December 27, 2017

Out with the old, in with the new

2017 was a very busy year for me. Although I did not enjoy any sales worth mentioning, I added tee shirts and long sleeve tee shirts to my product line. Three books and four unique tee shirt designs is a very productive year for me. I'm slow. Everything I create is a long struggle. For example, I started organizing my fourth book ("The Book of Lost Dreams") in 2015 and I am still working on it. I have the title and cover and concept and four stories nearing completion. When it is finished, the book will contain at least 10 closely interlinked short stories. The precedent I am working from is "In a Grove", a short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa that is part of the Tuttle Classics edition of "Rashomon and other stories".

"In a Grove", is a fascinating Japanese tale of murder and mystery told from the perspectives of multiple participants and eye witnesses, including the victim. I am writing ten stories set in three different locations and time periods, all linked together by a series of paranormal events that occur when two different time travelling civilizations find themselves battling over their "true" history. Genre-wise, the majority of the book is a spin on the urban fantasy archetype originally created by Terri Windling for a series of books and short stories set in a fictional universe called, "Borderlands". I first encountered this concept in two different books, "The Last Hot Time", by John Ford and "The Essential Bordertown", by Terri Windling and Delia Sherman. The idea of fantasy characters in a modern urban setting caught me completely off-guard. I was immediately hooked, and quickly disappointed to discover very few writers had taken up the challenge.

Now NetFlix has joined the bandwagon with their new movie, "Bright". I have to say, until they announced this movie I have never once been tempted to join NetFlix. If they had not announced it the week before I flew back to Tokyo, I would have joined the very day I learned about it. Now I guess I have to wait until I get back to Ohio to join NetFlix and watch it. Many of my friends have already seen it and loved it. Naturally, the "professional" critics are deeply unimpressed. I have been working on my next book since early in 2015, sometime in Spring. I am a bit worried that after I release it everyone will think it is some kind of fanfiction. I guess my sense of timing has not improved at all in the half-decade since suffering through "My Albino Moon Nightmare".

So let me state here, as a permanent record, "The Book of Lost Dreams" has absolutely nothing to do with "Bright". I started the book two years before the movie was announced and although I am incorporating many elements of urban fantasy, my inspiration for the collection comes from Akutagawa, Ford, and Windling, not the NetFlix movie, "Bright". I strongly suspect the writer of "Bright" has some of the same reading habits I do, thus the similarities, but naturally I cannot know for sure because I don't even know who the writer is! On the other hand, I would not be disappointed if the success of "Bright" helps me sell a few additional copies of "The Book of Lost Dreams" after I finally get it into the market.

I am not above riding on the coattails of my betters if given the chance.

December 02, 2017

Glenn Beck Interviews Google

This blog post is in response to some of the issues raised during this interview on Blaze TV: Glenn Interviews Google Guys

I haven't watched Glenn Beck in a couple months, so I switched over to Blaze TV to catch the rebroadcast of this week's shows. The five episodes I watched covered a broad range of topics from Bitcoin to Shadow Government to a tantalizing interview with two of the most important executives at Alphabet, the company that owns Google and it's various enterprises. Some of the topics raised are issues I have dealt with before:
The Superstar Economy is Destroying Us
Maliki Jurisprudence and the First Amendment
Normalization of Aberrant Behavior
Stop Being a Pawn
In Ten Years There Will Be No More Jobs

The Google Guys and technotopians everywhere all make a few assumptions about the human animal that I find to be highly delusional and dangerously flawed. The most insidious of these occurs when they assume that humans are essentially "good", and by "good" they mean enthusiastic, cooperative, respectful, eager to please, and helpful whenever possible. Almost as dangerous is when they assume that because they were able to master the intricacies of computer programming and its related physics everyone in the world should be able to do so as well. They acknowledge it will more difficult for some of us, but they are eager to assert that all technology is simple and intuitive and open to anyone willing to study it.

Robotics, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence are all rapidly reaching their peak. Any day now we will find ourselves in a world where robotic companions cater to our every whim, death is as preventable as the common cold, and all the information in creation is at our fingertips. Some would argue we are already there, but this is wishful thinking. This brilliant, shiny, utopia is no longer mere fantasy. Our science and technology has risen to the point where all that remains is to work out the details. The broad principles, concepts, natural laws, and physical capabilities are all known and carefully cataloged. We can do this. In fact, we are doing this already in many different fields. Self-driving cars are being tested everywhere and sex robots are available from two different companies: Real Doll in their Realbotix franchise and True Companion, a company specifically created to market a sex robot named "Roxxxy". It goes without mentioning that half of you are reading this blog post on your smartphone. IBM's Watson project is slowly acquiring the knowledge and deductive ability to replace your doctor, your lawyer, your accountant, your children's school teachers, the professors at the local university, your financial adviser, and even you.

For the top 0.01% of the world economy all this technology is both amazing and wonderful. They have enough resources to acquire it, enough intelligence to learn how to use it, and enough disdain for the rest of us to assume we don't need it. Therein lies the core danger. The day is rapidly approaching when there will be no employment. Robots will build, maintain, and recycle everything. They will even grow and process our food. There will be no more jobs at all. The world will have two classes of people, those who control the tech and those who do not. This is the technotopia that you and I will live to see come to fruition. Those who do not control the tech will be anyone who struggled with math in high school, who never made it to college, or who lacked ambition to spend their youth mastering the intricacies of the scientific theory that makes the technotopia possible. The most unlucky of all will be anyone who is born into the families of the world's unemployed former working class. The technotopians are assuming that all of us who wash dishes, work on assembly lines, wait on tables, and change oil for a living are intelligent and creative enough to fill our days with painting and music instead of working and making a living. They honestly believe we who are too poor to buy a sex robot and too stupid to program a computer will somehow magically find a place in the shiny new world they are presenting to us. They assume we will be grateful to them for the technology we can't afford to buy and can't figure out how to use.

