Category Archives: Careful! I’ve Been Thinking.

You’re Not as Insightful as You Think You Are

I can find a lot of problems with the world around me, and those who know me understand that I can easily go on some long-winded rants about them. (Your prayers for those closest to me are appreciated.) But it’s not a one-way street from my perspective; I’m often interested in hearing people discuss catching similar tendencies of people around us, or having humorous-but-truthful complaints about the modern world, or some other related observation, be it serious or funny, in general.

But since “it takes one to know one,” and because I spend way too much time in my own head mulling over these kinds of things, I also get really, really bugged by generic, poorly-thought-out, boring, and often flat-out incorrect observations that are brought up time and time again by people who think they’re being clever or insightful. They’re not. They’re the intellectual equivalent of tourists at the Tower of Pisa.

Fair warning: this is going to get a little mean. But I’ve been called out for being stupid and unoriginal plenty of times in my life and I know it’s for the best in the end . . . and I also know it’s much easier to take such criticism to heart when you can quietly evaluate yourself while doing something private like reading a blog post, instead of having to tuck your tail between your legs in front of people whose opinions of you matter to you. So if you get offended here because I’m nailing you perfectly, consider it a favor and join me on the endless journey of constant self-evaluation. Now, without further ado:

YOU ARE NOWHERE NEAR AS INSIGHTFUL OR CLEVER AS YOU THINK YOU ARE WHEN YOU . . .

. . . go grammar-nazi on people “misusing” the word “literally.” Because I’ve never understood how so many people are so sure about the only proper usage of “literally” but have never learned the word “hyperbole.” Perhaps its hyperbolic use became so prevalent not too long ago that many people, only hearing it in that context, assumed it meant “figuratively,” and were shocked to learn the opposite.  When I was a kid, I recall thinking the word “barely” meant “not quite” instead of “only just.” Somehow I must have misunderstood its use in a sentence I heard and carried that with me for a while. Then I then learned what it really meant through the course of a conversation and haven’t forgotten. It happens. But the thing is, if someone were to somehow use the word “barely” in a hyperbolic or facetious statement, I’d get their meaning. I wouldn’t write them off as an idiot because they didn’t strictly adhere to its definition.

This example is first because it very clearly demonstrates the Lake Wobegon Effect among two-cent intellectuals that grates on my brain like fingernails on a chalkboard. That’s actually a common theme with these: people thinking they’ve taken one step ahead of the crowd and want to show it off, when in fact they’re completely wrong. I’ve spoken before about how hard it is for me to be in a conversation with someone when I know that the information they’re sharing is incorrect; this is that except magnified a few thousand times because so many people do it.

I’d have liked to take the time to further expand on why using “literally” as hyperbole is perfectly acceptable English, but I’d really only end up quoting this video anyway because they’ve done far more research than I have, and are a much more credible source.

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. . . talk about how stupid fat people are when they drink diet soda. Because that tells me that you just don’t know anything about diet soda drinkers. Sure, the word “diet” is in the name and that implies weight loss, but at the end of the day the people that are sticking to diet soda are people that prefer diet soda over regular sodas; their reasoning is not “I need to lose a few pounds,” but instead, “regular soda is just too sweet for me.” I’m serious. Ask around. I’ve known dozens of strict diet soda drinkers (most commonly Diet Coke®) and none of them ever popped open a can saying something akin to “gotta lose five pounds,” nor are they all or even mostly overweight. Is that to say that no one ever drank diet soda with the uninformed intention of dieting? Of course not. But I would suggest that reasoning is so uncommon that it does not warrant discussion unless you’re speaking to a person who has just admitted to thinking that way.

Okay, I admit that’s pretty anecdotal. But I hold that the person rolling their eyes at a heavy woman drinking a diet soda has less real information and far more conjecture to back up their view than I do mine.

While we’re on the topic, let me also call out all the liars who talk about seeing that “fat person,” usually a woman, in line in front of them at McDonald’s who orders half the menu (with everything Super-Sized) and then add on a Diet Coke® and justify it by explaining, “I’m watching my weight.”  That didn’t happen.  It didn’t happen when you were standing in line; it didn’t happen when you were working there; it didn’t happen that one time someone else told you about it.  Some stand-up comedian at some point in time made that up and it got repeated so much that some people began to think they witnessed it.  Sure, fat people at McDonald’s have ordered diet sodas with their meals, but they didn’t throw in the “I’m on a diet” line; refer to my previous paragraphs as their likely reasoning. (There’s also a tangent I’ll only mention in passing about how easily so many people assume that this is true because they believe fat people are stupid enough to think they can lose weight by drinking something labeled “diet” while eating a 1500-calorie meal.)

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. . . rant about how Christopher Columbus was a really bad dude and/or did not actually “discover” the Americas.

“Chris Columbus killed thousands of natives!”

“Chris Columbus was the first serial killer!”

“Chris Columbus didn’t think the world was round when the rest of the world thought it was flat!”

“You can’t discover a place where people already live!”

“And so on!”

We all know already, okay? Most of us under the age of 35 or 40 learned this in high school or earlier; most of those older than that have definitely heard about it at some point in the last 20 years. “And yet we still ‘celebrate’ Columbus Day!” you protest. Except I would argue that if it’s so hard to get people to actually memorialize anything on Memorial Day or thank a veteran on Veteran’s Day, no one is celebrating Chris Columbus on Columbus Day. It’s an excuse to have a day off from work and find some great deals on carpets. If you want to lead the charge to eliminate it or change the reason for the holiday, be my guest, but I’m tired of the internet–especially my inbox and newsfeed–filling up every October with white-guilt-laden lectures about “what you don’t know about Columbus.”

Let’s also not forget how ridiculous it is to judge people who lived hundreds of years ago based on modern morals and attitudes. Calling Columbus a “serial killer,” especially within the context of the era he lived, is an egregious misuse of the term. In another 500 years, many (or likely most) of our mainstream philosophies may likely be viewed as comical or tragically misguided at best, so let’s be rational when we read our history books.

But I get it. At some point, many people figured out how ridiculous it is that we’re “celebrating” an Italian man who sailed under the employ of Spain, landed in some islands that aren’t even part of our country, was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands and indirectly responsible for millions more, and his voyages only distantly (and also only indirectly) lead to the founding of our nation; thus he should be just a footnote in our history books and not an American hero. It’s just that we’d all be better off if we assumed everyone knows all of that (and more) instead of acting like we’re interrupting everyone’s regularly-scheduled programing to bring them some breaking news. (And you know what actually might be interesting? Learning why America turned Columbus into an American folk hero in the first place; far less cynical, wouldn’t you agree?)

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. . . say something intended for kids is terrible for kids.

