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Release Candidate Episode 1: Still in Beta

So: I said “ah” a bit too much. And didn’t realize quite how much I was looking down from the cam. But I hope that you found my ramblings entertaining.

Suggestions for next time?

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Sunday Morning Reading Material: Fourth Sunday in April 2011: Portal Two Passover Easter

It’s Sunday. Sundays are remembering all the poor firstborn males of Egypt who were sacrificed so that the ancient Jews could be freed. Alternately, it is for remembering the death and resurrection of a man who was also a god who died so that all of humanity might be free. Alternately, it’s for wondering why people make such a fuss about a holy day that can’t really be holy because it’s not on a Friday. Alternately again: it could just be for grabbing an excuse to visit with the family. Or in my case: working.

This week: Thailand and Cambodia had a militarized border dispute- the Thai prime minister is vowing to back their army. Abu Dhabi launched it’s first satellite. Also also: a bunch of fucking bicyclists got upset because they were asked to please stop slamming into pedestrians while commuting over the Golden Gate Bridge.

One of the biggest problems a journalist can face is that of “access”. In order for a journalist to get a story, they need to talk to the people who have the information they need. This doesn’t come free. Sometimes the price being requested is monetary (legitimate news organizations will fire people who pay sources.), sometimes it’s the opportunity for the source to attack their enemies, and sometimes the price being demanded is the chance to shape the story to be most flattering to said source. A journalist must walk a very fine line between being biased on one hand, and being a stenographer for salespeople (and other liars) on the other. Games journalism is a curious beast, with it’s own set of rules and pitfalls.

If a democracy is to survive, power must be inherently untrusted. A journalist’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”– to keep watch over power and never, ever trust it. Ever. If a tomb opens Sunday morning, and a pair of journalists are there to see Jesus Christ rising from the dead, they damned well better ask to see the holes in his wrists. The “good news” they print should be that those holes have been accounted for. Having said all that, can anyone tell me why Philippa Thomas has not been vilified and fired? There is no such thing- ever- as “off the record” when a journalist is listening.

This is an amazing story about the triumph of capitalism, and multiculturalism.

If it were proved in a court of law that a company was selling a product it knew could be deadly, what should the consequence be? What if it were food? A company was selling food they suspected could cause permanent injury or death? What if they refused to consult the relevant experts because they didn’t care enough? In America, given a fact pattern like that, we laugh at the victim, and make an old woman the butt of a thousand national jokes. Yes. We laugh at the victim. Which brings up a final question: what is wrong with America?

One of the weirder aspects to American society is that our tax rates can reach upward of 50%– but almost no one actually pays that. The effective tax rate is about 19%, on average. A “flat tax” won’t make our tax system any simpler– charging everyone the same 19% would simply keep things at the same regressive state they are currently. If we want to simplify our tax code, we should get rid of all the various deductions that have crept in. Why should the government care if people buy their home or rent it?

It probably comes as no surprise that, while in college, I was on my school’s debate team. We were alright. It wouldn’t actually serve any higher purpose if we showered intellectual competitions with the same pomp and praise as we do physical ones. It would, however, be somewhat awesome.

I am the Elf your Dwarf could smell like.

About 100,000 years ago, human beings climbed to the top of the food chain by using our mastery of memetic exchange. Other critters had to rely on the slow ravages of biological evolution to enable their adaptation– we humans could invent, discover, and (most importantly) share new information. It is therefore fascinating to me that humanity is capable of losing technology. The Greeks had working steam engines. The Chinese abandoned the printing press. The Russians used to be the finest leather workers in the world. No one currently remembers how they did it. The instructions didn’t survive. This is one of the things I fear about Digital Rights Management tools, and the current Intellectual property regime.

What would Sunday be without a Comics section? Here’s XKCD. Here’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

More of my fears? Congress basically sucks at doing things. It took about a hundred years to create anti-lynching laws, nearly 70 to get Universal Healthcare, and congress can’t even seem to declare war when we start sending troops around the world to kill in the name of the United States. This problem seems to be getting worse, and the solution is to let more powers devolve to the Executive branch. Much as I hate the Citizens United ruling, and much as I want congress to have overturned it, executives simply shouldn’t be making law. That’s not their function. That’s the path towards dictatorship.

