Archive | June, 2010

Dawn of Discovery, Anno 1404, the year of freakin awesome

23 Jun

I have just discovered my new favorite game. Dawn of Discovery, or Anno 1404 as it’s called in Europe,  is a 15th century city sim game, and it is beautiful! Just look at some of these screen shots:

There is so much to this game, describing it will be difficult, but here it goes: Every map is an archipelago. You start off on an island with the rest of the map hidden except your “boss” island. Your boss island is inhabited by

“Lord Richard Northburgh” who claims to be the close cousin of “the emperor”. He is your basic in game advice guy who will give you tips along the way. You can also trade with him and buy needed items that might not be on your island starting out. There is also a host of other NPCs who are all comical knock offs of actual historical figures. (bonus points if you can name who they are based of off)

There is one big problem with the game that will become evident as I describe the features: the difficulty curve, it’s as steep as a castle wall. There is so many options and things you need to keep track of in this game, it’s taken me over 40 hours of play to finally start to wrap my head around it. There is no tutorial other than the campaign, but even that leaves a lot of things out.

The main focus of the game is managing your town’s economy so that it grows. You start of with peasants who have X needs. Once X needs are met, they will advance to citizens. Citizens allow you to build more buildings to further expand your settlement, but they also have Y needs. Once all of a citizen’s needs are met, they can advance to patricians, who again bring a whole new set of building options along with more needs. Then from patricians come nobles, again, more building options, more needs. This may seem simple, but it’s immensely complicated.

Not all of the raw materials you need to satisfy a class’ needs can be found on your starting island. Thus you must colonize other islands. Not every island will be fertile to every crop you want to plant. Often you have to buy the seeds from either the orient or your boss if that island doesn’t support X farm. (And you can only plant a certain number of foreign seeds per island) Once you colonize an island you have to set up trade routes with ships to carry the goods. (And don’t forget building escort ships if you’re at war) On top of managing trade routes, you have to set the buy/sell prices of goods at your markets. Oh, and don’t forget fiddling with the tax levels for each class! You can’t just build anywhere on an island either, you need to be within a certain radius of a market or storage building.

Building placement is also key in the game. Each production facility will tell you at what % efficiency it is working at, same goes for trade ships. You have to link up roads as best you can and then wait for market carts to pick up the goods and take them to the store house. You can also upgrade the roads to make them go faster.

There is also the matter of the Orient. On top of managing your city, somewhere on the map is another small island where there is an Ottoman outpost. A certain percentage of the islands will be desert climates, and to settle these you need technologies from the orient. To get these you must befriend the Ottoman outpost. To do this you need to bring gifts which you buy from your boss island with “honor” points. (Lost yet?) Honor points can be gained through reaching new civilization levels or completing quests. Just like there are different class levels within your island, there are different class levels within the orient. Once you settle there you use “nomads” instead of peasants, and they advance to “envoys” instead of “citizens”. Effectively you’re playing two games at once. You can’t neglect the orient because some goods that your patricians and nobles demand only come from there.

While the game focuses mainly on economy, there is a little bit of military action, but if you’re mainly into the “build em up” games and not fighting, don’t let this deter you. Military only comes into play when you reach patrician level or higher. You can build a castle and from there you can train army groups which come in pre-assembled camps. They move around on ships or land and set up camp. From that camp they take over any building within their affect radius after a 3 minute timer. That’s all there is to it. Other enemy camps can set up right next to yours and then it’s a game of odds, but the fighting is pretty straight forward and limited.

So the huge array of things you must keep track of and manage aside, the true charm of the game is in the details. The loading bar for instance! Normally you’d just expect to see a blank bar with a color filling up, letting you know how close the game is to loading, or maybe the name of the files being accessed as the game loads, not with Dawn of Discovery! The game developers said “Hey, why have a boring bar? Why tell the player what files are loading? It doesn’t matter that they know “map seed 33179 is loading plant textures”, lets put something fun there! So they did. I just loaded up the game and the loading bar says stuff like: “Fill ocean, add salt to the water, plant trees, release the animals, bury the treasure, hide the orient, invite computer players, tidy up warehouse, launch ships, and finish the witches’ make-up!”

