Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

One-upped.

What's more embarrassing to the United States than the news that torture is being used on detainees at Guantanamo Bay?

That this news isn't being screamed by every newspaper in the country. Kudos to the New York Times for at least featuring it prominently on their website. Shame on the Washington Post and USA Today for burying it on theirs.

Like Carson Daly, but less of a tool.

A few days back one of my readers complimented me on my review of Half-Life 2 and asked for a list of my top 5 favorite games. I found this a little surprising, since I was unaware of having written a review of Half-Life 2 (The post in question discussed certain aspects of the game in one setting, and certainly didn't qualify as an entire review), but I'll give the request a shot anyway. The way I see it, any excuse to suck up page space with totally inane crap is worth using. So, after some thought, I am going to try and sum up my five favorite games of all time.

Now, there are some groundrules here. First off, these aren't reviews. If I were going to review a game in a thorough way, I'd have to go and replay it just to make sure it was fresh in my mind. Secondly, I'm only considering PC games here. I play pretty much just PC games, so it wouldn't be fair of me to comment on the one or two console games I've messed with. This also extends to the old Atari games, so all you Pong addicts can just shut up. Third, I won't be considering Macintosh-only games. I liked "Spectre" as much as the next guy, but I'd prefer folks have a clue what the fuck I'm talking about. Fourth, I'm directing my focus almost entirely at the offline single-player content. This automatically excludes MMORPGs (Which I don't play anyway) and oldschool BBS games that I actually might be very fond of. Ah, Trade Wars, will I ever stop missing you? This also means that a game with a lousy single-player experience but pretty good multiplay (I'm looking at you, Halo.) won't make the grade. I think this is fair because multiplay experiences depend as much on the group of people playing, as the game. Even an awesome multiplay game can be ruined by an overabundance of fucktards. Finally, the games are not listed in any particular order.

Everybody clear on that? Good. Then, without further ado:

Drek's Top Five PC Games:

(1) Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares. Master of Orion II, or MOOII as it is usually know, is a turn-based strategy game oriented towards interstellar domination. You play as one of several unique races, or as a custom race you design yourself, and attempt to take control of the galaxy through a combination of military might, economic clout, and politicial influence. Along the way you will build colonies, develop technology, conduct diplomacy, and fight wars. What makes MOOII such a brilliant game is the tremendous amount of flexibility built into it. Any of a variety of approaches to victory are potentially successful, and players can choose a style that fits them. Similarly the ability to customize your racial characteristics as well as the enormous variety of in-game technologies and ability to design ships adds to replay value. With proper attention, a well-designed ship with adequately thought out tactical doctrine can be a serious threat to rival ships many times its size. Of course, what holds all this power together is the elegant and capable interface, that can provide detailed information and control without seeming overwhelming. On the weak side this game suffers from a handful of irrational bits, like the fate of surplus food when no alien races have yet been encountered, or the species that can basically be summed up as, "Hot warrior babes in form-fitting armor." Nonetheless, this game has tremendous replay value and is a serious challenge. It also carries on the legacy begun in the also excellent Master of Orion I, and remains a far superior game to the poorly-executed Master of Orion III: The Rape of a Great Franchise.

(2) Descent: Freespace- The Great War and Freespace 2. Despite the fact that these were released as two games, I count them here as one. This is partially because of the smooth continuation of the story, and partly because both used essentially the same game engine. So, Freespace 2 is almost more of a really huge expansion pack than a truly independent game. All that said, these are two amazing games. The basic concept is that you are a star fighter pilot for, first, the Galactic Terran Alliance and then later the Galactic Terran Vasudan Alliance. In this role you'll fly a variety of missions ranging from interception, to escort, to attack, to espionage, in a wide variety of unique craft. Enemies range from the Vasudans, to renegade humans, to the terrifying Shivans. Gameplay is uniformly excellent with well-designed missions and compelling art. What really pulls the games along, though, are the gripping storylines. Freespace and Freespace 2 are, above all, stories about courage in the face of overwhelming odds. As such, it would be difficult to find games that are more fun, and satisfying, to play. On the negative side, the Freespace games play extremely fast and loose with physics, which can bother obsessive nit-pickers like myself. Still, they use this looseness to enhance gameplay, and so it can be excused. Just this once.

(3) Fallout 2. This game, a sequel to the earlier Fallout, which was itself an homage to Wasteland, is one of the most superb Role Playing Games (RPGs) I have ever played. I'm not generally a fan of RPGs- mostly because companies seem to have a hard time finding the balance between creating a good world and creating a playable game- but Fallout 2 wowed me with its elegant user interface, its deep character and skill system, and its expansive world. This game allows you to play through its main and subsidiary quests using a variety of skills and ethical choices, all of which help to determine Non-player character (i.e. computer operated interactants. aka NPC) reactions. The game manages to convincingly depict a post-nuclear (Or, as Bush would say, "Nukular") holocaust U.S., as envisioned by 1950's pulp sci-fi, while injecting a quirky humor all its own. In more detail, Fallout 2 tells the story of the Vault Dweller's legacy, in which you are dispatched by your village to find a particular piece of technology that can mean survival or extinction for your people. Along the way you'll make friends, alter the world for the better and the worse, and thwart a genocidal plot. This is a game that can be played and played in a multitude of different ways, and each time a new experience can be had. It's also one of those rare games where access to a good manual and even a hintbook is worthwhile. If the game has any problems, it is that it is so deep and rich that it shipped with a number of unpatched bugs. If you get an early release, download the patches, and if you got a late release, make sure all the patches are already there.

(4) Half-Life. Half-Life is what is called a First Person Shooter (FPS) game. It places you in the body of a game charater who is at risk of becoming a bullet sponge in the immediate future. Half-Life, however, takes this concept quite a bit farther, crafting an interesting and mysterious story. In Half-Life you take the role of Gordon Freeman, a newly minted MIT physics Ph.D. who becomes involved in some sort of bizarre government accident. Afterwards you begin a race against time to correct the mistake before legions of alien creatures invade the Earth. As cheesy as it sounds, it's actually quite compelling, and I'm not just saying that because it's a game where an academic is also an ass-kicker. With the addition of good graphics (For the time) and enemy AI that holds up quite well with age, this game is both a compelling piece of storytelling, and a lot of fun. If there is a flaw, it is that very little flexibility exists in Half-Life. You are forced to move through certain areas in certain ways, whether you want to or not. Yet, this is a characteristic of most FPS games and Half-Life at least conceals the constraints with quite a bit of aplomb. One doesn't even notice the restraints, in most cases, until one plays the game for a second or third time. (For those who wonder if Half-Life 2 should be on this list: I wouldn't make that decision until I had both finished it, and gotten some distance from it. Sorry.)

(5) Starflight. Man, this is an oldie, but a goodie. The basic idea here is that you are the commander of a newly-built starship sent out to explore the universe and make a profit. A few things are mysterious, however: you don't begin on Earth, other intelligent species are sharing this world with you, and nobody knows how this all came about. So, Starflight turns into an adventure game with trading, combat, diplomacy, and exploration as you race to solve a mystery before an ancient threat destroys your world. This game is both deep and rich but has a number of flaws. In terms of gameplay, Starflight is problematic in that many, many "stations" must be accessed to accomplish certain tasks, such as raising shields, handling damage control, and navigating. In a more technical sense, Starflight has an unfortunate feature that makes saving impossible except when you exit the game. So, if you die once, you have to start over. This is, to put it mildly, upsetting. Still, this game is a lot of fun and has a fascinating storyline. Word on the street is that some folks are even working on updating its rather dated graphics and might even release a Starflight III. One can only hope...

Now, those are my five favorites, but what would Total Drek be without needless insults? So, tomorrow we'll deal with a second topic: Drek's five most hated games. Tune in and watch me say unflattering things about someone else's hard work.

In other words: it'll be a normal day.

Monday, November 29, 2004

"Poca-hot-asses?"

Well, it might not be quite the way you heard it in school, but this does pull the holiday season together quite nicely.

The guys over on Something Awful have done it again.

Salvation...

Hot on the heels of our recent discussion of evangelism (And what a fun discussion it was, too) is this excellent comic from Sore Thumbs.

Ah, evangelism: the gift of mortal terror.

We've got to talk.

Folks, I'm here to chat with you today because I'm a little upset. There has clearly been a serious misunderstanding between us and it needs to be cleared up. Now, I'm not naming any names, but some of you out there in the audience seem to have developed a dangerous misconception about this blog. Let me set you straight right now: You should not take me seriously.

Let me repeat that: Under no circumstances should you take this blog seriously.

I know, I know- some of you have been overcome by my flawless writing and rakish good looks (And by that I mean, "Actually resembling a rake") but I'm very serious about this. I never intended this blog to be taken seriously as an authority on anything, yet some people clearly seem to be doing so anyway. I want this to stop! Now! If not sooner!

"But Drek," you exclaim, "How were we to know? How could we possibly have known that this blog wasn't an example of serious and sober discourse?"

Well, that's a good question, so let's go through it together.

List of Reasons Why You SHOULD have Known Not to Take this Blog Seriously:

(1) My name is "Drek." As you may or may not know "Drek" is a term meaning "trash, or inferior merchandise." Granted, the dictionary spells it as "dreck" but I think the general impression is still pretty clear. If a blogger names himself after something that has no value, it may be an indication of something.

(2) If, hypothetically, you didn't know that Drek basically means "crap" there's the fact that my full blog handle is "Drek the Uninteresting." This can clearly be seen in my e-mail address, drek_the_uninteresting@hotmail.com. So, not only did I name myself after worthless garbage, but I indicated that I wasn't even interesting worthless garbage at that.

(3) The name of this blog is "Totak Drek," which, in light of the above, indicates both that the content is likely to be- you guessed it- trash, but also that the main author (This being the other meaning of "Total Drek") is himself not that interesting.

