In 2007 I started playing World of Warcraft. The only other game I played at the time was America’s Army, a first shooter military game developed by the US Army which was designed as a player versus player (PVP) format. That type of playing can be incredibly difficult, both because many players hone their skills to the point where they are nearly impossible for the neophyte to beat and also because that particular game sees a large amount of hacks and exploits that unscrupulous players can use to give themselves an unfair advantage. World of Warcraft, by contrast, gives players the choice of being on primarily PVP servers or on servers that feature player versus environment (PVE) where people play against computer simulated characters. For the first sixty or so levels I played my character almost exlusively in the PVE format.

One day a player challenged me to a duel. I accepted and was beaten in the most humiliating fashion. Two things became clear: one was that the style of PVE play I was used to did not at all work in player versus player and two, my reliance on mouse clicking on spells was not nearly fast enough to manage in PVP. I played in PVP battlegrounds but never seemed to be able to rise above terrible so I mostly resigned myself to playing PVE.

About a year or two after I started playing I was at a friend’s house playing the game when one of his neighbors started talking to me about the game. This guy clearly knew his stuff and was one of the top rated players on his server which is really hard to do. After watching me play for a bit he had the tact not to come right out and tell me I was bad. Rather, he asked me if I wanted to look at his character. I told him sure and after he logged on and showed me his undead warlock which was epically geared, he showed me something that astounded me. I already was aware that WoW allows player to keybind (assign spells to specific keys on the keyboard) but it had never occured to me to use the numberpad on the right side of the keyboard for this purpose. This guy took his right hand off the mouse and proceeded to play WoW like a piano, with two hands on the keyboard. The sheer number of spells which were now instantly available at any given time was more than doubled. After watching this I completely revamped the way I played the game. As a subtlety rogue the number pad now worked as follows: the 7, 8, and 9 were the home keys for my right hand. The 7 key was assigned to hemmorage, the 8 was sinister strike, the 9 was mutilate. Shift 9 was eviscerate, the / was slice and dice, number lock was kidney punch, * was sap, 5 evasion, 4 was feint, 2 was cloak of shadows and 6 was vanish. + was something that reset all my cooldowns, – was now instantly accessible as deadly throw in case a player disengaged or blinked away from me (hunter and mage abilities). F became shadow dance and so on. Armed with this new style of play I once again tackled PVP and was still regularly beaten, only now not nearly as badly. Eventually though I started to get better and then rose to the level of pretty good. I started to enjoy PVP a lot more.

An unintended result of this was that due to my instant accessibility of all these spells I also got better at PVE. I downloaded an addon that allowed me to see my combo points and suddenly my damage per second (DPS) statistics shot up too. In PVP I began developing strategies to use on specific types of characters and I started using two different specs, assasination for PVE and subtlety for PVE.

Eventually I was comfortable enough to try playing a druid which I used for healing in 5 man dungeons. Again using the number pad, shift 7, shift 8, shift 9, and shift numbers lock became used for targeting targeting players 1 through 4 and I became a legitimate healer. Eventually I became called on for raid healing where I did a passable job. In addition to the rogue and druid I eventually rolled a priest, death knight, warlock, and shaman with similar success. I never became above average with the warlock in PVE but in PVP I’m pretty good. My favorite part is lighting up rogues with immolate so they cannot vanish and casting death coil and fear on them so I can light them up without having them close in on me, strategies I absolutely HATE being used on me when I PVP with the rogue. The end result is that now I don’t actually have a favorite class to use in PVP. I like the rogue, warlock, druid, and priest about equally. The only downside to this is that I never get fully geared with any class since I tend to split time among all of them. The best stats I get, however, tend to be on the rogue. At one point I remember going about 15 and 2 using a rogue in battlegrounds.

