Friday, April 25, 2008
A pressing need.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Everywhere in chains.
In the eighteenth century, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued, without any empirical evidence, that state government arose historically through a voluntary social contract: people foresaw the benefits of state government, and they freely agreed with each other to subordinate their own individual rights to those of the state, in order to obtain the hoped-for benefits. Through the writings of Western travellers who have observed states arising de novo in various parts of the world during the past six hundred years, and through the deductions of archeologists, we now have abundant empirical evidence that Rousseau was completely wrong. No people has ever freely organized itself into a state in the absence of external pressure, and people have always been understandably reluctant to cede power over themselves to some other entity.Jared Diamond, "Vengeance is Ours," The New Yorker 84-85 (April 21, 2008).
Instead, anthropologists, historians, and archeologists tell us that state governments have arisen independently under one of two sets of circumstances. Sometimes pressure from an encroaching state has placed a people under such duress that it ceded individual rights to a government of its own that would be capable of offering effective resistance. For instance, about two centuries ago, the formerly separate Cherokee chiefdoms gradually formed a unified Cherokee government in a desperate attempt to resist pressure from whites. More frequently, chronic competition among warring non-state entities has ended when one gained a military advantage over the others by developing proto-state institutions: one example is the formation of the Zulu state by a particularly talented chief named Dingiswayo, in the early nineteenth century, out of an assortment of chiefdoms fighting each other.
Jonathan Franzen does not like golf.
My difficulty with golf is that, although I play it once or twice a year to be sociable, I dislike almost everything about it. The point of the game seems to be the methodical euthanizing of workday-sized chunks of time by well-off white men. Golf eats land, drinks water, displaces wildlife, fosters sprawl. I dislike the self-congratulations of its etiquette, the self-important hush of its television analysts. Most of all, I dislike how badly I play the game.Jonathan Franzen, "The Way of the Puffin," The New Yorker 90 (April 21, 2008).
Monday, April 21, 2008
Sunday, April 20, 2008
The angel and the port-a-potties.
Image by intimaj used under a Creative Commons license.
"The apex of pure awesomeness."
Via Daniel Strohl, the German NK-101 Minenraumer rolling mine exploder. Strohl has more.
Another small victory for the interwebs.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Tree Self-Rescue for Paraglider Pilots.
This article describes equipment and techniques for self-rescue after a tree landing. Two scenarios are described, the first in which the tree is within reach and offers branches to grab or stand on, and the second in which you are hanging free and can't secure yourself to the tree. With these techniques you can escape from a tree with no assistance. If you decide to follow these instructions, practice them in a safe setting first.H/t G.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Image by a.h used under a Creative Commons license.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
NPR discovers that Cookie Monster will not eat sardine ice cream.
"There will be no unhappy history here."
I am often asked what I think of the National Museum of the American Indian. That I have nothing to say surprises the people who ask the question because usually they know that I worked for the museum for the first four years of its existence. The fact is, I have never visited the National Museum of the American Indian and declined the invitation to attend the opening. In her "Why I Cannot Read Wallace Stegner" (1996), an essay in a collection by the same name, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn expresses her rejection of Stegner’s autobiography . . . and his Beyond the Hundredth Meridian. . . . Cook-Lynn protests the colonial privilege and ideology that inspired Stegner’s romanticized view of the American West, with its tragically vanished American Indian. Such works have aided the disappearance of Native people from history. My inability to visit the National Museum of the American Indian stems from a similar sense about its mission and its exhibits. To me, the museum represents a lost opportunity to integrate American Indians into the national consciousness."Why I Can’t Visit the National Museum of the American Indian," 7:4 Common-Place (July, 2007).
* * * * *
The dominant presence of male Native artists in the early museum years has left a lasting stamp on the museum’s work environment and on its exhibitions. Art and material culture were the preferred media for transferring knowledge about Native America to an unknowing audience. Why art and culture? For many artists, Native creative expression is a presumed window on Native inner life and culture. The exhibit teams have thus relied on art and material culture, the ultimate expressions of Native inner life, as a vehicle for teaching unfamiliar visitors about Indianness. But such thinking represented precisely the problem with the museum: it had become an elite enclave, divorced from the reality of most Native people, where explaining Indians to museum visitors assumed primacy. Moreover, the museum early on made the decision that it would eschew the historical context from which modern Native America has sprung. This meant, astonishingly, no treatment of the history of genocide and colonialism, then and now, or even of the basis of tribal sovereignty.
