bangbangbang

Meeting in the Desert

The following is a short story about a character I’ve been working on for years. The story itself was written in the span of about two hours, with me just writing stuff out as it popped into my head.

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It sure as hell is hot out here, thought the arms dealer wearing a business suit in the middle of a warm desert. Why did I agree to this again? He stood there in a nice suit, black jacket and pants, with a red tie and dark, designer sunglasses, watching the horizon. He flexed his hands, protected from the heat in biker’s gloves. He also flexed his toes, which were suffering from an unfortunate case of sand in the formal, designer shoes he was wearing.

What he had agreed to was a meeting with a rival arms dealer, one whom he was currently in the midst of a territorial dispute, and who had asked for a truce. “Meet me at this location and we’ll divide the territory between us,” he had said. “This nasty conflict between our organizations can finally be over.”

Sure, the guy standing in the desert alone thought. It’ll be over all right. He squinted through the sunglasses at the black sedan driving down the long, winding road toward him. Strangely, there was a whole lot of dust and sand being kicked up for such a small car. He frowned as he realized that what was supposed to be one car was actually two. Awesome! he thought. Intrigue! Scandal!

“We’ll meet, just you and I, to discuss the terms of the ceasefire,” the rival had said over the phone. “None of your men, and none of mine. We’ll do this like civilized men.”

Civilized men apparently bring reinforcements to clean up their messes, the trapped arms dealer thought. He sighed, knowing the end of the conflict really was here.

The two sedans pulled up in front of the arms dealer, and the first to step out was the rival, grinning. Caught like a rat in a trap, the lonely guy thought. Welp, it’s been fun, I guess. The rival’s hair was black, slicked back like a used car salesman, and dressed in a collared shirt with khakis and tennis shoes. Shortly afterward, out of the rival’s car stepped a rather large man – not fat, just tall and muscular – and from the other sedan stepped two men of identical build. Maybe they’re brothers? Or this is just the ideal henchmen these days. Creativity is dead.

“Dante,” the rival called out, stepping toward his prey with arms wide as though to hug him. “Glad to see you. I hope you’re doing well.”

“As well as anyone could be when the circumstances of a truce have suddenly changed,” Dante replied. “Now I can’t be certain, Vamp, but I think you lied to me.”

“Vamp,” as the rival was called, continued to walk forward and hugged Dante, kissing him on either cheek, like they were family. He took a step back and looked to each henchman, nodding.

“Now hold on a second,” Dante put his hands up as each of the three big men pulled out handguns, all three comically small compared to their large, beefy hands. “I don’t see why this has to end in violence.”

The rival, Vamp, laughed. “Don’t you? Two of us can’t share South City. I’ll have you killed here, take over your properties and warehouses, and clean up nicely there before expanding to bigger and better things.”

Dante, hands still raised, folded his fingers back and, making little finger guns as he responded to Vamp. “This is all a little unnecessary. I didn’t even start this war. I just wanted to end it before it got too messy.”

“You outsiders, coming in to my city, make me sick,” Vamp sneered. “You don’t respect how things were before you started butting in.”

Dante pointed his “guns” at two of the big men’s foreheads, and said “Bang! Bang!” The two men’s heads snapped back as though they really were shot, and they fell to the ground. Dante aimed his fingers at the third man before he could react and said “Bang!” again, causing him to crumple to the ground.

It took the second and a half Dante had “shot” the men in for the crack of the sniper rifles to hit Vamp’s ears. In a split second, he realized what had happened.

Dante had not come alone either.

Adjusting his tie, Dante strolled over to Vamp, brushed off the terrified man’s shoulders, and put his arm around him.

“Vamp, old buddy, it’s time to talk terms.”

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FACT CHECK: Do Terminators Even Have Souls?

Donald Trump raised eyebrows this morning when he went on a tangent about needing to pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger, because his poor Apprentice ratings are falling and what have you. Naturally, many people shook their heads at the scene, and it’s become something of a sense of shame among people on the Right who still feel it.

However, it begs a much deeper philosophical and theological question: Do Terminators have souls you can even pray for?

I’ve done a bit of research on this, and draw from my own memory on the subject, and the research isn’t good for ol’ Ah-nold.

