Saturday, January 31, 2009

Obama needs to tell the GOP to F-Off

Seriously. Obama goes to the leadership, goes to talk with them and deal with them and give them his ear. He makes changes in the bill to address GOP concerns. And so what does the GOP do in response? Every single last one of them in the House votes against the stimulus. You know what I'd say to that if I were Obama?

F-You, GOP. If you want to play it like that, then I'm putting back in every last thing in that bill you objected to and I'm taking out what you wanted. After all, there's no point in trying to please you if there's no pleasing you. Let the GOP twist in the wind.

Of course, that's an emotional response, but it feels good and it is RIGHT. Now, maybe the pragmatist could say that maybe the GOP actually had one or two good ideas, and so there's no sense sacrificing those good ideas just for the sake of partisanship. Fine. But regardless of that, there were also some good ideas in there from Dems that were taken out to please the GOP, and THOSE should be put back in.

Truly, the GOP needs to be crushed into dust. I'm so sick of the self-rightous religious right authoritarian nut-jobs that run the GOP and seem to run most of the media as well. Maybe they will shoot themselves in the ass as they have been doing pretty effectively for the past two years (well, longer than that, but before that, their bullshit was at least working electorally).

When are the Dems going to grow a backbone and see that there is no risk to adopting policies supported by large majorities. When are they going to show the courage of their convictions? I think Obama has a spine. I want to see it proudly displayed. I'm waiting.

Friday, January 30, 2009

I have trouble remembering just how I played 1E Dungeons and Dragons

I must have been spoiled by all of the cool options in 3.5E, but I have trouble sometimes remembering exactly how I played 1E D&D. There was not much of a mechanic for initiative, so we just rolled a d6.

There were no specific mechanics for movement or squares or special tactical actions that could take place on a grid, so we just sort of positioned ourselves roughly and sometimes had disputes about how far someone could move. We actually didn't often use minis - because there were no formal rules for movement and special actions thereof, we would just draw things out on a board, generally a dry erase board, but sometimes a chalk board At my house, I had a small chalk board we used - at school or in my dorm, there were meeting rooms or classrooms we used with dry erase boards.

Was that old way better? I don't think so. I think I like the much richer array of options and more definite nature of the rules right now. There is less room for dispute about what is going on and there is much more room for making interesting tactical plans and actions. That is fun. That is not to say that we didn't have a blast with 1E. But I guess back then, we didn't really know there was anything better (because there wasn't). I'm not sure I could ever go back and play 1E now, having played 3.5E. For starters, I'm just used to the 3.5E rules now. But it also kind of feels like a step backwards. In some ways, 4E feels like a step backwards, too, removing much of the options that I liked in 3.5E in favor of rigid balance. In that way, I think 4E could be even less fun than 1E, because while there were less options in 1E, it still had a freer (and possibly broken) feel to it. 4E still feels like a straightjacket to me, as I mentioned before.

Still, there are lots of fond memories of 1E. Plenty of nostalgia, too. I loved the art in the old 1E books. I loved the covers. I loved the inner illustrations that had an air of mystery about them, like you were looking at a single frame of a movie that was already in progress. You could guess at the action, but much was left to your imagination. The art in much of the newer books is too anime-like for me, or too cartoonish, or just too much "posing" instead of a cool, dark scene. I think they may be too polished too. The unpolished, black and white pictures in the 1E books just felt more "real" - like someone quickly sketched out the scene as it was actually happening.

I sometimes flip through the old books just for the memories it brings back. I ought to do that more - it will probably inspire me. So much to do, so little time.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm a slave to my DVR

I love my DVR. I couldn't live without it. Before it was so much a pain to tape shows that I'd often just abaondon any attempt to watch a particular show while broadcast and just wait until it came out on DVD.

Then came the magic of the DVR. I'd set up to record whole series that I knew nothing about, and then eventually, I'd get around to watching the first episode. If I liked it, I'd watch the rest. If not, I'd delete them and the series recording. This way I could sample new shows at my leisure without haivng to try and catch when they were on.

The shows that I already watch were an even bigger boon. I knew I would never miss them, no matter when they were on. All new episodes would be safely recorded, again to watch at my leisure. My DVD player would sit forlorn and empty as my stack of unwatched DVDs grew higher (but at a much slower rate). It was just easier to watch on the DVR. I just plop down and start watching what I want. No fumbling for a disc or opening up a player and waiting for the EXTREMELY ANNOYING "that operation can't be performed" error message when trying to skip all the intro material.

And now I can make sure I catch the new movies that come on. Before, I'd catch a movie in the middle and then not want to watch it because I'd want to see it from the beginning. Now I can just set it up to record the next time it will be on and in a few days (usually) I'll have a fresh new movie to watch. No fumbling necessary.

And then came the curse. For you see, the DVR does not have infinite storage capacity. It eventually fills up. And once it fills up, it starts deleting things to save space. And pretty soon, you have mass hysteria as things are getting deleted left and right, willy nilly, and you lose all your shows. So in order to avoid that, you have to delete stuff. But you don't want to delete stuff you haven't watched. Thus, the net result is, you have to watch it. You have to watch it to keep up with the pace of what you are recording. So you become a slave to it, trying to keep up, to avoid falling behind. I watch some shows with my eye on the time bar to see how many minutes are left so I know how long it is before I can delete it, and I pay attention to the total length so I know how many hours will be freed. Recording a full movie in High Def is a double-edged sword. They take up a huge amount of space, but then when you watch them, for two hours of time, you get to free up a huge chunk of space. Yes, I'm strange that way - always keeping track of status and how much there is to go and what there is to do.

So I'm a slave to my DVR. The 13th Amendment won't help me.

(Yes, this is tongue-in-cheek, but true too. At least it keeps me entertained. I'm pretty good now at keeping caught up. It helps that the bedroom TV is not now half filled with Disney crap).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I Want my Kids to be Gamers - Dungeons and Dragons over Baseball

I want my kids to be gamers. I want them to be full-on nerds and play Dungeons and Dragons and other games as well. I want this the same as parents for years have wanted to play catch with their kids or see them become ballerinas. Ok, maybe not that bad.

In any case, it will be an activity I'm sure I will share with them once they get old enough to actually be able to try it. Maybe they'll like it and maybe they won't. I'll do my best to help them have fun, since that is the whole point of it. Gaming has brought me joy for many years and I just want to share it with them. Where they go from there is up to them.

Right now, I have two games I am involved in. One I run, one I play in. The one I run I run at home, and part of the reason I have this game (though obviously only a small reason) is that I want to play at home so my kids can see me play and be interested in it. My daughter already plays with the miniatures quite a lot. She also likes to take the dice. She has taken both and lined them up on the floor in long lines. Sometimes she takes so many dice that I can't actually play anymore (she takes all of them) so I have to sneak and take some of them back so I can keep playing. Once she is old enough for it to really register, maybe by the time she is seven or eight, I'll take her to the local gaming store and let her pick out her own set of dice. Even if she never really games like I do in life, I will still want it to be a fun thing we can do together. Yes, I'm a nerd. And I'm a parent. I'll do the same thing with my son when he gets there as well. Hopefully he won't be jealous of his big sister's dice.

Dungeons and Dragons isn't the only game I'll be showing them, either. There are other RPGs, but there are also board games. I've always had fun with the more strategic board games. Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) is the ultimate one. I'd be happy if even one of my children shows some interest in that. That's not just a game. That's a lifetime commitment. (Btw, just to show how much I hate sports, for the longest time, if you said the name Kurt Schilling to me, I'd think you were talking about the head of MMP, the publisher of ASL, and would know nothing else about him.) ASL deserves a post all its own. Later.

I suppose every parent wants to pass things down to his or her offspring. For me, I hope to pass down, amongst other things (like skepticism, a love of science and reality), a love of games played with friends and family. Real games. Not the fake ones called "sports."

From common consensus with others I have asked about this in the gaming community (mostly online), the age that kids can really start playing something like Dungeons and Dragons is around age nine. But obviously, individuals vary. I guess time will tell.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Time Travel, Eggs, and Sperm

There's been something that always has bugged me about time travel as depicted in movies, books, and TV shows. It is where you see someone change the past, then you go to the "present" and see all of the same people, but in different roles. Now, this is ok where the change was not that far in the past and did not have ripple effects that would have travelled out far enough to cause a change before those people were born, but it is done routinely with things much further back.

The problem is, if you change even slightly something in the past before a given person was born, if that affects that person's parents at all, that person will very likely never exist. I see this is simple statistics. There are millions of sperm in a man's testicles at any given moment. Only one of those is the one that will make a particular individual. Any tiny, miniscule change, and a different sperm is the one that makes it to the egg, if any make it at all. Maybe all it is is changing the moment of conception back an hour or to a different day. Any slight change like that and voila, you have a different person. Now, on the egg end of it, there is more leeway. Only a single egg (generally) gets released during an ovulation cycle, and there might even be some predictable order to which egg matures on a given cycle, so at least that half of the genetic code has some more stability to it, but even then, you only have a few day window in a given month for a given individual to be born, and if something prevents conception during those few days, there goes the other half of the equation. On top of that, factors inside the woman's body after ejaculation may also play a role in which sperm makes it to the egg, so you have yet more variables to consider.

