Thursday, June 10, 2004

Ray Charles
passed away today. That makes me sad. I have several of his albums, and I really enjoy his songs and many of his interpretations of song classics and, in some cases, cliches. He's got an arrangement of "Some Enchanted Evening" that's actually pretty good -- he takes out the Robert Goulet-like over-enunciation and makes it more funky.

My father's favorite, I believe, is "Born to Lose." Personally, I've always been partial to "Tell the Truth," from one of his live albums, or "Busted."

Of course, what Blues Brothers fan can forget "Shake a Tail Feather?"
The only time I ever actually use HK-47
was when I want to complete Tatooine with maximum light-side points. Otherwise, as you say, he's left on the ship to scrub the deck.

The reason I like him, as you mention, is he's the best conversationalist (number two in the regard is Canderous Ordo).

My favorite exchange:
Yuka Luka (paraphrasing): "Why are you suddenly so hostile?"

HK-47: "I've always been hostile."
Doesn't get any better than that.
HK-47 may have some funny lines, but otherwise he's worthless. I had him scrubbing the poop deck on the Ebon Hawk most of the time.

Actually, I take that back. Had it not been for HK-47, my evil SOB guy would not have gotten through the Star Forge. He and Bastila kept getting pounded by the Dark Jedi's force powers and there was one spot where I just couldn't keep those two from getting killed - sorry, getting knocked unconscious. Apparently, the Dark Jedi were not equipped with Destroy Droid and the like, because they would only try to attack HK-47 with their lightsabers. So I ultimately got through it by having him run around lobbing thermal detonators and plasma grenades.

The SOB would have had Zaalbar with him, but the freakin' puffball betrayed him, so the worthless Wookie had to be put down in the Star Forge dock.
I know I'm a few days late on this
but I just have to pass this on. VDH has what he imagines would be contemporary reactions to D-Day.
Scientific proof that W is a great president
from James Taranto:
Those who believe that history runs in cycles will be interested to note that the three great presidents took office at 72-year intervals--Washington in 1789, Lincoln in 1861 and FDR in 1933--and that this November it will have been exactly 72 years since the election of our last great president.
By the way,
HK-47 is my favorite NPC.
Eat electric death, rancor beast!
I had the reverse experience, I believe. My first character was a light-side Jedi Sentinel. Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. He didn't focus on powers, and he didn't focus on combat, so he basically got creamed. I had the same combat experience with Darth Malak that you mentioned -- I ran around the room, using Force Wave on him continuously, waiting to get enough force points back to do it again.

When I played the second time, I was a Jedi Consular, leaning toward the Sith. You could walk into whole rooms of people and kill everyone without being touched. Force Wave is very handy. My battle with The One on the Star Forge planet was fairly easy. Used the Kill power on him, then used Force Wave to keep everyone else back.

The first time I faced Malak, I used Kill on him, and he didn't have a chance. The second time, I still had to move around a bit, but having Death Field made it much more even -- I was able to do the same thing to the Jedi in stasis that he was doing.

I played through a third time as a light-side Guardian, and my experience was similar to yours -- I whipped everyone who came close. By the time I got to the Star Forge, the game was ridiculously easy.
The grand KotOR experiment
is complete. I played Knights of the Old Republic through to its completion twice: once as a force-power-happy, dark-sided, death-dealing SOB and once as a lightsaber-swinging, light-sided, sweet-hearted chick. The SOB was a Counselor, did all he could to get dark side points, didn't learn how to use a lightsaber very well, and had almost all of the red force powers. The chick was a Guardian, did all she could to get light side points, was a mater at using two light sabers, and had mostly blue force power. Here's my scientific report:

- The only red force power the chick had was Destroy Droid. The SOB had it too, of course. It's so darn handy that I don't know why anyone wouldn't have it. There are some droids in the game that are highly resistant to even the most experienced lightsaber-wielder, yet a few blasts of Destroy Droid render them to junk.

- It's much easier to get dark side points than light side points. The SOB was maxed out on the dark side before he left Dantooine, whereas the chick didn't max out on the light side until 3/4 of the way through the game.

- My favorite planet is Kashyyyk. You get a variety of opponents and there's less running from one place to another. That, and you get to pick up Jolee, who's my favorite character. He's hilarious. He was also the chick's tough guy, the one that bothered to learn the more questionable force powers.

- The SOB had a lot more money than the chick. Between persuading people to give him stuff at deep discounts (or not paying at all) and stealing the rest, he had credits out the wazoo. The chick was broke most of the time, especially after having to buy HK-47.

