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Monday, April 22, 2013

The Meme Transcendant

Sometimes, in a piece otherwise intended to be humorous, some deep truth is exposed. And as all things on the internet are, it is seen by many but then forgotten almost as quickly as it appeared. But because it is special, it remains, buried deep within each of us, until at some future point someone looking for a pithy way to express something dredges it up and turns it into a meme.

I watched such a thing happen today. This piece at Wonkette, while funny in itself, is a callback to one of those great internet things that was both universally experienced and nearly forgotten.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Onion ran a number of spot-on pieces that captured the anger, sadness, confusion, and absurdity of the terrorist attacks. They were all good, but by far the most touching was this article. I'd say to go read it, but you already have. I just re-read it and it still makes me misty.

The title, plus the emotional weight of the article, made it perfect for memetization - but it was too soon. And "too soon" after 9/11 was a long time. But now, over a decade later and with bin Ladin dead and al Qaeda largely in tatters, a window has opened. All that was needed was for someone to remember - to reach back and pull that headline from the recesses of our national memory back into the daylight. Doktor Zoom was that man,1 and I personally thank him for reminding me of what might have been the best thing to come out of the post-9/11 media storm.

"Not knowing what else to do," is the perfect way to hold up a floundering response to a terrible event for the ridicule (or at least the examination) it deserves. I hope we continue to use it for a long time to come.

1 Okay, the Onion AV Club did this half a year ago, but I didn't see it, and plus, it doesn't count if the Onion does it.

Posted by Dave at 4:31 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: life, media, web

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


I do not understand why people do not like her. No - let me rephrase - I do not understand why people dislike her.

Not liking someone takes no effort. Indifference is the default attitude towards all things. But actively disliking someone - that takes work. We expend emotional energy to maintain annoyance. It's draining.

So why do we do it? Why do we love to hate? For some of us, for some people, it allows us to feel better about ourselves. We have our own shortcomings. We're not famous, or rich, or successful, or thin. But for those people who are - at least some of them, the ones who seem too happy or confident or for whom it comes a little too easy - we can tell ourselves a story about how they're bad, fake, unlikable people and in doing so we can feel better about ourselves.

It's dishonest. It's pointless. But it's often unconscious. And regardless, people have a hard time avoiding counterproductive behavior even when they know it's counterproductive.

Meh. Maybe I do understand the hate. But it's not rational or reasonable. It comes from a place of our own insecurity; our need to cut others down when we can't (or won't) raise ourselves up. And that's kind of sad when you think about it. Because we should be celebrating others' success and looking for ways to emulate it in our own lives.

In other words, for the "Hathahaters", the problem is not in their star(s) but in themselves.

The worst thing you can say about Anne Hathaway is that she's a thirty-something theater geek who made it big doing what she loves to do. I'm a thirty-something band geek with a successful career (though not in music). I relate. A lot of my friends in high school were people like her. She seems smart, and funny, and relatively nice (in the few real glimpses we get of her). She's professional and career-focused and a feminist who isn't afraid to speak her mind and call people out when they deserve it.

Tell me again what's not to like?

Posted by Dave at 12:57 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: life, media

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Podcast is go.

I Podcast Magic Missile.

We've got eight episodes up and a backlog of 12+ that will go up gradually as I clear it. Most of the start is kind of random, but it's gradually settling down and getting more structure.

Posted by Dave at 12:38 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: blog, console, games, life, media, science, tabletop, web

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Life stuff (good news abounds)

So things have been going pretty well lately. At first, it was really weird because my brain kept telling me it couldn't be right and the bottom was about to fall out, but after a day or two of that not happening (and some encouragement from friends), awesome just seems to have become the new normal. Here's a brief rundown of stuff that has happened lately:

Posted by Dave at 11:34 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: games, life, media, tabletop, tech, web

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A guy walks into a bar...

Okay, it was a supermarket. And he had an AR-15.

Technically, this is a legal thing to do, if the establishment doesn't prohibit the carrying of firearms, especially in the great state of Virginia in which I live.

Practically, this is not the sort of thing a sane individual does. It is not the sort of thing that happens in a sane society.

If I am going about my daily business and I see someone with an assault rifle who is not obviously in the uniform of the police or National Guard, my first reaction is going to be, "Oh my god, there's a guy with a gun, run away!" And even if it is someone in uniform, I'm going to to be, "Oh my god, is there a dangerous criminal around?"

