Archive for the 'Ideas' Category

“I Can’t Do It”

February 2, 2010

I’ve heard these words a lot recently. “I can’t do it.” “It’s too hard.” “Just tell me what to do.” Etc. This is either my son, a student who won’t read the directions on a worksheet, or a teenager who has not brought a writing utensil, binder, book to a reading class, or  can’t remember to complete or turn in their homework. The students won’t try unless it’s spelled out to them individually and repeated 100 times. Even, to my horror, from my own son. If everyone knew how hard I had to work to make him play with his portable Nintendo system, they’d wonder why I tried at all. It’s work

I asked my parents how much they had to remind me to do homework. They remembered that it was a lot harder to motivate me than I recall, coincidently. Apparently I refused to practice anything that I couldn’t do successfully the first time. If my little brother did better than I did at something, that was the end of it; I wouldn’t try again. One of the qualities that has made me successful in college, at my banking job, in the Army, and (hopefully) as a law student is that I wouldn’t give in and would continue to work until I’d exhausted every avenue of approach.

The frustrating part of all this? That I was the one who frustrated someone previously. Being a self-identified hypocrite is a tough, bitter, non-chewable pill to swallow. It’s like seeing a pill and assuming it has to be chewable. So you bite into it, but it cracks a tooth and there’s a horrible taste in your mouth that toothpaste can’t get rid of. That’s what this feels like.

The other part of this that I  just don’t understand is when did it all change? Most likely, there is no identifiable date. “Oh, look! April 5th, 2002 I suddenly kept all my appointments and buckled down at work!” More like a slow process of improvements gained through long hours at the grindstone of character.

Whatever. Typing this post is taking too long. I quit. I’mma gonna play some Wii now.

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Childish Lit Crit

November 21, 2009

“Fox in socks and Knox in box.” These are just a few of the words that I have had the pleasure of trying to stumble my numb tongue over tonight. I think Dr. Seuss’s use of the “Tweetle beetle bottled muddle puddle paddle battle” is the same last straw it was for Mr. Knox. But it was a lot of fun to read this book to my son tonight for more reasons than the pure oratory athleticism it requires to make it through the book in less than 15 minutes.

Childrens’ literature is written and illustrated by adults. I’ve read a fair share of it to my son, but so much of it, like fiction in general, is just not worth reading. The plots are so obvious that my four year old can tell me how it is going to end before we’ve finished the first reading, and they either aim too high or too low for children. These books should have a lasting appeal in case I don’t happen to read a book during the three month period in my child’s development that he would find it interesting. I think, (and not originally, might I add) that the books penned by the author with the incredibly famous pseudonym of Dr. Seuss stand up to this test.

My son, right now, can’t read. He’s four, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. He likes the rhyming and silliness of the situations that make up a Dr. Seuss book. (I use the doctor term because I think he’s earned it.) But I, the parent with an English Degree, enjoy the clever rhyming, unique metrical style, punning, and the artwork that was also done by the same person. People usually are blessed with a superior talent in life, where the good Dr. Seuss was able to illustrate as well as he wrote. These qualities of the books cause parents to smile as often as the child, and that is the true beauty behind the absurdity of books like “The Cat in the Hat comes Back.”

What are some other childrens’ books that will stand the test of time as well as Dr. Seuss? I am always looking for new recommendations and would like to hear yours.

Two New Features: Fantasy and Reviews!

June 27, 2009

First of all, I will be posting even more Berlin photos. Having received 3 comments in emails and Facebook messages about my Berlin photos means I broke a personal record of feedback on anything. The previous record was 0. Technically, or mathematically, 3 is infinitely more feedback than 0, so I will post more. Thanks for the encouragement!

Second. I have been reading some websites and magazines about writing. In the past week, the Staff Judge Advocate I work for has given me an award and a farewell speech, and both times he mentioned I was a writer. Well, the last time I wrote a whole short story was almost four years ago, and the last time I wrote a complete poem, and not just a stanza or two, was three months ago. The advice I’ve received from the different sources can be summed up as thus: the more you write, the more you want to write. This is the definition of a catch-22 phrase (which is also a book I need to read, apparently) so I will try to write more on this blog in two ways.

