A Philosopher's Blog

First Philosophy Shooter: Cartesian Apocalypse

Posted in Humor by Michael LaBossiere on May 30, 2012

The year is 2056. The majority of the world’s population has been deceived and enslaved by the virtual reality of the Evil Genius.  Only the mysterious Cartesian Circle has the will and the means to oppose the Evil Genius. Using advanced technology and theology, they resurrect the one man to ever face off against the Evil Genius: Rene Descartes.

In FPS: Cartesian Apocalypse you take on the role of Rene Descartes. Guided by the Panopticon, you use the power of philosophy (and lots of guns) to battle the tyranny of the Evil Genius. Your mundane arsenal is augmented by powers drawn from the great philosophers of history: the Socratic Method, the Platonic Form, the Inverted Spectrum, the Chinese Box, the Second Sex, Mad Pain & Martian Pain, the Will to Power, the Categorical Imperative, and more. Do you know how to save the world?


“Step over Diablo, there is a new Evil Genius in town!”
-A. Blizzard

“This game reminds me that the French once did real philosophy.”
-V. Quine

“It is imperative that you play this game.”
-I. Kant

“FPS maximizes utility. And destruction. Five stars.”
-J. Mill

“It is nothing, but what kick-ass nothing it is being.”
-J. Sartre

“F@ck Yeah!”

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Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 30, 2012
Image representing Mark Zuckerberg as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

While the economic meltdown did considerable damage, two interesting side-effects were that it led to serious consideration of economic issues and gave rise to a loose movement critical of business as usual. Not surprisingly, one core point of political and moral concern is the income inequality in the United States. While such inequality has always been present, what has made this an ever greater concern is that fact the disparity has significantly increased.

While income has been increasing in the United States, it has been especially great for the top 1%. Their after-tax income increased 275% from 1979 to 2007. This is in sharp contrast with the increase enjoyed by the other economic classes. The next economic class, the top 20% (excluding the top 1%) had a 65% increase in earnings. Those in the bottom 20% also saw an increase, but this was only 18%.

Given that all the classes saw an increase in after-tax income, it could be wondered why there might be any ground for concern. After all, if everyone is making more, then things would seem to be good.

The obvious reply is, of course, that while everyone is (on average) getting more, some people (the 1%) are getting very much more. In terms of income share, the lower 80% saw a decline of 2-3 percentage points while the folks in the top 20% enjoyed an increase of 10 percentage points (thanks mostly to the gains of the 1%).  This does seem to provide some grounds for concern.

To use an obvious analogy, imagine a business. Suppose that everyone got raises, but Sally(already the highest paid) got 275%, Bob 65%, and Sam 18%. While getting a raise is good (actually, being employed at all is good these days), Sam might have some concerns about why Bob and Sally got so much more. Bob would also probably be somewhat concerned about the fact that while he got more than Sam, he got far less than Sally. After all, such disparity does provide at least some grounds for worrying that something is not right. Perhaps, for example, Sally’s raise was the result of her connections and some (or much) of her increase was taken from what was actually generated by Bob and Sam.

However, Sam and Bob’s concerns could be unfounded. After all, each person might have received exactly the deserved raise. Perhaps, for example, while Sam was somewhat more productive, Sally was vastly more productive. Or perhaps Sally invented something that the company patented and was properly rewarded. As long as Sally exceeded Sam and Bob based on a legitimate standard or standards (such as productivity or inventing things), then the disparity could be reasonably  justified on the basis that it was earned fairly. This also assumes, of course, that Sally, Sam and Bob were working under comparable conditions. If, for example, Sally was given an abundance of assistance and support while Sam was required to do without, then this would be a relevant factor.

Turning back to the general income disparity, perhaps the 1% earned their 275% increase by simply outdoing the lower classes in ways that would legitimately justify the disparity. As might be imagined, there is considerable dispute over what justifies income. Fortunately, this is a relative situation in terms of comparing the classes. As such, whatever standards (such as productivity or inventiveness) that are used to justify an increase could be applied to all the classes (with some likely exceptions). As such, if the 1% did proportionally better than the 99% in terms of these standards, then the disparity could be justified. Provided, of course, that the conditions were comparable.

