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What Kills More Unborn Babies: God or Abortions?

October 23, 2012 3 comments

A Disclaimer

This is one of my longer posts.  I’m hoping to bring things back to about 1/3 the length and to lighter subjects in the near future.  But because I don’t post often, consider this to be a few posts worth in one update.

Today I’m going to, as the title says, look at who kills more babies: God or Planned Parenthood/abortions.  I am then going to look at the implications of that information.

Normally I write more traditional, attention-getting introductions.  I like to start with a story that makes this personal and then segue into my topic. Today I’m not doing that.

Sometimes I start with a disclaimer of sorts, and I will do that.

Read the entire post.  I don’t care how it makes you feel.  If you clicked on the link you were interested enough in what I had to say, so read it all.

When I get comments from people telling me that I missed the point I’ll know that they probably didn’t read the whole post.

You’ve been warned.

The Assumptions

Before I begin the showdown, as it were, I’m going to define my terms.

I…I think that counts.

First, so that nobody can accuse me of too much bias, I’m going to define things as follows: life begins at the moment of fertilization, regardless of implantation upon the uterine walls.  Scientifically and medically, implantation is the key moment at which pregnancy starts.  I am using fertilization because it is the most conservative (in all senses of the word) way of defining the issue of “life” and pregnancy.

Second, I will be explaining a lot as I go along, but in strict terms, abortion refers only to human intervention affecting implantation and/or termination of the pregnancy afterwards.  In other words, I am again being conservative and assuming that emergency contraceptives such as Plan B actually end a life, rather than prevent a pregnancy.

Finally, I am taking the strictly and vehemently pro-life stance that any abortion, regardless of the reasons for it, is wrong.  Thus, many of the numbers I will quote will be abortions conducted for the health of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.  However, reasons are irrelevant here, on both sides.

If those of you who are pro-life are sitting there cheering at how this isn’t even a contest because of the way I’ve defined things, hold on to your hats.  Shit is about to get very real for you.

It’s nothing, if not tasteful. Please see my cover letter if you’d like to hire me to do graphic design work for you.

The Throwdown: Planned Parenthood and General Abortions

To start, Planned Parenthood estimates their total abortions per year to be roughly 300,000.

Based upon research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, it is estimated that the total abortions per year actually numbers at about 1.3 million.

For those keeping tally at home:

Planned Parenthood – 300,000 (23% of total abortions)
Total Abortions – 1.3 million

The Throwdown: God’s Numbers

This, my friends, is where things get complicated.  Those staunchly pro-life and religious that, somehow, are reading this, will probably say there is no way God actually has any numbers to count.  But based upon the strict definitions that the most conservative pro-life standpoints argue (and that I noted above), this is untrue.

God loving the fetus, or lamenting it before it becomes another statistic?

With that said, these numbers were harder to count.  I could easily spin the statistics in favor of abortions by any method, but I figured I’d give a few ways that those numbers work out so as to avoid anybody saying I totally ignored some fact.

So I will start with a first set of numbers, based solely upon “natural” terminations of pregnancy including stillbirth, miscarriage and premature delivery resulting in death.

I included the latter because even with modern medical intervention, some premature babies don’t make it.  With that said, the pregnancy was technically “ended” early by natural means, so this one is on God’s head.  (I could, if I wanted to spin this more, include any premature birth, as prior to modern medicine this would have been a death sentence for the baby.  However, while I may be biased—see below—I do not want to be that blatant about it.)  This, to the best of my ability, only counts those that ended immediately in death.  That is to say, I did not includedeaths a year after the premature birth.

After this, I will include a second set of numbers will be all babies lost due to pregnancy complications.  This number is far wider and harder to keep track of, so I included both numbers because I figure it can provide a more even picture of how much baby death is on God’s hands.

Seeing as the general idea of this post is who kills more babies, it seems only fair to count infant death that results from complications of pregnancy against God.  You may argue otherwise, but if life begins at fertilization, anything related to pregnancy after that point has to necessarily be fair game.  You cannot arbitrarily cut off anything attributed to God after the baby leaves the uterus, as that would not credit him with the variety of problems that result from pregnancy.

One final note on God’s numbers: pregnancy loss can be categorized many ways.  While miscarriages and stillbirths are—it would seem—easily noted and reported, early pregnancy loss can occur well before a woman is aware she is pregnant.  As such, early pregnancy loss numbers are often difficult to compile and may be much higher than reported.  I have thus decided to include an additional section to account for those factors.

All of the following is based upon statistics pulled from these three sources and Wikipedia.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that about 6.7 million pregnancies are reported in the US each year.  Two thirds are live births, a fifth are abortions and the rest are miscarriage.

This graph from Google, which errs on the conservative side of the numbers, still paints a bleak picture. It’s not looking good for the Big Guy.

Based upon the math that the Guttmacher Institute provides, these numbers are our results for the first category: 6.7 million pregnancies, 4.48 million live births, 1.34 million abortions, 880,000 miscarriages.  hopeXchange estimates about 26,000 stillbirths per year.  Additionally, the American Pregnancy Association estimates that 64,000 women per year lose pregnancies through ectopic pregnancy and 6,000 women through molar pregnancies.

For that second category, statistics indicate that 19,000 infants die in the first month and 39,000 in the first year.  This appears, to the best of my ability to narrow it down, to be limited to those caused by complications resulting from pregnancy in some way.

Finally, the numbers based upon early, underreported or unreported pregnancy loss.  hopeXchange estimates that up to 40% of all conceptions result in pregnancy loss (with many of the women being unaware of a pregnancy in the first place, and thus ending up being unreported).

Other estimates are far less forgiving.  One study found that 25% of all pregnancies abort by 6 weeks, while other studies place that as high as 50% of pregnancies.  In either case, these spontaneous abortions are not recognized by the woman because it occurred so early she was unaware of pregnancy in the first place.

So let’s look at those numbers and work backward to see what number are spontaneous abortions.  If one assumes that 6.7 million pregnancies occur each year and are known, and half of all pregnancies (from conception onward) result in spontaneous abortion, that means that—based upon the 50% estimate—6.7 million pregnancies are lost each year.  Even with the more conservative 25% number, we still end up with about 1.6 million pregnancies are lost before the woman is even aware she is pregnant.

Now let’s recap those numbers and total them for God:

First Set of Numbers:
Miscarriages: 880,000
Stillbirth: 26,000
Ectopic Pregnancy: 64,000
Molar Pregnancy: 6,000
Total pregnancy losses for group 1: 976,000

Second Set of Numbers
Infants lost in first month: 19,000
Infants lost in first year: 39,000
Total infants lost due to complications: 58,000
Total pregnancies lost, including infants: 1,034,000

Third Set of Numbers:
Infants lost in first month: 19,000
Infants lost in first year: 39,000
Total infants lost due to complications: 58,000
Pregnancies lost at 25% estimate: 1.6 million
Pregnancies lost at 50% estimate:  6.7 million
Total pregnancies lost at 25%: 2.6 million
Total pregnancies lost at 50%: 7.7 million

The Throwdown: Who Loses?

Let me be clear here: we are discussing pregnancies ending.  There is no winner.  There is only who does more damage.  That is something I’ll talk about shortly, though.  Let’s focus solely on numbers for now.

Based upon those numbers, I have reached the following conclusions.  I am presenting them in easy-to-digest list format:

  1. If one only does PP vs. God, God loses at 3x as many babies killed.
  2. If one figures total abortions vs. God, abortions lose. God kills 75% of the amount that we do by abortion.
  3. When one includes post-birth deaths, God kills 80% of the babies that people do through abortion.
  4. If you consider the last group of numbers, unreported pregnancies, god kills between two to six times as many babies as all people.  That’s 200-600%.

What’s the point?

Part of the “experimental” nature of this particular post was not equivocating at all in the introductory portion.  Normally, on a subject as particularly contentious as this, I might make the effort to ensure that my intentions are clear.

Also, I consider myself irreverent.  I’m bad at serious, even when I’m being serious.  But to me, this topic isn’t serious.  Neither God nor PP nor abortions, in my mind, kill babies.  So over-the-top and offensive as it may be to some, this post is more an exercise in dark humor, than anything.

But I didn’t want people to know whether I considered this actual ironclad logic or just a tongue-in-cheek showdown.  The answer is, really, a tiny bit of the former and a significant portion of the latter.

So then you might ask, what is the point?  Was I just trying to piss people off and get views? Clearly, yes.  But there also is a point buried in those statistics.

My point is that abortion is a ridiculously complex issue that cannot simply be boiled down to when life begins and how to avoid “taking” said life.  Rather, we must consider all aspects of the issue and ultimately, I would argue, leave the decision about abortion in the hands of women.

I could write an entire post about the intricacies and difficulties of this, but I believe that women should decide if abortion is right for them on their own, without the government interfering.  Especially because some women do not see the fetus as being a life, and some women do not believe in the religion that says—somewhere in the Bible, like it always does—how wrong it is.  This is not a decision for the state, but for the individuals involved.

But then, what do we do with the women who, unaware they were pregnant, accidentally caused a miscarriage through consumption of alcohol or punishing physical activity?  Do we try them all as murderers?  Do we ignore that?

But where this leads is neither here nor there.  I do not want to get bogged down in the intricacies of the debate, but rather only what my post might mean for it, if anything at all.

A Short Note on my Biases

There is no possible way this could be biased.

I am a firm believer in laying out my biases.  It is my belief that biases are the author’s most powerful tool.  When they are present but invisible, the audience runs the risk of being swayed in one direction.  When they are present but overly visible, it’s Fox News.

But when they are present, visible and acknowledged it means the author has to, in my mind, step outside of himself and accept that he is seeing things a certain way.  In doing so, the biases remain but, I feel, the power shifts to the reader, who can then decide if the information presented is still appropriate, even when examined in light of a known bias.

For that reason, I’ll openly state that I am not a fan of organized religion.  I am socially progressive, and I believe that abortion should be available to any who feel they need it.  (I’ll get more into that in a little bit.)  It is my belief that were religion to be robbed of its power in terms of this argument that the science and our own ethics would lead us to accept, rationally, that abortion must rightly be available to women as an option in order to maximize social good.

I do not, however, wish to undermine anybody’s belief in religion.  So while I speak harshly of God in the following passages, do not mistake my distaste for his presence in this issue with an attempt to dissuade you of religion.  Rather, I just feel that this is one place where religion needs to either step aside and let humans make the decision free of God, or find a way to cope with the social changes that are taking place.

Let me also be clear that when I sat down to see how these numbers added up I had no idea what it would look like.  Had it turned out the other way I would still have written a post, and it would look much different.  I don’t know that my convictions against religion’s place in this argument would be nearly as strong.  You do not have to believe me, but I am making it clear now that my intentions with this post are, really, the exploration of a new idea toward simply gathering knowledge.

God’s Plan

(Please note, I will capitalize “God” when I speak of the Christian deity, but I will not go to the effort of capitalizing pronouns because he is not my god, and I also just think it’s silly. Call me lazy, but it’s not happening.  It’s not a habit and I don’t care enough about it to take the time.)

I’m glad God things the universe is akin to playing sports.

Ultimately, what I have shown above is that as a result of natural or supernatural influence, more than 0 women per year lose pregnancies.  That is to say, either God or Allah or whatever deity, or nature, decides to terminate the pregnancy.

There is no conceivable rhyme or reason to the people upon whom this potentially devastating turn of events falls.  Sometimes women who were raped end up carrying children to term and sometimes women who want nothing more than a child of their own genes find out they cannot have one, and anytime they do it terminates.

Simply put, there is no outwardly rational decision-making process behind what pregnancies nature/God ends and what stays.  Because of that, many women suffer unnecessarily, either because of pregnancies that should never have happened or because of pregnancies that should have but never came to term.

To the pro-lifer who believes life begins at fertilization of the fetus, every single one of those pregnancies ended a life.  In this sense, the only difference between us doing it and nature doing it is the reason behind it.

For those not familiar with utilitarianism, a grossly boiled down version of it is that what is right is what does the most good for the most people.

Currently, we are not doing that.  Not in the slightest.  My super-boiled-down version of utilitarianism would, then, argue that we provide the option to provide the most happiness to the most people.  In other words, we can control who is forced to carry what child to term.  This means increased happiness (or a better chance at it, perhaps) in the life of the pregnant woman, as well as eliminating the chance of unhappiness on the part of the would-be child.

That may seem somewhat coldhearted, but ultimately we do not know that the child’s life would be all sunshine and giggles.  I cannot imagine the life of a child born of rape being without difficulties, even if he was living in an adopted family.

If all unwanted pregnancies ended in strange and depressing, yet oddly charming, musical numbers maybe we wouldn’t need abortions.

In other words, we have it in us to correct some of the failings of nature.  Pregnancy is indiscriminate and without intent.  It happens when it happens and doesn’t when it doesn’t and it terminates on its own when it does.  What abortion allows is an option for us to provide agency to these outcomes in an attempt to maximize happiness.  That is, of course, assuming there is no intent behind those actions.

Now, the only way that one could reconcile the problems I listed above is to assume that there is a grand design behind these decisions, but that said design is not visible to us.  In other words, that a rapist being pregnant and seeing a reminder of her violation in the face of a child makes sense, while the woman facing perpetual miscarriage is also part of some grand design.  We just can’t see it, but it is all part of some plan.

