Randomness

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You wanna have a religious experience? Go out into the woods, and take what Terrence McKenna called a ‘heroic dose’.  Smoke weed and contemplate the universe. It’s humbling and everyone should do it. It puts us in our place in the cosmos. We’re on a floating rock, hurling through infinity and people want to argue about shirts.

Folks these days need to be humbled to existence. We’ve been “dulled by the anesthetic of familiarity” as Richard Dawkins says.

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Witness your child being born. Seeing my children for the first time changed my, all 3 times it’s happened. Incidentally, on average, I have a child for every 8.666 years of my life.

The world is full of such beauty which would seem designed, it is the result of billions of years of Darwinism. Of course the planet seems so perfect for our form of life because we’re here to contemplate it.

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Isn’t it about time we stop locking people in cages for having a fucking plant? If an adult is permitted – or required- to go die for his country, he should be permitted to smoke cannabis. The hippie in me says the government keeps it legal because weed changes the way you think. Alcohol keeps you dumb. Just ask that folks don’t get behind the wheel, as with every other substance that is legal which impairs people.

The fact that cannabis continues to be a Schedule 1 drug is absolutely absurd. ZERO medical uses? Quit fucking with us, government. I’m not going to claim that cannabis cures cancer or anything, but there’s no doubt that it helps cancer patients. The government doesn’t want it to be legal, because of the consciousness-raising effects.

Okay, I’ll take my tinfoil hat off now.

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Returning to the natural beauty of our planet, I’ve begun showing my son The Lord of the Rings films, of which I recently purchased the blu-ray extended edition boxset. Seeing all of the beautiful areas that are used to represent Middle Earth, but which actually exist is such a treat.

In watching these films again, I’m always amazed at Peter Jackson’s ability as a director, not to mention the hundreds of other people involved in production. If you’ve never seen the behind the scenes documentaries where you get to see the artists making all of the work from WETA, you definitely need to. It’s amazing.

We made it through the first half of Fellowship, and when asked what they thought my boys said “I like it, but it’s kind of really long!”  You have no idea, my boys.

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Religion and Kids

“Religion teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not knowing.”
-Professor Richard Dawkins

It’s bullshit to force religion on your, or any, children. I recently had a lengthy discussion with a Jehovah’s witness, a 20 year old gentleman who seemed fairly sane and intelligent, but believes in the virgin birth, resurrection, and creationism. He also believes that Earth is approximately six thousand years old, and humans used to live to hundreds of years of age. When asked why he was a witness, he replied “My whole family does it.” Children can’t muster an intellectual defense against complex idea like religion. I spoke with the Jehovah’s witness for nearly two hours and he claims to have done research and come to the conclusion, despite the overwhelming evidence contrary to his beliefs, that he believes in miracles, the effectiveness of prayer, the whole package. Most of my questions as usual were met with the usual theist cop-out statements like “all the answers are in the bible”. Instead of being able to answer anything in a simple sentence, they avoid giving any concrete explanation. God moves in mysterious ways. Is it more likely that one man rose from the dead and was born of a virgin or that someone lied or was mistaken?

Using religion to strike fear into children, bribing with promises of heaven or blackmailing with threat of eternal punishment is not something a child needs to be haunted with. One wouldn’t look at a child and think that kid is a Republican. It sounds silly to even state in a hypothetical manner. So why is it acceptable to call a child a Catholic, Islamic or indeed, an atheist?

A child’s natural tendency is curiosity, and we should be encouraging that. They should to be taught to question everything. Everything they read, hear, and see. My wife and I are trying to instill this in our kids. If my kids grow up and want to join a faith, I’m not going to disown them. I would hope that they would have come to the conclusion to join a faith of their own free will, though, not because we forced them. This “I do it cuz that’s the way my daddy did it” mentality needs to stop. My kids will certainly have to put up with me grilling them with questions over why they chose to become religious.

The fact that the bible was written by peasants at a time when people were “even dumber than we are now” (David Cross) and translated and re-translated and edited by kings and people with agendas seems not to bother believers.

