The Clean Alternative

Now for the second, less humorous, political post.  I am sick of hearing that natural gas is the clean alternative to gas and coal because I question the validity of this statement.  I would love to see someone do a carbon footprint study of natural gas production like the one that disproved the cleaner production of ethanol.  Is the overall production of natural gas better for the environment and us, or is it all hype so that a lot of people can keep their high paying jobs and we consumers can continue wasting energy?

Not only do I question the total carbon footprint, but I also think it is important to consider the waste products the industry produces, including the drill lubricants that end up in our rivers, ground water, and aquifers.  Is the cleanliness of the energy produced by natural gas offset, as is my guess, by the destruction used to produce the product?  Can anything really be done?  Like big oil, Big Gas has deep pockets and lots of people depend on the paychecks of Big Gas.  The typical recipe for short term gain with long term costs.  The same people who are paid by Big Gas love their children, which is one reason they want the big paycheck, but they don’t stop to think of the future where no amount of money can alter the facts of the devastation left behind.  For a glimpse of the truth, there is a tv series that looks at ghost towns in the world (I will add it in a comment tonight).  The first episode deals with a city near Chernobyl and a city built around lead mines in America.  Look at the American city, but Chernobyl is just as accurate.

 

P.S.  The documentary series on ghost towns is “Forgotten Planet” and the city is Picher, Oklahoma.

P.P.S. The truth is people are willing to put up with or condone something that does not roost in their own home as long as they are making money.  They only cry foul when someone does something similar that ends up in their back yard.  Here is a challenge for all you Frack supporters, if Fracking is so safe, then take a tanker truck full of the waste and waste water from the process and store it in an open pit in your cellar instead of someone else’s back yard.  Let your children play around it.  This should be mandatory for any CEO of a manufacturing business.  If you can’t live with the results, neither should anyone else.

Workload

I am going to give you two posts today.  The first one pertains to my cat who works very hard at his job of being a cat.  I often wonder how stressed out he gets about work decisions like where to nap for the day.  Should I take the effort to jump on the bed, maybe with a toy, or pick the chair?  Life is hard that way.

Another Way to Look at People in the General

I know most of you have probably heard humans/civilizations categorized as either hunter/gatherers or takers with respect to aggressive tendencies.  Hunter/gatherers tend to be less aggressive while takers are more war like and tend, well, to take things from others.  Takers are your conquerors and dictators.

Well, I have lately been thinking of another way to make these same broad classifications.  One that not only explains aggressiveness, but also their interactions with nature.  I was thinking humans should be classified as either those that view nature as something to be overcome/conquered and those that view it as something they are a part of.

Humans that see nature as something to overcome will tend to be more aggressive and destructive to the land and its people.  They will view natural phenomenon such as weather, wildlife, and resources as something to be controlled and exploited, including other humans.  They will feel that man is above nature and can live without it, showing little concern for the environmental messes they leave behind.  Those that feel they are part of nature will be less aggressive and view the earth and its cycles as a way of life, striving to find harmony in their interactions with nature and others.  They will plan their society around the rhythms of nature to minimize their impact on the world.

To me, there is a subtle difference between how I am trying to make these broad classifications and the current method.  I see the old method as an expression of human interactions with other humans, while my classifications encompasses not only this interaction, but also their interaction with the world they inhabit.   In addition, their attitude toward nature is also reflected in their reactions to others.  Of course, we humans don’t fall neatly into two categories; however, I think these broad classifications can help people to step back and look at why people do what they do.  Even with our deeply tangled personalities, some fundamental truths pertain to all of us to one degree or another.

Feeling Pretty Lucky Today

I have just won an early review copy of Joe Abercrombie’s new book “Half a King” and this just after receiving the unabridged audio book version of Mark Lawrence’s new book “Prince of Fools”.  If you are not a member of LibraryThing.com’s early reviewers, then you are missing out on some sweet reading.

In Awe of Mass Effect

Mass Effect image

 

 

Before you say that was so last season, yes, I know the Mass Effect video game trilogy came out several years ago and, given our penchants for looking for the next great game, no one currently cares.  I; however, have just finally completed the third installment in the series.  I will admit that I was dubious of completing the series because I had long since heard gamers were upset with the ending of Mass Effect 3.  It was a controversial ending many thought at the time and, for all I know, still do.  But I decided to get a used version of Mass Effect 2, which later lead to a used version of Mass Effect 3.

First off, I will say that while at times I wanted to throw my controller through the TV because of issues with the duck and cover system and what I later noted as an intentional turning of my character to disorient me, I am just amazed by the story telling.  Let me say that again, I was amazed at the story telling!  This series, while derivative of many great works of science fiction, was a stunning achievement in space opera told in an interactive medium.

