Monday, June 27, 2011

Turkey May Attack Syria?

This is an odd story.

I was making my usual rounds of foreign online publications, and in Today's Zaman, a Turkish newspaper/website, I found this story.

Now the Turkish story quotes a Kuwaiti media story claiming that Turkey has notified the other members of NATO that it may attack Syria. And down at the bottom of the column it also quotes al-Akhbar, a Lebanese paper said to be close to Hezbollah sources, as saying that Iran has warned Turkey that Iranian forces would attack Turkey if NATO attacks Syria.

Yeah, read that one a few times, it's confusing.

Who knows what basis there is to all this, if any. So far, I can find no trace of this story, or group of stories, being reported in any US Mainstream Media, or even on Al Jazeera English.

Your guess is as good as mine, dear reader.

Bachmann Needs A Boobjob

So I woke up this morning, had a shower, and made myself a substantial breakfast of chicken Parmesan sausage, ($3.99 a pound at Henry's, nomnomnom!), hash browns with onions, and eggs. This turned out to be a good thing, because I needed all the fortification I could get before discovering that Michelle Bachmann (brief pause while the clouds part, the sun shines down, and the angels sing Hosanna), has felt a calling to run for President of these here Yoonited States of Amerika.

Of course, we all knew it was coming. But there's a difference between abstract knowledge of impending disaster, and actually getting kicked in the nuts.

Given that Obama is going to be a one-term President, there is a grim inevitability to the whole thing. Oh, I suppose if the Archangel Michael came down from Heaven with a flaming sword and announced in a voice of thunder that it was the Will of God that Obama be re-elected, it might happen. But short of that, he's almost certain to be kicked out on his worthless ass.

And the sad part is that everyone knows this. The Republicans know it, the Democrats know it, my cousin's dog in Shawnee Mission knows it. But the Democrats will nominate him anyhow, simply because that's what they have always done, and the Amerikan political machine worships at the anus of business-as-usual.

So, whatever, we're fucked, and there's really nothing to be done about it until people are desperate enough to start listening to the Anarchists; then the real party will begin. But until then, we might as well have fun with it, no?

So I put on some Wagner, as I often do when in an Gotterdammerung sort of mood, and all at once it came to me. Bachmann needs a boob job!

I mean, come on now, Palin has the rack, and it does get attention. After all, never forget Rule One.

(Possum's Guide To Understanding The Male Of The Species, Chapter 2-Axioms, Rule One - "Men are pigs".)

Yes, pigs. Grunting, oinking, squealing, rude, inconsiderate, farting, belching, perpetually horny animals. And most of us here in the USA have a raging obsession with boobs. Big boobs. So, clearly, the smart move for A-cup Michelle Bachmann is an expensive set of first-class implants. Now, if she's going to do this, it's going to be obvious. After all, that's the whole idea. So what point in subtlety?

No, no, they hang you for a sheep, they hang you for a lamb, may as well steal the whole buggering flock. Our dear Michelle should clearly throw caution to the winds and go for the Godzilla-does-Tokyo broke with a set of the Hitomi Tanaka-style monsters. (Be aware that any search you do on that name will very probably yield results which are decidedly NSFW, but check Jlist-dot-com if you're curious. And at home.)

Now picture her doing a campaign ad, with the winged helmet and the iron bra, with Ride of the Valkyrie playing in the background, shaking her spear in the air and displaying The Twins for all those anal-retentive, mother-fixated, closet Nazis that are the stalwarts of the Republican party.

Tell me that's too crazy for US politics. Tell me it would never happen. Go ahead.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hamlet Online

While enormous volumes have been written in recent years on the subject of online games, the vast majority, (if not the entirety), of that work has been written by those who are not themselves gamers. This is the equivalent of a treatise on rainbows written by a blind woman.

While I seldom venture upon this subject, preferring for the most part to focus upon international affairs, I have been a gamer since 1971. Now, "games", in that long-distant age we call "The 70's", consisted of half-inch square cardboard counters moved upon a paper map, usually regulated in hexagons. It would not be until the following year that I would encounter the first electronic game, as such, in the form of an arcade game called "Pong", right there next to the Foosball tables in the old Parkway Bowl.

Forty years later, a bright-eyed 11 has become a somewhat-world-weary 51, and the world of games is dominated by computers. Unfortunately, the games industry is dominated by corporations. Virtually all the big names from the early days of computer games are long gone, and the few that survive do so as naught but an empty shell, a shambling zombie corpse animated by the necromantic marketing of their soulless corporate masters.

The perhaps inevitable effect of this corporate domination has been catastrophically devastating to originality and innovation. This is bad enough in PC games, but the console is the ultimate expression of corporate slavery. Everything about a console is completely proprietary; it is capable of doing nothing other than playing the games approved by the corporation which controls it. And this leaves the gamer utterly at the mercy of that corporation.

