How many aspects?

Ultimately, I am writing about aspects. Aspects of anger, hate, forgiveness, love, innocence, and redemption. They are all human traits with some very definite paranormal emphasis, though some do not play their hand until it is time. Packing them all into a single story can result in some complications, and sometimes it seems messy. But aren’t we messy, as people? Isn’t the same person capable of hate also capable of love? More significantly, how quickly can that change occur? Are we conditioned to believe that there must be a transitional period between aspects? Can someone (who may or may not have committed a particularly vicious assault only days before) swing around and embrace the idea of love and forgiveness? Some might see it as forced, but I think we’re dynamic enough to do so and be true to ourselves.
I’m thinking about Dan (no relation to anyone, except maybe an immediate family member). Sure, he’s hateful, set in his ways, and dangerously protective of his own. But he, like so many others, are capable of love. He loves his daughters, loves his wife, and has a distanced love for his parents, long removed from this world. How do you conquer your own prejudices, your own set-in-stone-shit-ain’t-gonna-change viewpoints? Racism is rarely without some sort of internal justification. Same with prejudice. Somewhere, a conclusion was made with some seemingly logical ideas. And when those viewpoints are set alight by anger and hatred, primal aspects of the human experience, can you displace yourself long enough to reconsider these powerful emotions?
I have three different endings floating about. Two are completely determined by humans, one was if I opted to simply let the aspects have their way. I don’t know who will make it out alive, if anyone. But regardless of their fate, they will see a completion of their trials, good or bad. I keep seeing the gun levelled at him, though. Finger on the trigger, and a perfectly valid (even legal) reason to pull the trigger. Are we capable of coming down from that when seconds count?

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On writing – I

     So I am looking at another character. Not a good person at all, to be honest. Racist, short-fused, short-sighted, and not a very nice person. HOWEVER, how much of that is something that is inherently US? What can we attribute to society, events, upbringing (or lack thereof), disappointments begging for an external source of blame, or even the concept that we tend to think that we are right? More importantly, what do we do when confronted with who we are? We do dig in and become an even more exaggerated form of who we are, or do we reflect just long enough to see the monster in the mirror? And then what does one do, knowing that they are a monster?

     I recall a line from a U2 song – “And you become a monster, so the monster will not break you.” Is this a good approach? I don’t know what would make it good or bad, unless you subscribe to a concept of good and evil, and universal judgment. He does, and in his defense, he’s not altogether sure what other options are even available. To see through his eyes is to see a world where you must throw the first punch, cast the first stone, and protect you and yours first, regardless of who gets hurt. It’s not pretty, but what is?

     I’m no fan of creating archetypes. I don’t like the classic good guy, bad guy, vengeful guy, etc. We’re too dynamic to be pigeonholed as such. Somewhere in our minds, we have a rationale for what we do. So does this guy. It all makes perfect sense to him. And when given the most clear case that supports his urge to commit a terrible act, will he see a glimpse of the monster in the corner of his eye? I don’t know yet. I simply don’t know. That’s the fun in writing. When the reader sees the character and the endstate, it all makes sense, and there could be no other outcome. They don’t know that his/her fate was undecided, possibly up the point where I began to type “No, something is wrong.”

 

More to follow…

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NOT US

Cultural studies are always interesting, because we always notice that we are different from others. Ok, that’s the easy part. Hell, if that were cultural relationships in a nutshell, you could learn it in about 5 seconds. We make it last a bit longer by noting our differences, how we react differently to different stimuli, different values, different perceptions of time, gods, dogs, and life.

But that’s not what DIVIDES us. What divides us is a very simple boolean term. NOT. As in, that black guy is NOT us (white). That atheist is NOT us (Christian). It’s NOT about what they are, and it’s not even about what they aren’t. It’s about the fact that they are NOT one of us, and that category of “us” can be expanded to include as many people as necessary in order to achieve the proper level of delineation. In cases of illegal immigrants, they are NOT us, as in Americans, but in the case of gay marriage, they are NOT us in terms of sexual orientation. It has nothing to do with them being what they are, because they will always NOT be us as long as we don’t include them in what defines “us”.

