Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Microstory 908: Educational YouTube Videos

The internet is a wonderful place, and video sharing sites are some of the best examples of this. And by sites, I really just mean the one site, because if it’s not on YouTube, then does it even exist? I suppose Twitch is the one exception to this rule. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook don’t count, because they’re designed to be watched as they’re posted, then quickly forgotten about, and not searched for later. While the internet in general has done more for public education than a thousand Horace Manns stacked on top of each other, there are three major sources of knowledge. Two of them are owned by Google, and people often access the third through a generic Google search. YouTube has allowed people to share memories and art with each other. It has supported short films, memorable clips, and an entirely new form of performance art. While they would obviously not exist without their precursors, nothing in the history of entertainment resembles the kind of videos YouTubers make. Not everything on the site is good (e.g. racist propaganda, kissing pranks, and Logan Paul), but I wanted to talk about something amazing. You can learn nearly anything from a good YouTube video. For every prank show clone, there’s a channel dedicated to education and enrichment. You can prop your tablet on the sink, and follow a tutorial for how to unclog the drain. You can study evolutionary biology on a whim. You can try your feet at dancing without embarrassing yourself in front of others. I follow a few good channels myself, like It’s Okay to Be Smart, and Crash Course. There are others that I find myself watching, like Vox, and Seeker. No longer is education limited to the elite, or geographically fortunate. You don’t have to have hardly any money to become an expert in your chosen field, relegating formal degrees to nothing more than tangible proof for employers. There are still some things that don’t work well with this format; specifically anything that requires a lot of hands-on work, like medicine, or aircraft operation. But you can still get an introduction to these concept with a few ten-minute videos, and I consider that a phenomenal achievement in human innovation. If you’ve ever wanted to learn something, but never thought you had the resources or time to, try YouTube. I’m working off a whole list.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Microstory 907: Stargate Franchise

Circa 2006, I went to one of my illegal television streaming websites, which I was just getting into, and tried to start watching Stargate SG-1. Well, the premiere bored be too much, and I gave up halfway through. Four years later, as I was ending my tenure at the University of Kansas, I noticed that Hulu had every episode up for free. Now for you kiddos out there, this was before Hulu was a subscription service. The point of it was to provide a single source for recent primetime television series, from three of the four major networks. For free. It was only later that content providers started expecting people to pay hundreds of dollars for cable, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Anyway, in 2010, I had but 42 days before all 214 episodes Stargate SG-1 were to expire from the old Hulu. I tried the first episode again, and liked it so much that I watched the next episode right away. Then I opened up my Google Calendar, and made up a schedule for how quickly I would need to watch them in order to catch each one before I lost them all. I surpassed my quota, and finished every episode with more than a enough time. Hulu later decided to extend their deal with MGM, which would have been nice to know ahead of time. After that was done, I moved on to Stargate: Atlantis, and—armed with a three-month Netflix subscription as a graduation present from my sister—I was able to watch the first half of the first season of the third series, SGU Stargate Universe, on DVD. I was then able to watch a season and a half of SGU in realtime before it too was cancelled, and we were all left Stargateless. As I recently explained, I don’t read as much as you would expect from a writer. What I do is watch a lot of TV and movies, and that is where I get my inspiration. I don’t need a books to tell me how form sentence or congratulate a verb. I just need to know how to tell a good story, and any good story gets me that. Hell, bad stories give me that too; they teach me what not to do, which is just as important. I remember thinking Battlestar Galactica was the best space opera in existence, until I discovered the Stargate franchise. Whenever I feel down, I can throw on an episode of Stargate. It has opened me up to so many ideas about physics, astrophysics, engineering, anthropology, sociology, psychology, technology, and more. I’m a better writer for having watched the series, and this website wouldn’t exist without it, because my view of the world was so limited before. Now they’re talking about a fourth show to reboot the canon (Infinity and Origins don’t count) and I am all for it. Here’s hoping it becomes more than just talk. Get to the gate.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Microstory 906: Vertical Farming

