26 April, 2007

Extraordinary circumstances make for horrible law

This is a basic concept that attorneys, politicians and judges too often make. It is hard to separate law and fact when the facts are so overwhelming that correct application of the law creates serious iniquities. Also newsworthy facts are much like freshly dead zebras - they tend to attract vultures. Minutes after the VT shootings were publicised, gun-rights lobbyists took to the airwaves. Religious nuts swarmed the campus using a terrible tragedy to convert people to their religion (and political ideology). Now days and weeks later, seemingly everyone with an agenda has used the shootings to further their own goals (for a list of what's being blamed, see Cynical-C's blog entry). The vultures by now should be expected, the danger is giving them meat. I favour some gun control, but would hate to see a bill passed in response to the shootings - it is likely to be poorly written and ineffective because it is passed in response to an extraordinary situation, not to ordinary gun violence that could be reduced by gun control (provided that its actually enforced).

Extraordinary situations also are a threat to freedom and democracy. Concepts like freedom and due process seem to be petty in light of horrendeous harm, and it is hard to convince people who are in a state of panic that the liberties that they give up will cause them far greater harm in the long run. Nowhere is this clearer than in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Fear, panic was overwhelming and we acted in fear and are now paying the price. The PATRIOT ACT which had provisions, carefully inserted by cynics, to dramatically expand executive power was passed with most lawmakers not even reading the bill. The war in Iraq was hardly given scrutiny - they were Muslims, we were afraid - truth didn't matter - the drumbeat of 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 did. Out of fear, we curtailed due process, legitimised torture, started an illegal war based on lies, gave an incompetent president nearly unlimited power, alienated the vast majority of other states and now we pay the price. Our international reputation is shot, corruption and incompetence run rampant, American soldiers and Iraqis die by the thousands in a theatre of war with no clear enemy and no way to win, and misconduct by the executive branch goes unpunished - because after all - we legalised it.

A deep breath and a step back goes a long way. Had we done it after September 11th, we might not be in the mess we are now. Maybe we would have had a comprehensive and effective counter-terrorism strategy. Maybe we would have had the assistance of the global community, so supportive of us before we told them to fuck off. Maybe we wouldn't be worried that the government is tapping our phones and torturing people. Maybe we would have acted rationally - that we will never know, because we acted in fear and this is the product of fear. Good law stands the test of time, bad law leads to disaster, therefore the only logical thing to do is to make good law and this requires thought and strategy, not rash judgments.

19 April, 2007

Loyalty, competence and the good of the state

It is clear that the Bush administration values loyalty over competence. After all, an incompetent but loyal person has multiple benefits. They won't point out the aspects of your regime that are detrimental to the state because they a) don't know better, and/or b) should they know better they are loyal enough to keep their mouths shut. They also make convenient scapegoats, working in such a regime, one is bound to acquire some complicity especially if one is not competent enough to realise it. However, loyalty is not all its cracked up to be. Take the example of Yuan Shao (all from the novel for the purposes of making this point). Yuan Shao had many advisors who were loyal to him. Shen Pei being the most dramatic example of facing North to join his lord after his lord, his lord's family and any power left was utterly decimated. Shen Pei also agreed with Yuan Shao's disastrous plan to attack Cao Cao despite lack of preparation (hmm... sounds familiar), Shen Pei also worked to silence all critics of the plan (eerily familiar) leading to Tian Feng's imprisonment. Shen Pei exhibited outward loyalty, but his incompetent advice led to Yuan Shao and his state's destruction making that loyalty utterly useless. What good is there, to pledge allegiance to a regime while enacting policies that destroy it? Is not the more loyal approach to investigate the situation and if a solution cannot be found, to recommend persons who can solve it? What good is an exiled ruler with many loyal followers when there is no longer a state to rule? I think loyalty to a regime rests in benefitting the state. When the state prospers, the ruler prospers with it. Therefore, the loyal approach is to make the state strong, this makes the ruler strong. It is a duty to disagree with policies, therefore, that weaken the state. It is a duty of the servant to not slander competent opponents when their work benefits the state. Otherwise you get Shen Pei, facing North, pledging allegiance to a past memory, to a ruler without power, to a state in ruin.

Quick random rants

1. Repeat after me - Iraq = Ee- rah - k, not Eye-rak; Iran = Ee-rah-n, not Eye-ran. There should be a law that one has to be able to pronounce the proper name of the country before invading it.
2. "Embolden" should be stricken from the dictionary. Its use should be punished by having to do a hundred grammar drills. Also include any merger of celebrity first names.
3. All trials should be like this.
4. Any Democrat who voted for Alito or Roberts is a douche.

