December 11, 2007

Paranoid

One of these days I need to develop the discipline necessary to make regular entries. Somehow I suspect that won't happen in this lifetime.

Speaking of lifetimes, this past year my view of life has shifted from deep discontent to a kind of mild happiness. Nothing really elating, mind you, but the last few months has seen a scary sort of contentment settle over me that I am completely unaccustomed to. The first half of the year or so was as depressing as life in Tokyo ever gets. There was nothing really wrong with my life, I just felt isolated, alone, cut off from the world, and found myself unwilling to exert any effort to change the situation. The low point came when the Magic: the Gathering player group I meet with on Wednesdays changed its character from a casual, nobody wins, nobody loses league into a group clearly divided into a hypercompetitive clique bent on winning and an experimental clique interested in just about any game except MTG!

Naturally I drifted away from them and began spending ever greater amounts of time playing MMORPGs. City of Villains has been my virtual home for two years now, and if you include time spent in City of Heroes, it's getting close to three years. Despite a series of quality of life improvements, it still isn't as beautiful or as compelling as Lineage II was before the PK crowd killed it for me, but I still love the character creator and still spend far more time creating and deleting alternate characters than actually playing my "main". Now that Issue 11 has come out, I've started a new main character. I call him "Brian Winternight". He's a dual-scimitar weilding Brute with Willpower defense (two new powersets that I just love!), a nappy vest and pure white ponytail.

When Issue 11 went into Closed Beta testing on the test server, I was surprised to find myself with an invitation, so I logged it, tried it, and immediately fell in love with the new powersets. Anticipating that the time had come to break my connections with Villainous Vixens, I had one of my low-level characters form up a new Supergroup called Shandarian Nights and over time moved all of my existing characters on that server into the group. There weren't many, because I quickly delete most characters I make in a vain effort to keep myself focused on my main character. Once the new group had taken shape, I decided that the Supergroup founder (named David Greyhawk) would be my main character until Issue 11 went live.

Things are rolling right along now. Issue 11 has gone live and my new Brute is in the group and doing well. I've managed to assemble a small cast of other players who are often online at the same time I am. All in all, my CoV time has become so rewarding that I broke down and started a second account to make it easier for me to transfer items and infamy around. The new account only has heroes on it at the moment, but eventually that will change.

In addition to things going well ingame, out here in the real world things are also working well. Last September Kazuko and I took the kids to Europe. They went expecting to have a blast and came back deeply disappointed. I went expecting to be disappointed and came back utterly ecstatic! Our first stop was Paris so we could visit the Louvre and I was thrilled to learn that almost all of the Summerian artifacts I have been reading about for the past ten years are in the Louvre and on display! Clay seals, stone boundary markers, statues of kings, everything imaginable except the Ishtar gate, and it they have a diorama of!

I also found some specialist museums in Paris that host a dizzying variety of medieval arms and armor. I never imagined there was so much variety in armor and sword design. Every single knight, it seems, went out of his way to insure he stood out on the battlefield even when surrounded by his peers.

In Milan we spent most of our time shopping, but I was able to slip into half a dozen museums and climb up to the top of the Duomo. One of the most interesting museums featured a huge collection of musical instruments, especially stringed instruments and keyboards. I never imagined there were so many different kinds of pianos! And mandolins! Oh, my goodness! Mandolins in all shapes and sizes with pearl inlays, laminated bodies, gold trim, and so on! Who knew music could look so beautiful?

We even took a day trip to Venice, and just that one day alone was enough for me to feel the trip had been completely worthwhile. When added on top of everything else, this was hands down the most enlightening, entertaining vacation I have ever taken. In nine days I must have visited half a hundred museums and saw first hand works of art and history that up to now I could not even imagine.

For some reason the only things my family noticed were filthy subway stations, dirty streets, and way too many beggers for a modern, industrialized economy.

I don't know. Ever since we got back from Europe I have been feeling warm and content. I still hate Tokyo's overcrowded transportation network and nearly constant smog. What passes for weather here is a sometimes endless stream of dreary, cloudy skies of brown on grey. One or twice a year the wind blows away the smog (usually because of a typhoon) and a deep blue sky appears, but within twenty-four hours it's as dense as ever, the cloud pack has returned, and I once again absolutely hate poking my head outside the door. The last few months, however, none of that has mattered.

The scary part is my life history is not kittens and cotton candy clouds. Most of my life has been a constant, unending struggle to keep my relationships peaceful, meet the needs of those around me without neglecting my own, and find something productive that I could both do well and enjoy. So is this past few months merely the calm before the storm, or has my life finally taken a turn for the better and from here on out things around me will stabilize at a reasonable level of calm content?

I'm expecting the storm to break hard and fierce any day now. I can feel it hovering on the edge of certainity and I'll be honest, despite the storms I've already weathered, this one feels like it will be the worst one ever. There's a storm coming, alright. I can feel it. It's gonna be bad, it's gonna hit sudden, and it's gonna drive the memory of the past few months right out of mind.

I hope to high heaven I'm just being paranoid, but you know what they say, "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you."

July 24, 2007

Harry Potter series almost grows up

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I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a couple days ago. The book is a fitting conclusion to this long-running series and firmly cements J. K. Rowling in the same literary league as Baum, Tolkien, and Lewis. Years, no, generations from now, people will still read these seven books and comment on them. Rowling has done something few other writers can claim to have achieved, she has changed the way future writers will approach their craft. Unfortunately, this also means that fantasy literature is destined to remain a genre primarily directed at children.