(4) My hypothetical-coblogger (Hypothetical in the sense that the motherfucker has been MIA for some time now) is named Slag. As you may or may not know, "Slag" refers to, "The vitreous mass left as a residue by the smelting of metallic ore." In other words, the useless waste product left behind by an industrial process or, "trash." This is just a thought, but when both bloggers are named after some form of waste material, it's probably a sign about the value of their writing.

Now, I understand that these four "subtle" hints might have been a little too difficult for some folks to grasp, so I found a few more:

(5) On the front fucking page it says, and I quote, "There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say I didn't warn you." I'd say this is a strong indication that I am making no particular claims to being a worthy pundit.

(6) The first post I ever wrote, accessible from my profile, is titled This Blog Sucks and basically details the reasons why this blog sucks. The post in question includes such valuable observations as, "I am NOT an important guy, and I do NOT have any pearls of wisom to share. Anytime you think you've spotted a useful idea in the midst of my ranting, please rest assured that it was entirely accidental. I labor to excise any such valuable contributions before posting," and "Welcome to Total Drek, where you'll get exactly what it sounds like, and no claims otherwise from the management." Both of these passages, I think, put the matter rather bluntly.

(7) I recently used valuable (HA!) blog-space to critique one of my own posts. I think it's safe to say that if I really and truly wanted my writing to be taken seriously, I wouldn't go out of my way to make myself look like a jackass. Not that I really have to work too hard to achieve that, but you see what I mean.

(8) I routinely denigrate myself and my own writing in blog posts. I won't provide specific examples of this, but it isn't hard to find if you look around. For instance: the paragraph above this one.

So, for all of the above reasons, I think it's safe to say that at no time did I ever intend for this blog to be taken as a serious intellectual work. Are we all clear on that? Good.

The question, then, is what I did intend this blog to do. The answer is simple: I intended it to be annoying. As I have indicated before I think people frequently take themselves too seriously. This is a problem because it makes debate and growth more difficult. I am an academic, I hang out with a bunch of academics, and so I know that we have killer huge egos. We don't do this job because we want money, or power: we do it because we want the respect and the recognition. That's fine, I'm as big a fan of respect and recognition as the next guy, and I have a big ego, BUT...

But, it isn't the job of anyone else to safeguard our egos for us. It is not a crime if someone else thinks we are silly, ridiculous people. Here's a tip: we are all ridiculous from time to time. We are all stupid from time to time. Accept it, laugh about it, get over it. Your authority and your respect are based not merely on being right, but on being graceful when you are wrong.

So what does all that have to do with this blog? Well, let me explain with reference to a historical figure: Socrates. No, no, I'm not comparing myself to Socrates. He's both smarter and more articulate than I am, and I make no claims to being able to match his work. I bring him up because he was, in the words of J. Mark Bertrand, "...the gadfly of Athens, the man who pestered the brave and beautiful with inconvenient questions, the man who cornered people in the streets and wouldn’t let them pass until they had given an account of themselves." In short, Socrates was an obnoxious, annoying little snot who harassed others. I'm not comparing myself to Socrates, but I do approve of his method.

We grow through challenge, we think when we are forced to meet opposition. That is the purpose of this blog. If I am offensive, and insulting, and degrading, then it is because I believe someone needs to be. If you disagree with me, I am GLAD because that means you may have thought about the issues. Share that disagreement. I have given space on my blog to those who wished to rebut me, I have never deleted a comment no matter how critical it was of me, I will link to a site that rebuts my points (as long as they notify me of their existence). In short, this blog is intended to be a forum of combat between the wise, the noble, the intelligent, and one chicken shit little bastard who asks annoying questions, and makes irritating arguments. If my points are so foolish, if I am so wrong, then you should have little trouble making a fool of me. Given that many of my posts invole me making an ass of myself, you're even getting a little assistance from the home team. I may debate you, but I will not use my power over this blog to resist your efforts. If I am a beast whose presence offends you, then come and slay me.

If none of my readers ever come to agree with me, that's fine. Hell, I don't always agree with me. If they find that they have considered the issues in more depth, however, or have learned to consider matters with less ego involved, then I will have served my purpose. I approve of Socrates' method. I think the world needs people who poke and prod and annoy- driving everyone else to learn by resisting. I choose to take on that role myself. Don't like it? Well, bad news: unlike Socrates I'm not going to do you a favor and chug a hemlock smoothie. So, there's only one thing left to do: Come and get me. Don't worry, I'll be waiting.

Just, whatever you do, don't take me, or yourself, too seriously.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving. If you're a member of the immigrant majority, this is a time to be grateful that European firearms and diseases were sufficient to allow foreign invaders to wrest control of this land from its original inhabitants. If you are a descendant of those original inhabitants, this is mostly a time to be sorrowful over the events of the last several centuries. On the other hand, you can be grateful that the legal fiction of sovereignty granted to your enclaves by a semi-guilty immigrant majority at least provides justification for casino gambling. So, in short, we all have something to be thankful for, no matter how absurd or degrading.

Today as part of my Thanksgiving celebration I will be taking part in a number of activities. This morning I will be donating platelets at the Red Cross, which I think neatly covers the GIVING part of Thanksgiving. Later, once I have returned home, I will be baking a cherry pie and a batch or two of vegan shortbread. This, in addition to the pumpkin pies I baked last night, will be my contribution to the grad student Thanksgiving dinner. Basically those of us who are single or otherwise unable to return to our more or less loving families for this holiday ("Thanksgiving Refugees," if you will) pool our efforts to create a holiday celebration with some sort of mutant menu. From what I understand, this menu usually includes a "Tofurkey" for those vegeterians who attend. I have also been informed that one of our resident vegans is making the mashed potatoes and, so, aforementioned potatoes will have neither milk nor butter in them. I just hope the vegan in question remembers that vegetable margarine nicely simulates (given appropriate care on the part of the cook) the taste and effect of butter in cooking, but contains no animal products. The generosity and fellowship of my fellow grad students, however, will more than make up for any culinary oversights.

Now, I am an atheist, and so really don't have anyone to be thankful towards, but this holiday is still about more to me than sheer gluttony. It is a time to consider what I have in my life that I may be grateful for. I am, of course, thankful for my health and that of my family and friends, thankful for having a job I love, a warm home, and a relatively safe life. I am thankful that I have the time and education to think about issues larger than my next meal, or where I will sleep. I am thankful about all these things, but even more I am thankful for all those things that I don't have.

Human existence is defined as much by our goals and aspirations as our accomplishments. In order to truly be a full human being, in order to grow and develop, one must experience lack and hardship as well as plenty and satisfaction. Though I surely bemoan the tragedies in my life when they occur, I am grateful that they do occur, for without them I would not be the man I am, or be able to grow into the man that I will become.

I am thankful for my life, in all of its joy and its sorrow, and am grateful that I may live it, whatever the future may bring.

To all, a happy Thanksgiving.

UPDATE: In an unexpected turn of events, the Red Cross gave me an entire pre-made pumpkin pie as a thank you for donating today. Bloody hell! Now I have two homemade pumpkin pies, one homemade cherry pie, and a store-bought pumpkin pie. I believe I have finally reached the point where I have more pie than you can shake a stick at, regardless of the size of said stick. This is to say nothing of the vegan shortbread I took out of the oven about an hour ago.

Maybe Kieran will take some pie...

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Actually, I don't have a problem with that.

This past weekend I went on a date with a teacher at one of our local Catholic Schools.

Yeah, yeah, no sweat. I'll wait for you to finish laughing before I continue. My hypothetical-roommate, on hearing about this, actually went so far to ask in a hungry tone of voice, "Oh, man, did you get her to wear the uniform?" I don't think his enthusiasm was notably quenched when I mentioned that it is the students who have to wear uniforms, not the teachers. My officemate, on the other hand, asked if she was wearing a nun's habit. I think I'm surrounded by people suffering from some kind of perverse sexual lust. I should probably also mention, as long as I'm talking about my date, that her role at this school is to teach religion.

Right, exactly, Drek went on a date with the religion teacher at a Catholic high school. Yes. I'm as surprised as you are. For what it's worth, I wouldn't say the date went all that WELL, but it wasn't a flaming train wreck either. So, basically, it went more or less like you'd expect, except I managed to leave my "God Sucks!" t-shirt at home. Just sorta seemed like the thing to do.

For my asshole friends, who are no doubt wondering, yes her name starts with an "L." For those who don't know, I seem almost entirely incapable of developing a romantic relationship with a woman who does not have a name starting with the letter "L." It's more than a bit weird and I can't really explain it.

Done laughing? Okay then, let's continue.

In any case, while on this date my companion was talking about work and said, "You'll probably hate this, but on Monday we're going to play Bible Jeopardy."

To this I can only respond: why would I hate it that you, a religion teacher, are going to play bible Jeopardy in Catholic school?

What else, after all, should you play? "Whack-a-Heathen?" Maybe a rousing game of "Stone the Adulteress?" Look, I'm an atheist, I like being an atheist, I don't much like religion, and definitely don't like Christianity, but that doesn't mean that I object to your right to your own beliefs. I similarly recognize that your institutions are going to teach your beliefs. Why should that be a problem?

Well, maybe because of two distinctly related factors. The first factor is that doctrinal intolerance seems to be built into many religions, and particularly Christianity. I don't mean this to be insulting, but think about it: the argument is that only those who accept Christ as their very own personal savior will avoid eternal damnation. It is, therefore, necessary that at least certain elements of doctrine be adhered to, lest one be at risk for a one-way ticket to the metaphysical version of the Las Vegas airport. Granted the selection of which doctrines are critical seems a bit random and arbitrary, for example Jesus seemed much more annoyed by usury than homosexuality from what I can tell, but it is at least clear why certain doctrines are regarded as immutable.

