Neopets is NOT Kid Friendly Anymore

July 20, 2014 - Leave a Response

Disclaimer: I have chosen not to use sources for this blog entry, and refer to all incidents/stories described in the following blog entry as “rumors”, to protect those people involved and their right to their opinions about The Neopets Team, Neopets Virtual Worlds and Viacom.

When I joined the Neopets website, I was 13 years old. Back then, Neopets had a sidebar, no advertisements, the games room was only four categories with a Cybunny holding the “puzzles” sign, Faerieland was still in the sky and Lutari Island didn’t exist. The objective of Neopets was to take care of your Neopets, and you could have up to four of them. You could go with a Cybunny, which is really just a cute looking bunny, or take a more daring approach and create an Aisha, an alien cat with four ears. All you had to do was feed them, and they’d be fine. You could choose to groom them for contests, play with them to improve their happiness, and even paint them with a special paint brush to change their “color”. You literally could turn a an Aisha which was all yellow, into a RAINBOW Aisha. I mean, wouldn’t you just love it if you could do that to your fellow humans? Just adopt some black person and paint them with a “Caucasian” paint brush.

Okay, I don’t think The Neopets Team ever intended a racial undertone with the paint brush system. And every website has its problems. This is why Neopets has rules that if broken, result in a punishment. Back in the old days of Neopets, if you broke the rules they didn’t freeze your account like they do now. Instead, you just lost your neopoints, had your pets’ statistics set to zero and if I remember correctly, lost your trophies too. If you spent hours upon days upon months earning those things, and lost them, like most gamers you’d rage quit. It never happened to me, but at age 13, it was plenty of a deterrent from breaking the rules. Nowadays you just get your account frozen, and you have the option to appeal to get your account back. Some people deserve to have their accounts frozen. Some people however, have had their accounts frozen for unfair reasons. Allow me to share those stories with you.

A young boy, who we’ll call Tom, had a species of Neopet called a Tonu. He had painted his Tonu with a paint brush, and it had taken him a very long time to get that paint brush. So one day, he goes onto the website’s message board and starts talking to a group of boys. One of these boys sent Tom a food item, so Tom fed it to his Tonu. Then his Tonu turned into a standard yellow Tonu, and lost it’s painted color. When he asked this boy why they sent him an item that would do that, they all laughed at him, and reported his account. Tom’s account was frozen simply because it was reported multiple times.

Another story I heard recently is a grandmother who uses the site, had gotten extremely good at a very difficult game called Bouncy Supreme. I promise you, I am horrifyingly bad at this game. The objective is to “bounce” from one platform to the next to get yourself more time to continue bouncing. She was so good at this game that she scored over 100,000 points. The highest score for that game right is 69,000 and change. The Neopets Team investigated her score, and claimed she cheated because her score was just to good not to be a cheat. While playing this game she had accumulated so much time that when someone knocked on her front door, she could get up and answer it, come back to the game and finish playing. It’s possible they thought she was cheating because she had been idle in the game for a little while. Her account was frozen. She appealed to have it given back, and was unsuccessful.

If people are very good at games and earn neopoints quickly, their accounts may be frozen for cheating as well. If someone buys a lot of items with their neopoints in a short time span, they are accused of autobuying (using a computer bot to search for items and buy them for you) and they are frozen. Neopets has a clause in the Terms of Service that says they can freeze your account for any reason, which is why they get away with this. They don’t have to prove you did anything wrong, they just have to THINK you did something wrong. They also don’t put all of the website’s rules on the website, so when people inadvertently break those unlisted rules (which has happened to me twice) they are either sent warnings or frozen. Neopets gets away with this, because a clause in their Terms of Service says they aren’t responsible for how you interpret or understand their rules.

So why does Neopets do things like this? I don’t think it’s to be mean, I think it’s a combination of population control and marketing. Anyone who is extremely good at games, needs to spend less time working for it on the website, thus Neopets can’t make money off of them. And people who are inactive for a long time, or accidentally break an unwritten rule, are frozen to control the population. There are milions of people on Neopets. MILLIONS. Their dirtiest trick is they have a rule that if you post links to other websites, you can be frozen for it. This is not about protecting kids from malware/viruses or pornography. This is about keeping people on the site for as long as possible, so that they never leave. This is why earning neopoints is such a time consuming task.

The worst aspect of Neopets though, is the censors. Neopets is not a kids only site, it is all ages, which The Neopets Team actually has said. The filters disallow words like “basement” and “advertisement” because they happen to contain the word “semen”. The filter is strangely hypocritical, because the word “weeds” is not allowed in private messaging (neomail) but is allowed on a game a called Word Poker. In addition, the word “stupid” is banned but “idiot” is okay.

Certain subjects are also banned from the site. Religion and politics are slightly understandable, though plenty of kids can have healthy opinions of and discussions about those topics. But talking about sexual orientation is also banned. That’s only in recent years, and I’m going to guess it was put in place after the site was bought by Viacom. Here’s the thing, the owner of Viacom is big on Scientology, and any money that is spent on the “Neocash” feature of the site or a premium account, goes to, you guessed it, support Scientology. So if you spend money on the website, you are being forced to support a religious practice that is actually banned from being talked about on the Neopets site. Logic, where did it go? So now Neopets is just a cash cow for idiots who believe dinosaurs evolved and died out in less than 7,000 years.

Here is where Neopets becomes dangerous for kids: Kids are easily manipulated. Plenty of scammers exist all over the site who hack into these kids’ accounts, steal their neopoints and items, then sell those items on other websites. Some people put “cookie trackers” in their user created shops, which are places where people can purchase items for smaller amounts of neopoints. These trackers are used to hack email accounts and then hack into a Neopets account and steal items, neopoints and even pets.