One common way to justify the disparity is to point to the massively profitable start up technology companies. These companies, such as Google, have created quite a few millionaires (and some billionaires). So, for example, it could be argued that someone like Mark Zuckerberg earned his billions through his efforts. In contrast,  it could be contended that the young people of Zuckerberg’s age who died in service to their country legitimately  earned considerably less (even taking into account the “free” funeral). After all, they could have created Facebook and become billionaires instead of going off to die in foreign lands. The same underlying principle would, of course apply across the board. For example, while Mitt Romney makes vastly more than most Americans, it could thus be asserted that he justly earned his large income. Those who elected to be firefighters, police, teachers, nurses, professors, electricians and so on also earn their money, but they justly earn considerably less. As such, the disparity is justified.

Of course, one might suspect that this sort of stock justification is circular. Those who make more income are justified in making more because they make more.  Likewise, the 1% are justified in their 275% increase because they made 275% more income. This seems to boil down to saying that they earn more because they earn more. This is like is like questioning a person who has taken a huge slice of cake and being told that her slice is big because it is a big slice. This sort of circularity fails to satisfy. What is needed is not just an appeal to the obvious fact that people who make more do make more, but rather some justification for the disparity.

One way to counter this is to argue that I have it wrong. The correct view, at least when it comes to earned income, is that people like Mark Zuckerberg generate vast amounts of money and hence are entitled to a significant cut of that money because of the value they generate. This is not, it could be argued, circular. It is like a cook who makes a bigger cake-his slice would thus be bigger. Those who do not create as much profit, such as Captain Jesse Ozbat (killed on May 20, 2012 at the age of 28) justly earn less. Sticking with the cake analogy, those who bake small cakes get smaller slices.

While this might seem to justify the disparity, it actually seems to simply reveal the foundation of the disparity. To be specific, the broader disparity exists (in part) because of the disparity in value placed on specific jobs. So, for example, Zuckerberg became a billionaire because of the way he was rewarded for what he does. Likewise for the millionaires Mitt Romney and Barrack Obama. Those who are mere teachers, professors, soldiers, electricians, plumbers, roofers, farmers and so on are rewarded to a vastly smaller degree because of the far lesser value placed on what they do. This disparity at the individual level obviously enough provides the foundation for the disparity that exists when considering the various economic classes in the United States. It is, I think, not unreasonable to inquire whether or not the value system that governs income is just or not. It might, of course, be quite just-but this is not something that can simply be assumed.

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The Fattening

Posted in Business, Medicine/Health by Michael LaBossiere on May 28, 2012
An obese topless man on a motorcycle. Original...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For much of history humans struggled to acquire enough food. In much of the West, especially the United States, there is a new struggle involving food. This is the battle against the fattening. While the exact figures vary from study to study and estimate to estimate, it seems reasonable to accept that about 68% of adult Americans are overweight and about 34% are obese. While many parts of the world are still faced with food shortages, it is estimated that about 10% of men and 14% of women are overweight.

Given the advances in agriculture and improvements in distribution, it is hardly surprising that people have better access to even more food than before. However, the relatively recent surge in obesity in the United States does raise some questions about the cause(s).

One obvious causal factor is that a considerable percentage of food is high calorie (generally processed). As such, people are getting more calories per bite than before, which can easily contribute to weight gain. While people do need energy, much of the available food is calorie dense while being nutrient low (or empty). This creates situations in which people can be obese and also malnourished. As might be imagined, this is rather bad. A solution that people can apply themselves is to make better food choices: select high nutrient and lower calorie foods over those that are high calorie and low nutrient. Trying to avoid processed foods and junk foods as much as possible is a good idea.

A second obvious factor is that food portions are larger than in the past. People, Americans especially, tend to link volume with value. That is, getting more is good-even when it is more than a person needs. ‘”Super size” nicely sums up this volume problem. People typically get more than they need, they tend to eat it all anyway and thus they themselves become super-sized. The personal solution is to avoid super-sizing. True, you will get less for your money, but there will also be less of you-which is trading one value (money) for another.

A third obvious factor is technology. People in the United States spend a great deal of time watching television, playing video games, surfing the web and so on. These activities do not burn many calories and tend to encourage idle snacking. The personal solution is to cut back on these activities and to resist the idle snacking.

