Neil Strauss, JJ Luna and Bethesda

So, the lottery was up past a billion and a half dollars recently.

That’s 1.5 Billion, with a “b”, or as I like to think of it, “1.5 Sagans”

Now, many people would ponder what to do with all that money, and I joined in on the fantasizing along with everyone else I know. I thought of mansions and caribbean beaches and paying off my family’s mortgages, etc. etc. etc. But there was something else I kept coming back to: I, like many, was focusing on the tremendous upside of winning all that money, but in the back of my mind was reminding myself that there’s a downside.

“A downside to being a billionaire?!” you say, realizing that, after taxes, and the fact that there were multiple winners to split the 1.5 billion between this time around it would be closer to 300 million when all was said and done. And then realizing that it’s beside the point, stop digressing and admit that your net worth suddenly jumping to 9 figures is just as significant as it suddenly jumping to 10.

“Yes” I say. A downside. Several downsides. And almost all of the downsides I kept thinking of had little to do with long lost family members and old high school buddies who suddenly remember your name, pretend to like you, and oh, by the way, have terminal brain/pancreatic/colon cancer and really need a “loan”. And, aside from thoses annoying downsides were the added downsides of hearing about past lottery winners have their marrages destroyed or their kids or their spouse or themselves die from drug overdoses or commit suicide from the stress or something equally self-destructive.

Instead, the downside I worried about the most to being a multi-millionaire was that fresh target on your back. Not a week went by since the Powerball was won that I saw a winner of a much smaller lottery jackpot in the news killed by a brother-in-law over the money.

Responsible

To all of you who own guns in America who consider themselves responsible, I have some interesting news for you.

You’re not a responsible gun owner.

Nope, not responsible.

Now, now, don’t get pissy. It’s not your fault. And I’m not implying that you are a bunch of lunatics waving your pistols around in the air, firing off rounds to the rhythm of la-cucarocha. What I am trying to tell you is that if you do decide to do that, you will not be held responsible for the consequences.

In short, you are not responsible gun owners BECAUSE it’s not your fault.

Say you are what you consider to be a responsible gun owner. Say you’re hungry. Hungry for, hypothetically, country fried steak. And, hypothetically, you also wish to dine in an establishment that serves this country fried steak with mashed potatoes and, perhaps, those flat green beans that are boiled to the point that they barely maintain structural integrity on their way from the plate to your mouth. And, while you wait, you desire to test your I.Q. by way of how many golf tees you can eliminate on a triangular-shaped pegboard. Hypothetically.

Oh, and hypothetically, you also decide that after dinner, should the need arise, you would like the option of purchasing, along with your meal, a t-shirt advertising a train company from the 1920′s, some rock-candy, and a brain teaser puzzle consisting of two horse-shoes welded to some chain and a steel ring betwixt them.

Now, being a “responsible” gun owner, you of course decide to take your gun in with you. Wouldn’t be responsible of you to leave that bullet-chucker in the car, or at home, oh no.

But, being “responsible” of course, you have a handy dandy holster on your belt designed especially for holstering fire-arms. Lucky you! How much more responsible can you get?

After your meal, you get up to pay, walk toward the cashier and BLAM!!!

Suddenly, a gun goes off in the restaurant! The man standing next to you is HIT! He goes down! He’s been shot!!! QUICK! SCAN THE ROOM, FIND THE CRAZED SHOOTER!!! NOW’S YOUR CHANCE!! You reach for your gun and—

it’s not there.

it’s on the floor.

right next to you, smoking from the barrel.

“oops”.

Who’s “responsible” now?

Guns don’t shoot people… except when they do. 

http://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/man-accidentally-shot-when-customers-gun-falls-to-floor-while-at-sanford-cracker-barrel_20151107050758381

What does this prove, you may ask? Read the article. Particularly that part at the end where it says no charges were filed. Nobody was charged with anything.

ANYTHING.

Nobody was held responsible. And that’s my point. You can ACT as responsible as you like, but if anything actually goes wrong, you AREN’T HELD RESPONSIBLE. So, you are not a responsible gun owner. No one is. The man in the story could’ve walked into that Cracker Barrel with a AR-15 with the safety off and the strap held together with a bread tie and stood in the middle of the room doing jumping jacks until it popped off and started spraying the room with lead and would have been held just as responsible as this guy, who had his weapon holstered.

