Friday, July 24, 2009

From the Annals of TV Tropes...

...comes something that should make me sad, but instead makes me feel decidedly cynical.

It's a site called You can see it here:

The TV Tropes entry on the thing can by found by scrolling way, way down here:

As you can probably guess from the URL, the poverty site is supposed to evoke tears. Well, for me, it hasn't.

Ignore the fact that the photos presented are composite and stock, and that the names are essentially randomized. Ignore, as one commenter on the TV Tropes entry noted, that the names do not match the ethnicities and that the problems seem confined to South America, the Indian Subcontinent, and Central Africa.

Instead, take a long look at the sidebar to the left of the screen. Specifically, under solutions: "International Aid" is the only entry.

Thus, the problems of international poverty, and all its attendant death and suffering, are reduced to a question of "money" or "more money", ignoring that (a) that poverty is likely a result of poor economic decisions as much as anything else, and (b) we've been giving out the aid for at least fifty years with not much to show for it.

Here's a (somewhat old, contemporary with first Live Aid broadcasts, but it does demonstrate for how long this "international aid" business has been debunked) couple of lines from P.J. O'Rourke, from an article titled "Fiddling While Africa Starves":

"...these musical riots of philantropy address themselves to the wrong problems. There is, of course, a shortage of food among Africans, but that deosn't mean there's a shortage of food in Africa...According to hunger maven William Shawcross, 200,000 tons of food aid delivered to Ethiopia is being held in storage by the country's government...
"The African relief fad serves to distract attention from the real issues. There is famine in Ethiopia, Chad, Sudan, and...Mozambique. All these countries are involved in pointless civil wars. There are pockets of famine in Mauritania, Niger and Mali--the result of desertification caused mostly by idiot agricultural policies. African famine is not a visitation of fate. It is largely man-made, and the men who made it are largely Africans....
"Bumbling and corrupt central planning stymies farm production. And the hideous regimes use hunger as a weapon to suppress rebellion. People are not just starving. They are being starved."

Further, if India and China are any indication (see Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell), the fastest way to bring people out of poverty is not external aid, but internal reforms and free markets. Once those two countries began to make economic reforms (although political reforms in China are somewhat lacking), large swaths of population began to come out of poverty: "It has been estimated that 20 million people in India rose out of destitution in a decade and more than a million Chinese per month [emphasis original] rose out of poverty".

Further, with prosperity comes health and cleanliness, and knowledge--which defeats dysentery (effectively unceasing diarrhea, leading to dehydration) and any number of water-borne diseases, curtails the spread of AIDS, and allows greater access to anti-malarial and pneumonia treatments. There is a reason why deaths due to dysentery, malaria, etc., are so comparatively rare in the U.S., Europe, and those countries like Japan who have chosen economic liberalism.

None of this is mentioned in the poverty site. The only given solution reduces poverty-stricken countries to victims stricken by fate, and not man, effectively suggesting that "only with the assistance of their betters can they rise out of poverty".

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Question of Role

This blog was never intended to be 100% political, but looking at the current post load, I count one full political posting, two politic-inclined posts/jokes, and an introduction. Let's change that. And here's the fellow who will help me change it...

Meet the Pyro! One of nine classes in Valve's multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2 (go get it now! It's really good, I swear!), classified as "offensive", though we'll see that's not a hard and fast rule. This particular pyromaniac happens to be my favorite of the bunch, even though other (sore loser) players say he's (or she's) only for amateurs and newbies (LIES!).

Now, the Pyro has two options for his primary weapon. Both are gas-spitting flamethrowers, so their range is a bit on the short side--for some reason, video game flamethrowers never use napalm or other chemicals to increase their range. They are:

The Flamethrower:
The Pyro's default weapon. As you can guess from the picture, essentially a propane tank attached to a gas-pump hose and nozzle attached to a tube with an underslung burner. Sets enemy targets on fire, causing continuous damage until the flames subside. Has a random chance of doing "critical", or much increased damage, at any time. It also comes with a compressed air blast, which requires 1/8th of its maximum ammo stock per use, which is its supporters' primary claim of superiority.

And The Backburner:
Essentially the Flamethrower in design, but the nozzle where the flame is now has a "predatorial" paint scheme. It doesn't have access to a compressed air blast, or do "critical" damage randomly. Instead, it will always do critical damage when lighting up targets from behind in a ninety-degree cone (I'll call enemies killed in this manner "melted" in a bit).

Those who advocate the Flamethrower's superiority (like my friend Winter, go see her: assert that the Backburner has nothing to distinguish itself or show its superiority to the Flamethrower. And true, the compressed air blast of the Flamethrower allows it to do some interesting tricks:
  • Defend forward bases set up by friendly Engineers ("Sentry nests") from incoming projectiles, such as the Soldier's rockets and the Demoman's grenades
  • Put out teammates set alight by enemy pyros
  • Defeat "ubercharges" (a period of time activated by Medics where both he and his heal target are rendered invulnerable for about eight seconds) by shoving the invulnerable character off a cliff
  • Push enemy units into "kill zones", such as areas covered by friendly Sentry nests

Thus, the Flamethrower turns the Pyro into a hybrid creature, capable of attack (he still has the flamethrower), defense, and support. But since each compressed air blast requires 25 of a maximum 200 points of flamethrower fuel per use, such a Pyro would be tied down to nearby ammo stocks or be quickly rendered impotent. The Backburner, however, has its own fun tricks. With it, a Pyro can:

  • Annihilate enemy "pushes" towards objectives, usually led by hard-hitting but slower-moving enemies, by getting behind them and melting crucial targets, such as Soldiers and Heavy Weapons Guys, while they are distracted by forward incoming fire
  • Abort ubercharges before they even begin, by melting Medics as they focus on their heal target or incoming fire
  • Defeat enemy Engineers setting up forward bases of operations, who are focusing on their equipment
  • Quickly clear "sniper nests" of enemy Snipers by melting them while they aim downrange

The Backburner effectively turns the Pyro into the equivalent of a light tank, flanking and getting behind his enemies and shock-attacking to break their offenses. In a way, he becomes like his mortal enemy, the Spy, who gets instant kills with his knife while behind his foes. He is also, admittedly, somewhat dependent on either the remainder of his team to provide enough distracting fire or the layout of the map to outflank incoming attacks.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Random Question

Apropos of absolutely nothing, I must posit a question to the Advocates of State-Backed Acceptance/Authorization/Approval (pick one) of Non-Heterosexuality:

Can you pick a snappy acronym describing your cause that either doesn't make me hungry (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender = GLBT = a very tasty sandwich) or becomes a slightly more palatable acronym (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Trans...did I miss one?, Queer, Questioning, Asexual, we include Bondage, Domination, Sado-masochism?, whatever Two-spirited is...etc.,).

You could use the one I have at the top of the post: Advocates of State-Backed Approval of Non-Heterosexuality. It reduces to "ASBA Non-Het", which doesn't have that many more syllables that GLBT (unless you pronounce that "GAL-bit") and includes everybody! Win for you!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Cost is Not a Price

Among the various justifications for President Obama's/the Democratic Congress's "public option" health care reforms is the belief that it would reduce the "cost of health care" for the majority of families (while increasing taxes on only the rich, but that's not important right now). I'm hesitant to call them "disingenuous", since "cost = price" and "health care = medical care" for most people, so let's call them "nomenclaturally unsound".

Taking the second point first, "health care" is brushing your teeth, eating your veggies, riding a bicycle with your helmet on, and avoiding getting into fifty-little-red-wagon accidents--basically all the stuff mothers and fathers stereotypically nag their kids about. "Medical care" is what the doctor, dentist, surgeon, etc. are for--treating those infections and injuries that come up when health care fails and you get hurt.

(As a side-bar, and not a particularly important one, "preventative care" (screenings, regular physicals, etc.) strikes me as much like national defense...that is, plenty useful in the minority of cases where they apply, but not the first thing I think of when I think of "saving money on health care".)

Addressing the first point, as anyone who's ever played a management simulation game (even one as simple as "Lemonade Stand", which we can use as an example) will tell you, "prices" are infinitely flexible--you can set the price of your lemonade from one cent to two dollars a cup, or simply give them away for free. "Costs" are a completely different thing, as you'll have to spend money--that is, make an initial investment, a cost--to get the lemons, sugar, ice, etc., required to make the lemonade. If your "price" is not enough to recoup your "cost", you can either take the loss as debt or alter the formula of your lemonade to fit your price--using less lemon and sugar per gallon, for example.

The same rules apply to medical care. With respect to Obama and Congress, it is not their place to reduce the cost of medical care; that job belongs to the pharmacist who develops his "over-the-counter Cancer Buster" drug (an obvious joke) in a mass-production-capable way, or even to the educator who develops a curriculum to fast-track medical students, reducing the time required for their training (for time is money, a limited resource, after all). What the government can do is work with the price of medical care, e.g. with taxpayer subsidies or by mere price-control fiat. If this is not enough to pay the costs of that care, however, then the quality, timeliness, or some other factor will be exchanged to compensate--perhaps a steadily reducing MRI-per-capita count, or that "Cancer Buster" drug that never gets developed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jibjab gets Distressing...

Hey, anybody seen the new Jibjab parody? It's a rip on The Battle Hymn of the Republic, with a decidedly rock-ballad flavor. You can see it here:

(Yeah, I don't know how to embed videos.)
Seen it? Alright, now riddle me this... what other national leaders do you see or hear described in superhuman terms?

The answer, for me at least, includes old-dog nobility, junta leaders, and tin-pot dictators, not liberally-elected presidents.

Now, Obama and his staff didn't have any say in the creation of the video, and it gets real over-the-top near the end of the song. Still, in a way, that's a little more distressing--the idea that a superhuman image can be applied by people so...plausibly? Remember all the chants of "Yes we Can," after someone who isn't made of cels and ink.

(Or maybe I'm just one of those people who thinks (like Black Mage here: that Lex Luthor proves the worth of man vs. Superman.)

Awaken, my Child...

...and know the glory that is your birthright!

Apparently, Gmail users get first-line access to blogging, so why not create one, ah?
So hello on the Internet to anyone who cares. You can call me Davin Valkri; it's what I use for most online stuff. Despite the post title, I'm not a Starcraft player, but I do play a lot of computer games. I also think a lot about politics, as you may or may not be able to guess from the links. Well, here's hoping I don't regret this.

Edit: As the blog title suggests (it's actually more or less stolen from regular columns by Thomas Sowell and Mark Steyn, very good thinkers), you're going to find me rambling about political things, possibly in a somewhat pseudo-philisophical manner. These will be filed under "Political Mediations/Ramblings". Hopefully I won't need a "rant" category. I'll talk about plenty of other things, too, like Team Fortress 2. These...well, I haven't decided on a category.