February 21

On the passing of Umberto Eco

Author Umberto Eco passed away two days ago at the age of 84. Although not an author I read on a regular basis, he was an amazing writer, whose work was rich, like Godiva chocolate or hundred year old balsamic vinegar, the kind one can sip like wine. I can read most books in a week or two, but Foucault’s Pendulum took me well over a month, and I would be able to glean more upon a second or third reading.

Death is a sad affair, with the world losing a person whose influence could mean a lot to it. In Mr. Eco’s case, his work had wide reaching appeal, and powerful impact, and it will endure for a long time, though his name may not be as recognized by as wide an audience as some. He has well earned the peace he is now at.

I hope some day to write half as well as he.

January 22

Shifting the Narrative, and my diet

Anyone who has debated with me online knows that it takes a lot to push me to use personal insults. In fact, very few people have seen me resort to such tactics at all in quite some time. I see a lot of people from every side who use such tactics in debate, and it saddens me that people who really do have a valid argument are still drawn in by the temptation of using insults.

Even though I do not resort to such methods, I have been targeted by some rather horrendous insults. I will not repeat them here, let’s just say that they would fall under “fight words” if used in person.

I find that patience and an even disposition serves me much better in debate. There are some who can’t handle it, and blow up at me before blocking me. However, more are taken aback at my lack of insults, and are more open to listening. This is my goal. Sure, it might be fun to go flaming across Twitter abusing all of the groups I disagree with, but the end result would be pointless. So, I try hard not to personally insult people.

This does NOT mean I will not insult ideas, or “non-people” (Those who are dead, fictional, or of unknown existence). In addition, I may refer to well known people by their behavior (Such as calling Zakir Naik a charlatan, or Trump an amoral opportunist)

On a slightly different note, I am in week three of my second attempt at vegetarianism. With the help of my wonderful wife, I have been able to switch my diet from a few meats (chicken, and turkey) to nearly none at all. I say nearly, because I lapsed twice so far. I am still trying hard to maintain it, even though I crave omnivorousness.

My reason for doing so is to reduce inflammation causing foods, as well as lose a bit of weight. Morally, however, I am also trying to avoid unnecessary suffering of animals. I think I can exist without requiring another being with a nervous system experiencing pain. My goal is to eventually be free from my meat cravings. We shall see!

It is a personal choice, and I am not going to go on a crusade to change anyone else, not even within my own home. The eldest wishes to be a pescatarian, and my wife is still a happy omnivore.

However, I am up for sharing recipes!

August 7

Fighting Invisible Demons

Those who know me know that I try very hard to be funny, upbeat, and generally in a good mood. Those closest to me know that, behind this, is a complex structure of coping mechanisms. Depression, rage, fear, all are also parts of me.

Those people closest to me struggle with similar demons. Many of them are blessed and cursed with the ability to understand the larger patterns, to see the story. It is a dance along the cliff between sanity and insanity, and it takes phenomenally strong people to dance this line without falling off.

It has been said that ignorance is bliss. On the inverse, knowledge is power. Both have their dangers. Is one a sheep, to be led willingly to slaughter, or is one a wolf, to be hunted by the fearful?

Neither. One is human, and to ignore the responsibility that comes with that is to sacrifice our one and only valuable birthright; sentience.

So, the only way I stay sane is through learning, logic, and force of will. And the occasional joke.

April 25

What Brothership Means to Me

For those of you who have read my blog, you know that I recently went through a rough friend breakup. Someone who had been a friend for fifteen years and I parted ways, and it was rough.

I talked about it several times here, because it was particularly devastating, given my health issues.

Well, he offered and olive branch, and, after some thought, I accepted it without condition or argument. Why? Because friendship, especially one as old as ours, is much more important than being right. It doesn’t matter to me if he was right, or if I was right. What happened is in the past, and buried with the hatchet.

I have several men whom I consider to be my brothers in this life (thus far). As some of you know, I do not have any biological brothers. But, blood is not the only thing that makes brothers, it is intent, action, being there for one another. Each of my brothers has been there for me, and I for them. And I will be in the future. I suppose that is why it did not take me long to look past what happened, even though it hurt as much as it did.

It is said by common media that it is hard to find good friends, the older one gets, but I am finding that my friendships are more meaningful, as I have less tolerance for bullshit. I am lucky that I am finding more good friends, even now.

April 3

How to Save the World, part I

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s the thing.

We all live on this planet. All of us. Hindus. Muslims. Christians. Black People. White People. Asians. Nerds. Jocks. Tall people. Short. Americans. North Koreans. Iraqis. All the humans.

