August 14, 2018

"Acorns" and "Long Game Savings": Two new mobile apps that incentivize saving and investing


I hate saving money. Investing does not motivate me. Seriously. Although I love spending it, money is a thorn in my side that cannot be removed. No matter how much I have, it is never enough. There is always one more gadget I must have, one more friend to treat to lunch, one more pretty girl to buy drinks for while we chat. Spending money is ridiculously easy. I have no illusions about investing. Many people talk about, "make your money work as hard as you do", but it is gibberish in my ears. I have seen three major stock market corrections in my life. Three! In all three, millions of hardworking Americans, including a good number of my friends and family members, lost huge sums from their life savings. Investment advocates tell me over and over again that "crashes" are "buying opportunities", but somehow it never connects to my emotional and rational centers. The $15 I spend weekly on lottery tickets that never win seems like a much safer investment.

Life changes. I am much older now. I know for an absolute fact the value of saving and investing. I have seen people close to me do extremely well, despite the losses of others. Nonetheless, what I really need is incentive, some measurable result that generates an emotional response. I do really well at games, so I have always wondered, "Why can't investing in the stock market be as simple as buying and selling at an auction house in a game?"

Enter Acorns and Long Game Savings.

Acorns is a brokerage account that anyone over the age of 18 can start with as little as $5. After you create the account, you are offered three different strategies for investment. Pick one and your $5 is added to a larger fund group which invests according to the strategy you chose. Yes, there is a chance of losing your $5, but by choosing the conservative investment plan (bonds) and not pulling it out every time there is a change, you can reduce that risk as close to zero as is humanly possible. Even better, you can set up a recurring deposit that is automatically withdrawn from your bank account once a month. Personally, I would suggest something in the neighborhood of $50 or $100, but if $5 is all you can afford, then $5 is enough. You won't get rich, but your money will earn a much better return than your savings. For example, I opened my Acorns account with a $50 deposit and earned $0.20 my first month. In the first six months of 2018 my savings account (which averages around $250 a month) earned a meager $0.17. In one month I earned more from Acorns than I earned in the entire first six months of 2018! I set up a recurring $50 deposit, plus I turned on a neat little feature called, "Round-ups". Every time I use my debit card (and I never carry cash anymore, except for the $15 weekly lottery ticket) the remainder from the balance to the nearest dollar is tracked. When the total passes $5, the amount is transferred from my checking account into my Acorns account. In two months I have reached $176.93, over halfway to the average I normally carry in my savings account and every step of it was completely painless. I never noticed the recurring deposits or the Round-ups and I never felt like the money was lost to me. If investing had been this easy when I was young, I would be a far richer man now!

For anyone of reasonable intelligence and dexterity, increasing the ingame currency of any online game is as simple as eating a slice of pie or drinking a cup of coffee. Play the game, your ingame networth increases. Wouldn't it be nice if the real world worked this easily? Well, now it does! Long Game Savings is a game, but it is also a real world savings account insured by the FDIC and guarded by Blue Ridge Bank, which is where the money deposited in the game is actually held. Long Game Savings has several types of gameplay available. There is a sort of quest map that tracks your account total through a variety of rpg-style backgrounds. There are "creatures", a reward earned as you save more money. Each "creature" is the virtual host of a different mini-game. Additionally, there are casino style slots, card flip games, and a roulette wheel. The ingame currency is called, "coins". A player earns one coin per month for each dollar deposited in their Long Game Savings account. Additionally, each account holder can refer others to the game and be rewarded for every new user who enters their referral code. (Mine is: 8GGE88. If you enter it as a "promo" code it will reward you 1000 coins and I will receive a 1000 coin referral reward.) I don't know if more than one referral code can be applied, but I strongly suspect that would not work. It would be very bad if a player could load up on coins by wandering the internet collecting referral codes. As with Acorns, I opened my Long Game Savings account with $50 and set up a recurring $50 monthly deposit. Already, just by playing mini-games, my account balance has risen to $51.05. Remember my regular bank savings account? It only earned $0.17 for the first six months of 2018! Between Acorns and Long Game Savings, I have earned $2.98 in three months on a $200 investment. That, my friends, is an outstanding return for penny-wise investment strategies. That's genuine incentive!

The real key here is to set up recurring deposits in both apps. Just small ones, small enough you won't miss them. Couple that with Acorns "Round-ups" supplemented by Long Game Savings mini-games and your savings will grow into a reasonable balance in just a few years. Painless saving and investing by playing games on your smartphone! O glorious modern age!


Brian K. Miller's books:
https://amzn.to/2wFYtJ2

Greyhawk Manor shirts:
https://amzn.to/2rETWSg

Art Prints and other Products:
https://bkmiller428.deviantart.com/prints/

Greyhawk Manor Designs on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/GreyhawkManorDesigns/


August 09, 2018

Greyhawk Manor Goes Wordless


Last November I began selling graphic novelty shirts through the Amazon Merch program. As of today, I have 85 products available, 23 designs on 4 shirt styles (mostly). At first, all my designs were monochrome photographs accompanied by poetry. Naturally, both the photos and the poetry were my own work. Then people recommended color, so I uploaded several color designs. At which point, people said they’d prefer just the photographs without the poetry. So, over the past two months, I have uploaded six graphics with no text. These are all my original photos, set in some kind of frame to add distinction and make the design more visually dynamic.

Here are the six designs:


Brian K. Miller's books:
https://amzn.to/2wFYtJ2

Greyhawk Manor shirts:
https://amzn.to/2rETWSg

Art Prints and other Products:
https://bkmiller428.deviantart.com/prints/

Greyhawk Manor Designs on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/GreyhawkManorDesigns/


July 29, 2018

Not "liberal", not even close


(Someone on Quora asked, "Why did Europe become so leftist and liberal?" I copied my answer into this post.)

Europe is neither moving left nor liberal. Over the past fifteen or twenty years, Europe has been drifting into a form of collectivism that has deep fascist overtones but they keep calling it “liberal”. They call it “freedom”, but what I see developing is intense tribalism with multiple deeply loyal groups demanding conformity from their members while condemning anyone outside their group. Some groups call themselves “liberal” and some groups call themselves “conservative”, but from where I sit they all look very similar in their organization and goals. Each group is seeking complete control over all the others while using fear and shame to maintain loyalty within their own ranks. In politics, in sport, in economics, and even in neighborhood leisure clubs this phenomenon is gaining momentum throughout European society. “Tolerance” only applies to the members of the group, and even then, only to the extent they conform to the ideology of the group.

This is one of the factors driving Brexit and giving new recruiting power to traditional fascist and nationalist groups throughout the continent. The demand for social conformity to the ideals of an aristocratic elite that regards itself as more enlightened than everyone else is creating deep discontent among those groups outside the elite circles. I don’t know what this collectivist impulse should be labeled, but it most certainly is neither “liberal” nor “leftist”.

