Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Come work with me at OpenFeint!

This place is trying to hire like crazy. Here's a list of openings:

Current Openings

Business Development




Lots of good things: friendly people, free food and drink, mobile gaming social networking and e-commerce. And a big kickback to me if you tell them you heard about it through me!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Happy 5th blog anniversary to me!

Celebrating five years of shouting into the ether. Thanks to all my readers an commenters!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Worst codename ever: "Odyssey Dawn"

I don't suppose the folks at the Pentagon remember that Homer's "The Odyssey" takes place over a period of ten years as the hero struggles to get back home after participating in a decade-long war.

Best evidence I've seen that this is all improv theater

Things in Libya are moving so fast, the Pentagon doesn't even have time to deploy its PR hacks:
There wasn’t any press briefing Friday at the Pentagon, even though a third simultaneous war is about to commence. That’s a pretty strong indication that the military doesn’t know what the goal is, either.
So, what are our objectives again? Protect civilians from Qaddafi, I guess. For how long? At what cost? What happens if Libyan civilians start needing protection from the rebels?

How come the leaders of Yemen get to kill their civilians? And Bahrain can import Saudi troops to crack down on their own dissidents? The lesson seems to be that as long as you curry favor with the US, you can oppress your citizens all you want. It seems as though we're attacking Qaddafi because we can, not because he is more evil than other dictators in the world. A little honesty about our actual motives would be refreshing.

An undeclared war

According to this post, we've started firing cruise missiles at Libyan air defense sites. This is an act of war, and since Congress has not declared war, it is clearly unconstitutional and an abuse of executive power. The UN cannot declare war on behalf of the United States. I hate to say it, but there are now clear grounds for impeaching Obama. Would it have been so hard to get authorization from Congress first?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Libya: French planes destroy 4 Libyan tanks

The war has started for the French:
L’aviation française a ouvert le feu à 17h45 sur un véhicule militaire libyen et l’a neutralisé, indique le ministère de la défense français. Un demi-heure plus tard, ce sont trois véhicules supplémentaires qui ont neutralisés dans la région de Benghazi, indique le ministère de la défense.
My translation:
The French air force opened fire at 5:45 pm on a Libyan military vehicle and neutralized it, said the French Defense Minister. Half an hour later, three more vehicles had been neutralized in the Benghazi region, said the Defense Minister.
The French headline uses the word "blindé" to describe the vehicles, which I think means "tank," but I'm not well-versed in French military terminology.

The important thing to notice here is that attacking tanks means there's a lot more going on than just a "no-fly zone." This is direct ground support.

Perspective on the pros and cons of intervention in Libya

My friend Josh, who is well to the right of me on the US political spectrum but whose opinion on military matters I respect, offers these thoughts:
If you're asking if imposing a no-fly zone is technically feasible, I think that a review of official and unofficial statements will demonstrate that the answer is yes. Technologically we have the capability, and in terms of force commitments if you look at how the forces in Afghanistan and Iraq are broken down, you will see the Air Force and Navy have a far lower fraction of their combat power committed to those theaters than the Army and Marine Corps.

So if you look at the cautionary statements from people close to the department of defense, I think you will observe that they either state or at least fail to deny that enforcing a no-fly zone is feasible. The concerns that have been raised from that quarter appear to mostly focus on 1) realizing that enforcing a no-fly zone necessarily involves extensive suppression of air defense systems, and so a no-fly zone by itself is hardly "bloodless" on the Libyan side, and 2) what happens if a no-fly zone proves ineffective. At that point more of the US/NATO/UN's (or all of the above) credibility is at stake, so the pressure to intervene more extensively will be greater at that point. It is basically a "slippery slope" argument. So if I were to take a totally neutral position on whether we SHOULD be willing to go that far, I would still be concerned that we decide up-front if we are so willing, and take actions accordingly. For example, try to prepare for a less-ignominious "out" if we are not willing to take further escalation.
Josh goes on:
Next, SHOULD we be involved. Again, I'm not going to state an unequivocal position here. Certainly there are statements of caution from Robert Gates and others, including some previously known as "hawks" about our ability to wage three wars simultaneously. Well, really the bulk of our manpower commitment in Iraq is winding down, but that does not eliminate the "overstretched" argument. Many of these cautionary arguments also cite a poor track record of US involvement in other countries' civil wars, most recently Iraq. I personally believe the Iraq war was successful, but clearly at a much higher cost than initially expected, and so again without taking a definite position I am glad to see more voices raising these questions so that we make a better informed decision.

