08/2/20

Death, Actually

Since my last posted essay on Money, I’ve written a couple of other posts that I did not publish because they were just too depressing. I want to chronicle my journey as a writer and include all the highs and lows, but if what I’ve written is simply too dark, I try to spare you all from it.

So let’s talk about death.

Before I dive in, let me say that if you have lost someone recently, I am very sorry for your loss. I’m not writing this because I failed to read the room during a global pandemic. I’m writing this because death is common, painful, inevitable, and writing about painful topics is one of my coping mechanisms. If you’re grieving, what I have to say here may not provide much comfort, but I will happily listen to you and offer sympathy in whatever medium best serves you.

In this essay, I’m going to talk about what it means to die, and I’m going to give my real and non-religious thoughts about the afterlife.

The Human Soul

If humans are endowed with a spark of the divine, then the part of us that remains after our bodies have stopped serving us must be our immortal soul.

I want to believe we are spiritual beings, and that there is more to us than just the meat we are made from. Objectively speaking, we have nothing to support the existence of the soul. We cannot detect it with any of our senses. It cannot be measured. If we are to believe that we have a soul, we can only do so by faith.

If you have such faith, I will not try to dissuade you. I often share in that faith. In order to maintain such belief, it is important not to ask too many questions.

For example, what part does the soul play in a person’s life? Identity? Conscience? Personality? All of those aspects about you change over time. For most of us, the changes are slow, a natural part of aging. But some people are subjected to severe brain trauma that can drastically change aspects of who they are in such a way that they become unrecognizable from who they were before.

There are people surviving COVID-19 that have had their personalities reshaped as a result of severe illness. Some of these changes may be permanent.

If our memories and personality can be so altered by the modification of our brain meat, what must happen to us when that gray matter stops functioning altogether?

I want to believe I have a soul, but I cannot help but doubt. Did my soul exist before I was born? If so, what was I like? What purpose did that soul serve? What good is my soul doing me now? Why should we believe the soul will have greater utility once we no longer have a body and cannot affect the world?

The parts of me that I think are beautiful, unique, and rare are the parts crafted and balanced within my brain. My identity, my perspective, my rational processing of the sum of my experiences. If all those aspects of self disappear when the brain stops functioning, I don’t think it matters if I have a soul or not. I will be gone, and there won’t even be enough of me left to know the loss.

The Act of Dying

Let’s put aside the philosophical for a moment and get practical. What is it like to be dead?

What was it like before you were born?

It was nothing. Neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Not some endless, cold void like being lost in space. You did not experience temperature or light. You experienced nothing. You were nothing. You did not exist.

When our brains stop processing signals, we will experience nothing. No pain. No joy. No worries or delight. Just as before we were born, so shall we become.

Nothing. That’s what it is to die. That last trip isn’t into some great unknown, because we have a taste of it every time we fall into the deepest, dreamless sleep. Our consciousness and our thoughts disappear, and we cease to be.

A Pause to Reflect

These do not have to be depressing thoughts.

It is sad when someone we love dies because the world that remains is not as bright. The laughter and love they brought to the world is no longer with us, and it is right to mourn that loss. Not for them, but for us that remain with the capacity to feel.

For them, there is no more pain. There is no more loss. If they suffered illness or pain up to the end of their life, then death itself is a relief. The suffering is done and gone. Their legacy remains with those that knew and loved them.

It is tragic when the young die because the potential of their life is cut short. It is sad when an old person dies because their wisdom and experiences are lost, and all we have from them is what we managed to record and incorporate in our own lives.

Those that are dead do not experience happiness or sadness. The tragedy and loss cannot touch them any longer.

Life is precious and fleeting because it is only during life that we are able to experience anything. It’s during this time that we matter. What we do matters. We cannot affect the world after we are dead anymore than we were able to affect it before we were born. It’s the time in the middle that’s important, so we should do as much with it as we can, while we still have such agency.

Heaven and Hell

We have no evidence that our consciousness will transport to some other place after death. If you have faith in a heaven or hell, I will not try to dissuade you from that faith. I have shared in it in the past.

The ideas of heaven and hell are meant to persuade people into certain behavior while they are alive. If you are only doing something because you think it will get you into heaven, are you really a good person? What kind of person are you if the only way to keep you from doing something truly evil is to threaten you with fire and damnation?

When I was younger, I asked a pastor what heaven was supposed to be like. The first answer was a cop-out. “Beyond anything we can imagine.” I asked another time, and the answer wasn’t very satisfying. “You’ll be with God, endlessly singing His praises.”

If I am no longer myself, does it matter if I go to heaven or hell? In either place, the bit of me that is unique and special is gone, either in endless supplication to a higher power, or in mind-blasting torment at the hands of the greatest evil.

When I think about my Christian faith, it comes down to this: the message of Jesus was love and forgiveness, and I will continue to live by that message to my dying day. This means empathy, compassion, and kindness while I’m alive. Whatever comes after does not matter, and what I know about heaven and hell is insufficient to change my mind.

Ghosts

Of all the afterlife options, I find ghosts to be the least appealing.

I don’t believe in ghosts. I wrote an entire novel that included ghosts and the afterlife, and that’s where I think ghosts belong: in fiction.

If somehow some bit of our consciousness manages to survive the destruction of our brain, how dreadful would it be to linger, unable to affect the world?

