Monday, March 31, 2008
Obama endorsements continue to come in
WASHINGTON -- Slowly but steadily, a string of Democratic Party figures is taking Barack Obama's side in the presidential nominating race and raising the pressure on Hillary Clinton to give up.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is expected to endorse Sen. Obama Monday, according to a Democrat familiar with her plans. Meanwhile, North Carolina's seven Democratic House members are poised to endorse Sen. Obama as a group -- just one has so far -- before that state's May 6 primary, several Democrats say.
Helping to drive the endorsements is a fear that the Obama-Clinton contest has grown toxic and threatens the Democratic Party's chances against Republican John McCain in the fall.
What's going on in Basra?
Whatever is going on, we can be certain that the Bush administration and other deluded fools/bald-faced liars (and when it comes to Iraq policy, McCain is definitely one or the other) will claim that:
In urban warfare like this it's frequently hard to figure out who's "won" and who's "lost." Often both sides lose. In this case, though, it certainly looks as if Maliki has lost more than Sadr. Both sides have taken casualties, but Sadr doesn't appear to have lost any ground; he's forced Maliki to come to him to ask for terms; he's successfully projected a statesmanlike image throughout; and politically he seems to be in stronger shape than before. Maliki, conversely, appears by all accounts to have launched an ill-timed mission with inadequate troops and then been unable to close the deal. The Iraqi army and the redoubtable Gen. Mohan al-Furayji, the much lauded leader of the regular forces in Basra, are both looking pretty banged up in the bargain too.
This could all change tomorrow, but right now that's about where we stand. It's increasingly hard to see how the Basra offensive ends up being a plus for Maliki and his allies. Including us, unfortunately.
- This is an important sign of progress, showing that we're winning the occupation.
- Despite this great progress, or perhaps because of this progress, we can't decrease the number of our occupying forces for the foreseeable future.
Bush cast the battling in Basra not as a setback but as more fodder for optimism, a sign that Iraq's leaders were ready to challenge the militias that dominate the southern city with a tough security crackdown designed and led by the government's own forces. "The enemy will try to fill the TV screens with violence," the president said. "But the ultimate result will be this: Terrorists and extremists in Iraq will know they have no place in a free and democratic society."(And just to boast of how savvy I am, I wrote those two points before seeing the Post article.)
Petraeus has recommended a pause in troop withdrawals after the extra combat brigades that Bush sent last year leave this summer, and the president has been laying the political groundwork for adopting that approach.
For the Bush administration, the occupation of Iraq has long since become an end in itself. It is no longer tied to any broader strategic goals (with the possible exception of the enrichment of certain defense contractors and oil companies). The justifications come and go. The occupation remains.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Democratic power brokers want nominee before convention
While signing autographs, [Pelosi] answered two reporters' questions, including if she thought the uncommitted Democratic superdelegates, who will likely be the deciding factor in the nomination fight, should make their preference known by July. "It will be much sooner, right after the public has voted," Pelosi said.(via Drdemocrat on DailyKos) This is good. I don't see how Clinton can win the nomination. But either way, I'm glad that folks like Reid and Pelosi are signaling that they're not going to let this drag on once all the primaries are done.
And I want to reiterate my stance that I will support either Clinton or Obama. I prefer Obama, and think that Hillary doesn't have a realistic chance of winning. And I think she should concede the nomination. But I'm not going to issue whinny statements how I'm picking up my ball and going home if my preferred candidate doesn't get the nomination. We've been hearing a lot about that recently and think it's highly counter-productive to anyone who cares about a whole swath of progressive issues. If Clinton does somehow pull it off, I will support her against McCain.
I'm currently not donating money to either Obama or Clinton, because I'm waiting until there's a nominee. I don't want to give them money to fight each other. I want the Democrat to defeat McCain in November.
Bush, our president, is a war criminal
The recent political campaign has shifted our focus away from the US government's depraved tactics. But the reality is still there. My government tortures people as a matter of official policy.
Friday, March 28, 2008
More UU jokes!
As our minister, Bill Hamilton-Holway, once said in reference to Jesus Christ:
"Gods Rest Ye, Unitarians" (UU Version)
Gods rest ye, Unitarians, let nothing you dismay; Remember there's no evidence there was a Christmas Day; When Christ was born is just not known, no matter what they say, O, Tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact, Glad tidings of reason and fact.
Our current Christmas Customs come from Persia and from Greece, From solstice celebrations of the ancient Middle East. This whole darn Christmas spiel is just another pagan feast, O, Tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact, Glad tidings of reason and fact.
There was no star of Bethlehem, there was no angels' song; There could not have been wise men for the trip would take too long. The stories in the Bible are historically wrong, O, Tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact, Glad tidings of reason and fact!
We believe in the glory.
But we don't believe the story.
Growing up geek
Now I'm an adult. I pine for the time to play with all my D&D stuff & video games.
Trade Show and Demo Hall of Shame
Um....I guess Tim Moynihan of PC World doesn't read Internal Monologue or Joystiq.
Can a failed mind-control demo be embarrassing? After all, we're talking about some seriously complicated technology here. During this year's Game Developers' Conference, Emotiv Systemsdemonstrated its Emotiv EPOC neuroheadset, which reads brain impulses and translates what the wearer is thinking about into on-screen game movements. That's what the press release said, anyway.
The demo started off smoothly enough, as the headset wearer made a giant animated head on the screen mimic his real-life facial expressions. But things went awry when the wearer was asked to make an on-screen object disappear, and again when the handlers from Emotiv tried to put EPOC through its paces in an actual game. The device didn't do much of anything.
