Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Republican Convention Night 1
One thing I noticed, there appears to be a little editing of inflammatory comments on the GOP’s website. In his report from the floor, the Slate’s Chris Sullentrop reports U.S. rep Clinton LeSueur forgot to take his “moderate” pills before speaking, letting lose this gem: “The very foundation of this country is faith… the very foundation of this country is Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ." Yet on the GOP’s convention site, the second line is mysteriously missing. I’m sure it was an innocent mistake. (Oh yea, the second person Sullentrop mentions as going on a conservative rant, Rep Ted Poe, doesn’t have his speech on the website. Another webmaster error I am sure.)
Ok before I start ranting, time to look at the message of primetime speakers John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. Before we get into this, let me say that even before he was anointed a hero for doing nothing, Giuliani was one of my least favorite people on the planet, so it’s going to be impossible for me to stay objective about what he is saying.
McCain and Giuliani’s speeches were similar in content, but different in delivery, from the reading of them. Neither spent one second discussing domestic policy, but rather concentrated on the foreign policy achievements of our current presidente. More importantly, McCain and Giuliani spent the night framing the Bush Presidency, 9/11, and the War on Terror as a story; the next “great fight against evil,” after World War II and the Cold War. The beginning of the story was 9/11, where a sleepy America was woken up, by attacks on a “clear September day.” Suddenly, our hero George was “faced with the worst crisis in our history!” according to Giuliani. But as he heroically stood at ground zero three days later (both McCain and Giuliani,) where he was in danger of buildings collapsing on him at any minute, (Giuliani,) or getting squeezed to death by hugs from New York’s uber-strong construction workers (Giuliani again…) he declared to the enemy “they will hear from us.” (Giuliani and McCain both.)
Thus, as Giuliani and McCain both say, we were drawn into a war we HAD to fight. Just as we had to fight the evil of Hitler and the evil of Communism, we must fight an enemy who “fights to express a hatred for all that is good in humanity.” (McCain.)
As you can see, the Republicans are trying to sell the War on Terror as the next Great Conflict that is central to the United States’ survival. If we do not finish out “The Bush Doctrine,” rounding up and disbanding every global terrorist organization, they could topple us at any time.
When you frame the war like that, according to Giuliani and McCain, the choice between Bush and Kerry becomes easy. With Bush you have a man who has committed to fighting this war to the finish, (which, presumably, would end with the installation of Liberal Democracies in every country in the world, or at least the Middle East. This is the logical end to the war on Terror if you study the articles published by Bush policy wonks like Paul Wolfowitz. But that is another story for another time.) who has laid out a foreign policy ideology from which he will not deviate, no matter the criticism from the left, the media, or foreign nations. On the other hand, according to Rudy, you have Kerry, who has no ideology, has no plan, and wavers and deviates from his original stances all the time. Which person would you want leading your country in this War?
I must give tons of credit to Rudy and McCain, because they did a great job of framing the last four years and the next four years as part of a story that people who don’t pay attention to politics can not only understand, but want to believe. We are good. They are bad. We are at war. Bush has a plan to lead us to victory. Kerry can’t make up his mind about anything and will listen too much to negative voices from Europe. If you really think it’s that simple, and you believe the world exists as these two have framed it, you’ll probably end up voting for Bush.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
Science Fact and Ockham's razor
Unfortunately, many of the studies conducted today are nothing more than statistical treasure hunts looking for correlations between two things. These correlations can be coincidental (blue eyes and blond hair), causal (smoking and emphysema), dubious (Super bowl winners and the economy), or even misleading. The problem is that many news outlets don't care to discuss the nuance behind the links. Often, the journalist reads the abstract of the article and goes no further, jumping to conclusions. In one study of flu shots, the researcher wanted to see if there was a correlation between having a flu shot and preventing a cold, cough, or other non-flu illnes. When there was no correlation, a few news outlets reported this as 'Flu shot's effectiveness questionable'. The science behind it wasn't faulty, but a faulty conclusion was drawn.
So some people don't trust science, and they don't really get what science says is fact. How do we know that what we 'know' now isn't going to be disproved in a matter of decades?
The answer is that given what we know now, science should always be able to give a best guess at something. With more knowledge than in the past, we should always be able to at least do no worse than previous scientists. While this isn't always true (because science is rarely ever untainted by human emotion, politics, stupidity, and outright lies), in theory, we should always be progressing in our knowledge of the universe. While we may be wrong, even blatantly wrong at times, if we follow the scientific process, we should eventually stumble upon the truth. So where does Ockham's razor fit in? Well, it is part of the scientific process, and it's a little part of pop culture that has made it into the fringe of the populace (thanks to Contact), so I feel a need to clear it up a few things. It is named after an English philosopher, William of Ockham (I think), and he said it in Latin first, (I think).
Anyway, Ockham's razor has been quoted and misquoted many times. I won't even try to quote it here, but I will point out that "The simplest explanation is the correct one" is NOT, Ockham's razor.
To paraphrase in plain English, I would say that the spirit of Ockham's razor is if you have multiple hypotheses that explain something equally well, then the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be used. It isn't necessarily correct, but the simplicity is important. If you had two hypotheses:
1) The apple fell off the table because of Earth's gravitational pull
2) The apple fell off the table because of Earth's gravitational pull, which is caused by aliens with supermagnets.
Then obviously the first one is preferable. But it isn't just because of the ridiculousness of the aliens hypothesis.
1) The apple fell off the table because of Earth's gravitational pull
2) The apple fell off the table because of Earth's gravitational pull, and because somebody bought the apple and put it on the table.
Does the second hypothesis explain it better? Maybe. But with no evidence to support that, we would have to go with the first one. If we had a receipt of the apple purchase, then the second one would win because of the better explanatory power.
In any set of hypotheses, it is always possible to add more assumptions, but come up with the same conclusion. There are fewer simple hypotheses, so to make it easier on us, we choose the simpler ones first. They can always be modified to be more complex. Just as Newtonian physics gave way to relativistic and quantum physics, simpler theories do NOT equal more correct theories. But it is important not to jump to conclusions, and to always yield to evidence, as long as it is reputable and reproducible.
So there's today's science lesson. Go science!
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Hate Hate Hate
The man to start the trend was none other than ex-80s knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. Candiotti graced ESPN by giving Derek Jeter a journalistic handjob, titling the article “I’m glad Jeter is my son’s hero.” Yikes. Naturally I avoided an article that was destined to recycle the normal subjective praising of the pretty boy face of the Team from Hell. They couldn’t get me that easily.
Undeterred, ESPN.com started using backhanded tactics to get me to read Jeter praise. One week later they published an excerpt of Buster Olney’s titled “The Fall of the Yankee Dynasty.” Now I had pledged to not read anything of Olney’s unless it was titled something like “Pothead Athletes: the list may surprise you!” However I figured it would be fun to read about the Yankees falling. Unfortunately, it was a trick; it was a five page excerpt about how Derek Jeter was a “born winner,” and how whatever team had drafted him was GUARENTEED to win multiple championships. Then, this week, John Kruk, another writer I attempt to ignore at every turn, wrote a Page 2 article entitled “The Best Player in MLB” saying it wasn’t Bonds or Pujols. Who could it be I wondered? Why Jeter of course! Those bastard ESPN editors just don’t know when to quit. They aren’t even letting Rob Neyer write a response article on how statistics show Jeter is a terrible defensive shortstop and not one of the top 20 players in the game. What is going on here? Why the sudden need to money shot Jeter over and over?
Maybe ESPN knows something I don’t, and feel the need to butter Jeter up. Maybe he has a degenerative disease and is going to have to retire from baseball this year, and they can see the pain he is playing through. Maybe they have been paid off by the Yankee machine to drop some positive press on Jete to soothe his ego, which no doubt has taking some shots from having to be the fifth best player on his team. Maybe the writers are noticing that the Red Sox are climbing the standings, posing a threat to the Yankees, and could conceivably knock the Yankees out of the playoffs if they continue their hot streak, which would warp their little world view of the Yankees dominating everything. Maybe baseball writers are really lazy and don’t mind writing the same formulaic crap over and over, forgoing analysis in lieu of the easy paycheck.
Whatever it is, I want you to know ESPN, you can do you worst. You can force Chris Mortenson into praising Jeter in his NFL columns. You can take Sportscenter off the air and fill it by replaying that stupid play from the Oakland series over and over again, four hours a day. But you will never knock my faith that he is an overrated pretty boy media-creation that doesn’t match up to Nomar, A-rod, or Orlando Cabrera. And when the Red Sox beat out the Yanks for the AL East, and the Angels and A’s pass them for the Wild Card, you can hire him to do some commentary for the ALDS. I am sure he’d be very telegenic.
hello!, dawwwwg faaans
108, 125, 112, 111, 122
first to respond correctly in the comments gets a truly insignificant prize.
Edit, 10:50 am: i should have added some context to the puzzle, so here you go: Mariners fans, this one is for you
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Ralph, no one is going to choo choo choose you
I’ll give George Bush props for this; at least he is loyal to his base. Corporate execs and white religious people vote for him, and he steps up to the plate and tries his hardest to give them what they want. To those who don’t know, this is actually the basic political strategy of chief Bush political consultant Karl Rove; not to focus on capturing the middle, but on turning out as much of your base as possible. Gore adapted a different strategy and it cost him the election in 2000. Well that and massive election fraud in the state where the opposing candidate’s brother was Governor.
This time, however, the Democrats have me back in the fold, even though Massachusetts is once again guaranteed for Kerry. I’m not voting Democrat because of anything Kerry has done, although I think he would be an effective president if he manages to win. I am back in the fold for two reasons. First, the Dean candidacy, which forced the rest of the Democrat party to take seriously whacko idealist left as an important part of their candidacy. Dean may not have won, but he did have all those young people working for him and raising money, getting people talking about ideas and excited about politics again. I think he made the Democrats as a whole realize they should be using these people as a strength, and not ignoring them and counting on their vote. Thus, this time around, I feel that the Democrats are more in touch with their constituency, and they have earned my vote.
