Futility, Part Two

Meant to get back to this sooner, but when I have had an hour or two to sit on the couch and have some coffee, I'd much rather turn on the Playstation than write about politics. Or read a book. Or anything, really. Writing about politics in America is stress producing. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes… gerrymandering.

That's a map of Travis County (i.e. Austin, Texas). All those oddly shaped pastel colored areas are the various and sundry congressional districts that have had bits of Austin added to them. One city … five districts … five different congressional representatives. One democrat amongst them. One democrat, and four very right wing Republicans represent the most liberal city in Texas. I live in District 35 in that little bit that snakes up into the blue at the most northern point. I am thankfully represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett. I feel incredibly lucky.

Here is an image that shows you where some of these districts go outside of Travis County. Pay particular attention to District 35. Notice how it's a long, skinny snake of a thing. On its southern end, about 80 miles away, you'll find San Antonio. District 21 is another I am familiar with. It's comprised mostly of the very staunch Republican hill country area with just a little bit of Austin added in. If I could be bothered to go find a map that is zoomed even further out, you would see that the remaining three districts that represent Austin all stretch out to distant locations except for their tiny little bits of Austin, but I think you can see the pattern. Take a district with lots of Republicans and carve a path to Austin so a smidgen of it can be added and thus dilute the liberal votes of that area and leave them represented by people who don't represent their interests.

Gerrymandering happens everywhere and not just in Central Texas or even just in Texas. Everywhere. In Texas, it's Republicans. Maybe somewhere the Democrats are in power, and they do it. The people in power rewrite the borders of the districts in ways that guarantee they will remain in power by carving up areas of potential opposition (i.e. voters unlikely to vote for them) and stick them with large blocks of voters who will vote for them. Before the most recent redrawing of the lines, I was in a district that ran from my house all the way down to the outskirts of Houston 140 miles away. And before we moved across town to the house, my district ran from south Austin all the way down to the Mexican border. It hasn't always been this way.

The crazy gerrymandering in Texas started becoming a problem in 2003. The Republicans in our statehouse decided they couldn't wait five more years to move all the lines and did a mid-decade redistricting, and boy did they go crazy with yhe lines. They got in trouble for it, and eventually they were told to do it again. The end result of all that line redrawing is the mess we have today. A mess that benefits only one party.

So when I say my vote and the vote of so many others is worthless. I actually mean they are worthless. The districts have been designed to make some people's votes worthless. Prior to my home being moved into Lloyd Doggett's district (or him being moved into my district, however that happened), it wouldn't have mattered who I voted for, or if I even voted at all, the outcome was that the Republican candidate would win. It was the same in all Republican stronghold districts. It was designed to be that way. Any block of voters who might vote differently were split up amongst these districts, and their votes no longer mattered. Well and truly would never make any difference at all, and possibly even worse, their representation wasn't ever going to represent their interests (or even listen to them, don't ask me how I know that).

So more people started feeling hopeless and like their voice didn't matter, and they stopped going to the polls. In some cases the entrenched power was so assured of victory the other parties didn't even bother running candidates. For six years, I was represented by someone who ran for office completely unopposed. Talk about not having a reason to go vote! I still did, but I did often wonder why. And this low turnout at elections continues to expand as more and more people feel like their votes don't matter, or find it more difficult to vote as states work to inhibit open and easy voting through shorter early voting periods, fewer voting locations, and excessive identification requirements … all done in the name of solving an illegal voting problem that no one can find proof of existing.

And you know what really gets my goat? The fact that due to the slicing and dicing of the voting population into districts that benefit the Republicans, Texas appears to be a state that is exclusively a Red State. If you look at our elected officials, it does appear that eveyone but a tiny minority of people support the Republican Party, but that simply isn't true. At each election, somewhere between 40 and 45 percent of Texans vote for Democratic candidates. Seems to me, that makes Texas pretty darn purple. Keep that in mind the next time you feel the urge to point at laugh at Texas and say we are getting the representation we deserve. We aren't. We are getting the representation we are allowed to have thanks to a system designed to work against anyone who doesn't swallow the current party's platform line hook, line, and sinker.

When the system is designed to work against fair and equal representation, what's a voter to do? Well, they can keep futilely voting and making no difference, or they can just stop voting. Obviously, the solution to the problem is to fix the actual problem (bizarre voting districts), but how the hell do we get that done when the only people who can fix it are the people in power, and they are not at all likely to do so. People in power don't want to give it up or share it. It's a problem I don't know how we will fix. Maybe it can't be fixed, so futilely voting and making no difference or not voting at all, I guess it doesn't actually much matter. Things will stay the same either way.

