Month: January 2015

Marshawn Lynch and the hilarious media circus

The week before the Super Bowl, while decidedly boring for most people, is one of the most exciting times to be a member of the media.  Every member of each team, coaches, players, mascots (probably) are contractually required to attend several press conferences in which throngs of story-hungry media professions attempt to extract every bit of information possible.  Sure, this is kind of a hectic time, but at the same time it’s a tradition, and usually both players and members of the media find a way to have fun.

Marshawn Lynch is having fun.

Lynch, who has been subject to numerous fines for not communicating with the media, is well known for his unwillingness to partake in interviews, press conferences, and generally just being cooperative.  Lynch has never been combative, as he either chooses to skip allotted media times, or he simply answers all questions with the exact same phrase, a tactic he’s employed several times this season already.

The NFL has rules regarding communication with the media for a reason.  Sports writers, for example, will have trouble crafting an readable story if they can’t get any sort of first-person attribution from members of the team.  Getting quotes is an important part of news writing because it allows the reader to connect on a more intimate level with the story.  NFL players, for the most part, are a highly paid bunch, especially if someone is actually worth talking to.  So Lynch, who made $6 million this season, is being really selfish by refusing to talk to media, right?

Lynch grew up on Oakland, California, a locale you might recognize as “hood-ish”.  He had a rough upbringing, lacked a father figure, and numerous run-ins with authority figures as a young man caused him to distrust anyone not included in his inner circle.  Fast forward to his NFL days, the All-Pro running back is now looking down the barrel of dozens of media members each Sunday, with several thousand seeking to crack his shell this week.  Because of his lack of cooperation or downright refusal to talk to media, the NFL had levied several hundred thousand dollars in fines against the Seahawks premier ball carrier.

In fact, the NFL has threatened a $500,000 against Lynch if he refuses to talk to media during Super Bowl week.  That $500,000 number is actually the maximum  fine allowed under the league constitution, and it also the monetary value the NFL fined the New Orleans Saints for the “BountyGate” scandal, the players and coaching staff paid bonuses for intentionally injuring other players.  Roger Goodell is effectively suggesting refusal to cooperate with media to the fullest extent warrants the exact same punishment as a subsidiary of his corporation intentionally injuring his employees.  This would be like the federal government fining the post office $500,000 for losing someone’s mail while another office is fined the exact same amount after one of the mail clerks stabbed seven people.

What do I know, though.

Five lessons I learned from video games

I’ve been notably absent from this site.  That’s not good.  Here’s to some more regularity.

According to general pop-culture rules, I am not technically considered “a gamer”, because sites like Reddit, Memebase, etc. feel a “gamer” is someone who pretty much dedicates their livelihood to playing video games across multiple platforms with varying genres, storylines, and gameplay.  I realized playing FIFA and Far Cry does not make me a “gamer”.

So, being ostracized from a demographic aside, I feel my childhood, teenage years, and most of my adulthood so far have been riled with virtual reality.  And I’m okay with that.  As a graduate of a program in which media effects are stressed, I’ve researched much about “influence” of games on the feeble, pre-pubescent mind, and I’ve drawn starkly unfocused conclusions; some researchers feel video games serve no purpose whatsoever in forming the mind, while others feel Grand Theft Auto will make you stab your mom in the heart and then punch a cop.  Personally, I feel the effects of video games lie somewhere in the middle where there’s no cop punching or mom stabbing and also a lack of nothing.  In fact, I feel video games have had a pretty decent effect on my mind, and this boring conclusion will end as I sum up these effects:

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

I’ll begin my spirited discussion with what I consider to be the most perfect video game ever created.  The incredible graphics, endless hours of gameplay, immersive storylines, unlimited fun to be had in Skyrim is impressive, yes, but the most amazing thing about this game is the fact from the very beginning you are dropped into the middle of the immense, enormous world with no more instructions than “have fun”.  Since it’s a role-playing game, you are required to create a character, choosing between about 10 different “classes”  If you want to be a burly, Nordic lumberjack, that’s awesome, but if you want to be an  English-speaking lizard, that’s also cool.  There’s a main story line, but you could go the entirety of the game without actually playing a single story mission and still log hundreds of hours playing.  There are big, loud “slay this dragon and try to not destroy the town missions” and there’s “I got super high on opium so please go find my sword in this cave” missions.  The sheer bigness of the game is breathtaking, and you can, without a trace of hyperbole, live life however you choose in the world of Skyrim.  And that teaches an important lesson.  You begin as a nameless, faceless prisoner facing death at Helgen and end as a champion, dragon slaying lizard-person named “Eddie Lizzard” standing triumphantly over the slain Alduin as the god’s of a past time revere your name.  Skyrim, more than anything, is representative of life itself.  You begin with nothing, and it’s up to your to make the most of life, but you truly are the harbinger for success and glory.