Beginning with the 2008 presidential election season, this same collectivist drive has begun to sweep through the United States. Granted, early glimpses of it could be seen in the “Moral Majority” movement. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union the “Moral Majority” movement lost all momentum and vanished into the wild, chaotic near anarchy that is normal for American society. The election of Barack Obama to the presidency changed American society very deeply. Barack Obama and his inner circle shared much more philosophical common ground with the elite European collectivists than they did with the individualist and fiercely independent American working class. The drive by the Obama administration to centralization of thought and forced conformity to an ideology of “diversity” with tolerance for everyone except the political opposition created such deep divisions in American society that tribalism gained more prominence as people split into two camps: those that supported the president and those hated by the president’s supporters. Millions of Americans suddenly found themselves being shamed and bullied into accepting an ideology of conformity and compliance with the president. Their response to this was a revival of “Moral Majority” style politics with an emphasis on Constitutionalism and strict nationalism. This is the movement that put Donald Trump into the White House. In Europe, this is the movement driving Brexit, Frexit, and so on.

There is nothing “liberal” about those in both America and Europe who are calling themselves “liberal”. They are fiercely intolerant of anyone not in their group and equally fierce in creating conformity within their ranks. This is why Hillary Clinton felt comfortable labeling everyone who did not support her, “deplorable” and “racist”, and even now, in her few public appearances since the election she still refers to those who voted for Trump as “sexist”. Trump supporters are being attacked in the streets of American cities, members of his administration are being bullied and humiliated at restaurants and convenience stores. Senators and House representatives feel no shame in both complimenting their followers for this behavior and encouraging more of it. This political bullying and shaming is neither liberal nor tolerant. The fact that so much of American society has now coalesced around “resist”, and the fact that this resistance relies heavily on shame and bullying to “debate”, does not bode well for the future of either American society or European.

In both America and Europe, liberalism had begun to look an awful lot like fascism. Drifting “left”? Drifting “right”? I don’t think these labels have any meaning anymore. Western civilization is rapidly descending into a bizarre form of collectivist tribalism.


Brian K. Miller's books:
https://amzn.to/2wFYtJ2

Greyhawk Manor shirts:
https://amzn.to/2rETWSg

Art Prints and other Products:
https://bkmiller428.deviantart.com/prints/


July 19, 2018

The 1875 Remington, a masterpiece of both function and form


I have been designing shirts since September 2017. As of today, I now have 76 products for sale at Amazon.com, 19 designs on 4 styles of shirt (these numbers do not include those shirts featuring cover art from my books). The graphic above is the 19th design. I call it, "1875 Remingtons" and I just uploaded it today. As more and more people encounter my shirts, they provide me with ample feedback, some of it stated quite unkindly! Others try to be helpful, but it is clear they understand neither my vision, my limited skills, nor the limited options Amazon makes available to me. There are also those who fail to realize that having products in the market does not mean I am actually selling them! From the time I uploaded my first book to the Kindle until today, I have only earned $253.08 in royalties between both the books and the shirts (and nothing from my Deviant Arts store). Clearly I am not a threat to Crazy Shirts, at least not yet, and perhaps never.

The two 1875 Remingtons in the photo above are mine. They were made by Uberti Firearms, then tuned and sold by Taylor's Firearms. I ordered them through a local gun shop that closed earlier this year. I am sorry to see it go, but time changes everything.

In 1873 Colt firearms stunned the world for the second time in less than three decades by offering for sale a reliable, powerful, easy to operate centerfire pistol that held six cartridges. They called it the "Peacemaker" and it has become the iconic firearm of the Hollywood cowboy. But movies are not history, not even "historical" ones. After the Civil War ended, tens of thousands of people fled both the crowded, polluted cities of the east and the ruined cities of the south. New railroads and wagon trains carried them into the wide open vistas of the west where they built countless farms, ranches, and small towns. Gold and cattle became the two most lucrative industries in the American economy. The west was poorly managed, poorly regulated, and there was very little law enforcement. Despite this, and despite the Indian Wars, in truth it was a fairly peaceful place. There was very little conflict because everyone was armed. The downside, of course, is that when conflict did erupt it was violent and bloody (and mostly short-lived). A readily available and reliable firearm like the Colt Peacemaker was a great help to farmers, ranchers, merchants, and cowboys.

Although the Peacemaker quickly became the most popular sidearm of the west, it was not the only one. Remington Firearms strengthened their existing New Army Model and re-engineered it to fire centerfire cartridges. They kept the underbarrel strap that was necessary to strengthen the ramrod on the cap and ball New Model Army even though they did not need it. This gave their revolver a very unique, easily recognizable profile. In the opinion of many people both then and now, the understrap gives the Remington a graceful, artistic appearance unmatched by any weapon before or since. The Colt Peacemaker was functional and handsome, but the Remington Model 1875 was a work of both visual and engineering magnificence.

Both the Colt Peacemaker and the Remington Model 1875 are extremely accurate for their era. The two of them are possibly the most accurate handguns of the 19th century. Myself, I find the Remington to be more consistent, but that might be more related to my own shooting style than any mechanical difference in the two weapons. My father gets very consistent results from his Uberti Peacemaker clones, but they feel too lightweight in my hands. His guns have 5-inch barrels, while my Remington clones have 7-inch barrels. The additional sight plane benefits me very greatly, even though this is not true for him. In fact, I get far more consistent results from my pair of 1875 Remingtons than I do from any other weapon in my personal arsenal, including my rifles. Granted, the rifles are better beyond 50 yards, but at 50 yards or less my Remingtons are the most consistent firearms I own. If I could find a way to both conceal them and access them quickly, I would probably use them as my daily carry. Modern semi-automatics might have a greater capacity, but all those extra bullets don't mean much if a shooter cannot hit where they aim, and most people are pretty terrible with a handgun.


Brian K. Miller's books:
https://amzn.to/2wFYtJ2

Greyhawk Manor shirts:
https://amzn.to/2rETWSg

Art Prints and other Products:
https://bkmiller428.deviantart.com/prints/


July 12, 2018

Creating Facebook Ad Campaigns


As I mentioned back in April, I recently fell into designing graphic shirts (Leahi, a.k.a., "Diamond Head"). I have a huge archive of digital photos and a huge stash of half-finished, unpublished writing. Putting the two together has already generated seventeen different designs. Applying those designs to four different shirt styles (along with some earlier cover art shirts) has allowed me to produce 73 different shirts (Greyhawk Manor Designs) and a whole host of gift items (Deviant Art Store). Naturally, sales have been disappointing. It is very difficult for someone who would enjoy these items to just accidentally stumble across them. Cyberspace has become a vast territory with countless retail outlets scattered among propaganda sites, opinion sites, news sites, entertainment sites, collectibles sites, and so on. It is impossible for any one person to see everything floating around in this virtual world we have created. I am certain there are many people around the world who would enjoy the items I've created, but the problem is finding them.

After puzzling over this conundrum for awhile, I decided the best place to start would be Facebook. There are around two billion people using Facebook, maybe more. Even one-tenth of one percent of those would be a vast market, provided a person could accurately locate that niche. Facebook ads turned out to be somewhat more complicated to produce than I anticipated, and somewhat less effective; despite this, experimenting with Facebook advertising has been an interesting experience.

