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Sunday Morning Reading Material Fifth Sunday in April 2012- Feeling Greeful about the Girl Friend’s new Job Edition

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for paying rent a mere 29 days past due. Sundays are for going to work in hopes of paying rent in a more timely manner next month. Sundays are for enjoying your last day of vacation before starting a new job.

The Occupy [city] movement has become- in the popular conversation- about income inequality. I don’t think that’s wrong- not exactly. But I do think that it misses one of the fundamental frustrations of modern existence: the growing sense that corporate actors are more important than human actors. Worse than that, there seems to be very little that we humans can do about it.

When I was a kid growing up in the (very liberal Bay Area), talking about gay people was basically the same thing as talking about child molesters. Given the underlying (incorrect, demented, awful) axiom, the reactions of ordinary people was (terrifyingly) sane. This was the genius of Harvey Milk’s strategy of having gay people come out of the closet. Gay people became normal. Sunlight disinfected- not the people themselves, but the reputation of the group. The arc of history of long, but it bends towards justice.

Tap that ass.

Despite how often I hear the opposite, every statistic I run into says that we as people are doing more of the “good” things, and less of the bad. For instance: crime is at all time lows. You have to admit, it’s getting better. It’s getting better all the time.

Note to marketers: sex can’t sell your product. It seems that people can be distracted by sex, but it is very rarely advantageous to distract people from the product that you’re trying to sell them.

The world’s quietest room. “When the lights are turned out, the Mail says that the longest time anyone has been able to stay inside is 45 minutes”. It is both terrifying to contemplate, and a challenge I’d like to try.

The American library Association has released it’s annual shopping list. I’d urge everyone reading this post to buy at least one of these and- if possible- donate a copy to a local school or library.

Oh, my poor, poor UC Davis.

If you click just one link:

a rather comprehensive history of the last century of board gaming.


Sunday Morning Reading Material Fourth Sunday in April 2012- Kitties and Laptop Edition

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for visiting Japantown and seeing parades. Sundays are for making your your kitty is still mending. Fridays are for taking your laptop to the local bookstore and writing a blogpost. Sundays are for seeing what I did there.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped looking at aborting a pregnancy as something that human beings did, and started looking at it as a political act. When we removed humans from the equation, when we stopped focusing on the ladies and started focusing on the fetus, it became very easy to create horrible conditions for the humans involved.

A doctor’s take on being forced to perform invasive and unnecessary insertions into a woman’s body.

Again, the American conversation about women’s health is a political conversation, rather than a conversation about healthcare. Were it a conversation about healthcare, we’d know the sheer number of women who take birth control pills to keep themselves from dying.

It is true that boy nerds are treated harshly for imperfect knowledge of things they love. That’s not relevant to any conversation about how lady nerds are treated for the same imperfections of knowledge. The problem that women are trying to address isn’t the harsh treatment itself- though that’s a real problem- rather, the problem to be addressed is the gendered nature of the treatment. The problem is that womanhood- an intrinsic quality of the person in question- is being used against the woman. This devaluing of half the human species is not something which should be tolerated. And sure. Along the way we ought to stop treating men poorly also.

Of course, all I’m really doing is begging the question. Once a side has committed itself to the idea that female personhood is a logical fallacy, we see how much trouble the whole species has gotten itself into.

I was taking a class on early 20th century European history, when I had the startling linguistic insight: “nation” was a synonymy for “race”. That was why the “nation state” wasn’t a redundant construction. Suddenly, the American Civil War made sense in a new context: would America be a “nation state”, or a “multi ethnic country”? Also: if “a language is a dialect with an Army and a Navy” (sorry Catalan), then this is a disturbing trend. If Americans are becoming more polarized politically and linguistically, how long until we stop seeing one another as belonging to the same multiethnic nation?

Best political ad of all time? It works as an effective “fuck you” to his opponent, while actually being incredibly upbeat about the candidate having achieved the American dream.

I don’t really care for the us-against-them tone of this article. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that my generation- and the generations after mine- are in a very different position than that faced by the Baby Boomers. There is simply less of everything than there used to be. The wealth of the nation has been spent on a single generation, and it will be the work of the next several to rebuild.