A fourth obvious factor is the dominance of fast food and convenience stores. These places make it easy to simply grab food quickly. The problem is, of course, that these places tend to provide high calorie and low nutrient foods. While there has been some push to get these places to improve food quality, the obvious solution is to not get your food at such places.  For example, I make my own lunches for work and thus avoid the junk (and also save money). If you must get your food from such places, then select the best available option-which probably won’t be that great.

A somewhat less obvious factor is politics. Certain high calorie foods (like corn which yields the ubiquitous high calorie corn syrup) are heavily subsidized by the state which is why such foods (or foods containing them) tend to be cheaper than more nutritious fare.  As might be imagined, people will tend to buy what is cheaper. That said, it is possible to get nutritious food that is not extremely expensive. However, solving this will require shifting the subsidies so that healthier food is being subsidized. Or, as true free-market and small government folks might argue, food subsidies should be eliminated. This would bring food prices for the good foods more in line with the now cheaper foods, but would do so by increasing prices.

Another somewhat less obvious factor is based on economic class. Poorer areas of the United States tend to have a significant density of fast food places and convenience stores while lacking full grocery stores. Individuals can, of course, take the extra time and effort to travel to the grocery store. However, this is not always a practical option for many folks (such as people who do not own a vehicle). When I was in graduate school, I did not own a car and I can testify to the challenge of carrying groceries even for just a few miles. There have been some calls to see to it that better food is available in such food deserts. However, the obvious problem is that businesses go where they will make money (or they fail) and hence there is not much incentive to open such a store in such places. The state could, of course, step in an provide incentives to such businesses. This could actually make good economic sense. After all, what is spent in tax money to help the businesses could be offset by the savings in later medical expenses and the fact that local jobs would be created would be a plus.

A final factor is that people seem to be less inclined to be active, although there are some notable exceptions. Part of this is, obviously enough, the impact of technology. Social changes are also probably a factor, such as the tendency to drive even when something is within reasonable walking distance. Individuals can, of course, solve this problem themselves-get up and do something (other than eating).

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Super Sunday Pancakes

Posted in DIY/Recipes, Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on May 27, 2012
Stack of blueberry pancakes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like all rational beings, I like pancakes. While I used to be content to just use an instant mix, I decided to create a better sort of pancake-one with the illusion of being more healthy yet also easy and tasty. I came up with this:

You’ll need

  • 2 cups of Bisquick mix.
  • 2 eggs (beaten)
  • 2 cups of milk (soy or cow)
  • 1/4 cup ground golden flax seed
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Blueberries, strawberries, butterscotch bits, or other such things (optional).
Using a wire whisk, combine all the ingredients. Do not over beat the mixture or your pancakes will not be as good. Use about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake. I cook mine on an electric griddle that works great, thanks to the even temperature and the non-stick surface. Being from Maine, I like to add blueberries to mine, but tastes vary.
Getting a good pancake is a matter of timing: cook the pancakes until the edges are “dry”, the center is bubbling and the bottom is golden brown. Flip once (if you flip twice or more, you’ll have inferior cakes) and cook until the bottom is browned. This will happen fairly quickly. Being a traditionalist, I like mine with butter and Maine syrup. Blueberry sauce is also good. Crushed walnuts are also good when sprinkled on the top.
If you want to make non-plain pancakes by adding blueberries or whatever, you can mix those into the batter. I usually make blueberry pancakes and butterscotch pancakes. So, I add the extras right after I put the batter on the griddle.
The recipe is designed to make “fluffy” pancakes. If you want cakes that are thicker, cut the milk to 1 cup.
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Broken Mine

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on May 26, 2012

I’ve written yet another Pathfinder compatible adventure for the Kindle.

A Pathfinder compatible adventure for 4th-6th level characters.


“Old stories tell of the wizard Kelsun, better known as Kelsun the Mad Prophet. According to these stories, Kelsun received a vision of a world shaking disaster and, the truth be told, it drove him mad. Fortunately, his madness was a benevolent one-he set out, in his odd way, to help ensure that items of power would be available to help rebuild civilization after the disaster of his visions. Unfortunately, his benevolent madness was…madness. He decided to hide the items he had gathered and created in strange and obscure places. He also chose to protect them with various guardians and traps. Finally, he left cryptic and even bizarre clues regarding the locations of his caches.

