July 11, 2003
Give War a Chance

Rodney King, witnessing the riots in LA that were touched off by the "not guilty" verdicts for the police officers who were charged with brutality against him, asked the profound question: "Can't we all just get along?"

It's becoming increasingly obvious to me that the answer is, "No."

I am one of the board members for my home owners' association, and I see how little, itty bitty, minor differences of opinion can lead people to do very hostile things toward each other. What starts off as an honest disagreement over who should be allowed to park where becomes a feud involving threats, intimidation, and "coalition building" of neighbors against neighbors. It's surreal to see. In the once case that is currently on my mind, both parties are generally reasonable folks who just want to live and let live. Until their desires clash, and then it's dog eat dog.

Our home owners association has, oh, about one hundred forty units. Something like that. There's usually one (and only one) feud going on in our neighborhood at any given time (I've been on the board now for roughly four years). The feud always ends the same way: first, one party moves out, and then the other party moves out, too. Then, somebody else gets upset with some other somebody, and another feud is born.

I attended a science fiction writers convention recently, and author Stephen Barnes commented on the reason racism persists in science fiction in particular and throughout America in general. He gave one theory that I found particularly resonant. He speculated that nasty behavior in groups is often the result of ever-so-minor tendencies among individuals that aggregate into something larger. In other words, most people are actually quite tolerant folks. Left to their own devices, most people will behave well in most situations. However, there might be one area where any given person will *tend* to not be as tolerant. One area where there is a distinct "us versus them" feeling.

When you gather a large group of people, these small tendencies toward intolerance will tend to aggregate around some particular issue, cohere, and become more obvious. More pronounced. Quiet disagreement or dislike becomes overt resistance or animosity, which in turn becomes outright hostility and hatred as the group gets larger still.

(Keep in mind, this idea is my extrapolation of one part of what I heard Mr. Barnes say, and may not actually represent his views.)

This is not to say that all large groups must inevitably tend toward violence (although, now that I think about it, a case can be made for just that). But, rather, the idea is that the larger the group, the more likely some manner of intolerance will be expressed.

Mr. Barnes also made another observation, which is even more pertinent. Let us suppose that most people are basically good. Mr. Barnes asked us to consider that, say, nine out of ten people are good, but I'll go further: let's suppose that 99 out of every 100 people are basically good. What does that leave us with? It leaves us with the one out of a hundred who are inherently -- to borrow Mr. Barnes eloquent terminology -- assholes.

So. You have a hundred people. A microcosm of humanity. For the sake of argument, we'll say that 99 are decent folks. One is an asshole. Never mind that the substantial majority of these people will tend to be good, there's still going to be trouble in River City because that one guy is gonna stir up trouble. That one guy is going to cause problems. And he *will*, I assure you, even get some of his basically good neighbors to occasionally do basically bad things.

And this brings us to an item I saw in the news today which is proof positive that we will never, ever, see "world peace." NEVER. This news article I read on cnn.com talks about an online game called "The Sims Online." This game boasts a community of 100,000 players. The object of the game is to pilot your virtual character through simulated cites, acquire simulated jobs and simulated families, and make simulated friends. There are no guns in Simland. But, as the article explains, there are nonetheless malcontents within this simulated land who gang up and harass their simulated neighbors. It's like a Sim Mafia. They target players, raid their accounts, and/or use the rules of the game to bring the target's score down (through the use of "red links").

As the article goes on to describe, the Sim Thugs have done enough damage to enough people that now there's a Sim Vigilante group (they call themselves the "Sim Shadow Government" -- think of it!) that boasts around a thousand members. Even the nice, friendly environment like Sims Online has it's own Sim Department of Homeland Security, thanks to the Sim Terrorists.

And that's the point. If an online game where you've essentially got grownups playing with Barbie Houses -- where you only score points by making friends (simulated, of course) -- can't escape this kind of virtual violence, how can we expect in the real world to circumvent real violence?

