A Little Perspective From Tom Church

Posts tagged ‘fun’

Ten Must-Read Short Stories

Hey guys! How’s college, you ask? Not bad, thanks.

Let’s get down to business though! Or actually, let’s get away from the formality and talk about short stories. One of my personal favorite literary mediums, I’ve got loads of short story collections at home and have brought a few with me. I can’t get enough. Sometimes I’ll say “that’s enough poetry” and stop reading poems for at least a few good hours. “That’s enough of Greek plays for a while.” “That’s enough philosophy…” Some subsections of literature make me feel queasy after a while.

But it’s rare that I ever get fed up with short stories. Perhaps it’s because I know where to look. I’ve got all my favorite guys nearby all the time–my Lovecraft, my King, my Vonnegut, my O. Henry–and needless to say, the Internet helps sometimes if I don’t technically own what I’m reading.

Today I am in an awfully literate and musical mood. I am feeling as poetic as ever. And I wanted to give you guys the low-down on what some of my favorite short stories are; the select tales that stand out in my mind as being truly spectacular. For each story I relate, there will also be a song; perhaps the song is what the story reminds me of, or vice versa. Perhaps playing the song while reading makes the experience all the more sublime. I will be sure to elaborate, don’t worry.

And four more things!

1) For your convenience, I will be sure to label the story in question as being relatively “short,” “medium,” or “long,” emboldening whichever one the story in question happens to be. That way you know what you’re getting into. These stories all take less than twenty minutes to read, and some take even less than five. Trust me, they’re bite-sized. But they will (hopefully) fascinate you, just as they fascinated me.

2) I will have you know that this is indeed a “list” post, meaning that I will be listing these things in order from least-appreciated to most-appreciated. However, don’t take that to mean that these are my top ten favorite short stories of all time. That list is ever-changing. These are merely ten stories that I hold in very high regard for some reason(s) that will hopefully be made apparent upon a read-through.

3) I will not use more than one story per author, to spice things up. And the stories (and songs) will be linked within their respective places in this post, so that you don’t have to search frantically all over the Internet.

4) The blog only allows so many Youtube videos to be embedded on the page, so some will show up merely as links, you may click them and be taken straight there.

Enjoy!

10) A Rose For Emily — William Faulkner

short | medium | long

This story is chilling and peculiar. It can sort of be classified as a “thrilling” read, but I wouldn’t say it’s a horror story; it’s just not something I’d really expect from Faulkner after trying to understand The Sound and the Fury.

Now, hold on a second. I know that I just recently wrote a post about scary Internet stories, but you can trust me when I say that I have my reasons for including any scary short stories on this list (there are a total of four, counting this one). I am generally a fan of scary stories and concepts, so this one got my attention and has held a place in my mind ever since. I can’t name many stories written in the first half of the 20th century that are so absolutely strange. This story is unique, both as a styling of Faulkner and as a work of literature during his period in history. As far as I know, people regard it well.

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/wf_rose.html

This link will take you straight to the story. It reads in a bit of a formal fashion, but stick with it and I’m sure the ending will surprise and interest you.

A Song to go Along

If you’re reading a creepy story, you’ve gotta be listening to something slow and edgy, perhaps a little haunting. That’s where this Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s song comes in: it’s called “A Journalist Falls In Love With Death Row Inmate #16.” It is about just what it says, and it is both strange and somewhat endearing.

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

9) Little Drops of Water — Kurt Vonnegut

short | medium | long

This story is a step in the opposite direction. There is something magical about Kurt Vonnegut’s stories, and I don’t know if I could ever really pinpoint it, but one of the best ones I’ve read by him was “Little Drops of Water.” It deals with an older man who often has loose romantic flings with his younger piano students; but one of those students decides not to be taken so lightly, and the events that unfold are a stroke of genius.

https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/jenor/ADS/HarpersMagazine-2009-06-0082535.pdf

Above is the link. Like I said, this story is opposite to “A Rose for Emily;” it made me happy when I finished.

A Song to go Along

This story put a skip in my step, and naturally I’d pick a song that does the same. I’d go with an upbeat Coconut Records song, particularly “It’s Not You It’s Me”…

It’s a feelgood song worth dancing to!

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

8) Uncle James — E. Nesbit

short | medium | long

Out of the millions of children’s stories on the planet, some of my favorite have been by Seuss, Milne, and Nesbit. Edith Nesbit wrote fantastic childrens’ stories, lots of which involved dragons. Her style is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, but perhaps a little more grounded in reality, because many stories involved young, princess-and-commonboy protagonists.

