Freedom of Religion versus Equal Protection: Gay Rights in Arizona

I’ve been kicking around a peculiar train of thought for a while.  It’s spurned on by insane legal edicts like the one submitted, today, to Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer.  Gay Rights activists are livid because this bill would, according to CNN, permit the owners of private enterprises to discriminate against homosexuals if it fit their religious preference.  In particular, it allows businessmen to refuse to serve homosexuals.  I’m a firm believer in the Bill Of Rights and all that, and a tremendous supporter of religious liberty.  I don’t believe in the government establishing its favorites, influencing the practices of a particular denomination, and I certainly don’t believe in it restricting the practices of any faith.  The government has no right telling individuals what or how they should exercise their religion.

The catch is, and has always been that it may not allow individuals to practice their faith at the expense of other individuals.  First, the facts.

 

Problem One:  Biblical Consistency And Hypocrisy.

I should note that I believe that those who love to hide behind Christianity without abiding by Christ’s rules, such as “Turn the other cheek” and “do unto others” are not actually Christian, but are in fact “Christian.”

The most popular Bible quote used to attack homosexuality is that of Leviticus 18:22, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”  They additionally point out rules in Leviticus 20:13 which stipulate that homosexuals should be killed.  I guess that merely being refused service is an action of American generosity?  After all, if murdering gays is out of the question, we can at least make life uncomfortable for them, right?  Is that what Christ would say?  No, he’d say “Love Thy Enemy.”  Hence, those who buy into Leviticus are, by my personal recollection, “Christian.”

Courtesy of TheFreaksangels.

Scholars don’t have to go far to find other ridiculous laws in Leviticus, laws that most “Christians” fail to uphold, even as they insist upon their bigotry.  This lovely image to your left, courtesy of The Freaksangels, points out one such hypocrisy.  How many “Christians” have gotten tattoos at some point in their lives?  Sure, if they have decided to reform as though they were “Born Again,” that may make be fair.  But how many judge homosexuals?

 

Here’s another, much more depressing image associated with Leviticus’ sterling moral code, the one in that book supposedly written by the God of these “Christians?”  It’s taken from the Bible As Literature blog, and it’s as depressing as it is accurate.

Leviticus

Image courtesy of Bible As Literature blog

Slavery is certainly authorized in Leviticus; if you curse your father, you’ve earned a death sentence (20:9).  The list of ridiculous prohibitions goes on, from problems with menstruation to how to handle the victim of a rape.  None of the “Christians” so worried about gay rights activists forcing them to betray their “faith” by serving homosexuals seem to be worried about the modern-day, inflation-adjusted value of shekels in the trade of slaves.

But maybe the initial hypocrisy isn’t enough to convince people.  Maybe, regardless of number of restrictions that have been cast to the wayside or even smitten like Sodom, the issue is simply that religion is a lovely pretext to deny homosexuals equal rights.  In that case, we’re left with a second question in mind.

Religion Is Through Choice, Homosexuality Is Through Birth

While the debate no-doubt rages, Paul Mountjoy of The Washington Times put out an article in April of 2013 reviewing changes made to the American Psychiatric Association which indicate an acceptance that being homosexual is not a choice.  What this means, simply, is that being gay is the same as being Black, or female, or handicapped:  It is something you are born as.  There is, again, still a raging argument on this topic, but when it comes to enforcing constitutional rights, I’m admittedly a liberal:  If there might be a right, it should be defended until it is proven there isn’t one.

In this case, that right is the Fourteenth Amendment – Equal Protection.  Americans may not be discriminated against for circumstances of their birth.  Period.  The government cannot approve a law which allows discrimination.  The constitution also stipulates, via the first amendment, that the government cannot infringe the individual’s right to religious practice.  Fine.  However, two problems exist.

First, a question:  At what point do the rights of one person extend into the sphere of the rights of another?

Second, a fact:  While being gay is may not be a choice, one’s religion is a choice.