We share the planet with millions of species of animals, plants, single cell organisms, some interesting things between.

Setting aside the natural world for now, we have a big problem. It’s a problem with our base nature as humans. We hate being wrong. Which means we love being right. Enough that we fight, sometimes to the death, to be right.

The worst fights are the ones over religion. The big problem with that is that there is no way to really know who is right objectively. Not a problem for the average believer, but it does cause a lot of division. enmity, and warfare between different groups.

Except one.

There is one group that does not fight about whose holy book is correct. One that does not bicker over translation or meaning, over interpretation or theology. Unfortunately, this group is distrusted by the largest groups of theists. That’s right, it’s the atheists.

No dogma, no leaders or text that must be followed without question.

So, what does this mean?

Every major religion promises that, at some point, it can bring about peace. Whether it is personal peace or world peace… the problem is that, with rare exceptions, none have delivered this peace. The funny thing is that I think that the only viewpoint that could actually do it is the only one that does not promise it. But, not as it is right now.

Atheism suffers from the same problem as all the others: the overwhelming desire to be right. This leads to a lot of office chair atheist warriors flooding online communities, itching for a fight. I myself have been embroiled in these fights, to my shame. I wrote a three part series on how to disengage from them (here, here, and here) but even I have a hard time resisting it.

In order for atheism to save us from the ten thousand plus years of religious warfare, we, as atheists, are going to have to rise above the petty squabbles and strive to be better at being mature about it. Stand up for the rights of all, even the religious, even when we disagree with the message.

“But, why? Their beliefs are silly!” I hear you say indignantly.

So what? Actions are what is important. Beliefs are less so. As long as they do not force others to do things, what does it matter? Do you mind what pagans do out in the forest if they aren’t hurting anyone?

Learn to live and let live. It’s what we want them to do, and we need to lead by example.

February 28

In Memory

Leonary Nimoy. Source: ABC News
Leonary Nimoy. Source: ABC News

We have seen the passing of one of my personal heroes this week, Leonard Nimoy. To honor him, I watched the first five Star Trek movies. The funeral scene in Wrath of Khan made me cry, as did several of the other scenes related to death. I told my oldest that he was one of my heroes, and I realized he was. His views on life, both in and out of character, helped me through some dark times in my life. I mourn his passing.

I have already seen people speaking of him in Heaven, and some dismissing him as an atheist. From all of the information I can gather, he was a lifelong Jew. So, yes, he may be in Heaven, but he is not hanging out with Saint Peter. Sorry to dash your hopes of playing pinochle with him. To be honest, I don’t know if that was a game he liked or not. I could see him enjoying many different types of games. Maybe that is my own projection.

I’m sorry that it has been a long time since my last update. My heath has been an issue; I got a pretty severe head cold, and, with Multiple Sclerosis, it makes everything more complex. When the fever one is running makes it hard to move or think straight, blogging sometimes takes a hit. Thankfully, I survived it, although our finances have taken a hit, with my lovely wife having also been sick and having to take some time off. So, to cover some of my ongoing medical expenses, I have had to resort to a Gofundme fundraiser. Links are to the right.

Yesterday, I woke up and my right hand had gone all pins and needles. It is a new symptom, a departure from the slow decline of my left side, and something quite worrisome. It will probably take me some time to get used to the way my right hand feels now. My typing has slowed, and I am considering teaching myself touch typing with the new condition to improve my speed. Coding will be difficult, but I have too many projects to be slowed down by something silly like a disability.

Continue reading

January 29

The myth of the Virgin Nerd

Cardboard Knight
Cardboard Knight – Source Unknown

There is a common myth, still persistent, even in this enlightened age of the post jock dominant world, that Geeks, Nerds, and other titles given to the smart, socially awkward among us are virgins, and this is a bad thing. This wraps up several misconceptions and stereotypes into one prejudicial statement that I would like to address. Let’s go back to front.

  • Virginity is Bad, but only for boys

The pressure on adolescents to have sex is pretty damn strong. It is perpetuated in media, which uses sex to sell pretty much everything, is blasted from music and movies, and, why not? The human body has evolved to pump hormones into the developing body that seem custom tailored for marketing departments to be able to push the latest energy drink or cosmetic product. Complicate that with small town America who think that any activity that includes teenagers will lead to sex and/or drug use, and, therefore, must be shut down, and what are you left with? That’s right. Sex is the measure of a young man among his peers.

So, a young man is made fun of if he has not “scored” with a woman. Zod help him if he is attracted to boys! (I digress… this is not about homosexuality). So, virginity is bad for young men among his peers, in the same way it is a virtue for a young girl among her peers (The old double standard, still surviving, even now).