In all, the chance that a particular sperm will fertilize a particular egg is rather small, and so anything that changes the initial parameters will very likely result in a different individual being born. Multiply this times the population of the planet and add in some significant change in the time stream far enough back, and you have a planet full of people, none of whom match the people who would have been there originally.

Of course, the basic Hollywood reason to avoid this problem is so you can use the same actors and, in the case of certain TV shows, have a bit of fun with them playing different roles. That is a bit of dramatic license that is excusable, particulalry where it really isn't a very serious sci-fi show (like some sort of "It's a wonderful life" flashback). But where it is supposed to be hard sci-fi, it just bugs me.

I've only seen one show actually address it (Journeyman), and it made me very happy. I really liked the show in general - so of course, it got cancelled. Ugh. But at least in one episode, the protagonist time-travelled and changed the past, causing him to miss a "date" with his wife on a particular day, so his son turned into his daughter, because she was concieved on a different day.

Of course, given the "let's use the same actors" phenomenon, I don't expect to see this actually addressed much on TV or in movies. But there's always the written word.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Legal Fictions

Under the law, there are things known as "legal fictions." These are things that are, by their very nature, known to be untrue, but which are treated as true under the law.

The most basic one you learn in law school, and one that even non-lawyers generally know, is that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." What this really means is that, generally speaking, everyone is assumed to know the law. This comes into play in particular with criminal law, where it is assumed that everyone knows what is illegal and so can be held accountable for violating the law, no matter how obscure. There are exceptions to this. Most basic would be laws that specifically require knowledge. But that is clear in those individual laws.

What makes it a legal fiction is the sheer volume of the law that is out there. Even the most hardened expert has no idea what all of the criminal laws out there are. That in itself I think is a problem that needs to be addressed (for instance, I'd make it a constitutional rule that all criminal statutes expire every year (or some other short period) and have to be individually considered and debated, with full public comment, before they can be renewed. That would help keep the total number of criminal laws low and would also help to make sure they are really relevant.

But back to the fiction. Obviously, no one knows these laws. So it is pure fiction to treat people as if they did. The reason this is done is because, if we recognized the reality of this, it would be too hard to convict for any of the non-obvious crimes (theft, murder, etc would be pretty obviously wrong), and we can't have that. That would weaken the power of the state over individuals. And really, I think that is the point. Every legal fiction I've seen, the common theme seems to be, they are about giving a burden to individuals and power to the government. It never seems to work the other way around. I think that is what bothers me the most about legal fictions.

Another kind of legal fiction is the "fact finding" made by Congress with some laws that actually is contrary to reality. Like with making Marijuana a schedule 1 substance, even though empirically, by the very rules set up for schedule 1 under the law, it is not. Congress got around reality by just declaring it was by passing a law that says it was with "congressional fact-finding." They tried to do the same thing with laws against certain kinds of abortion procedures. In an effort to avoid the constiutional requirement that there be health exceptions for any ban at a certain time, congress wrote into the law "fact-findings" that there were no medically necessary health exceptions for this procedure, ever. Of course, this was a political finding, not a factual one.

If I had my way, the constitution would also ban such bullshit as that and leave factual findings where they belong, with fact-finders, not law-makers. Oh well.

Maybe if I get around to it, I'll explore some other legal fictions.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama Day One: Fox News Loses It

Fox News is so bad now that you couldn't parody it. One day into Obama's term, they are already at it, with the ridiculous fear-mongering attacks and hopes for his failure. I know this isn't news and this has been oft repeated, but it is so brazen that I just have to wonder if they realize just how off-putting this sort of crap has become.

Or have they drunk their own cool-aid? Do they think this will somehow garner them ratings? Do they even believe this garbage? I know the RWA followers buy it all, but I'd think the media stars know better, or at least, the main ones. I'd love to waterboard Hannity to see what he really thinks about all of this. I think he really believes it. These people are certifiably nuts. What is scary isn't so much that there are people like this out there, but that the rest of the MSM pretty much lets it all slide. You have to go to Comedy Central or a few obscure corners or cable, like Maddow or Olbermann, to find any critical commentary on this sort of stuff at all.

David Gregory is blithely unaware of any of this going on and seems to think being a glorified stenography for GOP presidents (while being more "critical" of Dems) is "serious" journalism.

Many on the left are also already disillussioned with Obama. I can't be. Not yet. I refuse to pre-judge. I want to hold on to some hope, still. I also konw that you can't turn on a dime. I hope that he stands up to the GOP and does what is right as opposed to being cowed, like so many Dems are. Thus far, he's given me reason to hope he has a real backbone.

But back to Fox News. They are a pure propeganda arm of the GOP. It is so obvious. It is just annoying that it isn't made more explicit on the other networks. An honest, unbiased report on any network that mention's "Fox News" would have to precede those words with "the propeganda arm of the Republican Party" and a comma. Sickening. All the while they "game the refs" and try and convince everyone that the rest of the media is pro-Dem, when the reality is, they've been gamed so well and for so long by the GOP that in an effort to avoid that horrible "bias" label that the GOP slaps on every story that is not a word-for-word recitation of GOP talking points, that the MSM is really massively right-wing biased. Despite the fact that this has been extremely well documented, they continue to do it, with people like Gregory promoted into the prominent positions. Oh well, at least there's MSNBC.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Don't Really Like Other People's Kids

Ok, maybe that's too strong a way to put it, though I think it is kind of mild. What I mean is, I don't seem to find little kids all adorable the way one is expected to. I find them mostly annoying. And hard to figure out or relate to.

I must admit that the relating and the annoying has lessened since I've gotten my own kids. I can now empathize with the parents as they try to deal with the little three-year-old terrorists in public. But I still don't really want to have anything to do with other people's kids most of the time. Maybe it is because I just tend not to find other peoples' kids cute, like mine are. I wonder sometimes if my kids look so adorable to me just because they are my kids or if they just happened to be adorable, so I like them for that. I wonder if they were ugly if I would feel the overwhelming bond of love I feel with them. I wonder if just everyone sees their own kids as the prettiest. It is muddied for me by all of the compliments my children get, both my daughter and my son, for how pretty or cute they are - from strangers who just come up out of nowhere to people who see them all the time.

I saw an example of this yesterday, when I was waiting in a never-moving line to see the doctor. Ahead of me was a woman with a small child, probably two-years old. The child just looked disturbing to me. Maybe it was because her face reminded me of an adult face yet it was on a child's body and it brought back images of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (with Donald Sutherland) - where the old bum's face ends up on the dog. The girl was not really listening to her mom and was running around everywhere. So even though I was in no way finding the child adorable, I sympathized with her mother and I also still smiled because it reminded my of my own little bi-pedal terrorist that I had waiting for me at home. Still, I wasn't all that eager to interact with the child and so I was relieved that she never ran in my direction.

Of course, other peoples' kids can grow on me. I spent some time watching a friend's kids before my daughter was born (but she was on her way...) and they were actually adorable and I liked them. So maybe I just like the adorable ones. Or maybe I just like those kids who I get to know, just like any other person. Maybe that isn't so bad - after all, I'm not exactly a social butterfly. Maybe it is just that I treat kids like adults - I'm mostly indifferent to them until I get to know them.

Another thing this makes me ponder is that really loving and taking care of your own children says nothing about how you are with other people or even whether or not you are an asshole. The classic media example of this is the Mob family, where you see Vito or whomever showing such tenderness with his kids before he goes out and slits the throat of someone else's kid for some minor slight. Obviously, love for one's own offspring says nothing about caring for others. Maybe that's hormonal. Or maybe that's just the whole "familiarity" thing. Or both.

One thing I do feel now is the collective angst that all parents feel when you, for instance, read stories like this. I imagine it is my own children and it, frankly, freaks me out. I can't help it. At the same time, it is terribly annoying that these stories get shown so much, because when you really think about it, they had to scour the entire PLANET to find this story about one day care to share it. It wasn't even in this country. Why the hell is this even being mentioned in the United States? Oh wait, that collective angst. Must sell papers. Of course, other children are being slaughtered in countries where they don't have nice white, suburban day care centers. But we don't hear about that. I tend to think that is less racism than simply the lessened impact of the unfamiliar and the general rule that a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. I certainly can't relate to the kind of destroyed society violence that is happening, say, in Darfur. That it totally alien to me. But day care centers, even those in another country, I can relate to that. I drop my kids off at one every single weekday. And I'm the target audience. That's one of the first rules of selling a story - getting you to identify with someone in it.

And now I must do another parent thing - leave my son with a babysitter so the rest of us can go to get Japanese food (my daughter's favorite, and really we all like to eat lunch out at this one restaurant). Yum.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A little taste of my Dungeons and Dragons game world

I don't know when I'll get back to it (my game world), given my schedule. Right now, I'm running a Pathfinder campaign, the first one published. And I really like it. But for any of the one or two of you who might be curious, here is a link to a wiki for my game world.

It is what you would call a "home-brew" world. "Hard-boiled" might be another way to describe it, based on how I created the main world map. (I still haven't gotten to mapping out the city I mention there, but I do have the software for it now. Maybe that can be on my big to-do list).

I must say that the wiki is a totally cool way to present a world. I had originally tried another way online that was kind of klunky, and before that, I just emailed my players word documents with various world information in them. The wiki is far suprerior and it is something I can update very easily. I've added things to it as the world has changed from player actions or as I have added new information on areas to explore.