Sadly though, doing well in PVP doesn’t result in getting all the chicks at the bar. It’s either that that is a fail strategy or maybe I’m just going to the wrong bars. I will still PVP though because it’s fun. You should play World of Warcraft too and maybe the next time a rogue cheapshots you, shadow dances to cheap shot again, vanishes and cheap shots you again, refreshed cool downs and cheap shots you again and then blinds you and then kills you after self bandaging in the middle of the fight, it might be me. Until then, rock on.

When I was a young adult I accepted the premise that morality is relative and that the concept of right and wrong was subject to the specific tenets of any given culture. This is a popular concept in contemporary American society and I believed in it implicitly, often invoking it in debates when people would criticize the actions of people outside of their own in-group. The remonstration “Morality is subjective” had the ring of righteous judgment to it and it made me feel wise to say it. Ultimately it turned out to be a flawed argument for reasons that I will explain below.

The idea that morality is subject to the particulars of time and culture run into trouble when we examine the evils of race based slavery in the United States. If we accept the idea that something that is wrong in today’s time and culture could be morally good or at least neutral in the past then it follows that we would deny that our rights and obligations proceed from human nature which of course does not change from time periods that are too small to encompass vast evolutionary changes in homo sapiens. The Founding Fathers knew this when they posited that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, the term “creator” being a pseudonym for human nature. The fact that the founders of this country tolerated and in some cases participated in race-based slavery does not negate this fact as many people of that time labored under the misconception that the black and white races were different enough that they amounted to different levels of humanity, as if they were in fact different species. On this question they were factually incorrect, a mistake which begat the entire host of wrong conclusions that naturally followed from this premise. Similarly they were wrong about in the belief that the differences in gender justified disparate treatment between men and women, a mistake that has been highlighted by science, time, and the evolution of our culture.

The important thing to remember in this is that the evolution of time and culture did not change the nature of right and wrong, it is rather that our present knowledge has made clear the mistakes of the past. Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony did not wave a magic wand that turned women and the American descendants of Africans into fully human beings deserving of dignity and inherent rights, they always were, it is simply the case that it often takes significant personalities to impress these ideas on the general public. Put another way, human beings cannot properly be said to gain rights, it is more the case that society is convinced to stop violating them.

Princeton Professer Julian Zelizer wrote a piece criticizing  Tea Party republicans for being out of touch with political reality. His analysis, however, inclines me to believe that he is the one who is actually out of touch, not only with current political realities but also with the sentiments of large portions of the American electorate. What follows is a point by point critique of the original essay:

Just because a drag race doesn’t end with someone getting killed, it doesn’t mean that drag racing is a safe thing to do.

Mr. Zelizer begins with flawed analogy, specifically comparing a dangerous action that is performed for mere thrills with actions taken in Congress which are essential to addressing some very serious issues that affect this nation’s future. The Tea Party Republicans are not flexing their political muscle simply for show. I think the writer knows this but is making this poor comparison for the sake of rhetorical flourish.

Even though it looks like Congress will raise the debt ceiling, this is no way to run a government.
Many pundits have pointed to the crisis over the debt ceiling as further evidence that Washington is dysfunctional. They say the inability of President Obama and congressional Democrats and Republicans to reach a deal is another example of how partisan polarization, political incivility and 24-hour media have left our nation’s leaders unable to make deals. In their minds, we should not be surprised about what has happened. This was virtually inevitable.

While placing battles in historical perspective, it is also important to recognize when we are seeing something new. The “Washington is dysfunctional” argument has confused chronic institutional problems with the partisan strategy that has been used by the GOP.

The fault in this case is not business as usual, the blame lies with (gasp!) the guys on the other side of the aisle.

The trigger to this crisis, which threatens the health of the nation’s economy, was an aggressive move by tea party Republicans — hesitantly supported by the House leadership — to hold routine debt ceiling legislation hostage until they received exactly the spending cuts they demanded.

The vote was routine. The role of Congress is simply to rubber stamp everything for the Democratic President.