This cultural pressure is so bad that it has become a culture of forced sex. Rape culture is so pervasive that it is distorting not only how we raise male children, but how we raise females as well, and how we deal with sex altogether.

  • Interests are only good when Accepted by Society

This one has always irked me. I am not a big fan of football. Sure, I go to Superbowl parties. I could care less about the game. I go to be with friends. Do you know how many games I have gone to in my life? Two. One was with my mother when I was about eight. We were at the Hoosier Dome, and were literally at the back wall of the stadium. The field was so far away I could not make out the numbers on the jerseys. The second game was in high school. The only reason I went was because I was waiting to go to the dance afterwards, and they would not let me wait outside the game. Other sports are similar. The only sport I got into at all was soccer, and, even then, it was only barely. But, it was clear when I was younger that the football players and the basketball players were the ones who got the good treatment. Why? Here’s the thing.

It’s a cycle of pointlessness. All sports are entertainments. The owners pay the players to entertain the fans. The fans pay to be entertained. Nothing other than entertainment is produced. That’s all well and good, and the same thing can be said of computer games. But the thing is that the amount of money, and the way it is handled is what is the issue.

Take the average grade school football player. Maybe he has some talent. He plays in high school. In high school, he is shown special treatment. They have special transportation to and from matches. They give him a letter for his letterman jacket. He can get a special ring. He goes on to college. He plays there. There is a multi-million dollar industry supporting him. He goes on the the NFL. Now it is a multi-BILLION dollar industry. All along the way are perks, special treatment, he is groomed, treated like a prize pony, and is recognized the world over. Children are taught by their parents to idolize him. The stadiums he plays in were built using taxpayer money. The tickets cost an enormous amount. Television networks fight for the right to broadcast the game.

At the end of his career, what has he produced? Statistics, highlights, videos, memories. That’s all well and good. But society puts him and his activities on a pedestal. Why? We need heroes. Fine. We are not in any good wars, so that makes sense. At least, no wars that make sense and produce heroes.

Why, then, do we have to stigmatize those that do not choose the same path?

Thankfully, things are changing. Now that people are realizing that being a geek pays a lot better than the average jock, they are waking up to it.

  • Geeks don’t get the girls

This one, I think, irks me the most, because it is the least true, and the one most based on faulty knowledge. It presumes that girls cannot be geeks, and that all girls want non-geeks.

Guess what, jocks. Geek girls not only exist, but they are a lot more fun than the girls you like to date.

Think about it for a moment. Joe Average Jock asks Jane Average Cheerleader out on a date. He spends the evening talking about his Sports Team, which she knows a little about, since she is a Cheerleader. She starts talking about what she is into and he blankly stares off into space. This is what their marriage is going to look like.,

Meanwhile, Tom the Geek is out on a date with Meredith the Nerd. The spend the evening sharing a Butterbeer and trading Doctor Who and Monty Python quotes. On their thirties wedding anniversary, they share a booth at Gencon, promoting their new card game.

Jocks, geeks do get girls. We just don’t need to brag about it. We’re too busy having fun.

January 12

The first shots in Cyberwar I

Yeah. This is just about as likely.
Yeah. This is just about as likely.

Last month, allegedly, North Korea hacked Sony.

Right.

I’m sorry. I just don’t buy it. I mean, I know Sony has a pretty lackadaisical view of security (like just about every major company in the US that is not a bank, a university, or an actual computer security firm), but, come on. North Korea? I’d wager they have more goats per capita than hackers, and tech that is probably ten years (or more) out of date. They get most of their stuff from China and Russia, the former which has an active interest in keeping them a bit backwards and the other who is still trying to recover from eighty years of bad management at the hands of Faux Communist dictators. They lack the means, the opportunity, and probably the motivation.

That aside, there is a MUCH more dangerous group that has been able to fly under the radar that has the  financial backing, the motivation of religious zealotry, and the opportunity afforded by stupid proxy wars waged by the ORB Party (Oil Robber Barron, also known as the GOP).

Consider this: None of the attackers on September 11th were from Afghanistan or Iraq. Yet, we have spent between $4 and $6 TRILLION on wars, nearly a half million people have died, and the only people benefiting have been Halliburton and oil companies. We all know this; it’s not like it is a huge secret. Yet we keep ignoring it, because the information is just too painful and crazy for us to deal with.

Meanwhile, the power vacuum caused by us lopping off the heads of these two states has allowed some rather nasty groups to crop up. ISIS/ISIL, for example.