A new feature for this blog will be reviews. From now on, regardless of whether I read a book, play a game, see a movie, or consume any other kind of media that I don’t create on my own, I will write a review of it here on this blog. Reviews are incredibly subjective, and except for facts like play control in a game, number of pages in a book, who acted in a movie, and what the track list on a CD is, there is no single objective criteria to base how relatively worthy a piece of media is. Everyone will have their own personal bias that either engenders them or precludes them from liking some aspect of a media based experience. If you follow me on this blog, I assume you know me well enough to understand what kind of tendencies I have when it comes to entertainment and education, so you should apply that filter to anything I write. You should probably already be doing this, in fact.

When you see a review for a video game, and you don’t play video games, it will be marked such so you don’t have to waste your time. The same goes with music, movies, books, TV shows, etc. I do not plan on replacing any of the websites like Gamespot.com, et.com, imdb.com, or any of the other media review conglomerations, but if you save yourself $25 by not buying that hardcover book, movie, or video game I recommended against, then this site will be worth it. And, inversely, if you decide to try something you normally wouldn’t because I did recommend it, and enjoy it, then I letting me know that fact would make me more pleased that getting paid to do this ever would (depending on the amount).

The second feature, besides the occasional life updates and the aforementioned reviews I put up on this blog, will be my starting of another blog where I will write a book. The best, and most inspirational, idea I read was several authors who wrote a book through blog posts, committing themselves to a certain number of words per day or week. I think this will be the avenue to go. I will let you know what the blog is when I finish setting it up, but here is a short synopsis: the story will be about a group of adventurers living in a fantastical world out to save the world from an unknown threat that comes from the lands below the ground they walk on. Basically, I will be writing out one of my Dungeons and Dragons campaigns of old, and hoping to have more than 10 people read it when I’m finished. Another piece of advice I read was as follows, “Even if it’s bad, write continually. Eventually you will have enough material to choose a somewhat good story from amongst all the crap.” That one was not quite as inspirational, but it was truthful.

Bear with me if you’ll read this stuff, and wade through the crap if you can. Provide feedback, help me polish and give me ideas as long as you know you will only get a passing thanks in the dedication if this book ever gets published. It’s the thought that counts, right? So then that will be thanks enough, instead of us having to split the non-existent royalties check 100 different ways.

And, as always, let me know if you have any other ideas. Thanks.

Post Vacation Weekend

April 25, 2009

I don’t have a car. The weekend shuttle service the garrison used to provide for us was stopped. The German city bus comes 3 times during the middle of the day on Saturday, and once on Sunday. A Taxi costs 15 Euro to get into Wiesbaden, about 12 for Mainz. There is a bowling alley on post, a library, 4 places to eat, and a store with the selection of a very large convienence store. A bar is on post, and it is cheap as well, but everyone who drinks there is in the Army or a dependent, and probably outranks me. We have playgrounds, but you have to go to the schools to use them.

And people wonder why I’ve taken up running? After going to England and France, stir crazy does not begin to describe this.

Take today for example: I wake up. I edit pictures from my vacation. I play a few video games. I listen to podcasts or music. I eat lunch. I am about to go on a run. I read some of a book. I start and finish a magazine.  I go outside to just sit and enjoy the weather. It’s not dinner time yet. I hear a small cracking sound, which must be the edge of my sanity.

The upside? I do things like clean, and research for my future job. That’s nice.

Also, I post more pictures. You can click the link on the left, “Photos” where you will see more pictures I took on my vacation.

Summer Welfare

July 20, 2008

I’m not usually one to complain, but please, indulge me a bit. It will sound like it for a paragraph, but this is not complaining.