A Facebook ad begins with a graphic. The recommended size for graphics is 1080x1080, a fixed 1:1 ratio. However, the ads that actually appear on Facebook are almost never perfect squares. For my ads, I created a series of images that were 2000 pixels wide, 2140 pixels long, and 300 pixels per inch. This exceeds the minimum requirements by a good margin and allows use of the same images in both PC and mobile platforms. The PC ad tends to use the top one-third of this image size, so make sure the most important elements of the image appear in the top third. Mobile ads use the full image, even when those ads appear on tablet computers.

This is one of the graphics I created for my Facebook ad campaign:

I created seven different graphics featuring seven of my most recent color designs. With my graphics prepared, I clicked on a convenient "Advertise with us" link and dived headfirst into the world of Facebook ads. The first thing the process required me to do was create a Facebook page for my shirt designs. This caught me completely by surprise. I had not planned on using Facebook as the central reference site. Naively, I had hoped to make the Amazon search page featuring the entire shirt line as the centerpoint of the advertising campaign (Greyhawk Manor Designs). Before I ever created an ad, I had to spend about two hours setting up the Greyhawk Manor Designs Facebook page. Since I don't have a physical store location, this proved a bit challenging because Facebook pages assume they are used as the virtual front for a physical store. Nonetheless, I came up with a decent avatar image along with a slideshow of five shirt designs to use as a page header. I then added a post with a link to my April blog write-up (Leahi, a.k.a., "Diamond Head") along with a post containing the critical links for my books and shirts:

After I set the page up and had enough content that I would not be ashamed to have my friends and family check it out, the very first ad campaign I ran was designed to promote the page itself. The first step in this process involves choosing an objective for the campaign. There are many reasons to advertise something. Every advertiser has different goals. Facebook sets up the ads slightly differently for different goals, offers them to slightly different audiences, and charges slightly different conversion rates for the various goals. I had no idea what my goal was, so I chose, "Traffic".

The objective box changes to reflect your choice. At the very bottom of the new objective box is a dialogue box that allows you to give your ad campaign a custom name. If you are on a small screen, or if your browser zoom setting is quite high, you will have to scroll down to find the dialogue box. The default name is simply the type of campaign objective you just chose. If you leave it like this, eventually you will have dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of campaigns with the same name. Many people prefer to use a seasonal name such as "Spring 2018". For my first campaign I chose the unwieldy and clumsy moniker, "Greyhawk Manor Awareness".

The most important feature of your ad campaign is your audience. Facebook ads offer many ways to tailor your audience as broadly or as narrowly as you like. This is where all of that data Facebook collects becomes important. This is how Facebook uses your personal data. Notice that it is impossible to filter out one person and learn something such as their name, address, phone number, etc. The personal data Facebook collects is stripped of individual qualities and clumped into broad demographic categories such as "Poetry", "Skateboarding", "Outdoor Recreation Enthusiast", "Photography", and so on. Opting out of having your personal data collected may or may not improve your personal privacy, but it will definitely make it impossible for Facebook to determine what does and does not interest you. Opting out of personal data collection will not reduce the number of ads you see when you use Facebook, but it will make those ads completely random, which means you will probably never see ads for products you actually need and use in your daily life. More importantly for this article, when setting up a Facebook ad campaign, selecting countries and personal interests that are appropriate to your products will improve the number of responses. The higher your response rate, the lower the cost per response falls. My first campaign cost me almost $2 per response. My most recent campaigns cost only $0.02 per response. The difference is I have learned which audiences respond better to my ads for shirts, which audiences are more interested in my design style, and which audiences are more willing to respond to polls about the shirts and designs I am offering.

After setting up your audience (remember to save it for use in later campaigns!) Facebook allows you to either give their AI control over where your ad is placed or to eliminate some platforms. For example, if your product is an Android app designed for mobile phones then it makes no sense for it to appear to PC users, Mac users, or iPhone users (most tablet users would probably have trouble running it, as well). "Edit Placement" allows you to remove those platforms from your ad campaign so you won't waste money offering your app to people who cannot use it. Below this is the box where you set the budget and schedule for your ad. Most of my ads run for seven days and I normally set the "Lifetime Budget" at $100. The first campaign reached about 5000 people. As I have gotten better at defining my audience that has improved. My most recent campaign reached almost 10,000 people. Currently I have spent about $700 on six campaigns and reached almost 200,000 people. Since July 2nd, when I began this experiment and created, "Greyhawk Manor Designs", I have gained about one hundred followers. Not bad at all for only ten days of advertising. No sales yet, but I am hopeful that will change any day now.

Beyond this are simply more details. Add the url for your website (I used the Amazon page listing the entire shirt line: https://amzn.to/2zxqd43), add the graphic you created ahead of time, choose whether or not to place ads on Instagram, and so on. There are more naming boxes, but for most of these you'll want to use the name of the campaign which will already be in the dialogue box by default. After your ad is all set, Facebook will review it for content.

Now, I have a couple of warnings that are intrinsic to the political views of Facebook as an organization, so you will want to keep them in mind.

First off, anything the least bit political (including political themes on shirt designs) will require a special approval process which will put your page into a special category. This category will cause your page to be labeled "political advocacy", and subject it to the new rules regarding "fake news" and so on. If that is your intent, then by all means, go for it, endure the process, and get your views out there.

Secondly, under "Interests", avoid any sort of cultural labeling. For some reason, Facebook assumes, "culture" means Mexican culture as practiced and experienced by people from Spanish speaking nations who live in the United States. As a result, if your products are imports from Asia or Africa, if your products are artwork based on Asian or African motifs, and so on, you will have to go through a separate approval process to insure they are not offensive. If the cultural value is important to you, then by all means, endure the process and get your products into the market. However, be aware that Facebook has a very narrow definition of "culture", and if your definition is different from theirs, it will complicate your ad campaign approval immeasurably.

Thirdly, one thing I did not know beforehand, but ending up learning the hard way through unfortunate word choice in my first ad campaign, is that Facebook will flag absolutely anything that sounds like a bank, a financial offering, a credit company, and so on. I did not dig into it deeply, but apparently Facebook does not like to feature such advertising and as a result, they monitor it very closely. So if you are offering financial products, Facebook should probably not be your first choice for an advertising forum. Again, I did not dig into it deeply, and such ads do occasionally appear in my newsfeed, so it must be possible, but the one thing I do know is that words such as "credit" (even "give credit where credit is due") or "interest" (even, "show an interest in") will cause the system to flag your ad for manual approval, a process which can take several days to resolve and involve multiple layers of appeal. This is true whether the words appear in the ad itself or in a post the ad is designed to promote.

On July 3rd I uploaded a new shirt design and created a post to advertise it. This post included a photo of myself during my time in the Army along with the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. When I tried to promote this post, it was flagged both for words and content. The review system could not decide if the post and the ad were political, financial, or both! At first, this confused me hopelessly. I had no idea what I had done wrong. I went back through the policies and the rejection email in detail, changed a couple of words, and tried again. This time it was flagged as political advocacy and possibly "fake news". I filed an appeal, which was rejected, and then a higher appeal, which resulted in a flurry of email between myself and one of the support people. After considerable correspondence over a three or four hour period I was finally able to demonstrate that the ad was not intended to advocate for any particular political platform or political party and most certainly was not related to financing or credit services.