Musical Interlude.

A (now Ex) girlfriend once suggested that I ditch my OK Cupid profile. I never visit the thing, and it’s an annoyance to have to delete their weekly email. Yet I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. At base, OK Cupid is run by data nerds, and dammit I want to be part of their experiment. Anyone who doesn’t really get that about me is not going to last long as my partner.

Some data may be useful, but I do question the methods by which it is collected.

San Francisco is beautiful.

Class warfare. I write about it on this blog. A lot. Sorry about that. We tend to think of this as the big stuff. Tax cuts for the Rich paid for by service cuts to everyone else! Strikes! The bosses murdering people to break strikes! Sometimes, though, it looks a lot different. Sometimes it looks a lot like… Dr. Horrible. No, seriously. Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog was an attempt by labor to own the means of production. Make a note here: it was a huge success. And it looks like they’re doing a sequel.

It’s the holiest day in the Christian calendar, so I’ll mention one of the more interesting parts of their theology: the exhortation to visit those in prison. It is explicitly stated that a failure to visit people in prison is worth a direct ticket to hell. The context for that visit is also worth noting: people should be visited because being in prison sucks, and it’s nice to have people visit. This is all rather tangential to the think: American cops sure do seem to generate a lot of false confessions.

Musical Interlude.

People talk about doing “back end work” on websites, web hosting, and spider webs. I know that a lot of that sort of work involves typing in funny, made up languages that aren’t Klingon. Until now, though, I didn’t know exactly what was going on.

Portal two came out this week, and the only things I’ve done since then have been working, playing Portal 2, sleeping, and writing this post. The game is amazing, and involve a whole lot of physics bending puzzles. The writing, too is top notch. I’m probably going to go into more detail in a later post.

One of the more interesting ways that people are racist is by ascribing to a certain racial category characteristics that are common to humanity in general. Once a culture decides that a “race” has a certain characteristic, people tend to notice the confirming examples, and ignore the examples which fail to confirm the bias. Add in some lazy screen writing, and viola! perpetual motion racism.

Let’s pause for a moment and take a moment of silence for the inventor of the Cartridge-based video game console.

If you only read one link:

Approximately one third of all the world’s humans are Christian. Today is the holiest day on their calendar. That makes it worth reflecting a bit on what the story of Easter means. Easter is, perhaps, not about Sunday, but about the day before. I’m not going to say much here. I’m going to let Fred Clark do the talking.

This week’s theme has been Easter Sunday. So in the comments, let us know what holy day you find most interesting. Perhaps that’s a little too on the nose.

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Sunday Morning Reading Material: Third Sunday in April 2011 – Playing the Game of Thrones to Either Win or Die edition


Vader? Kind of the Man.

It’s Sunday. Sundays are for getting together with your family to find out how long until they kick you out of your house. Or Sundays are for being with good friends in Las Vegas. Or Sundays are for preparing to host a hoard of nerds for a highly anticipated TV show.

This week the Eastern Seaboard of the US was wracked by storms. Also this week, Cuba celebrated the 50th anniversary of the failed US invasion of their country. Also also? The French nabbed alleged monster Laurent Gbagbo, and turned him over to those seeking justice for his alleged crimes. That’s justice, 21st century style.

I am a proud member of tribe nerd. We nerds, much like any other tribe, have our own totems, holy texts, styles, images, icons, and heroes. To a nerd, most questions have the answer “42”. Occasionally, however, the answer is 24 mph.

I am something of a clothes horse. I like to look good, and I’ll combine things in interesting ways to make that happen. I wear nice slacks when I can get away with it, and good jeans when that’s appropriate. I have a friend who will only, always, and forever wear black slacks. That’s fine. That’s just taste. My taste is manifestly not the final arbiter of all that is good and holy about fashion. I’ll pretend they are, for fun, but I do understand the difference between objective and subjective reality. Perhaps this is why I am not a New York Times columnist .