What's more, Emotiv's wireless game controller, bundled with the headset, couldn't control the in-game action. Emotiv game developer Zachary Drake described the scene as "demo hell," and Emotiv CEO Nam Do later explained that the 2.4-GHz wireless A/V system at the show interfered with the headset. (According to GDC showgoers,including PC World's Darren Gladstone, the mind-control headset performed nicely at Emotiv's booth.)
Regrettably, no video footage of the doomed demo has appeared anywhere on the Web. Maybe that's just a stroke of luck for Emotiv Systems--or maybe the whole company donned EPOC headsets and willed all evidence of the disastrous demo to disappear.
My fame goes ever onward...
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Democratic bigwigs ready to ease Clinton out?
Question: Do you still think the Democratic race can be resolved before the convention?
Q: How is that?
Reid: It will be done.
Q: It just will?
Reid: No, it will be done. I had a conversation with Governor Dean (Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean) today. Things are being done.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Internal Monologue celebrates 2 years of blogging
With those words I kicked off this blog 2 years ago today. More celebratory navel-gazing to come in the next few days.
Save the Mars rovers!
Due to budget cuts, one of NASA's Mars rovers might be shut down:
Scientists plan to put one of the twin Mars rovers to sleep and limit the activities of the other robot to fulfill a NASA order to cut $4 million from the program's budget, mission team members said Monday.This seems like a colossally stupid idea. The major expenses of the program have already been spent, and the major risks (launch, landing on the surface without crashing) have been passed. To be able to tool around the surface of Mars for $20 million a year is a frickin' bargain. Certainly better value for our science dollar than the International Space Station. Hullabaloo's tristero sees this as more Bush administration stupidity:
The news comes amid belt-tightening at NASA headquarters, which is under pressure to cover cost overruns of a flagship Mars mission to land a Hummer-sized rover on the Red Planet next year.
The solar-powered rovers Spirit and Opportunity have dazzled scientists and the public with findings of geologic evidence that water once flowed at or near the surface of Mars long ago.
Both rovers were originally planned for three-month missions at a cost of $820 million, but are now in their fourth year of exploration. It costs NASA about $20 million annually to keep the rovers running.
To shut them off in order to save such a small chunk of change is simply criminal. And it reminds us that the Bush administration goes much further than not caring about competence, expertise, or excellence. They feel compelled to crush it.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Please vaccinate your children
I nearly died at 15 months from a case of the measles that I contracted from an unimmunized older child. My case was so severe that I ended up with corneal scarring, which is a complication usually seen in adults. I just think that in cases like this where the good health of the public is at stake, government intervention is needed.I do think vaccine companies should be scrutinized to make sure their immunizations are as safe as possible. And there are legitimate reasons not to have certain vaccines for medical reasons. But blanket rejections of the whole process are just bizarre, and are leading to serious public health consequences.
Next thing you know, parents will be "opting out" of the public sewage system and having their children poop in the gutter.
The Rain of Pain Falls Mainly from McCain
All I can say is, if that video is real, then McCain is done for. If it's a Democratic hit job, then McCain is still done for. Unless of course, McCain delivers a riveting 38-minute speech clarifying his stance re: this video that simultaneously breaks the nation's long silence regarding the issue of how some people have really bad taste.
I can't find any information on whether this is real or not.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Bill Maher lays into McCain
McCain's recent statements claiming Shia Iran is supporting Sunni Al Qaeda in Iraq show what an idiot he is in the very areas in which he claims expertise. I wish the press would focus more on what a fantasyland he's living in. This guy is at least as deluded as Bush when it comes to the Middle East. That is so scary.
We cannot wait until August to start showing the nation what a nut this guy is.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Term of the Day: LOLCAT
A Lolcat is an image combining a photograph of an animal, most frequently a cat, with a humorous and idiosyncratic caption in (often) broken English referred to as Kitty Pidgin, or lolspeak. The idea originated on 4chan imageboards as Caturday. The name "lolcat" is a compound word of "lol" and "cat".And if I have to explain to you that "lol" means "laughing out loud", them I'm surprised you had enough savvy to find this blog post.
Girl in "3 am" Clinton ad makes ad for Obama
Man gets pregnant
NP-complete problem solved in constant time
Clinton has already lost
(via DailyKos) The InTrade futures markets are a little more sanguine on Clinton, giving her a 23% chance of winning as of this post.
One big fact has largely been lost in the recent coverage of the Democratic presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning.
Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish ahead in pledged delegates. That means the only way she wins is if Democratic superdelegates are ready to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency.
Unless Clinton is able to at least win the primary popular vote — which also would take nothing less than an electoral miracle — and use that achievement to pressure superdelegates, she has only one scenario for victory. An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else.
People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.
As it happens, many people inside Clinton’s campaign live right here on Earth. One important Clinton adviser estimated to Politico privately that she has no more than a 10 percent chance of winning her race against Barack Obama, an appraisal that was echoed by other operatives.
In other words: The notion of the Democratic contest being a dramatic cliffhanger is a game of make-believe.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
The Robotrons are coming!
They can walk. Now all they need are guns and the ability to self-replicate. Robotrons may arrive well before 2084.
It's cool and scary. Definitely the quadrupedal gait is lifelike enough to fall into the uncanny valley.
For more information on this robot, "Big Dog", see this post or Boston Dynamics' web page.
MSNBC needs a new ad selection algorithm
Obama is a good speaker. After years of having to listen to Bush it will be such a relief.
This clip has apparently been viewed 1.6 million times as of this posting. I'm sure people have seen other versions of it on YouTube as well.
And remember, Obama wrote this one himself.
In a way, it's sad that a speech like this from a presidential candidate is considered so breakthrough.
I can't wait for Americans to see Obama and McCain side by side.
UPDATE: A lot of people are watching this speech. It's "going viral" as the saying goes.
