New York City – The Pain of Pleasure

New York. Sometimes affectionately referred to as The Big Apple. Culturally it has long served as the galvanizing catalyst for the United States, as if to somehow represent the absolute best we have to offer as a country. Countless Hollywood movies, video games, fictional literature, music, and live stage plays use New York as a backdrop for one or more subsequent devices. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s flashy, and it moves at lightning speed day and night, never resting for a single moment. For those of us who live outside its boundaries, we look on with awe and wonder at the cascade of imagery that emerges in the press. An itch scratches the back of our minds, causing us to wonder just what the New York Experience is. Some of us will never have an opportunity to immerse ourselves in it, and up until recently I would have counted myself amongst that lot. But the ever emergent circumstances in my life rolled the red carpet out to me and walk down it I did.

Emerging from the depths of the Amtrak Pennsylvania Station at 33rd and 8th, I was immediately taken aback by the sheer volume of people. There could have easily been close to two hundred of them on the block alone. As we walked from the tram station to our hotel, the Marriott Marquis on 45th and 7th, the swarm only seemed to increase in size exponentially. This made sense as we were travelling north on Broadway Ave which runs directly through Times Square, but coming from a far smaller town, one can never really prepare for a shock of this sort. There was no investigation into the current population estimates prior to my departure from Ohio, but I later discovered that there’s roughly nine million people in NYC alone, with nearly 2,750,000 of them being in Manhattan. Of course one doesn’t come into contact with all the residents of Manhattan at once, but it’s not uncommon to do so with a few thousand people a day. To put this into perspective, the town I live in only has a population of 22,500 and you’re hard pressed to see a hundred people a day. Everywhere you look you would find people walking down the street, riding a bike, flagging a taxi or shuttle, or sitting in a shimmed veranda that encroached onto the sidewalks where restaurants took up residence at. They were tucked into nearly every orifice the city had to offer, perhaps even some the city didn’t realize it had. The necessity of the skyline being dotted with skyscraper after skyscraper made so much more sense at that moment. It is quite impossible to facilitate that many people in a horizontal fashion, so the only solution is to go up. You can trust also that every floor of every edifice was occupied by someone. This principal of vertical expansion applied to all sorts of establishments, from small clothiers to bowling alleys where, for example, the third floor hosted a different set of lanes than the fourth. That being said, a recurring proposition in my mind arose when I realized that I was standing in the same exact location of the famous New Year Ball Drop and tried to imagine myself there with all of these people.

The purpose of my trip was relative to my job, as I’m now sure is an entirely common excuse for a visit. However, that didn’t mean that there wasn’t some leeway for tomfoolery and exploration of the touristy kind. Wandering through the streets ended up being a daily occurrence when not involved in something convention related. Prior to my group’s walkabouts, I must confess to professing some trepidation against appearing to be a tourist. They’re incredibly easy to spot, even from within the infinite rabble, and being on foreign soil meant being on guard. All one has to do is look for the extended selfie sticks and angled heads fixated on the towering behemoths that showcase a fruitful marriage of architecture and engineering. Adorning only those closest to the centre of it all were displays that sprawled sometimes the entirety of a single face, constantly cycling one advertisement after another and not a single one of them in tandem with the other to form anything remotely aesthetically pleasing; one was more likely to convulse in epilepsy before they even made it to the shop in the ad. Anyway, this fear of the tabi bito hyōjō was soon proven to be moot once a cardinal rule of navigation was discovered – go with the flow. The sooner one fell in line with the apparent consciousness of the fumbling mass, the sooner one became transparent to even the person rubbing shoulders against you. In this, one could get away with the occasional flick of the phone to grab a photo of something or someone, but if the shutter were ill-equipped to handle motion, every single one would be a guaranteed blur. Amazingly, those who were carting multiple large totes of luggage or, insanely, a stroller housing an infant, were able to occupy space just as comfortably as a single person albeit at the cost of inner-swarm dexterity. Any sign of a shift in the wave would be evident to everyone and, when opened, they would all vie for the ability to move – a sort of material coagulation.

So tourists we were and explore we did. With only five days to spare, it was impossible to see and do everything that Times Square had to offer, but of its many entertainments, we ventured several that stood out. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum allowed me to pose with Morgan Freeman, launch nuclear weapons while Barack and Michelle Obama smiled ever so casually, fly E.T. through the skies on a bicycle, sit next to Ernest Hemingway, allow Kelly Ripa to experience hosting a daytime talk show with me, get carried away by King Kong, help Indiana Jones take the golden idol, remind Charlie Chaplin of how short he really was, square-up with Fidel Castro, get my hand moulded into wax, experience my first ever so-called 4-D movie, and participate in a full-range virtual reality simulation of Ghostbusters where we were able to battle and catch ghosts. The Minskoff Theatre played host to the Broadway production of The Lion King which, even all these years after its inception, is still an amazing experience. It was very much like watching the movie all over again, which I made a point of seeing the month it was released in 1994, but breathed such new life into what would have otherwise been a stale monument in my distant childhood. Let it be known that no expense was spared when venturing only ten steps into Central Park by Columbus Circle before briskly turning back and heading toward the nearest shopping plaza. A film crew was on location shooting imagery of a concrete sculpture atop which a golden ornament of some kind sat, and it was fascinating to see how nearly everyone was in one of two camps at that moment: acting entirely blasé toward it or contemplating on how to photobomb the camera at points in an attempt to immortalise themselves on film, regardless of what it was about.

