Gun Violence Confuses Me…(And other random thoughts about society)

In light of the recent shooting at the church in Texas, my wife and I were having a conversation about gun violence in this country, and I thought I would take this opportunity to put my thoughts down on paper.

I think it’s first important to give some background regarding my stance on the issue of gun control.  I am a military veteran who has been around the world, an “Endowment Member” of the National Rifle Assocation (one level higher than a “Life” member), and a firm believer in individual liberties.  I fervently support the notion that the 2nd amendment to our constitution was written with the intent of endowing the people with constitutional protection of their power to defend themselves from a tyranical government if that time ever came.  Hunting was a way of life in those days, it was something that many, many people did, so it doesn’t make sense that there would be a constitutional amendment protecting something as essential as hunting, without naming “hunting” specifically in the verbiage, especially given numerous personal statements from early founders and leaders of our country.  George Washington has been quoted as saying, “A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.” and I agree with that statement whole-heartedly, regardless of how folly the defeatist anti-gunners might say those efforts would be.  I own several firearms myself including the dreaded AR-15 (civilian, semi-auto version).  That’s not to say however, that I am completely opposed to any sorts of controls over the distribution of weaponry such as background checks, but those details are for another time, I just wanted to make clear my stance on the right of individuals to keep and bear arms.

Something has occurred to me, specifically regarding the region of the country in which I grew up and now live.  I grew up in, and now live in eastern Kentucky, specifically Magoffin County.  People here are a lot of things, but one thing they are not, at least generally speaking, is exceptionally violent, and it contradicts the narrative that the mass media loves to portray on their nightly news hours that “Guns” are somehow the problem.  I grew up around guns.  From the time I was old enough to understand how to operate one safely (5 years or so) I had my own BB gun, and I was regularly, under adult supervision, allowed to target practice or shoot vermin such as rats with my dad’s larger rifles and shotguns.  This region is inundated with guns; almost everybody owns one.  I own a gun, my wife does, my parents each do, my aunts and uncles do, every neighbor I can think of does, my grandmother owned one, my wife’s grandparents own guns.  People who don’t even like guns usually own at least a .22 rifle or something.  If I don’t like the prices at the local gun stores, I can go to one of several local flea markets on the weekend and just walk in with a wad of cash and walk out with a gun, ammo, etc., with no background check, from regular Joe citizens looking to offload part of their collection.  I even recently took my 3 year old daughter to a local pumpkin patch on a school field trip and the guy directing traffic in the parking lot had a pistol on his side.  With these guns literally everywhere, you would think this region would be a hotbed for gun violence, but we’re not.  I can’t tell you the last time I remember hearing about somebody being shot in this county.  When somebody actually gets shot, or tries to shoot somebody, it’s a huge deal that makes the local newspaper.  Even our local Radio Shack doubles as a gun store; the front counter has an assortment of pistols, rifles, and ammunition.  Tons and tons of people carry concealed weapons everywhere it’s legal to do so, myself included, because it’s just what people do around here.  That’s not to say that we don’t have crime, even violent/gun crime on occasion, but gun crime around here is pretty rare compared to the rest of the country.

The people in the theater in Aurora, Colorado didn’t go to the movies expecting to get shot, but it happened.  The people at the concert in Vegas didn’t go there expecting to get shot at, but it happened.  The people at the church in Texas didn’t go there expecting to get shot, but it still happened.  For that reason, I carry everywhere I go, it has become a part of my normal clothing, as normal as my socks and belt, it’s something I don’t really think about other than to make sure I have it.  It’s like a fire extinguisher; I have one in the kitchen and one in my truck because, like my pistol, I figure it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it, even though thankfully, so far, in civilian life, I have not needed to use a firearm against a person.

This is what boggles my mind about the rest of these United States; even the more liberal areas of Kentucky.  Places like Louisville and Lexington are, culuturally speaking, more akin to places like New York or California than they are to my hometown of Salyersville, Kentucky; the big “Lexington Herald Leader” newspaper is even owned by a Californian media company.  Now I’m not saying that Kentucky or eastern Kentucky is some perfect utopia where nobody ever gets shot.  Personally, I think we need more regulation over the un-licensed sale of personally owned firearms at places like flea markets (we have a reasonably high rate of crime gun exports, guns bought here and used in crimes in other states).  We also have a huge problem with drugs such as meth, high unemployment, obesity, poverty, etc.  It’s also true that we’re very sparsely populated; with the entire county only numbering just over 13,000 in 2010 (a density of 43 per square mile), with recent estimates actually showing a decrease (Source: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/magoffincountykentucky/PST045216).  What I am saying however, is that it seems to me as if there’s something culturally wrong with this country.  I am an atheist, yet I can live in this community that is predominantly Christian, all of us loaded to the hilt with weapons, and I have no problems.  I am not particularly concerned that the next mass shooting might happen in Salyersville, KY.  Why does it seem that here, in a place some people might refer to as, “The asshole of the country”, where guns are literally EVERYWHERE, gun violence is not a huge issue, but these bigger population centers around the country seem to be, at least according to the mass media headlines, inundated with gun violence?