It certainly is a big leap forward from the tools I had available to me when I first started gaming and designing this world, almost 20 years ago. My only regret is my own limited artistic skill in drawing maps and such. At least the software tools make it all relatively easy, though it can still be a lot of work to make something more than small and basic.

As a final note - I think this as a creative outlet sure beats the hell out of using creativity to make new ways to rip people off or sell bad investments.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama is off to a good start

It still remains to be seen where he is going, but he is off to a good start. The gag order on abortions has been removed, as expected. He's ordered Guantanamo closed. He's ordered an end to torture. (Though now what I want to see him do is order torture prosecutions. My sincere hope is evidence is started to be gathered quietly on this, but that is just a hope).

So far, my hope is still alive, against all odds. It is nice to have a little of that. It beats being a cynical bastard all of the time. Probably improves my health, too.

The New Star Trek Movie Looks Cool

Ok, I don't really have much to say on this right now except that the new star trek movie (trailer here) looks really cool.

I've loved Star Trek since I was a kid. I think the franchise was getting tired. I really did not like the directions it was taken by Rick Berman. I much prefered where Ron Moore took it with Deep Space Nine. Berman was too safe and just would not get out of the box. Voyager stayed too much in the box.

The new movie looks like its totally taken itself out of the box, yet still sticks to the themes and characters that made people love the show. I, of course, haven't seen the movie yet, but I am really looking forward to it. I haven't gotten a Star Trek fix in a long while, though I got some mini-fixes by seeing the remastered, re-done effects for the original 1960s show. Those are really cool, and I'll have to write about them sometime when I have more time.

Suffice it to say that right now, I have high hopes and I can't wait until May.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fallout 3: A Twisted, Disturbing Future-even before the nuclear holocaust

Fallout 3 is the sequel to (appropriately enough) Fallout 2 and Fallout. These games as a group are the spiritual successor to a very old computer game called Wasteland. I've played all of these games. (Warning - going to that link may lead to a lot of spoilers - well, all spoilers, so don't go there unless you don't care to spoil what is an awesomely fun game).

This most recent sequel is a long time coming and has changed the game from a 3rd person view to a first-person 3-D immersive view.

Imagine a society set 200 years in the future with robots and ray guns and other fun toys. Now imagine that this society resembles the 1950s. Or rather, what the 1950s looked like in idealized form with the technology looking like what they imagined technology would look like in the "far" future (such as the 1990s). Robots that look like Robbie the Robot. Future-cars. And so forth.

Of course, the 1950s were a time where TV had a rather twisted view of what life was really like. It was all sugarcoated and hidden from view - reality, that is. Fallout turns this on its ear and gives a very dystopian view of the future. The bleakest of black humor is the way you really need to take the game. It is twisted. That is half of its charm. And charm really is the proper word. It is a charming sort of twisted. It is a deadly serious game with a serious plot (you seeking out your father in the "Capitol Wasteland" - the remnants of what used to be Washington DC). It would be funny if it were not so deeply disturbing, on so many levels.

In all the games, you play a character - a vault dweller. What is a vault? Vaults are underground, sealed shelters where many families live, courtesy of "Vault-Tec(tm)" to survive the nuclear war that may (and eventually did) happen between the US and China. You start the game many decades after that war has happened, safe and secure in your vault. Only then you are forced to leave it and explore the wasteland and what is left of humanity (along with mutants, ghouls, and other things too horrible to describe).

I was thinking of this game as I watched Obama's inauguration today. No, not because I'm contemplating the apocalypse. No, it is something much more mundane. For you see, in the game, one of the areas you can go to is the Mall in DC - the Capitol Building is a place you can explore. Not a very safe place, mind you. But having played the game and fought many a tough fight on the steps leading up to the (to scale) complex, seeing it layed out for the inauguration as I watched it this afternoon (thank you work!) all I could think of was, wow, that looks just like in the game. Well, except for the fact that there were a million people there, of the non-mutant variety, and there were not large craters blasted into the facade. But other than that, wow!

Anyway, I highly recommend this game. I've played it and finished it twice. Once doing all good, once doing basically all evil. There are different paths you can take. Both were fun. Oh, and my daughter loves it to. She would sit on my lap and watch me play - she'd beg me to "go play computer game" so she could watch. Then she'd tell me to go into the "scary tunnels" - her favorite - plenty of those there, between sewers and old metro lines, and other things even worse. She's so disappointed I finished with it. Now she asks me to "play another computer game" - ah, the joys of a 3 1/2 year old.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pardon Me?

I am flabergasted. Obama is now president and there was no big wave of pardons by Bush. Not even Libby got one, though he pretty much already has one, as he never had to go to prison.

This makes me happy, just because it leaves open the possibility of all sorts of juicy prosecutions of the very deserving criminals in the Bush administration. Including Bush and Cheney themselves. Not that I think this is likely, but it is at least still possible. And so, for that, I am grateful. If it turns out not to matter, I'll be rather disappointed, but not surprised.

I have my own theories about why Bush didn't pardon. Most basic is, arrogance. He figures he did nothing wrong and so he doesn't need to offer any. And perhaps he also took signals from Obama that indicated that there would be no prosecutions. I hope those signals were wrong.

But I wonder if it is really all about legacy. Bush has to have heard that he is considered by many the worst president in our history. Perhaps he decided not to pardon because he did not want to "tarnish" his image on the way out. Of course, it is hard to tarnish a large pile of horseshit, but Bush is nothing if not deeply delusional.

So, whatever the reason, I'm glad this door is open, even if none of the Democrats have the guts to step through it.

Lower the Drinking Age to 18

I think it is utterly ridiculous that you can be drafted at 18, but can't drink alcohol until you are 21. It is made more ridiculous by the fact that almost everyone in the entire country drinks alcohol before age 21 anyway.

So I agree with this article. Lower the drinking age to 18. If you are legally an adult at that age, then there is no reason to treat 18 year olds as children when it comes to alcohol. It just pushes that drinking underground. And it just makes no sense whatsoever. You are responsible enough to be able to be put in prison or even executed at age 18, but you can't be trusted to drink a wine cooler. Give me a freaking break.

Of course, I also think drugs in general should be legalized, so what do I know. But regardless of that, society has already decided to make this drug, alcohol, legal. It has just put a ridiculous limitation on it that makes no sense. Time to end this foolishness.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Far Too Many Lawyers Suck

I wish this were not the case, but far too many lawyers suck. You'd think that the fact that you have to take an exam and get licensed would weed out those who suck, but the bar exam is more like a hazing ritual than anything that actually tests how good a lawyer you are. Sure, some measure of intelligence is measured by the exam as well as knowledge, but given that you can take it over and over until you pass, and given that it doesn't really test how you actually perform as a professional lawyer, any weeding it does is limited, at best.

Theoretically, since another requirement is a law degree, then the degree itself would mean something, but really, it doesn't. Most so-called first tier law schools only teach about a year of actual law and the rest is useless theory that might excite law professors who never have to practice in the real world, but mean nothing to actual clients, the people we are supposed to be serving.

My school was much more practical, but even there, mostly what you learn is how to read cases and what the law is in the general sense in a lot of areas. With the exception of a handful of classes (which are not even available at most schools), nothing was practical. The way it used to be done, and apparently still is, is you get the degree, then you actually learn how to be a lawyer by practicing for an experienced attorney (like an apprenticeship) and only after doing that for a few years do you really know how to be a lawyer.

With the job market being total crap, a lot of people are graudating law school with no option but to try and hang their own shingle. Unless they've done some work (maybe in law school) for other attorneys, they really don't know what they are doing. But that's not really what I'm talking about here. That is just inexperience - and anyone who can actually keep a solo practice going for several years is probably going to learn enough to be a decent lawyer. And yet, far too many lawyers suck.

I know lawyers suck because, despite my thus-far limited experience, I've had to deal with far too many lawyers who do, in fact, suck. They write horrible briefs, raising bogus issues, or not properly developing the issues they do have. They raise the wrong issues. They make ridiculous arguments that anyone who actually paid attention in law school would know are laughable. And yet these lawyers stay in business.

I think the reason for that is partially explained by the fact that when someone needs a lawyer, someone who doesn't have use for one generally and may not even know any, there is no real good way to find one who is good. You can't go by TV ads. On top of that, once you have one, many people probably have no idea how to evaluate how good a job their lawyer is doing. For decades, it was actually illegal for lawyers to advertise. I thought that was crazy. I still do.

But I can't blame lawyers for all of this. I think there are lots of unscrupulous clients. People who engage in shady business and so need to hire a shady lawyer to try and cover for them. Or people who are just personally pissed off, like happens in divorce, who go through lawyer after lawyer as the good lawyers refuse to do what the client asks (since good lawyers have scruples), until finally the client finds a real asshole lawyer to do what the client wants. Maybe that is how bad lawyers stay in business. But you can't really blame lawyers in general for that. Well, you can - if lawyers don't proprely police their own. Which they probably don't as much as they should. Though plenty do get disciplined and disbarred, I think the ones that need it don't. Like prosecutors who abuse their power. Nifong was the exception, not the rule.

