Monday, March 31, 2008

Social Class, Psychology, and Dungeons and Dragons, Part II

Is the "Monty Haul" campaign bourgeois?

The Monty Haul campaign is a notorious style of Dungeons and Dragons consisting of a fantasy world with nothing but low-hanging fruit just waiting to be plucked (author's emphasis):
The Monty "Haul" Campaign derives its name from the game show Let's Make A Deal where Monty "Hall" gave away prizes to contestants who had to do next to nothing. This campaign style is typified by the Dungeon Master awarding large amounts of experience, cash, magic, or other powers to the characters in short order. For example, a 1st-level party finds a Sword+5, Holy Avenger, a Ring of Three Wishes, hundreds of thousands of gold pieces, or some similar treasure that required little effort and far exceeds their current power or wealth. Many believe whatever equipment or magic the party finds should be earned; even then, it should just add a little to a character's ever-increasing power. Also, adventurers shouldn't be able to buy everything their hearts desire, nor should the awarded experience ever be sufficient for characters to go up several levels at once. This defeats the purpose of adventuring, and the overly generous nature of a Monty Haul Campaign belittles actual character achievement.
On the face of it, the "Monty Haul" gamer seems like a middle-class stereotype: the "capitalist" who is happily converting an unearned financial windfall into an ostentatious display of magical power and/or conspicuous consumption. The alternative ideal is the "Bobo" gamer who values wealth, magic, and power for his or her character, but only as a means for obtaining "authentic" role-playing experiences.

Of course, this only really works as an analogy since both styles of play are considered equally geeky by mainstream opinion. The "Monty Haul" gamer is probably considered somewhat more geeky in this regard since he or she stereotypically making a vulgar display of in-game status symbols:
When relatively inexperienced players (often called Munchkins) from Monty Haul Campaigns hold out their 20th-level characters as a point of pride and accomplishment, it tends to rub the experienced gamer the wrong way, especially when the youngster delights in saying things like "My character is much better than yours," as if that were somehow the point of roleplaying.
Thus for many people, the "Monty Haul" player has all of the social cache of a lower-class person hitting the $10 million lotto jockpot, then blowing the money on a 10-feet tall, gold-plated statue of Jesus placed next to the plastic flamingos in his or her front lawn. On the other hand, the Bobo gamer has a related source of geek stigma: perversion. As alluded to in part I, the roleplaying exercise has the potential of bringing subconscious motives and desires to the surface. It goes without saying that these could be highly disapproved of by mainstream society; if the stereotypical "Monty Haul" gamer is bragging about the striking power of his "Toenail clippers +10 of instant demon slaying", the stereotypical "serious" roleplayer is an otherwise normal, sexually well-adjusted young man roleplaying a red-haired, green-eyed, stunningly beautiful, female elven druid.

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A test of your cultural IQ

Here is a question to test your cultural IQ. Is this "Vogue" magazine cover image racist?

I see it as possibly racist, in a low-key way, as an assemblage of stereotypes: it's a picture of an African-American man with a basketball in one hand, a white woman in the other hand, and a vulgar display of emotion on his face. "Slate", on the other hand, reads a bit more into it than that:
At the end of last week, a lot of people, smart and dumb, were losing their minds over it. The cover captures LeBron James dribbling a basketball while holding onto Gisele Bündchen. James, of course, is the NBA sensation, and Bündchen is the sensational Brazilian supermodel. His face is in mid-roar. His arm is around her waist. He appears to be 10 times her width. She looks underfed but appears to be having a very good time.

And yet: "It's racist," people cried. "Racist how, you oversensitive weirdos?" people cried back. James and Bündchen were playing themselves—unless the image happened to remind you of a certain cinematic classic from 1933, in which a giant gorilla scoops up a pretty white lady and proceeds to mount the Empire State Building. This is where the trouble begins. According to this scenario, James is King Kong and Bündchen his Fay Wray. It's an easy conclusion to draw. James isn't wearing his Cavaliers uniform—he's wearing anonymous black shorts and an anonymous black tank top. She's wearing a silky bias-cut gown, not unlike the one Wray wore. The photo, shot by Annie Leibovitz and surely signed off by Vogue Editor Anna Wintour, appeared, to some, to evoke one of the ugliest racist tropes: black male as ape.
It's easy to see that the "Slate" analysis is, to put it simply, highly flawed. One way that you can tell is by looking at the eyes of the comparison image designed by "Slate" to convey the point. On the magazine cover, Lebron James is looking into the camera, which is to say that, despite having his arm around a beautiful white woman, he is not expressing any particular sexual interest in her. The movie poster, on the other hand, displays film's stereotypical "male gaze" (embedded hyperlinks and footnotes removed):
Laura Mulvey, in her essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", introduced the concept of the gaze as a symptom of power asymmetry, hypothesizing about what she called the "male gaze." The theory of the male gaze has been hugely influential in feminist film theory and in media studies.

