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The Redemption of Colonization

17 Sep

I only play computer games that are (at least) five years old. So I went back to play Sid Meier’s Colonization–the original from 1994–and thought… how can I play this in such a way that I don’t genocide the Native Americans?

Colonization is a dirty word these days, so it’s not surprising that this game doesn’t get a lot of love. For those of you not familiar with either the ’94 or ’08 remake, the idea is that you play one of the four major colonizing powers (English, France, Spain, or Netherlands), build up settlements in the New World, build up your cash crops, deal with the Indians, and eventually build up a power base to declare independence from your European power… and then win the war and gain your freedom!

You see the problem. In academic circles, this would be called exploitative, early-stage capitalism (and late-stage mercantilism), and terribly, terribly racist. And it is… after all, he only problem is that the most ideal spaces to build a colony are already taken… by the native inhabitants. (Fancy that!) However, this IS what happened in our history, so it should not be hidden or ignored. It is also terribly enjoyable, but instead of playing the “normal” way (wipe out the inconvenient Indians, pacify the convenient ones, and build your Empire), I decided to take (what I’m calling) the Treaty of Waitangi approach.

For most of us, that makes no sense, but it was a treaty signed in New Zealand between the British and the local Maoris that granted (local) sovereignty to the Maoris, in exchange for Brits being able to buy land to put it under that control. Most of this treaty was ignored, the Maoris were exploited, BUT… after several wars and a hundred years, the New Zealand government decided to actually follow this treaty and made reparations, creating a joint government between Anglos and Maori.

So what I do is settle on the land NOT occupied by the natives and give them a wide berth, send out missions to pacify the nearby tribes (yeah, I’m not Christian either, but it works! Think of them as embassies), and agree to every Indian request for food. The result? Peaceable colonies, only ONE fight with the natives, and plenty of room to expand. My current game is in the Pacific, so I only occupied HALF of New Zealand, and I’m still working my way across Australia. No genocide of Tasmania, the aboriginals still control half the country, and I’m still able to exploit most of the subcontinent to my heart’s content.

Usually in my games, the natives get honked off, and I have to fight off Indian attacks until I have to destroy the nearby villages to protect my colonies. However now… we have a good balance. I do wonder what the future of this approach would be for an independent Australasia. My guess is the Canadian model; unequal treaties, intermarriage (half-breeds commonplace or Metis), and smaller and smaller reserves for the Native population. Not genocidal, but just as exploitive. I would PREFER to think that the two populations would blend into a new culture, half-European, half-native… but history tells us that doesn’t happen. Even in places where the native population still overwhelms the European settlers (like Samoa), the native culture still suffers.

So I’m still being exploitive, but with the best intentions. What do you think? Is there a way to redeem Christopher Columbus (there’s a whole sci-fi book written on this topic)? Or do we just plow through the way history actually happened? Or do we just assure ourselves, “It’s a game, it’s NOT history?” Let me know in the comments below!

Secular Sainthood

10 Jun

If the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, then our spiritual icons must appear in ad space. In an America where people are less spiritual, and more ignorant of their own history, something has to take its place–therefore we have secular saints.

This is nothing new–in fact, there’s a term for it–“civil religion.” In a young country such as ourselves (and 300 years is pretty young), America had to invent a whole mythology and founding fathers to lionize and exalt. Since the best example of a working republic was Rome’s, our national buildings emulate Roman design consciously. Without a state church, we had to take away most of the direct religious connections, and appealed to unifying concepts (such as the Ten Commandments).

The recent change in our civil religion has been who we choose to venerate. Since we learned that our founding fathers were just flawed white men whose beliefs do not match our modern sensibilities, there has been a push to eliminate the old gods in favor of the new. In this case, Valley Metro in Phoenix has pushed to have a local artist create these beautiful pictures of 19 historical women to honor Women’s History Month.