Don’t believe me?  People regularly convert from one religion to another.  I have friends who have converted from Judaism to Christianity.  I have others who have converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, or vice-versa.  People take “stranger” jumps, becoming Muslims or Hindus or – I know this is scary for some people to picture – becoming Wiccan or even Athiest!  Your religion – and, as we’ve clearly seen, how strictly you take its tenets – are a choice that can be changed on what might seem to an outsider like a whim!

Therefore, I think I’m left with a question that Gay Rights activists need to seize upon, here:  At what point does a right to a choice (that is, to choose a religion that codifies murdering homosexuals) supercede the rights of a person born with a certain orientation?

In other words:  Can “religious expression,” which is a choice, really trump the fact that gays are born gay?  My answer is a big fat no.

For Love Of Kerbal Space Program and Scott Manley

A year ago, I wasn’t in the greatest shape.  Many things changed me over the last year, especially the arrival of a new, more genuine love as well as an addiction I’ve developed.  It’s an addiction to some little green men who fly around in rocket ships, and they exist in my computer’s hard drive.  I’m talking, of course, about Kerbal Space Program!  And KSP, well, KSP deserves all the attention it’s gotten in the media.  It is the brain-child of a company called Squad, and it is a master-piece.  As a game, it is both simple to learn and literally impossible to master – players make their own challenges, after all!  As an educational tool, it is incredible in how it captures the nauseatingly complicated nature of orbital physics and transforms it into an accessible adventure.  Most of all, however, KSP has a community behind it that wholly completes the game – and, while there are many names in its hallowed halls, today we’re going to talk about just one of them.

 

What is Kerbal Space Program?

You, the player, are the somewhat-omnipotent ruler of the ‘mighty’ people of the planet Kerbin!

Kerbal Space Program!  Image courtesy of Squad.

Kerbal Space Program! Image courtesy of Squad.

 

In particular, you control a bunch of these guys.  Never fear, though; for all of their crazy grins and scared expressions, to say nothing of their green (arguably photosynthetic) skin, you are the greatest threat they have ever faced.  You see, you serve three distinct roles:  You are the designer of their rockets, you are the planner of their missions, and – ultimately – you are the controlling force behind their actions.  In all three phases of the game, your decisions are the ones that matter.

Let’s start with rocket design.  There are some pre-made rockets, but in 99/100 cases you will be designing your own.  You will, as a beginner, make mistakes with staging them; you will forget to install solar panels; you will forget a strut that causes the entire thing to tip over and explode.  It will make you laugh, mainly because you will be able to hit the “revert flight” button and try again.  Well, most of the time.

Then there’s planning a mission:  You don’t want to just send your Kerbals up into space with no real agenda, do you?  Maybe you want to visit a moon?  For starters, there’s…Mun!  Yes, many of Kerbal Space Program’s many planets and moons are analogues to Earth and it’s sisters.  Duna, for example, is roughly equivalent to our Mars.  The Mun is our Moon, but on the other hand Kerbin has a second moon called Minmus.  What if you want to build a space-station?  How will you design it?  Will you try to launch it up in one piece?  (Tip:  This ain’t gonna work, well).  If not, you have to design both launchers, maneuver them into place, and make them work.  If you think this is easy, you’re going to be surprised.

Kerbal Space Program

My attempt at Kerbal Space Program!

This is a rocket I built.  It’s designed to perform basic scientific reconnaissance.  I took the collection of parts I was given and slapped it together, I launched it and steered it into Kerbin orbit, and I believe this mission made a successful return to the planet.  In the bottom-right hand corner you can see my little alien pilot.  He looks happy and safe, doesn’t he?  Well, I’m good enough to make a satellite network and to launch a rocket ship out to the Mun and back.  I cannot land on the moon, yet; I cannot reach Minmus.  I cannot even begin to seriously consider a jaunt to another planet.  For anyone who believes NASA is playing small-ball by launching rovers to Mars, and for everyone laughing at the failure of China’s latest mission to the Moon, I invite you to create a similar mission in Kerbal Space Program and pull it off.  You’ll find dozens of players duplicate the Apollo project’s method as one of their first milestones:  You don’t want to know how many launches end up failing and being written off a “simulations.”