I'm going to apologize for this post for being somewhat disjointed. I've been sickish, thanks to seasonal allergies, and even on a good day, I have trouble lately giving much of a damn about politics. I could probably spend another day editing and rewriting, but I just want to get this done and up so I can move on to the next topic, which is the one I really want to talk about.

Next up … the continued shifting of the American political landscape rightward. I don't mean more people are voting rightwing. I mean everything in the political spectrum from the far right to the far left has been moving ideologically further to the right. For example, Obama is a classic centrist Republican, but in today's current political atmosphere, he's seen as being liberal. I promise, Futility, Part Three will be a better post, because I'm more excited about writing it. Though I suspect it will take me a while to write it, because I really want to get it right.

Futility, Part One

As many of you know, yesterday the USA had elections. Here in Austin, we now have all our elections on the federal timeline, so I got to vote for things in Washington, Texas, and Austin. It was a really long ballot. Well, if it had been printed on paper so a proper recount could be done in the event of a problem, it would have been a long ballot. Since it's just a box with electronics in it doing who knows what to my selections, it was many pages of choices and a lot of button clicking. I assume it accurately counted things, but who would know? Anyway…

I've voted in every federal and state election and very nearly every local election since I turned eighteen. My dad was an editorial cartoonist, so I grew up surrounded by politics and political discussions, and I was one of those kids who eagerly looked forward to being able to finally vote. And once I had that right, I became an adult who would panic about not being able to get to the polls if something unforeseen happened. Truly, the thought of not voting causes me stress. That's how deeply ingrained into my psyche the idea that voting is our most fundamental right is. Voting is as important as breathing.

I have historically also always been very politically active as well. Protests, letter writing, visiting offices of elected officials, reading and watching all the political news I could get my hands on, reading bills and laws and rules and regulations, and as many of you may remember, lengthy rants about politics right here on Just Orb. But a few years ago, I took a step back and had a good hard look at all the time and energy I had been putting into being “political” and I weighed it against what it had gotten me. What good had come of it for myself or anyone else?

Nothing. That's what. As far as I can tell, my voice and expended energy all those decades resulted in nothing at all. Not for me. Not for anyone else.

So I stopped consuming all the political news, doing hours of research on bills and laws, stopped writing letters and visiting elected officials, stopped standing in the rain shouting and carrying signs bearing correctly spelled political slogans, and I stopped ranting about it all on my blog. Have you ever stopped doing something you've done your whole life? It'll leave you off kilter. But what started as a break from it all has now just become the new normal, and I don't miss it.

I just don't pay much attention at all to the political world unless it trickles up to my eyeballs on my Twitter and Facebook timelines or is mentioned on the local news (which I still watch a bit of every day). The end result is that I still generally know what's going on, but I am happier, less angry and stressed out about the state of the state, and I have more room in my brain for other thoughts and more energy to get other things done. All in all, flipping off the world of politics and walking away has been a positive event in my life. I probably should have done it sooner.

But I still vote, and in the run up to an election day, I research the issues and people on the ballot to pick which things and people to say “yes” to, and then I get excited about going to vote. That was working well for me the last few years, but this year, things changed. In the past, I used to feel like my voting made a difference, but these days, I've begun to question even that. I'd be crazy not to question it. I go, I vote, and the outcome almost never matches what I want. In fact, the outcome is obvious even before the first eaky vote is cast. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result isn't it?

There was nothing on yesterday's ballot I was excited to vote FOR except for my congressman Lloyd Doggett (who I adore and respect). All the other candidates in all the other races? I was there to vote against the person I already knew would win. There wasn't anyone other than Doggett I was voting FOR because I liked them or felt excited about them or thought they would be the best person for the job. They were just people who were not the person I didn't want to win. They were a “no” vote for the top dog and not a “yes” vote for them. In most cases, they were my “none of the above” vote. Voting as passive protest.

It was while I was pressing those buttons to vote for people I really didn't care about (or even really agree with) and who I knew weren't going to win anyway that I seriously began to question the futility of voting at all. Why was I even there? It was pointless. It was going to make no difference at all to anyone or anything. I might as well have not bothered.

A lot of Americans don't bother to vote, and the number of them that don't bother to vote gets larger and larger every year. These people used to make me angry, but now in 21st century America, I understand why so many people throw their hands in the air and say to hell with it. Things have changed, votes used to make a difference and matter, but now our votes aren't worth the pixels used to darken a spot on an electronic voting machine. Elections are just a pantomime those in power have to take part in so we can all pretend we still live in a functioning democracy.