The second reason I will vote for the Democrats is that Ralph Nader is no longer an acceptable candidate for President, if he ever was. He is a troublemaker, a muckraker, someone whose place in life is to call out both parties on the injustices of the political system, the American economic system, and our world. We need people like Ralph, but do we need him running for President? I think by doing so he is actually undermining his effectiveness. He isn’t going to win. He is drawing the ire of the Anti-Bush left. He is a joke to most moderates who think he is doing it for attention. He is clearly a joke to the right, although that hasn’t stopped them from circulating petitions to get him on the ballot in battleground states like Michigan to take votes away from Kerry. Wouldn’t he be more effective fighting for his causes as an independent lobbyist? Or might he not get his message across more effectively from a talk radio show? Maybe Fox News is hiring!
Whether or not Nader will actually hurt Kerry is debatable. Certainly he will be blamed for any close states that Kerry loses. But Nader’s numbers have halved this time around, so I think the Nader vote from 2000 breaks into two halves, disgruntled liberals like me who will vote for Kerry in 2004, and another one-two percent of the population who may not have been planning on voting for Kerry (or Bush) in the first place. The disgruntled liberals are back in the Democratic fold this time around.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
I am Smarter than Football Writers
1. Peyton Manning 2. Tom Brady 3. Steve McNair 4. Brett Favre 5. Trent Green 6. Jake Plummer 7. Daunte Culpepper 8. Chad Pennington 9. Donovan McNabb 10. Mike Vick 11. Jeff Garcia 12. Matt Hasselbeck 13. Marc Bulger 14. Brad Johnson 15. Mark Brunell
Some of these selections are absolutely hilarious, starting of course with ranking Jake Plummer sixth. King has a weird infatuation with Plummer, having tabbed him for 2004 MVP this year…after picking him to win before the 2003 season as well. Of course when a sportswriter makes an idiotic claim and then gets reamed for it by his readers, he has to defend it rather than realize his own idiocy, as King is doing now in ranking Plummer sixth. This isn't King's only questionable ranking...Daunte over Donovan and Vick? The only justification I can see King having for this is, that since Daunte has Randy Moss on his team, enabling him to accumulate TD passes by lobbing the ball in the air and praying Moss runs under it and catches his ducks (as he often does,) Daunte is a better QB. I don’t think you should judge a quarterback by whether he gets to throw to Moss or Todd Pinkston.
Really, this all goes back to Kurt Warner. Here we have a guy who went from bagging groceries, to putting up incredible numbers, to being unable to complete an NFL game in three years. Does this mean that he was the 75th best QB, then the best (almost instantaneously,) for three years, then the 75th best again? Did Kurt, while stocking milk and cheese, have a spiritual realization from a higher power that enabled him to make quicker reads or throw a tighter spiral?
To quote eminent football sage Jay Shah: “There is a reason that fucker was bagging groceries.” What Warner proved, is that if you have a top 5 o-line, the best running back in the game, and two Pro Bowl receivers, you can stick almost anyone at QB and have them perform at Pro Bowl level. What kind of numbers do you think Drew Bledsoe would have put up for the Rams? Or how effective would Vick or McNabb have been, forcing the defense to guard against their scrambles as well?
Back to Plummer, he was absolutely terrible for the Cardinals for years: now he is on a playoff team with a good defense, a good running game (last year) and good WRs. None of this means he is a better player. It certainly means that Denver is going to do better than Arizona and that he will be able to put up better numbers. It’s a lot easier to run play action bootlegs when the defenses are actually worried about your running game. But it doesn’t mean Plummer deserves to be ranked sixth, since you could replace him with well over 5 QBs without changing Denver’s expected or actual record. Meanwhile I highly doubt Philly or Atlanta would expect the same success if they had Plummer starting for them over McNabb or Vick.
Plummer isn’t as good as Denver makes him appear, nor to be fair, is he probably as bad as Arizona made him look. The point is, judging quarterbacks or any position in the NFL is difficult because each position is reliant on the ability of their teammates. A great secondary won’t put up great numbers with a terrible pass rush. Complicating distinguishing players is the way teams construct their offenses or defenses; for example the Patriots would likely favor Tom Brady over anyone since they have tailored their offensive game plan around his strengths; short passes and quick reads.
When you take into account replacability and strength of teammates, I believe you get a list that looks more like this 1)McNair 2)Brady 3)Manning 4)Vick 5)McNabb 6)Pennington…After that it becomes excessively difficult to distinguish between QBs. I think many QBs, such as Green, Hasselbeck, Bulger, Daunte, aren’t all that much different. It will take the performance of their teammates to determine their success.
Friday, August 20, 2004
Root Root Root for the Dream Team
It's not surprising that the Dream Team would inspire so much vitriol from Australia: they are rich, they are cocky, they aren’t white. They are the antithesis of the amateur/Cinderella Olympic spirit that is milked by the television networks and the International Olympic Committee itself (even though both the TV networks and IOC want the professionals there.)
But it goes beyond that: the Dream Team inspires hate because they are American, and they represent something about Americans that foreigners don’t like; our sense of entitlement. The idea that we are so powerful, we can just assemble a team 5 weeks before the Olympics and assume victory. I draw a parallel with the War in Iraq: we will decide on shaky grounds to force a regime change and invade a country. Well we’ll just shock and awe our enemies by showing how many missiles we have and then just waltz right into Baghdad. Well both reshaping Iraq and winning the Gold Medal in basketball have proved harder than first thought.
So we pay for this arrogant attitude; in Iraq with the lives of soldiers and Iraqi civilians, in the Olympics with embarrassment on an international stage, in the world with growing antagonism towards us from all corners of the world.
I wrote in an earlier blog that tempering that arrogance was important for future developments in the field of international relations. But for the Dream Team, and perhaps for other parts of American life, I want to see that arrogance refocused. A subtle shift from “we can just show up because we are better,” to “we are better because we worked harder, and we aren’t going to pretend like you can compete. We are going to show you just how much better we are.” I want to see our players playing stifling defense like it’s the NBA playoffs, not letting the opponents get comfortable or breathe, talking shit as we complete a fast break to put us up 25, as the announcers chide us for poor sportsmanship. Loser talk in other words.
As the only remaining superpower, foreign nations are going to complain about our behavior no matter what we do. Sometimes, their complaints are justified. Sometimes, the complaints can be chalked up to jealousy or envy, or just someone barking at the big dog to prove his stature in his own country (see: Chirac, France.) You can’t stop people from doing that, and you can’t get too upset when it happens. If you get upset, just remember who they’ll be asking for help if they’re country gets invaded. Or ask them if they would have preferred living in a country that was a Soviet satellite.
We need to temper our arrogance to move forward, to build peace, to avoid stagnation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be proud of what we are good at, or the good our country has accomplished. And we are the best at basketball, by far. And I want us to prove it. And if we happen to piss a few people off while doing it, all the better.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Catch that Olympic Spirit
I love that about the Olympics: the event’s sheer massiveness. Really, when you think about it, its one of the best events humans can routinely pull off on a worldwide scale. Every four years, hundreds of thousands of people swamp some unlucky metropolis to celebrate the universal athletic spirit of humans.
People in the American media gripe that there are too many events in the Olympics, which is a horrible falsehood. Sports like Badminton or Men’s Field Hockey, which aren’t culturally relevant in our country, are HUGE in other parts of the world. As long as there is healthy competition between multiple nations, a sport deserves to be at the Olympics. I think they should expand, to include Texas Hold-Em, Rugby, Starcraft, Super Smash Bros, etc.
Watching from another country has made 2004 a better experience as well. Obviously the coverage in Australia focuses on the exploits of Australian athletes, be that in Equestrian or Skeet Shooting. The American media does the same thing, as I am sure most other countries do. However, what is missing is the sob stories, the vignettes, Dick Enberg’s special moments. Instead we are shown event after event. Entire games of Team Handball and Water Polo.
I enjoy watching these sports because I can appreciate the athleticism it takes to succeed at these sports, something I have lost after watching play after play of basketball or NFL. That’s not to say I like these sports more, its just interesting to watch from a new fan’s perspective. I also can root for teams and players for no reason other than because I want to. I don’t have to know the personal life of the star players, or his contract. Nowadays, when I think about my favorite baseball or football team, cap numbers or years remaining on contracts are part of the equation. The Olympics bring back the glory days of “I like the Russian team because that guy has a big head.”
Speaking of Russians, I was reminiscing that the Olympics were better when there was the Communist-West battle going on. Now, America is the biggest and best. There hasn’t been an Anti-American slant in the coverage at all, although the Australians are pleased that they have more swimming golds than us. The only Anti-American commentators were the Men’s Basketball Team.
Of course, we can say the Men team deserved it after their performance. You have to blame the selectors for this one. The team is way too young: Bron, Melo, and Dwyane Wade are freaking children. What would you do in Athens if you were 19, rich, and single? I thought so. Of course they are staying on the freaking Queen Mary 2 rather than in the Olympic Village. I hope they get kidnapped by pirates.
Additionally, this team contains several wildly overrated players, including three players from the 2003-04 Suns. They won 29 games last year. Why not put three Wizards on there instead? Stack Gilbert Areanas and…Etan Thomas? The only players worth keeping are Duncan Odom, and maybe Iverson. If it was 2001, you’d want Iverson starting on any team, but I worry he has slipped a little. GP in three years? I hope not.
Regardless am I rooting for them hard. I don’t want to lose to some crap country, and losing to Puerto Rico is pathetic. Shouldn’t they be trying out for our team anyways? This is like losing to the state of Rhode Island. I am proud of our players and our country’s basketball supremacy, and I want the players to prove it. To do so, we will have to capitalize on our superior athleticism, since we can’t shoot a lick. I recommend a full court press and running the ball on every play. And go small: Duncan, Odom at the 4 Iverson, and whoever’s hot. Coach Brown I hope you are reading.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Doom 3 Review! World of Warcraft Review!