The answer, it seems to me, is people, culture, and the media.  Perhaps it’s even the notion that, as stated by Robert Heinlein, “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”  The vast majority of Americans these days do not exercise, let alone care about their right, their responsibility to keep and bear arms, especially in more politically liberal areas; that much is common knowledge.  Most people these days don’t seem to care about their responsibilities as citizens; they only care about their “rights” and what kind of personal benefits they entail.  Record numbers of people don’t care about their right to vote and can’t be bothered to take an hour out of their day once every couple of years to go cast a ballot, but they’ll sure as hell run to Facebook and write a novel about the evils of the candidates who won after the election is over.  People don’t sit down and write (or type) letters to their representatives, but they’ll sure as hell complain when those same representatives make decisions they don’t like.

It’s not necessarily movies or video games, because I grew up playing violent video games, and still do to this day.  I don’t think it’s religion because I and many of my friends are either atheist or agnostic AND gun owners, and we don’t feel some unnatural compulsion to go on a killing spree.  I think the problem is that the average American citizen does not feel as if they have a personally vested interest in the well being of the country.  Right now, less than 1% of the American population is serving in the military, and less than 10% of the living population has ever served in the military at any point in their lives.  As the son and nephew of veterans, and a veteran myself, I can’t help but think that the military has helped shape me into the person I am today and given me a deeper appreciation for my rights and responsibilities as an American citizen.  It has however, made it more difficult for me to relate to the people my age who are still living with their parents, unemployed, etc., but have no problems finding inordinate amounts of time to pop out children they can’t pay for and voicing opinions about a system they’ve made little to no effort to actively participate in.

My intent here is not to laude the perfection of the military or to suggest that military veterans should be venerated as some kind of superior breed of mature and politically intelligent human beings.  I have no problems voicing my disapproval of the US government and its members, including military members, whenever it is appropriate, and depending on the subject, I have a lot of opinions on the matter.  I’m also not trying to make myself sound like some perfect flag waving American, because like everybody, I have all kinds of personal flaws, opinions and problems that make me less than a model citizen of the arbitrary entity we call the “United States”.  What I am saying however is that we all need to do the best that we can to improve our lives and the lives of our fellow human beings within this society, and the best way to do that is to participate.  Get out and vote, consider military or government service, read and defend our constitution and educate our fellow Americans.  It seems to me that the vast majority of us are too pre-occupied with social and mass media to care about those things that really matter any more.  The end result is that perhaps people are less capable of empathizing with their fellow human beings; their mental problems go un-treated or become exacerbated by our social and economic problems, or by a mass media industry that thrives on drama, to the point that, without a personal investment in the society we live in, and without the ability to empathize with our fellow Americans, random acts of violence are becoming more and more common.

I’m droning and going off topic.  I don’t think the point of this blog post was necessarily to answer questions; like usual I’m just sitting here brain dumping onto paper.  This was just an opportunity for me to put my thoughts down on paper, and perhaps get some feedback from the community.  The end result is that as a society, we are sick, and I think that, at least with regard to violence and having a sense of respect for human life, there’s a lot the rest of you city slickers can learn from small towns like Salyersville, KY.

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Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus – My Review

This blog post may seem a little bit different than my past posts; not only because it has been a long time since I posted anything to WordPress, but because it’s a departure from the type of content I’ve had in my past WordPress blog posts.  I’ve always been a fan of video games and see them as an art form; a unique way for artists to tell a story, build a world, and allow people to explore that world.  This blog post is going to be my review of the most recent game I’ve finished, Woflenstein II: The New Colossus.

Intro
“Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus”, is a direct sequel to “Wolfenstein: The New Order”.  The “Wolfenstein” series of games has been around since the late 80s or early 90s, and the basic formula of the game hasn’t really changed; you shoot Nazis.  I had dabbled very briefly in the original Wolfenstein game for DOS here and there via an emulator, but I never actually owned the game when I was a kid, and have never actually finished the game or owned a fully copy.  The first game in the series that I actually sat down and played was “The New Order”, and you can read my review of that game here: http://steamcommunity.com/id/gerowen/recommended/201810/

I’ll break this review down into a couple of different parts, not particularly in this order; the visual presentation (graphics), the audio work such as soundtrack and voice acting, the gameplay mechanics, the technical stability and performance of the game, and the story.  When I talk about the game’s performance and visual appeal, it will be referring to my personal experience playing the PC version of the game at 1080p, maximum settings (referred to as Mein Leben in the game’s menu) on my gaming PC with the following specs:

CPU: AMD FX 8370 (overclocked to 4.3 Ghz)
Graphics Card: MSI Radeon RX 480 8GB “Gaming” (overclocked to 1,412 Mhz)
RAM: 16GB Corsair Vengeance Pro, 1866 Mhz DDR3
Storage: 1TB 7200RPM HDD
Note: I played with a mouse and keyboard, although the game does support the use of a controller if you prefer.