“Uncle James” is one of those stories. Tom, the gardener’s boy, is in love with the young princess Mary Ann. They live in Rotundia, a world where things meant to be big (elephants, whales, etc) are small, and things meant to be small (guinea pigs, rabbits, etc) are big. The story is wonderfully written and even admits at a few points to be skipping over the more boring details of what occurred.

http://www.online-literature.com/edith-nesbit/book-of-dragons/2/

Read it and enjoy! And then go back and read the stories that will never fail to make you feel like a vulnerable little kid again.

A Song to go Along

Listen to “White Daisy Passing” by Rocky Votolato. It’s a pretty, Elliott Smith-esque song that turns a normal walk into an endlessly pleasant experience. And I’ve always associated children’s stories with nature and comfort, wonder and tranquility.

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

7) The Boogeyman — Stephen King

short | medium | long

Reading this story for the first time was terrifying. I couldn’t sleep well for weeks. Maybe I was merely young and impressionable, but honestly this story is masterfully creepy and awesomely surprising. It’s a must-read, absolutely, for any horror fan.

http://loloyd.homeip.net/ebooks1/Stephen%20King%20(Bibliography)/1970’s/1977/Short%20Stories/Stephen%20King%20-%20Night%20Shift%20-%20The%20Boogeyman.pdf

 

This story is guaranteed to deliver.

 

A Song to go Along

Well, I actually have two. The first one, “Haunted” by Radical Face, is a primer. It gets you in the mood, makes you feel haunted and eerie. It’s like wind blowing down a subway tunnel, or climbing into bed with the lights off. It’s just the right atmosphere to instill before reading a creepy book. Immerse yourself dammit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoCiyB8dMPk

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

Then listen to this song while reading. It’s from the Dead Space video game original soundtrack. It’s actually pretty horrifying and yet also unobtrusive, because it has no lyrics. Give it a try.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfbV6sSrn_4

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

 

6) I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream — Harlan Ellison

short | medium | long

This story is truly mortifying. It’s an astoundingly dark take on the progression of robots and computers, set in some strange future, where a handful of humans live together, taunted and tortured by a merciless Artificial Intelligence. The narrator is one of these people, and he talks about who they are, and who they all used to be before the machine systematically wiped out humanity. It seems that the only reason they are still alive at all is to be treated as playthings, because a computer with no test subjects apparently is capable of growing bored. The ending is strange and may be pretty shocking, but it’s a story that deals with one of many possible futuristic outcomes. And while it’s a little bit hard to foresee happening, it’s still brain food in a way. It gnawed at my mind for days.

http://pub.psi.cc/ihnmaims.txt

Read it, dwell on it, curl up in a ball.

 

A Song to go Along

The song “Anthem” by Emancipator is, in my mind, a perfect fit. It has that synthetic, futuristic, tech feel that this story offers. It’s kinda slow, dark, and fosters a contemplative mood. Try listening to it while reading and see what you think.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PEGDGxZdzA

You will be a changed human.

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

 

5) The Last Leaf — O. Henry

short | medium | long

O. Henry stories have always been the best. They have plot twists, which in my eyes is a sign of creativity and intelligence. And they’re not cheap either, they’re genuinely clever. And mostly they tend to be meaningful, which is something I can easily appreciate. “The Last Leaf” is one of my favorites.

http://www.online-literature.com/donne/1303/

It’s witty, it’s quick, and most of all it’s touching.

 

A Song to go Along

A song to go along? How about the song that hasn’t left my iPod since sophomore year: “The Past and Pending” by The Shins. No matter how many times I listen, there is something so compelling, so soft, so soothing and intimate about this song that makes me want to listen again. Most songs dry up and go away, but I will always listen to this song when it comes on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6dYB35lF_0

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

It’s fantastic and it’s calming, and it fits well with the story. CHECK IT OUT!

 

4) Pygmalion and Galatea — Edith Hamilton

short | medium | long

Now, this story isn’t actually the written property of Edith Hamilton. She’s just the Greek historian who managed to simplify it from poem form and basically synopsize it. But no matter what form it takes, I will always love this story. It’s about a man who detests women and decides to create a female sculpture in order to expose all the flaws of the gender–what happens next is not worth spoiling. I’ll link you guys to the Hamilton retelling of this story but encourage you all to read Ovid’s 10th poem in Metamorphoses, which fully accounts for the supposed experiences of Pygmalion.

http://www.dl.ket.org/latin/mythology/3fables/love/pygmalion.htm

It is one of the more touching love stories I’ve read before.

 

A Song to go Along

I like soft love songs, and so I’ll let you guys give this a listen:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aZh261KZWI

It’s one of the prettier songs I can call to mind, and it makes me feel sad and in love at the same time. And while the song may end on a bit of a morose note, and while certain parts of it may seem flaky and too honest, it just reinforces my own notions of true love and of keeping promises–in any case, it’s a pretty song, and I recommend giving it a listen. It may make your read a bit more interesting, and hey! It sounds like the narrator of Lua is disillusioned with the idea of love, just like Pygmalion.