World peace is a noble goal. But as long as kids still fight each other in school playgrounds, nations will keep going to war. It is as inevitable as a Sim Mafia in the Sims Online; as enduring as bickering neighbors in otherwise quiet housing developments.

Posted by at 01:50 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (4)
 July 24, 2003
The Toddler Is In The House, Y'all

Look! Up! Up! Up!Time for an update about the kid.

Alexander turned one year old this past Sunday. It's amazing how quickly this past year has flown by. My parents used to tell me that this time distortion zips things by even fast with each passing year, and that kids grow up faster than the national debt. Well, they didn't use those words exactly. But you get the idea.

One year down, seventeen to go until college (if he chooses to go to college). Ahhhh!

Alexander is doing alright for himself. Paulette picked out a local park where we claimed a picnic table and set out cake and watermelon and grapes (for adults only -- did you know that grapes are a choking hazard for kids under four years of age?) and soda and juice and the like. Friends dropped by to share in the birthday celebrations, and Alexander got to run around the park, swing on the swings, and play with some of his friends from the group of moms and babies that Paulette spends time with.

One of the highlights for me was watching how the tots played with one of the toys. A friend with a boy the same age as Alex had brought him a little "Elmo" piano toy that plays music and lights up lights when you hit the keys. Alexander and two of his buddies stood around the Elmo toy which was sitting on the cooler, and they kept hitting the keys and then bouncing up and down as the music played. I wished I had a video camera to capture it, it was so *cool* to see them dance like that.

Another highlight was, well, just seeing all the cool people who came by to wish Alexander well. We even had a dear friend come all the way down from Vancouver, BC to give him a stuff Canadian bear and a big ol' tonka-style truck. It was great to see so many good friends come by and share their time with us. Alexander had a fine time, got himself all exhausted, and finally zonked out just in time for the party to wind down.

By way of celebrating his new status as a toddler, I've taken to let him climb up and down the stairs whenever we are moving from one part of the house to the other (usually upstairs for diaper changes, main floor for most other activities, and downstairs to go out for a stroll). He is moving around with much more agility than in the past, and his upper body strength is surprising. He is also enjoying playing with new toys and reading new books that he receive for his birthday.

But he also surprised us with something very new today: he said his first word. Over and over and over again. You might think his first word would be "Mom" or "Dad" or some variation of one of those. But no. His first word was (drumroll please):


Several times today, he would simply point up and say, "Up!" And, of course, we encouraged him. It was distinct and it was deliberate. Now, whether "Up" means the same thing to him that it means to us, we aren't certain. He didn't say it like a command (as in, "Pick me UP!"). More like a general observation. As in, "Mother. Father. The direction I am pointing could be considered, in a word, 'up'."

I have photos from the birthday party as well as photos of him from today doing his "up" routine. I'll try to post these soon.

Hope you're having an "up" day, too.

Posted by at 12:08 AM in the following Department(s): The Boys | Comments (2)
 July 27, 2003
Just a couple of photos

I retroactively added a photo of Alexanders "Up" routine to the previous entry about his being a year old. Here's another photo, taken on his birthday, in which he unwraps his first toy truck. Coooool.

Mmmmm.... Truck....

I love that shot. It looks like he's found the holy grail.

Controller of the Universe!One of the other things I think I forgot to mention is how much Alexander is starting to imitate us, even when he doesn't understand what we're doing. For example, a couple of days ago I was playing a video game on our XBox console. I don't play very often (much too busy), but I had the opportunity and decided to take it. Alexander observed me playing, then decided that he had to have a controller, himself. Which means he kept grabbing mine. Cleverly, I pulled down one of the other controllers (unplugged) and gave it to him to play with. He then began pushing the buttons on it and generally acting as if *he* were playing a video game. Very funny. And very revealing, insofar as I don't know what I'm doing, either, when I'm playing video games. :-)

I'll leave you with one more photo before I go. Here's one of the little guy sleeping. Is he not a little angel? When he's asleep, I mean. Nothing spells trouble like Alexander when he's awake.

Alexander the Angel.

Posted by at 03:01 PM in the following Department(s): The Boys | Comments (2)

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