Story
As I stated earlier, the story is a direct continuation of the events in “Wolfenstein: The New Order”.  It follows William Joseph(BJ) Blaskowicz, also known as “Terror Billy” as he continues fighting against the Nazis who have, in this alternate universe, managed to win the 2nd world war and take over the United States, Europe, and most of the world through the use of advanced, albeit strange, technology they’ve stolen from a secret society of inventors.  The story stays true to the example set by “The New Order” by being a very engaging, cinematic experience, even when you are playing and interacting with the events going on around you.  There’s lots of unexpected twists, turns, and even some unanswered questions by the end of the game, which I suspect I may find answers to through the side missions or DLC when it comes out.  The characters are engaging, believable, and relatable so when a character is in danger, or when Blaskowicz finds himself in a predicament that seems un-winnable, you legitimately feel anxious about what’s going on.

The story, to me, is the most surprising part of this game series.  When I first picked up “Wolfenstein: The New Order” earlier this year as my entry point into the franchise, I expected DOOM with Nazis.  What I got was exactly that, but with the added bonus of a story and a cast of characters that nearly had me in tears at least once during my play-through of the game.  The story of “The New Colossus” continues in that same vein of weaving great story telling and loveable characters around intermittent moments of intense violence against a universally despised enemy.

This, obviously, means that this game is not appropriate for children.  If you are a parent and/or you’re considering buying this game for a child, you should know that it includes depictions of Adolf Hitler, grotesque violence (even if it is against Nazis), sexual inuendos, at least one brief sex scene (although no genitalia are actually shown on screen), and at least one instance of a very pregnant lady with her shirt off, covered in the blood of her enemies, screaming, and shooting the crap out of a group of Nazis trying to storm into the room on her (That moment was more hilarious than anything, but there are bare breasts front and center on the screen).

It’s hard to review a game’s “story” without giving too much away, but suffice it to say, I was very pleasantly surprised with how much attention was given to the story in the last Wolfenstein game I played, and this game continued that excellence.

Graphics and Visuals
This game just looks absolutely stunning.  The streaming texture “pop-in” that I noticed in the last game still exists, but it has been greatly reduced and is far less noticable than it was on this same PC when I played “The New Order”.  I have a feeling those of you with this game installed to a faster hard drive or SSD may not notice this at all.  There are occasional instances where you can tell certain, inconsequential “background” objects didn’t get as much attention as the rest of the game, but overall the game looks absolutely stunning.  Using the “Mein Leben” preset (the highest available) with HDR and motion blur disabled (because I don’t have an HDR screen and at 60+ fps motion blur doesn’t add anything to the experience in my opinion), the game is easily one of the best looking games I’ve ever played.  I realize I keep saying that with every new game I play, but these games just keep getting better and better.  We’re getting to a point where the most unrealistic aspect of any game is character animations (and motion capture really helps with that), because when it comes to textures and visual effects, we’re at a point where photo-realism, or near photo-realism, is becoming the norm.  Lines were clean without being blurred, colors were rich and vivid without having that “neon” effect of being too bright, surfaces had various ways of reflecting or refracting light to make them appear more natural instead of having that “plastic” look that many games were guilty of having during the Playstation3/XBox 360 era, and character animations were generally fluid and natural looking.  One of the moments in the game that caught my attention the most is the scene you probably noticed in the preview trailer where you meet the Nazi commander in the diner.  When I was in that diner, prior to meeting the Nazi, I noticed that at 1080p you could easily read the small text of the menu from across the room with no blurring or jagged edges.  In my opinion the whole game just, generally speaking, looks really crisp, clean and natural.  The artists did an outstanding job both with the style and quality of the artwork, and the technical expertise to implement that artwork into a game in such a way that it looks as good as it does with anti-aliasing and other post processing effects applied.  My compressed JPG screenshots don’t do the game proper justice because there are some compression artifacts corrupting the very small elements that looked so clean during actual gameplay; I guess I’ll have to configure Steam to save a PNG copy of every screenshot in case I want to use them for future reviews.

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Audio
The voice acting and musical score in this game are top notch.  Listening to the characters speak and watching them interact with one another is more like watching a film than playing a video game.  Each cinematic moment of the game is brought to life through the impressive voice acting of this game that makes the interactions feel natural and lifelike.  The audio quality is such that the voices sound good, and sound like they fit into the environment instead of like they were recorded in a studio and superimposed onto a digital character.

The sound effects do a very good job of conveying what’s going on around you in the world.  In particular, if you are wearing headphones, it is very easy to discern direction and approximate distance based on sound occlusion due to walls, doors, etc. Firing various weapons, walking, breaking down barriers, sticking your hatchet into somebody’s face, all sounds incredibly realistic and natural.  If you hurl your hatchet at somebody who is several yards away, you will still hear a muffled “chink” when it sinks into them, along with a brief yelp by said enemy, or a clanking sound as the hatchet bounces off a wall/floor if you miss, giving you the audio feedback to let you know what’s going on in the world around you.  You can even fire silenced rounds or toss hatchets against walls to generate sound effects that will distract patroling enemies.  If you’re sneaking around an area, you can even eavesdrop on conversations between Nazi soldiers and pick up on some hidden information that back-fills elements of the story.