One set of clues was given to our ancestors. Since that time we have tried to figure out what the clues meant and met with failure after failure. However, as was also foretold by prophecy, one of our youngsters managed to pierce a very useful clue that yielded what we hope is the location of one of the hidden caches. Because of your known skill and courage, it is hoped that you will go there and unlock its secrets. Be warned, though, the place will no doubt be rather dangerous.

While Kelsun is said to have placed a silver chest or box full of treasure within this place, the elders are only interested in one item said to be in the chest, an ever living vine. As such, all that we request in return for the location of the cache is the vine. The rest of the treasure is yours.”

Get  Broken Mine on Amazon.


Broken Mine Monsters & Maps PDF

See paizo.com/pathfinderRPG for more information on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

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Is Private Equity Bad?

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 25, 2012
An assortment of United States coins, includin...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the 2012 United States presidential election approaches, the candidates, their minions and the “unaffiliated” super PACs have been laying out the lines of battle. Obama’s people have decided to make Romney’s time with Bain Capital a skirmish point and this has already generated considerable controversy.

One obvious point of moral concern is whether or not it is acceptable for Obama to make this an issue. After all, even one of Obama’s supporters, Cory Booker, called the attacks on Romney regarding Bain as “nauseating” and made an analogy between these attacks and the attacks on Obama for his association with Reverend Wright. Not surprisingly, when Romney’s people seized on this, Booker had to engage in a a step well known by most politicians, namely the back peddle. While this political dance is interesting, my main concern is with the ethics of the matter.

On one hand it can be argued that the attack on Romney (and on Obama) is actually a mere guilt by association fallacy. After all, the mere fact that Obama had some association with Wright or the fact that Romney worked at Bain does not automatically entail that the men are burdened with any of the views or misdeeds of those they associated with.

On the other hand, it does seem reasonable to consider a candidates past associations and past actions when engaged in assessing the candidates. Naturally, the past associations should be considered in the light of what has happened between then and now, but these associations can still be relevant. Provided, of course, that the connection is more than mere association but is actually a substantial connection.

Both Obama’s association with Wright and Romney’s association with Bain are in the past. After all, Obama broke with Wright and repudiated Wright’s controversial views. Romney no longer works for Bain. As such, it might be concluded that going after Romney in regards to Bain would be on par with going after Obama (again) in regards to Wright (which apparently was being planned).

However, there is a rather important difference. Obama is not pointing to Wright and claiming that his association with Wright is evidence of what sort of president he will be in his second term (although some opposed to Obama have tried to make that claim). Romney, however, has been claiming to be a job creator and a businessman and has pointed to his time at Bain as evidence for his claims. As such, Romney has explicitly defined his association with Bain and this would certainly seem to morally justify assessing his record at and association with Bain. To use an obvious analogy, if I claim to be qualified to be a professor because of my association with Ohio State (that is, getting my doctorate there), then it would reasonable for people to look into that association if they had doubts about my credentials and qualifications.  As such, it seems acceptable for Obama, his minions and his allies to bring up Bain.

One interesting turn in the struggle to define this skirmish has been an attempt to cast criticism of Bain as an attack on private equity in general, as opposed to specific criticism of Bain. This is, obviously enough, a smart rhetorical move. After all, if Obama can be cast as attacking private equity, he would lose this skirmish since private equity is generally seen as good in the United States. As such, Obama’s side is endeavoring to clarify that the criticism is being directed at the alleged “vulture” or “vampire” capital approaches of Bain (and Romney) and not an attack on private equity.

This general approach is reasonable in that it is clearly possible to be critical of a specific practitioner of something without being critical of the practice. To use an analogy, my being critical of a person who uses force to get the sex he wants does not entail that I am against sex. Likewise, being critical of the practices of a specific private equity firm does not entail that someone is against private equity. The person could be for private equity but against the (allegedly) harmful acts of a company. As such, Obama and his fellows can attack Bain and Romney without attacking private equity, just as they can be critical of Romney without being critical of all Mormons or all males. Obama and his allies can, and surely will, avail themselves of the wealth of soundbites created by Newt Gingrich to attack Romney’s Bain connection during his own ill-fated campaign. Newt, of course, has taken a somewhat modified stance on the matter since becoming a Romney ally.