Think about it. We form clubs, organizations, nations, categorize people by race, weight, height, ethnicity, religion, or whatever it is to either include or exclude. And it would appear people like to include simply for the sake of making the task of EXCLUDING that subculture much more efficient. Muslims? NOT us. Ask anyone. Even illegal immigrants would agree! Ok, thanks for being part of us for this message, now kindly return to being NOT us while we discuss building some ridiculously impossible wall across the border!

Do we blame society for this? We can’t really. We’ve been doing this for tens of thousands of years. Those poor Jewish in Egypt? Nope, NOT us (Egyptians). Tribe A runs into Tribe B? Well, in this case you can — become US, fight with US until what’s left of you becomes US, or simply agree not to cross a certain river or other arbitrary area, so that we don’t confuse you with US, and, most importantly, make it crystal clear to every saber-toothed tiger in a 300 mile radius THAT YOU ARE NOT US!

As REM once sang… “Life is bigger, bigger than you, and you are not me.”

What a strange word bigger is, by the way. Just say it. Think about it. BIGGER. Sounds like something that you find in your nose after waking up on a cold morning…

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So, freedom of speech means…

This is a merging of two distinct things I have ever seen or read about. The first one argued that there is still not much in the way of free speech, as you must be cautious not to offend certain religious groups. At the risk of sounding like something I’m not, one particular religion comes to mind. You can’t say the “M-word”, you certainly can’t draw the “M-guy”, and insulting Mr. M. will most certainly send you on a one way trip to Beheading Central. And thanks to the dubiya dubiya dubiya (www, or world wide web, for those who have zero imagination), you can’t swing a dead cat without attracting some insane ultra-radical who decides it’s his life ambition to murderize you for insulting his prophet. Even if the drawing is actually quite flattering.

The second is what you can or cannot say around people. You might have heard silly references to a “brain-mouth filter” or the classic “think before you speak” moral. However, at what point are we restrained to such a point as we must paint our words carefully, lest we invoke the “OH NO YOU DIDN’T!” shout? I can’t, for example, talk to a stranger about the weather, and then say “Oh, I saw this gang-bang porn the other day, and man, the girl had some STA-MI-NA!” You can’t POSSIBLY even THINK of bringing that up with anyone except your wife or significant other, and even that might cause a moment of awkwardness. Why? Because we cannot talk about “these things”. Now, the  more ludicrous pornography discussion aside, we must then carefully identify what “these things” are for any given conversation. Can you talk about politics? Yes? No? To what degree? Religion? That’s usually a no. Sex? Nope. Not really. How about the bloodbath in (insert country) or the deaths of (insert number of people) in (insert tragedy)? YES! ABSOLUTELY! In fact, the more you suggest terrible things to be done to the attackers, or simply grunt out a clear “MURICA!” the more rapport you have built with this stranger! Draw and quarter him! FUCK YEAH! Oops, profanity! I mean, HECK YEAH! Ok, back on good terms!

In fact, it could be said that we have some sort of unhealthy affection for violence, and the discussion of it has virtually no bounds, as long as it’s directed towards “bad guys” or at a minimum, people who don’t look or talk like us. Homosexuality is off-limits, and some web forums are clever enough to asterisk out any homo-based words, to include anthropological terminology. But I CAN say that Billy took out his AK-47 and proceeded to shoot no less than 70 holes into some jerk who cut him off!” (Yes, he changed mags. A couple of times.) Violence is in virtually every movie out there. I would argue that any movie without SOMEONE dying somehow will not do well at the box office. Or it’s a cable TV Hallmark movie.

I may add more to this later, but it’s time for Game of Thrones. Lots of people will likely die. FU… HECK YEAH!

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The Value of Life (or Death)

Seems you can’t open a single news website without seeing overwhelming coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. Three dead, scores wounded. It has caused a national stir in terms of immigration and poor journalism, as well as the fact that Boston was shut down during the manhunt. It was tragic, no doubt, but have we lost perspective?