One of the weirder things about fashion is the way it’s always changing. People in the 1980s thought they looked “radical”. The first time a King of France put on a pair of high healed shoes, his entire court believed they were the most manly things ever to be donned by a manly man. It should therefore shock no one that pink was once considered a very masculine color.

It is odd that the entire media establishment would freak out about a boy wearing pink nail polish. After all: if pink used to be the color of boys, then you’d think the conservatives would love to restore traditional gender norms by bringing it back.

You know who “throws like a girl”? Everyone who hasn’t learned how to throw a ball. Each and every notional instance of gendered behavior that is rooted in anything other than society must be uprooted, and examined. That’s not to say that gender isn’t important. Rather: any professional female athlete could beat me at the sport of their choosing.

Of course, since being a woman isn’t a thing that is discriminated against any longer, feminism is an outdated, unnecessary relic. Women are welcomed with open arms into every profession, past time, and are paid the same wages and respect. Wait. Ah nuts.

Leala talks about why she believes that it matters that she’s a “girl gamer”. Given that “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty” needs to exist, I fully understand the desire to create a safe-space for women to be gamers. That’s part of what she’s arguing for, but not really all of it. I’m going to be honest: I’m not really sure I understand her argument. I think that this might be one of those cases where my own privilege is blinding me to what she’s saying. If that’s the case, I’m just going to point over to her work and shut the hell up.

Adorable Interlude.

I have long said that it’s a really weird idea to take a person’s primary investment vehicle, and make it something as enormously difficult to liquidate as real estate. It seems to me that the difficulty in cashing out this investment ought to be worth a rather large discount.

Pirates are loathsome, awful people who’s business ought to be destroyed utterly. Indeed: piracy only flourishes in places where civilization has broken down to the extend that piracy is a viable alternative to any other type of work. That’s basically always been true, as a casual perusal of Roman history will attest. Nonetheless, there is something charming about pirate recreationists. They may gloss over all the truly ugly parts of actual history, but what they leave behind is pure swashbuckling fun.

Whitewashing history in order enjoy wooden sailing ships and black powder explosions is utterly harmless and fun. Ignoring history to pretend the South left the Union for any reason other than slavery is dangerous. The entire Southern system was built on a foundation of aristocracy and class much at odds with American notions of Democracy. Those memes were defeated on the battlefield, and should have been buried forever at Appomattox. We see echoes of them every time some whackjob congressperson argues against the minimum wage.

This might be the most frightening graph I’ve ever seen.

Just so that we are 100 percent, absolutely clear about the causes of the Civil War, let’s let the Confederate Vice President speak on his own behalf.

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

We can decide what parts of history we chose to remember. The State of Virginia has proclaimed that Lee and Jackson were brilliant, but the escaped slave who fought for the Union was heroic.

One of the really cool things about Massively Multiplayer Games is the way they act as natural sociology experiments. Conditions can be tweaked, and outcomes observed. An interesting game is “Eve Online”. Ever want to be a space pirate? This is your chance. It’s a wonderfully “real politic” universe where power really does seem to rule. Rock Paper Shotgun did an interesting interview with one of the in-game rulers of that game.

Speaking of places that require a bit of imagination to reach: top 10 imaginary travel destinations.

There are two basic animating ideas of how American society ought to behave. On the one side, you have the “individualist” ideas, which permeate the modern Republican party, and the founders of the Confederate nation. One of the side notes mentioned by the CS Vice President in that speech I just linked to is that any city or state which wishes to improve it’s infrastructure is and ought to be free to do so– alone. The idea that New Orleans ought to help pay for improvements to the part of the Mississippi river which lays in Arkansas is soundly rejected. The other idea is that of “commonweal”. This is the idea that we’re each tied to one another and that there is a moral responsibility to work for society. This notion was embraced by Lincoln’s Republican party. This week, President Obama offered a sirring defense.

Tax dollars. Where do they go?

One of the weirder things about the Republican plan to meddle with the Federal budget is that if congress does nothing, there will be no deficit. If all that the Republican party wanted to do was bring our budget into line, they can all go home and announce “mission accomplished”.