As you might guess, I am less swayed than you [Zachary Drake] might be by more general anti-war arguments, but similarly those sorts of arguments tend to go straight to the core of a person's moral outlook and I find those sorts of things pointless to debate, so I will set that aside. However, even a pacifist should give thought to this next point:

On the "pro" side in favor of stronger intervention, I think you have to look at the Libya situation in context of the current Middle East uprisings. In Egypt and in Tunisia, the incumbent leaders faced with internal political dissent did not respond with overwhelming force, were pressured by the US and other nations to make concessions and/or step down, and ended up being overthrown. In Libya, the leader responded with overwhelming force and this far has faced condemnation and sanctions, but nothing truly painful to him. Meanwhile in Bahrain and Yemen, the incumbents are similarly using significant amounts of force, and so far are holding their positions. We should be concerned as to whether the message other despots are getting is "when pressured, you might as well use overwhelming force against your own people, because you have nothing to lose." On the other hand, if Ben-Ali and Mubarak end up out of power but safe, and Ghadafy ends up dead or forcibly overthrown and arrested, that sends the opposite message. So if one is truly concerned about innocent lives being lost, there is an argument that forceful moves against Ghadafy will save lives in the longer run, and result in less total violence.

On the other hand, going back to the previous point, there is a risk of just the opposite as well - that with foreign intervention there is a broader and/or longer war.

So to summarize, "Hawks" in this context need to be very clear about what level of intervention they really support, and what happens if that level is insufficient to achieve results. "Doves" need to seriously consider what a lack of decisive action against Ghadafy will mean in the longer run for other popular, democratic revolts.
I like Josh's last paragraph: I would be much more comfortable with US military intervention if I thought we had the political ability to stop and cut our losses even if our initial interventions did not turn out as planned. But the unbearability of "losing," or the fear that your political opponents will make hay about any perceived "loss" or "defeat," makes the slippery slope argument pretty compelling to me.

As a separate issue, I have the fear that the rest of the world is using the United States to do its dirty work for them. We don't know yet who is actually going to be doing the attacking, but I get the feeling it's mainly going to be US with some small contributions by others. Maybe I'm wrong, but there seems to be a great eagerness to let us be users of violence. And when things go wrong and innocents die, as so often happens in war, who will be holding the moral bag? Or if the rebels use our air power as cover to perpetrate revenge killings against Qaddafi-loyal areas, will we then be responsible for stopping that, too?

I do hope people in the administration are gaming this out, coming up with contingency plans, and preparing for disasters. This whole thing has a rushed and seat-of-the-pants feel to it. Which is partly driven by the speed of events, but partly because I worry there is not a coherent policy behind our actions.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Obama's address on Libya

No mention of asking Congress for a declaration of war, which absolutely should be done if we're getting involved. Shooting down planes, invading airspace, attacking radar installations, etc. is certainly an act of war. I'm tired of our executive branch declaring wars for us. It's blatantly unconstitutional.

Obama Said no ground forces will be used, which is reassuring. But what if air power isn't enough? Are we willing to lose to Qaddafi if air power can't defeat him? How many innocent Libyans are going to be killed by our bombs?
  • Sullivan's second round-up of Libya reactions here.
  • MSNBC was reporting that loyalist forces were continuing to attack despite the unilateral cease-fire order. I think that cease-fire was a sham.

Quote of the Day: Libyan no-fly zone

Thomas E. Ricks:
Finally, what do we do when Qaddafi puts anti-aircraft batteries in mosques, orphanages and chemical weapons depots?
Yeah. This war thing is not so simple.

Looks like we're going to war again

(Additional Libya news resource: NPR's Libya live blog)

Josh Rogin on the Foreign Policy website:

Several senators emerged from the briefing convinced that the administration was intent on beginning military action against the forces of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi within the next few days and that such action would include both a no-fly zone as well as a "no-drive zone" to prevent Qaddafi from crushing the rebel forces, especially those now concentrated in Benghazi.