Of course, the foodie in us came out and it was not disappointed in the slightest. The Brooklyn Diner on 43rd was incredible. The décor exuded a subway-esque atmosphere that was very alluring. For me, a hamburger and fries. For my girlfriend, a veggie burger and fries. For my boss and his wife, a hot dog and fries. The catch? The hot dog was nearly an entire pound of meat – it was huge. A little pin was even attached to it that read “15-bite dog.” Challenge or no, it was assiduously avoided as the two cut it into comfortable portions between them. Being a beef and potato fanatic myself, passing positive judgement on my dish wasn’t difficult at all. That had been the first time I’d eaten fries served in a cup with rosemary and bay leaf dressing. I hesitate to speak on her behalf, but the veggie burger didn’t fare as well in the satisfaction department. Wrapping this venture up, to give yet another example of distributable portions in this establishment, a woman seated next to us who no sooner remarked on the size of the hot dog we’d received got a chicken pot pie she’d ordered and it was nothing less of a whopper. Considering the pan and height of the crust, it had to have stood a whole eight to nine inches from the table and easily more than seven inches in diameter. Something tells me she had a distinct amount of leftovers the following day. Next came the desire to have an authentic New York pizza. Despite my near complete lactose intolerance, I was hell-bent on making this happen. Fortunately, a recommendation made to my boss during the first day of the convention lead a crew of us to Don Giovannis. Now I certainly don’t have my finger on the pulse of the city regarding it in relation to others, of which I’m sure invites a war of religious proportions, but I can say with unabated conviction that the pepperoni pizza here is the best that I’ve ever had. Supplanting my long-time local favourite, Victorios, is no minor feat, make no mistake. After consuming three large pizzas and a few beers, a sort of childish depression kicked in understanding that there is no comparable pie in Ohio that I’ve ever tried. To help rationalize this, I’ve partitioned my favourites by localities now. When in Manhattan, it’s Don Giovannis. When in Alliance, it’s Victorios. Although I still wish teleporters were viable…

The only real disappointment in this aspect was from a restaurant called The View. Located on the 45th floor of the Marriott Marquis, this apparent bungalow for the affluent played host to a menu where your only option was to participate in a three-course configuration and deviation from this was not allowed under any circumstances. First strike – totalitarian enforcement of the laws of the kitchen. On a more practical sense, cumulatively this was going to be way more food than I’d ever or could possibly even consider eating in a single setting, yet there was nothing I could do other than stuff it down. Furthermore, my palette for exquisite foods of this sort wasn’t broad enough, thus I was able to eliminate nearly everything on the menu as being something remotely appetizing. Yes, I do have a sensitive palette. Yes, I do have issues with textures. So yes, I am a picky eater. The appetizer, a salad, I ordered reluctantly for fear of it being over lavished in something so exotic that by only smelling it you’d endanger fifteen species of turtle; this turned out to be the case. Second strike – simplicity will always win out over complexity, especially in the food department; I was enjoined to waste the entire dish. The main course was a bit of steak, by that I mean a mere nibble, and steamed vegetables. This was agreeable although I prefer my steaks without butter. Dessert was a flight of gelato: four flavours with four distinct toppings. For drinks I settled for merlot and a glass of water. Verdict? Unimpressed, especially considering the price. The only redeeming quality about the place was the fact that the seating floor gradually rotated. It is exactly as it sounds – the floor rotates while you sit on it. Not in the way that manipulates the G-Force during astronaut training – this was incredibly subtle. Thus it is possible for one to get dinner and see the heights of the Manhattan Mountains all around you. Third strike – if I like your floor engineering more than your food, you’ve confused your priorities.

The streets themselves seemed to emanate with a life of their own – almost as if the very concrete would at any moment reach up to greet one with a handshake and offer recommendations for tourist hotspots. Carousing past the mammoth towers with open doors proved to be far more inviting than initially thought since each of them offered something different than the last. On display was the ingenuity of human design philosophy made real. Even though the employees contained inside were either too uninterested or too excited, they indeed improved the impact substantially, and regardless of the sway of mood, they were at minimum courteous.

However, for all of the distractions and entertainments that are on offer in the core of the apple, for all of the glitz and glamour, for all of the crowning achievements of engineering and Capitalism, when considering humanities it is an absolutely appalling place to experience. It’s important to understand that the lifeblood of this city is money. This is not a facetious exaggeration; everyone, everywhere, at all times is trying to sell you something regardless of how banal the item or service is. Every street is littered with food trucks and kiosks, makeshift tables holding designer product selling for literally seven-eights of its price in a major retailer (which, hilariously enough, we experienced this in Harald Square across from Macy’s), makeshift crafts and souvenirs for the unsuspecting tourist, news stands that offer all sorts of magazines and unhealthy treats and, worse yet, apparently homeless people passively vying for only money. It is not a far-fetched assertion that anyone you see walking on the streets is physically moving only because whatever web of entrapment constructed by money that they’re involved in has compelled them to do so, certainly in perpetuity. Moving for the grind, as some in my generation term it, comes as natural to them as breathing. In this, each of them is a self-maximizing preference seeking agent and the only objective is money – no more, no less; and this is a universal truth for all of its residents.

