Archive | March, 2021

Where Did All The Cameras Go?

31 Mar

Remember two weeks ago when we were talking about the shootings in Atlanta? Remember how there was serious consideration for new gun control legislation? Then the shootings in Colorado happened… and all that coverage suddenly stopped. Why?

The answer is: “It didn’t fit the narrative.” What the press was more interested in was NOT the shooting, or the epidemic of gun violence, it was white men shooting Asians. Right after the headline in the New York Times article were the words, “Six of the victims were Asian, the authorities said, raising fears that there may have been a racial motivation to the crimes.” The shooter? Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white guy.

When ten people were gunned down in one of the most liberal (and most federal government employee living) towns in America, naturally that made headlines. But then they found the shooter. Sure, from the mugshot, it looks like a white guy, but his name is Ahmad al Aliwi Alissa, a Syrian immigrant who has lived almost his entire life in Colorado. Suddenly the press wasn’t that interested, and once the horror was over, they picked up and moved on.

Why? Because they want to show white guys killing minorities, preferably blacks. That’s what gets ratings. To quote the book Bias by Bernard Goldberg, a reporter who worked for CBS News for decades, “the true bias of the media is towards conflict.” I used to say they didn’t care about left or right, but rather what made headlines, but that’s not true anymore. Contrary to popular belief, mass shootings don’t keep eyeballs on 24-hour news coverage–the “impending race war” does. If minorities are killing white people, or worse, minorities are killing minorities, that doesn’t help keep viewers. They are appealing to their audience, and their audience believes “white man bad, dark man good.” They will tune out anything that contradicts that.

If you’ve read an article about a subject you know well, you’ve probably noticed that it is usually wrong. Take this screen shot from the AP, generally considered one of the most balanced news sources. On the same screen, they have two articles: “Indian farmers mark 100th day of protests with road blockade.” And right frickin’ below it, is “Indian farmers protest new laws with road block.” Well, gee… it’s not “new” if they’ve been at it for three months! The finance and the economy editors aren’t talking to each other. Their job is to get new content up as fast as possible. The headline gets the clicks, the clicks show advertisers that they get eyeballs, and the advertisers buy ads on their feed.

Let’s keep with the story of mass shootings and take another news story you didn’t read. On March 24th, guy walks into a Publix grocery store in Atlanta, Georgia. The manager goes into the bathroom and a shopper notices that guy suddenly taking out body armor and several guns. Manager calls the police and they get there quick enough to stop the guy from causing another mass shooting. it didn’t make the headlines for two reasons. One, no one died. Remember, the bias of the media is towards conflict. Second, the name of the would-be shooter was Rico Abednego Neequaye Marley. If you read the NYT article, you can’t guess the race of the shooter. Rico Marley could be anybody. “Neequaye” is a dead giveaway that the shooter is African-American. Doesn’t fit the narrative, doesn’t make the headlines.

Do we have a problem with gun violence in America, absolutely. Do we have an impending race war? No. In Chicago, where there are more murders than anywhere else in America, more African-Americans kill their fellow minority than anyone else. That doesn’t make headlines, but mostly because it’s a daily occurrence. My fear is that if the media keep pounding the drumbeat of “White Men Are Out to Kill You,” minorities will believe it, and will decide “I’m gonna get them before they get me.” You don’t want that.

Am I overreacting? Should we be more concerned about white men killing minorities? Let me know in the comments below! If you like my writing, pick up one of my books. But if you’re still not sold, download one of my stories for free! You’ll be glad you did.

“Don’t act surprised, you guys, ’cause I wrote ’em!”

30 Mar

After the mass shootings in the US recently, the gun control debate (briefly) raised its ugly head. However, instead of debating the pros and cons, I was more curious about the language of the 2nd Amendment. More to the point, what did the guy who wrote it have to say?

Quick recap of American History: After the Declaration of Independence, the United States were not… united. The Continental Congress sounds rather impressive in the history books, but it was still a voluntary conference of independent state governments. If Rhode Island’s legislature had decided to declare its undying loyalty to George III, they could have. It wasn’t until March 1st, 1781, five years after war was declared, that the Continental Congress signed its first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. This gave nearly all power to the states. This didn’t work and the cracks in the union were showing. Eight years later, some folks decided to scrap the articles in favor of a new working constitution.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention were afraid that giving power to a national government would create a tyrannical government just like the one they had spent seven years fighting. After the compromises and debates, the states still had to ratify the Constitution, and the biggest objection to that was that their rights were not enshrined. So one of the things James Madison, one of the major drafters of the Constitution, wrote a Bill of Rights with 12 amendments to ensure those rights were protected. Ten of those were passed, including the Second regarding guns.