Lacking the votes they need for a clean vote on them through the budget process, they have instead forced everyone’s hand. Obama has little leverage to do anything but agree to their cuts.

How exactly “forcing everyone’s hand” any different than “exercising their political clout”? Are representatives not supposed to represent?

In 1994, Republicans who were elected also arrived to Washington sounding like renegades. They insisted that they would do whatever was necessary to change the status quo, and they refused to compromise with Democrats for the sake of appearing reasonable. South Carolina Congressman Lindsey Graham said, “Ain’t nothing was off limits, buddy. You could feed us, wash us and comb us, but we’d still bite.”

Most famously, in 1995 and 1996, they were willing to shut down the federal government in their pursuit of deep spending cuts. Eventually, most of the class of 1994 mellowed, realizing that governance required compromise, as did political survival.

Here is the key to this guy’s entire beef with tea party republicans. I think a lot of people were waiting for disillusionment on the part of the tea party, the crucial moment when their representatives would betray them to the inevitable forces of realpolitik and compromise. The left had it when Bill Clinton submitted to the “don’t ask don’t tell policy” and when Hillary’s Healthcare1 was shot down on the landing strip back in the 90s. The fact that the tea party republicans are (so far) doing what they were elected to do is putting a serious gun rack in this guy’s hybrid and he doesn’t like it one bit.

Also here is the part that people tend to forget when they recall the glory years of the Clinton administration: Bill Clinton did not singlehandedly lead the United States a fiscally sound promised land. Prosperity was effected with a Democratic President fighting tooth and nail against republicans in the house who forced a more moderate course. Not only are checks and balances an appropriate use of representative authority, they are absolutely essential in curbing the excesses of all Presidents be they Republican, Democrate, Whig or even socialist (yuck!).

What we are seeing with tea party Republicans is something even more dramatic. The new Republicans have been the driving force behind the decision to prevent a routine vote on the debt ceiling — a routine vote with potentially devastating financial consequences — to obtain massive cuts in federal spending.

Yeah we get it. Tea Party republicans failed to rubber stamp a debt ceiling and instead chose to exercise their political clout in order to effect change in line with their duty to their constituents.

When Obama and many Democrats moved toward their position, they were also unwilling to compromise on how to reduce the deficit. When the president proposed that revenue-raising measures should be part of the package, they refused to budge. House Speaker John Boehner barely received the number of votes he needed for his legislation late last week.

To be sure, this is not the first time the political parties have used the debt ceiling to make a point. In 1966, for example, every House Republican but one (former Speaker Joseph Martin) voted against raising the debt ceiling because, they charged, President Lyndon Johnson was lying about the size of the deficit.

“I think the president probably in a couple of months will come up and say that to win the war in Vietnam, we need a tax increase,” warned Missouri Republican Thomas Curtis. “I would much prefer to increase taxes to place a further burden on the national debt.” More recently, some Democrats, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, spoke against raising the debt ceiling to protest President George W. Bush’s policies.

The difference is that this time around, tea party Republicans have been willing to follow through on the threat, and they have control of the House. This is what has made the situation so dangerous. Previous opposition to raising the debt ceiling has been primarily symbolic.

Usually, the politicians making the argument knew the vote would happen anyway, or they were prepared to change their mind in the end. Tea party Republicans are not kidding. They forced their own leadership to bring the nation to the brink of disaster. They are not doing this through the normal budget process, and they are taking no prisoners.

Sooooo the reason the tea party republicans are the bad guys compared to people who have used this tactic in years past is because the tea party members were not bullshitting??? Is Mr. Zelizer really waxing nostalgic about the days when political talk was mere rhetoric and when representatives checked their principles at the door?

More than ever, it is incumbent on the Republican leadership to push back against its own members who use these tactics. Even Boehner has seemed to be aware of the economic and political dangers that loom. One can see throughout this debate that he was at pains trying to contain the right wing of his party.

The consequences of default would be potentially disastrous for all Americans, red and blue, and recovery would take a long time. There are other ways Republicans can push for their objectives. In the future, they must do so.

