Here goes nothing…

I’m in the process of moving the entire site to a self-hosted server. It could be bumpy. This site may be nonfunctional/bad/different/ for a short bit. (I hope.)

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The tale of the bloodthirsty pacifist

I hate war, violence, and even avoid killing bugs and insects. But damn it, I love to play war games. A rich contradiction that my wife wishes didn’t exist. She probably wishes that I passed on the violent video games, TV shows, and movies, and concentrated any violent tendencies on bugs, snakes, and varmints in the real world. I once chased a harmless snake away from the house rather than kill it, much to her consternation.

I recently bought Battlefield 1, which is a rated-M video game that is an immersive World War I combat simulation: infantry, armor, biplanes, etc. I have only played a little of the beginning of the campaign story, but it is fantastic. First person, gritty, bloody, realistic for a video game. There’s no point trying to claim that I’m only playing it for the historical authenticity.

I have long played a number of war simulation video games. I have been a fan of the Total War series, from the original Shogun up through Napoleon. (Steam tells you how many hours you have played each game, which is uh, enlightening.) The Total War games are mostly strategy, nation-building games, with battles played out in 3D and real-time. But you’re just a general floating above the battlefield, directing your side, not burying shovels into the necks of the enemy. I’ve played almost every iteration of Civilization too, although the wars in that game are more like moving pieces around a game board than anything realistic.

At the same time, I’m horrified by real life violence. I don’t watch actual violent videos. I am saddened by every military conflict that flares around the globe. I’m enraged by police abuse of unarmed citizens and the murder of police officers. I’m disturbed by the murder and mistreatment of civilians in war zones. We’re slowly reducing real-life violence both within and between nations and I’m all for ramping up those efforts.

There’s a difference between make-believe video game wars and the real thing. Ask any soldier who comes off duty and relaxes with a session of hyper-realistic Call of Duty. He (most likely a he) will get PTSD from the former but not from the latter. People who have killed someone else suffer psychological damage, but virtually no one who has ever killed a video game character has (although we feel bad about losing cute ones like Yoshi). Consciously and subconsciously, our brains know the difference.

And that difference between reality and make-believe is where the contradiction dissolves. Playing games is completely separate from reality. Young children will ‘play’ death, school, and other things that are new and mysterious to them so that they can learn it and grow familiar with it. It doesn’t mean that 3-year old Susie will have a lifelong obsession with death and will blow up small forest animals in high school. If you are now worried about hypothetical Susie, then check out Killing Monsters by comics writer Gerard Jones.

But where does the bloodthirstiness come from? In most cases, I bet it is testicle ownership and the associated testosterone. Yes, Susie may have her toys ‘die’ to explore the concept, but she probably doesn’t enjoy it with the same vigor as Andy, who marks up the hell out of his toys by smashing them together repeatedly to simulate fiery, explosive deaths. It’s that sex difference that makes males fight, rob, rape, murder, hurt themselves intentionally for laughs, revel at bad weather, and generally shorten the life expectancy and IQ of themselves and the people around them. (It doesn’t matter how smart, self-aware, peaceful or gentle a fully-mature human male is, I guarantee you there is at least one scar or injury on his body from doing something that was stupid/avoidable/risky and that lacked any common sense. I am a pencil-necked bookworm and I have several.)

So, now that I’ve explained all that and made myself feel better, I’m off to slaughter some pixels.

If you like the Wonder Woman theme…

Check out electric cellist Tina Guo rocking her own version (i09). She recorded the theme in Batman V Superman. She may have recorded more for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie, although the i09 post is a little vague on that point. Hans Zimmer deserves props for the movie soundtracks he’s put together and for elevating artists like Guo.

That electric cello looks amazing too. She also gets bonus points for wearing a Darth Vader shirt while recording this.

I am very much looking forward to the Wonder Woman movie. The Wonder Woman-Amazon origin story has always struck me as outdated and… off (why are the Amazons so Spartan-esque? Who do they fight?). If you want to know about the interesting story behind Wonder Woman’s origin, check out this Jill Lepore piece from the New Yorker. But I’m hoping that the movie handles it in some more sensible, modern way.

This is the best thing I’ve seen in like forever

Jimmy Kimmel, Oscars host, brought a bunch of unsuspecting tourists into the Academy Awards where they met more stars than they could ever hope to meet while touring LA. It was totally awesome.

There’s something about these types of things that just fills me with smiles. Like when the President walks the streets in DC. Or a soldier dad surprises his daughter at graduation.

I love the looks on people’s faces: the surprise, the glee and squee, the wonder. Everyone should have a chance to look like that once in their life. Jimmy Kimmel may have done the best version of this: not too sappy, funny and lighthearted, and just all-around awesome.

Want a free copy of Crashpoint?

First book in the Kagent Trilogy. Just tap: InstaFreebie.

Tell your friends. Unless they are Stabilizers or bounty hunters.

Deal ends next Friday, February 10th.

My Public Service Announcement about Politics

People on both sides of a number of aisles and sides believe that now is the time to speak out, to express what’s on your mind, to stand up for what you believe in, to tell it like it is. The implied criticism is that if you don’t that you are a moral coward, somehow less than fully patriotic, a bystander to the great outrages of our age.