Okay, let me get off my soapbox briefly to say, “These pictures are really good.” We should celebrate the founding mothers as well as the fathers. It was a little harder to be a big splash as a woman two hundred years ago, so our examples are far more recent. Now I’m going to take my fairness hat back off and ask, “Don’t these pictures look a LOT like Orthodox Christian icons?”

There’s a flower around their head (cough, cough… halo), one of them is holding an paint wheel like a cross or a book, and they all stare down at you like they owe you something. Like saints, these women are to be venerated; their lives are examples of how we should behave. Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, Harriet Tubman… women who broke traditional standards and succeeded. We made sure to throw in as many ethnicities as possible, regardless of how much it makes sense. For example, Jumko Tabei, the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Seriously? Or take Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first African American to graduate from an American school of nursing. Who cares! You could have used Elizabeth Blackwell, first female American doctor, but we already hit our limit of pale skinned women.

What I wonder is how long these new secular saints will last before they are replaced. How long will Madam C. J. Walker last as “the first Black woman millionaire in America” before her belief in self-reliance and her relationship with the wealthy overwhelm her ethnic status? How long will Judy Garland’s role as a gay icon last when people stop watching The Wizard of Oz? The problem with creating new gods is that they don’t have a tradition to support them when the next generation comes along. But maybe that’s the point–new gods for a new generation, nothing stable, everything politically correct? Maybe I’m being hyper-critical about a bunch of urban art. Let me know in the comments below! Then if you want some more ephemeral art, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too expensive to support the arts, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

End of Watch

7 Jun

I’ve never been to a police memorial before–and I’m not sure this qualifies–but I got to attend the barbeque benefit for a fallen officer recently. It was an interesting experience and gave me a look into a world that I rarely step into.

Now that I work for the government. we get a lot more notices of what’s going on around “our fair city.” On Memorial Day, Officer Ginarro New of the Phoenix Police Department was hit by a driver running a red light at a high rate of speed. Bam. Dead at 27, after serving in the military, and two years as a police officer.

Not what I was expecting–certainly what you are expecting. The police union decided to host a fundraiser at their building, which as it turned out, was within walking distance of my workplace. First thing that struck me as unusual was that the fundraiser was being held from 10 am to 10 pm. It only struck me later was that was to be open to police officers whose shifts would overlap those times.

I got there around 2 pm (because my shift is set a little later so I can drop off my kids in the AM) to see a fire truck hanging a giant American flag and a digital billboard, and folks grilling away happily and collecting donations for the family. The place was packed. There were plenty of cops there–I was expecting that–a couple of firemen, but there was lots of families. Big kids, small kids, moms… even some folks I didn’t expect. Apparently I sat right behind the grieving family.

The actual food and drink was available in… what could have only been a garage originally, but was now a storage place / workout area / general storage area. Obviously it was a cooler place out of the sun. I walked right in and there were two lines of people waiting for food. Apparently the demand was so great that the grill couldn’t keep up with the number of burgers and franks the guests wanted!

However, eventually everyone got fed, it was a nice atmosphere. Everyone was friendly and glad to be helping out. It’s something I hadn’t seen in a while. However, I could just be out of touch–what do you think? Let me know in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

Generational Conditioning

30 May

Activists like to throw around terms such as “generational poverty” and “lack of access to X,” but when they quote that, they tend to forget that the communities themselves will keep their members from “progress.”

I’ve heard this called the “anthill theory” and the idea is that when one ant climbs to the top of the anthill, the other ants will grab him and try to drag them down. This is not a conscious effort–this is the natural consequence of poorer communities having different values than the richer ones.

I grew up middle class, but it was in a small rural town, so you couldn’t afford to be snobby. My friends crossed all different borders. I had poor friends, rich friends, Catholics, Protestants, Dutch, Non-Dutch (including Hispanic), so you would constantly interact with people of all backgrounds (although admittedly, mostly white). College (through grants and loans) became an opportunity available to all of my graduating high school class, but naturally, some chose not to take that path for a variety of reasons, but many simply didn’t want to leave Morrison. And half my class never came back; mind you, a quarter only moved to somewhere in the same region, but those who wanted to leave, did.

