Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Final Verdict on Dungeons and Dragons 4E: I Won't Be Playing It

I was initially tempted to say in the subject line above "it sucks," but I stopped short.

We really gave it a try. I gave it a try. Admittedly, I DM'd it and so did not get the player's perspective, but I could see it with all of my friends who did play as I ran it.

Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons is extremely well balanced. In fact, I'd almost say it is perfectly balanced. And that is its greatest flaw. In what seems like a near-obsessive quest for "balance" the system put a straight jacket on the most important part of the system: player characters. Every single class is basically identical in powers. They have just one table for class abilities. It doesn't matter if you're a fighter, a theif, a mage, or a cleric. At first level you will have 2 at-will powers, 1 daily, and 1 encounter power. And so it goes right on up to level 30.

There are no insta-kill powers. There is no level drain. There are no prestige classes. There is no multi-classing. There is no way to get a character's abilities out of a tiny little mathematical box that is primarily based on a character's level. Even the most fearsome of monsters don't do that much damage. There is no rolling for hit points. There is no con bonus for hit points (other than what you start with). Magic items follow the same mathematical balance limits and so don't do very much. Wizards can't fly. Teleporting is limited and expensive. Buffing is limited to non-existent. I liken it to being "on the rails" like a train track. Every character moves forward in levels on those rails and you can't get off. And the tracks all go in the same direction.

This was all done in the name of balance. And toward that end, it works very well. Every combat set by correct challenge level will be tough, yet doable. There will be no big surprises. And yet they are also slug fests as monsters can have ridiculous numbers of hit points, far more than players of the same level would ever have. This just drags things out.

Ultimately, all of this balance and limits on power made the players in my regular group have zero interest in between games in planing and tweaking their characters. There simply was nothing to plan, nothing to aim for. We played the first adventure all the way through to the end, but in the end, it was almost mechanical. I mean, they tried hard to win combats, but it just did not excite them to think about it between games. It was all kind of the same sort of thing over and over. Lots of combats to slog through, little in the way of tangible reward. Nothing to plan for. That is what it seemed like to all of us.

In the end, no one needed to say anything. We all just knew that the next game we would be playing would be 3.5E. And we would not be returning to 4E. I will not be ordering any more 4E books. I will probably never look at 4E again. Wizards of the Coast just lost me as a customer, not an easy thing, given I pretty much bought everything they put out for 3.5E. (A cheaper hobby than many). Will WotC even care that they've lost a customer who has played some version of D&D since probably 1980? I guess time will tell.

As should be obvious, balance isn't everything. In fact, I think a lot of the charm of 3.5E is that it wasn't entirely balanced. Moreover, there were so many options available and it was all modular, so there were just enormous variations on what you could do. I once made a character that focused on jump and climb and almost nothing else. Ultimately, he could not do much, but I had a lot of fun with him. I think my friends are the same way. Most of us have played D&D for 20+ years. We look for something new with each campaign to try with a character. With 4E it felt like just playing one character, stuck on the rails, you were done. We are tweakers with nothing to really tweak. Because the 4E "balance" prevents tweaking outside of the box. You can't get off of the rails.

Looking at the first supplement they put out for options for classes, it appears this will be permanent for 4E. Nothing in it allowed any deviation from the rails. It was just more window dressing for characters as they head down the tracks in one direction.

So I'm done with 4E and probably done with Wizards of the Coast. It is kind of sad. 4E just doesn't feel like D&D, probably in large part because it is so tightly balanced. It is like they forgot that the goal of a game is not to be balanced, but to have fun. It is not a board game or a strategy game, though strategic elements can be involved. It is a role-playing game. The goal is to have fun, not to "win." All of the obsession with balance, with nerfing powers and abilities - that misses the point.

I think my groups never had much problem with "game breaking" powers because even if such a power were used in one campaign, it probably would not be used again simply because everyone wants to try something different each time.

So this is the end of an era. I guess it is only fitting that Dungeon and Dragon magazines are both now defunct, since if all they had were 4E material, I'd feel bad about still being subscribed to them. Fortunately, there is a ton of material for 3.5E, and Paizo games is still putting out great stuff for it, particularly the Pathfinder series of campaigns. I'm running the first Pathfinder series now, and my players love it. And with my other group (that tried 4E) we started a new 3.5E game, run by someone other than me, Savage Tide. Much fun is had by all. And much money will now be saved with no more books to buy. Well, at least a little money to be saved. I suppose there are always minis, though I may get fewer of those as I now have a ridiculous number of them already.

Happy Holidays everyone. Game on!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Winter Solstice, Everyone!

It is that time of year - when we all celebrate the biggest holiday of the year: Winter Solstice! Now, I know, many have bought into the relatively recent hijacking of this holiday by the Christian-folk, talking about the "true meaning" of the holiday as involving their mythical mithraist-clone savior.[1] But I want to bring us back to the root of what the celebration is really about! Today, we celebrate just how much winter sucks! No fresh food until spring! No fields to tend until then either, so we are all stuck inside, trying to keep warm, living on stored food, miserable in the dark. Let's party and get our minds off of it! Something to look forward to in the scuzzy time of year!

What I find most amusing about the hijack of this holiday by Christians is that 1) almost none of them know that it was hijacked and 2) the reason it was hijacked was that Christians tried to ban celebration of this holiday (since it was the most popular and vastly overshadowed real Christian holidays) and simply could not, so they co-opted it instead. So let's all celebrate the true meaning of the season! And no, it has nothing to do with a mythical baby, either!

Happy Winter Solstice Everyone! Spend time with your families, exchange gifts, and party! And let's all try and forget for a little while just how much winter sucks!

[1] - Yes, yes, Mithra was also said to have been born out of a rock - but it is also the case that being "born of a virgin" was a rather common claim for god figures at the time. Even more funny is the fact that there is really nothing about the Jewish savior being a virgin-birth - that is a mistranslation of the word for "young woman" as virgin - a translation that apparently is used no where else except in the bible. In any case, arguing about which version of mythology is "true" is about as useful as arguing who would in in a fight: Superman or Mighty Mouse.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rick Warren is Irrelevant

There has been much uproar in the progressive blogsphere and with progressives in general about Rick Warren being asked to speak in a prominent slot by Obama.

Sure, I am disappointed that progressives are basically nonexistent under any administration. We either get center-right or extreme-right, with nothing outside of that range. Of course, if I am forced to pick, I'll pick center-right over extreme-right any day of the week and twice on Sunday. But I'd rather have a true progressive option.

As far as Rick Warren, I really don't give a shit. It is purely symbolic, which is another way of saying it is totally irrelevant. He'll stand up and say a stupid religious speech, the sort of thing I ignore no matter what the political persuasion of the religious person.
He is not being appointed to Obama's cabinet. Obama can throw all of the right-wing symbolic gestures he wants, so long as the actual people appointed to the levers of power are not right-wing assholes. Something like this is just irrelevant and a waste of time to even talk about.

Republicans understand this well. They know how to stage PR moves far better than Democrats do. More importantly, they know how to ruthlessly exploit power, putting actual right-wing operatives in place at the levers of power, so all the window dressing is irrelevant. That's what I'm concerned with. I hope Obama proves to be as ruthless. Time will tell.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

This Blog Post is More Famous than Jesus

Before the death threats come in, I should explain the title of this post. It was inspired by this article I saw today that says that the Vatican has finally "forgiven" John Lennon for his 1966 statement that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ.

The article notes that Lennon's statement "infuriated Christians, particularly in the United States, some of whom burned Beatles albums in huge pyres." What struck me about this was, what a bunch of hypocrites. First, what is wrong with the idea that someone could be more famous than a mythological dead white guy? (Be that Jesus or Elvis).

But more importantly, what about that whole humility and "blessed are the meek" schtick? It sounds to me rather arrogant and insecure to get this upset about an off-the-cuff remark by a musician. It just reminds me yet again of how arrogant and whiny Christians can be, particularly in the United States. Really, if you thought you had "god" on your side, why the hell would you even care what a musician said?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sex Offender Registries are Stupid

Sex Offender Registries are Stupid. Of course, since they are about "protecting the children" they include some of the most ridiculous over-reaching, over-reacting nonsense we see in the criminal law. They can make it almost impossible for someone on them to find a place to live or work. "Good riddance" says the community. Except that they do need to live somewhere. Recently, an overly broad registry law was curtailed for Halloween, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Setting aside all of the ridiculous restrictions that make it nearly impossible to live if you are on the registry, there is a more basic problem with them. There are juts too damn many people on those registries who have no business being on them.

One of the main justifications for the registry is that we have to "protect children from pedophiles" and that pedophiles will always be pedophiles and children will always be vulnerable. There are also claims that they have high repeat rates. This makes a certain sense. If you can only get off with children, given the strong sex drive most people have, odds are, a pedophile will at least be sorely tempted again and again. There's just one problem with this argument in support of sex offender registries - the registries are not limited to pedophiles. If they were, I'd find them much less objectionable. Instead, anyone who commits any even vaguely sex-related crime gets put on them. It could be a seventeen year old having sex with a fifteen year old. It could be indecent exposure for peeing in a public park (when the bathroom is out of order). And yes, even rape of an adult - a horrible crime, but not one that involves children and not one that indicates pedophilia. And lest anyone think I'm trying to give rapists a break, note that if you avoid sex and just murder someone, you do NOT end up on the registry. Because murder isn't a sex offense.