The Kerbals themselves are fun.  While random name generators give you an endless supply of astronauts, the game’s development initially gave players three to command.  Bill and Bob are often viewed as navigators or technies, mainly because their names both start with B, but there is no mistaking who Jebediah Kerman is.  Jeb is the legendary ace pilot, and whenever a miraculous landing is accomplished (without, of course, a fatal dose of lithobraking), rest assured that it is Jeb’s spirit being channeled.

But, let’s skip ahead a bit.  Let’s think “end-game.”  What happens when you are good enough to build space stations in orbit around other planets?  Well…You add modifications to your game.  Some, like the Flight Engineer in the picture I posted, just give you more data and help you make better decisions.  They’re not “easy-mode,” they’re just better displays.  There are “easy-mode” mods, but there are also additions like Ferram Aerospace Research and the Interstellar Mod that add more realistic physics engines, or stitch on entirely new story arcs to the development of Kerbal-Kind.  From new parts to play with down to entire re-arrangements of the Kerbol star system (and the addition of other stars), KSP is almost infinitely expandable.  What’s more, sometimes the best mod-makers are hired by Squad as game developers, giving enthusiastic Kerbal fans a chance to really change their game’s development.

Ahhh, but where would I be if I discussed “enthusiasm,” but didn’t mention the Youtube, Let’s Play, and Twitch communities – and, in particular, one man stands out in my mind as the best – as the Jebediah Kerman of Kerbal Space Program Players.

 

Scott Manley Takes It To The House.

…The house he built.

…In space.

I originally found out about the game by watching a Scottish man, aptly named Scott Manley, play Kerbal Space Program on his Youtube Channel.  Bear in mind, I don’t usually sit back and watch other people play video games, but I was intrigued by two things having to do with KSP.  The first was that it was so damn realistic looking (green men aside), and second that Manley wasn’t just some talking head – he’s an actual scientist.  He studied astronomy, and he works in the field of computer programming.  He doesn’t just play a game, but he explains actual physics as he puts them into play.  He also plays on “hard mode,” using many of the mods I mentioned above and more to create a game which is incredibly difficult.  And, well, he sticks with the results – I watched him play live, for an hour and a half, as a single bug in the game destroyed a mission he’d spent hours developing.  But, you can chase the link to that video.  I’d rather embed something different!

Instead, here’s Scott Manley playing Kerbal Space Program with NASA veteran Ed Lu, a man who has been into outer space, himself, and who now heads the B612 Foundation, which is dedicated to no less a goal than protecting Planet Earth from, you guessed it, little green men!  asteroids!  Why this one?  Because it’s an important goal, investigating and preventing potential asteroid strikes.  In case you’ve forgotten, I’ve conveniently linked you to Humanity’s latest “holy shit this is a problem” wake-up call, Chelyabinsk.

The bottom line with Kerbal Space Program is this:  It is amazingly fun if you don’t take it too seriously, and if you are willing to accept failure.  To watch it played by a steady player, an expert, is incredible.  Overall, it’s a great time.  Give it a try, or at the very least watch a few videos by Scott and some others and you’ll get a much greater idea of just what our place in the universe is!

Dystopian Review: Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

Dystopian Review is a channel I established on Youtube, mainly as a way to bring back a series of articles I wrote for Suite101 before that site became a truly lame duck.  I won’t distract you from the video with words, however I will put some afterwards so you can get some information on what Dystopian Review was, and what I hope to make it, again.

 

 

Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe to Dystopian Review!  Also, don’t forget to vote for your next choice of video!

EDITORIAL NOTE:  I’ve decided to re-post my original Dystopian Review article, here.  There’s more info below this, if you’re interested.