WWII German fighter ace discovers he killed his favorite author
This, of course, just brings home the devastation and suffering that all killing produces.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
McCain confuses Shia and Sunni
Sen. John McCain, traveling in the Middle East to promote his foreign policy expertise, misidentified in remarks Tuesday which broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from Iran.I'll have to look into this further, but it seems to blow any foreign policy credibility he has completely out of the water. It's frightening that he could make a mistake like this.
He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda. In fact, officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq.
What Krugman did with his spare time in the 1970's
Obama is cool...
Arthur C. Clarke dies
Monday, March 17, 2008
The Delegate Math
What it boils down to is this: Depending on what happens with the remaining contests, and what happens with Florida and Michigan, Clinton would need to get from about two-thirds (if things go her way) to three quarters (if they go Obama's way) of the currently undeclared superdelegates to go for her to secure the nomination. I think this is highly unlikely, but it is possible.
By the way, Clinton and McCain should probably both release their tax returns. Obama released his.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Why Bear Stearns is collapsing UPDATED
The deal calls for J.P. Morgan to pay $2 a share in a stock-swap transaction, with J.P. Morgan Chase exchanging 0.05473 share of its common stock for each Bear Stearns share. Both companies' boards have approved the transaction, which values Bear Stearns at just $236 million based on the number of shares outstanding as of Feb. 16. At Friday's close, Bear Stearns's stock-market value was about $3.54 billion. It finished at $30 a share in 4 p.m. New York Stock Exchange composite trading Friday.Emphasis added. What happened between Friday afternoon and now that would cause Bear Stearns to lose 93% of its value? Or what did the boards of those companies (who approved the deal) know that the investors on Wall Street didn't? Some one clue me in, please.
DailyKos's pontificator is equally flabbergasted:
That is . The Wall Street Journal was reporting a sale for $2.1 billion just hours ago. $250 million is less than one quarter of the value of Bear Stearns' freaking office building. They should have just sold it for $1 and gotten it over with. In Wall Street terms, selling an entire financial services firm like Bear Stearns for $250 million is not much different than selling it for $1.
I think we have the answer right here, buried at the end of this this NYT article:
The demise of the hedge funds began a slow but persistent loss of market confidence in the bank. Such an erosion can be devastating for any investment bank, especially one like Bear Stearns, which has a leverage ratio of over 30 to 1, meaning it borrows more than 30 times the value of its $11 billion equity base.(via Marginal Revolution) Holy fucking shit. I did not know this. Any institution that borrows over 30 times its equity base deserves to go under. And the financial sector deserves a good slap upside the head for letting this happen. What sort of idiot lends money to someone who has already borrowed 30 times its value? Is there something I'm missing here?
P.S.: Here's a good article on the risky schemes some hedge funds might be using to make great returns (at the risk of utter collapse if the bets go wrong).
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Mad Latinist's Gygaxiana collection
Revotes in Michigan and/or Florida may not be so good for Clinton
What would happen if an agreement were announced today that there would be re-votes in Florida and Michigan? Immediately, the previous primaries in those states would become dead letters. Instead of being 200,000 votes down in the popular vote (by her campaign's count), or 500,000 down (by my count, which gives Clinton her Florida votes), Clinton would be down in the popular vote by almost 1 million. And 193 delegates that they are currently counting would suddenly disappear.
And at that point, the magnitude of Clinton's deficit would be too obvious to spin away. Yes, there would be two additional large-state contests in which to win back the million popular votes and hundreds of delegates. But unless she did significantly better in both states than she did in the illegal primaries, she would lose, not gain, ground, by her own calculations. Since she was on the ballot alone in Michigan before, it's highly unlikely that she will do better there. It's very possible that she could do better than the 50 percent she won in Florida in January, but since it would now be a two-person race, it's a dead certainty that Obama would do significantly better than the 32 percent he got in January, thus adding to his total popular vote margin and delegate count even if he lost again, and so it would be a net loss for Clinton. Re-votes cannot help Clinton be "perceived" as the winner of the popular vote.
Contrary to the gullible media's belief that "time" is a "powerful ally" on Clinton's side, in fact, Clinton's only ally is uncertainty. The minute it becomes clear what will happen with Michigan and Florida -- re-vote them, refuse to seat them, or split them 50-50 or with half-votes, as some have proposed -- is the minute that Clinton's last "path to the nomination" closes. The only way to keep spin alive is to keep uncertainty alive -- maybe there will be a revote, maybe they'll seat the illegal Michigan/Florida delegations, maybe, maybe, maybe. In the fog of uncertainty, Penn can claim that there is a path to the nomination, but under any possible actual resolution of the uncertainty, there is not.
Don't take too long in the bathroom...
Mad Latinist pays tribute to Gygax
Republicans have a corruption problem
The former treasurer for the National Republican Congressional Committee diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and possibly as much as $1 million -- of the organization's funds into his personal accounts, GOP officials said yesterday, describing an alleged scheme that could become one of the largest political frauds in recent history.
For at least four years, Christopher J. Ward, who is under investigation by the FBI, allegedly used wire transfers to funnel money out of NRCC coffers and into other political committee accounts he controlled as treasurer, NRCC leaders and lawyers said in their first public statement since they turned the matter over to the FBI six weeks ago.
"The evidence we have today indicated we have been deceived and betrayed for a number of years by a highly respected and trusted individual," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the NRCC chairman.
P.S.: Isn't it annoying what words some mainstream newspapers (in this case, the Washington Post) choose to turn into links? I mean, why would you turn "FBI" into a link, but not "National Republican Congressional Committee"? I reader is a lot more likely to wonder what the latter is than the former. And when you click on it, it doesn't tell you what "GOP" (or whatever) is. It just shows you a list of other Post articles that contain that term. It's annoying how newspaper websites don't use links to cite sources, the way real bloggers do. It would be cool if they linked to transcripts, press releases, video footage, audio recordings, other articles etc., that backed up what they're stating. But they never use links that way. It looks like they just run some automated script that turns certain popular terms into search queries. Lame.
