December 21, 2001

ABOUT TURNING MY BACK ON

ABOUT TURNING MY BACK ON COMPUTER GAMES, AND ANDREW LEONARD

As you may have guessed, I used to write an awful lot about computer games. That, itself, was only a rationalization mechanism, to allow self-forgiveness for the endless hours I actually played computer games.

That all stopped, pretty suddenly, in fact, on Sept. 11. Ever since I've been shifting around in an almost stochastic way, as curious as anyone else as to where the pieces of my life were going to fall, and what I'll be doing from now on with my "spare time." Or my work time (which was always tangentially game-related, as well).

I had thrown out Everquest, and World War 2 Online right off. I still played other games, of course, but it's all seemed even more hollow than usual. I haven't really loved a game session I've had in months, even those I had craved going in. Before, I gave up TV almost totally for the computer. Now I found myself drawn back to the evening news, and even to TV comedies.

The parts are still falling into place. 2002 promises to be a very intense and interesting year, both personally and career-wise. I'm looking forward to it. But my pre-Sept. 11 groove (the rhythms of life I'd had for two years running up to that point) certainly hasn't come back. As far as pastimes are concerned, I'm still drifting toward a still-unknown shore... not that that's been entirely an unpleasant experience.

I haven't been able to articulate the reason for this heretofore, why I suddenly found myself with a void in my life I didn't know was there. But Andrew Leonard's piece on Salon today is a wonderful explanation of the void he'd found, and the doubts he had about how he would fill it. His game-related emptiness is a little different than mine, for a number of reasons (given how much I rely on the Internet for a living, I've never feared that all technology was vapid the way he did): but his explanation of the kind of time-wasting activity he wanted to evolve to spoke to me, nonetheless:

It's time spent engaging with the world, rather than spent escaping from it. Time spent growing as a person, rather than fiddling with a mouse. Time spent loving the technology less for its own sake and more for what it can do.

I'm coming to a stage where I'm likely going to be jolted out of the rest of my funk, too. I always found solace in electronic tinkering, and with some stuff I'm bringing in I finally have the money for, I'll be doing a lot of that over the next two weeks. I've always found breaking down my tools and putting them back together again helps to orient me to them properly. But it's nice to have a couple other viewpoints to bounce around in my head while I'm doing it. It's the best thing about the web, really. Thanks to it, and Leonard, and Salon, maybe I can see better today what I still have. And what I've left behind.

Posted by BruceR at 05:10 PM

MARC HEROLD'S SINS, PT. 3:

MARC HEROLD'S SINS, PT. 3: FISK CITES TAINTED CASUALTY REPORT AS EVIDENCE OF WAR'S FAILURE

(See entries below for more.) Robert Fisk, in a column for the Independent today, cites the Herold report as evidence that the U.S. actions in Afghanistan are evil:

We could forget that US air strikes, according to statistics compiled by a Chicago University professor (sic), have now killed more innocent Afghans than the hijackers killed westerners and others in the World Trade Centre...
Even before the war ended, around 3,700 of them not counting Mullah Omar's and bin Laden's gunmen had been ripped to pieces in our War for Civilisation. A few scattered signs of discontent the crowd that assaulted me two weeks ago, for example, outraged at the killing of their families can be quickly erased from the record.

Those numbers, by University of New Hampshire professor Marc Herold, were announced yesterday. They established that if you add up all the casualty numbers in all the press reports you can find, without checking for accuracy, reliability, double counting, propaganda, bias, or military casualties getting mixed in, that you end up with 3,767 dead Afghan civilians. As reported below, 108 of those reported deaths are from one unsourced, unconfirmed, second-hand, not-even-in-the-country paragraph recounting refugee interviews in an article by... Robert Fisk!

Fisk also seems to be still suffering the effects of that aforementioned hit on the head. In addition to the typo above, he writes 4,000 American fatalities instead of 3,000, at one point, and he uses "Mr. Evil" instead of "Dr. Evil" at another... is there no one left at the Independent who dares edit this man?

Posted by BruceR at 03:12 PM

THE OUTCOME MIGHT HAVE BEEN

THE OUTCOME MIGHT HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT IF FLORIDANS HAD A SENSE OF HUMOUR

The results of the vote for the world's funniest joke was announced the other day. Second-place finisher Al Gore has demanded a recount.