I have a real problem with “faith” because it is basically saying “I’m choosing to believe in things that go completely against established science”, and as a Get Out of Jail Free card for anything they have no logical answer for. Theists love to take advantage of gaps in knowledge in the scientific field as evidence in favor of God, claiming that since we can’t explain it now, therefore it cannot be explained, hence: God exists. These people know God exists with as much certainty as I’m sure fairies don’t. Presumably theists don’t believe in Zeus or Allah, so what’s wrong with taking it one god further?

There’s no denying that religion has some benefits. It offers a sense of community for those in need, charity, and claims to have all the answers. Which is comforting, I suppose, to people who are rightfully terrified by the infinite beauty and mystery of the universe. But that doesn’t make anything in any holy book true. And you do not need God to be a good person. People can be moral, compassionate, and charitable without the existence of a higher power. We’re capable of so much more, and don’t need God to do it.

Dark Souls

Recently I finished a play through of FromSoftware’s dark fantasy role-playing game Dark Souls, and I have to share my thoughts on how great the game is. This isn’t an uncommon opinion of course, but Dark Souls does so many things correct that I think the games industry should learn from.

Dark Souls released in 2011, following the release of FromSoftware’s cult hit Demon’s Souls. Having changed publishers, FromSoft had to develop a spiritual sequel to Demon’s Souls. Many players enjoyed how the games were refreshingly punishing; death has consequences and you hand isn’t held the whole time. The games’ director Hidetaka Miyazaki is often asked to comment on the difficulty of the games, and his answer is always that the difficulty was never the point. The games aren’t hard for the sake of it, this is a tactic used to draw you into the world and be cautious. It can also be used to punctuate big moments, like the fight with Ornstein and Smough.

Dark Souls begins with the player character waking up in the Undead Asylum, and getting freed from their cell by Oscar. This gives an in-game reason for you to listen to his request to fulfil the Undead Prophecy- dodgeroll some powerful beings to death and link the fire. This brings up one of the things that Souls games do very well, which is the fact that they try to have in-game explanations for everything. You have to suspend disbelief about magic, and demons and all that, but otherwise things in the world behave in a sensical manner.

Once the player arrives in Firelink Shrine, the beauty of the design begins to show itself. The game isescribed as “metroidvania”, which stems from Metroid and Castlevania, which emphasize an open world structure, and often opening up shortcuts or new ways to traverse the world. The level design in this game is really commendable and something I think any aspiring level designer should experience. Firelink is your hub, and most of the areas in the first half of the game are connected to it somehow. All a continuous world, unbroken by loading screens. Early on in the game, it is impossible for the player to warp around, meaning, when you want to get somewhere you have to walk there. This is why those of us who play the games go on and about the level design. Another part of the genius of Firelink is the way various npcs found around the game return to Firelink for a rest. But most of them return for a while, but then leave and can be found elsewhere in the world. This gives an amazing feeling of realism. Their function as a vendor to the player isn’t the only reason they exist. They have their own goals, outside of helping the player.

Punishing but fair. This is the best way to describe a Souls game. Upon discovering a new boss, you’ll probably die a few times but once you get their attack patterns down, you’re ready stomp some demon ass. There is a rush when you finally beat a boss that’s been giving you a hard time that not many games can accomplish.

The Lord Vessel, guarded by the game’s hardest bosses Ornstein and Smough. This functions as a bottleneck in the game. If the player can overcome Ornstein and Smough, the designers know they can throw tough things your way. Admittedly, after the Lord vessel (which allows the player to warp around) the level design takes a step down. Since the player can warp out of most areas, this means that the levels tend to end in ways that force the warping.

Games always fall victim to deadlines, of course, but it would be great to see what might have been if Dark Souls hadn’t been forced to rush its release.  The later levels, that people find lackluster, might have been some of the best in the game. Overall, people play a souls game for an experience greater than the sum of its parts. The combat is very satisfying, but it’s not deep the same way a Devil May Cry is. The attack animations are slow and uninterruptible. Bosses can be very frustrating, but a massive relief to finally overcome. The atmosphere is very bleak, which helps benevolent characters like Solaire shine even brighter.

