Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cars and Guns

What sane, educated person wants to own one of these?

I've seen people making the argument that cars kill more people than guns, and we don't ban cars.

It should be self-evident this is a poor argument, but in case it's not:

Cars have enabled us to improve our lives. Most of us use one every day, to run errands, get to work, and travel. We have expanded our cities, rather than being crammed into a small area (although this expansion has problems of its own). Our world is not longer limited to a few square miles.

There are more cars in use every day than guns. So of course the number of car-related fatalities will be higher.

When a car accident results in a person's death, it's an accident. Something has gone wrong, usually user error. A car is a poor weapon.

We accept the risks of driving knowing that the benefit of cars outweighs the unlikely chase we will be killed in an accident. We also have safety measures like seat belts and airbags.

Guns have not made our lives better in the same ways cars have. The only reason I can see wanting to own a gun is for recreation and hunting (and self-defense, but I am happy to leave that to a trained police force).

Those pastimes do not require magazines that can hold 15-30 rounds.

When a gun kills someone, it has served its intended function. Guns are made to kill and that is all they do. Cars are made to facilitate travel. To try to compare them is a poor argument.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Piracy is stealing. Stealing is a crime. I can't think of any exeptions to that syllogism.

As a reader of video game news sites, I find a disturbing number of people happy to defend pirating copyrighted material. This is just a bit of what I would say to them if I could remember my log in and password to those sites:

To the people arguing piracy is nothing more than "trying before you buy," show me any statistic that piracy leads to a purchase.

The cost of not knowing what a game is like is not knowing what a game is like, not pirating it.

You wouldn't walk into a Best Buy, tuck a game under your shirt, and walk out. How is that any different than downloading a copy of a game or movie you did not purchase? Would you say to the arresting officer "I didn't want to blind-buy?"

And I've heard the excuse "They didn't lose my money because I wouldn't have played/watched it anyway." The price of not seeing something is not seeing something, not finding a way to see it and not pay for it.

And to the people who say it doesn't hurt the industry -- of course it does. A certain segment of the population is stealing instead of paying. That is lost revenue by any measure.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Sweet Tears of Mitt Romney

"I'll say what you want me to say, dear electorate. Over mountains and waves and seas."

Mitt Romney, who hurls every epithet he can at Obama, including the ridiculous socialist label, has called Obama's statement that Mitt shipped jobs overseas as a "personal attack."

No, Mitt. A personal attack would be something like you belong to a fringe Christian sect that believes the way into heaven is passwords and handshakes, in addition to good, clean living.

A legitimate criticism is to say that when you claim you are king in the private sector, calling forth jobs like a divine creator, the facts do not appear to match that, you boot-strappin', out-sourcer.

Hey, I don't care what you do. Really. Cut costs, pay people pennies, and rake it in for yourself. That's fine. But don't be surprised when you are running for public office that somebody calls you on your greed and your feeble attempts to explain it away. "I was saving the Olympics," you say. So you had no idea what was going on at Bain Capital? When, if ever, did you become aware of outsourcing? Did you think it was OK when you did become aware? Or are you so bad at that job you leave the ship to other people and don't care what they do so long as you get your checks? Did you like the extra bucks it puts in your accounts? 

The Last Boy Scout

On my honor I will do my best. That much I can agree with.
If I ever need to know where to send my son to learn irrelevant "skills" like knot tying and basket weaving and learn to discriminate based on sexuality, I'm pleased to know the Boy Scouts is still carrying the torch.

I'm an Eagle Scout, although if I had my choice I would have dropped out after I was 12. It's an outdated, conservative organization that still believes you can measure a man's worth by his love of God, country and the out of doors. I love none of those things.

I did not choose to be heterosexual. I doubt anyone chooses to be homosexual. Even if they did, what is that to me? How will it affect me in the slightest? It's a silly belief to have, judging a person on their sexuality. It makes as much sense as judging them on race.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


I'm wealthy and accomplished and get plenty of sex. Yet this movie thinks something's wrong with me.

"Shame" is about a successful guy, played by the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender, with a high libido. Internet porn, call girls, and even regular gals -- all within the same week. The status quo is interrupted when his lovable goofball sister needs a place to crash. She mucks up his lifestyle. She makes him feel guilt, shame I guess is the word I should use, since that's where the filmmaker wants me to go, about his sexuality.
He tries to have a "normal" relationship with a co-worker. He can't perform. He needs it fast and kinky. Involve the heart and he's not interested.
He's not a family man. He cares for his sister, sure, kind of, but would rather not talk to her if possible.
By the end of the movie, we're led to believe this is all awful stuff, his predilection for sex and his preference of solitude. His sister tries to kill herself. We're led to believe he's mostly to blame. If he were a better brother with a wife, she's be OK.
Nonsense. This is an NC-17 movie with PG themes. Who cares if all he wants to do in life is get his rocks off and be alone? That's perfectly fine! I envy him in a lot of ways, with my family and monogamy and modest life. Naturally, I prefer mine to his, I would definitely grow lonely, but if he doesn't -- why pass judgment?
And I hate how it's shot. It's pretty, all right, but who cares. Visuals should serve the story. In this movie, the visuals serve themselves.