The technotopia envisioned by those with a natural gift for science and the ambition to spend every waking hour looking for ways to make money is about to sweep across the globe. There will be a thermonuclear war first, probably initiated by North Korea or Iran (or both of them working together). It is tempting to believe that this war is being artificially created by some vast Shadow Government conspiracy dedicated to eugenics and genocide, but that vision is as false as the promises of the technocrats. The human animal has always been driven by powerful animal instincts. A few individuals are able to suppress the animal with work or entertainment, but most people are still driven every hour of every day by the need to eat, the desire for companionship, and the hope of some distraction from the misery of their struggle to survive. The vast majority of us are in such desperate need we cannot take the time to see beyond our daily bread and those few close friends or relatives who help us achieve it. We might be factory workers or table servers or convenience store clerks, but we are still living with the same daily search for food and shelter that drove our hunter-gatherer ancestors. No matter how hard we try, either through insanity, lack of intelligence, or lack of opportunity, we cannot plan for the future beyond the next few days.

Most people are not kind. Period. This is a sad fact. The human animal is very easy to damage emotionally and mentally. Oftentimes, we damage ourselves through guilt, jealousy, or pure animal attraction. Once the human psyche is damaged, it can never be repaired. It can be taught to function in productive, cooperative ways despite the damage, but the damage itself never truly heals. Those scars create the beautiful variation in personality that defines humanity and separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is our emotional and mental scars that make us human and give us each our unique worldview. The downside, of course, it that some of us never learn to behave productively or cooperatively. No matter how hard we try, we cannot move beyond the anger and destruction our scars inspire. Some of us become violent criminals, terrorists, abusive spouses, or emotional tyrants because the damage runs so deep that we cannot learn a different set of behaviors. This has always been true. This will always be true. There will always be people who resort to violence and impose that violence on the innocent. When technotopians assume that their wonderful shiny toys will magically stop people from behaving violently they are allowing themselves to believe a fantasy. They ignore the reality of human existence, the power of the animal instincts we all carry, and the ease with which an individual can be damaged beyond repair. Crime is not going to suddenly vanish because rapists are given sex robots and serial killers are guarded by machines. We cannot engineer a new human animal free of all the desires and jealousies that create violent behavior because the most violent among us are driven by exactly the same impulses as the most helpful and cooperative among us. Both "good" and "evil" behaviors produce positive results for those individuals who choose them.

We stand on the cusp of an entirely new era in human history. Sooner than you expect, every machine in your life will be smarter and more resourceful than you are. Machines will replace you at work, satisfy your lover in ways you cannot anticipate, and care for you children so well they no longer need you to nurture them. What will you do when you have nothing to do and your political leaders tell you, "Be happy! Learn to paint or play the piano!"

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November 15, 2017

The Superstar Economy is Destroying Us

Sherwin Rosen (PDF): The Economics of Superstars

Let me be completely blunt: the only reason I still maintain this blog is to have a platform for advertising my books and tee shirts. I am no longer interested in political arguments, economic debate, or social commentary. I don't even play games anymore. I have become jaded, cynical, and largely disenchanted with people in general as well as with particular individuals in my own family and in society at large. I hate the direction the world is going, both in the isolated and in the overall.

Our global economy has become a two-class system. This is the core issue driving the vast majority of social problems we face. The degree of wealth disparity between the top and the bottom has always been extreme, but never in the history of humanity has it been this extreme. This is insane. The amount of resources and capital being hoarded by the top .01% of the global economy is completely ludicrous. Yes, they earned it. Yes, they are entitled to it. No, it is not the job of any government to strip them of their wealth and redistribute it among the rest of us. Absolutely not! However, this is a reality that must be faced and it is the responsibility of the top 0.01% of the world economy to recognize the danger of their position.

I despise Karl Marx and his insane ramblings. Nonetheless, he is right about one thing: when economic extremes reach a critical mass violent reversal becomes inevitable. I fear we are almost at that point. I really do.

This is not a social problem, this is not an economic problem, nor is this a governance problem. This is an individual problem among rich individuals, poor individuals, and individuals all along the economic spectrum in between. This is a problem rooted in ethics and morals, or more accurately, the complete lack of ethics and morals that has become the norm throughout human society.

Human society now enjoys more pure liberty and individual freedom than it has at any time in our history. No society has ever enjoyed the freedoms present throughout our world. Only a few isolated countries still have absolute dictatorships. North Korea and Iran are perhaps the most extreme of these dictatorships, with limited dictatorships still present in Russia, China, Venezuela, and a few dozen other countries. This almost universal human freedom has come at a huge expense. Two bloody world wars, hundreds of bloody civil wars, and a decades long campaign of violent terrorism have brought us to this point. We are not yet at that place in history where every individual enjoys the ability to carve out their own destiny. Sadly, we are still quite far from it, but we are also much closer than we have ever been before.

