A Philosopher's Blog

Returning to World of Warcraft

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on November 26, 2008

I played World of Warcraft for a bit over a year before losing interest. But, the release of the Wrath of the Lich King and the return of some friends to the game has restored my interest.

While I still have my original WoW disks, I did not have the Burning Crusade (which is needed to use the Lich King expansion). Fortunately, the World of Warcraft Battle Chest can be had fairly cheaply. It is a fairly good deal-you get the WoW DVD, the Burning Crusade DVD and the two strategy guides for the game and expansion. I got mine for $25 on Amazon, which was well worth it.

Installing everything is fairly straightforward, but I have the following advice.This assumes that you are doing what I did-doing a new install of WoW, BC and WLK.

Begin by installing the original WoW software. Once it is installed, start getting the updates via the Blizzard updater. You do not need to have a paid account to do this. However, you will (obviously) need to create an account in order to be able to play. You’ll probably see numerous error messages popping up that actually do not cause any problems-I saw them and so have some other folks. If the install is going fine, don’t worry about them. The first few updates will be fairly quick and the updater will even begin to download the newer updates in the background. Naturally, each update changes the program-so you will need to manage any firewall or other defensive software you have going. Otherwise, the download will be stopped.

After a few “small” updates, you will soon hit a huge update (more than 2 GB). I started the download and went to sleep-it was supposed to take several hours. If you do this, be sure that your computer is not set to sleep, hibernate or otherwise cease activity (use the power management control panel in Windows). A friend of mine found that after he had left his PC downloading, it had gone to sleep and the download stopped after about 300 MB.

Once the big download is done, you’ll have several more updates to go through, but these will be fairly quick. Interestingly, when I put in my Burning Crusade DVD, the only option was to play BC rather than install it. I infer that the BC files were already installed. Check to make sure that the same is true in your case before moving on to the Lich King.

Before you install the Lich King software, be sure to update your account to the Burning Crusade (if you have not already done so). Go to account management and chose the upgrade option. You’ll need to upgrade again to the Lich King by putting in your Lich King activation code (located on the disk sleeve). You can do this even if your account is still not active (paid).

Put the Lich King DVD in and select the install option. It will install away. Then go through the upgrade process again-this will be fairly quick.

If you are not interested in the Burning Crusade or the Lich King, you can simply play without installing them or upgrading your account. However, you will not have access to the “premium” content (new races, new areas, etc.). Also, the monthly fees are the same whether you stick with just the basic WoW or have both expansion sets installed. You do need both WoW and BC installed to install the Lich King, however.

Once you give Blizzard your money, you’ll be ready to play.

Nebraska’s Safe Haven Law

Posted in Ethics, Law by Michael LaBossiere on November 25, 2008

Safe haven laws allow parents to leave their children at hospitals without facing the risk of prosecution for child abandonment. These laws are generally intended to protect unwanted infants from simply being abandoned (perhaps in dangerous situations).

Nebraska recently passed its own safe haven law. Unlike most other such laws, this law does not have a fixed age limit. Currently, thirty five children (including teenagers) have been left at hospitals in Nebraska.

Naturally enough, this law raises various moral concerns.

On one hand, such safe haven laws can be seen as laudable. They no doubt serve to save some children from being abandoned in dangerous ways and, as such, help to save lives. They might even have some role to play in people deciding not to have abortions. Or perhap not. Assuming that protecting children from such harms is good, then these laws are morally commedable to that degree.

On the other hand, such laws can be criticized because they allow for childen to be anonymously left at hospitals with no legal consequences for the parents. As has been shown, this seems to encourage some people to abandon their children. Of course, it could be argued that the children would be better off being away from parents who would abandon them in this manner (the act of abandonment could be seen as a clear sign of being an unfit parent).

While thirty five children have been left at hospitals under Nebraska’s law, it is clear that the impact is not very significant on a large scale. Obviously, the vast majority of parents have not and would not give up their children. As such, while it is worrisome that some parents are leaving their children, it is important to keep in mind that this is a relatively rare phenomenon.

However, some parents might not want to give up their children-they might honestly believe that their children would be much better off if they were given to the state. If this is true, then such an “abandonment” could well be a commendable action. This is because the parents would be doing what is (as they see it) best for the children-and this is what parents should do.

One special concern about the Nebraska law is that it does not set an age limit in regards to the children who can be left. As such, some people have left older children at hospitals. Not surprisingly, this experience has tended to be rather psychologically traumatic for the children. Unlike infants, older children understand that they are being abandoned.