Fortunately for the game geeks of the world, this bleak situation within the USA is somewhat balanced out by the availability of games from abroad.

If you'd like to try something really different in turn-based gaming, check out Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI from Koei. The game is based upon the oldest novel in the world, a 14th-century account of the end of the Han Dynasty, which actually took place in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Gameplay and all, this is a real gem, and something enormously different from western games. In a cruel irony, RTK XI is actually a PC port of what was originally a console game. What can I say?

But the game I mostly want to talk about today is something older, and amazingly successful in spite of relatively primitive graphics. Yes, I'm talking about Mabinogi, a free (yeah, right) online game played in large part by those 1/3 my age. And they're doing Shakespeare.

That's right, Shakespeare. In a move of staggering audacity, the folks at Nexon, the Korean company that owns Mabinogi, have actually translated Shakespeare into a playable "generation" of the ongoing campaign storyline.

They started with Hamlet back in January. Now, those of you that know your Shakespeare will realize that Hamlet is a very mutable play, since the three surviving "earliest" versions of the play, (referred to as Q1, Q2, and F1), are each so different from the other two, and Q1 much shorter.

Hamlet worked very well. I've played it all the way through with three different characters, and it was quite enjoyable. That wasn't what surprised me. What really surprised me was how well they managed to capture the spirit and essence of the story. I've seen stage productions of Hamlet which did not accomplish that goal so well. Let the purists scream in outrage.

Next they tackled Romeo and Juliet. This is a somewhat more difficult campaign, and I've only played this all the way through with one character so far, but again I would call it a success. They have managed to capture the essence and the feel of the story. All the major scenes are there, including one in which you have to sneak past the guards to serenade Juliet on her balcony. And another in which you play Romeo, and are forced to fight Tybalt.

I admit I felt guilty when Mercutio died, and I admit I was choked up at the very end when Juliet awakened to find Romeo dead and...yeah, well, you know what happens. If they can make the audience, (that's me, the gamer), feel what the Bard meant an audience to feel, I call that success.

Now, Nexon said at the start that they meant to do four Shakespeare plays, and they showed a teaser with four little icons. We have seen the first two. The third was something unrecognizable, at least to me, but others have suggested Othello or the Merchant of Venice. The fourth icon was clearly of three witches.

Oh my. The Scottish Play. Talk about mixed feelings.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

US Infant Mortality

I've known I should write about this for a year now, but I keep putting it off because it's such a grim subject. Well, I said in my last entry that I'd deal with this, and here it is.

Infant Mortality is defined as the number of deaths of babies under one year of age, per 1,000 live births. The infant mortality rate correlates very strongly with, and is among the best predictors of, state failure. IMR is therefore also a useful indicator of a country's level of health or development, and is a component of the physical quality of life index.

The CIA World Fact Book has a list here of Infant Mortality Rates for the nations of the world. There are 46 nations with lower IMR than that of the United States. Let's look at a few highlights from the roll call of shame.

USA has an IMR of 6.06

Greece, for all its troubles, has an IMR of 5.00
Canada has an IMR of 4.92
Cuba, (FFS!), has an IMR of 4.90

"Possum", you say, "one measly point doesn't impress me". OK, fine, let's move down the list a bit further.

Slovenia, for the love of god, has an IMR of 4.17
Ireland has an IMR of 3.85
Czech Republic has an IMR of 3.73
Italy has an IMR of 3.38
France is at 3.28
Hong Kong has an IMR of 2.90, less than half that of the USA. Are you disgusted yet?
Japan 2.78
Sweden 2.74
Bermuda 2.47
Singapore 2.32
Monaco tops the list, with the lowest Infant Mortality Rate in the world, at 1.79

Now, the naysayers will jump in with frantic denials founded on alleged inconsistencies in the manner of reporting data. That was a valid point prior to 2008, but no longer.

The only remaining inconsistency of any note is that Hong Kong and Japan still sometimes report deaths within the first 24 hours as still births rather than infant deaths. But in evaluating this, remember that IMR is deaths within the first year. And even if we totally discard the statistics from those two areas, that does nothing to invalidate the data from the other nations, such as Sweden, with IMR less than half of our own.

The USA has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, and the quality of the services we receive, (for those who even have access to healthcare), is for shit, by the standards of a first-world nation.

Fine, and now I've spent half a page giving you bad news on a thoroughly depressing subject. Now do you understand why I didn't want to write this?

So WTF are we going to do about it?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Infant Mortality Spikes in Philadelphia

First, right out of the gate, take the core of this story with a grain of salt, (or perhaps half a shaker full), because it was reported on Fox News.