This very mistaken view of worshipping a pseudo legitimate impetus for the kinetic energy which places all humans in motion relative to society stretches to all aspects of human existence relative to our environment. Once on a walk toward Central Park West, we travelled north on 6th avenue and the closer we got, two things became obvious. First was that the congestion of people tended to simultaneously thicken yet disperse, and intermingled within them on one side of the street was pile after pile of garbage. Waist-high walls, in plain sight, consisting of one white plastic bag after another, each one brimming to the point of bursting, some in fact did, that stretched for nearly two entire north-south blocks that bordered 59th avenue which is the street-wise border between the city and Central Park. Not a single person, not a one (including myself shamefully), tried to do something about it. Burst bags allowed their contents to pour out onto both the street and sidewalk, and one by one people simply walked past them, some stepping on the rubbish, and continuing on with an all too blasé attitude. According to the Centre for Sustainability and Commerce from Duke University, on average, a single person produces roughly 4.3 pounds of waste a day, and the yearly average for the United States is about 220 million tons. Now, according to GrowNYC, a group focused on sustainability relative to New York City, current estimates suggest that the people in that city alone produce 12,000 tons of waste a day, most of which is plastics that are produced using fossil fuel and are only used once. Performing some simple math, we find using the current estimates that the yearly average of waste pounds produced by NYC alone is 4,380,000. One has to ask where it goes? Some goes to incineration, some goes to recycling, but most goes to landfills outside the city. There’s simply too much of it and those in governance have absolutely no idea what to do with it other than to sweep it under someone else’s floor mat. But that’s okay because they’re still raking in record profits and still able to keep their $5,000-per-month high-rise apartment. And the constituents within the city, concerned first and foremost with fulfilling their money-demanding responsibilities, don’t offer a solution the time of day.

On any given day you’d be hard pressed to venture down an avenue and, when being propelled onward by the momentum of the bulge, trip over a few of the city’s homeless. They were affixed to the pavement in one of two locations: on the sidewalk against the wall of a building or elevated on steps. Wherever they could sit that was in the periphery was suitable enough. Their pining for money was performed either passively, by using what is now known as the marker on a cardboard cut-out (the social media plea for help), or aggressively by acting like the criers so often seen with the aforementioned turncoat salespeople on the street. Those in the former lot did nothing but sit and read books or sleep, expecting the cup or container placed in front of them to hopefully produce a yield of something. I should state, for the record, that homelessness is an inexcusable, intolerable, and inhumane reciprocal of our society that goes largely ignored, and that it is the reciprocal of nothing more than our worshipping of money and simple overpopulation. That being said, the truly horrid aspect behind all homelessness is that because it is the byproduct of money, it is morally difficult to ascertain if one is actually homeless or perceptibly homeless. This proves to be an issue when one considers what to do to help, especially when that help manifests as the donation of liquid assets, i.e. cash. One has to ask, legitimately, what is that person going to do with the cash that was given to them? It is a well known statistic that those people who are incredibly wealthy are far less likely to be philanthropic than their poorer contemporaries. Considering that those people rely far too heavily on supposed moral validation, it’s not too difficult to see how feigning homelessness at the right locations and at the right times can prove to be an incredibly lucrative venture. In fact, these types of people have already been drawn out into the open and exposed in some cases, be they regular people or supposed military veterans. Furthermore, even if one is known to truly be homeless, what good is a pity coin going to do them? It never actually addresses the root cause of the matter. Instead it allows the giver the ability to fulfill their daily faux-altruistic requirements and the recipient an all too minor and insignificant lash back against that which put them there in the first place. Existing in this grey matter of subjective morality, we continued briskly past each one of them, ignoring the signs and pleas, just as everyone else did. The suits marched toward their businesses, the hip young crowd ran toward the fashion outlets, and us tourists danced from one safe place to another. The Coalition for Homelessness estimates that a little over 60,000 people are homeless in New York City alone. Think about your surroundings right now. Can you imagine yourself, your spouse, your children, living by the nearest abandoned building? Scraping your food from the inside of a waste bin? Going to sleep, if you can, night after night wondering what the hell you’re going to do to get out of that mess that we impose on each other?

For me, the trip to New York City was both an entertaining and enlightening experience. One that constantly kept me in conflict with myself; to let myself enjoy the experience while simultaneously understanding that none of it wasn’t possible without money. I can’t imagine I would ever visit there on a whim, but it’s sure to go down in recorded history as an interesting place.

Header Image – New York Skyline (https://pixabay.com/en/new-york-city-skyline-building-14606/)

Haters: Sometimes They Really Don’t Want to Be You

“People hate you because they want to be you.” In so many words, this and phrases like it are uttered time and time again to the downtrodden, misrepresented, misunderstood, and supposedly unique persons. The phrases are thrown around in so many different syntactical permutations, each attempting to place varying sympathetic emphasis on the victim of the perceived indifference, and always intended to antagonize the perpetrator(s). The goal, invariably, is to fortify the self-esteem of the victim and to embolden them in remaining vigilant against nay-sayers from all perspectives so that they will continue to be the individuals that they are. Altruistically, all appears to be sound. The invoker of the phrase, if not the victim themselves, garners respect and adulation from the victim and perhaps from others, and is thus considered to be morally aligned with those who see this as such. The antagonist, left wilting away in their now obviously futile attempt of degradation, sulks back to the cave from whence they emerged and life carries on unabated.

There is something a tiny bit disingenuous about this assumed intent however. It is certainly true that there are persons who awake in the morning with the sole intent of making their peer’s lives as miserable as possible. Others will prey upon the perceptibly socially weak for only the deranged satisfaction that is to be derived from it (and of which only they themselves are capable of indulging in). For these people, where attempts at curbing their considerably disagreeable behavior either are derailed from the start and for all of their time or simply won’t emerge until far later in life (it is possible for one to learn the error of one’s ways), the psychological, and sometimes physical, barricade will need to be constant. Instruction and consistent enforcement of the intolerance for indifference should always be practiced regardless. Other times it is possible that a practitioner of bigotry is acting so out of the pretext of malicious propaganda; osmosis from family and social circles, assiduously preached misinformation by cornerstone figures in communities, and cultural slants that should really be going in the opposite direction just to name a few. These people can be dealt with in a different manner which attempts to bring them back from the brink and into moral favor. These are mistakes of their peers bubbling outward through them to which they cannot be blamed exclusively for (for their own actions, of course).

