The Beav according to Beav

Still crazy after all these years.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

A Vital Endeavor

    Space: it has baffled and inspired mankind for millennia. It is fascinating and enticing, but at the same time, cold and unfeeling. It’s the epitome of everything we don’t know about our universe. So we investigate, and we explore. But should we? Why should we spend billions of dollars hurtling complicated equipment and some of our finest people into the harsh void just to learn about it? Technological gains, understanding of our own planet, and scouting for an escape plan make space exploration a vital endeavor.

    It takes great expenditure to explore the universe. Lots of complicated systems and mechanisms had to be developed to keep people and equipment safe in an inherently unsafe environment. If all those developments stayed floating in orbit, they would still be worthwhile just for the security it lends those few who go there. But they don’t stay in space. The gadgets and gizmos and technological marvels often find use among the Earthbound masses. Scratch-resistant lenses used for glasses, memory foam used for mattresses, global positioning systems used to navigate everything from naval ships and army tanks to cars and smartphones were all developed by NASA for use in the space program. Paul Vernon, a broker who works with the European Space Agency, noticed that when tiny cantilevers designed to adjust the positions of mirrors on satellites were dropped in liquid, the rate at which they bent depended on the viscosity of that liquid. He soon realized that this could literally be a life-saver for patients at risk of strokes or heart attacks. These patients need to test their blood viscosity regularly: too thin and they risk bleeding profusely, too thick and they risk clots. He founded Microvisk, which now makes handheld blood viscosity sensors.

    Beyond pushing engineers to think up new doohickeys to make our lives easier or more comfortable, space exploration also helps scientists learn more about our own planet. Just having people and systems in orbit has enabled governments all over the globe to direct efforts to combat wildfires and relief to those stricken by natural disasters. Many of those systems also help scientists understand our climate with better accuracy and in more detail. NASA designed a mission, Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), to study Earth’s gravity field. Through its sensors, it was able to “see” changes in water distribution throughout the planet. Not only did GRACE show water tables dropping and drought conditions spreading, but also the loss of hundreds of billions of tons of ice in Greenland and Antarctica. Currently, Earth stands alone as the one hospitable speck in the known universe — one tiny oasis in the infinite desert of space. The more scientists learn about the delicate balance in the biosphere, the better equipped the human race is to keep it functioning.

    However, regardless of everything done to ensure that the Earth stays habitable for as long as possible, it is inevitably doomed. According to scientists, in roughly four or five billion years, the sun will have fused all its hydrogen into helium and begin fusing the helium into carbon. That switch-over will cause it to abruptly expand and engulf the first few planets, including the Earth. But no one need wait quite that long. Astrophysicists calculate that the sun brightens about ten percent every billion years, so all of the water will boil off the planet more than a billion years before it is consumed. Those unavoidable scenarios are a long way off, surely, but those are only the scenarios that are certain. If the Earth survives for 3.5 billion years, it will be a barren husk of a planet. If it survives another billion, it will become so much fuel for the expanding sun’s growth. However, there are plenty of other scenarios which, though less certain, are certainly more imminent on the timeline. Phil Plait lists some of them in his book Death From the Skies! These Are the Ways the World Will End. There is a one-in-ten million chance, for example, of a star exploding into a supernova within twenty-five light years of Earth, which would kill all of Earth’s life. He states that the odds of an asteroid large enough to end all life impacting the planet within a human lifetime as one in 700,000. This sounds very unlikely, but it’s still more likely than a person being killed in a terrorist attack. Besides, how many lifetimes does it take before this unlikely event is likely or even certain? Neil deGrasse Tyson, renowned astrophysicist and science communicator, said of space exploration: “It's vital to our prosperity and security.” If the human race is to survive in perpetuity, it must have a way to escape the planet.

    Critics argue that even traveling at a million miles an hour, it would take four thousand years to reach the nearest star system that might be hospitable. While that’s true, it’s a problem that cannot be solved without experimentation. There are several avenues currently being pursued to solve it. New drive systems are theorized and investigated, including fantastical ideas like bending space-time to get around the physical limitations of relativity. Experiments in long-term isolation run constantly, both on Earth and in space, to test and improve people’s abilities to survive extended voyages. Sailing a ship all the way around the globe was impossible until Ferdinand Magellan did it in the sixteenth century. Powered flight was a pipe dream until it wasn’t, thanks to Orville and Wilbur Wright. The current state of technology would be hard pressed to get a viable population to a distant world, but the only way to make progress is to progress. In order to complete the journey, one must first step forward.