The past couple decades we have increased the amounts by which we shelter and coddle our children to keep them from anything that would challenge them, (mildly) disturb them, or cause them to mature a little earlier than we’d hoped.  I’m sorry that this will end up sounding like another “kids these days!” rant, but it’s not really debated that phenomena like entitlement and helicopter parenting have been on the rise since the mid-1980’s.  Very few people consider these things to be good, but the problems continue to persist.  Why?  How can we all be speaking against something we see happening all around us, yet it shows no signs of slowing?  I think it starts by paying lip-service to the condemnation of things like helicopter parenting, and then actively condemning a “kid’s movie” for having intense scenes in them that might expect something of the kids (or, alternatively, watching a movie we saw as children and questioning our parents for letting us see it).  You know what? The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal were really scary when I was a kid, but seeing them did not turn myself nor anyone I know into a disturbed sociopath or paranoid outcast. Yet I have truthfully heard many people question their upbringing because their parents had no problem with them watching Watership Down.

Your arrogance as an adult has caused you to underestimate what kids can handle, as well as made you into a hypocrite. That doesn’t sound insightful to me.

A great example is when someone tries to shock everyone at how terrible nursery rhymes are by explaining that “Ring Around the Rosie” is really about the black plague.  Because, first of all, that’s completely wrong, and secondly: what does it matter anyway?

I feel that anyone who brings this up as fact is not likely bringing it up just to impress their friends with some interesting trivia. No, instead the conversation always involves, “isn’t it terrible that we teach this to kids? Preschoolers sing this!” I guess I’m weird for not being concerned that kids may be singing a song at recess that has a deep, hidden meaning about a centuries-old tragedy that they’d never figure out, especially if they have never heard of the Black Death.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in an era of especially dark children’s entertainment, but when someone objects to themes in a piece of children’s programming being too intense (be it hidden or obvious), I feel that person should immediately be written off as to having anything valuable to say about anything. (Cough)

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. . . when you commit the logical fallacy tu quoque. Because it’s one of the lesser-cited logical fallacies, but one of the most common (if not *the* most common) today–certainly on the internet–and it’s a complete non-statement in response to anything it’s a rebuttal to.

Let’s say that in the course of an argument in a comment section, Person A makes a case for why the Oxford comma is entirely unnecessary by saying, “u dont even needs the coma its juts bad grammer lol.”

In response, Person B, an Oxford comma apologist, retorts, “Why should anyone think you’re right about something like the Oxford comma when you don’t even know how to construct a proper English sentence?”

My tendency is to agree with Person B on his support of the Oxford comma, and I also agree with the sentiment that Person A has no ground to talk about grammar when they obviously don’t understand grammar in the first place.  However, Person B has made no case whatsoever as to why the Oxford comma IS necessary.  They have simply observed the hypocrisy of Person A.  Nothing was added to this debate or topic as a result.

Here’s a recent real-world example.  Not long before writing this, one of the stars of the popular reality show Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson, was suspended by the network A&E for stating his beliefs about homosexuality in an interview.  Naturally the internet erupted in a firestorm over “freedom of speech” vs. “tolerance.” At least one person in my Facebook newsfeed responded to the outrage by posting an old image of the Dixie Chicks protesting the war in Iraq, with the following text: “The same people who censored and protested the Dixie Chicks right to free speech opposing the war 10 years ago . . . are the SAME people fighting for the Right of FREE SPEECH today. Ironic.” This is an example of tu quoque.

The tricky thing about tu quoque is that any given instance of it almost always sounds like it’s a great point.  “Hmm, you know, it is mostly conservatives upset over the suspension of that Duck guy, and it WAS conservatives who boycotted the Dixie Chicks back in the George W days . . . interesting.”  Except what is the point?  Let’s take the time to break down what this actually says.

So people upset over the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson’s suspension are, according to this assessment (which we will presume true for the sake of argument), guilty of hypocrisy because years ago they spoke out *against* the right to free speech of some once-beloved musical artists. What does this tell us? It tells us exactly that, and only that.  These people are hypocritical.  Fine.  Except the issue at hand is not whether or not these people were consistent with their positions on inalienable rights, but instead the issue is whether or not Phil Robertson had the right to say what he did vs. if A&E was right to suspend him for it.  The person who posted that thing about the Dixie Chicks gets to walk away thinking that they’re bright and profound for calling out the hypocritical conservatives, but they neglected to actually discuss the issue at all.

This was my thought process in reaction to the Dixie Chicks post, and it essentially is my thought process every time I see this logical fallacy: “Do they think that free speech is WRONG?  Well, I doubt it, but that’s certainly the implication. If they believe free speech is a good thing, why are they condemning people for supporting it?  Shouldn’t they be glad that these peole finally came around? Wait . . . are they saying that because conservatives didn’t respect free speech 10 years ago that now no one has the right to stand up for free speech?  This is very confusing.”

And so on.  I could write on this error for days if I let myself, though I would stop covering new ground pretty quickly; so we’ll leave it at that.

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BONUS ENTRY!

Here’s one more that doesn’t exactly fit this theme but is definitely related.

It’s about when someone makes an error or is a “two-cent intellectual” in a mass-distributed form of media and is called out for it. Instead of taking a step back and partaking in my beloved activity of self-evaluation, they justify their clear errors or poor judgment by saying, “It’s just entertainment.

People do this to defend the poor science behind the cited-as-health-gospel documentary Super-Size Me.  “Spurlock set out to make an entertaining documentary and he succeeded.”

People do this when they make a Youtube video filled with generic and/or incorrect “interesting facts” and their commenters hold them accountable for it. “So I’ve seen a bunch of comments on this video from people over-analyzing some of these facts. . . . Stop over-thinking everything and just have fun. . . . It’s meant to be entertainment. Treat it that way.”

People do this when The Onion makes a joke that’s considerably tasteless and people complain.  “It’s The Onion! It’s not meant to be taken seriously!”

However, the logic is as poorly thought out as the content.  You have presented some kind of media to the world–be it a Youtube video or a documentary or a humorous article; be it your original creation or something you’re sharing with others.  Except the information does not pass close scrutiny.  Now you’re in trouble.  You’ve been revealed to be someone who just takes things at face value because they are either easy or support your biases, or to be an outright liar, and it’s kind of embarrassing.  So what’s the response?  “Hey! This is not meant to be some kind of academic journal entry or anything! It’s meant to be fun!”

There are two problems with this, and both demonstrate how you thought out your defense about as much as you thought out the information in question.

First, the entertainment value of something presented in the spirit of, “ZOMG! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS THING I’M GOING TO SHOW YOU!” is heavily influenced by how true it really is. (I wanted to say they “the entertainment value of factual content is directly proportional with how true the facts are,” but I’ve seen too many factually-sound PBS documentaries to try to support that claim). If you give me ten facts about H.G. Wells that are supposed to blow my mind, and it turns out every single one of them are made up, I’m not entertained by what you’ve presented. At best I’m apathetic, but if it’s actually ME we’re talking about, I’m irrationally bugged for weeks. Regardless, I am not entertained, Maximus.

