Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Evil Anti-cool

Back when I was in Junior High School, before we had things like cellular telephony, metal tools or agriculture, I played Dungeons and Dragons. And marked myself as Unhip For All Eternity. Seriously. I think there's a mark on my forehead or something. All these millenia later, I still haven't completely outgrown the hobby, even though actually playing takes WAY too much time (since I've never been nerdy enough to place gaming ahead of a paying career) - so it's morphed into more of a literary/pop-culture thing. I go shopping for new games every so often, and peruse them to see how the hobby is evolving. There have been a number of interesting trends and fads over the years, like the rise of the interactive storytelling model of gaming, attempts to make roleplaying games as realistic as could be managed (or even more so) and the adoption of "open source" rules systems that allow people to create new settings without having to re-invent the wheel by creating their own mechanics. Even the artwork has changed with the times, with the popularity of Britney Spears over the past few years "inspiring" some illustrators to clothe their busty warrior wenches in bare-midriff mail crop tops and low-rider half-plate harness.

But I'm still amused by the most enduring aspect of role-playing - it's utter uncoolness, by ANY standard. Between the village idiot and a gamer geek, the idiot gets the girls, hands down. Take this line about the perils of misrepresentation in online dating from the November hardcopy issue of Wired magazine: "Your online paramour won't be thrilled to discover the 6-foot-tall althletic guy who 'loves entertaining' is an unwashed dungeonmaster in Birkenstocks (not that there's anything wrong with that)." Sure there isn't.

As much as many gamers themselves will tell you that the "unwashed" part is a stereotype born of a sad truth (pray you never learn first hand), I think they'd complain that the "Birkenstocks" crack is hitting below the belt.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Christmas Armistice

One of the nice things about the aftermath of Christmas in recent years is that it marks a cease-fire in the incessant "War on Christmas" blather that certain segemnts of the American Christian community start spouting long about the day after Halloween.

(Incidentally, I have encountered a number of conservative Christians who object to the observance of Halloween, as a non-Christian holiday, and have sought to replace it with "Harvest Festivals," or other observances that seek to downplay the "pagan origins" of the holiday. To their credit, however, I have yet to hear the same individuals both work to supress Halloween and complain about others not being overt enough in their Christmas-ness.)

There was an article in the Seattle Times last week that commented on the conversion of the War on Christmas into a money-making vehicle. ("War on Christmas" pays off for some religious groups.) No matter what else about the United States changes, you know that Capitalism will find a way to infitrate anything.

But for me, the most interesting part of the article concerned how upset people have become when other people don't wish them a "Merry Christmas."

"A Zogby International poll conducted last month found that 46 percent of Americans are offended when a store clerk greets them with 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas.' More than one-third of the 12,800 adults surveyed said they have walked out of a store or resolved to avoid it because clerks didn't show enough Christmas spirit."

One side effect of the War on Christmas seems to be a war on the greeting "Happy Holidays." When I grew up, "Happy Holidays" was considered a shorthand way of saying "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year," since the two observances are only a week apart. (You could almost think of it as sort of a holiday pronoun - a word to take the place of a noun - since sayin' all those nouns over and over can really wear you down...) But now that it's being perceived as a challenge to Christian dominance of the late-December holiday market, it's taken as an insult.

Being that I'm not a huge one for Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa or any other observance that might have been crammed into late December, the Holiday Season is mainly marked by the sad event that is the Winter Solstace, after which my beloved nights start getting shorter. But I don't expect people to know or care that I'm not much of a holiday celebrant, and I'll take any greetings that someone throws my way with pleasure, and return the favor. Being offended that someone I've never met before doesn't how I prefer to recognize (or not) the season seems nothing less than silly.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


William Saletan writes the Human Nature column for, now part of the Washington Post media empire (and it shows). Yesterday morning, he wrote a column concerning Mary Cheney's pregnacy. For those of you who don't keep up with the news out of Washington D.C., Mery Cheney is the daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney. She's also, in a slightly interesting coincidence, a Vice President herself, over at AOL.
I like Human Nature, and read it whenever I remember to. (Hardly a ringing endorsement, I know.) During my most recent reading, this statement caught my eye: "Moralists are denouncing Cheney's pregnant daughter, Mary, for disclosing that she and her lesbian partner will raise the baby together. The moralists are confident that having two mommies is bad for kids. And no evidence to the contrary can dissuade them."
My very first thought after I read this was: "Is he for real?" Not that I don't think that certain segments of the surprisingly large population of moralistic busibodies in this world have locked on to Mery Cheney over her descision to become a mother. But the idea that groups like Focus on the Family actually care how good or bad people are as parents strikes me as utterly inane.
Saletan is correct when he states that no ammount of evidence to the contrary will ever shift the moralists from their view that homosexuals are, to the last person, unfit to be in the same area code as children. But that's because, I suspect, that they believe that homosexuals are, to the last person, unfit to be tainting the Good Earth with their footsteps.
What's really going on here is simple. The conservative moralist jihadis that Saletan is referring to are convinced that Mary Cheney and her partner are deliberate and unrepentant sinners, who are heading straight for damnation, and will drag the innocent children that they raise with them. Since I suspect that the moralists we're speaking of are fundamentalists, and/or other flavors of reactionary Christians, I suspect that they consider all non-Christians to be unfit parents as well, along with anyone who doesn't bring their children up to follow what they would consider to be "acceptable" moral teachings.
Pretending that we take their arguments about the relationship between a person's sexuality and their parenting abilities at face value is a pointless charade that does nothing constructive.

