A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Sunday, January 30, 2005

A day for Celebration in Iraq AND the Allied Nations

John Kerry: "no one in the United States should try to overhype this election."


Ok. With absolutely no due respect, this is exactly what we should do.

We should proclaim this event so loudly that even the dead inciters of terrorists past stir and wonder, what is this thing that can reach us across the veil?

We should hold everyday Iraqis up high on our shoulders and yell, "These are Heroes!"

We should rejoice, and beam images and sounds of this triumph to the darkest corners of the globe, so that every person toiling under the hard boot of despotism may know something of an alternative to base existence at the whim of tyrants.

In 1991, we shamed ourselves when we listened to the will of the international community. We accepted the line they drew in the sands of Iraq, and did not finish Saddam. We made, or at least implied, promises to the Shia and Kurds of Iraq, that if they would revolt, we would support them. Then, as thousands upon thousands of those brave people died in hopeless uprisings and subsequent massacres to serve as examples, we whined that our hands were tied by the Arab community and the U.N.

Yesterday, watching the various news channels as Iraq men and women voted, I actually felt giddy. We did this for them. We, through the procecution of war, gave all these millions of people something that decades of diplomacy and U.N. sanctions could not. We gave them their freedom.

In doing so, we redeemed ourselves at the expense of the stale ambivalence of the world "community" and the U.N., and I cannot help but feel immense relief mixed with the jubilation. Principle has overcome pride in this case, an occurrance that happens all to rarely in this world.

More importantly than what we did, the Iraqi people, slowly, cautiously, began to hope again, and began to act on that hope.

One can not be surprised that their words and actions have been guarded in light of so many factors: The loss of trust after the '91 debacle. Our own recent elections, where the opposition party would give no assurances of seeing Iraq through to liberty against the region's tyrants. Indeed, many of our opposition vowing we would leave Iraq to its fate alone if Kerry won. Europe, led by France and Germany, constantly preaching the refrain that removing Saddam was a mistake. The Arab community, full of intrigue and violent resolve, financing, arming and even manning the terrorist militias. And tying it all together, the world Press, ignoring 10 positive stories to sieze on 1 setback, painting the prospect of free elections in Iraq as merely the neo-con pipe dream of a simple-minded Cowboy.

Despite this litany of negativity, and helped in great measure by the actions of the U.S. military that the press refuses to report, the people of Iraq learned what it is again to have power over one's destiny. The people of Iraq began to join the fight against their oppressors. The terrorist organizations are losing their cohesiveness against the growing will of Iraqi citizens who are finding their voice, and in their way, proclaiming that "This will not stand".

I actually envy them. They have birthed a democracy against the most formidable of odds. Every single person who voted is a Patrick Henry. The terrorists warned them: if you participate, you will die. And millions upon millions, preliminary reports indicate as much as 72% of the voting population, acted out Patrick Henry's declaration. They chose Liberty over Life. Yes, the violence will continue and more Iraqis will die yet in this pursuit, but the tide has most definitely turned. In making their choice, the vast majority of Iraqis will have both Liberty AND Life. And they get to tell their kids, and grandkids, and great grandkids "I was there, and I played a part in the creation of this great nation." This is legendary stuff. Myth in the making.

And America and her true allies can stand proud. We gave them the opportunity and they ran with it. Hell, even those in this country who were so against any and all of Bush's policies can be proud, because their example cannot have failed to impress. The American Model cannot have failed to register on Iraqis, that if we could have those such as Michael Moore spew so much vitriol, freely and without loss of liberty, and indeed he has profited from his dissent; why, then, maybe this is a Model worth looking into. So yes, even those of the Moore and Dean crowd can take their bows. For or against the resumption of the Iraq war, your voice was heard, and in your own way, you gave the people of Iraq reason to hope for the ideal of Democracy.

We all did this, and we have much to be proud of. Kennedy and Kerry be damned, let us take a few days to celebrate our new brothers and sisters in democracy. If you know an Iraqi ex-pat, embrace them into the community of Liberty with a grin, a hug, a whoop, flash them their victory sign... whatever strikes your fancy. Throw a party for them, or get yourself invited to one of theirs, and try to catch a second-hand buzz from the true opiate of the masses: Freedom.

