Monday, January 31, 2005
Incoherent Ramblings on Democracy
The way states have formed today, you are going to have a small group of people managing the national government, with authority over more localized government. There are really only a few ways that said group of people can be enabled with power: They can be voted in, they can have sufficient historical control of state bureaucracy to continue rule without elections (China,) they can control the military (Many, many countries,) or they can be assigned with power due to some status, the divine right of kings or religious leaders being two examples.
Democracy has two big advantages over the other types of government. First, there is a mechanism to remove crappy leadership with some regularity (assuming a populace’s ability to recognize the crappy leaders.) Second, historical evidence suggests that countries with liberal democratic governments in place promote greater freedom of ideas, usually indoctrinated in the rights of free speech, free religion, and free press.
A possible and debated third advantage of liberal democracy is another historical suggestion: Democratic countries do not go to war with each other. Of course they still go to war with "non-Democratic" nations, but this idea has been used to suggest that if Democracy was spread globally, major conflict between states would essentially end. Of course War itself seems to be out pacing this transition, as the latest war is not on a state but a noun (or terror networks.)
I believe this is the rationale behind the Bush Administration’s push for democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan: a firm belief that Democratic governments are the best forms for pushing freedoms and preventing wars. They remember the 1980s, and the spread of Democracy through Eastern Europe, and hope to replicate that in the Middle East.
The Middle East does not share the same cultural history as the West however. Thus it’s possible that Democracy is not the “best,” form of government for that region at this time. What is the “best,” anyways, for a society as a whole? Relative peace and general prosperity? Freedom at any cost? Stability? Religious conformity insuring salvation?
Democracy has been around for a while, and I have a firm belief that as a form of government, it’s not the final product or solution. As humans evolve with changing needs and changing modes of interaction, there will come the need for new forms of government that accentuate the ability of people to collectively survive and progress. Power will be concentrated in the hands of those with the means to control it, who will justify their control through force, entitlement, or an election. Part of the human spirit desires control, and desires to be led. Our brains can’t handle the pressure of having to decide everything for ourselves; we are too conditioned to having a system telling us what to do, whether that be parking regulations or shariah. Our goal should be to tweak this system of control to provide what as fair a system as we can allow. Democratic government seems an improvement on current forms, as long as we agree to let ourselves live in this controlled society.
Sunday, January 30, 2005
If a man rolls up to you in a wheelchair... is that not murder?!
It's a well-intention sentiment, but I believe that the answer is a resounding no. In fact, I believe crimes of omission are not crimes at all. What got me thinking about this was that a University of Colorado professor wrote an essay saying that the victims of 9/11 deserved to die because they were part of the American system. Now I'm no big fan of American policies, and I'm usually pretty open to crazy opinions, even if they're as crude as this. But there's no way you can argue that being part of a society that does bad things makes you accountable.
There's that famous quote- "You're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem" by a Black Panther activist during the civil rights movement. Well, it's not that simple. There are too many problems out there. Just because you turn a blind eye to most of the millions of problems out there doesn't mean you're complicit in them. Half the country didn't vote for Bush, but he's doing things in the name of America anyway. Of course, I know no one is taking this essay seriously, but in the larger sense, many people do believe that all Americans are part of the problem, or that all Muslims are part of the problem, or like Marmar implies, our very value systems are part of the problem.
What I'd want to ask this professor is, has he never bought an American made product? Does he buy gasoline? Does he own material? Are there people out there who he could help by giving away his tenured salary? The answer is yes. There are always people in need more than yourself, like the hypothetical man in the wheelchair. Just because you didn't give him any money doesn't mean you killed him. What about the thousands of people dying from diseases around the world? Did you donate to their relief funds? Are you toiling away every day trying to make everyone's life better and not making anyone's life worse? Even if you're an activist, you're just ignoring all the other issues and focusing on the one you feel is important. But is it really the one that is maximizing the amount of good in the world? Do they really believe that the worst problem in the world is drunk driving, or breast cancer, or juvenile diabetes? Well, maybe, but the point is that everyone prioritizes differently, and those who are fighting AIDS can't (or at least shouldn't) be accused of not doing enough to fight poverty in Africa.
Obviously there are times when this is true. Standing idly by while genocide happens and saying that someone else performed the act IS being complicit in the act. But there's a fundamental divide in something that is plainly obvious, direct, and has a clear solution in front of you, and something like a much larger global or even societal problem. And sometimes there may even be no clear solution (Even if you had been a citizen in Nazi Germany, could you have stopped it?) OK, perhaps you can absolve yourself of this by protesting against the problem, but there are too many problems. If I were to protest all that were wrong with the world, I'd have to remove myself from it.
What it comes down to is simple self-interest. We're just animals and we're trying to make our lives livable with the finite time that we have. Hopefully with all the communal outrage, we'll at least have someone protesting everything wrong in the world. And then we can say we are part of the solution. Or pretend to.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Department of Agriculture? More like Deparment of STUPID!
And that's the problem here too. The dairy industry has been flagging over the last 50 years, and consumption of dairy products is at new lows, despite the "got milk?" campaign. So they've resorted to straight-out lying to us. The Harvard Food Pyramid (created with actual nutrition in mind, using the best evidence available to us at present) does suggest using dairy as a calcium supply. But there is conflicting evidence; some studies suggest that dairy causes allergies, and yet others suggest that calcium uptake in milk is not very good.