It is genuinely puzzling to me how someone who honestly believes this argument could NOT be evangelical; since anyone you know and like who isn't Christian is going to hell I would expect a believer to feel compelled to "witness" or whatever it's called. The consequence of this, given that Christianity comes in a number of flavors that would give Baskin Robbins a headache, is that attempts to alter the beliefs of others become commonplace. Each splinter faction with its own "universal truth" must struggle to convert everyone else before they are doomed to eternal torment. It's sort of like a soul-based version of Pokemon: You've gotta catch 'em all! In this context, the revelation that someone is teaching children a different doctrine could certainly be expected to generate an amount of ire, since it is tantamount to facilitating their journey into the so-called lake of fire. So, basically, the belief that I, as an atheist, would object to Catholics teaching Catholic doctrine in Catholic school seems to be based on a general assumption of religious intolerance.

As a side note: Wow. That was remarkably scornful. Sorry about that, but some days I get really annoyed.

The second issue is that, given that we were mostly raised as theists, and that we're almost constantly under fire from evangelicals, many atheists develop a seriously bad attitude about religion. You can't really blame us- there seems to be a common understanding among evangelicals that Atheists are easy targets for conversion. I mean, since we don't believe in god, we must not believe in anything, right? Right?!

Um... not exactly.

Frankly, this gets even worse when it comes to marriage. I have known atheists who have been expected to convert to their spouse-to-be's faith as a matter of course. When they've objected, the family almost always reacts with surprise along the lines of, "What's the problem? It's not like you believe anything else." As a matter of fact, we DO believe something else. Specifically we think that when you sit and pray you are, at best, talking to yourself, because there is no supernatural being listening to you. Further, we probably believe that pretty strongly, since y'all don't exactly make being an atheist easy.

So, as frequently as we find ourselves on the receiving end of religious rhetoric, it doesn't seem that strange that we may grow to be pretty intolerant of the idea that anyone is being exposed to it. I have to admit that my own tolerance for people shoving religious literature at me is only slightly higher than my tolerance for painful rashes. Still, it's a mistake for atheists to become intolerant of religious education generally.

To my fellow atheists I have to say: we're a minority. Most people have a religion of some sort and we have to respect that. If we ask them to allow us to be atheists in peace, then we have to extend to them that same civility. If they want to be trained in religious dogma, we cannot object unless we are willing to concede our own right to simply live our lives. So, I really have no objection to a private Catholic school teaching Catholic doctrine. This seems to be just what you'd expect it to do, after all.

That does mean, however, that we atheists have a right to non-religious institutions. You know... like public schools. To the extent that we are a plural society, we must accept that diversity. That means more than altering our public rhetoric to allow for all different types of gods worshipped by our citizens- that means altering our rhetoric to accept those who do not worship any gods. I have no interest in tearing down your churches, or temples, or mosques. I have no interest in stamping out religion. But that does not mean that I intend to allow anyone to make me feel like I don't belong in my own home because I do not believe as they do.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that the religious folk have done a really crappy job of letting us feel welcome. In fact all too often the religious seem to use "separation of church and state" clauses only to defend themselves against other faiths. They decline, in turn, to respect those separations when they conflict with their own desires. Yet, I cannot believe that all religious people are so short-sighted as to think that we can legislate belief. We can legislate intolerance, and exclusion, and even hate, but belief is beyond the ability of even our most powerful laws.

I believe that many religious people are wise enough to take the literal out of the liturgy, and see the essence of the message. I know many religious people who understand that the value of a god concept is not in the belief in a vengeful, punishing, disapproving almighty, but one that loves and cherishes humanity, and wishes only to see us grow and prosper. For these truly blessed people, there is no puzzle about their valuation of tolerance: they simply understand that such is the true message of so very many religious traditions. They understand that one should not read theology with the eyes of a lawyer, but rather with the heart of a parent.

To share a nation we must accept that others believe differently. We must learn to tolerate and accept those with whom we disagree. You may not like the way that I believe, much as I do not like Christianity, but you must be willing to defend my right to believe that way, just as I defend your right to believe in your own way. If we fail in this simple act of reciprocity we will know nothing but an unending seqence of religious conflict. That's simple logic. That's simple history.

That's a moral value.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Game on!

So this morning, while walking in to my office, I noticed a spate of new advertising had made its way onto our department bulletin boards. There would be nothing particularly remarkable about this, except one of the ads is a 14" by 10" color poster of a woman with a DVD pressed between her breasts (she's dressed in what I guess is probably called a "naughty elf costume." I make constant jokes about asses, and yet even I feel like a loser saying that. I hope you people appreciate these sacrifices). I'm pretty confident that this ad is new since, let's face it, that's the kind of thing I'm probably going to take note of.

Anyway, this poster included the catchphrase "Stick this DVD in your rack!" and appears to be marketing a "Holiday Edition" of a DVD called Girls on Trampolines. Near as I can figure, it's a holiday-themed "movie" in which attractive women jump up and down on trampolines. Oh, and they're topless. The poster even includes a message indicating, "WARNING: Contains really cute, but topless jumpers." So, hey, you've got to give them credit for truth in advertising. And yes, for those who are wondering, this DVD does appear to be associated with Comedy Central's The Man Show, which includes a short clip of women on trampolines in every airing. And yes, I know this from watching. I've never been interested in following the show, but I won't lie about having seen it.

I bring this up because it affords us a chance for a little natural experiment. I've identified two more of these posters in the department hallway, along with posters for the Ben Stiller movie Dodgeball. I'm going to check back periodically throughout the day and see what happens to these posters. On the one hand, the general left-leaning nature of a sociology department may lead people to tear these posters down as they are demeaning towards women. On the other hand, some of our more sophisticated members may consider that these posters could constitute free speech, and might leave them up, even though they are objectionable. Finally, the presence of the "Dodgeball" posters (Which include the charming catchphrase, "Grab life by the ball") will allow us to distinguish poster removals due to some policy about advertising, from those that are more politically motivated.

I'll be sure and update you throughout the day on what happens.

What's my view on the posters? Well, the model is kind of severe looking- like she'd grind my bones to make her bread, and- Hmmmm? Oh, you meant about leaving them up or taking them down? It's an interesting question. I think I would generally say that the department should have a policy of removing advertising for off-campus businesses but that, absent such a policy, the posters should not be removed by the department itself.

The real question is this: if a private citizen tore down the posters, would that constitute free speech? Let me know what you think. Or not. I'll be here, either way.

7:30 AM: The game is afoot!

8:30 AM: So far no activity. Also: no people. My officemate thinks the poster is amusing. Believe he secretly wrote down the web address.

9:30 AM: A few people are beginning to arrive. Posters remain unmolested, so to speak.

10:30 AM: No movement, though I believe I've overheard some muttering about the posters.

11:00 AM: They're gone! All the posters have been removed to parts unknown. Well, most likely transcans unknown. The Dodgeball posters, on the other hand, remain in their original locations.

Wow... only three and a half hours. And that's including a fairly lengthy period when hardly anyone was here. Well, we didn't need freedom of expression anyway. You might make an argument that advertising isn't protected as speech but, if that's the case, why not remove the posters for a stupid Dodgeball movie as well? It would certainly appear that someone objected not to the advertising, but to the content of the advertising, and thus this particular situation appears to be a fairly clear instance of censorship.

I extend my thanks to my unwitting, and thoroughly anonymous, subjects. It's been fun.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Who Rules America?

For anyone who hasn't seen this, there's a very nice social network flash applet in the Washington Post. A very nice exploration both of the Bush White House and elite theory in political sociology. Domhoff would, no doubt, be pleased. This really is very, very well implemented.

Not to be missed.

Not profound at all.

Hypothetical-Roommate: You'll have to forgive me. I only have about three-quarters of my brain working.

Drek: It's probably all that mucus filling up your sinus cavities.

Hypothetical-Roommate: Probably. I feel like crap.

Drek: You know... if you say "mucus" backwards, it's "sucum."

Hypothetical-Roommate: That's true.

Drek: I don't know why I even noticed that.

Hypothetical-Roommate: Well, it does make sense.

Drek: How does that make sense?

Hypothetical-Roommate: Because that's what you do with mucus. You suck it in.

Drek: I reckon I have to give you that one.

I had to ask...

I was sitting at my computer a few days ago thinking, "Hunh. This Half-Life 2 is a lot of fun, but so far I haven't really had the shit scared out of me. I mean, where are the high-wire bits?"

By this what I mean is that I hadn't seen Valve construct any scenarios involving precarious ledges over deep pits or whatnot. Those who played the first Half-Life will recall that such sequences played a significant role in the game, and were quite well implemented. They will also recall, if they are somewhat afraid of heights as I am, that these sequences were uniformly terrifying and exhilerating in equal proportions. It may seem odd, but I find headcrab-induced zombies, alien soldiers, and other homicidal fauna to be much less worrisome than heights. I mean, seriously, what's to worry about with a zombie? You see it, you either (a) run away or (b) kill it. The solutions are well defined. With heights, however, the solution is usually something like "don't fall." This is made difficult by the fact that the game's designers want to make it at least somewhat difficult to avoid falling.

So, given all this, you can imagine the breathlessness of my journey through Xen in the first game, where leaps between moving platforms over deep chasms were the norm. Yeah, Xen just about gave me a nervous breakdown. So, in a way, I was surprised to see the lack of such scenarios in the new game.

Well, I just had to fucking wonder, didn't I?

Not only did they make me climb through the superstructure underneath a large bridge (think "Golden Gate" here people) that is VERY fucking high up but I had to fight about a dozen combine soldiers (bad guys) and an f-ing flying Orca-like gunship thingy from under there as well. Great. Goddamn great. I was tempted to turn down the graphics settings to make that particular duel over an abyss a little less realistic.

Hell.

This dance was only made harder by the fact that the superstructure on which the battle took place was curved- you know, in arches between bridge supports? So there were significant periods when you couldn't just stand still, but had to take running leaps down a slope of open girders, hoping your fucking aim was good enough to land on something solid. While being fired at by a floating gunship. That looks like an Orca. And has a REALLY big energy weapon. Yeah. A bit nerve-wracking.