Pokemon 

Pokemon is a rare game that’s remained in my adulthood despite endless hours logged as a child.  For anyone not familiar, you take the reigns of a young child in a world full of amazing, wonderful creatures known as Pokemon.  You capture, train, and fight these little critters to within inches of their lives in violent battles for the owner’s glory.  But, it’s not the camaraderie, success, or adventure that sets Pokemon apart as a real lesson-teacher; Pokemon teaches you life is meaningless unless you establish a lifelong nemesis.  In the original Pokemon games, they mirrored the television show, as your character “Red” (or “Ash”, whatever) meets with Professor Oak and his grandson Gary.  The game, however, leaves this encounter a bit more ambiguous, as the bewildered and confused Professor Oak begins your journey with a lengthy, schizophrenic explanation of the Pokemon world.  After ranting for several minutes, Oak seems to come to his senses and asks for your name.  The game, obviously, lists both “Red” and “Ash” as possible names, as hoping the player will attempt to emulate the character from their favorite television show.  I typically chose something like “Dan”, “Sgt. Awesome”, or “Jefferson Rockflex”.  Professor Oak goes on to introduce you to his grandson, a stranger he ominously refers to as “your lifelong rival” suggesting some sort of predetermined, Indian arranged relationship has gone on in Pallet Town.  Oak then displays a remarkable lack of foresight, instantly forgetting his grandson’s name in a moment of senility so severe you could almost feel his hospice nurse’s heart skip a beat.  Heroically, Jefferson Rockflex steps in to provide guidance to the confused old professor, as the game gives options such as “Blue” or “Gary”, again, hoping you emulate the television show.  Despite the game all but telling you which name to pick, society seems to have collectively decided “Gary’s” name is either “Fartface” or “Weiner”, as the rejuvenated professor declares, “Yes, I remember now, my grandson’s name is Fartface!”  You and Fartface proceed to battle your way through the game, meeting several times to fight each other, before ultimately meeting again in the final battle of the Pokemon league.  You see, Fartface was your reason for wanting to be the Pokemon champion.  The game was never about the adventure, making friends, or catching lots of Pokemon.  It was about beating Fartface.  And that’s just like life.  Behind every fast car, big house, or pile of money is a man rubbing his hands together knowing he got the better of his Fartface.

NFL Blitz

I am not one to criticize games like Battlefield and Call of Duty for making the exact same game every year, because doing so would be hypocritical of me.  This is because I’ve purchased Madden every year since 2005 despite the games possessing not much more than a different player on the cover and the exclusion of whichever players murdered their girlfriends.  In fact, I considered dedicating part of this article to Madden, as the franchise mode has taught me a lot about finances, team building, and re-working rosters to ensure I’ve built an amazing team while stockpiling seven first round draft picks.  When I was younger, another game existed, piquing both my interest in NFL football and insatiable need for violenc:  NFL Blitz combined both traditional football gameplay with a twisted, horrific alternate reality in which late hits and unnecessary roughness weren’t enforced.  Blitz was everything a child wanted in a football video game:  there was no need for strategy, as every new set of downs was an absurd first and 30, all but eliminating the possibility of establishing a running game.  Since every play was a pass and penalties weren’t enforced, kids could clothesline a receiver foolishly running an intermediate slant route with a punishing blow seconds before the ball even left the quarterback’s arm.  And most importantly, every play was followed by a rambunctious bout of leg-drops, body slams, and elbow smashes, as even successful plays were met with a helping of vengeance served in a box of violence.  Post-whistle violence was not only unpenalized, but encouraged, as the camera would pan to the tackled player, all but begging the defensive players to dogpile the crippled ball carrier.  As a kid, I loved this game more than anything.  Recently, my friends and I started playing Blitz again, and I won’t lie for a second; it’s an absolute blast.  However, I’ve learned why I stopped playing Blitz and switched to Madden as a grew older; I couldn’t stand the no-calls.  A few weeks ago I was playing with some friends, and I threw a pass, only to have my brother (on the opposite team) crush my wide receiver moments before the ball arrived.  I found myself, in all sincerity, saying “that’s pass interference!”  And at that moment I realized something: I was getting old.  Blitz taught me that the things about football I used to hate (running the ball, offsides penalties, no post-play body slams) were a great gimmick, but when it came down to it, I wanted to play real (virtual) football with real rules, real strategy, and real animation, so 340-pound Casey Hampton wasn’t designed using the same body as 200-pound Kordell Stewart.

