Archive for January, 2007

A necessary question and a necessary path to take

January 24, 2007

In the authoritarian process of the Bush Administration, the one which is laying the groundwork for fascism, is there the intention to succeed or to fail?

It might sound ridiculous to ask such a thing, to assume the *possibility* that a set of people would invest that kind of time and energy in intentional failure (of course, intentional failure is just another kind of success), but hear my argument…

The motivation – Neoconservatives aren’t fascists. In fact, many hail from backgrounds vehemently *against* the Holocaust. Many are Jewish (nevermind that the state of Israel is moving more and more toward militancy and centralized control even in their government). The motivation is that they are trying to scare the American people into Traditional values, Anti-Fascism, Strict Morality, etc. Even Jon Stewart said that one of *his* motivations was to destroy moral relativism in America, something the Neoconservatives totally agree on. What better way to scare people than to take matters into your own hands, to wear the MASK of Fascism, to *simulate* Fascism, until the fear you produce gives you the *result* you desire. Then, the populace properly enraged, emboldened, and ENLIGHTENED, they engage in the kind of socialist movement that, again, forms the background for many of these same Neoconservatives.

In *successful* Fascism you create sheep. That approach creates a subjugated people. That approach is fucking depressing.

But executing FAILED Fascism… doesn’t that work to embolden people? To scare them into political activism, into throwing off their apathy? Isn’t the primary requirement to follow such a procedure Cynicism?

The Jon Stewarts, the Keith Olbermanns, all these people don’t talk about what’s really going on in America. These people are promoting the belief that the Bush Administration is trying to *succeed* at Fascism.

The Bush Administration isn’t a real villain – its a Hollywood villain. Its sloppy, its incompetent.

Its simply not POSSIBLE, given the culture and the laws and the state of America, for fascism to be created by this Administration. *Maybe* they are trying to lay the groundwork for subsequent actual fascism, which at least you can argue that they’ve tried to succeed at, or maybe they’re just trying to be a villain in order to create heroes within America.

Who’s going to be asking this question? Not the Olbermanns or Stewarts. Of course, there’s noone to provide a definitive answer… even the Neocons themselves probably don’t recognize their subconscious on a level required to produce truth on the issue.

So, if all of this is yet another form of social engineering (which the Neocons love to do), a kind of jumpstart given to the assumed dead battery of the American soul, what does that do to the future of the country? Or will this simply be buried by an American people that prefers the truth that they through their staunch American values nobly defeated the terrible fascist menace, just like we defeated the Nazis in WWII. Is this just another Neocon-fueled Grand Narrative?

Is this the nature of conflict for Westerners… is this the next step… sort of Beyond War?

If so, we may find that the shackles of Cynicism, the only TRUE possible victor in this ridiculous process, may become permanent.

I urge you to despise the Neocons, not to treat them as a noble enemy. Do not make the mistake of thinking you’ve accomplished something great as you remove them from power, or in the end you’ll have let them win after all.

In Poker, friends, its all about reading, adjusting, and bluffing. Poker is the ultimate cynic’s game.

The larger enemy is not being discussed on shows that are ostensibly “saving America”. Do not be guided by men of limited vision or you’ll find new problems emerging from the solutions you wrought. Do not be blinded by your own American pride and arrogance and constitution-waving. Do not be scared by Olbermann’s alarmism or Stewart’s pathos.

Freedom INCLUDES freedom from cynicism… I love America. Lets not harm it today. We may find, we WILL find, that in destroying cynicism a lot of the crap will fade from American culture… such as reality TV.

Lets make the future as good as it can be.

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A real problem of the Bush Administration

January 22, 2007

One of the big problems with manipulation is inefficiency.

Example: we get to argue over the meaning of words, and what word is best used to describe a situation. Such as “escalation” versus “augmentation”. While this argument is going on shit isn’t getting done.

Or changing arguments for why we went to war in Iraq. Every few months, a new argument. While we spend years arguing this, shit isn’t getting done.

I’ve NEVER seen from *any* country in any time such a *verbal* administration. They are Word Warriors and by God they never admit defeat!

Remind me why this administration is still in office.

Think what could happen if simple reality was agreed on, basic words were agreed on. Things of SUBSTANCE could actually be discussed. PLANS could be formed. And imagine, OH MY, THINK, *ACTIONS* could actually be carried out. Actions? What are those? Oh yeah, things our government *used* to do.

Condoleeza Rice: Those aren’t actions. They’re more like activities.

Shut the fuck up. For ONCE, for one fucking time in your despicable political abomination of an existence, agree with what I’m saying.

The terrible error of speaking truth to power

January 22, 2007

I hear this phrase a lot: “speak truth to power”.

Here’s the problem with that: power doesn’t respond to truth. Truth can be ignored. Power derives from PAST truth… the present is irrelevant except as affects the future.

What is *not* irrelevant is speaking truth to people who can *change* the identity of the power. Its the people who create the power that need to hear truth so they know who to give power to.

The vast majority of the truth spoken in “speak truth to power” is already known by the power. No matter how plaintive the wailing, the power cannot be made to care about the truth. It doesn’t *need to*.

Anyone who actually thinks the problem is that the power is IGNORANT of truth is the truly ignorant one.

Bear in mind that if any organization tries to establish itself into a position of systemic perpetual power (such as is found in a totalitarian state) its doing this SO THAT OUTSIDE TRUTH HOLDS NO RELEVANCY TO ITS FUTURE. Example: a proposed one-party system in the US fueled by accelerated and continuous manipulation of the American populace – again, the point of this is to eliminate self-accountability to truth, justice, beneficialness, and all value.

Do you really fucking think speaking *truth* to people who desire this is going to have any effect other than them thinking you’re a naive moron and only FUELING their desire? You know what speaking truth to these people says to them?… that you’re hoping THEY will do something about themselves so that you don’t have to. Save us all some embarrassment and skip that whole process.