Obviously, Republicans want to do more than simply fix the budget. They wish to radically redraw the lines of responsibly between American citizens. It seems their utopia begins with the destruction of the commonweal. This might explain why they’re not popular in New England.

San Francisco is not an imaginary place. But it does spark the mind, and capture the soul.

if you only click one link this week:

One of the things I say over and repeatedly again about politics is “don’t hate the player, hate the game”. Everything that moves follows the path of least resistance. While there will be variations on this, we should tend to expect similar behavior from similar groups when conditions are similar. Let’s come at it from a different angle, though. F1 racing. When F1 racing wants to see certain types of of behavior from racers, they don’t merely ask racers to not engage in bad behavior. Nor do they simply ban said behavior. They’ll actually redesign the cars in order to make certain winning strategies more or less viable. Interestingly, it seems that a lot of the philosophy around this is video game inspired.

This week’s theme was Hugin and Munin- Thought, memory and reclaiming it from the hole that Orwell warned us about. In the comments below, please let me know what you hope will be your fonded memory of the first episode of the Game of Thrones.

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Eldritch Dragons, Missing Justice

This post contains a lot of spoilers for Dragon Age 2. Click here for more of my thoughts on the Dragon Age series

Something lurks under Kirkwall. Unnamed, unknown, but powerful; it infects the minds of all who dwell near it. Hawke, a refugee of blight-destroyed Lothering and eventual champion of Kirkwall, are among the very few to glimpse what is really going on. This may look like a political struggle between cruelty and terror. It is not. Whatever is corrupting Kirkwall is using the life and death struggle between mages and Templar as a means to it’s own end. The story of this entity is what Casandra pulls out of Varric. She trades him lie for lie, and comes out the victor.

From the standpoint of game play mechanics, this is a fascinating choice. There are two stories being told. One that Varric is telling, and one that Cassandra is hearing. There is the story that the player is unraveling, and the story the designers are hinting at. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game developer hide the real story of a game within the narrative fiction of a game before.

In the theology of Dragon Age, humanity attempted to storm the gates of heaven; literally turning it into hell. From this hell, the darkspawn were born. It is the darkspawn which search for and unleash the Old Gods, causing the Blights. It is the Old Gods which constantly call out, begging for release. The Old Gods who taint and corrupt anything which happens too near.

In Dragon Age, demons are a real, tangible presence. They infect the sentient beings who inhabit Thedas, turning them into abominations. In Dragon Age Origins, Abominations were rare. Each was a tragic story happening to a named character who the Gray Warden may well have known. Certainly the Gray Warden knew the story behind the creation of each Abomination (save the ones that were encountered in the Fade). Contrast this with Kirkwall. Abominations were plentiful. They occur not simply in the mage’s tower, but in warehouses, fields, streams, gullies, the chantry… I’m honestly not sure there’s a place I didn’t stumble into several of them. This tells us that either the designers were lazy, or:

There’s something wrong with Kirkwall. It was purpose built as the center of the slave trade for a massive empire. Untold millions of sentient beings were herded through it’s streets to begin their new lives as chattel. Below Kirkwall is a Dwarven Thaig. Before the Champion’s expedition, that Thaig had sat untouched for centuries, and unused for millenia. The contents of that Thaig would be an archeological marvel, a chance to learn much about Dwarven history, perhaps the very history of the Fall itself. Would be, that is, were it not for the small fact that those who go down there tend to go mad.

There is so much insanity in this game that it would be easy to overlook the true craziness that happens Down Below. In the normal distribution of human personalities, we would tend to expect a murderer for every couple of saints. Given that this is a game about extraordinary people, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the people are more monstrous than average. It’s worth drawing attention to the fact that twice we see dwarven expeditions into the primeval Thaig, and twice we see brother turn on brother over a trifling trinket or a pocket of gold. These are the incidents in which we see cut-scenes of Varric being questioned by Casandra. The game calls far less attention to your slaughter of a dragon than it does to the disposition of Varric’s brother.

