Thursday, June 11, 2009

More of the same

Climate change is constantly sensationalized by the media. Check out this glaring example, an article titled Climate change blamed for Caribbean coral deaths.

The first eight paragraphs discuss all the bad stuff that can happen when coral reefs degrade, and mention only a single cause of this degradation: climate change. Yet, if you read through to the ninth paragraph (very few readers finish an article, either on-line or in print), you get this gem: The degradation of Caribbean reefs is not entirely linked to climate change, with disease killing about 90 percent of Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals in the 1970s. Ninety percent!

Now skip ahead to the very last paragraph, where one of the researchers is finally quoted: We suggest that the last period of decline is partly due to climate change, but also due to several other human impacts such as over-fishing and coastal development... If you read those two paragraphs, which mention disease, over-fishing and coastal development as major causes of reef damage, how can you responsibly ignore those and title the article exclusively about climate change?

Read the article yourself (it's short.) I'm not cherry-picking quotes to make my point. This is another clear example of global warming sensationalization. If you just read the headline and a few paragraphs at the start, you come away with the distinct impression that climate change is the sole, or at least the biggest contributor to this damage, when quotes in the article itself belie this conclusion. And while we continue to focus on phantoms like man-made global warming, we don't pay enough attention to problems that are much easier to fix and are proven to have a bigger impact on our environment.

We need balanced and reasonable approaches to solving problems, not doomsaying and histrionics. Just like the abortion issue, where sensationalization by pro-lifers actually leads to a loss of life, sensationalization of global warming actually damages the environment.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Fallout 3

This is a really good game.

I've been playing it for close to a month now (note the coincidental timing with my lack of blogging) and there's still lots more for me to explore. It's a role-playing game set in a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. The gameplay itself is typical, with lots of bad guys to kill, quests to complete, treasure to loot, and items to craft. But what sets the game apart is incredible size and depth.

To give you an idea of the size of the world, the first time I played the game through, I reached the maximum level of 20 and completed the main quest without exploring even half of the locations on the map. Now I'm on my second playthrough, seeking out the locations I missed the first time, and there are still a couple dozen places I've yet to visit.

The world itself is rendered beautifully, with painstaking attention to detail. Addtionally, the depth of the backstory and the characters you interact with make it easy to become immersed in this gloomy world. Even the voiced-over dialogue is moderately thoughtful...good enough that it doesn't constantly remind you that you're playing a video game.

Another amazing aspect of the game is the amount of both historical and pop culture references throughout. There are plenty of "easy" references in a futuristic post-apocalyptic wasteland, to Mad Max, Starship Troopers, and the Transformers. But there are hundreds of more subtle, buried references to subjects as diverse as Cool Hand Luke, the Shining, Sifl and Olly, and a 1793 painting called The Death of Marat. Of course, the vast majority of these are lost on me, so they don't improve gameplay on their own. But reading all this stuff when browsing the Fallout 3 Wiki gives me a real appreciation for the amount of time and caring the designers put into the game. And it's even educational sometimes too...for instance, I learned the story behind the origination of Arlington National Cemetery.

And finally, saving the best for last, in Fallout 3 you can create a Railway Rifle. It fires railroad spikes at lethal speeds using steam power. Fatal head shots result in the victim's head being torn from the body and stuck to the nearest wall (or ceiling, if you crouch and aim up) by said spike. And the gory dismemberment is accompanied by a delightful whistling sound as the steam is released. In spite of a limited number of components to repair my Railway Rifle, and a short supply of ammo, I find myself overusing this weapon for the sheer aesthetic pleasure of it.

Fallout 3 easily one of the best games I've played. Still, it could take a few lessons from the Witcher. The moral choices in the game lack any subtlety, and are all strictly black-and-white (enslave or set free, kill or negotiate, dentonate a nuclear bomb in the middle of a town or disarm it, etc.) What's worse, the 'bad' choices often have miniscule rewards, so there's very little reason to vary behavior unless you're strictly role-playing. And of course, the inability to seduce even a single female character, including the one wearing nothing but a neglige that you lead across the Wasteland to safety, is a frustrating omission.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Onward Christian Soldiers

Honestly, sometimes I wish there was a Hell. Watching all you Christians burn next to me would make an eternity of torture bearable, maybe even entertaining.

A mentally unstable Christian, inspired by the Army of God's Defensive Action Statement, is calling his murder of an abortion doctor 'justifiable homicide'.

Of course. Never mind the Ten Commandments, never mind that Jesus lived for 33 years without managing to kill a single person. Never mind that the killer had to walk into a fucking church - the House of your God - to execute the abortion doctor.

Oh, but he's just a wacko, right? It wouldn't be fair to judge all Christians by his actions. One bad apple, etc.

Maybe you just put the gun in his hand and told him where to point it. Endlessly sensationalizing the issue - equating unborn fetuses to live babies, equating abortion with murder, and demonizing doctors - implies consent for this violence. Everyone who has an 'abortion is murder' bumper sticker (or tolerates church-mates who do), everyone who identifies himself as a single-issue voter, everyone who pickets and demonstrates against doctors or the heartbroken women who've agonized over the abortion decision - you all have blood on your hands. You have created a culture of confrontation that tries to prevent abortions through bullying. That makes you a killer, and if you truly believe in an all-powerful spirit with a propensity for eternal burning, you better start begging for forgiveness right now.

Maybe instead of demonizing law-abiding doctors and would-be mothers, you should inject a bit of rationality into your political positions. Push for earlier and more sex education, readily available birth control, you know - strategies that have actually been proven to reduce unwanted pregnancies, unlike the bullshit abstinence programs that teenagers simply lie about. Strategies that focus on bringing fewer unwanted babies into this world, not more. Strategies that can prevent the tragedy of unprepared parents neglecting or abusing a child they are unwilling or unable to care for.

Or would you prefer a more personal approach? Go to an inner-city middle school, and tell all the seventh-grade girls that if they have an unwanted pregnancy before they graduate, you will adopt the baby if they carry it to term. You might save half a dozen lives this way.

Of course, then you'd have to actually do something constructive. You'd have to work. You'd have to support and love and raise children. It's not as easy as getting a bumper sticker at church, voting Republican, and waiting for some mentally unstable jackass to do your dirty work. But it would save lives, and that's what is really important, isn't it?

Yeah, I didn't think so. See you in Hell.