Since it is unlikely that nature likes to reward rapists—and is unfortunately just as unlikely that it likes to punish them—the only actor whose means and intent could be unknowable would be a deity.  Since America is largely (and in my view, unfortunately) composed of Christians, the presumed “actor” in this case is, well, God.

So this goes into God’s plan.  Because God has one, as most Christians will tell you, and when little kids die of diseases and murderers and rapists live long lives, it’s because he totally intends it that way. I, for one, am not content to assume—in light of all the evidence to the contrary—that God’s plan for us is ultimately benevolent. Consider, the next time we discuss reproductive rights, if God’s plan so far has made any sense.

Ultimately what my little argument above intended to lay out was that God is responsible for greater than 0 deaths every year—deaths that his believers tend to consider unborn children.  Deaths that the same believers consider ultimately sinful to end.  And yet, it is okay for God to do so in His plan, but not okay for us to do so to maximize social good.

Thank you, Philosoraptor, for summing up my post in a meme.

That is the crux of my argument.  That God is ensnared in the same moral quandary that pro-life believers will use to try to dissuade those advocating choice.  That is a life, it is wrong to end a life, and thus we should not end it.

But if God is benevolence, omnipotence and omniscience incarnate, then he could not engage in any act—by definition of those traits—that would be immoral.  He simply could not end those pregnancies if it were wrong.  Pro-life: 0, Pro-choice: 1.

But let’s say that, somehow, we still have a strawman of a pro-lifer that says that even then, killing those babies is wrong.  God knows it, God is still benevolent, but it is part of his plan an ultimately it leads to benevolence, even if the means to that end isn’t necessarily so.

To accept that premise we’d have to accept one of two things: first, that God either does not consider those fetuses as “alive” or that God is capable of immoral actions if the good from it is greater.  Which means that, if we were to live in his example—he is supposedly perfect—we should also be able to engage in actions that are immoral if the good is greater.  Pro-life: 0, Pro-choice: 2.

But let’s say another, different pro-lifer strawman decides to argue that God isn’t benevolent—he cannot be benevolent in order to truly enact his plan, as he must sometimes act immorally even when the ends are not positive in order to, further his plan.  In other words, sometimes God is an asshole.

If that is the case, why would we ever consider his example?  Why would we follow a deity that is ultimately capable of bad things without it leading to greater good?  Why would we, then, follow what he supposedly says about abortion, the argument religions that follow him make?

These are not proofs.  Nor do I believe that somebody couldn’t punch holes in them in the manner I wrote them (or even in a lengthier, more solid format).  But that is to say that these are things to consider, because we have a case where religion is telling us God doesn’t want us doing something and then he does it himself.

It is the classic case of do as I say, not as I do.  Which, let’s face it, is just shitty parenting.  Thanks, God.

Other Things to Take Away

Not that I’d be the first to point this out, but my big reason for giving women the ultimate say in the issue is because it is ultimately mostly their lives at stake.  The more observant out there would probably agree that a small portion of the abortion debate, no doubt, lies in the idea of men controlling women’s reproduction.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger is counted among that 77% then we have to change the percentage. Sup, Junior.

After all, it’s cool when men use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, but as the argument over the Pill showed, it’s not cool when women do it.  (Admittedly, the Catholic Church is just backwards enough to have never really been in favor of either, really.  Even if they do sometimes change their mind when it is politically expedient to do so.)

Abortion is the ultimate one-up on men.

A man can rape a woman, he can ignore contraception and impregnate the woman.  All of these things are, ultimately, shows of the control.  But when the woman goes to end the pregnancy the rapist forced upon her, she is told that she is wrong.  That she must live with what he did.

Perhaps I’m being excessive, but it does not have to be in situations of rape.  Men can “forget” condoms and be cavalier all they want, and the women must suffer the consequences.  Abortion is an equalizer.

This, too, could be discussed in lengthier posts.  It could also and has also, no doubt, been discussed by far greater minds than I.  But religion has never been noteworthy for being particularly socially progressive, so why would it be any different in the case of pregnancy?  Women should get pregnant when men decide it is okay, and they shouldn’t have a way out, right?

Finally, The End

One of the key parts of my statement is that there should be no real restrictions on abortion, not in the sense of it only being available to rape or incest victims.  That is a politically expedient way for rich, old white men to say that they hate women controlling their bodies but accept that men do stupid shit and they can’t pretend they don’t.

In other words, it’s a cop out.  The act of abortion is no more or less wrong in those cases, really.  The same action takes place, and while the motivation changes that does not mean that the woman who wants an abortion but wasn’t raped doesn’t feel it is any less necessary.  I don’t think any of us could really say.

Recently unearthed science.

But also, when you start adding in restrictions you allow the system to become more restrictive.  Who’s to say that suddenly rich old white men in congress decide that some rapes aren’t legitimate.  What if incest only counts when it’s a parent, not a cousin.  What if harm to the mother only means if there is an absolute medical certainty that the mother would die, and if there is any chance she wouldn’t abortion is off the table?

In my mind, it is far easier to accept abortion as an all-or-nothing.

The problem is that we often hear slippery slope arguments about abortion as a contraceptive.  And you know what, a world where women get abortions instead of using the pill scares me.

Of course with any system we must always run the risk that said system will be abused.  But in my mind if a single woman every year is spared the mental torture of, say, carrying the child of her rapist to term, keeping abortion legal is worth it.  It an expected product that some person will abuse a system in place for good and assistance, but we cannot assume that system is now worthless because of that.  For as long as that system helps a single person, it is doing its job. (I’m looking at you, republicans looking at welfare with greedy eyes and malicious intent.)

In a perfect world, every pregnancy would come to term and there would be no rape, incest or danger to the mother. Ina perfect world a woman could only become pregnant when she really, really wanted it, not just any time one of the guys happened to sneak in past the guards and crash the ball.

But the world is not perfect.  According to the numbers above, neither is God.

I guess my intent is to ask why we cannot, for just this one issue, ignore what the Bible and religions say and discuss this in terms of what it means to women?  Why must abortion be about a grand message in morality?  Why must it, really, all just be about religion grandstanding?

Random Googled pro-life girl is pro-life until she gets knocked up and her parents want to hide it so their friends don’t find out. Or she just won’t get any, making abortion a moot point. Pick one.  Also, is she foaming at the mouth?  Because I could swear she is.

Why must men be so threatened by the idea of women having control over their bodies, something that, really, we have denied them for almost all of human civilization?  Why must men be such a dominant voice in the debate?  Why can’t we simply defer to the women, graciously saying
“you know, it’s kind of all about them” as we do so?

Why can’t the debate over abortion be about what it has always been and should always be about: women making decisions about their health and reproductive rights?

So if I have to call God a mass-murderer—one with death tolls yearly that rival Hitler’s, and that’s only counting unborn children—I’ll do it, even if it’s polarizing, glib and ultimately pointless.  I’ll do it if it stands event the remotest chance of turning this debate back to the women about whom it should be.  I’ll do it even if it changes only one person’s mind.

I’ll do it even if I’m just yet another man talking about something that he, really, probably shouldn’t be talking about in the first place.

As an aside, I rarely ask for comments but I am interested in what women have to say about this.  That is, about the removal of religion, men and morality from the issue and discussing it solely in terms of women’s health.  Am I just talking out of my ass, or do women actually want it to be centered upon the issues of health, rather than what evil jezebels they are?

What Conspiracy Theorists and Tea Partiers Have in Common

August 25, 2012 Leave a comment

I suppose it was only a matter of time before I gave in to the pressure and blogged about something political.

But before I start, let me first discuss my political beliefs, albeit briefly.  I think I can sum them up in one word: apathetic.  I certainly do my part and vote when the time comes, but I have grown utterly weary of dealing with all things political.  I’ll talk about this in a bit more detail shortly.

Anyway, back to my point.

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago.  My parents are split down the middle politically—my mother is apolitical and doesn’t vote, my father is a card-carrying member of the “Bill O’Reilly” fan club.  It is slightly surprising, then, that I’ve been staunchly liberal for as long as my brain could understand that concept.

Perhaps Bill should become a Juggalo. MAGNETS.

(One note, I do not really identify with the Democratic Party, nor the greater “liberal movement”.  I am liberal, but I do not consider myself a liberal.  At least, not in the sense of the word that ties me to a group of people with supposedly similar ideologies.  While that may seem a minor semantic difference, I do not derive my views from a party, but rather on my own and they just happen to be described well by the word liberal.)

But while I do my best to respect all peoples’ political beliefs, sometimes it becomes hard.  For example, I think George W. Bush was a horribly misguided President, but have never thought at any time that he wasn’t doing anything that he didn’t think was in our country’s best interest.

This, apparently, separates me from certain people within the political arena.  In the past I think most people viewed political affiliations besides their own as perhaps misguided, but still doing what they think is best.  Lately the rhetoric seems to indicate that there are a number of people who think that some politicians literally want to destroy our nation.  (The rhetoric surrounding Obama is a no holds barred example of this.  Detractors often assume Obama wants to destroy all things American.)

But I digress.  Recently I saw a sign for the “Northern Illinois Patriots”.  I have this unintentional reaction to the use of the word patriot—specifically that of revulsion—because often one only hears it as a means to define anybody who disagrees with them as unpatriotic.

So out of curiosity I looked up this organization.  Turns out that they are affiliated with the Tea Party.  Big surprise.  That’s what led me to this article.

Why I’m Apathetic, Just So We’re Clear

Before I go any further, I feel I should define my political standing so there is no misunderstanding about where I am coming from.  This post, as with everything I do related to politics, has an agenda.

As a teenager I found myself profoundly interested in becoming politically active and making my voice heard.  Perhaps it was the delusion that all teenagers hold—that I had an opinion that had to be heard—or perhaps the realities of college numbed me to that idea, but I no longer care so much about that.

I am liberal.  I am probably as socially liberal as they come, and I think that anything abridging anybody’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is wholly wrong.  That means I am, in fact, pro-choice and think it is despicable that there is even a debate as to whether or not homosexuals can marry.

Moses on the Supreme Court. His depiction is not religious, but rather of him as a lawgiver. An example of religion in government, but not defining government.

I think that religion has no place in how we govern, but I think that it is welcome in the government.  That is, I have no problem with people who wish to be sworn in on the Bible, nor do I oppose “In God We Trust” as a national motto.  What I do oppose is using religion as the basis for legislation, as in the case of every argument that has ever stood against gay marriage.

The 24-hour news cycle, the internet, the rise of blogging and numerous other factors have made it so every person can have his voice heard.  In general, this ends up creating a cacophony of voices, none of which are saying anything but all of whom refuse to stop speaking.  Pundits like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly cater to a subset of viewers who only wish to have their views confirmed.

(In case you’re wondering why I’m adding to this, I would respond that I feel I have something slightly different to say than most, otherwise I would just shut up and let other people do the work for me.)

If you’re Republican you watch FOX News.  If you’re liberal you watch CNN and bitch about it.  If you’re part of the Tea Party, you believe even FOX News is part of the “liberal media” and find your information in various e-mail forwards, rumors and blogs across the internet.  There is this neat little thing called the confirmation bias, a cognitive bias through which people filter out information that does not fit their hypothesis.

Each media source spews the kind of vitriol that would previously be unheard of, accusing the “others” of being the ones who are deluding themselves.  Liberals think they have no bias—CNN is totally balanced—but FOX News spins everything.  On the other hand, the extremely conservative are convinced that anybody who doesn’t agree with them is part of some diabolical “liberal media” out to destroy the American family.

The truth actually lies somewhere in the middle. Nobody wants to seem to admit this, but if we could then maybe we could actually start a dialogue.

That depends on what the definition of “diddle” is.

Beyond all of this, the person behind the policy has become such an obsession within the political arena that our politicians are subject to the same invasions of privacy that every celebrity faces with the paparazzi.  Is it any of my business if a politician decided to diddle a staffer?

Not really. Not as long as he hasn’t impacted his ability to hold the office and/or abused the powers of the office in doing so.  Yet we call for the modern day equivalents of putting politicians in stocks when they should happen to be less than the paragons of moral virtue that, for some reason, we want them to be.

In the “good old days” of politics (if there is any such thing), you got set news from set sources, so you could not just tune in to a channel that confirms what you want to hear.  Now we have that, and it should be no surprise that the partisan gap in the United States has become almost completely polarized.

If you haven’t gathered by now why I consider myself politically apathetic, you probably do not have a career in detective work.  That is to say, I cannot stand any of the above, and in the end I think it gets in the way of policy-making.  At a time when our candidates are too busy insulting each other to actually tell us what they’ll do for the country, I find it safe to say that we have hit perhaps the lowest possible point in the history of American politics.

Besides telling you about me so that you can make up your mind about what my agenda actually is, I think that everything I just said has a fair amount of relevance in this post.

About Conspiracy Theories and Otherness

It may seem strange to lump conspiracy theories in on this, unless you are prescient enough to know where I am planning to go with it.

We probably all know someone who thinks there was a second shooter that took out JFK, or who insists that the Moon landing never happened, or perhaps even someone deluded enough to believe that 9/11 was an inside job.

If you’ve ever dealt with a conspiracy theorist but weren’t, before this post anyway, aware of the confirmation bias, I would imagine that just this sentence can link those two concepts so inextricably together for you that you will never view their behavior in the same light again.

