A Philosopher's Blog

Some Obvious WoW tips

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on January 31, 2009

As a break from lamenting the bailout, I thought I’d write a bit about Warcraft, specifically some tips. Most players know these already, but they might be useful.

First, gray items can be worth money. Like most players, I used to toss gray items without a second thought. However, many of them sell reasonable well to vendors. For example, I’ve found gray weapons that I sold for around 1 gold and up. Not much, but that is more than what an empty bag slot will get you. Naturally, it is usually better to replace gray items with better quality items (white and up), but don’t overlook some easy coin. Yes, I know hard core players are dealing in thousands of gold pieces and working the auction house like a a pimp works his ladies. But not everyone has that eBay-ish pimping style.

Second, it can be handy to have an auction/bank/mail alt. Since only the major cities have auction houses and banks, it is easy to end up carrying piles of things you want to auction or bank but cannot. An easy solution is to park a character in one of the major cities and mail him/her the items you want to auction or bank. While you will have to pay postage, a little fake coin is easily worth the savings in real time. Since most areas have mailboxes, the alt can mail your other characters what they need. Since mail between your own characters is instant, this can be very handy-especially for non-bound quest items or for mailing supplies (like cooking spices) that cannot be bought where your main character is adventuring.

Third, one somewhat less than well known fact is that while you have to be level 58 to go through the Dark Portal into Outland, a character of any level can be summoned (by warlock) or go through a portal (provided by a mage) in Outland. The best thing to do is to get a portal or summons to Shattrath City (be sure to tip) and set your hearthstone there. That way you can port back to the inn and take a portal to any of the major cities in your faction. It is, in effect, like having multiple options for your hearthstone. Also, you can gain access to the trainers early if your skills are high enough. For example, players in my group have hit 300 in their professions way before level 58. Without access to Outland, they would be stuck at 300 for quite some time. Naturally, Blizzard stuck the trainers in Outland so people have to buy the expansion set to get their skills beyond 300.

Bailout Bonuses

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 30, 2009

One of the latest stories in the bailout is about the infamous $18 billion in bonuses paid by companies receiving bailout money. While this is hardly surprising, it is generated a great deal of righteous indignation and anger.

As far as not being surprising, it should have been obvious that these companies would pay out such bonuses. First, it seems that  little or no strings or requirements were attached to the money-thus allowing the companies to legally pay out such bonuses. Second, the track record of such companies seems to indicate that the main concern of management has been personal gain rather than responsible financial action. In hindsight, it seems rather obvious that there should be some oversight in place before handing vast sums of money to people who are, by all the available evidence, greedy, incompetent and irresponsible. As such, the folks who handed over the money need to share some of the blame-they made it possible and did nothing to prevent it.

It might be argued that the bonuses are deserved, but that would seem to be a false claim. Bonuses are generally paid for achieving success and the companies that claimed they needed the bailout clearly were not having a successful year. Perhaps some people did amazing things and earned such bonuses legitimately-but that is something that must be proven. Further, even if they earn such bonuses, it seems rather inappropriate to pay out bonuses when companies are supposed to be in such dire straits that they need federal money to even survive. Such bonuses are especially grotesque in light of the massive layoffs in recent months and days. The idea that people in companies that helped wreck the economy are taking home bonuses while many people do not have jobs is rather disturbing.

If the government is going to throw money around, the folks in charge really need to establish some meaningful degree of oversight. To his credit, Obama seems to be genuinely angered by what has happened and seems intent on preventing further such incidents on his watch. Of course, he is hampered by the fact that so much money was dumped before he took office. As problems surface from the past bailout, they will be taken be some to be his fault.

Speaking of money, I just finished my taxes. Like most people, I’m not happy about paying taxes. But this year I felt even less happy than usual. After all, I work reasonably hard for my modest paycheck and I know that some of my money has been flushed down the federal bailout plan (or as I call it, “the magic money toilet”). I am not happy about that at all.

At this point, I cannot blame Obama (and hope he will do a good job), but I do blame Congress, the Bush Administration and, of course, the folks in business. Way to go.