According to Fox news, quoting the director of the Radiation and Public Heath Project, Philadelphia is experiencing dangerously elevated levels of both radioactivity and iodine in its drinking water. At the same time, there has been a "spike" in infant mortality in Philadelphia.

I place the word "spike" in quotes for a good reason. The infant mortality per week "has increased by 48%", Fox breathlessly reports. Well, OK, 48% is an alarming increase. Then we discover that this translates to an increase from 5 per week to 7.5 per week. We'll pass over the obvious half-a-baby gags and references to the Wisdom of Solomon.

The question is, does this constitute a large enough statistical sample to be valid? I don't know, do you? If you have some professional competence in any applicable field, by all means please comment.

I do know that the subject of infant mortality is a shamefully embarrassing one for the USA, and I definitely intend to visit the topic in full very soon.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Radioactive Air Filters in Seattle

Latest news leaking out of Japan indicates that the release of radiation, in particular micron-size "hot particles", (which allegedly cannot be detected by geiger counters), of caesium, plutonium, and strontium isotopes, has been far greater than has previously been admitted.

Earlier this month, Japan's Emergency Nuclear Response Headquarters finally admitted that Fukushima reactors 1, 2, and 3 had all experienced a full meltdown.

And, as I said in the title, radioactive air filters are showing up in cars in the Seattle-Tacoma area of Washington state.

If those hot particles are getting into people's cars, they are also getting into people's lungs, and intestinal tracts, where they lodge and remain for the rest of your life. Needless to say, that "rest of your life" is likely to be a good bit shorter than would otherwise have been the case.

Why hasn't the administration done anything about this? Well, it's a case of follow the money, of course. One of Barak Obama's biggest campaign donors has been the Exelon corporation, which operates, (you guessed it!), nuclear power plants. Furthermore, Exelon corporation is one of the biggest employers in the state of Illinois, where Obama was Senator. As if that wasn't enough, Obama has also appointed the CEO of Exelon to his Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. My grandmother would have called this "setting the fox to guard the chicken coop".

Hey, it's business as usual in Corporate Amerika. Screw public health, screw the future, corporate profits and getting re-elected are more important. Change we can believe in, Mr President, thank you very much.

Could McCain really have done all that much worse?

Read the full story at AJE here

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Moral Police

Demonstrating once again a positive genius for shooting himself in the foot, the Supreme Leader (*snicker*) of Iran has ordered that 70,000 Moral Police are to be deployed on the streets of Tehran this summer. The stated targets of this deployment are women who fail to fully cover their hair or who wear revealing clothes, and also men with "inappropriate hairstyles". It should be noted that many Tehrani women wear a scarf over only the back half of their hair, rather than covering all of it.

If this seems utterly ridiculous to you, then we have that much in common. Especially considering that summer in Tehran is not quite as nasty as summer in New Jersey or Kansas City, but it's close. 90F degrees outside, 90% humidity, so by all means, let's require women to swathe themselves in yards of black cloth before going out in public, that's perfectly reasonable.

Politics in Iran right now is a three-way struggle between the zealots under the Supreme Leader, the moderates under President Ahmedinejad, and the largely-powerless opposition under whatever leaders haven't been thrown in jail yet. Yes, I called Ahmedinejad a moderate; in this context, he is. In previous summers, Ahmedinejad has publicly and vocally opposed any such dress-code crackdown, and largely prevented it from happening. This year, Ahmedinejad has just lost a spat with the Supreme Leader and been forced to eat crow, which leaves him in no position to help.

The other thing to remember about Iranian politics is that much of what is said, is only said for consumption. (Of course, that never happens in US politics, our elected leaders are always completely sincere in their public pronouncements). This seems to be more of the same, as the video below will show you. The people of Tehran, men and women both, seem to be dressing as they did last summer, and happily ignoring the Moral Police. And listen to the answers that AJE gets when they ask Tehranis about their reaction to this latest pronouncement. The replies are calm, thoughtful, moderate, and more or less what you might expect from a group of college-educated US citizens. Note that no-one even mentions God, or refers to religion at all, except in the phrase "Islamic Republic", which is how Iranians refer to their nation.

Some Iranian leaders may be loony tunes, (but of course you could never say the same about any of our leaders, right? Michele Bachmann is the soul of moderation, after all), but the Iranian people are as ordinary as can be. They're not crazy, they're not fanatics, and they're not blood-thirsty killers. They are, in fact, very much like us.

(Open Salon readers can view the video here)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Trouble In The South China Sea, Part IV

As I reported in August and September of last year, (see Part I, and Part II, and Part III), long-term trouble is brewing in the South China Sea.