The defining characteristic of the male gaze is that the audience is forced to regard the action and characters of a text through the perspective of a heterosexual man; the camera lingers on the curves of the female body, and events which occur1 to women are presented largely in the context of a man's reaction to these events. The male gaze denies women agency, relegating them to the status of objects. The female reader or viewer must experience the narrative secondarily, by identification with the male.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Yet more D&D blogging

I've been doing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons blogging lately now that the Democratic Party's presidential nominating process has declined into a stalemate. The new 4th edition rules are being released this summer, so while I decide whether or not they are worth playing I'll be posting some thoughts about it from time to time.

In particular, draft rules for handling character death for the 4th edition game are available. The resemblance to professional wrestling is uncanny. Here are the rules one by one:
  1. At 0 hp or less, you fall unconscious and are dying.
    A little background is in order here. At all times, each D&D character has an integral number of hit points. Each character has some finite positive number of hit points when fully healthy and rested. Injuries and wounds make that number go down; healing and rest make that number go up.

    Professional wrestling works eactly the same way if you think of death as "getting pinned". Stone Cold Steve Austin is probably not going to be able to pin a competant wrestler in the first ten seconds of a match unless that wrestler is a complete wimp. He's going to have to pound on a wrestler's skull for a while to knock his hit points down before getting a pin. Once that wrestler is down to 0, he is too exhausted to fight back and get pinned to lose the match.

  2. Characters die when their negative hit point total reaches -10 or one-quarter of their full normal hit points, whichever is a larger value.
    In other words, it's a lot harder to send Andre the Giant out of the ring on a stretcher than it is do to the same thing to, say, "Bob" from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

  3. If you’re dying at the end of your turn, roll 1d20.
    Lower than 10: You get worse. If you get this result three times before you are healed or stabilized (as per the Heal skill), you die.
    10-19: No change.
    20: You get better! You wake up with hit points equal to one-quarter your full normal hit points.

    Obviously this is the rule that keeps a wrestler unconscious on the mat while his opponent is climbing up onto the top rope for a devastating finishing move. Except that sometimes a wrestler will manage to get back onto his feet before his opponent can finish him off. Back in the 80s, we used to call this kind of magical regeneration the "Hulk Hogan Effect".

  4. If a character with negative hit points receives healing, he returns to 0 hp before any healing is applied.
    Here the slightest bit of healing a puts wrestler back onto his feet. This is why it's so important to wrestle with a tag team partner.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Social Class, Psychology, and Dungeons and Dragons, Part I

A couple of years ago, I drifted back into a standing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) campaign. Of course, the novelty of the game had faded away long ago, and even the mental effort required to relearn the game system hardly seemed worth it. I was so long out of practice that I almost had to pay one of my younger friends to roll up a character for me.

Approaching D&D from something of a renewed outsider perspective (also influenced by a developing geezer perspective), the actual game mechanics are not quite as interesting as the game meta-mechanics. In other words, the actual bother of deciding if any rule of the game was playable or not playable or just plain stupid is nowhere near as fascinating as the analysis of why the game makes players do the things they do or develop the social interactions that they develop. For an aging nerd, this also serves as a useful retrospective on what went wrong, but you'll see that as we go along.

Given how long my first elaboration on the theme is turing out to be, I'm going to have to make this post a part I. To begin, look at a simple question with some suggestive lines of analysis.

What is the purpose of D&D miniatures?

One interesting point that I noticed is that the Dungeons and Dragons miniature figure has dramatically grown in importance in the game system. I think I owned one or two of these little figures back in my grade school days (i.e. the early 80s), but in all of my role-playing game adventures from those days until recently, I don't think I've ever bothered with actually using one. It was something of a surprise to realize that the current verion 3.5 of D&D actually assumes that the miniature figure is an essential element of gameplay. Not surprisingly, there is a dollar figure associated with this phenomenon, but also the question of why players would want to bother with the extra time, effort, money and rules associated with these figures.