Fun fact: one of the unpassed amendments was passed two hundred years later as the 27th Amendment. The other dealt with changing the number of reps per state through mathematical formula, it doesn’t really work in a country of over 300 million.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

2nd Amendment to the Constitution (1791)

A lot of attention is paid to the commas (see what the Supreme Court says about it), opponents talk about the focus on the word “militia,” and how the founders were focused on national defense, not individual gun ownership. But again, I’m not debating what I think about it, but what James Madison thinks about it… the guy who wrote it.

Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.

“Publius” (Madison’s pseudonym), The Federalist Papers, Number 46

What Jimmy Boy was more concerned about was tyranny–an overpowering national government able to crush all dissent–which you have to admit, is a lot easier if the citizens aren’t armed. Opponents would say that’s not really possible in the modern era; to quote a French officer in WWII, “you can’t fight tanks with rifles.” Madison would agree with you: “And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes.”

But that’s not the point. When the folks want to shake off their yokes, they have the choice. Otherwise, you have to stand in front of tanks and hope the army soldiers are more interested in protecting life than stopping dissent. In 1991, that worked in Russia… and didn’t in China. The difference? Organization. In Russia, Boris Yeltsin was the president of the Russian SSR–the equivalent of a state (the biggest and comprised most of the country, but not the national leader) and refused to back down in the face of the “Gang of Four.” In China, it’s was pro-democracy protesters, and didn’t have the backing of a local or state government. The American Civil War wouldn’t have happened if the states themselves didn’t want to secede, but if they didn’t have the guns in the first place, they wouldn’t have even got started… and history would have been a lot different.

This doesn’t address the issue of daily life and the problems of having the wrong person owning guns, but all ye liberals, consider this. If you aren’t allowed to own a gun, the only guns are in the hands of the police and the military, the same ones you want to defund. The only ones who are authorized to protect you can not be everywhere at every time. Even assuming a criminal can’t get a gun, can you defend yourself against a man who’s ready to kill you for your wallet? As was said of the first revolver manufacturer, “God created men equal. Colonel Colt made them equal.”

But I’m biased… I’m just not adamant about it. What argument did I miss? Did Jimmy have too much faith in the power of militias? (Answer: Yes, he did.) Could Jimmy imagine a world where people had more than single-shot muskets? Was Jimmy too much of a weakling to fight? Let me know in the comments below! And while you’re down there, click on the link for my books and buy one! Not ready to commit to that? Download one of my stories for free!

If I Can Read It, Why Is She Signing?

29 Mar

Here’s a question you probably haven’t asked yourself: If the speech is closed-captioned, why is there a sign language interpreter standing there? It’s not just a work program, the interpreter is actually signing something different than what the speaker and the closed captioning is saying.

The interpreter is taking English and translating it into American Sign Language (ASL). “Wait, Marcus, isn’t that the same thing?” No, it’s not; ASL is actually a different language, with different syntax than standard American English. The individual signs are directly translated into English words, but you put them together differently. As the Linguistics Society will tell you:

To change an English declarative sentence to a question, one changes the word order, sometimes adding a form of the verb “do”… In ASL, a declarative and the corresponding yes-no question consist of the same signs in the same order. The difference between a statement and a question is indicated on the face: when a yes-no question is signed, the eyebrows are raised. In an ASL conversation… Grammatical information, such as the difference between statements and questions, is conveyed on the face. Signers get all the information conveyed by the hands through their peripheral vision.

So as an example, if the speaker is saying, “What did she buy yesterday?” The interpreter can sign, “She buy yesterday what?” This seems unusual, but not if you understand deaf culture. Kids learn English by hearing it. So what if you can’t hear? You have to learn each individual word, sign by sign, and it takes longer. Deaf students take longer to learn because they had a two or three year delay in learning the language. In deaf schools, you learn Sign Exact English (SEE), which takes every word and spells it out as it is said. The students are taught to talk in SEE as well as sign it, but once you leave the classroom, when deaf kids are talking to each other, they used shorthand. They didn’t use every exact word and ASL was born.