One Laptop per Child
Here's a worthy cause if there ever was one: getting laptop computers to children in poor parts of the world. They've made a special laptop that's designed especially for children. One of my co-workers got one as a hacking project (actually he got two: in order to get one, you have to order two. You get one, and one is donated to a child somewhere). Everyone at work was oohing and ahhing over it. Above is a picture I took with my cellphone. (There are better pictures from Google images.)
The thing is being billed as an educational tool, of course. No doubt to make us rich, western, do-gooders feel all warm and fuzzy (and morally righteous) about supporting the project. And I'm sure it will help with education, blah blah blah. But you know what the kids are going to want: games. Fortunately, my coworker found a list of games you can download for it, and it includes some classics like DOOM and SimCity.
Maybe when Quinn is a bit older, we'll get him and one other lucky child somewhere one of these things. By then I assume they'll have a version that can run Grand Theft Auto III.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Talk without speaking
(HT: Sullivan) I'm not completely blown away by this as Sullivan and Marc Andreessen are (no "brain exploding" here.), because the vocabulary it can recognize is limited, and it seems to take a while to activate. And of course my company, Emotiv Systems, is in the business of interpreting brain signals itself. So what might seem miraculous to you is more of a "yeah, that's cool; I can see how you might go about doing that" to me.
Happy Pi day
Let's see how much I can still do from memory:
*Oops, I forgot 7494459230
I need to practice. (It's also harder to type than to say)
If you want more digits, find them here or a zillion other places on the Web.
What $5,500 an hour ought to get you
I expect you to quote, from memory, the number Pi to the 383rd digit in a way that I never get bored and finally understand why I was required to take calculus.
I expect you to rail on about the superiority of "on-base-percentage" when compared to the antiquated "batting-average" and be able to speak at length, and with passion, on how the designated hitter is a great American travesty.
For 100,000 nickels and 500,000 pennies I expect you to have surgically implanted outlets to recharge my iphone and laptop so that, seconds after our eighth coitus, I’ll be able to simultaneously log into DKos using two technologies.
A frickin' MOAT!?!?!
(HT: Maestro via email). First of all, are they sure it's the illegal immigrants committing those crimes?. All the studies I've read show that illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes than native people. It makes sense: they don't want to draw attention to themselves and get deported. Second of all, where are they going to get the water for this project? Those who are using it for agriculture aren't going to want to give it up (and probably don't want to their access to undocumented workers impeded either). Third of all, is the river/channel really going to stop anyone? Aren't there more cost effective solutions?
Faced with high-levels of crime and illegal immigration, authorities in Yuma are reaching back to a technique as old as a medieval castle to dig out a "security channel" on a crime-ridden stretch of the border and fill it with water.
"The moats that I've seen circled the castle and allowed you to protect yourself, and that's kind of what we're looking at here," said Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden, who is backing the project.
I know, how about we have a realistic immigration policy? Yes, Tom Tancredo's head might explode, but his quest for the nomination didn't get anywhere, so who cares?
I'm impressed that they are touting the environmental benefits of this moat, though:
This is yet another example of how their reality has lapped our satire. The Onion does have a video segment on this topic:
The area would also be replanted with native sedges and rushes to provide habitat for threatened local species such as the Yuma Clapper Rail, a secretive marsh bird. Backers say it would also provide a space for residents of Yuma, a farming town popular with winter visitors, to walk and fish.
The organization behind the project would like to extend it the entire course of the Colorado River, which marks the U.S.-Mexico border, in what it sees as an environmental recovery program that complements the Border Patrol's task.
In The Know: The U.S. Moat
Kos counts the ways Clinton is losing
Internal Monologue is officially asking Senator Clinton to bow out of the race. There's a lot of money and energy that could be spent on the general election or on other Democratic races that is currently being poured into this campaign, whose result is already a foregone conclusion. She's too far behind to catch up at this point.
This is a separate issue, but the race-baiting and dismissiveness that the Clinton campaign has engaged in recently is pretty outrageous. Geraldine Ferraro's recent remarks to the effect that Obama is only where he is because he's black are particularly insulting and ridiculous. Does she honestly think that being black is an advantage in American national politics? What is she smoking? And can't she admit that, just possibly, Obama's rhetorical skills, positive message, unprecedented fundraising ability, good looks, superiority in general election matchups against McCain, and his vote against the Iraq invasion might have something to do with the fact that he's ahead?
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Dude, $5,500 an hour!?!?!
Prosecutors say the four used the Emperors Club to arrange connections between wealthy male clients and more than 50 prostitutes in, among other places, New York City, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles, Miami, Florida; London and Paris. The defendants charged the clients fees ranging from $1,000 to more than $5,500 per hour for prostitution services.Emphasis added. This is the prostitution ring that Spitzer was apparently involved with. $5,500 an hour?!? That's crazy. I guess there's a ridiculously inflated luxury market for everything.
Being married to a philandering politician must really suck
Upon reflecting on this and other recent male-politician-caught-in-embarrassing-sex-scandal incidents, I had the same thought as Michelle Cottle:
...how do all these guys convince their wives to stand by them at these post-scandal news conferences?(HT: Ross Douthat) I mean, it's humiliating enough that your husband has cheated on you and the whole damn world knows it. But then to have to stand there, next to the cad, while he goes through the hackneyed ritual confession is just too much. If these political husbands had a shred of decency and compassion, they'd let their wives deal with the anger, shame, and humiliation in private.