Some of you may be thinking that I'm playing this game an awful lot. Well, that's true, but considering that I drafted a 30-page paper this weekend, I'm not playing as much as it might seem. The paper is single-spaced too, thank you very much. None of that weeny double-spacing for me. As if you're surprised that I'm just as much of a verbose bastard professionally as I am in my blog. In any case, I'm working my way through the game rather slowly, savoring it as I go, rather than sprinting through it in 14 hour marathon sessions the way my hypothetical-roommate like to. I'm certainly not playing as much as some guys who, according to the folks on Planet Half-Life, are playing for such long perionds they're developing motion sickness. Planet's advice is to stop playing for an hour or so. Good advice, but I've got to wonder, are there really nutbags who are trying to "shakeoff" the nausea to get one more Antlion kill in before they succumb to vomitting? I mean... damn.

Talk about making ME feel better about wasting my time on a video game.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Ravenholm Tourist Bureau Welco- AAAIIIIEEEEE!!!!

Get it off! Get it off! It's biting me! Holy shit, does that sting! Wait, what the fuck is that?! What in the holy FUCK is that?!?! Crap, RUN! Oh god, I'm rendered with too many polygons to die!

Sorry, folks, but that's probably about the best way to sum up the quiet little town of Ravenholm, population 350 300 273 165 97 63 20 15 2. If you haven't guessed already, Ravenholm is also a stage in Half-Life 2, and the stage where I currently find myself lodged. What's Ravenholm like, really?

Well, you know Doom III? Okay, so you know that in Doom III the idea is that our super-duper technology created a portal to hell, right? Good. Now imagine that Doom III was made by someone OTHER than ID Software. You know, so we have enemies other than upside-down heads on spider legs, Dick Cheney, some kind of wrestling tag-team, small children, and rocket-propelled human heads. In other words, we end up with a vision of hell that looks more like... well... hell, than the backstage of the Gong Show. That, in a nutshell, is what Ravenholm is like: a vision of hell on Earth that has the potential to actually unsettle you, rather than just make you snort derisively.

I bring all this up because I want to talk a little about something that happened to me in Ravenholm. Relax, folks, I won't spoil any plot for you here. Last night I found myself in, for lack of a better term, a courtyard wedged between buildings. The obvious way out, an open window into a room that contained a door, didn't seem to be the right way out. I decided this because when I approached the door and hit my "use" key, nothing happened. For those who aren't gamers, the "use" key is a button that more or less means, "Fucking do something with that thing right in front of me." It's your one-stop-shop for opening doors, turning switches on, turning switches off, etc.

In any case, that door didn't seem to lead to salvation. So, I began looking around for a way out. First I discovered that a lambda logo was painted across a fence that I could manage to jump over- given a little preparation. I thought this was a hint, since lambdas are used in several spots to guide you forward. On clearing the fence, however, I discovered a largely empty chamber containing only some sort of grain hopper that was too tall for me to climb onto, and an opening in the wall too high to reach. Clearly, something more was needed.

With mounting frustration I began to search the courtyard and surrounding buildings for objects. You see, Half-Life 2 includes a very advanced physics system. This means that objects in the game behave much more like objects in the real world than you might expect. Some earlier puzzles have involved moving objects onto and off of balances and scales, so I've gotten used to needing to move shit around and build things to solve sections of the game.

During my search, I noticed that two planks I thought I had destroyed earlier seemed to have respawned. I thought this might be a subtle hint and attempted to take the planks down. Sure enough, they came down in long solid pieces that I could maneuver out into the courtyard. This surely meant that these planks were key to my escape from the courtyard. I felt a short-lived sense of accomplishment at this realization. Why was it short-lived? Well, because I was suddenly struck with a question:

What the fuck do I do with two chunks of lumber?

As it happens, there's quite a lot you can do with pieces of lumber. The first thing I tried was, I think, very creative. See, in this courtyard there was, for lack of a better term, a catwalk around the perimeter. From one point on this catwalk you were immediately over a set of parallel cables that ran out over the edge of the courtyard. Since I had two planks, I guessed that I was supposed to set one plank down across those cables, jump onto it, grab the other plank, set it down a little further along, jump onto that plank, then pick up the first plank and set IT further along before jumping forward and repeating the process. In this way I would inch my way forward and eventually escape from the courtyard.

After some frustrating episodes with the GravityGun (Basically just a way to manipulate things at a distance) I managed to get a plank into position and tried to set it on the cables. No dice. It turns out that the cables are "insubstantial objects," meaning that they're technically there, but game objects like enemies, planks, and... well... you, pass right through them. Scratch one idea.

My next plan was to use the planks to build a bridge from the catwalk to a nearby angled roof. Granted, that roof was in the direction I had come from, but sometimes you're supposed to circle back through a different part of the same area. This plan took some doing to execute since I had to wedge one end of the planks between a telephone pole and the angled roof, and had to set them up at an angle so that they wouldn't slide down the roof when I placed my weight on them. My bridge was eventually ready but, alas, an invisible game barrier prevented me from getting on that new roof. Scratch two ideas.

My next plan involved the grain hopper I mentioned earlier. As I said, it was too tall for me to get up onto, and was on a platform to boot. However, I reasoned that I could use the planks as ramps. So, I somehow got the planks over the fence and into the chamber with the hopper. Once we were all there, I set up a plank and walked easily up onto the platform with the hopper. Once there, however, I discovered that the hopper was too tall, even with a plank ramp, for me to get onto it. You see, I could make a ramp from the top of the platform to the top of the hopper, but the angle was too steep for me to walk up.

So, I improvised. I set up one plank at the sharp angle, then got the other plank and set it up at a shallower angle, one end on the first plank and one end braced against a wall. Put together, both planks made a ramp I could climb. And climb I did, arriving on top of the hopper. Next, I recovered my planks and set up a similar ramp leading from the top of the hopper to that opening in the wall. Alas, when I cimbed this ramp I discovered another invisible game barrier. Scratch three ideas.

I moved my planks and myself back into the courtyard and thought for a while before coming up with a new plan. The window I had climbed into earlier actually had a sort of ledge outside it. This ledge hung just over the catwalk. I reasoned that if I wedged one end of a plank between the ledge and the catwalk, I could get a diving board like extension out into open space. From there, I might be able to set the second plank between the end of the first plank and a chimney pipe, which would get me close enough to a rooftop to jump to it. Unfortunately, when I tried this plan, I discovered that the ledge and the catwalk were too far apart. The plank could be wedged in place, but hung at too much of an angle to be useful. Scratch four ideas.

By this point I was annoyed. What I usually hate about First-Person Shooter (FPS) games are that they tend to float at opposite extremes. Either they're just flat-out brainless gorefests (i.e. Doom) or they're so crammed full of obtuse puzzles that you need a strategy guide to finish them (i.e. Marathon). What I loved about Half-Life was that the puzzles and combat were well balanced and well constructed- making each fun, and challenging, at the same time. To this point Half-Life 2 had continued in this grand tradition. Yet, here I was: a guy with some lumber and no place to stick it. That's when I figured it out.

You see, while thinking and generally cursing Valve (the makers of Half-Life) I was hanging out in that room from before. As I was staring at the screen I noticed something: the door had a doorknob that actually stuck OUT from the door. More out of whimsy than anything else I walked over, looked directly at the knob, and pressed my "use" key. Sure enough, I heard a click, and watched as the door swung open.

Motherfucker.

I won't lie, I was annoyed. It is a convention in FPS games that you just have to look at a door from up close and hit the use key, not look at the door knob. So, it was very surprising to me that here I had to go so far as to direct my attention at a specific part of the door to make it open. I was a victim of a gaming standard. Yet, once I got over my annoyance I felt something else: intense satisfaction. Here's why:

I may have spent a significant amount of time in that bloody courtyard due to my own dependence on FPS conventions, but while there I was able to use the physics engine to try a variety of things. Consider the complexity of several of my solutions; I mean, multi-plank ramps onto grain hoppers, diving boards wedged between other objects? I was actually building various simple machines within the gameworld in an effort to move forward. Certainly these attempts were unnecessary, but the fact that the game was able to accomodate so many of them is just amazing. Puzzles in games usually have to be pre-programmed to such an extent that there is only one way to use a given object. In Half-Life 2, there are far fewer limitations.

So why does that matter? Well, in a simple sense, it makes the game more immersive. The environment has taken a quantum leap forward in realism thanks to the new physics. Imagine it: in real life if you were attacked by some sort of creature, but had no weapon handy, you might just grab up a coffee mug or a book and throw it at your attacker. In games, until now, it was effectively impossible to do the same. Objects were usually nailed down and immovable. Hell, does anyone else remember Wolfenstein 3D? This is the grand-pappy of FPS games, but the experience of playing it is partly defined by candelabras, chairs, and roast turkeys that can't be affected in any way. Certainly the game is fun, but when a fragile wooden chair offers cover from minigun fire, you're reminded a bit that you're in a game. As Half-Life 2 draws us into a world that behaves more like our own real world, it makes the entire experience of playing more involving.

In a more complex sense, however, this new physics system shows incredible promise. As our simulations of physics improve, and they're already pretty damned good lemme tell you, how might we be able to teach using these games? Can we imagine a future where school children learn about Newton's laws, or molecular chemistry, or architecture, or engineering, through manipulating a realistically-created gameworld? How might understanding of suspension bridges, for instance, be improved if a student could build and manipulate one through a simulation, rather than just through a book? Even non-physics tasks might be amenable to this sort of simulation: might we teach regression by treating different residuals as though they're objects on a balance beam with different amounts of weight? I think we could, and I think it might be a real benefit to some students for whom math is not a first-language. Most important: these physics puzzles are fun, and that makes a big difference to students of any age.

So, despite my frustration, I can only offer my warmest compliments to Valve. Half-Life 2 is well constructed, it is a lot of fun, and it offers an amount of flexibility to the player that is simply unparalleled in my experience. As for my experiences in the courtyard, I have just one thing to say:

I never want to see another plank as long as I live.

Better than the Jumbotron...

