Saturday, March 13, 2021

93. I've Been Shot! (by a dose of COVID vaccine)

 A year ago this weekend I was in Seattle for my mom's funeral (see post #83). That's the last time I was on a plane. Flying back to L.A. the next day, as far as I can remember, I was not required to wear a mask. The memory is a bit fuzzy, but I seem to remember mask mandates coming a week or so after that.

This last year has been a world-wide reminder; a reminder that we are a vulnerable species, that we took the 'modern' sophisticated world of 2018 for granted, and that it was always possible for it to be shut down. Pandemics can happen. We know this now. Bad things in general can happen. The 1918 Flu happened. The Black Death happened (though admittedly medieval hygiene was pretty bad). The Great Depression happened. Cancer happens. An asteroid hit Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs - then the dominant species on Earth.

Shit happens.

One of our greatest ever Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, battled a case of polio when he was young. As President he could barely stand up without crutches. Now, thanks to vaccines, polio is essentially eradicated from the planet. I mean, when I think about it, I'm pretty happy that polio was not a thing anymore when I was growing up.

For decades, last century, the U.S. and Russia pointed insane amounts of nuclear firepower at each other and dared the other to blink. Calling either side's bluff would have meant world-wide catastrophe. Wait, that's still a possibility, isn't it.

What will it be in the future? When will it be? two years ago, those question would have been theoretical, rhetorical. Today 'what will it be' and 'when will it be' are real questions to think about, and of course no one knows the answer.

So, this morning I made my way from Venice, California to the vaccination hub at The Forum in Inglewood. Along with all the writing, film, and publishing projects I'm involved in, I also do some teaching, so, being able to call myself a teacher allowed me to jump ahead of the waitlist for this morning's appointment.

The nurse told me to 'take it easy' for a couple days. Hm? Take it easy? "So I guess that means my Saturday afternoon four-and-half-miles is off?" I asked. She told me that when she got her first dose she felt terrible the rest of the day, then fine the next day. I don't feel terrible. Maybe the arm I took the shot in is feeling a little odd, so I decided not to jog, and just walked a few miles. I think I'm about to find out if going out at all was a good or a bad thing.

I have reflected some, this week, on the strangeness of this past year. Images come back to me of waiting in line just to get into the grocery store (this still happens some, but nothing like it did last April), people suddenly existing only on Zoom, rather than in person. I remember Black Lives Matter protests, back in May and June, resulting in National Guard troops being stationed around nearby street corners. I remember a Presidential election. I remember sports shutting down - until they came back in empty stadiums. My own regular Saturday night semi-organized soccer game shut down. I haven't run around a soccer field in a year.

It won't be long before we start taking things for granted again. People will either forget or block it out. It won't be long before kids won't know what we're talking about when we mention COVID; "Oh, COVID that was that disease that happened way back in ancient history. Was that the same time as World War two?"

But life will not instantly bounce back to normal. Life won't bounce back to normal for any of the families of the more than 2 and 1/2 million people (world-wide) that the pandemic took away. Life won't bounce back to normal for those who have lost a job. As I walk through my neighborhood, down a street once bustling with restaurants, shops and various other businesses, I see lots of empty store-fronts. I see lots of places that, a year ago I thought were solid successful business, that are now closed.

We will get our lives back. Better times are coming, but I think we would be wise to gain some perspective from this past year. We would be wise to be a little more humble than we were before. We are a vulnerable species, and in spite of our best efforts...shit happens!

Here's hoping for better times!

Peter Wick

March 13, 2021

Monday, February 15, 2021

92 - How to Confuse Artificial Intelligence (sneak peek #2)

First...What you are about to read has nothing to do with how to confuse Artificial Intelligence. Let me explain.

Back a few posts ago, in October, 2020, I posted a small sample of my next book, which at that time went under the title, "Welcome to the Machine." It is set in the future, in 2075, and at this point my best guess is that it will be available in less than a year. This sample, that you are about to read, is the Prologue, which goes under the chapter heading, "The Dawn of Humanity." In the book it is immediately followed by "Chapter 1; 2075 - The Lunchtime of Humanity."