Not only did they tell a Science Fiction story on a grand scale, but they must have written multiple stories to cover the myriad of choices affecting the final ending.  For example, I learned after a second attempt to save a character I had allowed Shepard to fall in love with that there was no way I could do so given the actions and consequences of my play through of Mass Effect 2.  Maintaining a cohesive story while allowing each player to effect the telling by their choices had to be, excuse the pun, a massive headache.  I assume that they probably put some limiting factors to manage the number of branches you could follow and how they fit into the over all story, but wow.  Each player could end up with a completely unique play through yet reach a similar ending.  Sure, many players followed paths with little variation, but others could have had very different outcomes.

In retrospect, the creators of Mass Effect took the medium of video games and science fiction to new levels not necessarily appreciated by fans.  I believe some of angst toward the series came from the fact that they were not only trying to make a good video game, but also a great story.  A story that the player actually gets to live over three games.  I will admit there were times that I felt gypped out of game play because of long cinematic story telling sequences, but now, after finishing the series, I appreciate what they were doing.  The way the creators handled the ending was excellent science fiction and movie storytelling.

Spoiler Alert:

If you have not played the games and wish to after reading the above, then don’t read further, if you want to come at this without foreknowledge.  What Mass Effect does better than any franchise I know is to tell a great space opera in such a way that the gamer viscerally lives the story.  Where in books writers try to use prose to spark responses in the reader for them to envision the scene they are writing, a video game programmer can actually put you into the scene via the character you play.  A case in point, was a section very near the end where I had to survive a ridiculous pairing of Reaper laser attacks along with Banshees cutting off my escape routes.  As if this was not challenging enough, the programmers tossed in a maddening half turn my character would periodically take after a combat roll.  Basically, as I rolled away from the laser beam, my character would stand up and then turn left or right totally disorienting me.  Getting through that section was pure perseverance.  Thinking back on it; however, I feel they did this to give me a visceral feeling of what it is like to be in a life or death combat situation where you are under intense enemy attack.

As for the overall ending sequence, I can see both sides of the issue.  Being a long time gamer, I am quite use too and sometimes demand that the programmers make me fight to the very end.  Yes, tell me a good story but I want it to end in an extravagance of button pushing battle.  The one thing I noticed but did not think too much about in the first Mass Effect game was that the ending was almost entirely a cut scene sequence.  I fought my character to a certain point and achieved a task that created the opportunity for the actual ending to occur.  The actual ending was a cinematic sequence worthy of a movie.  The same is true for the final ending.  Your character does not fight hoards of enemies to the bitter end, but instead is left in a relatively quite place where a final world-changing decision has to be made.

The final choice your character has to make is worthy of stories like Startide Rising, Hyperion, and Dune and is science fiction at its best.  With all the advanced technology, alien lifeforms, and political intrigue, sometimes it all comes down to one person and their decision.  The ending was reminiscent of the conclusion of the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons or the Matrix series by the Wachowskis and tells a science fiction story better than the bulk of Hollywood’s sci-fi output.  I could only wish that Hollywood would create an epic with the same breadth and depth of the Mass Effect series.  Instead we get Alien versus Predator or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  Movies like the original Planet of the Apes and Blade Runner are few and far between (surprisingly both are only derivative of their original stories not verbatim copies).

The best part about the end is that you are made to literally live a last stand situation through your character.  At the end, your character is beaten up badly and disoriented.  Unlike a book where lots of descriptive prose would be used to convey this feeling, the programmers got the point across by stripping away all the fancy and powerful controls you have used throughout the series and leave you with only a gun you can barely lift.  Your character responses are completely sluggish and you feel like someone waking after a severe head trauma, ears filled with cotton, head ringing, and eyes watering.  Almost more cinematic than video game play; however, you still have control and have to defeat a few more aliens, very cool!  At the end, you have to drag your character along a choice of two simple paths, no explanations or hoards of aliens to fight.  One path is blue the other is red, one path ends in freedom the other continuation of what is currently happening.  You choose without anything obviously pointing to which color represents which ending, until you remember a feature of your characters development.   Throughout the series you are awarded status as a Paragon or a Renegade based on your decisions.  Paragons usually take the high road favoring peace and acceptance over force.  A Renegade, on the other hand, prefers to squash dissent and force their way through delicate situations, control over cooperation.  Paragon status was represented in blue and Renegade status in red; thus, I had the means to make my choice.  Because the hint was so tenuous and subtle, I found myself fretting all the way as I dragged my character along the path, hoping it was the one I meant to take.  Luckily it was.