First, let’s look at the definition of “soul.” Since I was born and raised Catholic, let’s start with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The spiritual principle of human beings. The soul is the subject of human consciousness and freedom; soul and body together form one unique human nature. Each human soul is individual and immortal, immediately created by God. The soul does not die with the body, from which it is separated by death, and with which it will be reunited in the final resurrection…

The bolding above is mine for the purpose of pointing out the key details. First, according to the Church, having a soul is a uniquely human trait. However, a similar question on souls and non-humans was posed by the classic documentary All Dogs Go To Heaven, which appears to be at odds with the Church.

A dog did go was on its way to Heaven in that movie, but seemingly had to go through its own particular Purgatory before he could get there. While the Terminator movies do not go into such detail, there is a philosophical aspect to the idea of a soul that they do address.

In the first bolded phrase above, we see that consciousness and freedom are mentioned. It can be determined that, at the very least, T-800 models can develop both, as evidenced by those who defect to the side of the humans for self-preservation and moral reasons.

Via the fan wiki on T-800s:

Skynet sees these units as threats and has ordered that all other models to terminate them on sight. However, these units have developed a large database of in-field improvisation, improving upon their combat ability and self-repair function. It is not uncommon for a rogue T-800 to improve its physical design by replacing or improving components of itself from other disabled units as seen by a captured T-800 unit which showed multiple non-standard modifications, including crude armor plating, additional CPU’s, multiple limbs, serrated talons and internal multiphasic weaponry powered by its internal fuel cell. [citation needed]

Skynet has used such in-field modifications in its latest designs.[citation needed]

The “Rogue” T-800s have achieved this level of autonomy by having their CPU set to “read-and-write” shortly after factory production. The CPU can be manually switched (this ensures that the switch is not activated by a virus or programming glitch) from “read-only” to “read-and-write,” enabling it to learn from its contact with humans, and therefore allowing it to conceal itself more effectively. However, some units have reached a level of understanding where they could choose to accept commands from Skynet or even choose to fight against Skynet.

While this may not indicate a soul, per se, it does seem to suggest the formation of both consciousness and a sense of freedom.

The second bolded phrases deals with the idea that the soul does not die with the body. Modern technology is proof enough that transferring data from one computer to another keeps it from being lost. It is difficult to imagine that the same wouldn’t be possible for some Terminator models. Therefore, the consciousness wouldn’t “die” as we know it. Therefore, if we argued that the bolded phrases from the Catechism are requirements for having a soul, the Termintors meet two of the three:

  1. They are not human.
  2. They can know consciousness and freedom.
  3. They can carry on past their physical bodies.

Moreover, if All Dogs Go To Heaven is anything to go by, then the human requirement isn’t necessary. Because of the theological nature of prayers and the National Prayer Breakfast, however, I simply cannot determine whether or not there is a soul to pray for.

Overall, I give the claim that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a soul to pray for an Unverifiable, unless the Creator Himself reveals such to me.

Almost There…

A personal note here: I’m one semester away from a Master’s degree and full certification to teach.

Basically, Louisiana currently has me on a Practitioner’s Liscense until I get my full certification, which will be official at the end of this year.

Thankfully, this means no more classes to take up my already limited spare time. I can focus on teaching (like), coaching (really like), and writing (love). I didn’t make my 2016 goal of finishing a book, but maybe I’ll have the time to do it this year. That would be cool.

So, a few prayers couldn’t hurt as I work my way through this final semester. If you have any, I’d appreciate it.

2016 Is A Good Lesson For Teachers

No matter what subject you teach, the 2016 presidential election results actually do provide a good lesson in research and evidence-based writing.

See, a lot of people relied on one set of data to predict how 2016 would turn out: The polls. Virtually every poll got it wrong. However, hindsight being what it is, there was actually plenty of evidence out there that suggested Donald Trump would, in fact, outperform expectations, even to the point of victory. The problem is that a lot of that evidence actually falls into the category of anecdotal, which is rarely seen as viable data.

What happened in this election, however, is a case of what is known as confirmation bias, which is having a bias toward the information that confirms what you already believe to be true. In teaching students to write evidence-based essays, it is something you have to teach them to avoid, because it causes you to seek out information that confirms a result rather than answers a hypothesis (which makes my falling into the trap of confirmation bias in this election that much more embarrassing – I knew better).

Even in persuasive and argumentative writing, you have to teach students to research and examine counter-claims (the claims someone arguing against you might make). If you are only looking for information that confirms your view on a subject and not entertaining another side, you will not be prepared when the other side shows up with good talking points.

