You never really escape from High School.

Note: This post is long and rambling and about video games and cliques and there’s a good chunk of you who probably will find it hard to give two shits about anything I’m about to write about so you may want to skip it.

I grew up as the weird kid in school. I never really fit into any of the cliques or social groups and my friends were a diverse group of people, many of whom did fall into such categories. I’d like to think that my ability to get along with just about anyone in a work environment these days has a lot to do with how odd my social life was back in school. That said, there was a certain amount of drama that comes with not fitting in anywhere and one of the thimgs I was most happy about when I graduated was that I was finally leaving all that behind. Then I joined the work force and found that, no, you never completely leave that behind.

As I’ve gotten older it seems like the amount of stupid and pointless drama I encounter has diminished over time. Either that or I’m just really good at ignoring it these days. Yet occasionally things happen that remind me that there are plenty of people in this world who have nothing better to do than try to divide people into groups of us and them. Of course a lot of that shit happens in politics, but in a more generalized why and usually between people who don’t really interact much outside of a political protest or an Internet message forum. Rarely at this stage in the game do I expect it to happen among friends and acquaintances.  My most recent experience happened in, of all places, the group of people I play Call of Duty multiplayer with on a regular basis.

godhavemercyThanks to the Internet, I have a whole group of people I consider friends that I have never personally met. I’ve mentioned this before in the context of blogging as there are a number of folks that have read SEB and whose blogs I have read for a long, long time. The same is true of some of the folks I play online games with. Some of them I’ve been playing CoD with since the fourth installment was released in 2007. Thanks to voice chat and too much free time on our hands I’ve spent hundreds of hours with them teamed up on a quest of virtual warfare. Most of them I only know by their gaming nicknames — Abe Froman (the Sausage King of Chicago), Force, Repairman Jack Bauer, Mugz, Mute, Kionela, Fart Master, Deadly Karma, Grim, Willie Womp-ya, ScarMaster — but the same was true back in the 1980’s when I ran a BBS system on my trusty Commodore 64 and had a number of friends who I only knew through their aliases. There isn’t really anything in particular that caused us to start hanging out other than we seemed to get along and we played well together. In addition to that core group, there’s the folks who are more acquaintances than friends, but still folks you’re friendly with. They’re on your friends list because they made friends with one of the folks you play with regularly so occasionally they’ll be in the group with your buddies when you join in. You don’t mind gaming with them, but you don’t necessarily seek them out the way you do your core group that you’ve been gaming with for a long time.

Now one of the scourges of playing online games on the PC, particularly popular First Person Shooter games, is there are always assholes willing to cheat at the game simply to ruin it for everyone else. Whether it takes the form of exploiting glitches in the game that allow them to drop out of the map and still shoot at people in it or employing a program such as an aimbot or wallhack that gives them an unfair advantage in the game. They are a nuisance that has existed as long as multiplayer games themselves. Because of CoD’s popularity it is a primary target of people who write these hacks and you will encounter people cheating in the game on a regular basis. Back in the days when developers allowed players to run their own dedicated servers this was less of a problem because if the folks who owned the server suspected you of cheating, or just didn’t like your attitude, they could ban you from their server and you’d have to go off and find a different one to be a douchebag on. These days developers care more about squeezing as much money out of you as they can so most FPS games don’t allow you to host your own servers. Instead they use a form of peer-to-peer networking where one of the players in a match is picked to be the host at the time the round starts. I’ve gone into why this system sucks in other entries in the past so I won’t go over it again here, but suffice it to say that one of the best defenses against the inevitable cheaters you’d encounter is no more because there is no dedicated server with admins to ban the players. Instead the makers of CoD have put in a method of reporting someone for cheating into the game itself so when you encounter a cheater you pull up a menu and report them and hope that they’ll get banned eventually. This can take awhile as someone back at the game company has to receive the report, look into it, and make a decision and they receive a shitload of reports every day. Your only option until then is to either quit the match and take the loss or continue to play with the cheater and (probably) still take a loss for the effort. There are some cheaters who aren’t all that great at cheating and if you stick around you can sometimes still win the match, but if it’s an aimbot you may as well quit.

mymomsabitchOne of the side effects of cheating being so common is that if you’re a decent player, or just particularly lucky during a game or two, the first impulse a lot of other players have is to assume you must be cheating. While I’m far from being a pro, I am pretty decent at FPS games in general and CoD specifically in part because I spend way more time playing them than I should. My KDR (kill death ratio) is usually between the 1.5 and 2.0 range. That means on average I get one and a half to two kills for every death I suffer. That’s pretty good considering the majority of players have a KDR less than 1.0. As a result when I get into the groove and go on a tear through a match I often get accused of cheating and, probably, reported through the in-game reporting system. Doesn’t matter if you played really shitty in the previous five matches, all it takes is a couple of good matches to have someone get pissed at start accusing you of cheating. This is common and most folks with a KDR over 1.0 are used to it. Of course these false reports only add to the workload of the poor sap back at the game company that has to investigate them which only adds delay to the time before legit cheaters end up being banned. I say all of this as background info for what I’m about to write next.