Obviously enough, Obama and his allies will struggle to resist the Republican’s attempts to cast his criticism of Bain as an attack on private equity. This is because, as noted above, private equity is taken as an unquestioned (and perhaps unquestionable) good in the United States. Of course, this does not entail that it is, in fact, good.

Naturally, a reasonably good tale can be told in favor of private equity. After all, creating and expanding businesses is so expensive that people who want to “grow the economy” and become “job creators” (or expand their creation) need to turn to those with money to get things going. As such, private equity enables the funding of businesses and this has a variety of good consequences such as employment and the creation of goods and services. Private equity also enables certain people to enjoy rich financial rewards. For example, as Mitt Romney has pointed out, he is unemployed but still brings in about $57,000 per day thanks, in part, to his time at Bain. That said, it is obviously not all flowers and cake.

One obvious concern about the private equity system in the United States is that it is one of the cogs in an economic machine that has concentrated the wealth into a tiny fraction of the population and has resulted in considerable economic harms (unemployment, foreclosures, destruction of companies and so on). The obvious reply is that this is but one cog among many and, as supporters of private equity might note, it is hard to assign blame to one cog. It is also fair to note that private equity could be, like a gun or any other tool, morally neutral and its goodness or badness could simply be a matter of how it is used.

While it would certainly be interesting to see the candidates seriously debating the ethics of the mechanisms of the economic machinery it seems unlikely that this will happen. After all, as noted above, the debate is not whether private equity is good or not but whether or not Romney’s time at Bain grounds Romney’s narrative or Obama’s.

My Amazon author page.  Yes, I do see the irony-but buy my books anyway. 🙂

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Zombie Birther

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on May 23, 2012
English: Anti-Barack Obama demonstrator at an ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ken Bennet, Arizona’s secretary of state, seems to have gone through a minor bout of birtherism recently. Fortunately, he seems to have recovered somewhat. Sadly this shows that the birther thing is a zombie of sorts-while it should be dead and buried, it just keeps lurching about and infecting people.

While folks who support Obama are obviously not fans of the birthers, the sensible folks on the right (of which there are many-they just don’t get much attention these days) are also not fans of this movement. Not surprisingly, I think it is far past the point at which the birther movement should have ended. I also contend that folks who oppose Obama should also be against the movement-if only for purely pragmatic reasons.

One rather important reason to be against the birther thing is that the core claim, that Obama was not born in the US, seems to have been disproven beyond all reasonable doubt via the appropriate legal documentation as well as by claims from reputable sources. As such, to believe in this claim is irrational and to push it seems to be morally suspect.

One pragmatic reason for anti-Obama folks to be against this birther thing is that it associates those who oppose Obama with a movement that taints the opposition with what seems to be craziness and absurdity. While guilt by association is a fallacy, it is generally best to avoid association with these sorts of movements. On the left, for example, it is generally best to steer clear of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

Another pragmatic reason for anti-Obama folks to be against the birther thing is that it is actually a distraction and a time waster. There is a wealth of issues on which the Republicans can legitimately criticize Obama (such as using drones to kill Americans apparently without due process and his ties to Wall Street). It makes far more sense to spend time on these issues without having to deal with the distraction of the birther thing.

Romney and other top tier Republicans should make it clear (in a polite way) that the birther thing needs to stop. This is not only the right thing to do, but also a smart thing for them.

My Amazon author page.

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Protest Distance

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 23, 2012
A group of Anonymous protesters opposite the L...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In response to the NATO summit meeting in Chicago a diverse and large number of people took to the streets in protest. As is to be expected, the police also took to the streets to maintain order and to ensure that the people did not intrude on the meeting of the elites attending the event.

Obviously enough, the protesters generally wanted to get close enough to the summit so that their protests could be seen and heard by those attending. Equally obvious is the fact that the police were intent on preventing that from happening. In addition to the particular concern regarding this specific event, there is also the more general concern regarding how close protesters should be allowed to get to these sorts of events.

