Friday, July 31, 2009

Deep Dwarves Reconsidered

My first gander at deep dwarves in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup waxed skeptical, but I've changed my mind:

Warning--the following represents a spoiler. If you wish to learn about the new race, Deep Dwarves, on your own, then stop reading now.

Here's the bottom line. Deep Dwarves are good at axes, armour, dodging, and shields, and make fine Berserkers. Why do you want your Deep Dwarf to be a Berserker? Well, Trog can heal a Deep Dwarf, which is essential, as Deep Dwarves lack all natural capacity for healing. I relied upon Trog's Regeneration ability until the final levels, when I resorted to my wands of healing.

This is one of the few cases where I had little recourse to my cheating mechanism. There was no need to cheat after acquiring such a fantastic set of armour and other enchantments:

My Dwarf began with a dangerously low Intelligence (2), so I opted to wear a Ring of Sustain Abilities to prevent the Intelligence rating from dropping to zero, which is fatal. This ring allowed me to wear a powerful shield that deducts five points from Intelligence (if not wearing the ring). Later, I acquired a fantastic set of boots that increased Intelligence, although this wasn't of any use to a Berserker.

Because my style of play centers around melee, the crossbow proved superfluous. My dwarf obtained only level three in Crossbows. A Deep Dwarf need not master missile weapons. This is also true of other races, such as Demonspawn. Missile weapons apply in the main to Centaurs, Halfings and like creatures, but my Berserkers tend to prefer hiding behind walls and waiting for monsters to engage in close quarters, where a Berserker is deadly. Besides, in the case of Deep Dwarves, they excel at Evocations. Better to rely upon magical items and wands for ranged attack.

Even with only minimal resistance to Fire (+, not +++), this particular Deep Dwarf slew three Orbs of Fire in succession while they surrounded him. Grabbing the Orb of Zot was a cakewalk. I've never said that before. Take a look at the primary stats of this character just before his last move in the game:

What makes the Deep Dwarf race so special is that they are resistant to damage. I am not talking about armour aptitude. I am referring to a unique racial ability to instantly recover from small amounts of damage. If your armour class is high enough, then few monsters will be able to touch you in the end. The counterbalance to this is that Deep Dwarves cannot heal naturally.

If you can rely upon Trog for healing until you enter Zot, you are home free. Abstain from recharging your wand of healing until you descend into Zot. Bear in mind that Trog will abandon you in the end, because your need for healing will exceed his munificence. Also, avoid the Crypt, the Tomb, and the Hells, because Trog will abandon you in those regions. Trog only awards Piety for slaying the living, not the dead or demons. Therefore, you should avoid places where those foul creatures abound, if you want to conserve your wand of healing.

The ability of Deep Dwarves to recharge wands is fantastic and should not be underestimated. Most recharges should be reserved for your wand of healing and should only be used in the last few levels. This method of healing wounds proved invaluable in Zot, where I could recover all hit points within a few turns as opposed to resting and inviting new attacks from wandering monsters.

I appreciated the ability to Sense Surroundings. This permits a Deep Dwarf to discover every region of a map and is just as good as having a limitless supply of Scrolls of Mapping.

My verdict on Deep Dwarves as spellcasters is simple. No, and here's why: you burn a magic point each time you recharge a wand. A spellcaster would not exploit that ability very much, were he wise.

I am not familiar with the Goddess Evylion and cannot comment on the Healer class, as I've never played it, but I suspect Deep Dwarves were tailor-made for Evylion. She heals, from what I understand, which solves an essential problem for the Deep Dwarf, although Trog also supplies healing. I prefer Trog, but that's just me.

Another aspect I like about Deep Dwarves is that they can benefit from dwarven armament, as my character did, gaining racial bonuses for using them. A Deep Dwarf equipped with a vorpalized dwarven broad axe seems powerful indeed, even more powerful than Minotaurs I've known.

Compared to their kin, Mountain Dwarves, Deep Dwarves sacrifice aptitude for combat (armour, et cetera), but gain resistance to low levels of damage, the ability to Sense Surroundings, the ability to recharge wands, and at latter levels, resistance to negative energy (or at least my dwarf did). Also, they are superb at Evocations, which helps when using wands and other items. My suggestion is to abstain from missile weapons, rely upon Gods (Trog, Evylion, possibly others) for healing, and avoid spellcasting. Also, try using decks of cards to heal, because some decks have an Elixir card.

At this stage of development, I believe that Deep Dwarf Berserkers are more powerful than any other race/class combination.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

William Butler Yeats

Poets from yesteryear dabbled with racist notions here and there, such as William Butler Yeats, who wrote in The King's Threshold (p.389) a passage that has troubled scholars:

The stars had come so near me
that I caught

Their singing. It was praise of that great

That would be haughty, mirthful, and white-

With a high head, and open hand, and how,

Laughing, it would take the mastery of the

No writer in their right mind would drop such a bombshell today. I try to bear in mind the times that Yeats lived in and take his words in that context, the same sort of allowance that I make for homophobic writers of yesteryear such as Edward Gibbon. Gibbon always talked trash about sodomites, in accord with the views of his age, but there remains ample cause for speculation over his own sexuality, which never seemed to manifest in any open manner.

What Yeats had in mind was an ideal future generation, such as we envision now through manipulation of the human genome. Whether such a future race would be white is open to debate, and I think Yeats would concur with this, because we now know that white skin is more vulnerable to skin cancer and only possesses an advantage in climates where the human body must remain covered for protection from cold. An ideal skin pigmentation depends upon the climate, and climate cannot be directly controlled, yet, although it can be predicted. So a variety of skin pigmentation would be the optimum configuration of any human population. No one color should be the rule--otherwise, we are putting all our proverbial eggs in one basket.

The future ideal race may lack a physical form altogether and be entirely virtual. This would ensure immortality--as long as the host server remains operational (a mighty big if, to anyone who knows anything about computers). As though to underscore this frailty, my computer experienced a power outage just as I typed that last sentence.

And now I must digress to the issue of computer malfunction. If your computer clicks off due to power failure, and even after the power resumes, your computer refuses to come on again, here's a trick. Unplug the power cable in the back. Wait five minutes. Plug it back in. Chances are, everything will come back, no problem. In fact, Firefox 3.5 reloaded every one of my windows that I feared had been lost, which is another reason I love Firefox 3.5. Also, Blogger had stored an online copy of this very missive, which is why I love Blogger. What I really don't love is typing in the same text I had already typed before. Had that scenario presented itself, you would not be reading this now. I'm doing this for fun, remember.

One more trick I have up my sleeve is to open up the power supply and replace the fuse, because I've seen fuses blow in the past, and it costs less than one dollar to replace one. Just for those that wish to know. I ignore those silly little stickers that warn of "dangerous voltages -- no user-serviceable parts inside". Look, if the power supply is unplugged, it is not going to kill you. I was seconds away from opening up the power supply and inspecting the fuse when I decided to try 'er again and see what happened.

Let Obama Smoke

Society has long been composed of a pack of prudes. Instead of being prudish over sex, nowadays people are prudes over consumption. Once he obtained the White House, Obama pledged to stop smoking, which I viewed with the greatest skepticism. We voted for the Obama we knew during his candidacy, not an unhappy and nervous junkie craving nicotine for the next four years. Obama has not looked chipper during the last couple of press conferences. He should turn that frown upside down and smoke like a chimney if he so prefers. We, the American people, care less about his long-term chances of cancer, than for his behavior, appearance and performance during his term.