The artifacts pulled from the Primeval Thaig are tainted. That much is clear. The sword wielded by Knight-Commander Meredith is made from such an artifact. Her strictness with the mages became outright paranoia and hostility. She herself becomes something akin to an abomination. It is possible that her paranoia is justified, at least insofar as it encompasses the mages of Kirkwall. I believe that the only mages who do not end up being possessed by demons are Hawke and Merrill. Every other mage in Kirkwall gives in to their desire for power– if only the power to keep themselves safe– and becomes an abomination.

Kirkwall is not a safe place for the souls of mages. It will seduce them and destroy them. Nor, does it seem, is this a safe place for the psyche of non-mages. It isn’t merely Knight-Commander Meridith who goes mad. The Arishok of the Qun also rampages through the city. After a half-decade of mostly-peaceful settlement and waiting, the Arishok eventually grows despondent over the corruption and filth of Kirkwall. So despondent, in fact, that he decides only blood and fire can purge the city. The similarities between these actions and the Right of Annulment cannot be overlooked.

Among your companions is an abomination. The mage known as Anders holds within himself a spirit possessing the qualities of justice. This spirit was bonded to this mage, and together the pair sought to find a better way for mages to integrate with Thedan society. Throughout their time in Kirkwall, the pair became darker. They brooded on the evils done to mages until finally they felt compelled to act. In a stunning act of terror, Anders and Justice used Qunari technology to destroy not merely the Kirkwall chantry, but also commit the purposeful murder of the one person who could have possibly reconciled the mage and Templar. With enough time in Kirkwall, even Justice became perverted, and turned into vengeance.

There is something lurking under Kirkwall. It might be an Old God clawing to the surface, or– terrifyingly– something even more cunning. Through it’s influence, Thedas has been set ablaze. Mage and Chantry are in a state of war against one another. The Seekers are trying to discover the whereabouts of the one person who has emerged from this opening salvo with soul unscathed.

For all the cut corners the designers took with the production of this game, for all the paring down the mechanics suffered, the story itself was rich and well told. So well told, in fact, that many players might not have noticed the slight of hand. Varric seems to have missed it himself. Whatever flaws we can point to within the game, Bioware did something bold and new with regards to storytelling within games. That is worthy of a song.

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Sunday Morning Reading Material: Second Sunday in April 2011 – Causing problems to avert a crisis Edition


Ask the scabs: which side are you on?

It’s Sunday. Sundays are for writing, and heading to work. Sundays are for getting better. Sundays are for heading home to Seattle after a few days spent in the Bay. Sundays are for playing Sins of a Solar Empire.

This week the US government very nearly shut down because the Republicans hate taking “yes” for an answer. The Nigerians and the Japanese are planning to vote today. Also this week, there was fighting in the Middle East. Also also: the Giants have clawed their way to a .500 season. It’s still early yet.

Republican Paul Ryan released his budget road map. It’s upfront declaration that social welfare programs ought to be slashed so that rich people can enjoy a lower tax rate has been called “brave”. It is, I think the same sort of bravery exhibited by the 9/11 hijackers. Though cutting Medicare will probably kill significantly more than 3000 people. I didn’t used to be that guy who cries “class warfare” so often. But then I started looking at conservative budget priorities. The truly disgusting thing, though, is that the Ryan numbers are pulled from the same study that Bush had used to predict that his budget would turn 2008-2011 into awesome economic times. Fail.

Some people just have to let go of Control.

It all comes down to math, really. It doesn’t matter if the question involves the curve of the earth, or the metaphoric shape of a budget, math is going to be involved rather heavily. A revolution that doesn’t change the electoral math isn’t really a revolution– it merely changes the people to whom the spoils flow. The state of Maine is looking to stage a revolution against bad legislative math. I hope the Federal government does the same thing. I hope the California government does likewise.

Pictures of a black hole eating a star.

On Friday morning, Kevin Drum asked “So what’s next? Democrats cave in again and Republicans turn down them down unless they accept $50 billion in cuts and Obama goes on national TV to apologize for the New Deal?” 12 hours later, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. Important lesson: in order to keep food stamps flowing, medicare payments happening, and the mail delivered, Democrats will humiliate themselves on national TV. That’s a worth voting for. Preventing it’s necessity is worth voting for twice.