I won’t challenge your other beliefs, but I will tell you that ghosts aren’t real. If a ghost can pass through doors and walls, why don’t they fall through the floor? If they are unaffected by gravity or matter, what is keeping them from simply passing through the world and drifting off into space while the Earth continues to spin around the sun on its cosmic journey?

Aesthetically, ghosts are not pleasing, and it would be horribly boring to be a ghost. I don’t know why people are into them. They are fun to write about, though.

Final Thoughts

Life is precious and short. Too short to worry about the things we cannot change, and too important to waste on petty squabbles.

We should not worry ourselves over death unnecessarily, nor should we shy away from it when it is time to face it. We were not taught how to be born, and no one needs to teach us how to die. All of us will experience both.

It’s what happens in between those events that matters.

07/3/20

Money

Before I jump into this alluring subject, let me tempt you with this: read all the way to the end to find out how to make money by wearing a mask.

Now let’s talk about money.

Time is money. Money is power. Money is the root of all evil. Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems. Money. Money. Money. Can’t get enough of that god damned money.

Living in a capitalist society, one that values money over actual human lives by way of for-profit medicine, I have a lot of thoughts on money.

Let’s begin with a hypothetical.

I built a space ship and loaded it with 20,000 people with diverse backgrounds and skills. Me and my 20,000 closest friends leave the Earth, bound for a distant star. We sleep for a thousand years and wake up on a brand new world that is rich in natural resources.

We brought with us incredible technology and in short order, we want for nothing. We have adequate shelter, sustainable food sources, and all the non-sentient robots we could ever need. The needs of humanity on this brand new world are completely met.

That sounds nice, right? An entire population of equals, free to pursue whatever it is that drives them. Art. Science. Exploration. Whatever activity an individual wishes to pursue, they are not constrained by the “day job” or money. The moment we got off the ship, any currency we had from Earth became worthless. We have no money, and we are all equal.

Eventually, Sam the Scientist realizes that he needs help with an experiment. There is a geological phenomena Sam is trying to study, and in order for them to collect the data, they need volunteers to spread out at a particular time of day, observe, and push a button at the right time. The non-sentient automatons won’t work because this task requires intuition and judgment beyond the capabilities of these simple robots. Sam needs 1,000 people, or this experiment will not work.

Sam puts out the call for volunteers, but only 50 people respond. That’s only 5% of what Sam needs. What is Sam to do?

How do you get a large number of people to sacrifice their time and energy for a single cause? How do you compel individuals to work as a team, to accomplish something none of us can do on our own?

How do you make this?

NYC's supertall skyscraper boom, mapped - Curbed NY

Before we build skyscrapers, we built wonders.

The Great Pyramid of Giza Is Actually Lopsided

It took a lot of human hands to build the pyramids, but those hands weren’t free or equal. Humanity has a long and unfortunate history of turning people into property, putting them in chains and forcing them to do the bidding of others.

On the backs of slaves, great and terrible structures have been built. The American economy was built on top of Black lives, and Black lives are still paying the cost to this day.

But this scenario isn’t (directly) about racial inequality. We were talking about a scientist on a distant world trying to get 1,000 people to work with them. Not to build a pyramid or a skyscraper, but just to stand, observe, and push a button at the right time.

How will Sam get the help they require? If this took place on Earth, Sam would use money. They would raise funds and pay people to do the work.

Why? What makes money so compelling that people will sacrifice their time and attention in exchange for it? It doesn’t even have to be a lot. If I told you I would give you $1 and all you had to do was wear a mask every time you went outside, you would do it. A buck isn’t worth that much these days, but it’s an easy dollar, and it’s an activity you should be doing anyway.

Money works because we believe it has value. We have faith that when we have enough money, we can use it to buy all that we need and desire. We believe we can exchange currency for goods and services that are real and tangible. American dollars, by the way, are not real. They are not backed by gold or silver.

Money only has value because the society we live in says it has value, and that value is based entirely on faith.

I don’t know how Sam gets their volunteers. Perhaps some of the 50 that originally responded are charismatic enough to sway more people to the common cause. Perhaps Sam finds something of value to offer the volunteers, like a big party afterwards to celebrate the completion of the experiment.

Or, Sam could lie. Sam could send another announcement to the community, telling them that the stability of their home depends on the successful execution of the experiment. It’s unethical and wrong, but it’s an option on the table.

Money itself is a lie, and its what we trade in every day. It’s what we use to compel people to do things that they wouldn’t normally do on their own. It’s how we get people to continue to show up and perform jobs.

And, of course, I lied to you. I said at the beginning that I would tell you how to make money just by wearing a mask.

Here’s the truth: COVID-19 is out of control in the US, and if you have to be paid in order to wear a mask, you’re a special kind of idiot. The truth is, a simple cloth or paper mask is probably not going to protect you from catching the virus. It will, however, keep you from spreading the virus to the people around you.

There are a lot of people infected and they don’t know it. You may be one of them.

The truth is, the virus doesn’t care about money. It doesn’t care about politics or the economy. It’s invisible, it’s real, and it’s spreading.

We need to remember that lives are real, money is a lie, and we need to prioritize accordingly.

Do your part by wearing a mask, staying home, and staying away from people for their sake as much as yours.