Second, if the content of said media is truly “just entertainment,” then nothing you’ve presented has any bearing on anything and is as worthless as burnt paper. If you lecture me for eating McDonald’s because you saw a movie about a guy who ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days and his health fell apart, and then I could easily demonstrate to you how every conclusion he came to in that movie was exaggerated or fabricated, and then you retorted, “None of that matters–it was an entertaining movie!” . . . doesn’t that seem silly to you? The reason that information was provided in the movie was to tell people that eating fast food is far worse for them than they thought–so when people who understand the concept of too many variables can show that the information is wrong, its entire existence is suddenly unjustified.  It has no value anymore except as a reference piece in a class on how to be a snake oil salesman. How does, “well, it entertained me!” justify that?

I’m not sure, and I unfortunately know that this post isn’t going to have any effect on these things re-occuring in the future, to me or otherwise. But I guess as long as they do, I’ll always have something to complain about. And that’s something in and of itself.

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On Being an Extrovert in an Introverts-are-Victims World

I’ve recently come across a blog written by a Kentucky-based talk radio host named Matt Walsh.  He’s young, opinionated, Christian, and fairly conservative or libertarian or something.  Whatever it is, reading his stuff is often like reading a much smarter, more articulate version of myself.  (What an interesting mix of surprise and not-surprise-at-all when I learned that he was a fan of Ron Paul).  I was planning on doing a blog post about how so many people, especially people without children, seem to consciously refuse to understand how children are and what parents can do to “control” them.  It was going to be based on some ignorant comments I got in an ill-advised, YouTube-based argument I had a few weeks ago, but I’m not going to write it now because Matt Walsh nailed it better than I could have.  So read that.  Then come back and we’ll proceed.

So he wrote a post that dealt with three different topics.  The first was homeschooling vs. public schools, then there was our society’s faux “diversity,” and lastly there was a discussion on his introversion and how it is to live in what he perceives to be an extroverts’ world.  This, as was the case several times before, was something that I’d meant to get around to writing about.  Except this time I landed on the opposite side of where he was coming from.  I’m a very extroverted person, and over the last year or so I’ve learned more about what “extrovert” really means other than just being a person who feels energized by socialization.  The more I’ve learned, the more irritated I’ve become at the audacity that so many “introverts” seem to have about how poorly treated they are by society, and how “extroverts just don’t get them.”  In a broad sense, I compare this to how Feminists have written the rules for accepted gender interaction in our culture over the last several decades, but will still blame everything on “patriarchy” and don’t stop to consider what kinds of issues men face.  Though please understand that’s an extreme comparison and I get considerably less angry by the introvert/extrovert thing.

Since Walsh so perfectly set up the kinds of points I was intending to react against, I left a lengthy comment discussing and defending extroverts such as myself.  It’s gotten a surprising amount of praise from both self-described introverts and extroverts, and I like it enough that I’m going to share the meat of it here.  What follows is a mildly-expanded version of the numbered points of my comment.

This is addressed to any introverts who think that extroverts don’t understand them, drain them, and/or confuse them:

1. In social situations I have a nearly-uncontrollable desire to be liked.

Not to be the center of attention–that person hogging all the attention is not demonstrating their extroversion but instead their insecurity. No, I just need to not feel like the other people around would prefer I leave. To the point that if, at the end of a given interaction, it seems that I’m not thought of well, it can haunt me for days and in some very real cases, years. As an introvert your reaction to this is likely dismissive, saying, “you shouldn’t care what other people think!” Save it. I’ve heard that since middle school and spent nearly two decades of my life feeling bad because other people’s impressions of me is something that I can’t help caring about. A lot. I can’t let go of that any more than you can just suck it up and learn to love meaningless small talk.

2. Extrovert is not synonymous with party animal.

When it’s said that extroverts need to be around people to feel energized, many introverts imagine someone like me needing to hop into a massive party and dance the night away to techno music while downing Jaegerbombs and filling the gaps with huge, steaming piles of useless, surface interactions. That could not be farther from the truth.  I can’t speak for all extroverts but I can say that large gatherings are worse than being alone to this extrovert. Recently my wife and daughter took a trip away for a week while I stayed home. I got sick right before they left and as a result spent several miserable days at home alone with next to zero interaction with anyone. By the end of it I felt some considerable depression settling in. Thankfully a cookout had been planned by a small group of friends and I was able to attend. I got re-energized in the best way possible by spending quality time with a handful of people I like, and we simply ate and talked. We talked about politics, pop culture, nerd culture, and personal stories and shared memories. If that gathering instead had been a large number of people interacting on only a superficial level, I would have been worse off than if I’d stayed home. I need interaction and socialization to feel energized, but it has to be real and meaningful.

3. Do you get exhausted by your extroverted friends? Guess what. . . .

I wish I had known more about all this introversion/extroversion stuff when I was in college because in those days my closest friends were at least in part introverted, in the proper sense. If I had my way, we’d have spent every possible second hanging out and talking and laughing both in large and small groups. Instead I was regularly made to feel awkward by these friends (and somewhat shameful, though not intentionally on their parts) because they would get “peopled out” and need to spend a weekend in or something. That’s fine for them but I always felt drained and abandoned at the sheer mention of this. We extroverts don’t always have a couple spare sets of extrovert friends waiting in the wings to spend time with us when the introverts need some alone time.  As an adult now I understand that this is just the nature of things when introverts and extroverts are friends and compromises need to be made for everyone. But the point is that if you feel drained by extroverts, understand that it goes both ways. (And which do you think is easier?  To insist on more alone time?  Or to insist that your friends spend more time with you?)

4. Extroversion is not synonymous with confidence.

I’ve been a socially averse and shy person my whole life. Not a great combination with extroversion, let me assure you. I’ve had plenty of people that I’m comfortable around make the incorrect assumption that I can walk into any social situation and own it, because that’s how I am around them. I’ve also been annoyed by people I don’t know who observe how quiet I am around them and assume that I “must be introverted and needs to be left alone.” This is currently a problem area for me because my church is one that is huge on being outward-focused, so a lot of emphasis is placed on meeting new people on Sunday mornings and not just chatting with your friends before and after service. But my shyness (and fear of not being liked or coming across as awkward–see #1) regularly prevents me from doing this. I’m still riling over a handful of terrible examples of such interactions that took place about ten years ago, too (see #1), so that’s another hurdle.

5. Extroverts often need to process externally.

Do you find that, in order to finish your creative or critical ideas, you need some quiet time alone? Well I have found that I can only ever get so far with a story idea, or a song idea, or with mapping out my thoughts on a social, theological, or political issue, by working on it by myself. I have to discuss it with someone else, or tell someone about it, and as I walk through it to them the ideas fall into place, I work out kinks in the logic, and I can begin to find some structure. I have a LOTR-style fantasy story I’ve slowly developed since I was 12, and the times I’ve filled in the biggest gaps and ironed out the biggest plot holes were the times I convinced a friend to let me tell them about it. The bands I had in the past–the best songs I wrote we’re ones that came about by interacting musically with my band mates. I’ve not been in a band for 9 years, now, and I’ve only finally been able to write again in the last two months. It took that long to figure out how to do it 100% alone. I’ve known songwriters who can write whole albums by locking themselves in a room for a weekend–take a guess if they were introverted or extroverted. So maybe that extrovert isn’t wasting your time, but is trying to work and process through something. That said I don’t defend people needlessly talking to strangers. That annoys me. Don’t get me started on strangers at work asking me about my lunch.