Go ahead and add “and Tea Partiers” to that caption. Plus, I think that “racist” and “are Jesse Ventura” are being underrepresented in this totally reliable pie chart.

What I’m saying is, conspiracy theorists only hear what they want to hear.  Anybody who disagrees is either in on the conspiracy or is part of some group of “others”, those who just haven’t opened their eyes to the truth yet.

Given that trifurcation of the world in the eyes of the conspiracy theorist, one might wonder why they are always so vocal about it.  After all, you’re either in on the conspiracy, you know the secret, or you are just oblivious.  Why bother telling the world about it, especially when the odds are you won’t convince anybody?

The simple-to-the-point-of-glib answer is to feel special or unique and, quite possibly, to give order to things.

Imagine how difficult a time some would have if our world truly were just completely random.  Events like 9/11 have no greater meaning or purpose, but are just random acts perpetrated by evil men.  There is, really, a sense of comfort in knowing that there is a reason or cause behind it.

More than that, there is something that people like about knowing secret information, we like when we are somehow “smarter” or more in-the-know than the masses.  We absolutely love being in that position that seats you with power, while everyone else is just outside of it.  We are the special ones, everyone else is the “others”.

Furthermore, by sharing their knowledge the conspiracy theorists are both bringing people into the fold as well as ensuring that there is an otherness to people who do not accept their ideas.  If the conspiracy theorist held his beliefs quietly, he would not be in defiance of any evil cabal organizing the events, nor would anybody know that he is not an “other”, but special in his knowledge.

The Northern Illinois Patriots and Otherness

What spurred this post is looking at the website of the Northern Illinois Patriots (NIP from here on out).  They are affiliated with the Tea Party, so it’s safe to say they share many core beliefs.  However, they may differ slightly in some aspects, so for that reason I’ll be referring mostly to NIP, with the occasional reference to the Tea Party.

There’s no racism in that at all. I take back my remarks about that pie chart. It should be 90% “racist” and 10% “Sell T-Shirts”. (From NIPatriots.org)

The core purpose of NIP is “to help protect our God-given rights as intended by the framers of the Constitution by being informed, getting involved, and making a difference in our great nation.” (As oen of my soon-to-be-trademarked completely irrelevant asides, I think it’s interesting that their abbreviation doubles as a racial slur.  I’m sure it’s entirely coincidental, but it still makes me slightly uncomfortable.)

At first glance this is a particularly innocuous goal.  But a further look at their “9 Principles” should help clarify their agenda.  I will not reproduce all of them here, but I will give you some of the highlights. (I will also ignore some of their egregious spelling and grammar errors instead of making light of them.  Because I’m just that nice. Also, nobody is perfect.)

The 9 Principles start innocuously enough, stating that America Is Good, God is the Center of My Life, and that we must always try to be more honest and that family is sacred and the spouses are the ultimate authority (not the government), plus some platitudes about not being above the law.

When things get interesting is on number eight, which states:

Good old American Values, like teaching your kids to attack someone’s race the second you disagree with him.

8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
On your right to disagree “In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude; every man will speak as he thinks, or more properly without thinking.” George Washington [Emphasis mine.]

I will not be so kind as to ignore the fact that the quote these people chose is actually a chastisement of the voice of the multitude.  Had they selectively cropped “or more properly without thinking” from this quote, perhaps the sentiment would be another cute touch to their website.  Instead what we get is a self-defeating quote, one that basically states that while the multitude will always try to be heard, those people will often do so without bothering to think about what they’re saying.

Certainly this is an unintentionally appropriate quote from avowed tea partiers, those who seem to so often make statements without vetting them as the truth.  However, I cannot imagine that NIP would have intended that interpretation of the quote.

But I promised a discussion of otherness, and I will deliver. On the website there exists an item called “The Patriot’s Pledge”, a pledge that all members (presumably) must take.  This is where NIP really begins to distance themselves from everyone.

One of the items that the member pledges to be aware of is “[u]nderstanding the infringement on my constitutional rights and the erosion of the American Dream that is currently taking place.”

While I may have poked fun at the lack of thought the NIP put into the Washington quote, let me be clear that I do not underestimate these people.  In this case, what the NIP have done is state clearly that the “American Dream” is eroding.  That part is not even remotely in question.  Rather, what is in question is whether or not you are aware of it.

Presumably if you are aware of it you are one of the selected, while if you are not aware of this you are just “other”.  Just as knowing that there was a shooter on the grassy knoll brings you into the fold, so does its denial make you one of the others.

I won’t bother going into terrifyingly deep detail with the rest of their points because we all know what Tea Partiers stand for, and NIP are nothing if not a part of that movement. Rather, I want to discuss why this otherness is so useful.

As I discussed earlier in the scope of my politics, it seems as though both political parties and most people engaged in politics are so affected by the confirmation bias and yet completely oblivious to it.  Groups like the NIP are, perhaps, the most oblivious of the bunch.

Pictured: Reasonable political discourse for the average Tea Party member.

Normal political discourse, if there is such a thing, may disagree on policy but they may also disagree and actually discuss the fundamental underpinnings of those ideologies.  While liberals and conservatives may disagree about government spending, most of them would agree that the government should spend money on at least certain things. The finer details of what those things might be is a part of what politicians discuss and compromise about.

The Tea Party, NIP and other groups have circumvented this process.  They have assured themselves that the underpinnings of their ideologies are non-negotiable, a feat they accomplish by claiming to believe in the Constitution.

Let’s look back to the example of the American Dream.

Some of us (hopefully most) would question if the dream is even eroding, the NIP has moved beyond that portion and thus made it so that the basic underpinnings of their beliefs are not in question.  The JFK conspiracy theorist doesn’t ask if there was a shooter on the knoll, but if it was a government agent, foreign national or what have you.  Those who deny the second shooter don’t bother with that question, because they do not accept the premise upon which it is based.

This is the same picture the NIP paints with the Constitution.  The question isn’t if its being ignored and circumvented, but rather how any by whom.  They ignore that most people who are not wildly conservative or liberal don’t consider that the truth, and instead just assume it is a fact.  In drawing the lines in this way, they allow their entire set of beliefs to go unchallenged.

Just as the conspiracy theorist also feels special for knowing what he knows and considers other people either complicit or ignorant, so too does the NIP member/tea partier.

If you disagree with these basic understandings you will find no compromise (as recent politics has shown us), but rather are just considered an “other”, a person who doesn’t get it.  You haven’t taken the oath.  You aren’t aware that the American Dream is being eroded by ignoring the constitution, so you couldn’t possibly understand what their beliefs are, but you are definitely wrong.

 

About the Constitution

I feel it would be unfair to go through this article without providing even a little justification for why I think the Tea Party and NIP are so wildly misguided.

See also: racism.

A premise that Tea Partiers refuse to accept is that the Constitution is necessarily a fluid document, the interpretation of which must change as the world changes in order to ensure our continued survival as a society.  To these people the Constitution is a one-shot, a document that must never be amended, reinterpreted or circumvented.  The idea that the Founding Fathers could not have predicted various aspects of the modern world is irrelevant, solely because to agree with this would be to undermine the basic premise of everything for which they fight.

To act like the Constitution is not a fluid document, one that must continually be reconsidered in light of technological and societal shifts, is a discredit to the Founding Fathers. While the Constitution (as well as the Bill of Rights, just to be clear) is an extraordinarily resilient document, it can only bend so much with the times before it becomes implausible to uphold it.

What NIP and Tea Partiers suggest is that there is no reinterpreting that document. What I suggest is that there is a way to do so that is in line with what, given access to society as it exists now, the Founding Fathers would have wanted.

A great example is gun control.  Tea Partiers often consider the Second Amendment to be absolute.  You either can bear arms or you can’t (which, besides being a pointless way to interpret it, is incredibly dangerous as I’ll explain near the end of this post).  If we strictly interpret the constitution, as the Founding Fathers intended it, would gun control be even remotely constitutional? No.

But the times change, and so does technology.  At the time of the drafting of the Constitution the average weapon—in the hands of a skilled soldier—could fire two, perhaps three, times per minute.  When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they did so with such arms in mind.  That Constitutional protection does not necessarily extend to assault rifles, a type of weapon that the Founding Fathers would likely never have conceived when they drafted our Constitution.

Totally what the Framers meant.

To consider this on an even more extreme level, grenades are an armament.  If one were to read the Second Amendment as the right to bear arms, clearly one must be allowed to have a hand grenade.  And  a jet fighter.  Also, since technically it’s an armament, probably a nuclear weapon.

In a hundred years when our wars are fought with giant mechanical exoskeletons with railguns capable of leveling an entire building, I can imagine that Second Amendment proponents will argue that such a weapon is constitutionally protected.  Plus, it’s only to hunt. Clearly.

I realize I’m creating a ridiculous example, but I have two points from that.  First, that a strict reading of the Constitution as just the words on the page, without considering current social context, is not totally appropriate.

We would have to assume that when drafting the Constitution they sat around and discussed every possible technological and societal change that could happen and, in response, drafted the Constitution with all of those possibilities in mind.

If the Founding Fathers had such foresight, why has a Constitutional amendment ever been necessary? Why, if they were so able to draft an infallible document, wasn’t slavery abolished within the Bill of Rights?  Thomas Jefferson held slaves, and if we are going to interpret the Constitution in the spirit that Founding Fathers such as Jefferson intended it, why have we not repealed the amendments abolishing slavery? If the Founding Fathers predicted (as they must have, if they had the foresight that the Tea Party ascribes to them) that abortion would be such a hot button issue, why does the Constitution remain silent on it?

While I am a huge admirer of the minds that founded our nation, I do not hold them in such high esteem that I consider them to have near omniscience.  To do so is the height of hubris, as well as the true depths of stupidity. If one is going to argue that we can interpret the Second Amendment to be so well crafted and have such foresight to extend to the devastating weaponry of today, we cannot selectively pretend that assumption doesn’t apply to the rest of the Constitution when it is not politically advantageous.

The second point I wanted to make was that even a staunch proponent of the Second Amendment would probably oppose allowing private citizens to own and use a military aircraft and/or nuclear weapons.  They might argue that the Founding Fathers were referring to the arms a single person could use.

What the logic that my straw man opponent reveals says is that the Founding Fathers had intentions, and that those intentions are relevant to how we read the Constitution.  Such an argument is self-defeating, then, as we have to consider what the Founding Fathers would have intended given today’s societal circumstances.

Conclusions

I’ve been hoping that you, my esteemed readers, have been able to draw your own conclusions about the (tenuous) connections I’m making in this post.  If you haven’t, though, allow me to connect the final dot: NIP (and on a larger scale the Tea Party) is a conspiracy theory.

Where conspiracy theorists feel in the know, so do the members of NIP.  These people believe they’re the only ones who are truly trying to uphold the Constitution, and anybody who disagrees is something wholly “other”.  These people may have the best of intentions, but their methodology is to ignore anything that disagrees with their preconceived world view and carry on as if it never existed in the first place.

The issue here is that NIP and the Tea Party are mired in inherent contradictions.  They insist that they have a right to their opinion (and, in theory, so would anybody who disagrees), yet cast crude Us vs. Them distinctions to demonize anybody who would stand against them.

The name “Northern Illinois Patriots” says it all.  You are either a patriot or you aren’t.  You either believe in the Constitution or you don’t.  You’re one of Us or you’re something other.  In the end their tactics are the same as the conspiracy theorist, except that for some reason people take them seriously.

The last part of that statement is what could do the most damage.  Conspiracy theorists never have the best interest of anybody but themselves at heart, despite their admonitions to the contrary.  Those who claim 9/11 was an inside job do not do so to inform the public, but to wield the power of knowledge over the rest.

In the same way, the Tea Party and local groups such as the Northern Illinois Patriots attempt to wield knowledge over the rest of us.  They know something the rest of us don’t and intend to use that to gain their own political advantage.

You may think I’m being extraordinarily harsh, especially for someone who claims to be apathetic about this whole political ordeal.  The fact of the matter is that I find the basic tenets of the NIP and Tea Party to be wholly offensive to Americans.

The world is not black and white, good and evil, etc.  There is no “us” and “them”.  You are not Tea Party or “other”.  To cast the world, and America, in such a light is to stand against everything the Founding Fathers would have wanted.  It is an affront to America and an affront to our Constitution.

Perhaps most of all, though, it is the ultimate irony that those who claim to best understand and want to most faithfully uphold that document are the ones who are the most ignorant the spirit in which it was drafted.

Stop Killing Gaming Part 3: Nobody Takes Gamers Seriously

May 22, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve discussed a lot of parts of gaming.  I’ve talked about why I don’t think video games are art, why DLC (especially shitty DLC) is killing gaming, and why games like COD are destroying the medium.

You may notice that in many ways these are focused solely on the companies producing things that damage overall gaming.  I have, thus far, neglected to really accuse anybody but the companies for hurting gaming.  I guess I’ve been a little hard on gamers for buying into these things, but I don’t really blame them for buying what’s available.

Today I put an end to that by discussing the fact that nobody really takes gaming seriously.  I’ll be looking at video gamers themselves and video game media.

Gamers in the Public Eye

Something Awful, if you’re not familiar with it, is a (brilliant) humor website.  They frequently post the mistitled  (it’s hardly daily) “Awful Link of the Day”, a tradition that has existed for some time on the website.  Not too long ago they covered a particular ALOD that I was slightly put off by: GamerFood.

