No Good Choices for Kyrat, or Video Games and Real Conflict

4 01 2016

The 2016 campaign for President of the United States has been underway for a little while now, with most of the media’s focus squarely on Donald Trump, that master of ridiculous, attention-grabbing statements. He’s set the tone, but I don’t know how different things would be if he weren’t involved. Ted Cruz was in the race before Trump was, and while Trump might have made rash, ill-considered statements the order of the day, Cruz’s gleeful embrace of that style isn’t at all out of character.

Perhaps the best example of Cruz’s use of Trump’s blustery, substance-free style is his recent tweet, “Our strategy with radical Islamic terrorism should be very simple. We win. They lose.” I was going to give him some slack – it’s Twitter, after all – hard to be substantial in 140 characters. Of course, the tweet is accompanied by video of him saying the exact same thing in a press conference. Presumably he wasn’t tailoring his in-person answer to the character count.

It’s also a nod to a similar line from President Ronald Reagan that Cruz seems to love – he tweeted it in that form back in November. Thing is, no matter how revered (reasonably or unreasonably, accurately or by hagiography) Ronald Reagan is among conservatives, the fact that The Gipper said something doesn’t make it magically deep or wise, and as a “strategy,” “We win, they lose” isn’t just lacking, it’s profoundly stupid. It’s meaningless. As someone (I regrettably can’t remember who) said on Twitter, it’s amazing that consistently half of all NFL teams fail to employ this remarkably simple “strategy,” this “one weird trick,” every single week.

I don’t know if Senator Cruz plays video games, but his visionary “beat them” plan for beating ISIS sounds a lot like the plot to a run of the mill modern military shooter, and he’s far from alone in that regard. We have the biggest and best guns, so we’ll just win. It’s as simple as that. Recent memory shows it’s definitely not as simple as that, but apparently that doesn’t matter. If we fail, we can just try again, over and over and over until we get it right.

So what does this have to do with Far Cry 4?

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Windows 10 Mobile, or Riding the Metro

10 12 2015

I’m not sure exactly when I became a Microsoft fanboy. I was pretty harsh toward them in the old days, even though I’ve really only ever used PCs. I’ve had to use Macs for work on occasion, but I could never really get into them. Back then, I was a PC out of convenience, a desire to play the latest games, and financial considerations. Somewhere along the way, though, I started to resent the stigma of being a Windows user, especially in the realm of graphic design. Around the same time, the glaring and very real deficiencies of Windows were being addressed, and it became clear to me that a well built Windows machine would run just as well as a Mac with about the same level of maintenance and general awareness of how to treat a computer. Also around the same time, Apple had begun its resurgence, and iPods (and eventually iPhones) were becoming ubiquitous. My comfort with Windows, the snide dismissiveness of the graphic design community to Windows-based (and, therefore, my) work, and some silly contrarian streak combined to make me say four fateful words (to myself):

I want a Zune.

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These are Dangerous Days, or How to Fight the Fire This Time

8 12 2015

Some long time ago, back in my first, fresh out of high school attempt at college, I had an idea – an idea I dearly loved, but knew would be received very poorly by a lot of people – 32 Short Films About Adolf Hitler (an obvious nod to 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, and probably more directly to The Simpsons episode “22 Short Films About Springfield”). Short films about Hitler aren’t in themselves objectionable, but here’s the kicker – they were all to be slapstick and absurdist comedy.

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The War Against ISIS, or Fight Fire With Water

17 11 2015

Once again, we find ourselves looking at imagery of shattered bodies, buildings, and lives and trying to figure out the best path forward. We continue fervent debates that have roiled our discourse for years, and we hear lots of absolutes tossed around. We’re at war with Islam (sometimes modified with “extremist” or “radical,” but all too often not). They hate us for our freedoms. This is a clash of civilizations. None of those are correct, but some are closer than others.

Let’s start with “We’re at war with Islam.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mental Illness and Guns, or What Are You Really Saying?

8 10 2015

Yet another mass shooting. Yet another round of the exact same discussions, never seeming to move beyond the same canned responses. It’s so predictable that the president’s response has become a frustrated, angry rundown of exactly what is about to happen instead of a reasonable attempt to prevent more bloodshed. Very much to his credit, President Obama raised a question I’d very much like to hear answered. Why does this only happen here? What makes us so different from every other developed nation? Are we just dumber? Crazier? More violent? What’s the deciding factor? If you insist that it can’t be our gun laws, aren’t you implicitly saying that it must be one of the above?

