Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pokemon Go!

They are everywhere. Public parks, well-traversed thoroughfares, and even in your place of business. Armed with only a smartphone and a disturbing lack of peripheral awareness, they stalk their digital prey using augmented reality. They are Pokemon Go users and they can be visually differentiated from their equally-distracted texting peers by the angle at which they are holding their phone. If their head is down and their phone is parallel to the ground they are probably texting, if their head is up and their phone is in front of them and perpendicular to the ground they are playing Pokemon Go. Both could lead to vehicular homicide.

I first became aware of the phenomenon while working in my front yard several days ago. A family that lives on a connecting street was walking up the sidewalk but constantly stopping to hold their phone in front of their face. At first it appeared that they had become disoriented and were unable to find their way home, but after a brief conversation they explained to me that they were playing a game.

In fact, they informed me that they were heading to a nearby cemetery as it appeared to be a hotbed of Pokemon activity. At the conclusion of our conversation, I waved and uttered one of those sentences I never thought that I would say (“Have fun in the cemetery!”) While they are courteous people and would not have interrupted a graveside service in the pursuit of a fictional cartoon monster; I fear not all of their peers would exhibit the same decorum.

Since then, I have seen stories of teenagers stumbling across dead-bodies and criminals utilizing gathering points in the game (known as “gyms”) as opportunities to relieve players of their cash and valuables. Privacy concerns abound – what other app would you so willingly give control of your camera and GPS to? – and others are worried about traffic accidents that could be caused by players.

On the flip side, it could also bring neighbors and families together while prompting participants to stay active and explore their community. Nintendo – who owns a large stake in the Pokemon franchise – has increased its market value by $9 Billion in just a few days based upon the game's phenomenal success. With financial rewards like that at stake, I expect this will not be Nintendo’s last foray into augmented-reality gaming. I cannot wait for Resident Evil Go.

While I have not personally played it (as I fear doing so could become so engrossing that I might forget that I have a wife, children, and a need to bathe) I suppose it could be a positive trend with a few important ground rules. I have compiled a preliminary list of places that you should not be playing Pokemon Go:

Public Restrooms – Can you imagine being in a Flying J men’s room when someone comes in with their smartphone camera aimed at your urinal muttering something about “trying to capture a Jigglypuff”? This is fertile ground for a rather serious misunderstanding.

Funeral Homes – As you gently shed tears over the casket of your beloved Nana, an employee asks if you could scooch over so that he could finally get that Pikachu that has been evading him all day. Oh, and he’s sorry for your loss.

Presidential Rope Lines – I am sure that you will have plenty of time to explain to the secret service why you were pushing people out of the way while brandishing your smartphone. How can you be held responsible that Onix was hiding behind the Commander in Chief?

Operating Theaters – While we would all like to pretend that neurosurgeons and cardiologists are far too professional to become obsessed with capturing cartoon characters, there is a very real danger that someone’s appendectomy could take a nasty turn if a Charizard wanders into the operating room.

Airplanes – “Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. If everyone would be kind enough to return to your seats, a member of the flight crew will be by to collect any trash or Golems in your seating area. Please report any suspicious Voltorbs to the air marshal.”

Narcotics Stings – Given that just about any of the Pokemon monsters could easily double as a slang term for a street drug, it might not be wise to wander around rough neighborhoods inquiring as to where one might find some “Electrabuzz” “Weedle” or  “Alakazam.”

The game appears to be so captivating that people forget where they are and mindlessly gather at pre-determined “gyms” with no though to their own personal safety. Perhaps we could weaponize the game to further weaken ISIS by placing the “gym” in a strike zone. I can imagine the president addressing the nation:

            “My fellow Americans, 
                                                  Just hours ago, at my command, Squirtle and Poliwag were strategically deployed to a remote area outside Mosul. Within minutes, several members of ISIS leadership began to gathering and we had reason to believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself was present. I ordered an airstrike and I am pleased to announce that we have dealt a decisive blow to the leadership of the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, Diglett and Snorlax were unable to be evacuated and gave the ultimate sacrifice. I have spoken to their families and expressed my deepest condolences and the condolences of a grateful nation. All gave some, some gave Charmander."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Random Thoughts 11

Parenting necessitates the use of some very unusual sentences. These have actually been said in our home:
  1. This is as loud as the hippopotamus song gets!
  2. Who put yogurt in the T-Rex’s mouth?
  3. Did someone eat all of the sidewalk chalk?
  4. When did you take your pants off?
  5. If you do not poop, you will not get a seahorse!

  • It should also be noted that, in a house of toddlers, you are unlikely to get a favorable answer to the question, “Why is ______ all wet!?” It is like playing a round of “what’s that smell?” There are no winners.
  • I love it when I request a service call to my residence and I am expected to give a binding answer concerning occupancy to a vague window of time. Such as, “We should definitely be able to get someone out there to look at your waterfall grotto, will there be anyone home after April?"
  • It is always interesting to witness a transaction when the sales clerk is forced to employ gentle euphemisms for a declined card:
  Sir, it appears that we are unable to complete the transaction within the current parameters….                       
               Swipe it again!
               Sir, the system has requested an                          alternate method of payment for your                  purchase....
                Sir, there appears to be a problem                       with your card...
                Sir, it would appear that you are                             poor...
                Oh. Can you break $100?