Jolene Rickard, an NMAI contractor, is quoted as saying, "There are other places where you can learn the exact dates of the Trail of Tears. It’s less important to me that someone leave this museum knowing all about Wounded Knee than that they leave knowing what it takes to survive that kind of tragedy." As much as I admire Jolene Rickard for her artistic achievements, I wince at her easy dismissal of historical context as an essential prerequisite for understanding "what it takes to survive that kind of tragedy." Rickard’s statement reflects the "group think" of the NMAI as conceived by the director—what I call, "There will be no unhappy history here."
Rickard’s statement also suggests that the museum’s senior and curatorial staff imagine that destruction and colonialism have ended. Just as nineteenth- and twentieth-century anthropologists froze authentic Native people in exhibitions while Indians starved on reservations, the museum’s staff has created a modern hermetically sealed Native "community" that has "survived" something long passed. This distancing, forgetting, and desire to divert the public’s gaze from the past simply perpetuates the on-going erasure of authentic Native histories.* * * * *
For me, the National Museum of the American Indian represents a broken promise, no less consequential than the many broken treaty promises made by the United States to Native people. It represents a betrayal of our trust that this museum would be the Natives’ museum. In place of the stories of the Native past, it focuses on arts, culture, and commerce—the stuff of commodification. To paraphrase the historian Paul Kramer, cultural recognition and power do not connect. Sitting there in close proximity to the Capitol, one might think that the Indians were finally within reach of social justice, political power, and economic change. Not yet. Cultural recognition will not create a working arena where Native America might engage the United States government on something resembling level ground. Rather, cultural recognition is a distraction for Native people, a painless amusement for non-Natives, and a way for U.S. government politicians and bureaucrats to avoid the hard questions raised by the history of U.S. internal colonialism.
The town dump.
We hunted old bottles in the dump, bottles caked with dirt and filth, half buried, full of cobwebs, and we washed them out at the horse trough by the elevator, putting in a handful of shot along with the water to knock the dirt loose; and when we had shaken them until our arms were tired, we hauled them off in somebody's coaster wagon and turned them in at Bill Anderson's pool hall, where the smell of lemon pop was so sweet on the dark pool-hall air that I am sometimes awakened by it in the night, even yet.Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow (Penguin, 2000).
Smashed wheels of wagons and buggies, tangles of rusty barbed wire, the collapsed perambulator that the French wife of one of the town's doctors had once pushed proudly up the planked sidewalks and along the ditchbank paths. A welter of foul-smelling feathers and coyote-scattered carrion which was all that remained of somebody's dream of a chicken ranch. The chickens had all got some mysterious pip at the same time, and died as one, and the dream lay out there with the rest of the town's history to rustle to the empty sky on the border of the hills.
There was melted glass in curious forms, and the half-melted office safe left from the burning of Bill Day's Hotel. On very lucky days we might find a piece of the lead casing that had enclosed the wires of the town's first telephone system. The casing was just the right size for rings, and so soft that it could be whittled with a jackknife. It was a material that might have made artists of us. If we had been Indians of fifty years before, that bright soft metal would have enlisted our maximum patience and craft and come out as ring and metal and amulet inscribed with the symbols of our observed world. Perhaps there were too many ready-made alternatives in the local drug, hardware, and general stores; perhaps our feeble artistic response was a measure of the insufficiency of the challenge we felt. In any case I do not remember that we did any more with the metal than to shape it into crude seal rings with our initials or pierced hearts carved in them; and these, though they served a purpose in juvenile courtship, stopped something short of art.
The dump held very little wood, for in that country anything burnable got burned. But it had plenty of old iron, furniture, papers, mattresses that were the delight of field mice, and jugs and demijohns that were sometimes their bane, for they crawled into the necks and drowned in the rain water or redeye that was inside.
If the history of our town was not exactly written, it was at least hinted, in the dump. I think I had a pretty sound notion even at eight or nine of how significant was that first institution of our forming Canadian civilization. For rummaging through its foul purlieus I had several times been surprised and shocked to find relics of my own life tossed out there to rot or blow away.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Horton hears a "boo!"
Monday, April 07, 2008
“Do they know about Martin Luther King?”
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Friday, April 04, 2008
A simpler way of dealing with scarcity.
Operation chaos indeed.
Image by David!!!!!! used under a Creative Commons license.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
I don't IM.
Wall of plates.
Image by Yukon White Light used under a Creative Commons license.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Two kinds of poems.
When he was in college, a famous poet made a useful distinction for him. He had drunk enough in the poet’s company to be compelled to describe to him a poem he was thinking of. It would be a monologue of sorts, the self-contemplation of a student on a summer afternoon who is reading Euphues. The poem itself would be a subtle series of euphuisms, translating the heat, the day, the student’s concerns, into symmetrical posies; translating even his contempt and boredom with that famously foolish book into a euphuism.John Crowley, “Novelty,” in Novelties & Souvenirs: Collected Short Fiction 41 (Perennial, 2004). (What is Euphues?)