In conclusion, before you go off about how the world thinks that all introverts are creepy loners, take time to see if  you’re doing what so many others do and viewing extroverts as inch-deep blabber mouths who can’t get through the day without going energy-vampire on some poor, innocent introvert at the coffee shop.  Half of being understood is understanding those around you better.

What Superman and Jesus *Really* Have in Common

I’ve made no secret among people I know that I was severely disappointed with this summer’s Man of Steel.  Among very long lists of reasons why, a major one has been the over-the-top force-feeding of the idea that Superman is a representation of Jesus.  On a normal day I’d assert that they are barely alike and that anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  I remember no parts of the Gospels that tell of Jesus saving Mary Magdalene from the bald and maniacal Roman governor, Lex Luthicus.  Nor do I remember scenes in Man of Steel where Kal-El spoke against the hypocritical politicians of Metropolis or sacrificing himself to execution as propitiation to Jor-El for the sins of Earth. (Take note: Jor-El did not send Kal-El to save the people of Earth; Jor-El sent Kal-El to Earth to save Kal-El and the Kryptonian race.  Where is that Jesus parallel again?)

But this evening I had something of an epiphany.  The two characters *are* alike.  Not necessarily in parallels within their stories, but in how their stories have been handled and treated.  In fact, they are so similar in this regard that I can explain it by describing only one, yet the description works perfectly for both:

The story is of a man of humble roots but a fantastic origin.  He grows up and gives his life to saving those who cannot save themselves.  His story has been told over many generations, and those who hear it and *understand* it have celebrated and been moved by its beauty. Over the course of many years, this story helped shape cultures and entire groups of people knew it as they knew their alphabet.

But as it became more commonplace, as the idea became engrained into the popular consciousness, many people claimed to know it but actually only knew the name and the images they had been shown throughout their lives.  They had never actually picked up a book about this man to learn what the real story was.  They knew the bullet points and little else.  They still claimed to like the story; they still claimed to like that incredible man, but as they allowed it to be about culture and not about the actual story–to not be something that they tried to really understand and to be moved by it–they lost touch with what the message was in the first place.

As culture and societies changed, people began to mock the story.  They said that we were too advanced or sophisticated or evolved to accept such nonsense.  They would point out aspects of it that they interpret to be childish, or remnants of a long-gone era.  The more holes they believed they found, the more the culture at large embraced those perceived holes as truth.

Throughout all of this, there always remained a steady stream of people who did read the story and who did understand the themes and ideas, and really did understand why it was so appealing.  They would find themselves unapologetically drawn to it, and they hoped and yearned for a day when the world would see the beauty in it again.

So they would tell the story again and again.  They would put it into modern contexts but keep the message the same; keep the characters exactly who they were all along while applying contemporary concerns and addressing current issues.  Sometimes through this, new people would find the truth about the story, and they would join the ranks of those who showed it to them and attempt to tell more.

So then what happens when someone comes along and wants to re-tell this story on a large scale, but their motives seem to be less about the story and more about their personal gain?  They update the story but remove and reverse all that made it what it was.  They render the original concept utterly meaningless by all the alterations they make.  All the world takes notice and celebrates the new interpretation because it is recognizable but flashier, is easy to swallow, and appeals to their senses; but those who have understood the story all along cry foul.  They try to tell everyone that THIS story is not THAT story, but their protests are ignored and ridiculed.

“It has to be updated for modern society!” the new audiences say.  “Surely you cannot expect us to go along with those outdated concepts.  You’re only upset because you think you own this story and you only want it told YOUR way!”

“But those concepts are exactly the ones that we need in this modern age!” the others reply back.  “The problem all along hasn’t been that the story is irrelevant, but that so many have missed what the story is really about!  Contextualizing it to today can work but this has betrayed what this character actually stood for, and has undermined the entire meaning and message of the original story.”

Yet it feels as if it will be to little avail.  How difficult it is to try to show others the quality of something when something that looks the same but is easier (yet emptier) is being offered to them by someone else.

And it is at this point that the two stories stop being similar.  I can live my life without people “getting” the actual story of Superman, but my heart aches over those who would take an easier, false Gospel and think that they know Christ.  So if we’re going to compare the two stories, let’s make sure we’re comparing what they really have in common.

My Peculiar Pet Peeves

I’ve got a long list of pet peeves like I’m sure many do, but I’ve noticed a few in myself that seem to go beyond noisy soup eaters and people who take too long to go when the light turns green.  Here’s some exposition on them.

1: Calling something a “Pet Peeve” when it is bigger than just a minor annoyance.

I believe that a genuine “pet peeve” should be something that, in the end, doesn’t really matter.  It’s something that bugs you but not necessarily anyone else, and if that pet peeve never happened again, the world would not necessarily be a better (or even worse) place.  A great example in my own experience: I get very passionately upset when discussing the dismissive and arrogant attitude Chicagoans have with the-rest-of-Illinoisans.  But I don’t call that a pet peeve because on some level (however small in the scheme of things) it matters.  I can argue a point as to why Chicagoans shouldn’t be that way; and I know of many Chicagoans who could and would argue back.  So when someone mentions that a person driving too slow in the left lane on the freeway is a “pet peeve,” I get peeved, because that’s actually a bit of a safety concern (not to mention a legal one).  But note that my annoyance at this ultimately doesn’t matter. Hence it being the first in my list.

2: Traffic reports on the radio made in the second person.

Have you ever noticed this?  I didn’t live in a place that even needed traffic reports until about seven years ago.  Then, when I started paying attention, I noticed that some days I had the information given to me and went about my day.  Other times I would listen and notice myself getting uncomfortable with what was being said to me.  Why?  There are a few traffic reporters here in the Seattle area that do their traffic reports in the 2nd person.

“And here’s Kimmie with traffic.”

“Well it looks like you’re having a really tough commute this evening.  You’re stuck in a three-mile backup on northbound I-5, and you’re slowing down on southbound, as well, as you’re distracted by that accident across the divider.  I-90 doesn’t look great as you’re coming off of Mercer Island, and you’re backed up pretty bad heading south on 405.”

Ugh.  It even made me cringe to write that.  It bugs me because in an attempt to make the traffic report *more* relatable by giving it in the second person, it has become *less* relatable.  Why? Because, no, I am not stuck in a three-mile backup on I-5 North.  I’m very likely somewhere else.  And if I AM in a three-mile backup on I-5 North, then your traffic report doesn’t help me very much, does it?  I already know I’m stuck and now your poorly-thought-out narrative style makes it sound like you’re mocking me.  I need a traffic report to tell me what things are like in places where I will *be*, not how they are where I *am*.  Do I get the same info either way? Absolutely.  But we’re not talking about logic here.

3: “Baby” instead of “The Baby” or “Your Baby” or “Our Baby,” etc.

I first took notice of this years ago when I spent a lot more time watching television, and there would be a commercial for some baby product. The commercial narrator would say something like, “. . . so that it doesn’t irritate baby’s skin,” or “. . . and its gentle formula makes it easier for baby to digest.”