- Speaking of which, it's interesting that to achieve the peaceful Sand People solution on Tatooine, it's necessary to purchase HK-47, who's a dark-sided droid, and he costs a lot of money. If you want to be evil about it, you don't really need HK-47 at all. Another sign that the light side is the more difficult path.

- That being said, the Star Forge was much, much easier with the chick (along with Jolee and Juhanni) than with the SOB (along with Bastila and HK-47). There's a few places in the Star Forge where you're hit by wave after wave of Dark Jedi and Sith soldiers, and the SOB had a real hard time with that. I had to reload my game several times because the SOB kept getting killed. On the other hand, the chick cruised through that with no trouble at all.

- Malak was easier to beat with the chick than with the SOB. The SOB would have to run away from Malak, to keep out of reach of his lightsaber, zap Malak with lightning, then keep running again. The chick, on the other hand, stood her ground. She'd pound Malak to a pulp, and while he's running off to recharge, she'd patiently wait while using a few med packs and then pound him again. Piece of cake.

- It doesn't matter which side you're on, it's always easier to run around with a pack of three Jedi than having anyone else in the party. If there weren't certain parts of the game that forced me to use Carth or Mission or the other non-Jedi, I'd never use them. Worthless.

Overall, I found playing the light side more fun than playing the dark side. Or maybe I find playing a Guardian more fun than playing a Counselor. I guess I'm not surprised. Playing spell casters has never been my thing. My favorite D&D characters are fighter-types, so it makes sense that my favorite Star Wars characters would be the same.
You can relax!
The Louis de Branges de Bourcia has a proof for the Riemann hypothesis. Well, maybe. I checked the Corner because I know John Derbyshire is a math guy (eh, gad - two posts mentioning Derbyshire in one day - a record!), and he says de Branges has cried wolf before. Time will tell.

Then Derbyshire links to this, which is all fine and dandy, but what is Dr. Evil doing on it?

ASIDE: What a glorious name: Louis de Branges de Bourcia. Are his initials LBB or LdBdB? Do you say, "Excuse me, Professor de Branges de Bourcia"? Or do you say "What's up, Prof. Bourcia"?
Reagan on Rushmore?
National Review has conflicting articles on whether Ronald Reagan's visage should be added to Mt. Rushmore. Peter Kirsanow says it should be done, namely because Reagan embodied the same values as its current, uh, residents. On the other hand, John Derbyshire says it should not be done primarily because Mt. Rushmore is a work of art that should not be fiddled with.

I don't care. If Congress votes to put Reagan on Mt. Rushmore, fine. If not, fine. I was underwhelmed when I saw Mt. Rushmore in person some years ago - I always thought it was much bigger than that - so I think there has to be some better monument we could create especially for him.

Regardless, I don't think it will happen. There aren't enough Democrats on it, and surely some will insist that if Reagan is going to be added to the mountain, then so should FDR (or Kennedy or Clint... ah!... fingers... aching... cannot... type... name...). Plus, to place Reagan on Mt. Rushmore is to say that he belongs in the same company with its current, uh, members. Is Reagan really in the same echelon with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln (what is TR doing up there, anyway?)? I'm not so sure, not yet. In that respect, I'll agree with Derbyshire: time will tell.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Over-generalized crap. Superficial analysis by someone presumably no longer a college freshman, and should, therefore, know better. The author casts a wide net and finds a few tangential allusions to make America look like a budding fascist regime.

The author (sarcastically, I'm assuming) calls comparisons like this "verbal gymnastics;" Mental masturbation, is more like it. Why do I waste my time on stuff like this?
14. Fraudulent elections.
Bush v Gore was a fraudulent election? Are you kidding?
"Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite."
Charges of disenfrachisement and voter intimidation have been so thoroughly debunked, it's not worth discussing.