As I said, you get used to being accused of cheating every so often by other players after you’ve had a particularly good game. However, a couple of months ago I was accused of cheating by someone I have played with on a semi-regular basis. He’s one of the folks I would consider an acquaintance. I don’t recall who he was friends with that I met him through, but he’s a pretty decent player himself with a KDR of 1.14 in Call of Duty: Ghosts team deathmatch. He seems like a decent fellow overall, but he has a tendency to jump to cries of cheater whenever someone does better than he thinks they should in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll announce to my teammates when I find someone suspicious and I’ll ask them to watch their killcams when that player kills them to see if we can verify if they’re cheating or not. Aimbots are pretty obvious to spot because the player snaps around instantly and headshots you from across the map without ever seeing you. Wallhacks are a bit harder to discern because a careful cheater will wait until you are seen by the camera before shooting you, but because they know exactly where you’re at (thanks to a bounding box added to their display that won’t show up in the killcam) they can start shooting just prior to you coming around a corner insuring a kill. This is complicated by one of the “perks” you can take on your build in the game called Amplify. It makes all enemy footsteps louder unless they take a counter perk called Dead Silence. Using Amplify and a good set of headphones you can hear when someone is coming up behind you giving you ample time to turn around and line up a shot on a doorway before you can see them. I use both Amplify and Dead Silence in almost every class build I have in the game. Things are further complicated by how the fact that the game uses a peer-to-peer networking system. The person who is the host has a slight advantage over everyone else because his machine is the one that determines whether or not a bullet hits its mark. That alone can make the difference between an epic run and a shitty match. The further you are from the host, the more likely you are to have a shitty game. When that host is in another country your only hope is that everyone on the other team is a crappy player.

beatamotherfuckerAnyway, this fellow, we’ll call him Limbo for the purposes of this article, is quick to assume the only reason someone is going 25 and 3 is because he’s cheating and he gets quite upset about it. Not that I don’t rage a bit myself when I think someone is cheating. I don’t mind losing to someone who is a better player, but I can get quite agitated when it’s clear the only reason I’m losing a gunfight is because of network lag — let alone if I think the other person is cheating — so I can understand his irritation. Yeah, I know it’s just a stupid video game, but I know people who have gotten into fist fights over “friendly” poker games and/or pro football rivalries when they’re not even the ones playing the game. I was never any good at sports (my one trophy for winning the local Boy’s Club T-ball Championship when I was 8 notwithstanding) so I get all my competitive aggression out in virtual reality. I am am my most “male” when I’m participating in virtual mass murder and there are a lot of guys like us.

OK, I keep going off on tangents so let me try and get to my point. A couple of months ago Limbo decided I was a cheater and started to refuse to play with me in games. He didn’t say anything directly to me about it, just ignored me when I asked him if he had room in his group or if I invited him to my group and would quit a game if I ended up joining it regardless of which team I ended up on. It took a bit before it dawned on me that he was actively avoiding me and confirmation came one afternoon when I sent him an IM asking if he had room for two players on his team and, apparently not realizing it was me the message came from, he replied with “not if you’re bringing Dead God with you.” In the following conversation I was told that he knew what a cheater looks like and, buddy, I look like one. One of things he cited as evidence (other than the matches where I had a high score) was the fact that I never wanted to play against him in a game. It’s true that I was reluctant to play against him, as I am with anyone on my friends list, because I’d rather play with them than against them, but if that’s a problem then I was perfectly willing to play against Limbo if that’s what he wanted. He didn’t, because I was a cheater in his mind. I pointed out the fact that I’ve had the same Steam account for over 10 years without a single VAC ban listed on it and that I get review copies of Call of Duty games which I would put at risk if I cheated at them. He dismissed the latter as bullshit and the former as me being a very good cheater.

You can’t argue with someone like Limbo once he’s made up his mind so I didn’t waste too much time on it. I’m used to being accused of cheating, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that having the accusation come from someone I played with regularly wasn’t annoying. This is what led me to make my first ever YouTube video showing just how I manage to do so well in the game. This is it here:

I apologize for the poor video quality, but it was the first one I had ever done and it was before I upgraded from my AMD Radeon 7770 to the nVidia GTX 760 I use today. In this video I end up with a final tally of 27 kills and 1 death. To be fair, this took place during a free play weekend where they allow folks who haven’t bought the game yet to try it out and a lot of the people on the other team were very inexperienced, but I’ve done just as well (and occasionally even better) against experienced players. My Steam profile is full of screenshots of scoreboards from games where I did really well because I’m not beyond a bit of bragging about totally pointless accomplishments. Here’s one where I went 30 and 7. Here’s one from Modern Warfare 3 where I went 30 and 3. One more from Ghosts where I went 36 and 3. And, if you’ll permit me one more YouTube video, here’s my best ever run where I managed 40 and 11 and got the best killstreak in the game:

fuckshitupOne of the interesting things about this last video is the fact that I don’t start off having a great game. There’s no early indication that I’m going to end up on top and you can even hear me asking my team to keep an eye on one of the guys on the other team that seemed to be getting awfully lucky with his kills. Halfway through the match and my team is losing and I’m at a paltry 17 and 9 ratio. Then with about 3:23 left in the match we pull ahead and I go on a tear. Once I get the Loki it’s all over but the crying.

OK, enough bragging. Let me get back to the point. So three or so weeks go by and Limbo hasn’t spoken to me or stayed in a game I’m in and has engaged in a campaign to try and convince some of the other folks I play with regularly that I’m a cheater. Then, one afternoon, it all goes away. I’m invited to a game by a mutual friend and Limbo doesn’t leave. I ask if he’s OK with me there and he says yes. In fact, he acts like nothing ever happened. Totally pretends he didn’t spend the previous three weeks trying to convince folks I was a cheater and avoiding me.

Fast forward to last week when I realize that Limbo is no longer on my friends list. With the Steam client, if someone on your list removes you as a friend then they are automatically removed from your list as well. It’d been a few days since I’d last seen him in game (as I said previously, he wasn’t someone I regularly sought out to game with) and the only reason I noticed he had gone AWOL from my friends list was because I ended up joining a game he was in and yet wasn’t showing up as online on my friends list. I wondered if he was back on his Dead-God-is-a-cheater kick and it didn’t take long to verify it. Anytime I ended up in a game he was in — regardless if it was because I was invited by someone or just luck of the draw — he’d immediately quit. At one point I was in a group with some of my regulars when we got placed into a lobby with him and some of the other folks I regularly play with that he was grouped with. The match started and not 5 seconds into it a forfeit countdown started because Limbo, who had been lead of his party, had pulled the entire other team out rather than play against me. We ended up winning without ever firing a shot.

The last couple of days I’ve been hearing from mutual acquaintances that, indeed, Limbo is back on his kick and is trying to convince others that I’m a cheater. Word has it he’s managed to win over at least one other person — let’s call him USAF Inactive — I’ve played regularly with. I’ve not been pulled from USAF’s friends list yet, but he doesn’t speak to me in-game anymore and he usually quits at the end of the round if I’m on his team or immediately if I’m on the opposing side. It’s all a bit amusing because nothing has really changed since the last time Limbo decided I was a cheater. Well, I have ended up on the opposing team from him on a regular basis, because I’ve learned my lesson about not playing against my friends. and it appears that may be what brought on this latest bought of you’re-a-cheater syndrome. I’m pretty sure the last match I played against him I ended up being picked as host and I went on a great run including winning most of the gun battles when I came across Limbo and I could tell he was getting frustrated. About half-way through the match I started trying to avoid him altogether because I didn’t want to piss him off anymore than he already was. There was easily a half-dozen times I got the drop on him and I ended up not firing and went in a different direction just in the interest of harmony, but there was still a few times he’d come around the corner suddenly and I’d end up mowing him down.

This time around I’m not worried about convincing him or USAF that I’m not cheating. It doesn’t matter as they’re going to believe what they want to believe and there are still plenty of people for me to play with on my friends list. If anything, I’m amused at how like high school the whole thing feels. Which is the entire reason I wrote this huge, rambling, blog post. Limbo, despite being a middle-aged adult, is like all those kids who used to be so concerned about the cliques they were a part of. I mean, in the grand scheme of things being good at Call of Duty and having a high KDR and being way up on the leader board rankings really doesn’t mean jack shit to anyone who doesn’t care about KDRs or leader-boards. I take the game more seriously than I probably should, but I don’t take it anywhere as seriously as someone like Limbo does. All of this drama over a game is just silly and yet here we are. I’m arguably just as guilty of engaging in it for writing this huge post on it knowing that it really is meaningless, but I find it funny to think about.