"It looks like we have Arab countries ready to participate in a no-fly and no-drive endeavor," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters after the briefing.

Asked what he learned from the briefing, Graham said, "I learned that it's not too late, that the opposition forces are under siege but they are holding, and that with a timely intervention, a no-fly zone and no-drive zone, we can turn this thing around."

Sounds like war to me. Greenwald points out that it's totally unconstitutional for the president to unilaterally get us involved in a war of choice, and that Obama and Hillary Clinton have both articulated this point forcefully in the past:
Obama's answer seems dispositive to me on the Libya question: "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." And he went on to say that the President could constitutionally deploy the military only "in instances of self-defense." Nobody is arguing -- nor can one rationally argue -- that the situation in Libya constitutes either an act of "self-defense" or the "stopping of an actual or imminent threat to the nation." How, then, can Obama's campaign position possibly be reconciled with his ordering military action in Libya without Congressional approval (something, it should be said, he has not yet done)?
My assumption is that after Obama meets with congressional leaders at 12:30 Eastern time (presumably happening as I write this) and speaks to the nation at 2:00pm Eastern, he will ask for and get from Congress an authorization to use force in Libya. I read somewhere that American public opinion is currently against military intervention in Libya, but I just don't picture Congress saying "No" when the President asks "Do I have your permission to bomb Qaddafi?"

I just want to know that the administration is gaming out the consequences of this. Ten years from now, I don't want to be reading how the United States plans to reduce its troop presence in Libya to 40,000 from its current 58,000 level. Why aren't other governments acting? Why are we always the ones to do the bombing? What are all those sophisticated weapons we've sold/given to Saudi Arabia and Egypt for, anyway?

The idea of beating back Qaddafi is very appealing. But violence has so many consequences. And though the Libyan rebels sprang from the pro-democracy/pro-reform movement sweeping the Middle East, I don't actually know what their politics are. I desperately hope that Qaddafi either steps down or is pushed out by someone in his own circle, and that people can stop shooting and start negotiating. But I don't think that's likely. The "cease fire" Qaddafi declared seems to be phony, and he has an enormous incentive to seize Benghazi before other countries start to intervene.

Joyce estate sends cease-and-desist to DNA splicer

These are the days of miracle and wonder, these are the days when we live in a ridiculous science fiction world:
Last year I wrote about how Craig Venter and his colleagues had inscribed a passage from James Joyce into the genome of a synthetic microbe. The line, “To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life,” was certainly apropos, but it was also ironic, since it is now being defaced as Venter’s microbes multiply and mutate.

Turns out there’s an even weirder twist on this story. Reporting from SXSW, David Ewalt writes about a talk Venter just gave. Venter recounted how, after the news of the synthetic microbe hit, he got a cease-and-desist letter from the Joyce estate. Apparently, the estate claimed he should have asked permission before copying the language. Venter claimed fair use.

Man, do I wish this would go to court! Imagine the legal arguments. I wonder what would happen if the court found in the Joyce estate’s favor. Would Venter have to pay for every time his microbes multiplied? Millions of little acts of copyright infringement?

(via Justin Mansfield via Partijata) What I want to know is, what encoding of DNA base-pairs to letters of the alphabet did they use? DNA codes for amino acids naturally, but I don't see any obvious way to encode for the letters, spaces, and punctuation of written English.

Two questions on Libya

It seems to me that there are two questions that are getting mushed together here:
  1. Should outside countries intervene in the Libyan civil war, protect the rebels, and help them topple Qaddafi?
  2. Should the United States be one of those countries?
It seems to me that there's a better case for European and Arab states to intervene than for the United States to intervene. This is in their sphere of influence, isn't it? If the United States is justifying intervention on humanitarian grounds, then why aren't we in Ivory Coast, Congo, Burma, and other such places?

Libya military intervention clearinghouse

I'm trying to figure out what is going on with Libya and American intervention there. Here's what I've figured out so far:

Um, is this us or somebody else?