Something that some people may not know is that farming is one of the most destructive forces against nature. It requires a massive amount of land just to feed a few consumers. We tend to think of deforestation being caused by evil corporations forcing their way into rainforests for logging. And to be sure, that’s true, but what many don’t realize is how many trees, and how much wildlife has to be cleared out for agriculture. While it allowed our ancestors to settle down, and start building civilization, agriculture has also destroyed animals’ homes, and harmed the ecosystem, almost irreparably. People love to talk about these new age food ideas. They think organic foods are better, not knowing that there is no legal definition for the word, and anyone can use it as they wish. They promote almond milk over dairy, but almonds require an astonishing amount of water to grow. Don’t believe me? Look it up. A single almonds requires more than four litres. They hate genetically modified organisms, despite the fact that the majority of them don’t actually know what that means. They’ve just been indoctrinated into distrusting anything that goes by an acronym. So what’s the answer to all these problems? GMOs, for one. Done right, GMOs are safer, healthier, and environmentally friendly. Non-nutritious components can be removed, and more nutrients can be added. They can be modified to grow on less water and less sunlight, all the while being more resistant to pests. Doesn’t that sound better? Besides that, though, there’s also always the title of this microstory: vertical farming. A high volume of produce can be cultivated in only a few square meters of land. Hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics, and related methods have the potential to feed billions of people. They do so with less water, limited fertilizer, and zero pesticides. Here’s the thing, plants need light to survive, but they don’t much care where that light is coming from. Yes, grow lights require electricity, but that’s just one more reason for us to invest in renewable energy sources. Vertical Farming is capable of literally solving world hunger. Virtually any crop can be grown in any environment, because everything will be done inside. There are some limitations, of course. Rooted vegetables, like carrots and potatoes, don’t grow well using these techniques, because they need to dig deep. But just because we can’t use vertical farming to grow everything, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it to grow anything. That rewilding I told you we will do in the future is made possible by this, along with clean meat, which I’ll discuss further in a few weeks. That’s reason enough to support the effort. But if nothing else, recognize that vertical farming allows everyone to enjoy fresh locally grown food, regardless of where they live.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 15, 2192

As instructed, they didn’t approach any of the people giving each other butterfly signals in 2191. First of all, they didn’t know what it meant. It seemed shady, but it could also be some strange new form of greeting that they weren’t privy to since they only existed one day out of the year. They couldn’t even be sure if the people were trying to say butterfly at all. To communicate the word in sign language, one was meant to wave their hands, as the flapping of wings, which none of them was doing. Vitalie, of course, was entirely convinced that this was some underground resistance movement, presently working against the Arianrhod occupation. They should have done better at keeping themselves informed about the events they missed during their interim years, on the arc, and elsewhere. If any rebels attempted to fight back sometime in the past, they definitely lost, and Ulinthra would have buried it. Now they had too little intelligence to go on. That night, they got together to discuss how they were going to proceed, ultimately deciding to wait until the next year, so they could have a fresh start.
“All right,” Leona began near the end of their latest breakfast meetings. “Brooke, you’re sure these heart trackers aren’t also listening devices.”
“I’m certain,” Brooke answered with a formal nod.
“Then on to Vitalie.”
“On to me?”
“I know your power doesn’t work with Ulinthra, and we think she has some time power blocker, but we’ve not until now had reason to use it elsewhere.”
“We should have tested it at some point,” Ecrin said.
“I’ve tested it,” Vitalie said, as if it were obvious. “I can go anywhere on Earth. It’s not easy, because I think that blocker she uses has minimal effect on me no matter what, but like you said, there was nothing to see.”
“In that case, you think you could stomach a trip to one of the common areas, like a shopping mall, or restaurant?” Leona asked.
“I could,” Vitalie said.
“Do you think you could take one of us with you?”
“I could take both,” Vitalie answered. She looked at Brooke with guilt. “Sorry, I don’t think I could take you.”
“I’m used to it,” Brooke said, not feeling left out.
“Then let’s go back,” Leona said, “and find someone giving what we think is a butterfly sign—”
They were suddenly in the marketplace.
“I didn’t mean right away,” Leona said.
Vitalie shrugged. “No use in waiting.” She took off her shirt, and started swinging it around like a lasso. “We’re invisible, by the way!” she shouted.