Triumphalism? Hype? You are damned straight, and give me more of it!

A few links:

By way of a great piece @ Right WingNuthouse: Iraq, the Model comments on election day.

Election Day photos @ Powerline.

Larry Kudlow, on the triumph of Freedom over Cynicism represented by this election. (via Real Clear Politics)

Via Mudville Gazette, quotes from Iraqis on this great day.

And this one, courtesy of Adam Keiper (by way of Lucianne), this just about sums it all up: A stirring montage for freedom, set to Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man."

Thank you Adam.

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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Star Power

Forget politics. Forget "message" films and oh-so-solemn commercials.

Here is celebrity being put to practical use
. If media stars would find more ways to do this sort of thing, they just might come to the realization that true change is realized by the actions of people, not governments.

My hat is off to you Sharon Stone.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Sitrep on Mom and Blogging

Well, they moved Mom from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility - a really good one this time - yesterday afternoon. I won't be driving back and forth to the hospital every other day and trying to squeeze all my other reponsibilities in between, so I should have more time to write now ... at least a couple posts a week.

Many thanks to everyone who's continued to visit during yet another necessary hitatus, and thanks also to Krakatoa for a much-needed and very eloquent post.

For now, I found another blog run by an EQ II gamer: Anticipate. Lots of stuff about technology, and she's a Whittle fan to boot! Go check it out.


S

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Monday, January 24, 2005

Can Morals Matter?

I started this and it turned out huge. I found my thrust was wandering a bit, Whittleresque, so I've separated it into at least two distinct parts.

I think an inquiry into Morals is a good thing, and especially topical, given the importance they apparently played with voters in November. I've already given my argument for the end to the cease-fire in Iraq here.

In the following, I just wanted to talk about the counter-arguments briefly, at least as I have witnessed, and start to introduce the concept of Morality as something upon which to base decisive action.

Given Bush's innaugural address, this seems particularly appropriate.

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The arguments against the Bush Doctrine seem to be twofold, each with it's own subsets.

The first Wing's argument is simply stated as, Violence is Never the Answer. It has, so far as I can tell, two groups of people espousing the position.

One group proclaims that 2 wrongs do not make a right, and again breaks into two factions:

The first faction, the one that I have no argument for, is peopled by those who subscribe to the principle that violence should be avoided categorically. This is a philosophical absolute that true believers are willing to die, but not fight, for. I can respect this because these people do not waver in their convictions and they offer an ideal to which humanity can truly hope to achieve. Its great failing in my estimation is that there are far more hedonists than altruists in the world. I'd say it's probably at least a ratio of a million to one.

The second faction, which I strenuously disagree with, is peopled by those who would apply a measure of moral equivalency to the violence committed by both sides of the current conflict. The Michael Moores, the Howard Deans, the Noam Chomskys, the BBCs and Reuters who subscribe to the platitude "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". They push the "circle of violence" meme as if there were no morally discernible ground between Palestinians who stalk school children, and the Israelis who target terrorists. The difference between Sharia culture and Secular Democratic culture is as stark as it is bloody. Moral relativism against the backdrop of beheadings and the purposeful targeting of children is the last refuge of those too insecure to make adult decisions.

The other subset of the Violence is never the ANSWER crowd is peopled by those hypocrites for whom violence is an answer sometimes, but only when it is authorized by a president with the correct letter denoting party affiliation or a country pursuing the correct ideology, usually a derivation of Marx or Voltaire. These people receive my contempt for their intellectual and moral dishonesty. One cannot hope to actively rationalize or tacitly approve of Kennedy's war in Viet Nam or Clinton's actions in the Balkans or France's in Angola or the Sandinista's in Central America as somehow being fundamentally moral, then hysterically protest America's "Imperialism" and decry the Korean War, Nixon's Viet Nam, and the military actions in Grenada, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq as morally bankrupt.