As for the "judiciary beholden to the power elite," given that Clinton was President in 2000, wouldn't that mean Gore should have won? In any case, the crux of the Supreme Court's decision (for those who bothered to read it), was that the Florida recount was being done without any standard for what did or did not count as a vote. Counters in the same room were employing different standards as to how to count votes. The Supreme Court stopped the madness. There was no theft of an election. Gore lost (as almost every independent recount has shown). Get over it.
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.
Does our government have corrupt officials? Sure. Every government, no matter what shape it takes, is going to have people within it who trade their influence for money or favors. How this is a sign of fascism, I really don't understand.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment.
Has the U.S. had abuses of police power in it's history? Yes, because nobody is perfect, and power often attracts those who would use it inappropriately. Are our police forces filled with rampant violations of civil rights? No. Being concerned about crime rates, and wanting to make sure that the government has the tools to do something about it (like allowing the FBI to read public web sites or allowing roving wire taps) is not tantamount to surrendering liberty for security.
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.
Please. Does anyone think this really reflects the state of America? Thinking the NEA shouldn't be funding sick "performance art" garbage isn't the same as suppressing whole realms of thought or expression because they aren't pro-government. If you want that kind of censorship, look at post-Shah Iran or Stalinist Russia.
10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
If he thinks that unions in this country are dead, he hasn't been paying attention. SBC workers went on strike recently, and the UAW, AFL-CIO, Teamsters, etc., are always up for something exciting. Has union power been on the decline? Sure. The U.S. is becoming more middle-class and more service oriented. Employees are less likely to see their relationships with management as divisively as unions tend to.

And, unions are partially to blame for their own decline. Most Americans perceive them as one time protector of workers' rights, now transformed into lethargic destroyers of productivity. I know someone who, when managing a supermarket in a union state, had a grievance filed against him because he straightened out a meat package in a display case. He wasn't part of the meat-packers union, so he wasn't allowed to touch the items in the case; that was a "union job." It's that kind of pettiness and stupidity that has more to do with the decline of labor in this country than any organized effort to suppress their power.
9. Power of corporations protected.
"Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised."
Two major problems with this sentence. 1) Does he really think that our lives are under "strict control?" If he does, he's been living in a box. 2) Corporate freedom under fascism? Does he know what fascism means? It's government control over private property. He should read some von Mises and find out what corporate life under Nazism was really like. Corporate owners were told from whom they could buy raw materials, how much product to make, how much to charge for it, to whom they could sell, how much to sell, how much to pay their workers, whom they could hire and fire, etc. Does this sound like their "freedom was not compromised?"
8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.
If the author wants to see an example of religion and government coming together to oppress everyone, he needs to look at Iran, pre-9/11 Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia or any of the other truly repressive religious regimes. Bush's faith-based initiatives and a politicians references to the Bible do not make us a theocracy.
7. Obsession with national security.
One of the purposes of government is to protect its citizens from foreign and domestic threats. Of course, the author may be drawing the USA Patriot Act into this comparison; I don't know. If the author is trying to compare the Gestapo with the FBI, he needs to get a grip and read some history.
6. A controlled mass media.
The media's the puppet of the government. Beside the devotees of Michael Moore, does anyone believe that the media is really friendly with the current government?
"Methods include the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats."
Given the strength of First Amendment watchdogs in this country, and the plethora of news agencies, I don't think much of this is possible in the U.S. Has any T.V. station had its broadcast license revoked because it criticized the government? The Alien and Sedition Act was repealed by Jefferson, so I don't really see this as a current threat.
5. Rampant Sexism.
Are women on a completely even playing field with men? No, but I don't think one could reasonably argue that we still live in the same stratified society that's existed early in the 20th century, and every indication is that the gender gap is closing significantly (e.g., new stastics regarding college enrollment have women surpassing men by a significant margin).

What's interesting is that fascists are "adamantly anti-abortion." Now, I'm pro-choice in a wishy-washy way. I don't think that abortion should be used as birth control, but I also don't believe that everyone who gets one is evil incarnate. However, I can very easily see the pro-life side of the debate, and I fail to see how being pro-life makes you a fascist.
4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.
Basically, the government loves the military and uses it to bully other nations. I guess this is supposed to apply to the U.S. currently. Does the U.S. have the same adulation for the military as exhibited by Nazi Germany? The article seems to think so. I really haven't seen it, and the article provides nothing but the sly, conspiratorial sort of understanding that's expressed through a wink and a nod.

I'm proud of our troops. I think they're brave and I'm glad they're out there. I think that most people agree with this sentiment. Does this make us fascists?
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.
Now, we all know this is a standard tactic in totalitarian regimes, and not particularly endemic to fascism as such. Stalin had "saboteurs" and Trotskyites, just as Hitler had Jews and any other non-Aryan peoples. This really isn't a unique characteristic of fascism.