Ok, I admit that I have not finished the game. But I have played probably through 1/2 to 2/3 of it, and it is tremendously disappointing. Not only is it disappointing, I actually hate playing it! I found myself slogging through the game just so I could beat it (I still will eventually), just so I could write a review. But you know what, I have an inkling that it isn't going to get any better. The main thing wrong with Doom 3 is that I find its gameplay to be absolutely awful. Basically, the game's premise could be summed up like this:
Player walks into room.
Room's lights mysteriously go out.
Player is forced to use flashlight (because they don't have flashlight mounts on guns in the 22nd century)
Player suddenly sees terrifying demon coming at him, and switches to a weapon
Player can no longer actually see demon, so player backs up.
Player is killed from behind by other demon that has popped up from a wall behind him.
This is fun? I'll admit, this isn't a terrible game. But when you wait 9 years for a game, and it's being published by one of the seminal developers in the video game industry, you expect something a little more than ordinary.
And the graphics, well, let's just say that they are absolutely ridiculously good. But why spend all your time making incredible graphics if the gameplay sucks? I can just download video card demos from ATI or NVidia that show a bear yawning or something. The answer is that they can sell their engine for millions of dollars.
Another problem is that the engine looks so good that you have to wonder what the hell they were thinking in making every single room look exactly the same, turn of all the lights so that you might as well have turned off your monitor, and having monsters disintegrate so that you can't appreciate the detail and artwork?
There are some scary moments in the game. But most of them rely on the "holy crap, there's a monster there that I was not expecting at all." But I actually think the scariest part of the game was when a scientist is leading you through a section of hallways where the lights are totally out. You know something terrible is going to happen to him, and when they make you wait in the darkness for a while, it really gets your nerves on end. Unfortunately, moments like that are few and far between. But just having things jump out at you isn't genuinely scary, it's more just being startled. I know that it isn't genuinely scary because I wouldn't even want to play a genuinely scary game.
But this game is basically just a graphical update of Half-Life. There is nothing new in terms of gameplay, and you're still just one guy who was just going into work when shit went down and horrible creatures came out of a teleportation device. And of course, there is a lunatic corporate guy who is running around screwing everything up. There's no real story.
My last two complaints about Doom 3 are more about what SHOULD have been there. I was hoping for a few more references to the original Dooms. The imps should have been brown, and the cacodemons should have been bright red! Some recognizable touches should have been put in, so that you knew what you were fighting right away. About the only thing I recognized was the revenant.
Lastly, what the fuck were you thinking, id, when you left out co-op multiplayer? If Doom 1 and 2 could have it, and you worked on this fucking thing for 5 years, and the Xbox version is going to have it, you really sold us out. Not only that, you charged us all an extra 5 bucks because you knew everyone was going to buy it anyway. Well, id is off the list of Automatic Buys.
Ok, that's enough.
World of Warcraft:
Ok, obviously World of Warcraft has not been released. But I was lucky enough to be a beta tester, so I looked through the terms of service, and they don't restrict me from making early reviews. But, two disclaimers: 1) I have never played another massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. 2) They are probably going to change the game a bit before the release, but I feel that the gameplay and mechanics will stay largely the same. All they are likely doing now is balancing the different characters, adding quests, fixing bugs, and maybe adding a few new features.
At its heart, the gameplay of World of Warcraft, is indeed killing monsters, creatures, animals, and other humanoids. You murder thousands and thousands of these things, and it's all great fun. There are plenty of ways to do it, guns, bows, axes, swords, shields, frost spells, fire spells, etc. The standard stuff in a role playing game. But at the other heart of WoW (two hearts?) is the strong encouragement from Blizzard to play with other people.
For example, there are a lot of quests (read: things for you to do to get money, items, and experience points) that you can do on your own. But Blizzard also implemented a few quests that have Elite status, in which the monsters have very high hit points and are very strong. But if you group together with other people, then they are doable. So it is only by joining a group that you can finish these quests. Some of them are pretty fun.
Also, they encourage grouping outside of quests by making certain skills complement other skills. For example, you can become an expert at potion making, but you can't actually get some of the ingredients unless you are an expert at herb finding. So this encourages you to get a friend that you can share skills with. One person finds, one person creates, and they share the benefits. And of course there are plenty more skills that potions and herbs. Solo players can buy whatever ingredients they need, but playing in a group certainly helps.
Blizzard also seems to have learned that Diablo 2 was just one big item hunt. People would run around trying to find a particular item that was important to have for a particular class. This is somewhat alleviated in WoW. For one, items are easy to come by. You can create many items if you are a blacksmith or armorer, and the quests are easy to do and give a lot of items, so the supply is always higher than demand. Secondly, the items aren't as sick as they were in Diablo 2. You will probably continually replace your entire item set, as soon as you get better things. There are no items that work as well at level 1 as they do at level 50. It is still fun to acquire things, just as it would be for any RPG, but it isn't as much the focus of the game.
One complaint that I hope they address in the final version is that there doesn't seem to be as cohesive a storyline or universe in the game. It is hard to have a great storyline for an online game where the people are continually interacting. But Blizzard has done a decent job. You start off getting a lot of low level quests, and eventually they move you to a place with higher quests. But it would be nice if there was a single driving factor that you were trying to accomplish the whole time. Obviously this is easier said than done, but I think they might be able to pull it off.
In the end, WoW does a lot of little things right. Like being able to run the game in a window, so that you can accomplish other things (there are definitely periods of downtime, travelling especially). The interface is very good, the world is well laid out, and the skill points vs. talent points system works well too. It just has the level of detail that you expect from a Blizzard game. And it's still in beta testing!
Rumor has it that WoW will cost 14.95 a month to play. Sort of a steep price, but it does seem to have a very good feature set behind it. How it compares to Everquest 2, I have no idea at all. That game has the advantage of being a sequel, and the experience of Everquest. But WoW is a fun, solid game. Whether it can transcend that into being a great game largely depends on what happens in the last few months of development, and whether the players themselves will embrace it. So far, they have. But I think WoW needs a gimmick in order to push it to greatness.
Perhaps, if they could just address my only other complaint, it would be possible. And that is that the universe seems to go on around you, but you don't really affect it. This is definitely a design decision by Blizzard- if you are instructed to kill a certain person for a quest, that person respawns a little later so that other people can do that quest. And no matter how many of a creature you kill, more will always respawn. It kind of withdraws you from the immersiveness of the universe. I don't exactly know how this could be addressed, but it would be a big step in making it a great game.
In the end, if you like RPGs, this is a good one. Is it worth 14.95? Is it better than Everquest 2? Or any of the next generation MMO games? I can't answer these questions. But I have the distinct impression that WoW is just a very well done version of a last generation game. The other games may not have the polish and support of WoW, but I think they have more potential.
So there are my two reviews. One game you definitely shouldn't pay for, and one game you might consider in a few months.
a city turns its lonely eyes to you
In the beginning, there was losing. And God saw the losing, and it was of no consequence, because it was baseball. But to us, it was important. And depressing. We watched the likes of Phil Bradly, Alvin Davis, Rupert Jones, Mark Langston, Jim Pressley, and (if you’re a bit older than I) Tom Paciorek and Floyd Bannister represent Seattle in All-Star Games. We saw game after game of empty seats, season after season of losing records. We watched Mike Kingery appear to soil himself every time he stepped in the box, and we saw Dave Valle lose a home run to a speaker in center field (I swear – I was there). But something happened as we entered the age of glossy and multi-branded baseball cards – the Mariners started to play ball. The early 90’s brought us a winning season, defensive wizardry that electrified the crowd (thank you Omar), and a no-hitter. A Kid named Griffey gave us our first glimpse of Hall of Fame talent. But most importantly, a man came to be the quiet constant in the heart of the lineup.
Throughout the 90’s we were lucky to watch Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and Alex Rodriguez, and Jay Buhner play every day. Buhner was the most fan-friendly, Griffey the most exciting. We adored him - he was Seattle’s savior, our golden child. Sports Illustrated put him on the cover with the words, “The Natural,” and he beat the jinx. (sadly, it looks it has caught up to him in Cincinnati). Watching games with my friend Jason, we would stand with our hand over our heart when he batted. But Edgar was always the tie that binds. He brought us the batting title in 1992, spraying hits wherever there was open grass or turf, and became a hero in ’95.
The replay was impossible to ignore; it was everywhere – SportsCenter, local news, and the inside of our eyelids even to this day: Griffey, racing to right-center on a long fly ball (you just knew he was going to get it) leaps in the air, catches the ball, and right there, right as he hits the wall, you see his left wrist bend in a not-so-good, yet not-so-bad way, but as he unsticks his cleats from the wall and plummets towards the warning track turf, you see him curl it up to avoid a carpal landing. As he walked off the field with that mix of pain and sorrow on his face, we knew our hopes for the year were following right behind.
But we were wrong; we stayed alive. Edgar kept us alive. Throughout that summer the man could not be held down – he hit doubles to all parts of every stadium, got on base at an amazing (pre-bondsian) clip, and drove in Mariner after Mariner. Edgar made September and October of 1995 possible through a magnificent season. And then he became a legend.
Ken Griffey Jr. hit 5 home runs in the 5 game series with New York. Randy Johnson came out of the bullpen in game 5. But Edgar finished the job. In Game four, with the game tied, he crushed a grand slam off of the unhittable John Wetteland to force the deciding fifth game, pumping his fist high in the air as he rounded the bases. That image lasts because it was so rare – emotion on the field was not part of Edgars performance; he just stuck to hitting. Griffey smiled, Johnson pointed to the sky, and Alex Rodriguez clapped, but Edgar just hit. And we loved him for it.
