Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ayn Rand's letter to her niece about $25 proves that she was a psychotic bitch:

For those who don't know who Ayn Rand is, I'll let John Oliver explain:

Ayn Rand's 17-year-old niece once asked her if she could borrow $25. This is the letter that Rand sent to her niece in response:
Dear Connie:

You are very young, so I don't know whether you realize the seriousness of your action in writing to me for money. Since I don't know you at all, I am going to put you to a test.

If you really want to borrow $25 from me, I will take a chance on finding out what kind of person you are. You want to borrow the money until your graduation. I will do better than that. I will make it easier for you to repay the debt, but on condition that you understand and accept it as a strict and serious business deal. Before you borrow it, I want you to think it over very carefully.
After proposing a repayment scheme, she proceeds to punctuate what a lovely human being she is:
I want you to understand right now that I will not accept any excuse-except a serious illness. If you become ill, then I will give you an extension of time-but for no other reason. If, when the debt becomes due, you tell me that you can't pay me because you needed a new pair of shoes or a new coat or you gave the money to somebody in the family who needed it more than I do-then I will consider you as an embezzler. No, I won't send a policeman after you, but I will write you off as a rotten person and I will never speak or write to you again.

Now I will tell you why I am so serious and severe about this. I despise irresponsible people. I don't want to deal with them or help them in any way. An irresponsible person is a person who makes vague promises, then breaks his word, blames it on circumstances and expects other people to forgive it. A responsible person does not make a promise without thinking of all the consequences and being prepared to meet them.

......the fuck?

Not only was Ayn Rand already absurdly rich at this point in her life, she also withdrew far more from Medicare than she paid into it (and Medicare, remember, is socialized medicine) - for the treatment of her lung cancer, which was caused by her chain smoking, even though she constantly scoffed at reports that it causes lung cancer (as one of Andrew Sullivan's readers points out).

And yet when her niece asks her for $25, Rand acts like she wants help with covering up a murder. Horrible person! Embezzler! We all know the importance of personal responsibility (especially those of us who don't smoke?), but this is an absurd and inappropriately vicious rant by a sociopath who cared far more about money than about the well-being of others. No wonder the massive, steaming piles of bullshit she left in her wake became the basis for modern conservative thought.

You know who I despise? Rich, delusional, self-righteous assholes who think their money automatically makes them a better person than everyone else.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Burden of Being Well-Informed

There are lots of days that I wish I had never taken an interest in politics, ever.

One of the primary differences between political science and other fields, like chemistry or engineering, in that no matter how much more fundamentally knowledgeable you are about a topic than someone else, almost literally everyone thinks they know just as much about that subject as you do, and that their opinions are equally valid. Propaganda outlets like Fox News compound the problem, which is why you wind up with so many people who don't believe in objective realities like climate change under the delusion that their positions carry just as much weight as those of the people who do believe in those objective realities. When you have enough people under this type of delusion, society's understanding of the difference between objective facts and subjective opinions becomes blurry. So having an innate desire to un-blur the line between the two winds up feeling like being forced to carry a giant boulder around everywhere you go.

There are lots of reasons that showing people the difference between the truth and, as Stephen Colbert famously put it, the "truthiness" they feel, but one of the biggest is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This is a psychological phenomenon where people who are incompetent at a given subject (in this case, political theory and knowledge about current events, history, and basic science) will:
• Fail to recognize their own lack of skill

• Fail to recognize genuine skill in others

• Fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
In my considerable experience studying politics and trying to explain it to others, I've encountered this problem over and over and over again. The more often I encounter this problem, the bigger the boulder I'm carrying around becomes.

Don't get me wrong: contrary to popular opinion, I'm not under the delusion that I'm always right. I try to take the polar opposite approach of the "YOU'LL NEVER CHANGE MY MIND, NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY!" crowd, and keep my opinions as as malleable as reality allows. I'm quite aware that literally everyone is fallible, and everyone's judgment is colored by their past experiences. But I also make a point to not pretend that I possess less knowledge than I do, just for the sake of not hurting an ignorant person's ego. I shouldn't have to pretend that I know as little about politics as the average person does, because I put incredibly massive amounts of effort into staying extremely well-informed and hunting down minimally-biased realities about things like poverty and class struggles, or gender and sexism, or scientific discoveries.

Here's the experience I had that generated the idea for this post. Several weeks ago, Congress released a report about the CIA's brutal, illegal, and ineffectual torture program under the Bush Administration. Andrew Sullivan covered it, in all its horrific details, here. The day after it was released, I came into work and a couple of the older guys there were talking about it. One of them, a devout Christian no less, actually defended the entire torture program and blithely blew off how horrifyingly brutal and unproductive it was. He had already taken the "YOU'LL NEVER CHANGE MY MIND" approach, and nothing the report said made any difference to him, even though much of what came out in the report was said internally by the CIA itself. Frustrated by this stark hypocrisy and indifference toward barbaric violence, I mentioned that this type of thing is why I dislike the Republican Party so much.

