Saturday, October 18, 2008


I have avoided political commentary thus far in this election, primarily because the blogosphere is already clogged with partisan opinion. Furthermore, when discussing politics (or religion, for that matter) one typically finds oneself in one of two uncomfortable positions: preaching to the choir, or banging your head against a brick wall. I find neither particularly appealing. And yet, after watching the last debate I felt inspired to make some comments on Obama & McCain.

First, I just have to get a couple things off my chest. While I am used to Republicans in the Rove-era using scare politics to win elections, I find two of the current neocon tactics too despicable even for my cynical and jaded palate. The portrayal of Obama as a radical, Muslim terrorist is reprehensible and irresponsible. Yes, I am worried some that right-wing, white trash nutjob is going to off Obama a week before the election. And if that happens, McCain/Palin will have to feel party responsible for the anger and hatred they have intentionally stoked. Furthermore, I find it disturbing that people have to defend Obama by saying, "No, he's a Christian." What if he was a Muslim? My mother's Muslim. I was raised reading the Koran and knew far more about Muhammed than about Jesus. I assure you: this does not make me, nor my mother (a diminutive 4'11" saint) a terrorist. Arab = Muslim = terrorist is an equation that must be eradicated from the American consciousness, and McCain/Palin have only reinforced this falsehood.

Second, I absolutely detest it when people use the phrase "pro-abortion" to describe pro-choice. McCain did so several times in the debate, and I found it repugnant. No one, obviously, is pro-abortion. Using that phrase trivializes the issue to an extent; it creates a black & white world, stoking people's anger and moral outrage against women, doctors, and advocates of the right to choose. I actually understand, and perhaps even sympathize, with the pro-life argument: if you truly believe that abortion is murder, than you should campaign to make it illegal. That's a reasonable position to hold. But it's not necessary to portray the opposition as evil.


I believe Obama will win the presidency. But I suspect that many on the left will be severely disappointed by his actions. Obama has crusaded, from the beginning of his campaign, as someone who will bridge the divide. He will work with Republicans, and may in fact, cave in to establishment-demands in order to push forward aspects of his own agenda. He will likely expand the war in Afghanistan. He will almost certainly struggle to get a universal health-care system off the ground, and I'm certain that he'll continue to protect the interests of BigPharm and insurance companies. He won't purge Washington of lobbyists, and he won't eradicate pandering, soft-money, or pork. He won't be a pacifist who cuts military spending in half and doubles the education budget. He won't be a shining hero of leftists everywhere. He won't be a Ralph Nader, or a Dennis Kucinich.

Many on the left will be hurt and angered by this - perhaps so much so that Obama won't get elected to a second term. If you expect that of him, you haven't been paying attention and your disappointment will be your own fault. But there's no need to worry. Obama has the potential to shape our country, and possibly the world, like no other leader in recent history.

How? Primarily, by serving as a role-model and a symbol. A symbol of diversity, intelligence, and compassion.

A bi-racial child of a black Kenyan and a white woman from middle America, Obama could initiate our desperately needed separation from the Puritan-rich-white-male heritege that has dominated American politics since its inception. Do I hate rich white males, just because? No. But rich white men can't represent America today. Obama's existence embraces so much more of what it means to be Amercian, and for that matter, a human being. I like the fact that his father exposed him to Islam, and that his mother was an agnostic anthropologist. How much more worldly he will be than G.W.! I know from personal experience that having parents from two very different cultures has provided me with a broader understanding and appreciation for the diversity of ways that people live their lives. Rather than promoting a doctrine of American dominance, I believe that Obama will preach acceptance, integration, and appreciation for cultural diversity. He will appeal to our common humanity, rather than heavy-handed American patriotism/jingoism.

It both amuses and pains me to see Republicans try to turn Obama's educational background against him. Perhaps in no other country would education and intelligence be so negatively portrayed as "elitist". Americans, apparently, don't like smart people running their country. But after 8 years of being embarrassed by Dubya's idiocy, how refreshing and inspiring it will be to have someone of intelligence and eloquence in the white house. Consider the effect this could have on young people, especially minorities, yearning for powerful role-models outside the domains of entertainment and athletics. And consider the message that his presidency sends to the rest of the world: the American dream is real! It's not just something we sell on TV! We are a meritocracy!

Finally, I believe Obama will make compassion - true compassion, not Bush's "conservative compassion" - a center-piece of his administration. Does Obama want to redistribute wealth? You bet he does. And it's exactly what our country, and the world, needs right now. An investment in the poor, hungry, uneducated, and down- trodden. A Robin Hood, taking money from rich executives and investing it into public works. A Jesus Christ driving the moneylenders from the temple, helping the sick and diseased. If "wealth distribution" scares you, as McCain hopes it does, recall that the richest 1% of people own ~40% of global assets.