Almost absent from the news is the horrific explosion at fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Possibly dozens dead, scores unaccounted for, and a town virtually wiped from the map. However, despite the lives lost and damage done, it plays second fiddle to the attack in Boston. By what standard do we measure importance of life? Are American lives considered more valuable than those killed in the quake in Pakistan/Iran? Are the three dead in Boston worth more than the dozens killed in the recent bombing in Baghdad? What about the countless lost in Syria?

It seems callous, initially, to discount a terrorist attack on American soil, but the cold truth is that this was miniscule in terms of what happens almost daily in the world. Once could easily match the loss of life and limb in Boston compared to auto accidents within minutes. A single car bomb going off in Afghanistan kills dozens. There is no shortage of tragedies in the world that dwarfs that single attack, yet we brush them off as “the way it is”. People are going to die in car accidents, and we accept this loss as part of life. Same with drownings, mass murder in the less appealing parts of the world, and plane crashes.

What I ask myself, and perhaps to those reading this, you should ask yourself, is do you see the loss of American life differently than that in Sudan, Syria, or Iraq? Does the body count from those areas read as a statistic instead of as individuals, all with hopes, dreams, families, and aspirations? Or is a headline listing “10,000 lost in Malaysia from Tsunami” simply too large of a number for us to grasp in terms of human individuality? Is that poor fisherman on the coast of some Pacific isle, and all of his village, and the thousands of others in the surrounding villages, the same as those three who lost their lives in Boston?

This may characterize me as un-American, as someone who “doesn’t understand”, and I’m fine with that.  However, I am willing to take a critical look at our way of thinking, the way the media portrays and quantifies tragedy, and the impact of remotely witnessing death and war. But when I browse over the comment section of CNN, and see people bickering over trivial issues, laughing about the loss of life, and a level of detachment that would, in some eyes, qualify as a mental disorder, I wonder if I am one of the few sane individuals surviving in a world where everyone else has gone stark raving mad.

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Olympic Thoughts

As I watch the Olympics play out in London, it really drives home the concept of our limitations as humans. It makes us look inward at ourselves, and ask ourselves if we are reaching our maximum potential. It drives home the importance of physical fitness, and it also makes us reflect on our own physical state. Nobody expects to be an Olympic swimmer, but shouldn’t we be able to perform at even a fraction of that level of skill?

The disappointments were also profound. Even those who stumbled, fell, tripped, or simply did not make the grade, their performance was still remarkable. Unfortunately for them, they are competing against the absolute best, and there is no margin for error. I applaud them for making it as far as they did, and despite their “shortcomings”, they are still marvelous, tremendously impressive athletes. If anything, they drive home the point that even if you lose, you have still won. They went out, and they competed with the best in the world. They won simply in that aspect alone. Many of us have a hard enough time getting to the gym.

Finally, it caused me to reflect on the basic level of human fitness. We can make excuses, be it age, job, fatigue, etc. However, are we at even a fraction of our fitness level we could be? Does age make a tremendous difference in our fitness, unless we were competing against younger, super-fit individuals? Why CAN’T we run a 7:00 mile at 45 years of age? Does age truly impact us that much, or are we not maximizing our potential? The human body is an amazing thing, capable of remarkable feats of fitness, and tremendously durable. What is it that is really holding us back?
Thank you, Olympians, for allowing at least one person to reflect, reevaluate, and permitting himself to be inspired.

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Democrats, Republicans, and the Idea of Taxes

The polarization of politics over the last few years has alarmed me. Either a person a liberal, leftist, socialist, communist, America-hating, Lesbian/Gay Muslim trying to undermine God’s country with evil subversive activities, or the person is a right-wing, neocon, heartless, gun-toting, immigration-hating, homophobic, fundamentalist, ignorant, corporate toadie trying to subjugate all of those who aren’t rich and bathe in crude oil. What happened to the moderates? What happened to politics that weren’t so absolutely far right or left that we had trouble deciding who we liked?

One thing that bothers me is the tax debate. When I was growing up, the GOP was about reducing wasteful spending, identifying and fixing inefficiencies, and helping businesses. Now we have this “shut ‘er down!” mentality which has taken a simple, sane, and very good concept and turned it into a call for an anarchistic collapse of government. People have openly stated (on the internet, anyway) that they don’t want to pay for schools, parks, roads, or even fire departments. Some posit that there is money, but scoundrels and crooks are hoarding the money. Sorry, but when the city of Colorado Springs has to hock their only police helicopter, shut off streetlights, and let parks wither and die, it may be safe to assume they’ve thoroughly exhausted their resources.