18 April, 2007

A high-elf should not stoop low enough to kiss mere mortal man

A few articles have been written about the "girl gamer phenomenon" but overwhelmingly the market is male and with most games there's little surprise. I've been playing games for as long as I can remember but as graphics have improved, female characters have become more and more of a turn off. The clothes suck. In the vast majority of games, female characters look like something out of an anime porno. But more than the clothes, the characters themselves suck. Male characters get a storyline, they get emotions. Female characters are too often defined by their relationship to the main (male) characters. A female character is one of the male character's girlfriend or exists to become the girlfriend. Her emotions surround her feelings towards the male character(s). She's there for support but not for the glory or the victory. And then the "girl gamer" crap started so the industry made some games for "girls." Example one: Barbie Horse Adventure, 'nuff said. Of course not all games that have appealed to women are bad. The Sims, Animal Crossing are fabulous games, well made and fun for everyone. They also don't have a storyline except for one that the player makes and lets players customise characters which means we're not stuck with an avatar of giant-breasted elf wearing a thong and fawning over the main (male) character. I think part of the reason that games like Final Fantasy and GTA don't appeal to a lot women is that the avatars suck or the only part that girls get to play as/see is someone's "ho." When I get a fantasy game, I want to pick up my sword/bow/wand/etc. and start kicking ass, exploring the environment, not flirting with the ugly guy I'm supposed to be in love with. A lot of people identify with characters that resemble them, but video game female characters do not resemble the vast majority of women or those that play games. So video game designers, here's my appeal. Women make up more than half the country - this is a huge demographic - exploit it, please! 1) Make some good female characters who have an actual part in the game and are not merely romantic interest/eye-candy (and preferably wearing something that one can imagine fighting in) . 2) Make good games. 3) Put the good female characters in the good games. 4) Don't make things pink. When I see pink - I see crappy-attempt-at-selling-lame-product-to-women-by-changing-the-colour and I avoid like the left-over children of Ungoliant.

Of course not all games are like this. Most surprisingly the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series has been a welcome change for me (that and its based on one of the best novels of all time and a fascinating chunk of history). Surprising because it is set in a period of history that was extremely patriarchal. In RotTK, you can make female characters have the same capacity as the male characters. Which means that my girl avatar can outsmart Cao Cao, kill Lu Bu in a duel and conquer all of China and in no way is her story defined by her romantic entanglements to the male characters. Dynasty Warriors does some of the same, the existing female characters suck but historically-speaking they are supposed to suck, and the clothes are a bit impractical but they can still wipe out the enemy well enough and you can create some seriously sweet characters.

13 April, 2007

Unethical Prosecutors - they hate our democracy and are working to destroy it

Prosecutors have a special place in the law as opposed to regular attorneys. Prosecutors get to represent the government and therefore their interest is different. A regular attorney's client is the individual, a prosecutor's client is society. A regular attorney's responsibility is to represent the interests of the client, a prosecutor's responsibility is to represent the interest of the society in their jurisdiction. In the Duke case, it appears that the District Attorney, Nifong did not meet these ethical responsibilities, which is why I wholeheartedly support the ethics investigation against him. Nothing is worse in the interest of society than a prosecutor who doesn't meet his responsibility to the point where a prosecution is brought and continued despite lack of probable cause. I don't know Nifong's priorities, from media reports it appears that there might have been the influence of upcoming elections and a big media case would certainly help his chances, especially with sympathetic public opinion. This is pathetic and disgusting. That the interests of society in making sure that prosecutions are brought with at least probable cause should be subordinated to a person's political ambitions is revolting. Just as it is equally revolting that attorneys at the Justice Department may have been pressured from other attorneys to prosecute in order to help the Republican party win elections. The criminal justice system should never be subordinate to a prosecutor's personal ambitions, whether it be a desire to win an election or to boost reputation by having a large number of convictions. Nor should representing society be subordinate to an attorney playing personal representative of an Executive branch. The interests of society and of justice must be the first priority, the only priority for a prosecutor, any other benefits are incidental. Few things corrupt society more than when false charges are brought against persons and their liberty interests threatened because of impermissible reasons. One of the hallmarks of democracy is the commitment to liberty, the idea that freedom will not be deprived without due process. Take this away and we are no better than countries that lock up/execute people on the whims of their leaders.

In terms of the Duke case, I agree that there is some sympathy for the accused. No one should be prosecuted for a crime they did not commit especially when there is so little evidence. The prosecutor, instead of gathering evidence and putting together a case and then defending the reasons for prosecution, decided the case first, tried to get evidence that fit and when the evidence didn't fit, didn't declare a mistake and drop the charges but continued his prosecution. This is intolerable. "I'm sorry, I fucked up," has turned into a bad word in this country. Nifong didn't apologise, just like John McCain and his Potemkin market out of fear of political consequences. But they did fuck up, and they should have admitted to it. There are also allegations that Nifong didn't disclose relevant material to the defence, this is a clear violation of the ethical rules and undermines due process. The accused must have full access to charges and evidence otherwise a trial is a sham and democracy is undermined.