The downside of freedom is that it empowers individuals to choose greed, self-interest, and self-aggrandizement above compassion and empathy. The real problem with NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem is not the disrespect they are showing to those who have sacrificed so much to give them the freedom to kneel. No, not at all. The real problem is the disrespect their kneeling demonstrates for their fans, their employers, the taxpayers who build the stadiums where they play, the police officers who protect them from terrorists, and the commercial sponsors who support their luxurious lifestyles. Every player who kneels is telling the world that everyone who contributes to their multi-million dollar salary is a racist bigot supporting rogue white cops hunting down innocent young black men. This is a huge insult that should not be tolerated, especially not when the number one cause of death among young black men in America is black on black violence related to drug gangs. There are no rogue white cops hunting young black men for sport! Or, at the very least, there are very few. On the other hand, there are in fact and in reality tens of thousands of young black men hunting each other down and killing each other in the most violent ways imaginable over nothing more substantial than minor drug territories and small prostitution rings.

And why is that? Why do these young inner city men slaughter each other over trivial thousands of dollars in illegal goods and services? Because those players raking in millions are spending their money on the cocaine and prostitutes the gangs supply! If those kneeling players really want to make a difference, then they need to take their millions back to their hometowns. They need to spend that money on schools, extra-curricular activities for youth, local businesses that can employ local youth, and other such enterprises. Instead of spending millions on a fancy European sports car, go back to your hometown, build a gym at the high school you graduated from and fill it with brand new sports equipment. Build a bookstore or a library with a reading club and a writing circle. Build a free art studio where young people can learn to create. Build a free or nearly free trade school where young people can learn a marketable skill. Finance a tutorial program at your local high school for young people who are struggling to learn.

Not just the athletes. There are superstars in business, in entertainment, in academia, in politics, and in every circle of life. People who at the top of their industry and the top of their game. They earn millions every single year. They invest those millions in stocks, bonds, commercial real estate, and empty farmland that collects subsidy checks from the government. This is a complete and total waste. These investment schemes increase their individual wealth and resources while doing nothing to support their peers or society at large. Why do they invest in such a destructive pattern? Because society reinforces the idea that accumulation of wealth and resources, hoarding, is the ultimate proof of individual value. The downside of the freedoms we all enjoy is the insane obsession we all now have with watching rich people being rich while continuing to grow ever richer.

Back when I was young, there was a television series, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". This has exploded into hundreds of "reality" television programs dedicated to glamorizing greed, self-indulgence, and self-aggrandizement. We are using the most powerful information platforms ever invented, television and the internet, to teach young people that their self-worth is strictly measured in the amount of resources and capital they are able to accumulate and hoard. We are teaching the world that greed is good.

There is only one way to reverse the mass stampede into global self-destruction. Successful people must change their priorities. They must use their wealth to improve society and to empower those who are struggling just to survive. I'm not talking about political campaigns aimed at forcing the government to raise taxes and create more social welfare programs. No. Not at all. What I am saying is exactly the opposite. Those who have succeeded, those who are now comfortable, if they truly want to preserve their ability to remain comfortable then they need to stop hoarding and start sharing. Yes, they are entitled to their wealth. Yes, they are free to keep their wealth and continue expanding it. They absolutely have that right and no one should ever deprive them of it! However, they should also realize that every time their net worth increases by another hundred thousand or another million or another billion, they are moving the world one step closer to their own violent destruction at the hands of those who are not superstars.

October 12, 2017

Combine the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to Celebrate True Individualism

The Boy Scouts of America have decided to accept girls into their ranks. Conservatives are calling this madness. Liberals are calling this revolutionary. I do not understand why boys and girls are looked at collectively instead of individually. There is nothing wrong with boys climbing trees and playing soldier. There is nothing wrong with girls playing princess and having tea parties with their dolls. There is also nothing wrong with boys playing dress up and girls playing football.

I am a man. I am a hardass, tough as nails, assertive, fully heterosexual tough guy. I shoot guns. I have never lost a fist fight. I love women. I love sex. I am conservative. I vote Republican. I am a member of the NRA. I spent four years in the United States Army. I drink whisky the way some people drink water.

I cook. I clean house. I can do simple knitting, simple crochet, and I can hem a straight line with needle and thread. I can kiss a child's scrapped knee. I love hugs. I grow wildflowers on my land instead of a lawn. I love to draw and paint with water colors, even though I am terrible at both. I am such a good listener people pay me $500 a day to teach them how to listen.

Here in the good old United States of America we love to talk about individualism. Then we turn around and argue over what it means to be a real man or a real woman; we get disgusted by boys who play dress up and we are horrified when girls want to play football. So we create new groups and give them names that are slightly insulting, "sissy boy", "little bitch", "slut", "queer", "dike", and so on.

This is insane. The greatest problem in American society, the real source of the modern culture war that results in mass shootings, riots in our streets, and drug overdose epidemics, is our puritanical insistence on putting individuals into groups and using collective definitions to determine who is "good" or "bad". Being a soft man with a weak body and preference for skirts is not "bad". Being a strong woman with a taste for whisky and love of hunting is not "bad". Kindness is always good, regardless of how an individual lives their life. Rape, murder, cruelty, bullying, and using insults as a form of humor are always bad, it does not matter if the perpetrator is rich, poor, masculine, feminine, hard or soft.

I have no problem with men's clubs, women's colleges, black colleges, Boy Scouts, or Girl Scouts. These are all fine ideas that appeal to many individuals. But why do we limit ourselves to these? Why do we have separate national organizations for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts? Why don't we have a single organization of Scouts that features within its ranks a variety of small units that are either all boys, all girls, or combined boys and girls? Why do we have separate skill sets for boys and girls? Why don't we have girls getting merit badges for knot tying and boys getting merit badges for crochet? Why do we insist girls stay in cabins while boys stay in tents? Why don't boys go door to door selling cookies and girls learn to shoot? Better yet, why don't we just allow each individual child to experiment with the entire range of skills and opportunities and allow them each individually to choose which skill sets they enjoy enough to master and which they have no interest in?