It is prudishness that caused Obama to quit. That and nothing else. People have already forgotten that Winston Churchill and FDR smoked, whereas Adolf Hitler did not. Nicotine apparently helps some people perform. We may not know why. But why knock it? Just prudishness, I fear. Our ancestors shuddered at the sight of an ankle. Nowadays people don't mind the ankles, but have adapted prudishness to contend with smoking, drinking, getting high, overeating, or eating the "wrong" foods. While the nerds and geeks of the world (like me) can quote statistics showing the proper behaviors associated with optimum health, we can't predict the consequences of depriving people of their preferred condiment.

Answer me this: what mistakes has Obama already committed due to his unsatisfied nicotine cravings? What future mistakes will he make? These are no idle questions. Have you ever seen someone quit cigarettes after a lifetime habit? It's not a pretty sight. While not smoking is an excellent policy, in general, it's sheer foolishness for a man to stop cold turkey, just before taking over the most important job in the entire world.

And as for the nervous nannies who oppose Regina Benjamin, Obama's pick for Surgeon General, because of her weight, I have news for you. People are fat because of genes. Period. Some remain thin their whole lives, while others remain fat their whole lives. Scolding fat people only increases human misery. A few pounds here or there are not going to kill you, whatever the disingenuous prudes say otherwise. Those who choose to restrict their diet may live longer, but at what cost? In time, they must die anyway, just like everyone else. If they endure for a few extra years of decrepitude, who cares? Is life just a race to see who lives the longest? If you live to 90 instead of 80, does that mean you win? The victory party will be held by the worms, and they prefer you to be fat.

Why did the Ancients Prefer Alcohol?

In addressing society's ongoing debate over marijuana, one is struck by the incongruity of prohibition. On the one hand, you have a nontoxic inebriating substance, pot, that causes no health problems, but it remains illegal. On the other hand, you have a toxic substance, alcohol, that causes physical addiction and physical harm, but it is legal and even celebrated by our President, among others. Logical? Not in the slightest. Historical? Yes. It is because of history, and nothing else, that alcohol is accepted while marijuana is not.

The question then becomes, why did our ancestors choose alcohol in the distant past to such an extent that it became a celebrated tradition? I suspect the answer lies in the reluctance of ancient peoples to smoke. Drinking has an antecedent in diet, whereas smoking is an unpleasant experience for novices. Only with practice does smoking become palatable. Of course, this problem has been mitigated with the introduction of vaporizers, but in olden days, it may have been a deal-breaker for some.

Alcohol reduces inhibitions, which makes people more aggressive than would otherwise be the case. Drunk, we allow the amygdala more scope in controlling our behavior. This has proven useful for leaders that wish to persuade their followers to go to war. Hitler made his first grab for power in the Beer Hall Putsch.

Ancient Roman historians, who are our only guide for certain periods and locations of history, wrote of the barbarians living in northern Europe--yes, they would be among the ancestors of Hitler's followers--as spending their days in deep, dark woods, idle for the most part, fighting, drinking, and little else. Family feuds were common, as were feuds between individuals, and the Northerners would as soon fight among themselves as against the Romans. The reputation of the Northerner centered on courage and ferocity in battle, naivety and foolishness overall (in war or peace), and a fondness for beer. Perhaps these Romans were unfair observers given to stereotype, but even a stereotype may have a grain of truth in it. At any rate, there are insufficient records of the peoples dwelling in Northern Europe at the time of the Romans. Being for the most part illiterate, the barbarians left behind little other than artifacts such as jewelry and weapons of inferior craftsmanship. If you wish to leave behind a history, literacy helps, after all.

Romans preferred wine, with the exception of those troops serving on Hadrian's Wall, who adopted beer, the preferred beverage of the locals. Wine was consumed at almost every meal, unless one were poor or a slave, and even then, one usually had diluted wine as a beverage. With the possible exception of the New World and Amerindian nations, it would be difficult to find a civilization in human history where alcohol has not played a role, although any attempt to trace its precise influence would be difficult at best. This leads me to the next question, which presents a challenge for a good computer simulation. Any social scientists out there wish to take it up?

Here it is. What if our ancestors had chosen pot instead of wine and beer? Would there have been less war? Would the Roman Empire have endured to the present day? European history accuses our ancestors of a secession of bloody wars, often fought for little or no reason. You can scarcely find a century, between now and the birth of Christ, when a war did not erupt. Most of these wars were insipid. What was the logic behind the Crusades? The Spanish Armada, sent off to invade England during the reign of Elizabeth, was another huge blunder. Why invade? Why wage war? Why not wage peace? The first World War also comes to mind--millions dead, just because of the assassination of a prince. All these ills cannot be laid at the door of the pub, but is it just possible that alcohol played a contributing role?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jon Interviews Barney Frank

I've always liked Barney Frank, but have never seen him speak for more than a brief video clip, so it was with interest that I watched Jon Stewart's interview a few weeks ago with this distinguished Senator from Massachusetts.

The gist of the interview was that Jon Stewart believed Barney Frank to have been against regulation of the housing market, whereas Barney Frank insisted the opposite, that he (and the Democrats) had been in favor of regulation. The underlying assumption, which I believe to be true, is that additional regulation would have avoided the precipitous collapse of the housing market. Jon appeared to question his notes and whether Barney's recollections were accurate.

I was surprised to discover that Barney has a lisp. However, other famous politicians had a lisp, notably Demosthenes from Ancient Greece. Barney's general appearance does not excite anticipation. My first reaction upon seeing him was, how did this old office clerk ever get started in politics? I tried to figure out his secret. My curiosity forced me to listen to what he was saying, which in time won me over. He speaks the same language as Jon Stewart, is of a liberal political persuasion, and is both witty and humble. He gives an impression of speaking with disarming candor. I find him willing to take calculated risks, which inspires respect. Some Senators, notably Henry Reid, come across as timid. Barney is one of the few guests I have seen wrestle the initiative away from Jon and cause Jon to appear confused. I would expect that Barney has been underestimated by others to their misfortune.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Corruption is one of the worst failures in a politician. I was going to say, the worst, but among all possible failings, fanaticism must reign supreme. A corrupt man may yet retain scruples restraining him from greater evil, but a fanatic cares only for one ideal, and believes the end justifies the means, which is the belief at the heart of evil. In Iran, the Supreme Leader seems to embody both flaws, corruption and fanaticism, which is why his reign has been drenched in blood.

Traffic Cut in Half

I've noticed a precipitous drop in hits originating from Google searches. I have several theories to explain the loss. One is that I've been talking too much trash about corporations and Republicans, and they got to me somehow, but that sounds a bit reminiscent of Hillary Clinton's talk of a vast right-wing conspiracy. They just are not that organized, you know? The other theory is that a recent entry of mine contained a naughty word triggering Google to flag my site as adult-oriented. The word was penis. (See, I'm doing it again. Some people never learn, I'm afraid.) Google may have flagged me as a lyric pirate due to an adaptation made of a popular song; or the same entry might have gotten dinged for poor grammar and punctuation. The final theory is that I talked smack about Google Chrome. Maybe all of these theories are correct or maybe none at all. Maybe there's just a seasonal slump in Internet traffic. Who knows? Who even cares?

Questions for the Future

This is a list of questions that I think the human race should answer. To not know is a bit awkward.

  • What caused the first primitive life forms to appear on Earth? If it was not God, then what? Why should life arise? At what stage of development does life differ from inanimate objects? Are viruses alive or dead?