However, for all the outrage this case deserves, I find it curious that those who so eagerly defend the Duke players are not as eager to defend non-rich, non-white persons who are falsely accused. Why not outrage over the people who are exonerated by the Innocence Project? These people actually sat on death row, sometimes for decades, falsely convicted not just accused. Why no outrage over the people released from Guantanamo after the Executive branch admitted there is no reason to keep them there? Why is a false accusation against the Duke players a tragedy when those cases are not?

The confidentiality of the identity of rape victims also gets a lot of press in this case. There is a reason for it and the reason is good. There are few crimes where the behaviour of the victim gets as much scrutiny as there is with rape. Few defence attorneys in a robbery prosecution would argue, "But look, he was wearing expensive clothing, he was asking to be robbed," or "The victim had been known for giving money to charity, he gave money to a homeless person just before, this means that he consented to being dispossessed of his property." In rape cases, the victim's sexual history, clothing, past behaviour is too often the focus of the trial rather than whether the victim consented. There is also wide non-reporting of rape because many victims fear they will be put on trial instead of the perpetrator and police, to this day, start with a presumption that the victim was either asking for it or lying. This is why there is confidentiality for rape accusers and why it should continue to exist as long as society perpetrates the idea that victims are either asking to be raped or making it up. There is a presumption that any woman who has ever consented to sex in the past automatically consents to any sex in the future. After all if she isn't worried about being a slut, why would she not consent (women after all don't enjoy sex). Even if she is a lily-white virgin, then she's lying to get money or put a good (white) man in prison. It is easy to see why rape is unreported and why false accusations are rare. Why would any reasonable person put themselves up to that level of scrutiny? Why would anyone want their name dragged through their mud because they don't fit the patriarchal standard of purity? If you don't want rape accusers to have confidentiality then change the presumptions, until then shut up and stop whining.

I don't know why the accuser in this case made the allegations she did. I suspect that the prosecutor's zeal had more to do with the prolongment of the case than anything else. When the lack of DNA came out, when the accuser constantly changed her story, when most of the probable cause turned out to be false, then the case should have been dropped. Prosecutors should not follow Bush's Iraq logic and make up evidence or refuse to disclose evidence that doesn't fit their conclusion. They should be better than that.

Prosecutors need to be held to a higher standard, to hold up justice for society, not for personal or political goals. I hope the ethics committee takes a close look at Nifong. I hope ethics committees will look at the behaviour of the attorneys in the Justice Department responsible for the firings if the evidence shows that the firings were for political reasons. Society must have faith in the independence and commitment to justice of prosecutors, otherwise there is no reason for the criminal justice system to exist.

12 April, 2007

Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI - my Review

Ok, so Romance of the Three Kingdoms is my favourite novel & the history on which it is based is equally interesting. I got into the book, however, with Koei's Romance of the Three Kingdoms series which I've been playing since I was a little kid who didn't even know that the fun game she was playing was *gaps* teaching her history. RotTK XI is, obviously the 11th game in the series not including all the spinoffs like Dynasty Warriors and Kessen II and other non-Koei games.
11 is a lot of fun, its similar to 9 with one major, major improvement - it lets you control battles! I hated 9 because it felt like I was sitting by and observing the battles instead of doing what I love best in the series, micromanaging every aspect of my generals' movements and pretending that I'm the more enlightened version of Zhuge Liang.

Is good, very good and extremely addictive. Everything takes place on a big 3D map. The domestic system has been overhauled so you no longer endlessly send your officers to develop farming/trade/etc. Instead you build farms/markets on the map and they automatically produce gold and food and build other facilities like barracks, smithies and shipyards to recruit troops and equip them with weapons. The one drawback to this is that smaller cities are much harder to fight from since the amount of stuff you can build depends on the size of the city, but, unlike other versions, you no longer have to be in a specific city to produce specific equipment. Want to build ships in Ru Nan? Just build a shipyard and you're set. I hated in VII where you had to take the northern cities to have any cavalry units, cavalry units were good and I was always stuck with slow-ass infantry. Without all the constant development, your domestic officers are freed-up, but this is a good thing. In battles, you can have 3 officers per unit, the one with the highest rank/deeds is the leader and has the biggest impact on the attack/defence capabilities of the unit (along with the type of weapon equipped). The subgenerals add additional skills and can affect the intelligence of the unit. This means that generals like Lu Bu/Zhang Fei/Zhou Tai are no longer useless against smarter units as long as they are accompanied by an intelligent general. Yep, this means you can send people like Zhang Zhao and Yan Jun out to battle, fun times. Each character can have only one skill, most have no skills. Skills give additional bonuses such as more powerful attacks/strategies, better defence, easier weapon production. There are about 100 skills that you can experiment with and certain skills can be combined in a battle unit for some extremely powerful attacks. Instead of a monthly time frame, every turn is 10 days which makes the game seem extremely long even though not much time goes by. The Action Point system is back, and has a cap meaning you have to delegate parts larger forces to viceroys which are surprisingly capable but still annoying. The duel/debate system got a major overhaul. The debate system is pretty fun, kind of a card-based minigame, the duel system is in real time but is limited in options and a bit boring. Finally the AI, it is much, much, much better than in the RPG verisions (X, VIII, VII), your viceroys can actually defend themselves (if they have enough decent officers/supplies), enemies are aggressive (though sometimes focus on really strategically stupid targets) and do smart things in actual battle. And there's fire, lots of pretty fire.