Setting up and running a Facebook ad campaign is not impossible, but it is challenging. Create your graphics and set up your page ahead of time. Be prepared to run up against filters and censorship designed to protect Facebook users, especially younger users. At some point, you will be forced to go through a complicated and obtuse rejection and appeal process, but if you keep in mind that Facebook has multiple social and financial interests which they must honor in order to preserve their own market position then you will find some way to either redesign your ad or demonstrate that your ad is unlikely to be offensive or exploitative.

Good luck! You're going to need it.


Brian K. Miller's books:
https://amzn.to/2wFYtJ2

Greyhawk Manor shirts:
https://amzn.to/2rETWSg

Art Prints and other Products:
https://bkmiller428.deviantart.com/prints/


June 25, 2018

Children in cages


I went to high school in Calistoga, California, the heart and soul of the world famous Napa Valley wine country. There were, and even now still are, thousands of illegal immigrant families living in Calistoga side by side with legal immigrant families. In many cases, they were neighbors back in their home country and now they are neighbors in this country as well. In some cases, these relationships go back over several generations. It often happens that a person will immigrate into the valley in accordance with immigration law and then later on they will use those same laws to bring in their family. During the process of legal immigration and bringing in their family they will write letters home (or, in today's world, use email and social media) discussing how much better life is in the Napa Valley than it was in their homeland. These letters (or social media posts) inspire dozens or hundreds of others to seek some easy way into the Napa Valley. These other families deliberately seek out some way around the burdensome, complex, exhaustive, and expensive legal process to leave their homeland and take up residence in Calistoga. Growing up surrounded by both legal and illegal immigrant families I had a very hard time understanding why it was so difficult to come to the United States from distant countries.

As an interesting footnote, in Calistoga I also went to school with a couple of Japanese-American students whose parents or grandparents had spent time in camps during World War Two. Immigration law, the historical persecution of immigrants, and even modern immigration raids, are all topics of daily conversation in my hometown. During my senior year, even my girlfriend (now my wife) was a temporary immigrant who was in Calistoga on a Student Visa.

Time passed, I grew up, left home, enlisted in the Army, sponsored my high school girlfriend back into the United States on a Spouse Visa, then left the Army, moved to Japan, and eventually raised a family there. Immigration and emigration are core components of my life. I understand this process in ways that no Washington politician ever will and the vast majority of Democrat Party voters will never experience.

One of the things I learned in high school, and saw first hand in Tokyo as well, is that illegal immigrants are easily exploited. They live in fear of deportation. This gives employers, modern slavers, pimps, drug gangs, and even violent neighbors, immense control over how an illegal immigrant goes about their daily life. In far too many cases, life in their home country is so miserable that living as a sex slave in a Tokyo brothel or as a runner for a drug gang in Los Angeles is a far better life that they are happy to embrace. This is the real problem with illegal immigration. The problem is not a family following their neighbor to a land of opportunity. The problem is that once they arrive at their destination there are millions upon millions of predators who seek them out and use their fear of deportation as a weapon to enslave and abuse them. I cannot even begin to count how many vineyard owners, winery owners, building contractors, plumbers, shopkeepers, and other employers in my hometown purposely seek out illegal immigrants as employees because they know for an absolute fact the illegal immigrant will work twice as hard as anyone else in exchange for a handful of dollar bills served up at the end of the day. In the best case, illegal immigration has become defacto slavery. In far too many cases, it results in actual slavery.

Many voters and advocacy groups who support open borders, dissolution of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service, amnesty for illegal immigrants living in America, and so on, have no factual basis for their opinions. They see pictures of children in cages on television, on YouTube, or in the daily paper and they feel a sense of emotional outrage that a child could be treated in such a way. They don't realize that the child in the photo has just been rescued from sexual bondage, from a slaveholder, from a drug dealer, or from someone else intent on using the child as a slave or pet. Held inside a chain link fence for an hour or so until someone from Health and Human Services can arrive to take the child to a warm, comfortable, well-lit detention facility is not a travesty of justice and human rights. It is uncomfortable and inconvenient to be sure, and it makes for a terrible photograph or video, but inside that "cage" the child is safer than they were in the company of whatever predator brought them through the desert in an effort to sell them to some Hollywood starlet, local politician, suburban homeowner, pimp, or gangster looking for a slave or pet.

There are exceptions, but in the vast majority of cases children brought into our nation outside the legal immigration process are not the innocent child of a family seeking a better life. Even if they are, by choosing to enter our country illegally those parents are putting their child in danger of starvation, dehydration, snakebite, animal attack, unimaginably horrific diseases, and countless human predators. As an absolute minimum, any parent who attempts to bring their child into our country through some illegal means is guilty of abuse and neglect because they have deliberately chosen to expose their child to the dangers of illegal immigration. Entering the nation illegally, endangering their child, exposing their child to human predators, these are dangerous criminal actions not the compassionate desperation of parents seeking a better life.

Having spent my entire adult life on the frontlines of human migration I can assure you that any parent who puts their child into a leaky boat to cross the Mediterranean Sea or inside a shipping container on the back of a truck to cross into Texas from Mexico is a criminal who does not deserve to be a parent. That child will be healthier, better educated, more loved, and happier after spending an hour or two in a cage before being turned over to Human and Health Services for transfer to either a comfortable detention center or a relative who entered the country through the legal process. Those pictures of children in cages are the optimistic promise of the better future those children will soon have in loving arms of law-abiding relatives or under the care of compassionate social workers.

And those, my friends, are the simple facts.


Brian K. Miller's books:
https://amzn.to/2wFYtJ2

Greyhawk Manor shirts:
https://amzn.to/2rETWSg

Art Prints and other Products:
https://bkmiller428.deviantart.com/prints/




June 13, 2018

Universal Coin and Bullion is no longer trustworthy


I am an NRA Patron Member. A few years ago, I decided to start buying gold and silver coins instead of depositing my extra cash in a bank savings account. Interest rates are the lowest they have ever been in the history of our nation. While this is very good for people borrowing money, it also means bank deposits grow even more slowly than the economy. Money left in a savings account at current rates will lose value in both the short term and the long term. Investing that money into gold and silver coins insures that the purchasing power of the investment will not change. This is a not a highly profitable investment, but it does make for a solid hedge investment against inflation. The downside being that in some cases if an investor is forced to liquidate in the short term the loss can be quite substantial.

Since I am an NRA member, naturally the first place I called was Universal Coin and Bullion. They put me in touch with a sales agent named Robert Campbell. He was an enthusiastic fellow, with a keen interest in the history of the United States and the relationship between coinage and the growth of our nation. I enjoyed talking to him. I purchased some Silver Eagles. This turned out to be the beginning of a nearly eight-year relationship with Robert Campbell. Without fail, at least once a month he would call me up to ask how I was doing, inform me of the current specials they were offering, and talk about history. Once in a while, I made additional purchases. I mostly bought Silver Eagles, but I also bought interesting collector pieces, special editions, and eventually, some gold pieces.