These are not unreasonable conclusions to draw. Rifles like the AR-15 and AK-47 are military-grade anti-personnel weapons. They are designed for one purpose: to kill people. The only reason to be carrying an AR-15 on your person is because you expect to have to shoot someone. The rational thought that should go through someone's head upon seeing an individual armed with an AR-15 is, therefore, "somebody in the vicinity is about to get shot." And considering how even shootouts involving highly trained police and military types tend to have civilian injuries as collateral damage, the sane response for most individuals in that situation should be to run the hell away.

By the same token, if an individual expects to be engaging in a firefight - even defensively - basic decency dictates that they should try to do it somewhere isolated and not filled with innocent bystanders. Yes, people do have a constitutional right to bear arms (and we can debate what that means or if it even makes sense in 21st Century America), but waltzing into a Kroger with military-grade weaponry is at best irresponsible. It's like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater... while wielding a lit blowtorch.

Posted by Dave at 10:29 AM | Comments (1) | Tags: life, politics

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How open is too open? (choosing your license)

Just saw this article linked on Slashdot. It says that the majority (about two thirds) of researchers who release their works under a Creative Commons license choose Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives rather than one of the more "permissive" licenses.

Regardless of what the article says, this is a no-brainer for scientific research. A scientific paper has a strict structure for a reason - it has to present a hypothesis, related research, results, and conclusions. Anyone modifying the content risks invalidating some or all of the paper, possibly in a way that implies the original researchers came to different conclusions than they actually did. That doesn't mean that someone couldn't find a way to, for example, visualize the data in the paper in a different way; they would just have to ask the authors for permission to use the results, the same way they would if the authors had used a standard, closed license.

There are tons of different licenses out there, some more "free" or "open" or "permissive" than others, and it's sometimes hard to decide which one to use. But they can really all be boiled down to about four categories - and that includes both licenses for software and for creative works like art and literature.

... Read all of "How open is too open? (choosing your license)"

Posted by Dave at 12:35 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: development, life, media

Monday, January 14, 2013

A reply to my brother.

My brother, Jon, runs a blog about playing a druid character in World of Warcraft (WoW). He's also just bought a house and is getting married next year. One of his more recent posts was about the intrusion of his life into his gaming, and how some fans of the game are calling for changes that would make WoW too time-consuming for him to continue playing.

This is my response to his post, which I put in his comments section but I think deserves to be reproduced here as well, because it has a lot of my own thoughts about getting older and having more responsibilities and what that does to people with time-consuming hobbies:

... Read all of "A reply to my brother."

Posted by Dave at 1:26 AM | Comments (2) | Tags: games, life

Friday, December 28, 2012

On acceptance.

Just read this at Whatever, in which John Scalzi talks about his attitudes towards trans people. Basically, what he says is: all things being equal, we should try to support people being happy with their lives. In other words, basic decency. The post reminded me of a couple of experiences I had back in college that cemented the way I feel about LGBT people and acceptance in general.

First: two of my three flat-mates my sophomore year of college were gay men. Neither was out at the beginning of the school year, and one did not come out until after he graduated college, but we had an idea about both. I roomed with one of them. I was not modest. It didn't bother me.

One evening, the other man (I won't mention names because it's not important) came to my door and told me there was something important he had to tell me. He came out there, to me, though I probably wasn't the first one he told. My (unthinking) response was to shrug my shoulders and say, "Cool!" In retrospect, I probably should have been more supportive, but it didn't register on me at the time how big of a deal it must have been for him. I was a bit of an idiot back then.

Second: my sophomore year, a freshman named Alex joined the Harvard Band (I will mention first names this time because it's relevant). He was cool, though we never really hung out. About halfway through the year, my then-girlfriend and I were reading the Crimson and there was this story about this female student named Alice who was a trans-man and who was running into all sorts of problems because she wanted to room with men and use the men's bathroom in her dorm. I don't remember my exact reaction, though I suspect it was not as tolerant as in the previous story. At some point I must have said something to the effect of "who is this girl?" to which my girlfriend responded, "That's Alex, from band."

It had never occurred to me that he wasn't biologically male1. Knowing him helped me relate to the story and his plight. I realized how dumb judging him was. I felt chastised. Of course he should be allowed to live with dudes - he's a dude!