The other major wing of the anti-Bush Doctrine, the one that most Democrats in politics seem to have settled on, brings an argument to the table that can essentially be summed up as an agreement that the War on Terror must be fought, but fighting the war on the Enemy's territory is so HARD and the potential for disaster so broad. This crowd argues long and hard against whatever it is that the current administration proposes and carries out, but offers nothing in the way of another solution.

The defense here is simple: Bush has never said the military solution is going to be quick or easy and that missteps won't be made. Successive administrations will follow different tactics. Such is the effect of presidential term limits in a democratic society. Regardless, that conclusion is moot in the face of the higher moral argument for bringing democracy to the world. If the right thing is to engage our enemy militarily, it is made no less right as the level of difficulty increases. Hard work ennobles almost any pursuit.

The question that adults must answer is NOT whether or not people around the world agree with us. The question is, quite simply, WHAT is the right thing to do? So any arguments that our enemies hate our actions (which is a given no matter what our action) or that our allies disagree with our methods are irrelevant.

The great failing of the left in regards to the debate on what to do with terrorism is that while it does a fairly adequate job of pointing out worst-case scenarios under a Republican administration's plans, no practicable counter-solution is ever offered. If you refuse to offer me a way to save both my house and the tree that threatens to fall on it in the coming hurricane, you'll just have to pardon me while I gas up my chainsaw and start cutting. I'll listen to you complain in the dry comfort of my living room after the hurricane has passed. Maybe you'll have some good suggestions on where to plant a new tree.

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The American people are unique in the world, with a unique history and therefore a unique perspective on the world. We diverged from the dominant global perspective some 230 years ago, and embarked on the greatest and most revolutionary governmental and social experiment the world has ever known.

Yes, we had innate advantages that European countries did not have. We didn't have to defend our borders constantly from people with whom thousands of years of intense rivalries had been developed. We had ample resources with which to sustain ourselves without needing to accept often grossly unfair trading practices with other nations.

But we also granted ourselves advantages. A Constitution and a Bill of Rights guaranteeing that the common man had the ultimate power over it's government through an inviolable schedule of elections. A refusal to get involved militarily with petty European squabbles. An industrial national spirit based on free-market principles. We achieved a united nation from coast to coast, thus insulating ourselves from outside forces that might wish us harm.

Yes, we achieved much of this with the occasional use of questionable means. Slavery, the Mexican/American war, and the subjugation of Native American cultures are black marks on our history. While the bleeding-heart left is paralyzed by the guilt of it's fathers, Realists such as myself understand that there is no honor to be attained in going back; the best way to rectify past wrongs is to improve the way of life of ALL Americans in a non-discriminatory way.

The 20th century saw the United States achieve something unique in the history of the world: We achieved greatness and indeed world dominance not by subjugating it's own citizens or those of other nations, but instead by freeing them from the tyranny of their oppressors.

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Now we find ourselves at the absolute height of our power. We are a veritable juggernaut Militarily, but more importantly, Economically and Socially. Everyone appears to agree that it is incumbent upon us to wield our power wisely.

Many on the left agree with this in principle, but then never seem to find a way to use that power at all, rather seem intent on giving power away under the misguided theory that if only all people are equally poor, the impetus for violence will be removed and Altruism will become a universal trait.

Conversely, I believe that power ignored is opportunity lost. 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq might never have known free elections if not for the principle that a measured use of power can bring great good to the world.

History will be the ultimate judge of the Bush Doctrine. His re-election guaranteed its pursuit for another 4 years, and this President is not shy about pursuing his foreign policy goals. His boldness, to the horror of the so-called intellectual class, and to the relief of the rest of us, is a product of his moral certitude that free people are inherently more peaceful and prosperous than those under the hard boot of a despot.

His morality demands action.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

BPCP Update

The Blogosphere Political Compass Project has been updated. Go to the BPCP permalink page for a complete list of participants and links to their sites.


BPCP Graph for January 2005 Posted by Hello

My Mom is back in the hospital; there have been some complications with her recovery (which, before last week, was going very well) and another surgery was required. Blogging will be light until she returns home, hopefully sometime next week.