“Are our bodies just slumped in our chairs, back at the unit?” Ecrin questioned.
Vitalie pointed at her. “Uh, you fell to the floor. Don’t worry, you’re not hurt, and Brooke is carrying you to the couch.”
“Do you maintain a presence in both locations simultaneously?” Leona asked out of scientific curiosity.
“It’s like I’m wearing bifocals. I just adjust my focus to one or the other. It takes less than a second, and I can always kind of see both at the same time. I don’t think you can do that, though.”
Leona nodded understandingly. “Let’s walk around while we’re invisible. Keep your shirts on, though.”
“They’re not real shirts, Leona,” Vitalie needlessly reminded her.
“Look for a butterfly,” Leona continued. “Call out when you see it.”
It was a half hour before Ecrin saw two people give each other the secret sign. They seemed to be doing it a lot less than they did yesterday. A lot can happen in a year, and there was no way of knowing what these people had been through. Vitalie allowed the man and woman to see them, but no one else, so they could have a secret conversation.
“What does it mean when you do that?” Leona asked of them, trying to be careful about broaching the subject.
“When I do what?” the man asked.
Leona mimicked the movement. “When you interlock your thumbs like that.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He tried to leave, but Vitalie teleported Ecrin’s image right in front of them. “How did you do that?”
“You first,” Ecrin said.
He looked around in paranoia. “Not here.”
Ecrin swept her hand downwards, like a model at a game show. “Lead the way.”
“What are you?” the man asked after leading them to an empty storage room.
“We can’t be here physically,” Vitalie explained. “Ulinthra planted tracking devices on our hearts, so we have astrally project to have this conversation.”
Someone in the early 21st century would have needed that term explained to them, but enough science fiction had become science fact since then. While astral projection was not something other people could do, it was a concept that audiences these days would find easier to grasp. “Who is Ulinthra?”
“That’s Arianrhod’s real name,” Leona said.
His and the woman’s eyes widened as they looked at each other. “How do you know this? Do you use your...ghost powers to spy on her?”
“We go way back,” Leona replied. She looked to the other two, hesitating. But the cat was out of the bag, and they needed allies. “We’re time travelers, and so is she. If you’ve ever tried to do something against her, there’s a reason she always wins. She’s already been through it.”
He lifted his chin to think this over, not sure if he believed it, but wanting to entertain the possibility. “Then we have to be unpredictable.”
Vitalie shook her head. “She’s already lived through this day. Every time you try to be unpredictable, you could just be making the same unpredictable choice you did in the first timeline.” She surrounded the word in airquotes.
“I assume you don’t use real names,” Ecrin said, briefly changing the subject, and recalling her time in the IAC, where everyone had a callsign. “What are your designations?”
“I’m Gatekeeper,” the man said.
“Holly Blue,” the woman finally spoke.
“Are those butterflies?” Vitalie asked.
“Yes.”
“Why?”
“We always suspected Arianrhod to be a fake name,” the woman now said enough for it to be clear she had an Irish accent. “It’s the name of a Celtic goddess, and means silver wheel. Who breaks the butterfly upon the wheel?”
“No one,” Leona understood. “Not if the butterflies fight back.”
“Assuming we believe you about the time travel thing,” Gatekeeper tried to begin, but was stopped when Vitalie walked right through the wall, and soon thereafter appeared through the other wall. “Okay, that’s pretty convincing, unless we’re having the same delusion.” He looked to Holly Blue, who indicated that she had seen it too. “You mean to tell me Arianrhod can go back in time, but only one day?”
“It’s not that she can do it,” Leona explained. “It’s that she has to. She experiences every day twice. And only twice. She can’t control it.”
“Well, what hope would we have?”
Vitalie then started in on the explanation of what they were doing with the penny; how their only hope of changing the timeline was by using Ulinthra.
The two revolutionaries understood the logic, and recognized the flaws. “What did you flip today?” they asked.
“We didn’t flip today,” Leona replied. “Our biggest problem now is that we don’t know what we can do against her. And we’re afraid of what she’ll do in retaliation. Whatever move we make, it has to be a final blow, because the consequences last time were too great.”