The *only* response to ANY fascist, propagandistic, manipulative agenda of a political agent is to remove that political agent from power.

Even our American *government* doesn’t seem to understand this, much less the American people. They’re getting there… hopefully they’ll learn before its too late.

Clarifying Dinesh D’Souza on the Colbert Report

January 22, 2007


Remarks I’ve heard about this piece indicate a misunderstanding.

The argument D’Souza is making is that the *perception* and the reality projected by what he calls liberals in American society encouraged Bin Laden and partially led to the 9/11 attack. Colbert shifted the issue by focusing on D’Souza’s beliefs, which makes you wonder why Colbert couldn’t handle the argument previously on the table.

So I’ll make the argument for him: Yes, Western values (liberal values) are part of the motivation for Bin Laden’s actions in general with 9/11 included. The West has no need to apologize or change even the *perception* it creates, much less the reality, due to this. Destroying buildings and killing people is not an ARGUMENT against the West in any way, hence there can be no rebuttal.

Wow, its been so long…

January 21, 2007

 … since I’ve seen actual news. The Americans forgot how to do it, getting caught up in irrelevant propagandistic garbage like fancy graphics and greater volume, collapsing under the oppressive weight of their tyrannical masters.

News that you don’t have to constantly hold up a shield of cynicism against… its about goddamn time.

What in the hell is wrong with Katie Couric?

January 21, 2007

This is one of the most shockingly uncomfortable public displays of verbal sadism I’ve had the misfortune of witnessing. I’m trying to puzzle out if she has an intense hatred for Jon Stewart or just has no sense of humor whatsoever. The most likely explanation is that she has taken offense to Stewart’s critique of the Today Show, which was done in all fairness. Though if you’re a self-righteous prick, maybe fair has a different definition. Since what she did apparently isn’t a crime, I at least hope the Today Show lost a lot of viewers for that crap. I’m going to go take a shower now.

Innocence Strikes Back

January 21, 2007

Pan’s Labyrinth is a great film.

I was expecting a movie about 50/50 real world/fantasy world. It was more like 80% real world. Given the impressive fantasy characters and setting, I prefer more of that.

My favorite character in the film is the most brilliant metaphor for fascism I’ve ever seen… his sight emerges only from what he can do with his hands… the human-labor-only vision of fascism. When he sees he does not act and when he acts he does not see. He treats human need as their deathbed… he prepares a glorious feast and takes revenge upon anyone who fulfills their hunger by eating. The Ultimate Ascetic.

Unlike The Italian, this was a true tale of heroism.  The main character is not some beyond human resourcefulness superman but a child coping with a world where intentional tragedy is always a possibility. Her heroic act is to NOT kill her brother with the knife she so carefully gathered for that purpose.

The movie was overly convenient in one way. Rarely, only rarely, is a monster so visible and available. If only our own world was so kind.

Network – one very depressing movie

January 19, 2007

There’s something very depressing about a people who can’t solve their problems within thirty years of having them laid out with precision.

Furthermore, ridiculously, a lot of the problems didn’t even EXIST prior to this movie… much like 1984 this movie is used as a roadmap at least as much as a stop sign.

What is that, exactly? Is it the equivalent of Hitler using Nietzsche to justify Nazism? Lets use Chayefsky to help us with making trash TV! Great idea! Since Orwell was so kind to define it for us, lets use him to establish totalitarianism! Yeah!

I can’t comprehend the level of cynicism required to even think of doing that, much less actually doing it.

Should someone write a book or make a movie about that level of cynicism? Or will that too be used as a roadmap for further atrocities?

Its cynicism we’re going to have to kill before we can solve our other problems, I think.

A New Political/Economic System

January 19, 2007

I’m appalled that I don’t have an established position on what political/economic system I prefer. This post is part of forming a position.

The major systems in play (Corporatism/Socialism/Fascism) are each problematic. Corporatism is centralized and amoral. It can be worse than a dictator who is usually at the very least “of the people”. Socialism’s stressing of human input instead of human output is morally suspicious. Fascism ends all debate by making human happiness dependent upon an eternally powerful state.

What I’d like to see is a decentralized Capitalist system. New laws would reduce favor given to corporations.

Neoliberalism is destroyed such that multinationals can’t be used as an economic form of war. International trade would be engaged in with an eye toward cultural and political reality versus treating the world as a necessary consensus.

That’s it from a realistic perspective. That is to say, I believe this system can happen. What I *really* want is unrealistic for the moment, but you never know about the future…

The single biggest problem I see economically is that there is a disconnect between actual value and economic value. For example, I very much enjoy Stephen Colbert’s work. For this enjoyment I have not paid him a single penny. I have likely provided him some small amount of funds by talking about him positively, leading other people to watch him on TV (helping his ratings, thus advertising revenue, thus his popularity and likelihood of future success in the media). This effect however is very small. On the other hand, I spend money on things I am benefitted by far less.

Proponents of Capitalism have a harsh name for this: the Free Rider syndrome. But its far worse than that… all capitalism mediates is transactions… it does not mediate EFFECTS. According to me I should pay hundreds of dollars to Colbert and I should be refunded most of my money for other media. Capitalism doesn’t agree since effect is, again, not what is being regulated.

Under my ideal system, humans are paid as they create positive effect. Ideally after Colbert gave his speech at the Presidential roast, for example, he should have walked off and picked up an enormous check, fairly small amounts from millions of different people.

The biggest argument I’ve seen against my position is that economics works out in the end. Thus, *because* Stephen Colbert has created such a large positive effect people will continue to pay for whatever he is selling.

But that’s bullshit. He should be paid for what he does right, not have to keep going to make up for what was undersold previously.