One by one the Mariners drifted away. Randy Johnson tanked his way to Houston, Ken Griffey Jr. forced his way to Cincinnati, and Alex Rodriguez followed the money to Texas. Jay Buhner stayed. He fought through injuries in his last two seasons, reaching 300 home runs and remaining productive when healthy, but eventually he had to call it a career. But we still had Edgar. All we had to do was look to the heart of the order to find the heart of the Mariners. Sadly, that time is coming to a close.
When Edgar retires this fall, this team will change forever. This will no longer be the team that I grew up with; no longer the team that conquered a city and built a baseball town in its place. Edgar is the last vestige of the true “Seattle Mariners,” and losing him will be nearly impossible to overcome.
Yes, I love Ichiro, and he is the star that bridges the gap from glory days to the uncertain future. He is a unique spectacle in the field, with his surprising arm and unmatched bat control, but he is no Edgar. Maybe in a few years Ichiro can fill those slow shoes, but for now there is some empty – and large – footwear in the clubhouse and on the field. Without Edgar, this becomes a new team. They are no longer “your Seattle Mariners.”
Maybe I’m being overly dramatic. I will still wear my hat and 1970’s jacket with pride wherever I go, and will continue watch the M’s, read about them, and offer loving advice and analysis through the blogsphere; I will still call them my team, and still root for none other anywhere near as much as the Mariners. But it will take some time get acclimated to the new team. Checking the box scores will no longer be the same; they will be filled with free agents and players with established records in different cities.
Like Edgar, Ichiro got his start with the Mariners at age 27, and we are likely to see a few young players from our system stick with the team over the next couple years. These guys have the chance to create a New Mariners, one that will carry us through to the next heartbreaking retirement. I only hope that they start soon, because losing Edgar, and my Seattle Mariners, leaves a gaping hole deep inside.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
5 Mic Source Albums- Part 2 30-1
I already have problems with the list and I haven’t even put up the top 30. In fact, I have problems ranking the number 30 album over Ironman or Capital Punishment. Oh well too late now.
30) Ice Cube-Death Certificate- No one, I mean no one, plays the angry black man role better than Ice Cube. He sounds so damn dangerous on the mic. Forget that he is 5 foot 5 inches, I wouldn’t step to him. Well I wouldn’t step to him before 1996, I’d probably step to him now. This album is best known for the N.W.A. dis song “No Vaseline,” where Cube just annihilates his old groupmates. The group didn’t even respond: Dre ended up releasing a dis song a year later…about Easy-E. Now that is a victory for Ice Cube. Songs: “No Vaseline,” “Doing Dumb Shit,” “Steady Mobbin’”
29) EPMD-Strictly Business- I feel like most people have heard of NWA, Public Enemy, Run DMC, and Rakim. Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith aren’t exactly household names however. Interesting because from 1988-192 they were about as big and important as these other groups. This is probably because they do nothing spectacularly; Parrish is a decent rapper, Sermon sounds like he has a mouth full of marbles, and the beats are hot, but not mind-blowing. Yet their best singles are as good as anyone else’s. Not great rappers, but a great group Songs- “You gots to Chill,” “You’re a Customer.”
28) *De La Soul-Three Feet High and Rising- I actually refused to get this album for years, based on the reviews I read of it: which were all exceedingly positive. These reviews mostly went: “Positive messages from this group are a welcome relief from the hedonism, profanity, and excess of gangster rap.” Well this was no good: I want my rap hedonistic, profane and excessive! Finally, I could no longer ignore the evidence that: 1) they were in the same crew as A Tribe Called Quest, 2) their albums were produced by Prince Paul. Surround yourself with that kind of quality and you’re bound to make great hip-hop. Which they did. Songs- “Eye Know,” “Breakadawn,” “Say No Go.”
27) Outkast-Aquemini- Remember back when Andre wasn’t singing like a dying cat? And when Big Boi and Andre were on songs together? Ah the good old days. If they had cut this album off at ten songs, it would probably be in my top ten. Of course, then the world would be without “Spottieottiedopalicious”, worth the trade off I think. “Rosa Parks,” also holds a special place in my heart as the first song I ever realized was incredible while high. Songs- “Rosa Parks,” Skew it on the BBQ,” “West Savannah.”
26) *Deltron 3030- Deltron 3030- Rap’s greatest opera. They should make this into a musical, complete with orchestral accompaniment. I’d see it. The summer after Sophomore year I thought about arranging these songs into A Cappella format and convincing my friend Dorf to make his group sing them. I was really bored that summer. Songs- “3030,” “Positive Contact,” “Mastermind.”
25) Boogie Down Productions-Criminal Minded- Battling and dis raps have always been an important part of hip-hop, although there was a bit of a break from it after the whole Biggie-Pac murder thing. Now people are starting to release dis records again, but they are mostly lame. No one has the nuts to take someone on that they might lose to, so MCs like 50 and Busta Rhymes spend there time dissing Ja Rule. That’s like me beating some third-graders in basketball. Third-grade girls. Anyways, download MC Shan’s “The Bridge,” to hear an example of an early dis song, simple beats, relatively simple lyrics, whatever. Then download BDP’s “The Bridge is Over,” released a year later. To put what KRS does to Shan and the Juice crew into perspective, imagine what it would have been like to see Jordan play basketball against the pre-shot clock NBA. Songs- “The Bridge is Over,” “South Bronx,” “Poetry.”
24) *Juvenile-400 Degreez- I hate, hate, hate, when people try to categorize groups and rappers into “rap,” and “hip-hop,” on seemingly arbitrary lines. Those musicians that are categorized “rap,” are seemingly bad, while those that are “hip-hop,” are good. No group faces more venom than Cash Money for being “rap,” mostly because “Bling Bling,” was such a big hit that it put the words in the Oxford Dictionary. Look Cash Money isn’t perfect; they release too many mediocre albums, and some of the rappers aren’t great. But you can’t deny Mannie Fresh is a great producer. And I think Juvenile is a great rapper. His flow is fantastic, and he probably is my favorite rapper when it comes to how his voice sounds on the mic. This is a totally underrated part of rap that most people don’t talk about: for example, Eminem has a good flow, and occasionally great rhymes, but he sounds like a whiny twelve year old on the mic. Juvenile sounds dangerous and cool at the same time, without sounding stupid, a problem for many southern rappers. And people.
Songs- “Ha,” “Rich Niggaz,” “Follow Me Now.”
23) Jay Z-Reasonable Doubt- Lots of people hate Jay Z, I think the hatred grows because the singles he releases to the radio are often the worst songs off his albums. See “Change Clothes,” and “H to the Izzo.” I guess if my only exposure to Jay was hearing these songs 300 times each, I’d hate him too. Well this is the album that even Jay-Z haters will love, because it contains no annoying, radio-friendly songs.
Songs- “Regrets,” “Dead Presidents II,” “Brooklyn’s Finest.”
22) Mobb Deep-The Infamous- Some albums are great “road,” albums, you pop them in each time you are on a long drive across the Illinois plains on the way to visit some friends. If I was ever on my way to smuggle cocaine across state lines and sell it in some crackhouse in the middle of New York’s worst ghetto, with a high probability of a gunfight breaking out, this is the album I would pop in on the ride.
Songs- “Shook Ones Pt. II,” “Right Back at You,” “Survival of the Fittest.”
21) Public Enemy-It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back-Why is this album considered to be the greatest of all time? Well first there the fact its political-rap as opposed to gangster, which makes it more credible for rock journalists. Second, I believe most journalists when they pop in the CD only get to the first two songs, “Bring the Noise,” and “Don’t Believe the Hype.” Awesome, awesome songs, but let’s listen to the rest of the album, ok guys? Most of the songs are hot, but there are definitely some missteps along the way. On the whole, the album is great, but for an album to be top-ten worthy, you can’t have any throwaway songs. Plus Flava Flav. I’m glad he is in the group, simply cause he wears a clock. But does he add anything at all? Songs: “Bring the Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype,” “Night of the Living Baseheads.”
20) Ice Cube-AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted- Looking at this album cover, I am reminded of how sad I am that I missed the jehri curl era. When will people start letting their Soul-Glo once again? (Note: I am doing my part to restart this trend, but my hair may not comply.) Songs- “The Bomb,” “The Nigga You Love to Hate.”
19) Eric B and Rakim-Paid in Full- Things that piss me off: When I get in an argument with people about rap, they pretend like they know what they are talking about and I don’t, then I mention Rakim’s name, and they say…”It’s Ra-keem,” and shake there head at me like I am some fool. This of course, makes me laugh because it proves said honky hasn’t actually listened to any Rakim songs, since he says his name in every fucking song. I think Rakim would probably be the ultimate authority on the pronunciation of his own name.
Songs- “I know you got Soul,” “My Melody,” “I Aint no Joke.”
18) *Dr. Octagon-Dr. Octagonecologyst- The album responsible for revitalizing the underground hip-hop scene around weird-ass production and rhymes. All of what Kool Keith says on this album makes absolutely no sense. Luckily for me, I have a juvenile sense of humor, and can laugh at lines like… “Think about it, if you were standing there laughing at me, what would you do, if I hit your face with dog doo-doo.” Brilliant,poetry. This album also probably has the best skits ever.
Songs- “Blue Flowers,” “Wild and Crazy,” “I’m Destructive.”