And that amount of responsibility he was held to was exactly ZERO.

 

The best, and worst, advice in the galaxy

Luke: “Master Yoda, moving rocks around is one thing, this – this is totally different!

Yoda: “No! NO different. Only different in your mind. You must un-learn what you have learned”

Luke: ” (*sigh*) Okay, I’ll give it a try-”

Yoda: “-No, try not. Do. Or do not. There is no Try

I had always cringed at that Yoda quote whenever I heard it given in ernest as actual advice. “There is no try” is, as a general philosophy, horrible. It has come to mean that you need to believe in yourself or have self-confidence or something like that to those who offer it to you as words to live by. But trying something, to me, is far more an important and rewarding a thing than doing something with false confidence in your ability to do it.

To me, when someone is ‘trying’ something, it is, by definition, new to them. One does not “try” something they are already familiar with. I am an interactive designer and web developer. I can’t give Photoshop or Computers or Dreamweaver a “try”. Beckham can’t give Soccer a “try”, Brad Pitt can’t give Movie acting a “try”. Use your own profession or hobby as an example. Imaging you going in to work tomorrow and saying you’re going to give the profession you’ve been working at for years “a try” today. You’d sound like an idiot, or at least a bit facetious.

And this is where the dual-nature of the advice shows itself: when it comes to new experiences, when it comes to learning new things, exploring new hobbies, professions, talents, etc. you HAVE to try. Trying it is the only option available to you. You can’t “do” guitar-playing if you have never picked up a guitar in your life. You have to TRY the guitar, learn, grow, fail, try some more, and eventually you will learn to “do” it. So as a general philosophy of life, “There is no try” is the antithesis of learning, exploration, growing, developing, and the worst thing you can tell your student.

However…

Whenever this advice is offered (to me, at least), it is out of context of the situation in which it was given in the movie. In the scene, Luke had been training and developing his abilities to use the force to move things. He had gotten good enough to move rocks, boulders, even astromech droids. If asked by Yoda to use it to move a pebble, Luke’s answer of “Okay, I’ll give it a try” would have seemed glib and smart-alecky, to say the least. As snarky as Hendrix picking up a guitar and saying “Let’s see if I can manage to get a little tune out of this thing for ya”.

So when Yoda tells him NOT to try, he isn’t admonishing him for wanting to do something new and strange, he was reminding him that lifting the ship out of the water with the force would NOT BE A NEW THING FOR HIM. Luke wouldn’t have to “try” to move the ship any more than hendrix would have to “try” to play the guitar. He already knew how to do it, but Luke had to be taught that fact.

So, as an approach to life and learning, “there is no try” is horrible advice. But to Luke, in that specific scenario, it was the best advice he could’ve gotten.

You’re Pre-qualified!

I’m sure you get messages like this in the mail all the time: Pre-qualified! You’re already approved! Just sign up! It’s FREE!!!! I can think of a few, VERY few, things in my life for which I was pre-qualified and actually wanted.

Okay, one. I can think of one. My second undergrad degree in studio art, as I had done enough classes and a foreign language at another school for another degree to get it.

But that’s about it.

Most other things I already qualify for I don’t need or want: loans, mortgage refinancing, credit cards, etc. But they’re also another category of things I qualify for that I never considered until today: labels. Labels like “Southerner” and “Yankee” kinda bothered me because, depending on how you look at it, I pre-qualify for both. I was born in Wisconsin to parents who are both from just outside Chicago, moved to New Jersey and finally moved to Georgia. When I was six. Lived here for three decades, but I don’t have an accent. So I guess you could say I was either one.

Lately, there’s been more talk of the Confederate battle flag after a racist killed as many black people he could manage in Charleston. So, once again, my “southern heritage” is being attacked… I think. Am I a southerner? What if I don’t care about the stars n’ bars or NASCAR or duck/deer/frog/crawdad/alligator hunting? What if I don’t say “y’all”? What if I hate country music? What if I’m not a republican?