Now despite the misgivings about my approach to this topic, one thing should be made abundantly clear by now but I’ll do you the favor of spelling it out. In no way, at all, do I now or have ever in the past condoned or considered as a good idea any act of indifference or bigotry. In a considerably more plain way, bullying is not something I either associate myself with or think is tolerable. So then, what really is so disingenuous about the aforementioned phrases?

There is a subtle tone of irony lurking in the shadows of the phrases. While attempting to defend the individuality of the victim, it simultaneously alienates the individuality of the assailant and presupposes only a wanton masochistic chameleon-esque adaptation of the individual from the victim by the assailant. In an effort to reinforce and reaffirm the individual that is considered to be the victim, we assert by default a spiteful copy-and-paste attempt by the assailant as the only impetus for this and the reflection of this desire equates to nothing short of the oppression and vitriol which they practice so often. Imagine then how this sounds to you, when you consider a bully of this sort who wakes up in the morning: “I REALLY REALLY want to be just like John, in every way possible! In order to do that, and to emulate perfectly his individuality, I’ll be sure to cause him nothing but grief and use socially sensitive aspects to make fun of and torture him with!” That’s not to say that this sort of idiotic notion isn’t conceived at one point or another within a mind; it’s plausible that it would be. It’s also plausible, and far more obvious in fact, to imagine that in an attempt at emulation of an individual, one would be more likely to act or behave in accordance with the target of the emulation as is the case with ridiculous fanaticism embraced by us little people in the wake of celebrities. When considered in this way, it’s hardly a significant draw of the intellect to make this comparison. Having established that, the phrases almost turn on themselves. For they now decree that the bully, in a veil of such extreme obsessive fanaticism over their personal celebrity, that being the victim, wanting nothing more than to emulate perfectly the aspect of their individuality that is desired, they resort to extreme methods of abuse, punishment, and torture – none of which place them in a position to assimilate this so sought after trait.

The overarching ignorance here is that when invoked, phrases of these sort are literally and figuratively no less shallow than the acts of aggression to which they are intended to defend against. They do not address the questions of root cause; what were the environmental factors that together culminated into the mess that is the bully? In a similar note, what other environmental factors facilitate the notion that certain seemingly arbitrary traits about people are points of both isolation and desired attack? The obvious irony here is that in an effort to achieve and maintain individuality, one runs the risk of sometimes severe scrutiny for doing so – but why is this the case? Why does it just seem like bullies come out of the woodwork and people are consistently in a reactive state regarding them? At this juncture, the only purpose these phrases serve is to reaffirm the proliferation of personality and in an entirely unhealthy way.

No one doubts that in practice, bullies are quite real as is the damage that they inflict upon others; this alone warrants reaction to the immediate causality. This aspect shouldn’t ever be downplayed in the slightest. I myself have been subject to bullying of an extreme sort, resulting in physical violence, whilst my peers, pitiless, callous, and vicariously complicit through cowardice, stood idly by as if it were all just normal. “Oh he goes around punching everybody!” – a remark I can quite acutely recall from someone I can only assume had been a victim of this bully, and would have thought far less of this person if they weren’t. So yes, on a case-by-case basis we are and should be required to deal with it blow-for-blow. Simultaneously, and this parallelism should be marked quite carefully and distinctly, the root cause should always be considered and this falls well beyond the scope of immediate causality. A place where “They’re just jealous of you” carries with it about as much intellectual nourishment as piety does in any domain.

What then should we be looking for? How do we actually address the issue of bullying? These appear to be hard questions because frankly they are. However, when asked differently as How do you address the cultural blemishes that both foster and permit this behavior?, it becomes slightly easier to put into scope but nonetheless leaves massive hurdles that are in fact able to be vaulted. To get started in the right direction, one has to realize first that none of this behavior is genetic. No one person is genetically predetermined to exhibit violence of this sort. It is in fact the social environment in which the child grows and is continuously exposed to which begins to kindle this kind of behavior. Were they raised in an environment where reciprocity and positive mutual relations were pinnacle in their success? Or were they subject to competition for both basic and contrived human needs where the only order of the day was to simply be the best? These are none of them genetic in the slightest. You are not born with an innate understanding of Capitalist America, neither of Communist China, neither of tribal alignments. There is no innate desire to ascertain all power and accumulate all material possessions in a fashion that would make even the most fanatic of barbarians shutter in horror. You are human, all too human.  You are molded by your family, your friends, your society, your communities, your government – all attribute in some way to the result that is aged you. Do not for one second discount the supposedly trivial things for sometimes they are in fact the ones most likely to subvert the subconscious, thus placing you on an entirely different path.

Next we have to ask ourselves if the society that we participate in today is conducive to our well-being. Do we really think that the bullying and violence are not actually a byproduct of the stratification, hyper competition, and near-cancerous proliferation of personality propaganda combined? Statistical studies continuously show that certain areas of the U.S. are far more violent than others, indicating an uneven distribution of our so-called genetic predetermination. However, the same imbalance can be seen when these studies are applied in the scope of the world. Different cultures yield different persons. They’re shaped in much the same way as we are with regard to modality: family, friends, and communities. The difference is nearly strictly in that of perspective and what is considered as the prime predicate for the sane and pragmatic survival of the group. Do they feel that the only way to survive is to beat down all others in a game of perpetual conflict, simply to see who can piss further? Do they feel that egalitarian methods of sharing and open collaboration are the best ways to go? Isn’t it possible that maybe, just maybe, the arena in which we nurture our children in isn’t really the most advantageous for producing not only non-violent and open-minded persons but also happy ones?

