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Monday, April 15, 2013

The Tenets of the Realistic Optimist

I've been working on a paper for my Catholic Social Teaching class.  The title of the unit is "Criminal Justice", but for the teacher, that translates into "The Death Penalty and Why it's Bad".  She's about as close to a hippy as you can get for someone who's in her mid-thirties.  As a moderate with a liberal slant, I don't take kindly to that shit, so I'm writing this paper my way.  Technically, tonights assignment is to just work together an outline, but I've drafted the first couple "disclaimer" paragraphs already just so I have them down.

I actually had to do a report similar to this back in middle school, for what was effectively the same class as this one.  Once again, this paper will not cover so much what I've learned or how I've grown during this unit -- I can count the number of "new" things I've learned in this unit on one hand, maybe two if I stretch definitions and classifications -- but rather what, if anything, has been reinforced.  Additionally, I will not be approaching this topic as the indoctrinated drone, spewing the Catholic Church's opinion on this because that's what this class is all about.  I will be approaching this from my opinion, my point of view and position on the topic at hand.  I will cite the provided documents where relevant, and support or refute them as necessary.  

I tend to think of myself as what's known as a "realistic optimist".  The idea behind the title is more or less as follows.  

One, an understanding of the fact that the world is just as bad as it's made out to be, and in some ways worse.  We as a species have long since surpassed this planet's ability to sustain us indefinitely, policy that is flawed, whether by design or circumstance, has allowed lives to be built at the expense of others, et cetera.  

Two, the remembrance the fact that the world is better than it's made out to be.  Overall global poverty is dropping, slow as it may be, the global standard of living is going up and is more accessible, violent crime in this country is dropping at a staggering rate, and has been since the early 1990s, et cetera.  

Three, the knowledge that humanity has the power within itself to pull its head out of its ass and set to work fixing the problem the major media outlets, the bleeding-hearts, and the nutjobs love to harp over.  

Four, the acceptance of the fact that humanity is composed primarily of narcissistic and factious idiots who have their heads so deep in the sand that they forget that there's a world around them, and are perfectly contented to let it burn around them if it means they get to stay comfortable and cozy in the cherry-picked opinions and "facts" of their narrow worldview.  

On the whole, these are ideals with which I approach things like the topic of this paper, and as such this paper will be what I think, "right", "wrong", or different, and my decisions are based on that, and that alone.  The Catholic Church and its doctrines have no stake in that.  Because, in all honesty, it makes for a much less mind-numbingly dull paper.

I've actually considered writing a book about the realistic optimist.  I'll be jotting some notes down, see what I can come up.  I'm sure I can at least pull together a pamphlet.  

City Psalm—Denise Levertov

The killings continue, each second
pain and misfortune extend themselves
in the genetic chain, injustice is done knowingly, and the air
bears the dust of decayed hopes,
yet breathing those fumes, walking the thronged
pavements among crippled lives, jackhammers
raging, a parking lot painfully agleam
in the May sun, I have seen
not behind but within, within the
dull grief, blown grit, hideous
concrete facades, another grief, a gleam
as of dew, an abode of mercy, have heard not behind but within noise
a humming that drifted into a quiet smile.
Nothing was changed, all was revealed otherwise;
not that horror was not, not that killings did not continue,
but that as if transparent all disclosed
an otherness that was blessed, that was bliss.
I saw Paradise in the dust of the street.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Pride and Shame

It's a sad day when you realize that in the trial of the news media, the prosecution is a comedian and the evidence is the satirist in the next time slot. What makes it that much worse is:  A) They're both pointedly right.  B) The defense doesn't take the hint that they should shape up.  C) The defense acts persecuted to the point of martyrdom.

And frankly, all the defense does is make the problems worse. The blatant partisanship, the unfounded conjecture, the impulse to be the "first" to get the story and to hell with anything that gets in the way (Integrity? Who needs that?), all it does is misinform and mislead the majority of the populace, and drive the rest to disillusionment, cynicism, and apathy.  I know it's all about the Benjamins for a lot of the people at the top, whether they know it or not, but is it too much to ask that they earn their hookers and blow in a way that doesn't disembowel the financial, economic, political, and social structures in the process?

I know the blame isn't just at the top. The end-user also carries the responsibility to control the media by slapping them upside the head when something's not right. It is the fault of many people for lapping up the spin and bias, bumping ratings and hailing shows like the O'Reilly Factor and Hardball as bastions of reliable information, and promoting the sensationalist take on a very serious and analytical field like politics.  For the most part, we're stupid, and they know they can make off like bandits by exploiting that stupidity.  But the fact that it happens over and over again every day just makes my stomach churn.