But what if I love sweet tea? What if I despise Pepsi? What if I dig fried chicken and biscuits and grits and watermelon and the Braves and that Ray Charles song? Am I a southerner now? I’d ask the same question about me being a yankee, but to tell you the truth, I barely know what that entails with regards to what a typical northerner is supposed to like. What is it, liking cheese and bratwurst and bagels and cheese-steaks? Caring at all about hockey? Having a set of snow tires for my car instead of worrying about the A/C?

Am I a man without a country? Can’t I just be an American?

Apparently not. At least, not to other Americans. The civil war (or ‘war of northern aggression’ as I’ve heard it referred) seems to still be going on, in as far as people still picking sides. Whose team am I on – union or confederacy? Seems to me that if I don’t pick ‘confederate’, I’ll never be a True™ Southerner. I can love all the grits and sweet tea I want, wear a trucker hat, dip tobacco and yell “YEE-HAW” in the bleachers at NASCAR, but if I don’t pick ‘johnny reb’, I’ll just be a carpet-bagger wanna-be cultural leech.

Pop Quiz, Hotshot…

I read stonekettle station fairly regularly, and today he put up a piece he had on Facebook concerning mass shootings where he painted a scenario of what a mass shooting would look like if we took some people’s advice of arming everybody all the time (this time, on military campuses). You can read it here at this link http://www.stonekettle.com/2014/04/bang-bang-crazy-part-9.html

This got me thinking of one time when I was on some sort of chat online and the latest school shooting had spurred similar calls to arm all teachers in all schools all the time. I remember that the scenario I painted for them then to counter that idea bears a striking resemblance to Jim’s scenario linked above, but I gave the other person a few major concessions to boot.

The scenario: You are a school teacher and have been issued a firearm, along with all the rest of the teachers in your school. You, along with everyone else, have also received weapons training and, just to be thorough, complete psychiatric evaluations. Now, today you hear gunfire coming from the other side of the building. Before we begin, here are the ridiculously generous concessions I give the teacher:

1. You are a perfect shot – you never miss, you hit anything you aim at.

2. You are a perfect evader – you will always dodge any bullet aimed at you. Anything you use for cover or concealment will always function flawlessly for you. You cannot be shot.

3. You are a perfect perceiver – you see and hear everything around you with perfect clarity: no distortion, no mistaking one thing or sound for another. If someone has a gun in their hand, you know it isn’t a wallet or cellphone or stapler, if someone fires a shot, you know it wasn’t a firecracker or a car backfiring or the TV being too loud. You cannot be fooled.

4. You are a perfect tactician – if you need to get around someone, if you have to flank, if you have to make a move when they aren’t looking, it always works. You are a friggin’ ninja.

You’d think that with all these superpowers, you could handle anything, right? Well here comes the rest of the scenario.

Once you hear the gunfire (and thanks to #3, you KNOW it is gunfire) you grab your handy-dandy firearm and head out the classroom door and down the hall. Now, when I originally told this scenario to the person I was arguing against, I asked him at this point who he planned to shoot at once he reached the area.

Notice how I assumed in the phrasing of the question that he WAS going to shoot someone, it was just a question of whom? Notice that the way I phrased it eliminated the possibility of solving the problem ahead of him WITHOUT killing people? I’m glad you noticed, since HE sure as hell didn’t. He blew right past the loaded (get it? loaded?) question and answered “The person who doesn’t belong there” or something to that effect. He was perfectly accepting of the fact that he was going to shoot someone no matter what, he just needed to figure out WHOM to shoot.

At first, I tossed in a close to the scenario of him shooting a janitor down in cold blood because the janitor was new to the school, his first day, so the hero-teacher didn’t recognize him. He didn’t like that. He thought it was too unrealistic. I mean, what are the chances of the cleaning staff hiring new people the same day as a shooting? Riiiiight, janitors are never new to a school and all teachers and staff are kept well-informed of any and all cleaning crew changes and additions, complete with their background checks and photographs. Sure. I guess 4 superpowers weren’t enough for this guy, he had to have perfect knowledge of any and all people coming and going into the school at all times as well.