The victim and the bully, much like everyone else in our society, is and has been formed in a way that makes them who they are. A confusion of supposed predeterminations with what are instead quite malleable environmental factors leads us to consistently look in the wrong direction for solutions. For to look at the true causality would be to put to scrutiny the very same social system that we live in and most are unfortunately unwilling to take that step for one reason or another; most of which are ineffective as legitimate excuses. Ensuring that not only our children but us adults as well know that open communication, collaboration, and plausible rationality is critical. Competition, contrived scarcity, over-inflation of X Politics, blind servility – these are none of them useful when helping to educate and propagate equality and pure altruism.

So no, haters sometimes really don’t want to be you. And you shouldn’t aspire to reciprocate that even in defense.

Personal Appraisal

Quod siquis vera vitam ratione gubernet,
divitiae grandes homini sunt vivere parvo
aequo animo; neque enim est umquam penuria parvi.

But if you’d steer your life by a philosophy that’s true,
The way to be the wealthiest of men is to eschew
High living, and be contented in the mind – for there has never
Been a poverty of modest means.

Titus Lucretius Carus – de Rerum Natura

By what means do we, in our current capitalist paradigm, consider money to be such a meager and humble commodity that it in and of itself not only represents faultlessly but equates exactly to our value as sentient human beings? Has acquisition and attainment alone ever conflated to unadulterated happiness and pure altruism? When you remove the faculty of money, a tool of equation, from the all too abused mode of individuality sometimes termed as self-maximization, what is left within the self that is of any conscionable nature that would be remotely considered conducive to morally acceptable behavior to our brothers and sisters? Nothing, for the widespread assertion that the money sequence of value either conflates or represents the life sequence of value is entirely arbitrary and false. There could be no other grandiose misrepresentation of our true nature than to attempt to quantify and dignify it as gross domestic product.

To this end all business operates tirelessly and endlessly. Cyclical consumption and the polymorphic modes that both individuals (consumers) and even businesses themselves (consumers/producers) operate in keep in check carefully the assurance that the repetition is not broken. Individuals as employees will sell their time to an employer to produce the goods that the employer then sells to other individuals or businesses, consumers, thus it flows onward. So the flow goes with a perceived elegance that just can’t be described as anything other than natural. So natural, in fact, that it would be utter folly to think that it could be wrong. How, when one is part of a society where abundance is aplenty, regardless if it’s to be maintained synthetically, and wealth, even though partitioned unfairly, maintains the decadence that we expect to grant us our little hovels with our creature comforts so that we’ll just be content with our meager rewards, would anyone then even think about how this could maybe, just maybe, be all wrong?

So sick is our society that we have managed to profiteer the human themselves and the methods by which we’re herded, sometimes all too tacitly. Privately held incarceration facilities trade investments on the Stock Market where its value will fluctuate based on the inmate population. Insurance agencies attempt to register infants, through appeals to their parents, into life insurance policies that not only place a dollar value on that life that matures as the child does, much in the same way as a Money Market, CD, or Savings Account, so that in the event of an untimely death, someone reaps some reward from it. The same agencies also offer up the same insurances for elderly persons who, on their last hurrah, might as well give something a little extra to not just the families but to the agency and its CEO and board members. Young workers in all industries are consistently hounded about investing in retirement funds, be it a 401(k) or an IRA, where they’re encouraged to invest more and more of their money, placing immediate undue hardship on them and their families, all for the idea that someday they’ll be worth something. One ad from Fidelity Investments for such a policy is titled “Because someday, I’ll be the perfect vintage.”

In agreement we simply nod our heads and don’t worry about it as we sulk on back to the cave. Your children are fed, your lights are still on, your clothes are clean, your lawn is cut, your car is full of gasoline, your bills are paid (on time) – why trouble yourself with anything else?

Slowly but surely, we are killing our planet to meet these seemingly endless consumer-driven, yet contrived, requirements. As the poles begin their steady yet inevitable melt away to liquid form, and our atmosphere is congested with carbon emissions from wildly inefficient means of travel, and our brothers and sisters who are not worth anything are left to rot away tucked in the back alleys and abandoned scrap yards so we don’t have to see them; they won’t be a problem that way, and our basic requirements for life are becoming more scarce and by reason of overpopulation synthetic, what excuse do you have now to say that you can’t trouble yourself with anything else? What can you say to your brothers and sisters who die daily because they can’t get food or water because they can’t afford it? How do you explain that this is normal to your children, and that the only way to be happy and successful in life is to simply make money? What made you not think, for one second, that competition is not the only way to live? How then do you not register that you, implicitly or explicitly, equate your measure of success and altruism in dollars and also that of your children and tell them to continue to do the same thing?

The marks that we leave behind now will be the ones that our children have to deal with. They will be responsible for carrying our torches into the future, for doing so within the context that we set for them, and we are most of us wildly irresponsible in thinking that continuing this mode of valuing life is anything solid enough to sustain life at all, or even a future for that matter. Change has to start now, and start with you.

Personal Update

“We are unknown to ourselves, we knowers: and with good reason. We have never looked for ourselves, – so how are we ever supposed to find ourselves?” – Friedrich Nietzsche from On the Genealogy of Morals.

It’s absolutely incredible what happens when you divorce your life from the internet. Or, perhaps, it should be phrased the other way around: It’s absolutely incredible what happens when you divorce the internet from your life. Regardless of your ability to admit to it or not, the permeation of this amazing tool can, and has, replaced a lot of the aspects of our lives for either good or bad. Being someone who has chosen technology as not only a career choice, but as a lifestyle, the line between where I begin and end blurs heavily and with a very scary amount of ease.

However, this isn’t some post that ends up being the darling to all those who damn both technology and the internet. Nor does it serve as a treatise on coming-clean from an addictive state regarding either of those. Instead it is simply a testament to an awakening. Not in a spiritual sense, as some like to incorrectly conflate in all invocations, but of a more conscious nature.