While I'm dubious about the whole "scarlet letter" deal with people who have served their time still being branded and prevented from living in society, at the very least, we ought to limit this to the pedophiles. And not based on convictions, either. I'd set up a system for, after conviciton, giving an evaluation to see if someone really is a pedophile, and only then would I put them on the list. As it is now, it is a mindless, stupid bureacracy that puts people on these lists and then it is almost impossible to get off of them.

I tend to think that this is part of a general phenomenon of wanting to label people, particularly people you otherwise don't know. You see this on-line in discussions where someone (particularly someone who is disagreed with) is very quickly slapped with some sort of negative lable that then gives permission for everyone who disagrees to immediately dismiss the person forever. I'm of the opinion that no one word can describe anyone. And no one is defined by a single action.

As a final note, I have no sympathy for those who commit crimes against others. They need to be prosecuted and punished. But then, we need to let them out and at least try and integrate them back into society. And if they truly are too dangerous to let out, then lock them up for life. Stop playing games. And this is really important: stop buying into the religious right notion that sex is somehow a far worse thing than say, murder. There is no registry for violent offenders (though there is a registry for child abuse in Michigan - but that is just about children, just like my registry would be). Again, if it is too dangerous to let someone out, then don't.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Michigan's Supreme Court now a little less crazy

At least, that is my hope. Because something really unexpected happened this past Tuesday. A longstanding member of the Michigan Supreme Court, the current Chief Justice and one of the gang of four ultra-conservative judges (out of seven) (or what I referred to as the "four horseman" for literary value, though one is a woman) has been voted out. This is a bigger deal than it might seem for many reasons. First, no sitting justice has lost re-election since 1984, and then it was a really unusual situation (which I won't go into here). Suffice it to say that I was so sure that Cliff Taylor would win re-election that I didn't even bother to check the results in the morning after the election. Needless to say I was very pleasantly surprised (more like shocked out of my skull) when I heard on NPR on the way to work that Hathaway had beaten him.

For years now, as I've mentioned before, Michigan's Supreme Court has been the most radical right-wing supreme court in all 50 states. That's not hyperbole. That is simple fact. Michigan certainly is not a radical-right state, so they were very out of touch with the populace. Of course, since most of the populace has no clue about the state judiciary, and since they are "non-partisan" elections, this mis-match never seemed to make any difference come election time. Maybe this time it was just on Obama's coattails. I did get at least one mailing from Obama that showed a picture of Hathaway, the Democratic challenger. There was also a libertarian on the ticket, though it looks like Hathaway got enough votes that she would have won even if pretty much all of his votes went to Taylor. I'd be very interested to know just what made the difference. Usually there are two judges up for re-election at a time, but since there are seven justices, one race in eight has just one. Maybe that made a difference. It could be it left fewer names to split the vote around, which went against Taylor. It could be that the GOP is lucky that two of theirs weren't up for re-election or else they'd have lost two seats. Though ultimately it doesn't matter now. I'll take it!

It will be very interesting to see what happens on the court now. We'll have a nominal 3-3-1 split. Corrigan, Taylor, and Young of the "gang of four" are still in place. Kelly and Cavanaugh are the two liberals on the court, soon to be joined by Hathaway. That leaves Weaver in the middle as the wild card. She is extremely conservative, but occasionally would break with the "gang of four." Things get even more complicated by the fact that some say she can be erratic and she also is purported to hate the "gang of four," in large part because they did not renew her as Chief Justice.

Chief Justice is selected by the Justices for two-year terms. With the "gang of four" in place, only conservatives got to be Chief, and that included Weaver. But then she is purported to not have had a good term and so she was not renewed. Further bad blood has gone on since, as one can see reading the Fieger decision and the various concurrences and dissents. It reads at times more like high-school bickering than a judicial opinion which, while highly entertaining, does not reflect well on Michigan. So we will have a nominal 3-3-1 split. It is anyone's guess who will be Chief Justice. Since Weaver hates the gang of four, and since no one probably wants Weaver again, it seems likely one of the liberals would get the spot. It should be interesting to see what happens.

What will be more interesting yet is figuring out how the court will rule on any given case. With the split as it is, Weaver could very well be the deciding vote on every important (and even not-so-important) case the court decides. To say she can be unpredictable is an understatement. All bets are off. It will be an "interesting" term, in the chinese curse sense of the word. And yet it will be a time of hope, as now one cannot automatically write off every case as a lost cause because of the ultra-conservative court. The Michigan Bar is probably going to be holding its breath a lot starting in January.

On a personal note, this sort of kills my series on the decisions of the ultra-conservative court. With any luck those decisions will be overturned soon. Okay, that's overly optimistic. What may happen are deadlocked, non-majority decisions, leaving the binding caselaw with the lower Court of Appeals, which is dominated by plenty of ultra-right judges of its own. I guess I shouldn't close the books on that series just yet. (If I ever have the time for it).

President-Elect Obama

It feels good to write those words: "President-Elect Obama." I'll enjoy "President Obama" even more. While I never really doubted he would win, it was still difficult to watch the early election returns on Tuesday night when no non-Kerry states had been called for Obama. It got a little better when Pennsylvannia went blue. When Ohio went blue, it was obviously over. Watching Indiana and North Carolina go blue was just twisting the knife in the GOP, which was quite enjoyable for me given how they've acted in the past two decades and for really what the GOP has become: A petty regional party of bigots, the ignorant, and those who would use both to get power for personal gain, and really not much more than that.

Something that gives me hope: Obama is positioned to reverse at least 200 Bush executive orders the day he enters office. It will be fun watching the GOP squirm as Obama exercises his executive power. I'm sure they will suddenly rediscover checks and balances now that they are out of power. Too bad for the GOP that they barely have enough for a filibuster in the Senate and they are completely irrelevant in the house. The GOP as a party deserves to be destroyed - and really, if it isn't, it will just wither and die a slow death. They have no ideas. They won the previous two elections mostly on culture wars and fear, and apparently that can only take you so far. There certainly was no chance of a permanent GOP majority - since the GOP doesn't know how to actually govern (they appoint cronies and just loot the treasury), they can never be in power for very long before imploding. There used to be an intelligent opposition in the GOP. Now there is nothing but bullshit bluster. They've gone from the party of Buckley to the party of Hannity, Rush, and Coulter. Demographics are against them. As the youth vote of today becomes the middle-aged vote of tomorrow and as the bigots of the mid 20th century die off (and stop voting) I think we'll see the GOP lose even more elections as the social policies they rail against become mainstream.

Of course, I am not naive enough to think that the forces that the base of the GOP represent are finished. They are experts at one thing: PR to gain power. And they know how to ruthlessly exploit power when they have it.

I have a small hope that the party can remake itself into an intelligent conservative party. But I think it is unlikely. That's too bad. It is good to have intelligent debate and discussion. Ideas that are not vigorously challenged wither into puddles of bullshit and then harden into senseless dogma. The Dems tend to allow much more debate within the party (and often disagree) - so there is less worries there than there was with the lemming-like GOP, but it is still a worry of mine.

But for now, I celebrate this victory and feel good about it. I also feel REALLY good about another, unexpected victory I alluded to in my previous post. More on that next.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Voted

I voted. It felt pretty good. There wasn't even a line. Though the other precinct's line was out the door. Still, turnout is way higher than usual. My wife also just voted. Count two more votes for Obama.

More later today.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Electoral Perspective

Looking back at the past eight years, at the GOP that Rove built, it can get pretty easy to get rather cynical and pessimistic about the American electorate. There is certainly good reason for it, as TBB illustrates rather well in a recent post.

But as I pointed out in my response to that post, perhaps things aren't quite as bad as they seem. There is a cool site that shows the electoral college map for elections back to 1860 (Lincoln). What struck me first and foremost about that was just how lopsided most of those past elections were, particularly the modern ones. It wasn't at all uncommon to see electoral vote totals well over 350 for the winner, and it got over 400 and even over 500. Comparing that to George W Bush, who won with 271 and then with 286 - well, those were razor thin margins - where either 400 votes or about 150,000 votes could have changed the whole thing. That to me looks like maybe the voters, in general, aren't as stupid as some might think. Especially when you look at what happened in the past eight years (9/11) that might push a larger portion of the population to unreasoning fear than usual.

I think Rove has pushed the pure PR bullshit election strategy so hard and so far over the past eight years that it probalby just doesn't work any more. The GOP base has shrunk. The Dem base has grown. Independents are totally turned off by the GOP and by Rovian tactics. And yet despite this, all the GOP can do is keep on trying to do the same failed thing over and over. They don't know how to do anything else. They sure as hell can't run on the issues - voters vastly prefer Dem takes on most of the issues out there.

It is enough to give me hope for the future.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Right Wing Authoritarians (I.e. the GOP) as Self-Parody

I know this is rather late and rather obvious, but the GOP has gotten so bad now that it has passed beyond parody into the land where GOP press releases and straight stories about the GOP are literally indistinguishable from Onion headlines and stories.

My favorite one was Palin Preempts report, clears self, in probe. I laughed my ass off when I saw it. What is truly astounding, though, is to see the predictable gaggle of Palin supporters who eat that stuff up. Then again, given the relative level of discourse from these people, I am really not surprised.

