Friday, November 18, 2016

Free Snowden

I should begin by saying that of course I know Edward Snowden isn't in jail. He's technically a free man, but he's currently under political asylum in Moscow, somewhere I would like to be, but he has made abundantly clear he does not. We're forcing an American hero to hide abroad so we won't persecute him. This for a man who acted to inform us that our government was/is transgressing our constitutional right to privacy.
Of course he broke the law. I'm not challenging that Snowden broke the law and acted against the will of his employer. What I'm saying is that he deserves a pardon, and the only moral thing for either President Obama, or President Clinton when she takes over, to grant Snowden this executive right. Certainly, he broke the law. This isn't a case where someone was wrongly convicted, but much more akin to someone being given too harsh a sentence.
I believe that all Americans have essentially the same values and desires, we just have different ideas about how to get to them. Among these values is Liberty, and I view privacy as one of the primary and essential components of Liberty. The NSA monitoring was an assault of this inalienable right. Maybe you disagree, but the Supreme Court doesn't.
We should thank Snowden for stopping that, or, at least, bringing it into the light of day. A government shouldn't punish people for exposing their wrongdoings. Of course our government will eventually do something awful. Human beings are inherently flawed, and the government is made of a lot of people whose mistakes can be compounded with each other.
Just like humans, I can be convinced to forgive my government, but certainly not if it tries to deny that it ever did anything wrong. Definitely not if they try and punish the person who revealed their transgressions. Starting under President Bush, and continuing with President Obama, the federal government did something really really bad, but we still need them to be a functioning society.
I would have an incredible amount of respect for the the executive branch if they were to make the decision to own up to their mistakes, and forgive the person that revealed their errors. Problems will happen, and it's important for people and organizations of any scale to acknowledge and fix their problems. Overall, I've been happy with Obama's presidency, but if he wants something to make me never forget his time, he'll pardon Snowden. And if Trump wants to reassure me he has even a sliver of humanity, well he'd do the same.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Natural Diversity: In Praise of Marvel