One day I received a call from a new sales agent. He informed me that Robert Campbell no longer worked for Universal Coin and Bullion. He would not tell me if Robert had resigned, been fired, or died in some kind of unexpected tragedy. Instead, he immediately began a hard sell pitch trying to convince me to purchase additional pieces similar to ones I already owned, "to complete the set". He brushed aside any questions I asked not related to the items he was selling and did not listen to me when I explained I wasn't buying any coins for the moment. Rather than listen, he continued his practiced sales pitch emphasizing, "now is the time to complete the set before prices rise."

Annoyed, I hung up on him. Unfortunately, every time I called after this they connected me to the same annoying sales agent with the same rehearsed lines and the same hard sell attitude. It was a relief to fly back to Japan and know he would be unable to contact me for at least six months. While I was in Japan, I decided that I no longer wanted to be a customer of Universal Coin and Bullion. Therefore, as soon as I returned I called them up and asked about selling my collection back to them. I knew I would have to take a loss, but it would be worth it just to be rid of them and insure they had no reason to call me again. The new fellow was not happy to hear this but promised to look into it.

Two weeks later when I had not heard from him I called him back. He promised to call me that Friday. When he did not, I called again on Monday, then on Tuesday. On Monday he was not in the office (or so I was told) and on Tuesday he assured me that he would call me on Wednesday morning. Naturally, he did not. So I called again on Wednesday afternoon and found myself listening to a series of robotic connections, disconnections, and reconnections as the system shuffled me around. I was finally able to leave a message for him, but I suspect it will do no good and he will not bother calling me back.

For nearly eight years I enjoyed doing business with Universal Coin and Bullion. Robert Campbell was attentive to my requests, his head contained encyclopedic knowledge of numismatics and history of American coinage, and he never pushed me into buying something I expressed zero interest in acquiring. When I was interested but reluctant, he went out of his way to sweeten the offer with things like books, a jeweler's loupe, or special prices on liquidation inventory. However, since the day he left the entire tone of my dealings with the company have changed. No one I speak to listens, no one answers my questions, no one takes me seriously. When I am not interested in the current special, I get pressured into buying it anyway. From my perspective the company has transformed itself from a companionable numismatic partner into some perverse version of the Home Shopping Network. I no longer trust the company or its employees. I cannot recommend it. Just the opposite. From this point forward I will enthusiastically recommend people buy their gold and silver coins anywhere in the world except Universal Coin and Bullion


Greyhawk Manor Shirt Line
My Author Page At Amazon.com






June 09, 2018

The Darkness Within



Today: Robin Williams' Widow Describes Actor's Last Days
E! News: Inside Kate Spade's Final Days
Delish: Anthony Bourdain's Girlfriend Breaks Her Silence

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255,

I am not a trained counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. I cannot answer, "Why?", when disaster strikes, tragedy visits, or a loved one commits suicide. I cannot see inside the mind and heart of other people. I can barely understand my own motivations on any given day, for any given behavior, or for any given decision I make, especially the major ones. So I am not going to pretend to understand what is behind the growing trend around the world where happy, healthy people suddenly take their own lives. I can barely comprehend a suicide bomber, how on Earth will I ever understand a successful person at the peak of their career suddenly taking their own life?

The one thing I can do is describe the darkness inside of me and try to explain as honestly as possible why I have not done the same.

When my son was four years old he was hit by a car. My wife and I and our two sons lived in a small apartment in Tokyo. Behind the apartment building was a small, fenced in area with a single gate that served absolutely no discernable purpose. It was about five feet wide, tiled, and ran the length of the building. The gate was never locked, so it wasn't some kind of weird security precaution. It had no toys or sandbox, so it obviously was not intended as a play area. The building did not allow pets, so it was not a pet run. It was just there. One day, I placed a couple tricycles in the area and took my sons there so they could play in the sunshine while my wife cleaned the apartment. I started out helping her clean, but she demanded I do something to get the kids out of the way without taking them to the park, so I lowered the tricycles into the area, then walked the kids around the building and through the gate. I was there watching them for awhile when my wife demanded I come back inside and help her. We argued about it for a few minutes, and I finally gave in. Against my better judgement, I allowed them to play unsupervised while I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom which were on the opposite side of the apartment where I could not watch the boys.

A short time later, less than ten minutes, my older son appeared at the open front door. I was surprised to see him there. I asked how he had gotten out of the play area when I suddenly heard a car screech to a stop and my other son begin screaming.

I'm not going to go into detail about the rest of the day. It was a complete nightmare. But that day began my long spiral into a depression so deep I have never fully emerged from it. Ask anyone around me and they will tell you I am mostly optimistic and upbeat, I argue politics with a passion matched by very few, and I love posting photos of the sunrise on social media. If I ever followed through on any of the dark plans I have often made for myself, then my friends and family would be just as shocked as those surrounding Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain. Suicide would be a very easy thing for me to do. It would be final, I am not the kind of person to make mistakes in something so decisive. It would not be, "a cry for help." It would be a final escape from the pain of living in a world where I do not belong and have not belonged since I was a very small child. That sense of not belonging has been with me my entire life. After my son's accident, it became, "Why do I even bother staying?"

Living on the edge of suicide is not a place I would want anyone to be. And yet, over the past decade it has become very clear to me that I am not alone is this waltz with Ganesha. I do not know how many others there are, but clearly, many people go through the life the same way and some of us take that final plunge into oblivion. So why haven't I done the same? It seems important to answer this question. Not just for myself, but for everyone else who is dancing with the Ganesha without anyone around them having the slightest clue what is going on.

In my life, the most important fuel for the darkness within is personal rejection by people I trust. There is nothing more devastating than to confide in someone about a dream, a desire, a fear, or some other intimate, hidden detail of my life only to be met with ridicule, sarcasm, or outright rejection. It crushes me, every single time. Perhaps a quick example?

I began designing tee shirts last fall. I started with covers from my books, then moved into monochrome photos with some kind of text, such as a poem, a quote from my writing, or a pithy thought. I always hope the text builds on the metaphor of the photo in some small way. I also hope the impact of the two together will both inspire and enlighten. I am very proud of my designs. I put so much of myself into them that it is like sending a piece of my heart into the world and hoping it finds a home. I recently added color designs and these are particularly dangerous because they carry a far larger chunk of my inner world into the real world, subjecting it to judgement and ridicule. The greatest rejection of all is simply to be ignored. The lack of sales weighs on me like a millstone tossed to a drowning man.

On December 7th, 2017, I flew back to Japan to spend time with my wife and hopefully see my sons. The day I arrived, one of the first things I began talking about was my tee shirt designs. Pretty much the first thing my wife said to me after arriving in Japan was her response to my describing my shirt designs and how I created them. She said, "Who would ever want to buy one of your photos?"