The worst hacking story I’ve read about is a girl who’s email was hacked, followed by her Neopets account. Her account was frozen after being hacked. They say they freeze hacked accounts to protect the owner of that account. That may in fact be true. The thief proceeded to steal all of her neopoints and rare items. Even worse, that same thief tried to transfer her pet Draik, an extremely rare limited edition pet that is very difficult to get, to another account. This girl did get her Draik back. But her items and neopoints were not returned to her. The Neopets Team accused her of giving her password to the thief, and said that’s the only way a person’s account can be hacked. That’s like saying a woman deserved to be raped because she worse sexy clothing. Not that I go around hacking but no website is impenetrable, even the U.S. government computers can be hacked, though it would probably take over a decade to do it. But why would they return her stuff to her? Because then she wouldn’t have to come back and invest hours, days, months, years, in getting her stuff back.

I am debating leaving the website permanently. I don’t want to, but I’m not sure I like being there. It’s a website and it’s not important, but two of my pets are named after real life pets, combined with the time I’ve put into the website over the last 12 or 13 years. So we’ll see what happens.

No, you can’t leave your child alone in your car.

July 16, 2014 - Leave a Response

In the last two and a half weeks, several children in Connecticut under the age of twelve have been left alone in cars on hot days. Some of these children have been removed from these situations before suffering the serious, and deadly, effects of heat stroke. Other children, unfortunately, were not found in time and passed away.

There were numerous times when my mother would let me stay in the car while she was buying groceries. I was an atypical kid, so I had the common sense to get out of a car if it were too hot (and our car didn’t have child proof locks). I firmly believe in the intelligence of young children and their ability to make choices, and take appropriate actions. I also firmly believe in the science of the human brain. Children on average begin developing common sense at age ten. That does not mean the instant they turn ten years old, they magically acquire the common sense of an adult. No matter what we tell our children to do, no matter how much we teach our children, we have to operate under the belief that they do not know better, because they don’t. They are not the adults here, we are. And just because it was okay for me as an individual, that does not mean it is okay for the entire population of children throughout the United States, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

I recently had a heated debate with a group of people over this issue. Many of the people I was talking to believed children as young as eight years old can be left alone in cars. That if the car gets too hot, they can just get out of the car. If there are child proof locks, then they can climb into the front seat and exit the car that way. This suggests that it’s okay for people to take such a risk as leaving their child in a car alone. This also suggests that if a child didn’t try to get out of the car, they deserved to suffer heat stroke. It’s not that different from suggesting that a woman deserves to be raped if she wears a short skirt. Maybe some of these people thought if heat stroke starts to set in, these children’s bodies have ways of shutting that whole thing down.

There are other reasons why children should not be left alone in cars, but I’ll get to that later. First, I want to share a video report from USA Today on an incident of two small children being left alone in a hot car: Shoppers smash windows to rescue kids in hot car.

It can be argued that there were other ways to handle the situation. Such as looking for the parent and/or guardian rather than breaking into the car. I read a very long article a while back (I couldn’t find a source link) in which a mother left her son in a car alone while she ran into a store to get a couple of things. A man who was in the parking lot, saw her leave her son, called the police and video taped her son in the car. If it were me, I would have said something to her directly instead. If she was unwillingly to take her son with her, then I would call the police. Letting her make that mistake, led to a massive custody battle in which she almost lost her child. But if I see a child in a car gasping for air, I’m telling the nearest person to call 911, and I’m breaking a window. The only thing I think should have been done differently in that video, is regardless of how much the mother begged, they should have called the police anyways. She lost her second chance when she almost killed her children.

Another argument I’ve heard is that not letting a ten or eleven year old sit in a car alone, takes away their independence. As I stated previously, ten years old do have common sense, and the ability to make choices. Choices such as, getting out of the car. And if you can’t leave your ten year old in a car alone for fifteen minutes without them doing something terrible, what does that say about you as a parent? Well, not much, because there are several flaws in this argument. Not every child knows what to do in every situation (most adults don’t either). Let’s say you want your ten year old to have air conditioning, so you leave the keys in the ignition, but tell them to leave the keys alone. The child waits until you are gone, and decides to give themselves a driving lesson. This is not a farfetched thing, there are a lot of kids in that age range who have attempted to drive, even stolen their parents’ cars. This may be a hypothetical scenario, but as we all know, there are times when we tell our kids not to do something, and they do it anyways.

Suppose your child was abducted after you left him/her in the car alone. That says nothing about your child’s ability to behave themselves, but it does say a lot about how irresponsible you are. Let me be very clear: Children are abducted from all kinds of places. School grounds, front lawns, street corners, and there are many variables to those incidents and parents/guardians are not always at fault. The organization Love 146 was founded by a man who was doing an undercover investigation of a brothel in Southern Asia. This brothel was filled with girls around the ages of ten and eleven. You may want to say to yourself, “But that’s a third world country! That doesn’t happen in the United States!” I haven’t been raped, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It’s a common and frustrating misconception that human trafficking only happens in a third world country. Contrary to that, Great Britain has one of the highest human trafficking records in the world. You can go here hear to read all about the statistics of human trafficking in the United States: Polaris Project – Human Trafficking Statistics in USA.

I’m not saying we should shelter our children. I have seen the effects of a sheltered childhood and it isn’t pretty. I don’t think we need to scare our children into being safe either. But, at a certain age, we ought to be honest with them about what is not safe. We need to put away our pride and understand that our child’s safety is top priority over our laziness to be a parent. Leaving your kid in a car because you don’t feel like going through the mild hassle of bringing them into the grocery store, hair salon, or wherever, is laziness. So what if your kid begs you to stay in the car because they think the grocery store is boring. You don’t need to be intimidated by a ten year old, you can say no to them. And if you aren’t willing to be a decent parent, then don’t bring your kid with you to do your errands. There are things called babysitters and family members who will watch your kid while you’re gone.

If you still think it’s okay to leave a child in a car alone, then I have another video for you. Granted, the video is made by a veterinarian responding to people who leave their dogs in hot cars, but the end result of the experiment is the same whether it’s a pet or a child in the car.

Let’s Chat

July 9, 2014 - Leave a Response

I want to take a break from blogging about the usual stuff that’s too serious and instead, talk about a youtube channel I’ve been subscribed to for a very long time: Captainsparklez.

I originally found Jordan’s channel by searching for a survival gameplay series in Minecraft. After watching his Skyblock series, I ventured into his vanilla survival series. Jordan’s commentary has always been humorous, from blurting out phrases like “Mistakes were made!” and “R.I.P. in peace”, to always referring to himself as “We” instead of “I”. I think by addressing the viewers that way, the videos are more inviting.

