Wednesday, October 22, 2014


One of the problems with American English is its imprecision, a trait which is exacerbated by, among other things, our habit of looking to obtain people's attention through a certain amount of exaggeration, if not hyperbole.

When I was growing up, the term "privileged" meant that more or less the rules were different for different people, and they tended to favor the privileged at the expense of others. Consider the plight of Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War. A significant amount of their property was expropriated by whites in the communities that they had been removed from and for a long time this wasn't considered unjustified theft. Or, to use an example with which I am more personally acquainted, in my freshman year of college, a football player cut in line in front of another student in the cafeteria. When she complained, the football player struck her hard enough to knock her unconscious. He was never disciplined - at a school that otherwise allowed for fairly draconian punishments for infractions such as missing classes too often. This is what I understood to be "privileged" - there were literally, if not formally, two (or more) sets rules in play. But now that "privilege" has entered the broad public discourse, the definition has expanded.

There are many different ways to define and conceptualize privilege, but one that makes sense for me (as a person of privilege) is that privilege is the freedom to not notice difference.Taste Privilege and GamerGate
Now, this sometimes irks me, but I understand the expansion of the concept, especially as it pertains to social justice circles. But it's still hard for me to understand the current definition of privilege as anything other than "Person A isn't as miserable in their life as Person B is in theirs, and that's unfair." Which to be sure, it a legitimate way of understanding it. It doesn't work that well for me, but hey, I'm old. But I'm also willing to be hip to the times, and use the language as other people use it.

But I do think that the older understanding of what it means to be privileged is useful, and something that should be preserved. Because being able to punch someone out without consequences is really something very different than simply not needing to care that what works for you doesn't always work for others. So, we'll just have to find a new word for it. "Exempt" strikes me as a useful term, because it really gets to the heart of things. Some people are, for whatever reason, exempt from the rules that the rest of us have to live with. And those exemptions are very helpful to them, as I suspect that the football player, whether he appreciated it or not, benefited a good deal from not being expelled from school as the rest of us had been told that the rules dictated.

In the end, I realize, I'm in the minority. For many people all levels of privilege are effectively the same, and all are to be stamped out. Which is all well and good. But when it's all a single amorphous mass, it's hard to see progress being made. And the fact that the egregious behaviors that privilege once encompassed are now being frowned upon matters. We should speak in a way that allows us to see that.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Bastards!

Hatred is an isometric shooter with disturbing atmosphere of mass killing, where player takes the role of a cold blood antagonist, who is full of hatred for humanity. It's a horror, but here YOU are the villain.
I've found the internet debate around this game to be interesting, in part because there seems to be a thread that this particular exploration of the dark side of humanity will somehow be the single straw that breaks the camel's back.

Ever since I was in junior high school (likely before that even), computer programmers have been making games where the primary activity has been to move an avatar around the screen and shoot computer-generated people. Or mutants or aliens or what-have-you. Brøderbund software even had a game named, literally, "If It Moves, Shoot It!" What makes Hatred a horror game, and the player's avatar a villain isn't the activity - it's the reasoning. It can be argued that in more traditional Shoot'em ups that the computer-generated targets fight back. Sure, but, as an article I once read pointed out, the oppositions in computer games is never really about putting up a fair or intelligent fight - they exist to be "killed" by the player. An acquaintance of mine who works in the video game industry noted that if First-person shooters were anything like real life, your character would likely at some point find himself face down in a pool of his or her own blood with no idea what hit them.

I understand the discomfort at the idea of pretending to be a spree killer as a form of entertainment, although I think that at least some of it is born of the uncharitable assumption that there is a sizable number of people out there for whom it would be unambiguously entertaining. But in the end, all of these sorts of games simply offer different pretend reasons for different flavors of pretend violence. Hatred is no exception.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

One Thousand Words

Everyone has a theory about why representative government in the United States doesn't work as well as it could, or as most of us would like it to. Here, I illustrate part of my own theory.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Law More Perfect

This year, here in Washington State, we're going to have dueling ballot initiative around firearms. I've read them both, and between them, they're about 19 pages. About 18 of which are from Initiative 594, "Washington Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases." The description of I 594, is follows: "This measure would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions."

How that relatively straightforward sentence became 18 pages of legalese is illustrative, as it really lays out the difficulties inherent in "closing loopholes in the law." Generally speaking, I understand the purpose behind criminals laws to be establishing a recognized avenue for sanctioning persons who engage in certain behavior that the populace (or its recognized representatives) have decided are undesirable. While this seems like a simple enough process, it runs into problems when intent is to be taken into account, and when it's hard to look at an act in a vacuum and decide whether or not it's one of the certain undesirable behaviors that has been legislated against.

The opponents of I 594 (many of whom support the counter-initiative, I 591) are correct when they point out that a lot of seemingly innocuous activities may count as "transfers" under the new law and may therefore be criminal under the letter of the law. And from my reading of the law, they're correct when they point out that loaning your sister-in-law a gun to protect herself, loaning your adult sons shotguns to go hunting or a police officer loaning a personal firearm to a fellow officer would all run afoul of the restrictions on transfers. In fact, I can think if a circumstance in which I took a gun from a friend who was having an acute mental health crisis for safekeeping that would, if this law went through, likely require a background check and moving the weapon through a licensed dealer. It would all be terribly inconvenient (although I suspect that the police wouldn't bother arresting me for that). And so I understand the issues that gun-rights activists have with this law. But part of their argument is the following:

We deserve the protection of a well-written background check law that protects the right of privacy for lawful firearms owners.
So, I would ask, what's stopping them from writing it?

Sunday, October 12, 2014


I distinctly remember being told that Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.