I think another explanation is our whole criminal system. First, it is set up to be woefully underfunded when it comes to paying for lawyers for defendants. Since the basic rule of economics holds: you get what you pay for, often such defendants get very shitty representation. The lawyers understandably can't afford to spend much time on the cases since they are paid only 5-10% what their time is actually worth. On top of that many lawyers who do take a lot of those do so because they aren't good enough to get the full paying work anyway.

Now, if the shoddy work actually led to discipline, that would be a reason to question all of the convictions - and we can't have that, so the bar just pretends that the work is acceptable for effective assistance of counsel and lowers the bar as far as it can to avoid having any defendants win conviction reversals based on ineffective counsel.

I really wish most lawyers didn't suck. And maybe most don't. But far too many do. I'm not sure what the solution to that is. I'm not entirely sure what the cause is, but I can speculate, as I have above. Maybe the first step is to fully fund public defenders and investigators for them, but that is a pipe dream. Maybe something can be done to allow people to really evaluate who is a good lawyer and who isn't, so the unitiated can make a good choice when deciding who to hire. There seem to be services out there that rate lawyers, but I think they are mostly seeking money from lawyers trying to promote themselves. But maybe there are good services out there, like a consumer reports on lawyers.

As a final note, I hope I don't suck as a lawyer. I'm pretty sure I don't.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Call Torture, Torture, God-Damnit!

It annoys the living hell out of me that on the radio, on the TV, pretty much everywhere in the MSM, the orwellian phrase "enhanced" or "agressive interrogation techniques" is what is used to describe what is actually torture. Hell, even when they use the word "torture" it is always modified, usually as "amounts to torture" or "akin to torture" or something else that implies that maybe whether or not it actually is torture is subject to some reasonable difference of opinion or is just political spin.

Even freaking NPR does it. And worse, they not only won't call it torture, but the CW is that there simply will be no torture investigations, much less prosecutions, which by any sane definition of the law would be required.

I listen to NPR when I drive and every time they do this, I want to scream at the radio that it isn't "akin to torture" it isn't "aggressive interrogation" it is Fraking TORTURE. T - O - R - T - U - R - E - *period* I'd write in to NPR, but I know tilting at windmills when I see it.
Still, maybe someone needs to be doing that tilting. Maybe if I called during pledge week and told them I'd agree to pledge only if they said, on the air, that they would from now on call torture torture.

It is funny how pretty much torture is defined in the MSM as something that only other governments do, and that when the same techniques are used by our government, suddenly it isn't torture anymore. It makes me want to have every single person who has ever said that this torture was anything other than torture put through their so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" until they admit, on video, that it is torture. If this was any indication, they'd all be happily admitting this within about 30 seconds (or less).

Pay to Play: How is what Governor Rod Blagojevich did any different from lobbyists buying power with money?

We were all shocked, yes shocked, to hear that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich had been caught on tape talking about how he was going to directly profit (in the monetary sense) from his power to appoint Obama's replacement in the Senate.

But really how is this any different from so-called campaign donations? I mean, if it is ok to give money to politicians in order to influence them and the ultimate result of an election, what is wrong with doing it a little more directly? It is like how it is illegal to bribe a witness to testify yet it is ok for a prosecutor to give them a reduced sentence or lesser charge (or none at all) for doing so. That is a bribe by any meaningful definition of the word. Something of value given in exchange for testimony. It is just a semantics game to say otherwise.

I'm sure plenty has been said about this already. I don't say this to excuse his actions. He's a first-class slimeball. But I just find it utterly amusing to see how easily everyone seems to agree that it is wrong what happened here while pols everywhere in the nation are taking in billions of dollars (in the aggregate) in political "donations." The laughable thing is that if someone just gave the governor a huge check as a "political donation" and they never discussed it openly, and then the governor appointed that donee to the Senate seat, it would have all been 100% legal. So really, his crime was talking about it, not actually doing it.

Because that's how our hypocritical political culture works. It is ok to pay money for favors. You just have to pretend that it isn't what you are doing. If you actually admit it, then the bubble pops and you can't do it anymore. It reminds me of how jury nullification works. Juries can nullify any criminal charge, but only if they don't actually discuss or admit that is what they are doing.

And now this all brings to mind a book I read some time ago, which I can't recall the title to now, but which was about a society where everyone told the absolute truth, all of the time, without holding anything back. It was an amusing read, especially the introductory banter and small talk you'd see take place between men and women. I'm sure it is obvious why that could be very amusing. I'll have to dig that up and see if I can post the title.

I wonder if it is somehow the case that society can't function without a veneer of lies to hide what is really going on. Like in Victorian England. Like how probably the largest, by far, use of the internet is for watching porn, yet hardly anyone will admit to watching it. It is enough to give me a headache.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On the Importance of Sleep - Parenthood and Cannibalism

I am happy to announce that my head is still attached. The reason this is news is that on frequent occasions of late, my wife has tried to bite it off. Lest anyone accuse us of cannibalism, I am speaking metaphorically.

It isn't that she is a mean person or quick to anger, though you might think that she is. It is that she simply does not get enough sleep. Neither of us does. She stays up late to take care of things around the house. Really, though, they don't need to be done. I do the laundry, the dishes, feed our daughter, sometimes our son as well if she comes home late. I take care of everything when she is home late or out of town. One thing she insists on doing is pumping milk for our son. He's going to be one soon. We have formula. He'd probably be fine without milk now. But she insists. Even though she takes so much time to do it out of every day. Ok, so there are health benefits. Still, I wish she'd stop just so she'd get more sleep. She has to drive. She goes out of town every few months. I actually think that is good, despite the work it is for me, because when she's out of town, I know she can just get some sleep.

So I'm really looking forward to my son's first birthday. I'm hoping we'll all be better rested after that. I recall hearing that teenagers these days don't get enough sleep, either. They have too many activities, they stay up too late, and as a result, they don't learn as well.

I hope my kids don't fall into tha trap. I know, I might as well wish for the moon. Oh well. I can always wish for Helium-3.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons as my Creative Outlet

I'm sure this is no surprise to anyone who has not just played, but actually run, a Dungeons and Dragons game. Or any other roleplaying game, for that matter, but it is a wonderful creative outlet. You get to create worlds. Not only do you get to create worlds, you then get to tell stories in them, collectively, with your friends and see how they enjoy what you have created.

Of course, it is possible to get too carried away with it, to get too lost in your own world (literally) that you forget that the game is about fun for everyone, not just showcasing your creations. So you have to be careful that you focus on the fun and on making a rousing, compelling story, rather than just how clever you are. You also have to not get too attached to a particular villain, or even ally, nor to the "best laid plans" of said villain, because clever players, or even stupid players, can make those plans go astray or even wipe out said villain. Some DMs (dungeon masters to the non-nerds out there) might fudge things to let a star villain get away or let the plans continue, but I really don't. I think it is more fun to let things go in unexpected directions, then run with it. For me, the best recurring villain is one that comes organically out of the play. It isn't the big bad evil guy (BBEG) at the end like some video game boss monster. It is the random guard who just won't go down and who manages against the odds to escape, only to show up later and cause trouble. Maybe the guard eventually becomes a BBEG all his own. Or maybe he just lasts for a few more encounters. Recurring villains are fun when they recur from non-forced events.

I really like to write. But I like to write with at least some purpose. That's part of why I blog. I know when I write here, at least a few people will read it, and maybe even comment on it. It doesn't feel totally pointless, like writing on a piece of paper and then dropping it in the wastebasket.

Writing something for a game is the same way. It will be seen, at least in part, by others. They won't get the whole picture, and sometimes I wish I could just explain it all, but it is also fun to just let it unfold. I never have time to detail everything out, and you never know what direction the players will take anyway, so there is no way to cover all contingencies. You have to think on your feet. Some DMs just railroad players onto set paths or even one set path. I think that gets boring. A lot of published adventures have tracks like that, though the good ones don't, and admittedly, a lot of players help things along anyway, because they want to stay on the tracks and see where the adventure will lead them (and with the limited playing time we all have as adults, they just don't want to spend too much time off the track or flailing about if there's a mystery to solve or a kingdom to save).

Unfortunately, lately, I have had little time to do much world-building. That is starting to change, as evidenced by my increased blogging. I may start world-building again. I'd really like to. Right now, I'm running one game through the first Pathfinder series from paizo. It is really good and the players are having fun with it. I like a continuous campaign over a series of unconnected adventures, though when I do my own designs, I do enjoy to alter and string together published stand-alone adventures. That can work really well.

Another creative outlet with gaming is for when I play a character instead of running the game. Invariably, I come up with an interesting, sometimes outlandish, character concept and then really run with it. I do "write-ups" after each evening of playing, usually written in first-person perspective, like a journal, and then I end up with a record of the game from that character's perspective. The longest one of those I have would probably be longer than a published novel. The only difficulty with that is it is sometimes hard to keep up with the writing and so it can be uneven. But it is fun and it helps me get into the head of the character.

I try to encourage players in my game to do the same thing, by offereing bonus experience for doing so. Some take it, some don't, usually based on time. Those can be enjoyable to read.

I have them all online, actually. The stories. Even a wiki of the world I created. Maybe sometime I'll link to them from here if someone asks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top Unknown Sci-Fi Movies for 2009 - And Helium-3 Fusion!