The seventh Harry Potter book has a page-turning, edge-of-your-seat plot that rockets the reader through the recent history of Harry's world and fills in all of those ominous blanks left by the other six books. Even as book five revealed Harry's father to be a cruel, elitist adolescent with a loyal clique whose success on the Quidditch field allowed his gang to terrorize the Hogwarts campus and get away with it, book seven reveals that in his youth the charming Dumbledore befriended the dark wizard he later killed and favored the creation of a world where the wizarding community took their "rightful" place as the masters of the muggles. Dumbledore's relationship with Harry is revealed to be more manipulative than compassionate, setting up Harry to be the sacrificial lamb who dies and is resurrected in order to rid the world of Lord Voldemort.

In all honesty, the overt Christian themes and underlying belief that even when evil has free run of the place the world is essentially sweet gets a bit nauseating from time to time. The deft use of Celtic and Gothic inconography to present what in the end amounts to yet another Christian parable is masterful, but a touch disappointing. A very fitting end to the series, but despite the rampant death of friend and family alike, still essentially a children's book.

There are many places where she comes close to rising above children's literature and putting Harry squarely into the adult world, but each time she fails to take that critical last step. Some examples of this are:

Chapter Three: Harry bludgeons his reluctant Uncle Vernon into accepting wizarding protection for his family by frequently repeating the words, "they will kill and torture you," in conjunction with references to his own parents and Dudley's near loss of his soul in book five. Not once does Harry offer any reasonable evidence of this belief and the only thing that sways Vernon and Petunia is Dudley's announcement that no matter how his father feels, he's going with the wizards. Dudley then acknowledges that Harry did indeed save him from the Dementors which causes Petunia to begin crying on Dudley's thick shoulder and blubbering about what a good boy he is. The candy-cane sweet, cartoon quality of this scene rises to levels unseen in any of the earlier books. At that point I was desperately afraid this would set the tone for the remainder of the story. Thankfully, it did not.

Chapter Seven: Harry celebrates his seventeenth birthday and after the usual barrage of useless gifts, gets invited into Ginny's room where she offers him her gift. There is half a page dedicatd to Ginny's kiss, then Ron and Hermoine barge into the room. I'm sorry, but Harry is seventeen, Ginny is fifteen, they are madly in love even though book six lays out all the reasons Harry believes they cannot be together. These few days at the Weasley house is the last time they will be together, and for all anyone knows, Harry is going to die soon. In any mature, realistic appraisal of adolescent relationships in any era past or present, Ginny and Harry would be crawling into each other's bed and having wild sex every single night he is there. Rowling's reluctance to bring realistic sexual relationships into the first four books might be forgiven, but her failure to do so in book seven, the "adult" version of Harry's life, is unforgivable.

Greyback and Bellatrix: One of the most dangerous aspects of life in the real world is sexual predation. From the time of his first appearance Greyback has an obsession with young females while Bellatrix drips sexuality every time she steps on the scene. Yet, at no point in any of the seven books are either of these characters linked directly or indirectly with sexual predation. If Rowling really wanted to rise above the childish naivete of the fantasy greats who came before her then somewhere along the line she needed to address the very real hormonal storm of sexual tension that creates almost all of the turbulence, pain, and emotional suffering of the adolescent years. The closest she comes is a bit of "snogging" from time to time and an occasional bout of jealousy. This inability to realistically deal with teenage sexuality has doomed fantasy to yet another generation of books that will treat sex as a taboo subject outside the parameters of the genre.

My greatest disappointment with book seven is nobody got laid. Many people might feel I'm being perverse or unreasonable, but until fantasy is allowed to deal with sex and the powerful influence it exerts over all of us it will remain a second-class genre suitable only for children. It takes more than an open treatment of death to move a book into the world of realistic literature.

Speaking of death, lots and lots of characters die in this book. From the invincible Alstair Moody to the loveable house-elf Dobby, each death is sudden, unexpected, shocking, and tragic. At one point, even Harry himself marches bravely forward to accept his own Christ-like sacrificial death without knowing that he will be resurrected a few pages later. And yet, nowhere is death seen as something natural and inevitable. Here, as in the first six books, death is that Christianity-inspired ultimate betrayal of life. Not once, not even in the occasional mention of "there are things worse than death", does death receive the fair treatment it deserves.

Each death on these pages is a tragedy. The only "noble" death is the one Harry marches forward to accept, and he is resurrected soon after. None of the characters who die in these pages are allowed to be heroic or noble as they throw themselves into the ultimate sacrifice. Instead, each death is a tragedy that leaves the survivors wishing it could have been avoided. By the end of the book death is still something to be feared rather than the inevitable result of being born or the ultimate sacrifice one person can offer as they fight to preserve the world they love.

Don't misunderstand me. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is a great book. It is well-worth the $20-30 you will pay for a copy and if you've read the other six, it provides a perfect capstone to what will remain an endearing children's series for generations to come.

But it could have been so much more.

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July 10, 2007

Freedom fighters or hoodlums?

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Pakistani troops finally moved into the Red Mosque. Final death tolls are still not available, but one thing seems certain, it is highly unlikely the only dead will be soldiers and Islamic militants.

