September 2006

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Why on earth are more people not completely gobstoppered over the fact that we have an administration that is PRO-TORTURE.

Let me say that again … “Pro-Torture”…

If this were a movie, it’d be a very very dark political satire. Imagine the storyline if a political party got into power and continued (as everything else was falling down around their ears) to fight for the right to murder? Or to steal? “Hi. I’m Candidate Whatsis and you should vote for me because I’m in favor of murder. *big smile*”

But we’re living it now. With the incredible incompetence of this administration, and all the positive things they could possibly still do to pull this travesty of a foreign policy out of the muck, they focus their will almost completely on preserving the President’s right to torture other human beings, even though many in their own party are against it, all five former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have come out against it, and nobody has a convincing case that torture even produces trustworthy intelligence.

In spite of all of that, Bush & Co. can’t seem to stop thinking about doing awful things to other people’s bodies. (If intelligence were that important to our administration, you’d think they wouldn’t be firing so many Arabic translators from the military because of sexual preference … but I digress.)

The amazing thing is that this President claims to be a committed Christian. I wish someone would ask him outright how he squares his faith with torture — this bizarre, sick commitment to something that, even if it wasn’t completely destructive to the moral fabric of our country and our moral authority in the world (the little we have left), isn’t even a trustworthy method for learning facts.

Anyway, Andrew Sullivan put it better than I’ve seen it anywhere so far:

Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish

And yet so many seem to. Why? Torture is not a hard issue for any Christian. It is an unmitigated moral evil. There is no theology on earth which can make it a less grave moral matter than, say, gay marriage. And yet it has been enforced by this president for five years and where is the outrage? You would imagine that James Dobson would have organized a massive phone-in or email blitz to Capitol Hill on the detainee legislation. You would imagine that every theocon from Ponnuru to Neuhaus would be writing about this every day and night. But nah. Gays getting married in one state out of 49? Massive, coordinated outrage, sermon after sermon, direct mail blitz after direct mail blitz, and a threatened constitutional amendment. The president authorizing torture? You can hear a pin drop on the religious right. Tells you something, no?

I ran across the story about Bill Gates watching YouTube and ‘admitting to watching pirated content’ just now, even though it came out in June, but the bit that really got me was this quote:

“This social-networking thing takes you to crazy places.”

Just ran across this quote from Mitch Kapor on —

Kapor gave great insights into Second Life’s early history, and a nice vision of what the future might hold. 3pointD took as many notes as we could, which we’ll present here essentially unalloyed. The upshot, however, was this: to Mitch, Second Life is a disruptive technology on the level of the personal computer or the Internet. “Everything we can imagine and things that we can’t imagine from the real world will have their in-world counterparts, and it’s a wonderful thing because there are many fewer constraints in Second Life than in real life, and it is, potentially at least, extraordinarily empowering.”

I like hearing stuff like this because it makes me feel a little less like I’m in la-la land with my own thoughts about this stuff.

My Architect

I just watched My Architect, courtesy of Netflix. The son of architect Louis I Kahn goes on a journey to know more about his father (whom he knew only a little at a time before Kahn’s death in 1974).

You know, I keep wanting to run down architecture that seems to be about the spectacle, the shape and light and mass, instead of the usefulness of the structure. But I think this is the first time it has really clicked for me how *useful* the spectacle can be.

When an architect from Bangladesh is brought to tears explaining what Kahn’s incredible design for the Bangladesh national assembly means to the people of that country, and when you see its image on their money and in the graffiti of their streets — somehow that makes it click.

Not that it’s always justifiable if it makes buildings unusable — thousands of poor Bangladeshis carried concrete on their heads to make that building. What if it had turned out to be hard to use for its purpose, and had gotten in the way of the people’s government instead of supporting it? Its visage wouldn’t have meant nearly as much.

I think I’d just about fly to Bangladesh to see that thing. It’s phenomenal.

But if the sim crashes and green cubes rain from the sky, do you get a refund on tuition?

CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion
“Enrollment to the Harvard Extension School is open to the public. Extension students will experience portions of the class through a virtual world, known as Second Life. Videos, discussions, lectures, and office hours will all take place on Berkman Island. Students from anywhere in the world will be able to interact with one another, in real time.”

Steven Levy, author of the fabulous book Hackers, writes this excellent column about WoW.
World of Warcraft: Is It a Game? – Newsweek Technology –

What distinguishes Warcraft from previous blockbuster games is its immersive nature and compelling social dynamics. It’s a rich, persistent alternative world, a medieval Matrix with lush graphics and even a seductive soundtrack (Blizzard has two full-time in-house composers). Blizzard improved on previous MMOs like Sony’s Everquest by cleverly crafting its game so that newbies could build up characters at their own pace, shielded from predators who would casually “gank” them—while experienced players continually face more and more daunting challenges. The company mantra, says lead designer Rob Pardo, is “easy to learn, difficult to master.” After months of play, when you reach the ultimate level (60), you join with other players for intricately planned raids on dungeons, or engage in massive rumbles against other guilds.

“Ninety percent of what I do is never finished—parenting, teaching, doing the laundry,” says Elizabeth Lawley (Level 60, Troll Priest), a Rochester, N.Y., college professor. “In WOW, I can cross things off a list—I’ve finished a quest, I’ve reached a new level.”

For the record, I tried WoW and just didn’t find it to my liking. The ‘grind’ to level up was to much work for me and not enough entertainment payoff — that and the lack of creative leeway. But I do see the appeal … if I had a group of friends to play with on a regular basis, and maybe a little more patience, I would probably be donig it every night. Possibly it’s a good thing it didn’t work out ;-)

Still, I think Levy’s column does a great job of exploring the deeper social issues that make something like WoW work for upwards of over 6 million people all over the (real) world.

Anyway, the column ends with this: “Yes, it’s just a game,” says Joi Ito. “The way that the real world is a game.”

I don’t have the presence of mind to go into my issues with this statement at the moment, but I’ll just say that I do think there are things about games that, especially with the increasing digitization of all human experience, are making the physical world more and more gamelike. But I don’t think that’s what Ito means. Or maybe it is?

Philadelphia Daily News | 09/12/2006 | Flavia Monteiro Colgan | ABC’s ‘9/11’: Clinton was right

The tragic events of 9/11 are not something to be trifled with. Putting words into people’s mouths and showing them doing things they never did is not acceptable.

The docudrama portrayed Clinton as a president who didn’t care about terrorism, but his record tells a different story. He had daily briefings on al Qaeda and meetings three times a week. Compare that to a president who couldn’t break away from clearing brush to read a memo that said, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack America.”

The fact is that Clinton proposed an additional $1.1 billion in anti-terror efforts. Clinton was acutely aware of the financial aspects of terror and wanted us not to do business with international banks that held al Qaeda money. A bill that would have mandated that was called totalitarian by some Republicans – and they gutted it.

It’s incredible to me how blatantly people can manipulate the record in the public mind and get away with it. I’d like to think that all the voices that have said this movie is wrong will keep most people from being affected much by it, but I’m not that optimistic. Narrative storytelling is always more powerful than logical exposition. Always. I even find myself sometimes believing a particular ‘fact’ that my intellect should know better than to think only because the story was so compelling.