Okay, I wasn’t actually planning to make this into a regular series, but events have just sort of worked out that way.  Blizzard’s “Battle.net” online gaming service got hacked last week, allowing hackers to acquire “sensitive data”.  Fortunately, Blizzard says that does not include financial information, but still, the fact is that online gaming made users vulnerable to hackers.

People play games to have fun, to relax.  They do not want to have needless stress heaped upon them when they are trying to play a game, because they probably get plenty of that in their real lives.  With the trolls, the technical difficulties, and then the threat of hackers, online gaming is way more trouble than it’s worth, as far as I can tell.

If any online gamers read this, I’d love to read why you feel it’s worthwhile.

I want to address two unrelated yet very similar stories I saw in the news today. One concerns the governor of New Jersey ordering flags be flown at half-staff in honor of Whitney Houston. The other concerns the Secretary of the Navy naming a ship after former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, which has been criticized by some.

The decision to lower the flags really doesn’t make much sense to me. Whitney Houston may have been a great singer–I don’t know, I’ve only heard one performance by her–but I don’t understand what she did to deserve having the flag lowered for her. It doesn’t offend or upset me that the governor wants to do that, but I don’t understand why he would.

As for the ship naming issue, I certainly do believe that war heroes deserve to have ships named after them more than John Murtha did, so the Navy secretary deserves the criticism he’s getting for that decision. But Congresswoman Giffords was badly injured in the course of fulfilling her duties as a public servant, so I think it’s fair to name a ship after her.

That’s my opinion. What do you think?

Nathaniel Chapman, a video game designer at my favorite game studio, Obsidian Entertainment, had a good post on his blog about “A Theory of Fun”. He makes a great point that “fun” doesn’t describe a game, it describes the experience you have while playing it.

His post also made me wonder: do I play video games for fun? Do I, for that matter, read books or watch movies or otherwise indulge in such pursuits for “fun”?

I mean, I obviously do it for pleasure. But what is this sensation “fun”? For instance, are my two favorite games Knights of the Old Republic II and Planescape: Torment “fun”? I don’t know if I would actually say they are. The feeling I get from them is altogether a more powerful one. It is much more like “awe” or “wonder” than “fun”.

There are some games, obviously, which I play purely for fun. Sports simulation games, especially, come under this label. But I do not think of these games as being in any way “better” than those above, though they may technically be more “fun”.

This applies to many other things, as well. The basic romance or murder-mystery novel, is, or at least used to be, regarded by many as a “fun”, cheaply thrilling reading experience, whereas reading Great Literature (or in some circles, Holy Books) is not actually a “fun” experience but definitely a better one. The same goes for films: Star Wars and Jurassic Park are “fun” films. Are films like Citizen Kane “fun”, or is the feeling they evoke different?

People often do draw a distinction between “High Art” and “Low Art” to describe this kind of thing, but the trouble with that is that it can quickly devolve into labeling things you personally dislike “Low Art”, and then it becomes simply an issue of taste.

LZ Granderson believes that the present government is so bad because of uninformed voters. His basic point is right, though he puts this idea across in harsh terms–the real problem is not that voters are “stupid” or “lazy”, but that they haven’t the time to thoroughly research and consider the relevant issues. Even experts in one particular area will have, at best, a passing knowledge of the others.

Theoretically, you can get around this by having experts from all fields tell people what to do, but that won’t work if different experts give different answers, or if people are led to believe, rightly or no, that experts are unreliable.

It is true, as J.E. Sawyer has observed on his blog, that the problem of political ignorance is at its most curable in history, and yet many people still do not avail themselves of this cure. This is understandable. Do you want to research whether we ought to have an ethanol tariff or watch football when you come home from work?

So, how to fix this problem?

One way is to radically increase the difficulty of voting. Make it so that people must pass tests in order to register. The problem with this system is that it will almost certainly be systematically biased in favor of some groups and against other groups. Whoever is put in charge of creating the test would see to it.