Grand Theft Auto 3

Admittedly, I probably started playing this game too young.  The adult themes, prevalent violence, and constant disgusting humor made that game a parent’s nightmare.  And give my parents credit, they didn’t buy me that game, ever.  The first game I got was Vice City, and I think I was already like 14 at the time (it’s been that long already, wow).  I remember in 5th of 6th grade one of my buddies had GTA3 and I would play it at his house when I slept over sometimes.  I remember how much fun it was to just drive around in the car, jump over stuff, and then shoot it until it exploded.  I even loved the more morbid aspects of the game, like systemically murdering bystanders with a sniper rifle like Charles Wittman.  Even back then, I remember how controversial that game was, as people on the news talked about how it was degrading to society, it damaged kids’ minds, and games like GTA were responsible for violent behavior.  It seemed a lot of lawmakers looked to the Columbine Massacre (Eric Harris loved playing DOOM, a violent game) as an example of violent video games leading to outbreaks of violence.  And honestly, I can recall hearing those things and thinking, “Wow, what if these games make me develop violent behavior?” and then I remembered my parents had raised me to not be an idiot so quickly dismissed such an absurd notion.  Grand Theft Auto 3, at the time, was the most amazing piece of video gaming I’d ever seen, and back then I didn’t think they would ever top it.  Even when I had my own Grand Theft Auto game, I was 13 or 14 years old, I was reasonably intelligent, mature, and possessed the understanding that it was NOT okay to shoot a police station with a rocket launcher.  You see, the most common problem critics of games like GTA point to is called the “desensitization effect”.  In any mass medium, whether it be television, movies, music, video games, or a Scrabble tournament, researchers point to an excess amount of anything; sex, drugs, violence, leads to viewers building up a “tolerance” for such despicable depictions.  In fact, researchers have even concluded violent games, for example, have been shown to lead to “increased aggression” amongst juveniles.  What they fail to include, however, is the fact prior aggression wasn’t tested, which means their theories are sort of flawed.  If a kid is already, say, prone to spray-painting cats, shooting a couple of police officers might make him act more aggressively.  Another excuse that gets annoying is how “modern day things are so realistic it just adds fuel to the violence fire” (i’m paraphrasing).  To that, I welcome anyone old enough to dig deep into their collective memories and remember either the Woody Woodpecker episode where he commits suicide or the Tom and Jerry episode where Tom’s points a loaded gun at Jerry, in a children’s cartoon.  And don’t even get me started on the “news” broadcasts that being as: “tonight at 11, are violent video games dangerous to kids?  But first, here’s a story about a serial killer who burned down 10 orphanages with a lighter made of dead bald eagles.”  GTA has taught me the opposite of aggression and violence, and any reasonable person should know the different.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Geez, that last entry got a little rant-ey.  No matter.  The very first game I can remember playing as a child is Sonic the Hedgehog.  I was not welcomed to an expansive open world, I didn’t have a lifelong rival to compete with, I couldn’t hit anyone after the whistle, and I certainly couldn’t murder any cops, but what I could do was run really fast across a pixellated rainforest level with a blue, supersonic hedgehog.  This game had no purpose than get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and it’s one of the greatest video games of all time.  Across the level lay thousand of gold rings, which Sonic could collect, which contributed to his high score, allowed him to generate hit points, and every hundred granted an extra life.  Sonic could collect as many rings as possible in any given level, where they would be forfeited every time he advanced through a zone.  If Sonic absorbed damage from an enemy, he would lose all the rings, watching helplessly as hundreds of rings exit his tiny, blue body.  If Sonic possessed no rings, then he would die instantly from a hit.  And in the rings lies the lesson.  As I mentioned, the goal of the game was to get from one end of the level to the other, as quickly as possible.  In fact, this sentiment is reaffirmed by the fact extra bonus points were awarded for completing a level as quickly as possible, and by the obvious fact Sonic’s name implies he’s quite the speedy critter.  With this in mind, you have two choices:  power through the levels at breakneck speeds and attempt to clear levels as fast as possible, or take your time and collect as many rings as possible to account for the time lost to make it up in the final score.  Despite taking it slowly and acquiring coins seemed like the smart way to go, I’ve learned the faster way is actually the way to go, a fact which translates to everyday life.  Look at the rings as wealth.  The slow, careful Sonic will acquire more wealth in the short term, moving along ensuring he acquires every last bit of wealth.  This serves as a bit of an old fashioned approach to wealth management.  Although the wealth will grow in the form of both rings and extra lives, some obvious downfalls exist.  For one, even if Sonic has, let’s say, 300 rings, a single hit from an enemy will lead to him losing most of them.  Then, you are left with no rings, and a poor time score, which makes the overall score suffer.  Even if Sonic is able to finish an entire zone with all his rings in tact, entering a new zone means he forfeits all of his wealth, which makes it all for nothing.  Meanwhile, the speed-rounder is adopting a new strategy on the fly to account for his lack of rings.  To me, this is comparable to the current state of the economy.  We have all the slower, old-fashioned folks who were the rare breed to finish college, finished with almost no loans, and were given jobs easily.  Because of the simplicity of acquiring jobs, they never had to strive for more with their skill set.  An older doctor would be unlikely to relearn all the newer technologies, while an aging journalist is great with the pen, but can’t design, perform photography, or manage web traffic, readership, or package an entire story.  Meanwhile, people like myself are holding college degrees at a higher rate than ever, meaning there’s much more competition.  This means jobs are harder, meaning we don’t have time to just carefully, slowly take our time with things.  We needs to constantly be learning on the fly, increasing our knowledge, and being multi-proficient, and with the overall higher level of knowledge, teamed with the competition, my generation will be an amazing workforce.  You see, innovation (going fast through levels, ignoring rings) reigns supreme over settling with older strategies (taking your time with rings.)

You are welcome for the greatest analogy of all time.

Tips for living a better life

As a 23-year old graduate student working part-time as a cook, looking down the barrel of mountains of student loans, I am basically an expert on life.

I hope you detected the sarcasm in that statement, as I fully believe I have no idea about anything in life.  But, fortunately for me, does anyone really have it “all figured out?”  I’ve written before about simplicity, and I feel living simpler is ultimately an upgrade in one’s life.

No matter what the current state of your life is, I have some suggestions about how to improve it, even if marginally so.

6. De-stress

Stress is an ugly, cancerous issue every person with a pulse will ultimately have to deal with.  Money issues, relationship problems and careers can all lead to devastating amounts of stress.  While some stress is impossible to deal with, other things can be easily handled.  While I realize this statement is far easer said than done, I encourage anyone with a lot of their mind to get two thing; a pen and paper.  Sit down, and write down literally every single thing on that list that’s stressing you out.  Then, once you’ve probably expressed every ounce of stress, organize the list into two columns: “what I can control” and “what I can’t control”.  Once you have two separate lists, throw the list of things you can’t control in the garbage.  And forget about it.  There’s a reason you can’t control those things, so dwelling on them will solve nothing.  You should now be left with one list.  Now, go down the list of things you can control, and begin hatching a strategy for attacking each item.  Money problems?  Start saving, pay off some depth, cut back on spending.  If it’s a seemingly unfixable situation, consult a financial advisor.  Seek help for your finances.  Find someone to talk to.  Relationship issues?  Talk to your partner, seek counseling, plan a trip together.  Fix what needs fixed.  Can’t find a job?  Practice.  If you are a frustrated writer, (for example) start writing.  Write every day.  Keep trying.  Do whatever you can to help yourself.  Once a plan of attack is hatched to address the items on your list, put that strategy into action and fix some of the problems in your life.  Be proactive and attack the stresses in your life, and destroy them.