We've all seen those marriage proposals that take place in absurdly public ways. The guy going down on one knee in a restaurant, the guy with a bullhorn in an alleyway, and the invitation to marital bliss via the jumbotron at a sporting event, are all excellent examples. Yet, despite our collective experience with such things, I don't think any of us expected this (via a sociology mailing list):

Dear List

This morning this link came via another maillist:

http://www.heiratsantrag-fuer-sandra.de/


The mail was a so called "Kettenbrief" or "chain mail" if this is the right word in english. This guy wants to makes a mariage proposal to his long time girlfriend, but he does not do it directly but sent the mail out to 50 people unknown to him and now wants to see when and how his proposal reaches his girlfriend, who doesn´t know that the email connected world is participating.

For those of you who know german or know anybody who can translate it, read his poem and what he writes on his web site. It´s the weirdest and most romantic use of social networking via email I have seen so far.

Best regards from germany


Now THERE'S an example of the Strength of Weak Ties, eh?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Stop the Madness!

I am apparently the darling of the facial hair removal industry. I don't know why this is, since my beard grows so sowly that I would make an awful spokesperson, but it does appear to be true. And when I say "slowly" I think you should understand that my beard growth is rivaled only by plate tectonics in terms of sheer breakneck speed. What can I say? The men in my family are genetically nearly hairless- a trait that extends to the tops of our heads usually by our mid to late thirties. Male pattern baldness, however, is a topic for another day when my self-loathing drives me to torment you, the readers, with even more inane drivel than you have yet experienced. Today we're talking about facial hair.

As I said, given the rate at which my beard grows, I am not sure why I'm so popular with razor manufacturers, but it does indeed seem to be the case. Their affection for me first became apparent during the latter half of my high school career. One day, out of nowhere, Gillette sent me a free razor. Specifically, they sent me one of their Sensor razors. You know- the one that has two blades mounted on some sort of independent suspension system? It amuses me that based on this description my razor is more capable of operating offroad than my car, but I digress. In any case, I wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth and, seeing as how Gillette is the best a man can get, I decided to start using this razor.

Well, apparently Gillette wasn't done with me yet because a few weeks later they sent me a second Sensor razor. There was no explanation for this, so I attributed it to a glitch in their system and considered myself fortunate. Now, I told myself, I had a second razor to keep in my travel kit for debate tournaments. Ironically this made very little difference since when I was debating in high school my beard grew even more slowly than it does now, so a razor wasn't really a weekend-trip necessity. Nevertheless, I packed away my second free razor and decided that I'd come out ahead.

Little did I know how far ahead I was coming out, as a few weeks later I received yet another razor from Gillette. This time they sent me one of their new Sensor Excel models, which appears identical to the regular Sensor except for a gray color and some rubbery ridges on the head. No doubt those ridges are supposed to massage my skin or some such thing. Because we all know that a scant millimeter of rubber is the ideal tool for massage. By this point I was perplexed by this veritable deluge of facial hair removal technology. Despite the fact that this could, hypothetically, have supplied me with cheap holiday gifts until the end of time, I decided to call the Gillette corporation and ask them to stop sending me razors. They agreed and, fortunately, I stopped getting packages from their evidently-deranged marketing department.

Yet, it has come to my attention that the facial hair industry isn't done with me yet. I recently received yet another new razor, absoutely free of charge. This time Gillette is not responsible, but rather Schick, and they have sent me one of their Quattro razors, which comes standard with four blades and two "comfort strips." No doubt bucket seats are optional. It seems like a fine razor, and having used it I can assure you that it does a perfectly good job of removing facial hair, but I must also admit that with four blades and two comfort strips the damned thing is so big I feel like I'm dragging a deck of cards across my face.

What all of this is leading up to, however, is my very personal bewilderment about the development of razors. Consider for a moment: in the beginning we had straight razors. They were very effective at removing facial hair, but were also very capable of slitting throats. So, eventually, we moved to the so-called safety razors that encased the blade in a protective metal sheath. You might still manage to cut yourself, but you were unlikely to do yourself grievous bodily injury. From here we progressed to disposable razors. These devices incorporate the blades, fixed at a constant angle, into a cartridge. The entire cartridge can be disposed of and replaced, thus simplifying cleaning and maintenance. Most men as well as women now use disposable razors of one sort or another.

However, having reached this pinnacle of safety and convenience, we are suddenly faced with an explosion in razor development. First they had only one blade, then two, then three blade razors emerged from the primordial razor soup, then super-duper three blade razors, then came the aforementioned four blade razors, and even a new sort of razor that is disposable yet still requires a battery. The variety of ways to remove hair has increased explosively, and one wonders where it will ever end. Yet, what are we getting with each new leap forward in razor technology?

I don't mean to sound like a Luddite here, you all know I'm a big fan of technology, but this new four blade razor doesn't seem to shave any better than my old, out-of-date two blade razor. I find myself similarly doubtful that my old two blade was any better than a one blade, although I am grateful that I didn't have to learn to shave with an actual straight razor. As high-strung as I am, my bathroom would constantly be decorated with Jackson Pollock like marks from arterial spurting. It just seems like we've given up on making actual improvements to the razor and have settled for making absurd cosmetic changes- such as the charmingly-pink Lady BIC that, I believe, has flowers molded into the handle. Obviously all women just loved this innovation as it allows them to feel oh-so feminine while dragging a sharp blade over a large portion of their bodies. Come to think of it, what could be more feminine than that? Oh, yeah, baby...

Look, I love capitalism. I'm a fan of its semi-efficient approach to resource allocation. I know I favor certain measures for income redistribution, but that's really just to save capitalism from itself. So, I understand that corporations need to keep selling us new products. I get that. I'm okay with it. Mostly. Okay, partly. Okay, I'm not okay with it, but I don't know how to solve the problem.

In any case, I get that companies need to sell us new and improved products but, and this is just a thought, is it too much to ask that the damned things be improved, rather than just new?

Or, at the very least, could you stop sending me this shit? I have a razor for every limb now, and believe me when I tell you that it is not easy to shave with your feet.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

"And in other news..."

President Bush uses a turkey to demonstrate his plans for dealing with opposition members during his coming term.



Although in my case, it feels more like he's got a grip on something a little lower.

Thanks to the Washington Post for this delightful little image.

Have you ever heard the term, "Computer Widow?"

No, this doesn't refer to a female computer whose husband suffered an untimely demise. Computers don't have sexes, nor do they have sex, or get married. It's probably better for us that they don't because otherwise life would be even weirder than it is already.

The above term was taught to me many moons ago by the girlfriend of one of my roomies in college. Now, my college roomies were, to say the least, an interesting group. First there was Todd, from Scarsdale, who habitually asked me if a given outfit made him look buff (The answer, invariably, was "no" since (A) he had the build of a scarecrow and (B) I didn't care). Next there was Rob, who sold date-rape drugs out of our room and displayed an 8x10 glossy photograph of a urinating rhinocerous because it, in his words, "reminds me of my girlfriend." For those who are curious, I never managed to get him busted for the drug sales because he was careful to only have as many drugs in the room as he was going to sell almost immediately, and he never sold them directly in front of me. Then there was Bill, who was a nice guy, but had an unfortunate fondness for country music. I picked up my own mild affection for the genre from him. Then, we come to Brandon, who wore all black, papered his room in aluminum foil, and liked to go to graveyards with his lesbian friend Nicola to practice his bullwhipping. I assure you that, for once, I am not exaggerating in the slightest. Nor is "bullwhipping" a euphemism for anything.

Now, in addition to his fondness for whips and lesbians, Brandon was a bit of a computer geek. I can understand that, I'm one too, but Brandon was far more of a geek than I am. I enjoy computers, I find they make my life easier, and I know my way around them, but Brandon considered them to be a part of his very soul. So, when it came time to choose between spending time with a girlfriend and spending time with a hard-drive, Brandon frequently faced a very difficult choice.

So, on one of these evenings when the pile of silicon won out over a somewhat curvier pile of carbon and water, my roomie's girlfriend plopped down on the couch next to me and declared, "Brandon has a new OS so I'm a computer widow for the night." Indeed, this was a regular occurence and the main reason why I usually didn't study in the living room. Not that my roomie's girlfriend wasn't fun and all, she was amazingly normal considering who she was dating (Not to mention that, unlike the girl who replaced her a few months later, she didn't have eyebrows like Leonid Brezhnev.), I just had better things to do with my time than entertain her or listen to her bitch about her goth boyfriend.

What does all this have to do with you? It's simple: Today is Wednesday the 17th of November, 2004. Yesterday, Tuesday the 16th of November 2004 the sequel to one of the best-selling PC games of all time, Half-Life, was released. I happen to have a copy of this game, which is unsurprisingly known as Half-Life 2. This game, which was delayed by more than a year, is so far proving to be everything we've all dreamt of and more. So, between keeping up with my dissertation work, teaching my class, and trying to keep up with basic feeding and hygeine, I just don't have the time to wedge blogging in.

Yes, I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that, at least for now, you're all computer widows. Sorry about the inconvenience.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Oroboros

Welcome back to another exciting day here on Total Drek! Well, "exciting" might be putting it too strongly. Perhaps, "inevitable," or "not entirely crappy," would be more accurate. It's also probably too much to say "welcome," since I routinely punish my readers with bad puns, worse jokes, lousy writing, and direct insults. So, well, um... I guess what I should say is, "Oh. You're back. Whatever." Yes, that nicely sums things up.

In any case, you're back and, as promised, today we're going to take on a website that has been begging for a brusing for some time. I recently happened across the site while skimming through Blogspot's own blogs. Yes, folks, that's right: today I'm going to try and take some of the self-importance out of one of our fellow bloggers. Who is this fine young sitting duck? Well, he's an anonymous blogger that goes by the handle "Drek." His blog, "Total Drek," is subtitled: "...the thoughts of a frustrated intellectual on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes his fancy." As we will see, that fancy may range across a wide variety of topics, but only rarely comes within shouting distance of some grasp of reality.