A moment of humility from George Orwell.

If we think about how civilization began, we realize that cooperation is key. Humans had to coordinate planting, gathering, and travel. During times of conflict or hunting, the winners were the ones who worked best with others, who laid traps and had devious strategies. It is therefore unsurprising that in making virtual warfare, we humans would be exercising the mental muscles of cooperation?.

Geese, man.

This article overstates the extent to which our phone bills are the result of market failure. Comparisons to a European phone plan in which customers are expected to bring their own phone and pay only for data will skew heavily towards making American “pay for the phone as part of your monthly bill” plans seem even more unreasonable. That’s all throat clearing. It is unquestionably true that 2 year contracts lock Americans into deals which favor telecoms. The difficulty of switching plans makes it unattractive for new companies to enter the market. And without new entrants to the market, incumbent companies don’t see much reason to make things better.

Seems that Americans already have a flat tax. I wouldn’t mind tax simplification- where each dollar of income at a given tier is treated the same regardless of source. And eliminating deductions would make it incredibly easy for everyone to do their own taxes– or make it simple for the government to just send you a bill. But most Americans pay the same 1/5 of their incomes to the government. And that’s what conservatives seem to say they want…

The colony of Virginia was named after the “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth the First. So it is an incredible linguistic and historical accident which pitted virginity against love and marriage in one of the most important supreme court cases in American history. This case really did change the definition of marriage. America is even stronger for it. I may be biased, though. In a large sense it made my own family possible.

Many of the links from this week’s post are from the Slactivist, so you should probably be reading him on a regular basis. For now, let him share with you a fantastic and true American ghost story.

Oh Mitt Romney, don’t ever change, and then stay the same. And then change again.

If you click just one link:

I’ve been making my way through the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Here’s why.

? Why had Germany delivered itself over to the raving exterminationist dictates of one man, the man Shirer refers to disdainfully as a “vagabond”? Why did the world allow a “tramp,” a Chaplinesque figure whose 1923 beer hall putsch was a comic fiasco, to become a genocidal Führer whose rule spanned a continent and threatened to last a thousand years?

Why? William Shirer offered a 1,250-page answer.


Getting traction on retraction

Dear Ubisoft,

A couple weeks back, I said some unkind things to you. Several of my friends and readers took offense at my words, and I think I understand why. First, I want to apologize. My first few drafts were unreadably dull. So I tried to be funny. And in being funny, I became very rude. Not merely rude, but rude in a way that sneered at an open wound. That’s bad behavior on my part. I am truly sorry.

So let me try again.

As was pointed out to me- I don’t know the numbers on piracy. I do know that you call the PC Piracy rate “incredible”. I’ll assume that means the piracy rate for your is somewhere over 90%. But it might be 75%. Or even 50%. Either way, that’s enraging. I agree. Certainly 90% is about the same rate that I’m seeing reported from non DRMed games.

Does someone who put their (literal) sweat, (probably literal) tears and (hopefully metaphorical) blood into a creative work deserve to be compensated for that time, effort, and energy? In the vernacular of my youth: Doi.

I think this is the basic disconnect between media creators and media consumers. Creators- you!- are lashing out in justified fury in an attempt to get people to stop copying your stuff. Their best efforts to lock down the fruits of your labor are being laughed at by the people they most desperately want to stop. Adding insult to insult? The number of pirates who spend 10 minutes with a game and declare that it’s terrible and not worth spending time on.

This would be enough to enrage anyone.

The problem is that customers are being hurt by this rage. Not “consumers”- that category includes the pirates. Customers. The problem with “Digital Rights Management” is that it only protects your rights, as the publisher. It does not protect my rights as a customer. In fact, it often strips those rights away. First Sale doctrine? Gone. The ability to use a paid-for product when your server shuts down? Gone.

I’ve seen arguments that since we customers are merely “licencing” games rather than “buying” them, that we ought never have had those rights to begin with. That is not an argument I believe, nor one I think leads to positive sum outcomes. The merits don’t honestly matter- what matters is that the rights I had previously thought myself to enjoy I no longer enjoy. And I’m basically powerless to opt out of the agreement.