While setting an age limit would solve this specific problem, the fact that some people are leaving older children at hospitals shows that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. This problem is, of course, that there are a very few parents who are willing or need to abandon their older children.

The state (that is, us) have an interest in protecting these children. But, there is also the moral concern that parents need to be responsible for their children. This creates a bit of a moral tension: on one side, the law should require parental responsibility. On the other side, the law must protect the children. While Nebraska’s safe haven law is good intentioned, it does seem to need some adjustments.

Ramblings on Trust: Cheaters

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on November 24, 2008

A little while ago I wrote a blog rambling about trust and promised to write in more detail about trust later on. I had hoped to be able to write something new today, but late papers from students have put and end to that hope. Fortunately, I have a piece I wrote a while ago that is about trust and breaking trust.

One area in which trust is critical is in a romantic relationship. Not surprisingly, such trust is often violated by cheating.

Put in very general terms, cheating involves straying outside a committed relationship in order to have sexual relations with another person or persons. Some people also consider emotional infidelity to be a form of cheating and that could also be considered cheating-although defining it could be somewhat problematic.

People cheat for a variety of reasons, but there are two main motivations that are almost certainly present in every case. First, the cheater believes that s/he is not getting something she needs or wants from the existing relationship. For example, a person might not be receiving the amount or type of sex s/he wants. As another example, a person might not be receiving the emotional intimacy s/he needs. These unsatisfied needs are what motivate the person to stray outside the confines of the relationship. Second, the cheater believes that s/he is getting something of value out of the existing relationship or is avoiding something undesirable by remaining in the relationship. Obviously, if the cheater got nothing from being in the relationship, then s/he would most likely end the relationship rather than cheat. What the cheater gets from the relationship can vary greatly. One person might remain in a relationship out of love, but stray because her sexual desires are not being gratified. Another person might remain in a relationship for financial security, yet wander because his partner is emotionally distant. A third person might remain in a relationship out of fear of being harmed, yet cheat in order to attempt to have a relationship that is not based on threats and coercion.

While people cheat for a variety of reasons, it is generally desirable to avoid having someone cheat on you. Laying aside the moral harms, cheating is harmful in two very practical ways. First, there is the matter of physical health. There are many sexually transmitted diseases in the world and some of them, such as AIDS, are life threatening. If someone is cheating on you, the odds of you being exposed to one of these diseases increases significantly. Second, there is the matter of emotional health. Being committed and loyal to a person who does not reciprocate this loyalty can be quite devastating when this infidelity is revealed. The extent of this emotional harm increases the more you are committed to the person and commitment tends to increase with time. Given that both the chance of being harmed and the extent of the harm depends on the amount of time on is a victim of a cheater, it is reasonable to think that the sooner a cheater is exposed, the better.

To spot a cheater, you need to know what types of cheaters you might be dealing with. There are three types of cheaters: the traitor cheater, the stealth cheater, and the open cheater. Each of these types will be discussed in turn.

The traitor cheater is the classic cheater. The cheater is cheating with a person who is aware of the relationship that the cheater is violating. This is analogous to historical traitors who secretly betray their alleged loyalties to another party who is fully aware of their traitorous deeds. A traitor cheater can be hard to catch because s/he has a willing accomplice who will probably aid the cheater in concealing the cheating.

A stealth cheater is a person who cheats on one person with another person who is ignorant of the cheater’s other relationship. The cheater is thus cheating on both people because only s/he knows about the cheating and the others believe they are in a committed relationship.

Because the stealth cheater does not have a knowing and willing accomplice, they can sometimes be easier to catch. In fact, one of the people involved with the cheater might accidentally expose the cheat. For example, a person who is unaware that s/he is involved with a cheater might stop by the cheater’s place unexpectedly when the other person is there.

An open cheater is someone who, as the term states, is open in his or her cheating. While s/he remains in a relationship, no attempt is made to conceal the cheating. The notion of an open cheater might seem rather odd. After all, cheating seems to almost require secrecy by definition. However, such cheating does occur and occurs enough that there are slang terms for those who engage in it. People who are open cheaters have been called “swingers” and “players.”

The good thing about an open cheater is that there is no need to expose the person-they are open about the cheating. The bad thing about an open cheater is that s/he is still a cheater.

A single person might conceivably be a cheater of multiple types. For example, a person might be cheating with one person who is aware of his infidelity while he is also involved with a third person who is unaware of the first two. However, most cheaters tend to fall into just one type.

Not surprisingly, there have been numerous attempts to determine the percentage of people who cheat. The main reason to know this is to gauge the likelihood that you will be a victim of cheating. Based on a sampling of various surveys, about 20% of women and 40% of men claim they have cheated. However, these percentages are untrustworthy for three reasons.