I have watched the evolution of terrorism in the Middle East for over forty years now. It never changes. Peace accords are reached, then immediately violated. The Fundamentalist Islamic Movement driving modern terrorism has evolved from a handful of freedom fighters seeking to rid their land of a European-imposed foreign government into tens of thousands (and possibly hundreds of thousands) of armed combatants who will settle for nothing less than the establishment of a Shari'a-based Islamic Caliphate stretching from Spain to Northern India.

These modern extremists are not the same as their forebears. They no longer are willing to focus on Isreali military and political leaders. Their targets are women, children, and working people all trying to make an honest living in a corrupt world. They hide behind the skirts of their women, strap bombs to their young men and send them into bars and cafes, place car bombs in the midst of busy markets, and kidnap Muslims who disagree with their goals off the streets so they can torture them, execute them, and dump their bodies in public places. They can strike anywhere, anytime, and their one goal is to destroy anyone and everyone who diagrees with them.

We in the west cannot defeat them. It is time we recognize that. The Islamic governments and religious leaders are the only people who can bring an end to this unwarranted assault on non-combatants and innocent bystanders. It is time for the west to sacrifice it's reliance on cheap oil and issue some hard edicts to the governments, businesses, and private citizens who support these criminals. If the Islamic leadership cannot take the necessary steps to clean up their system, improve the lives of those not born in noble families, and prosecute violent criminals disguised as religious idealists then perhaps radical action must be taken.

We cannot defeat them. They are unwilling to live alongside us in peace. As much as it pains me to admit this, perhaps nothing short of genocide will allow honest people of all faiths to go about their daily lives free of fear that some insane zealot will chose today to kill their family, slaughter their friends, and destroy their life's work.

If the Islamic leadership is unwilling to take responsibility for this problem, then perhaps we have no choice left but to transform the middle east into an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland.

I'm sorry, but four decades of this insanity is more than enough. It seems to me the time has come to amputate this gangreneous limb once and for all. If these zealots are unwilling to lay down their arms and discuss real solutions, then they must accept for themselves the final solution they wish to impose upon all of us.

The time has come to issue an ultimatum to those who support criminal armies disguised as religious idealists. If you cannot clean up your own backyard, we will do it for you.

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June 06, 2007

Changing the world

(Note from Brian on January 19, 2009: As any current reader will notice, the activism links are gone. "Meandering", remember? I've meandered off in another direction, as always.)
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I've decided the time has come to add a special link section for sites devoted to personal activism. Now, at first glance, it probably seems really odd to have Greenpeace, Amnesty International and the National Rifle Association all in the same list.

Good! Now ask yourself why you find it strange.

The real issue is neither gun control nor civil rights. The real issue, and the real problem, is how far you as an individual are willing to go to insure that your rights as well as the rights of everyone around you are protected to the greatest extent possible.

You have a right to your personal value system and you have the right to expect your government to go to great lengths to protect your ability to live according to your personal values. The only way that can ever happen is if you are also willing to extend that same priviledge to people you disagree with. It does no good to demand your personal rights be preserved at the expense of those who disagree with you. If you pursue your personal agenda at the expense of those who oppose you then you have taken upon yourself the same kind of oppressive quality as those who seek to deny you the freedom to live life as you choose.

There is no rational reason to assume we cannot preserve our natural world (as Greenpeace seeks to do) while at the same allowing nature to be enjoyed by sport hunters and sport fishers. True, their activities must not be allowed to destroy the delicate balance of our natural world, at the same time, it is important to recognize that in almost every single case their activities can enhance the balance of our natural world.

Take another example, Darfur. Genocide is always ugly, and the presence of guns makes genocide very simple for those who seek to bring it about. Keep in mind, however, that one of the worst episodes of genocide in modern history (BBC article on Rwanda) was conducted almost entirely with machetes, farm tools and wooden clubs.

So then, I'm starting my new Personal Activism list with five links, two dedicated to conservation, two dedicated to peace, and one dedicated to personal ownership of rifles, shotguns, handguns, and even assault weapons. For the record, I do not agree with the NRA position on assault weapons. No one who is not directly employed by the armed forces or law enforcement needs a working machinegun, no matter how badly they might want one.

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May 03, 2007

Constitution Day Peace March

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You could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a strange sort of festival if you happened to be in central Tokyo's Hibiya Park today. Balloons, brightly colored banners, huge crowds, bands and loudspeakers gathered together in the midst of traditionally scuplted trees and scattered flowers to celebrate the anniversary of Japan's post-war constitution. Despite the laughter, bright smiles and perfect weather, today the crowds were not content to sip tea and contemplate the perfect symmetry of two hundred year-old pine trees. No, today a more serious undernote ran through the crowds and at three o'clock sharp, sent them streaming into Ginza chanting slogans and waving placards bearing cartoons of men in fatigues programming school children to become killing machines.



You see, the modern Japanese constitution is a very unique document and totally unlike the constitution of any other nation. The concept of a nation dedicated to living at peace is written into the preamble and repeated throughout the text. The 9th article of the constitution even goes so far as to make it a violation of national law to create, fund, and maintain an army, navy or air force. The existence of the Japan Self-Defense force is seen by many as a violation of Article 9 and a surprising number of Japanese citizens would very much like to see the SDF completely disbanded.