The poet nodded his big head in a sympathetic, rhythmic way as this was explained to him, then told him that there are two kinds of poems. There is the kind you write; there is the kind you talk about in bars. Both kinds have value and both are poems; but it’s fatal to confuse them.
Outside is overrated.
Traditionally Outside receives extremely high ratings by those who like to see others play it, and these people are in many cases comfortably ensconced Inside themselves. Outside was released many years ago, it was in fact the first massively multiplayer game, and yet it has always managed to avoid the double-edged Retro tag. In its favor, continual user updates have kept Outside current; there are always new things to see and do Outside. Participants are permitted, to some extent, to modify their own areas of Outside, which is a large part of the fun of the game. However it seems that in the end one is modifying Outside largely for the sake of it, and having done it, there is a distinct feeling of "now what?"MetaFilter, via Atticus Grinch.
In terms of the traditional target age content metrics, Outside is remarkably high in sex, violence and challenges to traditional values, despite the strong child-focussed marketing it receives. Many would go so far as to say that for a child to develop the ability to cope with Outside is essential, as long as the harm incurred is not too debilitating. Children injured playing Outside are usually comforted by parents, and soon encouraged to go Outside again; this leads to the conclusion that somehow Outside has escaped any and all of the usual moralizing that surrounds the videogaming industry. One might say that Outside gets a free pass from the Jack Thompsons of this world.
That aside, how does Outside actually rate? The physics system is note-perfect (often at the expense of playability), the graphics are beyond comparison, the rendering of objects is absolutely beautiful at any distance, and the player's ability to interact with objects is really limited only by other players' tolerance. The real fundamental problem with the game is that there is nothing to do.
In terms of game play the game sets few, if any, goals: the major one is merely "survive". What goals a player sets, are often astonishingly tedious to actually achieve, and power-ups and gear upgrades, let alone extra weapons, are few and far between. Some players choose accumulation of money, one of the many point systems in the game, as a goal, but distribution of this is often randomized and it can be hard to tell what activities will lead to gaining points in advance, and what the risks will be.
Other players choose to focus on accumulation of personal abilities, the variety of which greatly exceeds the capacity of any individual to accumulate; again, the game requires players to engage in years of grinding to achieve any notable standard with a skill or ability. Players are issued abilities and characteristics largely at random, and it is entirely possible for a player to be nerfed beyond any reasonable expectation of being able to play the game, or to be buffed to the point where anything he or she does is markedly easier. Unfortunately over time, player abilities tend to degrade, unless significant effort is made to keep skills up. This reviewer cannot emphasise this enough: Outside requires a huge time investment to build up player abilities, exceeding any other massively multiplayer game on the market by some three orders of magnitude.
Players are encouraged to focus on social interaction, which can be engaged in in a variety of ways. In fact it's extraordinarily difficult to solo anything whatsoever in Outside, apart from basic skill and knowledge accumulation quests. One of the major forms of social interaction in the game is based largely around the addition of new players to Outside, and is both complex and, in comparison to the storyline-driven romance quests of, say, Baldur's Gate or Mass Effect, they are immensely difficult. Dedicated players of Outside, however, report that the romance quests are among the most rewarding the game has to offer.
The game world is immense, perhaps unfeasibly so. The sheer amount of resources that went into development of the Outside environment is staggering to consider. Outside is a world of tremendous size, containing examples of every known real-world terrain type and inhabited by every known real-world animal. On the other hand it is somewhat lacking in the traditionally expected, more interesting, zones where the developers would be given the opportunity to show off their skills in varying the physics and graphics of the game. There are, for instance, no zones where gravity varies to any significant degree.
The respawn rate of objects and players is ridiculously slow. A dead player can expect to wait for years to respawn, and will be set back to zero assets and a tiny, nearly helpless form. Death is hardcore, and resurrection all but impossible. Outside is not a game for the QQers out there!
In terms of the social environment, almost anything goes. Outside has a vast network of guilds, many of its players are active participants in designing the game's social environment, and almost any player will be able to find company to undertake their desired group quests. On the other hand, gold-buying is rife, the outskirts of virtually every city zone in the game are completely overrun by farmers, and the developers have so far proven themselves reluctant to answer petitions, intervene in inter-player disputes, or nerf broken skills and abilities. Indeed this reviewer will go so far as to say that the developers are absent from the game entirely, and have left it to its own devices. Fortunately, server uptime has been 100% from day 1, despite there being only one server for literally billions of players.
On the whole, Outside is overrated, and many gamers will find themselves forced by friends and family to play it against their will, but it still deserves a high rating. I give it 7/10, and look forward to improvements in future patches.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:19 PM on March 30 [286 favorites]
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