The jury is still out in regards to dairy products, and they may very well turn out to be good for us. But the fact remains that they've simply jumped the gun, caving to a large industrial interest rather than actually caring about the health of its citizens. I'm sure that the USDA has plenty of research pointing to dairy being good for you, but do they simply ignore the research that suggests otherwise? Anyway, I recommend the Harvard food pyramid. It's just pathetic that we have to resort to a private university for reliable and unbiased information.
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Realistically, the conquering of “tyranny,” is an unachievable goal in a four year term. But I want to focus on Bush’s speech from the very, very, big picture: as a summary of the key values of the West, (Europeans and their descendents.) We believe in freedom, we believe in human rights, as institutionalized in key documents such as the Bill of Rights or the UN Charter, extended over time to different groups of people. (Women, minorities.) We believe constitutional democracy is the best form of government to create a society that protects these universal values. Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Green, I believe most westerners agree with these points.
But what is the source of these values, that are hammered into us from the time we begin school and assimilating information? I believe that the original source is Christianity, with the key premises revised based on the overwhelming wealth of scientific information discovered about the world around us in the last four centuries. Which side you derive these values from, the Christian or the Scientific, goes a long way towards determining your stance on several issues, and is probably the best argument for schism in ideals between groups of people within these Western governments.
While these values have been accepted in the West nearly universally, there exist other places in the world whose histories and societies are shaped by other key factors. In the Middle East, the source of ideology is not Christian thought, but Islam and is derived system of a patrimonial society. The other key factor is not self-modernization but imperial modernization: ideas and facts brought by foreign sources who ruled, divided, and reshaped groups of people and land to their whim. While these Western sources don’t rule in name any more, their influence is still felt. This imperialist strain extends to Asia and Africa as well.
With the world globalizing, the question is, are the Western values actually universal? Can they be accepted by foreign societies that don’t have the cultural history of the West? Is it our place to force these values onto the rest of the world, or should we passively let other societies determine their own way of operating? Freedom and Democracy are certainly the main abstract ideas of the West. Are they the right ideas for all of humanity? And how far do we have to go to bring these ideas to people who don’t want them, and don’t understand them?
Tough questions. I believe the only way to spread these values universally it to let those peoples and countries integrate the positive aspects of basic human rights with their own cultural backgrounds: a process that may take a century or more to accomplish. Unfortunately, it appears the Bush administration wants to force these ideals on certain parts of the world, using the War on Terror, as its justification, and a fundamental belief in the superiority of Western ideals as its will. At some point, Bush and the rest of the West need to take a reality check on their quest, to make realistic goals with achievable outcomes that don’t result in excessive loss of life. Will this happen? On second thought, don't answer that question.
Friday, January 21, 2005
Oh boy, more people for me to hate
Anyway, for those not in the know, 'under God' was added to the pledge of allegiance about 50 years ago during the McCarthyism era. I guess he thought it would weed out the communists, who apparently were physically unable to say 'under God' without then adding "the biggest bitch of them all!" And recently a court ruled (correctly, I might add) that the clause establishes religion.
I don't really find the pledge to be that annoying. God knows (ha!) I've said it hundreds of times and don't find it that offensive. What I find offensive is that OTHER people would get so worked up about it that they would try so hard to keep it. Yes, perhaps we are a nation under God by most definitions, but that doesn't mean we have to force everyone into it. Why don't we just say "One nation, of Christian white people, with liberty and justice for all"?
At least that way, the guy could put on his bumper sticker, "230 years"!
Thursday, January 20, 2005
What are we doing? aka "twixters"
There was a surprisingly un-cheesy and un-condescending article in the recent Time Magazine about the “twixters” – the generation in the mid twenties, out of school but not into the family life just yet. I expected it to poke at the lazy, bar-hopping, sex-seeking, reality-tv watching crowd, lumping us all into a mix of wanton indolence and near-sighted denial, but it was rather honest, accurate, and downright complementary. It basically said we are not necessarily denying the future in an effort to cling to the keg-stand days of yore, but that we either can’t move on due to the lagging economy and the diluted value of a college degree, or are openly experimenting with ideas and experiences before settling into that eternal slumber of “settling down,” ensuring that when we do take that next step, we are doing it right. While I like the idealism and pragmatism this summary of our people promotes (well, not the “can’t” part), I have to say I disagree – I yearn for the keg-stand days of yore. I’m in denial of the future, I’m happy about it, and somebody please go turn on that x-box.
Ok, so that is not completely true. I am excited about being a lawyer in a couple of years, as far off as that may seem. I am excited to not have to read so damn much about jurisdiction, adverse possession, and the like, and to put my hard earned skills and pricey degree to work for those needing a voice and a hand. And, of course, if that does not pay enough to support my video game habits, Mephistopheles is always waiting around the corner, contract, quill and inkwell in hand (at least that is how I picture it), and I can go work for a corporate firm.
But mostly I disagree with the underlying premise of the article – that the “twixters” (I really do not like that word; I refuse to use it without the “”s) are just being careful and exploring their options before continuing down the inevitable path. I do not think the style of the grown-up life of our parents is inevitable; I do not think we are really planning on giving up the lifestyle we have now. Sure, there will be some minor additions and subtractions, but why must it be just a variant, a delayed replica of what our parents did; why can we not live with friends comprising the family unit for more than a decade? I am not suggesting forgoing a family, but why can the friends not remain the close knit extended family they are today? Do we all need to disperse and find our own piece of suburbia? “Settling down” can still happen while going to a bar or club Friday night, playing poker Saturday, and watching football Sunday, right? There are plenty of years before kids, and plenty of babysitters afterwards.
