Saturday, January 28, 2012

MegaUpload to Holodeck

So one of my friends, S., posted this picture on Facebook, which is the going thing these days.  As if creating a picture will explain the whole world.  It's amazing, the way that people choose to communicate with each other.  Facebook was supposed to be a method for people across the world to talk to each other, but more and more I've seen just these pictures posted, without discussion or even thought about what they mean, how they impact the processes of the mind, how things are connected to others through synapses, often incorrectly so.

It seems to me that someone in the Occupy Wall Street crowd was downloading something on MegaUpload and all of a sudden {blink}, it's gone.  No more downloads of music, movies, software.  And let's not kid ourselves about this, it has nothing to do with all that for the normal computer user.  It's all about the Porn.  We just gave the Porn industry such a boost, because once you get rid of all possible places where pornography can be downloaded for free, the people who view such things will be forced, once again, to buy it.  But I got off track...  And so they think, it has to be the greedy bastards sitting at the top of their skyscrapers making money from all us poor people.  It's just not fair. Wall Street must be responsible for all this.  And in a very small way, that's part of it.  But the larger issue, one that is beyond this pictures ability to communicate, is that the Justice department was the one that implemented the raid and closed down the site.  That, along with the suspended SOPA bill, is giving the government full power to regulate the stuff that's on the Internet. Now, if that were the whole of it, I would go off on a tangent about how we should be able to download all the stuff we want, and haven't the RIAA and MPAA made enough money and blah blah blah.... except that's not it either.  There is no way that this issue (not SOPA, but just MegaUpload) can just be summarized in a picture. It is an argument of intellectual rights, free market issues; ideological, philosophical, and asethetic issues; so many issues. It could easily take up a book. We could produce arguments for and against MU, and be both right and wrong.  This issue brings together all the opinions of Free Market Capitalism, intellectual property, freedom of distribution of information, everything that the current generation feels about the way the world works.  The internet is a cacophony of information, stimuli, communities, vices, mind-numbing wastes of time, and we have ti pumped into our heads continuously throughout the day.  I go into most workplaces nowadays, and the workers have their iphones on and tuned into Spotify or their MP3s, and they're texting and checking their Facebooks, even watching videos when no one is watching.  It's an epidemic that is probably costing businesses tons of money.  And outside of absconding everyone's gadgets when they first come in, there's little anyone can do about it.  Everyone must have their fix of bytes and bits and kilos of data.   And that, too, is just a small part of it, and not what I was really focusing on.

I've gotten episodes of Disney shows from MegaUpload, they are free* on the Disney channel, so... was that wrong? Maybe. Is it illegal? Maybe. Should the government regulate such things. I don't think so, but the Libertarian paradox applies here. In the end, MU's shutdown won't matter much, as technology will change, methods will change, people will still get their copies of intellectual property. They'd have to shut down the internet entirely to stop it.  That would be the quickest way to start a revolution. Reminds me of the Pendragon Series, book 4, The Reality Bug, by DJ Machale. The Internet, and the things we download from it, are the fantasies by which we escape our own lives. To take that away would be akin to taking drugs away from the user. The withdrawl would be too much to bear. For the government to become that of Brave New World, they have to realize that the easiest way to control the people is through happiness, and whether our SOMA comes from a pill or through fiberglass cables, they have to keep the escapism alive.

I think that it's up to the providers of movies, games, etc... to come up with viable alternatives to free* downloading of their product. Spotify, for instance, is an amazing method, and would be more effective than any regulation or lawsuit. Hulu, Gamefly, Netflix, Redbox, also, are viable alternatives.  Another option would be the current companies that distribute intellectual property to vastly expand their "On Demand" line-ups, encompassing the entire line-up of TV shows and Movies that are available.  To do so would take an incredible amount of server upgrading, but would certainly doable, since the storage companies like MegaUpload basically have it already.  And there would need to be some way for the artists and producers to be compensated for their work. Basically, that would be Comcast or Cox or Charter hosting something like itunes or whatever, which would work. It's a viable option, something they should think about if SOPA actually passes with the vitrol it had in it previously. It would keep them from being liable while providing users with legal ways of obtaining their fixes. And if we can think this up, surely they can as well. Wouldn't be surprised if it's already in the works.  Comcast would have to increase their charges (or make it as a separate service) in order to do this, much as iTunes does now. And the public would have to accept that as a method better to get their fixes than downloading media online without compensation. It's a mental thing, a change in the minds of society's consciousness. That paying artists is actually a good thing, that the idea of the artists being just another part of the 1% is wrong, that they actually produce work for society and should be compensated as such, just as a worker laying the beams for a new skyscraper or the person making your Subway Sandwich. Changing the beliefs of Western Civilization is hard. It is done through technology or religion, and "Thou Shalt Not Steal" isn't working, so a change in technology is the best method. Thus the idea of Spotify and the iPod or like technology to provide all music everywhere with commercials. Although I think at some point it'll be a paid service (beyond the Premium service they already have).