For hours afterward I said nothing to anyone. I barely spoke five words the rest of the day. I wanted desperately to simply get back on the plane and leave, or better yet, find a nice tall building to leap from. It took every ounce I possess of both self-discipline and self-restraint to not climb the stairs to the roof of our apartment building and throw myself off. I am neither joking nor exaggerating. It was a very near thing. It might seem tiny to the vast majority of people who read this. It might even seem a simple, harmless sarcasm and my sense of rejection might seem a vast overreaction, but that does not change the reality of the turmoil that racked my mind the rest of the day.

So why didn't I jump? It would have been a simple thing. Excuse myself for a Pokemon GO walk, take the elevator to the top floor, take the stairs to the roof, and everything ends. The sense of failure. The profound sense of my own uselessness. The sure knowledge that no one would even miss me. It would all end. (I know, many of you reading this will immediately object, but this is the reality of my inner world in those moments when Ganesha is whispering in my ear that it is time to leave.)

I didn't jump because when I plugged in my American phone and connected to the family Wifi I found a text message and a nude photo from a cam model I sometimes patronize. A woman I have never met in person, and never will meet in person, who lives thousands of miles away from both my home in Ohio and my home in Tokyo. Just writing about her here is a huge risk, but I feel it is one I must take. The simple words and photo of a sex worker on my phone prevented me from killing myself. That one tiny glimmer of a fictional sunshine was enough to hold the darkness at bay and reduce Ganesha's powerful whispers to an annoying buzz. (No, I'm not Hindi. But I do understand the role of Ganesha.) So the next time you read an op-ed about the evils of online sex and "virtual prostitution", keep in mind that those men and women are providing comfort to people who can find it nowhere else. They are worth every penny they make. Their contribution to our world is priceless in ways that cannot be measured. (And the comfort they provide is also exactly why I believe it is important we not minimize Mary Magdalene or try to explain her way.)

Everyone who dances with Ganesha needs some kind of coping mechanism. All of these mechanisms are self-destructive, that is what makes them attractive and that is what gives them their power. For some, alcohol is readily available and convenient. For others, narcotics, which are even more dangerous than alcohol and in today's world far more likely to bring success in finding death than momentary escape from the burden of life. There are some lucky people who find their coping mechanism in work, in exercise, or in producing art. This is very rare and in my experience, the effect does not last. (I suspect this was true for Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain. Their creativity was their coping mechanism, until finally they built up enough tolerance it no longer worked.) When I was very young my main coping mechanism was reading fiction. As I grew older, alcohol entered the picture until I tamed that beast by spending a decade completely dry. As the internet grew, I turned to online forums, then online games, until my favorite game was shut down. I know exactly what I am doing when I seek out these coping mechanisms. I do it intentionally. I need that momentary escape, that bit of misdirection, that ability to stand at the edge of the abyss and not fall into it. Recently, I find comfort in chatting with cam models. An expensive, but necessary indulgence.

Now, those of you who do not dance with Ganesha, those of you who have never felt the irresistible magnetism of the final escape, and those of you who are quick to belittle those of us who depend on our coping mechanisms just to make it through the day, here's a hint, YOU ARE MAKING THE PROBLEM WORSE! Every time you say something like, "You don't need that. It's going to kill you. Just think positive!", you are fueling the sense of failure and rejection that feeds the darkness within. Every time you try to explain away the darkness, every time you deny the attractiveness of suicide, every time you downplay the importance of the coping mechanism, you are increasing the likelihood someone like me will take the final plunge and end everything. What I need, what people like me need, is recognition of our strengths and acceptance of our weaknesses. To be blunt, shut up and listen! More often than not you don't need to provide advice or encouragement. You don't need to solve the problem or point out more positive ways to channel our "negative energy". You just need to listen. Sometimes the most powerful thing in the world is an unexpected text that simply says, "I love you and I'm thinking about you."

I am taking a great risk in writing today's blog post. Family and friends will read it and some of them will not be happy about it. I am sure to hear all kinds of negativity from people I depend on emotionally. And I'll be honest, I do not know how I will cope with it. Nonetheless, it seemed vitally important to put this out here in cyberspace where the entire world can read it.

If you are dancing with Ganesha, know this, you are not alone. You were never alone.


Greyhawk Manor Shirt Line

Brian K. Miller's Author Page at Amazon

Brian K. Miller's Deviant Art Store


April 29, 2018

Mary Magdalene and the rights of sex workers



There has been a powerful move in recent years to redefine Mary Magdalene as anything except a prostitute. I find this movement deeply troubling. Jesus always treated her with respect and courtesy. She does not appear often in the Bible, but when she does, the writers are clearly not comfortable describing her presence and the way Jesus treats her. The morning of his resurrection, Mary Magdalene was the very first person he appeared to and the only person he actually took the time to comfort. This is why it is so important for us to acknowledge her chosen profession. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Knowing the time and culture, it is safe to assume she worked her trade from a temple dedicated to Ishtar (Astarte). Jesus never reviled her, never condemned her, never criticized her, appeared first to her on the morning of his resurrection, and even comforted her in her grief. This is why so many people want to believe she was his wife, a rich merchant, a wealthy widow, a Roman noble, or anything at all except a temple prostitute. They want to be free to denigrate, humiliate, criticize, and condemn women who work in the modern sex trade. Even worse, there are far too many men who seek to denigrate women in general. I cannot fathom this thinking. If it were not for their mothers they would not even exist, and yet, they hate women?

I am no longer a fan or supporter of CNN. Ever since the nomination of Senator Barack Obama for the presidency they have slavish transformed themselves into the propaganda arm of the American Democratic Party in order to support a DNC platform based on identity politics. They have turned themselves into a platform dedicated to spewing the most disdainful, elitist, condescending, anti-American, anti-modern, primitive ideology known to the modern world: Neo-Marxism disguised as "liberal progressivism". There is nothing liberal or progressive about insisting women are better than men, blacks are better than whites, and the most oppressive people in the world are white, American businessmen. By the very same token, any man who denigrates women, treats women like sex toys, humiliates women, beats women, demands women "know their place", and so on, is also delusional beyond my ability to comprehend. Not all white American businessmen are pigs, but yes, some of them are, too many of them. Collectivism that lumps all white American businessmen into the same category as Bernie Madoff or Harvey Weinstein is just as despicable as the behaviors and choices of those men. This is important to note: their behaviors and choices are despicable. The men themselves are just men, neither better nor worse than any man or woman or child.