I truly enjoy the company of strong women and soft men. Variety is the spice of life. I enjoy the company of intelligent people who have open minds and logical thinking. One of my favorite pastimes is a spirited debate over politics, religion, history, or culture. I really don't care if the person I am talking with is gay, lesbian, straight, Christian, Atheist, transgender, transsexual, or whatever. If the person insults my opinions, attacks me personally, casts aspersions on my family heritage, or insults my friends, then I have a problem. I have never lost a fist fight and one of the main reasons I have never lost is because I hate fighting. If a person takes a swing at me they quickly find themselves face down in the dirt with their arms immobilized. I don't fight at all. I immobilize my opponent until they calm down enough to either walk away or accept the simple fact they cannot win. I love a spirited debate, but I hate arguing or fighting. I have better things to do, kinder people to enjoy time with.

The United States of America is the last bastion of true individualism. We have always had, and I hope we always do have, the most diverse society on planet Earth. Every major city in the world has some degree of diversity, but none of them come close to New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Here in the tiny corn country town of Wooster, Ohio we have Asians, Latin Americans, Persians, Europeans, Amish, Muslims, farmers, factory workers, government workers, aerospace engineers, drug addicts, and puritans. We have straight white guys who wear camouflage and drive trucks. We have black lesbians who love football and firearms. We also have White supremacists, Black militants, and Hispanic gangs.

Hatred for someone who sees the world differently than you do is bigotry. Period. No exceptions. I despise Rap and Hip Hop. I despise the music and I despise the culture that surrounds it. I also respect the success of rap artists and hip hop performers. I would be happy to share dinner and drinks with Eminem or Beyonce or Run DMC even through I will never buy their albums or attend their concerts. This is not contradictory or hypocritical. I respect anyone who treats others with kindness and generosity. I am happy to debate the merits and demerits of anything with anyone provided they do not get angry at me when I disagree with their opinion. I will listen to anyone, but I will not tolerate condescension, sadism, or bigotry.

I don't expect people to agree with me. I do expect them to show me the same respect I show them.

October 05, 2017

Stephen Paddock should be seen as a liberal progressive terrorist

We need to stop pretending. Last Sunday's shooting at a Jason Aldean concert was carefully planned. The audience was neither chosen at random nor for convenience. Stephen Paddock specifically chose the final concert in a three-day country music festival. Check his voting record. Perhaps he did not express any strong political views to his friends and family, but as a well-educated, retired accountant with a long career dependent on federal government funding who spent his retirement working as a professional gambler, he easily fits into a voting block that routinely and loyally votes single party Democratic tickets in every election. If he did not, then he would be one of the very rare exceptions. He owned an entire arsenal, and yet, we have not heard even the tiniest hint that he might be an NRA member. The vast majority of gun enthusiasts who are not NRA members are loyal Democratic Party supporters who consistently vote in favor of stricter gun control laws for the rest of us. His life and lifestyle are classic, textbook perfect examples of an economic elitist liberal progressive. So we need to stop pretending we don't know his motivation. It seems perfectly straightforward to me: he hated country music fans because he assumed they were Republican supporters of President Trump.

In June, another Democratic Party supporter with deep liberal progressive convictions targeted a group of Republican politicians who were practicing baseball in preparation for a charity event. A wide-ranging chorus of public figures in professional sports, entertainment, and journalism have spent every single day since the November 2016 election aiming their most vitriolic and abusive public monologues at President Trump. One such celebrity, comedienne Kathy Griffin, went so far as to have herself photographed in a mock beheading of President Trump. Oddly, her photo montage went live in May and only a month later James Hodgkinson opened fire on the Republican politicians and lobbyists practicing baseball in advance of the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. Kathy Griffin, James Hodgkinson, and now Stephen Paddock. This has the shape and form of the early stages of a new trend: terrorism by liberal progressives aimed at intimidating conservatives. Yes, even Kathy Griffin whose violence was only staged, mock violence. Her intent was to mimic real beheadings by real terrorists for the sole purpose of inspiring terror. She wasn't trying to be funny. She was trying to terrify.

No, this is not some vast conspiracy funded by George Soros, Tides Foundation, or the Clinton Foundation. Absolutely not. It is even worse. This is a cultural shift of terrible precedent. Consider Hayley Geftman-Gold, her response to the shooting in Las Vegas was a Facebook post that said, "I’m actually not even sympathetic because country music fans often are Republican gun toters." But her post itself is not the troubling part. What we need to pay close attention to are the hundreds of replies she received that agreed with her. For every public demonstration like Kathy Griffin's mock beheading, there are tens of thousands of fans who applaud and cheer. How many Americans, my fellow citizens bound by the same laws as I am and freed by the same Constitution, consider James Hodgkinson and Stephen Paddock to be heroes? How many Americans celebrated Kathy Griffin's mock beheading of Pres. Trump, cheered Hayley Getman-Gold's condemnation of the victims of last Sunday's shooting, and rejoiced at both shootings? Thousands? Millions? Tens of millions?

I fear last Sunday was only a tiny hint of what is coming. Liberal progressives in America are by and large the most educated people on the planet. They command vast economic resources. Their hatred of Pres. Trump is clearly visible. They routinely revile and condemn conservatives on social media. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, the largest social media platform in the world, is one of them. If liberal progressives as a collective have now decided that they are honor-bound to violently support and advance their political agenda then they have the knowledge and the resources to create havoc all across our nation. The minor scuffles of "Antifa" street thugs are nothing compared to the destructive potential of a dozen Stephen Paddocks and James Hodgkinsons. Over the next eighteen months one of two things will happen, there will be far more such shootings escalating in both reach and horror, or there will be nothing. If there are no more such incidents then we can write off both James Hodgkinson and Stephen Paddock as anomalies, exceptions to the rule, outliers whose attitudes and actions do not represent the whole.