  • Why should our cells be a host to mitochondria? The human body plays host to bacteria, mites, fungi and other organisms that are unaware of being part of us. Could we be like these small organisms--a particle within a larger organism? Is the Universe conscious? Do we perceive impulses from the collective cosmic consciousness?

  • What happened before the Big Bang? How long did the singularity exist--or is time itself relative to such an extent that forever just before the beginning could mean only a second of our time?

  • Why should a collection of atoms, arranged in the way our DNA determines, ask questions about itself and about the Universe? What is the purpose of awareness? Is there a purpose? Why must there be a purpose?

  • Is DNA like the code underpinning our software applications? Who then was the programmer? Or if there were no author, then why is DNA self-perpetuating? Why do organisms prefer life to non-life and take measures to survive?

  • What will be the consequences when humans begin programming in DNA, redesigning future generations to be superior? Will the throwbacks be tolerated? What will the future gods do and where will they go?

  • Is life real or is it virtual? If it is virtual, then what is the nature of the host server?

  • Could life be designed in such a way that it were virtual rather than real? I believe that human personalities and memories can be stored upon a computer. An application could be written to store a human consciousness. Then will come a time when many people prefer to live in eternal virtual reality. A small tribe of caretakers would remain in the physical world to maintain the machines that store the virtual selves of the future people.

The answers may be a long time in coming, but they are well-worth searching for.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I Like Big Words and I Cannot Lie

(Sung to the tune of "I Like Big Butts," by Sir Mix-a-Lot)

I like big words and I cannot lie
You other writers can't deny
That when a sentence flows past with an itty bitty base
And a long word in your face
You get sprung
Wanna pull up tough
Cuz you notice that word was stuffed
Deep in the letters she's wearing
I'm hooked and I can't stop staring
Oh, baby I wanna get with ya
And use your literature
My editors tried to warn me
But that word you got
Make Me so verbey
Ooh, word of lengthy definition
You say you wanna get in my blogs
Well use me use me cuz you aint an adverb

I'm tired of magazines
Saying small words are the thing
Take this writer and ask him that
She gotta pack much back

I like 'em multi-syllabic and big
And when I'm writin' a blog
I just can't help myself
I'm actin like an animal
Now here's my scandal

Yeah baby
When it comes to words
Cosmo ain't got nothin to do with my selection
Ten or fewer letters?
Only if I can't come up with a fifty-dollar word like amelioration.

I Like a President That Can Apologize

What I never heard from the mouth of George W. Bush were the words, "I'm sorry. I screwed up." He never said this. Not once in his public life. According to George W. Bush, his performance was flawless, and he will go down in history as a paragon. Paragon he may be, but a paragon of what?

Obama apologized months ago over an unrelated issue, saying in a televised interview, "I'm sorry. I screwed up." Jon Stewart on the Daily Show took our President to task for appearing too self-deprecatory, which is considered unbecoming in a President. To me, there is no quality more appealing in a President than the ability to apologize, after a dismal performance like the one given by George W. Bush.

Here Obama is doing it again, which should set an example for the arrogant conservative Republicans, only it won't, because they are game-players seeking only to damage Obama's reputation, and care nothing for self-improvement. The conservative media is always desperate to latch onto one little thing or another to divorce Obama from his supporters. Will they succeed in their objective or will they only succeed in discrediting themselves?

Had Obama adhered to my advice never to use adverbs, he wouldn't be in this situation right now. Obviously.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

The title of this blog entry is an antiquated cliche that does not really make sense anymore. Who receives gift horses, anyway? However, I think the cliche fits this recent article in the New York Times about the new "vape" cigarettes. First of all, vaporizing cigarettes are not new, but have been around since the 1980s, when the tobacco companies began exploring healthier alternatives to traditional cigarettes. It stands to reason that by avoiding combustion, a tobacco consumer inhales fewer carcinogens and other harmful ingredients. Why would anyone wish to discourage the development of a safer cigarette? The anti-smoking army raised a ruckus, then and now, over these safer cigarettes, but they are safer.

Do you know what causes the lion's share of harmful ingredients in cigarette smoke? Is it the tobacco, the ingredients added by tobacco companies, the rolling paper, the filter, or the nicotine?

The answer is none of the above. The lion's share of carcinogens are produced by the act of combustion. Cigarettes are dangerous because of smoke inhalation. Period. Vaporization seeks to reduce this danger, and it works. Although not all harms are eliminated, it still represents a huge stride forward in safety, and all tobacco consumers that are concerned about their health should immediately abandon the pipe for a high-quality vaporizer.

However, vaporization is not perfectly safe, as the critics point out. Vaporizing tobacco remains detrimental because of various chemicals that persist in the vapor. The FDA calls vaporizing machines "drug-delivery vehicles" and has outlawed them. The argument employed is, "What about the children?" This tedious old canard arises in almost every issue, except for the one where it really does apply: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. How do the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affect our children? The mistakes of today are likely to be repeated by our grandchildren. The United States learned nothing from Viet Nam. Nothing at all. We have repeated the experience, except this time the middle class has been allowed to slumber without the compulsory draft. What will be the Viet Nam of our grandchildren? Will it be located in Africa, Asia, or a different continent? If history is any guide, our next foe will be poor, militaristic, and of little consequence to anyone besides our misguided leaders, who would prefer to waste a trillion dollars on bombs and missiles than accomplish anything of any importance.

What about the children? In the first place, children should not be smoking anything. Even to attack the idea, one must conjure up the image of kids using vaporizable cigarettes, which should not happen. But if it nevertheless does happen, a vaporizable cigarette is better for the children than a combustible cigarette. The elimination of fire from the product reduces both the attractiveness of smoking for children and the risk of those children playing with fire.

In the second place, why are we always asking what is good or bad for the children? If they are as weak and stupid as so many people suppose, then the human race is doomed. There is no need to plan for the future, because there will be no future. In reality, children tend to be resilient and smarter than they are given credit for. Otherwise, we would not be here today, because times past were far more dangerous than modern life in a developed country.

Vaporizable cigarettes will cut down on the health risks posed by nicotine consumption. Nicotine is a product that many Americans crave, and vaporization represents an efficient and healthier delivery mechanism. What's not to like? If you're a lobbyist in Washington, everything.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Merfolk Transmuter

I've taken a detour from my usual route in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. Merfolk represent the race of choice if you wish to employ pole arms, and I do, because I want to find out just how effective they are.

I decided to become a Merfolk Transmuter, because Merfolk excel at transmutations, and there is a cheap, effective transmutation attack available, Evaporate, which causes a potion to explode into a cloud of harmful gas when thrown at monsters. This spell consumes little in the way of magical points and requires as fuel harmful potions, which can be manufactured from monster corpses.

In general, I opted to learn just a small number of low-level spells and rely upon a large and heavy pole arm in conjunction with a +5 javelin of returning as a missile weapon.

Since my character acquired a cloak of preservation, bestowing resistance to acid, and has acquired resistance to cold, I have decided to pillage the Slime Pits, which has a huge treasure hoarde on the final level.

For the time being, I can say the following--Minotaur Beserkers are still easier to play than Merfolk Transmuters, but the Merfolk has a huge edge in any aquatic environment. Indeed, the Swamp becomes the Merfolk's personal candy jar. I suspect that my Merfolk may require the protection of a shield rather than relying upon a two-handed weapon. With a beserker, things are easy. To kill a high-level monster, one need merely go beserk. With a transmuter, one had better have enough of the nastiest potions on hand to cast Evaporate; and against monsters that are immune to such toxins, all bets are off.