Now, this blog is rather extensive so we can't address all of it. Hell, this joker has been publishing since June, which isn't that long, but has managed to accumulate a staggering quantity of material. And when I say, "staggering," what I mean is, "In excess of 128,000 words according to blogspot." Since blogspot indicates that he's written 143 posts, that puts the average post length at about 895 words. Yes, folks, this is a guy who does not know when to shut up. This also gives lie to his suggestion that, "There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say I didn't warn you." Yes, Drek, sure, we all believe that you don't want people to read your blog. That is, after all, why you post multi-page missives on such fascinating topics as your dog. Okay, seriously, it's a dog. I'm sure it's a good dog, and I understand that the whole "getting hit by a car" thing was very traumatic, but for crying out loud, who gives a shit? But I digress. In any case, there's a shitload of utter drivel in this blog, and I can't hope to dissect everything that this Drek posts. So, since I can't mock everything, I'll just pick one post to mock. Specifically, I'll use this one, titled Utility.

Ooooh, "Utility," such a simple name, such a meaningful concept, clearly this post must be just chock full of philosophical goodness, right? Right? Oh, fuck no. No, this post is chock full of meaningful content the way a Jackson Pollock painting is full of intelligible themes. This post is so full of meaninful content, as it happens, that Drek uses up the first half dozen or so paragraphs bragging about a compliment he received. Wanna know what this compliment was? That people find him to be "useful." That's a compliment? "You have a use," is being nice? Fuck, Drek, lots of things have uses. Hell, at hospitals there are probably tools whose sole purpose is to lance rectal boils. Them things are useful, but would you be flattered if someone said, "Drek, you're useful like a rectal boil lance?" I sure hope not, although given your, "strange obsession with ass-jokes," who knows?

In any case, once this gibbering idiot staggers a little further on he argues that he's not talking about this compliment to brag (Riiiiight, just like how you're trying to discourage readership by writing lots? Good thinking there, genius.) but because he wants to say that one of his main life goals is to be useful to others. Okay, first off, did we really need six goddamn tangential paragraphs to lead us into that earth-shattering revelation? I'm going to answer, "no." Fuck, you could have just titled the post, "I want to be useful to others," and saved us all a lot of time. Seond, that isn't much of a goal, Drek. I mean, the aforementioned rectal lance is useful to people. So, basically, you just aspire to be as worthy as a rectal lance? That's some dream there, buddy!

After some self-affirming claptrap about how readers of his blog might not be surprised to know he likes to be useful (Much, I'm sure, as they wouldn't be surprised to know that it's virtually impossible to shut this asshole up) he asserts that he involved himself in sociology because he's so idealistic, he won't participate in idealistic causes. Yep, you heard that right: he wants so much to do good, he won't lift a finger to actually DO GOOD. Well ain't that just generous as hell? Specifically, he argues that:

I got involved in sociology because I think that our organization as a society is important to our survival, and our growth as a species. In my view it is increasingly apparent that the problems of the world stem not from a technical inability to satisfy material want, but from an inability to organize ourselves in such a way as to make the global satisfaction of that want possible. In short: our material technology has advanced more rapidly than our social technology, and we are now suffering from that imbalance. In this, I probably don't differ much from most of the activists. The place where I DO differ is in my belief that we don't know how to solve those social problems yet. Perhaps strengthening social movements would be good, perhaps not. Perhaps policy work would help, then again, maybe it wouldn't. I don't believe we have the answers yet and, while I don't think we have to wait to dot every I and cross every T before we do anything, I do think we need people looking for those answers.


What a sterling example of philosophical hoo-haa. So, our social technology is too primitive, eh? Nice revelation there, buddy, especially considering that the reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said essentially the same thing decades ago. Specifically, he said, "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men." Way to steal a point and not credit it, Drek. And what about that last bit about i-crossing and looking for answers? Is he saying that we should look for ways to correct social problems, but we shouldn't necessarily wait until those answers are in before we start acting? Way to take a stand there- looks like John Kerry isn't the only one the Republicans could accuse of flip-flopping.

What follows, however, is an argument about the role of science, and society, in people's lives. Drek essentially argues that knowledge is almost always good, though it may be turned to unpleasant applications or be acquired in immoral ways. It is, thus, the role of society to decide how to use scientific knowledge, but science itself is without such moral responsibility. I won't address whether or not this is correct, there are certainly arguments either way, but isn't it convenient for Drek and his fellow scientists? A scientist who is absolved of responsibility by virtue of the pursuit for knowledge is not completely unlike the war criminal who cries that he was merely following orders. For such a criminal, it was up to his superiors to decide how to use him, his role was merely that of an instrument without will of its own. Similarly, the scientist who pursues knowledge without thought of the consequences is hiding behind a shield of displaced responsibility. Again, perhaps it is necessary for scientists to be so shielded, since so much of what science has learned has so altered our ways of life, but such a total distinction between science and morality presents its own problems in terms of our "social technology."

Yet, in arguing that scientists are morality-free discoverers-of-knowledge, Drek ignores something else. He says he doesn't mind the debate about stem cell research, and that:

If we truly desire to make knowledge more democratic... we need to stop pretending that we are qualified to decide how the world should be for other people. We can tell the world how things work, and how we may change that, but we cannot tell the world whether or not such change should happen.


Yet, he doesn't deal fundamentally with the freedom of scientific research. Science is a discipline, Drek argues, that can tell us how the world actually is, but the methods it uses to do this may be morally repugnant to us. The Nazis certainly provided much information on the limits of human endurance, but are such experiments justified by the cargo of knowledge they will provide? In his view are scientists not merely beyond responsibility for morality, but beyond responsibility to morality as well? Drek is obviously aware of this issue given his own comments about Nazi experiments ("I deplore what was done and could not, and would not, condone experiments such as those performed by the Nazis in the name of science...") but this muddies the argumentative waters: science is beyond morality, yet it is subject to it. Science informs ethics, yet it must respond to ethics in its investigations. Unlike quantum particles, Drek, you cannot have this one both ways.

Our esteemed author does recognize that his faith in the transformative power of knowledge, or information, or wisdom, or whatever the fuck it is that science produces, may seem naive, but argues in turn that:

...my belief in the power of science to allow us to make informed decisions is no more or less silly than your belief that you, as an individual, can make a difference by not eating meat, or watching what pronouns you use.


This is not, however, much of a response. To say that the belief that pushing pins into an anthropomorphic doll will do damage to one's enemies is no more silly than the belief that a small wafer and a swallow of wine will magically transform into human flesh and blood (Ewwwww!) during a ritual is not to say their either belief isn't silly. The degree of silliness in relative terms has nothing to do with the degree of silliness in absolute terms. I think I might find myself comfortable in arguing that Drek, with his belief in the transformative power of science, is just as much of a no-talent ass-clown as the proponents of political correctness who seem to think that changing pronouns will alter the structural dynamics of power. To Drek and the PC-Pros: lemme know how that works out for you!

Finally, mercifully, this post stumbles into its conclusion. And what a conclusion it is, too! We have crappy metaphors ("...a collective effort to push back the cloak of ignorance" eh, Drek? How about a collective effort to pull your head out of your ass?), we have a claim on the identity of idealistic activist without actually claiming the identity of idealistic activist ("I am as idealistic as any of you, I am as activist as any of you, I simply have a different foe." Sort of like, "Great taste, less filling."), we have a priviledging of the grand crusade of science over the crusades of lesser entities ("...science labors to bring us one step closer to the end of ignorance." Just so long as you bring us closer to the end of this post.), and we have a really unnecessary use of the word, "nemeses." Yes, folks, this conclusion has everything it needs to be labeled, "Craptacular." Even a concluding line that misses inspiring or provocative and goes right into trite and awful. What more could we ask for?

Well, quite a lot, really. I won't go into the self-indulgent whining that passes as a disclaimer at the end of this post, but there's really very little to recommend this post or this blog. It is full of poorly considered, badly argued rhetoric that seems to have been constructed by a high schooler who wants to be taken for an educated adult. God help us if this author is, as he claims, an actual graduate student. Unless the grad program in question prominently features "finger painting," I fear we may be witnessing the ultimate disintegration of education in the United States. Then again, if any grad program features "finger painting," I think we're in trouble, whether this Drek is enrolled in it or not.

And so, dear readers, we come to the end of our post, in which we offered a little merciful help to one of the internet's many self-important assholes. Hopefully this will enable him to be a little less serious in the future, and a little more humble. I really don't care, though, since mocking the bastard was at least fun for me. That's all that counts, right?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go lie down. For some reason, after writing this post, I feel like I jumped through my own ass backwards.

Monday, November 15, 2004

This post was not sanctioned by Michael Burawoy

Many of you are familiar with Michael "Mr. Public Sociology 2004" Burawoy. This fine scholar served as president of the American Sociological Association during its most recent convention in San Fancisco, and has been an ardent supporter of the Public Sociology initiative that has stirred up so much controversy. You might think that I'm bringing the Big B up today because I intend to discuss public sociology, but you would be wrong. I have done about all the tilting at that particular windmill that I feel like for the moment, and have made my position about both its non-political as well as its political forms quite clear. No, I bring up our esteemed ASA president for another reason. That reason will become clear in a moment or two. Well, most likely, in the paragraph after the next.