Do you know how hot is gets here? Let me explain something to you. I have to shave every day. Since I have a roommate who works nights, I take my shaving stuff to the bathroom which is about 40 yards away in a separate little building. I brush my teeth, floss when I remember, shower, shave, and then walk back to the CHU, or my Call-that-a-Housing-Unit? On the way there, I feel a sensation akin to being baked. My pores on my face are open after having to shave, and the chin strap of my helmet, the collar of my ACUs, or anything else just seems to irritate it that much more. The sweat drips and stings quickly because the average temperature is in the 80s at night, and over 120 during the day. In the south of Iraq, it is even hotter. This is about as much as I can complain about this place.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, I have it easy. Kirk, my brother, is in Afghanistan and has it a lot worse than I do. He bivouacs. The guys who were here in the invasion of 2003: they had tents if they were lucky, used holes in the ground as toilets, and used their canteens and water to shave. I’ve only ever had to do that for a week at the longest, and there were still porta-johns since it was training. I am extremely lucky. Even the war in 2003 was leagues better than what troops went through in Vietnam, either World War, or anything before. We’ve gotten to a point in modern warfare where accidents almost kill more soldiers than combat, which is a huge improvement over the Civil War era where hygiene and disease killed almost as many soldiers than the insane point blank rifle exchanges and charges.

So why do I even bother to mention this? Because I think some soldiers who are here are ungrateful. Soldiers of other current or earlier wars would love to only have the weather to complain about. And their attitudes towards other people’s gratitude is a little sickening.

Example: for some reason, despite not having it that bad, and having instructed my family members to just send me books or a computer game every once in a while, some very nice and well meaning people send us huge boxes of girl scout cookies. So, being an NCO, one my two principle duties is to take care of soldiers. A lot of soldiers come off of convoys, having come in from little rinky-dink bases, just to get help with their divorce, a power of attorney, find out information about how to become a citizen, and a lot of other things they don’t have internet or legal support for. I give them a couple boxes of cookies, make sure they have cold water, and pass out Gatorade packets to mix with the water if they need it.

Repeatedly, I have other people come into my office where I have computers and air conditioning, and a gym attached to the building. (I might as well be living in one of Saddam’s palaces.) These people who are on post come from similar facilities, where they have a hard structure with AC, plumbing, amenities, etc. But they ask for these cookies, as if the PX doesn’t sell 15 kinds of potato chips and 20 different kinds of cookies. Some of them come by multiple times just to get more cookies, and don’t even need legal assistance! I have no problem giving them water, because its hot and people never drink enough water, but do they really need these girl scout cookies? One or two cookies? Sure, and have a nice day. One or two boxes? Please. The dining facility here has a dessert bar. Do not ask for these cookies I have reserved for the troops who actually live in harsh conditions.

This kind of attitude, where individuals think “I must take everything offered to me, and try to take anything that looks available” completely boggles my mind. Some people would call this a “Welfare Mentality” but I think its more selfishness. If I lived in Sweden, or Germany, or Canada even, and was charged taxes to benefit from the universal health care, pension programs, or handouts, then that would just be the benefits of living in that kind of society. But I don’t. Even though the Army has 50 different programs to help me out, I’d rather help myself the majority of the time. I get things I need, and if I can’t get it, I’ll ask if it’s readily available.

People are under the misconception that things are so bad here in Iraq, and for a lot of soldiers, it is pretty nice. Just like with any charity, when you give, you need to take the time to make sure that your giving is received responsibly and actually used in the method you intended. So, if I get sent anything, I might have the odd Rice Krispy Treat, or a couple cookies, but I will give out the rest to these soldiers who are out and about in Iraq, and have it rough. Rewards should be for the deserving, not for the asking.

Games As Art

April 25, 2008

Anyone who reads this knows some stuff about me. They probably know that I have a degree in English Literature, have written multiple stories and lots of poems, like to sketch and doodle for fun, have a wide variety of musical tastes (except country. Everyone has limits), attend museums, love the cinema as long as people are quiet, had artistic friends who let me participate in their projects, and consider myself a well rounded individual when it comes to the arts. One of the few things I am proud of is that I know a little about most things, and those  I don’t know anything about, I can learn.

I also have been listening to a bunch of podcasts, which are downloadable radio programs, about gaming. Not gambling, board or word games, but video games. Something that comes up repeatedly is whether these games should be treated with the same respect in the artistic community as movies, literature, music, etc. I think they should.

Of course, this whole discussion boils down to what people identify as art, and some people have definitions even outside my own, like Yoko Ono and her “performance” or “experiential” pieces. At the heart of it, as I see art as “expression given form.” Most people are familiar with the narrative that books, movies, and even music uses to phrase their expressions, and no one can discount the telling images found in photography, sculpture and painting mean something, but many people are hesitant to classify games as art because most people are not used to interacting with art.