The musical score did exactly what a musical score is supposed to do; it augmented the existing tensions and attitude in any particular scene, without itself being particularly distracting.  Music will pick up to a fast paced track when you’ve alerted the enemy commanders and they set off an alarm, or when a larger or more powerful enemy is in the area, and likewise, when things are calmer, the music is slower.  To be honest, the only single musical track in the entire game that I really took note of is the heavy metal rendition of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” that played during the ending credits, because during the rest of the game, the background music served mainly as an augmentation to the events on screen, not as an asset in and of itself, and honestly, I think that’s a good thing.

Gameplay
The game is a first person shooter and plays like a first person shooter.  You have your run, jump, aim, fire, grenade, etc. commands to issue.  There’s nothing particulary groundbreaking here because honestly, there’s not a whole lot of room for improvement in my opinion.  The controls feel smooth and responsive, the gunplay feels satisfying, and combat was never such that I felt like myself, or the enemy, had an unfair advantage.  There’s also a few levels here and there with various different ways in which you are required, or can choose, to play.  Whether you’re on Venus in a refrigerated suit, rolling around in a wheel chair, or riding a panzerhund and setting those Nazis ablaze, the game never got stale or repetitive; I was always looking forward to the next mission.

Like “The New Order” there’s a variety of different ways to tackle combat; you can sneak around and assassinate everyone from the shadows with silent weapons, destroy the alarms so backup can’t be called in, or just run in guns blazing and kill everything and everyone in your path, including the backup that gets called in.  I did notice that even on the Medium difficulty, at least to me, it seems like you’re a little bit less “invincible” feeling if you just run into an open area shooting anything that moves.  I’m not sure if enemy attacks do more damage, or if I was just noobing it up, but I feel like even if I just wanted to run in guns blazing, there was an incentive to continue using proper cover and concealment instead of just standing out in the open waiting for enemies to walk in front of me.

Later in the game there are some new gameplay mechanics added, from which initially you can only choose one.  You can acquire all 3 of these “perks” I guess could call them through side missions, but they are completely optional, and by the time you even unlock them at all, you’ve only got a few hours of the main story line left anyway, so when I finished the main storyline so shortly after acquiring the first new “ability”, I felt little incentive to go hunting down the other two simply to accomplish bonus side missions.  I might do it later just to get them, but I feel like these perks would have been a little more useful or fun if they had been introduced a little earlier in the game, although I haven’t done many of the side missions yet, so I may have hours and hours of gameplay left ahead of me besides the main story line.

Technical Stuff
This is the area where I had the most complaints with the previous game, “The New Order”.  “Wolfenstein: The New Colossus” has fixed every single technical problem I had with “The New Order”; there are some new issues that exist, but none of them that are nearly as annoying as the ones I encountered with “The New Order”.  Please note that any issues listed here are issues that I personally experienced on my machine, but the game was also only released a couple of days ago, so bug fixes and patches are going to be pushed over the coming months, and these issues may not exist by the time you read this review.

First, at least as of this writing, when sneaking through air vents, or anywhere that you might need to drop through a hole, it seems that BJ suffers from a condition people in the Steam forums are calling “Fat Blasko” where you have to travel WAY out over these openings in order to fall through them properly, sometimes walking back and forth a couple of times in order to get him to fall through the opening.

Second, the game repeatedly crashed on my PC until I disabled the “Async Compute” option in the Video settings.  Once I disabled the option it disappeared from the menu altogether, which was weird, but that did seem to fix the issue.  The game would run fine for a while, and then just out of the blue the animation would freeze, the audio would continue, and the game would minimize itself.  Trying to restore it would not work and I would have to use the Windows task manager to kill the process.  Disabling “Async Compute” resolved this issue completely.  Note that disabling “Async Compute” may increase your CPU load since that option is designed to offload some of the “compute” operations to the graphics card, and those operations will now have to be completed by your CPU, but I noticed no detrimental effects to the game with my hardware.

Aside from those two issues, the game is technically superior to “The New Order” in every way that I can tell.  It runs SO much better than “The New Order” did on this same exact hardware.  At 1080p, maximum visual settings, the game was above 100 frames per second almost non-stop, approaching 150fps on a regular basis.  Occasionally when there was a lot of particle effects on screen or a lot of enemies or shooting going on it would dip into the 80s or 90s, but it was always well above 60fps, which is my cutoff since I, like most of you, use a 60hz monitor to game on.  This, I think, is thanks to the fact that the game uses the Vulkan API (like DOOM 2016) instead of OpenGL or an older version of DirectX.  Vulkan runs really well on AMD hardware right now.  The game does disable most on-screen overlay software, so I had to add some command arguments to the “Launch Options” for the game in Steam so I could use the Steam in-game overlay to capture screenshots and such, but I never was able to get Radeon Relive to take screenshots or capture video footage (Note: Add the following, without quotes to the launch options in Steam to re-enable the Steam in-game overlay, “+r_disableSteamOverlay 0”).  Even if I hit “Print Screen” and then paste it into MS Paint, I just get a big black square.  I also couldn’t get my Rivatuner overlay to work so I could monitor system load while the game was running, however, the game does have built in performance metrics you can enable under the “Video” settings that can show as little as your framerate or everything including your per core CPU load, frame times, etc.