So, hopefully this makes sense. What you are about to read is from the ancient past. The book may or may not be titled, "How to Confuse Artificial Intelligence." In fact I'll take suggestions and responses. I've permanently turned off public comments on this blog, but you can email azzurriprods@mail.com if you feel strongly one way or the other about any title suggestions. And now to:

Prologue - The Dawn of Humanity

Kag squatted in front of the cave wall.

He dipped the point of his stick in the bowl of red berry pigment and lifted it toward the wall.

He stroked the red pigment to his right, painting the direction of an arrow flying toward a deer.

He had not yet painted the deer.

This was all Kag cared about, this painting.

"Kag!"

His older brothers Nog and Gog stood impatiently behind him.

"Kag, come on. We have hunting and gathering to do. The sun's already been up for an hour."

Kag did not respond. He peered intently at his cave wall painting. He moved his hand carefully toward the painting. With his stick he added a tiny dab of pigment to the tip of the arrow.

"Kag!"

Satisfied with his revision of the arrow, Kag finally responded without turning around.

"What's that?" Kag asked sarcastically. "Another day of hunting and gathering? Ooh! I'm so excited. I'm tingly with excitement! How will this day of hunting and gathering be different from - " Kag finally stood and faced his brothers " - the other freaking five thousand days we've spent hunting gathering?"

"Oh, don't go off on that again!" Nog looked at Gog and rolled his eyes.

"There's got to be something better than this," Kag complained for, what his brothers were sure, was the millionth time. "I dream of a time when we have machines in our homes that keep our food cold until we pull it out and cook it."

"Machines!" Nog said mockingly. "What the hell are machines?"

"And what is a home?" asked Gog, laughing.

"It's where we live." Kag shifted his feet, frustrated with his brothers. "You don't think humanity is going to live in caves forever, do you."

Nog rolled his eyes again. "Someone's going to live in a looney bin if he's not careful."

Nog and Gog laughed together. Then Gog stopped. "Hey, what's a looney bin?" he asked.

Kag interrupted once again. "There has to be more to life than this, all the hunting, and the gathering."

"Look, mate," Nog replied sharply. "You're living in a fantasy world. Hunting and gathering is all there is and all there ever will be."

Kag knew he would never convince his brothers. Reluctantly he joined them, and the three brothers began walking out the cave opening.

"Well, do we have to both?" Kag asked weakly. "Do we have to hunt AND gather? Isn't gathering enough for one person? I have to hunt also?"


Peter Wick

February 15, 2021

Thursday, January 14, 2021

91. So THAT'S what a bad President looks like

 I am writing this at a particular moment in time. It is Thursday, January 14, 2021. There are five days left in the Donald Trump Presidency.

I wanted to begin by marking what day it is because I feel this moment will eventually be forgotten.

Someday we will tell out grandchildren, "By the end of the Trump Presidency businesses were closed, buildings were boarded up, people couldn't leave their houses. There was a vaccine, multiple vaccines, for the virus that kept everyone in their homes, but Trump quit caring, and vaccines almost went to waste waiting to be shipped out across the country.

Our grandchildren will not believe us. "No, come on," they'll say. "You're making it up."

No, we are not making it up.

I worked under a bad boss several years ago, who quit trying, openly stopped caring, and eventually was fired by the company we worked for.

A co-worker of mine at the time said to me, "I always wondered what exactly a bad boss is. How does a bad boss act? What does a bad boss look like?  Well, now I know. That's what a bad boss looks like."

Donald Trump was always a terrible President; self-obsessed, racist, corrupt, reactionary, spiteful.

Then, eventually, he quit caring and quit trying.

Eventually the country fired him.

Many people are tempted to declare Donald Trump the worst President of all time. He might be. It's hard to tell, because moments are forgotten. We have no real way of knowing just how bad several 1800's Presidents were. Andrew Jackson? Three words: Trail of Tears. Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan? Come on down Civil War! Herbert Hoover? Hm, well, this one is an interesting comparison.