5.  Give your brain a workout

January is an amazing month because it comes with unparalleled amounts of optimism.  It’s infectious and encouraging to see so many people attempting to make changes in their lives.  However, in my brief time here on this fine Earth, I’ve noticed people are more interested in working out their physical beings, rather than working on internal issues.  “Getting in shape”, although I have no data to support this, is the overwhelming favorite answer for “what’s your New Year’s resolution?”  And I totally respect that.  Wanting to look and feel better is an admirable goal, and anyone attempting to better themselves should be applauded.  But, while people work on slimmer stomachs or bigger muscles, it seems as if the brain is neglected entirely.  I’m not advocating reading IKEA manuals or catching up on the finer points of “The Art of War”, heck, I’m not even suggesting you actually pick up a book.  You see, we live in a wonderful time, where books and newspaper are available right on the devices we hover around for 10 hours.  Instead of reading gossip websites, watching YouTube videos or harassing others on comment boards, be more proactive with your down time.  Read a news site, listen to music (really listen to it), start a blog.  Write more than just 160 characters at a time.  Read more than just status updates.  Find short stories, poems, articles, anything that you can take information away from.  Instead of watching television, kill it for even an hour a night and work on crosswords, or Sudoku.  If you can’t stop watching television, watch something other than “Two Broke Girls.”  Find a documentary.  Encourage yourself to think critically about things.  Ask questions, and then go on your computer and answer those questions.  Keep your brain sharp.

4.  More gatherer, less hunter

My mom is a vegetarian.  Not in a hippie “save the environment” kind of way, but my mom just really loves animals.  It’s a decision I respect her for not pushing on my dad, my siblings or myself, and looking back, she kind of has a point.  A diet consisting of mostly red meat is a quick way to gain weight, get heart disease and be impossibly sweaty all the time.  While most diet fads are ridiculous, aspects of each of them have their perks.  Atkins encourages cutting carbs entirely.  Instead of going full-on no carbs, consider switching things you eat.  Buy whole grain pasta and brown rice (they basically taste the same) and cut out white bread, opting for whole or multi-grain breads.  Paleo diets stress the importance of eating like a knuckle-dragging caveman.  Instead of whatever they do, opt for a diet consisting of natural ingredients.  Snack on granola, not potato chips.  Substitute vegetables for starches, and save the red meat for special occasions, eating fish or poultry on the normal days.  Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.  Meat is delicious, but the wonderful protein it provides can be acquired elsewhere.  And most importantly, drink lots and lots of water.  You will feel better.  Changing your diet isn’t always about losing weight or getting thinner, it’s a lifestyle change that allows you to feel better.

3.  Take responsibility for a life

I’ll have children someday, but not for a while.  But, instead, I have two cats.  So it’s basically the same.  At the risk of sounding like a crazy cat person, I feel it’s worth mentioning how rewarding caring for another living thing can be.  Without Haley and I taking care of these two animals, they would die.  Even things like changing their litter, playing and engaging with my cats pay off because I get that moment when you know another living thing loves you.  Human love is awesome, I get to experience it every day and I’m so lucky for that, but it’s a different kind of feeling when a living thing you are responsible for appreciates your efforts and loves you back.  I’m sure parents could probably more eloquently sum up what it’s like to care for a living thing that loves and trusts you instinctively, and that’s awesome for them.  For now, I have to experience that responsibility and payoff with a pair of black cats.  Caring for something that needs you also teaches you things about yourself.  For example, our youngest cat, Pearl, has a weird obsession with scratching everything.  Haley and I have an apartment, with Ace and Pearl pretty much allowed free rein to go wherever they want, with the exception of the bedroom.  Since we got her, each morning Pearl waits outside of our bedroom door, meowing and scratching until one of us gets up to show her a little bit of attention.  Once she’s satisfied with the amount of attention she’s received, she leaves us alone.  As annoying as it is to be awoken at 8 am on a Saturday by a cat, it’s kind of heartwarming to know she literally just craves our attention.  That’s a rewarding feeling.

2.  Believe in something

I consider myself a Christian, but I’m not here to push people towards religion.  Obviously, religion is a great thing to believe in.  In my case, the Bible acts as a blueprint (not a rulebook, as some suggest) as a way to appropriately live your life.  Doing good for others, loving others as yourself, being selfless, not killing your neighbor, etc are all things humanity should strive for, regardless of their views of Christianity.  Whether you accept this fact or not, what you believe in often defines who you are.  If politics are where your hardcore beliefs reside, then you can probably be lumped into a category.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  So often, we are taught to be individuals, not conforming to the norms and rules of societal pressures.  Why?  There’s nothing wrong with being labeled, so long as that label is appropriate.  Most of the time people get the labels as the results of an action.  The guy who storms into a fast food restaurant and yells at the teenage cashier because he only got six packs of ranch instead of seven is going to be labeled as a jerk.  Likewise, the woman who donates her free time to helping homeless children will be labeled as a gracious person.  Believe in something greater than yourself, and it will allow you to live a more fulfilling life.  If every decision is made with selfish intent, then you believe only in yourself, and that’s no way to go through life.