This proves so many of my points all at once.

Every ALOD gets a brief entry from one of the SA writers detailing what the link is about and why it’s so awful (although usually it’s pretty self-evident).  In the opening sentence of the GamerFood link Daryl “Fucking” Hall urges the reader to “[f]indme a more irritating ‘subculture’ than gamers, I dare you. [. . .] at least those dudes aren’t constantly griping about how their expensive toys aren’t considered art. Gamers seem insistent on constantly reminding the public that their toys are serious toys, deserving of respect”.

If that’s not a little disheartening to you, I’d imagine you don’t consider yourself a gamer.  If you are a gamer, then you’re probably reminded that, as is often the case with observational humor, the truth can sting just a little bit.

Gaming wasn’t always a part of the public eye.  It was, for some time, just considered the domain of nerds in their parents’ basements.  The very games I often deride—games like COD—are the games that have, to some extent, made it acceptable to be a gamer.

After all, the typical image of a gamer is some clueless nerd, and that nerd always has to be inept with women.  (Though I suppose that was implied by the use of the word “nerd”.)  Nonetheless, a lot of the people who play COD are the complete opposite of this subgroup, often fitting into a category most appropriately described as “total douchebags”.

What most people think of when they think gamer. I’m sorry to the poor guy who somehow ended up as the #1 result when you Google Image “video gamer”.

But even with this increased acceptance, gaming is something that people outside of the industry and the subculture rarely take seriously.

Cracked did an article that, oddly, managed to nail the issue almost perfectly.  In that article, David Wong (who is probably one of the only competent writers—besides DOB—on the Cracked staff) talks about all the issues that face gamers, even today.  I’d suggest reading it for no other reason than he talks about this issue in more detail than I will.  Also, it’s in list format for those of you who are put off by having to read things.

To summarize Wong’s points briefly: we’re still considered lonely virgins, the game manufacturers think we’re immature morons, games—after forty years—are still terrible at storytelling, the “technical novelty” (to use his words) still amazes us, and we’re extremely entitled.

Anyway, while he brings up good points, I think that the first two and the last one on that list are the most relevant to my points.

The World Thinks We’re Spoiled Teenagers

The world still thinks of video games as kids entertainment.  Should the world realize for even a moment that not all video gamers are teenagers, we get things like GamerFood.  You have to love the person who invented GamerFood.  I can only imagine that drinking an energy drink and making some Hot Pockets is too hard, so why not just make energy drinks in nut form?  Kill two birds with one stone.

Yeah, we totally deserve to be taken seriously.

Kind of witty, but still not the best way to speak your mind. Yet Google provides countless images and links with a similar means of expressing disapproval. Good job, guys!

Another point in case: I take the side of those who hated the ME3 ending, I have to admit that a lot of the outrage around it was poorly vocalized.  Rather than the masses of gamers talking about the reasons the ending sucked (lack of agency, that they are all the same, etc) we all basically whined nonstop.

The reasons we dislike the ending are legitimate, but all the rest of the world heard was “QQ QQ QQ QQQQQQQ” from us.  That is, assuming they thought in stupid gamer/internet slang.

I should clarify that David Wong’s idea—and by extension my discussion in this post—of entitlement is in terms of the fact that gamers are pirates and will always consider the price tags on games too high for the effort put in.  He does not suggest entitlement in the sense that I discussed it previously.

That is to say, where I think that the (well written) complaints about the ME3 ending are just pointing out that we were misled about the game, entitlement in this case refers to the fact that gamers always want more out of games and they want it for free.

Here are some other examples of how gamers are spoiled kids; examples that you could swear were cases of little kids throwing temper tantrums.  Oh, and youtube has no dearth of videos about spoiled gamers being pissed off.  No doubt some are fake, but then art imitates reality.

Honestly, it’s not all that surprising that nobody takes gamers seriously, because we don’t seem to take ourselves seriously.  Whenever something bad happens in video gaming, we respond like spoiled children and the world, realizing this, just treats us accordingly.

Reinforcing The Stereotype of the Nerdy Virgin Gamer

And, most of all, David Wong’s point about gamers being immature pricks in the eyes of the companies is hilarious.  He posts a number of pictures of various tits and asses from video games.

“I was going to become a supermodel, but then I realized by amazing body would be better used as cannon fodder against aliens.”

Let there be no mistake: video games objectify women in ways that would make Hugh Hefner and Larry Flint blush.  Every video game female in history has been ridiculously attractive.  Unless she’s evil. If a future society could judge ours based solely upon video games, I’m guessing that they’d be incredibly offended and consider us a society of misogynists.

You might try to argue that the game companies just turn female characters in games into anatomical bastardizations of the human body just to try to sell things on cheap sexuality.  Hell, the fighting game franchise Dead or Alive put out a goddamn Beach Volleyball game.  They sold a game entirely based upon the premise that there are virtual women with bouncy breasts.

And make no mistake that just like any other form of media, selling things is at the heart of this objectification of women.   For those of you women (if there are any) reading this post, please don’t mistake this part of the article as me pretending I have never bought into the shit video games pull on me.  I play a female character at almost every opportunity because I feel like it’s way cooler when she destroys everyone around her. I’m just as complicit as everybody else in this.

But I also only realized recently how bad this particular phenomenon was.

As I pointed out when I talked about entitlement, the video game companies are just companies, and they wouldn’t do something if it didn’t sell.  Ever wonder why every female character in every video game is hot, has huge breasts and a shapely ass?  Where are the curvy women?  Where are the women who aren’t supermodels?

At least Miranda has the excuse that her dad designer her body that way, for whatever creepy implications we might get from that. But how is that ridiculous bodysuit even feasible in combat?

They got left behind when video game companies realized that—even more than movies—people buying their games only want to see attractive women.  They want that because they are adolescents (or adults stuck in their adolescence, in the case of most COD players).  They put big breasts and tight asses in games because that is what sells to us, the gamers.

Don’t get me wrong, men in these games are invariably attractive too, so we have the same thing going on in video games as in movies.  Every guy is some musclebound, crew-cut adonis and every woman is a supermodel.  I get that movies, TV, magazines and everything else in our world do that.  So you might be wondering why I’m picking on video games in particular.

The answer is that video games can control this.  Hollywood has this unique problem where they need to find people who can act.  Tatum Channing may seem life proof otherwise, but your Joe Windrider off the street isn’t going to have the acting chops to make it in Hollywood.  Even then, there are plenty of average-looking actors out there, but Hollywood still has a smaller pool to draw from than usual.  In the end, mostly by Hollywood’s own doing, the people who aren’t attractive and who cannot act are going to get filtered out, so by time you get the head shots to the casting director’s desk, he’s got a homogenized pool of actors from which to draw.

Video games don’t have this convenient excuse.  Video game designers can create anybody they want, and so there is no reason that almost every woman should have a ridiculous body and be attractive.  No reason other than we, as people, are shallow.  But then, that’s a deeper social issue that I’m not going to discuss.

My point is just that even if we assumed that nobody wanted to see unattractive people in video games, they do NOT all have to have exaggerated breasts and asses.  Video game designers have a choice, but they know that gamers will be put off if their video games don’t double as masturbatory aids.

The Gaming Media Is a Joke…

When I think “cosplay” I think “take me seriously”.

I’m not going to just pick on gamers’ behavior in general.  The gaming media is just as complicit in this as anybody else.  The thing is, gaming media exists for two reasons: to talk about gaming and to do so in a manner that attracts readers.

I guess that’s why Kotaku has a goddamn cosplay subsection of their site.  It also explains why the vast majority of cosplay articles involve women, and often they are of the scantily clad variety.  It explains why somehow Jessica Chobot got put into Mass Effect 3 in one of the most ridiculous outfits any reporter has worn in history.  Sex sells, and this is apparently especially true for gamers.

But beyond that, one of the reasons that video game media is so damaging is because there is no reason to take it seriously.  Just like we have no reason to take gamers seriously, gaming media is tailored to gamers and written by gamers.  Thus, it is basically full of fluff that is of no consequence.

Once, as a kid, I remember reading in a video game magazine a full article about Lara Croft.  It was not about the Tomb Raider games, it was about Lara Croft.  It contained an interview.  Video game media is, at its heart, the damn swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated in every article.  It appeals to the lowest common denominator within all of us.

But there is another reason nobody can really take video game media seriously: it is one gigantic conflict of interest.  IGN had one of the major video personalities in Mass Effect 3 and yet reviewed it anyway.  Their review page for ME3 had an advertisement for ME3 on the very same page.  Recently when I went to the website to check on it, their entire website was one gigantic advertisement for Battleship.

Nothing wrong with this…nothing wrong AT ALL.  By the way, that’s the IGN front page.  I know, you’d think I accidentally went to battleship.com.

Game magazines—especially the official ones—are often under huge pressure from the manufacturer to make the console look good or else get funding pulled.  Game websites are typically based upon ad revenue—advertisements for the very products they are trying to sell.

If you were to read a movie review in the newspaper and noticed a full-page ad for the same movie on the opposite page, you might wonder at the integrity there.  Yet few give a second thought to that very conflict of interest when it comes to gaming outlets.

To sum this up: the gaming media takes itself super seriously, yet the seriousness with which they speak about topics is often undermined by the topic itself.  In addition to that, almost all gaming media outlets face some conflict of interest, usually because they’re based upon ad revenue.

…But the Gaming Media Is Also Too Serious

Yet in a mind-boggling contradiction, the gaming media simultaneously takes itself far too seriously.  I want the world to look at gamers in a fonder light, but I do not consider video games to be a totally serious subject.

I once got into an argument with a couple of the guys over at The Verdict about whether to side with the Stormcloaks or Imperials in Skyrim.  (The correct answer, by the way, is Imperials.  Ulfric Stormcloak is a bigot and a tyrant in the making.)  But while we were basically yelling at each other, we walked away laughing because it was a video game argument.  It just didn’t matter in the long run.

Kotaku Home Page

What’s wrong with this picture? If your answer is: “there are four articles complaining about video game baseball” you win.

Video game media sits around yelling about video games, but they never stop to realize how ridiculous their ferocity really is.

Kotaku (sorry if you like Kotaku, but honestly that site is trash), while I was doing research for this post, had a main page article (picture included in this article) titled “NBA Live Moves with a Purpose to Make You a Better Baller”.  Then it included three links to other articles about sports games, including “Will We Have Any Baseball Video Games on Xbox 360 Next Year?”

I feel for the baseball fans who want to play baseball on the 360, but is that seriously important?  I mean, can’t you just play last year’s game?  I know the new rosters are included, but that’s about the only difference and I think you’ll live if your team isn’t perfectly in sync with the current team.

Do not think that I am dismissing anybody who takes gaming seriously.  I consider myself a gamer, and I care about games.  I am writing about games.  But I think that at the end of the day I am able to walk away—even when I’ve written about a game and seem to have gotten upset, as in the case of Kai Leng being goddamn stupid—and know that it doesn’t really matter in the long term.

Reviews and previews of video games fall into the “too serious” category.  Reviewing anything is going to be subjective, but reviewing video games is almost more so.  I think any gamer can agree that we all know when a game is really bad.  But look at the metacritic user reviews for any of the major (and well reviewed by media outlets) games to come out this year so far. You’ll find that gamers can never seem to agree with each other as to what a good game is.

Just read the start of that review. You’d think you’re reading a a book review from School Library Journal, not an IGN article. (Also, absorb the hilarity of a paid advertisement for the game they’re reviewing on the same page.)

Part of that is because gaming genres are subjective, and also that they’re blending.  It used to be if you wanted a strategy game, you got that.  RPGs were straight-up RPGs.  And yet now we see genres blending and changing in odd ways.  I’m not a huge fan of traditional RPGs, but gamse like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect 1 are incredibly enjoyable for me.

Beyond all of this, though, you have to consider that reviewers often consider things like graphics, story, sound and gameplay and then compile an overall score.  Personally, if the graphics are a tad behind but the game is otherwise spectacular I have no problem with it.  Yet you frequently see games get lower scores because they were in development for so long that their graphics aren’t as great.

In the end, the websites and magazines providing these articles act like there is somehow an objective way to review games and ride that premise out.  This falls into the “taking things too seriously” because in the end its a game.  If you enjoyed it but the graphics weren’t fantastic, should that really matter?

What Should Game Media Do to Fix This?

Like in all my other posts, I’ll conclude with some suggestions to help fix this and, more than that, some hope that things will change.

Kotaku seems to be ahead of the curve, having already (subtly) admitted they’re a joke.

I’ll start by suggesting that the video game media needs to get its act together and start writing on topics of substance.  (I’d like to think I fall into that category.)  If you’re going to speak authoritatively and seriously about gaming, you need to say something unique about it.

The current topics of these media outlets run the gamut from reviews to full previews of new games.  We often see articles about the technical advances of the medium.  What you rarely see are people thinking of the larger implications of trends within gaming.

If gaming is ever to be universally considered an art form, then we need to start treating it that way.  Rather than talking about what the hottest new brush techniques are, we should be talking about the meaning and impact of games.  I’d like to think that I am contributing to this, as I never just look at a game and talk about it, but rather talk about what it means in some larger societal context.

This is, to me, the key to changing the face of game media.