You’re advocating for the party that pushed through socialized health care and you want the other guys to reign in the more extreme elements of THEIR party? I think this is a case where excess is in the eye of the beholder.

I turned 18 in the year of a Presidential election and I was fervently eager to make my first trip to the ballot box.  I discovered, however, that aside from weighing in on the question of the Presidential ticket there were all sorts of other choices including questions of millages and proposals for which I was unprepared.  Since I had barely a rudimentary understanding of political and economic ideas I based most of my decisions of some whim or another (which is more important, public libraries or lower taxes? I use the libraries so I’ll vote for the millage) I think I also asserted my race consciousness by voting for every candidate with a Z in their last name which in retrospect is only good policy if you’re hiring for a tacqueria but I digress.   My point is that, absent a good working knowledge of ethics and political theory, ones public policy decisions are likely to be decided upon whim.

Fast forward to the current time and I find that my decisions are based first upon ethics and political theory before the identity of the candidates or the direct impact of policy on me enters into it.  I would not vote in favor of a policy if I thought it was the wrong policy even if I were to directly benefit from its implementation.  I also would not denounce a President’s actions if I would have applauded the very same action had his opponent been elected and done the same thing.

This is what frustrates me about the political scene today (and let me be clear that members of both the conservative and liberal camps do this).  Many of the same people who denounced Dubya’s military intervention in Iraq remain silent when Obama commits military intervention in Libya.  Many of the same people who applauded George Bush’s efforts to oust Saddam Hussein remain silent regarding Obama’s efforts to unseat Qaddafi Khaddaf Ghadaff the Libyan President. I maintained this during Bush’s Presidency and I repeat this now: Right does not cease to be right and wrong does not cease to offend simply because your guy did not get elected. Moral condemnation of dictators and support for American efforts should not have to wait for the election of another President and to act in such a manner does a disservice to the civilians who suffer under such regimes. Valid questions may be raised about whether the US is responsible for policing the world and whether we can tactically do so at any given time but the moral right to remove dictators who violate human rights is unassailable.

One more thought and that is that the entire flap about Obama’s birth certificate was just stupid. If you want to challenge a candidate’s legitimacy, the time to do that is before an election. Whether Barack Obama was born within the US borders or not (and I’m certainly not conceding anything with this supposition), the requirement that a Presidential candidate be US born was implemented so that foreigners could not attain the nation’s highest office after becoming naturalized citizens (think Arnold Shwarzeneggar and Jennifer Granholm). Say what you want about Barack Obama but he is an American. He has never held allegiance or been a citizen of another country, his language is English, his dialect is midwest and his university grades weren’t terribly good which is probably the most American thing about him (Little known fact, African students attending university in the US on average score higher than African-Americans so to Donald Trump I call out a hearty booya). I hope the untimely raising of this issue by Trump serves to hasten his departure from the Presidential conversation. I’ve had enough of the political sideshow.

Perhaps there will be more to come.

An 11 year old boy was arrested in Colorado for drawing a stick figure depiction in class of himself shooting people. This news article jumps out at at me for for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the police department is guilty of an egregious overstepping of bounds for which I hope they are eventually held accountable. The only legitimate justification for police involvement in a situation like this would be if the drawing constituted a legitimate threat. Since the caption written was a statement of opinion (all teachers must die) rather than a statement of intent and since the drawing was not intended for or conveyed to the anyone else, the drawing does not even begin to meet the the base criteria of a genuine threat. This goes some way to explaining why the child in question was hit with the the rather nebulous charge of “interfering with staff and students at an educational facility” rather than being charged with making a threat per se. It is my position that the charge of interfering with staff and students was intended to apply to older students or adults who disrupted school in a violent manner or in a fashion that prevented normal day to day school activities. The classic example would be setting off a false fire alarm. While I believe the student in question should have been disciplined in some fashion by the school, a criminal charge in this instance was not an appropriate reaction in this case.