Sound - Pretty sound, fits the game well, and changes often enough that you don't get sick of it. There is some voice acting. Units say stuff when they move, attack or be attacked and characters talk in debates and its all in Chinese which adds to the authenticity. Introductions to scenarios are in Chinese or English and are not bad. The female voices are bad also, you can choose a rough tone(which is ok), or squaky 10-year old voice (which sucks worse than George Bush playing a trivia game).

Graphics - There's 3D in the game for the first time. Its nice, but the edges are a bit rough and the girl character models are horrible (they all look like they are 10 years old). The 2d graphics and the graphic stills especially, are absolutely gorgeous though.

Replayability - Every game is different, you can add created characters and created forces to make stuff more interesting. There's multiplayer, lots of scenarios and short challenge scenarios which are hard. There's stuff to unlock, lots to figure out and each game takes a long time to finish so well worth the purchase.

Controls - a bit hard at first, but you get used to them quickly(lots of menus, and overlapping menus, and then even more menus). There's a tutorial that's very helpful though.

I give Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI 9 1/2 roasted monkeys out of 10

A springcraptastic day

Today is a lovely April day. The ground is covered in snow; falling only to be interrupted by sleet and freezing rain. Ah spring! How I love it. To be able to engage in typical springtime fun; like snowball fights! To ski down white mountain slopes! To build a snowman, knowing he won't melt for months to come! The sight of snowplows and the knowledge that tomorrow I will have to clean the snow off my car only to have to do the same a few days later! Yes, it finally feels like spring.

Non-news and cheap shots

A shock jock saying offensive things is not news. It happens every day. Rush Limbaugh & Co. regularly say racist, misogynistic crap in the name of entertainment and listeners eat it up. However, the Imus comments still piss me off. When pundits go after targets with cheap, insulting comments, almost always the targets are 1) celebrities, 2) politicians 3) people who do stuff so stupid that they should expect it. Now these people put themselves in the spotlight, they have some expectation that their actions will be commented upon and given the craptastic nature of "news" personalities, they should not be surprised at horribly offensive insults. This doesn't make the insults right, it doesn't make them excusable, it makes them expected and the target has at least some preparation to them.

Imus, however, went after college students who never intended to be in the news in such a manner. They played college basketball, had a great season that now, thanks to Imus, will be just an afterthought. Instead of celebrating their season, these girls now have to be thrust into the media spotlight and all the circus that is the newstainment industry. Instead of worrying about classes, papers and finals, they have to defend themselves against ignorant crap that is repeated on every "news" channel. Imus forced these girls into this position for no reason other than his own ignorance and that is why his actions are so deplorable. I don't know if he is a racist/sexist or a good person, but his actions were racist and sexist and they were not the actions of a good person, and this isn't the first time he's used such comments. Shock-talk is big business, it won't go away and people like Ann Coulter and Glen Beck* will still have plenty of rabid fans waiting for them to call people nasty things. But a line needs to be drawn, at least, to keep them away from non-public figures. Although racist/sexist/homophobic/ethnic/etc. slurs are never acceptable, there unfortunately is a market for them and until that market is sufficiently marginalised, such talk will continue to be in the public airways. The players at Rutgers should be remembered for their season, unfortunately, they'll be remembered for being insulted and that is what is newsworthy and cannot be allowed to stand.

*Glen Beck did call victims of Katrina, "scumbags" which is equally messed up, but either we've gotten used to/expect those on the right to be giant assholes or we give a pass to those on the right for some odd reason, either way those on the right should not be excused either.
** The right loves to trot out the examples of rappers using such language and no, its not ok for a rapper to call a woman those names, but it is curious that the right only talks about rappers using nasty language when a white, priviledged male is being accused of those same comments. Same as how they only show concern for minority violence when a white male is being accused of violence against a minority.