A friend of mine pointed out this post about the top nine unknown sci-fi films to look out for in 2009. Some of them look pretty interesting. I like finding smaller films like this - while many suck, a smaller film also has a better chance of actually being done intelligently for lack of studio suit interference.

One film in particular, Luna, caught my eye because it centers around mining Helium-3 on the moon. That is just so cool that they have that, because that is actually a material that would be mineable on the moon and could potentially revolutionize power production. For you see, the ultimate fuel for fusion power would be Helium-3. The only problem is, it is basically not found on Earth. There's probably enough to experiment with, but that's about it.

But the Moon, sitting out there with no atmosphere, has been collecting Helium-3 from the solar wind since the moon was formed. The regolith (the moon's surface crust) is loaded with it. It isn't that hard to mine. You just collect up the dust, heat it up a bit to loosen the Helium, and collect it. I read that mining the surface of the moon this way would yield enough Helium-3 to provide fusion power for the entire planet Earth for over a century. Of course, then we'd be out of luck, except for the huge balls of helium we have called Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Uranus might be the best candidate. Send a ship out there to sift out some Helium-3 from Uranus's atmosphere, then fly it back. You could collect enough Helium-3 that way to make the whole venture massively profitable - probably getting back 100 times in value in power the actual cost of the mission.

So anyway, I digress greatly, but I just thought that was really cool that someone was using that as a premise in a sci-fi movie.

The Bruce Willis movie also sounds interesting.

And finally, The Box. That movie is based on a premise I've seen done before. I wonder what they'll do differently with it. Minor Spoiler: (Don't read further unless you want to be spoiled) - In the version I saw, the guy pushes the button and gets the money. This then kills someone else, but it is someone the button-presser doesn't even know. Then the box person comes back to collect the box. And of course, he tells him that he will now give the box to someone else. Someone the button-presser doesn't even know. Sinister end music. Kind of an interesting mini-morality play.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gen Con 2009 - What is there for those who still play 3.5E?

Gen Con is what is considered by many (and by me) to be the gaming convention.

Despite my longstanding participation (off and on) with gaming, I have only managed to make the trip out to Gen Con once. I would not remember the precise year had I not saved the program. It was 1994. John DeLancie was one of the special guests. I did not try and wait in line to get his autograph or talk to him, but I did see him there.

Larry Elmore was also there, with pretty much his whole family, in a booth. I liked Elmore a lot as a kid. He did a lot of Dragon Magazine covers. He also did the original art on the cover of the original Dragonlance novels. (I liked those, but didn't think they were great - I have read better fantasy). He has a very distinctive style. A friend of mine thinks that you can always tell an Elmore painting by the feathers. I'm not sure how true that is, but I certainly can recognize his work. I really liked his Snarfquest comic as a kid as well. That and What's New with Phil and Dixie I looked forward to in my Dragon magazines each month. Again, neither were high art, but they were fun, and there's nothing quite like the memories of what you enjoyed as a kid. Needless to say, I really enjoyed meeting him and getting some of his art signed.

Additionally, I managed to snag one of the last Dragon Magazines I did not have at that time, Issue number one. This was before E-bay, so digging up old issues mostly involved treasure hunts in used bookstores (one bookstore hit me the mother lode). Gen Con was the last, ultimate place to get any holes filled in. After Issue One, I basically had them all, save, I think, Issue 61, which, ironically enough, was the issue that came out just before the very first Dragons I ever bought, Issues 62 and 63.

I actually did not play any RPGs at the convention. I tend to think it is more fun to play that with friends on an ongoing campaign, so it didn't appeal to me to play any at Gen Con. There was lots to do and see without doing any games, though I did sign up to play Advanced Squad Leader - both in single games and in a tournament. I ended up doing very well, nearly winning the tournament and winning a few single round games. That was a lot of fun. That's when I determined that my skill at the game was actually pretty decent. Up until then I had basically only played it with my cousin (who also went to Gen Con with me). My cousin also figured out I was good at it because he also played ASL there and did very well - up until then, in playing only me, I had beaten him almost every single scenario we had done. In so doing, he learned how to play very well by playing me, so when he played others, he actually beat them quite handidly. One of these days, I may post more about that game in general. One other funny thing of note - in one of the large games of ASL I played at Gen Con, a team game, one of the people on the opposite side looked almost exactly like my brother-in-law. It was uncanny.

I also saw some interesting anime films and attended a few seminars (I think) but mostly I don't remember all of the details. It was 15 years ago.

Now, last year, I wanted to go again. Several of my friends went, and they have gone for the past few years. Because of uncertainties with an impending change of jobs last year, I did not end up going (which turned out to be the right move as I did get a new job just a few weeks before the convention). Now I really want to go this year, but as it turns out, I have now tried 4E and don't really like it. My friends actually go and play the RPGs there and that was what I was going to do, but now that Wizards has completely switched over to 4E, I feel less enthusiastic about going.

After thinking about the last one I went to, maybe it isn't so bad. After all, I didn't do RPGs at all last time. But I probably would want to this time with my friends. Also, there is always the fun of seeing what new products are coming out. Except now that all new products are 4E, that really has lost its luster.

So now I wonder, just what will Gen Con ultimately offer for someone like me who is sticking with 3.5E? I will have to look at what is planned and figure that out. I'm going to have to discuss this with my friends as well. Maybe we just need to go and see how it goes and then decide if we'll ever go back after that. I'm sure half the fun will be just going on a trip. I haven't done that in a very long time. I have two baby anchors. I haven't taken a vacation outside of simply staying at home while not at work in over four years.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Virginity is Overrated

Viriginity is vastly overrated. It isn't just with the religious people, though I'm sure that's where a lot of it comes from.

Looking back over the centuries, there is at least some sense of why virginity might be worth something in women. In societies where property and so much else is determined by blood succession, it was important to know paternity and, absent any scientific test or understanding about fertility in pregnancy, the only way to really be sure that a child was yours (if you were a man) was if you were the only person having sex with the mother. So there is a certain sense in that, whatever your opinion of the overall system. And I'm sure there are artifacts of that in views about virginity today. It still even exists in the law to a degree in most (if not all) states: A child born to a married couple is automatically the legal child of the husband, regardless of the reality of who the father really is. This can be very hard to challenge, and in some cases, really cannot be. Under the law, it is considered more important to nail down the husband as responsible for the kid than it is to actually determine true paternity.

Today, though, given we can test paternity with basically 100% accuracy (well, barring twin issues), this takes virginity for paternity off the table as an issue.

Disease might be another reason you would want your sex partner to be a virigin, though today, with condoms and treatments, that is also less of a worry. On top of that, since viriginity was only valued for women, not men, and men can also transmit STDs, that makes the whole disease issue as an historical rationale full of shit.

With paternity and disease really off the table as primary issues for virginity, that just leaves the "moral" issue. Which again, is primarily directed at women, which again makes it full of shit.

Now that disease, paternity, and morality are out of the way, I want to get to what I really wanted to talk about, is the overrated "specialness" of virginity and "saving yourself." Personally, I think this sort of overrating creates unrealistic expectations and also puts too much worry in early relationships on sex and when it will happen rather than on what really makes for a good relationship.

This probably becomes apparent to most thinking people as they get older and have different relationships over the course of their lives (unless of course they marry in high school and stick with it, in which case they may never learn). It is what I noticed. When I was younger and dating younger women, women just past high school, or had friends at that age, there was this huge obsession about sex and when would be the "right" time to do it, and whether "this person" should be "the one" to do it with and all sorts of things that got built on top of that. Meanwhile, with so much time and energy spent on worrying about such things, the actual relationship was rather ignored.

Then, as I got older and dated older women, women who were long past "losing" their virginity, this was not an issue at all. Sex was a given in a relationship. The focus was on, is this a good relationship, and on other adult issues. In the transition between young to older, there was some trepidation about the first time sleeping with a particular person, but ultimately even that faded away as it just became a given, like holding hands or kissing. Sure, it is important that it is there and it is satisfying, but no one expected it to be the cornerstone of importance for the relationship.

I mean really, there is no real test to see if someone is a virgin. Sure, you can check the hymen with women, but that ultimately doesn't mean anything given the possible ways it can be broken without sex. If someone gets amnesia and can't remember having ever had sex, are they a virgin or aren't they? For all practical purposes, they would be, but so what? Nothing magical changes when you have sex. It is just a mechanical process when you get down to it.

On top of all of this, people remain "virgins" by just redefining what sex means. If you have oral sex or manual sex or anal sex, you are still a "virgin" despite the fact that you have shared an orgasm with someone. Personally, I see sex as sex - it doesn't matter how you manage to get off, if you get off, it is sex. So even if you have only slipped a hand down the pants of a date to get your date off, at that point, sorry, not a virigin. But as I have said above, so what? Life is short. Might as well enjoy it without feeling guilty about it. I think guilt probably plays a large role in the whole virginity game as well - people want to be virgins because they don't want to feel guilty for NOT being one. That brings us back to religion, and I certainly don't place any stock in what religions have to say about sex.

Virginity is overrated. I think it is better to focus on real relationship issues. Instead, it acts as a distraction when you are young and is used as a bludgeon against the young when you are old. Bah.