This brings up one of the biggest flaws in Capitalism: You can only sell what the customer EXPECTS to buy, not what he actually buys. A transaction is not concluded after its effect is done, its concluded BEFORE it can do any actual effect. My system makes value and effect simultaneous, or as near as can be. *Surprises* kill Capitalism.

While I might say that this system is unfeasible, it really isn’t. The problem right now is that there’s no requirement of honesty… Stephen Colbert can affect Joe Schmoe for $100 worth of value but Joe Schmoe can just be a greedy asshole and not pay anything… there’s no accuracy checker. Noone knows Joe Schmoe well enough to determine how much positive effect Stephen Colbert has had on him.

You might say, we’ll get around the greedy asshole effect by making everyone pay X amount, and simply let them choose who to give it to. Unfortunately, this will lead to popularity management, which simply is a corruption of the system. “Popularity management” is probably no worse than modern politics, but the idea is to be *better* than modern politics.

This would be a great system, but the at the moment insurmountable problem is the certain inaccuracy that will result between effect and payment, making this system far worse in practice than decentralized Capitalism. I suspect at some point there could be a technological solution to the problems.

Its possible to implement this system on top of the current Corporate Capitalist system. Its already being done when websites sell T-shirts with the logos or themes of the site or when the site asks for donations.

The Greatest Performance in a Movie

January 18, 2007

This comes from one of the greatest movies I’ve seen, but even there it stands out as tremendous. I’m talking about Faye Dunaway in Network. She achieves the most coveted feat among actors… being better, truer, than reality.

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Also on Network: when you see Ned Beatty in a film you automatically know the film is good.

Corporations do not own their employees

January 18, 2007

That seems like an uncontroversially true and boring statement, but not so fast.

“Universal amps up toon business – steals Chris Meledandri from Fox”

I’ve been seeing more and more quotes like this one, saying that corporations “headhunt” or steal from others.

A curious statement… how can you steal what is not a possession? Under the normal standard of mobile labor, someone *should* move to a different company if he gets a better offer. Its no big deal and certainly does not constitute theft.

Of course, you could argue that the word is merely sensationalistic and it doesn’t mean anything beyond that. Fair enough, although idle sensationalism is a problem all its own.

Jesus Version 1001

January 18, 2007

This comes from a movie review of “The Italian”:

“In assuming the mantle of the one who fights for the right to have a family when everyone around him has given up, Vanya sends a wonderful message for children as well as adults.”

Really? You know, I’d say a context where “everyone around him has given up” is not a wonderful message.

In this Jesus-esque version of heroism the hero emerges from a weak populace to work his individualist magic. AFTER society fails the hero emerges.

How is that a wonderful message? I’d say a far more wonderful message is showing heroism within a *healthy* society.

But it hardly matters, apparently. All we need is Vanya. I was wrong all this time. A hero doesn’t even need to be an adult, like the original. A six-year-old can handle the job.

We need heroes *before* society fails. Where was Russian heroism in the 1970s and 1980s? Maybe they were waiting to fail so that Vanya could save them.

It seems to me that Vanya serves as a security blanket.

Don’t get me wrong. Weak populaces can and will have heroes just like any other. Fair enough. But according to the Jesus theory, ONLY weak populaces can have worthwhile heroes. According to the Jesus theory, a hero is determined by his *distance from* the populace… hence the weaker the populace the greater the hero.

The whole idea is showing that Vanya *isn’t* just another kid. How can he be just another kid and be a hero, given his context? *Therefore* he’s a kind of superman, like Jesus. The way culture is going a version of Vanya ten years from now will be said to be “inspired by God” even, like Jesus. Or even BE God, apparently those things can get confusing.

You know the message I get from this movie? Russia is totally fucking hopeless, except for Vanya. Go Go Vanya!

What a great message, “for children” nonetheless! How will they know to be like Vanya unless they know that society is evil?

Be the bright light of hope, children who see this film! Be the lone hero battling against a society of darkness!

Vanya, save us!

Laws for the Dead

January 15, 2007

Corpses confuse me. For several years I’ve been thinking about changes to law and society that will benefit humanity by way of changing views about dead or potentially dead humans. Here’s some background:

When I think of pretty much anything in my life I think of the living. Friends, family, coworkers, etc. As I get older and more people in my life become corpses that will change, but since most people I’m familiar with are around my age (likewise for most humans) by the time that becomes a substantial factor I’ll be close to a corpse myself. Thus we are conditioned to (usually) think in terms of the living.

Thinking of the living is a very practical, very pragmatic thing to do. As the saying goes, “Dead men tell no tales”. There’s a lot of other things dead men don’t do. In a sense, the living are treated exceptionally well, and completely unlike how the dead are treated, through law, custom, or any other aspect.

This is quite curious. The United States has perhaps the most extreme differential in how they treat the living and the dead, with media obsession for new humans (the relatively far from dead), a consumerist society where dead men are broke and therefore irrelevant, etc.

Trying to lasso this subject into some form of interesting thought is difficult for me. What I’ll consider here is that when you establish a vast difference between the treatment of the living and the dead, you ensure obsession with the topic and you also ensure that power is based on affecting the difference. That is to say, the bigger the difference in value between the living and the dead, the more power goes to people who can move humans from one state to the other. The effect this has on issues like Diplomacy vs. War should be obvious.

One very notable thing about primitive societies is that their treatment of the living and the dead is not greatly different. In the sense in which this creates less obsession and concern about things like murder its accurate to say these societies are more civilized than our own.

Without doing anything bizarre like “becoming primitive”, can we progress toward a concept of “Laws for the Dead”, establishing a manner of treating the dead more beneficially? Perhaps others can be more successful in wrapping their heads around this issue than I have been thus far.