I won’t go into the background and history of these, as much better educated and informed people can provide a much better view of the situation, and that is not the point of this post, anyway.

The issue is that these groups have a lot of financial backing, whether in the form of oil money, opium/other drug money, or other sources. The lawlessness of the area allows for equipment to be brought in. Oddly enough, some of the efforts of the West to bring Internet connectivity have also helped provide an avenue for their new method of attack.

Cyberwar. Before I continue, I am going to digress for a moment to discuss the term.

I hate the prefix ‘cyber’. It is overused, badly used, misused, and often flogged into meaninglessness. Cyber comes from the term cybernetic, which denotes the marriage of man and machine. It specifically denotes “the science of communication and control theory that is concerned especially with the comparative study of automatic control systems (as the nervous system and brain and mechanical-electrical communication systems).”

Okay. Digression over.

Now. The event that has prompted this post is this:

CENTCOM Twitter Account Hacked By Individuals Claiming To Be Part Of ISIS

Couple of things to remember with this:

First, Twitter is civilian technology on a civilian network. This is not the government being hacked. This is a civilian network being hacked.

Second, the source of the hack is not confirmed as of the writing of this post.

Finally, the account was compromised for less than an hour before it was taken down, presumably by Twitter.

However, this could very well be the first shot in a larger “cyber”war. *goes to wash hands after typing “cyber”*

If it is, then I have a feeling that ISIS/ISIL (if they really are behind this) will be a catalyst, but not a major combatant of the war, and will be poorly remembered. Ever hear of the Black Hand? No? Not surprising. They only fired the first shots in what would become the first global conflict in history, spawning two major wars that killed 80-90 million people and whose effects are felt even today.

The thing is that an actual Digital War (sweet relief!) will be a horror to those who do not know what is going on, which will be just about everyone born before 1975 (With some exceptions, don’t get me wrong). We rely so heavily on accurate and reliable computer data systems that, when these systems become fallible due to malicious attacks, we will become disoriented. The only thing that has saved us thus far is a quirk of human psychology, which is the same quirk that keeps society from tearing itself apart from selfishness. Humans really are not that bad when it comes right down to it. The problem now is that a small group can effectively hurt a much, much larger group. Imagine twenty talented, organized “black hats” taking out something that could hurt hundreds of thousands of people or millions overnight (And you thought five hundred in Washington hurting 310,000,000 over the course of their terms was bad!).

Now, transpose that on to an entity that wants to harm the western world in some way. I don’t do details, because I am not here to scare you, nor to give blueprints to the “bad guys,” but it is conceivable that a small group, with enough funding and skill, could cause major damage. With enough attacks, it could be used in warfare. The US government, as well, I am sure, as many other governments, are working on this if they do not already have electronic warfare groups in place.

The big question remains. Is the US ready to defend itself, both governmental and private sector? Sony wasn’t. But, then again, Sony’s sin was false pride.

January 11

A realization about what it means to be human

Nexus
Nexus of all things Aaron

I had a realization this afternoon as I watched the Game Theorists and played Minecraft. Human beings are nexuses of their interests and then process those things into a synthesis of creation into new things. Sometimes, these things capture the imagination of others, and, it turn, become fuel for new creation, like a chain reaction in a multi-thousand year long chain. Some people fault religions for being based on previous religions, or fiction for being based on previous fictions, but it is all part of the great panoply that is the human condition. The phrase “There is nothing new under the sun” sounds, at first, to be a sad and defeatist truism, but it can also be just a realization and celebration that, in a very real sense, everything is at once new and familiar at the same time, new shoes that fit like the old comfortable pair of sneakers you mom wanted you to throw away. Does the fact that something has a familiar air to it mean that it is bad or less than good? Look at the image. The light reflecting through the piece of art has familiar colors you have seen before. Does that make it less beautiful? You have smelled roses before. Does that make them less sweet?

Don’t get me wrong; there is such a thing as over saturation. But that is when something is over done, not just redone. Forbidden planet may be similar to the story of Prospero, but that does not diminish from the wonderfulness of the story. Some stories have the same basic message, but that does not make the message worth less. Back to the Future III has the same moral as Terminator II. When our favorite character comes to the same conclusion we did twenty minutes before, sometimes that helps form the emotional bond between us.

And, in other thoughts…

A: Knock knock
B: Who’s there?
A: Me.
B: Me who?
A: Me. What happened to your door?

Things are funny when they are unexpected, and sometimes they are funnier when they turn out that they are actually are expected, but we expected the unexpected. So, when things are unexpectable, it can be even more interesting.