Conclusion
“Wolfenstein: The New Colossus” is the 2nd Wolfenstein game I have ever actually sat down and played, and it is a worthy successor to “The New Order”.  It improved on or fixed every problem I had with the previous title I played, albeit at the expense of adding one or two new issues.  The story is compelling and at times even breath taking or heart wrenching if you’re a softie that gets attached to characters like I do.  Everything from the visuals to the sound effects to the responsive gameplay mechanics just makes this feel like what I said in my review of the last game may have actually reached somebody’s ears over at Bethesda.  I thoroughly enjoyed playing through the campaign and intend to continue playing the side missions and any DLC that becomes available.  If you’re a fan of first person shooters, great story telling, or both, I highly recommend this game, although if you haven’t played it, I really recommend playing “The New Order” first because, despite the issues with that title, part of what makes this game amazing is the continuation of the events from “The New Order”.  Bethesda included no multiplayer and focused on making a rock solid single player, and I think they hit a homerun.  There are a handful of people all around the internet, including on the Steam forums, who, for some reason, see this game as a political jab or a personal attack, but I’m hoping those individuals are the minority and that this title does well enough to let Bethesda know that we appreciate games being finished, stable, and gorgeous with a compelling single player.  I will most definitely keep my ears open for the next entry in the series.

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Garden Update – 18 June 2014

So our garden is doing pretty well.  We’ve had a hot dry spell the past week or two, so I’ve had to go out and water the garden myself.  One of my friends has already found 90% of his garden dead and wilted because he never thought to water it himself.  The green beans are almost ready to be picked, they just need to fatten up a little.  Peas are getting there, although a couple of them look wilted.  I thought maybe they had just dried out from being uprooted from some excessive rain we had a few weeks ago, so I piled some fresh dirt around them and watered them, and although they haven’t died, they haven’t recovered, so I’m starting to think maybe they have caught something.

Here’s some sunflowers I planted next to the walk-way up to our porch.  There was 4 of them, but one of the dogs dug one up and despite re-planting within 10 minutes and watering with fertilizer, it has died, so I put up the lattice work to discourage them from running through them and to give myself something to tie them to when they get big.  Last year we had sunflowers that got 10+ feet tall with heads on them that had to weigh in the neighborhood of 20 pounds.

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Here’s our green beans.  They were doing a lot better than I thought they were.  I’ve been focusing mainly on just watering and weeding them and keeping the dirt loosened, but hadn’t taken the time to pull the leaves back and look under them lately.  I was actually kind of surprised that we already had beans.

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Here’s our peas.  One or two of the vines appear to have caught some kind of disease I think.  They are growing, but appear wilted.  At first I assumed it was from having lots of grass around them in the first few weeks until I got them weeded, and then the rain kind of uncovered their roots a bit, so I hilled up some fresh dirt and watered them through this dry spell and although they haven’t died outright, one or two of the vines are still yellow.  I’m considering just pulling those up tomorrow in case it’s some kind of a blight or something that the other vines might catch.  Most of them though look nice and healthy and are getting some nice fat pea pods already.

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I’m about 80% sure it’s too late in the year to plant pumpkins, but we had just a handful of seeds, and I had never planted them, so I figured what the heck.  There was some space in the garden at the end of two or 3 rows where we had planted peppers and a few other things that didn’t take.  Since we had a couple spots where there was a nice wide open spot, I just hoed up two nice big hills and planted some pumpkins about an inch down.  According to the planting instructions on the packet, we could plant these all the way up until the 1st of July, just depending on when the weather decides to dip down and get cold.

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Call me weird, but I love the smell of Marigolds, and I’ve been told that they will help keep insects away.  I started this one in a small flower pot and then just transplanted it into the garden.  I planted this one next to 4 or 5 tomato plants and there were no pests on those tomato plants.  The tater bugs are about to eat some of my potato plants up though, I’m going to have to get some more bug dust for them.

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Overall I’m pretty happy with our garden this year.  There’s talk that agriculture might be the economic replacement for coal in eastern Kentucky, and seeing as how things appear to be working out for me, I’m going to do some research.  There’s a program where the state will give you the seeds, send you to training on how to can/preserve your vegetables, and they’ll even plow up your land for you.  If I can get involved with that, it might actually turn out to be a sustainable source of income doing something I enjoy, 🙂

This is my 2nd year really trying to have a garden.  Year 1 was a learning experience, and things seem to be working out this year.  It’s odd, but my family is full of people who grew up gardening, but as a young boy we didn’t really do much gardening, so I’m having to learn things that a lot of people already know.  Here’s the whole thing at a glance, 🙂

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Our Family Garden for 2014 – June 11th Maintenance

So this year is the first year that we as a family have really buckled down and had a productive garden.  My wife and I got married while I was in college, then I joined the Army where we lived in an apartment in town, and we moved back to Kentucky in the fall.  We tried to plant one on property we own elsewhere last summer, where my parents live, but not being close to it proved to be a deal breaker.  We managed to get some peppers out of it, and lots of turnip greens, and that’s about it.  The deer ate the corn and the birds ate the tomatoes.  The grass almost took it once or twice because my wife and I were both working full time.  The rabbits ate just about anything they could reach.  All things that could have been prevented if we had planted in a more accessible location where we could keep an eye on it and maintain it.