Any other solutions?

UPDATE: Thingy says in the comments:

“Wow, really? Make it so hard that the poor schlub who never caught a break, never finished school for whatever reason, but loves his country as much as the educated elite, they should have to prove themselves? I think it should be made easier.”

My fault. I think I phrased it poorly, because my intent was to convey exactly this; that if such a system were implemented it would be unfair towards some people, which defeats the original  purpose of Democracy. The idea I am getting at is that you are damned if you do allow easy voting, because then even the idiots who support insane policies can vote, or else you are damned if you restrict voting, because then whole groups of unfortunate people, as described by Thingy, cannot vote.

Well, clearly, the best answer is giving all adults the right to vote combined with a good education. But is that possible? I would certainly like to think so, but my fear is that it might not always be, not at all because they are “stupid”, as Granderson thinks, but because of the lack of time.

I mean, take me for instance. I know so little about foreign policy that I have no business whatsoever voting for who ought to be the Commander-in-Chief. Now, I hold very strong opinions on these matters, but I can’t claim to be anywhere close to an expert, and while I’m just one voter, I fear that I am not too far below average. But, naturally, I would be quite upset if I were barred from voting.

But, to return to the original point, my proposed “solution” above was more sarcasm than anything else. I didn’t mean to suggest it is a better system at all.

On The McLaughlin Group last night (we all have our guilty pleasures) the panelists were screaming about discussing government funding for the arts. Pat Buchanan, of course, examined the issue in the context of his “culture war”; that is to say, he argued that because government funds works like those of Andres Serrano, which he and many others find offensive, the best compromise is to not have any government funding of the arts at all.

Well, I think most people would agree the arts are very important to society, even if one doesn’t like or even consider the work of Serrano and similar “art”. But then again, as the Conservatives would say, what good is it if it has to be subsidized by the government? Surely, it should be a spontaneous result of the culture, not brought about through government subsidization.

Perhaps. Although it’s worth bearing in mind that the Medici family and the Church paid for the famous art of the Renaissance. And while I’m sure Conservatives will say the Church is different from the government, that argument is based on the experience of Americans, who may not quite realize the extent to which the Church was the government in Renaissance Italy.

Not to say that there is no merit to the argument that government ought not to fund the arts. After all, if the aim of real Art ought to be Truth, and if it is funded by a government, it is quite likely they will fund only that art which advances their agenda, and may be quite contrary to higher purposes. Propaganda, in other words. (Indeed, I sometimes think many Conservatives would not be opposed to this use of government-sponsored art.)

Then again, it seems funding must come from somewhere, and since true art may not always be profitable, where else can it come from but from an institution that does not have to turn a profit?

Sparked by this Michael Lind article,  there has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about the extent to which rebellious Southerners are, perhaps with more than a little nostalgia for the Confederacy, influencing the Republican party.  

After a century and a half, I would have expected people to forget about the Civil War to some extent. The American colonists fought with the British against the French in 1760, and with the French against the British in 1780. We were allied with the Soviet Union in World War II, yet immediately commenced the Cold War at that war’s end.

I am not saying this is a good idea, but it seems to me that people could easily have forgotten about the Civil War by now. It would be simple enough for Party propagandists to pull a “we have always been at war with Eastasia” trick, and make all the old Confederate states embrace the Union. And since the Republicans are always worried about “creeping anti-Americanism” anyway, you would think the last thing that they would want people doing is glorifying secessionists.

Why do the battle lines of the old war still hold such significance?  And why is the South, which voted Democratic for 90 years after the Civil War, now solidly Republican? To figure out this relationship, we have to study some history. Permit a brief summary of what I understand from my cursory research on the topic, and bear in mind that I have no sources to cite in particular, but can only say it’s based on “my reading of the general body of historical research on this period.” In other words, my interpretation of things I’ve picked up over the years.

