly depicting your enforced seppuku and the execution of your entire family if you do something inadvisable, like attempt to assassinate your daimyo and fail. You come at the king, you best not miss…

8. Balance of Power (1990)

The masterpiece of the bad-ending genre follows, both subverting and enforcing the concept:

9. Sid Meier’s Civilization (1991)

Not every Civilization player has seen the “worst” ending of the first game. Again, static image, but music and text. A little bit of Shelley, I think.

10. Fallout (1997)

This is a late but classic example, which I include as video for the voiceover by Ron Perlman. But it is still a static image.

Note that there is a slightly different voiceover for different methods of death. And the the cold fact that everyone in your vault is now dead due to your failure is also, well, stressed just a tad.

Special “Kick to DOS” Category: Command HQ (1990) and Pool of Radiance (1988)

Command HQ, a minor Microprose classic, would kick you to DOS if you used nukes too much with the admonition of “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.” As the original Balance of Power had the snarky ending years before 1990, this was probably a tribute.

This piece would not be complete without a Gold Box entry – the first in the series, Pool of Radiance. Press a key, and you’re in DOS.