How is it we as a society can be so collectively dim that Jon fucking Stewart (with all due respect to the the man) is one of the only guys bright enough to act as a lighthouse?  How did we reach the point where a guy who is paid to crack jokes four days a week has to shoehorn in all the fact-checking that fell off the to-do list of the people he's cracking jokes about?  The court jester is pulling a double-shift as the royal advisor.  Is he going to wear Jimmy Dean's coat now, too?

I think the only reason why I find the show as funny as I do is because it gets me to laugh at an otherwise scary prospect: we're getting stiffed, and I can count the number of people who are capable and willing enough to challenge that on one hand.

I really hope that Stewart and Colbert aren't the best that the higher powers can send us. If they are…well, I fear we may have just out-dumbed intelligent design.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Stand my ground, I won't give in. No more denying, I gotta face it…"

Wow.  A whole month I've been stagnating on this.  Sure, I've been busy with school.  I just had my AP US History exam on Friday.  It's also the end of the year, and teachers are piling on the work like it's going out of style.  But, I've also been occupied with other things.  Namely, after being clean since last October, I dragged myself back into playing Minecraft.  And most of my free time has been spent playing on one server, Battle for Eldaran. Short version: it's a role-playing server in which some factions are competing to control Eldaran, others are just trying to get by.
A new player showed up a few days ago: qwerty200708, or ollieatsburgers as he's known on the Minecraft and server forums, or Jex as he's known in-game.  He and I got into a…discussion within five minutes of meeting each other. He wants to start a faction on the server called Tradia.  It's a trading kingdom.  Sounds good, no?  Well, from what I could gather during the discussion, he wants to use trade to make all the factions his friends, then he wants to overthrow Iordo, the most powerful faction on the server.  From there, he plans to have Tradia be the main faction.  I tried calling him out on some of the faulty logic in his plans, but he wasn't having it.  So, the pissing match spilled over onto the server website.  He started a thread that was the "blueprint" for tradia.  He and I (and even several other people) have been at it there ever since.  Since you need an account to view the thread, and just posting blocks of text would be dull and confusing, I'll just post screenshots of the thread.

He edited that post.  The original text was, "Combat is punishable by death," and, "Bribery is punishable by death," among other things.

A refute to his plans and what he told me.  I know it's melodramatic, but I do that sometimes.

An apology so I don't sound like a contrary asshole.

And an APUSH-inspired rebuttal to several things he's said.  (I honestly never thought that class would come in handy so soon.)

As you can see, he's upset and confused several people, including a couple administrators.  While I don't profess to be of flawless logic and reason in all this (the statement about SOPA is rife with personal viewpoint), I'm just going to stand my ground, concede where necessary, and point out all the ways this guy's an idiot.  His refusal to use weapons is insulting.  Like it or not, we humans fight for what we want.  And that fighting tends to involve weapons when what we want is a physical item.  Occasionally, we'll fight with weapons over intangible things too. To think that a simulated environment like Minecraft can change that is…deluded.  Participants of MMOs like EVE, Shores of Hazeron, and others are proof that, if you hand someone a gun and a player-run economy, they're going to use it to get what they want, despite the fact that it has no bearing on the real world.  I doubt this is going to turn out any different.  

"Well you can't buy me love
But I'll kick your ass for free
So why don't you take a vacation
And shut the fuck up?"

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Can't we all just get along?"

With today being Easter and all, I think it's time I talk about religious fundamentalism.  For those of you who don't know what that means, fundamentalism is a type of religious style where practitioners see only their views as true.  To them, if you don't agree with them, you are wrong.  End of story.  As you can probably guess, these people don't have the most sound arguments to back up their constant thrashing of other beliefs.  This can range from fallacy-riddled statements to them just not knowing anything about the religion they're trying to propagate.  If you need an example, here's an interesting one from a YouTube video.

In November of 2011, the symphonic rock group Globus released its second album, Break From this World.  The final track, "Elegy," is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.  It's a song about the virtuous life about a person who recently died.  To quote the song directly, "An altruistic dynamo."  The last two lines of the third verse, "God has let you down / God has let you down," sparked a flame war in the comments section of the above video.  In one corner, you have the Christian fundamentalists, calling Globus blasphemers and saying that they refuse to listen to the song because of those two lines, among other things.  In the other corner, you have the atheists and agnostics, some whom are not as dim-witted as their counterparts, but their debating could use work all the same.