itsnotsupposedtobefunAt the age of 47 I thought I had left all of this nonsense behind, but it doesn’t appear it ever fully goes away. Some folks will always find a reason to not like you or be jealous of you because you’re mildly good at some pointless thing or extremely lucky at said thing or, probably in my case, a little of both. Am I proud of my KDR? Yeah, a little bit. Ghosts is the first game I’ve managed to get a 2.0 in and that’s probably because a lot of the really, really good players didn’t like it and went back to playing MW3 or BO 2 where my KDRs are more in the 1.5 to 1.7 range. Last I checked the leader-board I was ranked 169 in the world for Team Deathmatch. Given the small player base on the PC that’s not all that surprising. Limbo was ranked around 71 in the world. Does that mean he’s the better player? Not really as your ranking on the leader-board is as much about time played than anything else. Limbo has 1,765 hours on record in Ghosts whereas I’m at 729 hours. When you have over 1,000+ more hours into the game you’re going to be higher on the leader-board regardless of how good you are. I think that’s part of what contributes to his thinking that I shouldn’t do as well as I do in the game. He has all those extra hours so he’s much more experienced and therefore should be nigh-impossible to beat, natch. The thing is, after you’ve got your first hundred hours or so into the game chances are any additional hours won’t amount to much improvement unless you really work at it.

One of the stupid things I do in the game to keep my interest from flagging is I try to unlock all the camos for every single gun in the game. You’ll note that in the first video clip the gun I’m using has some sort of grey camouflage on it while the gun I use in the second video is a bright gold color. Each gun in the game has 12 or so different camos that you can unlock by accomplishing various tasks. The red camo, for example, requires you to get 150 kills without using any attachments (e.g. sights, silencer, grips, etc.) on the gun. Another one requires you to get 50 kills while learning around a corner. Another might require 150 headshots and there’s one that requires simply getting 500 kills with the weapon. Unlock all the different camos and you earn the Gold camo showing you’ve mastered the weapon. Once I’ve mastered one gun, I move onto the next one. So far I’ve unlocked Gold on all of the submachine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and marksman rifles. I’m halfway through getting Gold on the shotguns and light machineguns. One of the things you learn while doing this is how to use each of the guns in the game effectively giving you an edge over people like Limbo who tend to find one gun they’re happy with and stick with it 90% of the time. I also adjust my play style to the map. I can run and gun on the smaller maps, but I can also play conservatively on the medium sized maps and I can snipe pretty well on the bigger maps. If one play style isn’t working well I adjust my tactics and try and different style. You can see that happen in the second video above. I start off having a crappy game and then I adjust my approach and come out on top. Limbo seems to have one play style and that’s the run and gun approach. He relies on speed and surprise to carry him through and that can work pretty well against folks not prepared for it, but when they are it’s just going to lead to frustration if you don’t have another tactic to fall back on. Sometimes you have to play smarter than run around and shoot everything in sight.

Anyway, I’ve wasted enough time rambling about this and I’m not even sure I got my main point across properly. Still, it’s the most I’ve written in an entry in a long time so there you go.

On picking the right battles.

jesusr-no-runningSo there’s been a couple of news items recently about restaurants causing an uproar by offering discounts to customers displaying their religiosity. In one case Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, NC was offering a 15% discount to customers they saw praying before eating their meals.

The owner claimed it was more about public displays of gratitude than religion, but the receipts did list it as a ‘praying in public’ discount, which makes that claim seem a bit dubious. That said, it was never officially advertised and was handed out entirely at the discretion of the service staff for years before a pleasantly surprised customer posted a photo of their receipt with the discount to Facebook and it went viral. It wasn’t long after that the the owner was contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation — a group I support — with a letter informing them that the practice was a violation of the Civil Rights Act. The owner ended up deciding to discontinue the discount despite a lot of offers of free legal representation and visitors to the diner are now greeted with the following note:

“While you may exercise your right of religious freedom at this restaurant by praying over your meal to any entity or non-entity, we mush protect your freedom from religion in a public place. We are no longer issuing the 15% praying in public discount. It is illegal and we are being threatened by a lawsuit.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor told News & Record that the group didn’t threaten a lawsuit, but a lawsuit “would not have been off the table.”

She added that it’s illegal to “charge an atheist more than a Christian.”

Now the FFRF has contacted Bailey’s Pizza in Arkansas for offering a 10% discount to people who bring in church bulletins:

Sent earlier this month, the letter alleges that Bailey’s owner, Steven Rose, is discriminating against patrons who have not attended church.

“The law requires places of public accommodation to offer their services to customers without regard to race, color, religion or national origin,” wrote FFRF representative Elizabeth Cavell.

Bailey’s, which opened last month, also allows patrons to write Bible verses on one of the restaurant’s walls.

In an interview with local media, Rose denies that the discount violates the Civil Rights Act, telling CBS affiliate THV11 that the discount “has nothing to do with excluding anybody.”

“It’s not specific to any church. It’s another way to bring people in and make them feel welcome,” said Rose.

“I offer discounts to others too — like college students, teachers, military, police and senior citizens.”