    Of course, there are challenges associated with space exploration. Space is as dangerous as it is enticing. But there are rewards for those who dare to face those challenges. We gain technologies to improve our lives. We gain understanding of the planet that gives us life. Though it seems impossible, we find a new home and a means to reach it, hopefully before the clock runs out and this home dies. For the sake of humanity, the living and the yet to be born, we must continue stepping forward on our journey of exploration. It’s a vital endeavor.

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Greatest Story Ever Told

    In 1974, two guys in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin made a game. Not unlike the table-top war games they were playing, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) revolved around combat. But instead of pitting army against army, players would create individual characters to pit against mythical beasts. This game has grown a rich role-playing tradition, and in recent years has spawned several series online where one can watch people play. One of these shows, Critical Role, is my favorite media property of all time. Critical Role’s characters, actors, story, and sincerity make it one of the most compelling shows aired anywhere.

    What first drew me in were the characters. Each one is thoroughly distinct and very fleshed out. Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien) and Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey) are half-elven twins whose human mother was killed by a dragon while they were being raised by an indifferent elven father. Pike (Ashley Johnson), the gnomish cleric rescued and nursed to health a goliath barbarian named Grog (Travis Willingham), who had been beaten and left for dead by his uncle Kevdak, who ruled the herd they both called family. There is depth and nuance, even from the outset. Lord Percival Fredrickstein Von Mussel Klossowski de Rolo III, or Percy (Taliesin Jaffe), is an aristocrat whose entire family was murdered by the mysterious Lord and Lady Briarwood, which eventually led to him inventing guns - a good man continually haunted by the evil he fights and the evil he fears he has become.
    Behind the amazing characters lie phenomenal, talented actors. They completely embody their characters on Critical Role, even though they don’t act them out in the traditional sense. Sam Riegel regularly breaks into song in order to activate the powers of his character Scanlan, a gnomish bard. Marisha Ray, who is normally assertive and gregarious, is convincing as the perpetually insecure Keyleth, a half-elven Druid who hopes to find her confidence in time to lead her tribe. Matthew Mercer is the dungeon master (DM), who created the world and sets the stage these characters battle on. He consistently astounds, not only the audience, but his friends and cast mates, by continually coming up with distinct and memorable characters for the players to interact with. No one who has seen them could possibly forget Viktor, the black powder merchant’s three-fingered advice: “Learn from my mistakes!” Nor could he be even remotely mistaken for Vecna, the Undying King that the group must stop from becoming a god.

    Because the players were well-established actors before the show, or the home game it grew out of, began, they all have a good sense of storytelling that helps inform their choices. Not only do character decisions make sense for the characters making them, but they also drive a supremely entertaining narrative. The relationships between player characters grow organically from the things they do and experience instead of being imposed on them by the DM. The story is so compelling that thousands of people from all over the world watch them air D&D live every week despite broadcasting four to six hours per episode. Those who absolutely cannot watch live watch rebroadcasts and even rewatch the more than eighteen days of runtime.

    Beyond the story that has captivated so many people who watch, is the truth that what we’re actually watching is a group of good friends who are playing a game. They played this game for years before it was a show. Were it to end today, they’d go back to playing it in their homes. Unlike almost any other show I’ve ever seen, one gets to see the actual people that one is seeing. When a person watches Ashley Johnson on NBC’s Blindspot, there is little of Ashley on the screen. She is 100% Agent Patterson. When she is on Critical Role, Pike Trickfoot is evident, but one also sees Ashley reacting to events or making jokes out of character. These are people who genuinely care for each other. When Sam, in the final showdown with Vecna, is forced to use an ability that he had hoped to save to help Liam’s character, Vax, he can’t contain his tears, even though from a game standpoint, it’s a triumph. He’s absolutely gutted because he feels like he’s failed his best friend. And we weep with him — when we realize what has happened.

    There are shows with characters that draw you in. There are shows whose actors impress you with their ability to embody their roles. There are shows with rich storylines. There are even shows with real, genuine people bringing the fun of Dungeons and Dragons to your living room, or bedroom, or that quiet corner of the library where you plug in to watch. But these characters, by these actors, in this storyline, behaving this sincerely, set Critical Role apart as one of the most compelling shows on any medium.

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Friday, November 09, 2018

My Vision in Blues

    Sometimes, love grows patiently from familiar friendship. Sometimes it searches and hunts: in bars, churches, and on websites. Sometimes, love comes down the stairs, stuns you silly, and sweeps you off your feet.

    I enlisted in the Air Force in April of 1994. In late May, I graduated from Basic Training and was transferred to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey for “tech school.” This was where the Air Force was going to teach me to do the job it wanted me to do. In order to ease the transition to the regimented environment of life in the “regular” Air Force from the highly regimented environment of Basic Training, tech schools have implemented a four-phase program with progressively fewer restrictions. The most significant change comes between second phase, in which a person is required to wear a uniform every time he leaves the building and has a curfew seven days a week, and third phase, in which he is only required to wear a uniform during duty hours and has no curfew over the weekend.

