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May 16, 2016 · 5:56 pm

Jack Fisher’s Sexy Sunday Thoughts: Staycation 2018 Edition

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This is the time of year where most people either take their vacation or envy those who are able to take vacations in the first place. I’ve been on both ends before. After I got out of college, I had about as much vacation time as I did gold-encrusted toilet seats. I truly envied those who talked glowingly about the places they went.

That’s typical for a lot of young people. You get out of college, you start working, and you’ve got precious little time to take off. Add paying off student loan debt to the mix and vacations are a low priority, to say the least. Sure, you’ll still get a day off here and there, but you won’t have the money or the means to go anywhere exotic, expensive, or clothing optional.

For the first two years after college, I didn’t go anywhere special when I got time off. Instead, I became the master of the staycation. I even came to embrace it. I found that I could still feel plenty refreshed by just hanging out at home, sleeping in, and lounging around with no lengthy to-do list. While I still prefer a trip to the beach or a few nights in Las Vegas, I can still make the most of a standard staycation.

It’s becoming more common and necessary among young people, resorting to staycations rather than going exotic places with what little time and money they have. It can be limiting, but still plenty rewarding. I know plenty of people who are basically stuck taking staycations this summer. This edition of my Sexy Sunday Thoughts is for those people and everyone who appreciates their place in our lives.


“Logistically speaking, a skilled porn star and a devout spouse require many similar abilities.”


“Drunk driving can accidentally take a life, but drunk sex can accidentally make one.”


“For someone with a food fetish, a late-night snack counts as foreplay.”


“Good sex can make up for a bad date, but it rarely works in reverse.”


“Some women want a handsome prince, but too many men just want a sexy maid.”


“An attentive lover puts as much care into personal hygiene as they do their oral sex abilities.”


“Pregnancy tests inspire more prayers than any holy site ever will.”


Whether you’re enjoying an extended staycation or lounging by a beach in Cancun, I hope everybody reading this finds some time to get away from it all. We all need a chance to step back, relax, and unwind. You don’t have to travel to the French Riviera. You can just travel to your couch and still end up just as refreshed. A sexy vacation to a beach full of supermodels is nice. A few days on the couch can be nice as well.

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“Intimate Healing” A Sexy Short Story

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The following is a sexy short story I wrote involving love, sex, and treating headaches. Who among us hasn’t had a headache? There are many ways too treat it. This is just one. Enjoy!

“Terry, I have a headache.”

Usually, when a man’s girlfriend of two years uttered those words, it meant he was in for a lonely night. That was the standard response women gave their lovers when they said they weren’t in the mood for sex. Luckily for Terry Draka, though, his girlfriend wasn’t most women and their sex life had never been that standard.

“Say no more, Nina. I’m also extra sore tonight,” he told her.

“Glad to hear,” she replied. “Wait…that came our wrong. What I meant to say was…”

“It’s okay, babe,” Terry said with a humored grin. “I know what you meant.”

His lover cast him a look of relief and affection. Nina Highland had a knack for saying that carried mixed messages. She claimed it was the primary reason why she’d only dated two other men before him, despite having the natural beauty that made men stupid. Terry liked to think he’d been less stupid than most when it came to being with her. It probably helped that he knew just how to treat those headaches of hers.

“I take it that means you want to skip the movie we rented and take this to the bedroom,” he said to her.

“You know me too well,” Nina said sheepishly. “I’m not even sure I have the strength to take my clothes off.”

“That’s okay. I’ll take care of it. You know how good I am at that.”

She smiled playfully, latching onto his arm so he could lead to the master bedroom of their modest apartment. He would’ve carried her if he hadn’t actually been sore from work that day. Working at a quarry and operating heavy machinery for hours at a time took a toll on any man, even one who had been doing it since high school. Terry knew how to manage it, though, and it wasn’t just with aspirin.

Slipping his arm around his lover’s waist, he guided her into the bedroom with a mix of urgency and care. Once inside, he closed the door, dimmed the lights, and led her over to the foot of the bed. She looked more drained than usual. She must have had a rough day at the office. She claimed to love her job as a graphic designer, but the people she worked with had a knack for giving her headaches.

That didn’t bother Terry too much, though. It just meant he had more reason to treat her in their private time, as only he could.

“Here, have a seat,” he told her, patting an empty spot on the bed. “Just lean back and let me work my magic.”

“I hope you have some new tricks tonight,” Nina told him. “This is one of those cases that can’t be fixed with a simple back rub.”

“I never assume it’s that easy. Besides, treating my girlfriend’s headaches should be a challenge and you know how much I love challenges.”

His love’s grin widened as she did as he requested, sitting down on the bed with her legs dangling over the edge. He then stood in front of her and removed the dirty gray shirt he’d worn since he got home from the quarry, revealing to her the manly body that had been forged from years of hard labor.

“I’m feeling better already,” she said, her amorous gaze scanning his masculine features, “but I’ll definitely need more.”

“And I intend to give it to you,” Terry assured her, “and possibly a little extra.”

That should help get her excited. Even when she had a headache, Nina loved being teased. She didn’t mind if it was immature or goofy. It put her in just the right mood, which was critical for treating those headaches of hers.

After tossing his shirt aside, he knelt down onto the floor. The soreness of his knees and lower back – the most common ailment he’d dealt with, going back to his days as a football player in high school – escalated almost immediately. Terry wasn’t deterred, though. If anything, he was even more motivated.

“Lift up your hips,” he said. “I’m going take your pants off.”

“Probably a good time to let you know I’m not wearing any panties,” Nina told him.

“Is that supposed to surprise me?”

“I hope it sends the right message. This headache is just that bad.”

Understanding the subtext of her words, Terry worked with more urgency. He reached up and grasped the sides of Nina’s favorite black sweatpants, her preferred attire after wearing a pantsuit all day. He then effortlessly pulled it down her shapely legs, making it a point to trace his fingers down her newly exposed flesh. He knew his lover really enjoyed that, the gender touch on her skin and sensual overtones of such a gesture.