With popularity comes opinions from your viewers, and as your popularity grows, their need to voice their opinions also grows. Jordan’s vlog, “Let’s Talk“, addressed several of the negative opinions.

People are going to have something to say about everything; it’s how people work. We cannot please everyone, and it just isn’t worth exhausting yourself trying to make everybody happy. I know that statement gets overused, but in this instance it rightfully applies.

So let’s chat about his series called “Ultra Modded Survival”. This is season three of his survival let’s play, and the second season in which he uses mods. Mods add a unique flavor and twist to Minecraft, and allow players to change their world or create objects they couldn’t do otherwise in a regular Minecraft survival game. And while mods do allow us to make things faster, better, and cooler, sometimes veteran Minecraft gamers like to take the old-school approach of making things from scratch, and needing several hours or a whole day to do it. The purpose of adding mods to his survival series wasn’t to showcase every mod in expert detail; the point was to enhance the gameplay and make it interesting. Simply put, there’s a big difference between making a singular block that acts like an elevator, and understanding the redstone mechanics behind making a piston elevator. The piston elevator will take longer, sure. The elevator block doesn’t take more than five minutes, I’d say. Notch did not create Minecraft to provide the same instant gratification as an iPhone. This is a sandbox game.

Ultra Modded Survival has too many mods, and given how it’s impossible to know every single block that comes from every single mod, it would be best to not add so many in the future. Or, for season four, not have any more mods at all. Maybe even play vanilla only in a newly spawned 1.7 world, or 1.8 world if it releases before season four starts. The other option would be to cancel the series altogether, and piss off the majority of his subscribers.

Let’s move on to the “Mianite” series. Mineplex was starting to become redundant, so this multiplayer server, Mianite, is a fresh addition to the channel. The people Jordan is playing with are interesting, charismatic and humorous. The idea of having good, evil, and neutral teams makes for interesting gameplay. There are a couple of problems with Mianite though:

1. The server is now devoted to repeatedly killing other players and griefing. It was funny the first few times, but now that’s all that seems to happen. I was considering participating in this server, but I don’t want to spend several days building my house and log on to find it completely destroyed by someone who thinks it’s “funny”. Most servers have no griefing rules for a reason.

2. Disorganized. The server seems like it should have a story, but it doesn’t. Instead, players randomly ask the “Gods” for ways to grief each other, or have random battles against other players. Why not create a tournament arena, where players can challenge each other away from their houses/builds and settle their issues accordingly? Why not have territories for each team? Since teams Mianite and Dianite oppose each other, crossing into each other’s territory could prove fatal, or rewarding if they survive. Team Ianite could have a neutral territory, like a safe zone. It would be the responsibility of the players to know who is, and who is not on their teams.

This doesn’t make Mianite a bad server. It has the potential to be very interesting and draw a huge crowd. This is a young series with a long way to go. But if there must be complaints, they should be directed at Mianite, rather than Ultra Modded Survival. Jordan puts a lot of planning into UMS to avoid the disorganized spontaneity of Mianite. If you think you can start a let’s play that does what his cannot, by all means, go make that let’s play. Or you can be respectful and offer suggestions. The only thing bullying will get you is someone who doesn’t want to continue the series, and then everyone loses.

Father’s Day Reflection

June 16, 2014 - One Response

My dad is not the worst of the terrible dads in the world, but he hurt me enough times to push me to cut off all contact with him, and refuse him entry back into my life. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have cut ties with many people, and only once have I given it a second thought. What I do not understand, is fathers who have done things which are vile and abusive, yet their sons or daughters, even in adulthood, “make amends”. How can you just let someone back into your life after they have harmed you so much?

There is no such thing as unintentionally hurting someone, even if it is a small offense. When you cast aside the well-being of another person, that is a choice you consciously make. Whether what you said or did was misinterpreted, or was done with the best intentions, it doesn’t matter, because you still hurt that person. You ought to be held accountable for that. Afterward, if the person you hurt wants nothing to do with you, or wants to make amends with you, that is up to them. They have the right to protect themselves from being hurt by you again, or give you a second chance. Simply put, your overall well being trumps anyone’s “right” to be in your life.

Why am I bothering to explain this? Well, some things are worth moving on from and worth talking about and amending. People are not perfect, and we sometimes make the wrong choices.

Then there are people, specifically fathers, who choose to hit, rape, or bully their children. In my case, I was bullied, and sometimes hit. Several people on my dad’s side of family had the audacity to tell me that I should talk to him anyways because he’s my father. The fact that he is biologically related to me, in their eyes means I have no right to protect myself from him. The only thing worse than an abuser, are people who do not advocate for the abused.

I made a disturbing discovery today, that my dad has photos of me from my childhood on his facebook page, and he talks about me as if nothing terrible ever happened between us. I did not have to look at his page, and I knew I’d most likely dislike what I’d come to find. At the same time, I’m glad I did. I am not his daughter, and he is not my father based on principle. He is pretending that we have a relationship. Over the years he has made several attempts to contact me, which I promptly ignore. This borders on behavior similar to that of erotomaniacs, as well as people suffering from psychosis.

The sad thing about this isn’t so much him, it’s the fact that I almost turned into him. We live what we learn, and a year ago I got so close to someone that I made him very uncomfortable. His unwillingness to voice his discomfort didn’t help matters. In general, there were many factors in why we had a falling out, and it was not a one-sided issue. Even though our friendship started off slow, it did not stay that way, and the negativity became unbearable. So unbearable, that without asking him if he wanted to discuss anything or move on, I told him I couldn’t be his friend, and I said goodbye. I second guessed that a couple of times, once by still supporting his art which he didn’t need from me, and several months later asking if he wanted to make amends, to which he never responded. I’ve since come to terms with the fact that he does not need me around him, and I don’t want to be around him. My father can’t do that. He still thinks he “needs” me to be his daughter, and that I need him to be my daddy. We shouldn’t push people to fix something that they don’t want to fix, or just can’t be repaired. This is not how the real world works.