Monday, January 12, 2009

BART Police Shooting makes me wish I was a prosecutor

Apparently what happened was a police officer shot and killed a helpless "suspect" (video here) who was on his belly on the ground, not resisting at all. Something like this makes me wish I was a prosecutor. I'd charge the police officer with first degree murder, using the same sort of logic used to charge non police all the time. Of course, the reality is that I doubt this cop will get charged anywhere near as severely as a non-cop would be. That just makes my blood boil.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Structured Blogging Schedule

Anyone paying attention to this blog over the past two weeks might have noticed a change. Namely, I've actually been updating it basically every day, sometimes more than once.

Something I've been kicking around is the notion of having regular updates on certain themes on certain days of the week. One thing I've noticed about my own blog reading is that 1) I tend to only check out the blogs I know regularly update and 2) I also pay attention to particular topics and like to see those topics in particular updated.

There are certain topics I cover again and again simply because they interest me. So I'm now going to formalize it. Certain days will be for certain topics. But I'm not going to limit myself. Let me explain how I'll do it.

Say the topic is "Law" for Mondays (and it will be). That means that every Monday, there will be a "law" post. There might also be other posts on other topics (or even on Law) that day as well, but you can be sure there will be a "law" post that day.

I'm doing this both to help keep me on a regular posting schedule as well as to give a heads up to anyone reading this blog of what to expect, at least in part. I have a long list now of topics I wish to discuss, and this will help me organize when I will get to each. I may also start doing a few other things regularly, like commenting on new Michigan cases as they are published. I read them anyway, and so maybe a plain-english explanation of what they mean might be nice.

Another thing I want to make sure I do is put at least one post about each of these topics up per week, so this is another way for me to get myself to do this. If I ever run out of things to say on a particular topic, I may revisit this, but for now, I have a big enough mouth I'm not worried that I will.

So without further ado, here's my planned update schedule:

Sunday - Politics
Monday - Law
Tuesday - Wildcard
Wednesday - Gaming - be it RPGs or Computer games or games in general
Thursday - Entertainment - Movies, TV Shows, Books - my thoughts, my recommendations, my rants
Friday - Gaming - mostly RPGs (I try to game twice a week, might as well post about it twice a week...)
Saturday - Personal

My Daughter Is Potty Trained

After over three years, the diaper train is finally over. My daughter is potty trained. We finally had to just push her into it totally by taking away diapers. We figured out that she really knew she could not poop or pee in her underwear, so she'd prefer diapers so she did not have to run to the bathroom and interrupt whatever important activities she was in the middle of.

It also helped that we moved her up to the potty-trained room and just gave her no choice in the matter. It was basically instantaneous. So now we've been diaper free (well, for her anyway) for almost a month. What a relief! Well, except for having to take her to the bathroom when she needs to go. This is usually announced with a loud "I need to go potty!" with attendant little hands held on her butt as she runs for the bathroom as if she's about to spill all over the floor. I've since figured out that this, as with all things with my daughter, is about her being a drama queen rather than any imminent danger of spillage.

So one chapter in her life has now drawn to a close. And I am so happy about it. I'd celebrate except I'm too busy changing her brother's diapers (he'll be one soon!) and cleaning up after both of them. Oh, and trying to keep them from killing each other. Though they play well together, for the most part.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sometimes I wish I didn't have to eat

Sometimes I wish I didn't have to eat. It is not that I don't enjoy food. I am sure I enjoy it the same as most people. Though I do have a sensitive stomach, I'm mostly used to that as well. It is just that eating is a pain. You have to arrange the time to do it, line up the food for it, and you have to do it while juggling everything else that is going on, which lately, has been a lot.

It would be nice to be like nuclear powered or something - you throw in a new fuel rod every 20 years and that is that. On top of the time saved not eating, you could also save time by not having to use the bathroom. That's also a pain.

It is also a pain when there simply isn't time to really eat anything, as I see happen often now on any day I have court. Some judges seem to just like to push right through lunch time. I had one case start at 9 am and we finished at 4 pm, with no lunch break. I had a massive headache by the end of the day and was not feeling particularly good. Now I have animal crackers in little packets in my court-bag so I can at least make sure I get some calories in me on a break. Animal crackers seem to work best as a relatively stomach-friendly snack that won't give me a headache.

As it is now, I choke down frozen dinners at work and try to scramble to find something to feed myself and my children after work. We ate out a lot. We still eat out, but I'm trying to cut back on that to save money and also mabye be a bit healthier, though that is hard when we just have frozen dinners instead.

Maybe when the children are older, we can do more cooking, though that has the additional difficulty of preparation time and cleaning up.

Oh well. I guess I'm stuck. Maybe the nuclear powered stomachs will come out next year.

Palestinians and PR

Barefoot Bum has a post about why there is no moral equivalence between Hamas's desire to destroy Israel and what Israel is doing, because Hamas is relatively powerless. I don't disagree with that premise.

What I do think is that it is not particularly helpful to express such a desire in the PR sense, as I commented in that thread. I think this got misconstrued somewhere along the way, so I posted a longer comment, which was so obnoxiously long I decided to make it part of a post here. Here it is:

BB: I think you missed my point. I'm not saying that Palestinians don't need protection and I'm not saying that Israel isn't in the wrong. They do and Israel is. Israel needs to stop this immediately. I'm not saying the Palestinians deserve to be attacked for what they say.

I just think it fails to help the Palestinian cause to have the official government of Gaza declaring they will kill all Israelis and erase Israel from the map. It wins no one to their cause and it reduces the level of sympathy people feel for them, which is rather counter productive.

And I'm sorry, it is just stupid. It is morally justified for Palestinians to want justice against those who are killing them right now. It is NOT justified for them to want to kill lots of additional, innocent people on top of that.

Personally, I wish we would butt out of Israel - it is disgusting that we send so much military aid to them and on top of that, despite large numbers of people who object to this latest offensive and to Israel policy in general, there are no politicians in this country who will speak out against Israel - it is instead unconditional support no matter what atrocities they commit. Glenn Greenwald has a post on this where he wonders if there is any other issue on which there is unanimous agreement in the ruling class that is totally unrepresentative of the population at large.

While we share responsibility for the mess there because of the military aid and support we give, and so this explains some of our interest, I also find it rather disgusting that Israel and Palestine get so much attention while other areas of the world where there are even greater atrocities being committed (some with aid from us) are totally ignored in the media.

Finally, just to make sure I'm totally clear as apparently I wasn't the first time around - I never said that the Palestinians need to disarm or not defend themselves, I never said that we should not speak out against what Israel is doing. All I said was that it was not helpful for the Palestinians to have their government in Gaza have an official policy of wanting to kill all Israelis and wipe the nation off of the map. I don't think the fact that they do have this policy means we don't try to stop this stupid Israeli war or that we don't try to protect them, give them their own state, and everything else that needs to be done.

To get to my silly example, I wasn't saying that I should not be rescued from being kidnapped and tortured or that the torture was justfiied. I was saying that I'm probably going to find a lot fewer people willing to rescue me if I talk about murdering innocent people once free to do so. And while maybe a PR Factor like that is irrelevant in an individual kidnapping, it is very relevant when the issue is on the world stage and requires other nations to take action than your own (refering to the Palestinians).

PR matters. Which is why their position, while somewhat understandable, is still stupid. Especially when they are pretty much powerless, so all they have as ammunition in this fight are their words.

You mention the fact that I'm a lawyer - well, with real cases, often the most relevant factor is how sympathetic your client is. If the facts and law are on your side but the jury sees your client as a totally unsympathetic asshole, you can lose just based on that. Which is why any good lawyer does his or her best to make the client look as sympathetic as possible. Think of this as my attempt at legal advice. You don't get any sympathy points for calling for the deaths of innocents - you lose them.

I think the facts and the law are on the side of the Palestinians in this - I see Israel's attack as basically evil. It can only help the Palestinians in this to also seem as sympathetic as possible.

In any discussion on this, the side that is unconditionally supporting Israel just pulls out all of the death to innocents rhetoric from Hamas to justify it. Why not take that away from them? It gets a lot harder to justify it- not that I have any illusions that the rabid right would change their mind, but maybe without such statements we could find some politicians who would go the other way.

As a final thought, I understand what BB means when he says that until I get down and fight in Gaza, perhaps my opinion doesn't mean much. Point taken. But at the same time, this needs to be discussed. If I'm wrong, how else would I find out I'm wrong except by discussing it and working it out? Really, what I think is irrelevant even if I did grab a gun and went to Gaza. I'd probably just be killed and the destruction would continue. Probably I have more chances of making a change by words than with a gun, given who I am. And that still isn't much of a chance.

Ultimately, perhaps I should have just kept my big mouth shut. McCardle's post on this comes to mind.
UPDATE: I have since seen BB's response to this rather too-long comment. I think he is right that PR shouldn't matter. But it does, all too often. It is, at the very least, a tool available to use. Is it really any worse than a gun or a rocket when it comes to tools used to fight oppression?

Friday, January 9, 2009

A New Era Begins on Michigan Supreme Court

It is now official. Justice Diane Hathaway was sworn in yesterday, making the Michigan Supreme Court split three-three-one, with a slight favor toward the three democrats, as I've mentioned before. And somewhat predictably, the new Chief Justice is Marilyn Kelly, a Democrat, the first in a long time. (Here is the official press release).