I am not at all suggesting that we do or should ignore visions of the future, nor the responsibilities lying in our way. I just believe that we can continue have fun, worry naught, laugh, and live freely while tending to those tasks. Basically, it comes down to this simple, wholly encompassing question: am I ever going to stop playing video games? The answer, of course, is no. As long as I have Madden, Counter-Strike (by the way, we should start playing that again), and etc., I will be fine. Add a good vodka-tonic, and the sun will always rise on our pleasure-seeking, care-free yet responsibility-conscious days.
So, what are we doing tomorrow night?
p.s. I promise to write something less heavy, less cheesy(?), and more entertaining soon.
No THIS is what's going to happen this weekend
I realize that New England fans are turning the rest of the country against their team and frankly, I don’t mind. It feels good to be loathed. I am worried about this game however. Yes the media has done its usual 180: after near unanimous predictions that the Colts would triumph, the media has swung too far the other way, guaranteeing a Pats Super Bowl victory, or, like Chris Mortenson, naming them the greatest team of all time. That’s a little much. (just a little.) Vegas even has us at three point favorites on the road.
What worries me, however, was the sense of entitlement and satisfaction coming from the Patriots locker room. Granted, it must have been frustrating for the Pats’ players to read Colts/Peyton hype about a team they had beaten 5 times in the last three years but in the big picture, this was a divisional playoff game. It means nothing, win and move on to the next greater task. That’s the attitude that’s needed for the AFC Championship, which will prove to be a much more difficult hurdle.
As TJ pointed out, if you look at the Colts schedule, they didn’t have too many impressive wins; not only that but teams with good d’s were able to contain their offense. The Jets meanwhile, had few bad losses; thus it’s possible that despite the Peyton hype, the Jets were the better team. Plus the Steelers with their physical wide receivers and tougher defense are a much tougher matchup for the Pats.
If the Patriots are going to win, they are going to need to grab some turnovers and take advantage of the Steelers special teams. I’ve seen the Steelers play twice now and remain unimpressed, but they are 15-1 and at home. I think the Patriots are the better team, but if they go in underestimating their opponent, they’ll pay for it. Don’t think for a second I’m picking against them
Patriots 24 Steelers 13
Oh yea there is another game. Atlanta sure looked good against St. Louis, which was the only time I’ve seen them all season. I do expect Philly’s defense to show up for the game however, as typical of the Mike Martz era, it appeared the Rams were asleep at the wheel. Advance scouting reports from a certain feeble Asian have labeled the Falcons “Terrible.” On the other hand, they have to be better than the Panthers, who also pulled out a win in Philly. Atlanta seems to have the right type of team to limit Philly’s offense, leaving Michael Vick to make a few miraculous plays to pull out a victory for the Falcons. In honor of Vick's numerous clutch performances in Madden 03, I’m going with the Dirty Birds.
Atlanta 17 Philly 14
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
The Championship Games!
Let me tell you, the Pats did absolutely dominate the shit out of the Colts. It was actually such domination that it was boring to watch. Basically, they kept the Colts' offense off the field, beat them up when they were on, and did enough on offense to score 20 points.
But I'm still picking the Steelers. Why? Because the Pats played incredible and won by 17, and the Steelers played awful and still won by 3. Because the Pats could only manage 20 points against a terrible Colts defense, and the Steelers are going to be running the same ball control offense that the Patriots want to run so desperately. Because Roethlisberger can't possibly play as badly as he did against the Jets. And because they beat them in Week 8. So the Steelers will be running the ball down the Patriots throats, and when the Pats try to respond with the same, it won't work. Because the Steelers have a good defense. Not like those Colts.
Anyway, 17-3 Steelers is my new improved prediction.
As for the Eagles-Falcons game, I'm picking the Eagles despite the fact that they are cursed and can't possibly win an NFC championship game. So that's right, I'm picking an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl.
Monday, January 17, 2005
Seriously though, it's MLK day
I think everyone can agree that MLK was one of the few great perople of the last century; besides him and Gandhi, I don't think I can think of another unequivocally moral, powerful, important person. We have a holiday to celebrate him, but does anyone actually take his ideals seriously? Peace, liberty, and justice? It seems like today if you think those things, you're labeled a bleeding heart liberal. But let's not forget that Dr. King would be a relatively young 76 years old if he were alive today. Do you think he'd be OK with what's going on in America or the world? Hell no. And who would have the guts to stand against him? Nobody. He would be the strongest voice in the US today, and his moral compass could have guided us for the last 40 years. Instead we are left only with his memory, and people think of him as ancient history, like the founding fathers and pesky things like the bill of rights.
A real team of destiny
Analysis of New Yorker article
Point 1: The Bush administration has been conducting intelligence reports (based in the Department of Defense) to discover possible nuclear sites in Iran, with the intention of conducting air raids against such sites, with possible commando support as early as this winter (that’s summer for you Northern Hemisphere people.)