Now, technically, the FFRF is correct in that both of these policies violate the Civil Rights Act which includes religion as one of the criteria that public businesses cannot discriminate on and offering discounts for public displays of religiosity or church bulletins is a form of discrimination. Steven Rose disagrees and is vowing to fight the FFRF if they sue saying that if atheists really want the discount they can just download a church bulletin off of a website and bring it in and no one would question them on it. Which, yeah, you could do if you don’t mind dishonestly misrepresenting yourself to knock a few bucks off your pizza. I don’t think atheists should be forced into essentially lying to a business just to net a discount.

So, yes, I think the FFRF is right that this is a violation of the law, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort to pick a fight over it. I don’t really care if religious folks get slightly cheaper food from a particular restaurant. If anything, it just makes me want to avoid that restaurant.  If they don’t mind alienating part of their potential clientele then so be it. Atheists in general, and the FFRF in particular, already take a lot of shit for fighting battles over displays of the Decalog and crosses on government property and I think those are worthy fights to be had. I’m not sure the extra ill-will we get from forcing a restaurant to cease offering preferential treatment to religious people is worth it.

That said, I would be sure to make it known to the owner of any restaurants that I did visit that had such a policy that I find it disappointing and wouldn’t recommend folks eat there as a result. Maybe that would make them rethink it and maybe it wouldn’t, but there’s plenty of places to eat that don’t discriminate to choose from. If their goal was to make people feel welcome and I don’t feel welcome, well, they failed in their goal.

One of the neat things about having had a blog for 13 years is that you can figuratively go back in time and see the person you once were simply by browsing through the archives. I was 34 when I first started blogging and back then I probably would’ve been right there with the FFRF decrying this as something that should not be! It’s an injustice against my people and will not stand!

fuckloadingfailI don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and just don’t have the energy I did 13 years ago, but these days my reaction to hearing about eateries like these was “meh.” It seems like you hear about this sort of thing every week now and it seems like a huge waste of resources trying to fight each one.

There’s also the fact that religious belief in America has been on a downward trend for some time now so it’s a problem that’s likely to take care of itself by the end of the century:

Every piece of social data suggests that those who favor faith and superstition over fact-based evidence will become the minority in this country by or before the end of this century. In fact, the number of Americans who do not believe in a deity doubled in the last decade of the previous century according to both the census of 2004 and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of 2008, with religious non-belief in the U.S. rising from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001. In 2013, that number is now above 16 percent.

If current trends continue, the crossing point, whereby atheists, agnostics, and “nones” equals the number of Christians in this country, will be in the year 2062. If that gives you reason to celebrate, consider this: by the year 2130, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christian will equal a little more than 1 percent. To put that into perspective, today roughly 1 percent of the population is Muslim.

The fastest growing religious faith in the United States is the group collectively labeled “Nones,” who spurn organized religion in favor of non-defined skepticism about faith. About two-thirds of Nones say they are former believers. This is hugely significant. The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over-zealousness of the Christian Right.

So let them have their little discounts if they want them and save those resources for the bigger fights. Consider it a consolation prize as they’re headed out the door. Hell, if anything, this sort of thing does more harm to their cause than good. This sort of subtle discrimination only contributes to their downfall because it reveals them for the bigots they are.

So I turned 47 on Monday…

awkward-moment-breathing-stairs… and I had every intention of blogging about it then, but I didn’t ever actually get around to it. That seems to happen a lot lately. Not that I have anything profound to say about turning 47 other than it’s weird being so close to 50. Forty wasn’t that big a deal for me, but fifty is freaking me out a little bit. Probably because I’ll be due for my first prostrate exam which I’m not looking forward to. For years I hoped they’d have developed an alternative to the traditional method by the time I reached that age, but three years out and no proper alternative is in sight. I’m also a little disturbed by how much my doctor is looking forward to that day.

I got some nice gifts for my birthday. My wife, ever enabling of my video game habits, bought me a Corsair Vengeance K70 mechanical gaming keyboard, a copy of The Last of Us Remastered for the PS4, and another volume of Red Dwarf on DVD (I’m slowly, but surely finishing that collection). Dave Hill of ***Dave Does the Blog sent me the Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy on Blu-ray and I’ve got a few gifts from my in-laws that I’ll receive when I see them this coming weekend.

I’m still struggling with getting into the habit of walking. I’ve not managed to do a full week in some time now and it’s been over a week since I last got out and do it. I intend to do so tomorrow, but then I intended to blog on my birthday so we’ll see how it goes. My weight is fluctuating around the 290 to 293 range right now, but my physical last month was an improvement over the previous one. Being this close to fifty I feel like I should really have my shit together by now, but I’m just as disorganized as ever.

One annoying new development I’ve been experiencing is biting the inside of my own mouth. This is something that I almost never did in my youth, but now hardly a week goes by that I don’t manage to draw blood from the inside of my cheek or the area just under my nose while eating a meal. Just this evening I managed to bite the inside of my own mouth four fucking times. What the hell is up with that? Is this an age thing that no one ever talks about? It like I’ve forgotten how to chew properly. It’s damned annoying.