I say “basically” because I do have some power. I have the power to not buy products which treat me this way. It’s not really an option I enjoy exercising. I enjoyed the heck out of Anno 1404, and really wanted to grab Anno 2070 when it came along. But then I learned that in order to have access to the really nifty parts of the game- the things that really differentiated it from its predecessor- I’d have to be online. So, no sale from me.

I’d heard amazing things about Assassin’s Creed, and so when Assassin’s Creed 2 came along, I was very tempted. Then I learned that in order to play it, I’d have to be always online. Not simply “online check at the beginning of a play session”, but “drop connection for a few seconds and stop playing the game”. My Comcast connection is flaky. I can’t even watch _YouTube_ for more than a few minutes without it needing to buffer. The idea of putting my enjoyment of your game at the mercy of Comcast seemed like an exercise in frustration. So I decided not to become a customer of Ubisoft for that game.

I’m not talking about a boycott. Nor, I hasten to add, am I talking about pirating your games. I’m simply talking about taking my money and spending it on other things. Civilization 5 is great. Magicka. Oh hell: I’ve spent more time playing RUSE– one of yours!– than I care to think about. The DRM associated with those games is fairly lenient; I can even play those games when Comcast decides to take the day off.

We’re not entirely at an impasse. Like I said, you guys are putting out some great games. In fact, when you released Assassin’s Creed on Good Old Games, I snapped it up. It was DRM free, and came with the sorts of goodies that I normally associate with “special edition”.

That makes me incredibly glad. It makes me think that you saw through the rudeness of my initial post and decided to change the relationship on your end. Your advances will not be rebuffed. Keep treating me this way, and I’ll do more than give you a hug– I’ll give you cash.

I remain faithfully,
Punning Pundit.


Sunday Morning Reading Material Second Sunday in April 2012- Easter Musings Edition

And now for something completely different.

For those humans who follow the Western Christian tradition, today is Easter Sunday. For people of that branch of that faith, today is the holiest day of the year. In that belief system, a deity (people of that belief system understand there to only be a single deity) caused a woman to conceive a child, and that child grew up to be offhandedly executed by the mightiest empire in the world. So far, all well and good. This next bit is where “faith” comes into it.

Today Western Christians (next week for the Eastern Christians) celebrate the resurrection of their deity. 3 days after his death, Jesus got up, stretched his legs, and announced that- having been a blood sacrifice for the sins of the human species- he was back.

Apparently God meant what he said to Abraham.

For those who have faith- as I do not- in the truth of this story the willingness to give one’s life to atone for the awfulness of the human species gives someone tremendous moral authority. What Jesus is believed to have said and done between resurrection and ascension basically amount to showing his face around town, and telling his followers to get to work.

What things did Jesus say he wanted people to do? What terrible sins required the blood of a god to atone for? Moral authority to do what? Even the moral teachings of a deity must be tested against an external reference, unless we want Cthulhu to have unfettered access to our uncritical brains.

And so it seems to be that we should examine a brief part of Jesus’ teachings. For extra fun, read that passage while replacing every use of “hypocrites”, with “douchebags”.

What I read is an extended meditation on the virtue of doing the right thing for it’s own sake, rather than for the sake of being seen to do the right thing. Someone who gives bread to the hungry in order to be seen doing so may make someone better off, but they have mentally recategorized another human being from “person” to “prop”. It is impossible to love a prop.

So: people are supposed to pray in private, and not for specific goodies. What should people pray for? The first part of the prayer Jesus gives his followers is a reminder that they are not supposed to ask their deity for things– and “things” in this case counts for actions and outcomes as well. “Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.” So, you know. Christians technically can pray for a touchdown, or for a war to have a specific outcome. But if they do they’re contravening a direct command from their deity.

Interestingly, there is also an injunction against wanting forgiveness for infractions against that deity’s commands. “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” As a child, this was always the scariest, most terrifying part of the prayer– Christians are asking god to create a direct, 1:1 correspondence between what they have done wrong and wrongs which others have done. The only way to make good- the only way to attain heaven- is to forgive other people. It is not good enough to simply the the “keeper” of one’s siblings. Everyone is now, in an ultimate moral sense, yourself.