Posted by BruceR at 02:12 PM

FANS WRITE IN, AND A

FANS WRITE IN, AND A CLARIFICATION

Following yesterday's comments on the USA Today piece (When Mainstream Journalism Redeems Itself, vol. 1), I got into an interesting email exchange with a nice fella named Andy, which, if not prompting a retraction, certainly deserves a reconsideration. Andy argued that the elevator engineers did not have to be government employees per se, but could be private sector, like the New York hospital ambulance companies are. (In total, six of the emergency personnel who died at the WTC were private-sector paramedicals; I don't know if they were actually aiding in extraction, or might have just been parked too close with their ambulances when the buildings fell).

To clarify, I think instead of blaming a bunch of servicemen after the fact for not committing heroic suicide -- which returning to the Trade Center that day certainly would have been for them -- we should look at professionalizing (either publicly, or privately along the lines of existing privatized fire and emergency units) their trade. The alternative is training existing emergency staff (most of whom are now, admittedly public, for a variety of reasons) to take these tasks on in life-and-death situations, that is if we actually consider those skills vital in urban emergencies. As I said in my last post to Andy, with which he mostly agreed, if you're going to expect them to sacrifice their lives to save others, then give them training, equipment, a uniform, a medal, a pension, and a parade with a marching band now and then... or have the 3rd New York National Guard Airmobile Elevator Extraction Platoon with a UH-1 on 10-minute standby at LaGuardia. As a former high rise dweller, I'd be happy with either. But thanks to Andy for keeping me precise.

Thanks also for the best wishes from two new web logs: EveTushnet.com and Protein Vision.

Posted by BruceR at 02:01 PM

OKAY, I THINK WE HAVE

OKAY, I THINK WE HAVE HALF AN ANSWER TO THE UNDERGROUND WHEELCHAIR ROUTE TO KANDAHAR QUESTION FROM BEFORE

Saw this on Ken Layne tonight. (Sorry, I don't watch network TV; sure it's old hat down south.) How incredibly disappointing, that even when the U.S. is on the side of unquestionable right, with a clear justification for their military actions in their hands, they still can't stop weaving and dodging like PR consultants looking to overbill. The Bin Laden transcript .. yadda yadda yadda (EDIT: web prose edited to remove late night babbling... The real story's much more interesting than my unenlightening first thoughts, anyway. -B.)

THE ABOVE-MENTIONED REAL STORY: The Globe and the Post both have their versions of this one. Curiouser and curiouser. Here's what we know for sure so far:

1) The Pentagon rushed their translation team into a initial incomplete transcript, but the team finally provided their own, fuller transcript Wednesday to the government;
2) In the meantime, Ali al-Ahmed, the Wash. think tank guy, came up with his own version of the full transcript, which he sold to ABC News, after comparing it with the government's first public transcript in Arabic (which came out the day after the English one);
3) The al-Ahmed transcript implicates either Saudi (ABC, Globe) or Iranian (Post) religious police in smuggling the paraplegic sheikh into Kandahar;
4) Al-Ahmed and ABC were playing the story as a hiding of inconvenient information about the Saudis, in the absence of convincing government comment to the contrary, clearly implying that some of the information listed as "inaudible" before may just have been damaging. But the Globe and Post today both point out that some of the no-longer-inaudibles in both the new transcripts actually reinforce the U.S. case against Bin Laden, and don't embarrass anyone. Their take is that the new transcripts both help and hurt the U.S. interest.
5) Al-Ahmed's "group," the Saudi Institute, has the world's worst website (although it does have a transcript of Al-Ahmed's "interview in Beligum" (sic)). The website has not been updated in the last month. In the Post (but not the Globe) today, Al-Ahmed was backpedalling furiously, saying he now thought it might have been an honest mistake after all.

Overall, it's the reportage of John Miller and ABC News that's looking bad this morning. They went to air with a piece that had no government comment, that clearly implies malfeasance by the U.S. in defense of Saudi interests, on what appears in the light of day to be very shaky evidence. Al-Ahmed's grasp at 15 minutes of fame and a paycheque didn't help, either. Here in microcosm, really, we have everything that's right with newspapers, and wrong with TV journalism. I promise I'll never take Peter Jennings at his word again (until today, I assumed I never had).

Posted by BruceR at 01:37 AM