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Culinary Conundrum

So I just finished reading the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Normally that'd be a hyperlink, cuz, we're on the Internet right now and that's kind of how things are done. But in this specific case it isn't, because I'm honestly not sure I want anyone to read that book because of me.

The good about the book is that it convinced me that my previous obsession over the point of slaughter was missing the point, that's the deal farm animals have with us.

His point was that our side of the deal was to ensure that the animals had a better life than they would have had in the wild, and he argues that up until the invention of large scale farming, we held true to that, but at this point it would be very difficult to argue that 99% of the animals are being raised in anything resembling non-cruel conditions.

It is one of the few nuanced and sane points he makes in the book, which is otherwise filled with many very gross details which don't inform a debate on the ethics of large scale food manufacturing, and the consumer's responsibility when business makes the logical step of not giving a shit about what the animals feel anymore.

Rather than go on about my current potpourri of dietary do's and don't I've acquired, and rather analyze this last bit more. In one section of the book he points out that part of the reason we've begun large scale mechanization of animal husbandry is that we finally just got the technology to do it. We finally got to the point where it was possible to control the ventilation, feeding, lighting, medicating and watering of animals on a large scale.

Before this, it was in the best interest of the farmer to keep his animals happy and healthy, since they were just less work that way.

While the author didn't say it completely, it reminded me of the Stanford Prison Guard Experiment. Where we suddenly found ourselves able to have total control over animals, and that it is simple human nature that amoral behaviors begin.

For much of my life I thought much of the evil of the world was concentrated in the concept of corporations allowing a thousand people to do a thousandth of a bit of evil. If one man murders another, he is charged and brought to trial. If hundreds of Walmart shoppers stampede a worker to death for Black Friday deals, no one is charged.

After reading that bit, it occurred to me that, yes, corporations are often tools used in that manner, but underlying it is a clear human desire to dominate and subjugate.

The reason I even bring this up, is because I've been having a hard time understanding exactly what is going on with the Tea Party movement at the moment. At many points I just wrote the entire thing off as unvented racism with no other outlet. But once I worked out that it is an innate human trait for those with great power to act with evil intent towards weaker ones, I could no longer rule out the idea that Government itself could be both used, and viewed as a thing of concern.

So, whlie I disagree with who exactly is at the top of the food chain, I at least understand the concern some Tea Party members might feel. One party controlling the Legislative and Executive branches sounds scary, they've been passing a lot of hyped laws that sounds sweeping. If I hadn't been following just how real the checks a few Senators in the Senate have been wielding these past years it might scare me too.

The ending of the book is anti-climatic. He kind of kicks some stones around and mentions that "being vegetarian" is just easier, which is an annoyingly vague conclusion for a book that shredded what I find palatable at the moment with some off-hand gross out factoids which I don't have the stomach to fact check further. However, he does also mention that one solution to ending cruelty it that shame is a powerful tool. That there needs to be both a complete vacuum of power and privacy for truly unspeakable things to happen.

And while I very much doubt that cameras are going to be allowed on factory farms any time soon, I think the last point is an important one for our other affairs that are not wholey conducted within giant metal boxes with artificial suns.

I don't see a lot of easy political solutions for a lot of our problems, but if one thing is capable of democratizing shame, I still have faith in the Internet. While right now it is being used for people to simply reaffirm their own opinion biases, I have faith that the pendulum will swing back, that we'll find a way to shine light in the embarrassing corners of evil done under either corporate or government skirts.

I dream of the day where earth shattering scandals and unearthed skeletons are no longer be dished by men in dark parking garages, but by a comic picture of a cat with a pithy but eviscerating caption.

Video Games

So here is some neat stuff I saw at PAX:


Jason and I stared at this game for about a full minute, and had no idea what it was, or what was going on, but we understood it to be beautiful.

It was then pointed out to me that it was actually a top down 2d shooter game, but like the food surely served in dog heaven, it makes it's own music and beauty as it is played.

In any case, it is free, magnificent, and short.

Spy Party

By far the bell of the indie ball was the game Spy Party. An ingenious player vs player game where one person plays a spy mingling in a 3d cocktail party, trying to blend in with the dozen or so NPCs, the other player plays a sniper with a view from across the way, who is trying to sort the spy out from the computer people. A reverse turing test with a laser sight.

It is just a really clever concept with very intense gameplay, intense concentration and perception on the sniper's part and forced casual patience on the spy's part. No playable demo yet, but with all the excitement about this game I wouldn't be surprised to see it get picked up by a big publisher.

Portal 2

Pretty much the only thing I waited in line for, and it was amazing. They demo'd the 2 player co-op, and it looked like a lot of fun. Best moment was when one of the two robots did something that killed the other, after a new robot was dispensed the demoer insisted they hug and make up so they could trust one another again. Sounds like the sequel be a more respectable length, and they've added a lot of fun new level tools. Very excited about this game, expect it Feb 2010.

Civilization 5

While I didn't actually go to their booth, I played it last night with the wife. We've been playing Civ together since Civ 2 Gold, and are both hardcore Sid Meyer's junkies. If CPS takes our kid in the next month you know why.

That said, the game is solid. I had a few arched eyebrow moments where some basic mechanics from the franchise have been removed (e.g. Gold/Science slider), and while I thought I enjoyed fiddling with that sort of stuff, the truth of it is is that I enjoyed doing everything else in the game more.

They've done away with the "switching civics", and instead you now construct your own civics piecemeal from a buffet of options. This is a great example of game designers learning from human psychology, the old system of having to accept a negative to gain a positive interacts directly with the risk bias most people show, retooling it to be all completely "good things" you choose between feels much more like a belly rub and each opportunity to add one feels like christmas morning and less like a 10 hour budget balancing session on CSPAN.

The new combat system is fun, although we've really only been in simple skirmishes with barbarians, and we hadn't quite gotten the hang of the fact that our units can now just go walk on the water when they want to travel someplace, but for now it is just a solid Civ game.

And while the game crashed immediately when I tried to play it in the recommended DirectX 10 mode, it chugged along fine with DirectX 9 instead, which is a marked improvement over the launch of Civ 4.

In closing, if you want an antidote to most games, give Pigeons in the Park a try. It is free, takes about 5 minutes, and is an interesting take on what games could be like.