I think that's the main issue here, when you get down to it.  The overwhelming idea that the Internet is free (totally and utterly free, without the * on it), and anything and everything that can be transmitted through the internet should also be free.  This ties in with the idea that artists and authors and directors are paid by these megacorporations that make millions (by other people besides me) and so they don't need the money from one measly download.  Because we're all broke, and we need our fix, and that fix is stronger than any legality or moral beliefs that would keep us from obtaining it.  It would be like speeding down the highway.  The desire to get to our location as quickly as possible is more overwhelming than the consequence of a speeding ticket, even if the ticket would equate to a whole week's worth of work.  The subsequent consequence for downloading a song or a video would be much more than that, even jail time, but most people don't even think of such things, so overwhelming is the desire to have music, film, games, and porn, all at our fingertips, and all free.  It's the thought process which is key here.

Once again I bring up two books which must be read to understand the idea behind changing the philosophies of Western Civilization.  If you can find, or download, these two books, they will be well worth the time to read them.  They are Clifford D. Simak's Ring Around the Sun and Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter's The Light of Other Days.  Both are amazing books which show how, through technology, the entire mindset of the world can be changed, much quicker than through a religion or through the machinations of corporations or governments to control the activities of the people under them.  It simply won't work.  However, changing the technology to adapt to the citizens' mindsets will work, just as the invention of the Internet changed the way the world thought and worked some years ago.  It's simply an adjustment, from one mindset to the next as the world speeds along forward, from book to radio, TV, Internet, Ipad, to Holodeck.  One day, we'll get there.

Friday, January 20, 2012

4th and 1

Ah, the Playoffs... to quote Jimmy Mora, "Playoffs??"  It's been a season of heart-pounding excitement and mind-numbing boredom.  Seeing the Atlanta Falcons only scoring 2 points, I learned some things about this sport of 20th century gladiators.  There is nothing... NOTHING... more that spurs the adrenalin of a football fan more than the words, "Fourth and One"  Especially when they're close to the red zone.  It's like you can smell the carnage... a whole 6 points, if only the QB would just lean forward and pass the ball over that one yard.  So simple, right?  The emotion of the game takes over, heartbeats speed up to dangerous limits, and the coach has to make a decision, faced with the ridicule of the fans if he kicks a field goal (and gets 3) or goes for it and misses.  It's a chess move with sometimes the whole season on the line.  And so, Mike Smith, faced with a 4th and 1 in Overtime against New Orleans, goes for it, and falls short.  Saints Win.  However, in the recent Saints game with the Lions, they go on 4th down and make it every time.  So it's a toss up.

It's just like playing Price is Right.  There are rules for playing any game on there that will increase your odds of winning the most money.  But they don't.... they go with their emotions, risk it all, and more than likely, they wind up losing.  For example, on "Temptation," always take the prizes.  Or on "Cover Up," it's a very smart move to purposely pick the wrong number on the first row in order to get another chance down the line to win the car.  But these things never happen (it's also why I'd never get picked on the show.).  You go with your emotions, and you might win, or not.  But the smart thing is to go by what will work.

For instance, 1st Quarter, no score, you're on the 23 yard line, ready to score, but you get stopped, so it's 4th and 1.  Kick. The. Field. Goal.  Get points however you can, because those points could mean the difference in the game later on.  Now, if it's 4th quarter and you're down 21, that's a different story.  But Coach Smith went for it, and it didn't work....twice... that was 6 points, which might have made a difference had Drew Brees not gone touchdown crazy later.

When it comes to 4th and 1, the issue, ultimately, is trust.  Trust in the entire football team to execute the plays as practiced and to perform at the top level of their sport.  And it's the trust of the spectators that the coach will execute the plays necessary to provide a win, to justify the revenue that has been shelled out to spend three hours of one's life watching people run a ball up and down the field.  Without trust, all games that we call "sports" would be moot.  It wouldn't be worth watching.  In the situation of 4th and 1, there are 4 issues of trust that arise.