However, I see great potential in a higher-level transmuter that acquires the Alter Self spell, because mutations can be very beneficial. In addition, there is no reason why a Merfolk, which enjoys superior aptitude in Enchantments, cannot learn Beserk Rage to give it an awesome attack potential.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Feeling Disillusioned?

If ever you feel disillusioned by American politics, it is refreshing to sample the politics of other nations. Let us examine what is happening in Iran, for today. The hardliners backing the Supreme Leader--or Ahmadinejad (I can't determine which is the real power, and which has been relegated to a figurehead)--appear as close to evil as it gets. I am always amazed how the fascists are all the same, paranoid and convinced that others are out to get them. Their philosophy is strike first and don't ever ask questions. In Iranian politics, the candidates of both the Reformers and the Conservatives speak of Western powers as though we were the boogeyman. There is excessive concern about outside powers and not enough attention paid to what is happening among Iranians.

Compared to Iran, the level of discourse in America is sublime. I would vote for the Republicans every single time if their opposition were the Revolutionary Guard. One has to feel fortunate to live in a country where many freedoms already exist and more are possible. This isn't an excuse for complacency, however. Just throwing one's hands up and saying, "Well, society looks good enough for me; there ain't nothing too bad with things the way they are," that is just laziness. Good enough is never enough. (That is an irritating cliche, isn't it?) I believe in amelioration. That's another huge difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals believe that things can get better. Conservatives believe that good enough is enough.

Pole Arms have their Charms

I was reading along in the manual for Stone Soup Dungeon Crawl the other day, a pleasurable activity, when I encountered an inconvenient fact that contradicts one of my recommended strategies. I quote from Chapter 3, "Skills | Fighting":

Being good at a specific weapon improves the speed with which you can use it by about 10% every two skill levels. Although lighter weapons are easier to use initially, as they strike quickly and accurately, heavier weapons increase in damage potential very quickly as you improve your skill with them.

This favors a policy of polearms or other species of high-damage weapon, which is contrary to what I imagined was the best class of weapon, short blades. Oops! My bad. You haven't been letting your minotaurs run about equipped with only a short sword, have you? If so, my belated apologies. I will refund all the money you paid for my advice. I mean it. Every last cent. Just submit your receipt, if you don't mind.

It does not follow that two-handed weapons are superior to one-handed weapons, because shields represent a potent defense and going without them is, shall we say, imprudent? At least for most races. One has to balance offense against defense. Nevertheless, now that I have learned something new about the game, I am tempted to play as a Minotaur that specializes in Pole Arms and Crossbows. Who needs shields, anyway? Hulkus the Minotaur scorns shields. All he needs is a trusty glaive.

My assumption that short blades were superior was based in part upon the preference of the ancient Roman infantryman for the short sword. It was considered the most effective weapon in close melee, at least by the Roman army, if not other ancient nations. This has do to with its effectiveness in stabbing and slashing in very close encounters, which is the preferred method by which the Romans dispatched their enemies. A longer blade suffers from reduced maneuverability. In combat, Romans relied upon their large shields. Behind the shields, the infantrymen could endure small missile assaults and enjoyed protection from the longer weapons of their foes. Upon achieving close quarters, the infantryman could whip out his fast short sword, enjoying an advantage at whatever form of attack that he chose.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Why I Detest Vampires

I detest vampires because they're not useful. Instead of sucking blood, they should suck fat. Then they could coexist with humankind and even become lucrative entrepreneurs. I would pay a vampire a hundred dollars per pound safely removed. If the vampire obtains nourishment thereby, so much the better.

How come our best fiction writers can't imagine a vampire that serves, rather than harms, the human race? Perhaps they have been drawing inspiration from our leaders all these years.

Do It Yourself Last Will and Testament

Here is a generic Last Will and Testament for single folk with uncomplicated lives. I shamelessly pilfered it from the Internet and dumped all verbiage that did not apply to single people with no children.

Whether it will stand up in a court of law, I don't know, but it seems right to me. Whether a will can survive a legal challenge depends on which side can buy the best lawyer (or judge). But this will represents a quick and cheap solution to a nagging problem that most of us put off until it is too late. The question is not whether to write a will, but why not write one? Although there is a potential downside--you supply your designated heir with a motive for the worst sort of crime, just like in an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

However, since gay marriage is likely to remain illegal for the foreseeable future, any gay couple should have on hand a Last Will and Testament to protect each spouse in the event of unforeseen tragedy.


Short form of a will for a single person with no children

Will of _________

I, _________[name of testator], _________[if known by other names, add: also known as _________ and _________,] domiciled and residing at _________[address], _________ County, _________[state], declare this to be my last will and testament, and revoke all other wills and codicils.


1. I am single and have never been married.
2. I have no children, living or dead.
3. My family consists of the following persons: _________[describe].


Reference in this will to the term “_________” shall mean _________.


I direct that my funeral expenses (including the cost of a suitable grave marker), the costs of administering my estate, and all legal debts allowable as claims against my estate be paid out of the general funds of my estate before any distribution of such funds to any of the beneficiaries mentioned below.


I direct that all taxes imposed by reason of my death on property passing under or outside this will be paid out of my residuary estate.


I give and bequeath my personal effects, _________[describe], to the following persons: _________.


My residuary estate is all my property remaining after the dispositions specified in Paragraph V of this will, whenever obtained, including property not otherwise effectively disposed of in this will, and property as to which I have a power to appoint. I give, devise, and bequeath my residuary estate to: _________.


I appoint _________ as my executor, without bond, of this will. My executor shall have the following powers, in addition to those granted by law: _________.
I subscribe my name to this will on _________[date], at _________[address], _________ County, _________[state], in the presence of _________, _________, and _________, attesting witnesses, who subscribe their names to this will on _________[date] at my request and in my presence.



On the date last above written _________[testator's name], known to us to be the person whose signature appears at the end of this will, declared to us, the undersigned, that the foregoing instrument, consisting of _________ pages, including the page on which we have signed as witnesses, was _________[his or her] will. _________[He or She] then signed the will in our presence and, at _________[his or her] request, in _________[his or her] presence and in the presence of each other, we now sign our names as witnesses.

residing at
[Signature] [Street, city, state]

residing at
[Signature] [Street, city, state]

residing at
[Signature] [Street, city, state]

Environmentalism is a Tough Sell in Poor Countries

We're not going to sell environmentalism to India until they rise out of poverty.

When Indians point out that they have among the lowest per capita carbon emissions in the world, well, they are probably right. What can we say to that? Not much.

The U.S. must lead the way in carbon reduction technology, which is what we should have already done, had we not been ruled by imbeciles from 2001 - 2008, during which nothing was accomplished in the United States, save to wreck the economy and begin pointless wars that continue to drain scarce funds from the U.S. Treasury.

Instead of badgering trade partners like India over carbon reduction, the U.S. should be setting an example on the world stage. We remain, for the time being, the richest country in the world and should be developing and exporting green technology.

This is a novel concept for U.S. leaders: Americans manufacturing a product, themselves, that other countries in the world might want to purchase, other than bombs, bullets, guns, planes or ships. It may take time for U.S. leaders to grow accustomed to this strange idea. Rather than sending jobs overseas, and sending more Americans into poverty--actually producing something of worth in the United States. Something that does not kill people or damage their health.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Russia: Yet Another Criminal State?