Well, round about 13 months ago I got caught in the “all-babies-all-the-time hurricane,” myself, and this issue only compounded itself.  It’s as if all the having-babies and raising-babies industries and community forgot about articles and adjectives.

“You just need to do what’s best for baby.”

“. . . and that will give you more time to spend with baby.”

“Do some research on what things you prefer to have in toys for baby.”

People, I implore you.  What is so wrong with saying, “the baby,” “a baby,” and ESPECIALLY “your baby.”  “Baby” is not my child’s name.  “Baby” is what she is.  We don’t do this for other things . . .

“This will be the perfect gift for man.”

“Life can be a little rough when dealing with teenager.”

“. . . and it’s gentle formula makes it easier for guinea pig to digest.”

. . . so why “baby?”  I don’t understand and it’s annoying.

4: People I don’t know talking to me about my food.

In a broader sense, I just don’t like it when people I don’t know talk to me, period.  But I concede that in most situations it’s good for me to step out of my comfort zone and be forced to interact with people.  I think that’s good for all of us.  What would things look like if we weren’t so cold to strangers every day?

That said, I cannot stand it when strangers start small talk about my food that I’m eating or heating up.

“Oh, that looks pretty good.  Whatcha got there? Is that chicken in that?”

What the heck? Who are you and why do you think I’m okay with you putting your nasty vision all over my food?  I’m standing by the microwave to heat this up so I can eat it and continue working and go home.  There’s no reason for us to have any interaction about my LUNCH.

Useless small talk is always bad, but when it centers around a very private thing like my nasty-looking, cold, chicken curry and rice in a Ziploc container, it’s infinitely worse.  What response are they expecting?  Do they want a bite?  Because they can’t have one.  Do they want me to discuss how I made it?  Should I bring up the stores where I got the ingredients?  Or maybe my inspiration?  I’m very certain they’re not asking so they can make it themselves.  Am I now obligated to return compliments on THEIR food?  Should I bring up that I’m not sure which pepper slice is the one I dropped on my dirty kitchen floor, but it’s in there somewhere?

The worst example of this happening was years ago as I was heating up some KFC (freaking KFC!  Does day-old fried chicken and gluey mashed potatoes warrant a conversation?).  A guy started blasting me with questions about it–“Is that regular or extra crispy?” was one of many inquiries–and then worked his way into asking if I’ve ever been to Cleveland, Ohio.  When I said no, he proceeded to give me a specific location (as in street name and neighborhood) of a “great fried chicken place” that I should check out if I’m ever in the area.  And then he left.  To this day I wonder if he recalls that conversation as one of those cringe-inducing embarrassing memories.  I honestly kind of hope so.

As a quick disclaimer–if I know you, I don’t care if you comment on or ask questions about my food.  Seriously.  Don’t be afraid.  Chat away.  You see, to speak to another person about their food, I believe there should be an established relationship.   It is not small talk material.  Make a comment about my funny shirt, complain about the smelly work fridge, ask if I know where the extra salt is kept.  I don’t care.  Anything that works in a passing manner, but if you’re going to talk about what I’m eating or about to eat, we’d better be working toward some meaningful interactions sometime in the future.  Otherwise it’s like striking up a conversation with a stranger at a urinal.

5: People who can’t or refuse to make eye contact with you during a casual conversation.

This is the weird thing . . . I’ve never been able to find anyone else that notices this the way I do, but I can think of three people at least–none of whom have any connection to each other other than knowing me at some point in time–who, when getting really into the point they’re making in a conversation, look off far to the side and hold their vision there.  It’s hard to describe in words.

This is a normal conversation:

NormalEyeContact

And this is what the conversation looks like when I’m talking with the people that do this:

NoEyeContact

I *know* this has to be something  of a common thing.  Someone reading this will know what I’m talking about, or start noticing it.

6: When trivial pieces of information, which I know to be untrue, are brought into a conversation and I have to decide to be a jerk and correct them or to lie and pretend I don’t know they’re wrong.

Did you know if you soak a steak in Coca Cola for a week it’ll dissolve?

Did you know that Johnny Depp finished scenes as the Joker for The Dark Knight after Heath Ledger died?

Did you know that Washington State Unemployment determines how much you make on unemployment by picking a paycheck from the previous year at random and giving you a percentage of that?

Isn’t it crazy how fast the Die Hard movies have come out?  I mean, the first one came out in the late 90’s!

None of those statements are factual, and all of them I’ve found myself in conversations with people that either required me to kill said conversation by informing the other person of their error which inevitably and awkwardly brings the larger interaction to a halt, or to proceed with that conversation feeling like a complete and utter fraud because I’m pretending to be impressed by information that I know to be false.  This is the sad side to being someone so fascinated by such useless, trivial things.  I learn about them, I read more about them, and then I learn what’s true and what’s not.  As a next step, I then become fascinated not by useless and trivial things, but by misconceptions about useless and trivial things, which increases the probability that this happens to me.

But there’s a different side to this.  Sure, me immersing myself in knowledge of common misconceptions about a variety of trivia topics puts me in a self-imposed position to get annoyed by people who don’t know as much as I know about something.  But sometimes, it’s the other person.  Sometimes the other person either makes something up, listens to something that is made up, or doesn’t know how to be properly skeptical about things they read in email forwards, and then spit it out as fact.  And then the conversation gets *really* awkward because I now know that I will not believe anything they say for the remainder of the time I know them.

And then sometimes I don’t know WHERE they get their information.  Like that thing about Die Hard.  I’m not exaggerating that quote.  It’s paraphrased, yes, but not stretched at all.  I met a guy who expressed his wonder at “how fast Hollywood put out all the Die Hard movies” as he discussed that summer’s release of Live Free or Die Hard, and when I asked him to clarify what he defined as “fast,” he pointed out that the first movie was released in the late 90’s.  1996 at the earliest,  he was sure.  And he refused to listen to me when I told  him I remember very clearly watching the first Die Hard on TV in the early 1990’s.  (It came out in 1988, for the record; I’ll never forget that fact, now).

I actually spent a whole day talking to that guy and  he was this pet peeve incarnate.

7: The phrase “Wow! Small world!”

Because it’s not.   Spend some time on Google Maps and really take in how small your house or apartment is next to the nearest body of water you can find.  Then scroll out and take in how much space there is on Planet Earth and really ponder on how NOT small this world is.  When an amazing coincidence comes up, it’s okay to really marvel at how crazy that kind of connection is.  Because there are a lot of people.  And there are far more ways that coincidence could have NOT happened, as billions and billions do daily, than for it to have  happened.  Let’s be amazed.

The Stupid “Socialism” Experiment

One of the radio shows I listen to at work featured the following video and praised it as smart and clever, if not genius:

The message is, of course, that the things you earn in life are yours and no one should be forced to give those things up against their will to assist people who didn’t work as hard as you did, and ended up with less. As the end of the video states, this is a thinly-veiled commentary on the “immorality” of Socialism.