In 1982, I was one of the first kids in the US to have closed captioning on my TV. We bought a special TV at Sears that had a little turn knob that you could switch to pick up the captioning. My mom was deaf; she lost her hearing when she was nine due to German measles (Rubella). So she learned English and could speak it perfectly, without slur in a Midwestern accent. Since she did not go to deaf school, she had to learn to read lips. Which meant you couldn’t figure out she was deaf… until you turned your head.

So if the deaf learn English, why not depend on the captioning? After all, they use text messaging all the time! Remember that deaf kids have a two-to-three year deficit on learning English. That means in the fifth grade, they’re reading at the third-grade level, and new concepts take longer. So if they complete high school, they might still be reading at the middle school level. I still have my mom’s “Holy Bible for the Hearing Impaired,” mostly because she wrote in it as she read it, but it’s interesting because they translated the Bible into simplified English so that Deaf Christians could understand it better.

So that’s the reason! The interpreters are actually translating the words into another language. Of course, I didn’t become familiar with deaf culture until I was 12, and after my mom died, haven’t really kept with it. So it’s entirely possible I’m missing something. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! My writing isn’t that complicated, but it’s not 8th grade level, but why don’t pick up one of my books and find out! But if you have difficulty with long books, download one of my stories for free! You’ll be glad you did.

Religious Existentialism

28 Mar

I am not a fundamentalist of any stripe, but I believe in God. At various points in my life, I wanted to serve God in an official capacity, but my life changed. So how do you believe strongly in something without gripping rock-hard principles?

I was mentioning existentialism in an earlier post, but I found myself getting away from my point about conspiracy theories, and realized that it had to be its own post. I like existentialism but I don’t completely buy it, partly because it starts with the initial concept that God doesn’t exist. So I have breakdown the philosophy to its fundamental components. But instead of me boring you with that, let’s have Joss Whedon (my “icon of existentialism,” but what others call, “the patron saint of mediocrity”) explain it:

Jubal Early : Where’s your sister?
Dr. Simon Tam : I don’t know. Who do you work for?
Jubal Early : This is her room.
Dr. Simon Tam : Yes.
Jubal Early : It’s empty.
Dr. Simon Tam : I know.
Jubal Early : So is it still a room when it’s empty? Does the room, the thing, have purpose? Or do we – what’s the word?
Dr. Simon Tam : I really can’t help you.
Jubal Early : The plan’s to take your sister; get the reward, which is substantial – “imbue”, that’s the word.
Dr. Simon Tam : So you’re a bounty hunter.
Jubal Early : No, that ain’t it at all.
Dr. Simon Tam : Then what are you?
Jubal Early : I’m a bounty hunter.

Firefly, Objects in Space (2002)

I love that episode, especially the philosophical bounty hunter, and Joss will bore you to death with the commentary to that episode explaining it. But let’s hit the fundamental question–does life have purpose or do we imbue it with purpose? If you’re atheist, your answer is “we imbue it with purpose.” If you’re a theist, the answer is “God gives life purpose.” To quote the Westminster Catechism of Faith, “The chief end of man is to love God and enjoy him forever.” Considering that’s all I know about that seminal work of Protestantism, it made quite an impression on a 12-year-old in confirmation class. The focus was always on the word “enjoy.” It’s not an error in translation, it’s the key. God wants us to be happy.

In existentialism, the point… is there is no point to life, and it’s up to us to make it have meaning for ourselves. Or to quote another great TV show:

Kryten : Monsieur Jean-Paul Sartre, sir.
Rimmer : Who?
Kryten : He’s a philosopher, sir. He’s an existentialist.
Rimmer : Well, Sartre! We don’t like existentialists around here. And we certainly don’t like French philosophers poncing around in their black polo-necks filling everyone’s heads with their theories about the bleakness of existence and the absurdity of the cosmos! Clear?