What's important about the identification of the enemy in these cases, though, is that the enemy is a phantom. They either don't exist, or the grand conspiracy their supposed to be engaged in is a fantasy conjured by the paranoid or politically devious. There were no legions of organized saboteurs in Stalinist Russia, just as the Jews didn't clandestinely organize to "stab Germany in the back" at the end of World War I.

The thing that I find jarring about this point, however, is this sentence:
"Often the regimes would incite 'spontaneous' acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and 'terrorists.'"
In lists like this, the item mentioned last is usually the one that supposed to be given the most emphasis, and I find that disturbing in this case. Not only is terrorists listed as phantom scapegoat, but it's put in scare quotes. Does the author think that we shouldn't be on the hunt for terrorists? Does 9/11 not mean anything?
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.
This one is just silly and not really even worthy of comment. I will say, however, that if the author really wants to find governments with a disdain for human rights, all he has to do is look at most of the countries on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.
The first characteristic of fascism. What's patently silly about this point is the general way in which the author describes patriotic expression -- note in the article how "ubiquitios lapel pins" is somehow thrown into the mix. Nazis wore lapel pins; I own an American flag lapel pin. Ooooooo, big, bad, fascist me.

"Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity" are the hallmarks of fascist nationalism. Yep, those Nazi rallies and American 4th of July parades have so much in common.

Catchy slogans? What's wrong with national self-promotion? Be all you can be, you few good men.

Pride in the military? We have the best in the world. How can't help but be proud of that? Am I supposed to be ashamed of the military?

Demands for unity? I don't know of anyone actually "demanding" unity. I know that I'd rather not have Ted Kennedy saying that Abu Ghraib under "U.S. management," as he put it, is the same as it was under Saddam. That's pointless and potentially demoralizing rhetoric. It's documented that Veitcong prison camp commanders used to use anti-American rants by U.S. officials to taunt their prisoners. The same thing is likely happening in Iraq. Is it too much to ask a politician to turn down the hyperbole so that we can show that we have a little resolve?

Everything in this characteristic is so generalized, any expression of patriotism or pride in the greatness of America is seen as a nigh-xenephobic hyper-nationalism.

I guess it boils down to this fundamental point: Carter's malaise was healthier than Reagan's national optomism, from an "anti-fascist" perspective.
I just got around to reading your previous post regarding the fourteen characteristics of fascism. Typical secular humanist frippery. I knew some of the humanists at Harvard, and was given some of their material to consider. I don't know if it was meant to be seriously representative of their philosophical beliefs, but it was mostly touchy-feely, emotionalist pap. Check out Humanism as the Next Step for a particularly silly read on the philosophy (whatever the merits of humanism, this book wasn't the way to present it).

Anyway, I guess the lesson of the article to which you linked (to which I will also link) is that this is the path of the United States. Balderdash. Book-smackingly insipid (as you so eloquently put it).

(Aside: I think "book-smackingly" is a great phrase. I'll have to use it more often.)

I'm going to do a series of post on how this article is dumb. It'll give me a chance to be verbose and make up for the fact that I didn't post anything for a long time.
I'm for Kerry
So says Glenn Beck, who just said on his radio program (quoting from memory):
If you are an atheist, I can guarantee you that you will vote for John Kerry or for Ralph Nader. The less you believe in God, the further Left you are: the more you believe in God, the further Right you are.
Actually, for me it's backwards - I was much further to the Left when I was a believer. That wouldn't factor into Glenn's world view, but it's true.

Glenn prefaced the above comment with a tirade on how atheism and Communism are fundamentally linked, essentially saying all atheists are Communists. That's one of those generalizations with which atheists get smacked, and now he's talking about another one, namely that atheists have no morality. Sigh. I've heard it before, and I'll hear it again.
Hannity and Colmes
featured an interview with Ted Rall last night. Colmes said nothing; Hannity was filled with righteous indignation and Colmes didn't want to get in the way, I'm sure.

I haven't read Rall in a while, because I can't stand his vitriol. This is the man who, after Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal writer, was killed in Afghanistan, had an editorial cartoon that mocked Pearle's widow. How petty can you get?

Hannity's feature was on some of the vile things that some pundits have been writing or saying since the death of Ronald Reagan, and Rall has apparently written a particularly dispicable screed about the late president (something about Reagan turning a crispy brown right now, because he's burning in hell). Hannity told him that he was a cruel, mean, spiteful, soulless, horrible man.

Thank you, Mr. Hannity.