“But you said that was reversed?”
“They’re not gonna reverse the next one,” Ecrin said.
“We may be able to get something done,” Vitalie started, “if we work together. Now that we know about you, we stand a chance. How many are there in your group?”
Holly Blue and Gatekeeper looked at each other again. “Three,” he finally said.
The two of us, and one other,” Holly Blue added.
“How is that possible?” Leona asked. “Only three of you signed up?”
“Lots signed up,” Gatekeeper said. “They’re all dead now.”
“You act like you already know each other. Why the hand signal?”
“It’s not just to prove we’re rebels. We also use it to indicate that we need to talk, and that the coast is clear to do so.”
“Where’s the last one right now?”
“Monarch is our designated survivor,” Gatekeeper explained. “No one knows who they are. He or she stays out of sight until something goes wrong. If we all die, it’s up to them to start it back up again, which they’ll probably soon have to do. You seem like lovely people, but you’re still just three recruits.
“Barely recruits,” Holly Blue noted.
“Isn’t there something else you can do?” Gatekeeper asked. “Someone you can talk to? You said there are other time travelers. Can they help? Can you contact them?”
Leona knew a few people with potential. Unfortunately, Ulinthra never let her touch land, so she couldn’t dig a grave for Mr. Halifax. The Forger might be willing to help? Ecrin probably knew many choosers, so this was a good question for her to answer. She looked at her inquisitively, completely forgetting that Ecrin hadn’t been involved in her own personal thought process.
“What?” Ecrin asked.
“Do you know someone? Maybe you know someone that we don’t? Maybe someone that Ulinthra doesn’t know?”
“Ulinthra has the memory of countless versions of herself, from indefinite timelines. I don’t know who she knows. There may be someone, though. You’re not gonna like it, but he may be our best chance. There’s one thing we’ve not yet discussed, but I think we all know it needs to be on the table.”
“You’re talking about killing her,” Vitalie realized.
“I’m not killing anyone,” Leona said. “Not again.”
“That’s what I’m saying. You wouldn’t have to. When I was working for the coalition, there was a team we came across. They were deadly travelers, and we spent a lot of resources trying to catch them. I stepped into the field myself to work on it, even though I was mostly in administration.”
“Who is it?” Vitalie was intrigued.
“The leader is called The Maverick; his team, The Mavericks. Not very original.”
Leona nodded her head solemnly. “I met one of them once. Darrell, or something. He helped Gilbert go back into the extraction mirror, for his death.”
“Darrow,” Ecrin corrected. “We would probably want to deal with him only, since he can be reasoned with. The other two can be rather..insufferable. But we all have to agree to it, including Viceroy.”
“Viceroy?” Leona didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Yeah, the other one in our group...since we’re using butterfly codenames?”
She meant Brooke. “Right. Viceroy, yes. We’ll ask her, but I don’t see her taking issue with it. I suppose I always knew it would have to end like this. If the powers that be don’t step in, we may have no way of getting her to Beaver Haven.”
Vitalie was totally on board, as were Holly Blue and Gatekeeper, who assumed that was what everyone was going for anyway. After going over some secret protocols with their two new allies, the three of them jumped back into their own bodies. They needed a couple of things to reach the Maverick, though, so Ecrin went out in physical form to shop. She came back with a cloak, and a dagger. She hung the cloak up on the door, and used the dagger to cut a symbol into it twice. They looked like bird tracks. Once she was finished, she jabbed the dagger into the cloak, sticking it into the door.
Within seconds, the cloak started billowing out, until the figure of a man appeared inside of it. He reached behind him and pulled the dagger from his back before turning around. He smiled and shook his head when he saw it was Ecrin. “I bet you just loooved doing that.”
“I don’t love that you’re here,” Ecrin said. “But we need your help. We just don’t know when.”

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Fervor: Escape from 1972 (Part VI)

“My God, young lady, you look like a whore!” my mother shouts for all the world to hear.
“I beg your pardon,” the woman who was trying to help interrupts, but she’s still being ignored.
“What are you wearing? Why do you look so old? Where did you go?”