Dana Goldstein on TAPPED has a similar opinion:
When politicians are caught cheating, I wish they'd leave their wives in the green room while they address the press. You're in the dog house, and it should look that way. Those "stand by your man" visuals are tired and demeaning.(via Ann on Feministing)
I hearby swear that if I'm ever immoral enough to participate in and stupid enough to get caught in some such scandal, I will not have the gall to ask my wife to stand there when circumstances require me to go on TV and blather about what a bad boy I've been.
On a separate but related note:
Just once, after one of these scandals broke, I'd like the politician involved to be able to say: "Yeah, I fucked that multi-thousand dollar prostitute, and she was worth every penny. It's a matter of public record that I favor the legalization and regulation of the sex industry, so you can take your calls for resignation and shove them up your tight, voyeuristic, puritanical asses. Yes, my wife might kick my ass or even divorce me, but that's none of your damn business."
But of course no politician can say that, because they don't have the courage to attempt to reform the way sex for money happens in our culture. [OK, I should amend that because there probably are a few politicians who do at least give the issue some thought. But it's still outside the mainstream political discourse.]
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
The origin of polyhedral D&D dice
Q. As far as you know, what was the basic evolution of polyhedral dice? If they existed prior to the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, what were they used for?
To the best of my knowledge I introduced them to gaming, en masse, with D&D in 1974. I found sets of the five platonic solids for sale in a school supply catalog back in 1972, and of course ordered them, used them in creating the D&D game.
A big list of Gygax tributes
Hookers: not just for Republicans anymore
Grishnash's election update
Obama won Texas. Yes, all the national media have Clinton listed as up by about 101,000 votes statewide, but because of the weird state senatorial district weighting, and post-election precinct convention system, Obama's going to take about 99 Texan delegates to Clinton's 94.Assuming Obama picks up at least 3 delegates in Mississippi tomorrow, which is virtually automatic, the race will officially enter a phase where Clinton can only win by virtue of superdelegate votes and/or Michigan and Florida.
I think the media have not done a good job at depicting just how fantastical a scenario would have to happen for Clinton to win the nomination (unlikely landslides, Michigan & Florida being seated "as is", superdelegate defections and going against their state, the popular vote, or the pledged delegate count, etc.). Her campaign has done a good job of making the race look like a close contest. And recently, it has been. But every "close contest" that happens now is really a big loss for Clinton, because it means a lost opportunity to make up ground.
It seems to me that the Clinton campaign is like Wiley E. Coyote: it's run off a cliff and in a hopeless situation, but as long as it doesn't realize it, or act like it doesn't realize it, it can still make forward progress. And of course a protracted race is favorable to the media, so they help keep it going.
NPR on Gygax
Monday, March 10, 2008
How many countries can you name in five minutes?
Sleeping girl in Clinton's "3 AM" ad is Obama precinct captain
Har dee har har har. Someone in the Clinton campaign is probably smacking someone else in the Clinton campaign upside the head. At the end of the segment embedded above, Casey Knowles suggests making an ad for the Obama campaign. Steve of holes in thoughts has even written a script for such an ad (HT: Parallax857 on DailyKos).
Democrats win special election in Illinois
Then came the special election to replace former Republican Speaker Denny Hastert, a race that the party should have been able to hold given the GOP-lean of the district (R+5, according to the Cook PVI). The NRCC blew close to a third of its net cash-on-hand on the race, only to see their candidate fall in flames by 5 points during yesterday's election.It's good to remember that for all the fighting between the Obama and Clinton camps, the Democrats are overall in a much better position for the November election than the Republicans. This was not a race the Democrats were supposed to win. Kevin Drum opines that this is a very bad omen for the Republicans:
Jeez. A conservative district. A former Speaker of the House. $1.2 million. And they still lost. John McCain should be very, very nervous about this.Foster will face his Republican opponent, Oberweis, again in the November election.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
OK, this Gygax tribute goes too far
GARY GYGAX died last week and the universe did not collapse. This surprises me a little bit, because he built it.
I’m not talking about the cosmological, Big Bang part. Everyone who reads blogs knows that a flying spaghetti monster made all that. But Mr. Gygax co-created the game Dungeons & Dragons, and on that foundation of role-playing and polyhedral dice he constructed the social and intellectual structure of our world.
(Emphasis added.) Um...I don't think so. I'm a pretty devoted fan of Dungeons & Dragons, but I think the "social and intellectual structure of our world" are more influenced by large technological, economic, biological, cultural, and political forces. Dungeons & Dragons is a part of those forces, but hardly rates comparison with the invention of the printing press, microchip, the birth control pill, or political fallout of WWII, the rise of Christianity, or the development of the scientific method or the effect of dopamine on the brain.
But the "life is a game" metaphor pre-dates Dungeons & Dragons. People have been talking about "playing to win" and "getting ahead" and "losers" for a long time. What D&D gave us was an example of what the rules for the game of life might be. Of course, D&D rules apply to a swords & sorcery fantasy world, but the same idea has been applied to science fiction settings, modern thrillers, superheroes, gothic horror, anime, or just about any other fantasy setting you could come up with. One way to understand the massively successful The Sims franchise is that its Dungeons & Dragons, except that it's about everyday modern life instead of slaying dragons and plundering hoards.
When people ask me what D&D is, sometimes I tell them it's "formalized make-believe": When kids play cops and robbers, they often get into arguments about who shot who first, and whether you missed, or how many bullets your gun had, etc. At its heart, a role playing game is a system for arbitrating such arguments. I think Gygax's fundamental contribution was providing a framework through which child-like fantasy could be a more shared, participatory, sustained, grown-up, and exciting experience. Almost as important, he and Arneson proved that such a system could be written down, packaged, and sold as a successful commercial product. Without the success of the industry it spawned, Dungeons & Dragons would just be a curio rather than a phenomenon.