After pulling them all the way off, along with the socks she’d worn, Terry looked up and confirmed that his lover wasn’t wearing any underwear. She was now naked from the waist down, her toned thighs and feminine anatomy on full display to him. He always enjoyed such a sight, especially on nights when there were headaches to treat.

Now more motivated than ever, he rose up from the floor and undid the dirty jeans he’d worn since his shift ended four hours ago. He’d been wearing boxers, but that didn’t seem to bother his lover. It also revealed – in the form of a noticeable bulge – that he needed some treatment of his own.

“Ooh Terry,” Nina said, her gaze narrowing on his lower body, “you must be really sore.”

“For the best possible reasons,” Terry told her, “which requires the best possible medicine.”

Now, his boxers already getting tighter by the second, he crawled onto the bed with her and took her in his arms again. Nina eagerly accepted his embrace, holding onto his shoulders and entrusting him with the next phase of their shared treatment.

“Lay down on your back, close your eyes, and spread your legs,” he said. “I’ll get things going with the basics.”

“Basics…you’re really good at that,” she teased.

“And I like to keep improving.”

Terry spoke with such confidence, prompting Nina to comply even faster. She scooted up the bed, laid back on a pillow, and parted her legs into a perfect spread-eagle position. Her flexibility had always amazed him. It also made his efforts at treatment that much easier.

Licking his lips in anticipation, Terry already felt the soreness in his knees subside slightly as he got between his lover’s legs, giving him an up-close look at her pussy. She was already somewhat aroused. She didn’t usually announce a headache without first knowing where it would lead. She must have anticipated his eagerness to treat her.

At that point, though, he’d hoped Nina came to expect it. Treating her headaches had become one of the most potent catalyst for their relationship and it only seemed to grow as his skills at treatment improved. For that reason, Terry had every intention of exceeding those expectations.

“Take deep breaths, Nina,” he told her softly. “I’m going to confront that pain directly.”

“Yes. Confront it!” his lover replied, knowing as well as he did what that entailed.

Now settled into a relaxed state, Terry skillfully gripped her thighs with both hands and held them apart. Then, armed with the knowledge of his lover’s body and her need for relief, he began giving her oral sex.

“Mmm…Terry,” she moaned. “That’s just what I need!”

Desperation mixed with her favorable reaction. She was more sensitive than usual, a frequent side-effect of nasty headaches. Encouraged and motivated, Terry went to work, employing the oral teasing skills that had treated many other ailments throughout their relationship.

He was extra thorough, skillfully trailing his tongue along her moist slit, giving extra attention to her clitoris. He also probed the hot flesh of her vagina, stimulating those special areas that he’d come to know so well. They triggered strong, intense reactions from her lover. Her lower body shifted, her legs tensing and inner muscles tensing from the sensations he evoked. It was just what Terry wanted for his ailing lover, but it was only the first step in an extensive treatment.

“Feel that?” Terry whispered in between targeted teases. “Let me make you feel good. Let the pleasure override the pain.”

“Yes…I feel it,” Nina gasped, already clinging to her pillows as her body contorted to the feeling.

He continues his treatment, letting go of one of her thighs so that he could utilize his hands as well. As he used his tongue to stimulate her depths, he also applied pressure to her clit, adding more stimulation that evoked more pleasure. That pleasure directly countered the pain. It was so simple, in principle, but more effective than any medicine.

It might have just been unique to Nina. He learned early on in their relationship that she had always used alternative treatments for her chronic headaches. She’d been getting them since she was a kid. After a bunch of failed treatments didn’t work, she discovered masturbation. She claimed it had been an accident, an unexpected revelation that happened when she slept naked on her bed during a hot summer day. Terry sometimes questioned whether that was all there was to the story, but there was no arguing with results.

After that fateful night, orgasms became Nina’s preferred method for treating headaches. They worked, but made for some awkward moments, especially with her conservative family. She claimed she’d gotten in trouble on more than one occasion for masturbating in a public bathroom. She even said that before they got together, she pleasured herself three times a day to stave off her headaches. Terry would’ve had a hard time believing that had he not experienced a similar story.

“Terry…your tongue…your hands,” Nina gasped with growing intensity, “It’s working, but…I need more!”

Terry knew exactly what she meant by that. He hadn’t completed the full repertoire of his oral sex skills, but in some cases, he had to skip certain steps to complete the treatment. Trusting that his lover understood those steps more than most, he ceased his teasing and rose up once more.

“In that case, I’ll get to the really potent stuff,” he told her. “Lie down on your side, keep breathing deeply, and I’ll do the rest.”

“I know you will,” Nina told him, “especially if you’re that sore.”

He snickered at her remark. She knew him just as well as he did when it came to pain treatment. Moreover, she understood it in ways that his previous girlfriends never could.

Still taking steady breaths, Nina rolled over so that she laid on the far side of the bed with her legs slightly arched. As she got comfortable, Terry removed his boxers, which had become too uncomfortable. That often happened when he went down on his lover. It got his blood flowing in just the right ways, but that wasn’t the only factor.

Braving with lingering soreness in his back, Terry laid down next to her so that he was spooning her from behind. He lovingly slipped his arms around her, holding her close so that the warmth of his body soothed her discomfort, among other things. Her content purrs showed that she appreciated that warmth. When he reached down between her legs with one hand and began fondling her pussy again, her appreciation only grew.

“Ooh Terry!” Nina moaned. “You must really be sore.”

“More than usual,” he whispered into her ear, “but still treatable with your love.”

“Treat away, my darling!”

Terry kissed down her neck, evoking more purrs as he felt the heat between her legs escalate into full-blown arousal. Her body ached for him, albeit in a non-painful way. He craved her just as much, as evidenced by the full-blown erection now pressing against her back.