S

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Friday, January 14, 2005

Touchdown

The crowd goes wild. I guess we should let the ESA do their end zone dance for this one; Huygens scored big. Let's just hope they don't pretend to ... uh, moon the fans, because I don't think they can afford the $10,000 fine.


Artist's Concept of Huygens' Descent Posted by Hello

This is the last time we'll need an artist's concept to visualize Titan. In a few hours, we'll have pictures - pictures! - from the surface. Astronomy geek heaven, I assure you.

Let's just hope we didn't teach a bunch of methane-breathing Titanian Brain-Suckers how to build interplanetary spacecraft. Because if so they'll be here in a matter of hours and their invasion will be unstoppable. Unstoppable, I say!

More as events develop.


S

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Liberal’s Revolution

The Painkiller review will have to wait; this story is just too good to put off (and I could use another hour or so of playtime to finish all of the game’s demo material anyway).

As we all know, President Bush will be inaugurated next Thursday, January 20th, 2005. The President was re-elected last November – when he handily won the Presidential race by three million popular and 35 electoral votes – so this inauguration is seen as a bit anti-climactic by a lot of Bush supporters (we won our battle a couple months ago; everything else is just mop-up). I’m not saying we won’t be happy and that we won’t cheer, because we are and we will. But the relief and euphoria wore off for us around mid-November, and it’s been back to business ever since.

The loony left, however, sees the inauguration as one final chance to bleat meaninglessly at us before retiring to four more years of political obscurity. Ordinarily I’d say fine, let them throw a few eggs at Bush posters and whine long, loud, and clear about their civil liberties being taken away (and completely miss the irony in it, too). But then I read this article off the AP wire.

It seems that some of the real left-wingnuts, those masters of cardboard-sign revolution, are going to once again do what they do best: Organize protests. David Livingstone, a Detroit Democrat who is putting together a no-buy, no-work nonobservance on Inauguration Day says "I view the inauguration of Bush as a black Thursday for this country." Buddy Spell of New Orleans calls it "The Death of Democracy", and he’s organizing a mock funeral procession. These activities and others are supported by a number of groups across the US who "hope to see several million people eating brown-bag lunches and dinners on Inauguration Day".

Okay, let me get this straight: "Black Thursday" is upon us and your defense against this incoming nightmare regime is to take a day off of work and refrain from using your Visa card? It’s the "Death of Democracy" – the end of America as we know it, if my definitions of those words are correct – and the best Mr. Spell and his brave band of leftists can manage is a mock funeral? These people are honestly telling us that freedom is gone, American democracy is dead, and tyrants occupy all the seats of power in Washington - and the liberal counterattack is to eat out of a brown bag instead of stopping off at Tiffany’s for grapes and baked brie?

Pardon my vulgarity, but are you fucking kidding me?

Thank God, YHWH, Allah, Vishnu, Buddha, and Zoroaster we won last November. Thank Zeus, Amon, and the Goddess that these latte-sipping bean curd nibblers aren’t the ones protecting us against real tyrants. Praise Luna and Sol and Gaia for defending us from these socialist, transnationalist, elitist intellectual cowards. I swear on all that’s sacred, three million votes was too close.

Time for a reality check from Uncle Sandor: American democracy has never been move vigorous. If it were really dead, liberals wouldn’t have voted – and subsequently lost – on November 2nd. They would have been too busy in the Texas Work Camps, pumping oil to make Halliburton richer. If America was an actual police state (instead of a nation with broad and well-functioning civil liberties protections) Mr. Livingston wouldn’t be running his propaganda web site and deciding if it’s going to be Mochachino or Espresso this afternoon. He’d be rotting away in the Detroit Gulag, home to all Mid-Westerners who dare to dissent against Emperor George Bush II.

These people are goddamned lucky their rhetoric is just that and nothing more. If the best you can muster up when faced with the death of democracy is to take a sick day and not buy any new Yanni CDs, then dissidents lined up along the roadway waiting for a bullet to the back of the head is surely just around the corner. If it really is Black Thursday and all you do to stop it is keep your credit card in your wallet, chances are excellent someone will be in a concentration camp very, very soon. If tyranny comes to America in the dark of night and you do nothing to stand in its way but march in a pathetic mock funeral, you will be as guilty for the result as if you had held the door open for the jackbooted thugs yourself.

