Friday, April 28, 2017

The S-Town Podcast

As a "This American Life" fan, and a "Serial" fan, I was for sure going to give "S-Town" a shot.  The season dropped in a full batch, and so I - with a trip coming up - thought I would save it for the flight, which would have been a great idea, but as often happens I was in more of a re-read a book mood and so, I listened to one, but with so many podcasts piled up, I moved on to others, and for me I hit the end of episode 2 and went, oh, yeah, so binge listen it is then. 
The series should come with a trigger warning for depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm.  I think it's kind of fun to go into it with very little idea of what it's about.  If you have ever wondered what the process of getting stories for things - be it newspapers, podcasts, radio, etc - not the cutesy movie compressed versions, this provides that.  If you just want to know is there something going on in this small town, that the original email writer called Shit-town, then, well, I can tell you, obviously there is.  But, like novels and TV shows that are more about the process than the results, that's what "S-Town" is.  
It certainly made me think about the statistics of stories that get killed and how many of these take months of searching, of visits and calls, only to turn into not much.  Or not enough for a ten minute segment.  That when we talk about the gutting of journalism, we're not just talking about people available to cover what world leaders say, but about the people available to spend months travelling and emailing and calling and recording in the hopes that it leads to something.  About how some of the best interviews are not where the interview asks a list of agreed upon questions, but when the interviewer lets the subject go on a tangent and draws them out further.  And how those are the little snippets and nuggets that stay with you. 
And as a person who prefers the pantser style of plotting, this idea of showing up with a mike and seeing where things go really appeals to me.  It often confuses non-writers, and even writer people with a more plotter driven style, how do you know if that story has enough if you haven't thought it through.  And the answer is I don't.  I have manuscripts on my hard drive that didn't have enough to sustain a book.  They might become a short someday, or they might just be an idea that wasn't fully baked.  And with experience you get better.  You get better at knowing this is about the right amount of conflict.  Or at being willing to re-write more to bake in more stuff as you go.  
It's also an excellent example of POV.  How you can listen to a story, and feel that you get it, you understand.  And then you hear another take and you throw that in with what you already knew, and see how it fits in and yet shifts your thinking on what had happened.  
If the lack of closure in "Serial" bugged you, I don't think "S-Town" is for you.  This is not to say things aren't found, discovered, examined.  But it is, in the end, as much, if not more, about the process, than the result. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Independent Books Store Day is approaching an lots of stores have fun things like this planned at Upshur. 
2. This piece talked about the need for a wider array of autistic characters in media. 
3. Someone taught a French Bulldog to skate

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Lack of Healthcare Story

When I was 21 I was kicked of my parents' insurance.  I had a job, but it was for a tiny company and I was paid monthly and not always super timely even though one of my job duties was to print the checks. I absolutely meant to do something with the COBRA packet I received and then I got busy, and there were the holidays, and so, yeah, I missed the deadline.  I probably could not have afforded COBRA without help, but that was small consolation because in February after standing for days on a convention floor, my knee dislocated as we finished packing up and my elbow broke my fall.  My knee (somewhat ironically) was fine.  My elbow ended up requiring surgery because I broke off the edge (not the center pointy bit, the side pointy bit which yes probably has a better name than that) and needed pins to put it back where it belonged, and months of physical therapy to regain range of motion. I was really lucky that I had family who was able to help look after me, drive me to all these appointments, and help me pay for this.  
Obviously I realized my error in letting my health insurance lapse and once things were on the mend started looking into getting my own insurance.  And guess what I ran into.  Pre-existing conditions.  Even though I had already had surgery, even though I had already attended multiple physical therapy sessions and had regained most range of motion, the insurance company didn't want to cover me because I had a known condition that might cost money.  
Again, I was really lucky and managed to push through that and get coverage.  But we are talking lots of time on the phone. Nowadays a series of laws, HIPAA and ACA have made such stories go away.  For now.  Right now I have heath insurance through my job. So the fact that I have injured my knee several times, suffer from seasonal allergies, have asthma, and other various conditions are all covered by my insurance.  
Prior to the ACA, my day job had me reading a lot of companies summary plan descriptions.  And some of them covered pre-existing conditions. And some of them had a waiting period.  Something along the lines of six months or a year before the employee or the employee's covered dependents could be covered for pre-existing conditions. And a pre-existing condition can be anything you've ever been treated for. Any time you had a visit about a thing, that maybe visits and visits later turns into a diagnosis.  
And really, it's easy to fault employers and insurance companies on this.  But insurance is capitalist by design. Their job is to save money.  That just happens to be at odds sometimes with our goal of getting good health care.  It is a clear case of the system working as designed even as it fails many. I do think ACA is imperfect.  I do think we could come up with a better solution.  But repealing it and replacing it with something that covers less people is not the right approach. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

"The Catch" - Charming but...