Congratulations, you helped create a bully.

May 14, 2014 - Leave a Response

At some point in all of our lives, we have encountered a bully. Whether we were directly targeted, or saw someone else being targeted, it happened to us at least once. Think about how you’ve reacted to bullying in the past. Did you pretend like it was a game or humorous, did you get upset, or did you choose not to react at all? If you answered yes to at least one of those questions, then answer this one: Did your reaction to bullying make it stop, either temporarily or permanently?

I was expecting you to say no to that. You can’t stop bullying once it starts. Once someone has it in their mind that they hate you, that’s how it will be. Bullies feel justified in their judgments and hatred toward others because we have taught them how to do it. We give our children simple orders such as “behave yourself” with no indication of how or why. We tell our children to just ignore it. We tell our kids to suck it up, because it’s just how things are. We tell our children to shut up, compare them to other kids and hit them when they don’t do what we want them to. And above all, we tell our children to express themselves and their feelings without making it clear which feelings and expressions can hurt other people. We have created bullies.

I’m sure you are a great parent. Your kids have clothes, food, a shelter, apartment or home, and an education. I’m sure in your heart of hearts you feel like you are doing the right thing. But you don’t know everything there is to know about being a parent. No one does. The phrase “Don’t tell me how to raise my kids” won’t cut it anymore, because you always have room to learn new things. The diffusion of responsibility by saying “All parents make mistakes” is unfair to you because you are the parent, and your child does not know better than you. You don’t have room for mistakes, and you need to own up to your own behavior before you expect your child to own up to their’s. Making a stubborn mistake because you didn’t want to listen to the warning signs is exactly why your kid grew up to be mad at you. And please don’t tell me that “what was good for you is good for them”, because most of your parents’ fuck-ups are why you are socially awkward or anxious, think you are too fat, too bald or badly dressed, repeatedly compare yourself to other people your age, hate that you are getting old, regret nearly 90% of your actions or choices up to this point, and work ten hour days and come home feeling dead. It’s time to stop the legacy here.

In your head, the definition of “behave yourself” is likely long, empathetic and deeply involved in societal norms. How many six year old kids do you know of that actually think about their place in society and how they relate to other people? Children don’t develop common sense and a stronger sense of empathy until approximately age ten, but some will understand things earlier or later than that, and that’s okay. Kids don’t know the full meaning behind “behave yourself”, so when you say it to them, they either have their own definition or they are confused. A child might not ask you to clarify, rely on what they know or don’t know, and end up getting in trouble because they don’t know better. Or, they will ask you to clarify, and they get slapped in the face with “You know what I mean!” Aside from the fact that if your child knew what you meant they wouldn’t have to ask, they grow angry because you won’t be honest with them. Kids have a bad habit of turning inward, and they assume the worst: Maybe my mom/dad won’t tell me because I’m too young or too stupid to understand. You have successfully trained your child to think low of themselves. Now they can take that feeling of shame, and apply it to other kids. You’ll have to explain why, and how, your child can behave the right way several times before they understand it.

I have often felt that telling children to ignore bullying is a parent’s way of creating a simple solution, to a very big problem, so they don’t have to deal with it again. Telling a child to suck it up is even worse. While the intentions are good, making the point that a kid is picked on because they are different or an individual/unique, is blasphemous. Your child told you they were being bullied because they need your help. Saying they should ignore it means you are ignoring it too. Saying they should suck it up is like saying they, as human beings, don’t have the right to feel hurt when someone hurts them. But the most evil kind of justification of bullying, is by giving a logically sound reason for it. Your child is their own person, sure, but now they know that being themselves means they have a target on their back. Kids don’t understand things the same way as adults, so whatever you say to them has terrible implications.

There is nothing wrong with telling your child that they shouldn’t be bullied. Yes, you are accepting it’s a problem, and responsibility for helping to fix it. Yes, you are stressed out with your job, bills, groceries, housework, education for them and you, but you signed up to be a parent, and the only person who needs to suck up anything is you, the parent. There’s a reason why you have family, advice blogs/articles (like this one), child/parent advocacy groups and school administration. There are masses of people around the block lining up to help you raise your kids, and most of it is free, or required assistance by your state. There is nothing weak about asking for help. If anything you’re a hero because you’re a responsible parent. Bottom line, you can feed, shelter and clothe your kids for 18 years, and they can still grow up to be an asshole if they haven’t been taught how to treat other people.

I have had far too many arguments on the city bus with moms who yell at or hit their babies out of impatience or frustration. An example is a woman talking on her cell phone, who’s 1 year old son was babbling as babies do. She didn’t want to give up her unnecessary and vulgar phone conversation to talk to her son, so she kept telling him to shut up. If he turned and looked out the window, or moved in anyway for that matter, she would strike his leg with her hand. Lets just say my argument with her became very loud when I told her that she couldn’t do that to her son. When we don’t speak up, we let parents bully their children, which in turn trains their children to become bullies. Confronting a bully puts them on the spot, and shows them that what they are doing will not be tolerated. If you want to make someone feel bad for something they did, it should be bullying. If ten people witness bullying, and all ten people think “someone else will tell that bully to stop it”, then nothing happens. And don’t tell me it’s hard to speak up, because there is nothing difficult about caring about the state of another human being. You don’t have to model your actions off of other people; you think with your own brain and you stand up for people.

The biggest mistake we make, is comparing our kids to other kids. And we start when they are babies. If another parent’s baby starts walking before our’s, we start thinking “time to ask the doctor why my kid isn’t walking yet.” Did you know on average, girls start walking before boys? Did you know that even that is only an approximation, because no two kids develop the same way. Kids are their own people, physically and mentally. Yes, there are things to be concerned about regarding your child’s development. But, if your kid is talking (this includes ALL vocal sounds), making eye contact with you, listening to what you say, desiring appropriate affection, curious about their environment, trying to use tools, and assemble/disassemble toys (properly), then they’re doing all right. This comparison behavior is also present in television shows, like characters who want to be exactly like another character. Or on a magazine cover, with a photoshopped celebrity talking about weight loss. And my personal favorite is the 40+ year old women, who make it their personal mission to guilt me because I’m a healthy body weight. I understand that you are unhappy with your appearance, and I understand why, but attacking me won’t make you thinner, or make you feel better about yourself.