First, if there is one subject that people lie about, that subject is sex. Second, cheaters are most likely also liars-hence they certainly cannot be regarded as an honest source of information about cheating. Third, social expectations probably influence the answers people give. For men, there is a certain machismo associated with cheating-so some men might claim they have cheated even if they did not do so. Although there have been great strides in equal rights, women are still socialized to regard cheating as extremely bad, so women are probably less likely to admit to such indiscretions. Given these facts, it seems unlikely that the actual percentage of cheats will ever be known. However, based on anecdotal evidence it seems likely that cheating occurs at fairly significant levels and is hence something to be concerned about.

While you should be concerned about the possibility of cheating it is very important to know that even if it is true that 40% of all men cheat and 20% of all women cheat, it does not follow that your partner has a 40% or 20% chance of cheating on you. Individuals are more or less likely to cheat based on their personal characteristics. So, for example, if your boyfriend is loyal and devoted, he does not have a 40% chance of straying.

Whatever the percentages, people do cheat and it is a good idea to be able to spot the signs of cheating in order to minimize your health and emotional risks. Fortunately, there are signs that a person is cheating. The signs presented below are not exhaustive-there are other signs of cheating.

Before presenting these signs, I am obligated to give the following warning: It is very important to keep in mind that these signs are not conclusive and that a person could exhibit some or even all of these signs and not be cheating. Accusing an innocent person of cheating is an almost surefire way to put an end to a relationship so it is wise to approach this sort of situation with due caution. Along with the signs I provide possible alternative explanations and some suggestions on how to deal with such situations. In any case, the responsibility lies with you-I assume no moral or legal responsibility for any actions you might take or not take based on my advice.

Unusual Communication

The sign: Your partner receives an unusual number of phone calls, text messages, emails, etc., seems unusually interested in them and is rather vague about them. For example, s/he will break off what s/he is doing with you to respond to a text message and when asked about it will say something vague about “a friend.”

People who cheat need to plan their cheating and people involved in cheating seem to often need a great deal of contact with the cheater. One likely reason is that they know the cheater is a cheater-hence are probably checking up on him/her. Someone who is a traitor cheater will be harder to catch by this sign-they will tend to tell the other person when to contact them. Stealth cheaters are most vulnerable to exposure by this method-the person s/he is cheating with is ignorant that s/he is involved with a cheater and hence has no reason to be discreet in communication.

Alternative Explanation: Many people have perfectly legitimate reasons to receive a great deal of communication-they might have many friends (or needy friends), it could be work related, and so on. People also have good reason to be interested in such communication-they might like their friends or be dedicated to their job. People often have good reasons to be vague about their communication-they might not think it is important or necessary to keep you informed about all their interaction with others. Also, many people seem to regard the phone or text message device as taking priority to a person who is actually present. I have even had students break off a discussion about a failing grade to respond instantly to the beep of their mobile phone. So, it is best not to always read too much into such behavior.

Resolution: Avoid the urge to snoop or press too hard into your partner’s communication. People tend to like some degree of privacy and resent such intrusions. Also, such behavior shows a lack of trust and a might convey the impression that you are trying to unfairly control his/her communication. Such behavior might very well create a problem where there is not one. If the communication situation bothers you enough, a reasonable approach is to express your concerns to your partner and see if they would be willing to explain the situation or change their behavior. If the person becomes hostile about the discussion or seems secretive or evasive, then something might well be up.

Restrictions on Communication/Meeting

Sign: Your partner places seeming unusually restrictions on when and how you can contact them and when and where you can see them. Since most cheaters do not want to be caught they will obviously attempt to control your contact with them. That way they are not exposed-either by you catching them cheating or by you exposing them to someone else they are also cheating on.

Alternative Explanation: People can have good reasons for telling you when you can contact and see them. In some cases the person might seem to be placing restrictions, but is merely telling you when they will be available. In other cases people like having their space and prefer to set aside time for themselves away from you. In other cases, people like to keep their romantic relationships out of their workplace and hence will ask you not to call or visit them at work. All these can be good reasons and not signs of cheating.

Resolution: Do not assume the person is cheating and decide to immediately attempt to “catch” them by intruding into those restricted times and places. This will display a lack of trust and a lack of respect for the person that might be very harmful to the relationship. If you find their restrictions problematic or are otherwise concerned with such limits, then discuss these restrictions with the person. If the restrictions are reasonable, then the person should be able to justify them. If the person is evasive or becomes hostile, then there might well be something going on.