Why do I mention this? Because there aren’t a lot of jobs in Morrison; staying (or even coming back) means accepting a low income, limited dating pool, and less things available. On the flip side, it’s cheaper, and more importantly, it’s where your family lives. If family is important to you, because it provides an emotional and physical support network, then you live where your family does.

If you wanted to advance your career, but stay close to home, your option was either Sauk Valley Community College or commute to the Quad Cities (an hour away) where there were a couple options. Where I live now, my wife teaches many local kids, but she frequently has to deal with students who say, “I work 40 hours a week and pull a full course load.” Why would you put yourself through such torture? Because your family needs the money… and your scholarship mandates a full course load to get the funding.

I was blessed with a family that didn’t need me to bring in a paycheck; then again, they didn’t have a paycheck prior to this, so… it’s a choice. Improve the lives of your siblings or… don’t. Then again, my family also broke up when I went to college (mom died, stepdad got remarried), so I had a lot less incentive to return home. I could afford to move overseas and take jobs around the country because being close to my family wasn’t my main concern.

You have to move to where the money is, and if that isn’t where your family lives, you don’t get the money. If you don’t live near a grocery store, you either get on the bus and travel to one, or you depend on the convenience store within walking distance. Yeah, it sucks, but when you choose that I want to live near my extended family, there are consequences. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My kids don’t have grandparents… at least not ones who care about them. I haven’t talked to my siblings in decades and my wife’s cut herself off from hers. We’ve paid for our family distance.

Man, this got dark fast. As always, if I’m not considering something important, let me know in the comments below! But if you like my writing, check out one of my books! However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Not Today, Satan!

29 May

So I’m walking into work and I pass a guy with a t-shirt that loudly proclaimed, “Not Today Satan!” That got me thinking two things: 1) That sentence needs a comma and 2) isn’t blaming Satan for the evil in the world a bit of a cop out?

Satan as a concept seems almost sacrilegious. If I want to be pretentious, I’d say it’s Manichaean or dualist; it has a Zoroastrian flair to it. The idea of an equal and opposite power to God weakens the power of the Almighty. The Christian and Islamic traditions would say that Satan/Shaitain is far weaker. but why would God allow a force of evil to exist in the world?

Satan is named explicitly in the Gospels and the Letters of the New Testament, as well as the Quran, but when it’s mentioned in the Tanakh (Old Testament), Satan is “the snake” (Genesis 2) or “the adversary.” (Job 1) Job was the first written of the Biblical texts; the language is far more archaic than the Torah or certainly any of the Histories or Prophets. Anyway, in that book:

6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.

And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought 10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. 11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

12 And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.

Job 1: 6-12 (KJV)

Satan is simply one of the angels (although the text uses “sons of God”); not only is he welcomed at the heavenly court, he’s listened to. He sounds a lot like God’s “no man” in his entourage. God needs someone to point out the flaws in the plan. But this sets up the purpose of devils in scripture. Devils never attack you directly, they whisper in your ear. They suggest. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert, suggests a whole bunch of things, and as a good Jewish boy, he can quote scriptural reasons back at him… never directly touches him. Heck, even God “hardens the heart of Pharaoh” (Exodus 8:19) but God didn’t force the man to make that decision, just suggested it.

Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) divides everything into the Sitra D’Kedushah (the side of holiness) or Sitra Achra (the side of impurity). I frequently hear the Sitra Achra defined as the “evil intention.” It’s easy to imagine your dark side as a “still small voice” whispering dark thoughts into your ear. But I think that’s too easy; the pure and the impure exist within all of us.

So the fault does not lie in Satan, but in ourselves; if it helps you to believe there is a devil on your shoulder, but it convinces you to do the right thing, is that so wrong? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

Carrots and Sticks

27 May

The ongoing push to get people vaccinated in the US shows a lot of incentives, which are not working as well as they hoped. I’m not interested in the pros/cons of vaccination, but rather in how the government pushes for compliance.