 

Dystopian Review:  Oryx and Crake

During the Cold War, there was only one way the world could end in fiction – atomic fire.  It was already proven to be dangerous, and it was something that denizens of that era couldn’t help but consider while doing their duck-and-cover drills.  Only after the relaxing of tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union did we turn, for a brief time, to issues like the environment’s degradation.  This sort of setting – where the world was just too poisoned to live in – had it’s heyday, then it saw the first big airborne pathogen, SARS. The world knew of the potential for a microbial apocalypse far more certainly than ever before, and as readers we were fortunate that Dystopian creator Margaret Atwood was there to put her own, indelible mark on pandemic trend. 

 

The Setting of Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake is not the sort of novel leaving you to wonder where you’ve started off.  Readers are introduced to Snowman.  Within one page we can tell that he was once a normal man – the Dystopian “every-man” who could just as easily be the reader – that has suffered some sort of horrible trauma both in his own mind and in reality.  The term “Zero Hour” is loosely thrown out, and that can only mean one thing – a major catastrophe took place.  Whatever happened, the main thrust of the event was far from subdued.

Within the very first chapter we learn that Snowman is the apparent caretaker of a strange set of children, children who know nothing of the world as it was “before,” to put it bluntly.  Crake, one of the titular characters, had clearly made rules for them – they are, after all, his “children.”  By the end of the first chapter, he is on the verge of suffering delusions of his time with the also-titular (and how!) Oryx, before breaking into a ramble about how terrible a person Crake is.  As the chapter winds down, he declares all-too-ominously, “You did this!”  And now we, the reader, know Crake is a super-villain, responsible for the end of the known world as well as some truly freaky children of the new.

So how did we get here?

The discovery of Snowman’s past is what makes a reader unable to put the book down.  As always, Atwood has come up with ridiculous, almost childish-sounding names for various adult-oriented concerns (ANooYou, BlissPlus, Chickie-Nobs to name a few).  We quickly learn that biological catastrophes were a recognized risk long before the world ended, and that eco-terrorism was alive and well and likely to be the cause of it.  In so many ways, her world resembles ours with certain features magnified.  Atwood’s portrayal of mega-corporate malfeasance rivals that of William Gibson when she puts her mind to it, with the CorpSeCorps’ questioning methods and the surveliance state that the wealthy live in (protecting them from the external threats of the “pleebs,” of course), but that’s not necessarily the focus of the novel.

No, the focus is on Snowman and how he got to be the proverbial last man on Earth.

 

Characterization makes Oryx and Crake outstanding.

Spoiling the novel would be too easy, but despite Snowman’s intricate knowledge of the man behind the end of the world, the truth is that Snowman is far from omniscient.  In fact, his range of knowledge is exactly as limited as his post-apocalyptic opportunities have been.  After all, unless one has time to prepare for chaos, they often have few chances to go exploring.  If one doesn’t have anything they need to protect, then those chances seem to abound – but as they carry risk, and as Snowman has become the de-facto prophet of the Children of Crake, his chance to glean knowledge from the surrounding world is minute.

We eventually do meet Oryx and Crake, of course; we see how their lives are interwoven in Snowman’s, and we catch glimpses – from Snowman’s perspective, of course – as to how exactly this apocalypse emerged.  If leaders readers to wonder if they’ve ever seen a friend of theirs act the way Crake does, at times; and, of course, to thank their lucky stars that their friends aren’t both brilliant and crazy enough to pull off such a stunt.  Aren’t they?

For the writer however, Snowman’s life story holds a special treat.  Describing himself as anything but a “numbers guy,” and instead focusing much more on the words mankind seems to have stopped caring about, Snowman cuts a sympathetic if occasionally bone-headed character.  His “every-man” nature fades as we get to know him, and his “starving artist” nature is one that resonates with any author (or website content creator…) who has struggled at some point to get by.  As a point of fact, he even starts praying for that “dream job.”