Now, I'm a pluralist to the core.  I am of the opinion that all religions are true, with some obvious exceptions.  My whole family is Catholic.  That environment, and other factors caused by it, ended up causing me to stop practicing, mostly due to the over-saturation of headscratchers I had to deal with.  Now, I hold no ill will towards the Catholic Church.  I deem it a perfectly viable belief system for those who want to accept it.  If it works for you, you won't hear a word out of my mouth.  That is, until you start trying to jam the doctrine down my throat.  When you do, that's when I start taking offense.  Not to the religion, but the person spewing it like a sick infant does with its undigested food.

I'm an agnostic.  I do believe that there is something out there that is greater than us.  I just don't have a name or face to put to it.  Some people do.  It's been called God/Allah/Jehovah/Yahweh.  It's been called Zeus/Jupiter.  It's been called Odin.  It's been called Brahman.  It's been called names that have been lost to the sands of time.  But, they're just names, strings of sounds used to identify and distinguish between all the different perspectives we have on that one silent force, that one ultimate power that we attribute our existence to.  
Take my fictional, just-for-argumentative-purposes friend Steven Joseph Smith, Jr., here.  His dad calls him "Junior."  His grandmother calls him "Deary." His uncle calls him "Sport."  I call him "Steve."  His butler calls him "Master Steven."  His younger sister calls him "Pighead."  Is his uncle talking to a different person than I talk to?  No.  We're both talking to the same Steven Joseph Smith, Jr.  However, we're speaking to a different aspect of him.  I'm talking to him as a friend; my contemporary and comrade to whom I can be a total dickwad and have us both laugh at it.  His uncle, on the other hand, is talking to his brother's son, a young man from the next generation of the family, and the supposed heir to his father's place in his heart.  We each choose to refer to him in a way that reflects how we want to see him.   I'm not going to berate his uncle for not seeing Steve as a close friend like I do.  He's not going to get on my case about not seeing Steve as a younger version of his brother.  
Why, then, do we treat religion differently?  It's just different reasons for the same thing, different masks for the same power.  What makes one reason, one mask wrong, and another right?  Is your religious text irrefutable historical proof that the world happened the way you believe it did?  Can you prove that it is indeed true with concrete fact?  Can that proof disprove the validity of other beliefs?  If you answered yes to all those questions, and most people would agree with you, then congratulations, you have found a religion based on fact, not years of mythos.  If not, then you can still believe it.  Just don't expect everyone to believe it alongside you.  Hell, even if your religion is completely factual, don't expect everyone to believe it alongside you.  

We live in a different world than the one that existed 2,000, 6,000, or even 10,000 years ago.  We are no longer isolated civilizations connected by trade caravans.  We humans are connected by instant communication, supersonic travel, and slowly dissolving cultural barriers.  Fundamentalism may have worked in the dark ages, when totalitarian rule could go unobstructed by outside powers, when cultures were homogenous and one person's world consisted solely of the land they could see from their house.  Now, we have the world at our fingertips, generations and millennia of opinions, beliefs, and ideas swirling around in this digital age, all readily available if someone is willing to listen.  Sitting down and blindly rejecting and belittling everything and everyone who disagrees with what you think will not earn you respect like it did all those years ago.  It does not show honor or the ability to stick to your guns.  It shows that you are a bigot, that you are unable to accept anything new.  You are not the herald of tomorrow.  You are the mourner of yesterday.  This world is changing.  Religion needs to change with it.  And that means putting pride six feet under and acknowledging that someone who is of a different opinion might be onto something.  And most religions have.  Pope John Paul II openly advocated pluralism for the doctrine of the Catholic Church, reducing centuries of animosity towards the Protestants, the Muslims, the Jews, and most anyone else.  Eastern religions like Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism have been pluralist and open to all views since their creation.  The Crusades and the Inquisition are over.  It's time for all the "hardcore" religious people out there to wake up.  Wake up, and smell the ashes.  

Killing, fighting
Dying trying.
All seems right in the name of a god
Hopeless hundreds,
Sad and lonesome
When someone laughs, the other one cries.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

'bout time…

Thank the fucking gods that Spring Break starts tomorrow.  Between…well, a lot of stuff (lack of sleep, lots of tests, increasingly nagging parents, personal issues, general whatthefuckery, etc.), I'm being worn incredibly thin.  If this keeps up any longer, something's going to give, and that something will probably be me.  Dunno what the straw that breaks the mule's back would be, but I don't like the projected outcome.  Luckily, I now have a week and a half to rest and recuperate.  Sure, it means I need to put up with my family for almost the whole time, and I'm going to be separated from my friends the whole time, but at least I can get back all the sleep I've lost in the past month, get myself sorted, and what have you.