05/31/20

Return to Reality

Originally I called this “Return to Truth,” but then Obiwan whispered in my ear, “Many of truths we cling to depend on our point of view.”

This isn’t about truth. This is reality. Facts. Information that is sometimes difficult to witness, because it can’t be changed.

I’m about to talk about Trump, COVID19, and #BlackLivesMatter. I’m an old white dude living in California. I am privileged, but the only power I have is my voice. I’m going to use it to try and say something meaningful and right.

Part 1

George Floyd, a black man, was murdered on camera by a group of white police officers in Minneapolis. They had him handcuffed, on the ground, pleading for his life. They kept a knee on his neck for 9 minutes as he cried “I can’t breathe.”

What was your reaction when you first heard about the murder of George Floyd?

Now be honest. Would your reaction have been different if George Floyd had been a white man?

Look at the reactions around you. Look at the protests and the rioting. Look at the people clogging the streets. Most protests are peaceful, but many are flipping or setting police cars on fire. Look at the police holding the line, most doing their job appropriately. Some are even acting heroically.

But there are too many abusing their power. In Salt Lake City, police in riot gear knocked down an old man with a cane.

In Chicago, John Cusack tried to use his phone to film a police car on fire. The police chased him away and attacked him with their baton.

Way, way too many examples of police attacking reporters and journalists, in violation of the First Ammendment.

How we react is important. What we do with the power we have is important.

It is true that all lives matter. Only racists and scumbags would disagree with that notion. All lives matter, regardless of the color of their skin or their profession.

That is not what #BlackLivesMatter is about. It is not about black lives being more important than other lives, or putting one race above any other. It is about seeking justice in a system that is not serving all of its people equally.

According to Mapping Police Violence, there were about 1100 people killed by police in 2019. A quarter of those people were black, even though black people make up less than 15% of the population.

If you don’t like that site, how about PBS? This article talks about how statistically, black people are still more likely to die when dealing with the police than white people.

Black Lives Matter, but black lives are more at risk.

Black Lives Matter, but black men and women are not getting equal treatment in our system.

You can say “All Lives Matter” all you want, but you can not factually say that all lives matter and are given equal treatment in our United States. If that is your response to #BlackLivesMatter, you are demonstrating your ignorance, your lack of empathy, or your racism.

Part 2

I could stop there. Maybe I should stop there. However, there are riots and protests all across my country, and I cannot stop thinking about them.

What is my reaction? Should the riots be celebrated or condoned?

It’s not that simple.

I do not condone the violence or destruction of property. There are innocent people getting hurt. Bystanders. People that had nothing to do with the system that killed George Floyd are losing their livelihood. I am sympathetic.

However, all other choices have been exhausted. The peaceful protests were either met with scorn or ignored. So what’s left?

Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in order to protest police brutality against black men in America. It was a peaceful protest where an athlete used his power and his voice to expose a serious injustice in this country.

Trump responded by calling him a sonofabitch. Pence staged a walkout of a game when the players knelt during the national anthem. Kaepernick ultimately lost his position and hasn’t been allowed to play in the NFL.

What did the peaceful protest accomplish? It’s been three years since Kaepernick first took a knee, and black men are still dying at a disproportionate rate.

What’s left when the peaceful protests fail? Exactly what we have today.

George Floyd was not the only black person killed at the hands of the police. There have been many, many others. Too many others. It is a systemic problem that cannot be fixed until it is acknowledged. Not enough people are recognizing it as a problem, so we will have violence and chaos until the ignorance is cured.

Only then can we build a new system which is just and equal to all.

Part 3

While these protests are going on, we are still dealing with a pandemic. Across the United States there are 1.8 million total cases of COVID19, with 400,000 people recovered and 105,000 people dead.

We still don’t have widespread testing and contact tracing, so those numbers could be even higher.

People are taking to the street during the pandemic. Many are wearing masks, but how much will that matter when they’re all in close contact with each other? How much will the virus spread while people are calling for justice?

In some cities, police are using tear gas to control crowds. Sometimes they use the gas preemptively. Imagine that. Tear gas used during a pandemic that attacks people’s ability to breathe.

What the United States needs in order to get through these crises is leadership. Unfortunately, we have Trump.

Trump, exacerbating the race tensions with his racist dog whistles and his complete lack of empathy.

Trump, with his lies and incompetence, dangerously suggesting that maybe people can inject bleach in order to fight the virus.

Trump, ignoring the briefings about the virus and choosing instead to play golf and downplay the danger by saying “it’ll clear up like a miracle in May.”

Finale

I don’t want to end this with the taste of that man’s name in my mouth. It leaves me bitter and angry.

Instead, I will implore you to consider empathy.

When I talk about empathy, I’m not referring to the magical ability of Counselor Deana Troi from Star Trek. I’m talking about something much simpler than that.

Empathy is about trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It’s about taking some scenario and imaging how it might make someone else feel.

Remember George Floyd. Imagine what it must have felt like to be pressed to the ground, the hard, gritty concrete scraping your skin, while another man is over you, their knee crushing the back of your neck.

Imagine instead that it isn’t you being murdered by the police on camera, but your brother or sister. Someone that looks like you. Someone that lived a life like yours, laughed at the same jokes you laughed at, loved their friends and family the way you love yours.

That’s empathy. That’s what the world needs more of if we’re to make our current shared reality greater than it is.