Then there’s that other frequent response from opponents of gun control – it’s not about guns, it’s about mental illness. This one is pretty reasonable on the surface. After all, it’s really easy (and comforting) for us to look at the people who commit gun violence and say “They must be insane.” It makes sense, right? Even if we grant that that’s correct (which is a problem in and of itself – what qualifies as “insane” for these purposes? What about studies that seem to show that mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it? [I have seen such studies mentioned, but I haven’t looked into them myself, so that could be an inaccurate reading]), that just brings up other questions. What does “dealing with mental illness” mean in this context? When Wayne LaPierre calls for a Federal database of the mentally ill, isn’t that a greater violation of liberties than a database of gun owners? Isn’t the fact that such a database would have to be accessible to anyone selling guns an open door to violations of privacy? Again, what constitutes mental illness here? I’ve been on an antidepressant for years – would I be barred from getting a firearm? If a person voluntarily commits themselves, is that evidence of sufficient presence of mind to negate whatever caused them to seek commitment? If a person has ever been institutionalized, or even just underwent therapy, how do they prove that they’re now sane? Can they? How would any of this have stopped Adam Lanza or Chris Harper Mercer from getting their guns? What about Dylann Roof? Was Roof mentally ill, or just full of hate? Is hate a mental illness? It seems like Elliot Rodger and Jared Lee Loughner and James Holmes are poster children for the idea that mentally ill people shouldn’t have access to guns, but where would legislation have stopped them? What about people who are in their right minds when they obtain guns but suffer some kind of acute psychological trauma down the road, like the loss of a job or the dissolution of a marriage? We’ve seen plenty of cases where such people have reacted with gun violence – can legislation somehow intercede there?

In short, what does “dealing with mental health” mean? If we think through it, doesn’t it require massive invasions of things we understand to be private, like medical records? Doesn’t it implicitly create huge new governmental powers? Does Wayne LaPierre really think that’s a good idea? Do you?

EDIT 10/8/2015, 4:56PM – Cleaned up some wording in the first paragraph.
EDIT 10/9/2015, 10:24AM – Corrected spelling of Elliot Rodger’s name.

Individual Guilt, or No (Non-White) Man is an Island

15 07 2015

There’s a frustrating trend in the reporting and discussion of recent events that I’d like to point out (though many far smarter than me already have done so, so I’m just being self-indulgent). It’s “frustrating” to me, a white man, so I can only imagine it’s something orders of magnitude worse – galling, horrifying, infuriating, soul-crushing? – to people of color. It is the way we look at crimes and perpetrators. Those committed by white people are the tragic acts of mentally ill loners, while those committed by people of color (or even those committed against people of color) are clear indications of how communities of color need to change their behavior.

What the hell? Read the rest of this entry »

Bill O’Reilly, Christian, on Homelessness, or Pieces of Humanity

3 07 2015

I am not a Christian. Any understanding I have of the New Testament comes second-hand, though I’ve done a decent amount of reading about it. As I understand it, Jesus had quite a lot to say about helping the poor and downtrodden and very little to say about the issues that people typically moralize and scold about these days (like homosexuality, for instance). I always think of Matthew 25:40, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” and maybe I’m putting undue weight on it, but as I understand it that’s Jesus talking as he’s separating the “sheep” from the “goats” at the End of the World, describing his primary criteria for judgment. Seems like a big deal.

Bill O’Reilly is a Catholic. In a 2010 column, he talked about staying with the church in the aftermath of the priestly sexual abuse scandals, saying

Throughout it all, however, I stayed with the church. If you cut through all the bull, the doctrines of treating others as you want to be treated, forgiveness and redemption, and charity for all stand the test of time. Even if the atheists are right and there is no God, the philosophy of Jesus is full-force positive. Live the way he lived, and the world will be a better place.

Presumably, as a Catholic who focuses on the “full-force positive” “philosophy of Jesus” and believes that “the world will be a better place” if people “live the way [Jesus] lived,” he has spent more time with the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus than I have as a fairly secular Jew. The “pieces of humanity” part of the title of this post comes from the title of one of O’Reilly’s books, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity, which was apparently an epithet hurled at Young Bill by one of the nuns who taught him in Catholic school. It seems safe to say that he’s spent a pretty good amount of time with the scripture.

That brings me to a question I have for many, many Christians, one I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer for – what’s the deal with your priorities?

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