More Bailout

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 29, 2009

As the economy continues to stagger and stumble, the stimulus bill is heading to the Senate. The Republicans in the House voted against it (along with some Democrats). The Republicans are, for the most part, presenting their standard criticisms and alternatives. On the negative side, they have attempted to paint the bill as pork, socialism and classic liberal over-spending. On the positive side, there has been a proposal to cut taxes.

While it is tempting to dismiss the Republican comments as the usual tired rhetoric, they do make some points well worth considering. First, the bill can be seen as being stuffed with pork. Of course, “pork” is often a label applied to spending that one does not approve of.  They do, however, raise a reasonable concern: the spending should be carefully assessed to make sure that it is being used properly.

Second, the bill can be seen as “somewhat” socialistic-in that it places the government in the roll of helping out private industry. But, the Republicans have also placed the government in the role of helping out private industry-so this “socialism” is nothing new. They do raise a reasonable general question about the proper role of the government in regards to private industry.

Third, there is considerable appeal in the notion of reducing taxes. In theory, if individual citizens have more money (in virtue of paying less taxes) they can spend more and thus help infuse cash back into the economy. This sort of approach would have the virtue of helping out citizens and business. After all, one might argue, why take money from people and give it to companies that have shown that they cannot handle money wisely? It would make more sense to let the people spend the money as they see fit. They might not spend it wisely, but at least it is their money to spend.

However, there are obvious concerns with such tax cuts. After all, the Bush administration was famous for its tax cuts and they certainly did not stave off the disaster. As such, there are reasonable grounds to doubt the efficacy of Republican tax cuts. Perhaps a different sort of tax cut could be effective-but that would require supporting evidence and argumentation (as opposed to the tired old Republican rhetoric).

Will the Media be Too Easy on Obama?

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on January 27, 2009

While some might think that the notion that the media has a liberal bias is a new thing, it actually dates back to Spiro Agnew. This notion continued under the Reagan administration and is still around today. For example, it has been claimed that the media was too easy on Obama during the primaries and general election. Some even have gone so far as to claim that the biased media contributed to his victory. Naturally enough, some wonder whether the media will be too easy on Obama now that he is President.

Of course, there is the question of whether the media has a liberal bias or not. Some critics point to the surveys showing that journalists tend to be politically liberal as evidence for a liberal bias. While this does provide grounds for concern, the mere potential for bias does not entail actual bias. To use an analogy, I have definite moral views. However, when I grade student papers in my ethics classes, I do not grade them based on whether they match my view or not. Presumably other professionals can exert the same restraint as I and keep their bias in check.

In the face of such a question, the natural thing to do is to turn to the experts. Unfortunately, the experts disagree. For example, Eric Alterman argues that the liberal bias is a myth (What Liberal Bias?) while Bernard Goldberg contends that the bias is a fact (Bias). One problem with reports and books on the media is that they generally come from media folks. As such, this does raise a bit of a problem: can the media folks be trusted to objectively assess their own bias (or lack thereof)?

Laying aside experts, one way to address the matter of liberal bias is to observe what the media says about Obama. Clearly, not all the media folks are liberals who will take it easy on him. After all, the fine folks at Fox News tend to be very critical of Obama. Rush Limbaugh and other such media folks are also clearly not taking it easy on Obama.Of course, they can be accused of having a conservative bias-something that should be criticized as severely as having a liberal bias.

Other news companies might be seen as being biased in Obama’s favor. For example, some folks think that CNN is a bit too liberal leaning (with some notable exceptions) and will take it too easy on Obama. While CNN claims it will “keep them honest”, that remains to be seen.

In general, the media is often easily manipulated by the government. A few recent examples: first, the federal government  created a fake “news report” praising airport security. This “news report” was then distributed to stations along with a prepared introduction for local anchors to read.

Second, during its first four years the Bush administration spent a quarter of a billion dollars on fake “news” about Medicare, Iraq, Social Security, and No Child Left Behind. It should be noted that the Clinton Administration was also active in manipulating the media.

Third, between 2004 and 2005 three editorialists were exposed for taking money directly or indirectly from the Bush Administration to promote its policies and programs. Armstrong Williams received $200,000.