05/24/20

Games During the Pandemic

Work and games occupy my time. After I reached the end of Breath of the Wild, I played Factorio. Once I launched the rocket, I dabbled with some older games still sitting on my computer. No Man’s Sky. Grand Theft Auto V. Darkest Dungeon.

After watching someone stream it a little bit, I played Griftlands. The card aspect of the game triggered an impulse to open up Magic the Gathering again, but I resisted. If I slide back into that hole right now, I won’t have the strength to pull myself out.

Last night I installed The Witcher 3. I haven’t played it yet. I’m afraid it’s going to be like Skyrim where I have it and I want to play it, but the size and scope of the game intimidate me away from spending actual time in the game.

I still want to write. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to the page.

With all of this focus on games and distraction, I slid sideways into game development. I started an online learning subscription and delved into some Unity 3D tutorials. I still remembered quite a bit from when I tried to teach Unity and programming to some high school kids, so I picked it right back up. I now have viable clones of Flappy Bird and 90% of Bomberman, thanks to the tutorials.

The ultimate goal of the game development is to take the pen and paper game I developed when I was much younger and make it digital and cool. In the game, you build robot dogs and pit them against other robots in an arena. No dogs, actual or figurative, are harmed in the game, which I think makes it more ethical than Pokemon.

I haven’t written any code for the game yet. Honestly, I’m still unsure if Unity 3D is the best fit. Unity 3D is good for solo developers. I looked briefly into Unreal, but that engine path is better if you have a team, or if you’re a digital artist.

Making my robot fighting game a reality will be cool on its own, but there is another reason why I want to work on it. I reference it in Spin City. At the back of my mind, there’s a few neurons misfiring, saying “if you get your intellectual property out in the world through a game, it will improve your chances of getting a book deal.”

Really, I just think it would be cool and to play this game and share it with the world.

I still want to write. In the last few months, I haven’t written any new fiction. I haven’t touched the novelette which I intended to finish by the beginning of May. Ideas for stories still float through my mind, but even thinking about writing has been painful.

This post, ostensibly about games, is an attempt to make me write something. The word engine within my brain seized, its gears gummed up and its inner workings unresponsive. The blog is my way of smacking the side of the machine with the flat of my hand, hoping to shake something loose and get it moving again.

Stay safe, everyone. And be kind to yourself so you may be kind to each other.

03/28/20

My Reaction to the Pandemic — or — How I Beat Breath of the Wild

At the beginning of this month, I decided I would try to put myself out in the world more. I said on Twitter (half joking) that it was the #MonthOfBrian. I intended to focus outwardly.

I arranged to go to Portugal, Italy, New Zealand, and a third Writing Excuses cruise. Along with a handful of minor successes, it felt like momentum. People won’t be able to discover my writing if I hide in my garage.

The reality is I entered March with a lot of bluster in order to stay positive and suppress bad, counterproductive feelings. My emotions are irrational and non-negotiable, so I decided to work around.

When the reality of Covid-19 hit home, all my plans went out the window. The trip with Sierra Nevada College canceled first. I recently heard New Zealand WorldCon is canceled, though I personally haven’t received notification. The final decision hasn’t been made the Writing Excuses Cruise, but let’s be real. It’s a cruise. It will be canceled.

I responded to all this by not responding. I all but disappeared from social media. A handful of people reached out to me to check in, and I told them I’m fine.

Am I fine? I don’t know. I would rather have nothing to do with my irrational, non-negotiable emotions. Critical self-analysis has not been my highest priority. Avoidance is the name of the game, both personally and socially.

During this crisis, I try to do the best I can for Melissa and the kids. I work during the working hours. I contribute around the house. In the evening, I play Breath of the Wild.

I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been making plans. I’m not interested in books or movies or music. There’s work, the family, and the nightly video game distraction.

At 2AM today, I finished Breath of the Wild. The game was fantastic and I enjoyed it. But now what?

I used the game to avoid reality, but I don’t think I can do that anymore. I should write. I need to write. I don’t know if I can. Right now, going to that place where the words live is like sticking my naked hand into a hot oven to pull out a pan.

As they say at the end of the podcast, I’m out of excuses. It’s time to roll up my sleeve and get back to work.

03/1/20

VLOG #4 – Perseverance

It’s March 1st, the beginning of The Month of Brian, and I thought I’d kick it off with a brand new VLOG post!

Today’s VLOG is advice for how to persevere as a writer.

There’s a huge gap of time between this video and the last. The biggest reason for the delay is that I changed hardware between #3 and #4.

My fourth VLOG was going to be called “The Lies of the Writer.” Previously on my blog, I wrote about Fears of the Writer. Later, I wrote a guest post called Pride of the Writer. My next VLOG was to be another in that series. I wrote the script, took my new Surface into my backyard, and tried to record it.

It didn’t work out. The software I used didn’t like to share camera and sound resources, so I didn’t make it very far.

Then life got busy. Mostly work, but also writing projects. I like writing blog posts and making VLOGs, but these activities are at the bottom of my priorities.

Today felt like a good day to try again. And now it’s done!

Let me know what you think of this video. And please share any ideas you may have for future VLOG posts.

02/9/20

What If Trump Loses the 2020 Election?

Today, let’s imagine the future together. We will keep in mind everything that’s happened with this presidency since 2016. Let’s imagine the near future unfolding, informed by the events of the recent past.