Is the United States going to war in Libya, or are other people? Sullivan thinks we are, but commenters at this Balloon Juice post think the authorization is so that other countries like France, Italy, and Arab League countries can do this. As much as I don't like Qaddafi, I don't know who the rebels are or what kind of government they would install. I hope for the best, but I do not think US military intervention would be a good idea. Given our current global military footprint, I think we should be getting out of places, not getting into places.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Watershed moment in politics of gay marriage

Talking Points Memo:

"What do I say to the idea that this [the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act] is a wedge issue? I say 'Hallelujah,'" Frank told reporters. "The fact that we've now evolved to the point where the Republicans are complaining about the fact that we introduced this bill because it causes them political problems is a great sign of progress. It used to be the other way around."

I think when we look back on this era, we'll be amazed at how quickly opinions changed on this.

Now let's get started on ending drug prohibition...

Bonus Quote on this topic from DougJ on Balloon Juice:

A lot of talk about how marriage equality is now an issue that works in Democrats’ favor. You know what that means. It means Republicans give up on the issue and start looking for some new shiny “cultural issue” to distract people with.

The theocons who profess to care deeply about the “sanctity of marriage” will go gentle under that good bus, the way they always do.

As I've said before, twenty years from now, the American Right will deny they were ever against gay equality, just as they now deny they were ever against racial equality.

Republican candidate roundup

Best 2012 roundup I've seen is here, just updated. Still pretty wide open, and lots of potential nominees haven't even declared yet. I still think that threading the "right-wing enough to get the nomination, but centrist enough to win the election" is going to be a hard needle to thread for the Republicans. Of course, all that could change depending on the economy and world events.

Barbour suggests reducing Afghanistan presence and defense spending

Ben Smith and others have remarked on the fact the Republican presidential hopeful Haley Barbour is considering reducing American presence in Afghanistan and finding some budget savings in defense. While details are sketchy, he appears to be scouting out a position to Obama's left on these issues. I'd love to have some allies on the right wing for re-evaluating our presence in Afghanistan and casting a skeptical eye on defense spending. And maybe this will prompt Obama to get out faster.

More on the GOP and Afghanistan here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A possible US-Al Qaeda alliance of convenience?

Apparently, Al Qaeda doesn't like Qaddafi either. They seem a bit Johnny-come-lately about it, though.

I think the recent popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere have really stolen Al Qaeda's thunder. These uprisings have led to throwing out the rulers of Egypt and Tunisia, seriously threatened the regime in Iran, started a civil war in Libya, and sparked protests throughout the region. What have the suicide bombers done recently?

I hope dissatisfied people of the world come to find that cultivating contacts with Al Jazeera TV and learning how to harness social networking is far more effective than bomb-making and suicide-glorifying.

Now that I think of it, our own foreign policy establishment might consider the limits of the use of violence.

On the other hand, it looks like violence will determine whether Qaddafi stays in power or not. This might be Al Qaeda's route back to relevance.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

If you're not pro-urban density, you don't have much claim to be an environmentalist

Don't be an penny-wise, pound-foolish environmentalist: support urban density. If you block the development of additional housing in your urban neighborhood, it is unlikely that any amount of carpooling or energy efficient appliances will offset the negative impact of your encouraging more people to live in suburbs.

Now if I can just get OpenFeint to see the virtues of telecommuting once a week, I can have a positive impact on my time use and mitigate somewhat the environmental damage of my long commute.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kevin Drum on Nuclear Power

"It's perfectly reasonable to argue that the problem here isn't that nukes are genuinely more dangerous or more expensive than other forms of power generation, it's that other forms of power generation aren't forced to pay for their own externalities. Charge them properly for the carbon they emit and the mercury they spew and the particulates they make us breathe and they'd be just as expensive and just as dangerous as nuclear power. I think there's a pretty good case to be made for that. Nonetheless, until we do start charging properly for all those externalities, nukes just aren't going to be cost effective and nothing is going to change that.

The answer, then, is to force coal and oil and gas power plants to pay for their externalities properly. However, our most recent attempt to make even modest progress toward that goal went down in flames and the Republican Party has made it crystal clear that they'll fight to the death to keep energy generation from ever bearing its market price. So I'm not really sure what the next step is here."