Another great touch are the animations. Normally in most computer games, the little NPC people have a small set of animations they do, over and over again. Nothing is really specific to what they’re doing and it’s rather bland. Not in Dawn of Discovery! There are hundreds of animations for each sim, and it’s constantly changing. What really took my breath away was the tournaments. You can build a jousting tournament ground and hold faires to gain honor points. I set up a tournament and zoomed in on the NPC knights jousting. To my amazement, instead of just the same animation over and over again, it differed. Sometimes one knight would strike the other, sometimes they’d miss. It was all randomized and effected the outcome of the tournament! (You got points either way, but it was just fun to watch) Also, the fog of war has a fun little twist on it. Instead of just a boring blank grey or black emptiness showing unexplored parts of the map, they laid out a cool little cartography effect:

Lastly, the game has this built in feature that reminds you every two hours that you’ve been playing for two hours and Lord Northburgh suggests “How about a coffee?” in his British accent. It’s a nice feature for helping you keep track of the time and to remember to take breaks, and you’re going to need it because the game is addictive.

In conclusion, the game is extremely difficult to wrap your head around when first starting out, but you’ll find that although it’s complicated, you’re still having loads of fun. I didn’t get my first patricians until almost a full solid day of playing. Despite this the came is constantly fun and there are so many thing you’re always working on to improve your settlement. The beauty and wonderful music score to the game only adds to it. All the minute attention to detail really give the game character. I’ve only been playing for three-four days and I’m sure there is plenty I have yet to discover. Go check this game out!

God is a lazy bitch

20 Jun

How come god always need some idiot down  here on earth to do his dirty work? If you’re all powerful, get off your ass and come do it yourself. Why is it god always needs men to carry out his bidding. A woman needs to be stoned for being raped? Why can’t god just zap her dead? Nope, men have to get the stones and kill her. A cartoonist needs to die because he made fun of the prophet? God can’t do it, he’s busy with other stuff, so send a mob of angry men after them. If I was one of god’s follower’s I’d be pretty pissed. How come I have to do all the work all the time? Why can’t you carry out your own damn will? Oh, you created the universe? Whoopy doo. If you’re all powerful I bet you didn’t even break a sweat. The difficulty to ability ratio is way off for god. If he can do anything, his ability will infinity outweigh the difficulty. But to protest science being taught in schools or to blow up an abortion clinic, well that takes effort on behalf of believers. It’s completely unfair. Get off your lazy ass and start smiting people!

The rape of reason

19 Jun

I just finished watching Agora, the story of the famous female philosopher (and possibly Atheist) Hypatia of Alexandria.

In case you don’t know about Hypatia of Alexandria, here’s a quick bio: Born sometime between 350 and 370 CE, was a Greek woman living in Roman Egypt, was one of the first notable women in mathematics, also taught philosophy and astronomy. She was also a neoplatonist.

In March of 415 CE, a mob of angry christians attacked Hypatia and dragged her to their new Caesareum church. There  they took tiles and broken clay pots and proceeded to cut the skin off her body. When she was  completely flayed they burned her alive.

This was all condoned and encouraged by “Saint” Cyril of Alexandria. Under his reign all non-christians were persecuted, murdered, and imprisoned. The great bastion on knowledge, the Library of Alexandria, was pillaged and burned. The murder of Hypatia is considered by some to mark the end of classical antiquity.

Why is it that so often throughout history mobs of religious fanatics feel they have to burn books and destroy art?

I know why, but it just makes me sick. When I see art being destroyed, any kind of art, I just want to vomit. When people do it for religious reasons it makes me want to kill them. For instance, in the movie Agora, when the christian mobs go running through the library burning and destroying the greatest collection of knowledge in the world, all in the name of religious ignorance, nothing would give me more pleasure than to walk around them with a chain saw and calmly disembowel them all. Same is true for anyone who destroys art or books.

What is with this urge to make life as shitty as possible? Just watching those mobs sack the library, they’re like mindless insects infected with a virus. They scurry around killing and burning, compelled by this bullshit they’re infected with. They must destroy all that is good a beautiful in the world because it does not fit with the truth they have decided upon. How I wish I could kill them all.