So, 47. Not sure I feel about it yet. I’ll keep you updated.

Kid kicked out of high school and arrested for writing about shooting his neighbor’s pet dinosaur.

OK this is just getting stupid now:

High school student says he was arrested for killing dinosaur in class assignment – NBC12.com – Richmond, VA News

Alex Stone said he and his classmates were told in class to write a few sentences about themselves, and a “status” as if it was a Facebook page.

Stone said in his “status” he wrote a fictional story that involved the words “gun” and “take care of business.”

“I killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur, and, then, in the next status I said I bought the gun to take care of the business,” Stone said.

Holy Sweet Flying Fuck!I wouldn’t make it through high school these days if this is the norm. As a freshman I once wrote a short story about an unnamed student who might have shot himself in the head in the boy’s bathroom (the ending is somewhat vague) one afternoon because I was bored. It wasn’t even part of an assignment, I just was struck with inspiration and wrote it. Showed it to a couple of friends and it got handed off to a teacher.

Do you know what that teacher did? She encouraged me to submit it along with a couple of other creative efforts I had done to the school district’s creative writing contest. I won a bronze medal for that bit and a gold one for a short reimagining of the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

In my version of the tale, Goldilocks stumbles upon the cabin of the Three U.S. Government workers where she tries all three computer terminals until she finds one that’s “just right” and ends up launching our nuclear payload at Russia setting off WWIII. The story ends with one of the government workers shooting her in the head just as the missiles scream out of their silos. The moral of the story was: “Just because a terminal is just right, doesn’t mean it’s just right. It could be terminal.”

Yeah, I thought that was clever at the ripe old age of 14.

Anyway, I can only imagine the trouble I’d be in if I were in high school and wrote something like that today. It’s bad enough he was suspended for a week, but did he really have to be arrested too?

According to police, when Stone was asked by school officials about the comment written on the assignment, he said it was a joke.

Summerville police officials say Stone was disruptive and was told that he was being detained for disturbing schools.

Stone was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. District officials say the student has been suspended.

You can be arrested for being disruptive at school? Holy shit! Had this been the practice back in the day I’d have a criminal record a mile long now. Probably be on death row for multiple counts of brutal character assassination* too!

*Get it? Character assassination? Because I killed off a couple of fictional characters? Ha ha! I kill myself!

John Oliver on the ongoing problems in Ferguson, MO and the militarization of police.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all over the past week you’re already well aware of the problems in Ferguson where police officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown six times resulting in his death. The people of Ferguson rose up in protest and the initial response from police was not handled well and things have gone from bad to worse since then. Events there have brought into focus several issues not the least of which is the long-standing legacy of racism in America, but also a newer problem in regards to the ongoing militarization of America’s police forces.

John Oliver on Last Week Tonight did a segment on both of these issues that is well worth watching:

This whole situation has been poorly handled from the start and it looks only to get worse before it gets better. With any luck, all of this will bring about some much needed changes not just in Ferguson, but across the country.

It’s always annoying when…

I’m sitting here and I can’t help but notice that there’s a spot on one of the lenses of my reading glasses. So I take them off and polish it up using the satin cloth that came with the glasses and put them back on, but that damned spot is still there. I take them off again and try breathing on the lense to fog it up a bit and take the cloth to it again. Yet the damned spot persists. Third time’s the charm, right? Especially when I take them off and go over to the eyeglass cleaning thingy the company has thoughtfully provided nearby and use the liquid cleaner and the lint free paper wipes to give both lenses a good rubbing. I go back to my desk and put them back on and — what the fuck? — the spot is still there!

That’s when I realize I’m seeing a reflection of part of my own eye thanks to the overhead fluorescent light fixture above and directly behind my head. Fuuuuuuuccckkkkkkk…

monday mornings

Is there something wrong with me?

Feeling like I’m from another planet is something I’ve experienced repeatedly ever since I was a kid. Especially when I see people upset about something and I can’t understand what it is they’re upset about. I’ll spend more time than I probably should analyzing whatever it is to try and figure out what the issue is and I always end up confused.

Take, for example, the reaction to a new cover for Roald Dahl’s classic kid’s book Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Penguin Books is re-releasing the title as part of their Penguin Modern Classics range of books aimed at adults — it being one of the first kids books to be released in that line — and as such they came up with a new cover that they felt “highlights the way Roald Dahl’s writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life”. 

It didn’t go over well with fans of the book. On Penguin’s Facebook page the reaction was mostly negative with several folks saying they won’t be buying it. So what has everyone’s panties in a bunch? Here’s the cover:

charliechoc

So, yeah, it’s pretty creepy looking and I’m not entirely sure how it represents what the book is about, but I’m not sure it deserves comments like this:

I’m not sure why adults need a different cover anyway, but who was it who decided that “adult” meant “inappropriately sexualized”?