Weblog Accuracy

It's rumored that there is a segment of the MainStream Media (MSM) that doesn't consider weblogging to be in the same league as "real" journalism. I don't presently have any acquaintences who are journalists, so I can't actually speak to this myself. I have, however, encountered a situation where it appears that journalists consider weblogging to subject to less stringent standards than "regular" news. Consider weblog entries posted earlier this week in both the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times concerning the Washington Supreme Court's ruling in the case of "1000 Friends of Washington v. McFarland."
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's "Strange Bedfellows" weblog opens with the following:
State Supreme Court: Voters can't repeal land use laws
The state Supreme Court ruled (1000 Friends of Wash. v. McFarland) Thursday that local residents do not have the right to overturn controversial land-use laws by popular vote.
The Seattle Times' "Postman on Politics" weblog uses this opening:
Supreme Court says voters can't repeal critical areas ordinance
The state Supreme Court ruled this morning that King County's controversial critical areas ordinance cannot be repealed by voters. In a 7-2 decision, the court said the ordinance was designed to implement the Growth Management Law, which is mandated by the state, and cannot be subject to a voter referendum.
Here is the crux of the ruling, as noted in a concurring opinion by Justice Charles Johnson: "The majority reaches the correct result which is compelled by our prior case authority. The majority opinion, when stripped of its unnecessary rhetoric and hyperbole, can be summarized simply: where the state law requires local government to perform specific acts, those local actions are not subject to local referendum." Both weblogs quote this passage in their postings. But neither seem to have taken much, if any effort to make the titles and beginnings of the posts reflect this rather simple concept, instead waiting until later to try to clear things up. (I do think, however, that the Postman blog makes something of a nod in that direction.) As the comments on both blogs show, a number of people never seem to have gotten the point.
Maybe I just don't spend enough time reading newspapers, but I would have thought that standard would be higher than this. Why start out with a misleading title, and try to correct the misconceptions that arise later, when you don't have to? The cynic in me thinks that the misleading titles were more likely to get people to read the stories, and so they were allowed to stand as they were. But I really don't know. Perhaps it really is just a matter of journalistic sloppiness that went unnoticed because it was never going to make it into the print edition of the newspapers.
In any event, because of this and some earlier episodes, I don't take the newspaper's commentary on judical rulings at face value anymore - I go to their website, and read the opinions for myself.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Police States of America?

When I was younger, I enjoyed watching Doctor Who. At the time, it was just campy science-fiction fun. But as with many things that you don't think very much about, there is sometimes wisdom hiding there in plain sight. Brigadier General Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (portrayed by Nicholas Courtney) had a recurring line that still sticks with me. As the situation around him spiraled into yet another alien-fueled catastrophe, he'd remark: "I didn't know when I was well-off." Americans, I've learned, are experts at not knowing when they are well off.
In the next suburb in, Lake Forest Park, Washington, there are a pair of demonstrations that occur on a weekly basis. Every Saturday morning, from about 10 to 11 am, a small group of people gather, to wave the American flag, and call for the public to support the troops in (primarily) Iraq, and to a lesser degree, the Bush Administration. From about 11 am to Noon, a second group, normally larger, gathers to protest both the war and the Bush administration. Every six months or so, I while away a Saturday morning going to watch the show, and see how people react. Now, when I go down to the rallies, I commonly take a digital camera, and get some pictures. I do this because I, as a member of the general public, find this regular performance of "activism theater" to be quite interesting, and worthy of being remembered.
The activists tend to react my presence (and that of my camera) with clear alarm. I get innumerable questions about who I am, and who I work for; and one day, one of the activists took every opportunity she could get to take my picture. This has lead me to think of the peace activists as, in general terms, somewhat paranoid. Perhaps interestingly, there are those among the peace demonstrators who find themselves paranoid. One of the women there told me as much herself. Further, she said, she wasn't herself paranoid until she joined the group and began attending the rallies.
I find their paranoia to be, frankly, fascinating. The United States isn't, in the way that most of us understand the term, a police state. While there are certainly missing persons all across the country, the idea that the Federal government goes around rountinely "disappearing" citizens that disagree with established policy is considered, quite frankly, a symptom of psychosis. And the activists themselves will tell you that none of their number have been disappeared, beaten up, hauled away in handcuffs or even harassed for having a public gathering without a permit. I understand that they fear retaliation, but I don't understand why. I don't understand what they are doing that would make the Federal government think them enough of a threat to actual do something to silence them. Part of me feels that they're actually indulging in wishful thinking - that they hope for a public overreaction that will rouse the citizenry to action, even if it makes them martyrs.
On the other hand, I think that perhaps they just don't understand that they do have a certain amount of freedom - but that we've become so used to never having to even think about negative consequences for many of the things that we do, that even the hint of them evokes a remarkable level of fear.

Nobody In Particular, Blogspot style...

No longer content with being behind the times, I've decided that it might be worthwhile to try my hand a weblogging. We'll see if it manages to make me into a rightful resident of the 21st century, or simply marks me as another wannabe n00b. The goal is to update the blog no less than once a week, and to avoid talking about myself - afterall, I'm not a particularly interesting person. But interesting things happen around me, and in the United States, and I hope to make this into a somewhat interesting place to read about them. I'm also conducting somewhat of an experiment. I also have a webspace on Windows Live, and we'll see if one of them is more to my liking than the other. Most of my web-savvy friends are betting heavily on Blogspot, but we'll have to see.

Now all I have to do is get a cellular telephone and an iPod, and I can claim to be hip and with it.