If anything, one would think that insisting that miniature figures be included in the game would make D&D even more of a social stigma for young players. Think about it: here is a game that assumes that geeky teenaged boys are going to need to buy "dolls", so to speak, in order to play it properly. Some gamers are even quite open about their disdain for miniatures:
As I'm going over the character sheets (Tira, Kathra, Corrin et al.) I keep getting this vague sense of deja vu.

Where had I seen these? Were they released in an earlier incomplete form? Did I see them in a dream?

Then it hit me. I had seen them before. In every Spotlight article about some new mini for the D&D Minis game.

Oh sure, they're a little more fleshed out now. A few more stat lines but that's about all the difference that I see. Squares. Defense scores. Features that depend on an ally (or allies) being so many squares away. Is this 4th Edition D&D or 2nd edition Minis?

Roles I can ignore. Squares I can easily translate into feet. Yes WotC [D&D is owned by the company Wizards of the Coast]. I can manage 4th grade math. The redundant explanations I can just roll my eyes and move on from ("Your powers are called spells, since they are from the arcane power source." WTF).

What I can't stand is having the Minis rulebook inflated and sold to me as the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons.
One obvious answer to the question of miniatures is that it happens to be an enduring legacy of D&D's roots in conventional military wargaming, but that leaves open the question of why miniatures were enduringly popular. Another possibility is that the importance of miniatures is a reaction to the D&D moral panic of the early 80s and the tragic suicides of two D&D players:
The moral panic was fed by the escapist nature of D&D. Role-playing games can provide a psychosocial moratorium, an idea suggested by psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. The moratorium is key to Erikson's theories about the development of adolescent identity, in which a "time-out" is placed on the consequences of actions. A consequential moratorium provides youth with an opportunity to expose themselves to a variety of experiences without concern for the results of those actions. Doing so allows the individual to develop a core self, or identity (Turkle 203).

The media perceived D&D as having just the opposite effect. By associating their deaths with D&D, the media portrayed Egbert and Pulling as becoming more involved in their fantasy games as their concepts of self and reality began to dissolve, being replaced by the rules and worlds offered by D&D. Instead of enjoying a consequential moratorium, Egbert and Pulling allowed events in the game to have real-world consequences, causing a fantasy curse to lead to a player's real death.
In other words, it was exactly the free-form nature of the roleplaying exercise that was suspected to have negative psychological consequences. Anything that sets a definitive form or limitation on the use of imagination could thus be seen, in this light, as a safety feature. The use of miniatures in gameplay could be a rather powerful limitation on the use of imagination. Restricting players to the use of generic, mass produced, stock miniatures types would be a concrete, visual deterrent to self-identification of a player with his or her character.

Similarly, many of the other pathologies of the D&D system can be seen as (possibly intentionally) having this function. The mass proliferation of rules to cover every possible contingency or feature of a game -- culminating in a entire library shelf of rules supplements -- is another limitation to the imagination. Other limits to the imagination are game features such as the elaboration of generic characters; encouragement of a focus on game mechanics instead of interpretations of game mechanics; and rote game scenarios or very tightly scripted game scenarios. These are all notorious D&D game features that also serve a purpose of being a continual reminder that the participants are playing a game, thus deterring a presumably unhealthy self-identification between player and character or roleplay and reality.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