Easter should be interesting.  From the looks of it, the entire California branch of my family is going to be showing up. I just hope I'll be allowed to float around on my own instead of being dragged into conversations that have no bearing on my life.  With a little luck, I'll be able to just slap on the studio headphones and listen to "Mighty Rivers Run" most of the day.  Remember kids, "anti-social through circumstance" is not your fault.

Wonder what it's like to be in a coma…

Saturday, March 31, 2012


I know it's been a week, but there really hasn't been much to report.  School's been kinda "meh," and I've been playing a lot of Fallout: New Vegas lately, and I am loving every minute (even if the DLC enemies tend to be a bit OP sometimes).

But, not everything is smooth sailing as I head into spring break.  I have a real close friend who is in need of serious help.  His depression is just getting worse and I am, unfortunately, in no position to do anything but sit at my computer and try to tell him the "final solution" isn't the answer to his problems.  I just hate being so fucking helpless in a situation like this.  He's been there every goddamn time I needed him, and yet all I can do for him when he needs something is feed him the same clichĂ©, unhelpful bullshit he could get at a hotline.  Best I'm able to do is try to engage him in banter to distract him, but even his wit is going, so the effects are minimal at best.  I just don't want him to go.  Not yet.  Not like this.  He deserves more than this.  He's always been a decent sort to me.  Made my Sophomore year the best year of my life.  In my book, that's a debt that can never be indemnified.  And I can't even afford to make the minimum payments on it.

I've always had the nagging feeling that my number is coming up soon.  And up until this started, I was going to just take it in stride, because it happens to everyone.  Now, good ol' Death is going to have to drag me kicking and screaming if he wants me to go before my friend pulls himself together.  Because with God, Zeus, Odin, or whoever is out there as my witness, I'm not going down without a fight if my friends are in trouble.  Because they're all I've got.

"If we must die…[let it be] like men…pressed to the wall…but fighting back" -- Claude McKay

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thought you might find this interesting…

I was digging through some of my old documents and found an old story idea I've long since abandoned.  Figured you might get a kick out of it.

            There are bad people in this world.  It’s a fact of life.  Some people are more than happy to screw over their fellow man for the sake of their own status.  It happens, because humans are capable of a lot more than doing the right thing.  That’s why we have police forces, to hunt down these people and get them to make reparations.  Of course, criminals don’t want that.  So they run.  The mediocre ones flee to another state.  The smart ones flee to another country.  The really smart ones disappear completely.  And wherever they go, authorities try to follow, with varying success.  But even international organizations like INTERPOL have their limits.  If they’re chasing ghosts or trying to rush someone heavily entrenched in local bureaucracy, there’s only so much they can do without crossing a line.  That’s when they call the best in the business: the N’zhee Garna’an.
             The N’zhee have made a name for themselves as bounty hunters of the highest caliber.  Scumbag on the run?  Ne’er-do-well jumping parole?  Give them a call.  The guy will turn up handcuffed outside your office.  End of story; no ifs, ands, or buts.  So long as the charges are good, that is.  If you’re a dirty cop trying to get an innocent man arrested, it’ll be your ass hanging from the streetlamp, not his.  And don’t try to fight the allegations, either.  They have connections.  Lots of them.  If you did it, you’re never getting off the hook with them on your tail.  For the N’zhee, no job is too big or too small.  From generating scandals to performing assassinations, if it’s for the good of society, they’ll get you the results you want.  They’ve existed throughout history, living generation after generation in the shadows, known only in rumor to all but the highest powers.  Though their names are many throughout the ages, today they are known by only one.  They are known simply as the Longcoats.
            Meet Verel Ingram, the FNG for the Longcoats’ Pacific Northwest chapter.  He was an investigative journalist for the Pacifica Tribune until his editor fired him for digging too hard.  The Longcoats, intrigued by his tenacity, picked him up off the rebound.  With a service pistol in one hand and an investigation license in the other, they sent him to assist in manhunts, allowing him to work freelance in between.  However, he’s about to learn that there’s more to crime than just bad people. 

Certain plot elements and character designs have seeped into other works I have going at present, and writing different universes with the near-identical characters is tacky, in my opinion.  Thought I might turn it into a video game if I ever get the hardware and resources. Or, if push comes to shove, I could always build it into a tabletop RPG.