Analysis: I’m a little annoyed that I didn’t’ put “We invade Iran,” in my predictions, opting for Syria instead. Regardless of the Middle Eastern country, I was certain that the US would make another move. Bush believes he has the country behind him with regards to his foreign policy, and with his reelection and the makeup of Congress, it’s hard to argue that point. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran is perceived to be feasible within the next five years, with England, France, and Germany currently in negotiations to get the Iran government to halt uranium production. Of course, the US refuses to join these negotiations, infuriating the Europeans who need the US additional leverage to coerce Iran in capitulating. Here I believe the Bush administration is intentionally sabotaging any hope of a negotiated solution. By refusing to join in with established powers, the US is insuring no negotiated solution, leaving only the UN Security Council as a channel of diplomacy. Of course the UN Security Council has been neutered by the US after they went around the UN in the Iraq war, as even if the US were to support a resolution, likely China or Russia would veto any action in response to their views on the Iraq War. This opens the door for the US to justify military action, continuing the Bush crusade to forcibly bring democracy to the Middle East. Once again, the Bush administration believes that US military action could cause the reformers of Iran (who have actually had some success over the years) to rise up and overthrow the ruling clerics. To which I, and many other critics of Bush policy say: Are you fucking retarded? Scholars who specialize in Iran take a more eloquent approach and choose to look at the facts, such as that such attacks would be seen as an assault by the US to keep Iran from being a regional player, more likely to unite the population against the US than divide.
Point 2: The administration is in the middle of a power transition, remaking the Pentagon and Department of Defense as the most important controller of covert military action, thereby assuming many of the CIA’s responsibility, increasing the influence and power of Donald Rumsfield, and attempting to bypass reporting such actions to Congress.
Analysis: I have now figured out how Kerry could have won the election: pick his Cabinet three months ahead of time and sell the whole race as ‘Team Kerry,” versus “Team Bush.” How hard would it have been to find people more popular then Rummy and Ashcroft, for example? Oh well, too little too late. Despite the face that every international hates him, Rumsfield and his deputies are well loved in Camp W. The most disheartening aspect of Hersh’s article is the purging of dissenters from within the Bush camp. Evidently non-believers are no longer tolerated.
Point 3: This new power at the Pentagon is considering operations against terrorist networks in up to ten countries, including many allies, from Morocco to Malaysia, that can be best compared to the attempted funding of Central American guerillas in the 1980s. Basically the Pentagon would fund operatives to recruit “fake” terrorist networks that would then attack real ones, causing dissent and mistrust within the global terrorist community.
Analysis: The idea of causing all terrorists to not trust each other sounds nice, but with a new institution in charge (The Pentagon) and an administration that lacks the ability to micromanage a lunch order, this sounds ominous at best. The concept of sovereignty is important, and the US has already done enough damage without having their own men caught by the Malaysian or even worse, Saudi army, which would inevitably happen.
This administration thinks big, envisioning a Middle East where Freedom and Democracy reign and dissuade any terrorists from acting. Maybe they’ll all become Christians too! Yet their execution of plans, most importantly their inability to finish the job is atrocious. How can they possibly be considering going into Iran when Iraq is such a disaster, Afghanistan is still a war zone, and the military is already stretched so thin? Does the administration ever consider the implications of its actions on the United States’ international image? How are we planning on paying for air raids when we don’t have enough body army for troops in Iraq? Back when I played Civilization, I used to sweep through a bunch of cities with catapults or cannons, leaving one measly cannon with its one defense behind to guard my conquered lands. Inevitably some barbarian tribe or third nation would come in and capture my city, to my dismay. You pay for your arrogance when you combine a sense of entitlement with unrealizable visions of grandeur. But hey, we get we voted for.
Team of Destiny
With regards to the Colts and Patriots, I best summed up the state of the “rivalry to a bunch of pleasant Indiana families after David Patten threw a bomb to Troy Brown during the 2001 season, seated in the upper decks of the RCA Dome: “We own you motherfuckers!” Three years later, though personnel and in the case of the Colts, management, have changed that fact remains the same. To be honest, unlike last year when I had complete confidence going into the AFC title clash, the fear factor was high among myself and most Pats fans. We still thought we would win, but our secondary scared us.
As often happens with the Pats, we lucked out with some inclement weather. Colts fans can complain, but they can’t ignore that they lost the opening week game to the Pats in normal conditions, thus insuring they’d have to go on the road to play us. Win that game, and the Colts get the bye and the carpet of the RCA dome. Regardless the snow slowed the track to give our cornerbacks a chance to stay close to Harrison, Wayne, and Stokely while our linebackers and defensive line crushed underneath dinks and dunks while pressuring Manning and limiting Edgerrin James’ production. And, as usual, the Pats defense forced turnovers in a big game.
The difference between the 2004 Patriots and previous teams is that we can run the ball down the throats of opposition. Corey Dillon is just awesome: I’ve only seen three Pats games the whole year, but in each game he makes a move that makes me say: “we have never had a guy who could do that.” He also gets the tough inside yards, turning two yard gains into 5 yarders, a vitally important skill for an elite QB. Of course against the Colts, Kevin Faulk was also running wild, so maybe I am overrating Dillon. His season stats say otherwise.
The Steelers game will be a tougher challenge. They whipped us on Hallow’s eve and held us to 8 rushing yards without Dillon. Will Corey make the difference? Was Big Ben’s shaky performance against the Jets a harbinger of self-destruction against a superior Pats D? Those are the key questions of the rematch. I can’t wait. Oh and TJ, are you nervous?
Monday, January 10, 2005
Near Misses in Video Games... and Duds
I purposely left out Madden off the Top list because I decided not to include sports games. I don't know why I made this distinction, because Madden '03 played with 3 friends in a single league ranks among the most fun I've had with a video game. On a purely technical merit, I felt I am justified from excluding Maddens from the list because 1) they are fundamentally flawed in key aspects every year (like the no pancakes of '03, the no sliding of '04, and the questionable steps backward in franchise mode, like the addition of morale, storyline central, and not being able to turn off any of these annoying features. plus, why have i never seen a PI call in '05?)