Thankfully there’s not much reason to worry about all that here in the real world (at least not for the time being). And do you know why? It's not because of the David Livingstones and Buddy Spells. It's not because of the Michael Moores or Noam Chomskys or Barbara Striesands either.

It’s because of us.

It’s because if American democracy were really dying, if tyranny had actually come to this great nation, the Pat Tillmans and Bill Whittles would be doing something about it. There’d be folks like Mike and Joe running underground high commands in Raleigh and Wichita and Eugene. There’d be Moxies and Jonah Goldbergs flying upside-down American flags and marching in the streets day and night. There’d be Serenities and Rockynogins raiding National Guard armories for weapons and ammunition (and most of the National Guardsmen would help them do it, too). And there’d eventually be a hundred million Kim Du Toits encircling Washington DC, demanding that the halls of power be emptied of tyrants and the Constitution of the United States of America be restored.

You're not sticking up for democracy, David. We are. And you and the rest of the far left are nothing but a damned millstone around our neck.

Livingstone and Spell are jokes. Living, breathing parodies of everything that is broken and weak in liberalism. At best they are akin to spoiled children, pouty-lipped and shouting how they’re going to take their ball and go home because they lost again (fine, take your deflated pigskin and beat it - we’ve got plenty of balls over here on the right). At worst, these guys lack any shred of moral courage and don’t very much believe in what they’re saying ... my guess is it'd be more of the latter than the former, but either way I’ve never been happier that George W. Bush will be our President for four more years.

Next Thursday I'm going to go fill up my tank with gas, stop by the grocery store, buy a couple books from Amazon, make my monthly donation to Spirit of America, and pick up a new compact stereo from Best Buy. It’ll be an orgy of consumption, and I’m going to dedicate it to David Livingstone and his simpering gang of crybaby leftists. I encourage all you good readers to do the same.

Congratulations, President Bush. Go get’em.


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Monday, January 10, 2005

Well-Deserved Recognition

Last February I found myself in complete agreement with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the very first time: The Return of the King was the best film of 2003. The Academy doesn’t give awards to DVDs, but if they did, Return should win “Best DVD” too. In fact, the third installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy easily deserves to be awarded the “Best Fantasy Film of All Time” trophy; both the storytelling and visual effects are beyond extraordinary, and there isn’t at dull moment even with a running time of over four hours.


LOTR Arwen Poster Posted by Hello

Now before my fantasy and film geek comrades jump on me about the “The Lord of the Rings is one complete work, not three separate films!” thing, let me assure you folks: I know. I first read the books when I was 14 – holy jeeze, that’s 21 years ago now – and I’ve always agreed that The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King should be viewed as a single continuous work instead of an original and its two sequels. But like the books, the films came out in three separate parts anyway, mostly because no one wants to read a 1400-page book or sit through a 12-hour movie. As such I feel it’s fair to pick one of them as my favorite fantasy film, and the extended version of The Return of the King is it.

Beware, spoilers below.

What, however, is better about the extended version on the new DVD? Well, there are three particularly notable scenes:

1) The confrontation with Saruman and Wyrmtounge. In the books, these two villains escape Isengard and raze The Shire – home to the Hobbits – and really aren’t defeated until the very end of the story. In the theatrical movie version they are left imprisoned in the tower for the Ents to deal with. But in the extended DVD edition, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the Hobbits confront the two as they stand atop Isengard; the end result is a shamed and horrified Wyrmtounge who literally stabs Saruman in the back. Wyrmtounge is simultaneously shot by an arrow from Legolas – who, like the others, wants Saruman taken alive – but it comes too late: Saruman plummets hundreds of feet to his death upon the crushed and jagged rocks below.

It’s the biggest liberty that Peter Jackson takes with Tolkien’s original story, and it works well enough. Though it’ll never seem right that mighty Saruman is killed before taking his revenge on Frodo, the added scene does tie up a loose end. And it’s proof that no matter how subtle the wizard, a knife in his back will severely cramp his style.