If you don't believe that inspiration and symbolism are potent forces, consider the effect that the neocons have had on our world ethos in a short 8 years. Americans are inspired by greed, hatred, and fear. Republicans have peddled Armageddon to their great advantage. When people think the world could end tomorrow (terrorists could kill them, or the economy might collapse), it doesn't make rational sense to invest in the future. When you live in fear, you spend, burn, and behave selfishly to give you and your family as much as possible without a concern for the rest of the world - or future generations.

If Obama can inspire hope in Americans, and people around the world, that there's a future for our species... that inspiration may have a greater impact on the health and well-being of our planet than any policy decision.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

a few nice photos

I periodically find very nice anonymous photos from the 1920s on the internet. Today's selection:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

RPG feminism

A shorter, and much lighter, post than my recent offerings.

Old-school gamers like me (one of these days, I'll have to simplify that to just "old") appreciate the slow pace and intricate decision making of a well-made TBS. For those that don't know, TBS stands for "turn-based strategy"; basically, a computerized boardgame. The classic example is Civilization, in all its glorious manifestations. Move your tanks around, build an oil rig, send a missionary to Japanese emperor, check happiness in Philadelphia, deliberate, demand tribute from Mongols, get a snack, press "END TURN". It's all very civilized, unlike these frantic RTS click-fests the kids like so much nowadays.

So when a new ubergeeky fantasy TBS comes on the radar, my spidey-sense tingles. Enter: King's Bounty (1990). Perhaps the progenitor of the genre, and certainly the forefather to such classics as Heroes of Might and Magic (I - XXXVIII). With some mild interest, I took note when Russian developer Katauri Interactive recently released a legendary sequel. Prepare to take your stupendously Caucasian hero into the technocolor wilderness, recruit orcs/dwarves/elves and other fantasy stereotypes in your quest to... do something. But seriously, it looks fun. I will patiently wait for the price to drop (as no one in their right mind will buy this thing) and then scoop it off the bargain basement floor for a weekend rollick.

But I still haven't told you perhaps the most interesting and disturbing aspect of this new King's Bounty. The acquisition of a wife.

"The ability to acquire family and have children is a very important and interesting feature of King's Bounty: The Legend. Wife gives useful bonuses to hero and his army and adds ability to wear more equipment as she has four additional slots. You can talk to your wife practically at any moment, all you need to do is to click on her portrait in the inventory. In the dialog you can divorce or start conversation about children. If you ask for a child and wife agrees, a kid will appear soon.

Child occupies one slot and gives various bonuses to the hero's characteristics. Each wife can have up to four children.
In case of divorce remember that your wife will take children, all equipment from her slots and 1/5 of gold."

In case you didn't click the offered link, this is indeed the picture and description offered on their webpage. Although to their credit, they also show a smaller portrait of a "hot elf" wife, as an alternative to the fucking insane teenage fantasy demon-bride shown here. Given the choice, I'm not actually sure which I would take. And that's clearly the attitude you're encouraged to adopt, since your wife is part of your inventory. I do like how she (and your child) give you bonuses (+5 rash control?) and that they limit children to a reasonable 4. I suspect infant mortality isn't modeled, although it wouldn't surprise me if you can sacrifice your demonspawn to make more room in your inventory for that cool magic sphere you just found.

The alimony penalty mentioned, I assume, is not tongue-in-cheek. A one-time fee of 20% gold seems reasonable compared to, say, 10% per game turn. I'd really like to be able to listen in on the developers' discussion when this gameplay item came around. And does anyone else find it disturbing that you can "divorce" her by simply clicking a button? I assume she never dumps you, even if you ignore the "start conversation" button the entire game.

This, however, does bring up an interesting point for RPG's in general. It's rare to see a game incorporate development of a family. Certainly, when we used to play D&D in junior high, we never considered the role-playing possibilities of finding a spouse (even a Penthouse demon) and having children. I suppose it just didn't sound like quite as much fun as slaughtering kobolds. Modern computer RPG's often allow you to acquire a home (see Oblivion), a job (but you have to call it "crafting" to make it sound fun), and even a family history. Several allow you to pursue casual sex with willing women as specific quest goals: perhaps the most infamous example of this is the recent Polish RPG, The Witcher. As the protagonist comes to "know" various female characters in the game, he is given a unique trading card as a token of his accomplishment. For example:

Kinda hot and clever, or incredibly sexist, depending on your POV. But I'm sure as eggs is eggs that you aren't given the choice to marry any of these women. Maybe the inventory isn't big enough.

And so isn't King's Bounty breaking some ground here? On a comparable level to Palin crashing through that cracked glass ceiling?