Once again (or still), the center of the current dispute is the unfounded Chinese claims of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea in general, and over the Spratly Islands in particular. Lest the casual reader be fooled by the name, allow me to point out that despite the name China is really nowhere near the South China Sea. Indeed, the nearest point of Chinese land is over 500 miles from even the northernmost of the Spratly Islands.

Now, the standard international treaties clearly state that a nation is entitled to a 200-mile zone of economic exploitation of the sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, The Philippines, and the tiny Sultanate of Brunei are all within 200 miles of at least part of the Spratly Islands. China is over 500 miles away. In spite of this, China is claiming not just economic rights, but actual sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.

Yes, sovereignty, as though it were their own coastal waters. Sovereignty, meaning that the ships and aircraft of all other nations would require Chinese permission to transit any part of the South China Sea. And the South China Sea, my friends, is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Yes, now you see why this matters.

Nor is the issue of transit rights and sovereignty the actual crux of the issue. No, the true issue here is, (what else?), oil and gas. According to China's estimates, there are over 2 billion barrels of oil under the sea near the Spratly Islands. This would be enough to give China the second largest oil deposits in the world, very close behind Saudi Arabia. If you factor in the widespread belief that the Saudis are seriously exaggerating their deposits, this could leave China sitting on top of most of the oil remaining on the planet.

But there's more. The Spratly Islands area is also estimated to hold seabed deposits of over 2 Quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas. Yes, Quadrillion. That's a Billion with six more zeroes tacked on the end. In the blunt vernacular, "un chingo".

So, how hot are things getting this time? Well, the Vietnamese are accusing the Chinese of harassing their ships and cutting cables to exploration vessels. The Chinese, without bothering to deny the specifics, have simply stated that they acting within their rights. The pattern seems to be the same as that which China has used against the Japanese in the disputed Senkaku islands far to the north. First the Chinese send "fishing vessels" manned by military personnel. Then the fishing vessels act aggressively to provoke a confrontation, with ramming being a favorite tactic, and then the Chinese openly send in their navy to "protect the fishermen".

Vietnam, refusing to back away from the confrontation, has announced a "live-fire exercise" in the South China Sea next week. Last weekend, outgoing US Defense Secretary Robert Gates openly warned of the risk of armed conflict in the Spratlys. Last year, the US Navy joined the Vietnamese in maneuvers in the South China Sea. This year, there is no mention of such joint activities.

The first 10 minutes of Counting The Cost at AJE has a very good review of the overall situation and the latest developments, including Chinese plans to deploy a huge new exploration rig to the Spratlys in July. More information is to be found in the AJE print article here.

There is an article in the Asia Times Online, Fight or Flight in the South China Sea, which is surprisingly critical of China for a publication based in Hong Kong.

NHK World English (Japan) has an interesting video report here.

In conclusion, dear reader, I will repeat what I said last summer. Keep an eye on this one. The question is not whether it will blow up, but simply when.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Desmond Tutu Speaks Out

Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu last month published a public letter equating the Israeli policies toward Palestinians with the policies of the former apartheid government in South Africa. Here is that letter, reproduced in its entirety ☮

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Virginity Test

The problem with peaceful revolutions is that they leave the power structure of the former government intact.

If you're still under the impression that the incredible courage of the Egyptian people has actually gained them something meaningful, watch this video and be disabused of that illusion. Only the names and faces have changed. Egypt is still a military dictatorship.

In summary, she and a group of other Egyptian women dared to protest the beating of some of her friends by security. They were all arrested, beaten, and tazered repeatedly. After a night in custody, she was forced to strip naked so a nasty little man in a dirty labcoat could stick his finger up her vava for a "virginity check".

So Mubarak is to be thrown to the wolves, and the Rafah crossing has been opened, within limits. These are worth something, I admit. But the revolution has been quietly and very successfully hijacked by the powers that be. So-called "peaceful revolution" is a waste of time and sacrifice, as are most other half-measures.

And the sad reality of life in America today, is that I dare not say more on this subject. The First Amendment ain't what it used to be.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Duke Nukem Forever

Quick, check outside and see if pigs are flying.

Duke Nukem Forever has actually gone gold, and is scheduled for US release on June 14th. It's been 15 years, and the damned thing has become a cliche for vaporware. But it's actually releasing.

In an amusing side note, Game Stop has announced that they will honor all pre-orders, even those going back over a decade. If you can find the receipt, they'll honor it. Wow.

If you're an adult, check the video linked from the page above. It looks like vintage Duke, but the rap music just makes my lip curl. Call me old-fashioned, but Duke should rock, dammit!

Fifteen years, dayum! This has to be a new record.

Oh, yes, and in closing, here's a look back at classic Duke Nukem 3D, circa 1996.