He wasn’t sure if it counted as a kink, but whenever Terry felt sore, his dick seemed to get harder with greater ease. Like Nina, he had an odd relationship with pain and orgasms. When he was in high school, he endured a particularly nasty injury while playing football. In addition to ending his dreams of going pro, he dealt with lingering aches that lasted past graduation and his first job. They were never debilitating, but he needed relief.

Whether out of desperation or coincidence, he found out that giving himself an orgasm helped alleviate the soreness, more so than any of the pills or treatments he got. He had been a healthy heterosexual man before the injury. Afterwards, though, he began masturbating with more frequency, so much so that he effectively conditioned himself to make regular orgasms his primary treatment.

He wasn’t sure whether there was any medical relevance to that approach. All he knew was that it mitigated his need for pain killers. While it did make for awkward moments, which included him getting off during work in between coffee breaks, he couldn’t deny the results. It also hindered his ability to form a functioning sex life with women. Then, he met Nina and found someone whose appreciation for therapeutic orgasms matched his own.

“I’m going to fuck you, now,” Terry told her. “My back…may affect how I do it.”

“I hope so,” Nina replied.

There was a mix of anticipation and desire in her voice. He did his best work when he had a little soreness to work with. He’d demonstrated that on many occasions since they had been together and he had no intention of changing that.

Still spooning her from behind, he guided his erect member with the moist opening. Nina shifted her body accordingly, making sure their bodies were perfectly aligned for sex. Once in position, he steadily inserted his penis up into her waiting folds. The smooth, steady melding of their flesh sent a wave of blissful warmth that overshadowed any pain or soreness.

“Nina,” he moaned, “is it working yet?”

“Yes!” Nina said without hesitation. “Please, Terry…heal me as only you can.”

In that fateful moment, healing and sex became one in the same. The act became the treatment and Terry went to work making it sufficiently thorough.

His rigid penis now surrounded by the moist walls of her vagina, he began working his flesh within hers. He moved his hips and worked his lower back, desire and pleasure doing plenty to subsume the soreness. He was not too fervent with his movements, focusing on quality over quantity in terms of energy. He and Nina’s brand of lovemaking wasn’t built around intense, rough sex. It was about filling a need while fueling a passion.

That steady, but thorough movements did the trick. Through every successive motion, his manhood slithered smoothly within the tight folds of her womanly depths. Every movement evoked a round of hot sensations, each supplemented by the intimate meshing of their naked bodies.

To ensure his love got the most out of the feeling, Terry kept rubbing his lover’s clitoris. That extra sensitivity caused a steady procession of soft, blissful moans. She kept clinging to the sheets and pillow, her body shuddering with every bit of sensation they conjured. Headaches or not, the unfiltered feelings of their lovemaking flowed freely. Whether because of or in spite of those headaches, Nina approached orgasm fairly quickly.

“Terry!” she gasped. “The healing…so good! Going to…make me…come!”

“So long as it helps your headache,” Terry whispered playfully.

As she neared the brink, his love grasped the hand not rubbing her clit and interlocked her fingers with him. She then held on tight, her body arching with greater fervor every time he pushed his member into her depths. Terry knew how to stimulate all those special areas, applying just the right amount of stimulation and passion. When she finally crashed that threshold, he held her closely in order to maximize his treatment.

“Oohhh Terry!”

Those loving, euphoric words echoed throughout the room. In his embrace, he felt Nina’s inner muscles contract around his penis in accord with her release. Her torso arched, her legs shifted, and her toes curled under the weight of the feeling. It was a mix of music and spectacle, his love achieving orgasm. The fact it also treated a headache was almost a bonus.

He kept Nina in his arms, giving her all the time she needed to soak up the feeling and its healing properties. When the blissful shudders of her body subsided, she turned over so that she faced him, removing his penis from her vagina in the process. In her eyes and her expression, Terry saw no more discomfort. She saw only the kind, affectionate gaze of his lover.

“It’s official. I feel better now,” she told him, “and it’s all thanks to you.”

“Just making sure my girlfriend gets the treatment she needs,” Terry replied with a proud grin.

“Such a caring, dedicated man,” Nina said, “even with a sore back.”

“Which already feels better, mind you,” he said.

“Good to hear,” she said, “but if my boyfriend is going to be that thorough in treating me, then it’s only fair that I do the same.”

Not waiting for second opinion, Nina took the initiative, as only she could. She captured his lips in a soft kiss. In the process, she also got on top of him and straddled his waist. When their lips parted, she rose into an upright position and realigned her pelvis with his still-erect manhood. Now lying on his back, his head comfortably resting on a pillow as his lover looked poised to reunite their flesh, he was now in the perfect position to get the best treatment.

“Nina,” he said as he gazed up at her naked body, “only you could make fairness seem so sexy.”

“And therapeutic,” she added with playful grin. “Now sit back while I ride your dick to ecstasy. If that doesn’t help your back feel better…”

“It will,” Terry told her before she could finish. “It always does.”

Still grinning and looking plenty motivated, Nina went to work on his treatment. With both hands now firmly gripping his torso, she lowered her hips and guided his penis back into her depths.

That hot feeling of her moist flesh surrounding his triggered a fresh round of blissful sensations. With a content moan and total trust in his lover’s expertise, Terry placed his hands on her hips and watched Nina make love to him with love and dedication. Using the same focused technique he had used with her, she took him to a world of ecstasy.

“Mmm…Nina,” he moaned.

“That’s it, my love. Feel it…feel me,” Nina said with that soft, loving voice of hers. “Let it soothe you.”

Her efforts did plenty of soothing and then some. With the utmost care, she maneuvered her hips in a steady motion, guiding her wet folds along the length of his cock. Every movement brought more sensations. Every sensation brought more ecstasy. The areas where soreness once festered gave way to the sweet bliss of his lover’s passion.

Nina was like an angel dancing adopt him, imparting into him her healing power. The way she moved as she rode him, his body moving with her in a harmony of shared passion, elevated the feeling beyond that of basic sex. It was like their bodies completed one another, their flesh gaining strength from their intimate union. From that strength came healing and from that healing came ecstasy.