Unfortunately, I don't think this will be the case. I think this is just the beginning of a new wave of homegrown domestic terrorism: liberal progressive Democratic Party supporters convinced they and they alone have the moral and ethical justification to murder anyone who disagrees with them.

Wikipedia: 2017 Congressional Baseball Shooting
Wikipedia: 2017 Las Vegas Strip shooting
Fox News: Top CBS Lawyer fired for remarks
CBS News: Kathy Griffin stops apologizing for beheading photos

September 30, 2017

Of Unicorns and Politics

On a sunny summer day a Democrat and a Republican are sitting on a blanket having a picnic. A bird passes overhead, and as birds sometimes do, drops a spot of white feces that lands on the blanket between them. Both move to wipe it away. The stain left behind has a vaguely equine profile.

"Would you look at that," announces the Democrat. "It's raining unicorns!"

The Republican studies the stain for a moment and replies, "looks like bird shit to me."

"Oh, no! It's definitely a unicorn. See, here's the nose and head, here are the ears, here's the mane, and here's the horn. It's definitely raining unicorns."

"Are you crazy?" The Republican insists. "It's a perfectly clear sunny sky, not a cloud to be seen anywhere. How could it possibly be raining, let alone raining unicorns. It's just bird shit."

"Perception is reality!" The Democrat jabs viciously at the stain. "I perceive a unicorn. It fell from the sky. Therefore, it is raining unicorns and you have no right to disagree. What are you, some kind of fascist? What have you got against unicorns?"

"It's bird shit," the Republican says, standing to leave. "Ordinary bird shit. Now you've ruined our peaceful picnic by insisting something impossible is real."

"I have a First Amendment right to say anything I like! You're nothing but a shallow, close-minded, unimaginative bigot. It's a unicorn. Therefore, it is raining unicorns and you cannot prove me wrong."

Shaking his head in disgust, the Republican walks away, leaving the Democrat in complete control of the picnic blanket and remaining food.

"What a lovely day for a picnic!" The Democrat declares loudly to the empty meadow. "And it's even raining unicorns. A perfect picnic!"

September 01, 2017

Real America

Copied from a copy of a copy. I do not know who wrote it.

Let this sink in for a minute.....Hundreds and hundreds of small boats pulled by countless pickups and SUVs from across the South are headed for Houston. Almost all of them driven by men. They're using their own property, sacrificing their own time, spending their own money, and risking their own lives for one reason: to help total strangers in desperate need.

Most of them are by themselves. Most are dressed like the redneck duck hunters and bass fisherman they are. Many are veterans. Most are wearing well-used gimme-hats, t-shirts, and jeans; and there's a preponderance of camo. Most are probably gun owners, and most probably voted for Trump.

These are the people the Left loves to hate, the ones Maddow mocks. The ones Maher and Olbermann just *know* they're so much better than.

These are The Quiet Ones. They don't wear masks and tear down statues. They don't, as a rule, march and demonstrate. And most have probably never been in a Whole Foods.

But they'll spend the next several days wading in cold, dirty water; dodging gators and water moccasins and fire ants; eating whatever meager rations are available; and sleeping wherever they can in dirty, damp clothes. Their reward is the tears and the hugs and the smiles from the terrified people they help. They'll deliver one boatload, and then go back for more.

When disaster strikes, it's what men do. Real men. Heroic men. American men. And then they'll knock back a few shots, or a few beers with like-minded men they've never met before, and talk about fish, or ten-point bucks, or the benefits of hollow-point ammo, or their F-150.

And the next time they hear someone talk about "the patriarchy", or "male privilege", they'll snort, turn off the TV and go to bed.

In the meantime, they'll likely be up again before dawn. To do it again. Until the helpless are rescued. And the work's done.

They're unlikely to be reimbursed. There won't be medals. They won't care. They're heroes. And it's what they do.

July 07, 2017

The Secret World Legends

The Secret World relaunched as "The Secret World Legends" a couple weeks ago. I have not played an MMO of any kind since City of Heroes Freedom was taken offline in November 2012. At the recommendation of several people in some of the game forums I frequent, I downloaded it and tried it out. After all, this version is free to play (F2P) with all the good and evil that designation implies. I started playing on about June 26th or 27th, I don't remember exactly. My character is now level 24. Progress has been slow and frequently interrupted by limits placed on F2P players, but I expected that to be true so I was not surprised. Several things have surprised me, some very good and others very bad.

First, the good. The storytelling in The Secret World Legends is genuinely epic and intimate both at the same time. It is branded as a "Mature" game, not a "Teen" game, so there is far too much profanity, a surprising amount of sexual allusions, and very graphic blood-soaked scenery. The important part is the storytelling. Each character has a unique personality. Some are charming, some are rude, some are just ordinary folks doing their best to survive the apocalypse that surrounds them. The player's character is a member of one of three secret societies (thus, "The Secret World"): Templars, Illuminati, Dragon. I choose the Dragon, so I started in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Seoul. The map is small, but quite pleasing, with a good combination of both classic and modern architecture. I have lived in Asia for all of my adult life. This is the finest representation of an Asian city I have ever seen in an online game. It is tempting to think the person who designed it has actually spent time in Asia.