I also agree with the NYT opinion piece that Dungeons & Dragons was profoundly influential to a specific group of people who have had an enormous influence on Western society in the past 25 years or so: the geeks. I think the rise of the geek and the mainstreaming of geekdom is one of the major social upheavals of recent history. And I think Dungeons & Dragons was an enormous gateway through which geeks discovered each other and through which the world discovered geeks in days before the Internet ubiquity.
But I don't think Gygax created our world or is responsible for Google or that his way of thinking governs the way husbands and wives interact. He was just a guy, it's just a game, and it's sad he's gone. In many ways, the industry has moved on from the way Gygax did things: He liked random tables for determining what monsters you faced, what treasures you found, etc. Now such randomness is discouraged, as it creates nonsensical situations and interferes with the unfolding of the story. He loved "dungeon crawls" where players had to find secret doors and circumvent deadly traps; no one really cared to ask why the dungeon was there or why all those treasures would be just sitting there. Now the game emphasizes heroic story arcs that take place against rich political backdrops and involve characters with fleshed-out personalities.
And despite the fact that the modern computer game industry owes him an enormous debt, Gygax himself wasn't that into video games. From his NYT obituary:
To [Gygax], all of the graphics of a computer dulled what he considered one of the major human faculties: the imagination.So yes, let's honor Mr. Gygax . But let's not get carried away.
“There is no intimacy; it’s not live,” he said of online games. “It’s being translated through a computer, and your imagination is not there the same way it is when you’re actually together with a group of people. It reminds me of one time where I saw some children talking about whether they liked radio or television, and I asked one little boy why he preferred radio, and he said, ‘Because the pictures are so much better.’ ”
By the way, the diagram that accompanies the NYT opinion piece I've been talking about is pretty lame. Yes, it throws out a lot of geeky buzzwords, but the flowchart connections between them seem arbitrary and unenlightening. One of the fundamental attributes of geekdom is that the technical details matter. I do applaud diagram for including a box labeled "doubting the technical accuracy of this diagram".
Long primary GOOD for Democrats?
I'm sure it was not Howard Dean's goal to have a primary season drag on until June. But in a perverse way, it has become an extension of his 50-state strategy. I've now been completely turned around on this and think it will pay plenty of dividends in November, especially downticket, barring some kind of disaster in Denver. But as long as the conclusion is at least somewhat amicable, and I think it still can be, we're going to be in good shape in this general election and for years to come.
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Mario: Hero of the Proletariat
HT: Mad Latinist via email.
Friday, March 07, 2008
xkcd pays tribute to Gygax
More on Gygax
Gygax always struck me as a tremendously sinister name: no mortal name, this. This was the sort of name one earned in the service of horned devils and more primordial shapes of evil, a boon for the loyal servant, placed like a black crown on the bowed head.
The first time I ever played Dungeons & Dragons, I was six years old - books with great red demons on the cover that dared us to claim their riches, subtitled by this alien name Gygax. My mother was furious when she found my uncles had exposed me to those subterranean burrows, spilling over with rubies, and tourmalines, and the wealth of old kings even songs no longer remember. As a young man, I began hiding the books I bought inside my bed, which had a vast hollow space I had hidden in as a child. These books were soon discovered, and blamed for everything from recent colds to the dissolution of my parents' marriage. I took the wrong lesson, I'm afraid: I didn't learn to fear them. What I learned was that books, some books, were swollen with power - and this power projected into the physical realm. Some books contain the machinery required to create and sustain universes.
I owe a tremendous debt to his legacy. I couldn't even calculate how deep.
Of course, The Onion chimes in.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Order of the Stick salutes E. Gary Gygax, 1939-2008
For those of you who don't understand, I'll try to explain: Gary Gygax didn't just co-invent Dungeons & Dragons. He co-created the entire genre of role playing games. That's like someone inventing the card games, not just bridge or poker gin rummy or any single specific game. He co-created a system for enacting and sharing swords & sorcery-based fantasy. He and Dave Arneson are to Role Playing Games what George Lucas is to Star Wars or Gene Roddenberry is to Star Trek. But that analogy isn't quite right because Lucas and Roddenberry didn't invent science fiction or television or cinema, they just created extremely popular examples of pre-existing categories. Gygax & Arneson really brought something different to the table.
When I think about it, it seems odd that something like the role playing game could have been invented by specific people at a specific time. It seems like the sort of thing that always should have existed. But it didn't. (I had a similar reaction upon hearing that instant ramen noodles had been invented by a specific person, Momofuku Ando.)
Did Clinton make Obama more "black" in an ad?
This is a pretty incendiary accusation, but the evidence is pretty compelling:
Kos posts a remark from a reader:
I just wanted to leave a remark about this "blacker" issue, and comments that it is somehow something that just happened in the video editing process. I work in advertising (copywriter, [Big national advertising firm]). I sit in the rooms where the post production occurs, and this includes color correction. While things look different on many TVs, they don't look this dramatically different. Nothing that you see in a final advertisement is accidental. These things are looked at (or should be looked at if they are doing their jobs) second by second. Even more unforgiving is the stretching of the footage. It is possibly the result of laziness on the part of the editor, but it would have been easier to actually not stretch it, and just crop it.
Nothing in advertising is accidental. It is over-thought and then subjected to second thoughts and second guessing then over-thought and re-looked at again. I've been doing this ten years. It is my professional opinion that the film was made darker, and it has obviously been stretched. I will not comment on their reasons, as I can't offer an informed case for that.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Gary Gygax died
Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, died today.
More reaction later, but I had to post as soon as I heard.
Monte Cook reacts on his blog.
I guess my dream of getting him to autograph the random harlot generation table from the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide will never come to pass.
The AP and BBC have brief articles.
The D&D welcome site is currently black in his honor.