The Great Depression began on Hoover's watch, and Hoover's response was a yawn and a shrug. Homeless campouts were named after him; "Hoovervilles."

One person I was talking to about this recently suggested that this means we should rename all over-capacity hospitals "Trump-villes," or better yet, Trump Towers.

The point is a simple one. We don't know exactly how bad some of those old Presidents were in the context of their times. The only real reference point we have is how bad Trump has been from day one, and how horrifically terrible he has become in his final days in office. Trump has been so bad that many many liberal Democrats have openly said they would do anything to have Mitt Romney as President. Romney lost to Obama in 2012 (a little reference point for our grandchildren). Trump has been so bad that he has made those of us who couldn't stand George W. Bush, recall with fondness his butchering of the English language ('misunderestimate'), and pine for the good old days.

Trump has been so bad that the United States of America is poorer, worse off, more depressed and more scared than at any time in recent memory.

That's what a bad President looks like! Now we know. Good riddance Donnie baby. Don't trip over the armed extremists in the doorway on your way out. Don't be alarmed. You invited them

Peter Wick

January 14. 2021


Saturday, November 14, 2020

90. Another post making this blog ineligible for Google advertising

Google has suspended me from advertising this blog.

How did I react, you wonder?

I thought it was absolutely hilarious!

I spend a little money on advertising now and then, not all the time. Sometimes I'll advertise this blog, my books, movies, my website, my company Azzurri Productions/Publishing. Sometimes I don't want to spend the money, so I stop the ads. That's what I did, actually, before Google told me my blog-ad was ineligible.

"Sensitive event," their warning said, "US election."

I laughed. Was it last Summer's, 'Trump vs. the Virus'? Was it (pre-pandemic) "Make infectious diseases great again"?

Did someone actually complain to Google about me making fun of Trump? If so...hilarious! I could not be more proud.

For the record, I do not consider it censorship. Google has not told me I have to remove any blog posts. They just said they wouldn't take my advertising money. So, for all the Trumpsters out there complaining that Facebook and Twitter are censoring them, by not allowing them to buy ads on their sites, no, that is not censorship. That is a private company. You can go out into the middle of the public square and shout all the nonsense you want. No one is censoring your right to say absurd things.

So, Google, fine. I stopped the ad anyway, before you decided it was ineligible.

As for Trump and his desperate attempt to claim the election was stolen from him...HILARIOUS! No one is funnier than Donald Trump.

I am going to begin building up the theory that his whole Presidency was just big practical joke done on purpose. It was Performance Art. Donald Trump has proven to be a great satirical artist, showing us in real time what it would look like to have a true Worst President of All Time.

Just imagine, he proposed, how terrible it would be for the country, for the world, if we actually had a President this bad.

I don't believe for one minute that he ever actually believed anything he said. He never meant any of it. It was all just elaborate satire.

Performance Art!

Get it?

Any day now he's going to pull the mask off and reveal that he has been a Sasha Baron Cohen character the whole time!

There you go...send your complaints to Google, care of the advertising department.

Peter Wick

November 14, 2020

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

89. First sneak peek - Welcome to the Machine (with apologies to Pink Floyd)

 Note: This is the very first sneak peek of the next book, which will not be out for about a year. The title, "Welcome to the Machine" is actually the title of a Pink Floyd song, and may not actually be the book's real title. The book is set in the year 2075. This is a random scene from the middle of a chapter.


Adam was met by a strange man with a commanding presence.

"Adam Douglas?"

"Yes."

"I'm Thomas from Sparkle-fye."

"Sparkle-fye? The music hub?"

"Yes, Sparkle-fye. I'm here, Mr. Douglas because our records indicate that you owe us -" The man looked to his left and brought up a spread sheet. "You owe us exactly two million, three hundred thirty two thousand, six hundred and fifty four dollars...and fifty two cents."

Adam stared at the man as if he had been hit over the head by a solid metal object.

"Mr. Douglas?"

"Did you just say I owe Sparkle-fye two million dollars?"