Mario Kart 1/64/Double Dash!!
Mario Kart is a different story. I didn't play it. Mario Kart 64 and DD are great and good games respectively; unfortunately they're also too flawed, with the Blue shell and the CPU assistance making it hard for you to appropriately dominate someone. I'm sure if I had played SNES Mario Kart in its heyday, it would be on here. But I didn't, because my mom insisted on throwing away/hiding my SNES.
The most obscure game on this list, obviously, but if you have an Xbox and 3 friends, you must own this game. I don't understand how this game didn't get some sort of critical acclaim, because playing it is incredible. It's like Mario Party, except better, quicker, and probably funnier too. But, it is a rehash of a lot of older games so I couldn't rightly give it Top billing.
This game was partially responsible for bringing FPSs (first person shooters) to the mainstream audience. It was arguably the only good non-family game for the N64. This game also sucked up a lot of my time, and it helped that I was playing against some terrible opponents. Playing 1 on 3 against my friends was just icing on top of the cake.
Street Fighter 2
The hardest omission, this game was absolutely awesome. Unfortunately, what keeps it off the list was that my brother was way too good for me and my 10 year old thumbs couldn't master the Shoryuken. Otherwise it would be up there, possibly better than Smash.
Others not quite good enough to warrant a mention, but I did think of them:
Wing Commander 2/3
Command & Conquer
Deus Ex 1/2
And these games are so overrated that I want to point out that they should never be on anybody's Top list:
Halo 1 was at least sort of innovative; vehicles, good AI; it was like a polished Goldeneye. Still, it wasn't THAT great, even with the co-op multiplayer being incredible. Halo 2 was just Halo 1 with a crappier story and all the same stuff over again.
I don't understand why everyone LOVED this game. Some review said it was "like going into the future 5 years and taking the best game of that time". Um, no. This game is a solid FPS. But there was nothing at all innovative in there. And it was way too hard and labyrinthine.
Zelda: Wind Waker:
This game was nothing but Zelda 64 redone. And it was way too big. And the story sucked. Still, it was a fun game. Especially if you like throwing pigs off cliffs. (I still can't believe I did that!)
Well, I wrote a review already, but basically this game sucks. A lot.
Metal Gear Solid 2:
This is the number one. When I played this game, it was a solid third person shooter. Throughout the game I probably would have given it maybe a 75 or 80. It was decent. Then the end came, and it seemed about 10 hours too early. Oh, plus it was the most screwed-up, japanese-craptastic ending of all time. I remember screaming at the TV because it was so, so, bad: "This better not be the fucking ending.... this better not be the fucking ending!" Anyway, I wish I had never played it.
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Stuart's Top Video Games
My god, this game had it all. A great storyline, great single player, great multiplayer, and there were just a million things you could do in the game. Can I just tell you that I could still probably name every single unit’s statistics right now, off the top of my head? This game ranks as my number 1 in terms of total time played. And I have played a LOT of video games. Anyway, I could probably play this game today and still be totally entertained. In fact, in a few years, when we are all carrying wireless computers and can play Starcraft anytime we want, the pinnacle of human achievement will have been accomplished. This is so cool I have to go to the bathroom!
If there is one bad thing about Starcraft, I would have to say that it’s the fact that it was so intense sometimes it ceased being fun. It was more like a drug, I guess. That’s why it gets top billing. (Though the rest of these are not in any order)
Half-Life proved to everyone that games could be taken seriously, that they could be immersive, and that you can tell a story within a game. And that’s just the single player. Of course, once they came out with multi-player and Counter-Strike was released, a whole new ball of wax was there for us. It’ll probably be a while before we see another game that’s as revolutionary as Half-Life.
This game probably ranks outside of my top 100 in terms of time played; I’ve played it twice, probably totaling 30 hours of gameplay. (Yes, 30 hours ranks out of my top 100. Shut up.) But there’s just something about this game… when I played it the first time, notions of time and space ceased to exist. I think I didn’t get up for 15 hours. I attribute it mostly to the epic feel; you’re out in space, controlling this armada which is the last hope of your race, and you have billions of miles to go. I just can’t describe it. And the fact that I never played it with anyone else just goes to show you that this really could have been the greatest game of all time.
There isn’t much to say about Tetris other than I guarantee you I will be playing it in 25 years, and it will be totally unchanged. And it will be just as fun. That’s pretty high praise in my book.
Doom was great; the first great multiplayer game on PC I have ever played. And you could play it co-op, like contra but so much better, because it was a first-person game. It was 3D (actually it was still 2D but it was the first game to look 3D), it was genuinely scary at times; and it was… just super.
Quake wouldn’t make the list except that it was the first game I ever played I played on a LAN with many other people. Being able to yell at your opponents really brings you into the game, I think. Otherwise, it was just your standard deathmatch. Plus it helped that I was a god at this game, and no one, especially not Ben Helms, could beat me.
I debated putting this on the list… the game lacks depth (it is a fighting game), I think, but then I realized that my friends actively engage in discussions about the game’s characters and pretend to be them while questioning each other’s sexuality. It takes a special game to do that, right?