But that only explains the 25% dead-ender RWAs. What explains the rest of the voters who take McCain up into the 40s in support? I'm sure some of it is inertia. For instance, with how disgusted I am with the utter disgrace that is the Republican Party right now, I would now have a very very difficult time ever pulling the lever (metaphorically speaking since we now use optical scan sheets in my district) for an "R" politico, even if things drastically change in the next 30 years. Though I would hope that this would be overcome by the facts on the ground at the time. It is very hard to vote for the party of Rove and Bush and DeLay after seeing just what they stand for and how they go about "governing." On the other hand, there have been many many anecdotal stories of people who have voted GOP their entire lives who are now going to vote Obama after what has happened the past eight years. So this may not be as big a factor this year as in other years. Then there are those who vote pure economics - though I must think that those who have half a brain realize that trashing the economy loses them far more money than they'd lose if they didn't get a top-bracket tax break. Or did they clean up anyway with this 700 Billion dollar bailout? In either case, this is tiny percentage of the population, and not everyone in that population votes GOP.

I know there are voters who only vote against, not for, a candidate. But I'd have thought that the vast majority of those were already in the 25% who think Obama is a muslim terrorist anyway.

Truly, it is an interesting question. The last factor is the fact that Democrats seem to be very poor at campaigning and ruthlessly exploiting power.

Oh, and I suppose there are those small slivers of Hillary supporters who seem to have gone off the deep end (like Violet Socks and perhaps Octogalore) in hatred of Obama. VS seems to like to pretend that she'd never vote GOP, but her site has become of late a big advertisement for Palin and I would not be terribly surprised to find that she pulled the lever for Palin despite claims to the contrary. Certainly she is totally blind to just how horrible a candidate Palin really is. But I wonder if there is really a significant population of people in that camp. I somehow suspect not.

Right now, I just want it to be over. I want it to be November 4th so I can watch the returns and finally see the GOP knocked out on their asses. I want Obama to win with 401 electoral votes, something within the range of possibilities. I don't want the GOP defeated. I want them destroyed. Though Conan said it best:

Yes, I know, this has been shown before. That doesn't make it any less true. This is what will be on my mind on election night. I want to see 63 Democratic Senators, 275 Democratic House Members, and 400+ electoral votes for Obama. The GOP needs to be utterly destroyed, with the Rovians completely wiped out. Anything less and they'll just come back doing the same old shit next election cycle.

The Day I Became An Atheist Meme

I have been tagged by Barefoot Bum with a meme. So here goes...

Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?

Not really. I was never really religious, probably because my parents were never really religious. We never went to church or ever even talked about religion much. When I was a kid, we'd celebrate both Hannukah and Christmas, but that was the extent of our religious celebration. We did Easter to the extent that we painted eggs and got candy, but that was about as religious as Halloween.

I've never talked to my parents about atheism in particular, though I suspect that both may be there themselves, or close to it.

As such, I never really had any religion or religious upbringing to really break away from. I just at some point figured that it was pretty obvious that, given the rather human-centeredness of religion, it couldn't be true - or as I figured, if you asked rabbits who created the universe, you'd find out that god was a giant bunny rabbit. Which tells you more about the rabbits than it does about the universe. In the end, there simply isn't any evidence to support there being a god, so the only rational thing to do at that point is to conclude there isn't one.

While I can't remember when I first put this all together, I was probably a teenager when I put any degree of thought into it.

Do you remember the day you officially became an agnostic?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I think that the evidence clearly shows that all human-created religious notions of god are nonsense. While this could theoretically leave open the possibility of some abstract "god" entity that bears no resemblance to the Christian god or any other religion's god, from a practical perspective, that would make you an atheist - just ask any Christian what they would call you if you told them that their god was a myth and did not exist.

However, as I indicated before, absent any evidence in support of a god (on top of the fact that the evidence clearly shows relgious notions of god to be false), the only rational conclusion is that there isn't one. So I've never been an agnostic.

How about the last time you spoke or prayed to God with actual thought that someone was listening?

I am not sure that I ever really did this, though I do have a memory of, when I was little, wishing fervently that I could find the bowcaster (weapon) that went with my Chewbacca action figure and then within a few days, my mother found it under the stairs. That's about as close to a religious experience as I've ever had. Heh.

Did anger towards God or religion help cause you to be an atheist or agnostic?

I have no anger towards god because there is no god. I never have been angry with imaginary beings - just like I never got angry with Santa Claus for not giving me the presents I asked for. I figured out pretty early on that my parents were the source of the gifts (probably with my older sister's help). Now, there's a lot about religion to be angry about, though in the end, I'm not even really all that angry about that any more either - it just sort of is. I do wish people would think more, but that is a discussion for another day.

Here is a good one: Were you agnostic towards ghosts, even after you became an atheist?

No. Though I had a brief fascination with ghosts as a child (I loved in particular certain ghost stories and books with "real" pictures of ghosts, I never took them all that seriously and, as I grew up, I realized the evidence there was as thin as it was for god (i.e. non-existent). Still, ghost stories are fun. They just can't scare me anymore.

Do you want to be wrong?

This is such a silly question. What I want is to know what really is. I'd rather know an uncomfortable truth than a comfortable lie. Given the basically evil nature of the god described in the bible, I find it unfathomable that anyone would actually wish that god to be real.

Oh, and now I tag any atheist who reads this and hasn't done this already.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I hope I'm wrong

I hope I'm wrong, and maybe I am, given where the latest polls are. What I hope to be wrong about is the relative effectiveness of pure negative campaigning, full of lies and bereft of issues. Maybe it is just because the economy is tanking, but McCain's numbers are so bad now it looks like a landslide for Obama. Maybe if that happens, this will stand as a repudiation of such Rovian tactics. Probably not, since the GOP has nothing else but that, but maybe after a few cycles of Rovian flame-outs, that would change.

More later.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I'm an Electoral Vote Map Junkie

I admit it. I have a problem. I'm an electoral vote map junkie. I check the map every single morning, first thing. My site of choice is Though I am starting to like looking at as well. But the former is my favorite, mostly because it gives a state-by-state snapshot, using the non-biased polls. I feel like that site gives me the best picture of where things stand.

I'm pretty confident now that Obama is going to win rather comfortably, though it is still tough to have to wait four more weeks to see it happen. So day by day, I'll be checking out the map. I'm hoping for a landslide. I want to see the Republicans crushed, Conan-quote style.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Referendum

I have come to believe that this election will be a referendum on the intelligence and maturity of the citizens of the United States.

If after seeing McCain's aberrant behavior, the constant, blatent, in-your-face lies, Sarah Palin's empty brain, and the horrible damage done to this nation by the Republicans as they've been in charge for so many years now, unfettered in their agenda by even the opposition party, people still put McCain (and potentially Palin) in the President's chair, then "we the people" flunk this test.

Of course, this is all more complicated than that. But I don't care. My last post about potential political ads represented my frustration with all of the above, particularly with the lies told by McCain and Palin over and over. They really think they can do that and get away with it and I fear they are right. Our press is a joke. Worse than that, they are in the GOP's pocket while simultaneously the GOP has everyone thinking that the press is pro-Democrat. Such masterful PR and political prowess deserves applause. Right before a bullet to the brain. Then again, it only works because there are enough dumb people out there, or not dumb, but RWA's (Right Wing Authoritarians). People who will vote the exact opposite of their own economic interests just for the sake of voting for someone they want to "have a beer with" or who pretends to follow the same imaginary sky being. I've often wondered these days what our political scene would look like if we only had non-RWA voters. And non-psycho lefties as well. (Because the wacko-left, while never all that much of a worry because they are less well-funded and far less organized than the lemmings on the right are just as bad as the RWAs in putting ideology over reality. One need only read such blogs as Twisty's or certain samplings on Shakesville or Alas or Violet Socks to see some examples of that - the latter has devolved into rabid Obama bashing and Palin-worshipping, all while pretending that she doesn't want the GOP to win just to spite Obama).

I go into the left as well as the right simply because I'm tired of all of the ideologues and empty bullshit rhetoric. I crave reasonable conversation with reasonable people. Fortunately I do get some of that in person. It is too bad it is next to impossible to find anything like that on any media outside of a handful of blogs (well, that I know of - I know there are millions of blogs).

So I crave reasonable conversation with reasonable people. People who aren't ready to take offense at every word, who aren't dripping with contempt with anyone who disagrees with them, people who don't use stupid buzzwords to shut off debate (be they from the left or the right - "liberal (when used by right-wingers), "-isms", "privilege", "blame-america firsters", "tax and spend", "death tax", and tons of others I'm too sleepy to think of now - Maybe I should put up a whole post about the words I'd like to see avoided like the plague.) There's a plan.

Anyone for some reasonable, if sometimes heated, conversation? Breakfast is on me.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

If McCain were a Democrat, What ads and rhetoric would we see from the GOP?

Watching the Democrats yet again get spanked in the PR department of what is the 2008 Presidential Campgain, I got to thinking, just what would the landscape look like if it was McCain who was the Democratic Candidate for president. What would the GOP attack dogs be doing?

Well, before we get to that, we have to first acknowledge that the GOP is much better at "working the refs" (the refs being the media) - and so whatever they would do, they would get away with far more than the Democrats would. Witness Matthews and Olbermann being demoted from campaign coverage after a concerted whining campaign by the GOP. Also witness that FOX News continues with no changes.