 

 

3) A Calendar of Tales: August — Neil Gaiman

short | medium | long

If you have not yet read Neil Gaiman’s Calendar of Tales, go do it! Or better yet, have them read to you! Just pick a month and give it a listen, they never disappoint. Gaiman decided to connect to his audience by asking them what ideas they had about all of the months of the year; then he handpicked certain Twitter replies and wrote stories about them. It was a fantastic and generous idea.

My favorite of them all is August, closely followed by April and then July. But here’s a direct and obvious link to August:

http://keepmoving.blackberry.com/assets/desktop/pdf/neil-gaiman/august-story.pdf

This one is all about forest fires, and also the kinds of misconceptions humans have and perhaps the false sense of security they sometimes have in the face of danger. Ultimately, though, it’s just really poetic, and made me feel good at the end. It made me happy.

 

A Song to go Along

This song. Red Right Ankle by The Decemberists. It’s beautiful and charming, just like the August story. It makes me feel like sitting outside on a stoop, shooting the shit with someone close, watching things happen in the heat of August.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYwkmPKsctQ

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

 

2) The Yellow Wallpaper — Charlotte Perkins Gilman

short | medium | long

This story is probably the greatest psycho-thriller story I ever hope to read. It was the most insightful and interesting look into the mind of a psychotic I’ve ever seen, written by someone who may or may not have ever been this sick. Without spoiling it for you, I will just go as far to say that the narrator in the story, a woman on “holiday” with her husband, who is a physician, is afflicted with some sort of mental issue which causes her to become depressed. The rest is warped.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/literatureofprescription/exhibitionAssets/digitalDocs/The-Yellow-Wall-Paper.pdf

It is a bit long, but honestly it is perhaps the most rewarding “long” short story here. I promise.

 

A Song to go Along

I can’t even really think of a song to match what kind of eerie feeling this story manages to purvey. Here. Listen to the sounds Jupiter makes via electromagnetic waves. It’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3fqE01YYWs

You’re welcome.

Listen to this “song”:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

 

1) The Green Morning — Ray Bradbury

short | medium | long

This story is right out of The Martian Chronicles. Brief aside, of all the things and people I owe my relationship to Erin with, Bradbury is probably number one. We bonded over him quickly and excitedly because every story, every single story we’ve ever read by the guy is fantastic. He’s imaginative, creative, brief, simple, and yet so thought-provoking it’s ridiculous. We can never get enough of him.

Normally I’d go on and on about “Usher II” which is Erin’s and my favorite story in The Martian Chronicles. That story is absolutely fantastic, especially if you know your Edgar Allan Poe. But I decided to go with a story that wasn’t scary, and that didn’t require too much prior knowledge to certain things to appreciate the story. So I went ahead and chose “The Green Morning,” which is by all means spectacular.

http://anton.shpigunov.com/2011/07/the-green-morning/

And for your further enjoyment, if you appreciated that, you can read the entire book here. Pick a story and go with it, they’re all short and all fantastic.

 

A Song to go Along

A good song? Hmm… how about “Broken Afternoon” by The Helio Sequence?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYOEm_H5nQA

This song is vocally powerful but instrumentally soft, as if the singer is preaching or proclaiming his ideas. It’ll make you think of Johnny Appleseed when you read the story, or Benjamin Driscoll rather: the Johnny Appleseed of Mars.

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

 

Well, I hope you guys enjoyed! If you ever want more musical or literary recommendations, be my guest and ask me. I will absolutely give you guys some pointers.

Thanks for reading!

 

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

Advertisements

Pokemon Gameplay Continued

It’s been a while since I’ve picked this up, but I really have been thinking about what to include in this post, as well as what key things are needed to help explain this. The whole Pokemon battling and training thing is actually super, super complicated. I used to think it wasn’t, but after playing through Leaf Green once and having a super awesome Pidgeot who was by far the best Pokemon on my team, and then playing through again and having a Pidgeot that sucked complete and total ass… There’s more to Pokemon than just the name of the Pokemon. There are so many small factors that apply, it’s literally crazy.

I’ll start with the beginning of the game. You name your character, and in most your decide what gender you’d like… then you go through the process of getting your first Pokemon. You always have a choice between three starters (except in Yellow where you get a Pikachu), and those three starters are always grass, fire, and water type. The way I generally view the starters is as follows: grass is weakest (but can always pay off); water is most useful in terms of HM moves that help you navigate and do overworld stuff; fire is most powerful and makes up for its vulnerabilities. All three are always good choices, that’s just my opinion.