1.  Slow down

A lot has changed for me over the past year.  I’ve gotten married, moved, started a new job, began school and now have to begin considering career paths.  One day, as I headed home from school in rush-hour traffic, I noticed something; I wasn’t upset.  Before I moved, I was from a town with three stop lights.  If I hit one of them I was in a near blind rage.  Living in a highly populated metropolitan region like Pittsburgh, I was worried my road rage would get worse.  For a while, I was right.  Driving home sucked, driving to school sucked, driving to the store sucked.  All that waiting began taking a mental toll on me, as I could literally feel the inflated blood pressure begin to give me headaches.  And then, over time, I just…got used to it.  The waiting.  At a certain point, I just accepted I was going to sit in traffic for 45 minutes, so I turned on some music and literally would daydream.  As unsafe as that may sound, keep in mind this is sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on a very congested highway, so my senses were still surprising alert.  When I accepted the traffic situation would never get better, a tremendous wave hit me and I felt more at peace than I think I ever had.  My mind became more active.  I gave opposing drivers names and .  I wondered where they were headed, how their day was at work.  I simulated their lives, dreams and occupations in the time I spent in my car.  It got to the point I welcomed the awful traffic.  For me, it was the ultimate irony, as I sat in the middle of thousands of angry commuters in a major city, and I felt as if I was in the most peaceful place I’ve ever been.  This taught me to slow things down in life.  If you’re always in a hurry to move things along, new career, new house, new car, then you become fixated on “what’s next” rather than “what’s happening now.”  You can think about past memories, and you can look forward to the future, but the present is constantly passing us by, so if you don’t pause to appreciate it, then you’re missing out on a good portion of your life.  It’s clichéd to say, but the best advice I could possibly give someone is to just enjoy their life as it happens, learn from mistakes, and don’t dwell on the future.  Let life happen, and you will live happier.

Five of the craziest thing I’ve learned on Wikipedia

When I was in seventh grade, I stumbled upon Wikipedia while researching the country of Rwanda for a geography project.  Until that day, I’d never heard of Wikipedia, but found myself immediately immersed in the endless and unlimited supply of interesting knowledge supplied in the files of the giant website.  In subsequent years, educators stressed the unreliability of Wikipedia, stating the facts contains within its articles were false.  When I found this out, I felt totally cheated and sought to get to the bottom of Wikipedia’s scheming ways.

I’ve since learned all my teachers were liars and only tried to break up the beautiful and majestic relationship between student and Wikipedia because Wikipedia is a free source of knowledge, while “reliable and trustworthy” sites like EBSCO Host or JSTOR cost the school money, so teachers are kind of forced to push them on students.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written A TON of research papers for school, and I’ve used JSTOR so much I think they are sending me a free t-shirt in the mail, but I’ve always begun my research by checking what Wikipedia had to say on the subject.

A few years ago, I realized Wikipedia was no longer just an illicit form of educational knowledge I could exploit for an easier path to knowledge superstardom, but a legitimate form of entertainment.  I have spent many late nights playing video games or crushing a new series on Netflix, but without a doubt the majority of my downtime is spent reading Wikipedia.

You see, I pride myself on my plethora of pointless, trivial knowledge that hopefully will someday be useful.  It probably wont, but it can’t hurt.  Anyway, over the last several years spending countless hours scouring through Wikipedia, I’ve learned a ridiculously diverse amount of pointless knowledge.

5.  The Stone Fish makes you want to amputate your own limbs

If there is one advantage the animal kingdom has over humanity, it’s the fact that certain members of the Animalia phylum are toxic.  Keep in mind, there is a discernible difference between “poisonous” and “venomous”, but’s I’m not here to split hairs so for the sake of argument let’s pretend the two are the same.  Of course, possessing a natural toxic is a defense mechanism, as some animals would be utterly defenseless against predators otherwise.  But sometimes toxins serve a useless purpose, such as a spider, whose venom plays a key role in their digestion.  Spiders literally fill their prey with toxins, dissolving their insides into a liquid so the spider can then drink their victims through a convenient and horrifying straw.  Other animals, such as the Stone Fish, possess toxins for no other reason than to screw with humans.  For starters, the Stone Fish looks like this:

Ugly as he is, his name certainly seems wildly appropriate given the rock-like appearance.  The venom from a Stonefish can absolutely kill a human being, terrifying considering these fellas prefer to hang out in warmer, shallower water.  The fish is covered in hundreds of tiny spines, each of which capable of delivering a toxic sting.  And whoa boy, the sting is not fun.  The venom attacks the immune, respiratory and central nervous systems, as a victims typically reports difficulty breathing, coughing, nausea and vomiting minutes after a sting.  Eventually, a victim will begin to have seizures, experience delirium, and possible paralysis.  If untreated, a full size, healthy adult human could die within a day.  Fortunately, an antivenom exists, and there has been only a singular reported fatality as a result of a Stonefish sting.  However, because of the type of poison extracted, the victim could potentially wish for the sweet relief of death.  The sting, almost immediately, causes the patient to experience such a severe pain, victims have described the sensations as “being on fire” or “being hit with a sledgehammer”, while some victims have outright requested the affected limb be hacked right off.  One unlucky guy even reported feeling severe kidney pain periodically years after he was pricked in his little finger.  Stonefish antivenom is the second most administered in Australia and yes of course this fish is from Australia, where all things horrible and deadly reside.  Unfortunately, both Florida and the Caribbean Islands have pretty darn warm water, so Stonefish are reported to have made a home in these areas as well.

4.  People Love 9/11 Conspiracy Theories

Anyone alive during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 will never forget the events of that day; where they were, who they heard the news from, the looks on their parents faces.  My mom compared that day to the day JFK was assassinated, while others said the same about Pearl Harbor.  It was (and remains) the worst terrorist attack on a foreign country in the history of ever with the 2,996 perishing.  For comparisons sake’s the second worst terrorist attack ever (in Iran) saw just over 700 people lose their lives, while the second worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil claimed 168 lives.  Despite the horrible tragedy that had just unfolded, brave, intelligent conspiracy theorists rose from their computers in the darkest, most secluded of basements to point fingers at any number of factors that could’ve caused the attacks, except, of course for Jihadism as was being reported, because that’s never happened before (go here to see that that has indeed happened before, on numerous occasions).  Because people know George W. Bush would respond unfavorably to a hurricane in 2006, people and their remarkable ability to see five years into the future opined Bush as the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks.  In fact, so many different outlets were blamed, everyone from the Federal Government to Eminem, the Wikipedia article for 9/11 Conspiracy Theories is of equal length to the Wikipedia article about the actual 9/11 attacks.  Most people in favor of a conspiracy theory point to the collapse of the towers as the most sketchy aspect of the events.  Jet fuel, apparently, does not burn hot enough to melt steel according to people who believe in conspiracy theories.  Members of the engineering community (i.e., people extraordinary more intelligent than you or I) have said the conspiracy theories are ridiculous.  Considering everyone from the Illuminati to Tupac himself was partially responsible for 9/11, according to the 9/11 truth movement, who themselves could be most accurately compared to the Westboro Baptist Church, subsequent attacks in both London and Madrid were probably also George Bush’s fault.