Inappropriately sexualized? Really? The kid looks a little China doll zombie-ish, but I don’t see anything particularly sexualized about it. OK, there’s a bit of a JonBenét Ramsey vibe to her, I’ll give you that.

OMG It looks like a cover of Lolita, and it’s the cover of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory??NONONONONO

Again, not seeing it. If anything it looks like a badly cropped shot of a couple of mannequins from a 1950’s J.C. Penney sale ad.

The inescapable, sexualised, subtext of this cover really does need to be reconsidered by the publishers. I struggle to understand how the executive decision was reached to choose this image. Bad mistake Penguin.

Again with claims that it’s sexualized. Is it the hair? The feather boa? What is it that’s saying SEX to these people?

This looks more like a cover for Valley of the Dahls.

OK, that one was funny.

Clearly a lot of people are seeing something in this cover that I am not. As someone who literally does judge books by their covers I completely agree that it’s a bad choice, but mainly because it doesn’t really have anything to do with the story. It turns out, according to the BBC, there’s a good reason for that:

The image is taken from a French magazine shoot by the photographers Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello, for a 2008 fashion article entitled Mommie Dearest.

Yeah, I can see that. It definitely looks like something from Mommie Dearest, which is a completely different sort of story than Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.

So I’m left to ponder: Is there something wrong with me that I’m not outraged by this supposedly hyper-sexualized image of a zombie girl?

Creeped out a bit? Sure. She’s got a death stare on her that’d fit in any horror movie. Not seeing the “sexy” in it though.

Feel the Christian Love: Rick Wiles says Ebola “could solve America’s problems” with gays and atheists.

Rick Wiles, for those of you who have blissfully never heard of him, is an end-times preacher who is always on the lookout for signs that the apocalypse is about to start. He is so full of Christian love for his fellow humans that he recently expressed on his “Trunews” program that if Ebola were to break out and become a pandemic in the United States, why, that might be the best thing ever to happen.

No, really:

“Now this Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic and that’s another name for plague. It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming,” he said. “Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion.”

“If Ebola becomes a global plague, you better make sure the blood of Jesus is upon you, you better make sure you have been marked by the angels so that you are protected by God. If not, you may be a candidate to meet the Grim Reaper.”

via Rick Wiles: ‘Ebola Could Solve America’s Problems With Atheism And Homosexuality’ | Right Wing Watch.

jesussavesApparently being a believer in Jesus Christ is all you need to protect yourself from Ebola. Nevermind the fact that the two Americans — Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol — who were trying to help deal with the outbreak in Liberia only to end up contracting the disease are, themselves, Christians. Perhaps they just didn’t believe in Jesus hard enough. 

Wiles is so scared of atheists and gays and people who fuck more than one person and people who film themselves fucking more than one person and people who, for whatever reason, decide not to go through with a pregnancy that he gleefully imagines them being wiped out by one of the more horrible viruses you can die from while his flock of True Believers™ are protected by the magic sky fairy.

This shouldn’t be surprising considering that he’s also pushing a conspiracy theory that President Obama might use this an excuse to give people an ineffective vaccine and then force them into FEMA CAMPS!

Wiles was speaking with evangelist Augusto Perez about how the spread of Ebola in West Africa has implications for the End Times. The two speculated that the American government may exploit the outbreak in order to grow the size of government and require people receive a vaccine.

“Obama would claim executive powers to mandate that every human being in the United States be vaccinated,” Wiles said. “They could use the panic to stampede hundreds of millions of people in this country to be vaccinated, in fact billions worldwide, they could stampede the world to receive to a vaccine against a deadly virus and nobody knows what is in the vaccine.”

- See more at: Rick Wiles Links Obama To Ebola Outbreak

Alas, Ebola isn’t the plague Rick Wiles hopes it will be. While the virus is definitely dangerous and often fatal, it’s not easily transmitted from person to person. It requires direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person which is why healthcare providers have to wear those fully enclosed hazmat suits you see on TV.

Yes, it’s killing a lot of people in West Africa, but that has more to do with how poor the healthcare system there is combined with superstitions of the people who live there and the rituals they have for handling dead bodies. Much like Rick Wiles, a lot of people there are buying into conspiracy theories that Ebola isn’t real and that their loved ones are being kidnapped for various reasons including cannibalism. So they’re hiding sick individuals and, in some cases, breaking them out of hospitals putting themselves and everyone they come into contact with at risk:

In recent days crowds gathered outside clinics and hospitals to protest against what they see as a conspiracy, in some cases clashing with police as they threatened to burn down the buildings and remove the patients.

Amadu Sisi, a senior doctor at King Harman hospital in the capital Freetown, from which the patient was taken, said on Saturday that police found her in the house of a healer.