Emotions and self-expression are just as bad as they are good. Yoda may be a muppet but he was right, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Everyone becomes afraid of something, but when we don’t understand how someone else feels, that lack of empathy creates an unknown. The unknown is a scary place because we have nothing to work with when we’re there. That inability to understand the unknown becomes frustrating and then angry. That anger keeps building, so intensely that it leads to resentment and eventual hate for what we don’t understand. We take that hate, and we lash out with it to protect ourselves from the unknown, but all we really do is cause the suffering of another person. Another person who didn’t deserve it.

Unfortunately, an addict may stop taking drugs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still an addict. Addicts relapse quite often. Bullies are exactly the same. You can teach a bully how not to bully, but they’ve learned how to judge, how to express hate, and they’ll probably relapse. Even if they don’t say their judgments aloud, they will think them, or give people a “look” that that shows that hate. If they hate a certain race, they’ll avoid that race. In essence, retraining a bully doesn’t make a good person, it just makes a quieter bully.

What we can do, is stop bullying before it starts. How do we do it? We show empathy to our children, by treating them with the utmost respect and humanity, and expecting that same respect and humanity in return. If someone falls, you help them get up. If someone is crying, you offer to listen to why. You tell your children that you love them for who they are. You talk to your children about their day, their likes and dislikes, and you show a general interest in the things they do. You care about the human condition of your children, so they will enter the world and care about the human condition of other people. This isn’t just your job, this is everyone’s job. It takes a village to raise a child. We can’t stop the bullies that already exist, not completely anyway, but we can stop making new bullies, and bullying will eventually become extinct.

Groundbreaking? Really?

April 28, 2014 - Leave a Response

The definition of groundbreaking is: “breaking new ground; innovative; pioneering.”

It’s one thing when we say that the original Star Trek series was groundbreaking for its time. It was, not because of Uhura and Kirk kissing, but because of the multi-cultural cast. Understand at the time, having Nichelle Nichols on the show, in such prominence and atypical portrayal was rare. There are shows in 2014 with black characters who can’t even get that right!

I’m not about to jump on the “I hate Frozen” bandwagon. I won’t jump on the “Frozen is groundbreaking!” bandwagon either. I saw the film with my friend and we both enjoyed the story. I don’t have a problem with the movie at all, aside from the lack of non-white characters. (Disney seems to do it wrong every time they try to include a black person in their stories so maybe it’s best that they don’t torture us). Bottom line, Frozen does everything that’s already been done.

Sister Archetype: The older sister is usually one of these: Responsible, wise or mature. The younger sister is usually carefree. Elsa fits into this mold because of her maturity. She may hide from Arendelle’s people, but in her conversations with Anna and other characters, her mind is well beyond her years (approx. 18). Anna spends most of her time running all over the ice mountain biome fighting mobs.

I apologize for the Minecraft reference. Moving on.

The plot: Long story short, it’s based on a legend about an ice princess. There’s nothing new about Disney adapting a fairytale/legend/folklore.

True Love Cures Curse: Sure, the true love was between the sisters and not Anna and Kristof. Nice twist. I can’t even count how many stories I’ve read and seen, in which there’s a spell or curse that is cured by true love, kiss included. Sleeping Beauty is a prime example of this.

Strong Female Characters: Anna is like Scarlet O’Hara, or Lara Croft, in the ice mountain biome. I’m not saying weak female characters are a good thing, but we have plenty of strong women to look up to. Strong men are far and few between these days. I don’t think Disney has ever made a male character who is feminist – THAT would be groundbreaking.

Anna gets with Kristof: Yep, male to female pairing, as usual. Both the same ethnicity too.

So please stop calling Frozen this film that does things we’ve never seen before. It’s a movie your kids should definitely watch, because it’s so unexpected in terms of how the characters behave toward each other. Disney did tweak their formula, but they didn’t re-write it.

The Constitution Does Not Protect Hate Speech

April 26, 2014 - Leave a Response

Today on the New Haven green, a group of men and one woman were standing on the corner of Chapel St. and Temple St., preaching into a headset microphone and passing out fliers. Anyone who was standing at the bus stop was forced to listen to them because they were so loud. We could not shut them out unless we went to the other side of the green. They were basically taking advantage of our necessity to take the city bus, to force their religion on us. Freedom of religion also means freedom FROM religion. Under no circumstances can you force me to hear, practice, preach or worship any part of a religion.

This morning I arrived at the green, at about 11:45. One of the men was trying to get my attention with asking if “God” is in my life and I shook my head no. He responded with “That’s very sad that you don’t have God in your life”. So I fired back, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

I carried on with my day. Upon calling my mother to see if we could meet up downtown, she told me that these people were still on the green, and had approached her in a threatening manner. In addition to the fact that upsetting my mother makes me upset, there are at least 30 people standing on that corner at any given time. None of these individuals did anything when this incident occurred.

When I got to the green, this group had moved to the fountain. The man who was preaching this time, started saying things like “Interracial marriage shouldn’t be allowed”, and “Gay people are disgusting”. So they evolved from prostituting their religion to hate speech. I called the police. Here is the conversation I had with dispatch:

Me: (I described where I was and what I had heard)
Dispatch: M’am we’ll send an officer out there but if they have a permit they are allowed to exercise free speech.
Me: Sir, I understand what you are saying but I don’t agree. The Constitution doesn’t protect hate speech. This behavior is just so hurtful.
Dispatch: Okay, we’ll send someone out as soon as possible.

There’s nothing wrong with what the officer said. He was very polite during my conversation with him. But I think hate speech often gets miss-categorized as free speech. Please see the following article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech_in_the_United_States#Exclusions
Hate speech falls under the categories of “fighting words”, and obscenities. Fighting words are emotionally abusive, and can evoke rage in the victim which may make that person act aggressively. Some fighting words are more obvious than others, but I promise you it took everything in my being not to walk up to that man and start screaming in his face.