The Run-up to the Election

As the year moves forward, Democratic candidates will continue to snipe at each other, doing some of Trump’s dirty work in tearing each other apart. We will have one viable candidate against Trump, but they will be bruised and battered by the gauntlet they traversed in order to secure the nomination.

From the vantage point of February, it will either be Bernie, Pete, or Warren. I’m hoping for Warren, but this prediction isn’t based on my wants. As it gets closer and closer to crunch time, either Pete or Warren will bow out gracefully. Bernie will hold out until the convention, even if it doesn’t look like he has a path to victory. He’ll make sure that the fight goes as long as it can go, just like he did in 2016, because he’s running for himself and not for the country.

Some of the Bernie supporters will continue to be monstrous, but Russian bots and social media propaganda will bolster them and make them seem even worse than they are. Putin seeks to complicate and ruin our election. He doesn’t really care which candidate wins the election as long as we’re in disarray. Money will flow into Facebook just as it did in 2016, Fox News will continue to misrepresent the truth to put a pro-Trump slant on everything, and those of us that are paying attention will feel like we’re in hell.

For anyone that values truth and integrity, this summer is going to suck.

The Election

In spite of all the propaganda, the Russian money, the Trump lies, the Fox News smears, and all of the other covert assaults on our democratic process, people will show up for this election in huge numbers.

Some people will show up because they’re tired of kids getting separated from their families at the border.

Some people will show up because the destruction of landmarks along the border in support of a border wall is the last straw. Mexico didn’t pay for it. The proof of the ineffectiveness of the wall is overwhelming. The cost cannot be justified. The inherent racism that is woven into into every slat and support of the wall is too much to swallow. Whatever the aspect, some people will find the wall itself to be a compelling reason to vote Trump out of office.

Some people that read the Mueller report, that paid attention during the Impeachment hearings, that have read the headlines about Trump lining his pockets at his resorts by charging his security detail $650/night… he’s done enough illegal or amoral activities from the White House that a good number of people will show up to vote because they know that right is right and wrong is wrong.

Some people will show up because they’re concerned about climate change, and they remember how Trump pulled us out of the Paris Climate Agreement. They remember how he shredded Obama legislation intended to fight climate change. They read the news, how the antarctic reached temperatures higher than Orlando this year, the highest ever recorded, and they know that we can’t trust Trump to lead us to a viable solution.

Some people will show up because they’re sick of the hypocrisy. They did as he said and “read the transcript” to find that Trump and his family attacked Biden over issues of nepotism, while Ivanka and Jared line their pockets in government money they’ve “earned” through nepotism.

Some people will show up because they are economists, and they can see how Trump’s tariffs and deficit spending is not promoting the economy, but hurting it. They know that the job growths are smaller than they should be, and in areas of industry that are not significant in contributing to GNP. They see that manufacturing jobs are actually down, that the indicators are pointing at a coming recession, and the responsible thing is to change course immediately. These people also know that for the last 25 years, the economy has taken a dive under Republican control, and recovered under Democratic control.

And yes… some people will show up because they genuinely like the candidate that made it through the gauntlet to vie for the Presidency.

Just like in 2016, Trump will lose the popular vote. But this time, Trump will lose too many of the key states he needs to secure his victory. It won’t be a landslide. It should be a landslide, but there are still too many people in the US that aren’t paying attention, and will simply vote for whichever candidate claims to be a Republican.

This November, after a record turn-out, the American people will demonstrate that the majority of them have a conscience and a soul, and they will vote Trump out of office.

But What Happens Next?

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

Trump will not concede.

Trump will refuse to leave the White House.

Trump will declare the election a sham. He’ll say it does not represent the will of the people. He will declare himself a winner and blame immigrants and illegals for inflating the numbers. He will state that the news media, the enemy of the people, were out to get him from the start and that they’re responsible for posting false results.

He will fire people that oppose him. He will call for investigations into his opponent, the one the American people dutifully and rightfully elected to be their next leader.

Trump lacks grace and refuses to admit when he’s wrong. He does not listen to criticism. When the American people state in a loud, clear voice, “We do not want you as our president,” do you really think he’ll listen?

As a people, we have given up civility. There will not be a reasonable, rational discussion about Trump’s refusal to leave the White House. His loyal followers will say he’s right, and they will be ready to show up with weapons and fight for him.

The courts will offer conflicting rulings. Trump has appointed so many Republican shills as federal judges over the last 3 years that it will be a crap-shoot as to how they will rule.

The truth won’t matter. The facts won’t matter. The Constitution does not matter and neither do our laws. Reasonable discourse will be drowned out by the shouting and the name calling and the threats.

We will fight. People will get hurt. Nationally, we’ll be less secure. Industries will grind to a halt. We will know poverty and hunger and strife like we haven’t known for a century.

Is It Really That Hopeless?

I’m describing a plausible scenario, but I’m also allowing pessimism and fear paint the scene with the bleakest colors possible.

I think I’ve described Trump’s reaction perfectly, based on his behavior the last 4 years. However, I may be underestimating the American people and the institutions we have in place.

We have to show up in numbers to vote Trump out. If we show up in sufficient numbers, if our voice is loud enough, even the die-hard Trump supports suckling off the Fox News teat will be unable to deny that he is no longer the President, and they’ll dismiss his lies and tantrums for what they are.