Destroying Adam Sandler

January 15, 2007

Comedy derives from cruelty. That’s why comedians are so good at being assholes… comedy is a kind of attack *allowed* because its given a candy coating. Laughter is a form of disarmament to ease the knife he is sticking in your belly. Its a type of seduction. In learning comedy the Comedian learns a power that won’t (usually) get him torn apart by an angry recipient of attack. Learning to shape the comedian’s pathology while building humanism IS the means of becoming a comedian.

Comedy is proof that there is no such thing as (completely) free speech in America or anywhere else. Comedians go through rigorous social training so that they can say the things that are *otherwise* dangerous to them. Its human weakness that forces this UPON the comedian.

The comedian, beginning his life with a list of complaints about humanity, *finally* gets to air them upon reaching a level of comedic ability. Its no wonder the comedian is so excited… the excitement is not just part of the act or part of the fear.

However, lets say that one of your complaints, related to your MAIN complaint, is that this process *itself* is bullshit. What if the process of a tyrannical populace forcing the comedian to go through intense hoops just to open his fucking mouth is the problem. Is it even possible to say that through any comedic venture? Lets say, furthermore, that the structure of the tyrannical populace is the *main* complaint. How do you say that in a sensible and instructive and hopefully extremely comedic way?

Society is given the reigns of terror ostensibly because of the benefits provided by society. This is, indeed, the argument given for allowing that. Humans enjoy playing into it… their *achievement* is often related to society.

Humans criticizing *large* aspects of society are always treated badly. Some rather proudly enjoy the treatment, such as Diogenes. Some use pathos as a kind of false barrier.

But, so what? I hear all kinds of criticism of Sandler that boil down to that, but so what? Look, comedians are no smarter than anyone else. Sandler isn’t *responsible* for solving our problems… if all he can do is point them out then that’s fine. If all he can do is point them out *over and over* then he gets boring, but so what? A lot of comics get boring once they run out of material. Sandler’s a one-trick pony that humans somehow think is something more. They’ll find out they’re wrong.

Sandler is anti-society. He doesn’t think society should have power over individuals. As a part of a free society, he’s allowed to say that. Its the individual’s responsibility to not go see a movie where he says the same thing in a different context for the fifteenth time.

Getting angry at him and *defending society against the heathen!* doesn’t solve anything. Play that game and soon you’ll find yourself mocking Uwe Boll or something. Just walk away and go to your next town hall meeting.

Curse of the Golden Flower

January 15, 2007

Despite the feeling that I was watching a melodrama about a melodrama, I really liked this movie. It was just on the edge of camp, probably meaning it won’t hold up well in future years. It was also shallow with a mundane plot, surprising given the possibilities of the various plots going on. The core of the emotional melodrama worked, and thus the movie worked even with its many flaws.

A Jon Stewart Problem

January 13, 2007

This isn’t so much a problem with him as a problem with American culture, but a lot of the focus goes to him since he’s the public figure in relation to it at the moment.

From one of his Youtube viewers: “By the way, isn’t this why we had the American Revolution in the first place? We wanted to have our own leaders so that we *could* criticize them face-to-face! What went wrong?!”

This is in response to the Brit vs. Yank townhall comparison that Jon Stewart did, and is indicative of the problem I’m describing.

Criticism or no, the United Kingdom is in pretty bad shape with respect to Democracy, quite possibly worse than we are. Continental Europe has considerably stronger democracies than either. Specific cultural elements like degree of public criticism in the face of the governmental leader is not a telling sign.

The idea is not to establish criticism, the idea is to establish effect. A lot of young people, lets say the typical Jon Stewart viewers, seem to think the ability to criticize is what its all about, probably as a result of too much emphasis on free speech (and too much emphasis on their own clever arguments). What its all about is the ability to *create effect*. Criticism can be ignored (and politicians can and do ignore whenever criticism can safely cause no effect). Effect cannot be. Its a telling sign that the United States is far and away the world’s leader in free speech but mediocre at best in its degree of democracy… the American public learning that the two do not go together will be an important lesson for them, but one that I fear is far from learned.

“One citizen, one vote” is a decent concept, such as is “Free speech”. A *better* concept is “one citizen, one degree of effect”. Equal political POWER is the key concept of democracy. America only has free speech because our leaders know that speech from the vast majority of Americans is irrelevant. Make it relevant and suddenly our leaders think that free speech is not such a good idea. We, in turn, have to be ready for that.

The European model, which is less free speech but where speech is taken more seriously by culture, is MORE healthy with respect to democracy.

What’s happened in this country is that speech is indeed free, but its externally constrained so as to make it have a very slight effect (even when the words are otherwise powerful). You can SAY anything you want, but our leaders ensure that those words don’t carry very far, even if it goes across the American public. Its just another cage, just another form of control and degree of enslavement.

For an easy comparison, look at Jon Stewart and George W. Bush. I hear better things out of Stewart *daily* than I’ve ever heard out of Bush. Yet Bush is our nation’s leader and Stewart is, *despite* being an enormous public figure, someone who can still be largely ignored by the government. And if he can be largely ignored you can bet Joe Schmoe can be completely ignored.

Just compare anyone you respect with a typical congressman. One is in a position of power in this country and the other only might be (and probably isn’t).

Despite fantasies of noble underdogs, its an unhealthy thing for any country where respect and power are so completely divergent. Only *one* aspect of this lack of health is where the leaders decide they’d like to forget about trying to command respect and start trying to command fear instead. Oh, wait…

Jon Stewart is one of the leading American critics of the American government and mass media. If HE can be marginalized where does that leave the rest of us? If Noam Chomsky can be marginalized…

Controlling the World

January 8, 2007

Prior to the 20th century world domination wasn’t a topic. Probably the *only* reason for this is that the means didn’t exist for it. Subsequently, when that changed a few years later, suddenly humanity was absorbed in the issue. A consistent human theme seems to be: Where there’s a means, there’s a way.