If that fails and we still insist on covering the same fluff topics, then perhaps the media outlets just need to change their tone and realize they’re talking about video games, not the presidential election.  Lighten the tone up some.

How Do We Fix Perceptions of Gamers?

Suggesting how gamers as a whole can change perceptions is a lot harder.  There are already social concepts of gamers that we may not be able to break easily, if at all.

Mountain Dew Game Fuel: when your drink isn’t extreme enough for skateboarding, just put an orc on it and sell it to gamers.

But I do think that we, as gamers, need to start somewhere.  When a company decides to release something like GamerFood, I think that we—as gamers—need to stand up and tell them how insulting that really is.

And guys, these things really are insulting. It’s insulting to assume that all gamers are so lazy or easily distracted by games that they would rather eat some foul-tasting mixture of Red Bull and mixed nuts than get up and microwave some damn pizza rolls.

When a website features an article about the hottest video game women, we need to stand up and—like actual human beings who have met women—point out how insulting that truly is.

And it’s insulting that women, who already have to live up to the ridiculous standards set by Hollywood and magazines like Cosmo, have to feel that same pressure coming from video games.

It’s also insulting to us, the gamers.  We may think it’s cool that the breast physics are modeled better than a dead bad guy’s rag doll. Just consider that when a developer sexualizes a video game character they are basically implying that we, the gamers, are the lonely virgins in their mom’s basements.  And we eat that shit up, all too happy to give them our money and prove them right.

We’ve Earned This.

We’ve all heard a friend tell a tasteless, racist joke based upon some stupid stereotype that isn’t even close to true.  I’m sure we’ve all heard the defense that “stereotypes are based in fact”, as though saying that somehow makes that person look less ignorant.  That excuse is the lamest reason to judge an entire group.

And yet in the case of gamers, I look at us as a whole and think that we really have made caricatures of ourselves in every way possible. We seem all too content to whine—with mouths full of GamerFood—that nobody takes our powerful computers and super awesome games seriously. We do this while insisting that the protagonist of our game have DD breasts and an ass that requires more computing power to render than the Apollo 11 moon landing.

I think it’s time to look at ourselves, think really hard, and act the way we want people to perceive us.

Are Video Games Art?

May 10, 2012 4 comments

With all of the fuss over the ending of Mass Effect 3 I noticed something kind of odd: the word entitlement was cropping up at an unbelievable rate.  I got to thinking about this and realized two things: first, that there is a problem with using that word; second, that if I am going to discuss that problem, I have to address a much bigger, much more controversial question.

Are video games art?

Shepard Face Palm

Pictured: Every employee at BioWare and EA, realizing that ME3 is now the go-to example of bad story writing.

This whole thing was brought to my mind a while back when I was reading the blog of David Fisk (a follower, and someone I follow).  He wrote a post, Mass Effect 3: I do feel a little entitled, and it got me to thinking about the whole fuss.

Now, I’m not going to say much about the issue I have with using that word.  Just know that deciding whether or not video games are art impacts that greatly.

ANYWAY.

The thing is, nobody seems to agree on whether or not video games are art, and that is probably a far more interesting topic of discussion to you, my readers, than the intricacies of using the word entitlement to describe gamers’ attitudes.

I am not the first, nor will I by any means be the last, to discuss the issue of video games as art.  I am also, by no stretch of the imagination, the most “qualified” to do so.  I have a BA in Literature, so while the concept of art and the ways we interpret it is familiar to me, there are much more educated men than I that have discussed at length (and often, rarely agree) what art is.

Nonetheless, I’m taking this topic on because I think it’s worth talking about.  After all, as a student of literature and a gamer who recognizes the beauty of some games, I find myself torn in two directions on this issue.

What is Art

Let me start right now by saying that my definition of art, as included here, is overly simplistic.  While I’m going to try to hit the main points of what makes something art, there are—as with all things—exceptions and nuances.  In fact, one must truly consider things on a case-by-case basis.  (Which is one of the problems of calling games art.  You’re trying to say the medium is, wholesale, artistic by nature.)

Art

It’s a shame that the idea of “fine art” has been appropriated by the elitists to make themselves feel more cultured. It’s not a shame that, somehow, this picture manages to capture that douchebaggery perfectly.

First, we need to discuss the difference between art and fine art.  This difference is as ambiguous as it is contentious.  But the easiest way to characterize the difference is that art is, according to Britannica Online, is “a visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination”.   In other words, when you made your macaroni portraits in kindergarten, those qualify as art.

Fine art, on the other hand, is what we often think of when we refer to art.  It is, according to Wikipedia (because hey, why not use it here, too), “a skill [that] is being used to express the artist’s creativity, or to engage the audience’s aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience toward consideration of the finer things.”  For the purposes of this entire post, whenever I refer to “art” after this, I am referring to fine art unless I specifically say otherwise.

With that being said, that definition of fine art doesn’t really do much to distinguish what actually qualifies as art and what doesn’t.  I do like what Wikipedia has to say, I just think there is more to it than just that.

I’ve summed up what I think are three of the biggest things to consider when looking at art.  There are many other criteria, but I think it’s safe to say if it doesn’t meet these three, it isn’t art.

1.  Art must be a task that requires skill, and art must be unique (to some extent) in that an unskilled person could not recreate the same product.

2.  Art must engage the audience’s sensibilities to drive forward an emotional state or an appreciation for the finer things.

3.  Art must have some underlying theme or concept that it hopes to send to the audience through those emotional states.

I do not want to get any more bogged down in this concept, but keep in mind what I said and we’ll move on.

The Argument in Favor

Perhaps one of the biggest arguments that video games are art is the simple fact that people seem to generally think it is possible.  Consider that the Smithsonian American Art Museum has an exhibit entitled “The Art of Video Games”.

The Smithsonian's Video Game Exhibit

I’m not sure that the Smithsonian is thinking of art in the right sense here. They used the word in the exhibit’s name the way I describe my ability to avoid cleaning my car artistic. Hmm.

But I’m not letting off the argument in favor that easy.  There is more to be said on the issue than just a generally growing acceptance of the idea of video games as art.  Kate Cox of Kotaku makes a roundabout argument that they are.  The thing is, her argument (and many others’) rests firmly on the fact that because the Smithsonian says it is, it is.  The atmosphere of the exhibit is one of respect, not of a dog and pony show to bring in more people.  That, then, must mean gamers were right all along!  Hurrah!

(In a coming article I’ll be talking about why I dislike almost every “major” gaming media outlet.  But it’s safe to say that if anybody at Kotaku said that games weren’t art, they’d be facing a shitstorm and loss of readers.  So it’s not surprisingly to me that Kate Cox basically dismisses the argument of games as art as irrelevant and long-since settled.)

Nonetheless, let’s consider the things that qualify art as art and look at video games in that context.

Video games do require quite a bit of skill to create.  They require large teams that split the task into parts, such as modeling characters or environments, texturing, story teams, voice actors, and beyond.  Games cost quite a bit of money to create and have a lot of time and effort going into them.  On that level, video games definitely qualify.

Programming is like poetry!

I’ve got to admit, there is something elegant about finding a way to program something in as little code as possible. I also think it was beautiful to watch Michael Jordan destroy the hopes of every team he played against. That, however, does not make this comparison okay.

Can video games be replicated easily by anybody?  No.  In fact, very seldom do you see a single person creating an entire video game.  As a result, most people who work on video games would be hard-pressed to create an entire video game on their own.  With that said, your average person is unlikely to ever be able to really create a video game himself.

As far as eliciting unique emotional states, I think the furor over Mass Effect 3 alone is evidence.  But with that aside, I know that I—along with many other gamers—have grown attached to characters in games in such a manner that the path these characters embark upon has a profound emotional effect on the player.

Finally, do games have underlying themes?  Again, the Mass Effect series drives home points such as equality, settling feuds and beyond.  Other games’ stories often deal with concepts of good or evil.  So I think it’s safe to say that at least some games do have deeper, non-literal themes they attempt to get across.

So by those standards, I think one could make a fairly strong case that games qualify as art.  But I’m not done with that.

The Case Against

In talking about video games as art, one often sees comparisons to other forms of art.  For example, Discovery News asks the same question and, rather than evaluating video games against some criteria for art, they simply talk about modern art being made of anything.  As such, author Robert Lamb decides, it’s not so far-fetched that games could be considered art.

From the same article: “’Video games obviously can be art,’ says game designer Jonathan Blow. ‘There’s not any real debate on the matter anymore, and there never really has been.’”

Two and a Half Men

It’s amazing how terrible this show is. In fact, they have made being unfunny into an art of its own.

Of course, Mr. Blow conveniently ignores Roger Ebert, who categorically denied that video games are art and, in a wider-reaching claim, says they never will be.  While Ebert later changed his stance and simply said he doesn’t get it.  Ebert eventually admitted games could be art, but  his initial discussion of the matter is pretty interesting and by far the most substantial discussion of the topic I could find.

That’s the interesting thing about this debate.  Both sides seem to think the arguments are so self-evident that, when they write about it, they just barely bother giving reasons why.

Before I return to Ebert’s argument, I’d like to take a moment to compare video games to what is perhaps the most analogous art form: television (or film).  In essence, for every Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, Firefly or whatever show you consider artistic in its nature, there are two or three shows like Two and a Half Men.

This comparison highlights a big point: even if games can qualify as art, not all games ever will.  Consider, for example, Skyrim.  While that game is a blast and a half and the world is beautiful, the story it tells is, well, not that great.  It’s spread out over huge lengths of time, it has M. Night Shamalayan-esque plot twists, and overall, it’s got no subtext.  One does not play Skyrim and realize it’s an allegory for the Iraq War (as BSG was), but rather a game about a person who kills dragons.

Paarthurnax-sucks-top

The leader of the Greybeards is a dargon!? Was he also dead the whole time?
(Image from Nerdapproved.)

If you wish to ignore story, what you’re left with to judge games by are the mechanics and rules as well as the graphics.  While graphics may seem akin to visual art forms, the fact is that very little emotional state is elicited by the scenery, and even if it is there is no deeper message or meaning to take away.

Beyond that, however, Roger Ebert aptly points out that no matter how elegant the rules of Chess are, it would never be considered art.  So calling a game art based on gameplay and visuals is just plum out.

So while one might argue that the Mass Effect series is art, I think it’s harder to argue that all games are art.  But this is the assertion that many people make.  To go back to the television analogy, few people would seriously assert that television is anything more than a form that can potentially be art.  The only art in Two and a Half Men is how artfully Charlie Sheen managed to make an ass of himself.  (Also, how artfully the show managed to drag 10 minutes of plot into 25 minutes through laugh tracks.)

But let’s go back to Roger Ebert.  Ebert’s points are very similar to mine (or, more appropriately, mine are similar to his), but I think the thing he says that stands out most is that the malleability of the gaming experience is what makes the form ineligible to ever be considered art.

Inevitable emotional state of Keats’ odes (for most people): boredom. Pictured here: Keats experiencing the same state.  Clearly he felt he had to share.

Ebert contends that one must be drawn to emotional states to be art (and I agree), and that by allowing gamers choices in their journey, you are not necessarily lead to an inevitable emotional state.  That is the word that makes all the difference, it would seem.

You see, arguments of reader-response theory aside, when you read one of Keats’ odes, you’re drawn by his art to a specific feeling or conclusion.  Gaming, if compared to print, would be kind of like a “choose your own adventure” novel.  If Keats had offered, for “Ode on Melancholy” six stanzas and allowed you to choose only 3 to read, it would not be art.  At least, that’s the summed up version of Ebert’s argument—with an added example. Because of this, Ebert contends, video games will never be art.

What Do I Think?

The thing is, if you’re reading this you’re probably not doing so to hear how awesome I think other people’s arguments for or against are.  You’re probably, at least to a small extent, interested in what I have to say on the topic that is original.

That said, I strongly agree with Ebert on all but one major point: I think video games could someday be art.  But I definitely don’t think any really qualify right now.

Two and a Half Men (Again)

Pictured here: what most video games are equivalent to.

What I think is that video games, as an entire form, will not ever be artistic.  They will probably exist in the same way that TV and film do, with the 99% being (sometimes) enjoyable but face-value drivel, and the 1% telling rich, engaging and artistic stories. But even with that said, I do not think that I would look at any existing video game—including Mass Effect, of which I speak quite highly—as art…yet.

Consider that there are still so many games released that fit into the “shovelware” category.  These games are craptastic affairs that are hardly worth playing.  For every big budget game that comes out that we enjoy, there are five pieces of garbage that start selling at $20.

While video games have advanced, more of that advancement is focused on creating richer environments than telling better and more meaningful stories.  And while the story of Skyrim is much bigger than the story of the original Mario, that does not mean it is instantly deeper.  The Twilight Saga is quite long, but nobody (I sincerely hope, lest I have to burn my degree) would consider it to be fine art.

But video games, while maybe having longer stories, are still in the end simplistic tales driven more by interactivity than by depth.  You could argue that games have gotten much better with stories—and they have—but they are now, as an entire form, probably on par with storytelling akin to the Twilight Saga, not to War and PeaceTheir stories rely on plot twists that would make M. Night Shamalayan blush.

whatatwist

What a twist!