I'm writing this after seeing Doctor Strange, and I'll be honest, I'm still not tired of Marvel's movies. Ever since Birdmam it seems trendy to hate on the blockbuster superhero movies, but I still find them to be quality content. Every movie has some similarities, sure, but most of those, good dialog, interesting effects, Easter eggs, etc. make for a good movie. Beyond that, Marvel has just done a good job of building a broad genre.
As time goes on and Marvel continues to dominate the subgenre, every movie, and even their growing catalog of TV shows are thematically different. For example, Antman was a heist movie, Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera, and Doctor Strange adds wizard to the mix. Thematic diversity isn't what I'm concerned with here.
The unfortunate paradox of comic books is that the movies own Hollywood, but books are selling as bad as ever. So, in the last couple years, we've seen Marvel do some bold things with bug characters, like name Thor a woman and Captain America black, and then later a member of Hydra. You couldn't do that in most mediums without a lot of confusion, but by nature comics are absurd, so it makes some amount of sense. That has carried over to the film division.
I don't say Marvel hasn't had missteps, like making the Mandarin white in Iron Man 3 (spoilers, but that movie sucks anyway). They've really done more to progress the medium than they're given credit for.
Amidst the overwhelming white domination of the Oscar's the last few years, there's been renewed controversy over diversity in Hollywood. Liberals point to a desire and necessity to show more of the American experience, and conservatives insist on fighting PC culture.
The fight is ugly, but by cleverly raising obscure characters to prominence, Marvel has made some really cool moves. I'll start with the most high profile example I have. Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most famous actors in the world and as Nick Fury, he represents a prominent and widespread influence throughout the Marvel universe.
Here's the thing, until Jackson took on the roll, the comics always featured a white man in the comics. As a character emerging from the Vietnam era, it shouldn't be any surprise he was white, but race was never important to the character. Marvel could have stuck with cannon (maybe use Tom Hanks) and people probably wouldn't have cared. Instead, they added some color to a remarkably pale industry.
This push for diversity went unnoticed,  but it shouldn't. Sure, he's still a big star, but they still succeeded in inserting a diverse character into the universe, but that wasn't even the first instance, look back to Thor for a larger example.
Thor is, obviously, based off traditional Norse mythology, and so a Frozen approach where the characters are traditional Scandinavian people would be logical. Instead, the studio acknowledged that gods operate on a different level and mysterious ways.
Is this perfect? No. But it's progress. And I'm grateful to have something.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Anyone who's talked politics with me knows I lean pretty far left, getting toward the socialist end of the spectrum. It might sound odd, but that's mostly a means of resisting market powers that seek to control me because on a personal level I am very, very anti-authoritarian.
I've mentioned wanting to travel as a motivation for following my current career path. Everyone wants to travel, right? For me, the drive goes deeper than that. The biggest reason I want to travel is for the sense of freedom and independence.
In the past few months, I've kind of become obsessed with independence, and I can tell you exactly why that is. For those free of depression, congrats, but let me tell you the worst part: the loss of control.
As a species, we are defined by our ability to think and make decisions for ourselves. This natural aversion is what spurs our desire to autonomy and our scorn of slavery. That's why the loss of this ability can hurt so damn much.
Scientifically speaking, the way we think is essentially a series of chemical reactions and electrical impulses. Sorry to be reductive, but that's what it boils down to. In a healthy brain, this creates a normally thinking and operating person, but when a chemical imbalance is present, motivation can fail.
If you think it's hard to get out of bed when the blankets are tucked in just right, imagine losing the self control to even grab your phone to see if you're missing an appointment, being terrified of knowing what had to be done today, the resistance to doing even your favorite things because who knows what could go wrong. That is a loss of control if ever there was one.
I spent a long time satisfying my need for control in unhealthy ways without realizing what I was doing. For instance, I do quite like video games (I'm likely freaking out about the release of Civ VI as this is published), but it got a bit unhealthy by the end of my second semester of college.
One of the first things I ever did to express financial control was to preorder my PS4. Not only did I express control, I was mind-numbingly excited for it. I literally can't think of a time I was ever more excited about something. This extended into building my gaming hobby itself, the means of using games is even called a controller.
I wasn't able to control myself, but I could control BJ Blaskowitz or the Red Army with the move of an analog stick or a few keystrokes. I realized that I wasn't actually getting any better at the beginning of the summer. If anything, I was only making it worse. So what did I do? I got rid of most of a lot of crap.
I got rid of almost every physical video game I owned. I donated and sold well over 200 books and movies to various locations. The things I owned had gotten to own me, so I got rid of them. Since then I have only felt better. I've read before that people are happier when they spend money on experiences rather  than possessions. Well, I just saw Kanye, and MC Lars is coming up, so I'd say that's right.
Additionally I've just been doing what I can to move toward independence. I'm not saying I am fully independent. I still rely on a lot of help, and my parents do everything they can for me. It's a lot little things that I can feel building toward real independence. Obviously there are the small changes that come with moving away from home (living away from family, buying groceries, other grown up things) but that wasn't enough for me. Not nearly.
I've started cooking for myself. It's a hobby at best right now, but I'm learning. I'm getting better, and it's quite enjoyable. If nothing else, it gives me a chance to show off to my hot girlfriend, so that's a benefit.
Speaking of, let me give a quick explanation of how Allie and I started getting closer. We've known each other for years thanks to Governor's Camp, but over the summer, when I was getting rid of mass amounts of possessions, I was becoming interested in ways to change my life. That's why I bought a bike.
While learning more about the basics of bike maintenance and use as a primary form of transit (totally recommend, by the way) I stumbled on a YouTuber who also talked about being vegan. Having read about the mental health benefits of veganism when properly implemented, I grew more curious about the lifestyle. Knowing only one vegan, I reached out to her. Since then, she's supported me as I transition to veganism. Anyone can judge me, but I love the control, and the way I feel is even better. I'm happier. That's what really matters.
Finally, I switched onto my own phone plan. More than that, I got an unlocked phone. With the OnePlus 3 holstered in my pocket, I've made a small, but meaningful transition toward being an adult. In addition to being more affordable, I'm not bound to any carrier, contract, or even country. If I go to Russia, I can just slide in a new SIM-card, and I'm good. No fees or permissions, just thre freedom to do as I please. It's a minor necessity, but one I can handle.
Overall, I'm making moves, but the biggest point of this independence in regaining control over my life. It's different, and my identity is definitely going through a change right now. But I'm happier for this.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An Open Letter to the Republican Party