But not everyone. As the peace marchers gathered and began their long walk through the most valuable commercial real estate in the world, members of the pro-military right wing also gathered. Police barricades kept a distance of at least a full city block between the two groups, but the menacing black vans with their loud speakers proclaiming the need to resurrect Japan's lost "kokutai" and restore the supremacy of the military in all aspects of life paralled one side of the march while clusters of young men in military style, olive-drab fatigues bracketted the other side. From all appearances, the peace marchers outnumbered their opponents by at least 5 to 1, but throughout the march itself both sides of the debate could easily be heard.



And what a crowd turned out! The official estimate from the peace march organizers declared that 10,000 people had turned out to hear speeches and walk the length of Ginza. The real test, of course, is not how many march, but how many vote to keep Japan's peace constitution by consistently going to the polls in every election and casting their vote for candidates who declare themselves to be just as dedicated to peace as the six decade old document whose birthday they celebrated today.



Balloons, banners, and music in the park are nice, but careful, conscientous and consistent votes are the only guarantee Japan will not one day rebuild its war machine and repeat the mistakes of its scarred and war-torn past.

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April 22, 2007

Survival in the modern world


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Tom Plate, in an anti-gun editorial at CNN.com, said this:

"Far fewer guns in America would logically result in far fewer deaths from people pulling the trigger."

In a pro-gun editorial (also at CNN.com), Ted Nugent said this:

"Pray for the families of victims everywhere, America. Study the methodology of evil. It has a profile, a system, a preferred environment where victims cannot fight back."

And, in an interesting twist on the entire debate, a former Miss America drove off two would-be metal thieves (one of whom she held at gun point until police arrived) with her very own snub-nosed .38!

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In addition to tolerance and peacemaking, I have spent my entire life advocating vigilance and self-reliance. A desire for peace and an individual willingness to take life in order to defend oneself are not mutually exclusive, although many people will try to convince you they are. America is one of the most well-armed societies in the world. It is also one of the safest. Yes, there is a lot of violent crime, and yes, guns are used in those crimes on a daily basis. I would still rather walk through New York City's Central Park at midnight than Taksim Park in Istanbul or Gorky Park in Moscow. Green Park in London is a wonderful, relaxing place on a sunny day, and a virtual war zone on a warm night.

The human animal has evolved in a way that makes violence part and parcel of what we are. I don't like this aspect of being human, but it is foolish to deny the reality of it. At the moment, I don't own a gun. Of course, I live in Tokyo where gun ownership is virtually impossible to begin with, but even if I lived in Denver or San Francisco I probably would not own a gun. My father owns many. I grew up around guns. In a tight spot, I'd rather have a gun in my hand than any other weapon known to the modern world. But then again, in a tight spot, unless my attacker is carrying a gun, almost anything that falls to hand I can use for a weapon and am very willing to do so.

My father was not prone to spouting platitudes and wise sayings, but there were a couple of ideas he implanted firmly into my mind. One of those is, "If you can run, don't fight! If you can't run, don't lose!"

Not that every person in the world should have access to any kind of gun they like. I would never support such a position. Assault weapons, automatic weapons, and high-capacity handguns (carrying 10 rounds or more) are completely unnecessary for normal self-defense and should be tightly restricted to military and law enforcement use only. Although we have not yet seen any ill-effects, allowing the ban on assault weapons in the United States to expire was a very dangerous step. Fortunately, in modern America high-capacity handguns are far more prevalent. And no, that is not a mistake. I do mean "fortunately!" Armed with two high-capacity handguns, Cho Seung-Hui killed 32 people at Virgina Tech on April 16th, 2007. Can you imagine the death toll if he'd been carrying an AK-47? I can't, and I don't want to. News coming from Somalia, Al-Anbar province, and other regions in turmoil is proof enough for me that easy access to assault weapons is a very bad idea.

It is important for each of us individually to be prepared for the possibility that someone, somewhere, for reasons of their own, will one day attempt to do us harm. No matter how effective our law enforcement agencies are, they cannot be everywhere all the time. Even here in Japan, where police boxes manned by pairs and trios of officers sometimes seem to be on every street corner, people are murdered, children are kidnapped, and young women are raped every single day of the week. Crime is not quite as widespread as it is in the United States or Europe, but it is still a daily occurrence and law enforcement agencies are doing a brisk business.

Far fewer guns does not equal less violent crime. I live in Japan where handguns are extremely rare and rifles are not allowed inside city limits. Despite its global reputation as a "safe" country, this is also the place where over the past few years two European women were drugged, imprisoned in private homes, raped, murdered, dismembered and discarded. Not so very long ago poison gas attacks by a religious cult claimed the lives of hundreds and left thousands permanently impaired. Just last week, someone shot the mayor of Nagasaki and someone else stabbed a young college student to death on her way home from a night out with her friends. "Safe", it seems, is only true by comparison.

You, and you alone, are the only person who can act to preserve your personal survival in a moment of crisis. Police cannot respond instantly when you call them, even though they wish they could. Like the former Miss America mentioned above, more often than not the only difference between a victim and crime prevention is a weapon in hand and the willingness to use it.

Lots of well-meaning, highly intelligent people will spend the next few months using the Virginia Tech massacre to rally support for and against gun control. Their arguments will range from the flawed logic of Tom Plate's CNN editorial to the vitriol and paranoia of many people in The Brady Campaign. The pro-gun people will range from the wild rantings of Ted Nugent's CNN editorial to the sometimes bizare and paranoid proclamations of The National Rifle Association. In the end, there are two salient facts that stand out every time something like this happens: guns wielded by people intent on murder are deadly beyond belief and the only thing capable of stopping someone armed with a gun is someone else equally well-armed.