On the flip side of that, the GOP is right in that there is some wasteful spending. However, one cannot simply throw out the baby with the bathwater. The lavish spending sprees by the GSA and redundancy in programs all deserve review and possible elimination, if required. A scorched earth policy, however, is not the answer, and will ultimately cost more in the long run.

Another thing that bothers me is the concept that if people cannot afford health insurance, we should leave them to die, as we are not responsible for them. A pretty barbaric concept, that’s for certain. Especially given the fact that the Affordable Healthcare Act actually reduces the deficit. We are all responsible for one another in some shape or form. Be it the police force we all pay to maintain, the fire department, or even street cleaners, we all contribute our share to society so that we can enjoy the benefits of a healthy population, a safe neighborhood, and the best possible chance to succeed. However, it is difficult to hold a civil conversation on this matter without resorting to hyperbole or utterly simplistic analogies.

I absolutely agree that wasteful government spending should be found and removed. I agree that not all programs are all that useful, and could be redundant. No argument there. I agree that efficiency should be maximized so as to relieve the everyday citizen of unnecessary taxes. I DO NOT agree that health care should only be available to those who can pay the insurance company. I DO NOT feel that we should compromise safety, infrastructure, or education just because we feel we deserve every penny we make. Society doesn’t work like that, as noted in Jonathan Locke’s concept of the Social Contract, which, coincidentally, is the basis for our government. And I strongly, utterly, and with all my heart DISAPPROVE of the heartless nature of those who feel they can allow others to die because they want more money, and those who carry hatred for those who do not believe in the same things or ideas as they do. Discussion and moderation must return to politics, or we will be left with nothing but two equally unattractive options.

“I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” ~Ronald Reagan

 

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Gun Control Vs. Social Control

     By now most of the world is fully aware of the shootings in Aurora, CO. The gun control debate has reignited in full force, and everyone is either calling for us to defend our homes with rocks and intricately rigged booby traps, or there are those calling for everyone in the US to own their very own rocket launcher. Moderation in this debate seems to be absent.

     No doubt, the young James Holmes would have certainly found an alternative if guns were not readily available. It has been shown that he knows how to manufacture explosives, and it’s clear he had incendiary devices at the ready as well. As government officials have noted, making guns illegal would not have changed much. Secondly, as any critical thinking course would demonstrate, are guns the problem? A quick assessment would indicate, at least in this case, no. The guns were not the problem. The problem lies in Mr. Holmes and his breakdown.

     So, where do we start in analyzing the problem? Could his psychosis have been prevented? Identified and halted before he acted? At what point do we investigate someone for being weird? Did a single person out there think he was capable of such an act? This is perhaps why gun control is easy as a solution. Remove the method, and the problem is solved. This, unfortunately, is based off of the logic that guns would be the only method. Much more difficult of a task is the idea that we must be stewards of our neighbors’ behaviors and attitudes. That we must be constantly aware of what everyone around us is doing, and be willing to call the authorities if something seems off.This level of intrusion into peoples’ lives does not sit well with classic American philosophies of freedom and privacy,

     The last argument is that the right to bear arms might have prevented this from being as bad as it was. I would, as a combat veteran myself, propose a very somber review of such a suggestion. You have a dark theater, sound system and screen on and booming, gas canisters emitting tear gas, and gunfire, all in a dark room. Positively identifying the shooter, ESPECIALLY if several armed patriots were to stand and react around the same time, would be difficult, if not impossible. The consequences would be catastrophic. While gun ownership may prevent you from being mugged, this would not be an appropriate time.

     My parting thoughts is that this is not the time to politicize gun control legislation. A cursory review of the incident makes it clear that a lack of guns would not have changed the outcome. Mankind has been killing each other with readily available components long before the first firearm was created. The unfortunate truth is that there is no way to mitigate this loss. Banning guns will change nothing, nor will it repair the damage done by a single, highly intelligent, but highly disturbed individual. Let us mourn those who have been lost, and move on. But if you see someone out of place, and your intuition starts setting off alarms, don’t be afraid to act on it. At the very worst, a person is inconvenienced for a few moments. 