1 I might have been the only one who didn't know; like I said, I was a bit of an idiot back then.

The incident reinforced what I already knew instinctively: that people are people and as long as they're not hurting us we should just let them be who they are. I can't say I haven't screwed up since, or that I don't have any biases. I've said some pretty dumb things to and about LGBT people in my life, mostly out of ignorance. I can't say I don't occasionally find homosexual imagery unpleasant, but again, that's a visceral reaction, and the same one I'd have to watching two people I don't find attractive making out. I don't let it color my appreciation of those people as human beings.

Like Scalzi, I don't expect a cookie for being decent to people. That's what everyone should do, all the time. But I also don't understand it when people flip out about LGBT stuff. I mean, ultimately, what's the big deal? If Bob wants to make out with Charlie, or Alex had the misfortune of being born Alice, how does it affect me? Isn't it better for them to be happy?

Posted by Dave at 11:48 AM | Comments (2) | Tags: activism, life

Friday, December 14, 2012

We write letters.

This is what I just wrote to my representative in the House, Morgan Griffith:

Mr. Griffith,

I know we don't agree on a lot of issues, but people are dying and as a Congressman - my congressman - you need to try to do something about it.

We make people pass some basic tests to drive a car, or sell food, or cut hair. And you have promised over and over to make it *easier* for people to get guns. In a state where it's already so easy to get guns that people come down from places like DC and NYC to buy guns in bulk so they can bring them back and sell them illegally on the street.

We need to have a sane conversation on gun control in the U.S. We need to read the *first part* of the Second Amendment: the part that talks about a *well-regulated* militia, not a free-for-all Wild West shoot-em-up on every street corner. The solution isn't arming everyone. It's making sure that we know where the guns are and that only sane, law-abiding citizens have them. It's making sure that when a gun is sold illegally it can be tracked, and that those who sold it as well as those who used it to commit a crime are held responsible. It means banning some types of weapons, magazines, and ammunition which are *solely* designed to kill large numbers of people and not for legitimate purposes like self-defense or hunting or sport shooting.

I'm not a fan of yours. I voted against you. I probably will again. But if you keep toeing the NRA line of no regulation whatsoever, and if people all over the country keep dying - in accidents, domestic disputes, petty crimes, and mass slaughters like the one that just happened in Connecticut - I promise I will work very, very hard to make sure you are no longer in Congress after 2014.

There's an old saying that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Or, to paraphrase Burke, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Well, are you part of the solution? Are you a good man? I certainly hope you are. Please, do something.

Dave Fried

I'm not optimistic.

Posted by Dave at 3:38 PM | Comments (1) | Tags: activism, life, politics

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Pandora Effect

I've been spending some time thinking about the current situation between Israel and Gaza, and (in some ways) how it parallels our own involvement in the Middle East.

When two nations go to war, there's a significant cost in blood and treasure to both. That gives them a motivation to seek a peaceful resolution. But when one side is so superior that the other side cannot significantly harm them, and when occupation of territory is not an end goal, there is no incentive to seek a resolution at all.

It's the non-sci-fi equivalent of orbital nuclear bombardment. If you don't know what I'm talking about, consider Avatar. Supposedly the movie had a happy ending. What happens in a decade or two when the humans come back with nukes?

Israel doesn't have the political will to commit genocide. But they have no incentive not to pen the Gazans up like animals and drop bombs on them when they get testy. What do they have to lose? What do they have to gain by changing their tactics? There is nothing internal to the situation that would lead them to even try to engage.

Which means there will be no resolution without external pressure. Because the most convenient means of dealing with the problem does not advance any sort of resolution; if anything, it makes people on both sides angrier with each other.

We're seeing some of this same problem with our drone strikes. The drones are effective. We have an advantage in that most of the time our targets are more isolated than those in Gaza, so there's less collateral damage. But at the end of the day, we can kill them, they can't kill us,1 and we're doing just enough collateral damage to ensure a steady supply of terrorists to use our drones on.

I'm not saying Israel shouldn't be retaliating against Hamas in the most efficient way possible, or that U.S. drone strikes aren't justified. In the short term, they're the best option we have. But in the long term, if we don't address the underlying issues, we'll be stuck in an endless cycle of violence that terrorizes and impoverishes whole populations. I hope we as a people aren't willing to accept that outcome and that we look for ways to avoid it.

1 There has not been a significant Islamist terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11/2001. It's not for lack of trying. That's not to say there will never be another one, or that it might not be serious, but there's no way it could compare to the damage we're doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Posted by Dave at 7:29 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: life, politics, tech

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