Monday, November 24, 2008

Solving the Homeless Problem

M. LeBlanc at Bitch. Ph.D. reports on the Chicago Transit Authority's crackdown on yoyo-ing, or "continuous riding." I read last week about a project inspired in opposition to similar anti-homeless measures. Preventing people from sleeping on bus shelter benches in LA is abhorrent enough, but kicking people out into the cold in Chicago is borderline sadism.

Anti-Lemon Law

This weekend I finally took a deep breath and took my car in for an oil change and general check-up, after having taken it to a shop for years that I eventually found out had a reputation for not actually doing what they said they were doing. Amazingly, the new place, which came highly recommended by the internets, found the car to be in great shape.

When I used to play golf in P.E. high school, I used to argue that my friends shouldn't take mulligans (I was sort of a dick in high school), because if they didn't think they should have to play an uncharacteristically bad drive then they should also not be allowed to play an uncharacteristically good drive; and nobody ever said "whoa, that was wayyyyy too long and straight for me (nullus), I should do that over."

By the same token, I seem to have been saddled with an anti-lemon. With 90-something,000 miles on it, and despite years of probable abuse at the hands of the mechanics in my old neighborhood, my car is still doing great (knock on wood (nullus)). By my own standards, I should make the inverse of a "lemon law" claim and pay the manufacturer a sum of money to compensate for its unexpected reliability.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Actually Awesome

Atrios links to Sarah Palin talking in front of a bunch of turkeys being slaughtered after she pardoned one of them. That is pretty funny, actually. It didn't occur to me before, but the whole turkey pardoning ritual has got to be as insensitive and mildly irritating towards hunters and farmers who raise animals for their meat as it is towards animal rights groups.

MSNBC blurring out the blood and warning parents to shield their children's eyes is just offensive if they're not going to take a stand arguing for a meatless Thanksgiving.

Anaglyph Games

The entries from Gamma 3D have been posted. I had only really read anything about a couple of them but I look forward to giving myself a headache playing them all.

John Ziegler

The other day Bol posted a video demonstrating how uninformed "Obama voters" are. (Of course he did. That's what he does.) And then I saw that Amanda at Pandagon linked to Nate Silver's interview with the guy who did the video and commissioned the Zogby poll on which it was based.

The guy is a talk radio host called John Ziegler, and he was the subject of David Foster Wallace's 2005 piece for the Atlantic, "The Host." Instant classic, natch, but so much of Ziegler's maniacal, outrage-fueled personality comes across in his uncut interview with Silver that you almost feel like DFW couldn't have gone wrong.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Business Case Against National Health Care

Atrios thinks private corporations' opposition to government-provided health insurance is purely ideological. But there is actually a logic to it, I think: employer-based health insurance means it is more difficult for people to switch jobs, which drives wages down. It doesn't make CEO's not-assholes, but it does make sense in economic terms.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Just Thought of This

For some reason yesterday I was like "hey, is Ron Paul still a congressman?" I looked it up today, and he is! That seems weird for some reason. Dennis Kucinich is still in the non-proverbial House as well.

I guess one strange thing about it is that some people's representatives in Congress have national profiles. Maybe I am just speaking for myself, but I feel like for most people, when they decide there oughta be some law or another and sit down to write their congressman, the first thing they have to do is look up who their congressman even is. And then not only are they national figures, but they are national figures with public reputations for being sort of crazy. I have no idea whether Rep. Letitia James would take a letter from me seriously, but I think I would sort of question whether a letter to Paul or Kucinich would make much of an impact if I weren't writing about the gold standard or peace crystals, or whatever.

Anyway, Congress is crazy, that's all.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Burden of Proof

Dave Neiwert has a post on Obama dictatorship conspiracy theories and how much they resemble the far-right paranoid fantasies around Bill Clinton.

You'd think this stuff would cease to have any fascination, the hysterical delusions of years past having failed to materialize. Not only was NAFTA emphatically not the first step in the creation of a socialist North American Union to rival the EU, but this year the majority of the Democratic primary contenders, including the eventual nominee, ran against the trade agreement.

Federal agents did not only round up nobody's guns, but when the Assault Weapons Ban expired without much fanfare (except among gun nuts), it did not become part of anyone's agenda to bring it back. "Y2K" was not used as an excuse to restrict any civil liberties at all, let alone establish martial law under UN peacekeeping forces.

Not only did the paranoia surrounding Clinton end up being unfounded, but liberals' fears of the wickedness of Bush proved to underestimate his administration's potential to cause harm almost across the board. As has been noted more than once, a straightforward account of the events of the last eight years (9/11, Iraq, Katrina, the financial meltdown) would have been seen as the most outrageous hyperbole, had it been presented in 2000 as a prediction of the consequences of electing Bush. "Had it been" being the key phrase, since nobody could have dreamed of such disastrous mismanagement: it was literally beyond the imagination of even the most rabid lefties that Bush could have been as bad as he turned out to be.