If you were in any doubt as to whether Russia is, or is not a criminal state, this story speaks volumes. If you dare to speak out and cause the rulers distress, they will kill you, because they do not believe in democratic principles. Only when a State tolerates its nonviolent dissidents can it be said to have achieved a representative, Republican form of government.

Russia and Chechnya are babies on the world stage. They have a long way to go. One of the steps that these countries could take towards democracy is to have a functioning law enforcement organization, instead of the existing criminal organization, where the police are criminals and murderers. The next step would be to develop a legal system, instead of the current system where the leader kills anyone he wants dead.

Putin has been a disaster for Russia. The former KGB operative clings to an old belief in authoritarianism, which he associates with strength. Putin is wrong about this, just as he is wrong about a great many things.

Use Rechargable Batteries!

Many people continue to use disposable batteries. What's wrong with that picture? Plenty. Here are the lamentable qualities of a disposable battery:
  1. You are wasting about a dollar per battery each time you toss one. Consider the economic factor alone.

  2. You are adding to the nation's landfills. Need I point out that in most cases mankind is unlikely to ever reclaim any of the metal contents of the battery?

  3. I understand that some disposables no longer employ mercury, a known environmental toxin. Does that make you feel any better? What about all the other metals contained in a battery? Do you want to drink that stuff? You will, in time, as disposed batteries corrode and leak their nasty contents into the water table.

  4. You have to make special trips to the store to buy batteries, wasting gas, which contributes to global warming.

For less than thirty dollars, anyone in the United States can purchase an easy-to-use recharger that handles AAA, AA, C, and even those odd nine-volt rectangular batteries. I bought just such a recharger at Home Depot, although you can find them on E-bay as well. Always buy a recharger that handles the maximum variety of battery types, because otherwise you will have to buy new rechargers, which is another variety of waste.

Some retail stores hate rechargables. Wal-Mart, K-mart, Staples, et al, do not want you to use rechargables. They want you to continue the cycle of purchasing disposable batteries, because it results in more profit for them as well as additional visits to their store, where you are likely to purchase other items on impulse. Expect disposable batteries to occupy front and center of their in-store displays. To find the few rechargable varieties, one often has to hunt. Most major retail outlets offer only one variety, such as AA, as a nod to their customers who demand them. The absence of other varieties of rechargables, such as nine volt or AAA, discourages consumers from using any rechargables at all. Through a mixture of negligence and greed, but most of all greed, retailers are contributing to pollution, global warming, and the continued decline of the U.S. economy. In a better society, this policy would be considered a crime, and a special fee would be assessed against the retailer on a per diem basis to compensate society for the damage to the environment and the economy.

However, you can purchase unusual species of rechargable batteries, even nine-volt, from vendors on E-bay. They sell reliable rechargables at quite reasonable prices. This is not an option for everyone, because many people do not purchase online, even today in the twenty-first century. But it's a potential solution for readers of my blog. Visit E-bay and stop using disposable batteries of any variety.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Demon Blade or Demon Whip?

In Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, I've begun to prefer demonspawn to all other races because of their wonderful propensity for beneficial mutations.

There's another, hidden benefit to demonspawn, as well. Hell-forged weapons are among the best that can be found in the dungeon, and a demonspawn gains racial bonuses for using a demon blade, whip, or trident. The question arises--which is better? The demon blade, demon whip, or demon trident? This is no trivial matter, because a demonspawn must choose which weapon class to study. A demonspawn that has achieved level fifteen in long swords is loathe to switch to Maces & Flails just because he discovers a demon whip.

Demon whips are, however, the most common class of hell-forged weapon, and I suggest that all demonspawn specialize in Maces & Flails for this reason alone. Balrugs almost always wield demon whips, for one thing. The second most common infernal weapon is the demon trident, and rarest is the demon blade.

I give demon tridents short shrift, because they receive a slight penalty (three points?) for one-handed use, and I prefer to equip all my demonspawn with shields. I only considered the one-handed weapons. The question then becomes, which is better--demon blade or demon whip?

The demon whip is faster:

But the demon blade causes more damage:

If speed is represented by 150 for the demon blade, then the demon whip is 20/150 faster, or 2/15. Fifteen goes into one hundred 6.6 times. Multiply 6.6 by 2, and the speed difference equals 13.2% in favor of the whip.

If damage is represented by 13/13 for the demon blade, then the demon whip causes only 10/13 damage, or 3/13 less damage. Thirteen goes into one hundred about 7.7 times. Multiply 7.7 by 3, and the damage difference equals 23.1% in favor of the blade.

Although the demon blade causes more damage, it is slower, but whether 13.2% is a factor worthy of note depends upon what I term your weapon philosophy. In my opinion, speed wins the day. This could be proven one way or the other by writing a computer program to simulate successive attacks with each weapon, but that's a bit further than I am prepared to go at this time. Instead, I rely upon intuition formed by experience.

I haven't even brought up the fact that demon whips enjoy a one-point bonus in accuracy, whereas demon blades incur a one-point penalty. Also, demon whips are as light as a feather, an important point for players lugging tons of junk. Finally, demon whips are plentiful, whereas the other weapons are difficult to find. The choice is clear for a demonspawn. The corollary to this general rule is that a demonspawn thus equipped had better carry a knife for slaughtering monsters.

Speaking of beneficial mutations, take a look at my character's list:

The mutations in bold red are permanent and arise as a demonspawn advances in levels. The mutations in gray text resulted from my character quaffing potions of mutation. Of course, sometimes harmful mutations arose, but I drank a potion of cure mutation to cure those. In general, mutations are helpful in the extreme, and every character should attempt to mutate, especially if a potion of cure mutation is available in case of an experiment that backfires.

Adverbs! Who Needs 'Em?

The orthodox position among writers is that adverbs should seldom be used, because they are superfluous. Adjectives are more acceptable, although they tend to be overused as well. Recognizing an adverb is part of the writer's job. In this paragraph, I believe there are two adverbs, seldom and more. To my understanding, these are insignificant and not as annoying as an adverb such as "tenuously," or for that matter, any adverb with an "-ly" serving as a suffix.

One of my favorite writers, Paul Bowles, holds a contrary opinion. He's got an enormous vocabulary and likes to flaunt it, an impulse I recognize. Bowles is what I term an adverb advocate. I disapprove, however.

Today, I was reading his novel, Let It Come Down, set in Tangiers, Morocco, during the 1950s, when I was struck by a series of adverbs that jarred me from my reading. I quote from page 456 of a 2002 volume compiled by Daniel Halpern for the Library of America:

"Darling, please!" She struggled a little to free herself from his embrace. Since he still held her, she squirmed violently and managed to sit up, bathed in sweat, wine, and grease. The air of the room suddenly seemed bitter cold. She ran her hand tentatively over her stomach and drew it back, disgusted. Quickly she jumped out of bed, locked the door into the corridor, drew her peignoir around her, and disappeared into the bathroom without turning on any light.

The trouble is, each of the "-ly" words stand out like third thumbs. Imagine this paragraph without the irksome "-ly" adverbs. Would any meaning be lost? To my mind, the paragraph works better without them, like so:

"Darling, please!" She struggled a little to free herself from his embrace. Since he still held her, she squirmed and managed to sit up, bathed in sweat, wine, and grease. The air of the room seemed bitter cold. She ran her hand over her stomach and drew it back, disgusted. She jumped out of bed, locked the door into the corridor, drew her peignoir around her, and disappeared into the bathroom without turning on any light.