I could babble for a many thousand more words, but this is getting lengthy (and I have other things to do), so I think I'll call it a day on this post. But I'm not done talking about this yet. I've cut and pasted the rest into a new draft post, and I will continue at a later date, because I do want to point out and explain the reasons someone who used to be excited to go vote and had a healthy and active political life has, over the course of a few years, come to the conclusion that it's all a huge waste of time and energy, because there are actual reasons. Valid reasons. None of them can be summed up briefly though, so it's probably better I break them out into their own blog posts.

So, expect some more politics on Just Orb soon. Next topic of political ranting will be … gerrymandering, or as I call it the death of true democracy. You'll just have to sit on the edge of your seats until I get that rant fully out of my system and into coherent words. It should be a good one. LOL!

Enter the Noob

A little over a week ago I started playing the game Defiance. Yes, the one that's tied in with the SyFy Channel show that I sort of stopped watching at some point. Well, it went free to play in July (on the PS3), and I really need some other game to play than the ones I have been playing. All my other PS3 games and iPad games are boring the hell out of me. A few of them I have been hate-playing. Really, I hate them, and yet I keep playing them. I needed something new, and well, free is good.

Below you will find all the babbling I did on Facebook and Twitter during my first few days of playing Defiance. I really should be babbling about it over here and not tormenting my Facebook friends with endless yapping about the new game I am playing on their Facebook feeds. I thought I should post all the stuff I posted there here, so everyone would be up to speed. Tomorrow, the real babbling begins.

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Ok then. Have created a character in Defiance and dipped my toes into an actual shooty MMO. I don't hate it, but I'm not sure I like it either. Anyway, died, doesn't seem a big deal to die, will play again when I have time. Maybe I'll eventually get thorough the tutorial.

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I have read player guides for Defiance. I think I know what all the controller buttons do (which I will forget as soon as something exciting happens), and how gameplay works. I think I'll go wander around the tutorial area again until I feel I've got the controls down. I only have one more mission to do before I get dumped into the actual game, a moment I find myself dreading just a bit.

Luckily for me, PVP is opt in, so at least I don't have to worry about asses killing me all the time until I figure out how to play.

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Ok, I'm in what appears to be not a tutorial area, but not quite the game yet. I also seem to be the only female character anywhere.

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On Defiance (the game):

It's not a game I will lose myself in for hours (or days) at a time. It sort of gives me a stress headache. Maybe once I'm better at the controls and know what I am doing 100% it'll be more fun. Not that it isn't fun, it's just not FUN fun.

I've encountered about 100 other players. I have seen no other woman characters. Nothing but big burly dude types. I have also not seen any other snipers. Just big burly dude types running right into the heat of things. I don't even know if they saw me helping. I was tucked away in a corner popping bad guys in the head from a SAFE distance. Duh.

The big burly dudes ran away immediately after we cleared the area, leaving behind other big burly dudes who were wanting to be revived. I revived them, because duh. No one thanked me. You're welcome, big burly dudes who died in combat!

Have only encountered one actual ass so far. As soon as I popped into the real game, he started trying to beat me up. I, of course, do not in any way have PVP enabled, so he wasn't hurting me. I stared at him a moment and then went on my way. What a dick.

All in all, it's not an awful game, and it's free, so I'll keep plugging away at it bit by bit until I get tired of it. It's not really my kind of game, but I'm not totally sucking at it, so maybe it'll grow on me.

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I went back into Defiance this morning. I spawned right outside the last mission I did, even though that wasn't where I left off. No big deal, except I spawned inside the conflict zone, thus setting off the event again. But what the hell I thought, there's no one else here, it's a chance to check out my weapons and skills and see how they all work without anyone staring at the stupid noob. So I did the mission again all by myself. I died twice, but I got through it and learned a few things. It was a great confidence booster!

High on victory, I decided to do the next mission. Yup, I was right. One mission a play session is really all I enjoy. Didn't help that this one was looong with three parts and ATV driving involved. There were three of us online and in the area, and it was tough, but we got through it, and guess what? It was fun. Actual FUN! Not enough fun to keep me from returning to base camp and logging off immediately though. Seriously, an hour is enough.

Though I may log in again later and play another hour.

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Yup, one hour of Defiance is my limit. At exactly one hour, I start getting frustrated and stressed out. I did get an awesome shotgun today though, which might make close range combat go better then it has been.

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Today's Defiance tale: Logged in at 5pm, which is my daily afternoon coffee/game playing period. Decided to hop on my ATV and just drive around the map. Whenever I saw something interesting going down where there were other players taking part, I hopped off, found some high ground with good cover, and did my sniper thing. When it was over, I'd gather my loot, and zoom off into the sunset looking for more action. It's a pretty fun way to play the game!