I’m fourteen years old, which is only about a year older than my parents expect me to be, but I guess their memory is of me as a twelve-year-old, which is a fairly big difference in a young lady’s development. I’ve had to grow up pretty fast because of the terrible conditions I started in, and when Serkan and Ace took me out of that life, it wasn’t like I started regressing, or anything. I’m still rather mature for my age, and my time in the 21st century has only made me more independent. These two people here may have conceived and raised me—though, there’s no way of knowing whether we’re related to each other, because I’ve yet to see proof of it—but they don’t control me anymore. I scoff at her, and try to walk away.
There’s got to be a way out of here. Okay, let me think. I seem to have the ability to travel through time and space using photographs. That would be fine if I had a picture of 2025, or 1491, but I lost my phone with tons of options from the former, and camera technology didn’t exist as far back as the latter. Hell, I would take it if something could take me back to sometime in the 2020s, as long as it was before the day that I left. No, I’ll even take a week or to after that. Thinking about it even more, I realize that all I really need is a way to get out of what I see now from a shred of newspaper blowing on the ground that it’s no sooner than October of 1972. I would need to find something more current to get an exact date, but that matches up with what I remember about when the famous Blue Marble photo, which I’ve been using as my phone background, was taken.
“Don’t you walk away from me,” my mother spits. By now the other woman has slipped away, not wanting to interfere too much in other people’s lives. I think in the future, people will be less forgiving, because they’ll never know when they’re being watched by video cameras, designed to record social behavior. For the most part, however, a 1972 mother is free to discipline her child however she sees fit.
“Do you have any pictures?”
“What?”
“Like in your purse,” I press. “Or dad, in your wallet? Do you have any picture of me as a baby? Or of anything?”
She’s noticeably thrown off by this, and interprets it as an attack on her character, which it partly is. I’m just looking for a way out. “Well, no, but...”
“Did you look for me? Did you send out a photo of your missing daughter? Or did you just go back home?”
“We haven’t been back home since you disappeared,” my father finally says. He never hit me, but he stayed quiet when my mother did, and maybe that’s just as bad.
“Oh my God, are you still on your ancestry tour? Christ, I had my blood tested. We’re not part African. That was just what your own father told you to excuse himself for being a racist piece of shit. We are British or Irish, though, so you got lucky with that one.”
“Now, you listen here,” my mother begins.
I scoff again, but much louder, as I’m rolling my eyes, and turning away. She grabs my arm. “Let me go.”
“I am your mother, and you will—”
I don’t let her finish. I just narrow my eyes and take a quarter step towards her, my arm fully within her grasp. “If you don’t let me go right now, you’re gonna find out how good 1970s South African medicine is.”
She’s never been scared of me before, and she’s never been scared of anything more than me right now. She releases me, and lets out a whimper so faint, I can’t be sure I didn’t imagine it.
I take a moment to calm down, and try to be as cold as possible. “I left you in Stonehenge because I was done being treated like two chalkboard erasers. I have gone on to see wonders, to meet wonderful people, and to learn new things.” I realize I can’t say anything about being a time traveler, but as I’m speaking, I’m also realizing no time traveler I’ve met has actually said anything about some Time Patrol. Maybe I can tell them the truth, and no one will care. I don’t think I have to, though. “I left because it was best for me, and for you. You never wanted kids, and only did so because you were indoctrinated into a society that expected it of you. I’m pleased to announce that you have fulfilled your obligation. I may have escaped a few years sooner than you expected me to, but I think we all knew it would come to this. I’m not calling the cops, or seeking a journalist to tell my story about your abuse, but I’m also not going home with you. This is my life now, and that is yours. I need to find a newsstand, or maybe a library, so I can make my way out of this country. If you pursue me, in any capacity, I’ll make Lizzie Borden look like Cindy-Lou Who. Are we on the same page?”
They don’t say anything, and I just walk away, not sure who’s more scared of me; my father, my mother, or myself. I do find a newsstand, and discover that it’s the seventh day of December. The latest paper from the states is from the first of the month in New York. I feel like my best option is to at least get back to the states. I don’t know of any time travelers that lived in this time period, except for Detective Bran, who is still a child at this point, but the U.S. still seems like the safest place to go. I pay for the paper, and choose the first headline I see with a picture: Storm Caused Traffic Mishaps.