Fourth, in 2007 FEMA held a “press conference” in which FEMA staff members asked the questions. The White House spokesperson replied by saying that the practice was not employed by the White House and was not something that was condoned. This reply was reported uncritically by the White House Reporters, despite the fact that the White House has done the same in the past.

While more examples could be given, these should suffice to show that the media has a long tradition of being manipulated by the government and taking it easy on the President. True, the media did get tougher on the Bush Administration. However, that was when Bush’s approval ratings began to plummet. In light of the past, it seems reasonable to expect that the media will be fairly easy on Obama-provided that he remains popular. After all, shouldn’t he get the same easy ride that Bush got?

While Fox will be critical of Obama, someone should just play them tapes of what they said about the “liberal media” attacking Bush. After all, if the President should be treated a certain way by the media, that should hold whether the President is a liberal or a conservative.

My view is, of course, that the media folks should strive to be objective. When the Obama Adminstration is in error or up to something shady (wait for it…), then the media should call them on this. When the Obama Administration does well, then that should be noted as well.

Hand Reckoning

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on January 24, 2009

In the most recent patch, Blizzard added the Hand of Reckoning spell to the Paladin. This ability is a taunt that finally enables a Paladin to engage in ranged pulling. Prior to this, Paladin Pulling meant closing with the enemy and getting their attention in that manner. There were some obvious disadvantages with this. For example, since Paladins could not pull a monster (yeah,I know they are called “mobs”, but I’m marked by years of D&D…a mob is a crowd, a monster is a monster) from a distance, they ran a greater risk of accidentally pulling unwanted monsters. The standard WoW pull is like a classic mugging-you lure a monster away from its friends and gang up on it. Now Paladins can enjoy what other classes have long enjoyed.

The ability works well, although it does only one point of damage.  When I first saw that, I thought “one point of damage? Seriously?” Of course, its intent is to pull so damage is not really critical. Also, giving the Paladin an effective  general opening ranged attack would be a rather radical change to the class (and one that might create balance problems). I’ve found that it changes my play dynamic quite a bit, especially in groups. Since my Paladin, Xathon,  is Protection specialized, it helps me start the fight with the aggro. In my normal group, my main job is to stay alive while everyone else pours on the DPS-so this makes my job much easier.

The Hand of Reckoning can critical-I’ve seen that mighty “2” damage pop up over monsters. That is a bit funny. It will also kill most critters instantly (I had to try). So, you can use the power of the light to blow up squirrels from a distance-just as the light intended.

The name is a bit odd, though. All the other Paladin Hands are beneficial spells applied to the Paladin or other characters. For example, the Hand of Freedom frees the target from snares. “Reckoning” is also an odd term as well. In my group, we jokingly call it the Religious Pamphlet-I imagine my character is throwing a rock with a religious pamphlet attached to it.

Xathon: “Okay, I’ll pull the troll to the left.”
Goldstein: “Y’all do that. I’ll start shooting him when he gets close.”
Xanu: “I’ll loot him when he dies.”
Xathon: “Pulling now.”
Troll: “What the hell? Did that Paladin just hit me in the head with a rock? What’s this tied to it? Is that a religious pamphlet? No, I don’t need to be saved by the Light…Hey, this says I’m a filthy infidel! You son of a…I’ll kill you!”
Goldstein: “Here he comes! I’m shooting him in the face!”
Xanu: “Hack! Stab! Hack!”
Troll: “Arrgh, my spleen…save me Evil God of the Bad Trolls!”
Xathon: “The Light will save you. Specifically, the Judgment of Light I’m dropping on you…then my hammer.”
Troll: “Hey, stop looting me…I’m not dead yet.”
Xanu: “Sorry. Stab. Hack. Execute!”
Troll: “Blooorp…”
Xathon: “By the blessings of the Light…yadda…yadda…I’ll roll greed on that Blue.”

Fox News & Consistency

Posted in Ethics, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on January 23, 2009

During the Clinton administration, the folks at Fox News were generally rather critical of executive privilege. During George W. Bush’s years in office, the folks at Fox were staunch supporters of executive privilege. This serious inconsistency was mocked on the Daily Show. Now that Obama is in office, it seems likely that the folks at Fox will be returning to their Clinton era view of executive privilege. No doubt, this sort of inconsistency will extend beyond their comments on executive privilege.