Sign: Your partner is secretive about certain things. They go places, but do not say where they went, what they did or who they were with. They have missing time in their schedule that they do not account for. They are overly concerned about you seeing their email, text messages or phone logs and take steps to prevent you from doing so or overact if you show interest in such things.

Alternative Explanation: Your partner might be a CIA agent. Seriously, there can be good reasons for such behavior. First, your partner might not even realize that they seem secretive-they might simply not feel the need to report everything they do to you. Second, people need privacy even in a relationship. Psychological space is critical to a person’s well being and even the most open person will act to preserve that space. Third, people tend to regard their phone logs, email and text messages as private-and rightfully so. Sharing such things is a matter of choice and there is no legitimate expectation to full access to your partner’s communication. Of course, there can also be problems other than cheating that are the cause of such secrecy-such things as alcoholism, gambling or drug addiction.

Resolution: Avoid the temptation to spy on your partner. Doing so shows a lack of trust and respect that can spell ruin for a relationship. Also, doing so might involve crossing the line into illegal activity-such as hacking their email accounts. A reasonable approach is to ask them about their apparent need for secrecy in such matters and attempt to see if they are willing to either be more open or reassure you about such matters. If they seem suspiciously reluctant, then they might be cheating. Then again, they might also be protective of their privacy.


Sign: Your catch your partner in inconsistencies. They initially tell you that they do not need to travel for work, yet suddenly start taking weekend business trips. They tell you that they always get off work at 5:00, but then cancel a dinner date because they have to work late. They tell you they went to lunch with a friend, but the friend has no recollection of that event.

Alternative Explanation: Apparent inconsistencies can often be legitimately explained. For example, a person’s work schedule or requirements might really change so that they do need to take business trips or work late. As another example, people do forget things, so the friend might have forgotten about having lunch. As with secrecy, there is the possibility that some other problem is occurring. For example, a person with a drinking problem might say he was helping a friend paint when he was actually at bar.

Resolution: Do not simply assume that they are up to something and try to ferret out the information by interrogating them or their associates and friends. This will show a lack of trust and respect that can be rather detrimental to the relationship. If the inconsistencies seem problematic, discuss your concerns with your partner. If they can explain the seeming inconsistencies, then things can be resolved. If they remain unexplained or the person seems evasive or worried, then there might be a problem.


The Sign: Your partner has become cold and distant. People commonly cheat to satisfy their sexual and emotional needs. Given that people do not have unlimited needs, it is common for cheaters to have less desire to have sexual and emotional relations with their partner. A reduction (or elimination) of the interest in intimacy can thus be a sign of cheating.

People who cheat also often want to feel justified in their misdeeds. One way this is done is by attempting to provoke the other person into behavior that the cheater can use to “justify” his/her cheating. This can be done by being emotionally distant and cold. The other person will tend to respond in kind-thus creating a situation in which the cheater thinks his/her cheating is justified.

Alternative Explanation: Coldness and distance are not always signs of cheating, but they are almost always a sign of some sort of relationship problem. A person might be cold or distant because of stress, illness, depression or other factors that will (hopefully) come to an end. A person might also be cold or distant due to more lasting reasons, such as an enduring depression, dissatisfaction with the relationship, or deep seated character or emotional problems. A person might also be cold or distant because they are reconsidering the relationship or even using this method to end the relationship. Some people are reluctant to directly end a relationship and instead attempt to make the situation intolerable to the other person so they will initiate the break up.

Resolution: If you value the relationship do not respond by retaliating against the person. Being cold and distant in return will only worsen matters and lead to further emotional harm for both of you. If s/he is cheating, s/he will feel even more justified in the cheating. If the cause is stress or other problems, retaliation just makes matters worse. Especially avoid any foolish gestures, such as moving to sleep in another room or making cutting remarks about the person’s behavior.

If your partner is cold and distant, the simplest and often the most effective means of dealing with it is by having a discussion about why they are being cold and distant. Try to determine if the cause is something that you can help them with and take the appropriate action. For example, if they are distant because of stress, help them relax and see if you can help reduce what is causing the stress. If they want out of the relationship, it is usually best to let them go. If they are cheating, it is almost certainly best to send them packing.

Should the Government Bail Out Businesses?

Posted in Business, Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 20, 2008

There is a great deal of debate about what the government should be doing about the economic crisis. Coincidentally, in my ethics class we’ve been discussing the legitimate role of the state.

Most thinkers take the minimal obligations of the state to be protecting the citizens and enforcing the laws. Most states take on a multitude of other tasks, but those are the most basic. Naturally, people disagree about what else the state should be doing.