Rall tried to counter by using Reagan's famous line, "There you go again." Coming from Reagan, it was a fantastic counter to Carter's ranting; coming from Rall, well, it made him look like even more of a reprobate.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

I used to be a fan of ER.
Used to be. It was a pretty good show, but then they got hyper-dramatic (as opposed to just the plain over-dramatic, but usually well done, early years). What else can you say when the commercials for next week's show invariably said something like, "Next week, on an all-new, powerful ER, an event will happen that will change the ER forever?" And then, of course, no one ever speaks about the incident again.

That being said, ER is dumping Alex Kingston, aka Doctor Elizabeth Corday. She claims its because she's too old. Maybe, but I'm willing to bet on something else: She's damned annoying. Does anybody really like her character? I suppose she's got to have some kind of a fan base, since she's been on the show for seven years, but she's always annoyed me.

They need to resurrect Dr. Green, bring Doug Ross back from the Northwest, and eliminate every plot line that's too much about the doctors and not about the patients. And, they need to have season finales that have something to do with the story. What was up with the random road rage thing?

Of course, I say all this like I've watched the show very regularly in recent years. I happened to see the finale and couldn't figure out what was going on, and I didn't recognize 20% of the people.

Sorry. Rant's over.
Hat tip to Reason magazine
for pointing out this article on the BBC. Nambia has apparently begun to send letters to white farm owners stating:
"You are cordially invited to make an offer to sell the property to the state and to enter into further negotiations in that regard. In the light of the seriousness of the matter, I shall appreciate it if you would react within 14 days."
If negotiations reach an impasse, or if the property owner is unwilling to sell, the government has stated it will seize the property and give the owners a price it believes to be fair.

Fittingly, Nambia has been consulting with ministers from Zimbabwe, who is also going through a land redistribution scheme. This, as we all know, has worked so well there.

A few years ago, I read a book by Keith Richburg called Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa. Richburg was a journalist in Africa, based out of Kenya, during the genocide in Rwanda, and he spends a great deal of time trying to reconcile the image of Africa that he was given in his colegiate Afro-Am courses (that Africa was a glorious continent where black people could walk with their heads held high) to the Africa that he saw in all its unvarnished horror (a place where, as Richburg put it, if you walked with your head up, someone with an AK-47 would smack it back down).

At the beginning of one of the chapters, Richburg quotes Zimbabwe's President Mugabe as telling another African leader that the key to economic stability in the face of post-colonial rule was to "keep your whites." In other words, these are the people with capital and connections, and to lose them is to lose your tax base. Plus, new investment from foreign countries will be less likely if you're scaring away your land owners and demonstrating to the world a lack of legal stability.

It's interesting to me how Mugabe has forgotten this, doubly so now that he's exporting his land extortion schemes to other countries. If he had some kind of (arguably) noble intention in the beginning of his land redistribution efforts (making sure that holdovers from colonial rule weren't allowed to keep priviledge that they had rested by force), it's clear to any sane observer that he's long abandoned that and gone straight for pure power and selfish gain.

I wonder how long it will take Nambia to drop the pretense of post-colonial fairness and just start with the roving gangs?
Ronald Reagan
is the first president that I can remember. I was four when he was elected in 1980, and, to be honest, I have no recollection of the primary or general election season. And, thankfully, I have no recollection of Carter. I do, however, vividly remember the 1984 election (the generals, anyway), when the tally showed that Reagan had won every state save Wisconsin.

I suppose it's a pity that I grew up in the Reagan era. Not because I'm a Reagan hater, but because I don't really know anything about him. He was too current to be taught in any history or social studies class as I was growing up, and I wasn't a policy wonk at age 10. A pity, because the co-existance of Reagan and Thatcher is probably one of the greatest consevative moments in history.

As the token Republican on this blog, it should be up to me to eulogize his passing, but I don't really think I could do an adequate job. Iran-Contra, debates about whether Reagan dyed his hair, his enourmous popularity, the "tear down this wall" speech, his being shot shortly after taking office -- these are the things that I really remember.

But even from my limited knowledge, looking back, since FDR, has any president been as effective in energizing his party, in attracting so many supporters from across party lines (who's ever heard of a Ford Democrat), in generally inspiring so many people, and in framing the problems we face in such clearly moral, yet tremendously optomistic, terms?

This is a gap in my historical knowledge that needs to be mended. I need to find a copy of Peggy Noonan's When Character was King or Dinesh D'Souza's Ronald Reagan.

That being said, one of the first things I said to my wife after hearing that he'd died was that there'd be a quick push to put his face on a coin or stamp. I was right.