To conclude, the Mass Effect series did for my science fiction gaming what Skyrim did for my fantasy gaming.  The series told a great story worthy of some of the best science fiction novels and movies by letting me inhabit an avatar, the reference is intentional, and live another life in a sprawling sci-fi universe.  It also took full advantage of the video game medium to immerse me in the story beyond what any book or movie could do.  My actions affected how the story was told and I had to struggle through intense sequences with my character.  The experience further was enhanced with great music and stunning cinematography.  In the end, I felt I got to be part of a great story and not just another bystander reading the story from a distance, which is something neither books or movies can offer you, kudos.

Realism versus Pessimism

Many people who hear me talk about the problems of this world and my home country, America, probably come away with the view that I am a pessimist.  I’ll admit that in some ways they are right, but not for the fact of what I say, but more for the fact that I have too much faith in the corruptibility and blindness of my fellow-man.  I am not talking of specific people, who can still achieve great heights of good, but of human society, which is a melting pot of all the aspects of human nature.  I believe that all the whoa-es of this country and world stem from our own inability to face our problems for what they are instead of what select people turn them into.

I come from a family background where a lot of things happened but they were kept hidden, not talked about, or directly dealt with because of the desire to keep up appearances.  I include myself as part of this problem since I to learned to hide myself behind what people expected instead of what I meant.  Only in my later decades did I learn the true costs of living a manufactured reality as opposed to facing the issues as they are.  The true cost is losing a part of yourself.

Needless to say, I am more sensitive to what people say and what they actually do.  By no means am I a master of history; however, I keep an open mind and constantly assess the promises of dogma against the reality they created.  For those that are long time readers of this blog, you are used to my method of looking at the rhetoric and taking my experiences or historical understandings to show how unrealistic the rhetoric is.

For those who are not used to the way I look at things, one example that always comes to mind is the Catholic Church.  I find it hard to believe millions of people continue following the doctrines laid down by the Vatican when they still have not dealt with pedophile Priests in a responsible manner.  How could a Church that talks about the sanctity of marriage and the wrongness of the Gay lifestyle do so little when reports of Priests harming children reached their ears?  How could they just pass the problem along in the name of saving face?  How could they persecute the victims for speaking out and not the Priests for committing the crimes? Finally, how can Catholics still have faith in a church that has done nothing, a church that does not own up to what they allowed to happen, and a church that says, trust what we say and you will be saved, yet allows Priests to commit such sins and still be part of the Church?

The Rhetoric is that the Catholic Church is your path to redemption, just keep supporting us and we will tell you all the evil things to avoid so you can enter heaven.  Don’t pay any attention to the fact that we know what evil things to avoid by allowing some of our members and leaders to commit them.  What the faithful Catholic’s who do not demand accountability of their church don’t understand is that they are equally culpable.  Ignoring evil for convenience sake is evil in and of its self.  This to me is realism.  Yes, there are a lot of factors involved; however, if you keep sweeping it under the rug instead of dealing with it, eventually your rug is sitting on a mound of dirt and your room is impassable.  I believe the problem can be fixed if people face the problem.  Pessimism means that I don’t believe the problem is fixable.

So I am a realist in what I try to express to you and why I think the way I do.  I am also a pessimist, because after looking at human history and hearing the same Rhetoric again and again, I have little faith in our ability to face the problems?  The banking mess of 2008 occurred for the same reasons as the Great Depression, the S&L Bailout, and all the Stock Bubbles of recent years, but we keep trusting these people when they say it won’t happen again.  Bones.

Music Documentaries

I thought it would be nice to share with you some great music documentaries I have watched that made me an even deeper fan of the artists in the films.  First off, Muscle Shoals, which I just recently watched.  The film tells the story behind the recording studios in Muscle Shoals Alabama and their influence on the world and the many surprising artist who started their careers their.  It is filled with deep emotion and perseverance.

Next, Standing in the Shadow of Motown, which tells the story of the musicians behind most of the hits that came out of Detroit.   The history lesson is priceless and the renditions of many hit songs with different singers his handled very well.  Third, The Promise:  The Making of a Darkness on the Edge of Town, a documentary about Bruce Springsteen’s struggle to follow-up his hit album Born to Run.  The sheer about of music he created for this one album was amazing.

Finally, The True History of the Traveling Wilburys, a look at how George Harrison brought the likes of Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynn together to make an album.  Each of these artists had success on their own but enjoyed working with others in the industry to create new sounds.  All of these videos give a glimpse of the creative effort that goes behind the iconic music we listen to and remember year after year.  In addition, they share some insights into the people who speak to our innermost hearts and the personal histories that made them able to do so.  If you have a chance, I highly recommend each and everyone of these documentaries.