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Archive for August, 2008

Land of the Free, and Home of the Brave

August 29, 2008 1 comment

There’s that whole saying about how “Life is like a sewer: what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.” And there are many ways that this is true, but one that had never occurred to me was recently brought to my attention by Zombie’s steadfast reports from the DNC.

The thought had been nagging around the periphery of my mind, but it finally clicked when Zombie captioned a picture of a perimeter of police on guard duty as follows:

In the protesters’ fantasy world, they were going to assault or invade the courthouse in some way, but several massive contingents of police guarded every entrance. In fact, overall, the police outnumbered the protesters.

Perhaps rather than the above trope about life, a more appropriate one for this situation would be, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Essentially, when you’re part of a movement that violently protests what they perceive as a police state, you’ll be responded to with police.

Put another way, when you protest the law by breaking it, you’ll feel your argument is confirmed when the law punishes you.

But you don’t even have to try to Recreate 68 to run in to this sort of self-digging hole. Less radical, but still strongly-held convictions can lead to seeing injustices that may not actually be there. Shit, I’ve even done it:

I also notice that [newly-elected Cary Town Councilman Don Frantz] slipped a jeer against “forced year round conversions” into his statement on public school. After going through 13 years of year-round school, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I also have yet to hear a compelling argument in favor of traditional calendars over year round, with their three month summers.

And through the magic of the internet, the very topic of discussion found his way to my blog and commented

I am glad to hear year round schools worked well for you. I know many others who also prefer the year round calendar over traditional. I also know many who do not. My issue is with the “forced” part of it. It should be a choice.

Although Frantz was expressing a sort of (little-“L”) libertarian position, (“It should be a choice.”) I took any attempt to impugn my dear year-round school straight to the heart and instantly saw a pro-traditional school viewpoint where none really existed.

This is largely why I so value my meetings with the Society of Independent Thought: it’s a good way to remind myself that not all those who disagree with me are irrational ideologues. It’s especially useful that it’s a face-to-face round-table meeting, as it tends to promote a certain air of civility (if it does make it harder to cite sources in the course of the discussion).

Randall Munroe was right when he published a comic that he captioned, “It’s easier to be an asshole to words than to people.”

But to get back to the anarchist versus police battles near the DNC in Denver, my first reaction was worry. Of course, that’s just a knee-jerk reaction to seeing a massive police force decked out in body armor doing a good job of looking menacing. After all, it’s a over-militarization of police forces that leads to small-town SWAT teams showing up to no-knock raids in mil-surp APCs.

But then what was really happening sunk in: a group was organizing with the express intent to disrupt the lawful functioning of our country, as (they hope, I suppose) a stepping stone to abolishing the government by force.

Well, damn. I’d want body armor and a riot shield too, in that situation. This isn’t a drug bust on a dealer who’s very likely no serious physical threat; this is a confrontation with a mob of people who think that a lawful arrest is inherently police brutality and that the only way to get their view across is with a fist or a gun.

I’m glad that America is the kind of place where militantly anti-government groups are only put down once they become violent. But I’m also glad that Denver is the kind of city that knew what sort of party was coming to town.

I don’t think I’d want to be on either side of that conflict, myself. Maybe documenting it the way Zombie is, but I’ll admit it: that mob of anarchists scares me.

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Categories: Uncategorized

I ain’t no fortunate son

August 27, 2008 1 comment
Guitar

A few days ago, Glenn Reynolds posted an inline YouTube video (Remember when those were new and shiny? Me neither.) of an Aimee Mann music video, citing its simplicity as a virtue: “it proves you don’t have to spend a lot of money to produce a memorable video.”

But what really struck me about the video was the lyrics, a sort of quietly powerful look at growing up:

I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it’s not, and I don’t know where to turn

And it’s simple, easy-to-relate to topics like that which form the basis of a decent song. Heck, “Livin’ on a Prayer” is, thematically only a stone’s throw away — although some might say that’s memorable for a different reason. It’s also the kind of thing that makes you slap your forehead and wonder why you didn’t think of something like that to write a song about.

I actually had just such an experience watching the video, wondering why anyone would write songs about anything else.

After all, lyrical topics are something I’ve struggled with in my limited tenure as a “musician”. Probably chief among my problems is the fact that I love words. That’s why I often find that the greatest flaw in these blog posts (aside from lazy copy-editing) is the over-verbosity of some of my soliloquies. The trick is, with writing prose, if you want to use more words to make sure your meaning gets across, you just do and don’t worry about meter or syllables.