A blog post from Bizarro World

Andrew Sullivan believes that Barack Obama is the conservative candidate of the 2008 presidential election:
Conservatism, at its core, is about the frailty of human goodness, the limits of human knowledge, the virtue of self-doubt when that is required, restraint on government executive power, and the correction and admission of error when necessary. What has happened to conservatism under Bush is that it has become a messianic, ruthless, totally certain imposition of ideology (fused even more lethally with theology). Obama is not the answer to this conservative predicament. He is a "progressive" liberal - but his liberalism contains more conservative elements of reason and prudence and restraint than the current Republican party. And although I admire John McCain immensely, and he is far and away one of the more principled and decent conservatives around, I fear that doubt, complexity, restraint and an understanding of the need for government to do less rather than more at times are not the strongest impulses in his make-up. To put it mildly.
Actually, Andrew Sullivan is an example of a well-known character in the conservative movement. As Russell Kirk explains in "The Conservative Mind", page 231 (my boldface):
During recent years, several liberal or radical writers kindly recommended the formation of a true conservative party in the United States. Harold Laski, for instance, declared it would raise the tone of American politics; and Arthur Sclesinger, Jr., had a similar opinion. No doubt they were right. But these gentlemen did not wish conservatism to succeed: they approved it merely to furnish loyal opposition against innovation -- an opposition ineffectual except for offering genteel criticism. Mr. Schlesinger approved John Quincy Adams as a model for twentieth-century conservatives. The left-wing advocates of conservative reorganization with to see a conservative party which, like the English Liberal Party in the twentieth century, would be a medium for transforming existing society into a new collectivist state, an interim party. They approve a conservatism which distrusts its own postulates. John Quincy Adams was the talented representative of such conservative opinion.
The so-called "conservatism of doubt" appears to be just another left-wing battle tactic, and a political loser, as far as Russell Kirk is concerned.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The heart of whiteness

A new cultural paradox has emerged this year. The controversy surrounds a relatively recently created website entitled "Stuff White People Like" that claims to offer "a scientific approach to highlight and explain stuff white people like." The paradox is that some white people are apparently infuriated and offended by a list that purports to be of things the white people are supposed to love and cherish. How do we explain this contradiction? One theory is that the website is simply gauche, yet liberating (embedded hyperlink removed):
Dean Rader, a pop culture critic who authors, says readers flock to Stuff White People Like because it's hip and hot and the place to be seen and heard online. "It's just as much about class and coolness and yuppiness and consumption (as race)."

And yes, if the some of the posts push far beyond the boundaries of good taste, readers seem to find liberation in an environment unfettered by political correctness.
It's a nice try, but I find it hard to believe that white people are offended by "Stuff White People Like" because it has too much snark. Dave Chappelle has just barely missed out on an entry of his own there, after all, so snark can't exactly be a bad thing. The idea that the website provides a liberating environment from political correctness does have a ring of truth to it, which brings us to an analysis from Gary Dauphin (embedded hyperlink removed):
Envy aside, though, SWPL also smells like a classic racial con-job. It goes without saying that the specific entries (Oscar parties?) don't really apply to anyone. That makes Landers' [the author's] overall pose--and the uncritical response to it--the real action. You'd think from the approving hubbub that SWPL had discovered (white) America or something, but white comedians, academics, and artists have been thinking and cracking wise about "white" culture since before Landers was in, well, short pants (#86). Usually, even jokey talk about whiteness has a whiff of danger to it, but SWPL is likely the safest, most affable racial satire ever, a loving high-five between friends passing as critique.
Here the problem is that "Stuff White People Like" is not too snarky, but that it is not snarky enough. But wait, there's more (embedded hyperlink removed):
If you want an instructive flipside to Landers' wan irony, try tooling around the archives of Race Traitor magazine ("treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity" must be the most bitchin' magazine motto ever), or try to get your hands on a copy of Julius E. Lipp's 1938 ethnographic study "The Savage Hits Back."
That's right, any thinking, feeling white person would have realized that "Stuff White People Like" is only a mild, tepid critique of whiteness compared to the more serious critques of whiteness dating back to the struggle against Nazi fascism and before. In other words, "Stuff White People Like" isn't white enough, because, apparently, the author didn't conduct an extended literature search back to the 19th century -- fully peer reviewed, of course -- before writing down his own personal opinion in a public space. Perhaps the author should have attended a few more years of graduate school before attempting to be funny?

This almost seems like an answer, but then Gary Dauphin switches gears and decides that "Stuff White People Like" is too white after all (author's italics):
Ultimately, Landers' site echoes an exchange that writer Greg Tate recounts in his recent anthology Everything But the Burden, where a family member observes that in a world of [w-----s], Eminem and Bill Clinton being called the first black president, white people are taking "everything but the burden" from black culture.
According to this critique, it appears that "Stuff White People Like" has managed to be simultaneously too white (it's not edgy enough; it's not authentic) and not white enough (it doesn't "advance the dialogue" on race in an original way). Or to read between the lines, a critique of "ignorant, therefore racist" is is just another way of saying that "Stuff White People Like" deviates from political correctness.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What is it with liberals and the Olympics?