Except it’s really, really stupid.

I am not a socialist, I am not communist, I am not even liberal; I just cannot stand poorly thought-out analogies by people so cocky about their “message” that they haven’t even stopped to think through what they’re talking about.  Nothing in this video makes sense when you really take the time to lay out why a GPA is absolutely nothing like money and therefore presenting the crazy, unfair idea of redistributing higher GPA’s to failing students is not the same as presenting the idea of redistributing mass wealth to people dying of starvation.

Many students signed the petition because (I think) GPA redistribution sounds logical and compassionate at face value to someone who has left-leaning viewpoints.  But I’m not going to call them out for being gullible–it’s hard to catch all the holes in something like this when you’re on the spot and on camera. Some people tried to point out how idiotic this idea is, but just like trying to catch all the logistical holes in three seconds, it’s hard to really be able to pick it apart in all its ludicrousness in the same amount of time.  So I’ll take the time here.

Please take note and remember: I’m not here to advocate socialism or the redistribution of wealth as good ideas (I really don’t think they are); I’m here to demonstrate that you cannot walk around a campus talking about redistributing GPA scores and think you’re making some irrefutable argument about anything other than your own lack of analytical thinking.

1. No one inherits a GPA.  Yes, I get that not every rich person inherited their wealth, and more than a few people born rich became poor through their own bad choices somehow, but that’s not the point.  MANY people DID inherit wealth, and even those who were born into some money that went on to be successful and gain even more wealth were able to do so because of the wealth they had to begin with.  No one gets a good GPA because their great-great grandfather carried a 4.0 a hundred years ago.  Some can afford to not have to work which gives them more time for study, sure–but I defy you to to find me statistics that show that kids who can’t afford to not work through college get lower GPA’s on average.

2. GPA’s are not a resource or commodity.  It’s simply a numerical system created to easily demonstrate a student’s academic status.  Money, on the other hand, is limited.  And if you’re like some of the commentors on that YouTube video that want to say, “If wealth isn’t infinite, then how come the Fed can keep creating currency?”, come here so I can slap you (it’s stuff like that which has kept me, a notorious flame warrior in comment sections, from ever getting into it on YouTube). The fact that wealth and money are finite is the very reason it’s bad that the Fed keeps printing more money! They’re not creating more wealth–they’re devaluing what we already have! The point here is that the reason some students have GPA’s so low that they can’t graduate is NOT because all the GPA points were taken by those with 4.0’s.  They have low GPA’s because, for one reason or another, they didn’t make good grades.

3. A student with a 4.0 redistributing their points to other students does a lot more damage to that one student, and a lot less good for those other students, than a billionaire giving away a fraction of their wealth.  AGAIN–I’m not advocating the redistribution of wealth, but (discussions about the dangers of coming into sudden wealth aside) if everyone’s favorite go-to rich guy Bill Gates took $762.5 million (12.5% of his net worth) and distributed that evenly to five poor people, Gates would have far less damage, and those five people far more impact, than if a student with a 4.0 took 0.5 points and gave 0.1 points to five different students.  There’s technically no cap on total wealth possible, but obviously GPA has a cap at 4.0 (or maybe 5.0 if you go somewhere weird).  You might want to hit back at me with something like, “But the video isn’t actually about redistributing GPA, but is instead about how ridiculous it is to insist that wealth be taken from those who have and given to those who don’t.”  Except the analogy cannot hold up because, even in just this one regard, GPA and wealth are such different animals that you can’t logically say that doing A, which some people think is good, is essentially the same as B, which is obviously unfair.  A and B are not comparable.

4. Every student earns their own GPA, for themselves.  When I worked for McDonald’s, despite all of the long hours, the late nights, the frustrating customers, and the disgusting food and building, I was not doing much for myself.  Every dollar I put into the til, I got a fraction of a penny of that dollar.  The vast, vast majority of it went to the guy that owned the local franchise and the McDonald’s executives.  And I’m not even saying they shouldn’t have; they put in a lot more time, a lot more effort, and a lot more risk into that business than I did–but the other side of that coin is that they never would have earned a cent without people like me keeping the restaurant running and bringing in income.  Now compare that to grades in college.  There is not now, nor has there ever been, a college student who puts in hours and hours of study time, working on papers, pulling all-nighters, and never missing classes, so that the majority of their GPA points go to make the “top 10% of students” have even better transcripts.  GPA is essentially a lone venture, where as your wealth depends on other people as well as yourself.

5. To expand on all of these–if you’re able to actually be accepted into a college and you put in the work and the hours necessary or even more-so, it is VERY hard to flunk out.  Almost impossible.  But if you go out into the world and work hard for a company or put in a hundred hours a week into your own business, you can still fail, and actually, statistically, failing is pretty likely.  This is, I think, where this whole “Redistributing wealth is like redistributing GPA’s” thing falls apart the most.  It makes that horribly flawed assumption that people who are poor are poor because they didn’t try hard enough.  That could not be farther from the truth.  The makers of this video and the holders of this perspective want to push this idea that financial success is directly correlated to the amount of effort put in (like a GPA), but that leaves out things like the social class, family wealth, education level, geographic location, and even the year one was born (yes, I’ve read Outliers).  All college students who are extremely dedicated and work the hardest get the highest GPA’s.  In the world of money and wealth, the vast majority of workers who are the most dedicated and work the hardest most often maintain a comfortable middle class status.

I’m convinced that when the students behind this video were told by the people who spoke up that the GPA redistribution plan was dumb, they thought they were hitting their point home.  What they didn’t realize is that the part they were saying was stupid wasn’t the idea of redistribution, but the idea of comparing GPA to wealth.  I find it unfortunate that despite the gaping holes in their little “experiment,” they’re going to be patting themselves on the backs for years to come.  I think that’s what upsets me the most–I tend to be a bit more conservative overall, and come from a conservative family and background.  So when I see people that I, by default, consider my “brethren” (regardless of how distant the relation), I get upset because they’re poorly representing a perspective that I otherwise think has merit.  Probably.  I’ll get into what I think the serious difference between the hard-working wealthy people in this world and the actual “1%” is, some other time.

Childish Things

The words going through my head today are more introspective and autobiographical than usual; I recently read some Donald Miller, so that might be part of the reason.  I’m going to write about what has been one of the largest crutches of my life, and most recently was the cause of my abandoning my blog once again.

Prior to age eight, I had a small handful of run-ins with video games.  Once with an Atari 2600 at someone’s house my family was visiting.  Another time, one of my younger brothers and I got to play another Atari 2600 when a slightly-older-than-our-parents couple watched us for a day or two.  (They had a pinball machine, too.  That place was cool.)  I remember we played the obscure Atari title Maze Craze until we were dreaming about it.  Yet another time we were at a family friend’s house and she had a teenage son with the mother of all video game consoles, the 8-bit NES.  She let us play it, but we had no idea how to properly use one, so we were swapping cartridges with the power still on, and of course not holding “reset” when turning off The Legend of Zelda.  When he came home he was remarkably calm, especially considering we ruined some of his games.