The quality and actual content of the expression is trivial, if we are to look to a governmental definition of art. Pornography has long enjoyed the protection of the first amendment, as has Pulitzer prize winning stories from journalists. The formulaic summer blockbuster that involves explosions and gun play is as much art as the tear jerking journey of a woman’s passage into adulthood told in countless books. One person might not like one expression as much as the other, but that is entirely subjective.

And games? Does something change because people interact with them? Most statues were meant to be seen in multiple angles, and music performed live is very different from listening to the CD. Caricatures, improvisational comedy, and opportunistic photo shots all display an element of immediacy and interaction with the subject matter.

On the other side, there are enough controlling factors in a game where you can call it art. Only the assets put into the game are able to be experienced by the gamer, and there are classical elements of previous art forms such as narrative, music, visual arts, voice acting, and architecture which blend together to make a whole. Having an Opera with out the music, the singing, the actors, or in the case of Phantom Of the Opera, the audience, would subtract from the piece in it’s entirety.

Here are some games I would reference for making a stronger argument than others. For a narrative, the  Role Playing Games Neverwinter Nights 2 and Planescape each clock in at over 600,000 words each, and contain stories that personally made me question aspects of my life, and introspection. Half-Life 2 and Bioshock show how narrative and immersion can be blended to a point where you begin to evaluate the consequences of your actions, and see things from another perspective. 10 million people play World of Warcraft and have appreciated the amazing scenery and vistas that other humans have created for their enjoyment. Running across the Barrens and looking across the plains, delving through the Wailing Caverns, or standing in the lush Ashenvale forest makes me wish some of these locations were real.

I know some family members who are older than other read this blog, and I know I have friends who, despite being the same age as I am, don’t understand some of my enthusiasm for playing video games. That is ok. I never did understand my parents’ penchant for gardening, but I know the result was a beautiful back yard that I could appreciate on a nice day (after I helped dig the pond, the bog garden, build the flower boxes, mow the darn thing every week, etc). I just hope that one day those people who have not had the same opportunities I had, can acknowledge the potential for games to be as much a work of art as a painting, poem, or movie, even if they don’t enjoy them personally.

A Month! A Whole Month!

February 4, 2008

Yes, this is the longest I have gone without updating this site. Yes, this is the longest I have gone without writing some of you individually. But, I now have an excuse for at least the last week.

Have you heard that the pipeline for much of this region of the world was cut last week? An underwater cable that handles phone, internet, and other types of digital traffic got severed, which is severely limiting an entire portion of the world’s access to the rest of the whole. This amazes me.

Now, initially, since I’m in the Armed Forces, I thought, “Terrorists. Obviously. Lets find them and shoot them for taking our internet!” but I was, thankfully, proved wrong. That’s just a knee jerk reaction to the years of training I’ve had so far. It turns out the situation is much more pedantic than I initially though: it was cut by some boat dragging something. Of course, it is hard for me to confirm it since the American news they pipe in here hasn’t mentioned it yet, and any other resource I would use is limited by the line being cut, so I may be wrong.

When I tried to call my parents, or my wife, all I got when I actually got in contact with someone, was a skipping record type of conversation. This was worse than cell phone static, because we couldn’t even understand if each other were even talking or had said anything half the time. It was frustrating, to say the least.

With my fears stayed for a while without internet access and all this additional free time since I wasn’t calling home, I came across a troubling thought. “Hey, Good-Looking,” as I call myself, “what would happen if terrorists or someone else did cut the lines on purpose? What kind of economic, militaristic, and social effects would that have on things?” I decided it would be a bad time, if one line being cut affects this much of the world.

Economies could be disrupted since shipping and deliveries could be delayed, or notifications normally handled digitally or in phone calls could not be verified. Any decent military has its own set of cables and satellites, but placing undue stress on satellites would mean a possible loss in traffic information since re-prioritization would have to be done quickly. Socially, people wouldn’t know what could be affecting them, lose contact with family and friends for a while, and their constant attempts to make sure people are ok could flood the system, as has happened with cellular networks in the USA during natural disasters, or 9/11.