First, there's the trust that the offensive line can achieve the one yard needed to continue the drive.  Mike Smith went for it, mistakenly confident that the offensive line could force the defensive line of the Saints back three feet so that Matt Ryan could basically fall forward and get the 1st down.  It didn't work, and the issue here is that the O-Line needs improvement. The other option Ryan had was to either hand it off to Turner (which would have failed), or throw it to any of the Wide Recievers (who had been dropping the catches all day) or to Throw it to consistently reliable Tony Gonzales, who, for some reason, had only ONE catch that whole day.

Second, there's the trust that the defense can stop the other team's offense in case the 4th and 1 play doesn't work.  There shouldn't have been any trust in the case of the Falcons/Saints game because there are very few defenses (outside the 49ers, obviously) that can stop Drew Brees.  Or, Mike Smith should have realized that if they punted on 4th and 1, Brees would have scored easily anyway, so it was more justified to go for it and keep Brees on the sidelines.  Except that didn't happen.

Then there's the lack of trust in the Kicker.  Someone needs to get Morten Anderson and Vinateri together and hold a practice session for Field Goal Kickers, because every game I've watched this year has been woefully lacking in reliable FG kickers.  It could be that the ascendance of Soccer in the United States as a popular sport has drawn the FG kickers away from Football.  Or it could be that drafting other players, such as WR or QBs becomes more important than the FG kickers who score more points than any other person on the team (that was sarcasm). But most likely, I think that the lack of FG kickers is based upon the treatment that kickers get in any level of football.  Even Payton Manning referred to Adam Venateri as "that idiot kicker" when he missed one.  They face ridicule and name calling every time they miss a goal, and with the rise of social media, it just gets worse.  Reminds me of the U2 video for "Stuck in the Moment." Why would anyone want to be a kicker in Football and have to face those issues?  I wouldn't. Also, the kicker doesn't get to tackle someone, to lay out all their aggression and primal instincts into flattening another player on the ground.  It is a position that says, "We give up." They are a white flag, a surrender sign.  And sometimes coaches don't want to call the white flag onto the field.  Of course, there are exceptions, the 1999 St. Louis Rams, for instance.  Late in the season, the Field Goal kicker became injured, so "The Greatest Show On Turf" simply went for it every time, and with the offensive weapons they had (Faulk, Warner....etc.), they made it consistently.

Lastly, there's the unique position that every team playing the Chicago Bears have.  Namely, that, if they punt the ball, it will fall into the hands of Devin Hester, which I have talked about at length prior.  Hester would, on any given runback, achieve as many yards as the kick was, or potentially run into the end zone for a Touchdown.  It's much better, field position-wise, to go for a 4th and 1 and not make it than to kick it to Devin Hester and risk a Special Teams touchdown.

In the end, the Falcons lost the game with the Saints, and then in the playoffs with the Giants, and now let us hope that the team practices 4th and 1 for at least an hour each practice.  And give the ball to Gonzales, for Pete's sake.  He just got a one year, $7 million dollar extension. Make it worth your money.  And reevaluate your trust in your team.  The real trust, not that based on emotion and gambling, but that based on the logic and reason of knowing the strengths of the team and using them.  And if that's not enough, go get the right players during the off season (which means the Offensive Line) and we'll try it again next year.  Punt, and let's go at it again.   

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why I Don't Go to Church

 If you ask me which church I attend, I'll tell you, but in all actuality, I've not gone to any one church for quite a while. And while having worked on Sundays for years is part of it, the truth is, I have no interest in attending the today's churches anyway. Here's why. We live in an extremely complex world, filled with philosophical ideas, political stances, religious sects and fanatical beliefs that drive people to suicide in the hope that they find justice in the eyes of their god.  The customers I saw wandering about the religion and metaphysical sections wanted nothing more than something to believe in, some basis for their lives. More often than not they selected Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power or Hicks' The Laws of Attraction, something that would give them power over their own lives, often at the expense of a relationship with a loving God. Often I would find customers buying copies of the Jewish Kabbalah and the Koran, both at the same time, just to find the proposed mysticism of the religions. And as for Christianity, people wanted to know about the Apocrypha, the Book of Enoch, the Lost books, more than they cared about the New Testament or anything that had to do with Jesus dying for our sins. They wanted to see what powers were given to people if they joined the Christian faith. Those that did seek ancillary materials for Christianity were interested in being Prayer Warriors, choosing to believe that exorcism, the outcasting of demons and such were possible just by speaking of a word, as if they were Jesus himself.