The lessons here seem obvious. First, that whatever horrific misdeeds are predicted of Obama by the right-wing can be safely dismissed as fever dreams. And second, that any fears harbored—by moderates, liberals, and far-left hard-liners with giant puppets—regarding the dangerous possibilities of future Republican rule should not be taken at face value, but rather amplified by an order of magnitude or two. This will make some attempt to bridge the "believability gap," between how bad anyone can imagine GOP governance could possibly get and how bad it ends up being in practice, and get you in the ballpark as far as making real predictions.

That there is any market at all for the black helicopter crowd after the last sixteen years, after having failed to meet any burden of proof whatsoever, is absolutely astounding.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Obama's new Office of Urban Policy is long overdue. Finally an administration that will meet the problem of teenagers wearing their pants too low head-on.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Do Not Know What Color My President Is Because I Do Not See Presidents That Way

Jesse wastes his time (as he acknowledges) attempting to explain a rap song to the execrable Michelle Malkin.

Personally, I want to know how this "Young Jersey" fellow can harbor such horribly racist sentiments in favor of blue lambos. Many fine patriotic lambos that have given their rims for our American ideals happened to have been yellow.

Anaglyph Game

I had been playing around with making a little video game that makes use of 3D glasses, and I sort of ran out of steam on it so I thought I'd post up what I had. It's more of a proof of concept than a full game.

Welder Wait screenshot

It's just a regular side-scrolling platformer, but in addition you can use the up and down keys to move back and forth along the z-axis. With red/cyan anaglyph glasses on, you should be able to distinguish between solid blocks, spikes, and enemies that are at different depths, and plot your course appropriately.

I made it in the free version of Game Maker, which was super easy and fun. The full version might allow you to alter the low-level rendering routines to do the anaglyph offset at runtime, but I just made different versions of each sprite for the different depth levels and switched between them.

I was already playing with this stuff when I read about Kokoromi's Gamma 3D contest. Really interested to see what people come up with.

Anyway, here's the download link for Welder Wait 3D. The archive includes the Windows executable (Game Maker is Windows-only) and the Game Maker "source" file.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Stupid Opera Reviews

My lover and I saw the Met's new production of Doctor Atomic on Wednesday. We weren't familiar with it at all, but the timing was pretty perfect. It's an account of the days leading up to the first test of the nuclear bomb in Los Alamos, but penned during the beginning of the Iraq war, so there are all sorts of thematic references to more recent issues surrounding American hegemony, military dominance, truth, and ethics.

I appreciated being able to take in the performance with the knowledge that all of that is soon to be behind us. Watching the first production, in San Francisco in 2005, must have been a markedly different experience.

Anyway, I've been poking around different reviews since then. Most critics have loved it, declared it John Adams' masterpiece, &c., but there are some hilarious dissenting opinions.

One was Henry Stewart's L Magazine blog review: he found the score "academically impenetrable," saying that "Adams’ refusal to resolve any of his lines makes me crazy." This was actually a concern of mine going in, since I'm not a sophisticated music listener in general, and if I'd ever listened to an opera younger than 100 years old then it hadn't been by much. But I needn't have worried: the music was "modern," but at this point modernism is hell of old, and whatever radical musical ideas that can be found in Doctor Atomic have long since permeated popular music and film scores, to the extent that the kinds of people who would complain about Atomic's inaccessibility are the ones who still bemoan jazz's descent from Dixieland into bebop. "Call me a musical conservative," Stewart invites, but I'll demur: he's a straight-up curmudgeon.

He also has a beef with Peter Sellars' libretto being written in English: "Our bumbling tongue might sound mellifluous coming out of John Gielgud’s mouth, but it lacks the vowel-heavy singsonginess of French or Italian that gives the greatest classical operas their ethereal flow." I don't know what John Gielgud has to do with anything (Wikipedia says he's an actor), but someone should tell Stewart about this dude Wagner, who I hear tried to write operas in a language even bumblier than English. Seriously, I'm not going to bother mounting a full defense of the English language as a poetic medium here, but this is Europhilism at its most absurd: the transition of Oppenheimer's language, from harsh Anglo-Saxon gutturals as he muses on science and military power (the test bomb's nickname, "the Gadget," did not go unnoticed), to drawn-out Latinate roots when he interacts with his wife, is a feat simply not possible in other languages.

Ron Rosenbaum takes a different tack in his review (of the opera's first half) in Slate: he makes the bold, courageous argument that opera-goers are self-impressed snobs who don't know the first thing about real art. Indeed, he claims to be shocked with the discovery that his fellow audience members' "sophisticated taste" did not live up to his expectations, though not a moment earlier humbly confiding that he generally avoids opera because he "prefer[s] poetry and drama without orchestral distractions." Truly a man of the people, Rosenbaum.