Wo be unto they that play with their joysticks.

In the same vein, there's a new pop science book out called "The Decline of Guys." It's about how porn and video games are making men isolated, ineffectual, and unable to thrive in relationships.
The Walkman and iPod didn't kill us off, but by gum the PlayStation and YouPorn sure will.
This is nonsense. This wouldn't be worth addressing if not for the fact that most people believe it.
This premise is flawed from the outset. Culture does not works this way. Human beings are not blank slates on which behavior is written. Anecdotal stories about how men are perceived and conventional wisdom is not scientific fact. A world without porn would not make gentler, more thoughtful and romantic men.
So before Internet porn and video games, men were more romantic, better conversationalists, and all around superior to us 21st century lug heads? Of course not.
In cultures where these media are non-existent or suppressed, do men thrive and women swoon?
Why only these media? Why not books and TV and movies? Why not politics and live theater and music? Why not iPads and Twitter? Why not art galleries? Why don't they have the same alleged deleterious effect?
Porn and gaming are easy targets because so many men use them with considerable frequency. But some version of porn and gaming is as old as civilization and somehow humanity has forged ahead. The worst criticism one can level at games is that they are a waste of time. But so is so much else we find enjoyable. To suggest that they somehow are ruining men is to misunderstand how the mind works, how behavior is formed, and to ignore the reality that if porn and games were as pernicious as believed, this world would have gone to pot a few months after Pac-Man and Marilyn Chambers arrived on the scene.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Out of Work

Here's a secret. Sometimes I regret moving to California. Sometimes I think it was a mistake. Sometimes I feel like a fool on a fool's errand.

But here's something else. At least I have a job (at the moment). Had I stayed in Utah, and had I stayed at the Salt Lake Tribune, I would most certainly be out of a job now. If not with the folding of IN Utah This Week (or whatever they changed the name to), then certainly today with the cut.

Thinking on it, the number of people I was closest to at the Trib that still work there is getting smaller and smaller.

Waffle fries and Morality

What profiteth it a man if he should eat a fry and lose his soul?

I was telling my 4-year-old about waffle fries (she had asked what we were having for dinner) and told her the best place to get waffle fries was from Chik-Fil-A. I told her we'd go there the next time we're at a place that has one.

But then I remembered all the money they gave to block homosexuals the right to marry like us heterosexuals and thought, I can't give them money that they use to fund movements I abhor.

I explained this to my 4-year-old. Maybe we shouldn't visit a place that refused a certain segment of the population the possiblity to marry. "That's not fair," she said, "Everybody should be able to get married."

I agreed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Clockwork Oranges

This is a review I posted on Amazon that I am also posting here regarding "Free Will" by Sam Harris.

I came into the book thinking I'd be further convinced that free will is an illusion but, after reading it, I'm more skeptical than I was before. Well, I learned a word for what I am -- compatibilist.

To me, the more lucid and resonating arguments from the book came from Daniel Dennett and others Harris quotes in opposition to his thesis that we're puppets on unseen strings. I agree that consciousness is not ultimately in charge, but my CEO brain still retains the power to "deliberate and choose and act," as I am doing with this review, or when I choose to say something sarcastic or not (and have done both), or whether to take advantage of the broken candy machine or not (and have done both). True, I don't inspire the urge to be sarcastic or steal a Snickers, but I have the ultimate say in whether I do it or not.

Or is Harris really saying men who cheat have no say in the matter? He never brings up this scenario, but I guess if he feels murderers can't help themselves, neither can adulterers. I disagree. Men may be, for biological reasons, more prone to cheat, but that does not mean those who cheat do so unavoidably.

Harris focuses somewhat on the extreme choice of murder, and seems to want to equate murderers with tumors in their brains to murderers who have unlucky genes, bad parents, and an unlucky environment. Well, we can see and remove the tumor in the former (though I still don't know what an apt form of justice would be to such a person), but what do we do to the person who kills for the fun of it? Could such a person be reformed? Could they develop enough willpower not to yield to the urge to kill? Isn't that a kind of free will, then?

If there's no free will, how does anyone ever effectively diet? How does Alcoholics Anonymous work? How can one have the atoms to abuse alcohol and then never touch it again? The conscious self never makes a decision in any of this?

Harris is right when he says we cannot go back in time to see how someone might have reacted differently, but we also can't see the situations where a store wasn't robbed, when a family wasn't murdered, when a home invader decided not to drop the bat on the patriarch's head. What in those situations? Is not beating someone with a bat still evidence of no free will? The genes just didn't have it in them at that time?

Or maybe Harris and I agree more than I think, and we're just defining free will differently, because he does says that choices matter.

And as a final criticism, the book did feel breezy, heavy on rhetoric, light on evidence and real world application. Harris brings up a couple of real world scenarios, but doesn't really develop or probe them in meaningful ways. The awful scenario he opens the book with never gets brought up again, for example. We're left to think Harris thinks what was done to that family was essentially unavoidable. The book feels like Harris spent a couple of weekends writing it.

A book that treads some of the same ground, but with more efficacy, depth, rigor, and power to persuade, is Incognito. I'd recommend that book over this one.