3.  The Aokigahara Forest is apparently an awesome place to kill yourself

Despite the how cryptic that opening title sounded, it’s every bit the true.  How true?  Since 1988, over a hundred suicides, on average, occur in the forest each year, making Aokigahara Forest the second most popular place in the world to commit suicide, following the majestic and picturesque Golden Gate Bridge.  Suicides are said to increase towards the end of March, the end of the Japanese fiscal year, and the preferred method is either hanging or drug overdose.  The thick, dense forest, the prevalence for suicides, and the tremendously influx or tourists the forest sees each year leads to some horrifying discoveries, most notably, finding a dead body hanging from a tree in a creepy forest like that midget who hung himself in Wizard of Oz.  The Aokigahara Forest, apparently is absolutely polluted with signs urging people not to kill themselves, which would be disconcerting to say the least to any visitor unaware of the forest’s macabre reputation.  In 2007, officials pulled over 100 bodies from he forest, exceeding the previous record of 78 from 2003, and also breaking the record for most inappropriate record to actually record.  To top of the terrifying cake of horror, the forest is said to be haunted by the souls of those who perish in the forest, as the demon god (sounds like they should cancel each other out) Yueri allegedly gets pretty upset when people kill themselves.  Japan has since stopped reporting the number of suicides that occur in the forest in a given year in hopes of shedding Aokigahara’s reputation as a “suicide forest.”  Unfortunately for Japanese officials, when you routinely fish several dozen corpses out of the woodwork, a sketchy reputation is something you might have to just live with.

2.  No one can name the worst natural disaster in history

Quick, without thinking about it or reading any further, what do you think is the worst natural disaster that can happen?  An earthquake, tsunami, maybe a tornado?  Okay, now, what event do you think was the worst natural disaster in history by death toll (which his how the worst-ness should be judged)?  The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004?  Maybe the Haitian earthquake a few years back?  At the risk of sounding like a hipster begrudgingly admitting his favorite folk band, I would like to suggest most people reading this could probably not name the worst natural disaster in history.  I’ll tell you!  It was a flood!

China was facing some issues between 1928-1930.  A two-year long drought was beginning to seriously threaten both infrastructure and the lives of millions of Chinese citizens.  In the winter of 1930, Chinese was crushed with snow.  Like a Buffalo amount of snow.  The horrible winter wasn’t too inspiring for several million citizens who just endured a drought that lasted twice as long as Lane Kiffin’s Oakland Raiders coaching career.  However, the spring of 1931 granted the patient Chinese citizens with rain.  But, then the rain became a tad problematic, as the heavy rains coupled with the massive snowmelt began to overflow rivers.  Then, in July nine cyclones hit the region (a cyclone is like a hurricane), whereas the average was two cyclones per year.  The combination of these unfortunate meteorological events lead to the flooding of the Yangtze River, the biggest river in China, which ultimately killed several million people.  The most conservative of estimates put the death toll at over a million, while more realistic calculations approximate the death toll at nearly four million lost souls.

1.  Dubai is insane

Dubai, one of the seven Emirates of the UAE, is currently the 22nd richest city in the world, with a hotel room in Dubai costing most folks a second mortgage.  Just over 20 years ago, Dubai was an upstart country, kind of in an awkward position with the whole Gulf War thing happening.  They were sitting on their fair share of oil money, but for the most part Dubai looked like a desert town with a few hotels you wouldn’t think twice about passing through.  And then, the Gulf War ended, sending an influx of Lebanese, Kuwaiti, and western businesses to the tiny emirate.  Also, oil prices skyrocketed.  All things considered, Dubai was in a pretty sweet position for expansion, and they did just that.  Over the past 20 years, Dubai has gone from a small-upstart oil town, to a global economic power and one of the most luxurious cities on the planet.  Here is there transformation:

The picture above would be the equivalent of Bayou LeBatre, Alabama turning into Birmingham, Alabama in 15 years, and then Birmingham turning into New York City in seven more years.  A focus on architecture and making everything as tall and weird as possible led Dubai to creating a hotel that looks like a sailboat:

To the largest free standing structure ever constructed:

And an artificial chain of islands:

Despite the insanity of the structures, the luxurious lifestyles, and $4,000 hotel rooms, Dubai is considered a pretty awesome place to live, a remarkable distinction considering the decade-long volatility of the entire Middle Eastern region.

Five of the weirdest happenings in the Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court is one of the most prestigious positions a judge can hold, as each of the nine-member committee was hand selected by an acting President of the United States.  A Supreme Court nomination is a life sentence, as Justices are given an unlimited term as a judge, opting to leave on their own terms, whether it be for the thrills of a relaxing retirement or the sweet kiss of death.  Although the justices hear only 70 or so cases a year, they tend to be pretty busy, as any case worthy of Supreme Court recognition clearly has some sort of constitutional ramifications.