Time in Seoul was very short. I had to delete and recreate my character multiple times when progress was frozen by game bugs (more on that later), but eventually I made it out of the tutorial and into the main game. The hub city, Agartha, is a sort of living tree design. It is not as vast as it first appears. Getting around involves using a sort of jump point between plateaus. It took me a few minutes to figure out how the system worked, but once I had it down getting around was just as simple as it would have been without the long jumps. It's kind of fun, actually, to go sailing through the air between platforms with nothing beneath you but a bottomless well of white light. Agartha is extremely crowded, of course, but it still runs quite well on my ASUS Zenbook Flip, which was designed for word processors and spreadsheets, not games. The frame rate slows noticeably in Agartha, but I have not yet experienced any lost movement or rubber-banding. The game flows very smoothly despite my lack of accelerated hardware.

The first game zone is called, "Kingsmouth", a very weird name for a very weird place. It is supposed to be in the Northeastern United States. It has more of a Vermont feel than a Massachusetts feel, and even that is only marginal. Unfortunately, this area (three zones altogether) is not as authentic and appealing as Seoul (again, more on that later). On the plus side, the characters are quirky and charming in a Hollywood kind of way. They range from Norma Creed defending her home with a shotgun to the Sheriff trying to locate survivors and hold them together until help arrives. The help, in this case, is the player! There are an enormous amount of missions in Kingsmouth. I was only able to complete about two-thirds of them before the main story mission shuffled me off to the Savage Coast (the next zone). After several days there, yesterday the main story mission finally moved me into Blue Mountain, the final of the three early zones. In many ways, all three of these zones function as an extended tutorial with little helps and hints that gradually fade away as the player's character gains levels.

There are basically three kinds of missions: story missions, investigation missions, and action missions. Some investigation or action missions also have stealth elements thrown in, and some are labeled "sabotage" even though there is very little property damage taking place. Outside the tutorial only one mission so far has involved setting bombs, and those bombs clearly targeted monsters not the places they were hiding. Story missions fill in different bits of background and flesh out the main story mission. Action missions are the kind of thing one normally finds in a MMORPG: go here, kill monsters, report the result. Investigation missions are a combination of puzzle-solving and information retrieval. Not all of that information is in the game. The game includes an ingame web browser that always opens to the main site ( I genuinely wish I could set it to open to Google, but as far as I can tell, that is not possible, so I have to manually enter the Google url into the address bar every time I open the browser. Google is your friend. The answer for every question I have had while running an investigation mission has been found through a Google search. The ingame web browser is very slow, it reminds me of Netscape when it first came out. Many people claim it does not work at all. I have not had that problem yet. The only difficulty I have had is controlling my patience waiting for a much needed answer or piece of data so I could continue the mission.

The graphics are pleasing, the game runs smoothly, the story and characters are amusing, the missions are challenging. Those are all good points. Now for some bad points.

While running tutorial missions in Seoul, twice my character lost the ability to progress. In one case, a sewer mission, the mission itself was bugged. I completed the mission, used up all my explosives, killed all the monsters, and could not leave the sewer. After an hour of searching around fruitlessly, I exited the game and went searching for answer. It turned out there is no exit to the mission, only an entrance. A very bad oversight. I deleted the character, recreated her, and skipped that side mission. Then I got trapped in a school where I was supposed to be learning how to upgrade weapons. Another deleted character (this time in anger before I ran my web search, which was a mistake) and another web search. In this case, I was confused by inadequate explanatory text. My own weapon and one of the weapons I was supposed to use in the upgrade process were identical, thus, I failed to use the weapon intended to be consumed in the upgrade process. The game could not handle this exception and would not let me exit the school. The next time through I did not make the same mistake and everything went well. My suggestion: watch walk-through videos and read guides before running the tutorial as a Dragon. It will pay off in a smoother start to your life as a Dragon operative.

Now, my second major complaint. After the wonderful design of Seoul, the three early zones set in the American Northeast were a great disappointment. Two assumptions have clearly gone into the core design of this game:
(1) Americans are all gun-loving lunatics just as dangerous as the monsters in the game
(2) It is far past time for Mother Nature to take her revenge on the evil American industrialists who are turning the North Atlantic into a toxic swamp.

Over and over again, one NPC after another swings around a fancy firearm while bewailing how our lack of respect for nature has resulted in this calamity which we so rightly deserve. As an American, I very quickly got sick and tired of guilt-ridden American NPCs more in love with firearms than nature. There are a few Native American NPCs, of course, but their dialogues are so predictable it is nauseating. It is bad enough when Hollywood pulls this pseudo-spiritual garbage, to have it thrown back in my face by a Norwegian game is simply inexcusable. Ironically, my American response is that the writer needs to be taken behind the barn and shot. (insert Hollywood laugh track here)

Playing The Secret World Legends has not changed my mind in the least. Most modern MMORPGs are junk. They are not designed for players to enjoy. Instead, they are strictly designed to get powergamers of all nationalities to empty their wallets into the game company coffers. The modern gaming world is a great scam being perpetuated by con artists using a simple bait and switch tactic: promise something unique while draining the mark's bank account then abscond with the cash before the poor sap realizes they've been duped.

The loss of City of Heroes is still an open wound that might never heal.