We’ve reached a point where its a given that the world will be controlled, thus debate is focused on the conditions of the control. The existing model is Nationalism, where Education/Corporation is the dominant unified system. The model human is the Citizen, a helpful cog in the machine. Neoliberals propose a Globalist variant of this with more power for the Corporations. Apocalyptics propose a bleak world following nuclear war. Anti-Globalists propose a decentralized tribal world. Socialists are similar to Neoliberals except with power to workers instead of employers.

I think its amazingly sad that we have the ability to address the world in this way. Its sad that we have the ability and use the ability to control the world. I propose a world in which we do not use that ability. You might confuse that with the Anti-Globalist position, but that’s not what I’m saying at all. A decentralized tribal world is an organized system (its organized around being decentralized and tribal). I’m saying the world should not have a global system of order of ANY kind. My position will come to be when there is no way to address the world as a whole because parts of the world will differ from other parts. One part could be “decentralized and tribal”, another could be “neoliberal”, another “socialist”, etc. Unfortunately to the extent this system would be enforced it *would be* a global system… there is no solution to that problem. I guess you could call my proposal Multi-ideologicalism. The final solution would be for humanity to develop into such that no longer needs enforcement, a scary proposal itself.

My reasoning is fairly simple: never put all your eggs in one basket. Have a diverse portfolio. Etc…. make up your own metaphor. What are the benefits and drawbacks of a global system of order, regardless of the specifics of the order?

The benefit is efficiency. A global system means global AGREEMENT over how the world is run. Everyone who disagrees gets to be treated harshly (either social outcastedness, jail, etc.). Cogs in a machine.

The drawback is efficiency. Efficiency is movement in a certain direction. If the direction is good efficiency is good. If the direction is bad moving that way more efficiently only makes things worse. Worse yet, if efficiency itself is honored it might not be easy to differentiate bad movement from good movement.

An analogy of a tug of war: move everyone to one side and you can tug *really* hard (and because noone is on the other side there’s no resistance)… this doesn’t address the question of whether you should be tugging in that direction in the first place.

The biggest problem with a global system of order is how it treats the future. If humanity at Time A decides it likes Global System A, it sounds perfectly reasonable to pursue that system.  When Time B hits though and humanity changes its preferences, there is no PLACE to pursue those preferences, because the system itself comprises the whole world. Any global system is a system of paranoia, because dissent really does mean that the whole world is against you (other than the other dissenters who might be sharing a jail cell with you).
One solution might be to include in the global system a method of changing the system. In other words, the global system is malleable and a methodology for that change is constructed. But this only makes things worse, because the specifics for changing the system *themselves* are merely part of Global System A and if the system believes that it can only be changed in a certain way it excludes other factors. This is one of the silly illusions many humans of today live under: they think that the solution is to make the system very BROAD so that there’s no way any reasonable person would dissent: they accompany this belief with lots of psychological creativity: its no coincidence that Global world order walks hand in hand with saying what thoughts are acceptable and what are cause for medication, social outcastment, and/or imprisonment.

Proposing the non-existence of a world order runs into the problem of human expansion: humans could simply expand some subset of the world into world domination and we’d have the same problems we have now. I suppose we could have this be cyclical (when this happens we just reset the world into Multi-ideological) but that’s not a very satisfying solution.

There seem to be two real satisfying answers to the dilemma of world domination. Both are not totally out of possibility.

One is to open up the context of domination. If the problem is all of our eggs in one basket, then make some more baskets so that we can spread out the eggs (and not worry about making more eggs). The understood context of additional baskets is human colonies in space, moving to permanent human settlement of space.
The second satisfying answer is to change human nature (and/or human culture) so that it does not seek expansion, or it seeks it in ways that do not infringe upon the entirety of its context.

I argue, and there’s probably no serious contestment of this, that the 20th century saw the pursuit of BOTH of these answers to an impassioned degree. Large strides were made in space exploration (although the past few decades have been weak) and the rise of the mental and psychological industries has been meteoric.

I sense that its the second solution that humans are turning more and more to. Unfortunately however, humans have little understanding of the human mind so there is a strong tendency to try to simplify the truth so that action, however inaccurate, can be taken.

Also, as human despair over its future increases solutions like outer space seem more irrelevant, since that is measured in centuries regardless of the pace of scientific and technological progress. Thus the BELIEF that controlling the human mind is the solution for humanity becomes more and more prevalent.

THIS, I argue, lies at the root of the pursuit of Fascism and is why Fascism cannot be called evil, regardless of its highly problematic nature. The atomic bomb is the greatest proponent of Fascism… as the greater the potential for destruction the greater the need for strict control of all aspects of humanity.

I’m often confused why there isn’t more pursuit of Anti-nuclear treaties… that so obviously goes hand-in-hand with a Pro-Democracy position.

The answer most commonly pursued by humanity is to try to build a system where dissent can be marginalized and ignored. Thus people argue and argue and argue over whether Neoliberalism is better than Nationalism, whether Capitalism is better than Socialism, etc. They think that finally, after enough debate, they’ll have THE ANSWER and you’d better not think otherwise! Unfortunately, unlike the two solutions I talked about, this one has ZERO chance of a successful conclusion. It does, however,  lead to a repressive, xenophobic, and insular future, to an increased degree over the present.

Fortunately, these solutions don’t require heroism. If they did humanity would be doomed. All they require is human pursuit and normal human achievement. Along the way we may want to get rid of the nuclear bomb so that we don’t do something silly or need to race against destruction. Racing against destruction doesn’t get you to your destination faster: its gets you to an accidental destination faster.