My rambling point is: go play the fucking game. It’s great and everyone should experience it for themselves. Get past the wall of difficulty and you’ll have yourself one of the best gaming experiences ever.

Trump’s Behavior

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Today Presidnt Trump announced his withdrawal from the climate change plan with France. The only other two countries that did this are Syria and Nicaragua. Good fucking job, America. What is wrong with wanting to protect the rock on which we fucking all live? It is getting harder and harder to be proud to be an American. We should stand as an example, not the laughing stock of the world.  It seems like a majority of Trump supporters are completely oblivious to what the Dear Leader is doing. How can anyone, besides the super rich, claim to be happy with the results since he took office? Do they hate the other side that much to just ignore everything that is happening? They voted in and are supporting someone who is passing doing things that are against their best interests. If, say, Hilary Clinton had gotten in office and there was suspicion of collusion with Russians, or anyone for that matter, would they just let it go the way they are with Trump? No. I’d wager my vital organs that it would not be ignored if it were a democrat in office. He fired the person leading the investigation into his alleged collusion with Russia. Isn’t that suspicious to anyone?

Thanks to Trump’s Twitter account we get a glimpse into what he is really like, thanks to things like his “covfefe” tweet. I wonder how many prior presidents would appear so stupid if they had Twitter during their presidency.

“Just living this #Watergate covfefe!”

That aside, Trump is basically doing nothing that he promised in his campaign. How is this allowed? Why is there not an uprising? You can’t just do that. He promised better, cheaper healthcare, and available to all, but now it seems they’re trying to make healthcare even more expensive and difficult for the middle and lower class to get. He is a con man, and America was fooled by him, but at this point it isn’t funny anymore. Trump has no idea what in the hell he’s doing, and it’s costing us all.

We’re going backwards. Oil fracking, building walls, ignoring climate change, sexism, racism, religion, these are all things of the past. This dumb, tribalist attitude is something I hope we can get over as a species.

Just imagine a world where we all worked together…

The American Dream

“You may say I’m a dreamer”

-John Lennon, “Imagine”

Modern Life

After the birth of my daughter, I’ve been thinking about how we live our lives. I would sell my soul to be able to spend every moment with her, but I can’t. I have to go suffer at work. Most people I speak with hate work too. I understand that society has been set up to necessitate work, but why is it the norm to be miserable all the time? Is it the American dream to suffer at work until my veins are filled with sludge and my heart stops thanks to the clots from stress and lack of activity? Every job I’ve worked feels like it’s literally killing me, slowly, every time I walk through the door. Sounds more like a nightmare to me. Some of us are just wired differently, and are not meant to be in the 9-5 til you die jobs. Yet, we’re basically all forced into that life, and just accept it that this is the way it has to be. But, in 2017, does it have to be that way still? Why should I accept it?

Again, I understand that work is necessary or a lot of things wouldn’t get done at all. People love to go on and on about the importance of family but, if you’re of middle or lower class, it’s nearly impossible to find the time for meaningful time with your family. If you spend a majority of your time working a job you hate with people you don’t like, you come home stressed and cranky and time with your significant other or kids feels hollow.

Our Culture

We’re living in a country being led by people who, instead of moving ideas forward, are moving backwards. Instead of universal education and healthcare, these things are being even harder to get. Everyone receiving a base income, instead of having to wonder where the next meal will come from. On top of being under investigation, the Dear Leader Trump wants to build walls, burn bridges, and kickstart the oil industry. Am I crazy or is half the country out of their fucking minds right now?

At this point in our culture, it should be acceptable for people who have families to spend the time raising their kids properly. Maybe we wouldn’t end up with as many miserable, sociopathic people who hold contempt for everything. If someone wants to pursue a creative venture, that should be not only completely okay, but supported by the community. We need to evolve further as a culture if we’re to survive.