Classic Conservatives hold that the state should be minimally involved in the free market. This includes both regulating it and bailing out businesses that get into trouble. The purest form of this approach is that laid out by Adam Smith. Of course, experience shows what happens in such “pure” economies (the Great Depression, for example). Hence, even conservative thinkers tend to see a role for the state in regulating and perhaps even bailing out businesses.

The “new” conservatives (aka “Bush Conservatives”) hold that the state should be minimally involved in regulation but should support business financially and bail them out. This can be seen as a form of socialism in which the state funnels tax revenue (and loans) to certain businesses. As the economic disaster of today indicates, this approach does not work that well.

The liberal view has been that the state should regulate business but should not be significantly involved in supporting businesses (except certain ones-such as those owned by women or minorities). This is the sort of view often atributed to Democrats. In reality, they seem happy to support businesses that donate to their campaigns, that they have a stake in, and those that are owned by friends.

I believe that government should regulate business for the same reason that I believe that government should regulate other aspects of our behavior: regulation is needed to prevent people from doing harm to others. While most people would probably still behave decently without being compelled, the fact that a significant number of people are willing to behave very badly even in the face of compulsion indicates that a lack of regulation would be bad. If this is true of human behavior outside of business, then it would certainly seem to apply within business as well. After all, why would a selfish and evil person stop being that way simply because he became a businessman?

As far as bailing out companies, I have mixed thoughts. On one hand, this could be justified in terms of the protective role of the state. For example, it could be argued that by bailing out failing banks, the state is protecting the citizens from the harm of financial disaster. Of course, this certainly opens the door to a rather broad interpretation of this role and this might prove problematic. For example, every failing business harms someone-does that mean the state should try to bail them all out?

On the other hand, I consider responsibility to be rather important. If I make a bad choice and suffer because of it, that is my own doing and hence it is not the duty of the state to save me. The evidence is that the economic mess is largely a product of greed, poor decision making, failure in leadership, and various moral failures. Hence, the failed companies should accept responsibility for the failures and expect to be allowed to die semi-honorable deaths.

That said, it could be argued that the companies should be bailed out because their failure would hurt those not responsible for their failure. To use an analogy, if the parents make bad choices and a family is destitute, then the state should help the young children. After all, they were not at fault and are in such straights due to bad luck and not bad judgment.

In reply to this, perhaps it is the people who should be helped out directly. The failing companies could be allowed to fail (or survive) and then new ones could arise-hopefully lead by better people who will make better choices. Realistically, I think we can (sadly enough) expect the same scoundrels back at the helm again, ready to steer onto the rocks in search

Ramblings on Trust

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on November 19, 2008

I have been thinking about trust lately, and thought I’d ramble a bit in this post about the subject.

When it comes to trust, people tend to speak in absolute terms: you either trust someone or you do not. While this is true, there are also degrees of trust. On the low end, I trust the person behind me in traffic will not start shooting at me for no apparent reason. On the high end, I have a great deal of trust in my family and close friends.

Trust can also be rather specific in nature. For example, a person might be trusted in certain areas and not so much in others. For example, a bank employee might be trusted with her till, but not trusted enough to have access to the vault. As another example, you might trust a person with your money but not with a chocolate cake (they might be unable to resist that temptation).

One of the things I find most interesting about trust is how it is earned. The term “trustworthy” seems to clearly indicate a belief that people can be worthy of trust. This presumably means that they have the qualities that justify placing faith in them.

Being trustworthy seems to be quite distinct from being trustable (able to be trusted). After all, people often trust others who end up not being trustworthy. Scammers and con artists, if they are successful, are obviously trustable. They are, however, obviously not trustworthy.Trustworthy people are sometimes not trusted; often because people can be poor judges of who to trust. Sorting out who is trustworthy from those who are merely trustable can be quite challenging-especially since some untrustworthy people work very hard at being trustable.

Not surprisingly, it is very important to sort out the trustworthy from the merely trustable. The trustable are often out to take things from other people via deception. Obvious examples include con artists, internet scammers and other such deceivers. Sorting these types out is also important in relationships. One obvious example is discerning between a person who will be faithful and someone who will be a cheater.

As with most decision making, people tend to base their trust on emotional factors-how they feel about the other person. This helps explain how people can often be easily deceived by the trustable. Having taught critical thinking for years, I can attest to the fact that it is fairly easy to manipulate the emotions of most people-especially for those who lack scruples. One obvious example is tapping into greed. The famous Nigerian scams rest on this: the victim trusts the con artist because of his own greed. Another example is fear. Political leaders often manipulate this emotion to get the people to put their faith in them.