"Yes, slightly more," Thomas said, matter of factly.

"How...how? How the hell do I owe two mil - "

"You have a habit, Mr. Douglas, of getting the song - " Thomas looked right and brought up another spread sheet - "One Lonely Night, by the artist, Cello Bongo, stuck in your head, is that not true?"

"I hate that song," Adam said. "It always gets stuck in my head."

"Exactly, Mr. Douglas."

"So...What..."

"Mr. Douglas, when you signed up as Sparkle-fye member, you signed our 'terms and conditions' did you not?"

"I mean, of course, you have to, but no one reads - "

"Section three, paragraph seven, 'The listener agrees to pay the sum of four dollars and ninety nine cents each time a song plays in their own head."

"What?"

"You've been playing the song 'One Lonely Night' repeatedly -"

"I don't play it," Adam objected. "It gets stuck in my head. I don't even like the song."

"Mr. Douglas," Thomas said calmly, "There is no reason to become agitated."

"I'm not - " Adam caught himself and swallowed his anger. "Are you telling me that I owe money every time a song gets stuck in my head?"

"It's in the contract."

"But...but..."

Thomas stood in front of Adam with a commanding expression. "Two million, three hundred thirty two thousand, six hundred fifty four dollars, and fifty two cents," he said. There was a moment's pause. then he continued. "We have payment plan options."

Peter Wick

October 14, 2020

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

88. I Was Yelled at by the Director of Forrest Gump

 After what has turned out to be a fun experience capturing a screenshot of my brief moment in the new film, "Bill and Ted Face the Music" (click here to see the shot on my website), I have found myself remembering with happy reminiscence, the year and a half in the 1990's when I spent as much time as I could hanging out, getting paid, and sometimes appearing on screen, as an Extra in countless movies and TV shows.

The best part of those days since then, has been the line I have thrown into any "Two truths and a lie" game, when I include the statement, "I have worked on one Oscar-winning film."

It's not a lie. It's one of the truths.

Robert Zemeckis, the Oscar winning director of the film, almost sent us all home before we even made it to the set. A group of us guys were hired to be the All-American football players who meet President Kennedy. He took a look at us as we got off the bus from the wardrobe department, and asked, "What's this? What the hell is this? Where are my football players?"

None of us were bulky the way football players are supposed to be.

"Send 'em back," he said disgustedly. "Get me some football players."

The guys I was with were instantly dejected. A few turned back toward the bus. I stood awkwardly, wondering what my angle would be, how I could stay. Robert Zemeckis himself bailed me out, though.

He looked at me and asked, "How tall are you?"

"Six feet, half inch over," I said.

"Okay, you can stay. We need a stand-in for JFK."

The scene is the one where Tom Hanks meets John F. Kennedy, along with the other All-Americans, and makes a big deal out of having to pee.

They used real footage of President Kennedy, removed a woman from the shot, put Tom Hanks in her place, and had an actor with a killer President Kennedy voice, say the lines that the President says in the film. In between takes, I was placed on the set to stand where Kennedy stood, while the crew set up lights and wondered around me taking light meter reading.

How do I know, you might ask, that they were using this particular shot of Kennedy and removing a woman from the shot, to be replaced by Tom Hanks?

Because...I snuck behind the set, where the special effects guys were working on the clip live in the moment while we were shooting.

It was easy to find my way back there. I wasn't being used during the actual shooting. I just had to listen for, "Cut," and make myself available to stand.

So, while everyone was shooting, I found the computer area, and became fascinated by the process I was watching. They blocked out the woman's presence, inserted Tim Hanks, and placed the actors lips over President Kennedy's, saying the line, "I think he said he has to pee."

I was standing there watching, transfixed, when I missed the word "Cut" out on the set. a moment later Robert Zemeckis came back to see how his special effects were going. I turned around as he came in. We made eye contact. He did a double take, then walked right up to me and said, "Aren't you...supposed to be....OUT THERE!? How did you even get back here? Get out of here!"