Instantly, almost every sphincter in the room puckered up. He brought politics into it! He's being a partisan hack! Chris, you annoying arrogant know-it-all, don't you know that Democrats love torture just as much as Republicans do? Don't you know that the CIA chiefs are now saying that torture saved American lives? This post from disproves your points. You're just being blind - you don't want to admit that the Democrats and Republicans are equally evil!

No amount of reasoning with them made any difference at that point. It didn't matter whose side the truth was on - I had already committed the unforgivable sin of taking a side, as opposed to portraying both sides as equally bad. LOL, Silly partisan hack!

Of course, the objective, statistical reality of the situation is that, not only was I right, I was really fucking right:

This gets at the heart of another serious problem with politics in America: the love affair with blind centrism. A massive chunk of the country absolutely loves to pat themselves on the back for criticizing both the left and the right in near-equal measure, regardless of whether or not that criticism is in line with the truth: "Look at how even-handed I am! I'm above the fray! I'm non-partisan and unbiased! Aren't I brilliant?"

But the goal in studying politics should not be to be equally "unbiased" between the left and the right; the goal should be to be biased in favor of the truth, regardless of which side it's on. Of course neither side has a monopoly on the truth, but that doesn't mean we should pretend that the left is wrong just as often as the right is, when it's fundamentally, objectively untrue. Do both sides have crazies? Sure - but how many people in Congress refuse to believe evolution and global warming and Obama's American citizenship? And how does that compare to the number of people in Congress who believe that 9/11 was an inside job, or that guns should be completely banned altogether, or that vaccines cause autism?

(Spoiler alert: It's not even remotely close to being an equal number.)

Few things in America take less courage or effort than claiming that the left and the right are bad in equal measure. The number of independents in America is now far greater than the number of Democrats or Republicans. The problem is that this group of pseudo-above-the-fray independents comes with its own set of biases, and is vulnerable to its own forms of groupthink. All too often, it's unmitigated ignorance masquerading as high-mindedness - and this (admittedly low-visual-quality) SNL skit skewers it to perfection:

I know, I know, people like me are "just as bad" as all the people I've criticized in this post. The feminists hate me because I criticize misandry and support bidirectional gender equality; the centrists hate me because I refuse to say the Democrats are as deranged and radical as the Republicans are; the torture apologists hate me because I'm a "limp-wristed commie terrorist-sympathizer"; and the Republicans hate me because my zero-tolerance policy against bullshit is anathema to their entire worldview.

Except we're not "just as bad". Believe me, I do get it. I really do. I get that I'm a long, long, long way from being perfect. But even so, I'm also a long, long way away from being as ignorant and misinformed as the average American, let alone the hyper-gullible rubes who get their 'information' from Fox News, talk radio, and Facebook chain-forwards. And I shouldn't have to pretend that I'm not.

But like Winston Churchill said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." So I try to kill off popular myths one-by-one when I encounter them:
• No, Obamacare isn't "socialized medicine" and it doesn't "completely destroy" the "greatest health care system in the world".

• Yes, climate change is something that is going to fuck us all over if we don't pay serious attention to it.

• No, rich people don't simply "work harder" than the poor.

• Yes, humans evolved from a lower order of mammals.

• No, guns don't make you any safer from criminals or government tyranny.

• Yes, a great many feminists harbor an intrinsic resentment toward men in general.

• No, torture is not legal, excusable, or effective.

But it's like playing whack-a-mole. Regardless of what the facts are, an ignorant person will always believe their opinions are just as valid as a well-informed person's opinions are. I lose patience with this type of ignorance, and then I get frustrated and angry, and then I lose friends.

And this is why I play video games so often now. It's a relief from having to drag that stupid boulder around all the time.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 In Review

In 2014, I....

• Saved enough money to pay off my Mustang
• Vacationed in Disney World
• Re-discovered my love of video games
• Watched my sister become a fellow OSU Alumni
• Celebrated our one-year anniversary with Steph
• Switched jobs to Northrop-Grumman's B2 program....
• ....spent months putting up with an unbearable right-wing asshole....
• ....and then switched back.
• Attended my first-ever Cherokee Pow-wow
• Scored a c-c-c-combo breaker against crappy birthdays, and had an awesome one this year
• Tried to shine a light on some harsh truths about feminism, as well as American politics in general
• Attended my first-ever Comic-Con
• Gained a new all-time favorite video game, ever
• Celebrated a downscaled but still epic Christmas

Note: These are the top ten games I played in 2014; most of them came out prior to this year.