Everyone reading this post has on their desk, lap, or phone enough computing power to put a human being on the moon. It turns out, though, that very few of us want to do that. Instead, what we want to do is talk with one another. The computer turned out to be marginally useful for solving stupendously big problems, but incredibly useful for keeping in touch with everyone you’ve ever met. We humans are incredibly social. Which is why it’s a no brainer that Twitter would eventually be used around labor discussions that are federally protected. Also remember: the Republican party’s government shutdown would have kept the National Labor Relations Board from having the personnel-hours to help this case, handing a de facto win to a giant corporation’s ability to trample the rights of it’s workers.

What have the Romans ever done for us?

There are two very basic theories of inequality. In one case, the individual creates everything they have, and therefore it is theft for the government to use it’s monopoly of force to demand an individual pay for anything they haven’t entered into a prior contract to pay for. The other theory holds that wealth creation is enabled by society, and therefore unequal distribution of that wealth can only be justified instrumentally (ie: we give more to the highest producers in the hope that they will continue producing more). To me, it is quite obvious that had Bill Gates been born in Kenya, he would not have stolen the idea for Windows from Steve jobs and improved the business practice involved in selling software invented Windows. But the mere fact that Xerox, Apple, and Microsoft all had the same basic idea at the same rough time means that none of them could have come up with the idea de novo. Anyway. In America, the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are not. What do you intend to do about it?

A friend of mine is trying to figure out what our options are if the world runs out of fossil fuels. Every week he puts up a new post looking at some aspect of energy consumption. Recently, he asked how much oil is left. Not enough, really. Not nearly enough.

I’ve been seeing a shrink recently. We’ve come to the conclusion that I’m either depressed because ADD keeps me from doing anything, or depression is keeping me from focusing. Since the first option is a much easier fix, I’ve got a prescription for Adderall. We’re gonna cross our fingers. The brain? It’s poorly understood. For instance, about 10% of the population will occasionally pass out while they attempt crossword puzzles. No one really knows why.

It is worth remembering that the vast majority of Americans are significantly richer than the vast majority of people outside of North America and Europe. How much richer? Some people actually pay people in the third world to play games for them. Apparently gold farming is more lucrative than coffee farming.

I was saddened this week to see that “A Different Light” bookstore will be closing this spring. It’s worth reflecting a bit on the causal factors behind that store’s closure. Having been there once (for a book reading), I noticed that most Barnes and Nobles tended to carry about 90% of the fiction/non fiction side of their business. The beefcake calendars and various pride-flags can be purchased at a great many specialty calendar/flag stores, and the “3rd space for queers” was easy to find at… basically any other shop in the Castro. Frankly, I’d rather hang out at Starbucks (less than a block away) and get a coffee than at a bookstore that wants to cram itself full of novelty items. It is, perhaps, a sign of the success of the gay-right’s movement that corporate America did a better job filling Different Light’s various queer niches better than the bookstore was able. The initial candle may have gone out, but it lit a thousand torches that yet provide illumination.

In all my years working at bookstore, I only once had a customer hit on me. Though I did go out with a few of my coworkers…

Do not confuse “button down” with “button up”. In fact: don’t wear button down shirts at all.

More of Orwell’s Diary. This week he talks about Libya and a budget impasse. I swear to the gods, he wrote this in 1941, not 2011.

Funranium brings us a musical interlude.

I guess everyone thinks their blog should do something special for Sunday. For instance: Bill Abner thinks Sunday is for wasting time. Last week he showed the world his gaming tree. It’s sort of like a genealogy. But for games.

Good writing is very important. Seriously. It’s incredibly important. I’m doing my best to highlight that fact by not employing good writing in this paragraph. So click that link.

I’ve spilled quite a few words on Dragon Age 2. I plan on spilling even more. I’m not sure I will get to it, but I plan on it. For all it’s mechanical flaws– all it’s flaws as an actual game– it tells an interesting story in an interesting way. The parts where it’s mechanics work best– the parts where it is at it’s best as an actual game– teach important lessons about social justice.