2) Gandalf battles the Witch-King on the ramparts of Gondor. This is a great scene, if only because it shows just how powerful the leader of the Nazgul really his: He bests Gandalf after about 20 or 30 seconds of battle. Only the threat of the approaching Rohirrim saves old Greyhem from a real whuppin; when Theodin’s army attacks the Witch-King must rally his orcs, so Gandalf catches a break. As it is he’s flat on his ass and his staff has been destroyed … not a position the most powerful wizard in the world usually finds himself in.

3) The Mouth of Sauron. This is the scene that finally sold me on the “Best Fantasy Film Ever” thing. Never before have I actually been repulsed by a movie character in the same way a real-life villain like Ted Bundy or Saddam Hussein repulses me. But this one did it.


The Mouth of Sauron Posted by Hello

The mouth of Sauron projected such malice – in addition to being physically revolting – that I actually shrank back from the screen; you’d have gotten the same reaction from me if you held out a plate of rotting, maggot-ridden pork and said “Here! Have a bite!”. It was a scene that was both horrible and fascinating at the same time, and I don’t believe the concepts of mouth and corruption could have possibly been married together any better. Not since Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly) whored herself out for heroin in Requiem for a Dream – probably the only time in my life that two women having sex has made want to turn away from the TV – has a fictional scene stuck with me so awfully.

It was great.

There is lots more in the extended DVD as well: A touching scene between Eowyn (who rivals Legolas as my favorite LOTR character) and Aragorn. Lots of little 20 or 30-second extensions to scenes already in the theatrical version, and some important information about Arwen and her relationship with Aragorn. Oh, and a bunch of pirates getting killed by ghosts, which is, of course, cool by definition.

Wednesday (or thereabouts) will be my review of the Painkiller demo I downloaded last week, and Friday will see the next BPCP update. Happy Monday all.


S

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Friday, January 07, 2005

Crossfire Canceled

(Found on Ace Of Spades)

CNN has fired Tucker Carlson, and appears to be planning on getting rid of Crossfire as well.

For once, I actually find myself in full agreement with Jonathon Klein:

He said all of the cable networks, including CNN, have overdosed on programming devoted to arguing over issues. Klein said he wants more substantive programming that is still compelling.

"I doubt that when the president sits down with his advisers they scream at him to bring him up to date on all of the issues," he said. "I don't know why we don't treat the audience with the same respect."


This is the reason I don't watch Hannity & Colmes. After a few minutes of such programming, I can't seem to help but feel abused and frustrated. The format is absolutely incapable of finding solutions to issues. The format is nothing more or less than a copy of The Jerry Springer Show, with Policy Wonks as trailer trash. Amazing how easily they wear the role.

So listen up, MSM (including FOX):

It's weak programming like this that made the Internet my primary source for information. I like my news unfiltered, thank you. I'm smart enough to draw my own conclusions, so if you continue to think so little of me that you feel I must be bludgeoned into ideological submission, you will never have me in your audience.

And I don't think I am alone, given the growing numbers of everyday Joes, just like myself, availing themselves of the wealth of collected knowledge that is the internet.

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

We Got Too Much Game

Yeah, yeah, the review is late, I know. It’s mostly written and will be up tomorrow or Saturday. For now I have something much more interesting.

Longtime readers will know that I play EverQuest II, a massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game (or MMORPG). It’s like Dungeons and Dragons, except the game itself is the referee and the people you play with – many thousands of them – come from all across the world. The graphics are amazing and the story quite immersive. EQ players often joke about being addicted to the game … sometimes we even call it “EverCrack”.

A couple years ago a young man named Shawn Woolley killed himself while playing EverQuest. You can imagine what then ensued: Blame and lawsuits aimed at Sony Online Entertainment, EQ's owners and marketers. In an orgy of responsibility-shirking that must have had both the big-government liberals and the cultural conservative prudes cheering like mad, his mother – who I really do feel bad for – sued SOE, demanded advocacy groups be formed, and even burned a few barrels of EverQuest CDs.