If you only click one link:

The Slacktivist tells us about Holy Saturday, when God is dead, and everyone cares.



Sunday Morning Reading Material First Sunday in April 2012- Only Kidding Edition

It’s Sunday morning. It’s time for some Reading Material!

The Occupy [City] movement was and is famously without a clear agenda. Much of this, I think, owes to the diffuse nature of the problem they’re trying to solve. American society has undergone a fundamental realignment in the relationship between Capitalists and Government. That previous sentence uses archaic language and isn’t really precise, so let me try again: The Occupy [City] movement exists to bring attention to- and protest against- the fact that the Republic is no longer Res Publica. This basic fact exists as a creeping, midnight suspicion in the minds of voters. It is not something that is generally spoken of in daylight hours. And yet here we are.

As an example of how America is no longer a Public Thing, I offer the existence of Zuccotti Park. Instead of taxing a company to create a park that would be owned and operated by the People of New York City, the City of New York mandated that a corporation would build and run a park. As a result of this, the First Amendment does not apply unless citizens ask the corporation to pretend that it does. Most malls- spaces that have replaced public marketplaces as centers of public consciousness- exist under these same strictures.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was a very bad governor. He rode to office on a promise to put a $5 billion hole in the yearly State budget, and fulfilled that promise within his first month in office. Most of his 2 terms were spent slashing services so that he could pay for fulfilling that promise. I shouldn’t be too upset with him, he seems to have entered politics as a joke that the rest of us didn’t get. The fact that his brand of crazy very bad ideas were considered not crazy enough moderate by half the major political parties in California tells us exactly where to lay the blame for the fiasco.

Despite everything, I really do have hope for the human species. We’re cooperative by nature, and actually are capable of learning from our mistakes.

Frustratingly, innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not commit. This leads to a secondary problem of guilty people continuing to be free to perpetrate their crimes. It is often difficult to prove innocence, but every now and then we manage to. What happens then involves people admitting they made a mistake. That is an extremely difficult thing to do.

In fact: U.S. Grant seems to have learned from his mistakes. It’s one thing to say “I was wrong”, but offering amends by changed behavior is incredibly difficult. That level of humility is the only path to justice.

This is simple technique for being a genius. I’m not sure it’s really as good as its authors claim. Breaking down problems into component parts is the way my brain works naturally. When I’ve finished doing that, I don’t usually see a whole bunch of simple solutions- I tend to see a giant pile of new problems. Granted, this might well be a function of my own rather dysfunctional personality.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the murder of Trayvon Martin. It’s a sad, terrible affair, and I can only hope that justice is swiftly brought to the guilty.

Want to know how Trayvon Martin was murdered? American society is still Otherizing black people. That’s right: in 2012, people are still willing to publicly proclaim that a character they had (wrongly) perceived as white is deserving of less sympathy when she’s (correctly) depicted as being a person of color. I do think the solution to this is rather simple: our machines of cultural creation need to start inserting more persons of color- African American, Latino, Indian, Native American, etc- into their works. Indeed, some studio should spend a year making the default assumption that every unspecified ethnicity from is a random (non-white) ethnic group. We’d end up with movies that looked more like America, at the very least.

Did you know that there’s a government agency that has the job of insuring your employer treats you fairly? The fact that this is a partisan issue should tell us all we need to know about America in the 21st century. The fact of it’s partisanship is a solid sign that the Occupy [City] protests are onto something.

I’m embarrassed that I had never thought beyond the advertising potential of data aggregation. Kevin Drum is right: it’s the potential non-advertising uses that ought to scare us. We should- sneakily and quickly- put limits onto what the government is allowed to access. And create criminal charges for those who would gain that information with intentions other than sales.

It only took six months of internal inquiry, but the FBI has finally agreed that, in the future “training would conform to constitutional principles”. Bravo! Perhaps students will even be spared the knowledge that they can “bend or suspend the law”. Or, perhaps we could just dismantle the whole apparatus of internal spying?

Good news everyone! Orwell’s Diary is back!!!

If you click only one link:

The President may be the most powerful person in the world, but s/he lacks the power to persuade any Americans of anything once we’ve made up our minds. All a president can do is energize the base of their own party.