Now, to the quesiton at hand. First, if McCain were a Democrat, we could expect a whispering campaign, aided by the media giving anonymous sources free publicity, with just two words: "Manchurian Candidate." You'd hear it repeated over and over and over. When any high GOP official was asked about it, they'd deny responsibility for it, and when directly asked about it, if McCain was brainwashed in captivity and can't be trusted, they'd reply with a weasely, "Well, I wasn't there, so I can't say for sure what transformation McCain may have had." This story would stay alive for the entire campaign. The underlying theme - you can't trust McCain - he's the Manchurian Candidate.

Related to that, you'd hear repeated over and over that "getting shot down doesn't qualify you to be president," with perhaps an added, "it might qualify you for being in the Libyan air force" (or pick some other perjorative). There would also be veterans all questioning his story - maybe he cowardly bailed out rather than face fire from the ground. Maybe he broke immediately in captivity and then tried to cover for it with lies later.

Then his honor would be more directly attacked. First, a "non-partisan" (really partisan) study would come out about every single lie the McCain campaign has told. Each time any falsehood is repeated (by anyone) it counts as two. Each time a commercial is aired (be it for money or free media talking about the commercial) is also counted. Then this is put into a commercial asking - "McCain - Man of Honor??" "McCain tells 12,000 lies just since the beginning of 2008 alone in this campaign. Is this really the sort of character we can have for the white house? Restore honor to the White House. And so on. The number can keep increasing, perhaps even during the commercial itself.

Then the icing on the cake - just this week, McCain put out an ad about how Obama is bad for supporting a program that "teaches sex education to 5 year olds." Only it does no such thing. It actually was about teaching 5 year olds how to spot and protect themselves against pedophiles. Of course, Obama will put up the usual ineffectual denials or try to explain. This is the wrong approach. The GOP approach works much better. That approach is to put out an ad that does not try to explain anything. Instead, the ad should point out that "McCain is against a program to protect our children from Pedophiles. McCain protects pedophiles. What is McCain hiding?" Those last words should be illustrated with pictures of McCain with children, preferably with McCain smiling and the children looking less than thrilled. The money shot would be if the children had tears in their eyes. But then, that's nothing that photoshop couldn't fix. Anytime this ad is complained about, the GOP approach would then be to just turn it around and hammer home again and again "McCain is trying to protect pedophiles. Why is McCain protecting pedophiles?" Any attempt to discuss it rationally should just have that mantra repeated, calmly talking over any attempts to explain. That's the kind of politics the GOP plays. Until the Democratic party plays that way, too, the GOP will have a huge advantage. It is time to play cut-throat. Talking about issues doesn't work, not even when everyone agrees with you on the issues.

Note also that in all of that, there is no mention of Palin. All of the above gets McCain talked about in the news cycle. Palin then just disappears off of the radar - that is, unless she does something stupid. That would be the smart thing to do. Attack attack attack McCain. Ignore Palin as if she is a non-entity. That would neuatralize the GOP strategy now of Palin 24/7 (as a way to avoid talking or even thinking about McCain).

Of course, the Democrats would get reamed by the GOP and the media if they did this - the GOP is the only party that gets a free pass. But then to do it, you have to ignore that and just push hard. Message discpline, repeated messages, and media saturation with all of that cash does the rest.

The smart voters will see that Obama is doing this because the GOP plays dirty and so he has to too.

So repeat after me. "Manchurian candidate," "John McCain - liar with no honor, who will say anything to get elected," and "John McCain - Protector of Pedophiles." Because the election is never about the issues. What, you thought that issues and rational voting was what democracy was about? As long as Democrats continue to think that, they'll continue to lose elections they should otherwise win handily. (That is also part of GOP strategy - dire warnings of "backlash" if the Democrats ever start to use any of the extremely effective smear tactics of the GOP - that works so well, too - the Dems back off, the GOP goes for the throat).

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sarah Palin: Proving the GOP's cynicism knows no bounds

McCain selected Sarah Palin this past week as his running mate. At first, I was shocked. I never heard of her. It seemed at first blush like the kind of bold thing I was hoping Obama would do when he selected his own running mate. I wanted that because that is how I think I would be if I were ever up for national office. I can be impulsive. I also like throwing a wrench into things just to shake up the establishment. Which is probably why it is good that I'm not in such a position because who knows how much damage I'd do...

But then the more I found out about Palin and the more I thought about it, the more reckless the move seemed. Of course, some still have their blinders on, such as the PUMAs, who are now falling all over themselves about how picking Palin seals Obama's doom. Their hatred of Obama has blinded them to reality (much like my own idiosyncracies initially blinded me when I heard about Palin's selection). The reality is that this is going to put the final nail in the coffin of McCain's campaign. It was a reckless, irresponsible choice made solely on cynical calculations of identity politics. McCain doesn't know her. And unlike Hillary Clinton, she did not build herself up to being a national figure on her own merits (say what you will about Bill's help, if not for her own skills, Hillary would not have almost gotten the nomination). Instead, Palin was plucked out of relative obscurity at the last minute by a politico desperate to shake things up.

What is particularly ironic is that the PUMAs are totally blind to the huge sexism in the GOP. If you hear someone say they could never vote for a woman for president, odds are very good that you are talking to a die-hard GOP voter. Those people will never put a woman, particularly one as unvetted as Palin, one heartbeat away from the presidency under the oldest candidate ever on a ticket. In fact, I heard plenty of those voters interviewed during the primary on NPR - every single last one of the ones who said they can't vote for a woman said they'd be voting for McCain. Not exactly a scientific sample, but certainly what one would expect.

The GOP is run by pure cynicism right now. The party is out of ideas. The only thing they know how to do is do PR, run negative campaigns, and then give out the spoils when they win. The decent Republicans have long been run out of the party. The Democrats are generally spineless, poor at PR (which is part of why they are spineless), and also beholden to big business. But at least they know how to run the government, at least some of them haven't sold out, and they aren't dominated by the loons of the Religious Right. Hardly the ideal opposition party, but oh well.

After seeing McCain's VP pick, I'm quite confident now that Obama is going to win rather handidly. Which I think is a good thing. McCain is a loon. He should not be president. Whatever deceny he used to have, he sold out to get the Bushies to make him the nominee. This latest pick just proves it. (As will any cynical use of Hurricane Gustav as a political stunt this week).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thinking Outside the Jury Box

This article at simple justice got me thinking. The author points out the downside to requiring unanimous jury verdicts: a single holdout can turn an acquittal into a hung jury and possible retrial (and possible conviction). (Which is the other side of the coin of the fact that a single holdout can prevent a conviction).

This then triggered some neurons in my brain to fire, a rarity these days in blogtopia as my new job consumes all available brain resources. Why not combine the best of both? Require unanimous verdicts to convict but allow simple majorities to acquit, and then only call a jury "hung" when you get something in between? This, to my mind, would be consistent with the often touted (but much easier-than-it-sounds-to-acheive) standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" that is supposed to be a massive burden on the prosecution but often is just a speed bump. Changing the jury requirements to my suggestion would finally really put that standard into practice in a more systematic way. If "reasonable doubt" is, as described in lawschool, another way of saying 95% sure (as opposed to maybe 51% sure for "preponderance of the evidence" and maybe 70% sure for "clear and convincing evidence"), then it fits that you need every juror to convict but that if you have at least a simple majority who say "wait a minute" then really, there wasn't evidence beyond a reasonable doubt - after all, six or seven people had doubt, and so acquittal, not a hung jury, is the proper result.

Prosecutors would have a cow about this, of course. But I don't really care what prosecutors think. Their job is SUPPOSED to be hard. Beyond a reasonable doubt is supposed to be a very high standard. I don't pretend to know exactly how this would work out in practice, though it would be interesting to see how conviction rates change once this system is in place (like it ever would be, but I can dream, can't I?)

I'll have to add this to my list of reforms for the justice system, right after the item that disallows prosecutors from bribing witnesses (or at least evens the playing field in that regard).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Take-Out Blues

Some might think that jobs like being a lawyer or doctor, which require extra years of schooling and then years of "apprenticeship" to do effectively are hard jobs. But apparently, it is working in food take-out that is the real rocket science of the employment world. At least, that's what I'd have to conclude from a non-scientific sampling of take-out from many restaurants on a repeated basis over many years now.

It doesn't matter if it is McDonald's or Outback steakhouse. It doesn't even seem to matter which restaurant or person fills the order. With consistency that would make the trains run on time in Switzerland, orders are messed up, things are missing, or in the wrong quantity, on upwards of 1/3rd of the time (or more). Sometimes it seems like every other time we go to a certain restaurant for take-out, we are using a coupon or some other thing we got from when the screwed up the order the previous time.

What I'd really like to know is: What the hell is the problem? It should be simple enough to keep an order straight. I mean, why not at least have a system in place where you have a checklist of what is supposed to go in an order and then double check it before it goes out the door? It is not like our orders tend to be all that large or complicated. Far from it - often, they are fairly simple. It amazed me just how often even an order at McDonald's drivethrough like: 2 hotcakes and 2 egg mcmuffins (and NOTHING ELSE) would still get messed up - I'd either not get the mcmuffins or I'd just get one, and I'd not get the hotcakes or I'd just get one.

As a result, I now check over every single item every time I pick up take-out. And maybe that ultimately is what we're all just going to have to do, but I would hope that this is an extra failsafe rather than a requirement because the packers don't bother to get it right in the first place.