July 01, 2017

Maliki Jurisprudence and the First Amendment

The First Amendment
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment was intended to prevent the federal government from declaring one version of Christianity as the official version of the national government. Period. It was never intended to allow the free exercise of any and every religion imaginable. As an extreme example, religions based on human sacrifice would not be protected. Under the First Amendment, everyone is free to speak on behalf of and to advocate for any religion they like, including a religion based on human sacrifice. However, they are not free to engage in religious practices or rituals that violate the laws of the land (such as, again, human sacrifice). All religious followers are still subject to the laws of the nation, the laws of their state, and the laws of their community. This is why polygamists and those communities which encourage child brides cannot use the First Amendment as a legal defense.

Clear so far? Seems simple enough, right? Here's the wrinkle:

Maliki Jurisprudence

Maliki Jurisprudence is a school of Islamic scholarship and law that serves as the formal legal system for dozens of Islamic nations. It is one of the five major schools of Shari'a. It is the school of law that every terrorist believes is the one true form of Islam. Under Maliki Jurisprudence, if a non-Muslim kills a Muslim then it is murder, but if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim then it is not murder. If a non-Muslim rapes a Muslim woman, the man is castrated and beheaded. The only testimony required to achieve such a conviction and penalty is the testimony of the victim. However, if a Muslim man rapes a non-Muslim woman then she can be beaten or stoned for causing him to be tempted. If a Muslim woman is raped by a Muslim man, she must find four witnesses who will testify against the man. If she cannot, then she can be beaten or stoned for causing him to be tempted. Naturally, infidelity and homosexuality are both punishable by execution. However, if a married Muslim man has sex with a non-Muslim woman, then under Maliki Jurisprudence it is not infidelity, which is why ISIS followers are free to own and use as many sex slaves as they can afford to purchase and maintain. Homosexuality is always prohibited and always punishable by death. Equally important to all of this, under Maliki Jurisprudence anyone claiming to be a Muslim who does not acknowledge the supremacy of Maliki Jurisprudence is not really a Muslim at all. Such a person is no different than any non-believer. This is why the vast majority of terror victims are Muslims. Those attacks which happen in non-Muslim countries, no matter how traumatic and tragic, are merely collateral damage in the war being waged by Maliki Jurisprudence to enforce its supremacy. This war of Maliki Jurisprudence for supremacy has been going on for about 1300 years and shows no sign of letting up any time soon. American involvement in this war is a very recent thing and from the perspective of Maliki Jurisprudence scholars, barely deserving of a footnote.

There are approximately 2 billion Muslims in the world. Around 25% of them regard the supremacy of Maliki Jurisprudence as a fact no different than the rising and the setting of the sun! Under Maliki Jurisprudence they are not required to obey the laws of any nation, state or community. They are only obligated to obey Shari'a as interpreted by Maliki ibn Anas. No, I am not exaggerating. There are at least 500 million Muslim men and women who believe they are not bound by any human laws other than those described and annotated by a Muslim scholar who lived in Medina in the 8th Century. Radical Islamic terrorists are not some kind of aberration, they are the enforcement arm representing 500 million Muslims living all over the world. This is why terrorism is so widespread and has no problem constantly recruiting young men and women. Under one of the leading schools of Islamic scholarship terrorism is not criminal, it is heroic.

Therefore, does anyone honestly believe the First Amendment of the Constitution grants followers of Maliki Jurisprudence the right to practice their religion freely and without interference within the United States of America? Because that is what we will wind up with if we accept a million or so refugees from the Syrian war. We will have communities that refuse to comply with the laws of our nation, that set up their own courts and legal systems, and who believe they can rape and murder their neighbors with no repercussions. In fact, there are many circumstances under Maliki Jurisprudence where murdering a non-Muslim man or raping a non-Muslim woman can be interpreted as an act of mercy.

This is not fearmongering. This is not paranoia. This is happening every single day in nations where Maliki Jurisprudence is the law of the land. This is also happening in European cities and nations with large concentrations of refugees in isolated neighborhoods. This is a simple reality of our world that everyone seems to be ignoring. Violent Muslim behavior against non-Muslims is not aberrant. It is allowed and in many cases actively encouraged by a large, persuasive, highly respected legal and academic school of Islamic thought.

Some links:
The Maliki madhab
Maliki Fiqh Q&A
Wikipedia: Maliki Jurisprudence
Wikipedia: Maliki ibn Anas
Lampost Productions: Special Characteristics of the Maliki Madhhab
YouTube: Maliki Fiqh Online Academy

June 21, 2017

The Prophecy Game 2017

Back in March of 2005 I wrote a satiric post titled, "The Prophecy Game". There had been an upsurge that winter in internet sites dedicated to psychics, eschatology, and end of the world prophecies. Most of those sites are now gone and most of their predictions never came to pass. The "prophecies" I made in that post were entirely off the cuff with no research, no magic, and no serious intent. I was trying to be funny.

In 2008 America was very nearly reduced to third world status by the collapse of Lehman Brothers and dozens of smaller banks.

In 2008 Hillary Clinton did run for president, but she lost the Democratic nomination to a newcomer named "Barack Obama".

In December 2011 the U.S. military completed its withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving behind only minimal forces who were working as trainers and consultants.

In 2015, China completed construction on several military installations throughout the South China Sea, giving them a major strategic advantage if they do invade Taiwan. Even more concerning, this gives them the potential to cut off 20% of all global commerce including the vast majority of food and oil supplies headed to Japan and South Korea.

Clearly, back in spring of 2005 I was far more liberal than I am now. Most of my "prophecies" were merely wishful thinking backed by a liberal political inclination and the unconscious acceptance of liberal progressive ideologies I'd learned going to high school in California. Since Japan is something of a liberal paradise itself, the twenty years I had spent in Japan at that point had only served to confirm my liberal inclinations. It took some hard lessons and bitter defeats to become aware of the fallacies of my own liberal progressive thinking. Still, all in all, roughly 20% of my "jokes" turned out to be realistic. Although these things did not come to pass exactly as I predicted, this result is still far beyond anything I expected when I wrote the post.