This revision sounds better, although I concede it needs further revision, not just a reduction of adverbs. Here's another passage that disturbs me:

The thought filled him with ineffable happiness. "Ah, God," he murmured aloud, not knowing that he did so.

First of all, ineffable is not a good word to ever use. If something is ineffable, it is because the writer has not taken pains to analyze and describe it. Second, it appears that Bowles adds a supplication to the deity as a clarification for readers who do not know the definition of "ineffable."

Another habit of Bowles that irks me are the frequent digressions into philosophy. Even when hot, sexy action is going on, a Bowles character is liable to escape into an inner world of intellectual contemplation. I receive the impression the writer is bored with his own characters, with the story itself, and prefers these excursions to the action in the story. Prompted by the writer himself, the reader is prone to concur and put the book down.

These are some of the reasons it has taken me weeks to plod through Let It Come Down. Every time it looks like I'm on the verge of finishing the book, Paul drops a bucket of adverbs on my head, ejecting me from Morocco and placing me back in writing class, where I was taught what not to do.

Calling All Rodents

When I talk about Iraq, the U.S. economy, computers, Windows, any topic at all under the Sun, I don't get too many comments. I don't expect comments, either, although these topics tend to be highly controversial.

If I write about "Kodak," however, I receive an immediate comment the next day or soon thereafter, and not a casual one either but a passionate and informed comment. Just a coincidence? I think not.

Corporations hire people like you to read blogs like mine and post comments. I call these people "rodents." From google, they sniff for certain key words, such as "Charter", "AT&T", "Kodak", or "Kodak Easyshare." Then they click on the corresponding links, read the blog entries, and respond if any negative reviews are encountered. When positive reviews are encountered, they probably ignore.

I don't mind the rodents, because they let me know that the blog is functioning as expected. But other bloggers need to be aware of this phenomena. Another type of key word that will cause hits to arrive at your blog is the name of a prominent celebrity or politician such as Newt Gingrich. I assume these bigwigs employ "reputation consultants," i.e. rodents.

An interesting experiment would be to post a blog entry packed with brand names. The gravity of such a post might prove inescapable, attracting all the rodents of the Internet like a black hole.


Whew! Ran out of steam there at the end. Let's see what sort of mischief this arouses.

If you are a rodent and arrived at my blog because of the black hole posted above, drop a comment and let me know why you decided to become a rodent. What went wrong? Dropped out of college, joined a cult, what?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Torchwood, R.I.P.

Season Three of Torchwood is out, but don't hold your breath. The writing has taken a dive off a cliff. After watching the first two episodes, I'm not sure I want to continue.

  • The show remains obsessed with Captain's Jack ability to resurrect himself from the dead. The scenes relating to Jack's regeneration are gross. I do not wish to observe partial human remains regenerating and reconnecting themselves, while the skeletal mouth screams in agony for a prolonged period.
  • Where is the sex appeal, besides Gwen? The camera keeps focusing on Gwen when she is having a good hair moment. The camera is in dippy love with Gwen. Nice, but how about having intelligent words come out of her mouth, as well?
  • Two of our favorite actors on the show are gone. The straight male guy and the Asian lady.
  • The script is bland overall, devoid of the sexual and psychological tension we had come to expect from the first two seasons. Jack and Junto now profess to be lovers, but it just doesn't appear to work. Judging by their body language and choice of words, they don't seem to be anything more than colleagues--not even close friends. This represents a failure both in the script and in the acting.
  • Once again, the government leaders are the baddies. The plot is formulaic and like a dozen other Dr. Who or Torchwood plots.
  • Having characters snatching after kids and being mistaken for pervs is just weird.
  • In the first two seasons, a hint of adultery (with Jack) added spice to the character of Gwen, but that seems to be gone.

Why, oh why, did Torchwood hatch yet another government conspiracy plot? That is so X-Files, Dr. Who, and Torchwood. The whole alien invasion theme is getting monotonous, as well. One could have hoped season three would have introduced something fresh and unusual. Is anyone else sick of the "London or Cardiff is being invaded by aliens" plot?

However, anyone who has not seen the first two seasons of Torchwood is missing a real treat. The first two seasons were splendid. If you are gay, you will love the show, but there's a little something for everyone.

Most shows go bad sooner or later. House, Six Feet Under, etc. They fall into a rut and can't seem to come up with new ideas that work.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

LDS and Gays

This recent case where a gay couple was arrested for kissing reflects poorly upon the Mormon Church.

It would be in the interests of the LDS leadership to adopt a more engaging attitude toward homosexuals, because there are just as many gays among the Mormons as among any other group--if not more. By permitting assimilation, the Mormons can reduce attrition that might otherwise occur among gay Mormons. As things stand today, there are strong incentives for a gay Mormon to change his religious affiliation.

Bruno: Maybe Yes, Maybe No

GLAAD has protested the anti-gay stereotypes used in the new movie Bruno.

I am not sure how I feel about this. I pay attention to what the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation says. They bring up important issues. However, the comedian that does Borat does not strike me as a homophobic type. His humor is crude and vulgar, but he comes across as a performer that relies upon shock and disgust overall. I have watched one of his movies in the past, and it was middling--funny in parts, but overall, tedious. I've never found him offensive, just a bit annoying. I'd have to see the scenes in question in order to judge the movie Bruno for myself. But the problem is, I don't want to see the movie. The guy just isn't that funny, and he's not eye-candy either, to be frank. So I guess I can be counted as part of the boycott. But it's on different grounds than GLAAD. Disdain, rather than disapproval.

The Mainstream Media's Contempt for the Daily Show

Katie Couric, interviewed on the June 11th episode of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," expressed the opinion that most viewers of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" are young college students. The implication is that "Daily Show" viewers are naive, inexperienced, and not as well informed as their elders, who prefer traditional news shows. This idea has achieved considerable traction among commentators across the political spectrum. It represents a reflexive dismissal of upstart Jon Stewart, who often criticizes his colleagues in the media.

I don't believe Katie Couric, and I never liked her, either. I watched "The Today Show" while she was on it, and I thought it was vapid, like most television shows.

Old people like me, who already have multiple college degrees under our belt, watch "The Daily Show" in preference to all other television news programs because it summarizes, digests, and interprets complicated events in a sensible fashion. To match the information conveyed by a single episode of Jon Stewart's show, one would have to watch ten to twenty hours of regular news programs and also be an astute and alert observer. "The Daily Show" therefore represents a much more efficient manner of absorbing current events. Jon Stewart's interpretations are in most cases correct, whatever his political opponents might like to suppose. I don't always appreciate his buffoonery, but I do follow his reasoning, and so does the rest of his elderly, college-educated, professional audience.

I am afraid that the old fossils of television just don't get it when it comes to "The Daily Show." It will remain popular until Jon loses his mind, which I view as the biggest potential danger to the show. There just does not seem to be a replacement for Mr. Big Mouth. No one can do what he does. Steve Colbert? Please. Not funny. Jon is funny, an important component.

Welcome to the new paradigm, television news heads. We want our information now, we want it correct the first time, and we don't want fluff. We're tired of the conservative stick-in-the-muds who hide behind lies, misinformation, and obfuscation. Give the facts to us fast, get it right the first time, get to the point, hit hard, dig deep, go further, and tell it like it is. If you can't do that, then get out of the way for the person who can.