Regardless of how they felt about firearms before this tragedy, if either Liviu Librescu or Zach Petkewicz had been armed, trained, and willing to take Cho's life, his rampage would have stopped far earlier than it did. Why do I signal out these two from all the other victims and witnesses? Because these two, one professor and one student, each in different classrooms, each from different backgrounds and far different in age, both had the presence of mind to take immediate action when Cho showed up at the classroom door intent on killing everyone within his zone of fire. One sacrificed his life by using his body as a shield, the other risked his life by shoving a table against the door and then holding it in place when Cho fired through the door. I don't know how these two men felt about firearms before this tragedy took place, but they clearly demonstrated the presence of mind to take precise, effective action in response to an immediate threat. If Prof. Librescu had been armed, perhaps he would still be alive and Cho's rampage would have ended before it had a chance to begin. If Zach Petkewicz had been armed, Cho would have had a much larger impediment to deal with than a simple wooden door held closed by a table.

Peace is a difficult thing to find in today's world, and it will be even harder to find in the future. There are many challenges ahead of us this century, and there will be great stresses placed upon each of us individually. Some individuals will not have the mental and emotional capacity to deal with the changes and the resultant violence their tortured souls ravage upon our world will add to the fear and suffering. Unless, of course, you, or I, or someone else, is prepared to stop them the moment their rampage begins.

Our first and greatest priority must be locating these rage-filled people and helping them find constructive outlets for their pain. No system is ever perfect, however, and no matter how hard we try, some of them will find or create an opportunity to act with extreme violence. When that happens, we must be equally prepared to stop them, even if it means shooting them down in cold blood.

I don't like this reality any more than anyone else does. Denying it, however, will only insure that the next school shooting, terrorist attack, or violent crime spree will be even more devastating then those we have seen up to now.

When someone near you resorts to violence you are the one person in the best position to stop them. You can become the victim or you can prevent the crime from ever taking place to begin with. Will you be the one who makes the choice or will you leave it in the hands of your attacker?


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Reflections from the future: December 17, 2012

Five years after Cho Seung-Hui's attack on Virginia Tech things are just as bad, and some people claim they are even worse. Fueled in no small part by an eschatological fever driven by conspiracy theories and fears the closing of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012 will bring the end of our world, there have been several rampages in gun-free zones this year. The worst of them all happening on December 14 when a young man named Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and slaughtered twenty-six people, twenty of those were children ages six and seven.

In the five and a half years since I wrote this post I've moved to America, bought a house, and purchased several firearms including a Colt Match Target Rifle that looks like the M16A1/A2 I carried in the Army. A dreaded "assault rifle". I don't own any AK47 style rifles and I never will, but I no longer think they should be banned. Nowadays I am convinced that any attempt to ban weapons because they are scary, or deadly, or whatever can only make our society even more dangerous than it already is. I have a few 30-round magazines for a couple of my rifles, but none for my pistols. In my rifles the larger capacity magazines simplify my practice sessions greatly. I can load four magazines and practice for a couple of hours rather than reloading a single magazine over and over again every few minutes. In my pistols I don't use high capacity magazines because they feel awkward and bulky, but I no longer think they should be banned.

I have learned a lot about firearms, self-defense shooting, and how not to respond in a crisis situation. The one truth that remains immovable is that if someone had been armed, trained, and prepared to kill their attacker none of the massacres that have taken place during the past ten years would have happened. All of them except one (the Gabrielle Giffords shooting) took place in gun-free zones where a person licensed to carry a concealed weapon is prevented from doing so. The Giffords' shooting was a terrible tragedy, but even there, the real problem is neither the handgun nor the high capacity magazine the shooter used. Just like at Virginia Tech, just like in Aurora, just like in Connecticut a few days ago, the real problem is a young man with a severe mental illness who did not have access to proper care, treatment, support, and if necessary, confinement.

Perhaps the biggest change of all is I have joined the National Rifle Association and upgraded my membership all the way to Patron status. Some of their proclamations still leave me shaking my head in exasperation, but they are always well-meant and strictly focused on preserving the natural right of every law-abiding citizen to own and use the firearm (or firearms) of their choice.

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April 18, 2007

Culture and crime

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Two articles to read:

CNN analysis of Cho Seung-Hui
AOL News article with Cho Seung-Hui's plays

Follow those links. Read them, especially the plays. This post will not make sense if you have not taken the time to actually read the plays.

Notice the frequent references to pedophilia, sodomy, and rape. These are not accidental. Someone, somewhere violently abused Cho Seung-Hui. Since the young protagonist of Richard McBeef is 13, it seems reasonable to assume that Cho was abused somewhere between the ages of 10 and 13. This is a common age for abuse to occur when the attacker is from outside the immediate family. If his father had been the abuser, it would have started much earlier.

In the play, notice how violently John responds to being touched by his step-father. There are only two groups of people who could describe the fear, revulsion and shock of a step-parent's touch so accurately: victims of abuse and their cousellors. For anyone else, John's response would be puzzling, and a little intimidating.