I'm so excited about this. This is a major change in Michigan, one that will probably start having immediate effect as the new court starts to hear cases this year. The "gang of four" ruled the court with an arrogance that was extraordinary, even for judges. It was disgusting. They particularly did not like Kelly, so this first action for the new court is like a stick in their eye. I'm not ashamed to say that I enjoy it in that respect as well. They certainly deserve it.

99.8 Percent of ER Docs Surveyed Say Cops Too Violent in Making Arrests

I saw this survey up in a general news post before I saw it mentioned at Simple Justice, but I was too busy/lazy to say anything then. I have seen examples of it in some cases I've worked on as well - one that comes to mind is a case where a bunch of big cops arrested an almost 70-year old man and the man ended up with pretty severe trauma. Admittedly, he was arrested for potentially shooting a rifle at the police, but they really did not need to rough him up like he was.

I'm sure in a lot of situations it is more adrenaline than malice that leads to the massive beatings, but really, cops should know better and should be better trained than that. Probably it is a personality thing. I had a case where I needed to call a bunch of police witnesses. I ended up talking to one of them before the hearing for a while. He was a nice enough guy, probably in his mid-20s, and he was on the night shift. I asked him if he did not like working off hours, and he said no, he loved it. He said that he did not become a cop to talk to people and make nice, he wanted to bust heads (I'm not sure he said exactly that, but that is the gist of it). He did not say it with malice. I'm sure what he was getting at was that there just was much more "action" late at night. Generally you don't find good citizens doing good citizen things at 3 am, if watching "Cops" is any indication. So anyone you find out that late is probably doing something they could be arrested for, may be intoxicated, and is thus ripe for a confrontation with police. I can certainly see how that would be unlikely to be boring.

I don't really know what you can do about this, other than charging police with crimes (as they should be, under the law) when they assault those they arrest, and that is about as likely to happen as Dick Cheney making gay porn. Oh wait, he's a Republican, maybe that isn't so unlikely after all.

As always, when it comes to police and prosecutors, the question becomes, who watches the watchers?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Prosecutor's Office Eliminates Plea Bargains

A local prosecutor's office has delcared that they will no longer do plea bargains and will instead simply charge defendants with the appropriate crimes. While I applaud the notion of actually charging defendants with the appropiate offenses rather than overcharging to force them to give up their rights and plead guilty to a "lesser" (but usually not really lessor since the "greater" charge probably could not have been proven in court) charge, I don't see how it can work in practice.

As the commenters and the blog author point out, the system would collapse if not for pleas. As it is, about 3% of cases actually go to trial. And even that can overload the system. Having 33 times as many trials would implode the courts, leaving a smoking crater.

Now, the solution to that would be to both charge appropriately, and then offer plea bargains to actually lesser crimes rather than overcharging. But of course, once you do that, then I think things would creep back up to overcharging again. Because prosecutors have way too much power. Grand juries were supposed to be a check on that power, but as it is, they are mostly a joke, as I've discussed before. Oh well. I can dream.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Knowing Hope from Obama

I must say that I really didn't expect much from Obama. I did expect a huge improvement in the federal government, but that is more a reflection of just how horribly bad things were under Bush rather than any notion of how great things might be under Obama. Just getting halfway competent people who actually believe in following the law would accomplish vast improvements across the board.

But, like Glenn Greenwald, I am quite impressed with the choices Obama has made for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and for CIA director. I am particularly impressed with the OLC choice, given what she has said about the despicable behavior of the Bush administration and its contempt for the law.

It remains to be seen what those two will do when actually in office, just like it remains to be seen what Obama will do, but I can at least feel a little hope now. I am particularly concerned with the horrible damage Bush has done to the rule of law and to civil rights, so the OLC position is of special importance to me. (As I think it should be for everyone).

Of course, I still have little hope of actual prosecutions of all of the Bush lawbreakers (up to and including Bush himself), but it does occur to me that if there was to be such prosecutions, one important step to make for them would be an appointment to OLC like this. Not that I think this signals prosecutions, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

So I get to taste a little bit of hope now. I hope the taste doesn't turn bitter in a few months or years. And truly, I don't think Obama is going to be some progressive dream of a president, but one can only feel despair for so long (like say, the past eight years) before one needs a little mental break from it all. I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Socialism and Communism by the Numbers

Barefoot Bum has been putting up a lot of posts recently describing communisim. I've found the discussion fascinating, but I've had difficulty picturing how it all would work in practice in the real world. He was kind enough to offer a more detailed example, though as I commented to that post, I still don't feel like I see the big picture. I am really curious how communism in practice would actually work, with real numbers, for a cross-section of professions, especially with a side-by-side comparison to capitalism. The experimenter in me wishes one could run an actual simulation of both and compare them directly to see what happens.

As I mentioned in that post, something I've often thought about is how one could balance making sure everyone in society can live comfortably while also allowing for ambition and non-welfare type incentives. As I alluded to in my comment there, I have thought about a bifurcated system. I don't know how it would work, but the basic idea would be that you have a minimum level of support provided for everyone for the basics: Food, shelter, and medical care. Nothing fancy, but comfortable. Then for those that want more, you can go out and earn it just like today (well, without the "do it or starve" threat that forces people to do all sorts of things they'd rather not). Given our abundance of food, probably the food part would be the easiest part. Some form of universal health care is also doable - other countries have done it - even if you think it would be a crappy thing to do, at least it would cover everyone. I tend to think providing shelter would be the hardest part - the costs vary so much depending on where you are, and I can't help think of how successful housing projects are - or rather, were not. But maybe that was avoidable. In any case, I'd wonder if you'd have to keep some sort of limit on how comfortable people were without working, or else you'd end up with very few people feeling much incentive to work. Or would you pay for it by your own labor? But then how would that work? How would it be measured? Hours of labor alone seems a rather poor measure - it doesn't reward innovation or efficiency. Just the opposite. If I can build a shoe in an hour just as good as the average good-shoemaker can make in five hours, it seems unfair to force both of us to work five hours before we earn a shoe we can keep.

Any more good examples out there to help me make sense of this?

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Mythical Age of Liberalism in the Courts

Turn on any random right-wing talking head, and you're bound to soon hear complaints about "activist" courts and "liberal" judges. I've discussed how claims of "judicial activism" are nonsensical. And they are. But there are liberal judges to rail against, right? Judges who are "soft on crime" and so forth? Well, that's the thing. I really don't think there are. Not anymore. And it did not hit me just how true that is until I came across a case while researching another issue. It was a Michigan Supreme Court Case from 1971.

After reading the decision, my jaw dropped. I could not believe I was reading it. It was the sort of thing you'd expect right-wingnuts to rail against. Except that it was real, rather than imagined. It was an actual reversal of a conviction, something rarer than rare today. And it wasn't just the reversal that was remarkable, but the reasons for it. I still have trouble believing that it was a real case decided by real judges. While there are nominally two (soon to be three next week) progressive justices on the Michigan Supreme Court, I have difficulty imagining even one of them writing such an opinion as a minority dissent.

What did the decision do? Well, for starters, it found one of Michigan's anti-marijuana laws on the books at the time unconstitutional. And the reason it was found so was because the law classified Marijuana as a narcotic when it clearly is not. In other words, the court refused to let politicians alter reality to put someone in prison. Contrast this to today's court, which not only allows Marijana to be classified as schedule I, despite all scientific evidence that shows that it simply cannot qualify as such under the criteria used to qualify for schedule I, but they added a harmless, non-mind-altering metabolic byproduct of THC as a schedule I drug, something not even the draconian Feds have done.

The 1971 court did not stop with finding that one law unconstitutional. Another issue was entrapment. The sale of drugs to undercover police in this case was clearly entrapment - they badgered the defendant into selling his personal stash. The prosecutor argued that the conviction was still good for possession because even if the sale was caused by entrapment, the defendant's prior possession was done all on his own. Today's court would buy that easily. But in 1971, the court killed that by noting that the police never would have had evidence of possession if not for the entrapment, and threw out those charges as well.

Anyone who listens to right-wing talk radio might think this is an everyday occurence - and maybe in 1971 it wasn't so rare, but today? It simply does not happen. Not ever. Because the liberal judges the right rails about have not been in office for 30 years. They are railing against an almost mythical past. It doesn't exist. Not today. It isn't just that there are more conservatives on the court, it is that there really are no liberals anymore. The range goes from center-left (at most) to extreme right, with the "middle" somewhere well to the right.

Truly I wish the right-wingnuts were right, that there really were such judges out there - that would give me some hope for sane court rulings. But at least in Michigan, such judges exist in an almost-mythical past. For a brief moment, I got to visit that time, reading that opinion. It still doesn't seem real to me. (If anyone is interested, I can dig up the citation for the case - I'm not sure it is available online without a paid subscription since it is older than the cases Michigan has online for free).