Wow, well, this hits hard. Gygax didn't just co-create a game. He helped create an entire genre of games. Back in the mid-seventies, geekitude didn't have mainstream outlets it has today. Dungeons & Dragons was a profoundly influential idea. Every role-playing game owes it a debt of gratitude, and it's hard to find a computer RPG that doesn't base some mechanics on the old D&D system. More importantly, it served as a vehicle for the imagination, stimulant to the intellect, and an occasion for social interaction and friendship. As a child I hungered for these things, and Dungeons & Dragons was there to provide them.
If D&D were introduced today, I'm not sure how well it would do. It requires storytelling skills, time, dedication, and coming together with other people. This is hard to do these days. With a job (from which I'm currently taking unofficial mourning leave in order to write this post), a wife, and a child, it is very hard to find time to play, or even to geek out about character creation. But I do have a game scheduled for tonight, and I'm going to play via Internet (Vassal) the 15th. It's important to me.
In a lot of ways, the game has advanced a lot beyond Gygax's vision. He was fond of sadistic mazes, "gotcha" traps, clues embedded in cheesy poems, and hideous death that could happen with a single die roll. Now, there's often a lot more emphasis on story, world development, and atmosphere and pacing. The game system itself is much better, too: more options, better balance, more consistency.
But in other ways, we are still very much walking in Gygax's shadow. Every time I see something about Drizzt, for example, I can't help but think that all the drow stuff (society, religion, weaponry, personality, etc.) was basically completely outlined in D3: Vault of the Drow, and everything since has basically just been fleshing out the outline he created.
I will also miss Gygax's idiosyncratic style. My verbal SAT score was at least 60 points higher because of Gygax's predilection for recondite vocabulary (milieu, denizen, enervate, and the whole gamut of Latin abbreviations: i.e., cf., e.g., qv., et al.). My knowledge of mythology and folklore was expanded and reinforced by the minotaurs, centaurs, medusae, chimera, hydra, basilisks, and other monsters that populated the dungeons of which Gygax was so fond. My ability to do basic arithmetic quickly in my head was exercised countless times at the tabletop. I learned more about group dynamics and conflict resolution from Dungeon Mastering than from just about anything else. And I'm sure my acting abilities owe a lot to the constant use of the imagination and the role-playing I did as a child.
When I graduated from 3rd grade, my teacher, Peter Hanson, wrote a limerick for each graduating student. Here's mine:
With any dude on the street
He know every rule
For a D&D duel
His intensity is hard to beat.
Want to beta test the Emotiv EPOC neuroheadset?
Monday, March 03, 2008
4th Edition D&D character sheets
Howard Dean lays into John McCain
The Jack Nicholson Clinton endorsement
Sullivan is treating this as genuine, but I have a hard time believing it. Genuine or not, it of course generated a YouTube response:
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Most people have already seen this...
If your girlfriend cheats on you with Matt Damon...
...there is only one possible way to get revenge:
It helps when you have Huey Lewis, Robin Williams, and Harrison Ford and many other celebrities to help spread the message.
A quick preview of 4th edition D&D rules
1. Character roles are more clearly defined.
Everyone who’s played D&D knows that there are roles for
each character – some characters “tank”, some characters
are “artillery”, etc. 4th Edition defines those roles into four
types – controller, defender, leader, and striker. Controllers
(like wizards) deal with large amounts of enemies at once,
favoring offense over defense. Defenders (like fighters and
paladins) are the front-line characters that have great
defensive abilities and good melee offense. Leaders (like
clerics and warlords) are good at aiding other members of
the party by healing, inspiring, or protecting them. Strikers
(like rangers, rogues, and warlocks) deal large amounts of
damage to single targets at one time and quickly move about
the battlefield. Most adventuring parties consist of at least
one character of each of the roles.
2. Powers give you more combat options.
Clerics chant prayers, wizards incant spells, and fighters
attempt exploits. These are all examples of powers – your
suite of combat options. Three power sources – arcane,
divine, and martial – are presented in the Player’s Handbook.
Each character class draws abilities from one of these power
sources: clerics and paladins use divine powers (prayers),
warlocks and wizards use arcane powers (spells), and
fighters, rangers, rogues, and warlords use martial powers
You get a number of powers based on your character’s
level. Powers can be used at-will, once per encounter, or
once per day depending on the power.
TIP: Use your at-will powers instead of using basic
attacks. They’ll frequently do more than just a modest
amount of damage to one enemy.
3. Attacker rolls against a static defense.
In 4th Edition, you have 4 defense values – Armor Class,
Fortitude, Reflex, and Will. The attacker chooses an attack,
rolls 1d20, adds the attack bonus, and calls out the result
against the appropriate defense. The defenses are all static
numbers, just like Armor Class was in 3rd Edition. Attack
actions involve a “to hit” roll against any and all targets, so a
power that targets all enemies within 1 square requires a
separate attack roll against each enemy affected.
TIP: If you make an attack against multiple targets, you
don’t roll damage for each target – just roll that once. It’s best
when you attack multiple targets to roll damage first, and
then roll your attacks.
4. Standard, move, and minor actions.
Each time it’s your turn, you get one standard, one move,
and one minor action. Standard actions are usually attacks,
move actions are usually used to move, and minor actions
are little things like drawing a weapon or opening a door.
You can always exchange a standard action for a move
action or minor action, or a move action for a minor action.
There are also free actions, which take almost no time or
effort, such as dropping a held item or talking. You can take
free actions during your turn or anyone else’s turn, and as
many as you like (within reason).
There’s another category of actions called triggered
actions – these include opportunity actions (like opportunity
attacks) and immediate actions (like a readied action). Your
DM can tell you more about those should you need them.