Friday, July 10, 2009

This is Bravery

See pictures of the protesters in Tehran defying the armed Basiq militia.

That's bravery. I am looking at these protesters, and first of all they are unarmed. Their hands are not even clinched in fists. Second, they're not in the slightest way physically intimidating. They look like pleasant people you might meet at a dinner party.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ancient Roman Triumphal Columns

I was reading along in one of my favorite books, "Life in Ancient Rome: People and Places," by Nigel Rodgers, a lavishly illustrated coffee table piece, when I was struck in the face by...I hesitate to say.

Instead, let me quote from page 70, the beginning of a chapter entitled "Triumphal Columns":
Commemorative or triumphal columns celebrated great individuals, especially military men. The Romans, like the Greeks or Egyptians, were passionate about perpetuating their fame by the most durable means available, but the idea of erecting marble columns topped by bronze or marble statues seems to have been a wholly Roman one...

...Columns known as columnae rostratae were erected from the 3rd century BC... By the 2nd century BC, relatively small columns celebrating successful Republican nobles' exploits were being erected...

The accompanying photo of Trajan's column looks like nothing so much as a penis. Phallic symbols were customary throughout the ancient city of Rome. So I believe the similarity in appearance is intentional.

This got me to thinking. Could war just be an exercise in penis comparison, as the comedian George Carlin famously said? I think so. Other than Boudica, there aren't many women on the record as having begun wars of conquest, and in the case of Boudica, she had ample provocation.

Load Your Browser Upon Booting

Nowadays, most of us use our PC for only one task on a daily basis--surfing the Internet. Non-internet applications comprise but a small portion of our activities. It makes sense, therefore, to load the default browser at startup. That way, you can press the "On" button for your PC, walk away to get yourself a cup of tea, and your browser will be ready and waiting for you when you get back.

This is easy enough to do in Windows XP. In Windows Explorer, navigate to C:\Documents and Settings\{whatever your username is}\Start Menu\Programs\Startup. In that directory, create a shortcut to your Internet browser. Presto! From now on, when your computer boots, it will load your Internet browser.

This is how every computer in the civilized world should be configured. It is simply ridiculous that people continue to click on a browser each and every time that they boot their PC. Why do it? You know you're going to surf the Net.

Be sure to construct your own home page, as well. That will save the lion's share of both time and aggravation.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Defense of Marriage Act is an Abomination

The 1996 DOMA represents a blight upon the legacy of Clinton. Yes, worse than Lewinsky.

Passed with near-unanimous Republican support, the DOMA institutionalizes homophobia. It categorically denies federal recognition of gay marriages that have already received legal recognition by a state such as Massachusetts, which permits gay marriage. This means gays are denied Social Security benefits, retirement benefits, health care benefits, federal income tax credits and everything else.

I applaud the decision by the Massachusetts Attorney General to challenge the constitutionality of DOMA. Now is the time to strike down this terrible law, which is based upon the same ignorance that we have come to associate with the Republican Party, which is wrong on all of the issues across the board.

How is it fair that a worker should pay taxes into the Social Security system his entire life, and upon his death, his spouse never receives a cent of Social Security benefits? How does this promote social stability?

The "Defense of Marriage Act" should be renamed "The Discouragement of Marriage Act." Why on earth should we want to deter people from forming a long-term, monogamous relationship?

Bob Barr (R-Ga) was the bigot who wrote and sponsored "The Defense of Marriage Act," although he has since changed his mind and expressed regret over it. Regardless, for that one act, I wouldn't vote for Bob Barr for dogcatcher, and the number of Republicans I have voted for since 1996 can be counted on one hand. Bob Barr has expressed regret for many things he said and did during his time in power and has even come out in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, but now that he is out of power, all of that seems moot. The tears of a repentant criminal pale next to the real suffering of his victims.

Old Bob Barr was one of the key factors that turned me off, for life, from the Republican Party and conservatives in general. He promoted legislation that had a direct negative impact on my personal life. I was under the impression that Bob Barr was an emissary from Satan, sent to promote evil in the world, and Bob certainly gave everyone that impression. He took glee in hijacking the U.S. Congress during the late 1990s so that nothing could be discussed save issues relating to Clinton's extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. I remember the television news had nothing besides the affair--nothing in the world was deemed as important as a sperm-stained blue dress. The whole ordeal was sickening. Now even though that was an unpleasant experience for the whole country (thanks, Bob, for prolonging that mess), contrast it against the Bush Administration with their insane Iraq war. With the Democrats, you get sex scandals; so what. With the Republicans, war and economic devastation.

Bob Barr basked in the attention he received from all quarters as the "attack dog" of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, he worked to pass the "Defense of Marriage Act" which was a slap to every gay American. Millions of us now face a life without Social Security benefits, without numerous benefits that our heterosexual colleagues take as a matter of course.

If you're straight, you can do whatever you please, however you please, and at the end of your days, your partner gets everything coming to him or her from the U.S. government. That's as it should be. But an equal protection can't be extended to gays because of one man, Bob Barr, and his evil law. I understand that he regrets that law, and he should, because it has caused hardship for many Americans. It's just another pointless cruelty of the type that Republicans like to revel in.

I suppose the bigots receive pleasure by imagining all the hardships caused by DOMA. But you know what? The bigots are the ones that don't deserve to live in a country like America. Their great hope died in 1945 in a bunker in Berlin of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Let that be a lesson to bigots around the world, as to where their philosophy ultimately leads. A loaded gun, enemies all around, and a decision as to what to do next. Their great idol took the path of least resistance rather than rising up from his bunker to face the music. In the end, the haters are all cowards, meriting nothing but contempt.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Catherine Tate: Another Great Show from the UK

I've recently discovered a superb new comedy from the UK, The Catherine Tate Show. Much different from my other favorite, Peep Show, this show features a strong female lead and POV--Tate stars in every skit.

Catherine Tate is the best comedic actor (or actress) from the UK that I have seen so far. She's head and shoulders above my former favorites, Mitchell and Webb.

Catherine Tate's humor has a more innocent and apolitical character than Peep Show or That Mitchell and Webb Look. The writing isn't terribly sophisticated. In fact, I'd wager she writes the material herself.

Catherine Tate knows how to win over an audience and have them eating from the palm of her hand. Whether her material is funny or not, she makes it funny with the strange magic that she has. She may be a witch. At any rate, Mitchell and Webb require excellent material to be funny. Catherine Tate doesn't require anything at all. She just has to assume one of her odd, quirky characters and she gets plenty of laughs.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Reevaluating World War I

In a previous blog entry, I found World War 2 to be the most, and possibly the only, justified war in American history.

After watching a lengthy documentary on World War 1, I am persuaded that World War 1 had as much justification as World War 2.

In both cases, the indisputable villain, the instigator of the dreadful world wars, was the nation of Germany, the aggressor and invader. In both wars, Germany invaded and occupied Belgium, a neutral nation, without provocation, committing atrocities and causing great loss of life in the process. Had German forces remained in Germany, the verdict of history might be different, but the majority of the war was fought on the soil of countries that the Germans invaded. The loss of life was extreme for all nations concerned and the psychological effects, incalculable. Germany brought great evil into the world with their wars. It makes one wonder whether the world might have been a better place without Germany ever having existed.

In both wars, the United States was attacked first. In both cases, Germany engaged in unrestricted submarine warfare, which imperils neutral commerce and civilians. Germany's strategic goals at the time are irrelevant; the ethical issue prevails, and condemns them for all time.