I’m sure you are familiar with the Ku Klux Klan to an extent, so I’d rather touch on a hate group that you may not have heard about. “Westboro Baptist Church” are notorious for arriving at funerals where the deceased identified as LGBT, and protesting homosexuality with signs saying “God hates fags”. They even attempted to picket the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Aside from the fact that they are tormenting the loved ones of the deceased, they are exercising hate speech, and many people have repeatedly called for them to be named as a hate group. (I am not entirely sure if that has in fact happened yet).

This may be a moot point, but I feel like religious speech can, in certain situations, be considered hate speech, or at least fighting words/obscene. My thinking behind this is that if a Christian goes up to a Muslim and says “you need God in your life”, that’s obscene. Obscenity is usually defined as a sexual act which is considered offensive or disgusting by moral and societal standards. Obscenity is also derogatory terms, like fag, nigger, etc. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote the following:

“The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Read that again, but this time replace “work” with “word”. Suddenly it applies to that statement, “you need God in your life”. Even when taken out of context, this statement is aggressive, and clearly implies that the receiver does not worship God altogether, or does not worship God based on the user’s standards of proper worship. This statement lacks value in regard to science, politics, art and literature because it’s intent is to cause harm to the receiver, or at the very least, make them feel bad because of their choice of religion and/or atheism.

Now, some people would say that no words should be censored, and we should be able to say whatever we want when we want. This makes some sense to me, because people who read too much into things and become offended by things which are not offensive, are really annoying. This includes people who read blogs with warnings about swear words, and complain about the swear words. But, without limitations on what we say, we end up with limitations on our protection as individuals and as a nation. Threatening to harm civilians and government officials, including the President, would be legal without exclusions. Westboro Baptist Church would be able to picket a six year old’s funeral with a sign that says “God hates fags”. An employer could go up to his or her employee and ask for a blowjob, and it would not be considered obscene/sexual harassment. Never-mind the reality that a society without limits on speech would lead to an extreme lack of a moral compass, and chaotic behavior.

I want to leave you with a question: Should a person or group with the appropriate permit be allowed to solicit at a bus stop? Why or why not?

Frustrated Painter

April 24, 2014 - Leave a Response

I dove into art, specifically painting, sculpting and drawing when I was three years old. I am 27 now, which means I have been studying art on my own time and in school for 24 years. I picked up oils when I was 16. I don’t believe I am the best, but I do know where I am as an artist and where I need to go.

I majored in Studio Art at Gateway Community College (New Haven). I received an Associates, however I studied four years worth of classes in art and other subjects. GWCC’s art department is incredibly skilled for a two-year school. A couple of professors could do better as teachers, but they are easily avoided. Most of the things I know about oils I learned from Vincent Baldassano, who is both a wonderful painter and a wonderful person. (His art is so unique and worth checking out).

I also took 2D Design with Prof. Baldassano, which was a new subject for me. I am studying at Southern CT State University now, and I took 2D Design again with Prof. Guagliumi (interestingly enough, both teachers know each other). They each had different approaches, and Prof. Guagliumi’s class was just as challenging as the first time I had explored the subject. In other words, it shouldn’t matter if you took the same class previously with a different teacher, you should still learn a few things.

I was supposed to be in ART 320 this semester, but the time slot was too late in the day and conflicted with the city bus schedule, the one I need to get back to my apartment. Even though my credits from GWCC filled my requirement for ART 220, I decided to take it anyways. The class is titled “Painting and Media Techniques”, so I had hoped to picked up a new technique or two. I had heard great things about Mia Brownell, so I decided to take the class with her.

Unfortunately, my financial aid refund took too long so I was low on art supplies for the first third of semester. This was embarrassing for me enough as it is. I shared supplies with students, something which Mia had encouraged in the beginning of the semester. Then all of the sudden I would get snotty comments from her like “You have to pay her back”. I’m not sure how to calculate the cost of a blob of paint, first off, and secondly, if that student wants to be compensated for said blob she can ask me. Given her status as a painter, her decent paying job as a college teacher and her light skin and blonde hair, I’d say Mia thinks I’m beneath her.

It doesn’t stop there. Many oil painters alternate between thin and thick layers of paint. The layering of washes is a very traditional technique for oils, and it is also used for watercolors. However, watercolors need to remain transparent to a degree, so painting thick with them isn’t appropriate. Mia told us about thin on thick technique was for oils during one of the first classes, then proceeded to tell us that technique was only for watercolors. The only things we’ve done are still-lifes, no landscapes or human forms. For our fourth painting we did a reproduction. During my rendering of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, Mia told me to “watch out for the greens”. I had that part of the painting finished and the color was the exact same as the original. I guess the greens were going to jump out of the painting and attack me or something…

I don’t crave attention in art classes – in fact, most art teachers can tell it’s not my first time at the rodeo so they kind of leave me alone. Mia is constantly up my ass about everything. She went on and on about how much I “improved” during the first half of the semester during our midterm meeting. But if I’ve “improved” so much, why does she keep telling me the same things over and over again? I know how to start a fucking painting, I know I have to do an under drawing. It drives her crazy when I do my background color first to cover up the gesso. Nobody with any kind of sense fills in the background color(s) after they’ve painted everything else. What was especially ridiculous was Mia didn’t have the sense that she’s taller than me, so if she’s critiquing my under drawing she needs to be at my eye level, not her own. I had to tell her several times that she was seeing it from her angle, not mine, before she got a clue.

For our final exam, we could choose objects to make our own still-life with items that are important to us. I chose to paint a stack of three books. When I told her this was what I wanted to do, she shot it down because she believed it was too challenging. At first I just let it roll off my back. But in the days following, I thought about her recommendation to find things which represented those books. There really isn’t anything in my house or in the world that can represent Uncle Tom’s Cabin other than the book itself. Combine that with My Bondage and My Freedom by Fredrick Douglass, and a birthday book from the mid-1800′s, and the effect is pretty clear. I have the birthday book open to May 11th, because that is the birthday of my best friend, and my favorite painter, Salvador Dali. I generally don’t choose square, angular and straight-edged things. Those require an enormous amount of concentration from me, since I have issues with my motor development. I needed that challenge.