In Mr. Brownstone, notice how John wins, but Mr. Brownstone is allowed to take it away. The overwhelming sense of impotence, helplessness, and victimization in that passage is far more important than the anger, profanity, and immature writing of the play itself. That helplessness, that sense of total inability to control his own life is what drove Cho to commit his rampage.

Making a killer is a simple thing. It starts with an abusive adult using a child for a sex toy. If the adult is someone the child loves and trusts, then the damage will absolutely lead to violent acting out later in life. There are no exceptions that I know of. People like Cho, normally men but occasionally women, are not aberrations. Our society creates them. Our cultural inability to decide if sex is something beautiful and golden or slimy and disgusting drives men with real needs to use children for sex toys. Successive generations of sadists are the pure product of the grand delusion that "normal" is somehow right and pure and anyone who can't figure out what "normal" really means is deserving of the marginalization and humiliation we force them to endure every single day of their lives.

We make them. We create them. We reinforce their sense of helplessness by calling them "weird", ignoring them, fearing them, and using everything in our power to force them out of our social circle. Our inability to deal with damaged people in a campassionate, realistic way insures that our culture will continue to create mass murderers. Until we find some way to integrate these scarred, paranoid, and psychologically castrated individuals back into the mainstream of our social and cultural life we will leave them no choice but to continue building up rage until they explode.

Drop down to the bottom of the page with Cho's plays. The very first person to leave a comment was someone named "Stacy". Stacy says, "This is something written by a senior in college? It reads and sounds like something a 9th grader might write."

Exactly! Stacy has hit the proverbial nail square on the head. Cho has been emotionally frozen in time. His ability to mature has been slowed to such a glacial pace that it takes decades for him to learn the life lessons the rest of us pick up in a matter of months once puberty sends our hormones raging. Like everyone else, Cho developed a huge crush on someone, but that someone either refused to acknowledge him, or verbally humiliated him at some point. The ability of young teenagers to dismiss and despise anyone they find "weird" destroys any chance people like Cho might have to overcome the damage done when they were abused. Teasing them, humiliating them, bullying them, all these "normal" behaviors reinforce these people's inability to control their own life and master their own emotions.

The first person to create the Virginia Tech disaster was the man who abused Cho. The second person to contribute was the junior high school crush who treated him like some kind of sub-human. The last and final nail in Cho's coffin, and the coffins of his victims, was probably the woman who died in the dormitory where Cho's rampage started.

I'd like to take one more look at the comments on the AOL News page. Without mentioning names, I'm going to quote a few here:


"You are the one that sounds like an idiot: Get a life Stacy."

"Hey you twit - - - we aren't reading it for correct grammar or English. It is written about his twisted mind. Get focused moron. . . :o("

"This guy acted out like this and nobody said anything to the authorities or the teachers? Wow. How many Columbines do we need before somone figures this out?"

"I COULD GIVE A MAD F*** BOUT VIRGINA AND WAT GOES ON IN IT WE GOT ENOUGH SHIT GOIN ON N OUR OWN CITIES N STATES TO WORRY BOUT SOME SHIT THATS ALREADY DONE N OVER WIT"

"dude is nuts clearly"

"Whoa this kid was a genius playwright! Its too bad he went pyscho."


Some of those comments, especially the last one, are probably meant to be sarcastic. However, it does not matter if the intent is sarcasm. The callous dismissal of both Cho and Stacy's analysis of his work are symptomatic of the cultural illness I am trying to point out. Every single one of these commentors is right now contributing to the creation of another Cho. Their attitudes, reinforced by our cultural obsession with "normal", are damaging the people they meet and interact with on a daily basis. This is how we create killers. If we want the tragedies to stop, then we need to examine how we treat the people we interact with every single day of our lives.

We create killers like Cho. You and me, working together to reinforce some imaginary sense of "normal", encouraging one another to "win-win-win", and slapping each other on the back while saying, "There's no such thing as second place!", we are the ones who create the killers. We don't pull the trigger. Of course not! What we do is marginalize them until they have no other way to convince us to recognize their needs.

Cho Seung-Hui killed 32 people, then shot himself, but we created him and we drove him to it. The time has come for each of us to recognize our own culpability in this tragedy. As long as we continue to marginalize those with scars so deep they never heal, we will continue to see tragedies like Columbine and Virginia Tech.

Make no mistake, we are the ones who create the killers.


----------------------------------------------------

Also on April 18, 2007

Late footnote:

CNN's John King sitting in for Anderson Cooper on AC 360 reports this about one of the victims:

Reema Samaha attended the same high school that graduated the gunman, Cho. She was just 18.


I have wondered over and over again why he went to that one particular building of the hundred or so available to him. The one possibility I could imagine was that he knew someone in one of the classrooms where he did his final killing. No human, no matter how insane, acts without reason. We cannot. It is physiologically impossible. Now I know. He was looking for Reema.

I'm not saying Cho was justified in his slaughter of these people. He was not justified. I am trying to point out that he had very real reasons for every single action, including the location of his final act of defiance. The only way we can hope to prevent the next Cho is to learn how and why this one acted the way he did.

We must learn not to create killers. It is our only hope for a better future.


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April 19, 2007

2nd Late footnote:

I just found the following article on the Time website:

Why do they kill?