Germany went so far during World War 1 as to promise Mexico territory in the United States, including Texas and California, in the infamous Zimmerman Telegram.

I was often taught in school that the Allies were vicious in the Versailles Treaty, which punished Germany with massive fines and restrictions on the size of their armaments. After learning more about World War 1, I am persuaded that the Versailles Treaty did not go nearly far enough. Permanent military occupation of all of Germany would at least have prevented the second world war. The young corporal Adolf Hitler could have become one of the political prisoners of the Allies, writing his mad screeds against Jews in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison located in Alaska. The largest beneficiaries of such a draconian policy would have been Germans, who would have been spared the millions of casualties of the next great conflict. But the Allies, battered and exhausted by the war, had no stomach for a continuation of militarism.

The world wars changed America in ways that were unfortunate. Ever since the world wars, our people have in general entertained a favorable opinion of foreign intervention and a crusader mentality--not to be confused with "crusader" in the sense of medieval Christian crusaders, but rather crusader in the sense of idealism, a belief in democratic principles. This sort of enthusiasm can exceed the bounds of caution, as seen by our present-day entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan, places where democratic principles are unlikely to thrive due to the indigenous culture and history. Persia and Mesopotamia have no history of democracy. Ancient Persians bowed to the ground and kissed the dirt before their Emperors, who were treated as Gods, with absolute authority. A Persian Emperor could, and often did slay or torture subordinates for little or no reason. Contrast the abject submission of the ancient Persian with the attitude of the Greeks, whose free male citizens voted on the issues of the day. Overall, the culture of the Middle Easterners has produced fanaticism, repression, war, and oppression. For an example, look no further than Turkey during World War 1. The reaction of Turkey, upon being attacked by the English, was to assume automatically that the war was against Islam. With that irrational notion rattling about in their tiny brains, they turned upon the Christian minority in their midst, the Armenians, and committed genocide.

Essential Windows Utilities

When attacking Windows problems, one should have these utilities at one's disposal.

Macintosh users may laugh and point out they require no such tools. They may be right, but I paid a fraction of the price they paid for their Mac. For the price of one Mac, I can build two fully functional PC systems. This has long been true and is the only reason that I use a PC today. And when parts give out, I replace them. Replacing any single part on a Mac can be quite expensive. My rule of thumb, based upon price comparisons I have done in the past, is that any Mac part costs twice or thrice the price of a comparable PC part, and usually represents a step backward in technology, having less speed or less capability.

I recommend that every Windows PC user download and install the following:

  • Infrarecorder is my open-source choice for CD/DVD burning.

  • Notepad++ is a powerful replacement for Microsoft's lame text editor, Notepad.

  • TrendMicro's HijackThis reveals all processes and memory-resident apps that are loaded in Windows. This is essential for ridding Windows of useless and obsolete memory-hogging crapware and checking for possible trojan horses.

  • MyDefrag should be run once per month in order to defragment all of the files on a hard drive. In badly fragmented hard drives, a huge performance increase can be realized by running this utility. Some technophiles believe that fragmentation is no longer an issue worthy of concern, due to the high speed and large cache of modern hard drives. They are mistaken.

  • Crap Cleaner is not really essential, but is useful. It disposes of accumulated junk files that Windows sometimes leaves lying around. I like to run Crap Cleaner prior to defragging my hard drive.

  • SMPlayer is one of the best all-around video players, although for .mp3's it seems inferior to WinAmp. What's great about SMPlayer is that it will play just about anything. It also has a solid set of features, such as frame-by-frame advance, slow motion, skip forward, and skip backward. It can even remember settings for individual video files. If you stop a video and then resume it later, it picks up where you left off.

  • Avast Anti-Virus seems to work pretty well against viruses and their online forum is alive and thriving, with many learned technophiles available to help users with their problems. I believe that Avast is superior to other anti-virus packages, despite being free for home users. I have had bad experiences with Norton anti-virus. In some ways, Norton is as bad as having an actual spyware infection, because of potential conflicts with other programs. A few months into my subscription, my Norton anti-virus decided to stop its automatic update process, and after that I had to manually update it about once a month by logging into their web site, downloading the update package, and executing it. That was a thankless chore and led me to question the wisdom of paying for an anti-virus package.

  • Foxit Reader offers a minimal alternative to Adobe's enormous and cumbersome .pdf file reader. If you would prefer not to wait ten seconds in order to read a .pdf file and then be queried as to whether you wish to update the latest Adobe thing, use Foxit.

  • Color Cop is essential for anyone who maintains any type of web site or blog. With it, you can select colors without hazarding guesses as to the results of hexadecimal numbers. If "F0F0F0" means nothing to you, install Color Cop. A neat little feature is the ability to borrow color combinations from existing applications.

  • Firefox remains the browser to beat. The strength of Firefox lies in the many useful add-ons. I have never had any reason to doubt that it is a more secure browser than IE.

  • ACDSee is a handy little photo viewer and editor, probably the best in its class, superior to the freeware products FastStone and Irfanview. Users of Adobe Photoshop, which is technically superior at editing photos, should understand that a market niche exists just below Adobe Photoshop. Users desire a lean, fast, cheap application for viewing and editing photo albums. Adobe Photoshop cannot compete here, because of its cost and cumbersome nature. However, Adobe Photoshop is the right choice when extensive editing is required, because ACDSee is quite limited in what it can do. Relative to its competitors, Irfanview and Faststone, which are free, ACDSee is quite expensive, and the annual update from version to version introduces few major new features. For those users that already own a copy of ACDSee, it is probably not worth upgrading to a new version. Their upgrade terms are not generous. Also, the program does crash on the rare occasion for no apparent reason, and patches or fixes are nowhere to be found. The only remedy is to buy the next version and hope for the best, something I have chosen not to do.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

More About Honduras

Call me skeptical about the story emanating from the political establishment in Honduras, as reported in The New York Times.

The entire political establishment appears united behind the military takeover.

At first, I was impressed by the fact that both the Honduran Congress and the Honduran Supreme Court were united in opposing the former President Zelaya. In addition to this, the military commanders seemed to behave in moderation, avoiding the spilling of blood, and refraining from unnecessary brutality, at least insofar as being reported by the world media. The continued survival and freedom of Zelaya also demonstrates moderation by the military.

However, the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress might not be the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress. How good is a Supreme Court, anyway? It really depends upon which political faction has managed to stack the balance of the justices. The U.S. Supreme Court has proven itself to be a haven for political idealogues who are the farthest thing from neutrality and concern themselves with more than issues of law, treading into issues of policy. The quality of a Congress depends upon the gerrymandering of the electoral districts and the degree of influence played by money.

Then came universal condemnation of the military coup from almost all conscientious nations of the world. When Obama's voice was added to the chorus, I knew that there must be more to this story than meets the eye.

I was unfamiliar with Honduras in general, and knew nothing about Honduran politics, so I visited Wikipedia and looked up Zelaya as a starting point. What I read there seems to point a finger at the Honduran right-wingers.

Concerning Honduras, I do not understand the merit of having a Constitution, as they do, that has provisions that are self-defending, insofar as they can never be amended or altered.

The authors of the unalterable law may themselves all be dead. Are the dictates of the dead to be defended by the living against the living? Is this not irrational behavior?

Although we revere our deceased ancestors to an extent, I doubt many of us would sacrifice our own well-being in order to appease their imagined preferences.
techlorebyigor is my personal journal for ideas & opinions