Before I launch into my concerns for the near future, it is important to review some of the things that have happened recently:

In Europe there have been at least six attacks by Islamic terrorists since the beginning of the year: Timeline of Terror Attacks

Deaths caused by drug overdoses, especially heroin, have become more common than deaths by car accident, violent crime, or suicide: Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster than Ever

Over the past decade the American murder rate has risen sharply after nearly half a century of steady decline, but most of the violence is happening in ten cities that have been primarily under Democratic Party control since the early seventies: Rising Violence in just 10 Cities Drove up the US Murder Rate

Twenty-six U.S. States now have laws making marijuana use legal for either medical purposes, recreational purposes, or both: State Marijuana Laws in 2017

Ever since about 2010, more Americans have depended on internet streaming, cable/satellite television, or pre-recorded DVD/Blu-Ray discs for entertainment than on standard broadcast television: The State of Traditional Television

"Game of Thrones" has become one of the most popular drama series in the history of television: A City-by-City Glimpse at What Television Shows People are Watching

"League of Legends" is now the most popular PC-based online game in the world while "Clash Royale" leads in the mobile market: Live Game Rankings by Medium

When all of these come together they present an overall image of both American and global culture. In so very many ways, our entertainment defines us. We are drawn to entertainment that reinforces our own preconceptions of how the world operates. Likewise, we are also drawn to entertainment that reinforces our own preconceptions of how the world should operate. In our entertainment we seek to see the world both as it is and as we believe it should be. Therein lies both the peril and the promise of human entertainment and creativity. We choose our entertainment based on pleasure, therefore, in order to succeed the entertainers must present something that reassures us our worldview is both accurate and useful. Society shapes the art that shapes society. It is not surprising that as violent terror attacks rise we seek out entertainment which helps us understand both the nature of terrorism and the effectiveness of our response to terrorism. Even as terror attacks become routine occurrences, violent crime in some of our most densely populated cities has escalated. Violence is all around us. It is present in the daily news, in the shows we watch to relax, and in the games we play. Naturally, this has an impact on how we perceive violence and that perception influences how writers write their stories and developers design their games. Unfortunately, this cycle feeds itself. The only way to break this cycle is for millions upon millions of individuals to suddenly and simultaneously decide they are no longer willing to accept violent behavior as natural and ordinary.

The problem with shows like "Game of Thrones", "Westworld", "Breaking Bad", and "Empire", as well as games like "League of Legends" and "Clash Royale" goes far beyond the way they gradually lead us to accept violent behavior as natural and ordinary. The problem is they present violence as the best form of conflict resolution in human relationships, as something cathartic, and as individually uplifting. These forms of entertainment reward sadism and cruelty. When one king casually orders the assassination of a visiting King and his Dowager Queen Mother after sharing a meal together, or when visitors show up in a wild west theme park to declare loudly that killing or raping a robot is "the best vacation ever", those concepts resonate inside us, reinforcing the idea that violent behavior is good and useful. Violent acting out becomes a desirable form of self-expression because we begin to see it as both perfectly natural and emotionally rewarding. Games such as "League of Legends" and "Clash Royale" also reinforce these ideas by presenting entertainment as a deathmatch between two individuals where only one can win. The winner is rewarded both with ingame prizes and an emotional uplift, while the loser either resolves to try harder or suffers further damage to their collapsing sense of self. Every individual is different, of course, so no general conclusion can be drawn, but when games that reward violence are reinforced by a television show presenting violence as something good and useful, then it confirms in far too many people the idea that violence is justified when they feel overwhelmed. As a society we are now programming ourselves to think of rape, pillage, and plunder as highly rewarding individual behavior patterns. After all, doesn't everyone wish they could walk into work and shoot down that annoying robotic boss or co-worker? Wouldn't it feel good to finally end that conflict once and for all? Isn't murder the best solution for betrayal in love and work?

So here is what I see coming, and this time I am neither joking nor being satiric. I fear with every fiber of my being that 2018 (and possibly 2017) will mark the beginning of a new trend in America. There will be a sharp increase in workplace-related violence, in home invasions, in robberies that end in bloodshed, and in road rage. Everyday conflicts in convenience store check-out lines, parking lots, and government offices will become flashpoints for violence that end in death and destruction. More and more we are going to see "lone wolf" terrorists inspired by internet propaganda from ISIS and Al Qaeda driving through crowds, cutting people down with knives, or engaging in small group swarm attacks against popular night spots. Violent drug users who move from marijuana into more stimulating narcotics are going to cause mayhem in places like Atlanta, Denver, Miami, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Anywhere the haves and havenots are in close proximity to one another there will be increasing outbreaks of violence both large and small.

Many things will be blamed for this sudden upsurge in violence. There is no doubt in my mind that the mass media will split the blame between Pres. Donald Trump and law-abiding American gunowners. Those are, after all, their two favorite scapegoats for everything that is wrong with America today. Academics and scholars will write long treatises with elaborate statistics blaming poverty, unemployment, political disenfranchisement, and social isolation brought on by heavy reliance on communication technologies rather than face-to-face communication. I am saying here, now, at the very opening days of the trend, that none of these are to blame. The real problem is we as consumers and creators have decided that sadism is fun, relaxing, and cathartic.

"These violent delights have violent ends," is not just a quote from an ancient play, it is a time-honored sacred truth confirmed by 5000 years of recorded history.