You battle your rival repeatedly. He (or she) always gets the opposite of your starter. If you get grass, they get fire, et alii. It’s annoying as hell to battle them unless you pick up a dude who beats their starter. For example, if you make them get grass by choosing water, kill their grass dude with a flying type or something. Not too hard.

Battling gyms is fun, assuming again that you’ve raised the dudes to combat their type. Raising dudes is very tedious and time-consuming, but pretty well worth it usually. Here’s where all the complications come in though: while each Pokemon has many similarities to other Pokemon of the same species, each Pokemon also has MANY differences.

Take a Pidgey as an example. Let’s look at all Pidgeys’ similarities to each other. All Pidgeys learn moves at the same level (Sand Attack lvl. 5; Gust lvl. 9; etc.). All Pidgeys evolve at level 18 (at least in Gen. III). All Pidgeys are the same color and all. All Pidgeys have the same description in the Pokedex, and on, and on. These are all general principles that every Pidgey you find will follow.

But not all Pidgeys have the same nature: there are 25 natures total, one of which your Pokemon can have. Each nature affects the development of two of your Pokemon’s statistics. If my Pidgey were to have a “lonely” nature, it would have a 10% increase in its attack stat, whereas its defense would be lowered by 10%. This is a universal rule: while one stat gets a 10% increase, another gets a 10% decrease.

There are six stats in Pokemon: Attack and Special Attack, Defense and Special Defense, HP, and Speed.

That’s just the beginning. What matters next is the Pokemon you battle. Each Pokemon you defeat in battle gives you one or two EVs, which stands for Effort Values. If you get ten, it equals a single stat boost depending on what EVs you’ve gotten.

I know for a fact that Tangelas give you Defense EVs, for whatever reason. If you were to ruthlessly slaughter ten Tangelas,  you would see (or perhaps you wouldn’t… it’s really pretty hard to tell) a Def +1 somewhere down the road with your aforementioned Pidgey. The thing is, even if you’re leveling up your Pidgey without killing anything, it’s still gaining stats. Just not nearly as much as if you’re killing wild dudes all the time.

The reason it’s still gaining stats is because all Pokemon have a “base stat” value. If you get a Pidgey to level 100 without killing any Pokemon with it (via rare candy, say, or some other cheating way), it would have to see a minimum of 40 HP, 45 Attack, 40 Defense, etc. So some stats need to be raised at least a little, regardless of whether or not you’ve actually killed Pokemon to achieve them.

So, you might ask: “Should I go around killing Tangelas only so as to raise my Defense stat?” No. Actually, I don’t recommend this at all. There are some people who try EV training like that in an attempt to either (a) balance out stats that are severely lacking, or (b) try to maximize a certain stat which is already proficient. It’s time-consuming, boring, and it takes forever to yield any solid results. Chances are, the end product will be a flawed piece of crap.

“What about natures? You said there’s a 10% decrease for certain stats, and a 10% increase for others. Does that mean every 10 EVs I earn, one is subtracted depending on the stat? And one is added to the stat that sees a 10% increase?” No, it doesn’t really work like that either… it’s more like this. The base stats I was talking about earlier are changed. So that Pidgey with the Lonely nature, instead of having a base attack of 45 Attack and 40 Defense, would instead have to have, minimally, 49 Attack and 36 Defense. Because its attack and defense are raised and lowered, respectively, by 10%.

That’s some pretty in-depth shit, innit?

The fact is, I never pay attention to it. All I do is catch dudes and raise them. I keep those things in mind, but it’s not like I act on them. I don’t go around killing Tangelas just ’cause I know my Pidgey will end up having a sick Defense stat. In fact, I don’t really even pay attention to natures at all either. It’s too difficult to find the right-natured Pidgey. If it sucks, it sucks. Too bad. There’s always a weakest link on your Poketeam, bro.

Hope that cleared some shit up.

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

Pokemon Gameplay In A Nutshell

I am always completely thrilled with the Pokemon games–whenever a new one is released I get all hot and bothered. Sometimes I’m prevented from playing them due to lack of money and appropriate handheld device, and that is saddening, but the fact is that I’ve never lost faith in Pokemon after all these years. There are groups of people that will tell other people that “Generations 1-3 are better than 4 and 5” or “Generation 1 was the best, the rest are bullshit.” Those people are [censored]. They are [, generally speaking, people who are well-accustomed to said generations, who have not played through Generations 4 and 5 and have not gotten to know and admire the new and unique Pokemon these games have to offer. I myself prefer Generations 1-3, but I will never be found completely shunning the newer additions to the series due to silly reasons like ‘the newer Pokemon are shittily designed.’ The same arguments can be made about Generations 1-3, I promise.]

 

The fact is that Pokemon’s dynamics are ever-changing. And people who fail to keep up with them are too easily deterred. Some would rather dismiss the new games because they are too foreign, and that’s just a shame.