One of the first platform 3D games, and it made full use of all 3 dimensions. This game offered you freedom; it let you use your imagination to do all sorts of things. And the controls were spectacular as it let you fling Mario all over the place, flying, jumping, punching and kicking. I can’t explain it. If you don’t like this game then I don’t like you.
A great space simulation game; they put you in control of all those cool ships you saw in the movies. And boy, were they fun; some missions even let you play scenes from the movie, like the Death Star trench run. And here’s another Star Wars game:
Knights of the Old Republic
This game gets here solely on the merits of its story, the only one to do it (no, not even Homeworld). It was like playing a movie, except that you got to know all the characters because it was a 30 hour game. And you got to fight with lightsabers. Why couldn’t they just have made episodes 1, 2, and 3 like this?
Grand Theft Auto 3/San Andreas
Now this game took Mario 64’s 3D freedom and opened the floodgates. Basically this game let you do anything… as long as it was horrifically violent. San Andreas upped the freedom level and the gore levels. When you and your friends sit around, passing the controller from person to person, having a conversation which is occasionally interrupted by ‘that was awesome!’ in response to a gory kill or gory crash, you know you’re in good hands.
SimCity let out the budding urban planner in all of us. Seriously, who hasn’t dreamed as a little kid of growing up to be the Mayor of a town, grappling with zoning laws, taxes and city ordinances? OK, what this game really did was unleash the little creator in all of us, basically giving us the ultimate train set. It was more of a toy and sandbox than a game, and it was awesome because of it.
And if SimCity let out the creator in all of us, Civ let out the Genghis Khan/Attila the Hun/Alexander the Great/random psychotic tyrant in us. Plus, it was educational, teaching us that the Pyramids allowed the Egyptians to undergo regime change without any civil disobedience, and that Darwin’s Voyage let us get two free technological discoveries! Or… that a modern tank can indeed be taken down by a group of veteran spearmen. I love these games.
So there’s my list. I’m sure I left a few off, so I’ll probably update it later.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
Stu, Marmar, I apologize. (and Stu too).
If you accept 1, then 2 and 4 are pretty easy to accept. And if you accept 2, then 3 follows. And he lays out a pretty good argument for 1, although I believe he is off by an order of magnitude in the timeframe. (I think we're still 100+ years away from robotic sentience. He lays out evidence like Moore's Law, which I think is soon going to fail.) Also, if you accept that we can build sentient robots, then from there, they will most likely increase their intelligence much, much, much faster than humans. Anyway, these arguments are merely details. But Marmar (scroll down for his post!) renewed my interested in the subject. What do we want to do with these robots?
de Garis (the author) pitches the debate as a Cosmist vs. Terran battle. And people must choose sides, because it's not a debate with much middle ground; either we build these robots, or we don't. Cosmists believe that we should, Terrans believe that the risks are too great. I don't want to rehash all the arguments that he made, but I will say why I believe what I believe.
I think I'm a Cosmist. The main reason I would be willing to build these robots is that I think that the human race is doomed, like every species is, like this planet is. Eventually we will die off; our bodies were not designed to live in outer space, nor were they designed to live on planets with high gravity, or without oxygen. We may be a tremendously adaptable species here on Earth, but outside of this little blue jar, we aren't shit.
I think, that it would be a tremendous waste, for humans to pass up the chance to build something that can leave the Earth, explore the universe, and perhaps be something permanent and immortal (at least till the universe itself ends... but maybe these things could figure that out too!). If you accept that we will die out, then it is almost no jump at all to accept that we should build these artilects. Yes, there's a chance they could kill us, and there may be no reason to hasten it, but how can we ever know when we are on the brink of extinction? By then it may be too late and our one chance to build these things will have passed.
There is one other thing: if you have accepted that humanity is doomed, then building these robots offers some hope as well. Yes, they might wipe us out, or they might ignore us, but there is a chance they could help us too. And that could be worth it as well.
I also want to address Marmar's comments on the existence of a soul, irrationality, and the human existence. I really shouldn't get into any conversation that talks about 'souls' but I think the idea is bunk; just human hubris, much like the American-centric pride that I've criticized before. Somehow we humans think we are special; not just special; but divine creatures. Isn't it enough that we are self-aware, able to make decisions based on a variety of emotions and stimuli? Why does the soul have to enter into the equation? Why does it have to be god-given?
In terms of irrationality, I think there are great things about human irrationality. Of course, I'm a human, so it's not that surprising that I think that. Love, sacrifice, humor, happiness: emotions in general are incredibly powerful things. And yes, in many ways I would pity a robot that couldn't feel them. But couldn't that robot pity me for having to sleep 8 hours a day, or only being able to keep a thought in my head for minutes at a time? Or only being able to make vague decisions based on totally incomplete data? The human experience is not the only way to look at life and existence. All I'm trying to say is that we are special. We're just not divine, perfect creatures. Different is good.