Really, just what is so complicated? I asked it above and I ask it again. This isn't complicated. Make a check list. Then check the list. Why oh why does this simple thing seem to evade so many across the spectrum of so many restaurants? My enquiring mind wants to know.

I was planning on posting this yesterday after getting take-out from Outback steakhouse where the person assured me she checked twice on my order. And my food was, in fact, correct. My drink was another matter. It was entirely missing. Then the busy-ness of the weekend took over and I forgot about it. Then this morning, Cracker Barrel. Biscuits and gravy. Or rather, just gravy, hold the biscuits. Just what we needed. And so I remembered again to do this post. Btw, if anyone got the biscuits without the gravy, I'm willing to do a half-and-half exchange.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Almost There

I'm almost settled in enough in my new job that I'll have a few brain cells left over for writing here. In the meanwhile, here's an interesting post (which links to an earlier post) at Barefoot Bum's about a lawsuit (and about lawsuits in general). I'll probably comment more later.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

CIA Forgery for Bush to go to War?

Ron Suskind apparently has a book that makes this claim. A reader at Sullivan pointed out some problems with this. Really the only thing I want to comment about is his one point that, if this really happened, it wouldn't have been ordered on White House stationary, it would have been paperless. To which the first response that came to mind was, "Yes, that is what you would expect from someone who was actually COMPETENT." Something which this administration has demonstrated over and over that it clearly is not. That is all.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sensitivity Training

Penn and Teller's show on Showtime this past week was on Sensitivity Training. I enjoyed the show. It is sometimes uneven in the topics (perhaps they are running out of the really fun ones), but this was one of the better ones. The basic gist of this show was about how all the "sensitivity training" workshops various companies do in response to (or to avoid) lawsuits are total bullshit that don't really accomplish anything and are a waste of money just for companies to CYA.

While it is nice to see that pointed out, what really inspired me to post about it was how they ended the show. They had a foul-mouthed comic saying all sorts of insults to both Penn and Teller. They explained this was their own version of training - insensitivity training. They said that there are two ways to deal with people who say stupid (and hurtful) remarks. One is you can try to control the behavior of six billion people and try to prevent them (most likely in vain) from saying anything stupid to you. The other option is simply to form your own personal "armor" (the proverbial "thick skin") and so no matter what anyone says to you, you are protected. Looked at it that way, it is rather obvious what is the easier and simpler (and actually doable) solution. People will be assholes. Some do so to be mean, others do so out of ignorance or lazyiness. Some even by accident. Get over it. You can't control what others will say, nor should you try. Part of living in a free society is having to deal with people being mean to you. Better that you grow a thick skin than you try to harness the power of the state to stop it - because that power will inevitably be used in rather horrid ways.

And you can't brainwash people into not being assholes. Hell, I think all this "awareness" can have the opposite effect. Sort of like how if you are told not to think about something, that's a sure way to end up thinking about it. If you want people who ignore race and look at the person, you need to stop freakin' talking about race all the time. Sorry, but you just do. And in that regard, I'm going to talk about something else next...


Ok, so I admit it, I'm disappointed that no one has had any comment on my post on the Derror case. I'll just have to get up the other posts that are rattling around this weekend. My new job has kept me busy, but I should be getting into a nice routine soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Extreme Right-Wing Michigan Supreme Court: A Case Study: People v Derror

Michigan has the most extreme right-wing Supreme Court in all 50 states. I don't say this just as hyperbole. I think this can be empirically shown. As part of an effort to do so, I'm going to look at one specific case. I will probably highlight others as well as I get the chance. There are plenty to choose from.

There are a lot of common themes in many of their opinions that I will highlight (mostly through pointing out what is written in the dissent, which does a pretty decent job of highlighting much of what the current majority of the court often does.)

The case is People v Derror. There are two major issues in this case that I will highlight. The first issue was whether 11-Carboxy-THC was a schedule 1 controlled substance. Briefly, this compound is a compound with NO pharmacological effects that forms in the body as part of the process of metabolizing (and ultimately expelling) THC from the body. And THC is the active (and thus usually illegal) ingredient in marijuana. It may be the case that trace amounts of it could be found with a sensitive enough test days, weeks, months, possibly even years after smoking a joint. Which is rather relevant to the second issue, but I'll get to that in a moment.

To end the suspense early, I'll say right now that the court held in Derror that this basically inert waste product was a schedule 1 controlled substance. They held this based on language in the statute that covers "derviative" and then their own interpretation of what a "metabolite" is. The basic "logic" was that, though the statute would appear to some to be referring to "derivative" products that were other drugs such as if you take one illegal drug and change it to make a slightly different drug, either one more potent or, perhaps, one you hope won't be covered under the criminal statute - but in fact is, because "derivatives" are covered, the Court knew what it REALLY meant. The Court took that language, pulled out their trusty dictionaries with all of their varied (and sometimes contradictory meanings) for "derivative" and promptly decided that what it REALLY meant is that any substance that is broken down from the illegal one (THC in this case), even if it is just a natural metabolic process that creates it and even if the substance has no effect on the body or mind.

Of course, this presented them with a slight problem, in that some of the other derivatives of THC in the body include carbon dioxide and water. In order to avoid that, they pulled out their trusty dictionaries and again arbitrarily selected defininitions that would allow them to keep 11-carboxy-THC schedule 1 while avoiding water and carbon dioxide being considered such.

Of course, the whole time they are doing this they are "protesting" that they are just following the "plain language of the statute." This despite the fact that the statute never gives a precise definition for those words nor does it even say which dictionary would be appropriate to consult. This is a common theme with the court. The right-wing justices often claim they are simply acting as pure "textualists" interpreting statutes and yet at the same time, where there are multiple definitions for a word, some that could support their right-wing interpretation, some that would support a more moderate interpration (or even, perish the thought, a liberal one), somehow the correct dictionary definition to use is always the right-wing one.

In this case, they go even further, as the dissent points out. They totally ignored that portion of the statute that says that the Michigan statute (which is identically worded to the federal statute listing schedule 1 drugs) is to be interpreted the same as the Federal statute. And federal courts have never held 11-Carboxy-THC to be schedule one. To the contrary, they hold it is not. But apparently our Supreme Court can ignore this becaues those pesky Federal courts weren't properly interpreting federal law (even though, by law, their interpretations ARE federal law). You see, the Federal courts considered such horrid things as the legislative history of the statute, something Michigan's Supreme Court considers irrelevant - after all, they have their dictionaries!

But now with Derror it gets worse. Because the second issue was whether, regarding the criminal statute for causing an accident while intoxicated, a defendant must be shown to have known he was intoxicted and if that intoxication caused the accident. The court found that no such showing need be made on either count. I could understand the notion of not wanting anyone to be driving around with intoxicants in them. But they go way beyond that here. Because, as noted above, 11-carboxy-THC could theoretically be found in a person weeks or even months or years after smoking a joint. They'd ordinarily have no way to know. So now someone can be arrested and charged with a serious felony for driving with a harmless, natural metabolic by-product that has no effect on driving and which could have been lingering for months. Isn't Michigan wonderful?

Now, the deck is pretty heavily stacked against criminal defendants everywhere. But in Michigan, you are basically screwed. Not just specifically because of Derror, but because that is just an example of the twisted pretzels of "logic" the court is willing to create just to keep defendants good and convicted.

Just to give a little taste of that, even though there is no reason to support it (other than blatent favoritism), prosecutor appeals get priority in Michigan. (They also can file their appeal briefs months or even over a year late and still have it be considered - defendants have to meet their filing deadline (usually only 21 or 28 days) or else). On top of that, one of the right-wing Supreme Court Justices has a standing order that every prosecutor appeal be heard by the Supreme Court. This is significant because the vast majority of cases (including those of criminal defendants who are appealing) never get heard by the Michigan Supreme Court. It is appeal by leave granted. And yet prosecutors get an automatic "in" there.

I hope that by pointing out cases like Derror, I could help at least a few people see just what sort of Supreme Court Michigan has. Most lay people have no idea. It is almost a sick joke amongst the members of the Michigan bar.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Busy Week

It has been a busy week (thus the lack of posts...) Just wanted to say that I'm leaving my current job and starting a new one next Monday (thus, the busy week). I'm excited to be doing something new, though I do love my current job. It should prove interesting. If I have time (which I may have today or tomorrow), I'm going to post an example of what I consider to be the right-wing induced insanity of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sean Tavis for KS State Rep

Now here is a really interesting web page for someone running for political office, with an interesting strategy - trying to get 3000 people to donate $8.34. It is charming enough it makes me want to vote for the guy and I don't even live in Kansas.

Man Arrested for "Unlawful Photography"

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars: A man was arrested for "unlawful photography" for taking a picture of a police officer standing by the side of the road while engaged in a traffic stop.

What is interesting to note is that the officer now swears that it was about his fear for being hit with a "laser" and not just about a picture. First, there is no law (and can't be one) against taking a picture of a police officer in public. And second, the picture was taken with an iPhone, which has no laser, no flash, nothing which could be mistaken for a laser. In other words, this officer is full of it.

But this is just another example of how readily one can find police lying their asses off. Imagine all of those instances where it is not so clearly a lie (and where the defendants are poor or otherwise not likely to be believed by authorities). This is just disgusting. If there is any justice, those two officers would be fired, with a public statement from their police department that it was because they were dishonest about official police business and so were not fit to be police officers and could not be trusted to testify truthfully in court. (Thereby killing any chances that they could work as police elsewhere and testify).