Among the other reasons this case draws my interest is the similarity to the Megan Meier case in which Lori Drew was alleged to have taunted Mean with online messages which included “The world would be better off without you” which also is a statement of opinion. In that case the public was further outraged for reasons which were specific to this case which were:

  • Much of the online communication involved deception
  • Lori Drew was an adult whereas Megan Meier was a child
  • Megan was under psychiatric care for depression, and:
  • She subsequently killed herself
  • Despite the additional factors in that case which ignited public sentiment against Lori Drew in that case, I believe criminal charges were also unwarranted in that case. My point here is not that Lori Drew is a commendable or even a decent person. It is simply that the bulk of the public’s outrage against here stemmed from the issues listed above which in and of themselves are not actionable offenses in a court of law. If Lori Drew had typed “the world would be better off without you” to her ex-husband rather than to her daughter’s classmate it wouldn’t have been considered newsworthy even if the ex-husband had killed himself after receiving the message. Certainly if that had been the case there wouldn’t have been the public demand to have her brought up on charges.

    While perhaps the majority of Americans would like to have seen Lori Drew prosecuted in some fashion for the messages she typed to Megan Meier, most of these same people would support the individuals’ right to make similar remarks depending on the person targeted by such speech. It is problematic and perhaps impossible to craft legislation intended to snare the Lori Drews of the world while exempting everybody else and such attempts are bound to lead to absurd results such as the present case of this 11 year old being arrested for drawing a picture (and I should point out that the age of the person has no bearing in this case as I would also defend the right of a 25 year old to draw a similar picture and caption provided that it wasn’t being sent out as an implied threat.) In a nation of laws it is not small thing to propose new legislation (laws against “cyber bullying” come readily to mind) and as a society we should be aware that the practical application of such often come with unintended consequences. As in most cases, prudence demands that we should err on the side of caution and in this case I think that means that we should be loathe to put forth or enforce legislation that criminalizes words or symbolic speech.

    In short, there are legitimate instances where certain types of speech are not protected by right. It is against the law to threaten people or incite others to commit crimes as well as to defame, slander people, or to commit libel. It is not against the law to say fuck you, the world would be better off without you, or even to state opinions such as “all teachers must die” provided those statements aren’t sent in a fashion intended to intimidate others. In a free society there is no right to be protected from objectionable speech, at least not as a matter of law, although a school or other place of employment is certainly free to enforce their own standards by means of suspending or even expelling student violators. This case of the child being arrested in Colorado is a case where the police department got it wrong. As a nation we should take this as a lesson and strive to avoid similar instances in the future. If we do not, as an individual I reserve the right to compose scathing blog entries flaming people who simply don’t get it.

    3 cups of dry beans (I use 50/50 mix of black beans and pinto beans)
    2 lbs ground beef
    1 medium onion
    2 large or 3 medium sized jalapeños (alternately you could use 1 habanero instead of the jalapeños)
    5 cloves garlic (minced)
    3.5 tablespoons chili powder
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    1 small can of tomato paste
    1 tomato (diced)
    salt

    Cook the beans in a cooking pot until done and set to the side (I normally soak the beans for 3 hours and then rinse before cooking which shortens the cooking process)
    Brown the ground beef in a saucepan with onions and jalapeños
    Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, and diced tomato after meat is mostly cooked.
    Continue cooking until tomato is cooked down (about 5 minutes) then add tomato paste
    Combine ground beef mixture in with the cooked beans and continue cooking until ingredients are sufficiently combed (at least 20 minutes)
    Salt to taste

    The type of beans you use and amount of hot peppers is a matters of personal taste. I find this combination to be an accurate description of what I consider to be authentic TexMex chili. Some people might want to substitute ground turkey for the sake of health reasons. Rather than that, however, I would advise them to simply switch to Indian food like chicken korma as it uses many of the same spices.