Then we can get back to trying to make the world a better, freer place.

02/4/20

Let’s Talk about Picard

I was tempted to talk about politics again tonight, but the internet is already on fire with what went down in Iowa, and with the State of the Union address. Reality seems pretty terrible right now, so how about a nice distraction by visiting the utopian society of Star Trek?

* Spoiler Warning *

Before I get too far into it, I want to give a quick warning that I will be getting into the details of the first two episode of Star Trek: Picard. If you have not watched the show yet and you want to experience it with as little foreknowledge as possible, this is where you should turn away.

You have been warned.

Let’s get into it.

Star Trek: Picard starts on Earth, opening with black-clad, masked combatants transporting into someone’s apartment. They use a knife to murder a sideways-blinking alien while trying to abduct a young woman.

… Okay, remember when I said we could all use a utopian distraction?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I enjoyed the first and second episodes of this new show. It’s beautiful, familiar, with a great score and some fun action scenes. I appreciated all the callbacks to TNG. The show is good! Star Trek: Picard has been put together by people that know what they’re doing.

It does make me a little sad, though. The character of Picard always represented the best of Starfleet to me, with his integrity, his scientific approach, and his tendency to lead with diplomacy rather than violence. That’s what Starfleet and The Federation is supposed to be! That was Roddenberry’s dream.

Starfleet is no longer that. They turned their back on an entire species in need and let untold millions die. Starfleet is so bad that Picard, still the man of integrity and compassion, quit in a huff.

It’s hard to look at The Federation as the good guys anymore, which from my perspective, hits a little too close to home.

I’m also disappointed that androids are banned. They’re referring to them as synthetics, which… you know I just spent the last year and a half writing a novel called Synthetic Dreams, right?

Anyway, I was hoping to see a future where people like Data were common. I want to see a future where the children of mankind’s technology thrive and teach us how to be better people. Instead, they were co-opted by a mysterious, rogue organization.

Fear rules The Federation. It kept them from saving the Romulans when their star went nova. It keeps them from exploring the new life of synthetics. It hinders them from being their best self, which doesn’t sound much like a utopia at all.

It really must seem like I don’t like this show, but I do. I’m just disappointed because the future is not as bright as I hoped. That’s particularly difficult to swallow right now, when I’m trying to find hope wherever I can.

02/1/20

An Independent’s Look at Politics in 2020 – February Edition

Who I Am

Some friends and family probably think I’m a Democrat. I live in California, dislike Trump, McConnell, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, and a number of other Republican hucksters, and I espouse a number of progressive views. However, I’m registered as an Independent, and my perspective and viewpoint is shaped more by primary sources than falling in line with any particular ideology.

If you’re right-wing enough, I will appear to you as a bleeding-heart liberal. If you’re sufficiently left-wing, I may appear too conservative, and slow to commit to a generalized liberal agenda.

The forces within me that drive my decisions are this: integrity, empathy, and humility. I wish to stay true to myself and encourage others to stay true to themselves, even when I disagree with them. Integrity is about valuing honesty and acting accordingly.

Empathy is about trying to understand other people and respecting what they see. I try to look at things from other people’s perspective, and I try to understand how they came to their conclusions.

Humility, for me, is about keeping an open mind and acknowledging that I may be wrong. I don’t always have all the information, and sometimes the information I think I have is incorrect.

That’s who I am and where I’m coming from. I watch social media and I read the news, usually focusing on videos and documents that are primary sources. If someone tells me that Trump said something outrageous, I’ll find the video myself and listen to him. Sometimes the hot-take that got me there is overblown, and I acknowledge that. With Trump, it’s usually understated.

The Impeachment

Now that I’ve told you who I am, I’m going to tell you where we currently are. In a later next section, I’ll talk about where things are going.

The Senate Republicans, lead by Mitch McConnell, have used their majority to block witnesses in the Trump impeachment trial. McConnell made it clear before the trial started that he was going to work with The White House, and that the Republicans position was going to be in alignment with Trump’s. Then they all signed a document and swore to uphold impartial justice. Unlike me, integrity and honesty means nothing to McConnell, and he’s a powerful enough figure in the Senate to lead the other Republicans down a dark and dishonest path.

The acquittal isn’t in yet, but it’s all but certain. Many Republicans have acknowledged that Trump did what he was accused. He illegally blocked foreign assistance to an ally for the purpose of getting personal gain in the upcoming election, and he did everything he could to cover it up. These are impeachable offenses, equal or worse to what Nixon did.

The fear is that Trump will now be emboldened to do more or worse. The checks and balances have failed, thanks to the efforts of Mitch McConnell.

That’s where we are now. It’s bad. I don’t think we’ll know how bad until it comes time for the election.

Meanwhile…

Trump continues to hold continuous rallies, and people are showing up in droves and supporting him.

I do not understand these people. Mitch McConnell… I get it. He’s a villain, but I understand his motivations. He is not driven by integrity, empathy, or humility. He’s just greedy. Like the Trumps, McConnell’s family is making a lot of money off the government right now. McConnell is your run-of-the-mill soulless politician. I don’t like him, but I understand him.

But the Trump fans that show up at his rallies? I don’t understand them at all.