Portal 2 is out soon. VALVe have put out a comic filling in some of the gaps between the stories. I’m not sure how much the comic will make sense if you’ve not played the first game, but if you have, this comic is spectacular.

This is the bit where I say “if you only click 1 link”. Breaking with all tradition, I am going to use more than one paragraph to get to that link.
A few years back, I started reading a site called “Rock, Paper, Shotgun”. Honestly, how can you not click a blog with that title? Every Sunday, they do a feature called “the Sunday morning Papers”. Yes: they are a direct inspiration for this very article you’re reading. The site excels at writing about games on the game’s own terms. If a game wants to be about Nazi’s riding dinosaurs (a real game. Can’t make that up), they will talk about how gleefully fun it is (or isn’t). If a game wants to make a serious point about human interaction, RPS will discuss how that game succeeds or fails. How good is that blog? It’s one of 2 that I will keep on my RSS reader despite the lack of a full story RSS feed.

One of the founders of the site, Jim Rossignol, has written a book– This Gaming Life. The book is about what it means to be a gamer. What is the culture of gaming? How do gamers process information? How does gaming slot itself into the broader human experience? Rossignol is very much a member of the gaming tribe, and it would be very easy for him to write a triumphant narrative about how games will conquer everything. That book wouldn’t be worth reading. Instead, he takes a more anthropological approach. In the process he helps define the boundaries of what it means to be human. The book can be purchased above, or downloaded (legally, free) here.

This week’s theme? Sex and violence. So leave a comment below about your favorite book.

Hey, Hipster? Leave those kids alone:

Right now. Behind you. Look. It’s a tiger.

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Sunday Morning Reading Material: First Sunday in April 2011 – With Notably Rare Exceptions Edition


A wonderful defense of drunk driving. The obvious solution- funding buses and trains- doesn’t seem to have entered the conversation.

It’s Sunday morning. Sundays are for getting up when the alarm goes off so you can do chores before heading to work. Sundays are for sleeping in after a day spent at WonderCon. Sundays are for being in Old Vegas and celebrating your birthday. Sundays, much like the Diety of Abraham, simply are.

This week, the Afghan, Iraq, and Libyan wars continued. The Canadians and French campaigned for their previously planned elections. The Japanese are still dealing with the cleanup of their nation. The Haitians are also still trying to fix their country. This week, in other words, was uniquely like millions of others in human history.

Sadly accurate: male nerds will offer girls sex pretty much whenever girls show up in proximity to nerds. I think this sheds some interesting light on misogyny in general; male nerds aren’t really looking at the actual human being creating the works or doing the deeds they’re enjoying. It’s that failure to look past the “what” (and the tits secondary sexual characteristics) and see the “who” that is the most troubling aspect of sexism.

Speaking of identity politics: everyone knows that claims about Obama’s lack of an American Birth Certificate are racist, right? The subtext is that since he’s black, he can’t really be an American. It’s bothersome, then, that Donald Trump is making racist attacks on the Americaness of our duly elected President. Canadian general was put in charge of the NATO effort in Libya? It seems that the Canadians are a bit grumpy about being in this war at all. I think the last time they were all “aye ready aye” about anything was Juno Beach, though.

Canada is basically the best damned neighbor the US could have. We have been at peace since 1846, share a common defense, a tightly integrated economy, and have a similar enough culture that we get one another’s jokes. Every American owes it to our Canadian friends to have at least a clue about how Canada works.

Unrelated: It’s really nifty when you can do a search for movie times, and get local results. This happens because your browser can figure out where you are, and pass that information along to whatever site is requesting that information. This seems like an unwarranted step towards the million eyed “little brother” future Orwell might have imagined had he lived past 1948. Here’s how to shut it off.

The Dadaists were basically the forerunners to the contemporary “hipsters”. You know who else was a hipster?

In the short run, America absolutely needs to vote early and often for the Democratic party. We’re not on the side of angles here, but we’re the least-bad option on the table. When you’ve fallen off the high-wire and discover that there’s no safety net, the smart thing is to slow your rate of descent. That’s what the Democratic party represents: getting worse more slowly. This is preferable to the opposition who wish to make us as aerodynamic as possible.