Music Today

“Though meaning might be missin’, we need to know the words after just one listen so, repeat stuff”

-Bo Burhnam “Repeat Stuff”

The Industry Today

Music these days tends to be very polarizing. People over the age of 20 have quite the scorn towards the music that one hears on the radio today. Was it always this way, though? Did people get so up in arms about Bob Dylan, the way we see folks get so up in arms about the next Justin Bieber song? Has the industry lost all of its balls? It certainly would seem that the big companies have no interest in supporting the truly remarkable over the truly marketable.

Music used to stand for something. The truly memorable artists had things to say, pain to work through, struggles to overcome. What does Justin Bieber stand for? Besides acting like an asshole in public, and putting out the most bland, toothless music. One couldn’t picture Biebs putting out a song with such emotion as Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”, because that might not strike with the broadest audience as possible. In 50 years, will people be listening to The Beatles, still, or Justin Bieber? There’s no longevity to his type of music. Is “Baby” a more of a timeless classic than “Let it Be”?

Don’t people get tired of listening to music from people bragging about all of the expensive shit that they have that most of the fans never will? Repetitive, paper-thin music that holds up to no scrutiny whatsoever. Music is an easy thing to get snobby about but, fuck me, some people like shitty music.

Is this really what people want?

I would argue that it’s provably NOT what the population, over the age of 10 anyway, want. I say this because nearly every time someone comes along who actually has something to say,  they gather a following who clamor for more. Kendrick Lamar is popular rapper of today, born and raised in Compton, who’s making it quite big. It’s no surprise to me that he lived a harder life… creativity comes from adversity. Compare him to Drake who, admittedly had a mother with health problems, but was an actor on the Canadian show “DeGrassi”. Drake did not “start from the bottom”.  Now, I’ll admit a bit of ignorance when it comes to rap and hip-hop these days, I fell out with rap years ago. When I hear that type of music these days it seems like most aspiring rap stars just make non sequiturs that rhyme, instead of having a consistent theme throughout the song.

I saw a video recently of the rap duo Rae Sremmurd reacting to comments left on the Youtube page of their song “Black Beatles”, and a few things struck me as interesting.  Firstly, they come across as cocky douche-bags, telling people who don’t like their music to “suck their cocks”. Whoever reads the comments is nearly illiterate; one guy keeps making the onomatopoeia for tires squealing. They seem incapable of taking any criticism that comes with the territory of being at the top of the charts. They say “we’re not comparing ourselves to The Beatles, we’re the Black Beatles.” which makes no fucking sense. The one with the blonde dreads says something like “I can play any instrument… digitally”. He’s boasting that he can do something that literally anyone with any combination of fingers could do.

The song contains lyrics such as: “Rocking John Lennon lenses like to see ’em spread eagle”, and “Black Beatle, bitch, me and Paul McCartney related”; these are not only really stupid lyrics, it sounds like connecting and comparing to The Beatles to me. The Beatles have a large and eclectic body of work, completely unrivaled by anybody who has come after them. Their music may have started off as the pop love song stuff, but it evolved into something so much greater. I’ve never seen a video of Paul McCartney telling critics of his work to suck his dick, that’s all I’m saying.

One of my favorite musicians is Maynard James Keenan, of TOOL, Puscifer, and A Perfect Circle. He’s a fantastic lyricist and has a great vocal range. He also has a dedicated fan-base of millions of people clamoring for something new from his bands. He’s never put out a video attacking critics of his work. He supports charities, and is mostly reclusive, and has been in the music industry for nearly 30 years. His lyrics are ambiguous, emotional, and best of all, are not just about how great he is and how much he loves to party.

If I were in pursuit of a career in music I would take the smaller audience of dedicated fans over the fickle fans who listen to the Billboard Hot 100 tracks before moving onto the next popular thing like Roombas or Pokemon.

Summing up

I had to re-watch the reaction video a couple of times, read the lyrics to Black Beatles, and watch the music video in preparation for this rant. I have to wonder if their behavior is an act to get people talking about them, in good ways or bad. I’ve spent much more time listening to them and thinking about them than I thought I ever would. I’m convinced that these clowns will not have a lasting music career. Their time in the spotlight will pass, and they’ll be forgotten just like nearly every other musician to ever chart.