Fashionable liberalism have been looking for an excuse to boycott the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing for months now, but generally without success. Now it looks like liberalism is trying a different tactic:
Moves to punish China over its handling of violence in Tibet gained momentum Tuesday, with a novel suggestion for a mini-boycott of the Beijing Olympics by VIPs at the opening ceremony.

Such a protest by world leaders would be a huge slap in the face for China's Communist leadership.

France's outspoken foreign minister, former humanitarian campaigner Bernard Kouchner, said the idea "is interesting."

Kouchner said he wants to discuss it with other foreign ministers from the 27-nation European Union next week. His comments opened a crack in what until now had been solid opposition to a full boycott, a stance that Kouchner said remains the official government position.

The idea of skipping the Aug. 8 opening ceremony "is less negative than a general boycott," Kouchner said. "We are considering it."

Asked about Kouchner's statement, China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said: "Certainly I think what he said is not shared by most of the people in the world."

Although I'll support whatever stance my government takes on the matter, my personal position is that the Olympics should not be used as a platform for political protest. The whole point of the modern Olympics is that it is a celebration of athletics as something excellent for mankind. Boycotting the Olympics over the politics of the day is just another example of the principle of politics über alles; ironically, this is exactly the same principle that the Chinese government is seeking to uphold with their repression in Tibet.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Whig political commentary

Andrew Sullivan sees Hillary Clinton standing athwart history, yellng Stop:
And so we are suspended between the old politics and the new, between a Clinton who believes in her heart that America is not ready and may never be ready for this leap and should therefore adopt a politics that assumes the ineradicability of this gulf and the need to disguise it and play cynical defense - and an Obama who offers all of us a chance to see that sometimes authentic identity requires an element of contradiction, a bridging of the resentful, angry past and a more complex, integrated future.

He may fail; and the Clintons may be proven right. But he may also succeed - and what a mighty success that would be. These things are never easy; and we were lulled perhaps into an illusion that they could be. So now the real struggle starts. And it will not end with an Obama presidency; it ends with a shift from below that makes an Obama presidency possible.
The most ridiculous part of the post is the note of infantilization -- "we were lulled perhaps into an illusion" -- at the end. Clearly becoming childlike and simple for Obama will be a key component of Obamianity in years to come.

Friday, March 14, 2008

How not to run an economy

Central banks around the world are injecting hundred of billions of dollars into the United States economy in a desperate attempt to avert a meltdown of the global economy.

Congressional Democrats view this as a perfect time to raise hundred of billions of dollars of new taxes from the United States economy.

There's also been some talk from the Democrats about raising capital gains taxes on hedge fund managers. If the Democrats can actually find a hedge fund manager that earns any capital gains in the next 18 months, they might even raise some revenue this way.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Trailer Trash

Galley Slaves takes a look at a few trailers for upcoming films and is decidedly underwhelmed. The first is a trailer for this year's sequel of 2003's film "Hulk". Based on the trailer, it seems like the new film's plot involves:
  • A white guy living on "Main Street" (not Main Street; "Main Street"), Pleasantville, USA has a secret.

  • The secret is that the white guy is actually a unstoppable, butt-kicking, combat machine. This causes the white guy to feel alienated from his non-violent, bobo society and leads to relationship stress between himself and his foxy, yet sweet, girlfriend.

  • The military chases the white guy because the military is composed of nothing but paranoid idiots. It remains unclear whether the possession of firearms makes one a paranoid idiot, or whether paranoid idiots are especially attracted to firearms.

  • White guy finally overcomes his violent tendancies at the exact moment that he needs violent tendancies to save the world. The white guy thus unleashes ultra-violent, world-saving, ultimate-fighting mojo on his enemies and, paradoxically, also heals his own relationship issues by doing so.
Galley Slaves also mentions the trailer for the upcoming "Speed Racer" movie, which, frankly, looks like it was directed and produced by George Lucas. The film basically looks like two hours of Anakin Skywalker pod racing against Sebulba from "The Phantom Menace", except that the on-screen physics looks a lot more realistic on planet Tatooine.