The human mind is an astounding piece of evolutionary and biological achievement. The ability that we possess for retaining memory, processing input simultaneously from nearly all areas of our bodies, and reacting to events in real-time rationally is not something to lightly scoff at. Equally, if not more impressive, is our faculty for what we call critical thinking. In this we find that we’re capable of creating some of the most elaborate tools and technologies to help us to sustain both living and communities. Also it can produce some of the finest liberal arts that we know of and have yet to discover. But it is this one piece of our minds, our wonderful and incredible minds, that is constantly being thwarted on a daily basis and the situation is not improving.

Think about it – when you check Facebook, what is it that you’re seeing? You’re certainly paying attention to your stream of updates from “Facebook Friends” but what else is there? Advertisements, trending celebrity news, posts from “Facebook Friends” who are actually businesses or organisations that are treated as single entities, carefully crafted headlines that link back to pages with an article that’s less than five-hundred words or diluted with pagination in order to increase ad revenue and waste more of your time, propagation of questionable “facts” and “truths” from unreliable sources, and, depending upon your usage, a sufficiently cultivated canonical history of your life that, in hindsight, removes the ability of such a user to have a complaint against having their privacy violated in any way whatsoever.

For these people, previously mentioned, Facebook has become a way to run their lives. Thus Facebook is their lives and , as follows, their lives are shaped by it.

But there is more that you can take away from other aspects of what was mentioned. The mass inundation of trite celebrity news and entertainment updates accumulates into a sweltering cesspool of overwhelmingly useless information, serving only to further facilitate this obsessive compulsive mentality in which those prey to it vicariously act out their lives or interests in. This usually results in the complete absenteeism of the individual and does not further press or force uniqueness. “Kim Kardashian poses nude for Paper magasine!” “A new Marvel movie is set to be released soon!” “Photos emerge of Avril Lavigne on her new Instagram account!” – who cares?

We are consistently lowering our expectations of ourselves for reasons which seem, at first, to be purely altruistic, and of that qualification we accept no dissenting perspective. Instead we lash out with public scrutiny, both verbal and in some cases physical and resulting in long-term damages, even if said scrutiny would potentially lead to a more practical, pragmatic or, ironically enough, altruistically sound solution. We’re entirely okay with this though and have accepted it as the supposed utopian goal of our society, thus our models of consumption and retention, regarding information, and scope of vision have been dimmed to the confines of the individual, making the very concept of “individuality” both our greatest asset and our worst enemy. News agencies and media outlets whittle down their articles to the smallest number of words possible, making them void of substance of any kind, to cater to the calculated lessening attention span of the “average” sheep. Because news is now compartmentalised in this way, smaller chunks can be delivered faster and in larger volumes. You don’t actually learn anything, because to learn is to digest, and it is impossible to digest properly what you are choking on. Digestion is an act that requires sufficient time, of which none of us are given. But don’t worry – this is okay. You don’t have to learn and you don’t have to think, that’s all taken care of for you. So you can continue to read, if you can, about the latest crumbling of a celebrity relationship.

Preying on individuality, we slaves to the dollar are subjected to filtered information of the highest magnitude to meet profit margins. Paradoxically, we promote the utmost importance of individuality and altruism yet actively subvert these things for a fiat currency that really, ultimately and truly, doesn’t mean anything. This is what our lives have resulted in: self-imposed slavery. This is what we teach our children, this is what we think is the norm, and this will because of those things, propagate forever until the human race has eradicated itself for the same reasons. Even those who are in control of money are slaves to it. Not necessarily what it manifests as physically but what it represents conceptually, which is far more dangerous than any money: a function of exercising power manipulation over large quantities of people. But how have we coped with this? Not by recognising this fallacy for the horror that it actually is and doing something about it, but by building upon it the foundations for assigning value to a life by quantity and supposed quality of material goods, which can only be attained with money, and from that somehow supposing that it alone is sufficient for judgment of our brothers and sisters, providing an adequate excuse to ignore objective morality (which, by the way, is not God nor any other religion which we have very sadly devoted ourselves to). We are, by nature, gluttons for slavery. We ask not to have absolute responsibility and accountability in our lives. We ask only, instead, that we delegate that to others, be they real or, hilariously, not, so that we can sit at home and feel as if we have done something right for ourselves regardless of other people in the world, or the Earth itself. We then feel entitled to read more celebrity news stories.

We don’t read, we don’t eat, we don’t sleep, and we don’t think. The very sad and horrible truth about life is that today’s society, that we have ourselves shaped, is at its core little more than a mildly civilised form of feudal medieval times. We’re kids with very large guns, uneducated and unprepared to handle them and brandish these weapons with a gusto that makes the most egotistical arrogant pig shudder in horror. We’re fine with Salem Witch Hunts, taking the most ludicrous steps against our brothers and sisters for the crime of critical thinking, and ensuring that we make it known for all, in this generation and the next, that you are to fall in line and never ask why.

This all makes me sick, and my repulsion of the virulence of this decadence gives me reason for great pause. It was for this which I stepped away from all of the things in my life, for just a brief moment, to attempt to make sense of and reconcile, neither of which I feel I have accomplished. I want to remove from me the entombment of myself by both myself and others. To be unafraid to think and speak as such. To structure my life in a way that shows what is possible when you are built not by the mistakes of those before you, but by the intents that you have to make changes now, and act on them.

Ohio Linux Fest – The Aftermath

I’m back home from the Ohio Linux Fest and I’m very, very tired. As much as I want to write more, I think I’m going to keep this short and sweet for the time being and just give a minor overview and save most of the major content for some of the upcoming podcasts that I’m going to be co-hosting to go over the event.