This information in mind, it’s important to note the Supreme Court involves a human element, and no Justice now (nor ever) has ever been perfect.  Some decisions have been questionable, while others remain controversial, but some have been so bone-headingly ill-advised the justices are faced with no choice but to figuratively hang their heads in shame.

Since Justices run on a tight schedule, sometimes some hasty decisions can be made, leading to lasting impacts that are, for a lack of a better word, strange.

5.  Hustler Magazine v. Falwell

As a televangelist, the rivalry between Jerry Falwell and Hustler Magazine was almost a given (for those of you unfamiliar with Hustler I would recommend NOT Google imaging that).  Hustler’s founder Larry Flynt, among other things, is also a champion of first amendment rights, taking numerous cases to court to argue for the freedom of speech.  In 1983, Flynt teamed up with Campari (cryptically and redundantly described only as ‘an alcoholic liquor’) to compose an ad that would be featured in an upcoming issue of Hustler.  Flynt decided to run an ad titled “My first time” which chronicles Falwell’s first time drinking Campari.  The ad, set up in an interview format, was meant to be a satirical, fictional, not-actually-Jerry Falwell account of him misinterpreting the questions as asking about his first sexual encounter, which he graphically describes.  Long story short, the fictional ad suggests Falwell’s first sexual encounter was an incestuous affair with his own mother in a family outhouse.  The advertisement was disgusting, derogatory, and most importantly, hilarious.  However, Falwell (obviously) didn’t find the ad very funny and sued the ever-loving bejesus out of Hustler, claiming an intentional infliction of emotional distress, which for those of you not up to date on your law language basically means Falwell was claiming defamation.  The case ultimately made it to the Supreme Court.  For a defamation case to have feet, it needs to satisfy a plethora of conditions, namely, the defamation in question needs to include actual malice, which it didn’t, because Falwell, as a televangelist was an all-purpose public figure, meaning proving actual malice would’ve been the legal equivalent to Kobe Bryant proving he really didn’t force himself on that girl.  The court saw it that way, and sided with Hustler, ruling “since the language in question was clearly satirical” they couldn’t go forward with defamation proceedings, which marked the first time in the history of the Supreme Court a court case involving the fidelity of someone’s mother was in question.

4.  Buck v. Bell

Speaking of incest, (that’s how you transition, folks) let’s revisit an old case from rural Virginia.  Unlike the obvious hilarity of the Falwell case, they Buck v. Bell details are decidedly more depressing.  This next sentence will be very difficult to understand, but here it goes:  Carrie Buck, a young woman, was raped by her adoptive mother’s nephew-in-law, and then became pregnant. Unfortunately, Buck, her mother, and the nephew were all deemed “feeble-minded” (how people in the 1920’s said ‘mentally challenged’ because appropriately diagnosing mental illness was apparently decades away).  In fact, Buck’s 52-year old mother was said to have the brain capacity of an 8-year old, while Buck herself wound up institutionalized as a result of her illness.  Of course, the illegitimate child ended up having severe mental defects, leading the hospital to sterilize the young Buck (pun by no means intended) against her will.  The case went to the Supreme Court, where the court shockingly, in a 8-1 decision determined the hospital was within their right to have Buck sterilized, preventing future childbirth and in the process eliminating more “feeble-minded” offspring to “pollute the gene pool.”  Those are not my words, and apparently political correctness didn’t exist in 1927 either, as Justice Wendall Holmes begrudgingly ended his majority decision with “three generations of imbeciles is enough” which is about as appropriate as Forrest Gump’s mom telling him he really was too stupid to go to public school.

3.  Korematsu v. United States

This case, unequivocally, is the most controversial case in the history of the Supreme Court.  After the Pearl Harbor attacks and ultimate declaration of war in 1941, the United States became a little nervous of Japanese people.  In a move literally only paralleled by Nazi Germany, President Franklin Roosevelt passed Executive Order 9066 in May of 1942, which authorized the declaration of military zones, which wound up paving the way for internment camps.  An internment camp, more or less, was a military compound which housed any and all Japanese citizens rounded up by the United States military.  Fred Korematsu, a native of San Francisco, and you known, an American citizen who happened to be half Japanese, naturally refused to go to such a camp.  When he was forced to do so or be imprisoned, he sued the United States, arguing that there order was a violation of the fifth amendment, which David Chappelle eloquently summarized as “pleadin’ da fif.”  When the case finally made it the the Supreme Court, opinion was split, but the justices ultimately ruled in favor of the United States in a 6-3 decision.  Justice Hugo Black left not a trace of ambiguity in his reasoning, declaring the US had a compelling interest in segregating an entire race of people, based on ancestry, to what amounted to several hundred acres in the West Coast.  Because the U.S. feared another attack from Japan, they government took the classic “all Asians look the same” stereotype and pushed its limits, effectively deciding, “all Japanese people are working together to destroy America, because they look the same”.  The case was subsequently criticized, with the court admitting they were wrong with Ronald Reagan going as far as actually apologizing to all Japanese people as a result of internment camps.  Fortunately, the government paid the nearly 83,000 displaced Asian Americans $20,000 each, which given the circumstances, amounts to the same amount of rent they would’ve paid for a modest 2-bedroom apartment if they hadn’t spent three years locked in a dusty, Oregonian prison camp.  Most disturbingly of all, last year, Justice Antonin Scalia stated internment was wrong, but he could see it happening again during wartime.