But as we see Snowman head for his happy ending, we readers know all to well that, sadly, the dream will not be a pleasant one.  And that is why we lament for him, even as we hope that the last glimmer of light that we see for his world is one which will not be extinguished after the cliffhanger ending.  But fear not!  By the time you’re done reading Oryx and Crake, you’ll be overjoyed that there’s going to be an entire trilogy set in Snowman’s world, too!

 

 

 

So, a little more about Suite, and the original Dystopian Review channel…  It was a glorious place to write, and for a while it offered a decent income, but they changed their models and fell asleep at the wheel, and at this point I’m just debating whether or not I want to go through the hassle of procuring all of the rights to my articles and re-producing them here.  Dystopian Review is probably the best literary critique I do, and as an aside I have absolutely considered doing a “Dystopian Reality” to talk about news articles that are dystopian in nature.  There’s also “Dystopian Reflection,” a format for musing aloud about concepts like the reach of the police, but without a specific event to spur it along. These are all ideas I’ve had, but I’m not exactly an expert with a video camera (and, it’s a Logitech C615, I believe?), so producing a video is an all-day affair.

At any rate:  So far I have done three episodes of this on Youtube, and I’ll periodically re-post them on this site, along with some extra commentary, for your enjoyment and education.  I’ve already done episodes on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the film version of The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire.  On that note, I hope you’ve enjoyed your first taste of Dystopian Review’s latest location for syndication!

After The Super Bowl, the Truther Bowl – And it’s dumb!

After watching my football idol Peyton Manning smashed, I decided to get the same.  No, but I did decide to take a shower and get ready for bed.  As I was checking my various social media outlets, a friend of mine had posted a link to this Vine, by Timothy T Hoang.  I was not prepared.

A "Truther" crashes a press conferrence, via Timothy T Hoang's Vine

A “Truther” crashes a press conferrence, via Timothy T Hoang’s Vine

 

Here we see what I can only describe as a crazy person grabbing the microphone from, I believe, the game’s MVP winner Malcolm Smith.  Wilson just overcame a lot of doubters to win his first super bowl.  He he is, probably exhausted from his performance and the stress of the situation, and this crazy guy in a bad lumberjack coat grabs the microphone on him out of the blue.  Maniac-man here immediately demands that Americans investigate 9/11 because, he says, people within the government are responsible for it.

I like to link to Penn and Teller:  Bullshit episodes when I see such insane rants.  Here’s their episode on conspiracy theories in general, and they talk about 9/11 in specific.  It also features Phil Plait, an awesome scientist who writes Bad Astronomy.

Now, it’s not as if there have never been real conspiracies before, at least conspiracies within the early stages.  Take the Business Plot, where people maybe tried to contact a popular ex-military leader about leading a revolution.  Even this was a mild version of a conspiracy, one that just never got far.

 

Now, I’m going to eventually talk about the lunacy of trying to overthrow America.  I’m gonna talk about conspiracy theories, and – in particular – the fact that some people are loud and vocal about overthrowing America.  But, let us never forget that there are idiots out there who honestly believe that the U.S. government planned 9/11.  They’re insane at worst, deluded at best.  It’s good to be skeptical, and to demand evidence!  It’s bad to not allow one person’s evidence to persuade you, while the other side typically fails to present any of substance.  It’s even worse to crash an NFL event and start rambling about Truther bullshit.  I end this discussion by linking you to what happened when Truthers tried to crash “Real Time With Bill Maher.”  Hint:  It didn’t work, and it undermined their cause in the first place.

 

Ed.  Note:  I’d originally misidentified Smith as Russell Wilson, based on other pictures of Wilson.  After waking up this morning, I’d found that the Broncos had indeed played in the Super Bowl and lost.  It wasn’t a bad dream of Peyton’s, it was just a loss.  Next year, huh?

The Hidden Cost of Eve Online’s $300,000 Battle at B-R5BR!