It’s a power thing really. There is a reason why whenever a dictator takes over the first thing he does is persecute the intellectuals. Uneducated people are easily controlled. They don’t question, they don’t think, the dogma of religion suits them perfectly. Books and art are a threat to those in power. They compel people to think. When you are certain beyond all doubt that you, and only you, have knowledge of absolute truth, destroying art that disagrees with you is no shame. It just shows your insecurities and lack of faith by destroying art. What do you have to fear from a book or painting if you have the truth? Shouldn’t your truth be strong enough to stand on it’s own without the help of book burnings? It’s true that religion hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

America: Should I stay or should I go?

18 Jun

This is a very hard post for me to write. These issues have been ricocheting around in my brain for a couple of months now, I thought writing them down would help me figure it all out. I’ve tried writing this entry several times but I could never really collect all my thoughts and try to get across what it is exactly I have to say. You see, I am at a turning point in life. The number of potential paths I could go down is paralyzing huge. This post is to help me figure out which one of those paths to go down. This is not a post to figure out who I am. I think I know that already, so don’t try and tell me I don’t, or that I need to change.

My situation:

I know who I am. I know the difference between right and wrong, justice and injustice and I am passionate about those differences. I am a fighter. I also have a martyr streak. I consider myself noble. You may think this is arrogant and self-righteous, but then you can take your namby pamby do-nothing ass home and continue to leech off of the benefits given to you by the sweat and blood of others.

I find myself living everyday in a state of moral outrage. Yes, there are times when I may be fine, but that is just because I have temporarily forgotten how fucked up the world is.

This country is especially fucked up.

The top 1% of the country’s wealthiest citizens own more than the bottom 90% combined.

Our military, made up of some of the best men and women our country has to offer, is run by useless scumbag politicians who will gladly throw our soldiers in harms way like disposable pawns while they sit in fancy restaurants licking their fat little greasy fingers. The Iraq war taught me that a government will gladly lie to its people in order to accomplish a predetermined goal, the facts be damned. They will even go as far as exposing secret agents and black mailing anyone who dare blow the whistle. Meanwhile our families die to increase their bottom lines.

The whole culture of “self-reliance” in this country is just a euphemism for “Fuck you; I’m out to get mine!” Here it is all about the self. The fact that we’re the only industrialized nation in the world without universal healthcare speaks to our self-centeredness. We aren’t willing to help our neighbor when they get sick because after all, what’s in it for me?

The most important thing about life that I have learned so far is that there are people in the world who don’t care about reality. These people have made up their minds that something is true and will not tolerate any attempts to tell them otherwise. They are impervious to reason, impervious to discussion, impervious to facts. They will believe whatever the hell they want to believe, no matter what you do. These people permeate this country.

They permeate our religious institutions, our school boards, our businesses, and our government on every level. These people are idiots. They get ahead by telling other idiots what they want to hear. Every major fuckup this country has gone through can be attributed in part to these idiots. The Challenger shuttle exploding because these idiots ignored ground crew who warned about frozen O-rings on the gas tanks, the idiots who ignored the intelligence and international community when they were told Iraq did not have WMD’s, the idiots who ignored warnings about the levies in New Orleans, the idiots who allowed the deregulation of the banking industry, creating the greatest economic crash since the great depression. The idiots that felt it was a good idea to skip on safety for BP oil rigs, causing an environmental disaster of apocalyptic proportions. Idiots are EVERYWHERE. They will continue to fuck everything up as long as we tolerate people who deny reality. And we will continue to tolerate it. Why?

Because the American people as a whole are fat, stupid, superstitious, uneducated, and have the memory of a goldfish. Just turn on any major television news network. Hell, just turn on television period. Everything is dumbed down to 5th grade level in an effort to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It’s business, and it makes us all morons. When the media is not being spoon fed shit and fear from politicians trying to manipulate a gullible, scared populous, we are being fed a large helping of distractions, be it sports, decorating shows, or dancing with the stars. If you actually paid attention to everything that was going on in the country and the world, you’d want to blow your head off; and I’ve thought about doing just that on several occasions.  The rest of the population doesn’t care because they’re being entertained. It doesn’t matter what a politician says or does because oh look! American Idol is on! Yeah some might be outraged, but they will slowly be drowned out by the grinding of the corporate noise machine.