I fell out of the habit with "The Catch" last season.  It had an intriguing hook, security consultant falls for a charming man who turns out to be conning her, which he reveals by stealing all her stuff, except, it turns out, his weakness is her, and they spend the season trying to catch each other. Kind of. 
I never deleted the pass on my DVR, so when it restarted I found myself curious enough to try again, and huh.  So apparently she (Alice, played by Mireille Enos) teamed up with Interpol to catch Ben (Peter Krause) and then felt bad when he turned out to love her too, so gave him a head start and there were double crosses upon double crosses, and whatever, all this I have gleaned from the previouslies. So, Ben is in jail.  Alice's firms computers are all in custody, which, as you might imagine has put a crimp in their business.  And Ben's ex Margot (Sonya Walger) is now in charge of the evil crime family.  Rhys, Ben's partner in crime is on the outs with the crime family yet not in jail.  So, now, Interpol and the FBI (and really it hardly matters, supposed good guys) have offered Ben a deal, where they will reduce his sentence if he does this thing.  And Margot, realizing the problem with crime families is that you can trust no one, hires Alice's firm to investigate.  Needless to say, Alice and Ben are only telling each other part of what they are up to.  Oh and Alice's brother Tommy has shown up totally coincidentally because his former employers are dead, but he has some money is his name, and yeah, absolutely no reason to believe anything shady or underhanded is going on there.  
So here's the thing.  The cast, including the other three members of Alice's firm (played by Rose Rollins, Jay Hayden, and Elvy Yost) are all wonderful.  Gina Torres as our FBI agent learning how charmingly frustrating Ben is, his total inability to do a job within the defined parameters.  And T. R. Knight is knocking out of the park as the bumbling but charming and maybe not as bumbling brother.  
But here's the thing.  The cast is great.  The sets are slick.  And the plot, is there.  Do I care who Tommy's murdered employers really were?  No.  Do I think if you are chasing an international assassin you should plan an elaborate thing where everyone carries different colored umbrellas the theory being that the assassin will then be forced to shoot at all the umbrellas giving them time to catch him? I mean, spoiler alert it worked, but instead of being impressed, it makes me wonder how this international assassin survived so long.  It is the perfect example, they used a visually appealing, but ultimately not super well thought out idea to catch the assassin, turned him over to intended victim Margot, and the episode ended with her hiring them.  That is an intriguing double cross, but much like fellow TGIT show "How to Get Away With Murder" the episodes often seem like misdirects leading to a new breadcrumb revealed at the end.  So, you could fold laundry or multitask while you watched the show, and look up for the end and get most of what you needed.  
There's nothing wrong with any of this, there are plenty of shows that get by more on the charm of the cast, than the plotting.  I just find myself hopewatching, because there is such incredible potential there, and I will say that I think HTGAWM does a better job (admittedly over more cumulative episodes at this point) at making me care about the characters, instead of marveling at the visuals, and the acting.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Having been away I am catching up on things like the annual Peeps contest which got taken over by the Washington City Paper this year.  I usually find the runner up a little more to my personal taste, but they are still all amazing. 
2. I was never a very good "Survivor" watcher, but this post about the missed opportunity the show had, as they hid under the guise of we have to show what happened, is interesting.  "Top Chef" has had issues with bullying, and this year they at least acknowledged - however awkwardly - the optics of having the first challenge at a plantation be an elimination between a black chef and a white chef.  These are all adults, they sign on for a lot, but these shows also exist in the world.  
3. I read 13 Reasons Why and found it interesting, but have listened to the criticism about the show, that for it's unflinching look at serious issues, it has issues and isn't safe for some folks.  This take (by another YA author) addressed some concerns.