First of all, I know that some of you reading this most likely attended the event and even came to my talk to which I want to extend an infinite amount of gratitude to you for. Little fact – this was my first talk ever at a technology conference. That being said, the turnout far exceeded any expectations I had and the audience was amazing. I got so much great feedback from all of you and you all graciously put up with my horrible jokes. Even more humbling to me was the swath of people who came up after I was done. That made all the stress and shitting bricks worth it.

That being said, the slides that were uploaded to the OLF website on my session profile are not the ones that I used for the presentation. The ones I used were modified in terms of order and containing a few slides that detailed my previous work. Some of you had asked about getting a copy of the slides and I want to make sure that you get the most recent ones so I’m going to upload them and you can download them at your leisure. Of course, I won’t be doing this until tomorrow since I’m seriously going straight to bed right after this. You all can wait until then.

The other thing that I didn’t have that I got asked for was business cards. Thankfully my contact information is “federated” in the sense that all the names are similar. My website is gregfmartin.com, my email is greg@gregfmartin.com and my phone number is 1-800-gregfmartin (not really but it sounds good). Had I known that there was going to be this clamoring for my contact information, I would have better prepared for it.

Finally, I wanted to give honorable mention to Brian Wagner for being not only a tremendous help and resource but a great friend. Also to Stephen McLaughlin a.k.a. DoorToDoorGeek for being a wealth of audio production knowledge and for help with the audio recording equipment (even though I screwed up due to technical difficulties).

Gamergate – The Underlying Problem

To be honest, I’m not really privy to all of the details of Gamegate. All I know is what the media and the almighty Wikipedia tells me.

What I’m more concerned with here is the general form of the issue which is misogyny, misandry and the ego.

The whole Gamergate thing in and of itself is an effect rather than a cause. It wasn’t brought about by the sole actions of a woman or a man or a company (since, you know, they’re legally individuals). Rather it was born long ago from this (now) ridiculous idea that someone who is of a particular gender is somehow inferior to those of the opposite. That state of inferiority breeds all sorts of methods, limited only by the creativity of the human mind, for both bringing it out in the open and making it worse than it is. Unfortunately the collective of society hasn’t progressed to a point yet where that mentality has been flushed down the toilet belonging to the Jungian Subconscious, rather it’s propagated itself into modern day to create even more bigot assholes.

One of the many paradoxes with our society is preaching equality for all in a way that is agnostic of any, and I do mean ANY, factors that would imply differences even in the most minute way. While on the other hand, indirectly applying discriminations based on biases that are either formed from some personal experience or via osmosis from an equally idiotic family. To give an example, a manager considering a male and female employee for a high-salaried position and despite the fact that the woman is a far superior choice on account of work-related talents, the manager, being a male himself, favours the male on gender alone and gives him the job instead. This isn’t just applicable to the Gamergate fiasco (nor is it what happened, I’m just providing an extremely tried-and-true example).

Here’s the interesting thing – this goes both ways. This is something that we conveniently forget because it’s easier to turn on the news and hear about Bob Harrold beating the shit out of Cindy Little while in a drunken stupor (you know, because women don’t drink alcohol and can’t fight). While I can’t necessarily provide examples of misandry, they have occurred otherwise someone wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of creating a word for it. We just don’t hear about it as often. In the same way that a woman can fuck a man to gain favour in some way, a man can fuck a woman to gain favour. In the same way we have extremist feminists, we have extremist chauvinists. In the same way we have males who are rapists, we have women who are rapists.

Get what I’m saying yet? Sexism, in any fashion or any degree, isn’t unique to males and females so much so that we need to go though the trouble of classifying it as either misogyny or misandry.

Please send me hate mail for that last statement. Because it’ll prove how genuinely uneducated you really are.

That being said, it’s not enough to simply (and basically) void the applications of misogyny and misandry. They’re not really a cause either as they’re also more of an effect. Argumentatively they’re an effect of the ego. I made reference to this earlier. Some primordial instinct tells a man that he’s better than a woman and rationalises the stance with piss poor examples like “I bring the money in!” Well what happens when money no longer means anything? (Hard to think about I know but currency is easily invalidated). “I work sixty hours a week!” And she’s not capable of doing that? “I have a penis!” Gender Reassignment has been available for some time bub. Nice try though. Try it the other way around. “I have tits!” Men have nipples too. We can grow them out as well – it’s called eating KFC for a month. “I have a vagina!” See Gender Reassignment. “I bear the children!” Well I can’t argue with that. I’ve seen that enough to know that it sucks.

The point I’m trying to make here is that nearly 99% of the time, our ego is artificially inflated by our own machinations. A recursive issue if you will. Our own ideas of what makes us better than other people, according to the ephemeral laws of our society, give us this ridiculously false notion that we’re someone special. That we’re someone so powerful that others tremble in your presence.

There’s a difference between earning respect based on your actions featuring a wonderful personality and commanding respect because of your artificial position and being an asshat.

Overall, there’s not much we can do to correct this issue of sexism unless society as a whole is prepared to accept a version of equality that truly is agnostic of gender and all that goes with it. However being an extremist on the issue isn’t going to help anything either. Going around screaming “Fuck all men!” just makes other men go “Fuck all women!” and we’re back to square one. As people, we can individually start to foster and nurture the idea that if we start divorcing the archaic notions of differences between men and women and leave it strictly to the anatomical state (barring said Gender Reassignment), it’s going to be easier to help remove sexism.

All that being said, we have to talk about art. Since one of the core arguments surrounding Gamergate is this far-too-long drawn out discussion of if video games really are a form of art.