It wasn’t just pleasurable. It was therapeutic. Maybe it only felt therapeutic because it felt so good. More than one friend or ex-girlfriend had pointed that out to Terry, but he didn’t care. It still worked beautifully. It healed his aches, mended his pain, and drew him closer to a badly-needed release.

“Nina…so soothing,” Terry moaned. “I’m getting…so close. Getting…so close.”

“Then, let me take you there, Terry,” she said to him. “Let me heal you.”

She stepped up the pace of her movements just enough to push him to the brink while still maintaining that steady rhythm. As her tight folds slithered along his manly length, she leaned over and kissed him lovingly. The added feeling of her breasts pressing up against his chest made for an even more intimate feel, which helped take him the rest of the way into that world of healing bliss.

“Ohhh Nina!” he exclaimed.

As he entered that world, he embraced his lover with newfound strength. A white hot surge of bliss erupted from his course, sending ripples of pleasure coursing through his body. It was like a warm blanket being cast over his aching body, filling him with contentment and comfort that washed away any pain that might have lingered.

Nina, who embraced him back every step of the way, grasped his hands with hers again, holding onto him as he immersed himself in the feeling. His member throbbed inside her, his sexual fluids mixing with hers in a pool of intimate bliss. In that moment, the soreness was gone. The pain of any headache or injury had been effectively pushed. It was just him and Nina right now in a loving embrace, sharing in the healing power of their love.

“God, I love you,” Terry said, still breathless.

“I love you too,” Nina told him. “I take it that means you’re feeling better too.”

“I am. With you, I never feel sore for very long.”

“And my headaches never last that long either. Guess our love is just that strong.”

“That…or making love is just the perfect medicine!”

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Why Intelligent Aliens May Destroy Us Even If They’re Peaceful (According To Mass Effect)

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What would happen if we went back in time and gave the Genghis Khan nuclear weapons?

What  would happen if we went back even further and gave machine guns to the Ancient Romans?

Let’s be even more subtle. What do you think would happen if you gave Aristotle a functioning smartphone with a complete catalog of Wikipedia? How much would that change the course of history? More importantly, how much damage would it potentially incur?

I consider myself an optimist. I generally place more faith in humanity than most people in this age of fake news and heavy cynicism. I have my reasons for doing so, but even my confidence in the human species has limits. I trust most people to do the right thing every time I drive my car on the highway. That doesn’t mean I’d trust a caveman from 10,000 BC to drive a fully-loaded tank.

I make this point because these are legitimate concerns consider when assessing how humanity deals with emerging technology. We can barely handle some of the technology we already have. How will we handle things like advanced artificial intelligence, gene hacking, or advanced robotics?

I’ve stated before that the human race is not ready for advanced artificial intelligence in its current state. I’ve also stated that the human race isn’t ready for contact with an advanced alien species, either. I believe we’re close. We may even be ready within my lifetime. However, if aliens landed tomorrow and brought an advanced artificial intelligence with them, I think our civilization and our species would be in trouble.

I also think the human race would be in danger even if those same aliens were peaceful. Even if they brought a super-intelligent AI that was as compassionate and caring as Mr. Rogers, our species would still face an existential crisis. To explain why, I’ll need to revisit one of my favorite video games of all time, “Mass Effect.”

The various themes of this game, and the lore behind it, offer many insights into very relevant questions. In addition to the timeless hilarity of bad dancing skills, the game crafts a rich history between alien races like the Quarians and the Geth. That history reflected the dangers of mishandling advanced artificial intelligence, an issue humanity will have to deal with in the coming decades.

There is, however, another rich history between alien races within “Mass Effect” that offers a similar lesson. This one has less to do with artificial intelligence and more to do with what happens when a species technology that it’s not ready to handle. That danger is well-documented in the game through a hardy race of beings called the Krogan.

Like the Quarian/Geth conflict, the conflict surrounding Krogan has some real-world parallels. However, I would argue that their story Krogan is more relevant because it serves as a warning for what could happen when an advanced species uplifts one that is less advanced.

In the mythos of “Mass Effect,” the Krogan were once a primitive, but hardy species that evolved on the harsh world of Tuchanka. They’re reptilian, high-functioning predators in nature. They’re basically a cross between a velociraptor, a crocodile, and a primate. They have a tough, war-like culture, which is necessary on a world that contained hulking Thresher Maws.

They were not a species most would expect to develop advanced technology. Then, the Salarians came along. Unlike the Korgan, this amphibious alien race isn’t nearly as hardy, but is much more adept at developing advanced technology. In most circumstances, they wouldn’t have given the Krogan a second thought. Unfortunately, they were in the middle of the Rachni War and they needed help.

You don’t need to know the full details of that war. The most critical detail, as it relates to advancing an unprepared species, is how this war came to define the Krogan. Neither the Salarians nor the other alien races in the game could defeat the Rachni. In a fit of desperation, they uplifted the Krogan by giving them weapons and advanced knowledge.

In the short-term, the Salarians achieved what they’d hoped. The Krogan helped defeat the Rachni. In the long-term, however, it created another inter-stellar war in the Krogan Rebellions. Apparently, giving a hardy, war-like species advanced weapons doesn’t make them less war-like. It just gives them better tools with which to fight wars. That may sound obvious, but keep in mind, the Salarians were desperate.

The details of this war end up playing a major role in both “Mass Effect” and “Mass Effect 3.” That’s because to stop the Krogan, the Salarians resorted to another act of desperation. They crafted a biological weapon known as the genophage, which significantly curtailed the Krogan’s rapid breeding rate.

The damage this did to the Krogan race cannot be understated. Through the entire trilogy of “Mass Effect,” characters like Wrex and Eve describe how this destroyed Krogan society. In “Mass Effect 3,” Eve talks about how the genophage created massive piles of stillborn Krogan babies. That kind of imagery can haunt even the most battle-hardened species.