That’s why most of my attempts at stringing together words into some lyrical composition usually takes on the rhythm of hip-hop, which tends to allow for a much greater word density:

(From Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”)
I got the rap patrol on the gat patrol
Foes that wanna make sure my casket’s closed
Rap critics they say he’s “Money Cash Hoes”
I’m from the hood stupid, what type of facts are those
If you grew up with holes in ya zapatos
You’d be celebrating the minute you was havin’ dough

It also has occurred to me that perhaps my tendency towards rap-style lyrics is the result of some kind of influence from owning the first two Linkin Park albums, records from the vanguard of rap-metal (also called “nu-metal”):

With these non-stop lyrics of life living
Not to be forgotten but still unforgiven
But in the meantime there are those who wanna talk this and that
So I suppose that it gets to a point where feelings gotta get hurt
And get dirty with the people spreading the dirt

The words may vary between self-loathing and meaninglessness, but the style has an enduring grip on me.

And if you think that’s bad, you should be glad that I’m not writing this from home where I have my collection of aborted “songs” to share with you what I mean. Believe me, it’s dicey.

But I’m coming to terms with that. Even if I had some lyrics to put to music, I’d need someone to sing ’em. And that sure as hell isn’t gonna be me.

Now, that might sound bad, but I actually take great comfort in it: as much as I would like to do everything well, I realize that if I ever get around to making “real music” (of the type that involves more than just a single guitar), I won’t be doing it alone. Ideally, I’ll have someone who can cover my flaws to collaborate with.

But that doesn’t resolve the problem of trying to figure out what to do with these scraps of paper with a chorus and half a verse that’ll (hopefully) never see the light of day.

Categories: Uncategorized

The beginning of the year

August 24, 2008 4 comments
Textbooks

School’s back in: dorms have become inhabited, homeworks assigned, books purchased, and writing implements purchased. This is as ready as it gets.

On the topic of textbooks: as I was rummaging through bookstore shelves for a bargain on a used copy of Modern Engineering Statistics (no dice: $159 for a new copy) and other various texts, I noticed the nearby piles of books for the more social of sciences and found them, well, surprising. Surprising for my school, that is. As I’ve discussed before, I’ve not witnessed many of the academic biases that colleges have become notorious for.

And judging from these books, the recommended or required reading for certain courses, it’s more a matter that the more inflammatory political topics are reserved for classes on the subject. I don’t recall which class it was for, but one book particularly caught my eye: After Capitalism by David Schweickart. Quoth Wikipedia:

In After Capitalism and other works Schweickart has developed the model of market socialism he refers to as Economic Democracy. It embodies several key ideas:

* Workplace self-management, including election of supervisors
* Democratic management of capital investment by a form of public banking
* A (mostly) free market for goods, raw materials, instruments of production, etc.
* Socialist protectionism to enforce trade equality between nations

The firms and factories are owned by society and managed by the workers. These enterprises, so managed, compete in markets to sell their goods. Profit is shared by the workers. Each enterprise is taxed for the capital they employ, and that tax is distributed to public banks, who fund expansion of existing and new industry.

On another tack, Metallica recently released the first single off their as-yet upcoming album. When I first heard of this, I surfed on over to their MySpace, to have a listen. (It has since been removed for some reason.) And in the last few days I’ve probably heard it a few times in various places, most notably while watching various Metallica YouTube videos.

But it wasn’t until the local radio station DJ spun the track while I was driving home that I really listened to it, analyzed it, and formed any kind of judgement. Something about driving in a car sharpened my ear, so to speak, to cause me to listen to the track in a completely different way. I wonder if it comes from years of listening to music in the car, or there is some kind of mental division of labor while driving that busies the mechanical part of the brain that grows bored during inactivity and frees the more creative sectors to process this musical noise more efficiently.

I’m also, obviously, having to readjust my habits in this new school year because of the change of dorm. This change has manifested itself most notably in eating habits: instead of having a dining hall next door as I did last year, I have a row of a dozen or more restaurants that will form my dining hall for the coming year.

But because I kept my watchful eye on the Technician by reading it over lunch or dinner at that dining hall, picking a copy up on my way in, I’ll have to be more deliberate in my acquisition of each day’s issue to insure good coverage, so to speak.

I’ve also been puzzling over why the Technician seems to make such good use of the newspaper medium where just about every other actual newspaper seems to be faltering and crumbling. I think it is largely based on the extreme geographic confinement of its audience: where the USA Today literally serves the nation, the audience of the Technician — the students of NC State — inherently concentrates itself into a few square miles on a daily basis.

And personally, I find I generally read the paper while other forms of content delivery such as wifi are out of the question, such as in the dining halls or on the buses that I find myself riding with increasing frequency. Of course, the real solution to that problem is just to blanket those areas in sweet wireless internet and obviate the need for the dead tree forms of news.

I was also just flipping through my flickr account and thought this was worth linking to all over again. Sighted in the basement of the local math building.