On the one hand, there are clearly legitimate grounds for keeping protesters a considerable distance from such events. The most obvious justifications are those based on security concerns. After all, not all protesters are peaceful and some of them might intend to have a go at those attending the event. There is also to concern that the ever-terrifying terrorists might use the protests as a cover for a terrorist attack.  Given the potential for such danger, keeping the protesters a significant distance from such events can be justified on both moral and practical grounds. In terms of the moral grounds, the justification would (presumably) be that the rights of the protesters to protest close to the event would be outweighed by the rights of those attending not to be harmed. Alternatively, this could be argued on utilitarian grounds: the harm done to the protesters is outweighed by the potential harms prevented against those attending the meeting. In terms of the practical grounds, it is clearly easier to maintain security by keeping what might be regarded as the public rabble away from those attending such events.

On the other hand, a case can be made that the protesters should be allowed close (or at least closer) to such events. One argument is that the protesters do not give up their rights simply because they are engaged in a protest. Assuming that they wish to engage in their protest where they would normally have the right to be, then it would seem to follow that they should be allowed to protest there.

One obvious reply to this argument is that people do not automatically have  the right to engage in protest in all places they have a right to visit. For example, a public library is open to the public, but it does not follow that people thus have a right to shout protest slogans about NATO or taxes or whatever while occupying the public library. This is because the act of protest would violate the rights of others in a way that would seem to warrant not allowing the protest. To use another example, while people have a right to access public streets and sidewalks, it is one thing to be walking, running, biking or otherwise occupying these places as an individual and quite another to be occupying these places in a group that would stop traffic and impede travel.  As might be imagined, getting through crowds of protesters takes more time than driving streets that have been cleared of mere citizens. Such a delay would no doubt be annoying, even if one is in a limousine and has access to a car bar. As yet another example, the noise of the protesters might  interfere with the event, even through the soundproofing of a modern building. As a final example, those attending the event might find the protests upsetting or disturbing. After all, being accused (for example) of being a war profiteer or of destroying the middle class might cause the attendees some emotional disturbances. No doubt people attending such events would prefer a quiet event without anyone shouting such things at them.

This reply can, of course, be overcome by showing that the protest does more good than harm or by showing that the right to protest outweighs the right to quiet and free travel.  After all, to forbid protests simply because they might inconvenience or annoy people would be absurd. However, to allow protests regardless of the imposition on others would also be absurd.

In the case of the NATO summit meeting, the protesters would disrupt things, but being closer to the event would not seem to cause significantly more disruption than being kept away from the event. While it is true that those attending the event will face some logistical challenges getting through the crowd, this could be managed. After all, the police in large cities routinely handle large events in which celebrities, athletes and so on need to be moved through large crowds (such as at concerts and sporting events). As such, it would seem that the logistics objection would not suffice to deny the right of a close protest.

There is, of course, some legitimate concern to protesters disrupting an event. After all, being a protester does not grant a person the right to override the rights of everyone else. Of course it is also true that attending an event and being a political or economic elite does not give someone the moral right to deny others their right to protest (although it certainly can provide the means to do so). Hashing this matter out requires a fair assessment of the legitimate rights of the protesters weighed against the legitimate rights of those being protested. In the NATO summit situation, it does seem that the protesters, at least those that are citizens of the respective states involved or at least affected by said states, do have the right to protest on the basis of their involvement in the issues at hand and to make their views on this matter known to those who make the decisions that impact their lives (and deaths). Given that mere citizens are typically not invited to such events, one of the few ways to express their views directly is via protest that can be heard and seen by the people being protested. This seems to be a rather important right, at least in states that purport to be democratic. After all, the vast majority of people do not have the money needed to hire lobbyists or create super PACS. As such, one of the few avenues of political expression left open is the protest and to impose on this right is to further dampen the voices of the people.

There is, of course, also the pragmatic concern that keeping the protesters at a “safe” distance from the elites by deploying riot police to beat down intruders serves to reinforce the impression of a truly sharp class division between the mere citizens and those who control things. Seeing riot police beating protesters like pinatas to keep them away from the rich and the powerful certainly does create an impression of real class warfare which certainly cannot be good for a state that purports to be a classless democracy.

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Selling Space

Posted in Business, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on May 22, 2012

First_Man_on_Moon_1969_Issue-10c.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being a fan of the sci-fi “good old stuff” I am familiar with Robert Heinlein’s classic 1949 novel The Man Who Sold the MoonIn this story the “robber baron” Delos David Harriman uses his considerable talents to bring about the first moon landing (in 1978). Unlike the real first moon landing, the government was not involved-it was a private venture. In Heinlein’s future history, this is a critical event that sets humanity one step farther down the path to the stars.