-Kevin Drum

Obama Administration continues abysmal record on civil rights

The State Department spokesperson who criticized the conditions under which Bradly Manning (the person suspected of leaking to WikiLeaks) is being detained without charges was forced to resign. Greenwald:

On Friday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley denounced the conditions of Bradley Manning's detention as "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid," forcing President Obama to address those comments in a Press Conference and defend the treatment of Manning. Today, CNN reports, Crowley has "abruptly resigned" under "pressure from White House officials because of controversial comments he made last week about the Bradley Manning case." In other words, he was forced to "resign" -- i.e., fired.

So, in Barack Obama's administration, it's perfectly acceptable to abuse an American citizen in detention who has been convicted of nothing by consigning him to 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement, barring him from exercising in his cell, punitively imposing "suicide watch" restrictions on him against the recommendations of brig psychiatrists, and subjecting him to prolonged, forced nudity designed to humiliate and degrade. But speaking out against that abuse is a firing offense. Good to know. As Matt Yglesias just put it: "Sad statement about America that P.J. Crowley is the one being forced to resign over Bradley Manning." And as David Frum added: "Crowley firing: one more demonstration of my rule: Republican pols fear their base, Dem pols despise it."

Of course, it's also the case in Barack Obama's world that those who instituted a worldwide torture and illegal eavesdropping regime are entitled to full-scale presidential immunity, while powerless individuals who blow the whistle on high-level wrongdoing and illegality are subjected to the most aggressive campaign of prosecution and persecution the country has ever seen. So protecting those who are abusing Manning, while firing Crowley for condemning the abuse, is perfectly consistent with the President's sense of justice.

In many ways I am glad Obama is president. But his civil rights record is absolutely abominable. He is normalizing and bi-partisanizing some of the worst aspects of Bush-Cheney overreach.

Fungi that control ants' brains!

Dude, this is awesome:
Four new species of brain-manipulating fungi that turn ants into "zombies" have been discovered in the Brazilian rain forest.

These fungi control ant behavior with mind-altering chemicals, then kill them. They're part of a large family of fungi that create chemicals that mess with animal nervous systems.


Of the four new species, two grow long, arrow-like spores which eject like missiles from the fungus, seeking to land on a passing ant. The other fungi propel shorter spores, which change shape in mid-air to become like boomerangs and land nearby. If these fail to land on an ant, the spores sprout stalks that can snag ants walking over them. Upon infecting the new ant, the cycle starts again.

What could be cooler?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Quote of the Day: infrastructure spending

"In the short-term, you can 'save' a lot of money by ignoring national infrastructure (just imagine how much money Haiti 'saved' before their earthquake!), but when that infrastructure crumbles, you're screwed. It's a foolish strategy, doomed to failure."

-Jed Lewison on Daily Kos

History of Science Fiction Poster

This large image is making the rounds. I wish I had a large, poster-sized printout of it. I wish it included role-playing games and computer games, but hey, it can't include everything.

Apple ][e memories and the rise of non-tinkerability

This post (HT: Favalora on FB) matches much of my early experience with the Apple ][e:
As it happens, this computer came with the BASIC programming language pre-installed. You didn’t even need to boot a disk operating system. You could turn on the computer and press Ctrl-Reset and you’d get a prompt. And at this prompt, you could type in an entire program, and then type RUN, and it would motherfucking run.
I can understand why Apple wants to make their products into something of a "walled garden" where the user is shielded from all that technical stuff. But it is sad that to program these days you generally have to jump through more hoops than you did thirty years ago.

On the other hand, Apple has been great about helping new developers like me market their software. It might be harder to get started programming, but it's much easier now to go from programming to selling Apps.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

More handicapping the 2012 Republican candidates

John Ellis at Business Insider does better what I did here.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

My contribution to the American political debate: The Republicans gotta nominate somebody

I haven't done much original political commentary recently. But here's a thought I'd like to share: Every single potential 2012 Republican presidential nominee seems to have some fatal flaw that would prevent them from securing the nomination. But the Republicans do have to nominate somebody, so at least one of these fatal flaws is not, in fact, fatal. Let's go through some of the potential candidates:

Mitt Romney: Right now, Romney's fatal flaw is that his signature achievement as governor of Massachusetts is the passage of a health care bill that is quite similar in structure to the Affordable Health Care Act that has been demonized by the American Right. He's tried to talk about how his bill was different, and how what works for one state won't work for others, how it's constitutional for a state to impose an individual mandate but unconstitutional for the federal government to do so, etc. But I don't think Republican primary voters are buying it (and neither am I): Romneycare is pretty similar to Obamacare, and if Obamacare is an unconstitutional government takeover to be denounced and opposed and repealed and struck down, no amount
of jaw-boning by Romney is going to differentiate his version sufficiently. (Poor Romney: an individual mandate was well within Republican orthodoxy until about 2008, when Democratic plans started including it and it became a socialist precursor to the jack-booted imposition of death panels for granny). In addition, Romney has attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, neither of which will endear him to the Religious Right that forms an important bloc of voters in determining the Republican nominee. No way he'll get the nomination. (Here's a longer article on Mitt's 2012 chances.)

Sarah Palin: All the polling says Obama would clobber her. She hasn't hired sufficient staff, she has made way too many enemies, and she quit before her first term as Governor of Alaska was finished. She's divisive and held in contempt by many. Republican primary voters are pretty right-wing, but they're not suicidal. They want someone who can win, and she ain't it. Her current career as right wing spokesperson, Tweeter, and FOX News personality is probably quite lucrative and seems to suit her just fine. I think she'll "run," but only enough to keep the media spotlight focused on her. I don't think she's interested in doing the grueling work and enduring the scrutiny of a presidential campaign. No way she'll get the nomination.

Mike Huckabee: The big money folks in the Republican party don't like this guy because he doesn't always toe the Wall Street line. Apparently as governor of Arkansas he was insufficiently anti-tax. Between the big money and the religious right, the former has been the dominant faction in the national Republican party (rich people get their tax cuts, but the sexual counter-revolution never seems to make it out of committee). And Huckabee is a weak fundraiser, which is a pretty fatal flaw when up against the Romney money machine (to say nothing of Obama's unprecedented ability to generate cash). Yes, he's a "real" social conservative with good anti-choice and anti-gay credentials, but as governor he commuted the sentence of someone who went on to rape and murder somebody. The attack ads write themselves. No way he'll get the nomination.

Newt "sounds like a creature from 'Dune'" Gingrich: [I actually forgot Newt in my original post and am coming back to add him in, which can't be a good sign for him.] Nobody liked Newt after the budget confrontation with Bill Clinton 1994 that temporarily shut down the government. His multiple marriages, adultery, and ethics issues are a major handicap. He's deeply unpopular with the American voters. He even bungled his exploratory announcement. No way he'll get the nomination.

Rick Santorum: This would be totally awesome. But dude, the guy recently lost his Senate seat in Pennsylvania. No way he'll get the nomination.

Huntsman: "So, if you're going to defeat Obama, why were you working for him?" No way he'll get the nomination.

Tim Pawlenty: Who? (see "Dark Horse," below) (Chait at The New Republic thinks Pawlenty has the best shot.)

Mitch Daniels: Who Dat? (see "Dark Horse," below)

Some "Dark Horse" we've never heard of: If we haven't heard of you yet, how are you going to build yourself up to take on Romney/Huckabee/Palin/Whoever? Do you know how much organizing, ass-kissing, fund raising, favor trading, mud slinging, crisis managing, and flesh-pressing it takes to secure a major party presidential nomination? Those precinct captains in Iowa need to have been schmoozed already, dude. Oh, and then you have to take on a very skilled incumbent politician who is probably the greatest fundraiser in American political history. Ouch. No way you'll get the nomination.

By this time in the election cycle, the eventual Republican nominee is usually out in front in the polls. Not so now, since nobody is out in front (Romney, Huckabee, and Palin are basically tied). But the thing is, they do have to pick somebody. Maybe nobody wants to take on Obama right now. If the economy tanks again, will we see more Republicans jump in the race? It'll be fun to see which fatal flaw isn't so fatal after all.

As for the general, it seems that if you're right-wing enough to get the Republican nomination, you're too right-wing to beat Obama. And if you're centrist enough to potentially beat Obama, then you won't be able to get the nomination. We'll see what happens. It's a long time 'till November 2012. If the economy sucks and voters feel Obama isn't fighting for them, one of the people I mocked in this post could be our next president. Shudder.