It was anyone and everyone’s fault but Shawn’s. Or hers.

Perhaps because EverQuest II recently hit the market, Fox news recently revived the story (the original Wired article is here, Fox’s update here). The EverQuest II BBS has been alive with buzz about all this, a lot of it condemning Fox for resuscitating a dead horse that most gamers thought had finally rotted away. Of course I had to add my thoughts to the general fray … and here they are:


Interesting that so many feel the need to bash Fox news, yet don't say a word about the original Wired story; the truth is that Fox is no worse and no better than any other news organization. They have their slant, but so do CBS, NBC, and CNN (especially CNN). Take it all with a grain of salt and stop trying to shoot the messenger.

As for the story about the unfortunate Mr. Woolley and his Mother, it is, as others have said, old news. I do feel bad for the lady because of her loss, and I pity Woolley for the bizarre little hell his life must have become for him to want to end it in such a way. But blaming EQ for killing him is like blaming food for making Michael Moore fat. Anything can be abused ... it's up to us as individuals to exercise personal responsibility and a little restraint.

When I was in high school back in the late 80s, the Big Story of Tragic Death was a couple kids who killed themselves while listening to heavy metal records (I'm fairly certain Ozzy Osbourne was the offending musician). About a zillion parents were up in arms, blaming everyone from Ozzy to his record label to the guy who did the cover art for Diary of a Madman. Only a few of us bothered to look in the right direction: The kids themselves and their parents. Both teenagers were drug users, both were poor students and social outcasts. Both exhibited signs of depression. Neither had the legal right, nor the proper training, to own or use a gun.

Where were the parents through all this? When your kid is depressed, constantly stoned, failing his classes, has no friends, and buys a gun, it might be time for you to get more involved in his life.

The same applies to the tragic story of Mr. Woolley. He was a deeply troubled person, and his troubles should have been brought under control by either 1) his parents, when he was younger, or 2) himself, when he became a free adult. All of the responsibility lies right there. Sony cannot control how their game is played anymore than Toyota can control how their cars are driven or Breyers how their ice cream is eaten. But people - or parents, in the case of kids - can control how games are played, cars driven, and ice cream eaten. Blaming the game, the car, or the food for its misuse is at once stupid and useless.

Unfortunately there will always be those who abuse a privilege, causing the "It's Everyone's Fault But Mine" crowd to begin bleating for advocacy groups, government regulation, or outright censorship. It's nothing new, and as the media frenzy begins and the legal battle ensues, those of us who believe in (and exercise) personal responsibility will simply shake our heads in puzzled disbelief and get on with our lives. The case of Mr. Woolley and his Mother is no different.


S


I am continuously amazed – and appalled – by the unhealthy tendency of many people to put the blame for various tragedies on things like music, or books, or art. Or games. Folks, I assure you the end result of such thinking is a million volunteers shoveling copies of Catch-22 and Stranger in a Strange Land into an incinerator. America will become such a place over my bullet-riddled corpse, so can we please, for the sake of my life, head off such trouble long before it begins?

All together now: I am responsible for my own well-being and behavior. The bon-bons do not make me fat – me eating too many bon-bons makes me fat. The tequila does not make me start fights with bouncers – me drinking too much tequila makes me start fights with bouncers. The game does not ruin my life – me playing the game to the exclusion of all else ruins my life.

I still agree with Heinlein: Screw moderation, take big bites.

But for heaven’s sake chew thoroughly and know when to stop eating, because if you don’t it’s you that's going to choke.


S

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Monday, January 03, 2005

Know Your Genres

During the coming year I will often review books, films, and television belonging to the genre we call Sci-Fi / Fantasy (“Sci-Fi” means “Science Fiction” for those of you who are truly uninitiated into the mysteries of geekdom). Star Wars, Blade Runner, Willow, The Fellowship of the Ring, and Back to the Future all fit into this category, despite the huge variety of theme and plot among those movies. Sci-Fi / Fantasy has always been Hollywood’s bastard child, too; snickered about in hip company and snubbed at Oscar time. But it’s an over-achieving and hideously lucrative bastard child, so we fans of the genre are pretty much guaranteed an endless supply of books, movies, and television to simultaneously hypercriticize and moon over.