On January 27th, a missed rent payment led to the seizure of corporate property.  This sort of thing happens every day; naturally, the landlords were quick to sell to a rival company, while the first lessees were left confused and ready to contest the eviction.  Such a contest involved each corporation dispatching their finest negotiation tools, “legislative” implements of the largest, most  titanic size. As news outlets like Fox News later reported, hundreds of thousands of American dollars were put into play.  The skies above this property seemingly erupted, reinforcements poured in, and chaos ruled for nearly a full day as these two corporations and their allies committed their resources to vaporizing their opponents with massive laser cannons and missiles.

That’s how business is done in Nullsec, anyway; a lawless region of space in the massively multiplayer game EVE Online.

EVE Online?  Three hundred grand?  Kind of…

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m pretty experienced with video games.  From Mario to Grand Theft Auto V, I know how they work.  More to the point, I’m very familiar with MMORPG’s like World of Warcraft, strategy games like Utopia and Tribal Wars, and – lately – Kerbal Space Program.  I’ve never played EVE Online myself, but here’s the gist of what happened in the fictional star system B-R5BR:

Eve Online

“Just another day in B-R5BR,” by Reddit user armycadetz.

Two alliances were at war.  The first, PL-N3 made a huge logistical mistake and didn’t pay rent, so their enemy, CFC, moved in to take over the unoccupied base.  The PL-N3 called in reinforcements to try and save the day; the CFC called in their own to win it.  The battle took roughly twenty two hours of real time to complete; to deal with technical issues, EVE actually prevents crashes by slowing game-play down to a pace that their servers can keep up with.  Tremendous numbers of Titan ships, often said to cost thousands of dollars each, laid waste to one another.  It was broadcast live to over ten thousand viewers via Twitch players such as Nick_fuzzeh, while I believe I was introduced to the mayhem by Dobbb’s.  The chaos was pretty much mind-blowing.  When all was told, some very fuzzy math generated the headline that three hundred thousand American dollars were lost.

The biggest problem with this narrative is that the value being thrown around, $300,000, is based on faulty math.  EVE’s subscription model is handled by players buying in-game items called Pilot License Extensions (PLEX).  These in-game items can then be bought and sold for in-game currency, ISK.  Also buy-and-sellable?  The mind-bogglingly huge starships used in the game?  This dollar value being kicked around is a result of converting real money into PLEX, then converting the PLEX into ISK.  PLEX and ISK do not convert back to real dollars, at least not within the realm of the game.  (Yes, nothing stops people from wiring real money into another players’ bank account in exchange for in-game items; this is probably a bad idea, though, and may violate the game’s terms of use).

 

The Real Cost of EVE Online:  Time

The only thing that harshes the mellow of gamers seeking to drop four grand and jump into EVE is, well, your character wouldn’t know what to do with one if they got it.  It takes months of training a character just to be able to use a Titan.  It takes months more to actually build one in the game world.  That underscores the investment that EVE players undertake – they spend years building characters up, gathering equipment, and waiting for the right time to use them.

Take a look at the video below:

 

While that video may be relatively short, you can never forget that it has been re-compressed after the time dilation mechanic extended the functional duration of the battle.  Remember, this thing took twenty-two hours.  People called in sick and took off of work to play.  They stayed awake for hours upon hours just to play this game that they have dedicated a huge portion of their lives to.  While the instigating event was probably unpredictable, preparation for something like it had been going on for weeks, at least, as one side or another invaded various star-systems and moved logistical resources across a galaxy.  Thousands of people coordinated for this one show-down.

Nerdy?  Absolutely.  Too much time spent in a game, and not the real world?  I’ve certainly heard that argument before!  But some people live for these kind of things, and if that’s their way of enjoyment, so be it.  Just remember that the media narrative here, suggesting that three hundred thousand dollars were pissed away, is completely wrong.  In December of 2013, EVE’s owners and players raised over $190,000 to send to the Philippines to help alleviate the damage from Typhoon Haiyan.  That’s a battle worth fighting to these players, too.