Video games are as much of a business as they are a form of art. Sure the development team behind a game may be creating it for the love of the art that they chose to profess in whether it be modeling, storytelling, graphic design or programming. But the superorganism that is the company they work for could rightly give two shits about one of their employee’s dreams. The only thing they’re concerned about is profit margins, development costs, advertising and the hopeful evolution of a franchise to continue to rake in the cash long after the game has worn its wear. We’ve all fallen prey to this as well.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, art is defined as such:

The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power…

The storied and colourful (no pun intended) history of art will show you that long have artists of various disciplines covering various topics have come under scrutiny for their work and that is based strictly on the times. Understandably we can’t appreciate something if it carries with it a personally negative connotation that strikes horrible memories in you but that’s the power of art – the ability to invoke those things in you. Not just the positive but also the negative. If a form of art chooses to work with and reveal the horrible nature of sexism and the hatred that men and women harbour for each other, it should be appreciated for what it really is. If it makes you think about those things, makes you think about how horrible it is for something like sexism to exist, then maybe you should start working to mentally train yourself to remove those biases from your life. The art will always be there regardless if a mass of barking feral dogs that are the “Artists Are All Fucks League” comes demanding it be burnt to the ground for some reason. It’ll come back in one way or another.

That doesn’t mean throwing tits and ass all over the front covers of games is tasteful either.

But let’s clarify one thing here. The actions of a sole independent developer shouldn’t deter from the underlying issues at hand. Bashing her and taking sides between her and her ex only makes you part of the problem. As a male gamer/programmer/tech guru, nothing about this makes me happy.

Starting the SFML Journey with Fedora

I am a Fedora Fanboy. I love the distro. I will always recommend it to everyone. Despite that love, it seems like we have to cater our minds to how Fedora wants to do things. And believe me, it does things very differently when compared against Debian or any of its common derivatives. One major point of contention early on was getting used to how differently Apache works on Fedora opposed to Ubuntu. I actually prefer using Apache deployed on Ubuntu than I do Fedora. I fucking hate administering Apache on Fedora systems.

That being said, I wanted to take a few moments to discuss my adventure with SFML (Simple and Fast Multimedia Library) on Fedora from getting it installed, setting it up and actually compiling a simple source file with it.

First of all, I’m diving into SFML because there’s a project that I’ve been piecing together for a while and I think SFML fits the bill nicely based solely on research and reading the API. It also allows me to take a break from Java development and step back into C++ which is my favourite language. I feel all warm and fuzzy writing in it. I’ve always had 100% success getting SFML setup and configured on Windows computers with Visual Studio 2012. The obvious problems there are (A) I have to use a Windows computer (it’s bad enough that I’m surrounded by them at work and my laptop has Windows 7) and (B) while Visual Studio may be really pretty, I’ve never jived with how you have to use the GUI to configure all of the esoteric settings for the compiler and linker; it just feels clunky. I’d much rather type it out on the terminal or use a makefile.

Furthermore, as a bit of a primer, SFML is a multipurpose library for creating programs that need audio, graphics, networking or GUI resources in a cross-platform way using C++. The obvious use is video games but it can be applied to other types of programs as well.

Installation

Typically, when installing software libraries on Linux, you just hope and pray (if that’s your thing) that somewhere in your repositories that a pre-configured package exists for them. We shudder at the alternative method which is manually compiling and installing. I do anyway. So I was overwhelmingly pleased to see that the default repositories on Fedora did in fact have packages for SFML (SFML and SFML-devel). Cool!

First Attempt

For shits and giggles, I copied the source code that’s given on the SFML tutorial site and attempted to compile it (not link). I get my first ding.

#include <SFML/Graphics.hpp> not found

Fuck. Right off the bat, g++ can’t find a critical header that’s needed for the source to compile. So I did some digging. Knowing that library headers are typically under /usr/include, that’s where I started at. What a surprise! The headers got installed in a directory tree that went like this:

/usr/include/SFML-2.0/SFML/<blah-blah-blah>

Well that’s not going to work at all. So I moved the SFML directory out to /usr/include and removed the SFML-2.0 directory. Compilation success!

What About Linking?

This is usually the step where things get hairy when they go wrong. After getting a successful compile with an object file, I tried to link based on the steps in the tutorial.

g++ <file>.o -o <file> -lsfml-system -lsfml-window -lsfml-graphics

Result? ld can’t find any of the sfml-* libraries! Fan-fucking-tastic!

So there were a few things going on here that could have been causing the particular problem. First of all, I’m using a 64-bit version of Fedora. All libraries that are automatically installed by Yum, unless specified otherwise, will install the 64-bit version of the library. These files go under /usr/lib64. Some people have said that they’ll find them under /usr/local/lib64 but on my Fedora system they were under the former. It’s best to find out before you go rooting around and changing shit.

Second of all, ld wasn’t looking in /usr/lib64 for libraries. You can find out where ld is looking for libraries by looking at the /etc/ld.so.conf file. Although not entirely proper, I simply tacked the path to the end of the file and wrote it out. Once you do that, you need to run ldconfig (as root) to enforce the changes. If this step weren’t done, you’d have to keep linking with -L<path-to-library>/lib every time.

Lastly, even after all of that, my linking attempts were still failing. The reason this time? Name mismatches! That’s right the damn names of the libraries were wrong. The tutorial tells you to link to -lsfml-window. By default, I should have linked to -lsfml-window-2.0. Fucking bullshit. That went for any of the SFML shared object files. So I renamed those symlinks and took out the “-2.0” at the end so that -lsfml-window would work.

The End

After all that, I finally got a successful build of a demo SFML program and got the green circle in a 200×200 window. Why I had to go through all that trouble to get the trivial tutorial program to compile is beyond me but now that it’s working, I can move forward with my deeply laid plans to make shit happen.