This sort of thing just really annoys me. As far as I'm concerned, police need to be held to a higher standard. Instead, they are held to a lower one. People who lie under oath where another person's very freedom is at stake are despicable and ought to be punished severely. Particularly where those liars are police officers.

And (perhaps in homage to the Simple Justice blog), there is already a commenter on the news story who is reminding people that these officers don't really reflect on the police as a whole, they are just "bad apples." And so in my own homage to Simple Justice, I give you:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why this election matters: The lower courts

I recently posted about how the Supreme Court is one big reason why this election matters. This article also points out how the lower courts also matter to a great degree, possibly even more so than the Supreme Court on a practical scale for many people. Because the president appoints all federal judges, not just the Supreme Court. And while the really big issues will get taken up by the high court, the vast majority of cases end at the federal appellate courts. This is because after a federal trial, you get one appeal as of right to the relevant Circuit Court of Appeals. And while you can appeal after that to the Supreme Court, odds are very good that such an appeal, which is by leave only, will be turned down. In recent years the high court has heard less than 100 cases (usually more like 80) per year, in years where the cases in the lower courts number in the many many thousands.

So the final word for most people will be at the Circuit Court. And so for most people the judges appointed at that level will be the most important decisive factor for their case.

With the number of (in particular) young judges appointed by Republican presidents over the past decades, those Circuit courts are all dominated by conservative GOP appointees. All have healthy majorities of GOP people, except for the 9th Circuit, which is more balanced. (And of course, which makes the 9th Circuit the whipping judges for complaints about court rulings made by GOP schills).

The Republicans know this, which is why they pick very young, very ideological candidates for these judgeships, with the intention of them sitting on the bench for decades. That's also why they whine when even a single extremist judge is prevented from confirmation. Witness the mantra of how every judge deserves an "up or down" vote and how suddenly the filibuster is an evil thing that is unsupported by the constitution because Senate confirmation only requires a simple majority (forgetting that this is the same rule for approval of legislation). Of course, they are HUGE hypocrites, because when the GOP controlled the Senate while Clinton was in office, they denied "up or down" votes to HUGE numbers of Clinton appointees, not by filibustering (since they didn't need to) but by simply refusing to even schedule hearings about the confirmation.(*) Dozens of judges sat waiting for years like this, a record number, only to be ultimately denied after Clinton left office. So after doing this to dozens and dozens of Clinton appointees, the GOP whined is ass off about a handful of judges being filibustered early in Bush's tenure. What a bunch of shameless assholes. What is sad, though, is that the know-nothing media just repeated the right wing talking points on this and did not provide any context by pointing out the hypocrisy or what the GOP did to Clinton appointees. Even sadder, the Democrats themselves failed to do this effectively.

But I digress. The main point is, who is president matters for these appointments. Obama may not be a leftie, but he sure isn't a neocon, either (though I've seen PUMAs claiming he is - just proving that there are no limits to how far one can be unhinged from reality (or how willing one can be to spew bullshit) in pursuit of power). Just getting centrist rather than far-right ideologues would be a vast improvement in all of the Circuits. It would help at the trial level as well.

It is about transforming (and salvaging) one entire branch of the government out of only three branches that we have. That is damn important. Anyone who dismisses this as some trivial thing (as PUMAs and those like them have done) is, frankly, stupid and shortsighted.

This election (like others before it) isn't just about one branch of government, but is about two. That's something you can NEVER afford to simply cede to the right-wing crazies, not even for four years. Sure, it sucks that the Democrats often don't give us much better on many issues, but better is still better, and on judges, they are WAY better. It will take decades for the tide to be turned back in judicial appointments. It is time to get started.

(*) - I should also note that a lot of the judges Clinton did get confirmed by the GOP Senate went through a process where Clinton would get a list of acceptable candidates to the GOP in advance, so he would know that his appointees would get their hearings and confirmation. This is notable in contrast to Bush, who when he faced a hostile Senate, just kept sending back the same names over and over and never sought to come to any compromise on his appointments with Democratic Senate leaders the way Clinton did. In other words, Clinton acknowledged the power of the Senate as a co-equal branch and worked with it. Bush just pretended he was god and kept trying to shove the same candidates down the Senate's throat with no consultation and then whined when the Senate didn't bow down and surrender (which actually, it generally did, even with his judicial appointments).

Addendum: I want to add that to a certain degree, I think what happened with Clinton and the GOP Senate was a good thing - the two branches (and parties) cooperated in the process of selecting the third branch. That is as the founders intended. That is why the Senate has confirmation power in the first place. The Executive should not just be able to place anyone he or she wants on the bench. The Senate gets the final decision as to whether or not a potential jurist gets the job. It is not the case that the Senate can only reject someone if they are not "qualified" (whatever that means). The Senate can reject for any reason it wants. Including and especially ideology. Just like the President can select based on ideology. Checks and balances.

Where things got out of whack is where only the GOP Senate acts as a check on a Democratic president while the GOP president basically gets free reign from a Democratic Senate. That is wrong and that also leads to one branch having total say in selecting the third. That's one of the reasons I am uncomfortable when Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party. Of course, it concerns me less when it is the Democratic party, mostly because the Democrats are so good at fighting themselves that they hardly need the GOP as a check. When the GOP has control, though, it is open season on all of us as they all march in authoritarian lockstep and the divided Democratic party doesn't even have the will to slow them down. (Not even when they take Congress back). It almost seems like that the ideal "balanced" government is a GOP Congress (narrow majority) with a Democratic president. Except that even with a Democratic Congress, the GOP seems to still get its way anyway much of the time. The Democrats need to grow a f***ing spine.

Because of those whacked-out dynamics of the parties, it is essential that we have a non-GOP president appointing judges. While we may not get anything better than centrists, that is a far cry better than the right-wing ideologues we are guaranteed to get from McCain.

Very Poor Choice of Headline for Story on Marital Rape

Salon's Broadsheet has an item up about a study on marital rape, a serious topic. As has been recognized for decades in our law, marriage does not immunize a person from being charged with rape for forcing a nonconsenting spouse to have sex. Non-consensual sex is rape, no matter what the relationship between the parties.

Unfortunately, the tagline for the article is horrendous: "You don't feel like it, but you do it for him." It evokes images of the dregs of feminism that equate agreeing to sex after nagging or persuasion as rape, which is one of the most utterly ridiculous things of the many ridiculous things that the dregs of feminism preach. By that same logic, if I have a spouse (or even just a friend) who feels like, say, sitting at home on the couch and then I nag or cajole or otherwise try to strongly persuade said friend to accompany me out to see a movie, sitting in the theater to the end before returning home, and they agree to go, I'd have committed kidnapping and false imprisonment. Uh, yeah.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Of Dolphins and Divorces

I just read this article, which speaks for itself: My wife left me because the dolphins at Sea World gave me an erection.

The LW is obviously making it up. But I just thought it was hiliarious for some reason. So now I'm sharing. Funnily enough, the past week's epsiode of Bullshit was about dolphins.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My Ideal Supreme Court

Talking about the Supreme Court, it got me thinking, what is the ideal court? I've thought about this before. Put simply, my ideal court would have two far-right jurists (who still have healthy disagreement with each other), two far-left jurists (who also disagree) and then five centrists with two leaning left, two leaning right, and one leaning neither way. All would have a healthy dose of libertarian in them, probably manifested more economically in the right-wing and more socially in the left, but combined into both in the five centrists.

I would favor this makeup because this would give several voices to each end of the spectrum on the court, which is always important on every case, and yet it would not let either extreme dominate or ever write an opinion without the cooperation of centrists.

What our current court lacks, sadly, is any left-wing jurists. The court is basically made up now of four far-right judges, one right-of-center judge, and then four moderate judges that, at the far end, are only slightly left of center. So basically the court goes from the far right to the center, and that's it. There are no liberal voices to be heard in deliberations. Even were there a single lonely voice there, that could make a lot of difference because at least that point of view would be heard and could give some perspective to the other eight justices. Absent that voice, you have an echo chamber of far-right mixed with the center, which just pushes things further and further right.

My ideal court would have those voices on both sides, but would not allow either side to dominate. I think that would be wonderful if we could get it. Unfortunately, it is not likely to happen within my lifetime, given the current makeup of the court. And even with an Obama victory, we'd still not likely get there - Obama will probably appoint center or center-left candidates to replace other center-lefts (Stevens and Ginsburg), leaving the court basically the same. Which is still a far cry better than ending up with six far-right justices and three centrists, still with no liberals. At least that would keep the status quo. There's even a small glimmer of hope that he'd appoint a true progressive or even two, giving that voice back to the court which it has lacked for so long. The court would still be slanted strongly to the right, but at least we'd be one step closer to my ideal.

(One of these days I'll have to post on the Michigan Supreme Court - the most radical right Supreme Court in the country).

The Supreme Court Matters. A lot. And that's why this election matters.

Digby makes perfectly clear in this post just how much the Supreme Court matters and just how close it is to being a solid, ultra-conservative majority if McCain wins the election.