On the bright side, "Speed Racer" physics appears to be correct in the sense that the motion of a rigid race car can be decomposed into the motion of the car's center of mass coupled with the motion of the car around it's center of mass. It's physics seems to be incorrect in that a race car's center of mass always follows the racetrack regardless of the orientation of the car, the direction the wheels are pointing, or whether or not the wheels are even touching the ground. Our hero race car driver appears utterly unconcerned with the fact that his car perfectly follows the race track despite bouncing, spinning, and sliding around like a Butterball turkey rolling down a luge course.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Hillary Clinton keeps pushing for Barack Obama to agree to be her presidential running mate (embedded hyperlinks removed):
Talk about chutzpah! For the third time in a week, the Clintons are pushing the idea of a presidential ticket of Hillary and Barack Obama. After Hillary twice gave a thumbs up to the idea, Bubba chimed in, saying the duo would be "unstoppable" in the general election. It's the dream team that makes Democratic hearts flutter and brains turn to mush.
It's a subtle yet audacious attempt to stampede Obama into "losing" the primary election. Unfortunately, it's also drastically premature at this stage of the contest. Obama is raising tens of megadollars every month, has a hard-core following of loyal nutballs, and has been trying to do the same thing to Clinton ever since Iowa. Clinton is going to have to generate as least as much pressure on Obama as he has been putting on her if she really expects to knock Obama out of the contest.

On the other hand, Obama did bungle his response to Hillary's invitiation for him to give up:
He [Obama] referenced comments from Bill Clinton in 1992 that his “most important criteria” for vice president was that person must be ready to be commander in chief.

“They have been spending the last two or three weeks” arguing that he is not ready to be commander in chief, Obama said.

“I don’t understand. If I am not ready, how is it that you think I should be such a great vice president?” Obama asked the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation during his defense. “I don’t understand.”
Does Obama not know the nature of the vice-presidency? Having absolutely no qualifications for being elected president makes one perfectly qualified to be vice-president.

Fears of a hobgoblin holocaust

An article at devoted to knocking down the reputation of the recently deceased Gary Gygax hits upon the an interesting theme: the secret core of fascism hidden deep within the geek psyche. First observe that the article's author observes the mainstream culture's shear terror of the contemporary geek:
And lo, what a fascinating and tortured bunch we are, with our tales of marathon role-playing game (RPG) sessions in windowless basements, our fingers hardened to nacho-cheese-encrusted talons, and our monklike vows of celibacy.
Like an indigenous people in some remote portion of the rain forest that the Christian mercenaries have yet to discover, the young geeks live their lives on their own terms in their own self-contained, squalid little universe. Rightfully so, it seems, for were they to make contact with the culture of the wider high-school world, they would only be ostracized and rejected by a superior culture that exalts the captains of the sports and cheerleader teams over the poor, pathetic geeks. The Good News of this wider world is that all that is good in men and women is derived from a single-minded pursuit of an ever-increasing ability to obtain the carnal affections of the opposite sex; despite the widespread belief in it's universal applicability to all mankind, there is still a lingering feeling that the geeks might be better off living in ignorance of it.

Secondly, the article also observes that geek culture has also embraced a practice that reeks of pure evil (embedded hyperlink removed):
So while it's one player's job—the so-called Dungeon Master—to come up with the plot for each gaming session and play the parts of the various enemies and supporting characters, in practice that putative storyteller merely referees one imagined slaughter after another. This is not Tolkien's Middle-Earth, with its anti-fascist political commentary and yearning for an end to glory and the triumph of peace. This is violence without pretense, an endless hobgoblin holocaust.
In other words, Hitler was a geek! The young Hitler had all of the geek warning signs. There was the passionately intense yet seemingly trivial interests (Hitler's obsession with things like architecture and Wagner's operas), the repulsively gauche lifestyle (Hitler's bohemian, painter's life in Vienna), the self-imposed, monklike vow of chastity (Hitler was notorious for this), and the lingering connections to occultism (for example, the Thule Society). Was the Third Reich nothing more than a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that, you know, got a little out of control?