Red Dwarf, Meltdown (1991)

So here’s where I keep things simple. If God exists and he wants us to enjoy Him, then he intercedes in our lives, because we often find ourselves down the wrong path. That’s a pretty big jump, but my own experience is one of divine intercession. Now Seth McFarlane would say, “We’re just coincidence whores,” seeing intercession in everything. He speaks as someone who missed one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. You could say that God destined him for greatness, but he interpreted that as, “Shit happens, get over it.”

Or to put it nicer, “Life is chaos, be kind.” That was Michelle McNamara’s mantra; she was the writer of true crime novels and married to comedian Patton Oswald. “Was” as in one night she went to bed and never woke up again.

The problem with believing in intercession is that you have to ask, “Why does God intercede in my life, but not to save my mom?” This was a hard one for a while, and since I don’t believe in predestination anymore (God having a plan for our lives), then I’m left with the answer Van Halen put on their video, Right Now: “Right now, God is killing moms and dogs… because he has to.”

God created a universe governed by certain rules. My mom had a curable disease that she chose not to be cured by; so she died. Could God have cured her? Of course, but he didn’t… because that would violate free will. In order to give the choice to love Him, He has to give us the choice to do the opposite. This is why I believe that the Jewish tradition is the closest to how I believe God exists. It’s a contractual arrangement, not a contract between equals, but not a master-servant relationship either. It’s the deal is very simple: “You will be my people and I will be your God.” If you break the terms of the agreement, then there will be consequences. In my belief, God is not a vengeful father, he’s a disappointed landlord.

A subtle difference, but an important one. God wants us to be happy; the commandments are there to help us be happy, not as arbitrary rules (although no one can explain the red heifer). When we break those rules, we feel guilty (some call it “sin”), so we need to atone for our sin, but since we can’t sacrifice a goat anymore, we need to do acts of lovingkindness. And that’s the purpose of life: Love God, Love Your Fellow Man, Be Happy. Sounds easy, but in the end, the hardest thing to do.

Am I too up my own butt for this one? What massive philosophical step did I jump over? Let me know in the comments below! After that, why not pick up one of my books! It’s full of characters who have difficulty relating to the absurdity of the cosmos. Or if you’re not ready to read between the lines of a fun story, try a shorter story for free. You’ll be glad you did.

There’s a Loophole for Every Law

27 Mar

We all get frustrated with our elected officials and really hate professional politicians. So someone brought up the standard refrain: “We need term limits!” The problem is–like any law–there’s a loophole.

The problem with elections is that people tend to vote for what is familiar–that’s why signs are important for political races. If you’ve seen their name several thousand times before Election Day, you’re more likely to vote for them, even if you know nothing about them. Incumbents get reelected constantly, because they have greater name recognition–after all, you’ve seen them before. The US Congress has a 91% retention rate among its members. So term limits are the solution to stopping professional politicians.

Except they don’t… and we have evidence that they don’t. We focus on the national assemblies so much, but the great thing about America, is that we have lots of little “experiments in democracy” that we call states. For the sake of amusing myself, let’s call it “minor league politics.” No two states work the same. Nebraska has the only unicameral legislature in the country (established in 1937), every one else has a state senate and house of reps, just like the national government. Texas, Maine, Arizona, and Wyoming have “citizen legislatures,” where the members only serve part-time. Because people have called for term limits for decades, some states have implemented them, with… interesting results.

Let’s take Maine, which passed a term limit referendum back in 1993. The poster child for this push is John L. Martin, who had been the Democratic Speaker of the House for 18 years (at that point). The referendum kicked him out of his job the following year, but six years later, he served for eight years in the state senate, and is currently serving for six years back in the House of Representatives. Why? Because these “citizen politicians” found a loophole. The law says you can’t serve more than eight years in consecutive terms in any branch of the legislature. So he simply jumped to the Senate, then jumped back to the House. This is also the case in Ohio, where you can only serve two terms in any one branch, and many of these full-time politicians simply jump from one branch to the other with their party’s blessing.

I hear you say, “the limits aren’t the problem, it’s the way it’s written!” So here’s where I both praise and degrade my home state of Arizona. We also have term limits–no more than three terms in EITHER house. Also the state senators serve two year terms, same as the house reps. Okay, problem solved, right? No–what that means is that no particular politician gets enough experience or clout to be independent of their party, so the political parties actually have more power, and it encourages lockstep thinking.