Maybe that wasn’t really the best one I could use, because I’m suddenly standing in freezing cold weather in late Fall. Several cars are stopped on the wrong side of the road—that is, as long as I’m not still in South Africa. I hear honking and screaming, and the sirens from a trooper. He gets out of his car, and starts rounding up help from other drivers, to get the cars back where they belong. Even though it’s cold as hell, I still have no idea what I’m going to do, so I might as well help too. I get behind one of the cars, and prepare to push. The big strong men also getting ready to push look at me funny. “Call me Rosie the Riveter,” I say to them. One of the men trying to push another car takes off his heavy coat, and gives it to me, which I don’t see as an affront to my feminism. Together, we all get them up the hill, and out of the way. I try to return the coat to the man as he’s getting ready to leave the scene, but he just winks and says I should keep it. He’s older than me, but I don’t get any creepy vibes.
As strange as it must look for a teenage girl to be wandering the highway alone in the middle of the day in November, nobody else gives me any trouble, or offers to help. There’s no telling how long these people were stuck in traffic, but surely they’re all just in a hurry to get home. It was probably mentioned in the article from the paper, but I didn’t bother reading it that closely, and I couldn’t take it with me, because it was run a day in the future. I start walking down highway 20, headed towards civilization, thinking about what I could have done better, confident that I made all the best choices with the cards I was dealt. Goddamn it’s cold, though. If I’m going to be a time traveler, I need to start thinking about not going anywhere without a bag of essentials. I need to keep things like water and cash with me at all times, but the first order of business would be a coat. I stick my hands in the pockets, and find what feels like a piece of paper. I take it out, hoping whatever it is isn’t important to the guy who gave me the coat. It’s a photograph.
At first everything seems normal to me, but then I realize that photos these days aren’t printed on paper like this. You would need a personal computer to do it, which is impossible. Even if you didn’t, the picture itself doesn’t look like anything that exists today. I don’t even know what it is, but it looks like something out of a science fiction movie. I flip the paper over, where it reads, Giant Magellan Telescope, April 4, 2025. “Holy shit!” I can’t help but exclaim out loud. That’s a few days, off but I'll take it. I look behind me, half-expecting the coat’s owner to have followed me there, but the afternoon rush is over, and I’m alone. Worried a time pigeon might come and snatch the picture from my hand, I concentrate on it until my eyes start burning, and I make the jump to the future. Man, that’s a lot easier that I would have thought. In movies, it takes superheroes days to master their powers, if not longer.
I stand and marvel at the telescope for a good long time before someone realizes I don’t belong there, and escorts me off the premises. I discover that I’m in Chile, so I make my way to the nearest internet cafĂ©. I tell the woman working the counter that I just need a minute to look up directions, and she gladly activates a computer for me to use, free of charge. I try to run a search of J.U. Mithra Labs, but none exists on the internet, which is strange, because I feel like I’ve seen one before. Maybe it’s a weird timey-wimey thing. No matter. I just need a picture of Independence, Missouri, and I’ll figure the rest out later. The most recent I find is a photo that a Local Guide took of some temple with a crazy spire on top, from the fourth of April. Perfect.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Microstory 905: Rising Literacy

I’m not much of a reader, which I recognize you’ll see as either a lie, or just plain bizarre. Despite my many hours of not reading, I obviously can read, and this is a trait that I take for granted. It wasn’t hard for me as a child to make the connection between spoken words, which I already knew, and writing skills. Of course that’s the alphabet, and of course that string of letters ultimately makes that sound, and carries that semantic meaning. Even if it didn’t come so easily for you—perhaps you were more into numbers—I bet you didn’t struggle all that much. People in developing countries are more likely to struggle to learn to read, but it’s nothing compared to the way thing were just centuries ago. Literacy was not all that common. It was reserved for noblemen, and often just men in general. Not only were educational opportunities hard to come by, and society looked down upon certain peoples learning certain skills, but there was also little point. They completed their menial labor, and that was all that was required of them. But people are seeing now the value in being able to read, regardless of one’s station, and that is something to be celebrated. But that’s not to say we have reached some goal. There are still tens of millions of adults, in this country alone, who are considered illiterate. They are easily forgotten, as education tends to focus on children. Please note that simply knowing the alphabet does not mean you count as literate. The threshold is formulated by a group of academics smarter than me that you can research on your own. We still have a long way to go, but I did want to take a minute to show that progress is possible, and is happening.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Microstory 904: Loud Nonvoting Activists