  • There is no greater harbinger to a forthcoming discriminatory comment than when someone prefaces their statement with, “You know me. Some of my best friends are Jewish / black / Latino / hemophiliacs / Frisbee enthusiasts / graphic design artists from Portland.”

Each time my wife or I visit a new primary care physician, the new patient questionnaire gets more and more elaborate to the point of self-diagnoses:
  1. Are you at an increased risk for prediabetes?
  2. Please circle any words that make you sad.
  3. Do you have a family history of heart disease?
  4. Did your paternal grandmother ever suffered from bowel distension?
  5. Do you think you have mono? Please explain...

At some point, the medical profession is just going to consist of individuals with the ability to comprehend a form while sitting on a rolling stool.

  • I have always wanted to answer the “Do you abuse prescription drugs on a regular basis?” question with “That depends on how today goes” or just scratch the word REVENGE where it asks for the purpose of today’s visit.   
  • The Venn diagram of American males eligible to collect social security and American males who feel compelled to mow the lawn shirtless contains more overlap than it should.
  • I just read a story about an at-home fertility machine called Trak. It determines your sperm count and syncs the data with a smartphone app. Half of America is still trying to understand how to properly respond to a group text so I imagine this can’t miss. #LittleSwimmersForHIPAA
  • Isn’t “athletic cut” a fancy way of selling you the same shirt at the same price while using less fabric?
  • New Cosmopolitan Magazine description for sales brochures: People more attractive than you have better sex than you while maintaining lower body-fat than you. Details inside.
  • My wife and I were recently in Lowes looking for carpet when a large sign caught my eye. It said “Lifetime Vomit and Feces Guarantee” I naturally assumed that this was a part of the Stainmaster Frat-House series. I jokingly asked the salesman if he had anything with stain resistance so good that it would ensure acquittal in a homicide case like a Stainmaster Forensic Series endorsed by the Gambino Family. He smiled wryly and said, “We could call it the husband series.” I did not make any more jokes with the salesman.
  • Do terrorist organizations have casual Fridays?
  • There is no faster way to locate the underside of a car tire than to reposition an extension cord.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Politics, Tragedy, and Grace

Don’t be deceived by the charlatans and hucksters attempting to sell you simplistic political solutions. They want your vote and they have only two models to address the mass shooting in Orlando:
1.      More guns here, more bombs there, less Muslims everywhere
2.      Less guns here, more diplomacy there, more tolerance everywhere
Solution 1

This would seem sensible if all (or even the majority) of mass shootings in America were committed by radical Muslims immigrants at the behest of foreign terror groups. So, for the sake of brevity, we can glance at the top 10 deadliest American mass shootings since 1966:

·         Of the 11 perpetrators (San Bernardino had two), 8 were born in the United States, 1 was from South Korea, 1 from South Vietnam, and 1 (the lone female) from Pakistan.
·         4 Were Muslim, 4 were Christian, and 3 had no discernible religious affiliation
·         Of the four Muslims, only one had any demonstrated communication or ties to an Islamic Terror Organization (although the San Bernardino shooters were inspired by ISIS to perform their acts and Omar claimed allegiance).

Assuming there was a ban on any foreign-born Muslims in place, the only perpetrator affected would have been Tashfeen Malik (the wife and accomplice of San Bernardino shooter Rizwan Farook). Sadly, we now live in a world where their rampage doesn’t even make the top six. None had criminal records and as far as we know all obtained their weapons through legal means.

Some may argue that while these might not have been immigrants in the typical sense, there is definitely a trend connecting Islam and mass shootings in America. However, any attempt to disarm gun owners based on religion or dislike of the US government would have the added irony of placing The Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association on the same page. Flippantly disarming Muslims in America would also have the unintended effect of neutralizing the 5,000 that currently serve our military and the thousands who work in law enforcement.

So, let’s eliminate all soft targets. Arm the good-guys. We already have more guns per capita than any country and guns sales have grown exponentially since 2008. Smith & Wesson’s stock has gone up almost 800% since Obama took office. Do you feel safer now than you did 10 years ago? Are you less or more fearful of random violence? Are there less or more mass shootings?

That leaves the idea of bombing ISIS into oblivion so that they can no longer inspire anyone. Suffice it to say that the whole military-action-in-the-Middle-East strategy has had dubious results at best. Even assuming that we could eliminate any mass shootings involving Muslims - and assuming that their religion was their primary motivation - it would have only affected 3 of the top 10 incidents.

If we eliminate Fort Hood, San Bernardino, and Orlando; those slots would be filled by the 2013 Washington Navy Yard Shooting, the 2012 Colorado Theater Shooting, and the 1999 Columbine Shooting. This still leaves us in a world where Dylan Roof’s 2015 murder of 9 people in a South Carolina church can’t crack the top 10.   