That should almost go without saying. But what is incredible is that PUMA sound-alikes are posting in that very same post in the comment section posts about how we'll get Bork-like nominees from Obama. I'm sorry, while I'm extremely disappointed in Obama of late, and think his tacking to the right is incredibly stupid, I have actual functioning brain cells and so I know that he is not a far-right wingnut who wants to appoint Borks to the court.

Basically, the argument seems to be, well, Obama is not a far-left candidate, so that means he's really far right. Uh. Sure thing. Being center or even center right does not make one far right. And Obama, by all accounts, is center left. Yes, some of that "center" is on important things like FISA, but that is the same disappointing crap we get with ALL Democratic nominees for president. Probably more likely than not, this year, given that the consultants (and probably Obama himself) feel even more inclined to "tack right" given the hurdle they have of being the first black president (and Clinton would have had the same hurdle being the first woman president). I think that they both would have, for that reason, been even more "right tacking" than usual. Sadly, I don't think they really need to do that, but that's the CW and the Democratic party follows CW like it was a religion.

But I'm sorry, if a person claims that Obama is going to nominate Borks to the court, then that person is so full of bullshit I'm going to have to get out a shovel to catch it as they talk or else I'm going to be buried in it. But then, that is the sort of talk I'm coming to expect from the PUMAs. Of course, I don't know if these commenters are PUMAs - I just know they sure sound like them.

Oh, and those who comment that they don't want to be "thrown under the bus" and so they just dimiss any arguments about the election involving the Supreme Court - well, your arrogant dismissal of that doesn't change the fact that it matters. It matters a lot. For everyone. For probably decades to come. Stevens and Ginsburg are very likely to retire soon. If those two were replaced by McCain, we'd have a 6-3 extreme right dominance on the court for probably the rest of my working life. My children would grow up under the shadow of that court and have children of their own under that court. I shudder to think of what they will face with such a horriblely slanted to the right court. I'm not privileged enough to just sacrifice all of that and wait until 2012 for the second coming of Hillary Clinton. Sorry. This matters. And it doesn't go away just because you are upset that Hillary Clinton didn't win the nomination. Anyone who claims to be a progressive who also supports McCain is either a liar, a fucking moron, or both. (Sorry for the harsh language, I simply can't think of any better way to put it).

Once Again, Police Stupidity (and trampling of rights) Is Given a Pass by the Courts

This just defies reason. Not that the police made a mistake or that the sheriff was a bonehead for destroying an entire crop as marijuana that had first tested negative for being marijuana. What is beyond reason is that the court condones this stupidity. I guess judges can't fall over themselves fast enough when it comes to enabling a police state.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Equality Thought Police

As the overt racism and sexism of ages past has wound down to a trickle of what it once was (in part because it is basically illegal in many contexts, but probably in larger part simply beacuse people born into the world more recently simply grew up in a world without that and so live accordingly), I see more and more how the real fight now is to eradicate the "subtle" racism, the racism and sexism that is within everyone (well, at least in white males), that whispers into your ear bad things. And yet, there's something that doesn't quite sit right about that with me. Something about it feels off. And thinking about it, it hit me what that is.

It is self-flaggelation that one is supposedly required to do, to continually have an internal dialogue of berating oneself as a racist and sexist for daring to think thoughts that aren't 100% approved by an appropriate authority (such as official radical feminists or what have you). It is the vileness with oneself you are supposed to feel if, say, when a man looks at a woman, he even for the briefest of moments, thinks about how attractive he is and how he'd like to copulate with her, even if he really had no intention of doing so and says nothing about it. It is the vileness with oneself you are supposed to feel if you see someone of a race other than yourself (assuming your own race is white) and don't feel as comfortable as you'd feel with someone who was of your own race or even just the race of those you spend a lot of time with. And I think that, ultimately, that is bullshit. What is that? That is the Thought Police. That is not really about progressivism or equality. It is not sexist to have hormone appropriate thoughts. It is not racist to have experience-appropriate feelings of comfort with the familiar and discomfort with the unfamiliar. That is human and that is entirely unavoidable. And moreover, it is not what defines us. Actions are what define us. Not thoughts. It reminds me of religious people who literally self-flagellated for each impure thought. It is just sick. The brain isn't a machine. People aren't machines. Expecting that or assigning a negative label to that - sexism - racism - is just bullshit used to keep people down and to make the labeler feel superior.

Actions count. Thoughts don't. Sorry, they just don't. On a certain level, we all recognize this - free nations recognize this in their laws, where every criminal law requires actual action to be guilty. We rightly (generally) recognize that those regimes that make ideas or just thoughts alone illegal (by banning them or censoring them) to be morally bankrupt and evil.

Sure, it is good to be aware of what it means to be human - that we are more comfortable with the familiar, which means we will feel more comfortable in a room of people who look like our family because that is who we grew up with and spent time with. That is something that if you are aware of it, you can take steps to mitigate where it would be inappropriate to let that give too much influence to what should be, say, a business decision. But one can't vilify it - it is nothing more than a small part of the same line of thinking that makes people enjoy the company of lifelong friends much more than strangers, because they are familiar and comfortable.

Thinking about copulation with a random stranger based on his or her looks, that is also perfectly natural - and again, just part of the fun of life - so long as you don't act on it inappropriately or, when interacting with that person, forget that they are a person. But then that's something that most people have no trouble with at all.

For those that are trying to bring us to some sort of utopia where such thoughts never happen, and thereby define as bad a world where such thoughts are common, I personally think that such thinking is deranged and disconnected from reality. People will never do that. And they shouldn't have to. So long as people in their actions deal fairly with one another and don't take inappropriate actions with one another, that is all the utopia you could ever need or want.

Any regime that would not stop at punishing you for bad actions but would also seek to make you feel bad and even punish yourself for your very thoughts is an oppressive and evil regime and so people who would advocate it I would see as potential oppressors and evil people. I think this is something many religions try to do to people (such as the bullshit notion that by thinking about sex you are committing adultery).

Truly, what people need to do is just try not to be assholes to each other, and don't worry about what someone else is "really" thinking. It's really none of your business, so long as by their actions they treat you fairly.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Don't Talk to Cops

Unless you are the victim of a crime and are calling police to report it, you shouldn't ever talk to the police. Nothing good can ever come of it. After seeing what has happened in dozens of criminal cases, I can state first-hand - there is no benefit whatsoever in talking to the cops. Never. Regardless of innocence or guilt. Regardless of anything.

That's what I tell every friend I have - be polite, but never talk to them beyond answering basic questions, such as giving your identity (which is required in many jurisdictions by statute). Beyond that, it is best not to say anything except that you don't consent to any searches and asking if you are free to go.

But don't take my word for it. From reading of yet another case of testilying, I came across this video by a law professor and he is far more convincing on this topic than I ever could be:

And here's Part II (a cop talking after the professor saying the same thing):

Finally, here's a (long) video about how to deal with cops:

(One final comment: The only thing I would add to the post I linked to about LA Cops lying is that, contrary to the thread, it really isn't an LA problem - it is a general problem with the police. Not that all police lie, but that this sort of thing is not particularly unique to LA.)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Politics are Depressing

What more can I say? At least Bush will be out of office soon. One can only hope that a non-GOP president won't totally sweep under the rug whatever lawbreaking is still apparent after the shredders have done their work up through Jan 20, 2009.


There is a movement out there that formed in the wake of Obama's win (and Clinton's defeat) in the Democratic primary. They call themselves PUMAs, and they are out to reform the democratic party, in particular, they want to force it to be more progressive as they are tired of the choices given them. I became familiar with them through reading reclusive leftist (Violet Socks).

At first, I frankly thought the rhetoric there was a little over the top. And to a degree, it is. Claiming that the more progressive choice is John McCain in the election coming up is, I think, rather dubious. But I can understand the general sentiment. I've felt it myself as I've become frustrated with repeated democratic captiulations. A democratic capitulation is what inspired my name for this blog (and thus my handle). As part of that, I contemplated voting Republican, not because I had any illusions that the GOP was progressive, but because it was the only thing I could think of that might get the Democratic party's attention. In other words, I saw it as the only leverage I had (see Violet Socks on this as well).

I've also read Apostate's posts about how Obama is a conservative. And I've read Barefoot Bum's posts about how he can no longer vote Democratic. I can sympathize with those views. I'm frustrated with the Democratic party. They are about to captiulate on FISA now, and then I hear that Obama is talking more like a right-wing judge than a progressive on the abortion issue. Which is depressing, even if it is just mangled rhetoric rather than reflecting any deeply held position.

I posted as much on that thread in a comment. I also noted that Clinton would not have likely been any different - not on that, not on FISA, not on anything else of significance, because she's also a conservative, like Obama, with very little daylight between them on the issues. In other words, that leverage really needs to do more than just support Hillary Clinton - she's the establishment, or a big part of it. She was no leader on progressive causes any more than Obama is or was. She's part of the problem with the party that is being highlighted now with Obama by the PUMAs. Which is part of the problem I have with the whole PUMA concept - if they are really about change and are not just Hillary Clinton cheerleaders, they would see this - but they don't. They are really all about Clinton. I get the sense that they'd abandon all of their badmouthing of the Democratic party and forgive all if Hillary were somehow made the nominee - abandoning all of their supposed ideals just to get "their" candidate into power.