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The Files Are In The Computer! It’s SO SIMPLE!

     One thing that irks me is when I ask someone a simple question about either encryption or their antivirus, and I get the “I’m no good with computers” answer. Considering your bank info is transmitted on there, you make online purchases, and you, at a minimum, have an internet connection, you really should know something about computer security. Would you drive a car not understanding how to apply the brake, and shrug it off until you crash? No, you would take the time to learn about something which could dramatically and negatively influence your life.

     Passwords, for example, are something that only takes a few minutes to become familiar with. I could easily tell you everything you know about strong passwords before you finish your morning cup of coffee. Of course, any password could be cracked with enough time, but why make it easy for someone? Instead of using your pet’s name, which could be cracked within seconds, change it to MuFF!E1saG00dK1tteh!!. Congratulations, you just amped up the possible combinations by a few million, and made guessing the password an impossibility. Not only that, but once you remember where the special characters are, you don’t even have to write that complicated bugger down (which is a security risk in itself)!

     If you have a home or other form of business, and you aren’t doing backups, you are again setting yourself up for a disaster. All computer hardware, and this includes hard drives, fails eventually, no matter what. It’s actually a business acronym, MTBF, or Mean Time Between Failures. You have a plethora of backup options, and it’s easy to learn. Unless, of course, you think you can afford to lose all of your data, without warning. I’m guessing you can’t. Again, easy to learn, and could save your bacon. Mmm… bacon.

     Last but not least, avoid questionable e-mails. Scammers often use enticing subject lines, such as “Concerning your BBB complaint” or “Your ACH transaction is complete” or something to make you panic into clicking that link. Don’t respond, don’t click the link, and if you can help it, don’t even open the e-mail. Most of us know that the Nigerian billionaire is a flight of fancy. Not everyone knows that e-mail addresses can be spoofed, or faked, to look authentic. GMail catches this kind of stuff fairly consistently, but I can’t vouch for other mail services.

   By the way, if you read this entire blog, this is pretty much how long it would have taken you to come up with a strong password for your stuffz, browsed backup options, and glanced over common scammer approaches. Take the time to protect your digital identity.

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The Slow, Painfully Ugly Death of Electronic Retail Stores

     Today I visited Best Buy for the first time in ages, and it, to me, symbolized the slow and ugly decline of electronic retail stores. And why shouldn’t it go? Most people tend to lean towards online options such as Amazon, TigerDirect, and NewEgg for their computing and entertainment needs.These options provide rapid delivery options, as well as tax-free purchases. Many times, if you bundle your purchases into a single shipment, you can avoid shipping fees altogether. Couple this with the distinct business advantage of having no stores to maintain, these companies have a distinct advantage,

     But retails stores can provide intangible benefits such as solid customer service and the ability to try, hands on, a product prior to purchase. Unfortunately, these needs are not being met by Best Buy. The customer service was negligible at best, and with the exception of a cheerful, but unsure sales associate (one who tried to give me a sales pitch for DirectTV afterwards), most employees seemed like they’d rather be somewhere else. I can’t blame them. Who wants to be at the world’s longest retail funeral?

     As I passed through the aisles, I saw discounted movies, none of which were terribly watchable. A rack with music CDs (I thought we stopped with those silly things?). There were, in Best Buy’s defense, some good deals on the Batman and Ice Age series on Blu-Ray. Many other movies were terribly overpriced. I passed by several broken video game console demos, and wondered why nobody bothered trying to get them working again. That instance alone conveyed the apathy that was found throughout the store.

     If a business is to survive against the online market, their facilities must be something worth visiting. The products must be available for demos, and the employees must be, even if faking it, appearing to enjoy their work. My experience was not unlike walking through a morgue.  In H.G. Wells’ book, The Time Machine, the time traveler watches the world slowly die over the course of hundred of thousands of years. I hope Best Buy either fixes their issues or has the grace to depart from us in a much more timely manner.

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