In the aftermath of the recent presidential election, many of us are trying to forget about the result, and are doing so with a remarkable diversity of strategies. For some, this means lots of alcohol, for others a carton of haagen daz, for still others it has meant extra playtime with the kids. For me, "trying to forget" has largely meant going to my happy place. (For more pics like that, though not actually of me, check out Sorryeverybody.com. It's pretty cathartic, but I digress...) Yet, in trying to forget about that election we are also trying to shove all of the campaign rhetoric out of our minds. In most cases that's a good thing, since the Bush campaign's "You should be constantly fucking terrified" platform was fairly unpleasant, not to mention insulting to our basic intelligence. Yet, still, there are some things we should not forget. One of them is John Edwards' argument that there are two Americas: one that enjoys increasing prosperity, and one that is suffering under worsening poverty. Indeed, for all its Marxist overtones, this seems to be an accurate reflection of what has been happening in the United States for some time. Yet, given the most recent election, I no longer find this representation to be satisfying. If our country were splitting into two halves on economic terms, wouldn't our political parties split the same way? Wouldn't the poor be uniting against the rich, and vice versa? Since that isn't happening, indeed the concern over "moral values" argues that poverty is lessening in importance for voters, I think what we need is someting a little more complex. We need to find the second dimension, besides just economics, that divides voters into "conservative" and "liberal" categories. And no, before you start yelling out suggestions, I don't think it's that conservatives like drowning puppies, or that liberals like to get high. Certainly those things may be true, but I doubt they are the main distinction.

To achieve a new, more complex model of voter behavior I am going to construct something that sociologists in general, and Michael Burawoy in particular, really adore: a two-by-two table. See, Burawoy will be the first to admit that he loves 2x2 tables- after all, he actually constructed one during his ASA speech. So, it seems perfectly appropriate for me to follow his sterling example. You might even say that I am going to construct a theory of the 2x2 Americas. If you did say that, though, you'd be guilty of telling a really crappy joke. Let's just leave that to me, shall we?

For this new conception of the U.S., we will retain John Edwards' distinction between the "haves" and the "have-nots." I think this is a legitimate distinction, and one that we would do well to attend to. So, take out a sheet of paper and make two columns. Label the left column "Have-Nots" and the right column "Haves." Ok? Ready? Good.

Next, we need to decide what our other axis will be. Well, here's the thing: there are haves and have-nots in each party, so some other factor must split us up into parties. Wanna know what I think it is? It's simple: the ability to laugh at oneself.

Now, don't dismiss this right away: think about it. I'm arguing that what distinguishes the political parties from each other isn't just how much material wealth their members control, but how seriously they take themselves. Since taking oneself too seriously is a sure route to humorlessness, this argues by extension that one party should be funny while the other one is not. I mean, are leftists funny? Hell yes! We have John Stewart, Michael Moore, and George Carlin, just to name a few. Can liberals laugh at themselves? Well... I think it's safe to say they can. What about the conservatives? Well... there's... um... Rush Limbaugh? Do they have anyone else who is funny? Maybe Dennis Leary, but he's not so much conservative as Libertarian. I suppose we might count Jeff Foxworthy and some of the other "Blue Collar Comedy" guys, but I've never been able to decide if they're really politically engaged. Hell, if you need proof that liberals are funnier than conservatives, just check out the right-wing answer to "Sorryeverybody.com." (FYI: as of this moment the site appears to be down, but I'm hoping it'll be back later) Would you really label any of this funny? Maybe, but probably not. Especially not the scary people with the firearms. Seriously, folks, we understand you have guns so there's no need to brandish them in front of god and everybody. Hell, I have a Garand like this joker, and do you see me brandishing it? Nope. To get back to my real point, however, it's almost as though Republicans are somehow humor-impaired. I mean, they're trying... sort of... but all they seem to be able to accomplish is profoundly disturbing.

Given the above, let's just go ahead and assume that I'm right, and add our second dimension to the 2x2 Americas: funny. In that upper row write "Not Serious" and in that bottom row write "Serious." So, our upper-left cell is for Have-Nots who don't take themselves seriously, our upper-right cell is for Haves who don't take themselves seriously, our bottom-left cell is for Have-Nots who take themselves seriously, and the bottom-right cell is for Haves who do take themselves seriously. Or, in the same order, "Urban Poor," "Educated Elites," "Christian Fundies," and "Capitalists." Seem overly simplistic and crude? Good. That just means it's appropriate for a blog of this caliber.

So why does this matter? Well, simply put, taking yourself too seriously is just plain dangeorus. It makes you more rigid and less willing to concede the possibility that you did something wrong. On the other hand, not taking yourself seriously makes it easier to acknowledge that you might have done something stupid. Taking yourself not-so-seriously seems to be strongly related to humility, whereas taking things too seriously is related to arrogance. What seems to divide our country is not economics, not yet, but the willingness to concede our own falibility. Liberals are aware that we can be wrong, it is this knowledge that is our greatest strength as well as our greatest weakness. It is a strength because it allows us to be flexible when flexibility is needed, altering our beliefs when they are clearly shown to be in error. It is a weakness because it tears us apart with disagreement about what we should do, and how. For conservatives, with their faith in god (Be it a wrathful Christian god, or the god of Capital), there is little room for flexibility and change: what is right is simply right no matter the circumstances. This is, of course, a logically weak stance but one that allows little division within the ranks. In short, then, the ability to laugh at oneself is akin to open-mindedness. Or so I, the crazy left-leaning moderate, would argue.

I bring all this up because I think we in the blogging world can play a useful role in encouraging humility. If some people take themselves too seriously, then it is our sacred duty to help them over this hump. In other words: we need to mock the sons of bitches a little bit. Hey, if you take yourself too seriously, clearly you need someone to show you how to laugh at yourself. I, as you will no doubt believe, am quite willing to assist you in learning.

It is towards this end that tomorrow's blog will be dedicated. Tomorrow I will take on a guy that has been begging for a little deflating for a while now. It should be fun, it should be educational, it shouldn't cause an itchy rash. Be sure to join me tomorrow for it! And, in the meantime, just... uh... stay away from the woods.

Seriously, people, not funny at all.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The Texan...


...Then there was the educated Texan from Texas who looked like someone in Technicolor and felt, patriotically, that people of means- decent folk- should be given more votes than drifters, whores, criminals, degenerates, atheists, and indecent folk- people without means.

Yossarian was unspringing rhythms in the letters the day they brought the Texan in. It was another quiet, hot, untroubled day. The heat pressed heavily on the roof, stifling sound. Dunbar was lying motionless on his back again with his eyes staring up at the ceiling like a doll's. He was working hard at cultivating boredom. Dunbar was working so hard at increasing his life span that Yossarian thought he was dead. They put the Texan in a bed in the middle of the ward, and it wasn't long before he donated his views.

Dunbar sat up like a shot. 'That's it,' he cried excitedly. 'There was something missing- all the time I knew there was something missing- and now I know what it is.' He banged his fist down into his palm. 'No patriotism,' he declared.

'You're right,' Yossarian shouted back. 'You're right, you're right, you're right. The hot dog, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mom's apple pie. That's what everyone's fighting for. But who's fighting for the decent folk? Who's fighting for more votes for the decent folk? There's no patriotism, that's what it is. And no matriotism, either.'

...

The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him.

He sent shudders of annoyance scampering up ticklish spines, and everybody fled from him- everybody but the soldier in white, who had no choice.

...

In less than ten days the Texan cleared the ward. The artillery captain broke first, and after that the exodus started. Dunbar, Yossarian and the fighter captain all bolted the same morning. Dunbar stopped having dizzy spells, and the fighter captain blew his nose. Yossarian told the doctors that the pain in his liver had gone away. It was as easy as that. Even the warrant officer fled. In less than ten days, the Texan drove everybody in the ward back to duty- everybody but the C.I.D. man, who had caught cold from the fighter captain and come down with pneumonia.

In a way the C.I.D. man was pretty lucky, because outside the hospital the war was still going on. Men went mad and were rewarded with medals. All over the world, boys on every side of the bomb line were laying down their lives for what they had been told was their country, and no one seemed to mind, least of all the boys who were laying down their young lives. There was no end in sight. The only end in sight was Yossarian's own, and he might have remained in the hospital until doomsday had it not been for that patriotic Texan with his infundibuliform jowls and his lumpy, rumpleheaded, indestructible smile cracked forever across the front of his face like the brim of a black ten-gallon hat. The Texan wanted everybody in the ward to be happy but Yossarian and Dunbar. He was really very sick.


Once more, I'd like to offer my thanks to Joseph Heller for his outstanding writing. The above is excerpted from the first two chapters of Catch-22 which has as much to say about modern politics and anything else I've seen. Seriously, if you don't already own a copy of this excellent book, go buy it. My hardback copy is one of the best investments I ever made.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Welcome to Grade School Civics!

It's been all the rage the past few days to blog about the newest bit of staggering idiocy to emerge from the conservative side of the political fence. I am, specifically, referring to this essay by Mike Thompson, former chairman of the Florida Conservative Union (Which only narrowly missed the highly appropriate abbreviation "F.U."). Mr. Thompson's subject is, believe it or not, the wisdom of expelling the "Blue" states from the Union. Yes, you heard that right: he thinks that the "Red" states should go it alone. Now, others have written on this particular bit of stupidity, but I think I want to take a crack at it myself. Why, you ask? Well, first, because nobody can stop me and, secondly, I just haven't found anyone else's efforts to be quite satisfying.

"Not satisfying?" you ask, "How could their responses not be satisfying?" Well, simply because of this: Mr. Thompson's arguments are so laughably absurd, so chock-full of factual inaccuracy, so jam-packed with fallacious logic, and so devoid of good political philosophy, I just don't think anyone has gone far enough in contradicting them yet. What can I say? I didn't earn my debate nickname "Pitbull" for my subtlety or my restraint. So, without further digression, let's take a look at Mr. Thompson's "modest proposal."

Thompson begins his assault on the United States by questioning the constitutional legitimacy of President Abraham "I won the goddamn Civil War" Lincoln's doctrine that no state can leave the Union without the consent of the other states. He goes on to claim that such a doctrine:

...ignores the Declaration of Independence, which was the vital basis for all 13 American colonies' unilateral secession from the British Union eight decades earlier.


Indeed, this seems like a good point but is, in fact, a false analogy. The original 13 colonies that eventually became the United States (After a brief period under the Articles of Confederation) were not members of a union, but were colonial possessions. They had no right to representation, and diminishing powers of self-government, when they declared their independence. In short, they were not equal members in a political body, as the term Union would seem to imply, but political subjects of a mighty nation. To claim otherwise, is to ignore political fact as well as to misrepresent American history.