I sort of lost any respect for them once I realized this. Sort of how I lost a lot of respect for Keith Olbermann when he was soft on Obama and reversed himself on criticism of the FISA surrender once Obama adopted that position. Obivously, he put his support for the candidate ahead of his principles. Which is a damn shame. With the PUMAs, I see the same thing. They put support for Clinton ahead of any priniples. This perception isn't helped by the fact that there seems to be a healthy dose of Obama bashing - some of it deserved, a lot of it rubbish. And no criticism at all of Clinton's conservative positions.

What solidified this in my mind today was when I posted in the thread there about Obama in which I mentioned my disgust and also my sadness that we'd probably have gotten a lot of the same with Clinton - and that comment did not make it past moderation. Now, maybe it will eventually, I don't know. But at that moment my thoughts on this crystalized. No one will ever manage to reform the Democratic party if they aren't serious about it and put issues over personalities. The very same thing the PUMAs complain about so vigorously - about those who support Obama as a personality as opposed to dealing with his actual positions, the PUMAs are guilty of with Clinton.

On another site, a blogger asked for positive reasons only to vote for Obama back during the primary. The rule was, you could not mention McCain or Clinton or make any comparisons in that regard. Certainly, that is an interesting exercise - but then the blogger then took it as an opportunity to argue with every point raised for Obama, belying any claim that she was really an objective, undecided observer. The general tenor of it all made me suspect that the whole point of the exercise was to provide a venue to showcase how Obama supporters don't really have any reason to vote for Obama besides personality. This became evident as that exact claim was made over and over in the thread even after people had posted lots of positive reasons to vote for Obama. Interestingly, when I suggested a separate thread with the same rules, only with only the positive reasons to vote for Clinton, that idea was dismissed. Which made me further suspect impure motives for the original exercise. But I could be mistaken.

As I am now, I am really disgusted with the Democratic party and I am also saddened that Obama is now doing the inevitable (and incredibly stupid) "tack to the right" that stupid Democratic consultants seem to always tell their candidates in presidential elections.

Still, despite all that, I simply cannot reward the lawlessness and horrendously evil behavior of the GOP in the white house with four more years. So I'm stuck. At least I can vote Democrats out of Congress, if it gets to that. But that's not likely. There's no real strong push to actually reform the party. I thought PUMAs might be something along those lines, but now I have concluded that they are not, they are just another cult of personality surrounding Clinton instead of Obama. (Insert sound of big sigh here).

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Official Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures

Though I've gamed off and on for nearly three decades now (most of it in the past two decades), and I also have had miniature figures suitable for gaming over about that same time, I actually did not use minis much when I initially started playing. We'd use white boards or chalk boards or some other means of figuring out where characters were positioned. Of course, now that I use minis exclusively, I can scarcely remember how we did it back then. The rules were not as precise as they are now in terms of positioning. Though position did matter even then.

Specifically, though, I want to talk about the official line of miniatures put out by Wizards of the Coast (WOC). They come in sets, with one new set every four months or so, for three new sets a year. The figures are randomized, so you buy a pack of 8 and then in that pack are something like 5 common figures, 3 uncommon figures and 1 rare. A typical set has 60 different figures, with 24 rares, and lesser numbers of commons and uncommons, such that, at a minimum, you'd need to purchase 24 packs (and get REALLY lucky) to get every single figure in a set. Either that, or you can buy figures on the secondary market, picking exactly the figure you want, but then, some of those rares can cost many times the cost of a single random pack. The figures range in size from small (in game terms) to medium to large. There have also been three (well, soon to be a third next week) packs that have huge figures, which are a size category larger than large.

There is a miniatures game that you can play, spending points to put together bands based on alignment, with stat cards for each figure telling you how that figure performs. And, of course, you can also use those figures in the RPG, as they are of things in the game. That latter use is what I use them for.

Many people complain about the randomness of the figures. Combined with that is a complaint that some of the figures really suck and so it sucks to buy them sight unseen. On top of that, some creatures common to the RPG (and in multiple numbers) end up as rares, so it makes it really hard (or really expensive) to have many of them for use in the game. Other complaints include the fact that they are plastic and some of the paint jobs aren't all that great. There is truth to those complaints. Ultimately, though, I find them useful and I the things I like about them far exceed the things that trouble me.

First, the randomness. It is true that if you want a specific figure, you can't just buy it direct. But then there is the secondary market and the price there is set by market forces - if it is a rare that lots of people want, the price is higher than if it is one that no one particularly wants (except perhaps to complete one's collection). One could blame WOC for that because those market prices do originate with the fact that you can't buy singles from WOC diretly, but then if you really think about it, you'll realize that the price would probably end up there anyway. Here's why:

The minis themselves do not all cost the same amount to make. Some require more paint or time to paint than others. The more expensive ones are subsidized by the cheaper ones with every single purchase of a booster pack, spread out over all of the boosters because of the randomness. If that subsidy did not exist, if you could buy them singly, then you'd have to pay full price for the expensive ones, and you would probably end up with the same price you have now on the secondary market. Or perhaps it would be even higher as the volume of figures bought went down.

As it is, you can get a full set, along with a copious amount of the commons and uncommons, simply by buying 36 boosters per set. Which for normal-sized sets is three factory boxes of a dozen boosters each. The benefit of the factory boxes is that they are massively discounted - you can get almost half off the cost by buying them that way. And the way they are packed, if you do that, you are basically guaranteed to end up with exactly 12 of each common in the set, either 4 or 5 of each uncommon, and every rare except for one or two (with obviously at least 12 duplicate rares because there are only 24 rares total in a typical set of 60). The total price you end up paying is just over a dollar a figure. Which is a bargain.

For comparison: Before these minis came out, you could (and still can) get figures singly. Those figures are generally metal figures - they used to be lead, now they are pewter. And while they certainly can be very detailed and beautiful figures, unpainted, they don't look as good as even some of the average D&D plastic minis. Paint and color makes a big difference. I know. I have over 100 of the metal figures, almost all of which I've had for 20 years. In all that time I've only managed to paint about 30 or 40 of them. I managed to get halfway decent at painting them, too. It was an enjoyable activity. I'm no great artist. But even my halfway decent paint jobs made the figures look a great deal better. So that's one thing that puts the plastic minis ahead of the metal ones - they are pre-painted, and most of the paint jobs are pretty good. Even those that aren't still make the figures look decent most of the time. Even if I dedicated myself for the rest of my life to painting metal figures, I could never come close to the number of painted plastic minis that I have. And the metal ones are and were expensive. Single figures could cost 8 dollars or more. Add to that the cost of the primer and paint and the time it could take to paint (which could be hours) and suddenly a dollar or so for a pre-painted figure doesn't sound so bad. On top of that, painted or not, a metal figure is heavy and is fragile. You certainly don't want to carry several together where they will scrape against each other. My metal figures are lovingly held in soft foam gun cases, no figure ever touching another. In contrast, the plastic ones you can dump in a bin together, though I use Plano boxes (and zip locks) to keep them sorted.

So the plastic ones are superior in many ways. They are cheaper, pre-painted (and thus prettier on average), more durable, more easily stored, and easier to handle.

The randomness, in the end, isn't all that bad, either. As I pointed out above, if you really want to, you can get a full set without too much trouble. It does cost a fair amount to get three factory boxes - usually about $300, but then for that you get about 300 figures and every one in the set. The randomness evens out to a pretty predictable pattern that way. And since I use the figures for playing the game generally, there really isn't any single figure I'm looking for. Overall, what I'm looking for is having enough figures of each type of monster/NPC/PC that might be found in my game. If you just get the factory boxes, over enough sets, that's what you end up with. Without really trying to, I have a good assortment of various humanoids (Orcs, Kobolds, Goblins, etc.), a good assortment of various other common monsters (I won't list them all), and a good assortment of miscellanous individual figures good for players or npcs.

I did not start out buying sets, so I only have a smattering of the early sets, but starting with like the sixth or seventh set, I've gotten the factory boxes and I have pretty much every figure as outlined above. I have also bought some singles to fill in places that I was missing, mostly because I was missing earlier sets. And I have bought some duplicates just to increase the numbers for certain rare figures that aren't seen singly in the game. Now, this could get expensive if sets keep coming out year after year, but I've probably now got enough to cover just about anything so I probably don't need to buy any more to be covered. (With the exception of any huge sets that come out - but then I like huge...)

In absolute numbers, it was a hefty investment. But then I am probably set now for life, as long as I play the game. And if my kids play, they can use that as well (and I hope they do).

There are some figures that really suck in the sense that I really don't see any use for them at all. But out of hundreds of figures, those represent a tiny handful. And most are commons anyway. So overall, I'm very satisfied with the minis. I've gotten a great deal of use out of them, far more use than I ever got out of my metal figures, which I did use in the past, sometimes resulting in pieces being broken or bent.

They certainly help to bring the game to life, 3D representations, in full color, of old favorites and staples of the game. Orcs and trolls, medusae and dragons. I've gotten so used to having them now that I find it hard to remember what it was like without them. (Mostly it was a lot of dice standing in for monsters and a handful of metal figures, very carefully handled).

My only complaint is that some monsters that aren't that rare would have rare figures, and that would be annoying where you'd commonly need not just that monster, but multiples. But as more sets have come out, that has been partially solved either by further rares of the same type increasing the absolute numbers or even by some being made uncommons.

Overall, I'm very happy with the figures, and I would recommend them.

And thus ends the third of my three "fun" posts for the fourth of july weekend. I'd have done four for the fourth, but I simply ran out of time...