Yes, he finds the libretto "pedestrian, speechifying, and painfully simplistic (when not embarrassingly schlocky as in the 'love scenes')." Welcome to the opera! And herein lies his real complaint, I think, not with Atomic but with opera and opera fans as a whole: but if there is anything more pretentious than bitching about the phoniness of opera fans than I can't think of it. Oh, and one more thought on the libretto:
Do words not matter in opera? It's not something I'd thought about, because opera is so often in a foreign language, which discourages close reading.
I don't even know what to make of this. Apparently La Traviata, for example, is in foreign-ese as some sort of a ruse? So people like Rosenbaum won't notice how banal it is? And Rosenbaum approves? Your guess is as good as mine.

Anyway, I thought it was great. I just ordered the DVD of the original production, performed in the Netherlands. I don't think there's a CD of just the music yet, but it'll be neat to see the other choices in staging anyway.

Oh Awesome

Sadly, No! finds some of the best wingnut hyperventilating I've seen. Especially loved this bit from Misha:
And here is the good news: At the top of that hierarchy, they have a neophyte empty suit now. A clown who...has absolutely zero experience in how to run a country. Or a hot dog stand, for that matter...He’ll fuck up so bad every day that it’ll almost be too easy to skewer his ignorant ass. That dumbass fuckhead is in so far over his head that it’s not even funny.
Trust me, not nearly as fun as it sounds.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Goddamn it, Obama, you didn't make me give up two whole Saturdays with this for no reason, did you?

Although actually, out of state Democrats converging on PA could only help sell it, so maybe I should consider it time well spent. It was fun, in any case!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Elactabiliteez Nutz

Atrios has a post on how, whatever happens today, Obama's campaign has clearly put the lie to arguments made against his electability and demonstrated at least the capacity for victory. I completely agree, and electability considerations were never part of my calculus in supporting Clinton for the nomination.

For one thing, my instincts about who is and isn't electable are far, far off base from reality: my model of how the voting public thinks led me to believe that Bush was un-re-electable in 2004, and that Rudy was a lock for the GOP nomination in 2008. My perception was that the electability argument cut against Clinton: she was a well-known bogeyman of the right and the press actively despised her (an especially critical dynamic going up against St. Barbecue). It was only my awareness of my own faint grasp on true electability that allowed me to put aside those worries and support Clinton.

So I think this makes me some sort of genious.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Doing Work in Video Games

Via a link post, an interesting Steven Poole essay criticizing the way a lot of games set players up in an "employment paradigm." Favorite parts:
Today, the most common paradigm for progress in games, for example, is the idea of “earning”. Follow the rules, achieve results, and you are rewarded with bits of symbolic currency — credits, stars, skill points, powerful glowing orbs — which you can then exchange later in the game for new gadgets, ways of moving, or access to previously denied areas...It is, you might say, a malignly perfect style of capitalist brainwashing.
I had some thoughts along these lines working on a reimagining of Paperboy that I sort of lost steam on. It's an interesting idea, though.
Remarkably, the WipEout games, for example, even count points for your “loyalty” to a particular team, be it Auricom or Feisar. The idea of inculcating loyalty to an entirely fictional organization is fascinating. In the modern “flexible” labour market, where people may be fired on a whim and companies rename themselves or merge from one day to the next, it might be thought useful to train the population in an idea of “loyalty” that is instant, portable — and, of course, unrequited.
I don't know about other games quantifying loyalty like this, but it is bizarre how many games take the player's devotion to some arbitrary cause for granted, despite taskmasters who are not merely oblivious to the hero's efforts, but in many cases outright hostile. (Getting back to Paperboy, you'd think any possibility of loyalty to the newspaper would evaporate when the editor demonstrates a willingness use the front page to publicly shame former employees following their termination.)

One thought I had is that this kind of blind loyalty, which requires one to deliberately overlook the contempt in which an employer figure holds the player, might have a distinctly Japanese character to it. What values have a generation of Americans absorbed growing up in an environment in which the vast majority of games share assumptions about deference to authority rather than, for example, class solidarity?
Nothing could be a more perfect advert for what is sometimes called the “American way” than The Sims. Buy a Sim a large mirror and she will be happier, by virtue of being able to gaze at her reflection. Buy him a new oven, and he’ll become more popular after giving dinner parties. Help your Sim climb the slippery pole of a career as a politician or scientist. This is a game in which the brutal rules of free-market capitalism are everything.
Apparently this paragraph is from an earlier essay of Poole's, linked to by a commenter, on implicit political messages in video games. Good stuff. I think I'll start reading his blog.