There is a war being waged on intelligence in this country by stupid. Stupid is winning and gaining ground because they have numbers on their side, and in a democracy, numbers are all that count. Apparently they think they can legislate on reality. Don’t like evolution? Well we’ll just pass a bill saying it doesn’t exist. Don’t like the idea that the earth revolves around the sun? We can fix that with a bill too! What a circus of clowns…

It is a fact of life that religion makes a country worse. All the most religious places in the world are shitholes. The US is no exception. You know why? Because religion is full of idiots. Idiots ignore reality for comfortable delusions. Don’t like sex? Ban birth control! More teen pregnancies and subsequently more abortions? You don’t say…. Religion is also antithetical to human rights. Women are cattle and gays should be stoned. It’s in your holy book, and if you’re just ignoring the bits you don’t like, why not just throw the whole religion out and just call yourself a community center? Because at that point you just have to admit you’re making shit up (not that you weren’t before) and just picking whatever feels good.

The religion in this country is unbearable for me. Driving up to DC, 700 miles, 3 states, I saw 9 religious billboards. Many of these billboards told me I was a sinner and that I was going to hell. These billboards are fine, but the moment an Atheist puts up a billboard saying “There probably is no god, so stop worrying and enjoy life”, people cry hate speech and it’s taken down. The same thing happened when Atheists ran a bus ad here saying “Just be good for goodness sake”. I can’t run for public office and be open about my Atheism, I can’t mention it in a mixed crowd without being attacked, politicians go out of their way to disown me, and the media demonizes me. If you’re not an Atheist living in America, you can’t really comprehend what it’s like. If you are and you just roll your eyes whenever another Atheist complains about being a second class citizen, what the fuck is wrong with you!

Just as there is a war by stupid on intelligence, stupid is also waging a war on history. Fact: this country was founded by a bunch of deists (non-christians) who went out of their way to escape the church/state entanglements of Europe. Despite this, stupid is determined to re-write history to paint the founders as a bunch of evangelical christians who signed the constitution on the shroud of Turin. Lets put god in our pledge, on our money, in our government meetings, and force children to pray to him! Meanwhile the country keeps going down the shitter. Stupid never bothers to take his head out of his ass and see that religion only makes things worse. He never bothers to see who Atheistic Europe is doing a hell of a lot better than the theocratic hell holes like the Middle East. Trying to emulate Saudi Arabia will not make out country any better. But there is no telling stupid that.

Everyday I read the news it’s revealed another religious leader has raped a child, swindled his flock out of millions, or somehow otherwise abused the position of blind trust given to him by a gullible community of idiots. Every time they always use the same excuse: What? You would never suspect me! I’m a man of the cloth! I’d never! An Atheist definitely, but not a man of god like me! And stupid buys into it. Everyday there are stories like this. I’ve become numb to it. Stupid keeps committing crimes and human rights atrocities while blaming Atheists, and people in America swallow it, hook, line, and sinker.

It’s another fact of life that trying to stamp out a behavior by outlawing it or the symptoms will only make it worse and lead to more problems. Prohibition and the drug wars are fine, if exhausted, examples. Outlawing abortions is not going to stop it, it’s only going to deny a woman the right to her body. Outlawing gay marriage is not going to stop gays from falling in love and fucking, it’s only going to institutionalize discrimination and hate, preventing them from getting the same legal protection as heterosexual couples. But this country doesn’t get that because we’re stupid.

Our culture is so fucked up. Look at our media for example. Sex is a no no, but violence is ok. (Hmmm, I wonder if religion and sexual repression has something to do with that). We would rather have children watch programs where people murder other people, but heaven forbid they see a woman’s breasts!!! Europe has this the other way around. They have nude beaches, we have school shootings. Being in the US also limits your cultural exposure. In Europe there are plenty of cultures crammed in right next to one another. Cross pollination if great. There is so much more you can experience. Here, Hollywood and American artists drown everything out. Foreign films? What’s that? Oh, I have to read subtitles while watching it? I don’t want to have to read…. Foreign song writers? I can’t understand what they’re saying, plus, why would I want to listen to them when I have Nickelback, Miley Cyrus, and Garth Brooks?