Beyond all of this, however, is that malleability that Ebert talks about.  Where I differ from Ebert, despite generally agreeing with him, is that you do not need to be led to a single conclusion by art.  Malleability of the form is what makes gaming potentially one of the most unique and amazing mediums in which to create art.

So here is where I, as usual, tie all of this together to hopefully make some sense.  Video games as a medium are likely going to continue down the same road as television and film, in which the majority is not art.  As a result, the entire medium could never be considered art.  I don’t know that I can put it in any simpler words than that.  To call all video games art would open the door to calling every book ever published by the same name.  We don’t want to go down that road, so let’s stop now.

The reason I don’t consider any existing games to be art isn’t because they are malleable, as Ebert would argue.  It is because they are still, at their hearts, forms of entertainment centered on killing or racing or what have you.  It is this focus away from the story—and on the gameply—that allows people to experience games and not always get everything out of it that they could.

One Does not Simply...

And yet if one doesn’t do it, why is it an option?

In other words, the reason no video games are art yet isn’t because the malleability of the form leads to many inevitable conclusions.  That is what makes the medium unique among other mediums.  It is because the malleability of the form does not, yet, make any of the conclusions inevitable.  Readers of a book do not generally skip vital characterization—accidentally or purposely—nor do those who enjoy film get that option.

But gamers do have that choice.  In Mass Effect, one can go through the main story and speak to characters minimally while still completing the game.  Additionally, this dialogue can be skipped, such that one never need know what the actual conversation was.   The effect is the same as reading the Sparknotes version of The Catcher in the Rye and actually reading the full book.

Because of this difference, gamers are not forced to any conclusion at all.  The experiences that each gamer has are so different that one cannot really say that there is any conclusion (or conclusions) at all that are inevitable.  One can enjoy the Mass Effect series as games about blowing up giant space aliens, missing out entirely on the subtexts hidden within.

But Don’t Get Too Mad at Me!

Gamers value games.  That is not debated here, not at all.  But while the value people place on a thing does help to make the case for it being art, I don’t think you could or should argue that people valuing something is anything more than a small portion of that consideration.  To do so would open the doors to letting books like Twilight enter the realm of literature.

But I think accepting that gamers value games is key to understanding why people want to call games art: they want it to be valued.  For a myriad of reasons, people have rarely taken video games seriously unless they were themselves gamers.  To outsiders, games look like silly and idle distractions.  To those of us on the inside, it’s something that has its ups and downs, and fosters emotional attachments that are different from (and sometimes stronger than) those created by books or television.

While I do not consider games to be art, I do not either consider them to be trivial. I think the mistake of those arguing video games as art is to think that such a dichotomy exists.  Being considered art will not instantly legitimize games in the world’s view, nor does not being art mean that our games have to always be considered trivial.

I am a gamer, and as you can see from my blog, I consider it a big part of me.  So while I understand the desire to force outsiders to see the value of what gamers enjoy, I don’t think trying to force everyone to admit that our games are art is the right way to do it.

Was the Empire Really So Bad? Part 1: The Galactic Republic Was Awful

April 27, 2012 1 comment

First, I’d like to take this time to apologize for not posting anything for almost this entire week.  While I have plenty of material, I’ve been busy outside of this and found myself unable to post daily as I had previously.  For that reason I’m looking at moving toward a more rigid schedule for posting so it is easier for all of you to follow this.  I’ll give more details on that as they come about.

Anyway, anybody who knows me is well aware that I’m a huge sci-fi fan.  They will also know that I think the Galactic Empire in Star Wars got a bad rap, mostly because any time Star Wars comes up I stand up for them.  In line with my “over-thinking everything” mantra, I’ve given a lot of thought to the fact that the Galactic Empire really wasn’t as bad as it was supposed to seem.  This is a multi-part argument, and it’s not perfect.

In reality, it’s a deep look at Star Wars’ forms of governments and our assumptions about them, framed by the overarching them that the Galactic Empire wasn’t as bad as we were supposed to think.

So, in what is the first part of this multi-part series, I’m going to spend a bit of time laying the groundwork for the argument in terms of some of the assumptions necessary to the arguments.

The Assumptions

The Star Wars universe is a large and complex one.  While casual fans will know the original trilogy (Episodes IV through VI) and the prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III), there is much more to the universe.  There are hundreds of books, comics, video games and other sources of information in the Star Wars canon.

EU

There may be plenty of great parts of the EU--The Old Republic, many of the video games and books--but anything that can produce this doesn't deserve serious scrutiny. I mean, really.

With any discussion of Star Wars comes the necessary discussion about what part of the universe you’re taking on.  For the purposes of this series, I will be using what is known as G-canon (or George Lucas canon).  G-canon is, to quote from Wookieepedia, “the six Episodes and anything directly provided to Lucas Licensing by Lucas (including unpublished production knows from him or his production department that are never seen by the public).”  In other words, I’m going to ignore the Extended Universe (EU) of Star Wars.  Any reference to the EU is more for knowledge sake than being relevant to my arguments.

Hardcore fans of Star Wars may question this decision and question my argument for the sheer fact that I’m excluding a wealth of source material.

The thing is that the six episodes of Star Wars paint the universe in terms of a very well-defined black-and-white morality.  You are either good or bad, and if you’re listed as bad in George Lucas’ universe there is no reason to question the assumption.  The EU authors have to work within this universe, and often their works have no grey areas, either.

With that in mind, much of the EU taking place in the same time period of the movies ends up with authors trying to show the Empire being evil and the Rebels being heroic.  Because Lucas never felt it necessary to explain why the Empire was evil, these authors have elaborated upon it in terms of policies accepting of atrocities beyond the destruction of Alderaan and policies of xenophobia.

I hope that explains why it looks like I am ignoring sources that contradict my claims.  As far as George Lucas intended it, there was nothing shown beyond what is in the films to indicate the way the Empire ruled.  Any additions to the expanded universe that work as “evidence” of the Empire’s evil nature is really just trying to justify unexplained claims made within the movies.

The Galactic Republic Was Shitty

With my assumptions laid out, I’d like to start with the beginning of The Phantom Menace.  Say what you want about The Phantom Menace, specifically about the inclusion of all the politics in it, but those boring senate scenes do at least give us some insight into what exactly happened in the Galactic Republic before Palpatine took over.

Which is to say: precisely jack shit.

The Galactic Senate chambers. If our history is any indication, there were countless fistfights on the floor of the Senate over the millennia.

The entire point of The Phantom Menace was how inept and ineffective the Senate actually was at getting to the bottom of the problems facing its member planets.  People were being murdered on Naboo—and those who weren’t being murdered were being starved—and the Senate felt that the best solution was to form a committee.

This government was, at that point in time, run by corrupt bureaucrats with no interest in the people they served.  It’s a plot point that is outright stated numerous times—George Lucas never was particularly subtle—and that directly led to the downfall of the Republic.

By the time we get to Attack of the Clones some serious shit had gone down and the galaxy was in a state of civil war.  The fact that the Separatists broke off meant that the Republic was failing to some extent and people felt there had to be a better way. Nonetheless, they would never have seceded from the Republic had they not felt that there were unaddressed grievances.  And what was the Republic’s answer to people who disagree with the way they do things?  They started a war.

Palpatine

Why would you guys ever trust him? His last name is the same as Emperor Palpatine. Plus he just looks evil.

Granted, the whole point here is that Palpatine was subtly (or not) manipulating both sides toward war.  But, even with those influences out of the picture, we can assume there were enough grievances that these Separatists felt were unaddressed to justify their secession.  It is highly unlike that Palpatine, skilled politician as he was (because George Lucas made the characters tell us, repeatedly), could have caused their secession for no reason.

Let there be no doubt in your mind, then, that there had to be issues.  Consider all the scenes within the Senate’s chambers and how utterly massive that room was.  Then, take a quick glance at the room and notice how many separate species were present.  Within the same country we cannot get our citizenry to agree on some issues that are relatively simple.  This Republic was expected to rule over its constituency when said constituents were hundreds, if not thousands, of different species.

What’s most amazing about the Republic is how long it had supposedly existed before the events of the films; it’s stated that it existed for countless generations, the entire time presumably while settling the differences of its member species in a reasonably fair manner.  Whatever it was that changed, the Senate clearly went from a body that was able to take action to a group of alien species standing in a room while holding their collective dicks.

But back to the war.  The Republic, again, decided that the answer to people who disagree with their way of life is to start a war, for which there was a conveniently mass-produced clone army.  Of course, nobody really asked why it was necessary, but it is stated that before the clones there was no standing army.  This begs the question: how did the Republic defend itself in the past?  After all, without some kind of military, how can the Republic maintain order and peace from both inside and outside the Republic?

The Jedi Council is about as useful as the UN at keeping peace. Plus, they put an 18 year within their ranks. Aren't there Jedi far more deserving of a spot in that room than Anakin?

The Jedi, apparently, are the answer to this.  But given how easily the Jedi are mowed down by regular ‘ol clone troopers in Revenge of the Sith, it’s hard to imagine that they could serve as the only military force of the Republic.  While I have always had mixed feelings about the military, even I can admit that the thought of existing without a military is like putting a sign that says “freeGalacticRepublic – inquire within”.

Also, nobody seems to have an issue with the clone army.  Seriously.  I mean, I think Obi-Wan questions it for a second, but then its like he never even bothered.  The ethical issues with the clone army alone should be enough to give you pause about the way the Republic works.   After all, these are all clones of a dangerous bounty hunter who are specifically bred to become killing machines.  Beyond that, they were genetically manipulated to age to maturity more quickly and to support the Republic unwaveringly.  Riddle me this: on an ethical level, how are these soldiers any better or worse than the people seen serving in the Galactic Empire?

It’s also interesting that there is no mention in the G-canon of any kind of police force.  It’s implied that the Jedi are the police, but then they are also called upon the serve as a military force.  I think history has shown that when your military and police are the same, you’re kind of in trouble.

The logical conclusion to the Galactic Republic.

What all of this means is that it was only a matter of time before the Republic fell and something else rose to take its place.  The logical choice of the citizens of the galaxy would be a government that was two things the Republic was not: first, capable of taking swift, decisive action to address everyday issues; second, capable of defending its citizens from any threat.  The result was the Galactic Empire.

When Padme comments in Revenge of the Sith that liberty ends with thunderous applause, did it not occur to her that maybe the people knew that they were accepting a dictatorship, but figured it had to be a hell of a lot better than the Republic?  Also, when Palpatine comments that the Jedi rebelled against him and attacked him, nobody in the senate was particularly shocked.  I take that as an indicator that the Jedi were at the very least not a big part of everyday life and, at the worst, widely disliked.  After all, if the Jedi had a public image as peacekeepers and defenders of justice and truth, don’t you think someone would have openly questioned Palpatine’s assertion that they had turned on him? Considering the way Lucas portrays them in the prequel trilogy, it’s no surprise.  They’re condescending asses who sit up in their (ivory?) tower hoping they can think problems away.

Any form of government that can be brought down by this kid probably kind of deserved it, anyway.

Now, I know that there is that saying along the lines of “those who give up liberty for security deserve neither”, and in our world based upon our ethics, I’d totally agree.  However, when you’re talking about ruling on the galactic scale, in terms of trillions upon trillions of people, it’s a different ball game.  I am not arguing that more people justifies military dictatorships, at least not directly.  But I am arguing that perhaps a system of government like a republic is not suitable when you are trying to bridge the gap between thousands of species on countless planets.

I don’t think any of you are dumb.  So I doubt you’re sitting there asking “how the hell does this mean the Empire is better”.  But an important part of realizing that the Empire got a bad deal in how they were portrayed is to recognize the ways in which the Republic was generally terrible (read: many).   The Republic was rife with corruption, had no feasible way to defend itself from threats (except for the highly unethical clone troopers) and apparently left so much of its citizenry disenchanted with its aims that they felt no other recourse than to secede. I don’t intend on making my argument by solely saying that the Galactic Empire is bad, but the Republic was worse.  I think there is genuine evidence that the Empire did more good than bad, but looking at the Republic can give you an idea of how disillusioned the galactic citizenry probably was.

Look for the next part of the series, entitled The Empire Is in a Bad Neighborhood.

When Beef Isn’t Beef (But It Really Is) Everybody Loses or: ABC News Wikipedias “No True Scotsman”, Misses Point, Slanders Big Meat

April 20, 2012 6 comments

It’s a sad thing when I hear about the latest media shitstorm from Facebook.  About a week ago I noticed a couple posts about pink slime pop up in my feed.  These posts indicated that the ground beef I so love had been, for some time, contaminated by some other and disgusting product in a conspiracy by Big Beef to save money and screw me, the consumer.

Big Beef

I can only assume this is what Big Beef felt like when they realized they'd made us eat rat anus.

Terrified that I was now eating 65% oats and 35% rat anus, I pictured evil beef barons putting raccoon’s they found as roadkill and sewer rats into a grinder while cackling maniacally.  But Scott, I said to myself, you’re kind of a journalist now, what with your opinion blog, and you have a responsibility to be well-informed before you tell people how you feel.

Well, me, I’m right (surprise), and I decided that I should probably exert the minimum of effort before writing a scathing condemnation of Big Beef and at least read the Wikipedia entry for it.  It is, after all, what any major news outlet would do, right?

At this point, having read the whole article, I thought I must be missing something about the outrage.  This stuff is just beef that didn’t make the cut (haha! And my friends say I suck at puns.  Actually, I said that and they agreed, but now who is laughing?!) and was ground to be used that way.