The article really wants to nanny instead of sounding the moral alarm, so it finds itself forced to pull back from the brink and conceed that our modern day geeksters would never become quite so depraved as to actually embrace "the banality of evil" (embedded hyperlink removed):
For decades, gamers have argued that since D&D [Dungeons and Dragons] came first, its lame, morally repulsive experience system can be forgiven. But the damage is still being done: New generations of players are introduced to RPGs as little more than a collective fantasy of massacre and greed. If the multiplayer online game World of Warcraft is the direct descendant of D&D, then what, exactly, has Gygax bequeathed to us unwashed, nerdy masses? The notion that emotionally complex story lines are window dressing for an endless series of hack-and-slash encounters? There's a reason so many players are turned off after a brush with D&D. It promises something great—a lively (if dorky) bit of performance art—but delivers a small-minded and ignorant fantasy of rage, distilled to a bunch of arcane charts and die rolls. Dungeons & Dragons strips the "role-playing" out of RPGs; it's a videogame without the graphics, and a pretty boring one, at that.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

I'm starting to get dangerously optimistic about November.

Whatever you think about Senator John McCain, personally or politically, you have to admit that he's starting to look like a winner:
After clinching the nomination, McCain fielded the endorsement Wednesday from President Bush and met with Republican National Committee leadership to talk strategy for November.

He was essentially laying claim to the entire force of the Republican Party apparatus — from fundraising lists and get-out-the-vote programs to Cabinet officials and the power of the presidency itself.

Bush, who faces low approval ratings, said he’d campaign with McCain only when asked. “Whatever he wants me to do, I want him to win,” Bush said.
Although Bush might not be politically popular enough to do much campaigning, receiving President Bush's glowing seal of electoral approval is certainly going to be worth a lot in terms of fundraising and connections to McCain. The closing of the party ranks doesn't stop there either:
Regardless, McCain enjoys what the fractured Democrats don’t have — strength in unity. GOP House and Senate leaders emerged from a meeting with Bush to give McCain a plug of their own Wednesday.

“I think our party is completely unified behind Senator McCain,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said, dismissing continued fissures in the GOP’s base over McCain’s candidacy.

“Time heals all wounds,” House Minority Leader John Boehner added of disgruntled conservatives. “They’ll be coming home. Just give them a little time.”
McConnel and Boehner have spent the last 14 months leading Republicans, and running circles around the clown Congress of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. If McConnel and Boehner are willing to put their laboriously earned political capital behind McCain's candidacy, this would be a strong incentive for conservatives who want Republican majorities in Congress to endorse McCain.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Obscurantist Liberalism

Gleen Greenwald lays out the axioms of foreign policy discussion in the United States as relates to situations like the one with Colombia:
(1) Any government or group that takes money from and is allied with the U.S. is inherently good. Anything they do -- including invasions, wars and other acts of violence -- is just and "bold."

(2) Any government or group that opposes the U.S. is inherently bad and anything they do is inherently unjust (even when it's exactly the same behavior as the praiseworthy behavior in category (1)). By definition, they're "Terrorists."

(3) Any government or group that takes money from and is allied with the U.S. is "democratic," regardless of whether they gained or seek power through elections. Such governments and groups are also devoted to "human rights," no matter how much arbitrary imprisonment, murdering of political opponents, torture and other due process abridgments they commit.

(4) Any government or group that opposes the U.S. is "anti-democratic" -- "enemies of democracy," a Dictatorship -- even when they gained or seek power through elections.

(5) The U.S. has a vital interest in dictating who governs every other country. It's always our business to intervene in every conflict and pick the side we want to win, not just with our political support but with money and arms. Since we are morally good, our decisions will always be in service of Democracy and Human Rights, even when the side we support is anti-democratic and brutally oppressive.

(6) If you deny or contest any of these premises, then you are an America-hater, part of the Blame America First crowd, because it means that you think that America's role in the world is sometimes destructive and unjust (which no American patriot would ever believe about their own country).
Here Greenwald is writing in the liberal "paranoid" tense: writing in the character of the stereotypical conservative, Republican, jingoist buffoon with the understanding that his audience will automatically assume that the opposite is true. Taking that into account, if you read between the lines, you'll see that Greenwald is simply asking you not to think about foreign policy.

Here Greenwald asserts that "Good" nations can really be "bad" and "bad" nations can really be "good". "Democracies" can be fascist and dictators can be "democratic". "Terrorist", like "communist" before it, is just scary label that doesn't really mean anything. We can't actually help our "allies" because they might also be our "enemies". Everything you read about foreign policy developments in other countries is just a set of self-serving lies; better to have faith in liberals to tell you what to believe than to reason things out for yourself.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

With supporters like Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton doesn't need enemies.