I didn't plan on writing this because for me, like most people following polls, the Trump victory came as a surprise to me. I'm not contesting that my party lost fair and square, I'm just surprised. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't having a minor mental breakdown this morning for fear of my county's future, and there is something that should be noted: for the second time, the Electoral College has taken the presidency from my party.
The post that is supposed to be a representative of the country to the world did not (as of this writing) have a majority of the popular vote. Trump will be our president, but I want the rest of the world to remember that the majority of our country didn't support him, it was just an archaic election mechanic we still have some reason.
I'm upset by this, I think this is a major issue for the way we opperate as a country, but President Obama said something that made me think: the President asked the country to give Trump a chance. So, in spite of my dread toward every aspect of American policy, that's what I'm going to do; because, we now have a climate where Republicans don't have an excuse.
In January, we will have not only a Republican, but the Republican congressional majority is going to be maintained, and there will almost certainly be a conservative SCOTUS appointment leaning that right. The party will have majority power in all three branches of government, so, if their vision of America really is great, they have a chance to prove it to me.
To be fair, I am skeptical. I am genuinely embarrassed by my country now, but I'm not one to argue with results. I think a big part of the reason that the Obama administration hasn't met all of its lofty goals is the fact that most of his presidency was paired with a congress that would do anything it could to resist him. Now, it is easily within the frame of possibility for Republicans to have at least two years of uninterrupted policy changes, if not more.
So, impress me. If you really can improve the economy, stop illegal immigration, and secure the country, do it, you don't have any excuses. I'm willing to admit I'm wrong if it works because I want the best country I can have. That said, I really do see the potential for this to go very, very wrong.
Most people will note that the president doesn't actually have all that much power, and that is true; however, as I noted, we'll have a conservative controlled government. I'm willing to see where economic and security policies get us, I think it's going to be bad, but I am terrified at the prospect of where our social policies are headed.
This has the chance to overturn Roe v. Wade, defund Planned Parenthood, abolish gay marriage, enforce racially discriminatory laws (i.e. stop and frisk), persecute Muslims, segregate transgender people from bathrooms, disregard environmental policies, and demolish foreign relations. As someone planning to work with American diplomatic, that's a scary thing. I don't think that we can exist as an isolationist state ever again. Actually, I think a lot of Republicans are scared of this almost as much as I am.
Not that they don't like his political ideas, I think he's the logical result of the propaganda coming out of the elephant's trunk, but he's putting a real strain on the party. Most conservative ideas have at least some logic behind them, but Trump brings out support for the worst reasons, fear and anger in the face of a world changing in ways they're not ready for. I want them to hold together though, straight Democratic domination could be a threat.
To my fellow liberals, I'm also really, really scared about my future, but this is the direction our country is going. So, let's just hope for the best.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Unlocked and Untethered: A Minory History of my Gadgets and View on Technology