Even our eating habits in America are messed up! We’re the fattest nation on the planet! Yeah, bounce around with that little “We’re #1” foam finger, lets see how long till you’re out of breath and want a hot dog. Stupid: “I’ve got an idea! Lets revamp our food industry around cheap processed foods that are as healthy for you as smoking crack, and then top it off by eating the biggest meal of the day right before we go to bed!” Is it any wonder why we have so many health problems in this country? It would be one thing if everyone could get help, but fuck my neighbo…oh wait, sorry, I mean “Go rugged individualism!”

I despise the party system in this country. A parliamentary system is much better at representing the will of the people as a whole, but no, we get stuck with two choices: shit and shit. What if you don’t fit neatly into the party line? What if you agree with a party on some issues, but disagree with a party on another? Well unless you can get enough people to back you and change the party line, you’re fucked. And getting enough people to change the entrenched parties is extremely unlikely.

So for the most part I guess you could say that I hate America, but this is not entirely true. There are two things I love about this country: Our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Constitution established a secular government, free of religious entanglements, and the Bill or Rights is supposed to protect the human rights of all citizens. It’s stupid that I hate, and stupid’s war on everything that is right and good in this country. Over the past two centuries stupid, and its vast numbers, have managed to make this country shit despite the Constitution and Bill of Rights trying to prevent them.

So I guess my question is this: Do I stay and fight for what this country was founded upon, or do I leave and let natural selection kill stupid off? Do I have a duty to fight? It seems like impossible odds! I feel that rational people were asleep at the wheel and stupid moved in to monopolize. I don’t know if fighting is worth it. I could just as easily move to a less fucked up country like Canada and just watch the US implode under the weight of stupid. (Something I am very seriously considering) I feel like staying is just an exercise in futility and masochism.

And that’s just America! The rest of the world can be even worse.  Stupid is  more dangerous and more powerful in countries not protected by constitutions and bill of rights like documents. I really makes me wonder if humanity is worth saving from itself. Is it? I don’t know.

On one hand we have an aptitude for killing one another, raping our planet, and making existence as shitty as possible. On the other hand there are some of us who have the capacity for great kindness. There is art. There is love.

Do the good qualities out weigh the bad? Life in the universe is so few and far between, would it be a shame if life on this planet was extinguished by our own stupidity? Is life here worth fighting for given our nature and the horrific things we do to one another?

What’s the point of taking over the world?

16 Jun

Ok, so I’ve been watching a couple WWII films lately and it’s got me thinking. It seems like that in all the films set in a location occupied by the Axis powers, you are likely to be shot at any time for anything. You could say something out of turn, look at someone the wrong way, or litter, and the next thing you know, the gestapo’s picked you up and shipped you off to a camp to die.

Seriously, what’s the point? What is the point of invading a country if you are just going to end up killing everyone? What? You want your front yard to extend from Paris to Aquitaine? I keep feeling like the bad guys in these films should stop trying to operate under the pretense of only killing those who are Jewish/resistance fighters, and should just get along with lining up entire towns of people and killing them. Eventually they would have the same result.

I just can’t imagine living in a society where you could be killed at any time. I know they exist and have existed, but I wonder if the films play up the theme of “instant death by firing squad imminent!” just for suspense. I don’t see how people could tolerate it. I’d think they’d realize that they were all going to be murdered sooner or later to make room for the master race, and thus would rebel to try and take as many of them down with them…

What is “Choice” when it comes to faith?

15 Jun

It seems to me that a lot of religious people are confused as to what exactly is a choice and what it means to be able to choose freely.

A choice in it’s most basic form is when you are presented with two or more options on how to proceed and you must pic one.

There is a major difference, however, between a free choice and an unfree choice.

A free choice is a choice where no matter what the possibly outcomes, no option has drastically more consequences than another. A free choice does not just mean that you have the ability to make a choice, but that you are not overly pressured to choose one decision over another.

An unfree choice is just that: a choice that involved significant biases. A prime example of this is “God gave us “choice”. We can choose to love him and go to heaven, or we can choose not to, and spend the rest of eternity in unimaginable torment.” Yes you have the ability to “choose” one option or the other, but merely having the physical capacity to “choose” does not mean it is a “free choice”.