17) *Gravediggaz-6 feet Deep- Released in 1994 in the middle of the Snoop murder trial and the heart of the gangsta rap age; this album responds to criticism of violence in hip-hop by taking the violence to such extreme levels it had to be a joke. The production from Rza and Prince Paul is so good, and the rhymes so darkly hysterical, that they can pull off songs with titles like “1-800-SUICIDE.” Songs- “1-800-Suicide,” “Here come the Gravediggaz,” “Trippin’”
16) N.W.A.-Straight Outta Compton- What is it about an album like this one that scares people so much? The songs and videos were banned from the radio, which naturally made them much more popular. Did people in the 80s fear an album like this would cause riots? People from South Central would be taking over The O.C.? I can see it now, Easy E steals a car and is caught, and end’s up living in his public defender’s home, where he taunts Seth about his comic collection, gives Marissa the HIV, and homie MC Ren ends up impregnating Summer and Ms. Cooper. Whoops got my genres crossed
Songs: “Straight Outta Compton,” “Gangsta Gangsta,”
15) Ultramagnetic MCs-Critical Beatdown- Another thing against “It Takes a Nation…,” being the best album ever: they stole a lot of their sampling ideas from this album, released the same year. Actually on whole 8 of the albums on this list were relased in 1988, more than any other year, which is why you will hear people refer to the late 1980s as the golden age of hip-hop. I respectfully disagree, because, while 1986-1990 saw a number of great releases, the absolute best albums pretty much all come from 1992-1996. In face, there are no more albums on this list from the late 1980s with two exceptions.
Songs- “Ego Trippin’,” “Watch Me Now,” “Ease Back.”
14) *Eric B and Rakim “Follow the Leader,” One of the exceptions. Most critics put “Paid in Full,” above this album, and The Source didn’t even have it on their list. I am not sure how they reached this conclusion; this one contains their three best songs, and albums back then were basically 8 songs with 2 DJ tracks. Plus the production is much more modern, only a year later.
Songs- “Follow the Leader,” “Microphone Fiend,” “Lyrics of Fury.”
13) Notorious B.I.G.-Ready to Die- Biggie, along with Nas, were guilty of taking the “rapper as mafia don,” too seriously on their second albums. The pressure to follow up for these two rappers to follow up from their debuts must have been unbearable But it’s interesting, so many classic albums from rappers are their debuts. It’s like once they hit it big, they lose the hunger that drove them to succeed in the first place. Too much fancy liquor, weed, coke, and sex with models. Poor guys. Seriously rappers produce great albums when they have a reason to: they are poor, they are our for respect, etc. Reminds me of the quote on The Black Album, “treat my first like my last.” Easy to say, Harder to do.
Songs- “Gimme the Loot,” “Everyday Struggle,” “Juicy.”.
12) A Tribe Called Quest-“The Low End Theory”- In Tribe you have the opposite case, a group who released a classic right from the get-go, and then proceeded to release albums that got successively better, (at least for a while.) This phenomenon is rare in rap; the only rappers I can think that have released classics at the get-go and kept up or increased their production are Outkast, Public Enemy, Run DMC, De La Soul, Wu-Tang (solo albums included.)…Is this a cause of having multiple MCs that can compete with each other to push the group to higher levels? Songs- “Check the Rhyme,” “Buggin Out, “Scenario.”
11) *Redman-Whut? thee Album- Warning: I may have overrated this album since I only got it two months ago. I doubt it though. It’s 5 mic worthy 4 sho. Songs- “Rated R,” “Time 4 sum Aksion.”
10) *Bone Thugs-n-Harmony-East 1999 Eternal- I will defend this album to my grave. The production is a great blend of West Coast g-funk and eastern gangsta. The rappin style is unique. And you can listen to it 100 times and still have no idea what they are saying half the time. It’s like a puzzle! Songs- “1st of tha Month,” “Eternal,” “Mo Murda.”
9) *Outkast-ATLiens- I have this fear that I will come home one day, and see that my Dad has bought Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, in an attempt to be hip. He will only listen to Andre’s CD, and talk about how musically progressive it is, as I shake my head in disgust. If this does happen, I will have to sit him down, pop this CD in, and say “now Dad, THIS is why Outkast is a great group.” Songs- “13th Floor,” “Ova da Woods,” “Wheelz of Steel.”
8) *A Tribe Called Quest-Midnight Marauders- This is the album that inspired this list. I don’t understand how The Source could leave it off. Maybe because it came out in the middle of the West Coast gangsta age, and wasn’t hip enough. More likely because The Source didn’t want anyone having more than two albums on the list, because they would be inferring that Tribe had a greater catalogue then hip-hop martyrs Biggie or 2pac. Well they do . Songs- “Oh My God,” “Award Tour,” “Steve Biko.”
7) Snoop Doggy Dogg-Doggystyle- This album was considered a disappointment when released for some reason. Evidently 5 hit singles weren’t enough. Early 90s Snoop is my favorite rapper of all time. After the murder trial he lost something; I guess he’s an example of what happens when you smoke too much weed. Its like he doesn’t even try on some later albums, just rhyming “LBC,” with “DOG.” On this masterpiece though, he runs the show. Songs- “Tha Shiznit,” “Gzs and Hustlaz,” “G Funk Intro.”
6) Raekwon-Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Niggas- When a lot of people listen to this CD, they say, “it’s good, but I can’t pick out one song that’s amazing over the others.” Well if you listen to it enough, you’ll come to realize that’s because they are all amazing. Time to cream over Rza’s production. You listen songs like “Verbal Intercourse,” or “Glaciers of Ice,” and think “how do you make this beat out of fragments of old soul records?” This album is the equal of Entroducing in terms of production, in my opinion. And you have two great rappers with tons of great guest stars on all the tracks. Songs- “Criminology,” “Heaven and Hell,” “the whole damn album.”
5) Dr. Dre-The Chronic- The ultimate West Coast Banger. Like Doggystyle, you’ve heard the singles 100 times. Thus it’s easy to overlook that some of the best beats and best songs ever are among the album tracks. Songs- “Stranded on Death Row,” “A Nigga with a Gun,” “The Day the Niggaz Took Over.”
4) Slick Rick-The Great Adventures of Slick Rick- The pinnacle of greatness for a single MC. He has the greatest voice on the mic, a sort of half British accent. He is legititmately hilarious. And he makes it sound so damn easy. Songs- “Mona Lisa,” “Children’s Story,” “Indian Girl,” “Treat her Like a Prostitute.”
3), *Gza-Liquid Swords- So who is the best MC in the Wu-Tang Clan? Obviously not Masta Killa or U-God. ODB can be hilarious and definitely is unique. Inspectah Deck is underrated and overshadowed, but not the best. Raekwon is incredibly solid and consistent, but doesn’t have a ton of “holy shit,” verses. I’ve never heard anyone say Rza was their favorite MC, other than The Deuce. But he also doesn’t like banks. That leaves Method Man, Ghost, and the Gza. If you were going to go just on top 5 verses alone, you’d probably say Method Man. He has fallen so far in the last 5 years though it’s hard to say. He and Snoop are the lessons of what happens when you smoke too much weed. Ghost definitely has the best album catalogue of any Wu-member, with 4 great albums and one on this list. But put even Ironman up against this album, and it’s really no contest. Sure part of that is due to Rza, but the Genius kills every verse on here outshining all the other Wu guests, none of whom drop a weak verse themselves. Add to that his performances on the Wu group releases, and I’d give the title to Gza. Songs- “4th Chamber,” “Shadowboxin,” “Liquid Swords,” “Gold.”
2) Nas-Illmatic- I thought Nas was kind of a chump for about 3 years. Then I listened to this cd. If someone releases a piece of art like this, he is worthy of your respect no matter how many terrible singles he releases (Nastradamus, Oochie Wallie, for example.) Songs- “Life’s a Bitch,” “Halftime,” “It Aint Hard to Tell,” “Memory Lane.”
1) Wu-Tang Clan-Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)- You were expecting something else? When U-God and Masta Killa are dropping classic verses, you know you’re in trouble. Songs- “Protect ya Neck,” “Da Mystery of Chessboxin,” “7th Chamber.”
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Terrorism, 9/11, and America, Part 2
As a small detour, I wanted to share this little anecdote. In one of my classes last year, we had a very interesting discussion about why the government, corporations, and consumers spend money on preventing death in some cases, but not others. The professor's point was that we spend billions on the war on terrorism, but less on car safety and heart disease, even though you are far more likely to die from the latter two.
Yes, there are some reasons for why this is the case; heart disease isn't preventable (although I argued that terrorism isn't preventable either), car accidents can sometimes be your own fault. But the professor didn't make any judgments about whether this allocation of money was good or bad, he simply wanted to know why we spent money on it. Some reasons, like painful death avoidance, lawsuit avoidance, preventability, were sensible and obvious. Then, a kid raised his hand and said "Well, we spent a lot of money after 9/11 because America was founded on the principle that you can be free from terrorism here." And he didn't bat an eye. Neither did anyone else in the classroom. Let me just say that the founders of America and the fighters in the American Revolution were considered to BE terrorists. And let me also say to that kid- I have some magnetic bracelets for you to buy.
But the discussion prompted me to think about the pure rationality of the allocation of resources. Obviously you can't just sit down at a computer and say "Where is this billion dollars going to save the most lives?" and allocate accordingly. But the spending of money on the war on terrorism represents the reverse strategy, a total knee-jerk reaction, with no hindsight or foresight at all. If 3,000 people die from flu tomorrow, maybe we'll just switch all that money over there instead. What I am doing is just a cry for a little more thought behind the process. But like I've said before, other factors are at work. If the American sheep think that not enough money is being spent on terrorism, you have to spend more money on terrorism, regardless of whether it is good for them or not.
That's sort of why it was a simpler time when all that mattered on election day was who you thought was going to put more money in your pocket over the next 4 years. Yeah, it was selfish and narrow minded, but at least it made sense, and at least the candidates had a target to shoot at. Now the government has to tell you what to be concerned about, and why they are better at handling those concerns.
Anyway, back to terrorism. Are we at more risk from domestic terrorism than international terrorism? Is it about the same? Vice versa? After the Oklahoma City bombing, everyone blamed a two-man conspiracy, and once we caught those guys, we were assured, they were two nutcases from an otherwise wholesome, content society. Why wasn't our entire intelligence community overhauled then? Was it because we don't want to police our own? Is it racism? Was it because not enough people died? I think it was partly all of these.