I’m not going to. For a bunch of reasons.

  1. I shouldn’t. I am a nonpartisan number cruncher in the federal government working with people from both political parties. Technically, I have the right to spew my beliefs, but doing so would undermine my role in our political system. I can’t undermine any trust or credibility I’ve built with people in both parties and independents by tossing my opinions in the mix. I have seen other civil servants do that and it’s incredibly wrong and counterproductive. (You probably think I’m talking about James Comey, the election-flipper poster-boy for what a civil servant should never do, but no, I’m not.) Part of the job is to inform people (again, from either party) that some of their beliefs about the state of the world are self-destructive misperceptions. You need to be considered trustworthy.
  2. I really shouldn’t. I am also a manager and have staff who report to me. A boss or other authority-figure who spouts unsolicited political, religious, or sexual opinions that have little to do with their job are abusing that authority. This is trickier when some of those staff knew me as a mouthy coworker from pre-management days and know exactly where I stand. It’s also trickier because I do have some responsibility to look after the mental health and morale of these folks (which is a bigger part of the job than I ever imagined). Sometimes that means tamping down their enthusiasm/depression when their team/issue/sports team doesn’t perform as expected (even if I agree with their feelings). Like with the political people,  I need to be seen as a trustworthy voice on certain issues and there’s just not a lot of room there to take sides and still be effective in that role.
  3. I just won’t. There is an overwhelming surplus of guys, especially nerdy white guys like me, who feel compelled to spew forth their opinions in public. The world has too many of them and my small contribution will be to not be another one.

Don’t get me wrong: I am a highly political person. My undergraduate degree is in political science, my master’s is in public policy, and I work for political appointees in Washington, DC. I am chock full of opinions, both odd and conventional, highly-informed and knee-jerk. For that reason, here comes the however’s:

However, I do have to stay engaged with politics and policy for my fed job. (It’s why I read the Washington Post, which I really dislike doing.) About 75% of my office’s success is anticipating the needs of elected officials and their staffers. To do that requires staying on top of various policy discussions, knowing the players, and predicting where things will go next. And that requires a certain amount of political analysis and prediction. But not advocacy.

However, I will offer information on various political science and political history to people when I deem it necessary. Especially because those who don’t know history are doomed to think everything happening now is unprecedented. Nine times out of ten it’s not unprecedented. And it is shocking to me how many people who work in or opine on politics or public policy have the scantest knowledge of civics, history, or philosophy.

However, I will call people on their blindspots when they are about to step in a squishy pile that could splatter on me. Especially when their ill-informed opinions are causing them substantial and misplaced distress or shiny-eyed glee. This is ingrained in my personality and there is a certain joy I get in doing so.

However, I will opinionate on other public policy issues unrelated to my job when the need or urge arises. (I just published a book on the obesity epidemic that doesn’t exactly paint the food industry in an entirely positive light, for instance.)

However, as a writer, I will hold forth with opinions on non-political subjects, when they are warranted. I have already expressed a bevy of them. These subjects are going to be relatively apolitical in nature, as much as anything can be apolitical in such an age. But I will try to remember my third point, that in general, adding another unsolicited guy’s opinion isn’t necessary these days.

However, I may accidentally violate my own rules. Writing this post is as much a reminder to myself as it is a public service announcement to those wondering why I haven’t chimed in.

Sugar, the root of all obesity evil?

For those of you who have heard of my latest book, The Obesity Conspiracy, or are just mildly interested in your own health, check out this article on Vox where Julia Belluz interviews nutrition journalist Gary Taubes, author of the recently published The Case Against Sugar, about, well, take a guess.

His basic proposition is that research on the causes of the obesity and diabetes epidemics should first try to rule out sugar as the primary or biggest cause, and until it does, sugar should be considered as unhealthy or worse than tobacco or alcohol. Which is a problem since Western eaters are wolfing down sugar at most meals in grotesque amounts that they probably don’t realize.

Let’s not forget the horrendous explosion of American obesity in the last half century. Note that the proportion of overweight men and women hasn’t decreased as the ranks of the obese have skyrocketed. That means those who would have been overweight in earlier years became obese, and those who were normal weight became overweight.

Taubes is not just a controversial nutrition journalist, he’s tried to organize and fund sound nutrition science. Nutrition research is a whole other difficult issue, complicated by self-interest, poor methodology, sneaky corporate financing, excessive shoulder-shrugging, and research findings that often fall prey to hyperactive-press coverage-disorder.

I think Elaine Cassano and Gary would probably be colleagues if Elaine wasn’t just a character in my book. I have to give Taubes credit that he allows for his theory to be wrong, which seems to be a rare things these days in heated debates.

For what it’s worth, I have been conducting my own crusade against consuming sugar. I have fought it back into a corner where it sneaks in via baked beans, breads, and the very occasional soda (that night at Time Market in Tucson, for example).

This is partly to make up for some truly ridiculous overconsumption as a kid. I could make a bowl of Rice Krispies look like Mount Everest with the help of two or so tablespoons of sugar, every morning. Not to mention the Hostess cupcakes, root beer, chocolate, and high-test (double the powder) Country Time lemonade. Sugar is bad, m’kay?