It does not surprise me in the least that one of the strongest platforms advocating for an end to sex trafficking is the CNN Freedom Project. It is important to recognize that all of CNN's proposed solutions are related to "freeing" and "reforming" sex workers. They call it "freeing" and "reforming", but what they really mean is imprisoning them in a "safe house" and "re-educating" them to perform any form of commercial slavery possible except sex work. In line with this globalist agenda, CNN advocates for greater international treaties that outlaw and stigmatize sex workers of all kinds, regardless of whether those sex workers are slaves or independents. CNN's Neo-Marxism is fully on display here. They parade true stories of violence and humiliation and then insist the only possible solution is increased violence and humiliation. This is typical of almost every political platform being pursued by the "liberal progressive" movement in America and Europe. They insist there is widespread corruption and oppression of women and minorities and then state point-blank that the only possible solution is increasing the level of corruption and oppression by applying it to everyone else. How is the destruction of mainstream cultures "liberal" or "progressive"? It isn't, and that is entirely the point. The real purpose of all this talk of "globalization" and "open borders" is to get everyone so riled up that they happily and voluntarily enslave themselves to "wiser", "better qualified" political leaders. (It is no coincidence that this is also one of the key doctrines of Maliki Jurisprudence, nor is it surprising that the vast majority of sex traffickers in today's world are Maliki followers. If you want to make something even more valuable and desirable, simply propose international treaties prohibiting it.)

In Denver in my youth I lived next door to a prostitute. At first, I was just as judgmental and critical as my family, my society, and my church had taught me to be. It did not take long for me to see the error of my ways. She was someone's daughter, someone's sister, and she had a boyfriend who loved her. She was just an ordinary young woman forced to earn her living by renting out her body by the hour. Sometimes she borrowed sugar or milk from me. Once she offered me some homemade biscuits (and they were very delicious, by the way!). Her boyfriend brought me a six-pack of beer to thank me for treating her kindly. When I told him I did not drink (in those days, I did not drink any kind of alcohol), he returned an hour later with a six-pack of A&W Root Beer, which I loved then and still do now (although I seldom drink it now because at my age it does terrible things to my body). Living next to her forced me to re-evaluate all of my attitudes toward women in general and sex workers in particular. That is why I do not condemn the LGBT movement for their lifestyle, only for their insistence that the government pass laws ordering everyone to accept it as "normal" (whatever that means).

When the post above popped up in my Twitter newsfeed I was neither offended nor shocked. For some bizarre reason over the past year the Twitter algorithms have been dropping call girls, cam models, and other sex workers into their "Suggestions". I am not certain why, exactly. I suspect it is partly because about two years ago a cam model I'd never heard of liked one of my Tweets and started following me. Before long, I had a dozen of them following my Twitter feed. I guess there are sex workers out there who love guns and conservative politics, because that is the vast majority of what I post about on Twitter. The post above was just another in a long line of similar posts. However, this one cut me to the core. I was not scandalized by her desire for a partner who accepted her. Just the opposite, in fact. It hurt me deeply that she felt so ostracized she needed to post about it on Twitter.

I went to her Twitter feed and read a couple dozen of her posts. I learned she used to work in New York City in broadcast journalism. She did not make enough money to support herself, so in the evenings she accepted money in exchange for companionship, casual dates, and sexual favors. I am not certain if she became a full-time sex worker simply because the money was so much better or because her company forced her to leave. In far too many ways, either option amounts to pretty much the same thing. Criminalization of the sex trade is one of the reasons that escorts and call girls can charge so much for their services and fully expect to receive it. As long as the sex trade is illegal, sexual favors or paid companionship will remain an extremely rare commodity that is both risky to offer and difficult to obtain. Legalization of prostitution would not destroy the escort and call girl business, but it would certainly force them to revise their business model in some way if they hope to receive the same payment for their services.

Yes, I support the legalization and regulation of prostitution. Health checks, worker's rights, consumer protections, all need to be applied to the sex industry in the same way they are applied to every industry. Sex workers need to be protected from predatory owners/operators and sex clients need to be protected from predatory sex workers. This cannot be achieved in any meaningful way unless the sex trade is legally regulated, morally acceptable, and socially recognized. Preachers should be free to hire a prostitute on Friday night and then rail against the evils of prostitution on Sunday morning. Freedom is freedom, after all. But the sex worker should be paid fairly and the preacher should be protected from blackmail. We cannot protect both the sex worker and the preacher until prostitution becomes both legal and socially acceptable as a chosen profession.

If prostitution is legal and socially acceptable, then we can also protect both male and female workers from being secretly coerced into offering sexual favors in exchange for promotions, pay raises, and bonuses, or even simply for keeping their job. By the same token, businesses can maintain sex workers on their staff for entertaining stubborn clients, comforting stressed workers, or whatever. As long as the sex worker is a volunteer who is protected from physical abuse, emotional trauma, and social ostracization, why would this be a problem? Legal protections and avenues of resolution need to be in place to insure that no one would ever be forced or coerced into prostitution and sex workers would never be treated like property. Regulations also need to be in place that would always give the sex worker the freedom to decline to serve clients who they fear, despise, distrust, or simply don't like.

Christianity became politicized in the 4th Century. One of the first initiatives it undertook was the criminalization of the sex trade. They did this for several reasons. First of all, this allowed them to capture the revenue stream that went to the temples of Diana and Ishtar. Yes, sadly, it really did boil down to money. Secondly, it allowed them to better control the leisure activities of their followers. It became both illegal and immoral to patronize any faith other than the official Christian faith. In my never humble opinion, this dual approach of becoming officially sanctioned and outlawing the sex trade in the name of religion was one of the first great mistakes made by the Church. If they could not compete on the basis of their theology and their ideas, then they did not deserve to survive. Yes, that's harsh and many of my Christian friends will be appalled, but facts are facts. If Christianity was truly the best choice among the thousands available, then it would not have needed Imperial Roman Law to protect it and nurture it. Thirdly, and almost as important as the first two, by transforming itself into the official religion of the Roman Empire they were able to end once and for all three centuries of torture and martyrdom. I wish I could claim this was the most important reason, but diaries of believers from the era are very clear on this point: martyrdom and persecution were desirable qualities of Christian life because it verified the "truth" of their teaching. Numerous Christian writers opposed official sanction because it would end the persecution and persecution was their best tool for self-affirmation. We see this same kind of thinking in the Maliki Jurisprudence school of Islam which inspires and fuels the martyrdom complex of terrorists. Where do you think Malik ibn Anas got his ideas from? He assumed if it applied to Christian "truth", it applied even more forcefully to Islamic "truth". He explicitly states this in his writings.

Jesus respected Mary Magdalene as a person. He did not condemn her chosen occupation. As a matter of fact, Jesus himself never spoke out against any other religion. The only theology he opposed was the corrupt teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul was the one who first began condemning all of the other religions and belief systems of the Roman Empire. This was part of his teaching because he took the gospel out of Judaism and into the broader world. Paul is the new testament writer who explicitly attacks homosexuality, temple prostitution, pagan feasts, and so on. Paul's writing is logical, precise, and direct. However, in my old age I am less inclined to take everything he writes at face value. Paul had a very human agenda and oftentimes his writing has more to do with his personal agenda than it does with expanding on the words of Jesus. (This is a sad reality that more theologians need to address if they expect the world to regard them as intellectually honest.)