I was a little embarrassed, but as I walked back out to where the lighting guys waited for me, a realization landed on; I wasn't fired...AND....I was just yelled at by Robert Zemeckis. THAT'S SO COOL!

That was also the day I learned one other thing, something that I think remains true today; that Tom Hanks actually is the most normal, fun, and unpretentious actor in all of Hollywood.

But getting yelled at like that, that memory is gold for me. That's probably my favorite moment of getting in trouble in my whole life.

Peter Wick

September 15, 2020

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

87. Trump vs The Virus - A strategy session

Scene: A secret planning headquarters in the underground bunker beneath the White House.
Those present: President Donald Trump, Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, Radio host Rush Limbaugh, former game show host Chuck Woolery, Fox news host Sean Hannity.

Trump: Okay, everyone, let's get this meeting started. Question one: Can we nuke the virus?
Hannity: How would we nuke it, Mr. President?
Trump: Easy! Lure the virus into a room. Make up a story about sick people who want to get infected. Get the virus in there, then NUKE IT!
Hannity: Wouldn't that also blow up the whole house?
Fauci: The whole city!? Multiple states?
Trump: Fauci, you're not a nuclear expert. This is above your pay grade! Guys, you've got to think boldly!
Hannity: I just don't think we should be setting off nuclear weapons against a virus, Mr. President.
Fauci (to Hannity): Since when did YOU become the voice of reason?
Limbaugh: No one has any guts these days!
Trump: So true, Rush. So true. See guys, that's why I gave him the medal at the State of The Union.
Limbaugh: We need to be more like the Donner party. You've heard of the Donner Party?
Trump: Of course, that's where Jeffrey Epstein and I - 
Limbaugh: Different Donner party, Mr. President! Different party entirely.
Trump: There were two?
Limbaugh: The Donner Party, back in the old west days. They were trying to get to California by wagon train. They made the mistake of going during Winter. They got stuck in the mountains, no food, nothing!
Trump: Wow! No one's ever heard of this before, Rush. What happened?
Limbaugh: They ate each other. They turned to cannibalism.
Woolery: Didn't they all die?
Limbaugh: Half of them. Half survived! They adapted! they didn't complain. THEY ADAPTED!
Fauci: So, you're solution is for half of the country to die, while the other half eats them?
Limbaugh: Adapt! ADAPT! We're  AMERICANS!
Trump: That was great, Rush. You've got to start replacing Fauci as my number one voice on this.
Woolery: We're all overreacting, Mr. President. This whole virus thing is a media hoax. There is no virus. the media is in on the Deep State.
Fauci: What would anyone get out of making up a virus and hundreds of thousands of deaths?
Trump: Fauci, you're a smart guy, but you're way too into facts.
Fauci: I'm a scientist. Science is nothing without facts.
Trump: Exactly! Science is nothing without facts!
Fauci: You agree?
Trump: I DO! So....what is the solution?

-They all look at each other, confused and afraid to answer the question-

Trump: GET RID OF THE FACTS!
Limbaugh: Brilliant!
Trump: If science is nothing without facts, we get rid of facts. Then...SCIENCE IS NOTHING! WE WIN!
Woolery: You're an amazing man, Mr. President.
Trump: Okay, let's get on this. Fauci, I want you to force all testing of the virus to stop.
Fauci: Wha-aa-aat!?
Trump: No more testing. If there isn't any testing, there won't be any more disease! 
Fauci: It doesn't work that way. Imagine shutting down cancer screenings!
Trump: Great idea! Shut down all cancer screenings too. I just cured cancer! Hannity, go on the air and start touting Limbaugh's cannibalism cure! You're all great people! Well, not you Fauci. Thanks for coming. Let's go, gentlemen! We have an invisible enemy to defeat! Oh, and that reminds me, We have to mobilize the military also.
Fauci: The military, to do what, exactly?
Trump: Tanks, Fauci! Tanks! This virus is no match for the power of the Unites States military! Once it gets a good look at some of the state of the art tanks we have, it'll go running! Let's go, let's go, let's go! We're winning! let's go win this damn thing!
Peter Wick
July 14, 2020