A generic god does not represent everyone

14 Jun

Yesterday I met with a local Americans United for the Separation of Church and State group. We had a city council woman as our guest speaker. She was there to explain why she thought it was necessary for the city council to open each meeting with a prayer, despite the fact that this is blatantly unconstitutional and another near by city was just sued for this. (The city lost, it went up to the supreme court and they refused to hear it, so the 4th circuit court’s ruling stood)

Despite having a lawyer background, she was woefully uneducated in the history or church/state issues. She kept trying to tell us it was just a generic higher power, no specific god, that they were praying to, and thus it was not state endorsement of religion.

No. Sorry, you’re wrong. Here is an example of christian privilege in action. She just assumed that she was the norm and that everyone else had a god, even if they sometimes differed on what faith. We asked her, “What about those without a religious faith? What about Atheists or Agnostics?” She was confused by this and did the little song and dance all politicians do when they obviously have been proved wrong yet want to save face. Atheists and Agnostics hadn’t even crossed her mind when she crafted this legislation mandating prayer at every council meeting.

Acknowledging a generic god is still an endorsement of religion. No, it is not like saying “Jesus Christ is our lord and savior”, but it’s not much different. For starters, the government is taking a stance on the question “Does a higher power exist?” By answering in the affirmative they alienate all of the non-religious citizens. After stating that  a higher power exists (for which there is no more evidence other than “faith”) the government then goes on to call it “god”. God is singular, as opposed to “gods”, and is also masculine, as opposed to goddess. This then alienates everyone else who does not believe in a single masculine god. Trying to claim “Oh, but we don’t mean singular masculine, we mean anything” does not work because we already have words for that. One could say “Dear god-gods-goddess-goddesses”, but even then you are still managing to offend everyone.

The whole point of the first amendment is to keep government from doing exactly this. Just don’t even approach the question “Is there a higher power?” The moment you do a can of worms is opened. This lady, ignorant of the dangers and the illegality of her actions, introduced mandated city council prayer. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, she’s trying to save face by being as inclusive as possible. In the “all or none” doctrine she’s going with “all”. (Or at least claims she is. She kept only mentioning churches that she had sent invitations to. Again, christian privilege where by “religion” she automatically assumes christian churches).

The city of Charleston fell into this trap. The found that despite telling the visiting ministers they could not mention anything specific, they would often slip up at the end saying “in Jesus Christ’s name, amen.” Also, the idea that the legislators honestly mean to include everyone is a flat out lie. In their heart of hears they do intend to represent the single, masculine christian god in their prayers. This was evident when a secular humanist was invited to give the invocation at the Charleston City council. Over half of the council members walked out in protest. The non-religious are not citizens apparently…

Dissent is not hate speech

13 Jun

A common way religious factions try and dismiss Atheists around the United States is to simply call their views hate speech. Not only are Atheists views not “hate speech”, but the supremely ironic thing is that often these very same religious factions spout actual “hate speech”.

Atheists: “We are citizens too and we want a voice at the table.” Hate speech?

Religious factions: “God hates fags and homosexuality is a sin. Gays will BURN in HELL!” Not hate speech?

Atheists: “You don’t need god to be good.” Hate speech?

Religious factions: “Without following our holy book you cannont possibly have a moral foundation, therefore all non-believers are immoral scum.” Not hate speech?

Atheists: “We are all born free and equal, with no debts or chains.” Hate speech?

Religious factions: “Everyone is born a sinner and most continue on in life as filthy sinners. You should be disgusted with yourself and ashamed. Only we have the formula for becoming clean.” Not hate speech?

I could go on, but you get the idea. Atheists are not the ones threatening and degrading other people, yet we get slapped with the label of “hate speech” in an attempt to silence our voice.

Religious billboards are everywhere. So are religious bumper-stickers and fish. Lots of people wear crosses around their necks or have them dangling from their rear view mirrors. Religious radio stations flood the air waves, there are plenty of religious shows on TV, even full time religious channels. Religious books permeate the grocery store shelves. The religious fill the halls of government on all levels, boldly and proudly spouting their beliefs in Iron Age desert gods. The fact that religion has a privileged place in American society is self-evident, yet when Atheists try to be included in the society we are shot down. No, our message of independence and freedom from fear, reliance on reason, the intrinsic value of human life, human rights, and responsibility for one’s actions are dismissed as hate speech.