Eventually, I ran out of ammo for my favorite gun, so I fast traveled to a depot to repair my stuff and load up my ammo stocks. Well, there was a pack of big burly dudes there doing the same thing. I totally ignored them and went about my business, but … earlier I'd unmuted voice chat. I got to listen to these dudes being all dude bro. Ugh. The macho, it was painful.

Then, they noticed there was a female among them (me). They commented among themselves about the rare creature they spotted. Nothing awful, and I was ignoring it. I summoned my ATV and got ready to drive off when one of them said, out loud with his own voice “Hey, you should join our group. We could use a cunt that can shoot.” I didn't even bother driving off. I fast traveled to base camp. As I vanished I could hear him saying “Hey, I was only joking!” Yeah, funny joke dude bro! And YOU are now on my list.

I'll either be turning off the voice chat again or sorting my mic problems out so I can dish out some verbal retribution, which I am totally capable of dishing out. Turning it off is probably the wiser choice.

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Wow. I just played two hours in Defiance. I meant to just log in and pick up my daily bonus thing, but then I thought I'd see what this one mission was, and it didn't sound too hard, so I went for it, and that lead to having to drive a few kilometers, and one thing lead to another, and bam … two hours passed.

Scored some new weapons (a machine gun, woo hoo!) and grenades (yippee!) that I'll have to check out when I log in again. Still not sure I would describe the game as fun. I mean, I guess if you like third person shooters, it's probably pretty damn fun, but it still stresses me out. Maybe later I'll do some cross country travel and take part in one of the arkfall things. I'm betting that will make my head explode properly.

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At midnight, I set an alarm to remind me to log into my war game [note: an iPad game which I have been playing for two years religiously] in an hour and reset my three day shield. It's super duper important my city not be sitting around unshielded, because hello … WAR. I have a ton of resources, and my troops and hero would be sitting ducks ripe for the killing without that shield.

While I waited for the hour to pass, I decided to log into Defiance and just drive around and explore the map. You know, not actually DO anything. Just some Sunday driving to see what's in the areas I haven't been to yet. Uh huh. Famous last words! I found a farm overrun with Hellbugs, and I hopped off my ATV to check it out.

An hour into a hellish battle, that alarm went off. I turned it off. An hour and a half later, I was gathering the loot after killing 83 freaking monster bugs and remembered that I hadn't reset my shield in Game of War. OMG!!! I quickly logged in, and lucky me, everything was still okay. Truly, I got lucky. I can't believe how lucky I got.

But this little experience made something clear to me. I was annoyed when that alarm went off, and I didn't want to stop playing Defiance. Even if it meant my troops and hero were all slain. In fact, I think I sort of wanted it to happen, so I'd have a reason to rage quit that game. I'd really rather not be logging into that damn game every 8 hours anymore. I've been doing it for two years. I think that's long enough for one damn game. I'd rather be spending my game time blowing away mutants and Hellbugs in Defiance.

Also, woo hoo!!! I did that mission all by myself, and I'm still a little puny noob! Of course, after I was done I watched a video on youtube of someone with far better weapons and skills than me do the same thing in ten minutes, but who cares how long it took me. I got it done! Alone! Yippee!

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This morning, while I waited for the first load of laundry to get dry, I logged into Defiance (of course). A minor Ark Fall, one of the Halloween event ones, popped up right nearby, so I hustled over there and took part with a couple other folks. Got some of the fancy special weapons! A nifty shotgun and an awesome machine gun!

Then a major Halloween event Ark Fall popped up near a fast travel point, so I headed that way and got there just in time to take part in the last third of it. It was my first big one, so I'm kind of glad I missed the first two thirds. WOW, lots of players and lots of monsters. There was no high ground, no crouching behind a tree carefully aiming. There was me running and rolling like a crazy person while being chased by a ten foot tall robotic thing capable of taking me out with one attack. When it was over, I scored big money and big prizes. I like it! Then I logged off, because that was enough stress for one day.

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Next up, I tell you how I spent nearly an entire day playing the game. Yup, so much for that “one hour is enough” I kept saying. Lies, damn lies! LOL!

The Tail End

Since the newest ground cover addition to my front yard finally bloomed and the bees are all over it, I thought I'd try to get a macro shot of a bee. This is a task that seems to require the patience of a saint. It's also helpful if you aren't freaked out about a hundred bees buzzing around you and landing on you. I was a little freaked out. I've never been stung by a bee, and considering the high number of other things in nature I am excessively allergic to, I'm occasionally terrified that bees may be the thing that kills me.

Hey, it could happen!

Anyway, I gave it a try for as long as I could stand it and only successfully got one shot that actually contained a bee. Well, part of a bee anyway. A bee butt! Not my most outstanding work, but considering the difficulty factor (man, bees move fast), I'm posting it anyway. LOL!