. . . no, it was like that when we turned it on.

There was no doubt a few more instances thrown in prior to the Christmas of 1988, when my two brothers and I tore open what seemed like the biggest box we’d ever seen in the sight of the loving and weary smile of my recently widowed father.  It was what we’d asked for: a Nintendo.  But this wasn’t just the Nintendo; it was the Power Set.

It came with the Power Pad and three games on one cartridge: the standard Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, plus World Class Track Meet for use with the Power Pad.  I remember that Christmas was a Sunday, too, because I know we didn’t get go straight to playing it all day; we hooked it up and had to go straight to church.

I don’t think anyone would ever fault a dad for getting his boys what they really wanted for Christmas on what would likely be the saddest single holiday of their lives.  But in the years that were to come, my dad would come to regret it nonetheless.  And now, as an adult, I do, too.

My life for the years that followed mostly centered around video games.  Every birthday and Christmas that followed until mid-high school was the time to get a new game.  In grade school I did the trading thing with my friends at school.  It was safe for the most part, but one day I did notice that my copy of Super Mario Bros. 2 was missing, and I never saw it again.  (I don’t know who I lent it to or who swiped it, but my money’s on Mike Strader.) That was the only casualty, though.  At least for my games; I can’t speak for the games owned by my brothers.  By middle school, my closest friend was also a big video game fan, and he had a lot more stuff than I did.  So my leisure time was games, and my social time was games.

My life revolved around playing video games so much that if I wasn’t playing them, I was talking about them, drawing pictures based on them, or just plain daydreaming about them.  One time I really wanted the game Final Fantasy so I let myself become so obsessed that I read and took notes in the strategy guide I’d gotten a hold of for it, and even at one point spent an entire day of forced chores mumbling “Final Fantasy Final Fantasy Final Fantasy” etc., under my breath.  Yes, it was as nuts as it sounds.

Several months later, I bought it and in the few years that followed, I beat it probably 20 times or more.

The toll it took on the academics of my brothers and me was so great that my step mom would sneak the controllers away at the start of the school year and we wouldn’t see them again until June; unfortunately games weren’t the only issue there, but they were a very large part regardless.  In the summers from around 1991 until 1996 or 1997, my brothers and I worked out this incredible compromise to keep from fighting over the NES: a rotating, hour-by-hour schedule each day.  Written down on paper.  On one hand it kept us from fighting (mostly), but on the other hand most summers, sometimes days upon days, were spent in front of our TV in the basement.  To be honest, we preferred it.

My ruined fourth semester of college was also due in large part to having free and open access to video games at any time, with me staying up until 4 a.m. sometimes playing my PlayStation (I had just gotten a TV for my room for Christmas).  Not long after I dropped the classes to avoid bad marks on my transcript, my parents kicked me out of the house.  When I got a place of my own months later, with no responsibilities other than work, I’d go 16+ hours playing video games sometimes.  Fast forward a few years to my first apartment with roommates for the summer prior my second and final year attending Southern Illinois University, I’d go even longer.  I once spent so many waking hours doing nothing but playing Grand Theft Auto III that one day, when I realized I’d left my phone in a gas station across town the night before, I got into my car and headed out to go get it and caught myself going 80 miles an hour on a 30 mph road.  That’s how I’d done it in the game for so many days, it was instantly natural when I was actually behind the wheel.  I think I first noticed the serious danger of the situation when my rationale overtook my instinct to run a slower car off the road.  Another time I practically locked myself in my bedroom and didn’t see my roommates except to eat and go to work so I could play Ocarina of Time; it took me about two weeks to finish.  In the years that followed, I had more than a few instances like that—game game game work eat sleep game.

So it continued on like that throughout my 20’s.  While sometimes I’d go as long as six months without touching a video game, without really even thinking about it, I’d always eventually get my hands on a new one, or get the urge to revisit an old favorite, and I wouldn’t walk away for months.  And that cycle was something I was content with and wasn’t a big deal until I got married.  The funny thing was, after I got married, I never did reach a point of boredom with gaming to where I’d put it away with nary a thought for a few months.  I couldn’t stop playing them.  That, coupled with entire evenings wasted in front of the TV for no good reason, led to the idea of the year-long “media fast” that my wife and I did.  It took a while for us to really get to the point that we didn’t sit around staring at a wall with nothing to do, but once we did, it was great.  I read tons of books, practiced guitar hours a day, ate dinner at the table.  Great stuff.

But of course it ended.  Funny thing—take a look at when my last blog post was.  September 20, 2011.  That was approximately one year after starting the fast.  At first, I had no desire to go back to playing games.  Dona and I had already began to enjoy evenings watching Seinfeld DVD’s over dinner, but I could take two episodes at the most and I was done.  I really didn’t feel like playing any of my FPS’s on Steam, but I did sit down to try and play Sim City 4, and the enthusiasm for that died within minutes.

“I’ve beaten this,” I thought.  After more than two decades of my life given over to ultimately useless, digital pursuits, I spent an entire year staying away alongside my wife, and had little desire to return.  Then I remembered a game I’d heard about in the year previous.

I knew that Minecraft was supposed to be addicting.  In fact, the first thought I had about playing the game was not a welcome one—I even went on Facebook asking people to talk me out of it.  But it was no use.  I tried out the free version of the game on Minecraft.net and subsequently spent something like 36 hours on it over the following three days.  I’m not stretching that number.  Since I could save nothing and had started over thrice, I accepted the inevitable and paid for the game and downloaded it.  At first I tried to restrict myself to an hour a day.  Then that became an hour on weekdays and three hours per day on weekends.  Within two weeks that was completely thrown out, too.

I would go to bed thinking about the game, and wake up thinking about it.  At work I would spend my lunch breaks watching Minecraft videos on Youtube.  I would get home and fight every inch of my being to resist going straight to the computer.  I’d sit down to play guitar, but get irritated over the smallest monotonies, and eventually just put the guitar down and turn on the game.  Eventually I wouldn’t even bother with the instrument at all.  It’s scary for me to remember what it felt like to turn on the game after hours of actively resisting the desire—complete euphoria.  My wife, not one to not let me know what she thinks, was constantly on me about playing too much.  Not so much because of how it affected her, though that was certainly a factor, but because she could see so clearly what it was doing to me and how Rational Braden would be very upset at the sight of that.  She was not treated kindly in response, I’m sorry to say.  Actually “sorry to say” is microscopic to how bad I feel about that now.

I had spent the months before Minecraft thinking out which books to read next, how to structure guitar practice time, or what to write about, or even early thoughts on how to start a business.  Once Minecraft came into the picture, I began spending almost every literal waking moment making plans for super railways, massive underground fortresses, mapped-out continents and oceans, and Nether-based transportation systems.  Perhaps most tragically, I actually found myself wishing for unemployment again, or for my wife to take a weekend trip somewhere, so I could spend days without interruption playing.  I had more than one weekend where I would put in more than 30 hours between Friday night and Sunday night.