In the end, both the Salarians and the Krogan paid a huge price for giving technology to a species that wasn’t ready for it. Depending on the decision you make in “Mass Effect 3,” the Krogan species is doomed to extinction because of how ill-prepared they were. This haunted more than a few Salarians as well, one of which played a significant role in a memorable side-story in “Mass Effect 2.”

Regardless of how the game plays out, there’s an underlying message at the heart of the Salarian/Krogan dynamic. When a species is uplifted by another so abruptly, it’s difficult to see the long-term ramifications. Even though the Salarians were in a dire situation, they ended up creating one that had the potential to be much worse.

That danger is actually more pressing because, unlike advanced artificial intelligence, the act of uplifting a species effectively skips over the cultural and societal evolution that’s necessary to handle new technology. The Krogan never got a chance to go through that process before getting that technology. As a result, they became an existential threat to themselves and others.

The human race still has a long way to go before it creates the kind of artificial intelligence that would constitute such a threat. Aliens on the level of Salarians could land tomorrow and there would be nothing we could do to prepare ourselves. Whatever knowledge or technology we gained could do more than just upend human society. It could irreparably damage our species, as a whole.

Some of that outcome would depend on the intentions of the advanced alien race. It could be the case that they’re not like the Salarians and aren’t looking to enlist humanity in a war. It could also be the case that they’re smart enough to not give primitive humans advanced weapons. That could mitigate the risk.

However, that still assumes humans won’t find a way to use advanced knowledge to make weapons. When Otto Hahn discovered nuclear fission in 1938, he didn’t have any idea that it would be used to make a bomb that would kill go onto kill over 100,000 people. Even if advanced aliens are really smart, how could they be sure that humanity won’t use advanced knowledge to create something more horrific?

Sure, they could try to stop us, but that could only make things worse. The genophage wasn’t the Salarians’ first recourse. They actually went to war with the Krogan. They suffered heavy losses and so did the Krogan. In the long run, uplifting a less advanced species was detrimental to both of them.

That doesn’t just put the famous Fermi Paradox into a new context. It demonstrates a real, tangible threat associated with advancing a species before it’s ready. I would argue that the human race is close to that point, but we’re still not there. We have issues managing the technology we’ve created. There’s no way we can handle advanced alien technology at the moment.

Mass Effect,” in addition to being one of the greatest video games of the past two decades, offers many lessons for the future of humanity. It shows that humans are capable of great things. We have what it takes to join an entire galaxy full of advanced alien life. For our sake, and that of other advanced aliens, we cannot and should not rush it.

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The following is a review I wrote for “Extermination #1” for PopMatters. Enjoy!

Tenuous Temporal Deconstruction in “Extermination #1”

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August 16, 2018 · 6:11 pm

Walter White Vs. Saul Goodman: A Tale Of Two Villains

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If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to villainy has many paths with similar landmarks. Well-developed villains can be every bit as compelling as their heroic counterparts, if not more so. Ever since Heath Ledger’s Joker stole the show and an Oscar in “The Dark Knight,” great villains aren’t just a complement to the heroes. They’re a journey unto themselves.

At the moment, Walter White from “Breaking Bad” is the ultimate embodiment of this journey. His path to villainy made for some of the greatest moments in modern television and Bryan Cranston has the Emmy trophies to prove it. Since then, it seems as though everyone is just struggle to keep up.

However, there’s one journey that comes very close and is remarkably similar. Fittingly enough, it spins right out of the world of “Breaking Bad.” I’m talking, of course, about “Better Call Saul,” the prequel/spin-off that tells the story of how an aspiring lawyer named James McGill became the morally bankrupt legal guru, Saul Goodman.

I’ve been watching this show closely for a while now. I was originally planning to wait until the conclusion of Season 4 to write about it, but after re-watching the Season 3 finale, I feel like there’s too much to work with. After seeing that episode, I feel like I saw a turning point in the ongoing transformation of James McGill to Saul Goodman. I also saw some important parallels with Walter White that are worth discussing.

At its core, “Breaking Bad” is a story about how a law-biding man goes from an underpaid chemistry teacher to a blood-thirsty drug kingpin. Creator Vince Gilligan nicely summed up Walt’s transformation as going from Mr. Chips to Scarface. That journey, and the story behind it, took an initially unassuming character and turned them into someone they never thought they could be.

The essence of “Better Call Saul” is very different. James McGill is not the same as Walter White. From the very first episode, we can see traces of the unscrupulous con man manifesting in a many ways. The show establishes in Season 1 that James McGill is not some clean-cut straight-arrow like Walt was. His soul was tainted before he ever applied to law school.

James “Slipping Jimmy” McGill is someone who always seems inclined to cut corners, break rules, and cheat to get ahead. That’s something his older brother, Charles “Chuck” McGill, constantly points out over the course of the first three seasons. Every time Jimmy had a chance to do the right thing, he compromised. Just doing the right thing wasn’t enough for him.

Walter White’s decision-making process was similar. In the early seasons of “Breaking Bad,” he showed a reluctance to cross certain lines and go too far. He often found himself pushed or tempted, sometimes by forces beyond his control and sometimes by the consequences of actions. At the end of the day, though, he still didn’t get off that path.

That’s a common thread for many villains in their journey. They find themselves on that path and they see opportunities to leave it, but they choose not to. They don’t seek redemption like a hero would. They just keep making excuses, willfully entering a brutal cycle of corruption and compromise.

Whereas Walt succumbed to that cycle, though, James McGill steadily embraces it. Moreover, he isn’t drawn into that path by tragedy or bad luck. He gravitates towards it. He’s even excited by it. James is at his most animated and charismatic when he’s pulling a con, putting on a show, or crafting a lie. It’s not a necessity like it was for Walt. It’s a thrill.