Suddenly I found myself overcome by this strange feeling.  At first I couldn’t identify it, but then I realized what it was: I was ambivalent.  After hearing what little I had in regards to pink slime, I had no feelings on the issue.  This will not stand.

And so, encouraged to find some kernel of truth, plant it and let it sprout into a wonderful tree, I read about pink slime for hours.  And then, still unsure of how to feel, I read even more.  Eventually I hit a point where it felt like all I was reading was people saying the same thing in different ways.  I had found all the facts and now it was just opinion.

Now, I hate to let everyone down, especially with me being a liberal and all, but I’m going to stand up for Big Meat.   Seriously.

I guess you’ll want to know why.  Well, it’s simple.  Big Meat, specifically Beef Products Inc., was the victim of a vicious, well-planned smear campaign.  This campaign took the information and twisted it in such a way that there was no way anybody who saw the initial ABC News report could have walked away without hating BPI for their transgressions.

In the end, we all stand to lose.  BPI may lose its business, ABC News lost what little journalistic integrity it had (there wasn’t any to begin with, but I feel like now they’re in Fox News levels of integrity), and the consumers have been misled.  You can file the case of pink slime under B for “bullshit”, and you can stick it right next to other over-hyped public health scares that turned out to be bullshit, scares like living under the power lines.

What Is Beef?

Before I can even talk about the smear campaign, you have to understand where you have been lied to. I understand many of you will probably not be swayed by this post, but if you continue to do research you’ll find that there was no “case” here to begin with.

Anyway, one phrase you keep hearing is “100% beef” or “beef is beef”.  We keep hearing those words, but when it comes down to it what qualifies as beef is the heart of the matter.

Warning: contains beef and pink slime.

You can go to beefisbeef.com and see some of the myths  about pink slime.  As always, however, you have to be careful about your sources.  That site is run by BPI, so they obviously have a vested interest in it.  (Here’s a tip: their resource contains more truth in one sentence than the ABC News investigation in its entirety.)

Anyway, what qualifies as beef? What is beef, according to Webster’s Dictionary?  It is “the flesh of an adult domestic bovine (as a steer or cow) used as food”.  Okay.  But the dictionary definition doesn’t matter much, they don’t have anything to do with how food is labeled or defined.

That’s more the domain of, say, the UDSA. Those guys know their meat and where to put it, so what do they have to say about beef? The USDA defines beef as “meat from a full-grown cattle about 2 years old.”  Well shit, that’s basically the same thing as Webster’s definition.

Beef Cuts

Despite what this image shows, once killed cows do not separate into neat, colored shapes. It is quite messy.

Surprised?  Don’t be.  Beef is the meat from a cow.  There are varying grades of meat, cuts of meat and all of those other things, but the simple fact is this: for it to called beef it merely has to come from a cow.  It’s that simple. But then, I’m guessing you didn’t question that, did you?

What Is Pink Slime?

Alright.  Well beef is an easy one.  But all of the hype about pink slime portrays it like it’s not actual beef–that is, not the actual flesh of a cow.  Clearly they wouldn’t lie to us.  Big Beef are the ones foisting their low-grade slop onto us.

Not Pink Slime

This is NOT pink slime. This image, the top result for a Google Image search for "pink slime" is actually mechanically separated chicken. That's what's in your chicken nuggets. It may look nasty, but god damn if it isn't delicious.

What is pink slime?  Pink slime is the nickname given to “lean finely textured beef” or “boneless lean beef trimmings”.

As an aside, had the media used that name in its smear campaign I’d imagine there’d be less outrage.  After all, the name pink slime is pretty disgusting. The name pink slime comes from the description of one Dr. Gerald Zirnstein—a microbiologist who worked for the USDA in 2002.  In case that name sounds familiar: he’s the “whistle-blower” that informed ABC News about the issue.  Convenient that he happened to coin the disgusting name of the stuff, then happens to be on the news about it later.  Yeah, that’s not fucking suspicious, guy.

But anyway, pink slime is the result of a few things.  First, when they kill that about-to-be-delicious cow and start to cut it up for meat, there is a lot of stuff that doesn’t make it.  You cannot just cut the beef up according to the picture here and then have your cuts.  There are other things in there, and something has to become of them.

Some of the scraps aren’t usable because they come from near the surface of the skin or near various…orifices…of the cow that aren’t clean.  As such, they need to be, say, disinfected, before they could be served to people.  If only somebody could think of a way to use these scraps, you’d have to disinfect them to be safe for consumption, but then you could use every little bit.  That would save money and produce more meat.  Interesting…

Pink slime is, according to Wikipedia, “finely ground beef scraps, sinew, fat and connective tissue”.  These scraps are put into a centrifuge and heated, separating the fat from the good stuff.  It is then ground and run through a process where it is introduced to ammonia gas to kill off all those nasty food-borne illnesses.

Make no mistake, though, that pink slime all comes from a cow—making it all beef.  The process stated above was created by the food industry because otherwise those scraps I described had to be tossed out or used in other ways—such as dog food or cooking oil. (Interestingly, nobody would have an issue with eating cooking oil that is, in essence, partly pink slime.  But get that shit in your beef and it’s wrong?)

(Side note: read up on mechanically separated meat.  It’s in everything and it is goddamn disgusting.  Plus, Cracked has written an article with some interesting facts about the food we eat.  Hilariously, they covered pink slime well before ABC News.

Let me reiterate a point that you’ve heard: beef is beef, pink slime comes from cow meat, thus it is beef.  This point seems to be a contentious one and I simply do not understand why.

The Uproar

Angry mob.

We demand that our 100% beef product have labeling to indicate that it is two different kinds of 100% beef product in one package! Who's with me!

Most of the public attention drawn to pink slime came when ABC News aired a report that showed 70% of ground beef sold  in supermarkets has pink slime. Actually, they didn’t really so much show it as they did “state it without giving a source.”  From what I can tell there are two major arguments against pink slime.  The first argument is something along the lines of either “it’s disgusting” or “it’s not beef and the packaging is lying”.  The other argument surrounds supposedly dangerous chemicals said to be contained within pink slime.

I am, honestly, not even going to justify the uproar with an in-depth breakdown of what’s wrong with it. That is how stupid this outrage against Big Meat really is. Instead, I’ll sum it up with a couple convenient bullet points:

  • The defense BPI is mounting is hilarious in that it is so simple, so ingenious, but also so destined to fail.  Their retort to this mess: “Beef is beef.”  They do not feel they need to label anything because the meat going into your ground beef is, and has always been, beef.  I have never said beef so much in my life.
  • The argument that ammonium hydroxide should be labeled is moot, because it is a chemical used in the production process, not an ingredient.  The FDA monitors chemicals used for this purpose and compiles them into a convenient list of chemicals that may come into contact with food but that are safe for consumption.  See that list here. So yes, even the ammonia argument people are making is kind of pointless.  Ammonium hydroxide makes its way into so much of our food that to remove anything that has it would leave supermarket shelves empty.  Example products include jams, jellies, snack foods, baked goods, etc.

Let me put this another way: there has never been a case of illness in which the exclusion of pink slime would have prevented said illness.  Seriously. If anything our food is safer for it, since E. Coli is still a real problem and the rest of the meat that isn’t pink slime goes through no such disinfectant process.  While normally I would not suggest reading information from the company in question, the defense mounted by BPI is pretty free of propaganda, unlike the arguments against pink slime.  I’m looking at you, fucking Diane Sawyer.

The ABC News “Case”

The true story behind pink slime, the one that has seemed to get no attention at all, is the downright irresponsible and slanderous “investigation” by ABC News.  As I suggested, their investigation seems less like a journalistic foray into the seedy underbelly of Big Meat, and more like they had a slow news day and asked an intern (who happened to be reading Cracked.com) for an idea.

Within the first five seconds you have Diane Sawyer hilariously using the term “whistleblower” to describe their source for this investigation.  Let me make it clear off-the-bat that there was no whistle-blowing involved because there was nothing to report.  The inclusion of pink slime, while not highly publicized, was not hidden or discreet.  It is well within the standards of FDA and USDA regulations.  But this is their first step, and an intelligent one at that.  That said, just because the American public isn’t fully aware of something doesn’t make it a scandal.

South Park News Team

There is more subtlety in this picture than both ABC News reports on pink slime combined.

This “news” segment resembles less anything like journalism and looks more like the episode of South Park where the boys made a news show.  The tabloids were blushing when ABC News issued this report, realizing they’d finally been outdone.  If Diane Sawyer were implying any harder her head would have exploded, coating the screen in pink slime just to hammer home how disgusting we’re supposed to think it is.

Let me be even clearer here: ABC News did jack shit for research.  If they did, they then promptly ignored it in favor of sensationalizing this story.  For me, this issue took many hours research to really be able to write about. I did not slap this post together in ten minutes and call it a night.  Rather, I considered it a process.  First, I read as much as I could.  Second, I considered the sources of the information to take biases and agendas into account.  Third, I formulated an outlook on these events that seemed in line with fact. That is two more steps than ABC News did for this segment.

Instead of information, we’re provided a parade of us countless people who are quick to tell you how evil pink slime is, how it is not good for you and isn’t beef.  The parade pauses, briefly, so that we can learn about how pink slime is made. I’m honestly surprised they provided that slick animation of the process.  I wouldn’t have put it past them to show a picture of a cow shitting as they described the process, just to reinforce that pink slime is bad.

The video shows, numerous times, people saying they wouldn’t feed it to their children. This video is, in terms of composition, a masterpiece of propaganda.  We see someone wrist-deep in beef as the words “real beef” come up, and we get images of industrial factories when they use pink slime.  It’s a classic trick.  In fact, they use pink slime’s actual name all of once in the entire segment, and even then I feel like the volume was turned down and he mumbled it lest we call it anything other than pink slime.

LFTB

"You know, guys, Lean Finely Textured Beef just doesn't have the same slanderous ring to it as pink slime."

And what a powerful name that is.  Make no mistake, had they used its real name throughout the segment opinion may not have been swayed so easily.  I would argue that, out of a sense of journalistic integrity, they owed it to the viewers to use the real name, rather than pink slime, the entire time.  That word alone is propaganda.  Is it any coincidence that a disgusting term for this stuff was coined by a guy who decided to go on the news to get rid of it?  If your answer is anything but yes, you are tragically naive.

But I think, beyond everything, they portray the internal struggle at the USDA amazingly well–at least in terms of suiting their purpose.  ABC News would have us believe that this was a case of a higher-up corrupted by Big Meat versus the little guy, standing up for the consumer.  They link the move that the former undersecretary made from government service to working with the meat companies and imply corruption.  While they openly say that the move was legal before, they point out that ethical standards would not have allowed it now.  Make no mistake, dear readers, politicians that we put in office repeatedly have made far less ethically sound–but legal–moves and never been put under such scrutiny for it.

Now, I understand this was a short segment, coming in at just under three minutes, but ABC News spent more time painting this as a crisis and corruption than describing what pink slime is.   More of the video is devoted to people telling us how disgusting it is than people telling us what it is, and that is telling.  After all, any news outlet with the slightest hint of integrity would have made an effort to inform us of both sides of the topic.  Instead, ABC News opts to skip fairness and go right to the part where their ratings skyrocket because they manufactured a health crisis.

Then you get the follow-up video:

Having done their damage, ABC News continues in the trend of irresponsible reporting by opening up with an organic grocer talking about what his view of meat is.  Now, I may be a little crazy, but doesn’t it seem like an organic grocer would, you know, have an interest in portraying the stuff you get in the supermarket as being disgusting?  Isn’t that the kind of hidden agenda that the reporter should consider before just shoving the guy onscreen?

Beyond all that, what you’ll note is suspiciously absent from both reports is an opposing viewpoint: someone who wants to say that hey, guess what, meat is meat, beef is beef, and this stuff is both of those.

Nixon

That guy wouldn't lie about anything.

Oh wait, they totally did.  But in their fine tradition of journalistic excellence, they show Janet Riley, VP at the American Meat Institute, clearly pissed right the fuck off.  I cannot overstate how hilarious and disheartening their choice of that part of the conversation really is.  You see Ms. Riley, clearly upset, basically yelling at this reporter trying to get it through his thick skull that pink slime is fucking beef.

Short of drawing devil horns on her and implying that she is sexually promiscuous, I don’t know that ABC News could have done much more to paint her as the least credible person they’ve ever interviewed in the history of interviews.  They make her look worse than Richard Nixon, for christ sake.

The desperation and frustration on her face is clear.  To the average viewer it would look exactly like she had something to hide, or perhaps that her discomfort with the situation was a last-ditch effort to cover up the horrible truth of pink slime.

Instead, I have this image of the ABC reporter calling her and, for forty minutes, asking the same goddamn question: “Why aren’t you relabeling the meat?” in the hopes of eliciting from her the exact reaction we see in the video.  The editing on that part is pretty clear, when he is sitting in that sweet video conference room and then we cut to her, it’s a disjointed, jarring cut.  He did not pick up the phone and connect with Ms. Riley already that frustrated.  He provoked her.

It’s the frustration you’d feel if someone points to your dog and says “That’s a cat.”  You try to explain to him, repeatedly, that it’s a goddamn dog, but he won’t listen.  That, my friends, is exactly what Ms. Riley was trying to do to ABC News, but they just wouldn’t stop insisting that goddamn dog was really a cat.

