Monthly Archive for December, 2007

Shalom Seth

My friend Seth passed away December 22th after fighting leukemia for about a year.

Shalom Seth, you will be missed.


Eliot Spitzer – you ignorant slut

What is it with New York politicians?

Eliot Spitzer has been on the warpath against video games before, but this time he’s really outdone himself.

He’s had a video produced educating parents of the dangers of video games. The video is called Video Games and Children: Virtual Playground vs. Danger Zone. Well, the video isn’t as much about the playground part as it is about the Danger Zone (insert dramatic voice effect) part.

The video is great. That is, if you’re intent on making sure your kid never, ever, ever plays video games, because after watching it, I’m pretty sure any reasonable parent who sees it will ban video games from the house effective immediately.

While I wouldn’t expect a video intent on educating parents on the dangers of video games to be a shining beacon of all that is good about video games, there’s a fine line between educating of dangers and being an alarmist. The video goes so far onto the alarmist side it’s not even funny.

Not only that but it goes there with an entirely sensationalistic way. The whole thing reeks of production values more familiar with sweeps week local news segments where the neighborhood restaurant was suddenly found to be feeding patrons with minced meat made out of rat feces.

The video has a number of interesting mistakes in it as well. The tone of the video is well set from the beginning when it goes on to “educate” everyone on how the Virginia Tech shooter played video games. Well, he didn’t. He wrote poetry and there was absolutely no video games present in his dorm room. It’s a well established fact that he did not play video games. Yet here we have the New York State educating New York parents on video game dangers by warning us that video gamers shoot people. When, in fact, the shooter wasn’t playing video games. Good start, Spitzer, good start!

Next the video decides to condemn some Australian dude, who apparently wants his 15 minutes of fame so badly he made a game about Virginia Tech shooting called Virginia Tech Massacre. I really don’t know why this segment is in the video at all. Free speech issues aside, the game is not commercially available anywhere and from what I know it’s also been pulled from the Internet already, so including it in the video serves no other purpose than scaring the hell out of parents whose kids play video games. The segments undertone is “look at what kind of games your kid plays”. Nobody is playing Virginia Tech Massacre. It’s not available to anyone. And it’s definitely not available to any kids whose parents are responsible enough to monitor their kids’ Internet use.

Throughout the video it’s presenting the negative sides of video games (yes, there are some) with no context, no counterpoint and no fact checking ever have had happened. There’s a segment on the history of violent video games, which starts by saying “video games weren’t always violent. In 200,000 B.C. there was this game called Pong.” It then goes on to list and show in graphic detail nearly every violent game ever since. I think the only thing they missed from that was Carmageddon. Strange. I would’ve thought someone so hellbent on looking into everything that’s negative about video games would’ve found out about a game where you actually get points for driving over grannies. Alas, even a hatchet job isn’t flawless. After watching the segment on the “evolution of violent video games” you really get a sense that video games are all violent. That is the message the video is putting out.

That particular segment ends up with a condemnation of Bully, a game by Rockstar Games that’s been at the receiving end of some controversy ever since it was announced. The problem with the video is that they get the game completely wrong. Surprise, surprise. In a segment that “lets the game speak for itself” by showing up an intro video from the game, it is implied the game lets you act out on your aggressions in a school environment beating up fellow students and even teachers. In fact, the game actually puts you in the shoes of a bullying victim, not the bully. That “unimportant” fact was never presented in the video.

The video continues with a segment on research about violence in video games. It starts, promisingly, with a mention that the research is inconclusive, but doesn’t explain how it is inconclusive. It then goes on to quote several studies that state negative effects of playing violent video games. There are studies that state playing video games will have short term affects in children. These are the same effects kids have had ever since there have been kids when they’ve been exposed to violence of any kind. Any parent knows if you let your kids horseplay before dinner, they will act up at dinner table. None of the studies on violence in video games have ever linked violent video games to CAUSING children to become violent in general. The video fails to pinpoint that leaving the impression that video games do in fact make children more violent. The producer of the video basically cherry picked the research presented in the video to show video games in as negative light as humanly possible.

The best part about the research segment is on how the video uses an analogy between cigarette smoking and it causing lung cancer and violent video game playing. It’s so subliminal it’s genius. The video goes on to allow video games a rare reprieve. It says that just like not all cigarette smokers develop lung cancer, not all video games are bad and cause kids to become mass murderers. Well, gee whiz, I didn’t know that! The problem with this analogy, of course, is that there are studies that link cigarette smoking to causing lung cancer. Violent video games have not been proven to cause long term violent behavior, never mind a life threatening illness that kills 80% of all of its victims.

The video’s educational part ends up with an egg-in-the-face moment when it lists a number of resources as further information about video game violence. It lists Mothers Against Videogame Addiction and Violence as one of the websites to read up on. Excellent idea. Except that the site is a parody of the anti-video game campaigns such as Eliot Spitzer’s. Well played, MAMAV, well played!