It is fortunate that America isn’t in nearly as bad a spot as the communist Bloc in the 1980s. The irony, is that the economic problems with American Capitalism and Soviet-style communism are roughly the same: in neither system is labor able to bargain for better compensation. Obviously the political problems faced by Soviet-ruled nations were significantly worse, involving some rather violent repression by the State.

Current US tax law says that if you own part of a company, and realize profit from your ownership of that company, the tax rate is significantly lower than if you had labored for that company and helped create the revenues that became that profit. We’re told this is a right and just thing because corporations are merely collections of individuals, and since corporate profits are taxed, taxing income derived from dividends or the sale of stock is “double taxation”. Is it still “double taxation” when a corporation makes $14.2 billion in profit, yet manages to avoid paying taxes at all?

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Everyone follows incentives created by the system, and the incentives in the modern American political system are incredibly fucked up. I won’t pretend I have a robe that grants the ability to read minds, so I don’t know what Barack Obama really wants to do. I can say that no American politician can long stand on the national stage without corporate backing. We need to fix that problem first. Everything else should follow.

Let’s have a musical interlude

Microsoft failed to really grok the web. It didn’t get search, and to a large extent still doesn’t. This allowed Google the room to create an advertising empire mighty enough that Google was able to fund the next several iterations of computer operating systems. Google, though, never really understood social media. They know this is a huge blindspot, and are hoping to fix it before Facebook creates the next generation of web ads. And I just broke my “no linking to gawker” rule. Sorry guys.

This is why Funranium is always invited to my parties. That, and he’s generally a good conversationalists and devious game player.

Did you know that in the United States, it is illegal to use an intern to do anything useful? It’s true! You can’t use an intern to take the place of someone you would normally pay. This is a widely flouted law, but it’s existence says nice things about how labor ought to be treated.

Many–though by no means all– writers for the Huffington Post are doing so without pay. The Newspaper Guild has called a strike against HufPo until those free writers are paid. In theory, I’m 100% behind this: labor has value. In practice, I’m not sure. As above, it is illegal to use an intern to do work you’d have to pay someone to do. What HufPo wants from its writers is eyeballs on page– ad revenue. Are the unpaid writers delivering those eyeballs? If so, then HufPo certainly does owe those writers recompense! If not, then this strike is about as meaningful as one against wordpress might be.

One of the odd things about America is that we really don’t know how badly we have it. Our medical system is roughly 45th best in the world– just barely better than Cuba. Our income mobility is one of the worst in the developed world, and our communications technology is, frankly, a blight.

The US executive branch announced this week that it no longer considers the US legislative branch to have war making powers. It’s frightening to me that Obama is a constitutional scholar, and yet still came to that conclusion.

Another musical interlude.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Everyone follows incentives of the system before them, and the incentives in the modern American strategy game are incredibly fucked up. I won’t pretend I have a robe that grants the ability to read minds, so I don’t know what Troy Goodfellow really wants to do. I can say that no Canadian Strategy Gamer can win a game without slaughtering peasants. We need to fix that problem first. Everything else should follow.

I tend to fall on the “Art is that which elicits emotion” and “art is that which has commentary on the human experience” side of the argument. Brian Moriarty is on the other side of the argument. Even though he is obviously wrong (as are are all fools who disagree with me), his points are well worth considering.

I consider Babylon 5 to be among the best television shows of all time. I’ll go further: I honestly believe that it stands as one of the great works of human art. It is an incisive look at evil, and offers the sort of allegorical moral guidance I’m used to reading in holy texts. Replace the cool spaceship battles with a war among gods, and it might be mistaken for a contemporaneous work of Homer’s. Sadly, it has to fight for it’s place in the sci-fi cannon.

Ear-worm interlude.

That concludes this week’s Sunday Reading. The theme has been systems of dada hipsters in magical realms. Please list your favorite kitchen knives in the comment section below. And don’t forget to use the various sharing buttons below!

Bisexuals: how do they work?! #Magnets

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