One of my biggest fears:

8 Jun

I just finished watching Equilibrium, a film the critics hated, but I thoroughly enjoyed. The basic idea behind it is that society, in order to stamp out war, tries to stamp out emotions. Through the use of emotion inhibiting drugs and a Fahrenheit 451 style war on art, they destroy everything that makes us human, including other humans who are “sense offenders”.

But I’m not going to go into the movie, this post isn’t about that. Ever since I was introduced to stories like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, V for Vendetta, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and now Equilibrium, I’ve had a fear. This fear has always sat in the back of my head, just beneath the surface. It creates an almost love/hate relationship with stories of this type.

I have always feared that I would find myself in the position of a character from one of these tales; in a dystopian society as part of a resistance force operating in cells, fighting for freedom. It exhilarates and terrifies me at the same time. I can’t think of anything more romantic than being a freedom fighter in a small group, mutually pledging  to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

But what if I’m not quick enough, clever enough, smart enough? What if I make a bad call and watch my friends die because of me? I’m so afraid that I won’t be able to keep up with the mental mind games of my hunters. They will outsmart me, lure me in with some bait, perhaps torture the ones I love. We might be infiltrated. I might wrongly place my trust in someone who’s a double agent. How am I supposed to succeed against such a highly organized, technologically advanced, well funded enemy?

And then I begin to think of the different types of resistance forces. One type is the guerrilla fighters hiding out in caves, setting off bombs, conducting hit and run raids. How would I work in a group such as this? I could never consent to indiscriminately killing unarmed people in a market place, so as long as we don’t sink to that I would be ok.

Then there are the infiltrators. These do just that, they infiltrate the system, helping out secretly where they can. But could I do this? How long would it take? Most of these people are somehow involved in the groups that hunt the resistance fighters. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing that I was helping kill my comrades. There would be times when I would be a bystander watching my fellow fighters be tortured and executed; I would be powerless to stop it without running the risk of revealing myself. I’m not sure I could take that.

Just watched “Capitalism: A love story”

7 Jun

I will state up front that I consider myself a socialist. Not the “Zomg! Obama’s a fascist/socialist/communist/racist/muslim!!!11” kind that the people with tinfoil hats seem to think is socialism, but the one of the actual kinds of socialism.

To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure exactly where I fit on the socialist spectrum. I think I land somewhere between “progressive” and “democratic socialist“.  (At least those were my top too according to this test)

I’m of the position that a government, formed by the people, should be charged with conducting itself in a manner that best protects the interests of the people as a whole. In other words, the government should work to make sure the greatest number of people possible have the best standard of living possible. (Yet the rights/views of minorities should be protected, hence why I don’t believe in direct democracies that lead to mob rule, but I digress)

I feel that hard work should be rewarded, and that people should benefit from their labor. But then this is where my views get confusing, even to me. I do not feel that the wealthiest people in America are necessarily “hard workers”. I feel they cynically game the system much the same way welfare freebooters game the system.

My view that the wealthiest people unfairly manipulate the system was really confirmed by this movie. Now before you make the assumption that I am some Michael Moore fan boy, there was a lot about this movie that did not sit well with me. I felt the lion share of this movie was an appeal to emotion, which makes sense, Moore is trying to outrage you into action, yet I would have preferred he focus more on facts rather than sensationalist teary-eyed families being forced out of their homes.

The facts that are in this movie should speak for themselves. The most compelling part of the film is when Moore weaves together the story of how America became a plutonomy starting with the recession of the Carter years and the capturing of the government by Wall Street during Reagan’s presidency. The scene where Don Regan tells president Ronald Reagan to “speed it [his speech to the NY stock exchange] up” is amazing.

