Saturday, August 14, 2010

RPG Reunion

It's always nice to see role-playing and D&D getting good press.

It was Vickery who entered the contest to reunite the group. They had fallen out of touch over the years, but were excited to see each other and have another Dungeons & Dragons adventure.

"I definitely miss it," Howe said. "The thing that I miss most about it is just getting together with my friends. Hanging out, talking, making fun of each other. That sort of getting together doesn’t happen as often."

"And that’s why I feel that D&D will never be completely replaced by games like World of Warcraft or anything like that," Vickery added. “Because role-play is at its base a social experience. You can try to synthesize that with technology, but you can never replace the feeling of having four or five of your best friends around a table, rolling dice and talking."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Star Wars That Wasn't

Check out this fascinating interview with Gary Kurtz of early Star Wars fame.

“I could see where things were headed,” Kurtz said. “The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It’s a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It’s natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that’s not the best thing for making quality films.”

Most interesting of all is the way Return of the Jedi was originally imagined.
“We had an outline and George changed everything in it," Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”

The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.

Kurtz said that ending would have been a more emotionally nuanced finale to an epic adventure than the forest celebration of the Ewoks that essentially ended the trilogy with a teddy bear luau.

I think this just confirms my idea that Lucas is a fantastic idea guy, but he needs people around him to hammer those ideas into a better shape. There's nothing wrong with that, of course; it's just too bad that Lucas became so big that no one was willing to say to him, "Uhm, that's dumb. What if we took that idea, though, and tried this." Certainly it couldn't have made the prequels any worse.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Politics of Fear

Speaking of demagogues manipulating people through fear (and hyperbole).

Ben Quayle is scum.

UPDATE: Okay, maybe Ben Quayle isn't so bad. I mean, his horrible ad did produce this awesome parody.

The Uninformed Electorate

Thomas Jefferson was a staunch believer in informed citizens as demonstrated by these two quotes.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.

Imagine his consternation then at the results of a recent Pew survey. Americans were asked 11 questions about various current events. On average, people only got 5.8 questions correct! The questions are very simple, but people don't know the answers. What does that say about the state of our nation? We certainly seem to be living in an age where education and knowledge are disdained as elitist which is, I believe, a serious problem. We face serious, complex issues such as global warming. Naturally not everyone is going to be up to the task of solving things like this, but we certainly need most people to have a baseline understanding of events so they can't be manipulated by power-hungry demagogues more interested in advancing their own interests than the interests of the electorate at large.

Some people are always going to be smarter than others, but we should all demand of each other to be as knowledgeable as possible about as much as possible so that we can make informed decisions. People will naturally still disagree on things, but disagreement based on reasoned thought is much preferred to disagreement stemming from ignorance.

For the record I got 11/11 on the survey. I'm not bragging. The questions aren't hard and people should do better than 5.8.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Of Course Cops Don't Support Being Recorded

Radley Balko has written a lot about the trouble citizens encounter when they attempt to tape on-duty law enforcement. Today he posted an article in which he interviewed three law enforcement officials to get their take. Unsurprisingly they all support punishing citizens that record on-duty cops.

"You have 960,000 police officers in this country, and millions of contacts between those officers and citizens. I’ll bet you can’t name 10 incidents where a citizen video has shown a police officer to have lied on a police report," Pasco says. "Letting people record police officers is an extreme and intrusive response to a problem that’s so rare it might as well not exist. It would be like saying we should do away with DNA evidence because there’s a one in a billion chance that it could be wrong. At some point, we have to put some faith and trust in our authority figures."

We should have some trust in our authority figures, but we are fools if we don't take prudent steps to monitor them to ensure they are not abusing their position (if only their were some sort of appropriate Latin phrase for this).

The broader point I want to make, though, is that of course cops are not going to favor allowing citizens to record them. No one stands up and says, "I am in favor of more oversight of my activities." That's perfectly natural. No one goes to their boss and says, "Hey, can you stand over my shoulder a bit more to monitor what I'm doing?" No one wants to feel like someone else is scrutinizing their every move. But the more power someone has, the more important it is for checks to be on that person to ensure that abuse does not occur. Trying to criminalize the recording of officers while on the job only makes it look like the cops have something to hide, that they can't be trusted. And if they are doing their job properly, what do they have to hide?

This is, of course, to say nothing of the ludicrous notion that taking pictures and recording events in a public arena can in any way be illegal.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Weekly Secret


I think I've embraced mine for a long time, but it's only in the last few years that I have really come to be...proud of it (for a lack of a better phrase). I wouldn't want to be any other way.

Color America in the Age of Black & White

Check out this amazing series of color photos from the late 30s/early 40s.

Pretty amazing considering color had just been invented.

h/t: Radley Balko


For a little over a year now I've had to deal with the Worst Boss Ever at work. Due to some restructuring and reorganizing, he became the manager of our department and it was disastrous. He has no people skills or leadership skills. At all. He knew everything ("With my HR/Risk Managment/Database/ background..." or my favorite "I worked security at a concert once.") He liked to throw around his title ("As I am the manager...") He lied frequently about things big and small. He didn't want anyone to do anything without asking permission first (including for example answering questions about incidental matters directly pertaining to my job). He couldn't stand any questioning or criticism of anything he decided. He talked down to everyone. He stopped talking to you if you called him on his bullshit and issued orders to you by proxy.

In short, he's scum and working for him was a nightmare.

Thankfully, he was recently removed from his position. Due to another restructuring (for "budget" reasons) he no longer has anyone working for him (but he got to retain his manager title *eyeroll*). This has had the magical effect of dramatically raising the morale of everyone in the department. I've also stopped looking for another job. It's made me think a lot about leadership, though, and how companies really seem to struggle to find good leaders.

The greatest leader ever.

I have risen to a leadership position in a number of the jobs I have worked. In fact, I was a closing shift manager at Taco Bell when I was 16. How did I earn these promotions? By working hard and being competent at my job. It wasn't necessarily because I displayed any leadership qualities. Did I receive any training on how to lead or manage people when I was promoted? Nope. I was thrown to the wolves and expected to succeed.

So, as it is, much of what I know about being a leader has come from my own trial and error and watching leaders around me. This recent manager of mine was kind enough to teach me a whole lot about what not to do. The thing is that nearly everyone has worked for or seen in action some really pathetic supervisor. Why is that? I would think that companies would have an incentive to provide training and direction on leadership skills to people in those positions, but they often do not. Competence at a non-leadership job somehow seems to translate into "This person has management potential."

Bad leaders don't just have a negative impact on the people working for them, but on the company as a whole. People are not as motivated so they aren't as productive as they could be. People leave to find other employment and another person has to be trained to take their position. Why wouldn't a company want to prevent this from happening instead of encouraging it by setting people up to fail?

Any leadership training will naturally have to include lessons learned from watching Kirk in action.

UPDATE: Fixed picture.