Her response to bringing the still-life and setting it up regardless of her disapproval, was naturally more disapproval. Then followed by a five minute rant about how this was too hard for me and wouldn’t challenge me in the right way. In addition to that, she said that books are boring. So after this whole semester, after seeing all of my paintings, she honestly believes a stack of books is too difficult for me and too boring for me to do. Her personal opinion doesn’t influence my reasoning. Part of way I wanted books is also because they are classy and classic. Have you seen Cezanne’s still-lifes of books? Cezanne is another favorite of mine, and his work is partially inspiration for choosing these books. (BTW, “books are boring” is an insult to readers and writers everywhere).

Most of the students in the class are white. Myself, and one of the male students are the only ones who are black. We have another student who is Iranian/Persian. She ignores these two male students, and clearly thinks very little of them. The young man who’s Iranian, he’s can be abrasive at times but if the class can be patient with him, why can’t she? And the other male student, he’s a sweet, quiet man and very new to painting, but she rarely acknowledges his presence. During our critique of the reproductions, she didn’t address him directly, she spoke to everyone else instead. She didn’t address me much either. I can’t say for sure if there is a racist undertone here or not, but the non-white students are the only ones being singled out.

Some things are just odd… For example, she demonstrated stretching canvas at the end of the semester. Shouldn’t that be the first thing a painter learns; how to start a painting? And our first painting was on a primed piece of bristol paper. We were encouraged to buy pre-stretched and primed canvas for the first four assignments, so when we got to actually stretching canvas, most people didn’t want to do it and they all whined. Just as a test, I asked her if a painting can be taken off of the stretcher bars after it’s dry, and she said you could do it. No you cannot. Well, you can, but you risk tearing your canvas, your painting shrinking unevenly and putting it back on stretcher bars later can stretch it the wrong way and cause cracking in the paint. It may be cheaper to reuse stretcher bars, but ruining your paintings isn’t worth it. Besides, the thinner stretcher bars average around 15 dollars a set, even at the most expensive art store in New Haven.

So below I have included some photos of two of my paintings. The first is the reproduction of Van Gogh’s sunflowers. Yellow and yellow-orange inevitably dry darker, and I plan to continue working on this painting in the future.

DSCN0439

This is the book painting. Clearly it’s in the beginning stages. I plan to add more shadows, lettering, contrast, etc. It’s not “easy”, but it’s not impossible either.

Books

So, at this point I am frustrated. I achieved these paintings without Mia. She does not get credit for input, because her input never makes sense or is ridiculous. I feel like, although I love these paintings, the class was a waste educationally. I’m not growing like I should be and that isn’t fair.

Art Supplies – The Best and the Worst

April 20, 2014 - Leave a Response

Every artist no doubt has their preference, but some things are just mandatory, and others should never be used. Let’s talk about paint bases first.

Egg tempura: Don’t go with the cheap tempura that they give preschoolers. Egg tempura is a combination of egg yolk (white discarded), pigment, and vinegar. The amount of pigment used depends on how intense you want the color to be. Obviously a small amount of yolk and a giant amount of pigment won’t produce good results. Therefore your pigment should be approximately equal to or one third the size of the yolk. Yolk and vinegar when mixed should be equal amounts, and they should be combined before adding the pigment. Egg tempura is a very old media, and easy to work with.

Oil base: Oil can be mixed at home or store bought. Winton/Winsor and Newton are less expensive than other store bought oil paints. Oil base is not as easy to work with as tempura, but it is more versatile than any other media. Oil can be used with any technique, even techniques meant for other paint bases. Oil takes a long time to dry, which means you can work with wet oils long after they are applied. However, you may need to wait several hours, or days even, before doing finishing touches, because wet oils don’t allow fine details without corrupting the colors. In truth, you may find yourself more smitten with studying oil painting rather than using it on your own time. Oil requires quite the cleanup; it’s messy and it gets in places without you realizing until it is too late. But you know someone is an experienced oil painter when they get it everywhere – on clothes, furniture, the easel, brush stems, the ceiling, the walls… it’s a sign of enthusiasm.

Water base: Water base comes in two ways: Watercolor, which is water and pigment mixed together. The other is water and linseed oil mixed with pigment. Water base and water mixable oils are not as blasphemous as some master painters make them out to be. It means you can thin your oils with water, to an extent, thus eliminating unnatural paint thinners altogether (trust me, we will discuss paint thinners next). Watercolors must be studied carefully. It often involves building up many layers of washes, basically a thin layer of paint. After it dries sufficiently, thicker coats can be applied. Watercolor does not have to be completely opaque, you can keep even your final layers transparent and achieve a very skilled effect.

Animal skin: Knowing how to make animal skin based paints will make you feel like an accomplished painter. Animal skins need to be boiled at specific temperatures, and then mixed with pigment as quickly as possible. This is also a base for making your own gesso (primer). Here’s a recipe for it:

Plastic base: Also called acrylic, this is the paint that gives most painters hell. Acrylic dries super fast, faster than watercolor even. So you need to paint fast, because you don’t have a lot of time to stand around like you do with oils. It also dries shiny, rather than matte, which some artists prefer. A shiny surface makes it difficult to photograph paintings without a really great camera. This also means that brush strokes will be very noticeable based on how the light hits them. Acrylic needs to be applied to canvas in the same direction, otherwise it looks sloppy. Acrylic serves one purpose in my paintings – to be a background that I will completely paint over with oils later. I consider acrylic a poor paint media, and unworthy of its existence.

Thinning paint is essential to painting. There’s little point in taking paint straight from the tube to cover a background. On a 36″x36″ canvas, you really wouldn’t want to use half of your tube of burnt sienna or yellow ochre to cover it. Applying any thinner to a small dab of your paint and putting down a few layers over time is faster. If you use oil to cover large areas without thinning it you will exhaust yourself. “Dry” oils, in other words straight from the tube don’t spread evenly or nicely and they take on a crayon look. Unless you are reproducing a painting by Van Gogh, you don’t want the crayon look.