There was an observable enthusiasm gap. Trump supporters were more excited to be supporting Trump than Clinton supporters were excited about supporting Clinton. There was also a gap between online support. There were other signs, too, but we didn’t pay attention to them because we thought that rallies and the online community were simply too small to really represent actual support. And, these were things that were pointed out to guys like me. Repeatedly. And guys like me didn’t listen.

It’s a lesson that can be applied in English (as I will be applying it), Science (when researching and testing hypothesis), and Social Studies (in trying to explain or argue certain historical or political points).

 

So, yeah. I was wrong.

Damn it all, this has not been a good two years for me. Louisiana’s gubernatorial race, the GOP primary, the presidential election… I’ve sucked this year. And I’m totally okay admitting that. Here’s why:

I don’t think it’s the end of the world. If you do the math, eight years of Trump will be roughly three percent of American history by the time we get around to 2024 (I know, I’m assuming a second term, but bear with me). That means he’s barely a blip on our nation’s history, and with any luck our history can extend another couple hundred years (at least). I’ve got several more elections in me. I’ve got several more posts in me. Hell, I might have several more jobs in me where I can make a difference in some field or another.

Donald Trump was not the ideal candidate. Neither was Hillary Clinton. Hell, what does it say about Hillary Clinton, who was supposed to be some fantastic campaigner and political force, that she lost to Donald Trump? That’s one thing I did get right: I said the Democrats nominated the one person who could lose to Donald Trump.

And boy did she lose. She lost so bad the entire Democratic Party suffered a phenomenal setback. Between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Democrats are now starting off worse than ever. I don’t think a midterm is going to help it, either. They have too many red state seats to try and hold to worry about gains elsewhere.

I was wrong about Trump’s chances of winning. I can only hope, then, that I was wrong about his character. Either way, to the Trumpkins telling me I should beg for forgiveness, no thanks. Donald Trump has to earn my respect. He has to earn any loyalty. I am done being a registered Republican. I don’t owe anyone anything. If a politician wants my support, they have to win it. He has to show me I was wrong, that he will advance the causes I believe in.

Let’s see if he can.

Yes, Les Miles Deserved to be Fired

A lot of folks are commenting today on how great a guy Les Miles is. Which is totally awesome. We frankly need more great guys like Miles in football just as much as we frankly need less guys like Nick Saban. Miles is funny, eccentric, and has some pretty cool plays.

However, Miles had one job this summer: fix the damn offense. Nearly every source speaking on and off the record agrees that Miles was stubborn. He didn’t make any changes. In fact, he kept Cam Cameron on staff. He stuck with a useless quarterback. He did the opposite of changing the system. He kept it, seemingly unchanged.

That stubbornness and lack of clear leadership is exactly why he should have been fired.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Miles. He’s done good things for LSU. There’re BCS titles and a national championship in his record at LSU. But he didn’t improve anything after a near-miss at being fired. That’s a big deal.

It seemed like he was almost daring them to fire him. Then, Baton Rouge flooded, and he seemed pretty secure in his position. But, he wasn’t. He was expendable in the end. I don’t like that we lost a coach mid-season, but I do like to think that this we were looking at a rebuilding year anyway. Why not have that much longer to practice and work on a new scheme before next year?

The Class Sizes Are Too Damn High

I’m tossing this up from The Washington Post because it’s absolute truth. People need to realize this and stop forcing teacher:student ratios of more than 1:20, because it’s just hurting students.

Every now and then someone in education policy (Arne Duncan) or education philanthropy (Bill Gates) or the media (Malcolm Gladwell) will say something about why class size isn’t really very important because a great teacher can handle a boatload of kids.

Not really.

A new review of the major research that has been conducted on class size by Northwestern University Associate Professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder makes clear that class size matters, and it matters a lot

And it’s incredibly irritating when someone says “good teachers can handle it!” and scores go down for the teachers who are really good. It’s simply not fair to them.

But, the education overlords in our local, state, and federal bureaucracies would prefer to focus on writing and introducing standards that teachers won’t really ever be trained to implement in their classrooms. Instead, they are given prescribed curricula that have what standards are in each lesson you teach and their purpose is never really explained.

I get and even at times support the implementation of standards in content areas, but it is impossible to guarantee a student can master those standards if they are competing with 25 or more other students for the teacher’s attention. How is that supposed to work?

Anyway, there’s my little rant for the morning. I’m going back to doing lesson plans for my 28+ student classes (whom I love and adore).