Months ago, I was enjoying a vacation with my family when news broke of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I was horrified, of course, but also struck by how well-spoken many of the survivors were about what had happened. This wasn’t the first school shooting, nor was it the last, not even that month. We have been forced to surrender to the fact that school violence is just the way it is, but these students decided that that was not acceptable. I suddenly found myself awe-inspired by a handful of teenagers, many of whom were not yet old enough to vote in this country. We have always enjoyed a healthy dose of nonvoting activists, but these kids were taking it to the extreme, and I’m proud to call them my heroes. Old people have long complained of how annoying “kids these days are” and how they’re so much better. Well here’s a news flash. This planet is in shambles right now. The reason there are so many more disaster movies than there used to be is because we can see ourselves falling to all that. And you know whose fault that is? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the millennials, who are only now reaching positions of power. You need us, and the generation after us, because we’re the ones who are gonna clean up all this shit you’ve let build up. Several weeks ago, I found myself at a town hall meeting in Kansas City, Kansas, hosted by a couple organizations, one being March for Our Lives. The panel was composed exclusively of high school and college-aged people, and they were more eloquent than anyone in the so-called “GOP” could ever hope to be. They certainly made their point better than I am right now. So if you want to know more about what we need to do to change the world, I recommend you start paying attention to the loud nonvoting, and first-time voting, activists.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Microstory 903: Strategy Challenges

A few years ago, my family and some family friends participated in one of those escape rooms. It was profoundly frustrating, and I feel like I should have done better, but it was also a lot of fun. If you even so much as met me once, you likely know that I have a strong aversion to recreational drugs, which includes alcohol. Aside from all the medical issues it can cause—and its skill of driving people to manslaughter—my take is that if you can’t have fun without altering your brain chemistry, you may be experiencing some underlying deficiency. These problems should be addressed using what I feel to be healthier solutions, like therapy, self-improvement, ferris wheel rides, or sex. Escape rooms, scavenger hunts, and the like are good wholesome fun, that can, and should, be enjoyed sober. You see, the point of life is to cultivate fond memories. Drugs like alcohol are designed, however, to inhibit neural connections. That’s not just a side effect either; it is the purpose of the exercise. The next time you wake up hungover, and have the instinct to proclaim that you must have had fun last night, the truth is that you didn’t. To paraphrase Manchester Orchestra, there is nothing you have when you die that you keep. I would add, except maybe memories. I see the rise of strategy challenges—exemplified by higher stakes reality competitions, like Survivor and Flipsides—as an unintended argument against recreational drug use. We should do more with that. We should construct escape buildings, which can take days to complete, rather than hours. We should foster a society that values sober recreation over pointless busywork for an arbitrary forty hours a week. Hell, as little interest as I personally have in it, we should make more of those adult summer camps. The real reason—again, as I see it—people do drugs, is because their lives suck. It’s not all their fault. We’re expected to have these jobs, many of which don’t actually contribute positively to the world. We spend so much time trying to make as much money as possible that we don’t have any time to spend it. And even when we do, we’re taught to revere material possessions, rather than experiences. So everybody has all this shit, and nobody’s done much of what they love. As I’ve said before, things like universal basic income, material synthesis, and general automation are all things that can help us realize a world where fun is the name of the game. But we’ll never reach it, even once we’re capable of it, if we keep teaching our kids to not want it, and damning millennials for disregarding work for work’s sake. So keep playing GISH, and keep locking yourselves in rooms, just so you can break out of them. And be sure to check out Flipsides season one, coming summer of 2030.