The whole tale of a calculated and organized hijacking of the nation by Wall Street’s CEOs seemed to smack of conspiracy theory. It’s an amazing, and infuriating, story, but I would like to find some evidence outside of Moore’s documentary in order to decide for myself if it’s true. There is one thing, however, that this conspiracy story has going for it that others don’t:

In most conspiracies, the actors are the government. The problem with this is that the government is notoriously incompetent.* The “9/11 was an inside job” conspiracy is extremely improbable merely because of the high level of planning and competency required to pull off such and act and then cover it up. A government is just not capable of that level of finesse. (Especially under Bush’s incompetent reign) In this conspiracy story, however, the actors are not some clumsy government, but a small collection of some of the smartest, most brilliant people in America, the CEOs on Wall Street.

“But wouldn’t market competition dictate that different CEOs be working against each other?” Yes and no. While they most assuredly were in competition with one another, it makes more sense for them to work together on something that would benefit them all greatly. (Like no regulations) However, the ultimate “winner” was Goldman Sachs. Under Clinton and Bush, Goldman Sachs managed to fill top Treasury Department positions with its “former” employees, including even the position of Secretary of Treasury with Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs. (His net worth was $700 million when he left to become Sec. of Treas.) With this superior posturing, Goldman Sachs was in prime position to pressure its will on the government.

(Goldman Sachs also had their CEO in the Sec. of Treas. position with Robert Rubin. (Who also served as CEO of Citigroup) The current Sec. of Treas., Timothy Geithner, is a protegee of Rubin’s)

The most shocking and outrageous part of the film for me came when Moore discussed the recent bailouts of the super banks.  Two months before elections, Sec. Paulson drew up a 3 page plan to bail out Wall Street. (Keep in mind, usually legislation passed by congress is hundreds, if not thousands, of pages long) In that plan Paulson stipulated that all laws, including court review, would be waived:

Sec. 8. Review.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Checks and balances anyone? The American people were rightfully outraged, but Paulson and his goons ramped up the fear factor, hoping to cram through the bill with a little debate as possible, just as Bush had done for the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. Amazingly, for once, the American people fought back and the bill was defeated, by 12 votes. Congress then went home to prepare for elections.

Here is where I become really furious: Enter the democratic party leadership. Paulson and company rush back to DC and enter in backroom deals with the democrats. Promises are made, futures are sealed, and then congress does a complete 180, the American people be damned. Paulson gets the key to our pockets and makes off with 700 Billion; proof Wall Street has muscles to flex over our government.

The film is very thought provoking to say the least. It’s clear that our “free market” system is being manipulated to the benefit of a very select few. Employment near 10%, thousands of people being evicted from their homes, corporations making millions off of “dead peasant” policies, meanwhile banks take billions in our money, only to send their executives on luxurious vacations and the CEOs retire with unholy amounts of money. This isn’t working, but what’s the answer?

Despite the film being directed by Michael Moore, a person people on the right hate as strongly as they love Reagan, I feel a large portion of the movie would appeal to the right as well, especially the Tea Party movement. The fact that we’re being universally fucked by our leaders is something we can all rally behind, and I think this is one of the great points the movie tries to make. Moore references a Citigroup memo that was leaked where Citigroup explained to it’s top investors that they [Wall Street] had successfully turned America into a plutonomy, and that it was no longer a democracy. (Seriously, go read it, it’s scary) The memos explained that the top 1% of America now had more wealth than the bottom 95% COMBINED. Here’s the real kicker: Citigroup states in the memos that the biggest threat to their “gravy train” (yes, that is a direct quote) would be if society demanded a more equitable share of the wealth. The biggest problem was that despite having more money, a rich person can only cast as many votes as a poor person, 1. In other words, if the peasants realized that they were never going to get that carrot, the “American dream” of wealth, that they would revolt and vote the puppet government out of office. (Seriously, go read the memos)

I certainly feel communism is just as evil as American style unregulated capitalism. While we have vast economic inequity, communism, as practiced as a political system, is totalitarian and oppressive. I want there to be a middle ground, that’s why I call my self a progressive socialist. But do my views work? I don’t know. To be honest, I’m not sure how closely my views fall to those in Europe. I’ve always dreamed about moving to Europe because there they work to live, whereas here we live to work. Unfortunately, Europe is going through a financial crisis right now because Greece took that to the extreme, completely unbalancing their budget. I’m interested to see how European style socialism weathers this crisis.

*unless you work for the Coast Guard