2.  Antonin Scalia

Oh man, another glorious transition on my part.  I’m nailing this article.  Anyway, justice Scalia, known for his devil may care attitude, strong view of the textual aspects of the constitution and being the Nick Carter to the remainder of the Court’s Backstreet Boys, has certainly had his fair share of “uh, what?” moments in the court.  Scalia has publicly stated he has the same views of murder as he does of homosexuality (both wrong in his eyes), which given the frankness of the statement, isn’t too farfetched or offensive.  He’s announced he thinks his job is entirely too easy.  His sarcasm is usually dialed up to 11, as he’s questioned what exactly a “moderate interpretation” of the constitution even means, and he’s gotten his fair share of audible laughter in the court room, with laughter during Supreme Court proceedings trailing only funerals as “most inappropriate places to be jovial”.  While Scalia’s controversial decision to “keep it light” can sometimes be misinterpreted as him not taking his position seriously enough, it was a case brought to the court in 2001 that made Scalia and company realize they were totally done with “this taking things seriously nonsense”.

The Professional Golf Association Tour has a very strict set of rules unless your name is Tiger Woods; you must be white, between the ages of 30-50, drive the ball less than 300 yards, but hit irons perfectly straight and miss one easy putt per round while routinely nailing uphill 60-footers that serve no purpose but to immaculate the average viewer.  And don’t be female because the PGA Tour was the original He-man Woman Haters Club.  Oh, and also during a PGA Tour event you can’t ride in a golf cart.  So when Paul Martin was banned from a tournament because he needed a cart to deal with a disability he’d suffered since birth, he was rightfully upset, and sued the PGA.  Somehow, miraculously, this case made it to the Supreme Court.  The court did rule in favor of Martin, deciding the PGA was in violation of the American’s with Disabilities Act and several obvious human decency violations the PGA must’ve neglected to learn at birth, and allowed the disabled golfer to ride in a cart.  Scalia, however, recognizing the utter ludicrousness of this case, did not hesitate to take some cheap shorts during his dissent.  Scalia went on to deliver one of the most sarcastic responses in the history of human language, stating (I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly) “We, the Supreme Law of the land, entrusted with the protection of the interpretation of the United States Constitution have taken on an unprecedented and awesome responsibility to decide ‘What is Golf?'”  Scalia ponders the philosophical question of “if a person is simply riding around in a cart, are they really a golfer, or simply imitating a golfer?”  Clearly, Scalia was not amused with such a waste of time.  I will be quick to remind you the court hears about 70 cases per year, and in 2001, the court got to decide what exactly golf was.  Way to go America.

1.  Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corps

For this, I’m dictating slightly from the style of the rest of this article.  For one, this case didn’t come from the US Supreme Court, but from the Texas State Supreme Court.  But, if you ask Texas, the Texas Supreme Court is just as good as the U.S. one, so that’s gotta count for something.  Also, I’ll spare the details of the case because they are incredibly boring and of no relevance whatsoever.  In the Bradshaw case, the Texas court used their opportunity when delivering the majority opinion to trash the attorneys in question.

You see, over the course of the court proceedings, the court determined the actions taken by both lawyers were slightly inappropriate, bordering on near childish.  The quote, delivered in a state Supreme Courtroom, reads as follows:

“Before proceeding further, the Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact – complete with hats, handshakes, and cryptic words—to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed.”

If the Chief Justice delivered that line in a rap battle, all the microphones would’ve dropped.  That atomic bomb of satirical, verbal, explosive hatred fired at the attorneys in question fully shows just how far they must’ve worn out their welcome with the court.  I guess if you’re in position to have members of the most hated profession in the palm of your hands, you might as well toss some legendary insults their way.

Simplicity in the New Year

I guess by now it’s a little late to discuss New Year’s resolutions, but I feel it’s never too late make a note of change in one’s life.  You see, I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, in a traditional sense, because I feel like people typically aim too high and end up setting unattainable goals.  Going to the gym is a good example.

Let’s say your resolution involves going to the gym.  Okay, that’s an admirable change to make.  But, it’s sort of a flawed assessment.  A new year brings new optimism, meaning people tend to set goals too high for themselves.  Someone might plan to go the gym five times a week, only to quickly realize that’s far too much.  At this point they begin bargaining (I won’t go to the gym today, but I’ll be sure to do extra work tomorrow) and once that happens, the resolution is doomed.

I used going to the gym as an example, but really any lofty resolution can be made applicable in this situation.  It’s sad to see people just say “I want to do….” for a resolution but they never really question why.

My advice is to keep resolutions as broad and simple as possible.  If you set lower goals, they become more realistic, and even if it’s a less strenuous achievement, it still means a lot more accomplishing a menial task than enduring the hurt of failure because you folded on a larger goal.

At the risk of sounding like a total hippie, I think it’s wise to advocate a small slate of changes in the new year.  In my opinion, taking things away is simpler than adding things.  Adding five trips to the gym a week is a really good way to screw with your current routine, and that’s why health resolutions so often fail.  It’s the same thing with finding love, experiencing success or living better.  People typically look at “what’s missing” instead of focusing on things that may already be in place.

I’ll go back to my gym example, just because I think it’s the most widely used.  When someone makes going to the gym a resolution, it’s typically the result of a less than healthy lifestyle.  If you instead resolve to “live healthier” you now have a goal that’s attainable.  Instead of focusing on adding a bomb of exercise to your routine, start by taking away.  Remember, a resolution is supposed to last all year, so you don’t need to lose those 30 pounds in three weeks.  Start the year by eliminating soda from your diet.  Next, you can cut back on sugary or fatty foods, but continue to eat normally otherwise.  Finally, cut back on time spend being sedentary (television, computer, etc) and do something else that doesn’t involve sitting down.  Three small changes such as those give a good building block to a healthy lifestyle.  After this, you can begin adding things.  Start by adding two or three glasses of water a day to your diet.  Then, add in some healthier alternative to normal meals.  And finally, begin a routine of working out, whether it be light cardio of walking around the block.

I’m not a psychologist or a life coach, but I feel like taking small steps in resolving change is an effective strategy for actually seeing results in your life.