If James is tempted by anything, it’s the lure of walking the honorable path like his older brother. In fact, Chuck might have been the only positive influence that kept Jimmy from becoming something worse than a sleazy con-man. He and a host of other influence, especially Kim Wexler and Howard Hamlin, play the part of a reverse temptress, trying to keep him off that villainous path.

Early on, there’s a sense that James genuinely wants to be a decent, upstanding lawyer. There are situations where he does the right thing. Some of the causes he takes on, such as a case against an elder care facility that was stealing money from its residents, are objectively noble. In the end, though, doing the right thing isn’t enough for him. The end of Season 1 really cements that.

Walt goes through a similar process early on. Like the “refusal of the call” that heroes experience, Walt attempts to escape the villainous path. However, a combination of circumstances and choices put Walt back on the road towards becoming Heisenberg. By the end of Season 1, there’s a sense that there’s no going back.

Where Walt and James diverge, as villains, it’s how and why they make their choices. Walt becomes Heisenberg because he think he has to, first for his family and later for selfish reasons. James becomes Saul Goodman because he wants to. He tried to be the upstanding lawyer his brother and friends wanted. It just didn’t work for him. Being James McGill just wasn’t enough.

There’s plenty of conflict surrounding those choices. Part of why I love “Better Call Saul” is how it reveals the steady progression from James McGill to Saul Goodman. It doesn’t happen all at once. It doesn’t even happen in a steady, linear narrative. James fluctuates on his journey to becoming Saul. He even hesitates a few times. He still doesn’t avoid it in the end.

That ending, as revealed through the finale of “Breaking Bad” and the flash-forward sequences of “Better Call Saul,” shows one other key distinction between Walt and Jimmy. While both men complete their villainous journey, they both end up in very different places. Walt is dead or at least close to it, as some fan theories predict. However, Saul Goodman’s fate might actually be worse.

In the first minutes of the first episode of “Better Call Saul,” we see what came of James McGill/Saul Goodman after the events of “Breaking Bad.” Gone are the days where he shows up in flashy commercials and hatches elaborate cons on unsuspecting people. Instead, he lives an unexciting, mundane life in Omaha, Nebraska managing a Cinnabon.

Some might argue this is Saul’s personal Hell, trapped in a such a sad and unassuming life. I would say it’s more like his purgatory. In this world, he can’t embrace that villainous persona that gave him so many thrills. Even if he wanted to be that villainous character again, he can’t because it means losing what little he has left.

Just as he frequently did in the early seasons of “Better Call Saul,” James McGill takes the easy way out. Walt tried that too in the last few episodes of “Breaking Bad,” but that didn’t last. He eventually chose to confront the byproduct of his villainous choices. James ran and didn’t look back. The easiest path, in the journey of a villain, is often a coward’s path.

Whether or not James McGill escapes his purgatory or continues wallowing in obscurity remains to be seen. The fact he ends up in this state after undergoing this transformation into Saul Goodman reveals another critical component to the villain’s journey. While the hero ultimately triumphs, the villain eventually loses. It doesn’t always end with them going to jail, but they often endure a less-than-desirable fate.

Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” are both great shows that set a new standard for depicting the evolution of a character into a villain. I won’t claim that “Better Call Saul” is superior to its predecessor, if only because the story isn’t finished. It does, however, accomplish something every bit as remarkable as the story of Walter White.

The process of becoming a villain is a steady, inconsistent journey full of many complications and tough choices. Walter White and James McGill began that journey under different circumstances and ended up in different places. Ultimately, they both crossed lines that sealed their respective fates. It’s tragic in some ways, but it makes for some damn good television.

 

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Understanding (And Learning From) Lex Luthor’s Hatred Of Superman

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As a lifelong fan of superhero comics and someone who enjoys shows like “Breaking Bad,” I’m genuinely fascinated by villains. Specifically, I’m intrigued by what makes them tick and why they walk the villain’s path. Their journey is distinct from that of a hero, but one that can be just as compelling.

In many cases, these villains have capabilities that allow them to solve many of the world’s problems. I’ve cited Dr. Doom as one of those villains who blurs the lines of villainy because of his intentions. Characters like Dr. Doom genuinely believe that their villainous actions are justified because it will lead to a better, safer, more prosperous world. Heroes also believe that too, which helps fuel their epic battles.

For a character like Lex Luthor, though, the line isn’t that blurry. He’s a villain, plain and simple. He’s selfish, callous, arrogant, cruel, and narcissistic to an extreme. If he existed in the real world, he would check every box for narcissistic personality disorder. In terms of personality, he’s the polar opposite of his nemesis, Superman.

That goes a long way towards giving Superman an enemy who stands against his heroic ideals. I would even argue that Superman couldn’t be the iconic kind of hero he is without Lex Luthor. At the same time, I also think Lex reveals something critical about humanity, morality, and superheroes in general.

That’s difficult to see because for much of Lex’s early years in comics, there wasn’t much depth to his motivation. He just wanted to dominate the universe and Superman was in his way. It’s basic and bland, but that was typical for the early era of superhero comics. Villains like Lex were mostly just obstacles for the heroes to overcome in their journey.

That changed in the late 80s and early 90s with the modern era iteration of Lex Luthor. Finally, Lex got more backstory and depth. He was still no Walter White, but these details helped set the stage for the kind of villain he became. It also helped establish why he hates Superman so much.

Whereas Superman landed on Earth and was adopted by loving parents, Lex grew up in a rough part of Metropolis called the Suicide Slums and was raised in an abusive household. Right off the bat, Superman gets lucky by having the best parents a child of any species could ask for while he’s unlucky enough to be born with the worst.

As a result, Lex had to be ruthless, manipulative, and cunning. Unlike other villains, though, he didn’t need much tempting. He didn’t agonize over his moral decisions, either. He just did it and didn’t feel a shred of guilt. That includes the role he played in the death of his parents.

That alone establishes Lex Luthor as the kind of ruthless villain who would oppose Superman for any number of reasons. However, as evil as that act was, it’s important to note the motivation behind it. Lex didn’t just kill his parents because murder makes him happy. He did it because they were an obstacle and an opportunity.