Of course, the personal application is that I didn’t ever think of something like this until it already happened to me. I’m not blaming myself, or anyone else, but events like this have led me to believe that life, in many ways, can be a bit scarier and sillier than fiction.

New Year’s Start

January 11, 2008

It is now 2008, and I am finally in the same year that I will redeploy in. This is amazing, and a huge morale booster. For 3 months, all I could think was that I still have another year here, and now I am within that mark. Unless, of course, my request to volunteer and extend here gets approved, but first I would have to submit it. Perhaps you think I’m crazy for mentioning it, but follow me on this thought process.

I am in Iraq, thousands of miles from my family, forced to share a room with a roommate, wearing a uniform every day, working long hours, and getting paid double what I would in garrison. I can’t drink, and get one day off a week, which might go away during a big operation and is only a priveledge, not a guarantee.

When I redeploy, I will be thousands of miles away from my family, forced to share a barracks room with a roommate, wear a uniform almost every day, work uncertain hours, and get paid almost half what I get paid here in theater. I can drink, but shouldn’t, and get two days off a week usually.

I am not blind or stupid. Well, I’m not blind at least, so I see the differences in those paragraphs as much as you do. Sure I will be in safe, green Germany for 7 months and have the opportunity to travel, but I don’t want to travel alone. I’m a very social person, despite reading and video games being my choice ways of spending my leisure time.

Here? The main thing is I don’t get to see my family. I would be able to call and chat online a bit more often in Germany, but for a little safety and a little German culture, I would be taking a pay hit of almost $1,500 a month. Plus, I spend a lot of that while I’m buying groceries, eating at the DFAC, going out with friends, buying video games and bus tickets, traveling will be expensive if I do any, and, if you hadn’t heard, the Euro is a lot stronger than the dollar right now. Listing it that way, Germany doesn’t sound too much more appealing.

Of course, since I have the luxury of almost another year to figure this out (see how nice that is? Almost a year, not more than!), I can enlist your aid and ask for you to send me your own thoughts at my email address. Please send me an email, and I hope to talk to you again soon. Until next week…

Holiday Ethics Exam

December 6, 2007

In case you hadn’t heard, I am in Iraq, and while I do not have it as bad off as the majority of the soldiers here in theater, I do not have all the amenities of a normal military post or civilian city. I do have internet, of course, so I suppose I could purchase things on Amazon or other websites and have them shipped, but that is only a stop gap solution for what I want to do.

I want to send out a family letter, or at least a letter from me since we haven’t had the opportunity to be much of a family for half of this year and most of next. I bought some blank cards from the store to mail out, but pictures usually accompany things like this. I have taken a very limited amount of photos with my digital camera, but operational security must be maintained, so they are few and far inbetween. Plus, being the conservative minded man I am who believes in as small of a footprint as possible for government, I would balk if another agency of the government was printing personal color photos out using government ink.

With those prefacing comments, would this blog with a picture or two make do? Of course, part of sending gifts is that you either took the time to make something, or spent money you worked hard for to purchase the gift, so there is thought and effort behind those. And the letters and pictures are for everyone to hang on their refridgerator so other people can comment how handsome your family member or friend is.

I need feedback. Will people weight the fact that my temporary lodging in Tikrit, Iraq offset the completeness of observing a holiday tradition, or am I completely absolved of any responsibility, and I’m just doing good by thinking about it? Or, more frightening but possibly more true, will anyone want a letter from me without a picture of Luke included?

Halloween?

October 29, 2007

Someone mentioned to me that it was going to be Halloween soon in the good ol’ USofA. I’d seen a sign up at the Dining Facility advertising something about Halloween, but to be honest, I had forgotten about it. Understandably, the military does not want soldiers to be dressing up as people they’re not supposed to be, which is why we wear rank, nametags, and a person can get in trouble for wearing someone else’s rank or nametag. The idea of Halloween got me to thinking, though.

No St. Patrick’s Day or Valentine’s day. Those state holidays like Veteran’s day or Memorial day, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, all come and go, pass us by here in Iraq, with perhaps a ceremony presided over somewhere on the base for half an hour. Nothing exceptional, since we don’t take days off.

It’s odd, but it’s necessary. But I will miss the odd Labor day, or even the unofficial ones like Halloween. Trick or Treat!

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