In my opinion, looking at these lost souls, the current church does very little to prepare Christians for dealing with the issues that non-believers have. When it is successful, such as the self-help advice of Joel Osteen or the financial advice of Dave Ramsey, it's only a partial hold, without the central ideas of Christianity being brought into focus. I firmly believe that someone could sit in the Lakewood amphitheater, listen to Joel Osteen, and feel perfectly good about themselves, as if applying a band-aid, or taking Prozac would help the underlying problems in their lives. But ministerial Prozac is not what I would want, it's merely giving people fish instead of teaching them how to fish, as Jesus' parable goes.

My experience at the Sunday School at the church I have gone to has left me not at all satisfied with the training that teachers are supposed to be giving us to deal with the real world. The teachers would come in, talk about the weekend plans, the football games (and here in the South, Football is a religion, so it must be addressed.), the social rumors and the like. Then the "lesson" would begin, which was just us reading everything out of the book, verbatim, and then the teachers asking us the questions in their booklet. The questions would be, for instance, "Who is your hero?" "What was a time that you took someone for granted? Who did that hurt the most?" And so forth. And people would answer, Jesus, and God, and having swept any in-depth answers to the side (for "God" is the "right" answer for any question asked), we pray and then wait around for the time to go to the sanctuary for "big church." My fellow peers would look like they were brainwashed, only waiting for the end of the class, not willing to spend any time on actually delving into the ideas of the Christian faith, or what makes the other ideas out there so appealing. They are applying a feel-good social balm on an itch that won't go away. And when the unsaved masses walk by with their strange beliefs and their self-help books, we say nothing.

As much as I didn't like my stepdad for many reasons, I completely understood his reluctance to go to Church at all, despite being a very Christian person, a bass singer in a Southern Gospel Quartet, etc... He would invite Jehovah's Witness people in to apply his knowledge to their questions, firmly driving them from our house, never to return. He was determined to save his relatives' souls, even at the cost of having them live with us and take valuable items before we finally kicked them out. He didn't always do it right, but you couldn't argue with his belief systems. He didn't go to church because he found that there was little he could learn from the church pastors, and even less from the Sunday School teachers. He always asked me, "What did you learn at Church today?" I was always annoyed at the question, but I realize now that the answer I gave, "Nothing," was the correct one. To diligently seek (Luke 11:9) God's Word, it is better to read the Bible and other materials ourselves, and climb the path of our beliefs without the help of the current Christian population. It's why, on my Facebook page, I list my religion affiliation as "Libertarian," because I believe in having a relationship with God in my own way, learning from books and life in my own way, and when I die, God can show me where I was wrong. It is through His grace that we are forgiven of our sins, after all.

I would rather go into a Sunday School class and have the teacher say, "God doesn't exist." and then challenge us to prove him or her wrong. Train us in conversing with people, as the topic comes up, about our faith and our beliefs, as well as that of the world. Debate is only possible if we know the philosophies by which everyone believes, as well as our own. It is only possible if we listen first, not excluding those who are outside the realm of Christianity while we live in a safe zone away, apart, and superior to our gentile brethren.

I learn more from a fifteen minute lesson from someone like   Mark Lowry than I do a whole season at Sunday School. Because he thinks, he is willing to diligently seek to find the answers to his questions. And he is hilarious in doing it! Mark doesn't stand outside a college campus and shout to the top of his lungs how he is right and all the sinners on campus are going to Hell. No, he takes life, the humor in it, and crafts it like clay into a message that we can all understand. Even a serious motorcycle accident or a deadly tornado can become at once an entertaining laugh riot and a deeply affecting discussion about the Kingdom of God. And these are things we cannot get at church.

So as I was perusing the Bible section here at Lifeway, I saw an edition called the Christian Apologetics Study Bible. The Apologetics, as I have found out, do exactly what I have been talking about. They study philosophy and other "worldly" ideas as well as the Christian texts in order to understand and converse with those who aren't Christians. While I am certainly not an evangelical person, in other words, I'm not going door to door to bring people to Christ, I think the people who do should be trained in conversing and, if necessary, debating those who have other beliefs. Those who come from the Sunday Schools I've been in wouldn't stand a chance with those who have questions and doubts about the Christian faith. Being willing to talk about the answers in detail, even to challenge your own beliefs, that is the only way to become stronger in one's faith. Being brainwashed isn't going to do it. Diligently seeking is the only way to learn, be it about Christianity or any other subject or philosophy on Earth.