Turpentine: The infamous paint thinner that smells horrible but breaks down any paint extremely well. It is toxic if ingested or inhaled, and might cause skin irritation. Turpentine, odorless or not, MUST be used in a well ventilated space. A room with a ceiling higher than 15 feet, and wider than 10 feet, is open enough to prevent serious harm from fumes, even if no windows are present (though the door should be left open). Turpentine is hazardous, so it needs to be stored in an empty oil drum after use. It CANNOT go down the sink. If you paint outdoors, you should not use turpentine. When used properly, turpentine is safe, but not beneficial to the environment.

Turpenoid: This supposedly safer version of turpentine isn’t actually safer. It cannot go down the sink either, and must also be stored in an oil drum. Turpenoid quantities larger than one drop will irritate your skin. It can also be absorbed moreso than turpentine into your skin, which is not good. Smaller containers of turpenoid natural do not provide ingredients lists on their labeling. Anything that doesn’t give you ingredients is questionable. The teacher I have for my painting course this semester requires us to use it, and she doesn’t even know what’s in it. Turpenoid doesn’t need as much ventilation, but it does smell, and inhaling it will give you a nasty headache. All I know is it contains some level of pine tree oil. I also know pine tree oil is toxic for reptiles, especially snakes (I own a boa), therefore it is not environmentally friendly or biodegradable in my book.

Mineral spirits: It has a lower toxicity than the first two on this list. I’ve never used it personally. It will irritate the skin, and it is known to cause damage to the central nervous system just like turpentine and turpenoid (and most chemicals for that matter). Can’t go down the drain, therefore it’s a hazard.

Liquin: Technically speaking, it’s a paint thinner, with a perk. It helps oils dry faster (24 to 48 hours usually). It contains petroleum, but unless your skin is super sensitive it won’t bother it. Don’t eat it obviously, and don’t put it down the sink. However, it can be wiped off with a paper towel and go in your trash barrel. Liquin works like most thinners and thins paint without using a lot of it. Liquin Original is for basic thinning of paint, and Liquin Detail is for thinning paint but giving it a “thick” apparance when you are doing finishing touches. Liquin is flammable, so DO NOT use a hair dryer to dry your paint. You’ll set your canvas on fire and that’ll be embarrassing. I recommend Liquin more than any other paint thinner.

Brushes are a strange thing. Regardless of what people think, any brush can be used with any paint. All brushes shed their bristles, natural bristles more than synthetic obviously. You can use oil with a horse hair brush (sumi brush) for washes and just make sure you clean it very well. Some painters have every kind of brush imaginable, others use only a select few. Van Gogh used mostly small pointed brushes. Salvador Dali used “round” tipped brushes for soft and smooth surfaces. I use everything. Fan brushes are also really annoying, because you can’t have one size, you need at least a small, medium and large. Some fan brushes come with thicker bristles, some with fewer bristles. A large fan brush in a small area will get you a big blob. A small fan brush in a large area won’t do anything but make a baby blob. And then there is my weird favorite that most painters kind of hate: That giant fluffy brush that looks like it can apply makeup. Ya know, this one: Fluffy brush.

The fluffy brush is the most wonderful brush ever. Sweep it over multiple colors and they blend together perfectly. If you want soft clouds, use this brush. Sunset, use this brush.

Cleaning off brushes can be a very involved process. Water base cleans off with water even when dry. Acrylic won’t, so you need to soak your brushes and rinse them repeatedly while painting. Oil can be washed off with Liquin, turpentine, turpenoid and mineral spirits. I find the safest approach is dish soaps, like Palmolive and Dawn. Dish soap is supposed to go down the sink, and it chemically breaks down oil paint. Dish soap should not be used as a thinner during painting though, since it does its job too well. Dish soap also removes that oily or sticky feeling from brushes after use, and removes most stains. It will take the fluff out of your fluffy brush, but the brush will do what it’s supposed to do just as well.

I hope this is helpful to anyone who was curious about these items, or is new to painting (or even not new).

Pill Poppers and Other Drugs

April 19, 2014 - Leave a Response

This is not so much an anti-drug rant as it an anti-pill-poppers-on-the-city-bus-rant.

There is a good-sized group of people, most from Derby (CT), who like to exchange pills and other drugs at bus stops and on the bus as well. Aside from the obvious fact that I’ve seen their exchanges in broad daylight, I also know they are popping pills because they transition from sleepy-time to hyperactive in 0.1 seconds.

Now I can tolerate the people who hang around downtown in New Haven and smoke pot in the kiosk because they don’t start shit with anyone and they mind their own business. But damn, deal your fucking pills and crack somewhere else, like at home, behind closed doors where no one is watching.

The worst part about this group is their lack of self control. The ring leader of this group is ornery. If you so much as look her way and she feels like it’s the wrong way, she’ll get up in your face about it. Very few people in this world can intimidate me. But this woman I avoid with every ounce of my being. Once she gets into a fight she can’t stop, to the point where a whole pack of people will have to drag her away. What’s sad is she used to be nice to everyone, she had friends, and now she’s lost so much weight her skin has broken out and the only people who want to be around her are her fellow pill poppers.

Did I mention all of the people in this group are white? Except for one, she’s Hispanic. I think they think it makes them badass. They pick fights with each other, scream and yell, etc, because they think they have a right to do it. And here’s the kicker for anyone who wants to associate black people with drugs: The only thing that any black person deals on the New Haven green is pot. I don’t smoke pot but I know it’s not exactly a hardcore, dangerous drug. Any other sales are cigarettes and bootlegs. So by all means tell me how bad black people are bad for society…

It’s gotten to the point where I cannot sit comfortably on the city bus without loud, obnoxious people starting shit with other people. I’m about to get an MP3 player because I need to be able to tune it out. Half the bus drivers ignore it, and even though the other half kicks the pill poppers off the bus, they still know there’s a 50% chance they won’t get in trouble. This is the only affordable transportation I have access to, so I don’t have other options besides ones which are very expensive.

CT Transit needs to develop better rules about who can and cannot ride the bus, if they haven’t already. Drivers should be trained to spot anyone who is intoxicated and not let them on the bus. Basic public safety is all I’m asking for here, it’s as simple as that.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 186 other followers