The video concludes with an unnarrated segment of an overweight boy playing some shooter game alone in his parents living room. The sound on the segment is dramatic slow heartbeat pounding as if something really, really awful is just about to happen. I was expecting some Internet stalker kicking in the door and brutally murdering the boy, especially since the preceding segment was just talking about how you should never ever let your children play with strangers online. But that’s not what happened. Instead some video game gremlin climbed out of the boy’s stomach. WTF.

Eliot, my pandering, ignorant, poliwhore friend, you rock!


The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agrees, the American Dream is dead

Just the other day I wrote about how the majority of people in the United States are doing worse than their parents and how the American Dream is effectively not attainable any more.

That conclusion received some more proof in the form of a Congressional Budget Office data series on income equality in the United States between 2003 – 2005. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.

The after-tax income of the bottom 20% grew by 6%, hardly to cover increased costs of living, healthcare and transportation, while the income of the top 1% grew by 228%. Even worse the after-tax income inequality is growing faster than the pre-tax income inequality meaning the rich are paying less taxes than the poor.

The trickle-up economy is treating Bushies well. Too bad about the folks hit by hurricanes. The income inequality is worse than at any other time in US history for at least a century. We’re at a point where we’re approaching the robber baron era type of economy in the United States, if we didn’t already make it there.

The Economic Public Institute (EPI) concludes:

Such concentration of income is unsustainable in a democratic society. The distribution mechanisms that have historically worked to ensure much more equitable outcomes appear to be wholly inoperative. Fixing them must be at the heart of any serious economic policy discussion.

EPI’s analysis of the situation is on their website. EPI also posted a shorter blog article about the numbers.

It’d be interesting to hear what the presidential candidates think about this. I think I know what the Republicans would say, and I also know what John Edwards thinks about it.


Heikki Kovalainen signs a contract with McLaren

Finnish Formula One pilot Heikki Kovalainen has signed a long-term contract with the McLaren Formula One team to replace Fernando Alonso.

With Kimi Räikkönen a World Champion at Ferrari and Heikki at McLaren the 2008 Formula One season is looking to be one hell of an exciting one for Finns!

Suomi voittoon!


Soviet Russia interns dissidents in mental institutions

The Soviet era tactics in dealing with opposition leaders continue unabated in Russia.

The International Secretariat of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) is reporting that Russian authorities are holding Mr. Artyom Basyrov against his will in a mental institute and are medicating him heavily with drugs. His relatives were not informed of his imprisonment and they have been unable to visit Mr. Basyrov in the hospital.

Mr. Basyrov was kidnapped in Yoshkar-Ola, the capital of Mari-El, on November 23rd 2007 late at night by two men in civilian clothes. He’s been imprisoned ever since.

If the “softening” of this man continues according to age old Soviet formula, he’ll be mysteriously beaten up in the hospital or soon after his release (if he is ever released) by assailants nobody will see or hear, he will then be charged with some bogus crime and sentenced to home arrest while all his belongings relating to his political activities will quite coincidentally be confiscated.

Let’s see how it goes.


The American Dream is dead has an article basically saying the American Dream these days is a complete myth to the majority of people living in the United States and especially to those born in poverty.

As a whole the US residents are doing better, but the accumulation of wealth is concentrating more and more to the few that are already wealthy, so the stats are getting skewed by the well-to-dos doing even better while the average Joe is doing worse.

Upward mobility (moving up in the socio-economic ladder) is just as likely as downward mobility (getting poorer), and the number of people who are earning more than their parents but still moving down is increasing. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t look ok to me.

Living costs (education, healthcare, housing) are skyrocketing while earnings are staying flat or declining depending on how you factor in things like inflation. Things are not looking good for the middle class in America, and it’s downright scary for poor people.

Meanwhile European countries, especially in Scandinavia are doing extremely well. The mobility (one’s ability to climb up on the socio-economic ladder) is up to three times as likely in countries like Denmark and Finland than in the United States. Scandinavian countries are high tax, free education/healthcare type of countries, pretty much complete opposites of the United States.

While it’s easy to dismiss the article by merely claiming it’s done by those liberal rabblerousers, you can’t argue with the facts. The research is solid and it’s showing undeniably that the “trickle-down” economy bullshit is bad for America. It’s making rich people even richer, and poor people even poorer. That’s why I personally call it the trickle-up economy.

The data is showing the Big Government approach is actually better for your citizens than the Small Government approach. Imagine that. Let’s see if they learn that in the US before it’s too late. I’m not too optimistic myself.


Russian Government kills an opposition leader

Yuri Chervochkin, a 22-year-old leader of the National-Bolshevik Party (NBP) has died from his injuries received from a vicious beating just before the Russian Parliamentary elections.

Mr. Chervochkin called a friend hours before his attack and claimed he was being chased by the police. The police had threatened him repeatedly before finally killing him.

That’s Russian democracy for you.


John Dvorak – you ignorant slut

Mr. Dvorak, a well known Microsoft and Intel fanboy, has taken time off from congratulating Bill Gates for his achievements in computing and written a completely idiotic and half-racist article about the OLPC project.

He’s calling the project a naive fiasco and justifying his opinion on the tired “why are you giving laptops to poor starving children when you could send them a bowl full of rice instead” argument which not only is wrong but also reveals his First World attitudes towards Africa.