I would like to leave with one last thought to chew on. When scientists observe ants, cells that make up the brain, and other social orders, they sometimes see something called emergent intelligence. Basically, it's the ability of an organization to have an intelligence that no single individual has (or even could have). In ants, it's the ability to solve problems (some pretty complex problems, I might add), distribute work, and impose order on these rather unintelligent ants. In human brains, it's language, sentience, and rationality, arising out of simple electrical neurons. We look at these things and are amazed at how such simple things can give rise to such incredible, wondrous products. Maybe, just maybe, the way humans can create emergent intelligence is to create something that transcends us.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
AI and Robots
Now I know less about A.I. capabilities than co-blogger K Lim, but I do know something about evolution, which was a central theme of “I, Robot”, that robots evolved from having no emotions or individual cognitive thought, either on their own or through the improved programming of humans. (Either the movie wasn’t clear enough, or I was distracted.) A “soul,” or “emotions,” is the key thing that separates humanity from machines in the science fiction genre, best personified by Data from ST: TNG (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are just not cool enough.) Data is a superior being in strength, speed, and ability, whether from lifting an amount of weight to calculating two numbers together to analyzing a piece of classical music. Yet he is portrayed as incomplete, as searching, for an understanding of emotions, for the differences between and the humans he encounters.
To take a step back, however, it is clear that Data is the superior being. In the scale of hundreds of thousands of years, the emotions and ups and downs of humans do not matter. If you pick ten points on a time scale over the last million years, and attempt to explain the expansion of Homo sapiens sapiens as a species, you would look at factors such as adaptability, increased capability of survival, technological innovation (fire!). In the long term, machines, androids, whatever we create would have greater survival skills in terms of adapting to the environment around us. Thus humanity would seem to be at a large disadvantage on a Darwinian scale.
There are two other key factors, however, the drive to procreate and the potential for coexistence between man and Artificial Intelligence. Humans greatest strength over machines is an evolutional mechanism, refined over billions of years, to force procreation; a combination of sex drive, love, and attachment to children. No matter how many digits of pi a supercomputer can calculate, it doesn’t want to go out, find another computer, fuck it, settle down, and raise a few hand-held PCs.
Would intelligent or self-aware machines all of a sudden incorporate this trait? Can a machine desire companionship, control, love, and most importantly, the continuation beyond its existence of beings like itself? In most science fiction, it is assumed that the creators of AI would humanize their creations, whether through naming individuals or, as in the case of “I, Robot” creating robots with faces that look like humans. We may yet do that, but I think where science fiction gets it wrong is in having the intelligent machines take on important biological traits. In futuristic depictions, self-aware machines necessarily group together and attack humanity. If a machine becomes self-aware, it may not necessarily have the programming (in our case, biological programming) to procreate, or to even group together as a faux species. After all, humans’ procreative programming far predated our self-awareness or language. Having been in existence for billions of years, I cannot imagine humans effectively replicating this evolutionary force. Moreover, if humanity does not pose a threat to the machines’ continued existence, there is no reason for the machines to wipe out humanity for simply sadistic reasons. That is a fantasy solution. However, as creators of said machines, it is unlikely humans would accept coexistence with a machine race in any relationship other than servitude. Thus the future existence of the machines could be threatened, forcing them to compete with us.
The other issue that “I, Robot” explores is whether a robot or form of artificial intelligence can have a soul. In this movie, the soul is portrayed as having to do with emotions, and with the preeminence of certain values above rational outcomes in terms of making decisions. In many ways, futuristic explorations of other beings with souls, (even if they are created by us) are really ignoring the central questions: what makes humans different than any other living thing? Do we have “souls?” Do our emotions set us apart or make us special in any way? If we do have souls, when did we get them? Or are they simply creations of cognitive beings attempting to explain their existence?
My central point is this: in creating artificial life forms that combine the emotive, irrational advantages of humans with the mechanical superiority of a machine, we are playing with fire. We cannot predict what will happen because we do not adequately understand ourselves and what a “soul” is, whether it is a function of our large brains, our language, a supernatural force, or something we haven’t even thought of. Thus we must exercise extreme caution as we go down the road to intelligent mechanical life. Unfortunately, it only takes one group of scientists to take us to the point of no return. I am not saying we should forgo the benefits that come from technological innovation. I’m just saying we should step back and think if we really know what we are doing.
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Rizzs, et al, and the ad wizards won't have to think long and hard to come up with a new nickname, since the signing is a gift set, including a new shortstop and a Mariners' style nickname at no extra charge! "Pokey." It's so...Mariner. They now boast a lineup including Ichi, Boonie, Willie (x2?), Winny, and Bucky (?). I just hope they apply their brilliant nicking to Sexson too.
The Mariners' infield defense is going to be a lot of fun to watch. Hopefully Boone regains some of the steps he lost last year. Sure, he's aging, but I hope some of his decline was due to playing on a craptastic team.
The M's now have that perfect 9-hitter we've been dying to have ever since Omar left town. It's really a tough spot to fill. Sticking a slow crappy hitter just doesn't cut it; you need a short, speedy crappy hitter, otherwise your lineup is blown to shreds and you might as well bat your leadoff guy 8th, your best hitter 6th, and scrap the DH altogether. And don't forget to use Jeremy Giambi in the 1-hole.
All kidding aside, I'm really excited about rooting for a guy named Pokey.
Edit, 6:53pm: ESPN reports the deal as 1 year, 900,000 with another 300,000 in performance bonuses, and an option for either 2.25 or 2.75, with 500,000 in bonuses, for 2006. No word on the option buyout.
Monday, January 03, 2005
Attack of the Killer Tsunamis
Could anything really have been done? Well, the obvious answer is no. Not until the countries affected became rich enough to have less densely populated regions, infrastructure that could have handled an emergency broadcast, as well as stronger buildings, better emergency responses, and better medical care. So aside from a totally unified and globalized world, I don't think anything could have been done.
I like to think one of the things this blog is about is taking a look at the media coverage and filtering it through our own eyes. In that light, there are a few things I'd like to point out.