I let it drop at the time, because we hadn’t even gotten to the main attraction, as it were. Now, thanks to his abilities enumerated in #4, he arrives on the scene without being noticed, and before him is the following: 2 teachers (teacher A and teacher B) shooting at a third(C) with a fourth teacher(D) lying dead inside a classroom doorway with a couple children also lying dead next to her.

So, what do you do? I’ll tell you what he did, he went through the process of shooting first at teacher C (because it was 2 against 1, so teachers A and B must be the good guys, right?) Then, he made some sort of half-assed attempt to yell at all of them to stop shooting, which I had them either ignore entirely or start firing at him instead, etc. etc.

He never got to hear or figure out who the bad guy was before ending the conversation. I found this amusing, considering all the superpowers I gave him. He never found out that teacher D was the shooter, and was taken out by teacher C before teachers A and B got there. And when they did arrive, they assumed that teacher C was the shooter and began firing.

The whole point is, and stonekettle does the same, is that you just cannot tell immediately who the bad guys really are.

Everything to Everyone

Do you have a smartphone?

I do…

It is wonderful. It has really given me everything I need in life. I now have email, a web browser, maps, a notebook, a calculator, a clock, a camera, a recorder, a guitar tuner, a level, everything! It is always with me, my companion, my copilot.

…Oh, and a phone. Did I mention the phone bit? Yeah…

Wait, you don’t have a smartphone?! How do you know what time it is? How can you possibly know where you are or where you’re going? What if you have to take a note, or read a news article, or want to play a game of solitaire while waiting at the dentist?How do you get your emails?!

Oh, you have a watch to tell the time? Huh. A bit antiquated, but I guess it could work…

And GPS? Wait, you don’t use that? They still make maps in paper form? Well I’ll be…

Well what about all the rest of the things I mentioned? Huh? Wait wait wait, slow down. You have a notebook… a newspaper… a deck of CARDS?! You… *gasp* don’t READ your emails unless your at a computer?! Wow, just… I can’t even.

What if you’re wrong?

Betcha nobody’s ever asked you THAT before, eh?

What if you’re wrong about owning a smartphone? Your life could have so much more meaning if you got one. Is it the price? Cmon, they aren’t THAT expensive when you think about it. Considering what you get, I mean. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!

I think you need help. What did Apple do to you? Why are you so angry at technology anyway? It isn’t fair to discard all of technology just because some uncle touched you with a remote control when you were five years old. He didn’t? Then what’s the problem?

You need to come to my Apple Store this weekend. It’s fun! They always have fun music playing and the genius guy is so nice. It’s like a rock concert! I know you think that computer hardware stores are stuffy and boring, like in the old days, but they’ve changed now! Sometimes we just hang out, you don’t have to get a smartphone right away if you don’t want to. There’s no pressure at all. None, I promise.

Now, there’s usually a call to buy at the end of the service –er, seminar, but it’s not a big deal. You don’t have to go up to the counter the first day if you don’t want to. Nobody will know.

Look, at the very least let me give you some tracts –er, literature to look over. Try to be open-minded about this. I’d hate to see you suffer the eternal torment of not being on facebook/twitter/instagram/etc. all the time. I want to see you on the iCloud! Not stuck in meatspace…

Hang on a second, here’s Allen. Hey, Allen! Come over here a sec. Look, can you talk to my friend here about the joys of owning a smartphone? Thanks, it means a lot. I know, right? How does he live like this? I’ve been trying to tell him. Look he’s going to the Apple Store with me this weekend if you want to join us too. It’s the one at the Mall. Which Apple Store do you go to again?

Whu-wait, you what? Oh… I’m sorry, I didn’t know that about you. No, I’m not offended, I just thought you were… we’ll talk about it later. No no no, I’ll tell him. It’s his choice after all.

Sorry about that, I didn’t mean for tha— oh no no no, he has a smartphone. It’s just…

I didn’t know he was a user of …Android. He certainly didn’t look like a Droid-head. I mean, everyone knows when you say ‘smartphone’ you MEAN “iPhone”, it’s usually a given is all. Sorry, that really took me for a loop. Allen’s a nice guy, I just never suspected that about him.

BUT… but at least he HAS a smartphone.