Honorable Mention) Perfect Dark XBLA
10) The Saboteur
9) Gears of War II
8) Bastion
7) Halo: Anniversary Edition
6) Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
5) Mario Kart 8
4) L.A. Noire
3) Halo 4
2) Red Dead Redemption
1) Super Smash Bros. 4

Monday, December 29, 2014


As per tradition [2011, 2012, 2013], I start my Christmas blog with the gifts, and note that's it's absolutely not because I think they're the most important part about Christmas :p


Marble chess set
Black throw blanket
Black shower curtain
Cocktail recipe book
Steel OSU shot glass
Guitar-shaped spoons
Wine: Barefoot Moscato
Mustang shelf decoration
World-traveler scratch-off globe
Batmobile Christmas tree ornament
SHIRT: Black dress shirt
SHIRT: "I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you" (not pictured)
BOOK: Out of Oz (#4 of 4 in the Wicked quadrilogy)
BOOK: Ending Aging - Aubrey DeGrey
GAME: Gears of War 3
GAME: Sonic Generations
GAME: South Park: The Stick of Truth
GAME: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
GAME: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD
GIFT CARD: $15, Subway
GIFT CARD: $25, Amazon
GIFT CARD: $25, Hastings
GIFT CARD: $25, Best Buy
GIFT CARD: $25, Gamestop
GIFT CARD: $25, Barnes & Noble
GIFT CARD: $25, Walmart
GIFT CARD: $25, Walmart (from work)
FROM CHRISTINE: Green ornament
FROM STEPH: Sweet potato butter
FROM STEPH: Black Christmas stocking
FROM STEPH: Animal crackers and dried fruit

TO PARENTS: Custom-made decorative box (collaboration with Danielle)
TO PARENTS: DVD with 87 years of family photos
TO MOM: Washing machine
TO MOM: Vintage Stock gift card
TO MOM: TJ Maxx gift card + Peach Amiibo + Custom Rudolph ornament
TO DAD: Solid-state hard drive
TO DAD: Updated Android phone
TO DAD (+ Aunts): Grove of 20 memorial trees in Minnesota's Superior National Forest
TO DANI: Cards Against Humanity
TO DANI: DVD: The Lion King
TO DANI: DVD: Beauty and the Best
TO STEPH: Tickets to Alton Brown live
TO STEPH: Black and purple earrings
TO STEPH: Floating charm locket, with purple/black heart charms

I'm thrilled about all the new games and gift cards (big surprise, right?), as well as the book about reversing the aging process, and the fourth book in the Wicked quadrilogy. The Batmobile ornament includes a button that plays the classic Tim Burton-era Batman theme. My sister got me a globe that lets you scratch off the countries you've visited (!!), and the sweet potato butter Steph got me is crazy delicious : )

The main gift my from my sister and I to our parents was this, a wooden Christmas box with an LED circuit designed by me, and a tree painting by her. It's definitely our best "designed" gift up to this point, I think it came out really well:

The box also contained a DVD with over 2 gigabytes of scanned family photos, dating all the way back to 1927.

My new Batmobile wasn't the only Christmas tree ornament gift with a neat feature. Our washing machine gift to my mom fell through at the last minute, and she won't get it until several days after Christmas. So I had to throw together a bag full of stuff at the last minute, because I still wanted her to get something on Christmas morning.

The bag included a Princess Peach Amiibo (mom plays as Peach in Smash Bros), and this: I bought a Rudolph ornament from Walmart, clipped off the nose, ripped out the stuffing, and installed a small circuit I made from spare parts that causes Rudolph's new LED nose to light up when you press the button on his head:

My gift to my dad and my aunts was a grove of 20 trees planted in Minnesota's Superior National Forest, in remembrance of my grandparents. And I gave Steph a silver, heart-shaped floating charm locket with black and purple stones, and tickets to see Alton Brown's live show in 2015 : )

I'd also like to take a moment to point out the completely insane number of desserts my mom made for Christmas. (For four people. And the bulk of these cookies aren't even shown here.)

Pictured: regular candy, peanut clusters, pretzel kisses with M&Ms and pecans, peanut butter pretzel clusters, poor-man's cheesecake (trust me, at LEAST as good as the 'real' stuff) with cherry and strawberry toppings, pecan pie, peppermint bark, candy cane cookies, frosted sugar cookies, peanut butter kiss cookies, and raspberry bars (MY FAVORITE).

The Saturday after Christmas, I played Monopoly with the parents:

Dad won by an ├╝ber-lucky landslide, so his nickname the rest of the night was "Donald Trump" (bahahaha!).