Conclusion

There is so little actual information about this product, to say nothing of the debate, contained within the report that I would hesitate to use the word informative at all.  What ABC has shown us is a collection of interviews with people who are telling us what ABC wants us to think: this stuff is disgusting.  This stuff is not meat.  That dog is a cat.

Fox News

The gold standard of neutrality when compared to ABC News.

When you get down to it, that is what ABC News has done here.  They have managed to redefine beef.  They have taken beef and with all of the force they could muster said “that’s not beef.”   They have called a dog a cat and we, the American public, have bought it.

I don’t know that it surprises me that we did, either.  This is not some small-time news station, but a national outlet.  ABC clearly put their best and brightest behind this cluster-fuck of an investigation, and they produced a slick piece of propaganda.

Before I end this, I want remind everyone here that while Big Meat is portrayed as faceless and callous, and as being in bed with the government to pass off substandard product, there are faces behind this.  In the wake of ABC’s blatant display of journalistic slander BPI closed down three of its four planets.  Because of this report 650 employees of BPI are out of a job.  If production doesn’t resume soon, those 650 people will be permanently unemployed.

It is not their fault they worked for that company, nor should they suffer because of the media outrage.

And in case you are wondering, many of the BPI employees have come out in support for their employer.  I’m sure part of that motivation is to save their jobs, but from what I’ve read some of them just don’t seem to understand why BPI was targeted this way.  Beyond that, many of them have come out to say that they would, and do, eat product containing pink slime.   Amazingly, the news hasn’t bothered to tell us the story of the 650 plant workers out of a job because ABC got a hard-on for taking down Big Meat.  Instead, we hear about the heroic housewives who have saved their children from pink slime at school and supermarkets.  Bless you all, your quest is an honest and noble one.

ABC news has created the next “vaccine causes autism” scare. (By the way, if you believe that vaccines cause autism, I’m sorry.  Then again, if you believe that your children never stood much of a chance anyway–with or without a vaccine.)  They have instituted a full-on firestorm targeting pink slime, a firestorm based upon half-truths and misrepresented information.

But I think the final point is this: this product was cheap.  As a result, you can bet your Sweet Baby Ray’s that prices on ground beef and processed beef products are going up.  That is to say nothing of school districts who now have to replace all of their beef with different, more expensive beef because of the outrage.  While some may argue that it’s a small price to pay for better food, I ask you this: do you honestly think you can taste the difference?  The same burgers your mouth was watering over last summer are the same ones that you’re now deriding as unfit for consumption.

Oh, the winds of change.

Dear Anonymous, You Are (Scary) Douches.

April 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Dear Anonymous,

You know, I used to hear a lot about you guys.  Of course, that was a few years ago when people actually thought you might do something good;  back when you had any kind of credibility.

I realize that by writing this letter, I make myself a potential victim of your attacks.  I sincerely hope that I am small enough in scope that you don’t, because while I can joke about it, I really don’t want death threats.  And while I am extremely harsh on you in this letter, I think one thing you should take away is this: I would love for you to actually impact some change in the world.  You just don’t.

And while to those reading this may wonder if I’m actually afraid of retaliation, let me say: yes I am. I thought long and hard before posting this if I really wanted to even take that chance, as miniscule as it is. After all, it is well within Anonymous’ patterns of attack to give out the addresses and phone numbers of people you don’t like.

And don’t pretend it goes any deeper than that.  You are not freedom fighters, you are not heroes.  You are cyber-bullies who decide they don’t like someone for some reason and then take action against them.  If someone within your ranks decides this letter is enough of a threat to your image, I very well could become the victim of your attacks.

Sure, you’ve done some cool stuff.  You brought a couple of internet predators to justice, which is more than most individuals can say.  You have even defaced or managed to take down the websites of organizations with whom you disagree and who are, in general, pretty uncool.

But I began to ask myself a question: what are you guys fighting for?  Ostensibly it looks like free speech. After all, Operation Titstorm was about fighting against censorship.  I don’t disagree with your ideal there.  Only one problem: you attacked the website of a white supremacist a year earlier.  Why?  Because you didn’t like that he’s a racist.  Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t you just censoring him?

I mean, that’s what it is, isn’t it?  You attacked his website because you didn’t like what he had to say.  It has nothing to do with freedom of speech in that case, because he was exercising that freedom.  How about your heroic attack on McKay Hatch, founder of the No Cussing Club.   That kid is as non-threatening as they come, after all he’s trying to do is stop swearing.  He hasn’t started some huge movement that murders people for swearing.  No, the damn club is for kids who don’t like swearing and don’t want to do it.  What threat did he pose to you?  Were you afraid he might start writing gently-phrased, cuss-free letters informing us all of why we should stop swearing?  Actually, when you put it that way, he had to be stopped.

The pimply face of evil.

But I guess that’s censorship.  And since he’s a censor he must be an enemy.  So why not put a teenager’s address and phone number on the internet, where you all could so valiantly send him hookers.  Boy, the look on his face must have been priceless when he realized that school club he started was going to cause you all to threaten his life.  You sure showed him.

So really, again, the root of the issue is things you don’t like and things you do, isn’t it? Sure, some of the things you don’t like are pretty clear-cut in their negativity, but then some aren’t.  I understand that in some convoluted way you justified your attack on Sony.  But were the threats and harassment of the employees and their family justified?  After all, they just work there.  I doubt many of them made it their life goal to destroy your freedom.  Hell, most of them were probably just trying to collect a paycheck.

What was the issue at stake there, anyway?  I mean, to most rational people it would look like Sony was defending its intellectual property.  It may have become a little overzealous, but then again it is their property to enforce the rules with as they please.  I understand that you call piracy by the name freedom.  I suppose, then, that you’re not in favor of the artists, actors and everyone else who works on a project getting paid?  There won’t be anything left to freedom once you guys have your way, since all the artists will have moved on to fields that, you know, pay something.

But then, how do you even decide what you don’t like?  You don’t have any leadership and you have no stated goals. You are a loose collection of people under some banner.  So, then, how can you really stand for anything?

And don’t try to argue that some of these acts were done by splinter groups.  It’s called No True Scotsman.  Being that you don’t have any formal membership and no leadership to actually say who is and isn’t Anonymous, anybody and everybody is.  This is part of why you are so dangerous.

But let’s forget about who you attack and why, for now.  I doubt I’d ever understand the logic behind that.  Let’s talk about those fucking Guy Fawkes masks.

Serious douchebags.

WE ARE DOUCHEBAGS

Here’s what I don’t get: no part of the Guy Fawkes mask is supposed to be a good thing.  Brief history lesson for those of you who don’t know of Guy Fawkes in a context outside of V for Vendetta: he was a Catholic who hoped to bring his religion back toEngland.  He and a few others got together in the hopes of bombing Parliament and starting a rebellion that would bring Catholicism back.

Seeing as you have issues with Scientology and are all in favor of free speech, an outsider would think you would not like Guy Fawkes for the simple fact that he hoped to push his religion upon others. Englandhad made its choice, and while the government at the time wasn’t cool with Catholics (well, that may be an understatement), it certainly didn’t justify dismantling that government in order to make Catholicism the only religion. This guy used the same tactics as all the terrorist groups of today. Guy Fawkes was (and, I believe, still is on occasion) burned in effigy. He is not a hero.  We do not burn heroes in effigy. Guy Fawkes was hardly an acceptable figure until some books painted him as an action hero a century after he died.

Behind the mask.

The terrifying person behind the mask.

But most of you probably only know of Guy Fawkes in reference to the character V in V for Vendetta. I’m going to over-generalize here, but since you operate mostly in cyberspace and have a specific “skill” set, I’m going to just imagine you’re more at home with comics than history.I find it funny that you would choose that image to represent you.  I guess the whole “identity not being as important as the message” part makes sense (assuming you had a coherent, consistent message to spread), but the rest doesn’t.  V for Vendetta is as much condemning anarchism and the barbaric terrorist acts V uses as it is condoning them.  V is not meant to be a stand-out hero, he is meant to exist in an area of moral ambiguity.  As with all literature, the message is not a clear-cut one.  That is a message you all seem to have ignored, instead taking that mask as your own to somehow symbolize righteous dissent.  You are not righteous, and you do not speak for the majority.

Then there is your so-called “war” on Scientology.  How’s that going?

Let’s look at your “Message to Scientology” from 2008.  Skipping the boring stuff, here is the message in terms of what you were going to do to them:

“Anonymous has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed. For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind–for the laughs–we shall expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle theChurchofScientologyin its present form. We acknowledge you as a serious opponent, and we are prepared for a long, long campaign. You will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic. Your methods, hypocrisy, and the artlessness of your organization have sounded its death knell.”

Hmm.  That’s pretty serious shit there, guys.  So, let’s make a checklist of these threats and take them one-by-one, shall we?  For the laughs.

1. We shall expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Churchof Scientologyin its present form.

Well as of today (April 9th, 2012) the Scientology website is up and running, with no apparent issue.  A few Google searches as well as a browse of the articles related to Scientology, Anonymous and Project Chanology on Wikipedia make no mention of activities past 2010.  Seriously, it seems like most of the activity was in 2008 with a little in 2009.

But please tell me how you are going to dismantle the Churchof Scientology.  I understand that you will expel them from the internet (you haven’t), but how does removing their internet presence do anything other than hinder them in the long run.  Plus, most of your “attacks” are just DDoS attacks that, at your best moments, managed to take down some sites for a few hours.  That is hardly “expelling” them from the internet.

Let’s point out one other thing, too.  The numbers for self-identified scientologists were falling well before you guys declared your war.  In fact, in 2001 that number was 55,000 and in 2008 it was 25,000.

Poor Tom.

Tom Cruise seen here lamenting the loss of Scientology.

I’ll admit that I hate Scientology as much as the next guy (we’ll get to that), but your “war” on them hardly seems purposeful or well-planned.

2. We acknowledge you as a serious opponent, and we are prepared for a long, long campaign.

This is the cop-out line, guys.  This is the part where you admit that you’ll probably not do anything significant to impact their numbers, but where you can go ahead and take credit for the already falling numbers (see above) in five more years.  This is your loophole when you realize how useless you have been.

3. You will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic.

I didn’t actually take a poll (mostly because I’m lazy), but I bet that if I asked 100 of my friends/acquaintances what “Project Chanology” is that about 10 of them would know.  If I asked the same 100 people about Scientology they’d probably say they don’t like it, but what are you going to do.  There is no angry mass, there is only angry Anonymous, righteously indignant at the fact that something they don’t like has stood for so long despite their ever so powerful attacks.

4. Your methods, hypocrisy, and artlessness of your organization have sounded its death knell.

If that is true for Scientology I wish it were true for you, Anonymous.  Unfortunately for everyone Scientology and you still exist.

Anonymous, your ideals are inconsistent.  Were any of you to sit down and actually look at what you stood for, not in terms of the words you say but in your acts, you’d find that you stand against now what you once stood for.

Anonymous, you are impotent.  Your attacks consist of random DDoS attacks that hurt websites for minutes at a time.  If you’re lucky, you take someone down for hours. At the very worst of it, you manage to get some fake death threats and hookers delivered.  Congratulations, you’re going to destroy Scientology by inconveniencing people.

Your impotence stems from your decentralization.  The very thing that you think gives you power is the very thing that strips it from you.

Worst of all—beyond everything else—you are just as malevolent as those you so often stand against.  You employ the exact same tactics the Scientologists do: you bully, you release public information and you threaten violence.  You are a cancer upon every cause you stand for.  You are the terrorists of the internet.  While you may well at one point have deserved a redress of your grievances, your tactics have long since made that point moot.  Now the only proper action is to ignore you, lest we feed the fire.

Hooker!

I think the politically correct term now is "high-class escort". This one may not be high class, but I wouldn't turn her down if it were free.

Anonymous, keep it classy.  I can only hope that my blog with a lifetime total (as of this post) of 500 visitors will infuriate you so much that you’ll post my personal information.  I did, after all, call you impotent. You know the best way to prove you’re not impotent?  Find my address and send me hookers.  Really, really expensive ones.  Charge them to Scientology.  That way you show everyone.  We’ll all have learned our lessons then.

I will eat my words (and any pizzas you’d like to send me at someone else’s expense), Anonymous, if you can manage to prove that you have done one thing that has positively and tangibly altered some social norm or law, and that you did so without hurting any innocents in the process. (Please note, the key there is the lack of collateral damage.  You always seem to hurt someone else while you’re trying to be some positive movement.) Taking a website down for 15 minutes doesn’t count.  I want proof that the world is better for having you; the world I see is frustrated by you but too afraid to tell you to leave.

For those of you who want more details about the wonderful things Anonymous hasn’t done for us, here are a few resources about their douchebaggery:

 Timeline of Anonymous’ impotency.
Anonymous dislikes Sony, gets nasty.
Anonymous breaks laws, FBI does their job.  Anonymous dislikes.

(I think my favorite part of the above YouTube video is the guy who says, and I quote: “Anonymous is not a group, it is a thought, an idea, a spark to the flame if you will.” Though, then there are the guys talking about the New World Order and how they love Anonymous.  Gives you a real good idea of the support they get.)