Gloria Steinem defends Hillary in a speech and manages to not totally damage Hillary's campaign:
And she [Steinem] claimed that if Clinton’s experience as First Lady were taken seriously in relation to her [Clinton's] White House bid, people might “finally admit that, say, being a secretary is the best way to learn your boss’s job and take it over.”
The White House secretary who spent the most time learning the boss's job during the 90s was named Monica, not Hillary.

Steinem also decided to do a little swiftboating of John McCain along the way:
Steinem raised McCain’s Vietnam imprisonment as she sought to highlight an alleged gender-based media bias against Clinton.

“Suppose John McCain had been Joan McCain and Joan McCain had got captured, shot down and been a POW for eight years. [The media would ask], ‘What did you do wrong to get captured? What terrible things did you do while you were there as a captive for eight years?’” Steinem said, to laughter from the audience.

McCain was, in fact, a prisoner of war for around five-and-a-half years, during which time he was tortured repeatedly. Referring to his time in captivity, Steinem said with bewilderment, “I mean, hello? This is supposed to be a qualification to be president? I don’t think so.”
Steinem is correct that a Joan McCain would have gotten exactly this sort of treatment from liberals. If LBJ or Nixon had decided to use the "Joan McCain story" of captivity and torture to build up support for the war, liberals everywhere would have simply concluded that Joan McCain's reputation must be destroyed. Perhaps if Joan McCain had actually collaborated with the North Vietnamese while fashioning herself as a standing rebuke to her own government, then maybe she would be getting the "Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?" treatment that Hillary Clinton prefers to receive from the media.

Also, successfully defending the honor of the United States of America while suffering extreme mental and physical persecution is a qualification to be president. The presidency can put a level of pressure on the person holding the office that is probably beyond what most people experience in their lives. That John McCain has proven beyond a doubt that he can keep his good judgement and values under high-pressure conditions is, in my view, undoubtedly a strong recommendation for his candidacy.

Reason #4 why McCain could win in November

Hugo Chavez takes relations with between Columbia and Venezuela to the brink:
Chavez told his defense minister: "move 10 battalions to the border with Colombia for me, immediately." He ordered the Venezuelan Embassy in Bogota closed and said all embassy personnel would be withdrawn.

The announcements by Venezuela's leftist leader pushed relations to their tensest point of his nine-year presidency, and Chavez warned that Colombia could spark a war in South America. He called the U.S.-allied government in Bogota "a terrorist state" and labelled President Alvaro Uribe "a criminal."

Chavez condemned Colombia's slaying of senior rebel commander Raul Reyes and 16 other guerrillas on Saturday, saying they were killed while they slept in a camp across the border in Ecuadorean territory.
The first thing to observe is that, on the face of things, this looks like clear evidence that socialism in one country has totally failed in Venezuela. We already know that the government's wage, price, and currency manipulations are wreaking havoc on the Venezuelan economy. Now Chavez is acting belligerant or even planning an invasion in order to extort money and loot from his neighbors.

The second thing to observe is that you would have to be a total frickin' moron to want Barack Obama in the White House during a crisis like this. Hugo Chavez is the dictator of a socialist state that could be declaring war on its capitalist, staunchly United States-allied neighbor any minute now. Hugo Chavez is also one of the dictators on Barack Obama's "will meet without preconditions" list. Barack Obama's Carter-esque foreign policy views have sympathy for socialist Venezuela. If we Americans put Obama in the White House, we're just going to have to accept that Colombia is eventually going to end up being totally screwed by the Obama administration.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Hillary Clinton's boneheaded new campaign ad

Clinton's now-infamous Texas campaign ad:
The spot starts with a moonlit shot of a blond toddler in the warm tangle of her sheets and then cuts to a close-up of an infant also in deep REM sleep. For the next 15 seconds, the images shift from one cherubic sleeping face to another. You'd think you were watching a Baby Ambien ad if the narrator weren't giving you nightmares: "It's 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call. Whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military—someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world." At this point, we see our first adult, a concerned mother, opening the door and peering into her children's bedroom. "It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep," the narrator repeats. "Who do you want answering the phone?"
It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing. It's a pollster explaining that the president's approval rating from women ages 35 to 50 has dropped below 50% for the first time in two years. Your vote will decide who answers that call. Whether it's someone who already knows how to manipulate the media -- someone focus-group tested and ready to launch targeted issue ads within 24 hours.