Filmmakers are finally starting to get it right

January 8, 2007

Fantasy as subversion instead of escape is treated by “Pan’s Labyrinth”, while “Children of Men” presents a more realistic hero than we typically are forced to suffer.

Apparently filmmakers are still not quite ready to treat *failed* heroism however, which accounts for over 99% of actual heroism in the world. Maybe in a few years?

Still, kudos for the progress that’s being made.

Deus Ex thoughts

January 8, 2007

Unlike much of the economy, the Combat Knife industry is doing very well… I must have dropped about 150 of those off of enemy corpses over the course of the game. Not a single one of those enemies ever used the knife.

There’s something very alarming about the main character’s role in the narrative. What’s the time span of the game? It seems like its about 4 weeks or so, maybe less. This is also the length of time the main character has spent out of the academy and training facilities. He rushes here and there and at the end of the game decides the fate of humanity. While he displays basic knowledge and some preferences through dialogue, he doesn’t ever formulate a distinct preference for one of the game’s outcomes… the end choice is not a simple extension of his identity. This leaves the ending deeply unsatisfying. Added to this is that each of the outcomes changes the world greatly… there’s no “good” outcome… the choices are hidden tyranny (conspiracists’ choice), “omnipotent” rule (God replacement), and pre-industrial world. Its hard to see Bob Page’s world being much worse than these. While its not surprising to play a game without a happy ending, its surprising to play a game with THREE endings without a happy one.

I’ve heard the argument “the main character doesn’t display a preference because the player is supposed to be the one with the preference”. Well, that doesn’t work so well when there’s no way to transfer your preference to the character except in the ending choice.

My actual preference, which should have been doable, would have been to kill Page, Dowd, AND Everett, to reprogram Helios to prevent him from world domination, to distribute the Ambrosia vaccine worldwide using Savage/Tong/Helios, to publish everything I’d learned to the public, and establish a system of shared power among the users (the world) for the Echelon network. This would have been a “good” ending.

The major problem that causes there to be no good ending is that the game assumes the 20th century was controlled behind the scenes by the Illuminati… so instead of a return to normalcy being good normalcy itself is corrupt. This colors the entire game in a very dark tone. The Illuminati is the real villain in the game… Bob Page is merely flavor of the month. The problems of the 21st century in the game are portrayed as being a result of the fall from power of the Illuminati and the play for power by a splinter of the Illuminati. Ion Storm’s black re-write of history made likely a logically disastrous future. Its curious that Ion Storm treats the Illuminati on the same plane as Tracer Tong and Helios, with Bob Page being the only declared villain.

In examining JC Denton’s true identity (rather than treating him as a shell for the player to imagine having some properties) you look at the details of the missions. Such details reveal little more than that he is out to stop whoever the main villain is (first the NSF, then MJ12/Bob Page and that he works with various allies in mutual interest along the way. Given that he never shows allegiance to any of these allies (his only true allegiance is to his brother who usually dies well before the end) the end must be terrible for him, since he gives power to one of the allies that he’d probably prefer to do without. I wonder why he doesn’t just say fuck you to all of them and do his own thing.

It surprises me that I hear Deus Ex referred to as RPG/Action or RPG/FPS. The largest component of the game is strategic. Since every encounter has multiple paths, often its a choice of whether to use lockpicks or multitools, or to analyze the different amount of resources different paths take and choose the least costly. Shoot ’em up playstyle is often the most fun for me but the game encourages vent-crawling as the cheapest resource choice.

Original D&D gameplay breakdown – some people seem to have forgotten

January 4, 2007

Before the abomination of Hack ‘n Slash there was a little game called Dungeons & Dragons. Fun game. Anyway, a stereotypical group of stalwart adventurers included a Fighter, a Cleric, a Thief, and a Magic-User. There was a *good reason* behind this particular class breakdown, such that *any other* distribution of classes in a 4-man group was likely going to provide considerably worse results for the players and considerably more delight for a sadistic Dungeonmaster.

The reasoning goes as follows: there are several monsters in the dungeon. While all of the classes contribute to killing or otherwise overcoming monsters, fighters are by far the most adept at such. The fighter is best at *fighting*, not surprising in the least. So he steps to the forefront, gets the glory, when monsters are present.

There are many nasty traps in the dungeon… also various doors and chests are locked. Also some secret doors lead to special places. Herein comes the Underworld representative of your party, the Thief. He eases the way, greatly increasing the loot gained and physical access to the dungeon. He’s more or less the Guide of the dungeon, scouting ahead, hiding from monsters because he’s not a *fighter* and he wouldn’t want to *fight* the monster without a bunch of backup.

Weird shit happens in a place as odd as a dungeon. Strange indecipherable writings may line the wall. You might fight a creature that your weapons don’t harm or need a more creative approach to a fight. You just might need a really smart guy to puzzle something out. Voila! The Magic-User comes to the scene with an array of mystical magical bizarre spells and is steeped in lore and the kind of otherworldly crap that inexplicably often seems to fall to the dungeon level. When shit gets weird, the Normalizer makes everything even.

.

Things don’t always go well. Sometimes they go very badly. Maybe your thief stubbed his toe and fell *into* that trap instead of avoiding it. Maybe your tall beefy fighter met a taller beefier monster. Maybe even the Normalizer was weirded out. When the unfortunate happens, you call the doctor. Dr. Cleric, that is. He’ll set you right, get you back on your feet, and pray to his god behind your back that you aren’t as fucking careless the next time.

You kind of get the picture what can happen if you *lack* any of these elements. I don’t need to go into it. The basic idea of D&D is that you get a bunch of different people together with very different skills and they work together to achieve common goals. Simple concept, yet very effective. It spawned the very industry that certain (I suppose I have to call them ‘people’) people are in the process of destroying. Its on the way to the bank though, so apparently its all good.