Well done Massa, can I fetch you an ice tea now, Massa?

He doesn’t seem to understand the whole “give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him once. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll be fed for a lifetime” idea behind OLPC. The laptop is not meant to improve the conditions of starving people, but give children, who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance, access to computers so that they’d be better prepared in today’s global economy. The goal is to teach kids modern technology, give them access to technology that’ll help them in their schooling and do that in a large scale manner and cheap. There’s nothing naive about it. It may or may not end up being a fiasco, but that will not because the idea is wrong or naive, but because the execution of the idea was bungled.

What pisses me even more than his complete lack of understanding of different needs of people living in poverty is his attitude towards people who would be contributing to the project or receiving the laptops.

He says:

People don’t want to consider the possibility that their well-meaning thoughts are a joke and that a $200 truckload of rice would be of more use than Wi-Fi in the middle of nowhere. There seems to be a notion that the poor in Africa or East Asia are just like the kids in East Palo Alto. Once they get a laptop, there will be no digital divide, will there? People can say, “I did my part!”

And this is the dude telling that OLPC proponents are pretentious douchebags? Pot’s calling, bitch.

He goes on:

Of course, it might be a problem if there is no classroom and he can’t read. The literacy rate in Niger is 13 percent, for example. Hey, give them a computer! And even if someone can read, how many Web sites and wikis are written in SiSwati or isiZulu? Feh. These are just details to ignore.

The poor kids in Africa ARE exactly the same as poor kids in the United States, you racist ass. They have the same aspirations, the same drive, and most importantly they just as smart. Give them the tools to express themselves with something like the OLPC and even a racist little dick like John here would be amazed at the results. Maybe the plan is to have the kids write the websites and wikis in SiSwati or isiZulu? That’s the whole fucking point!

I’m sure the $200 of rice would REALLY improve the chances of a school kid in Africa getting into College, right? Food aid is the bandaid of relief work. It never really fixes the underlying problem, but just patches the symptoms. By all means, John, keep on applying bandaid to the problem. I’m sure in 200 years you’ll see some progress. But hey, at least you can feel good about “doing your part”. Dick.

Dvorak also fails to realize that I can give BOTH the rice and the laptop, if I so choose. I sure hope he’s giving more than $200 a year in charity, because if he isn’t, he’s seriously cheap.

The real motivation behind the article, I suspect, is his aggravation that the unholy Intel/Microsoft alliance didn’t get to ship a few million Windows machines to the poor, poor starving children.

But there’s one positive thing that came out from me reading his stupidity. I am going to send OLPC some of my money. I wasn’t really convinced they’re gonna succeed in their plan, but after reading the rant from Dvorak, I want them to succeed, so I’ll do my part to make that happen.


NYC doesn’t love you Rudy

The New York Magazine writer Chris Smith has written a rather harsh article on Rudy Giuliani, his overbearing ego and inflated claims of his accomplishments in New York City.

The article goes on to document how most of Giualini’s most important accomplishments were all either results of him being at the right place at the right time to benefit from positive results of programs started by the previous administration, other people in the NYC Government (like City Hall) or just background noise from the upturn of the economy as a whole. Never mind what the reason though, Rudy is here now to take the credit even for “accomplishments” he actually opposed. For example a tax cut proposed by New York City Council Giuliani fought against for two years before it was passed. He also claims credit for lowering taxes in NYC 23 times. The article documents eight of those tax cuts were because the New York State in Albany decided on them. Giuliani had nothing to do with getting them done.

The article also says Giuliani was accustomed to appointing relatives and other acquaintances to positions of influence in the NYC Government over other qualified candidates. Sounds kinda like what another Republican Power Family is doing in Washington, don’t you think? It’s working real well for that family, too.

But the biggest problem the writer sees with Giuliani’s campaign claims is that he’s somehow the savior of New York City who brought the city up from the gutter to be the playground for tourists from all over. The writer quotes Ed Koch, an ex-Mayor of New York City:

“It’s insulting to every New Yorker that he goes around the country talking as if he thinks he was the animal tamer and we were the animals”

Yet even that pales in comparison to Giuliani’s character. His questionable professional relationships (e.g. Commissioner Kerik), his petty ways of dealing with the women in his life and the schoolyard bully tactics he goes into when faced with resistance from other people. Fitting for a President? Not according to New Yorkers.


99% of Chechnyans vote and 99% of them vote for Putin

The Russian Parliamentary election results are in, and Chechnya ends up shining as the glorious example to the rest of the Soviet Union, um, Russia.

It seems that in this country, which was attacked by the Russians and Putin was the one who ordered the attack, 99% of eligible voters ended up voting. That, in itself, is pretty remarkable, almost Soviet-like (in Soviet Union, it would’ve been 100%, but, hey, who’s counting!). But even more remarkable is that 99% of the voters voted for the party led by Putin, the man who ordered Russia’s troops into Chechnya.

And if you believe those results, call me, I’ve got some grade A steel construction to sell you between Brooklyn and Manhattan.