Solution 2

The idea here is that if there are less guns, less people die needlessly. Perhaps, but it is also true that violence can express itself any number of ways and completely eliminating guns (if such a thing could even be done) would not eliminate hate and violence. It is also true that while total pacifism sounds alluring as a moral high ground, I doubt that ISIS is the type of organization likely to respond to a gift basket and strongly-worded e-mail. Tolerance also has limits. There are certain things that can and cannot be “tolerated” by a free society in order to remain as such. 

So what are we supposed to do? 

As for me, I refuse to place my hope in political ideologies or presidential candidates. I refuse to place my hope in the goodness of mankind or the deterrent of consequence. I even refuse to place my hope in religion or its practitioners. I choose instead to place my hope in the grace exhibited through Jesus Christ. It is a grace that existed before politics, governments or religions ever formed and it shall remain once they have fallen away.

Our world knows well the transformative power of the hate and fear. In many ways, those two emotions have brought us to where we are today. I hope and pray that we demonstrate a better way forward for the sake of my children. A way where we do not blame victims for their fate or God for the terrible actions of those who invoke his name. A way where we do not continually give in to the debilitating fear of those in whom we have difficulty seeing ourselves. A way where we stop believing that our self-sufficiency can overcome our flaws and protect us from all harm. A way that seeks to emulate the Son of God who never let politics, nationality, societal norms, or even religion keep him from reminding us that we are his children and we are loved. God came looking for us. May our lives, words, and actions bear witness to the one whose prevenient grace pursues us still. 



Friday, June 10, 2016

Thoughts on T-Ball

Recently, my son began participating in a three and four year-old municipal T-Ball league. Here are some things that I have learned:

By Skoch3 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

I am not a sports guy, but I volunteered to “coach” second base. I quickly had to learn some of the accepted mannerisms of athletic endeavors.

The Let’s Go 3-Clap – This is where, apropos of nothing, you clap three times in rapid succession to indicate general enthusiasm for the game. I observed several other coaches performing this and am happy to report that I have successfully deployed it to some mild acclaim. The three clap is a pretty hard and fast rule because more claps would indicate an injured player is leaving the field and less would be indicative of killing a mosquito.

The Triangle Stance – Legs apart, knees bent, hands on knees. This gives the impression of intense concentration and, with younger ages, allows you to speak to them more easily. It is important to assume this stance only when a batter is about to be engaged, otherwise it could be misconstrued as constipation.

Encouraging Exclamations – When a player almost completes a positive action, it must be verbally encouraged. On defense, example phrases would include, “Good hustle. Be ready for the next one!” or “Stay sharp number 3!” Offensively you would foster a good swing by randomly yelling, “Way to commit, Jones!” or “You got a good piece of that one Billy!” More advanced practitioners will combine this with the “Let’s Go 3-Clap” for maximum impact.    

Things that have been randomly said to me by players on second base:
Are you my soccer coach?
I touched a lightbulb once. It hurt.
Do you like the blue ninja turtle?
My hair is hot.
Can you shake hands?
Why is there a dog?

  • All parents have varying levels of expectations when it comes to pre-school T-Ball. Thankfully, our team and head coach are laid back so no one is pretending that MLB scouts could be in the stands. However, there are a few whose parents have purchased Nike cleats, Easton bats, and top-tier gloves. Not to be outdone, I briefly toyed with the idea of placing a tin of smokeless-tobacco in my son’s back pocket. The truth is that my wife and I consider it a win if my son spends more than four consecutive minutes facing home plate while on defense.
  • Sponsorships by local businesses are both the lifeblood and a source of consternation for teams. I am sure there must be a vetting process (lest your child find themselves representing The Stag Shack off exit 54) but even otherwise innocuous businesses can create logistical problems with the uniforms. For instance, many parents will put the team’s initials on the player’s hat. Not a problem when Outback Steakhouse is your sponsor, but when Fletcher Underwriting has skin in the game…..

  • You will buy pictures. Not because you need an 11x15 oil painting of your child demonstrating the very actions they have no interest of re-creating on the field; but because other parents are all standing there when you hand in your order form. Timmy’s parents got the MVP Package with the All-Star Upgrade and the Dugout Keepsake. How are you going to look your child in the eye when they find out you just got the Benchwarmer Value Bundle?

  • I am wrong. A lot. The league provides the shirt (with the child’s number on it) and the hat. If the parents wish to go further they can pay out of pocket for the provided shirt to be customized with the child's name. After we received the uniform at the first practice, my wife asked if we should go and have our son’s name put on the back of his shirt. I reassured her that no one else was going to do that and it would be a waste of money.

When we showed up at the first game, not only did the majority of the children have their names on their shirts, but several parents had purchased shirts for themselves and the child’s sibling denoting their relationship to the participant (“such and such’s Dad or little brother”) Needless to say, I now have a shirt and one more item added to the “Things I Do Not Know What I Am Talking About” list.  

  • The entire enterprise would collapse without postgame snacks. These become increasingly essential when you have three or more games in a four day period. Behind every attentive and compliant preschooler in T-Ball, there is a legal guardian unabashedly wielding the promise of a KoolAid pouch.