Right now we actually live on property that we are renting a few miles from the family property where my parents live.  Part of the reason I was hesitant to plant a garden here last year, even though my landlord told me he didn’t care a bit, was because I just didn’t want to go tilling up a yard that was “technically” somebody else’s.  He told us to go for it again this year, so this year we decided to plant our garden here, and it has done MUCH better.  The convenience of being able to just walk out the door and go weed it, dust the taters, till/hoe up fresh dirt, etc. has proven invaluable in raising a healthy garden.  We’ve already harvested some of the onion greens, although I’m going to leave about 3/4 of the onion plants alone so that they’ll hopefully form bigger bulbs.  We’ve harvested some of the lettuce and mustard greens as well and they’re both already back with a vengeance.

The only pest problems we’ve had so far have been tater (potato for those of you who live north of the Mason Dixon) bugs.  The tater plants got pretty large before the bugs showed up, so I haven’t had to do a ton of work to control them because the plants are so big that it would take a pretty large infestation to cause any real damage.  I dust the plants occasionally around sun-set and the dew that collects on the leaves kind of makes it stick to them and stay on longer.  It has been doing a decent job of keeping the tater bugs away until it washes off with the rain.

The garden has been a family project, although with a wife that is literally ready to give birth at any moment, the majority of the burden has been on me.  She was hoping to be able to plant some pumpkins and watermelons, but feeling overwhelmed with the garden and feeding the dog and mowing the grass and generally trying to take care of things, including many things she physically cannot do at the moment, I never got around to planting them.  I may plant a few just to see if they take, but we’re pushing it a little bit, and may be too late.

Anyway, I just thought I would share a quick story about my family garden and some photos.  The garden has served as a project for our family, from myself to our 3 year old son to participate in.  It is something that with some hard work and dedication has proven that it will probably yield more than enough vegetables to last us through the winter.  We’ve already begun to harvest some of them, and have given away quite a bit to friends and family.  It’s one more way of being self sufficient.  Not only does it build a strong family bond to work hard on something together and see it do well, but it also reduces your dependency on others.  It has put better tasting food on our table, and there’s just a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from eating something that you grew in your own back yard, not to mention the lower price tag at your local grocery store when you don’t have to buy things like lettuce or spinach or corn or tomatoes, etc.  It also builds valuable life skills in children, and gives them a very tangible reward for hard work.  It’s something that can teach them the value of both hard work, and patience.  They have to realize that although their hard work will pay off, they will have to wait to see the results.  I think that is a valuable lesson to instill in today’s world where people are more and more conditioned to instant gratification.

This evening I went out and did some maintenance on the garden.  It has needed it for a day or two because I noticed some of the onions were starting to pop out of the ground, so this evening I finally got around to weeding, tilling and hoeing the garden.  The only thing I didn’t bother was the lettuce because we got romaine and iceberg lettuce, both of which are hard to weed because it just kind of grows everywhere, and the grass grows in with it.  The lettuce appears to be out-growing and killing out most of the grass, so rather than spend hours on my knees picking out individual blades of grass, I just left it alone.

Below are some photos we took today while out working the garden.

 

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My Place

I am a product of the times. I am a young man, trying to find his place in this world. I am part English, Scottish, Cherokee, and Apache, and probably a dash of a few other things thrown in there that I don’t know about. I have served in my country’s Army. I have a wife, a son, and one more on the way.

My skills have caused me to receive job offers that would have paid more money than I know what to do with, under the condition that I move into big cities where the jobs were located. Instead, after leaving the military, I chose to come back to Kentucky. These hills are my home, they are where I grew up. They are one of few places in the world any more where I can go and find silence and be left alone, where I can hunt, live off the land. They offer me the closest thing I can imagine to real “freedom”. I hate to quote celebrities, but Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty once said, “If you can’t take a leak in your own yard without offending somebody, you’re not really free.”