Game of Thrones / A Dance with Dragons

I'm looking forward to this:

The Game Begins

I think an HBO series is a better way to adapt many novels than a movie. Movies have to leave so much out of a nove.

And the next book coming out in July.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Maximum Gygaxian

Old-school gaming blog Grognardia commemorated the 3rd anniversary of the passing of Gary Gygax by inviting readers to submit samples of "Gygaxian" prose. Here's a classic one commenter submitted from D3: Vault of the Drow:
The small "star" nodes glow in radiant hues of mauve, lake, violet, puce, lilac, and deep blue. The large "moon" of tumkeoite casts beams of shimmering amethyst which touch the crystalline formations with colors unknown to any other visual experience. The lichens seem to glow in rose madder and pale damson, the fungi growths in golden and red ochres, vermillions, russets, citron, and aquamarine shades. (Elsewhere the river and other water courses sheen a deep velvety purple with reflected highlights from the radiant gleams overhead vying with streaks and whorls of old silver where the liquid laps the stony banks or surges against the ebon piles of the jetties and bridge of the elfin city for the viewers' attention.) The rock walls of the Vault appear hazy and insubstantial in the wine-colored light, more like mist than solid walls. The place is indeed a dark fairyland.
The D&D prose of today often seems so ordinary in comparison.

For my own Gygaxian tribute, I'll quote what I wrote three years ago:
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.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Why nobody in power seems to care about unemployment

Chris Hayes via Kevin Drum:

There are two numbers that go a long way toward explaining it. The first is 4.2. That’s the percentage of Americans with a four-year college degree who are unemployed....So while the overall economy continues to suffer through the worst labor market since the Great Depression, the elite centers of power have recovered. For those of us fortunate enough to have graduated from college—and to have escaped foreclosure or an underwater mortgage—normalcy has returned.

The other number is 5.7 percent. That’s the unemployment rate for the Washington/Arlington/Alexandria metro area and just so happens to be lowest among large metropolitan areas in the entire country.

....What these two numbers add up to is a governing elite that is profoundly alienated from the lived experiences of the millions of Americans who are barely surviving the ravages of the Great Recession. As much as the pernicious influence of big money and the plutocrats’ pseudo-obsession with budget deficits, it is this social distance between decision-makers and citizens that explains the almost surreal detachment of the current Washington political conversation from the economic realities working-class, middle-class and poor people face.

Drum adds more about the climate of political hopelessness around government government action around employment.

Just because I got a job offer doesn't mean I'm going to stop harping on unemployment. Millions more people are out of work than in recent years, but everyone in power thinks this isn't a crisis and 9% unemployment is the new normal. I wish more politicians would talk about this, especially the Democrats who ought to be the party to represent those with less economic power.

It's "being overthrown" lessons in here...

What a useful concept!

Gorbachev and de Klerk should start running seminars on how to be overthrown without destroying your country. And Gaddafi should sign up. Not that the former Soviet Union and South Africa are in great shape, but at least they didn't bathe their nations in a sea of blood trying to hold on to power. And that should count for something.

Democracy, for all its faults, creates a mechanism by which government can be influenced even when it doesn't want to be influenced. Which is of course when it most needs it. You need the bottom-up feedback. This goes for all kinds of organizations, from nations to living organisms. Listen to your body (politic). Or it may use Facebook to plot your downfall.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Goodnight Dune

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Quote of the Day

"I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half."

-Jay Gould, 19th century railroad baron, via Balloon Juice.

Geeks and Glamor

Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, goes to a star-studded pre-Oscar party with his wife:
Nobody knew us, and nobody would ever remember us the next day. So we could go whole retard quite openly, and brazenly just ask people "You look really familiar, who are you?". Which we did. With some discreet google image searches when we could guess, and just wanted to verify it ("John Cusack or Paul Rudd?").

Everybody seemed to take it in good cheer. We interrupted David Spade chatting up Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis (that's what Tove says, I was oblivious - it's those famous geek social graces again. I told her I'm sure I'd have noticed Natalie Portman and that she can't possibly have been there, but whatever), and Tove pissed off Warren Beatty by asking his name not just once, but twice.
Awesome. I wish he wouldn't use the word "retard" in that pejorative way, but that's a minor quibble.