 

The Pokemon games have progressed exceedingly well. The basis of the game was incredible to begin with, though: a wide range of Pokemon to be caught, raised by gaining experience in battles with other Pokemon, evolved and basically refined into kickass, unbeatable monsters. I mean, they gave you 151 to begin with, and on top of that no Pokemon is the same as any other Pokemon even if they’re the same species. Statistics vary, even moreso in later generations because the Pokemon gained ‘natures’ which influenced their stat gains as they leveled up.

 

Also very impressive is the game’s use of TMs, which are short for technical machines. These are game-changers because they allow Pokemon to learn moves that they would not normally learn; certain Pokemon can learn certain TMs. For example, Squirtle the water-type can learn Water Pulse, which is a powerful advantage in battle, especially at lower levels. But there’s no way a Charmander (fire-type) would be able to learn it. Just like a Squirtle can’t learn Flamethrower. It makes a lot of sense, mostly.

 

Pokemon gyms with gym leaders have always been awesome. The gym leaders are the boss battles of the game–trainers can be relatively challenging, but they’re mostly used to effectively level up your team of six Pokemon. Gym leaders are harsh and are normally very challenging, especially when you’ve got a team that’s poorly suited to go up against a leader. If you go up against an electric gym with only water- and flying-type Pokemon (which are both weak against electric), you’re completely screwed unless you’re a great, great deal higher in level than their Pokemon are.

 

Speaking of battling, a great addition to the game was rebattling. The earlier games were very flawed because once you beat a trainer, they could never be battled again. Their money dried up, their Pokemon would never be used against yours again. They simply stood there, only talking to you when you talked to them. It stayed this way in Gen I, but in Gen II there was a ‘phone’ addition to the player’s gear that allowed trainers to call the main character when they were ready to battle again. It was tedious to run and find these trainers, and it was also hard keeping track, but it was something. In Ruby and Sapphire the phones were subtracted, and the trainers were catalogued in a Pokenav application that showed a little red square next to the trainers who were ready to battle again–but this was very infrequent and a little frustrating when you needed to go and level-grind.

 

Fire Red and Leaf Green employed the Vs. Seeker which gave the player the power to ask nearby trainers for battles whenever they wanted. This was the most useful of all rebattling methods. I was impressed.
With the introduction of more Pokemon comes way, way more battling methods and team combinations. Many newcomers build a one-sided power-team that is basically a couple, if not one, strong Pokemon that do/does all the battling. The rest are HM slaves, or Pokemon that are in the party that have one purpose: to learn moves that enable the main character to go new places. These are moves like Hidden Machine 03, Surf, which allows the player to swim with their Pokemon across the water; or HM02 Fly, which allows them to fly on their Pokemon to towns they’ve visited before. These teams can honestly turn out very well–I beat Sapphire many times using only a starter Pokemon for battling. They end up leveling well beyond what the other trainers’ Pokemon are because they’re getting all the experience from battling, experience that should be shared among the whole team. I’ve fought the Elite Four (final battles against four very powerful trainers and a fifth–the champ) using a level 70 Swampert that killed all of the level 40s and 50s. It was great.

 

Since I’ve been playing so long, I like strategizing a bit more. I like trying to keep my whole party of six at the same level, so that I can have a team that balances out. This means that whatever Pokemon I’m up against, I’ve got at least one Pokemon who can kick its stupid sorry ass. If I have a Venusaur (grass) and I go up against my rival’s Charizard (fire), I’m screwed. But if I can swap Venusaur out with, say, a Golduck (water), I can destroy the Charizard. If he then throws out an Exeggutor (grass) that can easily kill my water-type Golduck, I throw out an Arcanine (fire) that takes care of his grass-type, etc. It’s actually very easy to figure out what kinds of Pokemon you’ll need to achieve a team like this, and there are many possibilities.

 

I’ve just started over my Heartgold version and I’m pretty psyched; I’m gonna have a really kickass team.

 

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

An Unbiased Political Post

America’s greatest domestic issue is undoubtedly the matter of its economic functioning. Those who watch the news can undoubtedly call to mind such hot-button phrases as “budget battle” and “fiscal cliff”. I’m writing today to give an objective background, explanation, and set of reasonable predictions concerning our country’s current crisis. If I fail in any way, you have my permission to criticize me openly on the internet.

There will be four parts to this post, modeled off of today’s Global Diplomacy lesson. My true motive for writing this is to clarify for myself the matter of today’s pressing budget issue, because tomorrow we have an essay to write describing… well, describing these four things:

1) All of the time up until the Budget Control Act (BCA) was passed

2) BCA to Jan. 1, 2013

3) Jan. 1

4) Issues, conceivable consequences, etc.