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April 17, 2007

Peace movements past and present

The pacifist movement is a distinctly modern phenomena. Before the American Revolution gave birth to the modern age of democracy versus hierarchy, only religious leaders had the freedom to express their opposition to the military adventurism of local political leadership. Sadly, more often than not the local religious leader was in full agreement with the local political leadership, granting spiritual legitimacy to violence done for little or no reason both locally and half a world away. The only pre-modern evidences of a pacifist movement are a handful of plays written in Ancient Greece (such as Lysistrata or The Trojan Women) and the occasional odd parchment from here and there.

Ghandi is often credited with giving birth to modern concepts of non-violent confrontation and a pacifist resolve to changing the world without resorting to armed struggle. Although Ghandi deserves enormous credit for bringing pacifism into the mainstream, he was not even close to being the first modern pacifist. Listing up and attempting to describe the nearly infinite number of pacifist movements of the past century would take far more work than I'm willing to do, not to mention the widespread popularity of pacifism among both European and American neighborhood parlor clubs in the 19th Century. Almost from the day the French Revolution followed up the earlier American success, democracy has given rise to grass roots peacemakers and peaceseekers every time their elected governments have chosen to go to war.

I would, however, like to highlight one of the more unusual pacifist movements of the 20th Century: Henry Ford's Peace Ship.

There are thousands of webpages dedicated to Henry Ford's failed attempt to bring World War One to an early close. Some are kind, some are cruel, and it is a bit ironic that even now, almost a century later, no one seems quite certain just what to make of this quirky attempt by an eccentric billionaire to bring peace to a war-torn world. A quick Google search reveals some of the depth of material available. I know I only have half a dozen regular readers, if that, but please, do take the time to read up on Henry Ford's voyage.

From the moment I first learned of the Peace Ship, I regretted having been born half a century too late to participate. All my life I have tried to be a peacemaker. Tolerance is the one theme I stress over and over again in this blog, and my youthful efforts to help the unfortunate kept me even more penniless than the people I was struggling to help. I cannot count the number of homeless men and women I have fed, sheltered for a night or two, directed to the local Salvation Army, bought new clothes at Goodwill for, and in one instance, given the coat off my back.

I spent the latter half of 1980 living two blocks from an intersection in Denver frequented by half a dozen prostitutes. Once they learned I was not interested in purchasing their trade but I was sympathetic to their problems, they were at my door pounding away all hours of the day and night asking for help. I drove them to hospitals when their "customers" were too rough, fed them when they spent their night's earnings on drugs or lost everything to an opportunistic pimp or mugger, and one night saved the life of one when she was stabbed.

In raising my two sons the one iron-clad, unchanging rule I have always enforced is "no hitting". They can yell at each other all they like and I will try to mediate, but never intervene. When blows start landing, I bring everything to a screeching halt and force them into their rooms until tempers cool and they're ready to talk it out. Kids being kids, by the time they'd settled down they'd usually forgotten what it was they were fighting about to begin with, so the "talk it out" portion almost never materialized. Nowadays they are 18 and 19, and I haven't had to step between them in years.

Not that I'm a peacenik! Far from it! Although I did not approve of the invasion of Iraq, I fully supported the invasion of Afghanistan. I have always contended that America did not need to invade Iraq at all. Rather, they needed to spend that money and utilize those resources to rebuild Afghanistan in the same way we helped rebuild Europe and Japan following World War Two. We should have focused our energy on Afghanistan until the job was done. WoMD or no WoMD, resources are always finite and prioritization is a must. There was no need to invade Iraq, and as everyone can see, the result has been disastrous.

Our world is beset with conflicts large and small. Not a day goes by when one conflict ends only to have two more spring up. There are more people affected by armed conflict in today's world than there were at the peak of fighting in World War Two. I don't know if this massive global inferno is the real-world impact of George W. Bush's "war on terror", or merely the fiery "cool down" as the last convulsions of the Cold War work themselves out. I do know that the global trade in small arms is fueling this conflagration, and I also know that the real causes of these many conflicts are far more closely related to the ultimate control of our rapidly vanishing resources than they are to the political aspirations of the participants.

Farmers, fishers, students and teachers are dying in the crossfire as multiple groups fight to the death to determine who gets to profit from the local mineral wealth, regardless of whether it is oil, uranium, gold, diamonds, or ordinary tin and copper. The people who need the mineral wealth are dying while their more violent cousins waste the local resources on guns and bullets. Something needs to change, and change quickly, or the only people left will be the militias and terrorists sitting on stockpiles of inedible minerals while the rest of us slowly starve to death in refugee camps.

March 04, 2007

Meandering, always

When life itself is not throwing me curve balls, somehow I always manage to drop the bat.

So I was playing World of Warcraft Online. I got into a really good roleplaying guild on Blackwater Raiders when suddenly the server filled up and for a week I could not log on. So I changed to a new server, Moonguard. Got a warlock started and up level 16 when Burning Crusade comes out. Still haven't found a roleplaying guild, though. I buy Burning Crusade, but one of the disks doesn't install. So I try to log on assuming that like every single MMORPG in existence, the updater will replace the missing files.

Nope. It's not really an updater at all. It is only a low-level patcher that can only apply small patches and must disconnect even to do that! This means that I cannot log into the game until I find some way to replace the missing files.

No problem right? A standard practice in the MMORPG industry is to put up a zip file of the current client. Blizzard does the same. TWO MONTHS AFTER THE RELEASE!