5. Healing gets an overhaul.
Hit points still measure your ability to stay in the fight, but
healing’s no longer just the burden of one character
anymore. Each character has a certain number of healing
surges. Once during each encounter, you can take a
standard action called a second wind; this gives you a certain
amount of hit points back equal to your healing surge value
and gives you a +2 bonus to all your defenses until the start
of your next turn. You then tick off one of your healing
surges for the day. Some powers (like some cleric prayers)
will also heal you your healing surge value, and you’ll tick off
your healing surges for them as well. When you run out of
healing surges, you’ll want to take an extended rest.
If you’re outside of combat, you can take a short rest and
tick off the healing surges you need to heal up damage.
TIP: If you’ve been knocked down a few hit points and
can’t decide what to do when it’s your turn, taking a second
wind action is a good idea.
6. Short and extended rests.
Resting’s now divided into two groups – short and extended.
A short rest lasts 5 minutes, and is a long enough time for
you to regain your encounter powers and use healing surges
to heal up. An extended rest is akin to “camping” and lasts 6
hours. After an extended rest, you’re fully healed, you have a
full compliment of healing surges, you have your daily
powers back, and you reset your action points to 1.
TIP: It’s good to take an extended rest when some
members in the group are down to about 1 healing surge
remaining, or everyone has used all their daily powers.
Attacks are divided up into a few different types. Melee attacks
are those you make usually when you’re adjacent to your target.
Ranged attacks can be made at any distance up to the maximum
range of the attack; however, if you take a ranged attack next to
an enemy you provoke an opportunity attack against you. Close
attacks affect an area starting with squares adjacent to you;
these attacks don’t provoke an opportunity attack. Area attacks
usually affect an area at range; these attacks do provoke
Most of the time when you take an attack, you’ll use one of
your powers. However, there are some times when you’ll use a
basic attack – just a regular old swing of the sword or shot from
the bow. These attacks are less powerful than using powers, but
they can get the job done. You’ll use a basic attack when you’re
charging, making opportunity attacks, or when you use certain
8. Action points give you an extra action.
You begin each adventure with 1 action point, and you can get
another one for every 2 encounters that you complete (called a
milestone). You can spend 1 action point per encounter to take
one extra action on your turn. It can be a standard, move, or
When you take an extended rest, your action points reset
back to 1.
TIP: Make sure to spend action points at least once every
other encounter (as often as you earn them), since you can only
spend one per encounter.
9. Movement is quick and easy.
Each character has a speed listed in squares. One 1-inch square
equals one five-foot square in the game world. When you take a
move action, you can move up to the indicated number of
squares. Moving from one square to another, even diagonally,
costs 1 square of speed. Sometimes terrain will slow you down,
costing you more than 1 square of speed – this is called difficult
Moving away from an enemy adjacent from you usually
provokes an opportunity attack. However, you can also use a
move action to shift; this lets you move one square without
suffering an opportunity attack from adjacent enemies.
TIP: If you need to get somewhere fast, you can run as a
move action. This gives you +2 speed for your move, but you
grant any attackers combat advantage until the beginning of
your next turn.
10. Saving throws are straightforward.
Sometimes your character will be hit by an ongoing effect, like
taking poison damage or being immobilized. When this
happens you’ll usually get to make a saving throw to remove the
effect at the end of your turn. Saving throws are simple – just
roll 1d20. If you roll a 10 or higher, you’ll end the effect. If you
roll a 9 or lower, the effect will usually continue until you have
to make another saving throw at the end of your next turn.
Some characters have bonuses that can be applied to certain
types of saving throws, and some powers grant modifications to
saving throws as well.
11. Durations are easy to manage.
Most effects that have durations (usually imparting a condition
on the target) last either until the target makes a saving throw to
ward it off, or until the end of the next turn of the attacker that
caused the nasty effect. A few effects have durations that last
through the entire encounter. No more tracking rounds to
determine when your effect ends!
12. Reach (usually) isn’t as threatening.
Reach (possessed by some monsters and weapons) is only
“active” on the attacker’s turn. Otherwise, attackers with reach
function just like those without reach. This is usually most
relevant when determining the area a character or monster
TIP: Watch out for the few creatures with threatening
reach – they can threaten more than just squares adjacent to
13. A trio of “c” rules you might want to know.
• Combat Advantage – This gives you a +2 bonus to attack
rolls when you’re flanking, or when the target is under one
of a number of conditions (dazed, surprised, etc.).
• Cover – If an enemy has cover, you get a -2 penalty to
attack rolls against it. Your allies don’t provide cover, but
enemies do. There’s also no penalty for making ranged
attacks into melee.
• Charging – This is a standard action. Move up to your
speed, and make a basic attack. You get a +1 bonus on the
attack roll. You have to move at least 2 squares from your
starting position, and you must charge to the nearest square
from which you can attack your target. You can’t charge if
the nearest square is occupied, but you can charge over
difficult terrain (it just costs you extra movement).
Hagee endorsement starting to cause problems for McCain
So it turns out McCain's embrace of this guy might have some consequences after all. Good. It's been sickening how "mainstream" Republicans can get in bed with hate-spewing nut jobs and not catch any flack for it. I'm glad this is starting to change.
UPDATE: BarbinMD on DailyKos is happy to see Hagee and Donohue (of the Catholic League) going at it:
It seems that McCain's "proud" acceptance of the endorsement of John "The-Catholic-Church-Is-The-Great-Whore" Hagee has upset Bill "Hollywood-Is-Controlled-By-Secular-Jews-Who-Hate-Christianity" Donohue. It's the ultimate rightwing cage-match, the battle of the bigots, fighting for the soul of the Republican Party. What's an Episcopalian/Baptist to do?I don't think this should just be a "rightwing cage-match" though. Hagee espouses some pretty awful stuff that all kinds of Americans would find deeply offensive. And McCain should be called on it when he repeatedly allies himself with such people.