I want to think they are ignorant and not paying attention. I want to think that they’re living in a right-wing bubble, and the only news and information that they receive is the talk-show radio that hides the atrocities through omission or reframing. The kind of garbage Sean Hannity shovels on Fox News.

But what if they’re paying attention to the same videos I’m seeing and simply coming away with a different conclusion? I see Trump asking Russia and China and “anyone else that’s listening” for help in the next election which leads me to believe he is willing to compromise the good of the nation for his own personal gain. What are these other people seeing? A strong autocrat that’s a good politician on the world theater? Even though Trump impulsively killed an Iranian general at the start of the year as a way to distract from the Impeachment, and nearly sent us into another war? An action that resulted in bases with our troops getting attacked by Iran, resulting in dozens of brain injuries and a weakened position in The Middle East?

Yeah, I don’t understand that average Trump supporter at all. My empathy is failing me here. Is it because Trump gives lip service to conservative principles, and these Trump supporters are simply good church goers? Trump’s personal life and history demonstrates unequivocally that he is not a good Christian influence. He is the least Christ-like President we’ve ever had.

Christians falling for Trump… open your eyes to the scam. He thinks you’re gullible and pathetic, and if you continue to worship him, a man that cheated on his wife while she was pregnant and then paid off that woman $130,000 in order to cover it up… if you continue to close your eyes to his actions and fall in line behind him purely because you’re Republican… you have failed to learn some critical lessons from The Bible.

Where are We Going

This is an election year, and we’re about to be bombarded by a whole lot of people wanting us to vote for them. There is going to be a wave of disinformation and lies this year like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Some of those lies are going to come from Russia, because if it worked in 2016, and we did absolutely nothing about it for 2020, they won’t see any reason not to double their efforts in this new election.

Social Media is going to be an information war zone, a digital dystopia unlike anything we ever imagined. We thought Cyberpunk was going to be all about body modification, putting our minds up in a digital plane, and just trying to survive a world wholly owned by evil corporations. We got some of that right. The things we got wrong turned out worse.

This year, the United States is going to find out if we really are a democratic republic anymore.

Look, we’ve already failed as a democracy. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by millions. The Republicans, which represent the minority of Americans, are ruling right now. The people that voted for no new witnesses in the impeachment represent about 20 million people fewer than the people that wanted witnesses and documents.

Who do I Want for the Next President?

The most important thing we can do for the next election is remove Trump from office. He has demonstrated every day, in every video I’ve seen of him, in every decision he’s made, that he is unfit for office. He should not have been elected in 2016. He should not be reelected in 2020. If he is still president next year, he will continue to run the Presidency as a campaign, and he will try to stay in power in 2024. That will push us towards civil war.

I wish that was hyperbole. He’s already said things like that at his campaign rallies. I’ve seen the videos. I’ve heard it from his stupid mouth. And there are a few Republican senators (like Mitch McConnell) that have suggested that Trump should be allowed to run for a third term because the Democrats didn’t give him a chance in the first term.

NOTE: For those that may not have been paying attention, Republicans controlled the House and the Senate the first two years of Trump’s presidency. Any argument amount Democratics blocking Trump is hogwash, especially with Mitch McConnell sitting with hundreds of House passed measures on his desk.

So whoever is on the Democratic ticket this fall, I will vote for them. That is the only way that we’re going to get Trump out of office.

Of the Democratic candidates, which one do I want to win?

Warren. I wanted her to run 4 years ago, and I’m glad she’s running now. I like her planned approach. I think she’s intelligent, and even if I disagree with some of her ideas, I acknowledge that I might be wrong and am willing to go along with her plans to see if they pan out. I think she’s flubbed in the past over the Native American heritage, but if that’s the worst she’s done, we will all find that a refreshing change over what we have now.

What about Bernie?

If he’s on the ticket at the end I’ll vote for him, but I don’t like him for President anymore. I hope he has a good running mate because I’m unsure his health is going to hold out through to 2024. He recently had a heart issue. He was one of the oldest candidates ever 4 years ago. He hasn’t grown younger.

There are a lot of people supporting Bernie that are reprehensible. I don’t want to judge Bernie by their behavior, other than it would be nice if he brought his followers in line and admonished the more caustic members of his body.

I’m just not a fan of Bernie in general, based on how he ran against Clinton in 2016. He did not always deal with Clinton with integrity, and that makes me wary. I have reservations.

And Biden? Again, I’ll vote for him if I have to, but I think he’s not awesome. On issues, he’s more like what the Republicans used to be. In fact, he’d be great for the Republican party at this point.

As for the others, I don’t think they’re going to make it through the primaries. It doesn’t matter what I feel about them. Yang seems like he’s got some great supporters and some good ideas, but he hasn’t captivated the nation.

So, I’d very much like to see Warren sworn in next year. After that, I’d like to see the US invest more in healthcare and education, deescalate tensions overseas, and shift the trillion dollar defense budget into domestic programs. These are the things I hope for optimistically.

When I’m feeling pessimistic, I think Trump is going to get reelected and Russian money will continue to influence our foreign and domestic policies.

01/29/20

Handling Pain

As I’m writing this, I’m in quite a bit of pain. Friday last week, I experienced a minor kidney stone, one I was able to deal with by drinking a bunch of water and taking a couple of Tylenol. On Sunday, I had another kidney stone hit me, strong enough to force me to go to urgent care and get checked up. Monday, the pain hit in the late afternoon and I managed it with the prescribed Norco. Today, siting in a Starbucks, I’m drinking a bunch of water and decaf coffee, hoping that my current discomfort will dissipate soon.