Sure, it may not be the one True™ smartphone, but–NO! Er, no no, trust me you’ll want an iPhone, not a stinkin “Droid”. It’s just better that way. Don’t worry about Allen, I’m sure he’ll come around to the truth. It’s just probably how he was raised, you know? If you don’t grow up with the right surroundings, the right culture? Probably the result of pier pressure. I’m guessing all his friends had “Gates-boxes” when he was growing up and was never exposed to the right things. We gotta do something about the schools around here.

Sorry, I’m getting off the subject. Where was I?

Look, come to mass, er, the mall this weekend and let me at least show you some of the models they have. They’re free! Mine was.

…with my 2+ year contract.

Endless Baseball

The other night, I sat in bed with my wife, watching the Braves play the Marlins for fourteen innings before they finally broke out of the tie by piling on run after run. It was rather exciting. Well, more relieving than exciting, really. After 13 innings of barely anything happenning, it was more of a “finally! somebody won the game” feeling you get at 11 at night when you’re trying to go to bed than anything else.

Anyway, that’s not what spurred me to write this post, it was something else entirely: the KALAM cosmological argument.

Yes, a bit of a stretch, but that’s how my brain works. I can’t help it. Stopping my mind behaving like this would require ‘medication’: oddly enough, the kind of liquid ‘medication’ you’d find in abundance at baseball games. For those of you reading this unfamiliar with the KALAM cosmological argument, let me offer a brief explanation (and for those of you unfamiliar with baseball, I will actually go into that even more in depth). Now this might confuse you, not on what the argument is (hopefully), but rather confuse you as to why it spurred this post, as the REAL thing I want to address isn’t actually in the argument.

KALAM follows the structure of a simple logical argument: a set of premises (in this case, 2) and a conclusion drawn from those premises:

premise 1: everything that begins to exist has a cause
premise 2: the universe began to exist
conclusion: the universe has a cause

Now, I am not going to go into any of the rebuttals and problems with this argument (and oh BOY are there a lot!), but instead take a complete left turn and mention something in an AT&T commercial that annoys the hell out of my wife. Because, this post isn’t going in enough directions simultaniously :-) .  It involves a bunch of children (and one adult) completely misusing the term “infinity”. It is completely forgivable for the commercial to depict children doing this, as we are all familiar with childhood taunts or boasting that involves some combination of “nu-uh infinity times!!!” or “infinity plus one!!!” and at least one “oh YEAH?!”. Infinity is not a number, not even an imaginary number. That’s th thing that annoys my wife, in that people use it as if it were just another number in a set of numbers, and it just goes at the end. In actuality, it is the description of the ABSENCE of an end of the set of numbers, not another number at the end of that set.

What might this have to do with KALAM? Well, I listened to a, let’s call it a “conversation” over the topic somewhere online during the week and that, combined with the “what about infinity TIMES infinity?!” commercial batting around in my head, teaming up and running full-force into a 14 inning long baseball game lead me to a little thought experiment. You see, the first premise of the KALAM cosmological argument (the thing that makes it KALAM, and not just any other cosmological argument) is phrased that way to avoid the most common rebuttal to all the other cosmological arguments: If everything has a cause, then what caused the cause? And what caused THAT cause? And so on, and so on, making an INFINITE regress of causes. See? Told you these things are related. My mind isn’t THAT warped[citation needed].

KALAM tries to short-circuit that rebuttal by a bit of special pleading in the first premise, to wit “everything that begins to exist has a cause, you see. Not everything, that would be silly! See, I gotta make a “special” category up arbitrarily so I can cram god int- ER, I mean, so we can avoid this dangerous and totally unacceptable INFINITE REGRESSION of causes! duh. I mean, we can’t have things going on infinitely into the past (going on infinitely into the future never seems to bother them, oddly enough) because of reasons. See?”

Well, what’s so wrong with infinite regression (or infinite PROgression, for that matter) anyhow? And that’s when I thought of that baseball game.

As I was watching (and watching and watching) I had the obvious thought that pretty much every person in the stands that had other plans past 11:30 that evening had: This could go on forever! Which made me think “wait a sec, is it actually possible for a baseball game to LITERALLY go on forever?”