In terms of racism, isn't it easier for everyone to blame the Arab population that it is to actually dissect and analyze which people are more likely to be terrorists? There was a situation a while back where a group of Arab men got on an airplane, and the other passengers got so freaked out that they refused to fly with them. Eventually the flight was cancelled. There was another case where a group of Syrians congregated near the bathrooms of the airplane, and proceeded to freak everyone on the airplane out again, causing that flight to be rerouted. Would either of these have happened if it was a group of white guys in the first scenario (of course not) or a group of asian/hispanic/black people in the second? (probably not) Now, either of these incidents may or may not have been done on purpose, but the point is that being prejudiced against Arabs is understood, perhaps even condoned in today's society. And it seems like our security is based on that too.
But it's much easier to chase after international people and secretly go after our own agenda while doing it than it is to actually fix the problems here in the US and the problems with the US policy abroad. Maybe all the Oklahoma City bombing proved to the government was that it was incredibly easy to do PR damage control for domestic terrorism, so they don't have to worry about it. And even though 168 people died, maybe that wasn't enough to get the rest of America scared like they are now.
Yes, it probably helps that we caught McVeigh/Nichols and it probably hurts that we didn't catch Bin Laden. But that is what happened, and now we have to deal with it. But is catching Bin Laden at this point going to do anything? In fact, I can guarantee you that if Bush catches him, he'll say this, more or less verbatim: "While this is a great victory in the war on terror, we have to stay ever vigilant, because the threat of terrorism has not decreased." And the terror alert will stay the same, and airlines will still charge the September 11th security fee (no, not just a security fee, the SEPTEMBER 11th security fee... you can't be upset about that, remember September 11th, it was so horrible, we'll just charge you a few extra dollars, and remember, it was because of September 11th, so it wasn't our fault). And we won't be any safer, and we'll still take the same stupid risks that we always take.
And seriously, that's what we should do. Remember right after the attacks, how people sprung up to sell flags, caps, and less tasteful things ("I can't believe I got out!" t-shirt comes to mind) related to 9/11? Of course you do, they still sell them. Maybe those guys were the biggest patriots of us all, because they didn't let all the hype get to them, and they tried to do the most American thing: make a quick buck off all the suckers standing around them.
So don't let the government spend all your money on the war on terrorism. In the upcoming election, concentrate on more tangible matters, like who is going to make your son's school better, or who will make your health insurance more affordable, or who is going to find the cure for your baldness first. Or at the very least, concentrate on who is going to make you richer. At least that makes sense.
Monday, August 09, 2004
Terrorism, 9/11, and America, Part 1
Stem cell research (and in general scientific research) has been one of my hot-button issues since it started being hot in 2000. I think what humanity's greatest promise is its quest for knowledge and exploration. Stem cell research offered an incredible frontier to explore for science, and Bush promptly shut it down in the fear of playing god. What better way to go into the future than to let everyone else explore the field, and to have us grounded on the tarmac? And I don't even need to comment on the Chandra Levy case. Total fluff, is all I'll say.
After 9/11, it seemed like the news outlets had somehow matured- almost as if they knew there were bigger things at work in the world than an intern sleeping with a congressman (and then being murdered). It was almost a relief, then, to turn on the TV and see real news that you cared about. And the news outlets knew this. You can't even turn on the TV today and not see something about 9/11. It's important, no doubt. But they forgot all about stem cell research. Well, they forgot about damn near everything. South America could have sunk into the ocean, and it probably would have scrolled past on the ticker line.
The news has always been guilty of using hyperbole and scare tactics to make a huge deal out of something that doesn't matter. And with 9/11, they used the same strategy to make a world-changing deal out of something that DID matter.
Basically what I am complaining about here, is that 9/11 was big news. It showed a serious lack of communication in our intelligence agencies; it showed that the US was now part of the global problem that is/was terrorism; and it showed that the terrorists are well organized, well funded, and that it is really hard to stop someone that is willing to die for their cause.
But the news media implicated everyone. The airlines, the airports, immigration, Arabs, Jews, Iraqis, the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, Al Gore, Anand Shah, to name just a few. 9/11 was a huge mistake on someone's part, and there was enough blame to go around. It might have been nicer to blame one person and have that person be fired/executed. But there were lapses all around, and most people can admit this.
But because everyone was so hyped about this, and we were so terrified that something like this could happen again that we passed laws like the Patriot Act, we cracked down on visas for everyone, instituted racist screening and profiling processes, made our embassies into fortresses, and divided our country with a jingoist feeling that made every immigrant feel the need to plaster flags to prove that they, too, loved this place we call America.
But is terrorism any more of a problem than it was pre 9/11? Is it any less of a problem? In 1998, the US fired 72 cruise missiles at possible hiding places of Osama Bin Laden, in an attempt to kill him before he caused any more harm. He was already on the list of most wanted people in the world, and had a huge bounty on his head. It's not like we thought we were invincible. The World Trade bombings in 1993 escaped noticed because only a few people died. Basically, the terrorists screwed up. Given 8 years and a second chance, they didn't screw up the second time. So why were we so blind that time, and why do we purport to be so aware now?
Let's suppose that Bin Laden had instead engineered a series of smaller incidents to be performed over a few years rather than one huge incident, and then nothing for the next 3 years. Would we be in Iraq? Would we have 'liberated' Afghanistan? Would there be a color-coded terror alert? Would we have passed legislation like the Patriot Act? Would people be basing this entire election on terrorism?
I don't know the answers to these questions. But I think that because 9/11 was such a HUGE story, we all jumped the gun on terrorism. It has become the defining force of Bush's administration, and it reeks of a communist witchhunt to me. Had we been eased into being a terrorist target, I think Americans would have accepted terrorism as a fact of life, just like they have accepted murder, rape, robbery, car accidents, drunk driving, corporate scandals, government corruption, lying, deceit, and god.
Because that is what we all need to do. Accept it, and live with it. We can't stop all terrorism, just like we can't stop all theft. Yes, we COULD lock everyone in their houses, behind steel doors and electric fences, and that would probably be semi-effective. But why would you want to live in a house like that? As corny as it sounds, you can't take away what makes this country a nice place to live all in the name of making it a safe place to live.
In the end, we aren't any safer from terrorists than we were pre-9/11. And we really aren't in any more danger, either. Because like everything else in the world, we are shielded by our anonymity, and in the safety of numbers. So just go on living your lives; because you already are. Almost no one in this country outside of New York had to deal with the consequences of terrorism, and even those people aren't any more pitiable than survivors of other tragedies like murder and natural disasters.
I am not suggesting that we give up on the 'war on terrorism'. Yes, we need to secure our country, but we can't spend all our resources on it. Believe it or not, there are more important things in the future, and you can't go into the future if you're always looking over your shoulder in paranoia.
So don't think about terrorism. Turn off the TV, the radio, and close the newspaper. What you don't know almost certainly won't hurt you.
Saturday, August 07, 2004
Albums The Source should have Given 5 mics Part 1: 50-31
1) I’ve never listened to them. Good bye to Brand Nubian’s One For All, Eric B and Rakim’s Let the Rhythm Hit Em, De La Soul’s De La Soul is Dead, Scarface’s The Diary, and the Geto Boys Grip it on that Other Level. I am guessing that De La’s album in particular may be 5 mic worthy, but I can’t help my own ignorance. This is my list.
2) I refuse to overrate albums from the last three years: I think The Source thought it would look bad if they only had one album (The Blueprint) from after 2000. So they threw on Nas’ Stillmatic and Scarface’s The Fix at the last second (bringing them to an uneven 42.) Both good albums, don’t get me wrong, but not 5 mic worthy. Stillmatic isn’t even as good as God’s Son (Nas’ 2002 album.) Why is it on there? I think The Source bought into the hip hop communities’ weird urge to say Nas won his battle versus Jay Z: thus it had to say Stillmatic was 5 mic worthy if it gave The Blueprint that status. Let’s see: Jay had a better diss song, had a better album, led his crew to take over the rap game, has even Nas asking for Roca-Fella producers, and is fucking Beyonce as opposed to Kelis. I think Jay won.
3) I refuse to overrate albums just because they are old. Good bye to LL Cool J’s Radio, The Jungle Brothers’ Straight Out the Jungle, and Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill.
4) I refuse to give up my stance that The Fugees are untalented musicians who made their mark off crappy covers of classic songs. Goodbye to The Score.
5) I refuse to get involved in elevating albums to classic status just because the MCs got murdered. Goodbye All Eyez on Me and Life After Death. Now now, stop screaming at your monitor. I realize these albums both have some banging songs: Hypnotize, California Love, etc. But both these double albums had too much filler to warrant 5 mic status. In fact, there has never been a double album worthy of 5 mics. Even a Wu-Tang dickrider like myself couldn’t put Wu-Tang Forever on this list.
Having purged this list down to 29, I went about my mp3 collection to try and find albums The Source had overlooked. I found 21, bringing the total to 50, a nice big round number. I then ranked them from 50 to 1. So here is Marmaniac’s 5 mic albums, complete with comments and singles you should illegally download.
50) *Black Sheep- A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing- I originally had left Jungle Brothers on here, but I replaced it with this other Native Tongues album after listening to both straight through. This album features much more juvenile humor and rapping about important topics like how to ditch girls who only look hot in the dark. Just my type of album. Plus this album contains the first rap song I ever loved, “The Choice is Yours,” which I listened to on WZOU. That is old school.
Songs- “The Choice is Yours,” “Strobelite Honey,”
49) Main Source- Breakin Atoms- Definitive album for one of rap’s great producers, Large Professor. Also well known for Nas’ debut as a guest performer. Songs: “Live at the BBQ,” “Large Professor.”