There are really three separate types of work in Sci-Fi / Fantasy … five if you want to get technical. Because I’ll be using the names of these “sub-genres” quite a bit, I thought it’d be wise to list them here once and then link the post on the sidebar.

Fantasy: When we say "Fantasy" we mean the real swords & sorcery stuff. J.R.R Tolkien more or less invented modern Fantasy with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, first published in the early 1950s. There were certainly stories about wizards and dragons and brave knights before Tolkien, but no one thought of them as a genre of literature (except for perhaps a few Folklorists who called it "Mythology"). Anyway, there are very few rules in Fantasy fiction … you can have characters and events and objects that just flat-out don’t exist: Cave trolls and Elven cities, crystal balls that see the future, and white-haired albinos with swords that drink souls. There are literally no limits to what one can do with Fantasy, except those limits which the creator and her audience place upon themselves.

Closely related to Fantasy are Historical Fiction and Horror. Historical Fiction often lacks magical elements (Gladiator) but will other times include so many it borders on outright Fantasy (Excalibur). Either way, Historical Fiction takes real-world history and rewrites it to one degree or another for the purposes of telling a story. Horror is Fantasy that is meant to frighten the audience; The Ring and The Sixth Sense are great examples from the past few years.

Science Fantasy: Most of what we generally think of as Sci-Fi is actually Science Fantasy. Science Fantasy takes a few generally realistic events or objects – a meteor impact, say, or battle between two spacecraft – and builds a story around them that has little regard for scientific fact. Star Wars is probably the best-known Science Fantasy of all time, but some others that are truly excellent are Fox’s Firefly TV series-cum-feature film and Stephen King’s recently-finished magnum opus, The Gunslinger. Science Fantasy takes a few things that are possible and does the impossible with them: Spaceships fly faster than light, force fields protect ships that dive into suns, and alien races travel trillions of miles to gulp down a couple homo sapiens for supper. It’s wonderful entertainment, but I'm sorry: No one is ever going to build a spacecraft that looks like the Millennium Falcon.

Speculative Fiction: Also called “Hard Science Fiction” when referring to literature, Speculative Fiction sticks close to the rules of reality. All fiction deviates from the real world somewhat, but good Speculative Fiction adheres to the laws of nature (as we understand them) with a fair amount of rigidity. A couple good examples are Carl Sagan’s Contact – both the book and the movie, but the book is better – and Jean Aeul’s Earth’s Children series. When the hero in a Speculative Fiction book gets shot through both lungs, no one is coming to save him with Dr. McCoy’s medical kit – he dies. When spaceships fire particle beams at each other in a Speculative Fiction film, there’s no sound – all is quiet on the final frontier. Somewhat ironically, Speculative Fiction can be the hardest to get an audience to accept; everyone wants to hear the roar of the TIE fighters and the explosion of the Death Star. But it can also be the most rewarding, as anyone who has ever imagined themselves standing under the arch of Larry Niven’s Ringworld can well understand.

So, there you have the basics of the Sci-Fi / Fantasy genre structure (such as it is). There are those who would argue with some of what I’ve outlined here – especially those Trekkies who get so offended at their show(s) being called Science Fantasy – but the Fantasy / Science Fantasy / Speculative Fiction breakdown is finding more and more popularity today. The audience for such work is growing overall, as the D & D geeks and Star Wars uberfans of yesteryear become the successful upper-middle class of today (ready to spend lots of disposable income on the next PC game, series of books, or toy collection). Personally, I just find it helpful to be able to differentiate between the type of work represented by Blade Runner and that represented by Friday the 13th Part X. I guess I’m picky that way.

Wednesday I’ll have a review of what I consider to be the finest Fantasy film of all time (and to be honest, I do believe I’ve seen all the ones that really matter) and perhaps some brief thoughts on the demo of Painkiller I played over the weekend.

Happy Monday kids … just 4 ½ days left until we embrace glorious, glorious freedom once again.


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