Eventually I began to admit to myself under the surface that there was a problem, but it took the better part of two months for me to reach a point that I admitted to myself that I was truly facing a scary reality:  I would have to delete Minecraft and make a personal commitment to never get sucked into games again—even if that meant never playing another game for the rest of my life.

It’s interesting how that played out, because one morning just a few days after realizing that, I got up from my living room chair and sat in front of my computer and deleted everything I could.  I was still waking up a little, which thankfully impaired my rationale.  I did have some momentary freak-outs, since I was essentially deleting weeks upon weeks of “work” in that virtual world I’d lived in, but I went through with it and removed my access to my Minecraft account to the best of my ability (deleting fully is not an option Mojang offers).  Even if I were to get myself back into my account, all my progress would still be gone.  That actually becomes less of a hindrance the longer we go, because the longer it’s been since I played the game, the less I care about what I was working on prior.

But with all that said, I don’t miss the game at all and have no desire to return.  I didn’t like how that time felt.

Yet I’ve not completely beaten my video game bug.  I deleted Minecraft sometime in January, and due to some of my other games not running well in Windows 7, I was able to keep it under control for a couple weeks.  By then end of February, though, I was on Steam playing some of my inexpensive, dated, First Person Shooters, from Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, to Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, to nearly the entire Half-Life series, from Half-Life: Source to Half-Life 2 and its subsequent two episodes.  I’ve spent the last week working on achievements in Portal.  

So what keeps me here?  Why do I keep coming back?  For one, it’s very easy time spent on accomplishing what feels like a lot of things.  In the course of two weeks, I went from being a recently-hired theoretical physicist at an Arizona-based research facility to assisting a group of rebels fight a human-alien dystopian oppression.  I’ll say that reading books is ultimately a “healthier” activity, but no matter how well that prose is written, you can’t get immersed in a story the way you can in a well-designed video game, and Valve is undeniably among the best in their field in that regard.  Anyone who’s awed at how connected they get to Alyx Vance or furious they get at Wallace Breen knows what I’m talking about.  One of the most exciting story-based moments ever for me was the start ofHalf-Life 2: Episode 1 when the G-Man gets interrupted by the Vortegaunts block him, and he looks at you and says so seriously, “We’ll see about that.”  It’s hard to really appreciate out of context.

I love creativity; I love a great story.  Video games have evolved to the point that I can have both to my heart’s content and accomplish little else . . . the twist being, of course, that my heart will never be content and satisfied with them because I’m not sure that those innate passions were meant to be fully satisfied.

So here we are again.  Two days ago I deleted Steam and all of my progress of the last couple weeks.  It was a little easier than Minecraft, mind you, because all my Steam games are stories that I’ve finished.  I want to stand on top of a platform and declare that I’ve written off video games for the rest of my life, and that my passions for creativity and great stories will be channeled into music and reading and writing–but I can’t say that.  If Half-Life 3 or HL: Episode 3 ever come out, or when/if Portal 2 gets really cheap, I’m not going to last very long.  I just hope I can keep myself clear long enough to actually accomplish some things in the meantime.

Writing a Superman Story? Here’s Five Things You MUST Include . . .

I’ve heard it said that Superman is a hard character to write for, since he’s so powerful and finding a good foe or challenge for him can be something of a task.  I say, “Bull!”  Writing for Superman is EXTREMELY easy!  You can tell how easy it is if you read some of his graphic novels or watch some of his movies, because they all tend to do at least ONE of the following five things–usually more.

1.  Make a lot of allusions to Superman being like Jesus. Because, you know, Superman and Jesus are totally alike.  Personally, my favorite parts of the Bible are when Jesus busts through the walls of the Hebrew temple, melts the swords of the Romans with his heat vision, and freezes the Sea of Galilee with his ice breath right before walking out on it.  Therefore, be sure to toss in all kinds of allusions to how Kal-El is like the Son of God.  It makes perfect sense.  Last of an extinct alien race raised on Earth by adoptive parents to grow up and become an indestructible man flying around in his pajamas vs. one-third of a triune, creator deity, born of a virgin, sent to die for the salvation of mankind.  To-may-to, to-mah-to.

Perfect!

2.  Give Superman some kind of power, skill, or ability on a deistic level.  It’s a common misconception that Superman is too powerful.  He’s actually not powerful enough.  Being bulletproof, the ability to fly, vision powers, breath powers, super speed, super strength–all child’s play.  When you’re writing your story, feel free to make some new power up.  Anything.  Actually, the bigger the better.  We’ve seen new powers as small as erasing memories with a kiss, to as large as creating alternate universes inside the Fortress of Solitude.  Feel free to go beyond that, even (though it is tough to think about going much bigger than creating LIFE).  The beauty of understanding this about Superman is that he’s a walking deus ex machina.  It’s IMPOSSIBLE to write yourself into any corner with this guy.

. . . and fanboys everywhere will call your schlock "brilliant."

3.  Destroy the Fortress of Solitude.  Oh yeah, it’s got to go.  First, don’t ask yourself if it’s been destroyed before–not important.  Just blow the damn thing up.  Have someone trash it.  Have a meteor smash it.  Have a ball!  What’s a Fortress of Solitude if Superman is alone there all the time and no one knows about it?  Make it common knowledge, and then have them DESTROY IT.  Couldn’t be simpler.  And be sure to get to it quick, too.  Don’t waste your precious story time establishing it as a true place of refuge for the Man of Steel.  Just assume everyone already knows about it, have the bad guy show up, and BOOM goes the fortress.  Observe below:

plus

equals

Now you win!!

4.  Have some Kryptonians show up.  It’s really very logical when  you think about it.  Part of Superman’s character is there’s a deep lonliness in him because his entire race, his entire planet, no longer exists.  He’s the last Kryptonian.  So what better twist than to have some stray Kryptonians show up?  I mean, if General Zod was such a huge hit, then MORE Kryptonians equals Superman story gold!  Yet we can’t have EVERYONE come out of the Phantom Zone.  Just say they were wandering the galaxy somehow or somewhere.  Without a spaceship.  Oh, sure, there’s the fact that Superman gets his power because of the light from our yellow sun, so Kryptonians wandering around in space away from yellow stars doesn’t actually make any sense–but so what?  Just write it. 

Pictured: The Opposite of Extinct

5.  Do not, under any circumstances, bother with the difference between “dark and brooding” and “confident and serious.”  No one likes a hero who has it all together, right?  I mean, since the mid-1970’s, all of our heroes in comic books and action movies have been nothing but good-hearted, charming, stand-up citizens. . . . BORing.  We need heroes that are conflicted and moody and lonely and disturbed and, oh what’s that word the kids are using these days . . . “emo.”  The point of all of this is to help you understand how writing for Superman is easy, so trying to figure out the right balance between smiling altruist and “humanity” is out of the question.  That’s too hard.  That would require paying attention to his motivations to justify non-happy emotions, like anger.  Instead, just make him dark and angry all the time, OR make him really sad and whiny.  Your choice!

This makes Supes in no way like any other superhero!

Now you know  how to write the perfect Superman story!  Mix and match these five tips and you are guaranteed a winner!  Happy writing!