-The media has not done a terrible job of covering it; but I just can't shake the feeling that most people in the media are just going through the motions. And here come the 9/11 references, but the coverage just isn't as ubiquitous, and it seems really detached. Granted, the tsunamis hit at different times, and there weren't as many cameras around (nor has all the footage come in). But it seems like it's a matter of 'if it didn't happen to America, it didn't really happen.'
-I can't necessarily blame the media for the focus on the U.S., either. I mean, the Chicago Tribune published a "Chicago Connection" blurb the day after the tsunami hit, telling about how a person from Chicago was probably dead, as if that made it more real. For some people, I suppose it does. But I guess I have a fault with this technique in general. Remember the 1998 embassy bombings? The first few times I heard the report, it went something like this: "The U.S. embassy in Nairobi was bombed, 16 Americans are dead." This led me to believe that it was a relatively minor incident. What they neglected to mention was that another 230 people were dead who weren't Americans. When I visited Kenya a few months later, I saw first hand how destructive it was; buildings destroyed, windows shattered in a half-mile radius. If we could just get off the notion that American lives are worth more, it would probably do a lot to help people think globally.
-Along the same lines, I noticed Yahoo! and a few other sites being inordinately focused on Jet Li and Petra Nemcova fates that day. I guess celebrity lives are also worth more. Thank god, because I really need to see the sequels to Cradle 2 the Grave and Romeo Must Die. And Nemcova is hot, right? We can always use hot people.
-Photographs. My brother pointed this out, but how come it seems with any disaster they just slap a photo of some woman crying over her dead rellatives? Do we really need to see the human suffering every time? Is that all there is, people crying? I guess that we do, it sort of brings us into the scene. But it seems like they could just take any stock photo of 'person in distress' and reuse it for any disaster. Maybe I'm just sick and demented, but I sort of wanted to see more pictures of the actual damage.
There's not much more to say. Like I said, the media coverage has been decent. That's just my take on it. 141,000 and rising. Wow.
Sunday, January 02, 2005
NFL Playoffs: Wildcard Round
Well the answer to that last question is, I’m not. But I will be watching the NFL playoffs anyways. Playoff football is also fairly predictable, although Carolina’s run last year broke many playoff rules. This year, I see the AFC following the general playoff trends (home teams winning in the early rounds, hot teams building on streaks,) while in the NFC, anything could happen, mostly because all the teams are terrible. Plus, you know I’m picking the Pats in the end no matter what.
St. Louis at Seattle: How do you pick either of these teams? Seattle was one of the most disappointing teams of the year, yet they still end up the four seed with as good a shot as anyone to make the Super Bowl. They have beaten a total of zero good teams this year unless you count beating Carolina in the middle of their 1-7 run. They lost to Dallas at home four weeks ago. They got crushed by the Jets whom the Rams just beat. They made the playoffs through beating Arizona at home by three and barely holding off a Matt Schaub led Falcons squad. They also lost to the Rams twice.
Meanwhile the Rams haven’t won on the road since October 10th (in Seattle), losing each road game by 13 points or more. While they beat Seattle twice, they gave up 150+ yards to Shaun Alexander in each game. Oh yea, they are 8-8! They also benefited from playing Philly’s C team two weeks ago. They also have a coach who is the primary example of my proposed “Madden rule.” Every coach should be forced to play Madden until they are able to properly manage the end of the game. They even have two minute drill mode to focus preparation.
Anyways, if I was totally objective, I would pick St. Louis, but I realize I predicted Seattle would make the playoffs in my last blog entry. Thus I grudgingly say: Seattle 31 St. Louis 27.
NY Jets at San Diego: While the Jets did beat San Diego early in the year, the Chargers have been steadily improving over the entire year, while the Jets appear to be taking steps back. Drew Brees’ dominance is the development of the 2004 season that makes the least sense to this transplant. How is this happening? Is he actually playing well, or is a Kurt Warner syndrome, simply a QB with great weapons around him running the show and getting too much credit? Please explain this to me! Anyways both Schottenheimer and Herm Edwards are not known for their playoff coaching acumen, so we can assume they will cancel each other out. If San Diego’s stiff run D can contain Curtis Martin, this could get ugly.
San Diego 34 NYJ 14
Denver at Indianapolis: Did you know Jake Plummer broke John Elway’s single season yardage record and tied him for most TD passes in a season? This all offense NFL has gotten out of hand. Not that I, or anyone else, minds. This game is a repeat of last year, where Denver beat Indy late in the season and then got smoked in the first round the first of the two Indy “no punt” games. Hopefully Denver’s win will push the line down a little for round one, and then everyone can clean up. I predict another Indy blowout.
Indianapolis 48 Denver 17
Minnesota at Green Bay: The Vikings crashed and burned yet again, but undeservingly made the playoffs at 8-8. They have no rushing offense (only two 100 yard games on the year). Their defense is still suspect. Yet they do have Daunte and Moss. With all the hype surrounding Peyton’s accomplishments, it’s time to give Daunte some respect for his QB line: 39 TDs, 4700 yards, a 70 percent completion percentage and a QB rating of 110. An on fire Culpepper and Moss could push the Vikes over the top. As usual, the NFL has stacked the deck for the Packers by starting their home game later, ensuring a greater chance of snow and cold coming into play. Yet the Favre home magic appears to have slipped a little. Thus, even though GB just beat Minny in Minny, I’m going out on a limb.
Minnesota 24 Green Bay 23