I’ve written about kidney stones before. I’ve had so many now that I can’t remember all of them individually. I’ve done everything I can do to avoid them, but they still occur, taking over my life, ruining my plans and overshadowing all other concerns.

While I have talked about kidney stones and the kind of pain they produce, I don’t know that I’ve ever talked about dealing with the pain. In this moment, with an awareness of my internal organs I’d rather be without, all I can think about is the pain I’m feeling, so I’m going to talk about it. Maybe it will prove to be writer fuel for another story.

The present pain is physical. It’s a continuous pressure situated on my left side. It’s not a sharp pain, like a stab wound. It’s not a pinch or a burn. it feels like my kidney is twice the size it should be, crammed into a spot near my lower back without enough room to accommodate it. It doesn’t feel like a burn, but there is a sense of warmth to the pain.

It is pain that knows no compromise. I can’t sit in any position which makes it easier. If I apply pressure to my left side, it makes the pain a little bit worse, but not so intense as to drop me to my knees. It is persistent. Constant. Unrelenting.

It’s the kind of sensation that makes me think “This isn’t fair!” It’s the kind of pain that makes me want to plead and bargain for it to go away, but prayer hasn’t done any good so far.

What do I do about it? How do I survive?

Time for some dangerous honesty. I’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past, and while I’m not seriously considering suicide at the moment, death would be a mercy right now. Not for my family or for the people that care about me, but this isn’t a life affirming pain. This is debilitating. This is crushing. This is torture.

I thought that writing about this would help provide a distraction and help me get a handle on it. I’m at Starbucks. It’s Wednesday and I’m here to write tonight. A moment ago, I had to lock my workstation and run off to the bathroom to throw up. If you haven’t had pain intense enough to make you sick, consider yourself lucky.

Why am I writing about all this? Why am I putting you through what I’m going through? Am I such a monster that I would take this pain and force you to feel some measure of it through my words?

The thing about pain is that it is often invisible. When it isn’t invisible, it’s ignorable. When it’s not ignorable, it’s inconvenient, and we do whatever is required in order to bury the pain or make it go away.

In this Starbucks, there are two men sitting less than 10 feet away from me. I’m clearly visible to them, writhing in my chair, trying to keep myself still long enough to type this post, but they don’t see what I’m going through. After I left the bathroom from vomiting, I checked myself in the mirror. I’m pale, my eyes are bloodshot… the signs of distress are obvious to my eyes. But no one in this whole store has said anything to me. Not that I want them to, necessarily. It just strikes me as remarkable that I can be here among all these people, agony twisting me and reshaping my reality, and no one is aware.

There are people all around us every day, going through their own flavor of trauma. Maybe their pain isn’t as intense as a kidney stone, but it’s there. Maybe it’s in their joints. Maybe it’s in their stomach. Perhaps someone is struggling to contend with a migraine while still wearing a smile on their face, taking your order and making your drink while you’re just trying to move on to the next thing.

Not all pain is physical. If I have to say one good thing about this kidney stone, it’s that it alters my perspective enough to make me forget the other pains in my life.

Recently, I left my online critique group. I had a feeling that I didn’t fit in well. My insecurities are always telling me that I don’t fit in with the groups I associate, but I decided to check in and see if there was anything to it. My presence in the group created stress for the others. It wasn’t just in my head. I bowed out as gracefully as I could. I want to maintain the friendships, but I know that things will be different from now on. It’s another sort of pain that I can’t reason with, but it’s not the kind of discomfort that leads to me throwing up in a public bathroom. It’s the kind of pain that makes me want to spend less time around other people.

My Mom died 18 years ago this month. She was a difficult person to be around. Overbearing, competitive, and prone to anger. I share these qualities with her, and it makes me unbearable. In groups like the one I just left, it made me a source of pain. But unlike a kidney stone, I can be reasoned with, and I’m sympathetic.

I still feel the emotional pain from leaving that group. It is present, even now. But the kidney stone changes my perspective. Once this bout of kidney pain has run its course, my perspective will still remain altered, and the pain of leaving that critique group will be less.

What’s the point of all this? Why am I posting this? What are my parting thoughts this time?

If you’re a writer reading this, consider the affect of pain on your characters. Both emotional and physical. Pain makes people want to withdraw to lick their wounds. Intense pain isolates. Sitting here in this Starbucks while a tiny stone ravages my internals and ruins my day, I feel alone. Separate. Not all people deal with pain the same way, but they do deal with it. If your characters are going through some trauma, be it physical or emotional, make sure their reaction to that trauma is appropriate.

If you’re reading this because you care about me… thank you. I don’t want anyone to worry about me and I’m not calling out for sympathy or special treatment. This is just a time of pain, and the way I handle it is to take it apart, compartmentalize what I can, and push to get through to the other side.

As a call to action, I urge you to consider the other people around you with as much sympathy and empathy as you can muster. Chances are, there is someone near you at this very moment that is enduring pain you cannot see. Since you have no way of knowing who is suffering and who isn’t, the best thing you can do is treat everyone with as much love and kindness as you can afford.