Mr. Thompson does not stop there, however; he continues by asserting that:

For many decades, conservative citizens and like-minded political leaders (starting with President Calvin Coolidge) have been denigrated by the vilest of lies and characterizations from hordes of liberals who now won't even admit that they are liberals--because the word connotes such moral stink and political silliness. As a class, liberals no longer are merely the vigorous opponents of the Right; they are spiteful enemies of civilization's core decency and traditions.


To this I have several responses. First, it seems a tad absurd to complain that one has been unfairly vilified, and then vilify someone else. Second, speaking as a left-leaning moderate, I stridently disagree with some liberal positions, and have little respect for certain liberal groups, (I'm looking at YOU "Earth First") but I've never found liberals to be "...spiteful enemies of civilization's core... traditions." Unless, of course, you're referring to traditions like the three-fifths compromise, which is infamous for declaring that African-Americans counted as three-fifths of a person for census purposes. Liberals have, regardless of their party affiliation, been opposed to that particular "tradition." The simple truth is that both the liberals and the conservatives have their extremist whackos, and the problem is not liberalism or conservatism, but extremism. Third, I think we're both only too aware that as many people are proud to claim the title "liberal," as are proud to claim the title, "conservative." Mr. Thompson: Let us not confuse exaggeration, a rhetorical tactic I make use of myself, with bullshit.

Once we get clear of the liberal-bashing and general vitriol, however, our intrepid conservative scholar leads us into the meat of his argument:

That is why the unthinkable must become thinkable. If the so-called "Red States" (those that voted for George W. Bush) cannot be respected or at least tolerated by the "Blue States" (those that voted for Al Gore and John Kerry), then the most disparate of them must live apart--not by secession of the former (a majority), but by expulsion of the latter.


So, what is being argued is that the good and noble "Red States" must expel the vile, deceitful "Blue States" in order to save themselves. This is an interesting argument. Is liberalism contagious? Is it catching like some sort of deadly virus? Has there been a sudden shortage of vaccine to protect against our political views that now imperils "Red America?" What of this "respect" and "toleration" we are accused of lacking? Have liberal groups launched armed rebellion against the United States? Have left-wingers seized power and begun pogroms against conservatives in outlying states? I am, I will admit, intrigued. As best I can tell, the only manner in which we have been disrespectful is in persisting in the terrible crime of not liking President George W. Bush. Yet, since we have accepted the outcome of the election, what does that matter? I'm sorry, Mr. Thompson, did us bad old liberals hurt your feelings? And here I thought Republicans were supposed to be the rugged, gruff individualists and Democrats were the touchy-feely type. My mistake.

Sadly, Thompson does not explain his reasoning for suggesting that a significant portion of the U.S. be jettisoned. He, instead, moves into a discussion of the manner in which this might be accomplished. The first suggestion is a constitutional amendment which would force the hated "Blue" states from the Union. This, of course, would be very difficult to accomplish given that a substantial majority of the states must ratify such amendments. So, bowing to this difficulty, he then suggests that since Congress must vote to admit states, Congress must then have the power to expel states as well. Certainly a plausible argument. There is, however, a catch:

The catch, which Mr. Thompson does not mention, is that when a partnership is dissolved, the partners each take a share of their joint assets. Presumably, then, the expelled states would be entitled to a share of the assets owned collectively by the nation. Now, Mr. Thompson identifies the despicable "Blue" states as: California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware. (My hypothetical-roommate also adds, with pride, that his home state of Pennsylvania would also be on the hit list) However, as has been discussed previously elsewhere many of these states contribute more to the federal government in taxes than they receive back in spending. Therefore, the Red states might expel the Blues, but in doing so they would automatically create a tremendous national debt. We may be liberals, we may be in favor of social spending, but let's not mince words: we want our money back. Not that we don't think your cattle subsidies weren't money well spent, but we're entitled to a return on our investment. I should think free-marketeers like yourselves could get behind that sort of logic.

I think even leaving aside this contractual issue, however, the Red states have their work cut out for them. Let's take a look at the demographics quoted in Thompson's article:

More dramatic is the huge disparity among counties. Of 3,112 counties nationwide, Bush in 2000, for example, won 2,434, a crushing 78% majority. (In the counties composing "Bush USA" live approximately 150 million persons; in the 678 of "Gore/Kerry USA," 140 million.)


So, if I'm interpreting this right, 78% of the LAND "favors" Bush, but only 52% of the PEOPLE favor Bush. (Sorry, I know some of my fellow graduates of Red state public schools didn't catch that, so I'll explain. 140 million "Blue voters" represent 48% of the population of voters. This is because 140 million "blues" divided by the total population of voters, which equals 140 million "blues" plus the 150 million "reds" giving a total of 290 million, yields a proportion representing the amount of the whole that the part accounts for, or .48. Put more simply: 140/290=.48, or 48%. Since percentages total to 100, and 48% supported the liberal candidate then, necessarily, the remainder did not. If we assume they all supported the conservative candidate, then he had 100-48= 52% of the vote. If I think of it, I'll include practice problems at the end of the post so you can test yourself!) Since, last time I checked, land doesn't get votes, only people do, I don't think Bush's "crushing" 78% majority among counties is all that crushing. It's a little like saying that Bush supporters own more SUVs than Kerry supporters, and SUVs have on average twice as many seats as non-SUVs, so Bush won a crushing 66% of the seats in America. In other words: who gives a shit? People have votes, counties do not. So, that being said, I think expelling even one Blue state might be somewhat challenging.

However, the crowning achievement of Mr. Thompson's lunacy can be found in the quotations he draws from our own great political history:

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . .


Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes . . . but when a long train of abuses . . . evinces a design to reduce them [the people] under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.


Indeed, when a government becomes destructive to the people it is their right, and solemn duty, to abolish it. It is equally the right of men and women the world over to cast off the chains of despotism and struggle for freedom. Yet, in the present circumstances, I can respond only with this:

It must be a tremendously despotic government, Mr. Thompson, that has allowed your political cohorts to capture and hold the reigns of power. It is a crushingly unfair system that has allowed the Republican party to take control of two branches of government. You have clearly been suffering under the booted heel of a system that gracefully allowed the peaceful transition of power to your grasp, and has maintained that power despite instense and acrimonious debate.

So that there is no confusion let me ask this: Mr. Thompson, are you so amazingly brazen or appallingly stupid as to claim that the machinery of governance is depriving you of your rights while your own party dominates all three branches of the federal government?

No decision has gone against you, Mr. Thompson, and no despotism has crushed you. This union has served your interests and it has protected your position in society. The electoral college has granted more weight to thinly-populated states than they would have had otherwise. We have fewer controls on business, and a less-developed system of social welfare than virtually any other industrial democracy. Your voice, and the voices of your fellow conservatives, are being heard and your desires have been in the past, and are now being, embodied into national policy.

If I seem sarcastic, it is because you, Mr. Thompson, are a fool. You claim to be advancing a "Modest Proposal," and seem to think that your appeal to "...Swift's satiric story of the same name," will shield you from scorn. You will doubtless claim that your writing is not meant to be taken seriously, since it is satire. Such a claim is, in this case, little more than the flimsy refuge of a lazy pundit. As an often sarcastic, often caustic blogger allow me to assure you of something: making a point through satire and humor is no license to play fast and loose with the truth. "Bush USA" as you call it is a land that is full of good men and women, and it has much to recommend it, but it is not the magical land of rugged individualism you describe, it is not as homogeneous as you imply, and it is not as financially independent as you might like to believe. Your twisted statistics do not tell the full story, Mr. Thompson. Perhaps crime rates are lower in "Bush USA" but, using the figures you cite in your own article, the population density in "Blue" America is more than three times greater than in "Red" America. Population density does not cause crime, but is related to it in the same way that ice cream production is related to rates of forcible rape. When the intermingling of potential offenders and potential victims increases, as it does in summer when people are outside more and also happen to eat more ice cream, crime rates increase. Similarly, when you have three times as many people in the same area, all other factors being equal, there are simply more opportunities to commit crimes. But this looseness with fact is not what really disgusts me about your arguments, Mr. Thompson.

What disgusts me most is that you completely miss the point of Abraham Lincoln's doctrine of indivisibility. Lincoln, a Republican might I remind you, understood that in a democratic union the members have agreed to abide by collective decisions. When one enters into the group, one agrees to be bound by those decisions, like them or lump them. If one does not like the outcome, one cannot simply pick up and leave. If one can easily back out of a union that acts occasionally against one's wishes, then any such union so constituted cannot long endure. Surely you conservatives with your lamentation about the divorce rate, and your rhetoric in favor of the "Defense of Marriage" (As if marriage were in danger of disappearing), can comprehend such a simple point about the dynamics of association. Certainly President Lincoln did, as his own long marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln (Who, it must be said, was a few residuals short of a regression line) demonstrates. If we simply withdraw from collectivities when their decisions are counter to our own, we will soon dissolve into a squabbling mob who cannot compromise and cannot realize the benefits of unity. We would be like the child who, when the game goes against him, leaves with home plate.

You may revile the liberals, Mr. Thompson, but they have accepted the will of the people. They disagree with it, they are campaigning to change peoples' minds, but they are not resisting the decision that went against them. In accepting their electoral defeat the liberals are displaying more honor, and more awareness of the costs and responsibilities of a democratic society, than you are in victory. It would be unbecoming of us to struggle to leave this Union when we are losing, but it is even more unbecoming of you to suggest throwing us out while you are winning.

Like the child I mentioned earlier, we have come to the field, we have donated our home base for the use of all, and we are losing the game. Yet, unlike that child, we are staying on the field and playing anyway. You, on the other hand, who are winning this particular game, are not only telling us that we should like losing, and that we should go home, but that we should let you keep our base when we do. To this, Mr. Thompson, I have only one response, and it is a response that I think President Abraham Lincoln would have agreed with in spirit, if not in wording:

Just shut up and play the goddamn game!

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