So even if we didn't make the trip to Indy this year, Christmas was still pretty epic : )

Game Reviews: Super Smash Bros. 4

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (a.k.a. Super Smash Bros. 3) has been my all-time favorite video game ever since it came out. Smash 3 was the reason I bought a Wii - I picked up both the system and the game on the game's launch day. (I picked up Smash 4 on its launch night too, and Gamestop was packed.) Nothing has ever even come close to knocking it out of the #1 spot, until now.

The list of reasons that Smash is my favorite game series is very, very long, but it boils down to three really big ones:

First, it's all about getting a group of people together in a living room, and just having a blast. Smash is one of the few modern games that still evokes the Goldeneye-esque "up until 4am eating pizza and gaming with friends" era. Sure, Smash 3 and Smash 4 can be played online, but....meh. That's not the fun of Smash. The fun is in bringing people together, in person, and Smash 4's new eight-player mode is the ultimate realization of that.

Second, the controls are highly adaptable to the skill of the person playing: Smash works as both a mindless button-masher, and as a fighting game so technical and deep that there are people who actually make a living just by playing this series competitively. I'm a high-end player, though not a competitive one, but I've played Smash 4 with both family members and co-workers who have never seen the game before, and who almost never play video games, and we all still had a great time.

Third, my absolute favorite thing about Smash is the sheer number of classic, nostalgia-inducing games it brings together. It's completely staggering. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess might have challenged Smash for my #1 game spot, were it not for the fact that Smash pays a gargantuan number of tributes to the entire Zelda series. And the entire Mario series. And Metroid. And Star Fox. And Donkey Kong. And Earthbound. And Pokemon. And Sonic the Hedgehog. And, as of Smash 4: Pac-man, Mega-man, Duck Hunt, Galaga, and Pong. I shit you not.

The game's soundtrack features nods to every single one of these games, too: the bloody thing STARTS at three hundred and twenty three songs, and goes up from there. And it's still the most diverse soundtrack I've ever heard, ranging from orchestral remixes of classic Nintendo tunes, to show tunes, to ragtime and jazz, to HEAVY FRIGGIN' METAL. I've caught myself cleaning the house and leaving Smash 4's music mode on as a jukebox.

My one and only big knock against Smash 4 is that it removed the tributes to the Metal Gear Solid series that were present in Smash 3 - aggravating, since Solid Snake was one of my favorite characters, but I can still cross my fingers that he gets added as future DLC. There are tiny gripes: the menu isn't perfect, the system for customizing characters is clunky, there are too many Fire Emblem characters, they took out Ice Climbers....these things are roughly the equivalent to being served a massive, delicious five-star meal and noticing that the fancy fork is on the wrong side of the plate.

The controls are as tight as ever - which is awesome, considering you now have seven different options for what controller you want to use (and that comes in handy when you have eight people playing at once). This is also the first Smash game in high-definition, which makes the whole thing look as stunningly gorgeous and detailed as anything else I've ever played. You have about 50 characters to chose from (!!), and a couple dozen stages - and if you don't like any of those, you can also turn your own Mii avatar into a Smash fighter, and create your own Smash stages from scratch with the Wii U's gamepad. Smash 4 also added a board game mode, kind of a cross between Smash Bros. and Mario Party (I actually haven't even gotten around to trying that yet). Smash 4 also supports Nintendo's new Amiibo figures too (yawn).

Here's a good representation for how far the series has come since its beginning:



When I reviewed Red Dead Redemption, I said "If I were okay with giving this game an 11 out of 10, I'd probably give it a 12." Smash Bros. 4 is so overwhelmingly great, it's literally the only game I'm actually okay with going above 10 for.

Overall: 11/10

Bonus: these are the lyrics to the Latin vocals in one of Smash's main original musical pieces, first introduced in Brawl:

Audi famam illius.
Solus in hostes ruit
et patriam servavit.
Audi famam illius.
Cucurrit quaeque tetigit destruens.
Audi famam illius.
Audi famam illius.
Spes omnibus, mihi quoque.
Terror omnibus, mihi quoque.
Ille iuxta me.
Ille iuxta me.
Socii sunt mihi.
qui olim viri fortes
rivalesque erant.
Saeve certando pugnandoque
sprendor crescit.

I have heard of his rumor.
He alone rushed into his enemies
and saved his homeland
I have heard of his rumor.
He ran across the lands and everything he touched was destroyed.
I have heard of his rumor.
I have heard of his rumor.
He gave everyone hope, as he gave me.
He gave everyone fear, as he gave me.
He is now next to me.
He is now next to me.
My allies are with me.
My allies, who were once heroes
and old enemies, are here.
As they fiercely competed and battled
their splendor grew.