What gives me some small hope is that the left has FINALLY started to build a counter to the right-wing machine that has been feeding judges into the system now for over 30 years, transforming the judiciary completely into a right-wing stronghold. The left pretty much sat back and did nothing to counter this. Clinton certainly did nothing to help transform the courts back in the other direction - he made mostly moderate appointments, which simply cannot counter the far-right appointments of the GOP. The GOP founded the Federalist Society for this. The left has now, as of 2001, founded the Amercian Constitution Society. It remains to be seen if it will be even 1/10th as effective as the Federalist Society, but it is a start. (Thanks to Ed for apprising me of the ACS - maybe I should have known about it already, as I am a lawyer, but I guess it just shows that the left has a long way to go if even a lawyer like me has never heard of the ACS until now). It may be a good sign that the ACS is plugged in to the Obama administration. Now we just have to see what happens over the next 4 (or hopefully 8 or more) years.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My Thoughts on Dungeons and Dragons 2E

I've not played Dungeons and Dragons 2E in ages - really, not since I played 1E. If I had to guess (and I do), I'd say that I last played 1E / 2E before I moved away from my fellow players back in 1995. Wow, at least 14 years ago. Time flies. I did not play again until 3E came out in 2000, so I went about 5 years without playing. I also stopped playing while in Law School (for the most part) so I did not play from about 2002 to 2005. I'm glad to say that I've played since 2005 now steadily, once or twice a week, and I am quite enjoying it.

But now back to 2E.

I must confess, while I continued to get Dragon and Dungeon magazine (delivered to my parent's address, so I did not even read them) for my off years, 1995 - 2000, I did not buy any books or really even pay attention to the game at all. So my experience is with the early 2E supplements, from 1989 to about 1994. And I found much to like with them.

First, they had the "kits" - variations on classes to make things more interesting. I really liked those and there was a lot of good material to use, though I haven't looked at it in a while.

But really, hands down, what I liked most about 2E is something that they got rid of for 3E and onwards - and that is speciality priests. Clerics were made much more interesting by that. The way it worked was that they put cleric spells into "spheres" - like for instance, there was a "healing sphere" for healing spells, a "weather sphere" for weather like spells (or something like it), and so on. And then they could adjust the power of a cleric by giving the cleric to those spheres. It was further subdivided by minor or major access, which put a level limit (I think it was level 3) for "minor access" spheres. This allowed great customization between different dieties and, more importantly, it gave much more room to adjust other attributes and powers for a cleric. For instance, you could make a cleric of a war god have access to only a handful of spheres, combat oriented, and then to make up for the relatively fewer spell choices, give that cleric a better hit die, better combat abilities, or other powers.

They took this and combined this with the kits to come up with a whole lot of different variations on the cleric based on the diety. I took that idea and ran with it and made up my own pantheon of about 30 dieties and then customized the spheres and other powers within it. That was all part of my home-brew campaign world, a world I updated to 3E. I also updated the clerics for it. But since they no longer had spheres, there was really no easy way to do that. 3E has domains, which is a minor sort of variation for clerics - you pick two domains and get an extra domain spell from each (you pick which to prepare) and an extra minor power as well for each. That is certainly nice, but it isn't as flexible as what 2E allowed.

My next idea to implement more variation was to set up prestige cleric classes for each diety that could be taken that would give that variation. Unfortunatley, that is a whole lot of work - more than just messing with sphere choices and adding a few powers, and so I have yet to finish that little project. As it is, I just finished one of them. Maybe one of these days I'll get back to it. It is all up on a wiki page right now.

Getting back to 2E in general, I did like playing it. It simplified some things, made a few other things in the game just feel like they made more sense. Alot in 1E just didn't make a lot of sense - it was sort of ad hoc, given the way the system evolved. Not that I didn't enjoy it, but it wasn't quite as robust as 2E. It had strange things, like how psionics worked, and so forth. 2E made psions their own class with their own powers, which was much better than 1E's system. I made a rather enjoyable 2E psion, who was really a merchant with some extra powers on the side (the way I envisioned him).

So there was much to like about 2E for me. I really enjoyed playing it for about five years, until I was out of gaming for a while when I moved. I probably will never go back to 1E or 2E, but I will certainly take the experiences I had with both and use them when I play now, like with the speciality clerics I mentioned above.

I know that there were complaints about too many useless supplements that were put out, causing all sorts of problems. I can't speak to that personally, since I did not get those supplements or play with them. I can certainly imagine the problems of a system that has been out too long and has had rules-creep. And in the end, you play with what you want and don't really use the rest. That is part of why I don't feel quite as bad about 3.5E basically dying now. I know the system is complete and I never need to buy another "official" supplement to keep up with it. Hell, I'll probably never get through all of the books I do have, but I do have them if I need them. (Shelf space is also an issue...)

So I've played 1E, 2E, 3E, 3.5E, and 4E. I had fun with all of them except 4E, though it was interesting to try, as I mentioned in an earlier post. And I have fond memories of 2E - there were some great ideas there. Some of its elements are worth another look.

Israel is Just Stupid

Israel is now in the midst of invading Gaza. Justified or not, it is just stupid. Ultimately, it seems like the only thing that matters in this never-ending war between Israel and the entire arab world is how it plays out PR-wise in the rest of the world. And on those terms, Israel loses every time its military goes on the offensive. They end up killing lots and lots of arabs, many of them civillians, and so they look really really bad.

If I were in charge, I'd just let the rockets come. Not because I want Israeli civillians to be killed, but because they are so damn ineffective that hardly anyone will be hurt. Further, as history has shown, you simply can't stop them anyway. The benefit to letting them come is it lets Israel and ONLY Israel claim to be the victim. They can show on TV all of the innocent civillians hurt or killed after each attack. They can make much of this. Meanwhile, the Palestinians, since the Israelis aren't launching attacks of their own, will have no such images and no such claims to air. Then Hamas will just look like the murdering thugs that they are and they will have no argument that it is justified for them to randomly murder civillians.

This would have to be combined with Israel allowing open borders, so there is no difficulty with humanitarian aid getting in, and the trade will help people find work other than just launching rockets.

I don't expect it will change things overnight, but over time, as this pattern is repeated - Palestinian murder accompanied by Israeli restraint and clear humanitarianism, attitudes will change. Eventually they will even change in the arab world, though that will take some time. Before someone starts calling me naive or starts pointing out the duty of a nation to protect its citizens - I will say that I realize this and this is exactly about protecting citizens. Israel's existence is in no way threatened by random small rocket attacks. It just isn't. Israel has a massive advantage against the Palestinians militarily. This massive advantage is what allows them to sit and not respond with force. They don't need to. It is like how a massively muscled man can basically ignore a tiny person's attack on himself with punches that really don't hurt. Retaliate, and the strong man looks like a bully. Stand there, ignoring the ineffective punches while trying to calm the small attacker down makes the big man look compassionate and diplomatic and makes the small attacker look more and more foolish.

Israel is playing right into the terrorists' hands right now. Sort of how Bush did so after 9/11, giving Bin Laden his biggest wet dream of the US overreacting and alienating the world. And that is just stupid.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Burned out on Gender Wars?

I guess I'm not completely burned out on politics. I probably am burned out on gender wars. I had a thought on that after watching the latest Survivor Finale, but I am not sure I'll post about that. I've really stopped looking at all of the "feminist" blogs. They all seem rather repetitive to me now. They say the same thing over and over and nitpick. I mean, I'm sure you will be able to find sexism if you look for it. It isn't hard to find. So what? There are also plenty of people who are NOT sexist. Why not spend time with those people? It seems like a lot of feminst blogs are more about bashing than doing anything useful. They bash, they abuse those who dare to disagree with them on even the smallest of points, and they are generally sexist against men, which makes them look like big fat hypocrites. But the main reason I think I stopped reading them is that, well, I had less time, and it was frankly getting boring - all part of that repetitiveness.

I'm sure most of the feminists would now label me as "privileged" for not having to think about their problems and listen to their whining all of the time. I won't even go back into all of that nonsense. It gets terribly tiresome to express an opinion, then be told that your opinion doesn't matter or is wrong because you're a [insert race] [insert gender]. And again, it sounds rather hypocritical to complain about racism or sexism then to respond to someone by dismissing their opinion based primarily on their race or gender. (Or both). It can get almost comical to watch on feminist sites as a new poster who's views don't seem to sychophantically mesh with the dominant views on the board is then disected and "accused" of being a man, because, well, then the rest of the regular readers can bash with impunity.

I think it is ideas that matter, not who says them. If an idea is true, it can stand on its own merits, no matter who says it. And if it is false, it should fall, based again on the merits of the idea and not on who is criticising it.

Echo chambers (as I've discussed before) don't evaluate ideas on the merits. You just get insanity that way. That's how we get such garbage as "standpoint theory" - there's an interesting germ of a concept there, but then it gets taken way too far, to the point where I think it is more about revenge than it is about anything real. What revenge am I referring to? I'm talking about the perception, probably accurate, that historically, white men's ideas were taken more seriously than that of women or minorities, at least in this country. The whole "dead white male" view of history. So now it is time for revenge - invent a whole new way of looking at the world to codify the concept that now it is everyone except white males who need to be taken seriously and we can just ignore the white males as being wrong, by definition. Thus, you have revenge for all of the non-white or non-males whose ideas were slighted in the past. And you even have a nice false stamp of approval of a scientific sounding name and university departments to back it up. Which is all well and good, but doesn't change the fact that it is nonsense. Certainly, it is true, that our perceptions are colored by who we are, but that can only go so far. Water still boils at 100 C at sea level regardless of your race or your gender. Certainly it is useful to take into consideration the differing experiences of different people. But once you start elevating someone's experiences based on race or gender, you are back to square one - you are a racist or a sexist. You are not judging an idea on the merits, you are judging it based on who said it, and that is just wrong and also will likely lead to the wrong answer.