Even before the epidemic, there was a growing number of “anti-vaxxers,” people who were more concerned with the side effects of the drugs (usually autism) versus the prevention of the disease. However, they were a small minority, and most people tended to ignore them, some were just more cautious about how they got vaccinated. When I used to work in hospitals, I was required to have my flu shot every year, and since I tended to get more sick almost every year, I frequently forged the paperwork to make it look like I had it.

So I sympathize with those who have questions about the vaccine. The government screwed up their COVID response from the beginning. Instead of telling people, “we need our limited supply of masks for hospitals,” they said, “masks don’t work.” Then they do work. Now the government says, “vax up for safety,” at the same time, “keep wearing masks even if you’re vaccinated.” Then “it’s okay to be maskless if you’re vaccinated.” Good job following the science, guys!

So I’ve seen highway signs, billboards, print ads, video ads, radio ads, all saying “get vaccinated.” They’ve appealed to your sense of social responsibility. They’ve appealed to getting back to normal. They’ve appealed to your health. And they’ve achieved 50% compliance throughout the US.

Some people are lauding this achievement; so many more are yelling at “why isn’t it going faster?” Looking at the CDC’s Vaccination Trends, they’re still getting just under 2 million doses per day. That’s pretty good. But it’s obvious that everyone who wanted a shot has gotten one. That’s not good enough for many authorities. My own company will not let us take off our masks in our building until we hit a higher level (currently at 37%). They’re giving people free sandwiches to get vaccinated, they’re giving them discounts, even paying them!

We’ve been beaten with the stick of mandatory masking and limited business contact for over a year. However, with all the carrots to get vaccinated, it was only last week that someone suggested to the CDC that maybe people didn’t like wearing masks. For me, that’s the big incentive. The places I go have been open for sometime, limited or not, so that’s not been an issue. If I could show a pin and it says “I don’t need to wear a mask,” then I would get it. But we get back to why the government initially told people not to wear a mask… “we don’t trust you.” People would be wearing fake pins by the end of the day. They did come up with vaccine passports, but that has privacy violation issues that would be easily shot down in most federal courts… and can also be easily faked.

So at some point, the government push to vaccinate has to either trust the people they claim to serve or stop pretending to care. But I could be too bitter about this issue–what do you think? Is the PSA marketing push making a difference? Is everyone who wanted to be vaccinated actually vaccinated? Should they give it up? Let me know in the comments below. Then if want something other than doom and gloom, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your cheery disposition, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

If You Don’t Mind, It Don’t Matter

26 May

Finland was once again voted as the happiest country on Earth… which probably comes as a surprise to the hard-drinking, sauna-loving Finns. However, the answer to their success is not one of quality of life, but rather perspective.

What the researchers have discovered is that the Finns are happy because their expectations aren’t that high. In their general opinion, if you have your basic needs are met, that’s everything, and you are happy. There’s a lot to be said about that. I’ve only met one Finnish family, and they grew up American, but generally I found them to be pretty happy. Certainly I’ve met plenty of Scandinavian descendants in the American Midwest and they seemed about as happy as people get.

If you had to take Educational Psychology (“ed psych”) in college, you’re familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The theory goes that if you don’t have your basic needs, then you’re not concerned about more philosophical issues. In other words, if you’re starving, you’re not asking yourself, “What is my purpose in life?” You only worry about finding friends and soulmates when you’re not worried about the death squads roaming the streets. So the needs build on each other.

So until you’re in a comfortable state, and all your needs are met, you can’t address the bigger issues. In fact, you’re more likely to dwell on the bigger issues when all you lesser needs are met. To give a weird example, W.E.B. Dubois pushed “colored people” to finish high school and college, because he was convinced that the more you know about the world, the more you’re unsatisfied with the world as is. In other words, “Education makes you unhappy.”