Of course, this sort of behavior is hardly surprising. When it comes to matters of politics, ethics and so forth, people tend to subscribe to two basic principles: “what I like is good” and “what I dislike is bad”. Naturally, most people (including those at Fox) do not state these principles openly. Rather, they conceal them behind the facade of “fake” principles. For example, the fine folks at Fox are not going to say “we don’t like what Obama is doing, so he is wrong.” Rather, they will say something such as “Obama is making an illegitimate use of executive privilege.” Rather than engage in what seems to be deceit (and perhaps self-deceit) the folks at Fox should just be honest and express their political leanings without any such facade. Such deceit would seem unethical and, if they sincerely believe they are “fair and balanced”, they need to come to grips with what seems to be rationalizations on their part. This would certainly help them be better critical thinkers.

Lest I myself seem guilty of being inconsistent, it must be noted that people with liberal leanings do the same sort of thing. For example, someone might have been very critical of Bush’s methods but quite willing to excuse Obama if he to employ those same methods. Being inconsistent is, obviously enough, truly bipartisan.

Naturally, people might claim that there are relevant differences between Bush and Obama and that these would justify a diffence in assessing them. This is quite reasonable-provided that a relevant difference is presented. If someone praises Obama and criticizes Bush for the same sort of actions simply because of her likes and dislikes, then she is not using a relevant difference to justify her assessment. If, in contrast, she showed that Bush’s actions had terrible consequences and Obama’s actions help America, then that would be a relevant difference.

It will be interesting to watch Fox News over the next four years.

Rebranding the Republicans

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 20, 2009

After their recent defeats, the Republicans are busy trying to figure out where they went wrong and how they can get back on the path to victory.

Based on what I’ve seen in the news, a popular view is that the Republican party strayed from its true conservative roots and this led to their downfall. This does have a certain degree of plausibility. After all, the Bush administration violated many of the classic principles of conservativism: small government, respect for basic rights, respect for the rule of law, and fiscal restraint. These violations led directly to many of the terrible problems we face now and these problems helped contribute to the downfall of the former ruling party.

Of course, it is also important to consider that people also chose the Democrats for positive reasons. That is, they voted Democrat rather than merely voting against the Republicans. As such, to capture such votes the Republicans would need to offer what the Democrats promised.

While there is reason to believe that a party can orchestrate its return to power (people often cite the Reagan era victory as an example of this), one very important factor seems to be the failures of the party in power. To be a bit cynical and to grossly oversimplify things, one party ascends as the other falls into decay. This decay often arises from the corrupting influences that the folks in power are exposed to. Naturally, those in power often fall victim to the arrogance and laziness that power can breed.

At this time, the Democrats are in power and Obama has promised America great things. This is, of course, a time of great optimism and hope. I believe that Obama will do his best to deliver and I hope that he will accomplish great things.

However, if history is any indication, the Democrats will eventually squander their victory, spiral into decay and thus open the door for the next Republican victory. Then it will be the Democrats turn to wait for the Republicans to go down the drain once more.


Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on January 18, 2009

Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III is an amazing pilot-he managed to water land a cripple  jet in the Hudson River without losing a single passenger. As such, he is a hero in the classic sense: someone who does something great through skill and courage.

Listening to the news coverage of the event, I was struck by how the news folks kept using the word “miracle” over and over to describe the landing. I found that this bothered me a bit. This was not because I had any doubts about the landing being an amazing and impressive accomplishment. Rather, I think that the news folk misuse the word “miracle.”

A miracle is an event that violates the normal laws of nature and is typically regarded as divine or supernatural. While landing a plane on a river is amazing, it is well within the laws of nature and involves no supernatural aspects. Rather, it involves a great deal of skill and some luck.

If the plane had been surrounded in a nimbus of divine light and gently set down upon the earth, then that would have been a miracle.  Since nothing like that happened, it was not a miracle.