They were holding him back, but their deaths meant insurance money that he could use to strike out on his own and build something worthy of his genius. To him, the morality of his decision didn’t matter. Only the results mattered. That’s a critical detail and one that puts Lex Luthor’s villainy into a unique context.

Lex, being one of the smartest characters in the entire DC universe, doesn’t care much for things that are esoteric and obscure. He’s all about results that are tangible and measurable. That means things like truth, justice, and the American way are empty concepts to him. Superman champions those ideals, but for Lex Luthor, they’re just hindrances.

That kind of cold, callous approach to the world gives a unique substance to Lex’s behavior. He’s certainly not the first person to take such a materialistic approach to reality. Rick Sanchez of “Rick and Morty” does the same, but rather than misanthropic despair, Lex Luthor sees it as the key to producing the results he seeks.

Moreover, he has to produce those results without the god-like power that Superman wields. If Superman wants to move the Earth out of the way or destroy an oncoming asteroid, he doesn’t have to build anything or learn anything. He just has to flex his muscles, fly up into the sky, and destroy it with a single punch. There’s no tangible reason to his actions beyond it being the right thing to do.

To Lex Luthor, that’s not just an affront to someone who had to work for everything he ever gained. It’s an insult to his egocentric, results-focused worldview. Just saving the world because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t achieve anything. It does nothing to move humanity forward because nobody had to produce something of merit. It just allows them to continue in the same, unaltered state.

This gets to the heart of why Lex Luthor hates Superman. The extent of that hatred was fully articulated in one of the best modern Superman stories ever told, “All-Star Superman” by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. If you only read one Superman comic, make it this one because it perfectly encapsulates the pure heroism of Superman and the cold villainy of Lex Luthor.

In one critical part of the story, Lex tells Clark Kent, who he doesn’t know is Superman, what it means to actually work for his power. Superman, for all his idealism, did nothing to earn his abilities. He just happened to be an alien who landed on a planet with a yellow sun.

It’s like winning the lottery as opposed to working hard for a fortune. One is built on hard work and skill while the other is just dumb luck. Beyond basic jealousy, though, Lex makes another critical point about the ideal Superman sets.

From his perspective, that lofty ideal diminishes the entire human race. By being this other-worldly savior who achieves all these impossible feats, Superman reveals how inept the human race is. More importantly to Lex and his massive ego, it shows just how feeble his achievements are, despite all the work he put in.

Being the extreme narcissist he is, Lex takes that as the ultimate insult. In terms of the bigger picture, it establishes that neither he nor humanity can achieve their full potential. In that context, it’s understandable why Lex dedicated so much time and energy to killing Superman.

I won’t get into all the ways Lex has tried and failed over the years, although one of his plots did involve him becoming President of the United States. Whatever his methods, I think there’s a larger lesson to learn from Lex’s hatred and for once, it goes beyond his ego.

A big part of what turns someone into a villain is this sense that the world isn’t fair, but could be made better with the right guidance. Lex believes he’s capable of providing that guidance and not just because of his ego. He is, objectively, one of the smartest and most capable human beings on the planet. However, it’s Superman who keeps Lex from making the world less unfair.

Superman believes in the merits of truth and justice. He inspires others to uphold these ideals, even without his vast power. That’s a problem for Lex, who builds much of his power on lies and treachery. To him, though, he doesn’t see that as wrong. He just sees that as the most efficient way to get results.

To uphold truth and justice, in his brilliant mind, is to prevent the world from progressing. Granted, progress in Lex Luthor’s mind means him being in charge, but that doesn’t necessarily undermine the implications.

Like Dr. Doom, Lex is ambitious in that he doesn’t just want to save the world like Superman. He wants to fundamentally change it and he’s willing to cross any line to achieve that. Killing Superman is part of that change, but so is becoming a billionaire and a future President of the United States. If a billion people die in the process, then that’s acceptable because it means humanity is stronger because of it.

There have been times in the comics where Luthor’s vision has manifested. In another critically-acclaimed Superman story, “Red Son” by Mark Millar, Lex has a chance to lead the world into a brighter future. By and large, he succeeds. He’s still an unapologetic narcissist, but he still gets the results he seeks.

Like all great conflicts between superheroes and their arch-nemesis, the dichotomy between Superman and Lex Luthor is stark. They’re two extremes on opposite ends of a spectrum delineating heroism and villainy. By being on those extremes, though, it’s easier to see the inherent shortcomings of both.

While Lex’s shortcomings are easier to identify since he’s an outright villain, he does help identify an important flaw in Superman’s idealism and one that extends to superheroes, as a whole. Superman is willing to save the day, but he’s not willing to cross any lines. He will only ever do the right thing and that means not sacrificing innocent lives or usurping individual freedom.

Those heroics will keep the world turning, but they won’t move society forward. Superman believes in inspiring humanity rather than doing it for them, but Lex Luthor believes his heroism achieves the opposite. It just makes people complacent and dependent on heroes like him rather than crossing the lines that he’ll cross to get things done.

At the end of the day, both in the real world and the world of comic books, we have to determine how much we’re willing to pay for the results we seek. Lex is willing to pay any price. Superman isn’t willing to pay a cent beyond doing the right thing. Most reasonable people, including other superheroes, fall somewhere in the middle.

In the pantheon of super-villains, Lex Luthor is probably the easiest to despise and the hardest to understand. Like Superman, he exposes another side of an ongoing struggle between doing the right thing and achieving more. As society continues to progress, achieving abilities rivaling that of any superhero, it’s a struggle we’ll have to confront.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, human nature, philosophy, psychology, superhero comics

Why Capitalism Will Survive Technological Progress (To A Point)

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There’s a popular perception among those who speculate about the future. It has less to do with the technology and progress that we’ll make, as a society, and more to do with what will be rendered obsolete. Like dial-up internet or VHS tapes, there will be many artifacts of our current society that are destined to become relics of a bygone era.