Back to City of Villains while Blizzard figures out some way to get me back into the game. I log on, and the first thing I discover is that one of my favorite villain group members has come back! Turns out that almost everyone has. Apparently, for whatever reason, while I was out trying to find some way to fill the void left by my dying villain group, they all decided to come back to the game!

Fortunately, I hadn't deleted Dusty Enalios. Inside a couple days I'm back in with Villainous Vixens and have my officer rank restored, most of the old-timers are still around, and everything is peachy keen!

On a lark, a friend and I make heroes. The City of Heroes side of the CoH/CoV world is older, more established, and much harder to play. Cryptic Studios made a lot of organizational errors in putting together CoH storylines, but they're smart folks and they learned from their mistakes. The CoV side of the game is tightly organized, easy to move around in, and very convenient for both hardcore and casual players. Roleplaying in the CoV side is almost a given. The structure and overall feel of the game really encourages it so even people who normally find roleplayers "a little off", will sometimes find themselves falling into acting out their characters. This is why I say, "on a lark". Neither of us really enjoy the hero side of the equation.

I intentionally put together one of the weakest, most difficult to play archetypes: An Empathy Defender. Empathy/Archery to be precise.

Turns out to be kinda fun. There are many, many small challenges in playing the character. Planning ahead of time which power to apply when, trying to plunk a few arrows into a target while keeping an overly aggressive team alive with heals, and so on, add up to an exciting and stimulating challenge. Of course, without the year or so I've spent playing CoV, the "challenge" no doubt would have been an impossible hurdle. I was able to take my basic understanding of how the game works and what the assumptions of the creators are into consideration in a way that I've never been able to on the hero side.

Next thing I know my hero is in a roleplaying supergroup and is promoted to officer status. So now I have a level 13 Empathy Defender who is an officer in a hero guild and a level 45 Robotics Mastermind who is an officer in a villain guild! I'm playing both sides of the fence, roleplaying almost every minute I'm ingame, and having the time of my life.

My World of Warcraft subscription ends in July. So I have plenty of time if everything falls apart again in CoH/CoV. I do need an online game, though. The immersion factor is extremely important to me, and the level of socialization it provides is simply not available to me here in Japan. There's no telling where this horse will take me, but I'm riding it for all I'm worth!

The downside, of course, is that I'm not doing as much writing as I would like to be doing. Somewhere along the line I'm going to have to start cutting back on my game time and spending more time writing. Not today, and probably not until summer. I'm having way too fun playing around in Cryptic's bizarre little comic book world.

January 04, 2007

Another year come and gone

They go by so quickly these days. A sure sign that I am growing ever older.

This coming year is not yet clear, but there are a couple of things that seem to be changing. I have recently started playing the World of Warcraft trading card game. Much to my own surprise, I am finding it more enjoyable than Magic: the Gathering. Since the card game includes a bonus program that rewards ingame items in some circumstances, I broke down and bought a copy of the World of Warcraft Online client. My free month is about half over now, but the thing that scares me the most is not the possibility that Blizzard will be unable to honor my credit card. No, the thing that scares me is that they will.

I fought to avoid WoW for two full years. The sticking points, childish graphics and the worst customer support in the industry, still do not please me. Nonetheless, I cannot deny that the game is suprisingly high in entertainment value. I have experimented with half a dozen characters now and to my own surprise, this is the first RPG I have ever played where playing an ordinary fighter is both engaging and interactive! I have never enjoyed playing warriors or paladins because they were so limited in their versatility. The WoW warrior class, I am finding, can evolve into either an extraordinary damage dealer or a paladin-class tank. Both roles, or even something in between, are possible.

I tried a Druid, and found it extremely limited in the first ten ranks. I still have the character, so perhaps once I gain an animal form things will become more interesting, but at the moment, playing a warrior is much more entertaining. I tried a mage, and found that the mage-class in WoW is the weakest I have ever experimented with in my life. In every other game I have played, mages had various spells or skills to help them avoid direct combat. The WoW mage cannot fire off a spell, run a few steps, then turn and fire again. Mostly because getting turned around is such a complicated effort! I almost feel like I need a steering wheel just to reverse my character's POV! And recently I started a warlock, just for the heck of it, you know? I mean, I had tried everything else (except the paladin), so I might as well.

Oh, my. The warlock I made is only level 8, but already the character is more entertaining than a shaman, almost as sturdy as my warrior, and more engaging than my Druid. As I get into higher levels the warlock might turn out to be my favorite character. Only time will tell.

A few years back Wizards announced they were creating an online version of Magic. I hoped for a MMORPG style game, but instead, they recreated the card game, including the necessity of buying Magic cards at retail prices just in order to play. I cannot afford two card games, especially when one of them is not even real! Still, I tried, but their online store simply will not accept my credit card. As a result, I cannot buy cards, which means I cannot play.

And now WoW, which began as a MMORPG, offers a card game with the occaisional ingame bonus buried in amongst their booster packs.

Can anyone explain to me why a third-rate game maker like Blizzard was able to get it right the first time around while the top-notch gamemakers NC Soft and Wizards of the Coast have spent the past three years doing everything wrong?

This year has just begun, and sadly, there are already strong indications that I will forced to switch my loyalties from the companies I love to one I regard as a third-rate wannabe. I dunno. Maybe it is just that Blizzard was smart enough to learn from the other two's mistakes.