Naturally, most people believe that they can see through attempts to trick them. This fact is, of course, relied on by those who make their way through life by deceit. Most people are rather bad at sorting such things out and it is not uncommon for people to trust those they should not and not trust those they should.

Reason can be a big help here. Objectively and rationally assessing the other person’s qualities, behavior and motivations can go a long way in assessing their trustworthiness.

That said, how we feel about other people is also important-but feeling is generally not an effective guide to determining who is trustworthy and who is not. Feeling just tells us how we feel about the person and does not tell us whether we should feel that we trust her or not.

I plan to write more on this subject and in more detail-including some practical advice for sorting people out.

Utilitarianism & Bailing Out the Big Three

Posted in Business, Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 18, 2008

As the world economy continues to stagger about, the American government is considering whether to bail out the big three American automakers (Ford, GM and Chrysler). Like many business, they are running low on cash and are apparently in danger of bankruptcy or outright failure. While this is of great economic and political concern, this discussion also raises philosophic concerns as well.

From a moral standpoint, the question is whether the state should help out the Big Three on moral grounds. As usual, the easiest way to argue for this is to use a utilitarian approach. Making the case is simple enough: estimate the harms done to Americans (or the world if you want to expand the scope of the relevant beings) by not helping out the Big Three and the benefits that will come from helping them out. 

The best estimate at this point are that 2 million Americans depend on the Big Three for their health insurance and that 1.4 to 1.7 million jobs would be lost if they failed. While the Big Three make vehicles, they also buy parts, purchase advertising and so on and these tie the companies into the overall American economy.  If this figures are accurate, then many people would be harmed if these companies failed. Assuming that the proposed $25 billion (US) bailout would prevent them from failing, then serious harms would presumably be avoided. If the harms prevented are worth at least $25 billion, then a bailout would seem to be the right thing to do.

Of course, there are also other factors to consider. Laying aside the practical concerns about whether the bailout would save the day or not (after all, the Big Three could still fail even with all that extra cash), there is also the obvious concern that the money could be better spent elsewhere. In utilitarian terms, the question is whether there are other ways to use the money that would create greater utility than bailing out the Big Three. In terms of pure numbers, if spending $25 billion elsewhere could help more people, then that is what should probably be done instead. Of course, political spending tends to be decided more by lobbying power than by what would add the most to the general good.

Another concern is to look beyond the more immediate consequences to the long term consequences. After all, the harms generated by bailing out the Big Three must also be considered. One consequence well worth considering is that such a bailout will encourage large companies to engage in more risky behavior. After all, their leadership might reason, if they are “too big or too important to fail”, then Uncle Sam will be there with a bag of cash if they start failing. As such, that anticipated rescue cash will become part of their planning, thus leading them to take more risks. But, even the United States cannot keep dumping taxpayer money into failing companies and this could lead to yet another economic disaster (or a continuation of the existing one).

Moving away from utilitarian concerns, there is also the other moral question: do the Big Three have a moral right to such a bailout? After all, many experts have argued that they are in such dire straits because of leadership failings and poor decision making. If this is true, then it would seem they have no right to expect cash from the state. After all, while the state is supposed to protect the citizens from enemies, the state does not seem to have an obligation to protect citizens from their own bad choices. After all, if I started a business trying to sell books many people did not want to read, then I should hardly expect a check from Uncle Sam when my business fails.

Star Trek Movie

Posted in Aesthetics by Michael LaBossiere on November 18, 2008

The new Star Trek movie comes out on 5/8/2009. Like many fans of the original series, I’m both stoked and worried. Stoked that a new Star Trek movie is coming out. Worried that it will either suck like the hard vacuum of deep space or desecrate the series in new and terrible ways.

The latest trailer looks awesome. But, it is very action heavy, which makes me worry that what made the original series so great will be lost in the flash of special effects and space battles. Not to say that I do not like space battles, but that I expect more from Star Trek.

Now to be a Trek dork: in the trailer, a young Kirk is shown masterfully driving a car (well, masterfully driving it off a cliff). However, in the original series, Kirk was a horrible driver (“Piece of the Action“) because he had never driven a car before. But, the movie looks like it might kick ass, so I’m willing to supress the geeky nit-picking.

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Back to Warcraft

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on November 17, 2008

It has been one of those long days and I have no profound thoughts left. So I’ll ramble a bit about Warcraft.