Near the top of the list of those things people can’t wait to get rid of is capitalism. When I say “capitalism,” though, I don’t necessarily mean everything from the concept of money to big corporations to having 500 different kinds of covers for your cell phone. I’m more referring to the kind of economic system that creates extreme income inequality, mass exploitation of workers, and price gouging.

While I can appreciate sentiments of people who feel that way about a system where the inequalities are well-documented, I have some good news and some bad news for those looking forward to that post-capitalist utopia.

Capitalism is NOT going to become obsolete, but it will take on a radically different form.

I say that as someone who has written plenty about the upheavals our society will face when technologies like artificial intelligence, human enhancement, and advanced robotics become more refined. The economic, social, and political system, as we know it today, will not be able to function in that environment.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will disappear like VHS tapes. That’s especially true of our current form of capitalism. It’s already changing before our eyes, but it’s set to change even more in the coming decades. It may get to a point where it’s hard to call it “capitalism” by our current definition, but it will still exist to a certain extent.

Whether you’re a hardcore libertarian or a self-proclaimed socialist, it’s hard to overlook the flaws in capitalism. This is a system that is prone to corruption, negatively impacts the environment, and will gladly eschew health concerns in the interests of profits. Basically, if you’ve ever dealt with a cable company, the tobacco lobby, or the banking industry, you’ve experienced those flaws first-hand.

Many of the flaws, however, are a byproduct of logistical limitations. Human beings are not wired to make sense of the plethora of economic forces that govern the cost, production, distribution, and marketing of goods. We’re barely wired to assemble IKEA furniture. The human race evolved to survive in the plains of the African Savanna, not the bustling streets of New York City.

Even with these limitations, humanity has managed to achieve a lot from this flawed system. Despite its shortcomings, it has been the catalyst for modern society. The cities, industries, and technological advancement that we’ve undergone over the past 200 years would not have been possible without capitalism. Say what you will about the profit motive. Apple would not be a trillion-dollar company without it.

It’s for that reason, along with the knowledge of capitalism’s many documented failures, that emerging trends in technology is more likely to smooth out the edges of the system rather than render it obsolete entirely. As someone who groans every time he sees his cable bill, I admit I’m eager for those refinements.

I still don’t blame others for hoping that the entire system is scraped. The thinking is that increasing efficiencies in automation, improvements in manufacturing at the nano-scale, and advances in artificial intelligence will undercut the key foundations of capitalism. Why would corporations, marketing gimmicks, or brand restrictions even exist in a world run by intelligent machines, enhanced humans, and 3D printers?

It’s not an entirely flawed notion. We’re already seeing plenty of disruptions in established systems due to technology. Landlines are disappearing, streaming media has destroyed brick-and-mortar rental stores like Blockbuster, and self-driving cars will likely end the taxi and trucking industry as we know it.

Further down the line, even more industries will break down when you scale up and expand these same technologies. A sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence could manage the banking and financial industry without any middle men, who are going to be prone to corruption. That same intelligence won’t be prone to the same panics that have plagued capitalism for centuries.

Other technologies will render distressing institutions like sweatshops obsolete, thanks to advances in robotics and 3D printing. A lot of the exploitations surrounding capitalism, both in terms of people and the environment, come from labor and production costs. Mitigating or ending that exploitation can and likely will be done without undercutting capitalism, if only because it’s more efficient in the long run.

Then, there’s the prospect of human enhancement. That, more than anything, will change the nature of society and economics in ways nobody alive today can predict. Beyond undermining the multi-trillion dollar health care industry that exists today, changes to the human condition could fundamentally change the way the economy functions.

Even with all those changes, though, I believe a certain facet capitalism will survive. Even in a society full of enhanced humans equipped with brain implants, perfectly refined genes, and molecular assemblers that can build anything imaginable, there will be a market. There will be a form of currency. There will even be institutions, human and robotic, to manage it all.

That’s because, even in a society where hunger, disease, and poverty of all kinds has been eliminated, there’s still one market that will always exist. That market is escaping boredom. It doesn’t matter how healthy, content, or advanced you are. You’ll still want to avoid getting bored and this is where the future of capitalism truly lies.

I believe that boredom will be the only remaining plague in the future. I also believe that technology can only do so much manage our wants and needs. At some point, we’re still going to seek novel experiences. We’re still going to want to explore new feelings, whether that involves studying science or visiting a futuristic theme park like “Westworld.” The demand will be there and that’s where capitalism comes in.

It may end up being the case that those experiences will be the closest thing we have to a tangible currency. In a society where technology has made so many other resources accessible and abundant, it’s the only currency that has tangible and perceived value. There may still be other forms of money built around it, such as new crypto-currencies, but there will still be real market forces at work.

Some of those forces will have the same flaws we see now. Much of the current system depends on people working to produce goods and services, using the money they make to buy those goods and services, and participating in a vast network of investment, marketing, and distribution of resources. It’s a complex, chaotic, and inherently unmanageable system.

There will probably be failures, missteps, and conflicts in managing this new marketplace of experiences. Entire companies may emerge, possibly from some that exist today, that compete over who crafts those experiences and provides them to customers, either over the internet or directly into someone’s brain. That competition is likely to produce corruption and scandal, albeit in a very different form.

Having advanced artificial intelligence and humans that aren’t at the mercy of their caveman brains will help, but only to a point. As long as society is full of individuals seeking different wants and needs, there will be some form of capitalism necessary to meet them both. Trying to avoid or subvert that probably won’t lead to a better system, as the many failures of alternative systems have proven.

Like our current system of capitalism, there will be flaws. Even enhanced humans and artificial intelligence will have limits that need refinement over time. It’s those very shortcomings, though, that will help forge a better system overall. Again, it’s impossible to tell what forms they’ll take, but so long as there are markets, there will be capitalists seeking to profit from them.

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