Lets try a thought experiment. Lets say someone says FUCK THAT SHIT. D&D IS FUCKING BORING. I JUST WANT TO KILL MONSTERS. BLOOD AND FUCKING GUTS BITCH.

A developer hears that, sighs, realizes that assmunch has as much money as D&D geek, and sells out. He uses the D&D system and bastardizes it, perhaps telling himself (and hopefully the gaming media which will kindly repeat his statement word for word) he’s “tweaking it”, “modernizing it”, etc. What happens in such a system?

For starters, Fighter dominates. More monsters means Fighter more and more dominates the experience. The balance is broken. But we can’t have that, because we need the flavor of the other classes. So you solve that by having the other classes become more powerful in combat. More powerful offensive spells for Magic-User, more powerful attacks, sneak attacks, dual-wielding for Thief, more offensive spells, better melee abilities for Cleric. But now Fighter complains, because he doesn’t do anything *except* fight, so why shouldn’t he have something special? So he’s given special combat abilities, becoming the melee specialist but more importantly given threat enhancement ability to become the designated damage-sponge. That’s right, his key feature now is like Rocky Balboa or a Timex… he takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.

Is this better or worse than the system that enabled it to exist? Well, that depends on whether you like a balance of three different types of gameplay (combat, traps/secrets/locks, weird shit/puzzles) or if you just like to KILL SHIT. The market seems to have decided. As a result, Dungeons & Dragons is covered in feces. Or blood. Take your pick.

PS: A common complaint I hear is “but monsters provide an easy way to give experience, how would a game play that isn’t combat-heavy?”

Again, use your fucking memory. D&D gave experience for *treasure gained*… so that thief who opened that treasure chest is obviously pretty useful. That Magic-User who figured out that puzzle to grant greater dungeon access (leading to more treasure) is pretty useful. That Fighter who enabled defeating Monster X to allow you to loot his dungeon space is useful. And the Cleric to allow the group to go much farther than it would have otherwise.

The idea that RPGs MUST have tons of monsters is ridiculous, yet somehow its taken for granted, even by the very people who loved D&D. Wake the fuck up.

Neverwinter Nights 2 commentary

January 4, 2007

This is a solid RPG, very consistent quality throughout. Possibly in the Top 10 CRPGs I’ve played, certainly in the Top 20, although well behind the best ones.

PROs:

Excellent quest integration with the plot

Lots of content

Well-done PCs

Creative and extensive narrative

CONs:

Easy fights

Long loading times/lots of zones

Imbalanced PC strength

Traditional D&D group class structure is decimated due to Hack ‘n Slash gameplay and subsequent class deformity.

Here’s what the combat log would look like (exaggerated slightly for emphasis):

Grobnar sings.

Qara turns all enemies to ash with maximized fireball.

I learned to hate the sound of Grobnar whistling. It basically meant I was wasting one player slot. The best group I found (on Normal difficulty) was one meleer (Khelgar worked best, or Shandra during her time) and the rest nukers (the main character if a Wizard/Sorcerer, then Qara, then Sand). Zhjaeve is next best for high-end summoning spells and other sweet spells. Neeshka gets pleasantly ridiculous with enough feats and high-end weapons, but she’ll never be nearly as good as a pure spellcaster.

There are two main reasons spellcasters are ridiculously overpowered… one is that on Normal difficulty there’s no such thing as friendly fire damage, so fireballs and such from your side have no effect on your own people. The second is that in most circumstances you can rest whenever you want with no penalty, gaining back all hitpoints and all spells in about 6 seconds. In a normal D&D party you MUST have a healer and you must have a thief. Here you don’t need a healer. Unlimited rests make knock spells easy to handle for locks, and traps just don’t do enough damage to create worry. This makes the game play like a bastardized version of D&D.

Traditional 4-man: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magic-User

Traditional 5-man: Fighter, Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magic-User

Traditional 6-man: Fighter, Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magic-User, Magic-User OR a 3-Fighter party.

In traditional D&D, Fighters are the combat-suited class. Magic-Users are not because once they run out of spells, which is often, they suck. Magic-Users are a specialist/utility class like thieves or clerics that supplement the group. In traditional D&D a fireball is used *strategically* rather than as a staple fire and forget spell.

In bastardized systems (a classic bastardized system is World of Warcraft), Magic-Users become glass cannons, who throw fireballs like they are a warrior swinging his sword. There’s no concept of limitation or restraint. Clerics move from melee/healers to throwing damage spells, doing some healing, a bit of melee. Thieves become backstabbers/sneak attackers, etc.

The idea that has been lost in all of this is that *not all classes are supposed to be equal in combat*.

Traditional D&D isn’t nearly so focused on combat. Traps, puzzles, strange encounters to think through… its about *dungeons* with all of their oddities and complexities… all of the unknown. Somewhere along the way the focus has shifted to monster-blasting, so now Thieves, Magic-Users, and Clerics have to get ridiculously strong in terms of damaging the enemy. The fighter has shifted from damage-dealer, main-line guy to fight the baddies to damage-SOAKER for the enemy’s blows… he’s gone from offensive to defensive.

That’s pretty much what NWN2 is… monster-blasting. With myself as a spellblaster, Qara, and Sand, MOST fights lasted one round. Most monsters took about 5 steps before dying, not even reaching the melee character. Triple fireball to the groin will take just about anyone down. Some fights which lasted ONE round had my characters exclaiming what a tough opponent it was, without any hint of sarcasm. I barely ever had to use healing spells…. even against bosses Isaac’s Greater Missile Storm (especially 2 or 3 of them simultaneously) decimated them.

Clerics also get screwed over by not having to resurrect players, or be concerned when a player dies without getting a heal. They can go Flame Strike crazy, not that you should bother when you have more effective nuker versions available in Wizards and Sorcerers.