I thought about it for a while, and figured that, according to the rules (that I am familiar with) yes, you could conceivably have a game that would never officially end as long as the game was tied at the end of each inning. Sure, it would probably end for other reasons: after a few thousand years of play the stadium will run out of power, after a few million years the then current players would have evolved beyond what the rulebook would classify as an eligible player substitution (i.e. not human anymore), after a few billion the earth would be vaporized when our sun swells into a red giant star, after a few trillion you might finally reach the heat death of the universe. Or it could rain.

But, it could be done, in theory. That would be an example of infinite pro-gression, but what about infinite re-gression? After all, the only thing that would give you a hint as to how long the infinite game of baseball was going on would be the actual score. But, suppose we decided to score it just a little differently? Instead of a progression of numbers from 0 onward, what if we scored it relative to the teams? So you’d only see the difference in the scores, not the score itself: 6-2 would be “4 runs up”, 58-59 would be “1 run down” and tied games would just be scored as “even” instead of the score being 0-0 or 10-10 or 45,063-45,063. If that was how the game was scored, how would you be able to tell how long the game has been going on?

So here is my analogy: imagine the universe is a baseball game, with two important differences: 1 being the relative scoring described above, and the 2nd difference being that in order for a team to win, they must maintain the lead for nine full innings. This second difference is just to make it interesting, for it isn’t actually neccessary for the analogy to still allow for an infinite game, it would just be rather boring having to remain tied at the end of each inning.

We can look at the big bang as the start of the game, but in this analogy, the conditions for “the start of the game” can come up a number of times DURING the game. For those ‘starting game’ conditions to be met, you really only need to have a few things happen: It being the top of the inning, the score even, with the top of the batting order at bat. If you want to get really specific, you can also put in the requirement that the pitcher on the mound be the starting pitcher, but really, in an infinite game of baseball, that doesn’t really mean anything. It would just be the pitcher with the most stamina, really.

So, what does this have to do with KALAM or infinite regress exactly? Well, if you tuned in to the “endless baseball game” on TV and saw the score even, it’s the top of the inning and the top of the batting order at the plate with no outs and nobody on base and the other team’s starting pitcher on the mound, how would you know whether or not you just saw the start of the game? And to talk actual universe and reality and not analogy, how do you know that the big bang is “the beginning” of the universe? What is really stopping it from being a set of circumstances that could be met at any point in time?

Next stop on the thought train? ENTROPY: the universe’s equivalent to being benched.

Thanks for reading!

Unified auditions monologues

Here are the monologues I’m preparing for the Unified auditions

All my sons:

Oh, no, he’ll come back. We all come back, Kate. These private little revolutions always die. The compromise is always made. In a peculiar way, Frank is right – every man does have a star. The star of one’s honesty. And you spend your life groping for it, but once it’s out it never lights again. I don’t think he went very far. He probably just wanted to be alone to watch his star go out.

I wish he wouldn’t come back, Kate. One year I simply took off, went to New Orleans; for two months I lived on bananas and milk, and studied a certain disease. It was beautiful. And then she came, and she cried. And I went back home with her. And now I live in the usual darkness; I can’t find myself; it’s even hard sometimes to remember the kind of man I wanted to be. I’m a good husband; Chris is a good son – he’ll come back.

Barefoot in the park:

Oh yeah?… Well, I’ve got a big surprise for you… I’m not going to be here when you get back… Let’s see how you like living alone… A dog… Ha! That’s a laugh… Wait till she tries to take him out for a walk… He’ll get one look at those stairs and Kilgo right for her throat.

You might as well get a parakeet, too… So you can talk to him all night. “How much can I spend for bird seeds, Polly? Is a nickel too much? ” well, fortunately, I don’t need anyone to protect me. Because I am a man, sweetheart… An independent, mature, self-sufficient man.

God bless me! I probably got the flu. Yeah, I’m hot, cold, sweating, freezing. It’s probably a 24 hour virus. I’ll be alright… Tomorrow at a quarter to five.

Oh!… Oh, thanks a lot, pal. “and thus it was written, some shall die by pestilence, some by the plague… And one poor schnook is gonna get it from a hole in the ceiling. “