I played Warcraft I, II and III and when World of Warcraft came out, I started playing that. Like most people, I became a bit addicted to the game. However, after getting an Alliance and a Horde character to level 60, I started to get tired of doing the same quests over and over again. The Burning Crusade was supposed to come out at some point, but it did not arrive soon enough and I stopped giving Blizzard $15 a month to play in their world.

When the Burning Crusade came out, I was not even tempted. I was Warcrafted out. When I heard about the Lich King expansion, my interest increased slightly. This was mainly due to two words: “Death Knight.” I’ve been fond of Death Knights since they first appeared in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Fiend Folio, 1980). The original Death Knights were fallen Paladins transformed into lich like beings by one of the demon princes (probably Demogorgon). They proved to be a popular monster and have been copied often in various games. Although I’ve run Death Knights as a Dungeon Master, I’ve never played one as a character. Having the chance to do so is rather appealing.

Of course, World of Warcraft is a major time pit. Since Blizzard makes more money the longer you stay in the game paying the monthly fee, things take a lot of time. They have brilliantly found the balance between being so slow that most people leave and so quick that people are done before being properly shorn of as much cash as possible. My friend Dave claims that the game has been improved in this regard. That is probably true, but it would still be a major time commitment.

I did order the Lich King. Yeah, looks like I’ll be back in it again-if only to play a Death Knight for a while.   Christmas Break is coming up and what better way to get in that holiday spirit?

Obama, Race and Comedy

Posted in Ethics, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on November 14, 2008

I recently heard a bit on the radio about comedy and Obama. The point was raised that white comedians are tending to avoid making fun of Obama out of fear of seeming racist. It was also said that the Obama victory has helped bring greater opportunities for black comedians-they will be needed because they can make fun of Obama without seeming racist. This does raise interesting issues about race and comedy.

I teach a class on Aesthetics and have included a discussion of race and comedy for the past several years. Naturally, when I teach the class this spring we will no doubt be discussing this issue as it relates to Obama.

The general consensus in the class has been that race is quite relevant when it comes to the question of who can make fun of whom and in what manner. Content is, of course, relevant and presumably any comedian could cross the line into racism. Put roughly, I’ve found that the majority of students think that comedians can “mock up and across”, but that “mocking down” is not acceptable. “Mocking up” means to make jokes towards those who are seen, as a class, to have more power. Or, as one student put it, “towards the oppressors.” For example, women making fun of men could be seen as “mocking up” as could blacks making fun of whites. “Mocking across” is to mock other groups that are seen as being at the same level. Obviously, one’s own group would be included here. For example, a Hispanic comedian making jokes about Hispanics or blacks might be seen as “mocking across” because Hispanics and blacks are seen as being oppressed by whites. “Mocking down” has often been seen as being unacceptable by my students, mainly because such humor can be seen as part of the tools of oppression. For example, it might be regarded as belittling or condescending.

In contrast, “Mocking up” can be regarded as an act of defiance against the oppressor classes and “mocking across” could be seen as comradely. Obviously enough, this sort of view takes the notion of oppressors and oppressed very seriously (even in comedy).

This view does have some plausibility. However, the fact that Obama is the President elect does change the power dynamic. Any comedian making fun of Obama would be “mocking up”, unless the comedian also happens to be a world leader as well. In this case, she would be “mocking across.” As such, it would seem to be fine for white comedians to make fun of Obama.

Then again, it might be the case that the direction of mocking (up, down or across) depends not on the individuals but the status of the classes they belong to. Since Obama is black, for white comedians to make fun of him would be “mocking down” because whites as a class are above blacks as a class on the power curve. So, until blacks and whites are on equal footing, white comedians will need to be careful in what they say about Obama (and the next black President).

Race can also be taken to matter in ways other than in terms of classes and power. I have heard people argue that it is acceptable for the members of one race to make fun of their own race, but not others.  This has often been based on the view that a person cannot be racist to his own race. For example, David Alan Grier can present comedic pieces on Chocolate News based on black stereotypes without being racist because he is black. Some people extend this privilege to all minorities in terms of comedians from one minority making jokes about another minority. Not surprisingly, whites are fair game for everyone.

Of course, it seems obvious that a person can be racist towards his own race and that being in a minority is not proof against racism. This can easily be shown. Imagine you heard someone expressing all the hateful stereotypes about blacks and his hatred of blacks. You would no doubt think “what a racist.” But, suppose when you saw him, he turned out to be black. Would you then say, “well, I guess he is no racist after all”? Obviously not. Naturally, I have in mind the fictional blind black racist from the Chapelle Show.