While I routinely get accused of being a leftist socialist who hates private enterprise, I rather like Heinlein’s novel and I do agree with the basic premise that our future in space depends significantly on the pragmatic dreamers of the private sector who have the right stuff (a combination of vision and talent) to see the future and to make it so. While I lack business and technical skills, I do share the dream of a future in space and have consistently offered my meager words in support of such endeavors.

As might be suspected, I have been following SpaceX closely. I was disappointed when the first launch did not go off as planned, but I was happy that SpaceX makes much better rockets than North Korea. Naturally, I was very happy to hear that Falcon 9 put the Dragon spacecraft into orbit and I hope that it is able to dock with the international space station. The success of Space X would mean that we would no longer be dependent on the Russians (that has been a disgrace to the United States) and, more importantly, it shows that commercial space operations could be viable.

I had worried that the vision of a future in space had been lost, but SpaceX and other ventures certainly help keep my hope alive.

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Diablo III

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on May 21, 2012
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Like most gamers, I’ve been playing Diablo III. Well, at least when the servers are up.  I do get that servers go down from time to time, such is the way of imperfect technology. I also get that when I am playing an MMO a down server means that I cannot play (on that server at least). After all, an MMO is the sort of beast that needs to be served up. However, Diablo III is not the sort of beast that needs to be so served. After all, Diablo II functioned just fine without being connected to Blizzard’s servers. I do, of course, “get” why Blizzard decided (or was compelled) to require people to be connected to the server to play. After all, it does help combat piracy-if people must be connected to a server and the server can verify the game being authentic (via the authentication key), then the game becomes very hard to pirate. Also, Blizzard also no doubt hopes to cash in on the real money auction house and this requires having tight control over the game-otherwise people some people would just hack to get items rather than spending real money to buy fake stuff. Being an author, I do get that it is important to protect and maximize that cash flow. Of course, I am also a consumer and I regard being able to use something that I have paid for as a reasonable sort of things. To use the obvious analogy, if people buy my books, but could only read them when my “book server” is up an running, then I better make sure that the server is up and running 24/7. After all, there really is nothing about a book that requires that it be served up rather than being readily available and book customers have a reasonable expectation that the book should be available. Likewise for a game like Diablo III.

Now that I have got in the mandatory complaints about the server problems, I can say that I otherwise really like the game.  As with Diablo II, I have been playing with my friends and we quickly fell into our traditional roles, although there were some changes in the classes usually played.

I generally look for the class that has just the right blend of holiness and destructive potential (or, as my detractors might say, viciousness). In Diablo II I played a paladin and in the expansion an assassin.  Not surprisingly, I ended up playing the monk. My friend Ron traditionally has gone for big melee fighters, but he has been on a “weird caster” kick in more recent years, so he ended up as the witch doctor. Dave usually goes for a caster, but he went for the barbarian. Despite the change in classes, we (as noted above) quickly slid into our accustomed roles.

Ron: “Where’s Mike?”
Dave: “I’m not sure. He ran off. Like usual.”
Ron: “Damn, I know he’s stirring up some stuff.”
Me: “I am so glad to see you guys again. I really missed you.”
Dave: “What? Are you talking to us?”
Me: ‘No, the monsters.”
Monsters: “Nooooo, the end of days is upon us! Run!”
Me: “Don’t run! You’ll just get evil sweat on the loot!”
Dave: “Should we help him?”
Ron: “Get back here.”
Me: “I can’t. There are still standing monsters in my field of vision. Plus my weapons get very sad when they are not coated in the blood of the wicked.”
Dave: “Monsters incoming!”
Monsters: “Hey, it’s Dave! Swarm him!”
Dave: “Not the face! Help!”
Ron: “Hmm, I wonder if these boots are better than my current boots? I can’t tell if this staff makes me look fat or not. I need to check the forums on that.”
Me: “Hey, Dave didn’t die this time!”
Dave: “Yeah, that’s why I’m playing the barbarian.”
Me: “Hell, the server is going down in five minutes! I don’t think I can kill any faster…”
Monsters: “Quick, cut those wires faster…we have to get the server down before they kill us all!”

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