The real reason so many modern scholars and theologians are struggling to redefine Mary Magdalene has nothing to do with how she is presented in the New Testament. Their real problem is they cannot accept sex work as a legitimate profession. Part of this is related to Paul's condemnations of temple prostitution. Part of this is related to the very real violence that permeates the modern sex industry. Healthy, mature sex workers who entered their industry voluntarily are few and far between, but they are also very real. Unfortunately, criminalization of the sex trade has banished it to the shadows. Anything that resides in the shadows becomes the providence of human predators because this is where they live. Now, more than ever, as we move daily closer to a one world government and a global society, we need to be very careful about the rights of individuals. We are either going to build a world where every individual has the freedom to maximize their potential in their chosen line of work, or we are going to build a world where a handful of prominent families live completely above the law while condemning to death anyone who disagrees with them. It does not matter how you personally feel about sex workers. They have been with us from the very beginning and they will be with us until the very end. As globalization gains speed, we need to demand that global elites be subject to the very same laws as the rest of us. A world where prostitutes and other sex workers are slaves controlled by elite families will be very bad for everyone, but it will be a complete hell for the sex workers. The only way to avoid that world is to start accepting sex workers as real people entitled to pursue their chosen career free of condemnation and social ostracization.

The first person Jesus appeared to on the day of his resurrection was a whore. And how did he greet her?

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.





April 27, 2018

Awesome Birthday Present


Today is my birthday. Today a war is ending that began before I was born. This war defined the four years I spent in the United States Army. I realize that none of the leaders involved even knows I exist. Nonetheless, this is still the best birthday present ever!


April 26, 2018

Dragon Brothers: Kanye West and Donald Trump


The first time I ever heard the name, "Kanye West", was when a viral video circulated around the internet of him charging onto a stage, grabbing a microphone from the emcee, and announcing that giving Taylor Swift an award for her music video was a racist outrage because Beyonce's competing music video was "the greatest music video of all time". This did not make a good first impression. Now, years later, I don't even remember which award show it was and which music video had just been awarded. I had heard the name, "Beyonce" before this, but this was also the first time for me to hear the name, "Taylor Swift". At the time, I found both videos on YouTube and immediately fell in love with the music of Taylor Swift. Beyonce is a skilled singer, and a masterful dancer, but her style does not resonate with me. If I were to award "the greatest music video of all time", I would probably give it to Taylor Swift's masterful, charming, and always entertaining, "Mean" or perhaps Brad Paisley's equally charming and equally entertaining, "Online".

In the years since, I have seen a lot of Kanye West. He seems to enjoy the spotlight as much as anyone in his business and takes advantage of every opportunity to monopolize it. This is good marketing on his part and is at least partly responsible for his massive success. I suppose he's also a highly skilled musician, but I wouldn't know. I've never listened to his music. I have, however, seen far too much of his politics. Most of the time when he pops onto my television screen he is praising himself, bragging about his success, or lambasting Republicans. Naturally, this has not endeared me to him and has not inspired me to go check out his repertoire. For one reason or another, his name and image have faded from the daily news in recent years. It has been three, maybe four years since I've heard anything about him. So when the post above popped up in my Twitter feed this morning, I was beyond shocked.

As usual while I am in Tokyo, the family cat woke me up at 4 a.m. demanding breakfast. I got up. I used the toilet. I washed my hands and face. I fed the cat. Then, as always, I sat down on my recliner to scroll through my social media. The first notification on my phone was from Twitter and it linked straight to Kanye West's tweet about he and Donald Trump being "dragon brothers". I am in Tokyo, so "dragon brothers" has quite an impact at a little after four in the morning. In point of fact, this might be the most shocking opening to my day social media has ever given me. Flabbergasted, I took a screenshot, chopped off the extraneous, and sent it out through Instagram to Facebook and my own Twitter feed with the added comment, "Kanye loves Trump? They are "Dragon brothers"? What kind of weird alternate reality did I wake up in?"

I then went about all my normal social media morning ritual. Posted a few things, tweeted a few things, shared a few things, and so on. When I'd finished my own online social obligations, I went back to Kanye West's tweet, followed it to his Twitter feed, and read through the other things he'd tweeted recently. That was how I found this:

Kanye West recently got married and had a child. Let me tell you a secret: Nothing in life will change your perspective as fast and as completely as raising your own child. Absolutely nothing.

My wife and I came home from a social event at Sophia University several years ago. As we were on the train, she was even less talkative than usual. Suddenly, out of the blue, she said, half to me and half to herself, "There is so much difference between people with children and people who stay single."

Raising a child is more work than anything in life you will ever do. It is a twenty year career at a 24/7 job that never ends. Not when you are sleeping. Not when you are sitting on the toilet. Not when you are on vacation and your kids are staying with their grandparents. It is not until they finally get out in the world on their own that you have your life back, and even then, sometimes they falter and wind up back home. Having an adult child in the home is much different than when you are raising them, but they are still your child and they still carry an enormous assumption of dependency. At least, if you have nurtured them with love and constant emotional support this is true. If you have done your job as a parent, then you will always be the parent until the day you die. This is emotionally unlike anything else you can experience in life. There are countless times when you swell with pride at what they accomplish. There are equally countless times when you wonder how your parents managed not to drown you. You develop a keen sympathy for those parents who murder their own children, but at the same time, the actions of those parents shocks you so deeply you cannot comprehend how they could do such a thing. Being a parent is the most nerve-wracking, agonizing, stressful dichotomy of emotions possible. It changes you in ways you never expect and cannot imagine beforehand. The more children you have, the larger the toll on yourself.

So this is what I think has happened between the scandalous event that introduced me to Kanye West and the world-shattering tweet he made yesterday. Kanye West has grown up. Raising and nurturing a child has awakened in him responsibilities and obligations he had no tools to comprehend beforehand. The future has extended from two or three years down the road to decades because now he is aware of the impact any decision he makes today will have on his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It's not about the next record anymore. It's about who will be collecting the royalties half a century after he has died and will there be enough for them to live on? Kanye now understands that his life and his influence has a direct, immediate impact on the lives of other children just like his own. He knows now what it means to be a parent to tens of millions of adoring teenage fans. Every single day he is imagining how his music and the music of future performers will impact the decisions his child makes when they are a teenager. Kanye West finally understands that the world does not revolve around him, regardless of how genius he is, how famous he is, and how rich he is. Kanye West is worried about what kind of world he will leave for his grandchildren, and that has shaken him to his very core, leading him to re-evaluate all of his assumptions about life, art, and politics.

Kanye West has already lost millions of fans. Apparently, this is not his first expression of support for Donald Trump. It is the first one I have encountered, but I do not follow his social media or his career. Over the past five or six hours I have also learned he is about to release a new album and the rumors are that it is going to be enormously different than anything he has done before. There are several talking heads speculating that all of this support for Trump has something to do with preparing his audience for his new album. They seem to believe it is nothing more than a promotional stunt. I suppose that's possible, but I don't think it's true. I am a father. I have two sons who are both adults now. I went to high school in California immersed in liberal politics and popular entertainment. Raising my sons completely changed my perspective on reality and I suspect Kanye West is going through something very similar.

Perhaps he and I now have more in common than I ever imagined would be possible. Perhaps he and I are now "dragon brothers".