    This is where I was on Saturday, July 23rd: on the cusp of third phase. Sunday morning, at midnight, I would get to taste freedom for the first time in months. But there was no need to wait for midnight for the fun to begin. My roommate, Andy, and I had a plan: get into our blues uniforms and head down to the Enlisted Club for a few hours, head back to the room by 11 (our curfew), have an hour to change, then head out at midnight looking for fun and excitement in our real-people clothes.

    On our way out, we swung by the main stairwell to sign out with the Dorm Guard — we were still on phase, after all. I was delighted to see Joan, one of my first friends at DLI — she had fed me freshly baked cookies during my first lonely weekend when most folks had fled the base to do whatever it is they did.

    “Going to the E-Club?”

    I was so excited, I could barely contain my response. “Yeah. Then, we’ll phase up at midnight, and who knows after that!”

    “Would you mind escorting a friend of mine?” She asked. “She’s a bit nervous walking through the woods in the dark.”

    Of course I agreed, and Joan called up the stairs “Saundra? I have some friends that will walk with you,” and she descended. A vision in blues, she was wearing tight jeans and a two-tone, curve-hugging body suit with laces that half-hid and half-accentuated her cleavage. Her face glowed. I was acutely aware of her strong cheekbones and the most adorable gap between her front teeth. Dumbstruck, I was barely able to introduce myself.

    Nevertheless, on Joan’s recommendation, she joined us, walking down the hill in the darkness of insufficient lighting in the woods, a princess flanked by her military escort. We came to a section where the hill is so steep, irregular cement steps had been embedded into the hillside. Saundra didn’t see well in low light and was wearing heels, so she requested an arm to steady herself. My excitement for approaching freedom had soared to giddiness at approaching freedom next to a beautiful woman, so rather than offer her my arm, I simply scooped her up and carried her down the stairs, as if over a threshold.

    If you ask her today, Saundra will tell you that I said, “Never fear, Milady. I shall carry you.” I don’t remember saying anything like that, but my memories have been a bit hazy since she came down the stairs in the barracks. In any case, that is the moment that she says she knew. I didn’t even realize the next night, when we sat on a park bench looking out at Monterey Bay for three hours; I’m a bit slow. But we’ve been married for twenty-one years now. Sometimes, when you least expect it, love comes downstairs, stuns you silly, and sweeps you off your feet.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Frederick Douglass and the Harms of Slavery

    Frederick Douglass was very firm in his belief that the institution of slavery harmed the slaveholder in addition to the slave. This damage affected not just the individuals involved, but their communities and society as a whole as well. In his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass provides many examples that support those beliefs and illustrate these effects for the reader.

    On no level can the deleterious effects be seen so dramatically as on the personal one. One has an ingrained understanding of individual behavior and interpersonal relations that is in direct opposition to what Douglass describes. Most of the slave owners and overseers he labors under are cruel, vicious, sometimes vile men. Mr. Covey was “devoted to planning and perpetrating the grossest deceptions.” (p. 61) He implies that Capt. Anthony punished Hester, one of his slaves, in a fit of jealousy. (p. 7) Mr. Severe, apart from being cruel, swore “enough to chill the blood and stiffen the hair of an ordinary man”. (p. 11) In fact, Mr. Severe was so deserving of his name that the slaves considered his death “the result of a merciful providence.” (p. 12) Douglass considered Capt. Anthony to be “hardened by a long life of slaveholding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave.” (p. 6) The traits of none of these men illustrate Douglass’s contention near so well as the example of Mrs. Sophia Auld, however. Sophia Auld is Douglass’s quintessential example of the deleterious effects of slavery upon the slaveholder. He meets her having never had a slave. “A woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings” having “been in a good degree preserved from the blighting and dehumanizing effects of slavery.” (p. 32) He describes her as “a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not shed a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach.” (p. 37) She did not expect servility from him. Quite the contrary, she disliked it. Her treatment of him at the outset was “as she supposed one human being ought to treat another.” (p. 37) “Under [slavery’s] influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.” After being dissuaded from the reading lessons she had begun giving him, she “became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself.” (p. 37) Slavery had so deteriorated her character that when he is finally shipped from Baltimore to St. Michaels to serve Master Thomas, he felt that as far as masters were concerned he “had little to lose by the change.” (p. 50)