Categories: Uncategorized

I do not think that word means what you think it means

August 11, 2008 2 comments

To this day, there are songs sung of the escapades of the Shorties in Planetside, an MMO shooter whose merits we came to see only after joining the beta. Had we not had such an opportunity, it is likely we would never have played. This was, in fairness, mostly due to poor marketing that made the game seem to be a clone of Battlefield 1942, a market niche that was, at the time, already rather overpopulated.

But getting us in on the beta for Dungeons & Dragons Online was diametrically opposed in outcome, showing us that a game we had looked forward to was unworthy of our attention. (Coming from a group that then and since reliably gathers semi-weekly to partake in the P&P D&D.)

Shit, it was even a beta invite for World of Warcraft that brought the title from “that game I ignored in the preview section of PC Gamer” to “all I want for Christmas is a ticket to Azeroth.”

And you don’t have to be a VP of marketing to get that the common thread here is that a good game sells itself, if you let people have the first hit free. That’s why ever MMO now has some sort of free trial. Well, except for the ones from Nexon; they just give all their games away and rely on demonic pacts for financial subsistence. That’s the only theory I’ve found plausible.

But now, “beta” has become some kind of code word for “early preview for fanboys and other dedicates.” Not only does this enable the fanboys to go forth and beat the war drums in support of the title, and engage in their beloved flame wars, but it also allows the developers and/or publishers to gently slumber on Olympian stacks of cash.

What’s that? How do they get rich from this? By charging for it. Take, for example, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. To gain admission to the “beta” for this game, you must purchase the similarly-titled but wholly-distinct other game Command & Conquer 3: Kane’s Wrath. Such devil-bargains will erode your sanity if you ponder them too long.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning’s impending beta is nearly as infuriating. Originally, they were going to restrict the “beta” to people who pre-ordered the $90 Collector’s Edition. Hope you wanted to pay for those hardbound art books and the Orc Warboss figure!

Of course, both RA3 and WAR are being published by EA, a company maligned by some as a den of jackals. We Shorties used to lampoon their erstwhile slogan of “challenge everything” as “ruin everything.” Unimaginative, but concise.

I also have this festering theory that I feel should be included to give this post sufficient anti-EA cred to be believable, and the quickest way is with propositions of conspiracy. Perhaps by allowing their more zealous audience access to the beta, where bugs are expected and tolerated, the publisher/developer cabal might be trying to immunize their die-hard base against a possibly damaging retail release with unfixed problems. That way, the attitude isn’t “The bugs aren’t that bad.” but instead, “Bugs? What bugs? They fixed all those already.” Of course “all those” bugs that have actually been fixed are, of course, the only ones that have been fixed, if you follow me. The rest remain unrepaired.

Okay, I’m done.

Of course, being a sentimentalist and a fuddy-duddy on this topic leaves me on the non-victorious side, which I accept. To borrow the words of a friend after I voiced these concerns, “You might as well get your hose and start spraying the kids, but they not getting off your lawn any time soon.”

Note: as I wrote this over the weekend, we were all given access to the Red Alert 3 beta, and the rest of the Shorties got in the WAR beta. We’ll see how that’s going on Wednesday. Cathartic!

Categories: Uncategorized

What kind of idiot … ?

August 4, 2008 1 comment

Reading through my own archives recently (to figure out what the heck I ever managed to write about), I came across this post of clips of guitar that I am reluctant to even link to, because of the transparent crudeness I see in it. Yeah, it’s that bad.

The funny thing is that this is actually the third time that I’ve made that mistake. The first two times, with “Otherside” and “Pointless” are well-documented in my anniversary guitar post, where I even chided myself for such activities. And then a few days later, I do it again. Hopefully, I”ll learn my lesson this time.

I will, however, let the previous post stand, because it’s and interesting record of the raw enthusiasm that my guitar can engender in me. In short, that post is a symbol of why I play.

But also because I realize that the main audience of my blog, GNO, is wholly composed of my elders, who I’m sure are unsurprised at a little immature zeal on my part.

It was actually just such an argument that gave rise to my second-most rousing D&D character yet. Gryffin, the Elven Monk in this 3rd Edition game that is scheduled to conclude this Thursday. He has become a sort of caricature of youth and impulsiveness, to the point of jokingly being said to need constant supervision.

But when I created the character, years ago, I knew that I was a relative neophyte compared to the other veteran players in the group. Since I assumed that my playing would seem childish and unprofessional at times, I decided to make that the character.

Doing debatably unwise things wouldn’t be detrimental, it would be roleplaying! Of course, Gryffin would always tell you that his decisions usually seem to be the strategically optimal maneuver at any given time.

Unfortunately, in time, this backfired when a fellow gamer came under the impression that this was my personality. It wasn’t until I began to DM for them that they realized that it was, in fact, Gryffin who is the really goofy guy. I just pretend to be one every once in a while.

Categories: Gaming, Real Life