So many people of my generation, and of generations before me, place so much emphasis on money that they lose a sense of who they really are. My wife and I both work. We make enough money to pay our bills and have a little bit left over, and I’m happy with that. I have no desire to slave my life away, be an absentee father, and then fall into a chair for the last 20 years of my life so I can gloat, “Well, I may not be able to walk totally upright any more, but look at my bank account!” What does a man gain if he works away his life for a large bank account if he loses track of his own soul, of what really makes him happy in life? By the way by “man”, I refer to “people”, not just those of us who happen to have penises. I have absolutely no problems with working hard to take care of yourself, and your family. However, I see myself differently. As long as the bills are paid, I am perfectly happy applying my hard work toward taking care of my parents, hunting for wild game, working on a house for my wife and I, things that have tangible benefits and improve our quality of life. I am the kind of person where money does not necessarily make me happy. If I had a million dollars in my bank account right now, I wouldn’t want a new truck. If I spent it on anything, it would be on buying up land and creating wildlife habitats.

I guess the point of this post goes back to the title. I’m just a man who enjoys nature, who feels, I guess I could say spiritually connected to the woods. I want to work hard to give my family a good life, but I don’t want to go slave away at a factory for a high dollar paycheck where I won’t get to be with my family, and neglect the housework because I’m too tired to do anything when I get home. I’ve been there. I’ve spent years away from home working my ass off on 3 hours of sleep or less for a week straight, and that’s no way to live. Because this is how I feel however, I feel a lot of societal pressure to change. I feel like this is the right thing to do for my family since we are doing fine and living comfortably, but I feel like society pressures people to live a certain way and to do certain things, else they be considered lazy, or a failure. If you’re not working hard for somebody else, then it doesn’t count. If you’re working hard on things you love around your home, it doesn’t count.

I would much rather spend my time being a father. Teaching my children how to be good human beings, how to live in harmony with nature, the value of hard work. I would rather spend my time working hard for the betterment of my family by providing them with fresh food and maintaining the house and the equipment we need to get things done. I would rather take my children hunting and teach them the value of real freedom, how to safely operate a firearm when they are at a reasonable age, how to skin a deer, how to change the oil in the car, how to manage their money and how to build a porch. There a million things I would rather do that I think would have a better impact on the next generation than working myself into an early grave. I want to live to be an old man, the patriarch of my family, there to give advice to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren for many years. I think that is the way I can have the most positive impact on this world.

In many ways, I wish I had been born a hundred years ago. Today’s world has become so commercialized, so hectic, so confusing, that it really is depressing. Even here in the woods of eastern Kentucky, when I go hunting, it’s not uncommon to be meditating, right on the edge of total relaxation and peace, only to have it interrupted by the sound of an airplane flying overhead. I think our “progress” is damaging our connection to our humanity, to the natural and spiritual worlds that exist all around us.

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Perception of Reality

I have a hypothesis about reality, spirits, death, and our human perception of all those things and more.

We live in a world where our experience, our perception of “reality”, is completely dictated by the limitations of our 5 senses; touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell.  We are essentially a squishy collection of molecules gifted with intelligence, and at the end of the day, we are really quite limited in just how much of “reality” we can experience.

Humans can only see between infra-red and ultra-violet, but there is a whole slew of wavelengths of light that we are completely in-capable of seeing.  Our ears can only hear a very small portion of the spectrum of vibrations and frequencies.  Only in relatively recent years have we developed the technology with which to perceive some of the things that we cannot see with our own eyes or hear with our own ears, but even those devices just convert those things into a spectrum where we can perceive them.  Infra-red cameras just convert heat into colors of the light spectrum that we can see.  When you look through an IR camera, you aren’t actually seeing the IR light rays as they actually are, you are seeing an interpretation of those light rays, as depicted in our visible light spectrum.

What I’m getting at is that we literally cannot even perceive the vast majority of the universe.  In the infinite vastness of space, there are planes of existence that we cannot sense with any of our 5 senses.  There could be sentient beings that exist in this universe with us that we simply cannot interact with because our senses don’t allow it.  Just because we, as human beings, cannot sense something, does not mean that it doesn’t exist, it is just another example of how narrow our perception of “reality” really is.  What if people who practice yoga and/or meditation really are able to, at least temporarily, peer into these “realms” that really are not separate from reality, but exist right along-side us, in wavelengths of light and vibration that we cannot sense?  Even our sense of touch is not really “touch”.  You never really “touch” anything.  Our atoms react to materials by repelling them.  When you’re sitting in a chair, you’re never really touching the chair, you are, at a sub-atomic level, floating above the seat of your chair.  Your sense of touch is a reaction to electrical signals picked up by your nerves when the atoms in your cells react to the atoms of the world around you.  What if there are beings that have a perception of having a physical body, like ours, but exist at different wave-lengths so that they react with materials on those wavelengths?  What if, in the very space you occupy right now, there is a whole other world that exists at a different wave-length that you cannot perceive?

What if “heaven”, as described in so many different cultures and religions, is just another wave-length of reality that exists right alongside our own?  What if when we die, our consciousness continues to exist in this very world on different wave-lengths of light, sound, and matter?  What if, all throughout history, the shamans, the healers, the medicine men, the prophets, what if all these people were just human beings that, at least under certain conditions, were particularly sensitive to the other wave-lengths of light, sound, and matter that exist, and were therefore granted an expanded sense of reality compared to the rest of us?  That would mean that there really is a spiritual realm, that exists right along-side us on different wave-lengths of light, sound and matter, and therefore behaves entirely differently than what we are accustomed to experiencing under the extreme limitations of our 5 human senses.