    Change in individuals percolate out and feed change in the communities of which they are a part. He takes the community to task specifically for its lack of concern when Mr. Gore shoots and kills Demby, one of Col Lloyd’s slaves, for disobedience. More generally, “killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community.” (pp. 23-24) The whole of the community is compelled to lie (whether affirmatively or by omission) or be decried as an abolitionist. (p. 98) In a slaveholding community, even non-slaveholders are diminished by slavery’s effect. The close exposure to slavery motivated the shipbuilders in Baltimore - carpenters and apprentices - to abandon all feelings of equality or solidarity even with the free black carpenters working there. They refused to work with the black carpenters, and violently attacked Douglass. (pp. 95-96)

    As individual change affects the community, so does community change affect society at large. Free New Bedford seems more wealthy and prosperous on the whole than the slaveholding South: “I saw few or no dilapidated houses, with poverty-stricken inmates; no half-naked children and barefooted women”. (p. 114) Prior to seeing a free city, Douglass considered wealth impossible there - “I had been accustomed to regard their poverty as the necessary consequence of their being non-slaveholders.” (p. 113) When slavery is the means of procuring and displaying wealth, the slave society soon begins to consider it the only means of procuring it. “…In the absence of slaves there could be no wealth, and very little refinement.” (p. 113) More striking than monetary concerns, however, is the difference in psyche. When labor is purchased rather than compelled, it is not emotionally crushing. The wharves in New Bedford, where there is no slavery, are starkly contrasted to those of Baltimore, where there is. “There were no loud songs heard from those engaged in loading and unloading ships. I heard no deep oaths or horrid curses on the laborer….Every man appeared to understand his work, and went at it with a sober, yet cheerful earnestness”. (p. 114) He subtly hints at the damage to society at large, even in the North, in that white people don’t realize the profound sorrow and suffering inherent in slave singing. He compares those songs to tears relieving, but not purging, an aching heart. (pp. 14-15) Douglass feels very strongly about the corrupting influence of slavery on Christianity. So much so that he considers calling the Southern religion Christian “the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.” (p. 118) His love for Christianity proper - “the Christianity of Christ” stands in firm opposition to his loathing of “the slaveholding religion of this land”. (p. 118)

    In his narrative, Douglass paints a very clear picture of the horrors that the institution of slavery delivers onto its victims. But equally clear, if not equally horrific, is the damage - sometimes subtle and insidious, sometimes obvious and undeniable - done to slaveholders, their communities, and the society in which they exist.

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Here's Some Little Things I Wrote

I've been back in school for over a year now. Of course, with school comes essays. Since I have written some essays, it occurs to me that I can post them on here and share them with anyone who wanders by.

Though this should not need saying, I will say it anyway:

Do not use my essays (or any part of them) as your own.
Not only would that be personally irritating to me,
it would be bad for your grade -- I am easily Google-able.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the things I have written.

(P.S. - You can quote me if you like -- attribution is key.)

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Saturday, August 04, 2018

Thank you Critical Role

I just finished watching a live D&D session, played for a live audience of thousands, and many thousands more that watched it happen, real-time, on the internet. I was going to say that it was a dream come true, but it wasn't. You can't dream what you can't conceive.

I learned to play D&D (well under the "10&up" recommendation), in the late '70s while my parents learned to play. "It needs imagination and he's got it in spades," they reasoned. I played when you could be an elf or a fighter. I continued to play as it morphed into AD&D, and 2nd Edition. I played through the '80s when my friend had to keep his books at my house because his mother would destroy them if she knew - keeping the devil at bay. I played full theatre-of-the-mind style, walking from class to class during Junior High; and on weekends all through High School. I played after I joined the Air Force in the mid '90s. Even introduced the game to my now-wife.

Through all that time, whether actively demonized (literally), or merely dismissed as a pastime for basement-dwelling nerds, I never expected it to ever be accepted by the populace at large. I never imagined it could ever be a spectator-event.

To the cast and crew of Critical Role; to the thousands of fans literally around the globe:

Thank you.

Thank you for making the dreams I couldn't conceive of dreaming come true.

I love you all.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Meisner-fed Revelations

On the stage, I am my authentic self; it's in real life that I do all my acting.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Found My Limit

I. Condemn. Nazis. Full stop.

There are those that formed a reply in their heads "but..." If that was you, stop. Think about what just happened for a moment. You were about to defend Nazis. Actual Nazis.

Our country was founded around one central truth: that all men are created equal. The basis of every American ideal rests on the foundation that all Americans be treated equally - no matter their skin color, their religion, their gender, their sexuality; no matter ANY innate attribute. The beliefs of Nazis and white supremacists are antithetical to everything this country stands for. The fact that this needs explaining in 2017 frankly amazes, saddens, and enrages me.

Nazis are clearly enemies of the Constitution. Their current activities represent a clear and present danger to the United States and her citizens. I wish my President agreed.