If this helps anyone study for tomorrow besides myself, I will be thrilled. Please know that I like you guys.

UP TO BCA

In 2008 there was a huge financial crisis in the US that ultimately forced us into recession. Decisions were made delicately because of the huge housing collapse, which was due to unqualified loans and improper banking decisions. Mortgages were subsequently withheld and foreclosures were abundant because the people weren’t paying off their loans (imagine that, many of them had poor credit ratings and deserved nothing of the sort). I learned recently of a loan called the “NINJA” which stands for “No Income, No Job, no Assets” and, of course, in hindsight, some think this loan was a bit ridiculous. But it was largely the fault of loans like these that caused the financial meltdown. In 2008 there was a budget deficit of $1.75 trillion, an immensely large sum, due to Bush’s TARP program and Obama’s stimulus package. These were huge budget burdens and were paid for with borrowed money.

The debt ceiling was seeming ever closer, and so in November 2010, during the elections, a new group of Tea Party politicians were elected to Congress and Boehner became the Republican Speaker of the House. The reason that elections proved so conservative was that the recession had come to be blamed on the Democrats, who in 2008 had governed both the Executive and Legislative branches of government. They had House majority and so their decisions were seen as the direct cause for the economic upset.

In May of 2011, the debt ceiling was officially hit. $14.3 trillion dollars had been accumulated in total debt and Congress fought over solutions for the entire summer. On August 2nd, which was the last possible day that anything could be done without a US default and a government shutdown, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling up to $16.39 trillion and also created a Supercommittee charged with formulating a balanced, bipartisan budget.

BCA to Jan. 1st

The Supercommittee certainly churned out ideas, and the most-cited example would have to be the Simpson-Bowles plan, which died in committee and never officially reached the House to be debated upon. The Supercommittee failed in November 2011, its deadline.

The failure arose from a microcosmic battle of ideologies. The reason that a budget had not been made in any of the previous years since 2008 was because there was fighting and polarization in Congress; it was the same in the Supercommittee. There was a complete failure to compromise over relatively small cuts and rate raises amounting to mere scores of billions of dollars. This battle is commonly known as “rates v. revenue” because it is entirely about taxes and spending. Democrats typically want to see tax increases to make up for excess spending; Republicans want to see spending cuts to make up for painfully low tax rates (by comparison, and especially in our current situation, can they be considered low).

The Supercommittee’s failure brought America to an ultimatum. The Budget Control Act mandated that if they failed to come to an agreement, there would be a massively effective and also harsh imposing of “sequestration” measures, which would yield $1.2 trillion over 10 years ($120 billion a year). These cuts and rate increases were designed to be harsh as an incentive for the Supercommittee to agree on a budget that would be less drastic.

JAN. 1st: Effects

In the middle of the night on Dec. 31st, the Senate voted 89-8 that the sequestration measures would be “staved off” for another two months. They prolonged their decisions on many matters, including many rate increases and spending cuts included in the sequestration measures. Sequestration will not officially take effect for another two months.

Of the things that the legislation accomplished, perhaps the most apparent one would be the tax increase on the ‘wealthy’ people, specifically those who make $400,000 or more a year. Individuals who make $400k or more, as well as couples who make $450k or more, now have their tax rates increased from 35% to 39.6%. This adds $60 billion to US Government revenue.

Another effect of the recent legislation increases dividend/capital gains taxes (taxes that are taken from stock and investment gains) from 15% to 20%. This also applies only to those above the 400k/450k individual/couple threshold.

Payroll taxes have increased from 4.2% to 6.2%. This is a result of the expiration of a specific portion of the Bush Tax cuts; the original tax rate is 6.2%, but the tax cuts have kept the payroll tax at a 4.2% level for some time. The Bush Tax cuts have not altogether expired and there is no reason to suspect that they will be allowed to expire. Obama and Congressmen have agreed to preserve most of the tax cuts in the most recent legislation.

To finalize this section, I can only say that Americans now face three fiscal cliffs: a continuing resolution has given Congress another two months to make decisions and cooperate. At the end of these two months, if no specific budget is agreed upon, the first of the cliffs will be a government shutdown, similar to the situation that was faced on August 2nd, 2011. The second cliff involves sequestration, because at the end of these two months this is what will be enacted if no decision is reached. The last is the debt ceiling hit, which may cause a second downgrade of America’s credit rating leading to interest rate spikes and other economic crises.

 Predictions

This part’s really up to you guys. Make of this what you will. What are the major issues, who will be affected? What kinds of things are we seeing delayed and are there any patterns in governmental business that you expect to see again?

I hope this helped you guys, I really do; writing it all down like this helped me a lot.

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem is a Japanese video game that is comparable to Final Fantasy in the sense that it’s drawn out over several games (like, a dozen or something) and has different characters in each and every one. And they’re totally amazing.