So how do the Finns achieve this higher level of happiness? First off, as I’ve talked about polls before, some of it is how the researchers phrased the questions. If you believe that if your “belly is full and your bladder empty” so you’re happy, then that’s gonna skew the results. Now maybe you think that sitting in your house, drinking vodka with your pants off, is not your idea of happiness, but the Finns have a word for that. (The word is kalsarikännit = pants drunk)

Idioms can tell you a lot about how a culture views the world. Take “joulutorttu,” the feeling of having one too many. It’s actually a Christmas pastry with jam in the middle, and you’re going to burn your mouth on the first one. But you do it anyway, because of the “kaamos,” the long period of darkness during the winter. Or because the Finns tend to be more isolated than most, “lavatanssit,” the joy of meeting someone.

Well, hey… “Suomi mainittu!” (Someone mentioned Finland!) If I’m going to sum it up, I would say that Finns have real problems of dealing with the cold and dark much more than most people, so when you’re dealing with how do I keep warm continually (a survival need), you’re more happy when you do. Of course, I’ve never been to Finland–do you have a better perspective? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you need to keep warm, check out one of my books. However, if you need $1.99 to buy vodka, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

Are There More Female Activists?

25 May

I’ve been using lots of protest pictures in my posts lately and my brother-in-law asked me, “I can’t help but notice almost all of the protestors in those pictures are women. Is that just a coincidence?” Interesting question–is it?

So I tried to find a picture that showed a wide number of protesters clearly (not easy). The above is a BLM protest in NYC (June 14th, 2020) and… yep. I’m seeing three women for every man. That could just be that there are more women liberals than men. So let’s try the opposite side.

Here’s one from the January 5, 2021 D.C. protests (the day before the storming of the capitol building). I’m seeing about three men for every woman. My first attempt–the April 15, 2020 protests in front of the Michigan State House–was ten men to every woman.

So it seems that liberal activists tend to be women–so let’s ask, why is that?

[I’m willing to accept that I’m completely and utterly wrong about what I type next. If you would like to disagree (politely) in the comments, I welcome being proven wrong.]

1. Women process information differently then men. Women tend to attach many different parts of information to the same fact. So climate change gets attached to social justice gets attached to food sovereignty gets attached to holistic health. In a woman’s mind, there might be no difference between justice and health food. In a man’s mind, facts are isolated–you might be emotional about them, but climate change is different than social justice. So women are far more willing to see systemic injustice against their beliefs and want to do something about it.

2. Women are less likely to be beaten up. It’s easy to protest when you know you can’t be harmed. When men get aggressive with other men, it’s easier to pull the trigger. Men are taught “it’s never right to hit a woman,” so if you’re a cop, are you likely to beat the crap out of a woman attacking you or simply restrain them?

3. Women are less interested in a paycheck than a cause. Don’t get me wrong, we all like money, but more women go into teaching and nursing then men; professions that traditionally pay worse. So if you’re going into teaching, you do it to “make a difference.” Since most teachers quit after five years (myself included), I would assume that most women decide to make a difference elsewhere.

4. Women in a relationship are more able to pursue a cause, because their partner is paying the bills. It’s easier to protest in the streets if you don’t have to work a job. With notable exceptions, men are expected to be the bread-winner, and that traditionally frees women up to be the caregiver. But as we’re having less kids, what do you fill that time up with?

So… there’s my theories — what do you think? Do you have a better answer? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you want a more gender-equal future, read about it in one of my books. However, if you don’t have the money since you’re too busy protesting social change, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. 🙂

Medication and Self-Medication

24 May

I know a little something about medicating yourself. Life can be difficult to handle, and with the variety of legal and illegal substances to play with, why would you want to stay unaltered? Well, as I like to say, there are no solutions, only trade-offs.