48) The DOC- No One Can Do it Better- DOC ghostwrote for NWA and Dr. Dre, only releasing one album following a severing his vocal cords in a car accident. This album is a great, old school West-coast banger that bridges the gap between Dr. Dre’s production from Straight Outta Compton versus The Chronic. The DOC rips it on the mike as well. Songs- “Its Funky Enough,” “No One Can Do it Better.”
47) *Scarface- Mr. Scarface is Back- Ok I’ll admit it. I felt bad for kicking three Scarface-related albums off the list. I think he’s a very good rapper, and this is the only full album I have of his. And it’s pretty damn tight: Songs- “Mr. Scarface,” “The Diary of a Madman.”
46) Run DMC- Run DMC- I mean these guys are the shit. They are responsible for the lingo, the sound, the attitude, and the breakthrough of rap into the mainstream. Sure some of the songs are corny, but this is from fucking 1984. Cut em some slack.
Songs- “Sucka MCs.”
45) Dr. Dre- The Chronic 2001- I always considered this album to be overrated. I think its because of the name I always end up comparing it to the original Chronic, which is unfair. It also angers me to no end when my cracker ass friends love and recognize all the songs on this album, but would turn the channel if they ever heard “Stranded on Death Row.” On the other hand, this is the album that has Nate Dogg singing “Smoke Weed Every Day,” which became my theme song for about three years. And counting. Songs- “Forgot About Dre,” “The Next Episode.”
44) Big Daddy Kane- Long Live the Kane- I have only heard one song off this album. It also happens to be “Aint No Half-Steppin.” If the rest of the album was 60 minutes of The Best of the ESPN Sunday Night Football Commentators, it would still be 5 mic worthy. Songs- “Aint No Half-Steppin.”
43) *Big L- Lifestylez of the Poor and Dangerous- Ok time for a longer tribute here. This is Big L’s only album: he was killed three or four years after its release. But damn what an album. L is at once, hilarious and menacing in all of his raps. All of them. And his flows are ridiculous. No rapper has ever made me rewind songs more than him, making me think “what the fuck did he just say?” Some samples: “And when it comes to getting nookie, I’m not a rookie I got chicks that make that bitch Toni Braxton look like Whoopie.” Or “The Big L be lighting niggas like incense, getting men lynched and when tensed I be killing infants for ten cents.” The beats on this album are just good. The rapping is actually perfect. Songs- “Da Graveyard,” “No Ends No Skinz,” “Put it On.”
42) *Jurassic 5- Quality Control- I know, you are sick of this album. You’ve heard it in every damn dorm room, at every damn frat party you’ve ever been to. But there’s a reason it’s so overexposed, because it’s so damn good. And you know this. Man (And stop calling me a backpacker.) Songs- “Quality Control,” “Swingset,” “Great Expectations.”
41) *Pete Rock and CL Smooth- Mecca and the Soul Brother- Another album that gets its reputation more off of its production than its MCing. That’s not to say CL is Puffy-bad, he just tends to get overlooked when compared to the horn-filled jazz soundscape of Pete Rock. Horn filled jazz soundscape? Alert Alert. White person writing about hip-hop. Songs- “TROY,” “Straighten it Out,” “It’s Like That”
40) *The Roots- Things Fall Apart- Ok so like everyone else, I jumped on The Roots bandwagon when this album came out in 1999. So sue me. Like J5, the reason the album crossed over to the backpacker/college crowd is because it’s musically inspired with deft lyrics that don’t make insecure white people feel uncool because they grew up in the suburbs. Maybe I’d like “Do You Want More?” or “Illadelph Halflife,” better if I had heard them first. But I didn’t. Songs- “The Next Movement,” “100 Percent Dundee.”
39) Run DMC- Raising Hell- Imagine if this album hadn’t been released, and it had been the Beastie Boys who were the first big rap breakthorough. Ugghh. Of course, the song everyone talks about off this album is “Walk This Way,” which was totally necessary to get rap the attention is deserved, but not a great song in anyway. Speaking of Aerosmith, I wonder if they ever shared any of the millions of dollars they owed Run DMC for totally revitalizing their career. Somehow I doubt it. Songs: “It’s Tricky,” “My Adidas.”
38) Boogie Down Productions- By Any Means Necessary- Like many these days, I find KRS-One to be a somewhat annoying blowhard. Thus I was shocked when in Ego Trip’s Big Book of Rap Lists, they declared him the best MC of all time. KRS built his rep as MC for BDP in the mid 1980s releasing key albums for forming both the gangsta and political rap sub-genres. This second album finds KRS becoming more political, talking about stopping violence in hip-hop and having ridiculous foresight on how rappers would be marketed as dangerous thugs to sell more records. And he isn’t overly preachy at all. And he still releases banging songs talking about how he is the shit. Songs- “I’m Still #1”, “Stop the Violence.”
37) *Jeru the Damaja- The Sun Rises in the East- Has any producer ever had a better year than DJ Premier in 1994? His own group Gang Starr, released the well-received “Hard to Earn.” He also contributed classic songs to Nas and Biggie’s debut albums, like “N.Y. State of Mind.” And to top all off, he produced this entire album. The beats are unbelievable, faucet-drips on “Come Clean,” dissonant random minor-piano keys on “Dirty Rotten Scoundrel.” Spine-chillin. Of course, it’s hard to top Rza in 1995. Oh yea, the rapping. Jeru has a commanding voice and drops some knowledge, out of the KRS teacher school: take rap back to its African roots etc. So he may be talking about how the white people are devils on half his songs. He still does it well. Songs- “Come Clean,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrel,” “Jungle Music.”
36) *Kool G Rap and DJ Polo- Wanted: Dead or Alive- The other album, besides Big L’s that had to go on this list just to get something by the MC on here. Kool G Rap got more recognition later in his career than when his albums actually came out, because he pioneered the “rapper as a coke kingpin a la Scarface,” trend that dominated rap in the late 1990s. Now why would we be giving someone credit for a trend that was in general terrible and annoying? First because he was an incredibly gifted rapper. Second because he also rapped about the dark side of drug-dealing, as in everyone ends up fucking dead. Oh and coke is bad for you. Songs- “Streets of New York,” “Money in the Bank.”
35) 2pac- Me Against the World- Most overrated MC ever? Definitely. That’s what happens when you die young. Due to the fact he got shot up, people get to say: man what would have Pac done if he had lived? Well I can tell you, he would have become a smoked-out pop culture icon releasing good but not great albums and appearing in movies with Ben Stiller a la Snoop Dogg. Or he would have been labeled soft when his releases didn’t measure up with past material and made movies like “Barbershop,” a la Ice Cube. And both Cube and Snoop had better peaks and released better albums than Pac. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Whoops I am supposed to be praising, not hating. This is the album where Pac strikes the proper balance of thug songs, love songs, and remembrance songs, without seeming too hokey. Basically the forefather of every pseudo-gangsta album released in the last two years, (G-unit, The Diplomats, etc…) only no one out there has the skillz to adequately pull it off without sounding like a pre-packaged idiot…with one exception being…. Songs: “Dear Mama,” “If I Die 2nite.”
34) Jay-Z- The Blueprint- Same formula as Me Against the World, only updated with 2001 style production. The most influential album of the last 5 years. Unforunately, as I said, no one can pull off the, diss song, pop song, girl song, thug song like Jigga. A side note: I think Jay’s rapping is actually better on The Black Album. Unfortunately Jay decided to leave off beats from DJ Premier and Dr. Dre, among others, to push producers from the Roc-A-Fella stable. Always a hustler to the end, aren’t you Jigga, even if it means sacrificing quality from your own album? And why would you have a beat from Eminem on there? Can we please ban Em from beat-making? It’s the equivalent of Puffy rapping. Songs- “Takeover,” “Girls Girls Girls,” Renegade.”
33) A Tribe Called Quest- People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm- Quite an album title, and quite an album. Features a lot more Q-Tip than Phife, which isn’t bad because Tip is the better rapper, but means this album is missing the dynamic gained from the trade-off and differences between the two rappers present on their second and third releases. Still awesome. Songs- “I Left my Wallet in El Segundo,” “Can I Kick It?”
32) *Ghostface Killah- Ironman- The last of the classic Mid-90s Wu-Tang releases. Doesn’t quite measure up to the other albums because Rza’s production is merely “incredible,” as opposed to “the best production ever.” Also there is a lot of Cappadonna on this record. Cappadonna, for those who don’t know, was not originally in the group, but was worked in slowly over 1995-1997, to the dismay of most Wu-Tang fans, as Cappadonna is a terrible rapper. Actually Cappadonna isn’t that bad on this album, and there is plenty of other Wu-Tang MCing to balance him out. Some people don’t like this album, because they don’t think Ghostface is a good rapper. Listen to “All That I got is You,” and tell me you don’t start tearing up. Songs- “Ironman,” “Daytona 500,” “Winter Warz,” “All That I Got is You.”
31) *Big Punisher- Capital Punishment- The second greatest fat rapper of all time. The memory of Pun that will always remain in my mind is that shot of him on the motorcycle in the “Still not A Player,” video. How did he fit on that bike? It was one of the most surprising days of my life when I found out he died of heart failure. I suspect the real cause of death was that he choked to death on a porkchop sandwich, a la Mama Cass, but his people didn’t want to embarrass him in death. Ok enough being mean. Songs-“Tres Leches,” “Punish Me,” “I’m Not a Player.”
Well four single-spaced pages is enough for now. I’ll have numbers 30-1 up in a day or two. I know you can’t wait.
Friday, August 06, 2004
Its The Glooooooooove
Wait I hate that hairy fruit. Anyways Danny Ainge and Theo Epstein must have switched souls sometime around June. Ainge has now by most accounts dominated the NBA draft, and turned Chucky Atkins into Gary Payton, one of my top-ten favorite non-Celtics. Granted I wish it were 1999 when we had gotten him, but I would much rather watch an old Glove run the show than boring Chucky Atkins. Plus both Payton and Fox are gone after next year. Thus we traded a old point guard with two years left and a young point guard who had been replaced with this year’s pick, for a shot at GP making a last gasp, cap space in the offseason, and a future first-rounder to replace Banks’ value. Excellent work Danny. Plus the trash-talking of next year’s team is going to be phenomenal.