In the case of why a minority can be racist, simply imagine that the white population became a minority and that people in the Ku Klux Klan and other such groups still held the views they do now. It would be absurd to say “well, since whites are a minority, the KKK is suddenly not racist.” Mere numbers, one suspects, is not a decisive factor in defining what is racist.

It might be thought that race provides a person with a special status that allows certain behavior between members of that race that is denied to others. An obvious example is the use of the N-word. I sometimes hear black students using that term when referring to each other and people generally do not take offense (there have been some rather notable exceptions). Obviously, if a white student started throwing the word around, things would be just a bit different. Perhaps the same applies to comedy.

Of course, the view that race grants such special comedic and language privileges does seem to be a bit racist. This is because it is based on the assumption that racial distinctions are real and that people are to be granted certain privileges because they belong to a particular race. So, to think that white comedians cannot make fun of Obama without being racist and that black comedians can safely do so because they are black would seem to be a racist view. After all, race would be the deciding factor rather than the content of the comedy. Obviously, there can be racist comedy-but the color of the comedian should not be the determining factor.

So, everyone should be free to make fun of Obama (within the limits of comedic taste, of course). He is the President of all Americans and we have a God given right to make jokes about whoever sits in that oval office regardless of race, creed or color.

Mohawk in America

Posted in Philosophy, Race by Michael LaBossiere on November 13, 2008

Now that Obama is President, people are talking a great deal about race-at least in terms of blacks and whites. There is, on occasion, some side mention of Hispanics and Asians-perhaps as a modest acknowledgment that there are people who are not black or white in America. However, I almost never see references to Native Americans. For example, I carefully followed the political discussions of the white voters, the black voters and the Hispanic voters. However, I cannot recall any mention of the Native American voters. After the election, I began reading about race in America and, once again, the emphasis was on blacks and whites. Asians and Hispanics are, once again, sometimes mentioned on the side. However, Native Americans are consistently left out. In this way, and in many others, Native Americans seem to be invisible in their own country. Of course, they do get a bit of the spotlight in November-people remember the Indians when they serve the Thanksgiving Turkey. After that, Indians go back to being seen mainly as mascots for sports teams.

Naturally, I wonder why Native Americans are so consistently ignored.

One reason might be the desire to avoid reminding people about what happened in America. Massive theft and attempted genocide tend to be things that most people would rather forget. Perhaps it is a subconscious thing, perhaps not. Or perhaps this is not the reason at all.

Another reason might be that Native Americans make up only about 1% of the population (down from 100% before the Europeans arrived). Hence, they might be seen as largely irrelevant when it comes to politics and concerns about race. In contrast, blacks make up about 12% of the population, hence they are of greater concern to the media and politicians.

A third reason is that Native Americans seem to lack the spokespeople needed to gain the attention of the media and the politicians. There is, as far as I know, no Native American equivalent to Jesse Jackson or Oprah. Without such people to attract attention, the media has little interest.

This situation does bother me. In part, it is an ethical concern. It seems wrong that Native Americans are now all but invisible in their own lands. In part, it is a personal concern. My great grandfather was Mohawk,  although I look white (and not just white-”Nazi recruiting poster white” as my friend Lena once said). This leads to another possible reason why Native Americans are effectively invisible.

America has had a long obsession with race and this has mostly focused on an obsession with blacks and whites. This is most manifest in the “one drop rule.” The idea is that someone is black if they have “one drop” of “black blood.”

This view is still held today. After all, people do not say that Obama is white-they say he is black. The same is said of many black people who are actually mostly not black. Interestingly, the “one drop” rule does not apply to other ethnic groups.

This has various implications for how race is viewed. In my case, I’m seen as white. First, because my non-white ancestry is Mohawk (hence the “one drop” rule does not apply). If my great-grandfather had been black instead of Mohawk, I’d be black. Interesting how that works. Second, because I look white and race is a very visual thing.

When I first started teaching at Florida A&M University (an historically black college) I had an experience that nicely showed the typical American view about race. We were discussing race in class and I told the students that my great-grandfather was Mohawk and asked if that made me a Native American. One student laughed dismissively and said “you’re white.” The other students agreed that I was, in fact, white. Then I asked the obvious question: what about “black” people who have mixed ancestry? The unanimous view was that such people are black. Then I asked the next obvious question: what about someone whose last “100% black” ancestor was his great-grandfather? They all agreed this person would be black. So, I asked the last obvious question: so, why am I white and not Native American? No one had an answer to that one. But, the clear answer is that I’m white because of how people see whiteness and the black person would be black because of how people see blackness.

So, one reason that Native Americans are largely invisible is that many of us are not seen as Native Americans. In my case, people just see a white guy and the Mohawk is invisible.


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