Her family refused to hand her over and a struggle ensued with police, who finally retrieved her and sent her to hospital, he said.

“She died in the ambulance on the way to another hospital,” Sisi said.

not_driving_behind_youThis is what ignorance and fear does to people. Rick Wiles is guilty of his own brand of ignorance and fear and he’s foisting it onto his audience. He’s really no different than the “backward” people in West Africa who do stupid things like the above. Instead of cannibalistic doctors it’s the U.S. Government using “chemtrails” to weaken us and a dangerous vaccine to intentionally infect us with a horrible disease so they can round us all up in FEMA camps. He doesn’t say what happens to us then. The FEMA folks probably eat us. It wouldn’t any stupider than anything else he’s said.

This is the sort of brain damage buying into Gods and demons causes to otherwise rational human beings. If you’ll accept the outlandish things the Bible says happened as being true then there’s nothing anyone could tell you that would be so egregious that you’d have any reason to doubt the validity of it. Believing Obama is out to intentionally infect people with Ebola is easy when you buy into the idea of a talking snake causing the downfall of mankind.

If it’s too much to ask these idiots to throw off the shackles of these ridiculous beliefs can we at least ask that they try not to be too happy about the horrors they expect the rest of us to suffer at the hands of their “loving” God?

Spam comment of the day.

This has nothing to do with the entry. I just wanted to use it.

This has nothing to do with the entry. I just wanted to use it.

Despite all the stuff that’s been put into place by bloggers and Google to discourage the practice of leaving comment spam the spammers keep on trying. Ever since moving to WordPress I don’t think I’ve had a single piece of comment spam make it into the live comments on a page thanks to Akismet and having the blog set up so that your first comment is held in moderation until you’ve been approved at least one time. Yet every day I login and empty the spam queue of upwards of 350 to 650 spam comments.

I only give a cursory glance at the spam comments to make sure there aren’t any false positives and most of the time it’s the same shit over and over again, but every once in a while one of them will catch my attention. Here’s one from today that I found particularly amusing:

Paragraph writing is also a excitement, if you be acquainted with
after that you can write if not it is complicated to write.

Clearly English is not this person’s first language. That said, I’ve been puzzling over exactly what it is the author of this comment was trying to say. One of the “strategies” of comment spammers is to write something that sounds like it just might be a legitimate comment. For example, I get a lot of them that ask what blogging software I’m using even though it’s listed at the top and bottom of the screen. Or they’ll try to offer some faint praise or, occasionally, some lightweight criticism in hopes that you’d be fooled into thinking it’s legit. The vast majority of the time you don’t even need to look at the URL they’re leaving to see that it’s a spam comment. You can tell just by the comment itself.

The above appears to be an attempt at the faint praise approach, but it’s written so poorly that it just comes across as someone trying to make a patently obvious statement. Surely they could have gotten a better translation if they’d made use of Google Translate, but that would take too much effort I suppose (kinda like, you know, paying for legitimate advertising would). I can’t tell you why this particular comment spam grabbed my attention when so many others very much like it slide on by, but here you go.

My father has passed away.

Albert Axsom — Jay to his friends and family — died in the early morning hours on Monday, July 21st, 2014. He was 73 years old and his 40th wedding anniversary to my mother was just the day before he passed. The cause was complications from a blood clot in his arm that had broken up and migrated to his lungs. He was on life support and my family made the decision to wean him off of it and let him pass peacefully. I was present and a part of that decision. It’s a decision I’ve been thinking about ever since. I’m still convinced it was the right thing to do, but it still bothers me. It’s part of why it’s taken me several days to write this entry.

Jay was not my biological father, but you’d never have known just by observing us. He took on three kids that weren’t his own when he married my mother and always treated us as though we were blood relatives. He was the only father my sister ever knew as our biological father had died when she was only a couple months old. He did his best in trying to raise us and he took pride in us as only a true father can.  He was a voracious reader of books until his eyesight deteriorated too much from diabetes to see the words on the page. He loved to cook and always had a new kitchen gadget to show you or recipe to try when you came to visit. He and my mother spent their summers making jam and preserves which they gave away to just about everyone they met. His cabbage relish is still one of the very few ways I’ll ever eat cabbage.  He was one of the most friendly people I’ve ever known and was able to strike up a conversation with people he’d just met as though he’d known them all his life. He wasn’t always easy to get along with — no one is — but you never doubted that he loved you.

Dad’s passing isn’t entirely unexpected as he has been suffering the effects of his diabetes for many years. Near the end he was having trouble seeing his computer screen and had taken to just listening to recipe videos on YouTube. He had to get around using a walker and was almost always tied to a portable oxygen tank. Trips to a clinic for dialysis had long been a routine for him. All of that is over for him now. He was as good a father as anyone could have hoped for and I am going to miss him terribly in the days and years to come.