The take-away from my ramblings today is that we have our sense of reality, but it really is quite a minuscule portion of what we know exists, and what is possible in the infinite vastness of our universe.

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Building My Own Utility Trailer – The Value of Recycling

So I have, for a while, been looking for a way to purchase a utility trailer. Something to hook onto the back of my Dodge pickup or the Ford Explorer and haul things on. Any time I needed one, for example to move my riding lawn mower, I had to borrow one from one of my uncles. The problem however, was that I didn’t have the $500+ laying around to buy one, and at $500 they are pretty small.

A solution to my problem became apparent however. I had an uncle named Earn who lived out in the woods for most of his life. He had a small camper trailer, about 15 feet long, where he had the essentials. He hunted and fished, grew a garden and lived off the land until the day he died.  The road was just barely good enough to take a 4 wheel drive vehicle up. He lived on the property of a friend of our family who didn’t mind him being there.

He died several years ago, and since then his little trailer had been sitting there falling apart because nobody was willing or able to go move it. A tree had fallen on it and broken the roof, allowing rain and moisture to get inside, and most of the wood was too rotten to be of any real use. The landowners had told me a long time ago that I could use their property as I needed to as long as I was respectful and wasn’t destructive. I try to avoid being up there too much out of respect for them and use my own land, but decades ago my mom’s family owned a large piece of that property, so there’s a lot of old scrap metal still there from before nature re-claimed it, so I go up there and retrieve scrap metal from time to time. The landowners told me that they wanted to reclaim the field my uncle had lived in, and if I pulled that trailer out of there and cleaned it up for them, I could have it to sell for scrap metal.

So to work I went. I, along with my brother and cousin for help, started the business of ripping that old trailer apart.

Here’s a picture of the trailer when I first started by myself. I went to pull an electric cord out of the wall because it was snagging and holding pieces together, and when I pulled the whole front wall came out.

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Here’s a picture of the crew working on tearing it apart.

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We burned all the wood, hauled the insulation off to the recycling center to be disposed of properly since it was asbestos insulation, and every piece of metal on it got loaded into the back of my truck, hauled off and sold for scrap.

However, when I started busting through the floor with my wood maul, I noticed something. The frame of the trailer was solid steel, and heavy duty as well, with beams several times as thick and wide as your average boat trailer. On top of that, it wasn’t hurt too bad because the rest of the trailer had been sitting on top of it, mostly protecting it from the elements. The tires even held air, and once I pumped some grease into the bearings and pulled on it, the wheels broke loose and started rolling. Of course the tires, being 50+ years old, weren’t safe to put any weight on, but they were good enough for me to get the trailer out of there so I could put some better ones on it.

Here’s a picture of the trailer frame, after I cleaned it off and sprayed it with undercoating to protect it. The silver piece laying on it was a bumper that extended out the back of the trailer. The lights and reflectors I added after I got it home since the old ones were so old they wouldn’t fit a standard vehicle light hookup any more.

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So after some experimentation and a new set of tires, I was able to find some deck boards to floor it with, and now have myself a 15′ utility trailer that’s several times stronger and much bigger than the ones sold at the stores. At the local Tractor Supply store, you can get an 8 foot trailer made out of some cheap wire mesh with 1 inch support beams for about $500. By simply cleaning this up and putting some effort into it, I was able to get myself a 15 foot trailer with 4 inch wide beams for the price of the lights ($30 for a full set) and the tires ($50 for both together), because the deck boards I also got for free from an uncle who was repairing a porch and had some extra ones laying around.

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This was an interesting little project for me. The tires in the photo above are the old ones, but since taking this I’ve put new tires on it and already used it to haul off loads much heavier than you could ever put on one of the dinky trailers sold at the local stores, and way more than I could safely load on my pickup frame by itself. The place I sell my scrap metal to cuts it up and sorts it by type (Aluminum, steel, etc.) and then ships it off to a foundry where it is melted back down and put back into the system to make new products. All of this was possible because I was willing to use what was already available to me.

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So I guess if there’s anything to be learned here, it’s that you would be amazed at what you can do with your “trash”. Before you just throw anything away, see what you can do with it, make it useful. The “throw-away living” way of life is a dangerous one. Birds and animals in parts of the world uninhabited by humans are dying because they’re eating bits of plastic washing up on the beaches because of the amount of things that we use and throw away. Most of us don’t think twice about what happens to our trash. Paper will degrade over time, but some things, like plastic, last for a very long time, and cause an immeasurable amount of damage to our environment. Let’s all try to make use of the things we already have. Let’s try to invest in things that will stick around for a while. If you’re going to buy plastic plates and silverware, make sure they’re dishwasher safe so you can continue to re-use them instead of just tossing them in the garbage. We only have one planet Earth, and we’re a long way off from figuring out how to survive anywhere else, so let’s all make a conscious effort to be kind to the world we live in by recycling a little bit.

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