For a long time I was a champion of closed systems. Growing up with a Nintendo GameCube and a GameBoy as the only computing devices in my house (we got our first actual computer when I was in the 7th grade), so systems that are locked down seemed perfectly natural to me. I had one device that did one thing really well, (I will fight to the death for GameCube vs PS2), and that made perfect sense to me.
Fast forward to when we did start to get more open systems (hand me down HP laptop, iPhone 3, etc.) and suddenly I had access to hardware and software that could do a lot of things that I didn't understand. Even with these minor gains I can remember arguing with a good friend of mine about why the core concept of PC gaming was stupid. Those were for work.
Because the family computer wasn't great, and those were dark days for both PC and mobile gaming I couldn't really get my fix there. I'd say that started to change when I got my first computer, a Dell Inspiron 13 with a whopping 1TB hard drive. With no GPU and a Core i3 I couldn't exactly burn up games (the first Assassins Creed made it overheat even on low settings), but I had a semi-open OS to mess around with, and, more importantly, easy and unimpeded internet access.
That's when I started to educate myself. Maybe I just have bad luck with iOS, but my iPhone was less than friendly to me, and so I started investigating the alternative, Android, which I prefer to this day. I shortly wanted a tablet and got a Google Nexus 7, and that blew me away. If my iPhone didn't work, the most I could do was turn it off, kill apps, and hope for the best. I never had any major problems with my Nexus, but even if I just wanted to try and goose out more performance, there were actual programs I could get, changes I could make, and I could even go alter code if I so desired. I liked it so much that I switched to an Android phone when my chance came up.
My next tech adoptions were my old friends, game consoles, specifically a 3DS and PS4. I knew I liked PC gaming pretty well by that point, or at least the idea of it, but the ability to play the games I wanted to (the big AAA games) still required better hardware than I could afford. I don't regret those purchases, but my time in college has thoroughly transformed these views.
Going into my Freshman year at Mines, I had every current console but the Xbox One, and got a phone upgrade to an iPhone 6+. Those were huge mistakes. Obviously PC and a smartphone are basically essential for being productive in the modern atmosphere, but I also got to the point I just prefer having one or two devices that do whatever I want, and you know what? My PC will do that, but I can't say the same about a console or an iPhone. I've already explained my gripes with Apple, so I won't say anything there, but let me focus on the entertainment side of my needs. What platform has every streaming and digital purchasing system available? PC. What system can provide the cheapest and largest quantity of games? PC. What else can PC do? Whatever I want. I can do my work there, I can mess around with math and science stuff, whatever.
That's why I got rid of all of my consoles but my PS4 (which I only keep because I can use it for streaming in my dorm, unlike my Chromecast (that's a room problem, not the Chromecast). Honestly, I'm considering just getting a long HDMI and occasionally getting up to hit play on my laptop. I'm back to Android because I can mess with it however I want (and because my OnePlus 3 is literally incomprehensibly good value to me). I guess this is half just a reflection about how I went from a console devotee to wanting a one-stop shop, beyond just my growing preference for game genres that function better on PC, but I don't actually expect anyone to make it this far anyway, so whatever. Go Microsoft and Google, I guess?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Cubs Caring

I'm writing this post before the final game of the World Series between the Cubs and the Indians. It's assuming that the Cubs finally win, and if I'm wrong this will never see the light of day. I hope I get to publish it given how morose my last blog was.

Most people who've met me know that I'm far from athletic, and for the majority of my life I really haven't cared about sports. I just never saw the fun in watching a bunch of big guys run around and interacting with a ball in various manners. That started to change last year.
A large portion of my family are long time fans of the Chicago Cubs, which is somewhat unfortunate given that they haven't won a World Series since we immigrated to America, and the last time they were even in a World Series was so long ago that only my great-grandparents can remember it, and not even all of them. Nevertheless, my athletic apathy determined that my teams were largely determined by heredity. As I'm writing this I'm realizing that assuming this gets published both my football and baseball teams will have made it to the top this year.
Anyway, I'm nothing if not loyal so I've always stuck by the Cubs, Broncos, Ducks, and various other animals. That hasn't always been easy. So it's been somewhat fortunate for me that baseball isn't as popular now as it was in yesteryear because the Cubs were the butt of a lot of jokes for a long time. Back to the Future II made a joke about it almost 30 years ago, when the goat had only been haunting Chicago for 81 years (still longer than any other team has ever gone without taking the championship).
So I always followed the Cubs in pretty much the same way the I follow all my teams, passively. If I see a game on somewhere I will watch, but I never made an effort to be a real fan. That changed last year with the Cubs. I heard there was a good chance of the goat dying, so I actually started to follow, I think everyone agrees that it's pretty cool to see the hundred year streak broken, even people who don't really care for them.
I still wouldn't consider myself a super fan, but since then I've really gotten to understand why people like sports at all. When I shaved my head at the beginning of the summer, I needed to get a hat, and because I had actually been following the team, I decided on a Hawaiian print hat with the rounded C to go with the wallet I got for my birthday.
It was a lot of fun to just have some random person see me with my paraphernalia in public and start a conversation with a total stranger about something we shared a mutual love for. Even if they weren't Cubs fans, I could talk about there last game against whoever's team. I don't see myself becoming super involved or dedicated to any sport anytime soon, but it's been really cool to finally understand why people care so much and mostly to watch my laughingstock team take it to the top. Fly the W Chicago, you've waited long enough.