It also forces these part-timers to think about higher office, and think less about doing their job there. We have a multitude of state offices that are elected, none of which are term limited. In fact, George Hunt, the first governor of Arizona, served seven terms… and the only reason those weren’t consecutive, was because he was appointed Ambassador to Thailand just to get rid of him. That is certainly not a worry today, because governors are more likely to run for US Senate, or get picked up as a cabinet secretary. Even Governor Hunt (mocked as “King George VII”) was only sent to Thailand to prevent him running for US Senate!

So although everyone says, “We should throw all the bums out,” voters also say, “But my congressman is great!” Term limits doesn’t solve the problem. Politicians write the laws, and therefore, they’re the ones best suited to take advantage of the loopholes. So what is the solution? Simple–vote for the challenger, even if what they stand for disgusts you. Because if you keep turning out dysfunctional legislature after dysfunctional legislature, even the stupidest politician is going to get the message. “Oh, we need to do something.” And that’s the most important lesson our elected leaders need to learn.

But I could be talking out my back end here; what do you think? Could term limits still work? Let me know in the comments below! Then after that, pick up one of my books. Or if $1.99 is too rich for your blood, download one of my stories for free!

It Can Kill You… or Have No Effect

26 Mar

My wife suffers from occasional “phantom smells,” where she smells cigarette smoke when none exists. Of course, going online for advice doesn’t help, where the end results could be dire… or transitory. Flip a coin.

Any medical professional will tell you, “If you’re concerned, go see a doctor.” Self-diagnosis is usually wrong and observation and tests can eliminate a lot of different things. I remember going into the urgent care about five years ago with what I thought was A.Fib (atrial fibrillation) or erratic heartbeat. Turned out to be gas, but I had been convinced it was A.Fib because I had seeing commercials for medications for that condition the last couple weeks!

But let’s get back to a less dire symptom–phantom smells. Again, it won’t kill you, but it’s annoying. I’m a pipe smoker, so I can tell the difference, and so can my wife. It’s not my smoke, it’s something like cigarettes, but not really. When it happened to me, I got a little freaked out, since I have a lot more personal experience. (Turned out to just be the candles I lit near me going out.)

Checking out the Internet for possible reasons for this weird and annoying symptom, Broward Sinus Doctors list several reasons, the top ones being:

  • Non-allergic rhinitis
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • Nasal polyps
  • Tumors

So… it could be a stuffy nose… or cancer. (shrug)

Our family takes its health seriously, but at the same time, we try not to go into the hospital unless it’s a serious condition. As I’ve ranted on before, family practices aren’t, emergency departments are scary and take forever (speaking as someone who worked in several), and urgent cares still take their sweet time. I’ve been to my acupuncturist and my chiropractor once a month; the last time I went to a “regular” doctor was July of 2019, and that’s because I broke my clavicle from a bicycle accident.

Nine times out of ten, you’re going to waste a lot of time, spend a lot of money, just to find out it was nothing. We have emergency insurance because… well, frankly, it’s not worth it pay several hundred dollars a month for nothing. We make too much for Medicare, too little to pay for a decent plan, so it’s either pay a lot for not much or pay when we really need it. Thankfully, my employer has this no-pay, use it only if you’re really sick insurance, which is frankly what we wanted.

So how “chronic” does a condition have to be to make the step inside the doctor’s office? How painful does a symptom have to be to take “extraordinary measures?” What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

And if you need a break from healthcare, I guarantee my books have no mention of hospitals or doctors or insurance in them. My main characters are pretty robust. So why not buy one? Or if you’re paying too much for insurance, and a $1.99 is too rich for your budget, download one of my stories for free!

“We Just Thought You Knew!”

25 Mar

A teacher once explained a concept using an iceberg as an example, saying how you could only see part of it; the rest of it was hidden. After the end of his brilliant parable, one student raised their hand and asked, “What’s an iceberg?”

Sometimes you run into a problem where you really don’t know what the basic concept, but all the commentaries keep going as if you do. For example, today is the Fast of the Firstborn. What does that mean? Well, it’s more complicated this year, because Passover starts on a Saturday night. You can’t fast on Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night), because that’s intended to be a happy time. Okay, move it to Friday. Nope, because you’re doing prep for Shabbat, and you don’t want sadness to get in the way of that. So it’s shifted back to Thursday. Sunrise to sunset, you’ll fast.

Great! What does “fast” mean?

This sounds like a “duh” question, but it’s kinda important. Does “fast” mean just “no food” or “no food and drink” or “nothing passes through the mouth” (i.e., smoking)? This is not a “minor fast day,” because there are four other days that qualify… not this one. So what does a “fast” mean? I checked online, with three respected sources, and the answer is… “it depends.” What is your particular tradition? What did your parents do? What does your rabbi say?

There’s a joke that says, “Two Jews, three opinions,” but it makes it very frustrating. You don’t wanna approach your rabbi with the question, because it makes you sound like an idiot. So in the end, you’ll just do what you want to do, basing it on whatever’s convenient. Some helpful rabbi wrote down “since it’s on a Thursday, if you are even “minorly inconvenienced,” you can get out of fasting. So I’m going to go with “no food until sundown” restriction today, but still drink water… because that’s what I’ve done before for minor fast days, even though other authorities go through the “no food and drink from sunrise to sunset” rule.

“Is this the sort of fast I want, a day when a person mortifies himself?

Isaiah 58:5a (CJB)

So I have to ask myself, “why am I going through all this legal hoops if I’m just going to do what I wanted to anyway?” First off, because my wife reminded me of it–I was going to blow it off, like I have many years–but once reminded, I feel obligated. And so I’m left with this strange “half-assed” fast.

When I was teaching live, I would frequently remind me, “There are no stupid questions,” because if you don’t know it, chances are, the person behind you doesn’t know it either. The teacher needs to read the room; if the student looks confused, address it. But how do you know what they don’t know?

Using sci-fi as an example, there are details you have to address, those you have to skim, and those you just throw out there for flavor. Faster-than-light travel is currently impossible, but we understand faster-than-sound travel, so you can address incredible speed and g-forces, but then you skim over the actual device that makes it possible, and then have people puking from breaking the light barrier. Why? Doesn’t matter, it just emphasizes that it’s difficult. The trick is knowing what is important enough to address and what is important to skim.

There’s no real answer for this question, so I’ll throw it to you? How you do determine what’s important when explaining a concept? How you do react to a “stupid question?” Let me know in the comments below! And if you liked the sci-fi example, check out one of my books and find out more about how I address faster-than-light technology. Or if you’re not that interested, simply download one of my stories, and you’ll get a similar (but lesser) flavor!

The Truth is Out There

24 Mar

I’ve called myself a fatalist–when faced with the intellectual challenge I frequently freeze, accepting the contradiction, but not changing my world view. But what if you fight, believing there are forces threatening your world?

Nowadays, we call these conspiracy theorists, and I reject them… not because I don’t believe there are powerful people with their own agendas trying to screw people over, but because I don’t believe that there is any level of coordination to achieve a certain goal. All you have to do is look at any large organization–let’s take the Libertarian party. We say we’re the Party of Principle, but there’s once you get past the basic principles, we’re very much divided. There’s the minarchists like me, who want a “night watchman state,” or “less government runs best.” There are fiscal conservatives, who just want us to pay our debts and run our government more efficiently. There are disaffected Republicans who just don’t like the social conservatives. There are those who just like to smoke pot. And there are those who are combinations of many of those same beliefs. If a third party can’t even get like minded people together to achieve a common goal, what chance does the Illuminati have?!

I frequently turn to the modern sage, Joss Whedon, for many of my quotes. He’s been controversial lately, but frequently, he likes to pontificate on his own beliefs in existentialism. If you don’t know Jean-Paul Sartre, let me have Joss explain it through some of his characters:

Gunn : What if I told you it doesn’t help? What would you do if you found out that none of it matters? That it’s all controlled by forces more powerful and uncaring than we can conceive and they will never let it get better down here? What would you do?

Anne Steele : I’d get this truck packed before the new stuff gets here. Wanna give me a hand?

Angel, Not Fade Away (2004)

Anne is the existentialist (and a minor recurring character). My interpretation of the philosophy is that if there is no God, and we are simply the end result of a series of happy accidents, then it is up to us to create the meaning for our own life. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t change the world, it changes us, and that’s sufficient.

But that’s my interpretation, but what if you interpreted like this? There is no God, but there are powerful people who are determined to keep the world as it is, which keeps the world from getting better. We could prevent hunger, but warlords are trying to control their vengeful minorities. We could solve homelessness, but rich people want bigger homes. Those elite are keeping the common people down to keep their lives better.

Is there truth in that? Absolutely! Take the recent GameStop short-sell stock manipulation. Wall Street came down HARD on amateurs who beat the hedge fund managers at their own game, and got their congressmen to change the rules that Wall Street itself created. But why did they do that? Was it some conspiracy? No, they just made money doing it, and they got screwed out of their money, so they got upset. They didn’t shut down Robinhood or prevent small-scale day traders. They just stopped this one thing. It doesn’t stop another smart cookie to find another loophole that hedge fund managers have been doing for decades… and they will.

Imagine that the Illuminati existed in this scenario. Not only would they plug the loophole, there wouldn’t have been a loophole to begin with! They would have found the leaders of this Internet uprising, and either silence or recruit them. They would have an Internet “hit squad” to seek out these potential threats and silence them before they became big… but they don’t, do they? Just like government, we all do two things well, “nothing and overreact.” The elites are just people in the end; selfish, flawed people, who might be brilliant in a particular area, but just as weak as the rest of us in everything else. And one thing humans do NOT do is play nice with others.

In other words, conspiracy theories are trying to make sense of nonsensical world. The sad truth is that there is no Illuminati and we are all manipulated by the whims of chance and greed… and isn’t that scarier than any conspiracy you’ve ever heard?

But “that’s like, your opinion, man.” What’s yours? Tell me in the comments below! And if you’re moved to read about the Libertarian future (without being preachy), pick up one of my books! Okay, my settings are not actually Libertarian, but my philosophy colors them. However, if you’re not ready to pay good money for my crap, download some of my stories for free! You’ll be glad you did.

Fight, Freeze, or Flight

23 Mar

It is exhausting to view the entire world as a threat.” The quote is talking about PTSD, but I’m gonna take this out of context, and apply it to the world around us. How do we tackle that which we can’t control?

The answer is simple; we react the same way we do with any dangerous situation, “fight, freeze, or flight.” Now maybe you haven’t heard that phrase quite that way before, but it is an option that many people do. Scary thing happens and you freeze–paralyzed by your own decision making–because you’re not really sure what to do.

Some are frozen because your body can’t process the new information that doesn’t fit into your worldview. In education, there’s actually a theory called “transformative pedagogy,” which actually tries to force the student to reexamine their beliefs by presenting data outside the student’s mindset and having them address it. It can be very effective.

Now imagine if every class were designed that way. If you take four to five courses a day, and every single one of them was trying to transform the way you look at the work, you’d be exhausted. There’s only so much shock one can take to your worldview before you either fight it (reject the contradiction completely), freeze (accept the contradiction and either struggle with it or ignore it), or flight (accept the contradiction and change your worldview).

Let me give an example of this… and it’s not the one you’re thinking of. 180 years ago, a preacher by the name of William Miller revealed to his followers (anywhere from 50 to 500 thousand of them) that Jesus would come back to Earth on October 22, 1844. As you might guess, Bill was wrong. After what became known as “The Great Disappointment,” there were four reactions:

  • The prophecy was invalid, Miller was a fraud: Some of these went back to their old churches, a lot of them just became agnostic.
  • The prophecy was valid, the date was invalid: These became the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • The date and the prophecy were valid: These joined the Holy Flesh Movement, which eventually collapsed, and then they joined the Shakers.
  • The date was valid, the interpretation was invalid: These became the Seventh-Day Adventists.

Since I have a lot of love for SDA’s (they’re like Jews for Jesus, but nicer), let me put my conclusion this way. In a classroom, when faced with contradicting data, you aren’t going to come to the same conclusion that your teacher wants you to. The J-Dubs and the SDA’s had the same teacher, different result.

My wife sees this a lot in her classes. I don’t think she’s deliberately using a transformative model, but she’s often confused by students who reject (or “fight”) the contradictory information. Say you have your students read Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors by Taiawake Alfred; it’s his doctoral thesis before he went all activist-y. He’s talking about the Mohawk reserve just outside of Montreal. Some arrive at the same result that my wife has: “Aren’t (white) Canadians just bastards? Free the native peoples!” Her university has a large number of conservative students who might fire back with “The Mohawk people are dealing with an unrealistic model that doesn’t conform with modern life.” And some (like myself) might freeze and say “both views are valid. Why can’t we give more sovereignty to the reserve, but still have it subservient to the Canadian (but not provincial) government?”

As the teacher, she has her own transformative moment. Do you accept that your conservative students have a valid but opposite worldview? Or do you just shake your head and say “I just don’t get it.” Or do you reject them and say, “Oh, they’re white supremacists and/or conspiracy theorists.” Having read many of their papers, some are conspiracy theorists, but in my opinion, conspiracies are just another way of dealing with the contradictory information. I think I need to write my belief on conspiracy theory tomorrow.

But I could be way off… what do you think? How do you react when faced with contradictory information? Does it depend on the information… or how much you care about the subject being questioned? Let me know in the comments below!

Once you’ve done that, check out one of my books! But if you think that $1.99 is too much for an author you barely know, download some of my stories for free, and then tell me what you think. Maybe then you might buy a book of mine! 🙂

You Were Doing So Well!

22 Mar

Publishers and directors all want the “sure thing,” which is fair, because that’s what their customers want, too. Formulas work, and to go off formula, you have to train the audience to expect where you want to go. So when the creator goes off script, the audience gets mad.

For example, let’s take the book I just finished, Takedown by Brad Thor. It’s a “thriller,” not a technothriller, because that would require more “tech.” This is hunting terrorists, which…. hey, is not necessarily my thing, but I’ve liked them in the past. I happened by the Little Free Library near my home and found this, so I thought I would give it a shot.

It starts off well, capturing the bad guy, who becomes the McGuffin of the whole story. In other words, he’s the objective of the whole plot and does nothing to further it himself. I know this because he has the blandest name in the world: Muhammed bin Muhammed. Now we can’t just have him be the bad guy, he has to have a kink that makes him a really bad guy, but since we just met him, it’s hard to bring him in. They bring in a… what I can only call a “consultant villain,” who is actually really cool, sympathetic, and highly capable. Unfortunately, he’s a minor character.

Now this being the fifth in the series, and I’ve ever only read this one, our hero is a complete unknown to me. However, he’s introduced pretty well. The author introduces a lot of characters, but unlike other stories, I don’t feel overwhelmed by them. It becomes obvious that a) here are the characters that matter and b) here are the characters that don’t, but I’ll remind you of them when appropriate. So the flow works great.

When the BOOM happens (because this is a book about terrorism), it’s pretty good and the plot is great. In fact, the actual plan is pretty cool–even cooler because no one–not even the terrorists–know what the actual plan is. However, the point is to chase the McGuffin, and our hero has to stop them. That’s pretty cool.

There is a needless chest beating subplot where the civil liberties loving DHS secretary just can’t understand why everyone else in the administration just wants to use “extraordinary rendition.” Which leads to a “how dare you question the military” speech. Now I’m a Navy brat. I love folks who serve in the military. But when you’ve been around enough veterans, you know they’re the first to tell you, “look, the military screws a lot of people over.” Just because someone serves does not make them a saint. So there’s a “screw the hippies” storyline, which is rather ridiculous, considering you need both the “kill the bastards” and the “save the whales” crowd to make society work.

However, the unforgiveable part is after the climax, when the hero has saved the world, got the girl, and everything is resolving as it should, the author ruins it in the last paragraph. Literally–the last paragraph. “Ha, ha, Horvath! You have met your match!” What. The. Hell?! I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you’re going to screw over the hero, you start it at the beginning of the next book, not at the very end. At least make it an epilogue or last chapter, not just a… “oh, I forgot!”

This is why Bond fans hate On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The film is actually really good! But because it ends on such a downer, fans rejected it. (Plus, it was the first film without Sean Connery.)

So a book that was a good 4 out of 5, drops an entire star just because the author wanted to set up the next book… at the last minute. What a waste! I now have no interest in reading anything this author writes. Have you run into this before? Let me know in the comments below!

And when you’re done writing that, why not check out some of my books! Or if that’s too pricey for your blood, download some of my stories for free!

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