Yes, I’m being picky, but I think that words should be used properly. Yes, I am aware that words are a purely human creation and that their meaning is a matter of convention. So, one might say, if news folks and other people want to use “miracle” to describe an event that is impressive or amazing, then they should do so and I should simply accept that.

On one hand, I do see that as reasonable. After all, people should be free to use words as they see fit-accepting, of course, that other people might have no idea what they mean.

On the other hand, if  “miracle” is used to describe anything that is impressive, then we will need a new word or phrase for miracles in the classic sense.  Also, there is also the worry about sloppy thinking-that people will call events miracles and slide easily into seeing them as having a supernatural causal factor involved.

Strip Searching Students

Posted in Ethics, Law by Michael LaBossiere on January 17, 2009

In 2003 8th grade student Savana Redding was strip searched by school officials. Her case has made it to the Supreme Court.

The strip search was the result of another student claiming that Redding, an honor student who had no history of disciplinary action, was distributing prescription strength ibuprofen. Redding denied having the drug and the strip search failed to turn up any drugs. It did, however, humiliate the young woman.

On the face of it, strip searching Ms. Redding seems to be a clear violation of her rights and a wrongful action. After all, the word of a student caught with drugs can hardly be considered adequate evidence on which to justify such a search. Further, it seems rather inappropriate for school officials to have the authority to conduct strip searches at all. While school personal do act in disciplinary capacities, strip searching seems to be an activity that   should require actual police authority.

Naturally, Ms. Redding’s case is a specific matter but it does raise questions about student rights and the limits of the authority of school officials. Traditionally the courts have given school officials significant leeway. Students have long been subject to restrictions and treated in ways that would not be tolerated outside of the school setting.

Not surprisingly, the school district position is that holding school officials to the legal standard of “probable cause” for such searches would create a “roadblock to the kind of swift and effective response that is too often needed to protect the very safety of students, particularly from the threats posed by drugs and weapons.”

On one hand, this does have some appeal. After all, children are not adults and this can (and has) been used to justify a difference between the rights possessed by children and those enjoyed by adults. Further, the school setting is also a different setting than the outside world and this often requires a difference in such matters. For example, consider the matter of hall passes. Outside of school, 18 year old students are free to go about as adults. Inside school, their movements are restricted by a system of permissions and passes. This is considered an acceptable practice because of the need to restrict student movement within school hours. Like wise, the school setting would justify violating the normal rules governing searches.

On the other hand, this sort of justification can be seen as defective. First, if it is a reasonable principle, then it would justify doing away with probable cause requirements across the board. After all, a case can almost always be made that a search was needed to protect someone from something. However, the requirements for probable cause are in place for excellent reasons. Hence, this principle seems to be unacceptable. Second, while the school setting can be seen as justifying differences in certain matters, the setting does not seem to justify such an extreme violation of a basic principle of law. Obviously schools do need to maintain a safe and orderly environment. But, this should not be taken to justify such things as strip searches. Rights do not simply end at the school door and the proper rule of law must apply even within the walls of schools.

Affairs, Ads and Ethics

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on January 16, 2009

While the quintessential Superbowl ad is about beer, the folks in charge of approving the advertising have started taking what might appear to be a moral stand. To be specific, they are refusing to accept advertising from  from Ashley Madison.

Ashley Madison is an online dating service for married people. As such, it is a service intended to facilitate adultery. On the face of it, this seems to be an immoral service. After all, it seems reasonable to regard adultery as an immoral activity and to knowingly aid another commit an immoral act is, intuitively, also an immoral action. Thus, it would seem that it is right for this service to be denied advertising time during the Superbowl. After all, selling advertising time to this service would be aiding in an immoral activity. Of course, the immorality of selling advertising to a company that helps people engage in immoral behavior would no doubt be a somewhat “small” immorality.

While it might be tempting to praise the advertising people for refusing such advertising, it seems unlikely they are primarily motivated by moral purity. If they were, the advertising they did accept would have a considerably different character.

One possible reason is that they are trying to avoid offending the growing number of female football fans. While women obviously do have affairs or are involved in affairs, women seem to be more inclined to condemn such activity. Hence, it makes sense to refuse to accept the Ashley Madison advertising so as to avoid offending an important and growing demographic.