Now then:

The Republican party, in the late 1800s, was essentially the party of the industrialized North. Businessmen formed its core, and its attitude was fundamentally that of urban capitalism. The defeated rural South was furious about the process of reconstruction, which was being done by the Republicans. The Southerners utilized the familiar tactics of guerrilla warfare against the occupiers, including terrorizing the civilian population the occupiers were protecting.

At roughly the same time as this was going on, opposition to the inequitable conditions of capitalist industrialism began to arise in the U.S. This movement called itself by a variety of names, but their goal was much the same. They campaigned to regulate, restrain, and in some cases even end capitalism and its attendant rampant inequalities of wealth and opportunity.

Beginning in the 1870s, an alliance began to grow between rural farmers and the intellectuals who championed either reforming or abolishing capitalism. The South, perhaps adopting an “enemy of my enemy” approach, supported these movements to oppose the capitalist “robber barons” of the North and West.

This state of affairs pretty much persisted–with the Democrats enjoying a tremendous change in their electoral fortunes in 1932–until the 1960s when, as we all know, the South became Republican, presumably in response to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Republicans, of course, don’t like the implication of this, and most of their affection for the Confederacy they try to explain away by saying the Southern government was based on “states’ rights”, which is sort of true, but very misleading as well. (Incidentally, my analysis of the Republican theory of what happened in the 1960s you may find here.)

What is really interesting about all this to me is that the South has gone from being the number one enemy of the “Party of Big Business” to being its best friend. Why? The obvious and most likely answer is racism, of course. My question is: could there be any other explanation that accounts for these facts as well?

  • More history books than I could name here, many of which I no longer have.
  • Wikipedia
  • Miscellaneous other things I’ve read over the years. 

Basically, what I am describing here I can’t attribute to any one source; it’s a more of a general impression from the reading I’ve done on the subject. 

First of all, I should mention that I don’t think I understand the budget issues well enough to comment on the technical details, which are the most important. All I can comment on are the superficial aspects.

Overall, from this perspective, I thought it was a good speech. Obama is a very good speaker, so this is no surprise. But he just seemed to me to be forcing the “Centrism” thing to the point of near-absurdity. I’m not necessarily saying he’s not Liberal enough; what I mean is that he just seems to look for ways to talk like a “Centrist” for no particular reason.

What do you think?

UPDATE: By the way, if this post seems a little incoherent, I apologize. I plan to go more in-depth with this point soon, (though I have sort of discussed similar issues before on here) but I just don’t have time tonight.

Andrew Sullivan makes a rather interesting point over at The Daily Dish:

“Mormonism is much more coherent a faith platform for the rightist religious popular front that the GOP increasingly is. Because it places Jesus in America and gives America a unique role in global salvation. Christianity – the actual religion, not its strip-mall bourgeois impostor – is universalist, not nationalist. What the far right means by American exceptionalism is a divinely blessed and guided country, whose enemies are God’s enemies, whose role in the bringing about of the End-Times is unique, and who therefore cannot truly do wrong.” [Italics his.]

Indeed. It reminds me of what P M Prescott said a few weeks ago:

“The Moral Mafia is claiming all of America as blessed by God so we can wage wars without guilt.” 

One question this raises in my mind:  Which, ultimately, is the driving force here? Are those whom Sullivan calls “Christianists” trying to create a Religious Nationalism, or are Nationalists just using the language of Christianity as a kind of veneer for their agenda?

So, there has been some controversy surrounding the above ad for Activision and Treyarch‘s new game Call of Duty: Black Ops.

What strikes me as ironic is that, for obvious reasons, they don’t actually show any people being seriously injured in the ad. The actual game, like many another video game released over the past two decades, is full of violent scenes that depict CGI figures that look like humans being shot and stabbed. And yet, I have to admit that I think this ad is more disturbing than the game itself.

What I can’t figure out, though, is why exactly that is. I guess it’s just because the people in the ad aren’t dressed like soldiers, and thus viscerally remind me of random terrorists or criminals rather than members of the military.