On the electoral college: As Derek and Dave pointed out, while making opposite arguments, the electoral college means that votes are weighted differently for people in different states. I personally think we should get rid of it and go to straight elections, with a run-off between the top two candidates. I think the electoral college was created when the country was viewed much more as a union of individual states. The Civil War changed that, since then we have been one nation, under God. The best argument I have seen is Stephen’s who said that the electoral college forces candidates to the center. I personally think that much of this centrism is political promise rather than political action. The centrism of the Clinton and Bush administrations was more a product of opposition-led Congress than the electoral college. There are other checks on the system that act to stem extremism. In addition, a run-off would mean candidates couldn’t make extreme campaign promises, because they would be fighting for other candidates’ voters in the final election.
I am thinking of trying to do a Hip-Hop week at the blog next week, to try and bring in some a new topic. I also am planning to go issue by issue with Kerry versus Bush to tell you people what their plans are for the future in important policy areas. I was going to do this earlier, but I can’t find anything that Bush has promised to do. I have found a site where he talks about spending record amounts of money on all sorts of issue, to show his commitment. Which is funny, considering he is supposed to be a conservative. Hopefully he and his party will have a more developed plan after the Republican convention.
Boo, the electoral college!
I did comment about Derek's post in his comments section, but since we are escalating to multiple post level, I decided to break this out. Plus, you two are absolutely slaughtering me in post count.
What I hate about Dave's argument is the seeming need to hold on to the status quo. Yes, I agree that the electoral college has served us well over the past 200 years, but the fact remains, in 2000, the majority of people voted for the LOSING CANDIDATE! Now, you can all talk about 3rd parties dividing and conquering small issues (like they did with prohibition), and you can talk about how the electoral college encourages 2 party cooperation. But how can you argue that the winning candidate needs to have at least 40% support from the voters, but then turn around and say you are ok with giving the election to someone who loses the popular vote? Isn't that what is more important? Why do you have a problem with someone who wins 34% of the vote and the plurality, but not have a problem with someone who wins 48% and loses the popular vote?
Basically, the electoral college is a way for everyone to cover their ass and say "well, at least a good portion of the population voted for him." But is this really true? Aren't a lot of people not voting? Aren't a lot of people only voting because they're the lesser of two evils? If some other 3rd party candidate had won, would the voters who voted for other people really be any less happy? I think trying to please the greatest percentage of the population is a noble effort, but in terms of voting you will always be disappointing the majority of the people.
You also seem overly worried about single issue candidates. Single issue candidates would be destroyed by the two parties. They would simply absorb any issue that got big enough to garner widespread support. Just like they do now. I think by worrying about splintering and factioning, you are ignoring the fact that people don't like voting for losers.
The two parties would still dominate, and third party candidates wouldn't win because 1) the two parties do a good enough job of representing the big issues, and 2) nobody thinks the 3rd party candidate can win. Why would either of these two things change with the elimination of the electoral college?
Obviously there would be consequences from switching to a popular vote. Candidates would clearly lead more national campaigns, but I don't think any local or regional candidate would gather enough support to be recognized. And there are other issues that need to be worked out. But the electoral college clearly does not have a place any more in our system. If 2000 didn't point this out, what will it take? This can clearly happen again (and will probably become more and more likely as the two parties get closer and closer), so we should do something about it. But you can't argue about little details, and then ignore the big picture. Of course, if you enjoy having the less popular candidate win, then the electoral college is for you.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
Ah, the Electoral College
You say that the electoral system, due to the constant 2 votes for each state regardless of population, grants more power to voters in the least populous states. While a true assessment of individual-to-electoral vote value, this ignores the value of states as a whole. To get a better sense of voting power, you must look at both the likelihood of an individual’s vote determining the outcome of a state (more likely in less populous states), as well as the likelihood of that states bloc of electors determining the outcome of the electoral college vote – which, obviously more likely in the most populous states, grants those big states a power that more than counters the small-state bias. In The Electoral College Primer 2000, Lawrence D. Longley and Neal R. Peirce developed a system to measure state biases based on these factors. They determined that in only 6 states do voters have more than the average voting power – the 6 most populous states. Here is a sample of their results, where the lowest voting power is set at 1.0 (sorry Montanans. Montanaoans? Montanaites?):
|Electoral Votes||Relative Voting Power||% Deviation from Average|
The size of the electoral bloc delivered by California and friends vastly outweighs the effects of the “constant 2” advantage of small states. The states hurt the most by the College seem to be mid to small sized states, while the smallest gain the +2 advantage – notice voters in Wyoming and New Jersey have nearly identical voting power. Montana and Wyoming citizens have such vastly different voting power despite equal Electoral votes because Montana has nearly twice as many inhabitants as Wyoming.
This power can also be divided by region: the far west, as a region, has voting power nearly 50% greater than average, mostly due to California. The east coast has the next greatest power. Also, ethnic biases emerge from this data – Hispanic voters have 26.3% greater power than average, due mostly to large Hispanic populations in California and Florida, and voting largely as a bloc. Meanwhile, as 55% of African Americans live in the South, and many southern states fall into the small to medium size category, black voters tend to have diminished voting power – though not by a large degree, as the large African American populations in New York, California, Florida, and Texas help balance this out. This is, however, one book’s system, and should be approached with a degree of skepticism. They are not alone, however, in promoting the notion of a big-state bias. Political Scientists Steven J. Brams and Morton D. Davis developed, based on the Electoral College system, the “3/2 rule” in allocating campaign resources, which says that funds should be allocated according to states “roughly in proportion to the 3/2’s power of the electoral votes of each state,” then showed that campaigns do in fact tend to stick close to this rule, which shows the importance of the larger states.
While I agree that there are problems and biases in the Electoral College system, I do not agree that it should be tossed into the dustbin of history in favor of a direct popular vote. The results of such a switch could be catastrophic.
A popular vote would result, as you say, in empowering third parties; however, it would not stop there. Fifth, 8th, and 12th parties would crop up. Parties that exist to advocate an interest on a single issue would gain tangible levels of support. The winner of each election would never garner enough support to come close to a majority. Though we have had 17 elections won by a plurality or minority of the popular vote, 11 of those winners have had at least 47%. A common threshold suggested by direct vote supporters is 40%; if no candidate won 40%, there would be a runoff between the top two candidates. While prudent to not let a candidate step into office with support of only thirtysomething percent of the country, this method invites further complications.
Runoffs are not effective because they tend to have even less turnout than a normal election – which would be especially significant in a country like ours in which voter turnout is roughly 50% to start with. Thus we would have many instances in which our president is decided by markedly fewer than 50% of the voting population, and is a choice between two candidates who together earned possibly less than 70% of the total vote.
The other option is an instant runoff, where voters signify a preference among the candidates in case no one reaches the threshold. Aside from probably confusing many voters, leading to questionable and unreliable results, these results would be indistinguishable from legitimate ones because preferential voting leads to many irrational outcomes. The ripple effect of the consequences of a popular vote could potentially lead to succession by various coalitions of states. This is a great stretch of conclusions, but not impossible.
The Electoral College, while not requiring even a plurality of votes, requires winning candidates to have a large degree of popular support (no one is winning the electoral college vote with a percentage of the popular vote in the 30’s. Well, Lincoln did with 39%, but that’s it), and have that support distributed across the nation. No single region has a large enough bloc to send a candidate to the Oval Office without support from elsewhere in the country. There is a third party paradox to the Electoral College; to have any measurable success in the Electoral vote, minority party candidates must have strong localized support (as Strom Thurmond did in 1948, winning 39 electoral votes with 2.4% of the popular vote, while Henry A. Wallace won 0 electoral votes with his 2.4%, distributed nationwide, that same year) to win any state and effect the outcome of the election, possibly preventing a major candidate from receiving the necessary 270 votes, throwing the election to the floor of the House of Representatives.
The Electoral College system has its flaws. There are large and small-state biases – the large-state bias, though, is not by the design of the system but rather population tendencies and each state’s own method for selecting electors; Nebraska and Maine have chosen to not grant their states electors as a winner-take-all bloc. I would do away with the structural flaw of the constant two electors granted to each state. This was developed at a time when the power of the states was a major concern, as they were wary of a strong Federal government. This is not so much of a problem now, and the President’s job is to serve the people, not the states. But the nature of a Federal system is to grant a certain level of power to the states, and the Electoral College does so – and would continue to do so without the two-vote bump. In a popular vote, states could simply lower the voting age in their state to produce more voters, increasing their states power to influence the election.
The two-party system has curtailed the voices of many minority parties, but has also forced the two major parties to incorporate issues brought to the fore by such parties. The Electoral College fosters coalition-building within the parties, rather than within fractured governments. Though this tends to lead both parties to the middle of the political spectrum, and provides the stability that has seen our country through two+ centuries, many wars, economic depressions, and political scandals. I agree that minority parties and views should get more recognition and response from the government. I would like to see something crazy, like a cabinet position granted to any third party candidate that gets a certain threshold of the popular vote – maybe 10% - as an advisor to the president. Of course, this would be a weird position, and defy the nature of a President-appointed cabinet, but hey, why not? The position could be called the Secretary of the Obscure. Write me in this fall!
Anywho, my point is this: the Electoral College, while old, is not antiquated. Yes, there are some flaws, but it is simply amazing how the framers could develop a system that guided the nation through its rough early years, balanced delicately the power of the Executive, Legislative, and the states, and still serves us properly today. Our election process could use some minor tweaking, but a complete overhaul to a less stable system could cause disastrous outcomes and quickly dissolve a large powerful nation into a fractured coalition of splintered states.