In this case the good old days really were the good old days. When a Fighter/Cleric/Thief/Magic-User group was balanced not for *combat*, but for the full range of experiences available in a dungeon, where combat was only ONE hazard to overcome among many.

Hack ‘n Slash kills much more than just monsters. It killed the D&D experience. Hack ‘n Slash is about a lack of creativity, about instant gratification, about using monsters so that neither the developer nor the player has to actually THINK. Fire and forget. Fire and forget. Fire and forget. Cutscene. Rest. Fire and forget…

Here’s a tip: if you’re a RPG developer and your primary obstacles for players are *monsters*, try thinking again. Or rather, try for the first time.

Neverwinter Nights 2 Outcast Syndrome

January 4, 2007

The word “outcast” springs to mind when considering the PCs of NWN2. Here’s a rundown…

Main character: Bizarre creature with a piece of a broken sword inside him. He has to flee his village or he’ll bring it to ruin.

Khelgar Ironfist: Outcast from Clan Ironfist, only accepted back after he locates all three of their most precious lost relics, and even THEN only when an ancient clan law says that anyone who does so gains rulership of the clan. Now *that’s* a stiff entrance fee!

Neeshka: Outcast from the main thief group of her home city to the point where they constantly try to kill her.

Qara: Outcast from The Academy of Neverwinter where her magical studies included a few improperly placed fireballs.

Elanee: Outcast from the majority of her druidic circle, who attack and try to kill her and the party after they become corrupted by the King of Shadows. This is *after* she spends a year away from the circle watching the main character, mostly against the wishes of the circle.

Grobnar: Outcast from sanity – actually he’s not a part of any group whatsoever, and seemingly never has been, so there’s not much he can be outcast from. Its easy to see pretty much any group kicking him out though.

Casavir: Parted ways with Neverwinter to take up a one-man quest to kill Orcs.

Sand: Stuck in the worst section of Neverwinter in an agreement with the city’s leader after leaving a dangerous rival.

Bishop: Outcast from most places of civilization that know him – which is not too terrible since he’s a ranger.

Shandra Jerro:  NOT AN OUTCAST. Well, she’s a farmer who lives by herself with nothing around her for miles. So you could say she outcasted herself, but she takes some of her crops to markets and such. She’s the only PC with a semi-normal personality. Obviously she has to die.

Zhjaeve: Not an outcast, but creepy as can be.

Construct: No relationship at all to social organizations. Could still be outcasted, but not in the traditional way.

Ammon Jerro: Lich-like in age, who has to make his lair way away from civilization because he uses demons and devils to fuel his power. He *would* be outcast if anyone knew he was still alive.

Its more, way way way more than obvious these PCs are receiving a theme of individualism… Zhjaeve’s really the only exception in that she is a representative of her people… at least I think so, her story is a bit hazy.

Of course, one aspect of group-RPGs in general is the concept of diverse creatures coming together to achieve a (usually world-changing or world-saving) goal, so individualism makes sense. Its a little silly to see them so removed from familial or communal relationships given that almost ALL of the humanoid NPCs are in such arrangements, but I think this distinction, however unrealistic, is actually strived for by developers. PCs are NOT townsfolk. They are NOT family-oriented. The Adventurer breed, so the mythology goes, is a breed apart. Apart in more ways than one.

An Inconvenient Truth

January 3, 2007

Making fun of a celebrity doesn’t make you any better than them. Also, given the rather meager conditions under which celebrity is defined in this country, its probably better not to bother with the criticism at all. Just move right on by that circus.

If you can’t think of a better thing to be than a jealous moron ranting about a celebrity, do something random totally different and you’ll have a good chance of improvement.

Reinventing the Movie/Game/Otherwise Rating System

January 3, 2007

Sex and violence. Sex and violence. Sex and violence. Whatever.

These are supposed to be the adult themes. Not “complex emotions” or “highly abstract situations”, but sex and violence (which may or may not be related to those).

Curiously enough, children are just as violent as adults. Not in the organized militant sense of wanting to commit genocide on a people (or at least having the means to carry it out) but in the psychological sense… the extreme casual violence… all children have sociopathic tendencies. Violence therefore is just as suitable to children as to adults… and its more to their tastes. Adults merely slay *economically*, at least in civilized countries.

Sex likewise. Adults are just as interested in sex, although its not as much a focus in their lives since they are skilled at obtaining and experiencing it.

The idea however behind the rating system is not that kids can’t appreciate sex and violence… the problem is that they *can*. So the story goes, they can appreciate it but they can’t *control* it, so the movie or game can have a bad influence on them. Of course, its a rather odd thing to withhold something important, having them develop without it, *then* introducing it… it seems better to introduce it as they become interested which allows them to control it much more effectively.

The irony is that TRULY adult themes are the real dangers. A Clockwork Orange can scar a human in the stages of early development far worse than a hack ‘n slash Freddie Krueger film, and *not* because of the violence. Dangers lie in the edge of understanding, of a child grasping for something and *mis*understanding it… twisting it into something obscene… while dumbass parents are fretting over their child seeing a boob their child is trying to cope with the dilemmas in Children of Men, for example. “Oh, we’d better have a talk with little Johnny about sex now”.

If you, as an intelligent adult, have difficulties coping with the issues a movie raises, a kid is going to have 100 times the problem. Freddie Krueger films are like American cartoons… dangers lie in movies that express truth and reality. THOSE are the films you need to spend more time talking to your child about. THOSE are the films that if you are unable to do that you may want to shield him from, or at least accept the dangers inherent in the experience.

The rating system is wrong because it doesn’t cater to *actual* adult themes. I wonder if the rating system was invented by a child. “Look ma, boobs and guns!”