I discovered them long ago–about four years ago maybe–when a friend let me borrow a game in the series for the Gameboy. It was called Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones and it was so completely and predominantly sexual that I nearly had some sort of strange visual orgasm. I had to drop it for a while.

When I came back, I discovered what I loved about it most: the characters and their subsequent characterization is phenomenal. Each character is so smoking hot in their own way that it’s like, how do you ignore them? Some characters who fight for you are childhood friends. Others are comrades and long-ago squadmates. Others are lords, ladies, and their faithful squires or pages. Others are young boys and girls who are just now learning to understand their fighting power, etc.

But what’s cool is that even though they fight for you, that’s not really the main focus: it’s really more about getting them to bond with each other. For instance, a weathered knight named Seth, if placed in adjacent panels to his young companion Franz for prolonged periods of time, unlocks a “support” conversation, in which they converse and grow closer. This means that next time they fight adjacent to each other, each one is a little bit stronger because of the bond between them both.

And this is where my description of the game as being “The Ultimate OTP [one true pairing] Game” comes into play. At the end of the game, it gives DESCRIPTIONS of the peoples’ lives together. I’ll give you an example: my favorite pairing, Colm and Neimi (childhood friends, thief and archer), have a short note written about them if you have three support conversations between them:

The childhood friends became lovers at first, then husband and wife. Worried for Neimi’s well-being, Colm gave up his adventurer’s ways. Neimi passed on her grandfather’s skill in archery to her own son and daughter.

Dammit if that is not the most gut-wrenchingly wonderful thing I’ve ever read about the two–I WORKED FOR THAT. I WORKED FOR THAT TO HAPPEN. I PUT THOSE TWO CHARACTERS IN A CORNER AND THEY SPENT COUNTLESS TURNS THERE DOING NOTHING UNTIL THEY WERE ABLE TO HAVE ANOTHER SUPPORT CONVERSATION.

Ahem, well anyway, the game is an “RTS” which means it’s a real-time strategy. The whole game is VERY mind-bending and painfully strategic, and the placement and equipment of your characters is of utmost importance. What’s great is that some characters are weak, and others are exceptionally strong. These strong ones must support the weak ones until the weak are able to take care of themselves, etc.

The characters who are weak are eventually able to “transform”–I’m not sure there’s actually a word for this–meaning that they change classes. An example would be Franz, who I mentioned earlier. He’s young, and he’s pretty cool and all. He’s a cavalier, meaning he rides a horse. Horseriding characters are good because they have a lot of mobility. They can move a lot in one turn, and can usually outrun enemies if need-be. But Franz usually doesn’t need to. He can use lances and swords (the ‘weapon triangle’ is as follows: swords beat axes; axes beat lances; lances beat swords) (this isn’t always the case; these weapons just have obvious advantages/disadvantages against other weapons, but they can still win out).

Franz is a cavalier. If he gets to level 10, I can use a knight crest on him and make him either a ‘great knight’ (which can use axes as well as swords and lances) or a paladin (which is strong, and has greater mobility, but uses no new weapons).

Do you SEE the possibilities?

You will sometimes come across red (enemy) characters who are different than all the other characters on the opposing side. They look as if their portrait art is different than what is normal, and they have a designated name. These characters are either enemy bosses… or they’re recruitable. And recruitable ones are AWESOME. That means you’ve got a new guy on your team, permanently. There are lots of opportunities to recruit new characters. It’s common to get at least one new character each level. You accumulate quite a few… but if one of your character’s health depletes all the way, they die and can never be deployed again. So you have to be very careful when it comes to placement, health management, etc.

Wow. I must sound like I’m working for Intelligent Systems or something, I’m really selling this game. But the point is, PLAY it. If you guys want, message me and I’ll tell you how to play without even having a Gameboy (I play it on computer, you can save games and everything. It’s quite literally my baby, and you don’t even need internet to play, either).

I hope to spark your interest, and maybe later we can have a (support) conversation about these games.

-Thom

Tumblr

I recently fell into a big gulch. That gulch is tumblr.

But it’s such a wonderful gulch, and I can imagine that most readers are nodding their heads like “yeah, I feel more at home scrolling down my dashboard than I do laying in my bed.” I do too, guys.

The thing about tumblr is that it bombards you with all the right things, and all the right quotes, and all the right fandoms. And you can pick and choose, too. Oh, and you can customize your own themes and upload whatever the hell you want, even if it isn’t yours. And all that crazy jazz. People don’t pay as much attention to as you like to fantasize about, but still- it’s marvelous. Oh, and I still hate Twitter.