I happened to be scanning my blogs and ran across an interesting set of links on Struggle Street‘s page, including one of about the use of psychedelics in therapy in Texas. Now this is using medications that are “unusual” (and usually illegal) to effective use against patients with PTSD. These are what I consider “real problems” and I’m in favor of anyone using anything that works. My father-in-law had Parkinson’s and there was serious evidence for using medical marijuana to help with the shaking. Unfortunately, he never got a chance to try it out because of… well, things got too bad before they had to admit him.

I think it’s interesting trying to use MDMA (molly or ecstasy) to treat folks with serious psychological conditions. I can believe that different drugs can have different effects on different people; Ecstasy for most people usually ends up with bad results–but when your normal life has bad results, you might as well try some serious uppers.

Now in my life, I have “minor problems.” Dealing with ADHD is part of that, but that doesn’t make me different than 5-10% of Americans. You have to try different concoctions to see what works best. I went to a psychiatrist to get a prescription to help with that–he ended up giving me an anti-depressant that made me angrier and more twitchy. So much for that. Then I discovered supplements which are much cheaper. A combination of GABA (for concentration), 5-HTP (for calming), and Omega-3 pills (for emotional stability) works for me… but probably wouldn’t work on a different person with ADHD.

However, I don’t take those on a regular basis–not anymore–because a) my job has stopped being so stressful and detail intensive that I need it, and b) because it makes you feel emotionally numb and sexually deficient. So I only take it when I need to be at my top game at work… or when I know I’m walking into a stressful situation at home.

Plus I discovered bar culture. I’ve talked about how bar lives matter, but thanks to my ADHD, I’ve generally avoided most bars because they’re too noisy. Then I discovered several dive bars and day drinking where the crowds are small and I can actually hold a conversation with someone. Alcohol reduces the effect of my supplements and gives me a temporary high. But just like meds, different liquors have different effects. Whiskey and gin make me angrier, rum makes me happier, beer makes me gassy… but it’s different with different people.

At the moment, I’d rather have the temporary high then the emotional numbness, but because my wife is on the “high health” kick, she had made her displeasure with my drinking at the house clear. So I vowed only to drink at the bar… which means I find more reasons to sneak to the bar. That was strangely more difficult when I worked from home, but substantially easier now that I’m working in an office.

Of course, now that my life’s improved, I’m going a lot less, because there’s less need for self-medication. There’s no guarantee that will be good in the end. But what do you do to get through life’s hard places? Let me know in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is cutting into your beer money, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. Then have a drink on me.

Remember when movies were fun?

23 May

So the previous night, I watched The A-Team (2010), thinking, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen this before. This was mindless fun.” I was shocked to find a) I hadn’t seen it before and b) it was fricking amazing! This was fun with a capital F.

This might fall under “Your mileage may vary,” but I’m a big fan of action, big fan of comedies, and this delivers under both. Mind you, I was also a big fan of the original show back in the 80’s, and although I have seen episodes recently, they captured the goofiness of the original series excellently.

The cold open starts you off with going after a corrupt Mexican general that no one can find. They introduce each of the characters one at a time and it’s beautiful; even if you had no idea who these characters were, you understand completely who they are by the end of it. Face is introduced wrapped in tires, about to be set on fire after sleeping with the general’s wife, and still telling the general he better surrender now. I love it.

For the most part, they do a great job of balancing practical effects with CGI, but it gets harder for them to do it well as the movie progresses, because the situations get more and more ridiculous. However, you can forgive the climax shootout because everything up to this point has been absolutely amazing.

Is it high art? No, but from minute one of the film, you know what you’re into. Goofy lines, hot action, straightforward exposition, and over-the-top characters. There’s a scene when they have to jump out of a C-130, so they escape in a tank attached with parachutes. Then the bad guys are shooting the parachutes, so they have to use the main gun to adjust their landing into the lake. Yeah, it’s THAT over-the-top, and I love it.

Sure, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it hits me in my wheelhouse. Have you seen it? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you want more over the top action, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

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