I tried Pinterest, too, and I liked it a lot. My only major qualm is that it’s geared mainly towards girls who like clothes. And that’s fine. Girls are fine liking clothes. It’s just not for me, all that much. I tried my best unfollowing the ‘clothes’ boards that people set up and only following funny things, but the thing is that inevitably, you will find that you are following more clothes boards than you think, and it will be overwhelming. I have never seen so many dresses on one webpage that are sparkly and expensive.

Tumblr is much more fandom-based, and we can all see the virtue in that.

I tried Twitter. Sort of. I quit.

I also love “Reddit” which is a huge forum community with subsequent sectors called “subreddits” that are optimized for your viewing needs. Everything on that website is hilarious.

I also am a complete Netflix-addict. I stream everything, compulsively. There are so many good shows, don’t listen to what people tell you about their selection being crappy and their… well, that’s probably all that people will tell you about Netflix anyway. The thing is, there is SOMETHING on Netflix for you. At least one thing, if not two, or ten things. I have no complaints when it’s as accessible as it is, I have the app on my iPod and I have the website bookmarked.

But back to my main point: I’m currently very addicted to Tumblr. And I believe I’m at the point of no return; there’s just so many good things that it offers, so many lovely pictures and funny posts and clever users. It’s like being a part of a big club of people who are all funnier and more attractive than you, but they don’t call you out for anything. If it were REAL life, it’d be like me trying to sit at the cool table at lunch. They’d beat me up. But Tumblr is the cool table. Automagically. You just pull up a seat and eat fandoms.

Follow me:

-deleted-

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

Sir, Your Brain Cell Count Is Low (Thom’s Thoughts)

We all know people who just don’t seem to connect to reality the way we do, don’t we? And we all know people who compensate for this by being overtly intimidating or aggressive, or by accepting their intellectual restrictions to the point of simply not trying.

While this is all fascinating, I guess I’ve come to realize that there are two kinds of stupid, put simply: dumb and mean.

Now, of course, we often see unpleasant mixtures of these traits. And while it sounds very old-school, it’s usually got a few dead giveaways that I’ll refrain from sharing. These involve appearance, physical behavior, et cetera. You can just kind of tell: Hey, that guy’s a complete moron.

Not always in the conventional sense! No, more often, we run into those people who we think darkly to ourselves (not without committing to some mental penance, simultaneously, for thinking such a thought!) will achieve very little in life.

Now, if I started making my penance for these kinds of thoughts a strict exercise regimen (I’d say that thought earns me a good thirty pushups) then I’d be ripped by July. But that’s not the point.

The point is, about a month ago, I was sitting on a metro, flying through the underground tunnels of D.C. And Erin and her family sat several rows up; I was in the back, and she was in the front.

And suddenly, at one stop, this guy gets on who strangely knew the guy behind me. The guy just behind me wore a Tap Out shirt and shorts that fell to his ankles. He sat, minding his own business, until this newcomer got on the train.

But the newcomer didn’t want to sit beside his friend. Instead, he wanted to sit in an empty seat, adjacent to his friend. “Y’all gonna have to get the [expletive] outta the way,” was his exact quote. I sighed, and remembered how my strong suit has always been avoiding pointless fights or confrontations. I moved up a row and sat next to an old woman who appeared to be sleeping soundly.

Now, here are two redeeming qualities I noticed in the newcomer:

1) He was holding a ticket in his hand, meaning he had legally boarded the metro and was not, in fact, breaking the law as I was inclined to believe through harsh and defensive stereotpyes.

2) Instead of hijacking the seat on the opposite side of the aisle, which was occupied by an older man with a cane, he chose me. This implies that he may have had traces of an instilled sense of respect for elders, which is an incredibly valuable and important societal trait in young people. On this, I commend him.

I don’t condone what he did, and at the time, I was somewhat furious. But if I’ve been taught anything, it’s that there are ways to get back at people you dislike that aren’t nearly as direct or consequential as immediate violence. Also, I wouldn’t have been able to take him anyways.

I chose a strange way to ‘get back’ at the newcomer. I turned in my seat several minutes later and smiled what I later described to a friend as “the nicest, most innocent smile I’ve ever given to anybody.” He caught it like a baseball to the face.

Now, here’s my theory: due to his apparently failing intellect, he probably paid minimal attention to the smile, barely retained it in his short-term memory, and, later that day, shoplifted some small, insignificant items from the Sundries section of a CVS.

Had his IQ been a few points higher, this is how it would’ve gone:

He would have registered the fact that I had smiled immediately, and also would have been able to barely articulate strange aspects of the situation, like the irony in my smile. This would have led him to the error of his ways, which he still wouldn’t have corrected anyway. Then, later that day, he would have shoplifted some small, insignificant items from the Sundries section of a CVS.

Generation X? More like generation X-citing! Way to spice up my life, friend!

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

%d bloggers like this: