It feels like fall today!
It feels like fall today!
I've started watching Heroes with Sushu. Yeah, I know, I'm like 4 years late to this party. I have heard that Season 1 is good but after that it gets sucky, so we'll probably watch all of Season 1 and then move on to watching, like, Rose of Versailles or something. Some brief observations:
1. This show is almost a Prime Time Adventures game. Look at the way the show is composed: a short punchy scene that takes a single spotlight character through a single personal conflict related to their issue, then CUT! Next player's turn. It's totally PTA. Even though each character has their own plotline, they all weave together into a greater whole, thanks to recurring side-characters and events and themes that connect one character to another even if they've never met each other.
Next time I'm talking to a traditional GM who's still hung up on the idea of keeping "the party" together, I'm gonna point at Heroes and say, THIS is how you have a game with no "party". This is why you'd want to have a game with no "party".
2. Of course Hiro is my favorite character. How could he not be? If Heroes was a PTA game, Hiro is like the exact character I would be playing. He's so unabashedly dorky, and so damn excited about being able to bend the space-time continuum. His enthusiasm is infectuous. He never even stops to think about what's going to happen after he teleports somewhere. He's a complete innocent.
Heroes's version of Japan is... almost right. It's not quite exactly the real thing but it's head and shoulders above most American TV attempts to portray Japan. The main thing that makes it seem off is that all their pop-cultural references are American. Hiro and his friend are always quoting Star Trek and Marvel comics? Really? Not, say, Ultraman and Space Battleship Yamato? I mean, I guess they wanted references their primary audience would be familiar with. It just makes Hiro come off like the inverted version of a crazily Japan-obsessed American anime otaku, which is probably not what they were going for but it's pretty amusing anyway.
(The song that was playing when Hiro got kicked out of the karaoke bar in the first episode. これが私の生きる道 by Puffy Amiyumi. Enjoy.)
2. Hiro might be my favorite character, but Niki's story was the one I found most gripping, cuz it's so scary-tense and uncertain; the threat is always just one step behind her. Also, something about single working mothers raising gifted kids and fighting the school system to get them a quality education; I don't know why, but that speaks to me.
Niki does have my Least Favorite Superpower, though: Super Unconsciousness! The one where the character (almost always female) is always waking up to find out she kicked copious ass and doesn't even remember doing it? Agatha from Girl Genius has the same thing. It bugs me a little because it robs the character of agency. Niki didn't decide to kill those goons; the plot took over and made her do it. Paul Czege would say it's "Deprotagonizing".
3. I do rather like Mohinder's monologues. They're hella corny and overblown and full of the kind of thing that a college sophomore taking their first philosophy class would think was, like, really deep, man, but Mohinder delivers them with such conviction and starry-eyed wonder that I can forgive all that.
What I can't forgive is that he keeps making the damn Teleological Fallacy with regards to evolution, i.e. thinking evolution is a ladder with an up direction and a down direction and thinking that creatures are in some sense trying to, or being driven to, reach the "next rung". In real life, whatever adaptations make something more likely to survive and reproduce are the ones that get passed on, and sometimes the best way for a species to adapt is to get smaller, dumber, or less complex; that doesn't mean they're going down a rung on the ladder, because there is no ladder, there's just changes that help you survive and changes that don't.
TV and movie scriptwriters LOOOOOVE to make the evolution-as-ladder mistake, but biologists know better, and Mohinder is supposed to be a biologist, right? He shouldn't be asking whether the super-mutations are "the next step in human evolution", he should be asking whether they are an adaptive mutation or a detrimental mutation.
The story thus far would seem to imply detrimental.
Today I played a one-on-one game of Hero's Banner with Chris. It normally has a generic European medieval fantasy setting, which we thought was kinda meh. So Chris went "Let's make it all Final Fantasy" and I went "Yeah like all borderline steampunk like FFVI" and then we both started brainstorming setting stuff like crazy.
We had a sprawling empire controlled by mutually-backstabbing noble families who enforced their power with summoning magic and clockwork automata police forces. What people didn't know was that summoning magic and magitek airship power crystals and stuff were powered by pulling souls out of the cycle of reincarnation, and so more and more babies were being stillborn because there weren't enough souls for them. The world population was dropping and so large chunks of land had been depopulated; noble families' holdings of land encompassed chunks of what used to be a vast urban sprawl, with rusting hulks of ancient metallic structures sticking out of reclaimed farmland and monster-infested jungle.
My character, Gabriel Orlos, had a necklace with seven jewels on it representing his seven stillborn brothers and sisters; as the only one of his generation to survive, all the hopes of House Orlos were riding on his shoulders; his family expected more out of him than he knew how to deal with. In particular, his father Raphael wanted to use Gabriel to get revenge on House Grünwald, which had sent House Orlos into disfavor and disgrace two generations earlier by framing my grandfather Lucasz, who was the one who discovered the soul thing, which was kind of an Inconvenient Truth that made him lots of enemies in the court. (All these names came out of the Eastern European section of Gary Gygax's Big Book of Names.)
The automata were totally an oppressed underclass with no rights; they had minds but were treated as disposable slaves and used to replace humans as soldiers and brute labor. House Orlos was pretty heavily involved in the automata construction business; as a child Gabriel had an automaton playmate named Zed, and so he grew up with sympathy for the automata and wanted to rescue them from their sorry lot in life.
There was even a lot more going on than that; I'm not even going to get into the love triangles and rivalries and politics and grandpa Lucasz's secret laboratory and the monstrous hordes massing on the frontiers and all the crazy stuff going on with House Grünwald their minions, the third house that Chris's PC belonged to, and the crazy weapons everybody used (whips, giant bladed boomerangs, Chinese butterfly swords), and the guy who was in love with a ghost, etc. etc.
OK, so, we made up a pretty cool setting and I'm jazzed to go back to it to play part 2. So what? What's my point?
Well, if you're a role-player and you've spent more than, say, $20 in your life on books that were mostly setting material, please raise your hand now. OK? People with your hand up, have you used more than, say, one quarter of the material from those books in Actual Play?
I've got a poster on my wall of all the Inner and Outer Planes from the AD&D 2nd edition Planescape setting, which is the published RPG setting I know best. There's 38 planes there, not counting levels or demiplanes. I own a lot of setting material laying out these settings in absurd detail. I spent a lot of time in my teenage years poring over maps and manuals and daydreaming about running adventures in those cool places, but in actual play I think I've only used... 6 of those planes, max, and almost everything that players encountered there was stuff that I made up rather than stuff I got from the books. I used names and general ideas here and there, but generally I made stuff up because the actual published canon was way too specific and inflexible to work into a game, and it didn't have any buy-in from my players anyway. Why would it? They hadn't read the boxed-set background material I had read (I always though most of it was FOR GM EYES ONLY!) so it would have been like running an RPG based on a fantasy novel series that nobody had read but me.
In contrast, the awesome (but as yet nameless) setting that me and Chris played in today took about 20 minutes to make up, was free, had the full buy-in and interest of everyone playing, and almost everything we made up for it actually came up in play, at least as background color.
You notice how it started from a shared cultural reference point? We said "Final Fantasy VI" and went from there. If we hadn't had that shared reference we would have had to do a lot more work to get on the same page, or we would have had to start from something more basic that everybody knows.
I think back to the time we played In A Wicked Age recently; we started with no setting, but the Oracle told us of "a demon of the lower airs" and "a warehouse of stolen silks", and that was all we needed. I don't think anybody actually said "Arabian Nights" out loud, but we were all thinking it, just because we know we've got a djinn and some silks. So we all picked Arabian-sounding names and we were off to the races. Everybody knows a little bit of Arabian Nights stuff, at least enough to quickly get on the same page. We never really explained the setting to each other; we didn't need to, because when we needed a detail we just filled it in from our shared cultural reference pool.
Same deal when I played Glistening Chests with Googleshng - no need to have a lot of setting details laid out by the game; we both know what kind of stuff we can expect to find in a barbarian fantasy world, and the details are easy to fill in on the fly.
I'm also thinking back to a time we played The Emperor's Heart, which is a space wuxia RPG that Chris is working on. Sushu played it with us but told me later that she felt confused and frustrated and a big part of that was because she didn't have a handle on the setting and she kept imagining things differently from how the rest of us were imagining them and not knowing how to proceed. So you can totally have an instance of play fall down because there aren't enough shared cultural reference points, or not enough provided setting information, to get everybody's imaginations synced up.
However a game wants to provide in terms of setting, what you need in actual play is just enough to get that imaginative sync-up going on, which mainly means reaching agreement on tone and color and genre, and from there being able to envision a starting situation or scenario that will get play moving. Sorry to the publishers of setting books for Exalted, Forgotten Realms, etc, but more setting info than that is just wasted words.
When dental floss breaks off and gets stuck between my teeth. Dental floss is supposed to get stuff out from between my teeth, not get stuck there itself. It's like, treasonous Benedict Arnold dental floss, all going over to join the enemy side. And then I have to send more dental floss in there after it, but it's really hard because the space between the teeth is filled in by the first dental floss, and so the second one can't fit, and sometimes it gets stuck in there too and things just get worse and worse.
I was in Oakland today visiting Chris and on my way back to the BART station, a dirty guy with curly blond hair came up to me and started ranting. He was like "why are people always harassing me ISN'T THERE A LAW AGAINST THAT I HATE YOU GOVERNMENT PUNKS DO YOU WANT ME TO KICK YOUR ASS DO YOU" - at this point he was following me down the street pretty much screaming in my face. I said "No, no I don't" and kept walking, and he was like "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME YOU GOVERNMENT PUNK" and I said "I'm getting away from you", which was true; I was trying to walk away as fast as I could. When I got to the corner and crossed the street he finally stopped following me and just yelled after me about how he wanted to slit my throat with a knife.
Dude was really really angry at somebody, and in his imaginary crazy-world I was that somebody.
Last night at the In-n-Out Burger, a random dude saw my T-shirt and said "Thank you, sir, for making Firefox!". He said it in the kind of tone of voice you might use to thank, like, a firefighter or a policeman for putting their life on the line. (Geez, dude, I think browsers are important too, but not that important. Have some perspective.)
When I got done awkwardly spluttering over the shock at being called "sir", I finally blurted out "... you're welcome?". That was as far as the interaction went, because the guy started up a conversation with his friend before I could say anything else. He didn't want to start a conversation with me, it was just a drive-by thanking.
It was a weird interaction for several reasons. First, anybody could be wearing a shirt with a Firefox logo on it, so it's weird to jump to the conclusion that I work for Moz (even though it happens to be a correct jump in this case). Second, I work in Labs, so I barely touch Firefox per se; mostly I do weird experimental stuff. Third, I've only worked here for like a year and a half, so Firefox existed long before whatever small contributions I've made towards it. I feel weird getting credit for things that other people did.
I guess I also feel weird because this is the first time in my life I'm working for a company which is almost a household name (at least among tech-savvy people) and therefore people are applying their opinion of that company to me, without knowing anything else about me. It's mostly a positive opinion, so I guess I'm glad I don't work for, like, the IRS, but it still feels weird.
What should I say to people when this happens? "Don't thank me, thank our thousands of open-source contributors?" Or maybe I should turn it into an informal customer survey and be like "Thanks. What's the number one Firefox bug you want fixed / feature you want added?"
Video of a panda ripping a guy's jacket off right through the cage bars. That panda really, really wants that jacket. You'd better let him have it before he rips your arms off along with it.
On Saturday my game group got together, and we weren't sure what to play since we didn't have tons of enthusiasm for continuing In A Wicked Age. I threw out a bunch of random suggestions, mostly stuff I own but haven't played yet.
We ended up playing Capes, a superhero game which seems to be sadly little-known and little-loved even by the standards of indie games. (Come on, how can you not love a game that has a literal laser-shark on the cover?) I've had it on my shelf unplayed since I first got into indie RPGs in early 2007.
It's a shame Capes isn't better known, cuz it turns out to be both 1. really fun, and 2. based on a completely different design philosophy from most indie RPGs, one which to my knowledge hasn't been explored much since then. That makes it greatly worth playing for anybody who either designs RPGs or who is just interested in how they work.
What is this crazy design philosophy? Well, Capes is:
Given all that, you'd probably think that Capes must be more like a board game than a role-playing game, what with everybody trying their hardest to beat each other using whatever game mechanics are legal. You'd think that it would be impossible to generate a story this way, or anything other than a long fight scene. But you'd be wrong, because the stroke of insane genius in the design of Capes is that to earn the Inspirations and Story Tokens that you need to advance your agenda as a player, you need to get other players to put a lot of chits and dice on an index card representing a conflict. And to do that you need to make the conflict something that they care a lot about winning. Which means that playing to win requires figuring out what sort of conflicts capture the interest of the other players.
Specifically, you only get Story Tokens when your character loses a conflict on which another player has staked Debt. One of the best ways to do this is to play a villain, come up with a dastardly plan that the heroes will do anything to stop, bid it up really high, and then let your character lose it on the last round.
So as I understand it, the design goal of Capes to be a competitive game which, when played with optimal strategy, produces an engaging genre-appropriate story as a side-effect. That' s a bold statement. I'll have to play it a little more before I can decide whether it's successful or not, but I'm having trouble thinking of another game that even really tries to do such a thing.
One potential pitfall I can see is that the mechanical and strategic aspects of the game would still function even if you describe the game events in a perfunctory way, which would make a story that was bland and lacking in details, so it's going to require some discipline to Not Do That. This is a pitfall in any RPG that has really solidly functional mechanics - the temptation to play the mechanics and ignore the fiction. There are some rules in Capes to counteract this, like the ones that say you must have appropriate fictional justification to use a Power, use an Inspiration, or stake debt from a Drive. But with no GM, there's no one person to act as creative veto over inappropriate or lame contributions. Instead, everybody has to police themselves and each other. When we play again, I'm going to pay very close attention to how this mutual policing works or fails to work and what effect that has on the fiction.
Another quibble I have is that the Capes book is not a very good teaching text. None of us had played it before, and I had read the rules once back in 2007, so we had to figure it all out from the book as we went along. It took us quite a while to figure out what we were doing, and it didn't help that the book is more technical manual than a tutorial. I felt a little like I was trying to learn a program's interface by reading its source code. The author does attempt to ease the learning curve with a Flash-based demo of a round of play, but that's not much help when you're at the game table away from the computer.
Moving on to stuff that I really liked...
The mechanical rules, once we had them figured out, are just inherently fun. Rounds go by quickly, and like a good board game it keeps you constantly considering your options, looking for openings, planning moves, etc.
Because GM duties are shared by all players, you don't play the same character all the time; at the start of each scene you choose a character you'll play for that scene. That means sometimes you'll play heroes, sometimes villains, and sometimes "NPCs" like journalists, scientists, and generals. I enjoy games with this kind of variety. Of course you have to have a way to come up with interesting characters on the spot when the plot demands it.
Luckily Capes has an ingenious and quick character-creation system. I love this system; it's tons of fun. Printing out the free PDF on the creator's website gives you a bunch of pre-generated Powersets, which are left halves of character sheets, and a bunch of pre-generated Personality Types, which are right halves of character sheets. You pick one of each, cut them out and tape them together, and then all you have to do is fill in a few numbers and pick a name and you're good to go.
The pre-gens are great for quickly coming up with minor characters on the fly; if you're stuck for ideas you can just mix-and-match stuff randomly and see what it sparks in your imagination. There's also a free-form character creation if you have more time and want more flexibility, but to be honest the pre-gens do such a good job of covering all the superhero archetypes that you don't need much else even for your major characters. (It's pretty fun to go through the options and see how you would create famous characters in this system. Animal Avatar + Angsty Nice Guy = Spiderman. Gadgeteer + Trauma Survivor = Batman. Godling + Crusader = Superman. Brick + Curmudgeon = The Thing. And so on.)
I put together Robot + Ingenue to make Meteotron, an advanced transforming robot from Proxima Centauri, alias "Acura Integra" (because it assumed that cars were the dominant form of life, natch). Its memory was wiped out when it crash landed on Earth so it doesn't know its true purpose.
The way you assign numbers to your abilities matters a lot. Like, I had a 2 in "Swarms of Missiles" and my only 5 was in "Trusting". So yeah, I can fire swarms of missiles all day long, but they're not all that effective. When I'm in a really desperate situation and I need that 5, I have to work out some way to play it with Trusting. Which led to a lot of fun roleplaying like "I know you're not really a bad person deep down inside, Dr. Inevitable! You wouldn't really fire that death ray at Capitol City when you have friends there! It must be that you've just got a... a malfunction in your brain hardware! Come back to Earth with me and I'll help you get it fixed!"
(You can see how playing a Robot Ingenue with a 2 in Trusting and a 5 in "Swarms of Missiles" would have been a completely different experience from playing Acura Integra, even though they're both made with the same pregen choices.)
I'm very much looking forward to playing again next week, because I bet it will go much smoother now that we're familiar with the system, and plus I have a great idea for a tragic villain: a Guilt-Ridden Mind-Controller named The Utopian who is tormented with constant shame over the imperfections of humanity and obsessed with taking over people's lives in order to "purge them of their sins".
Two weeks ago I went to the health care "town hall meeting" (actually in a school gymnasium, because what town has a Town Hall anymore?) with the representative for CA-14, Anna Eshoo.
It was a depressing circus of rabid hyper-partisanship and grown adults acting like middle-schoolers in a playground fight.
It's taken me two weeks to write about the town hall just because it was such a weird and disturbing experience. I needed some distance from it.
I'm a very non-confrontational person, you know? Raised tempers, confrontation, and people yelling at each other makes me uncomfortable. Being in the middle of about a thousand people angrily booing each other made me feel threatened. I felt like I needed a detox afterwards.
While I didn't see any signs equating Obama to Hitler, there was a group of people outside with a mix of protest signs more or less focused on opposing government intervention. Standing across from them was a group of counter-protesters who were all little old ladies in crazy flowery hats with signs about how much they love their Medicare, "which is a socialist government single-payer program", and how they wish they could share it with everyone. They sang a song about it. I'm serious.
Inside the auditorium it was jam-packed; there were lots of people who didn't get a seat. We all got a stack of question cards on which we could write our name and contact info and a question, and pass them to one of the moderators, who collected them and brought them to Eshoo on the stage. She answered the first question from each person, with promises to answer the rest later, by e-mail.
It was clear from the moment Anna Eshoo took the stage that it was going to get rowdy. It was hard to tell for sure but I estimated about 1/3 of the crowd were vocally anti-reform protesters, mostly older people, who booed and jeered at pretty much anything positive Eshoo said about health care reform or HR 3200 or Obama, shouted out statements contradicting her, etc. Maybe 1/2 the crowd was on the pro-reform side, judging by the fact that they clapped at all the things the protestors booed at, but they weren't nearly as forceful or organized. Complicating matters there was another small but vocal contingent, maybe 1/8 to 1/6, who were die-hard for single-payer, so they would join in on booing the public option but then start up chanting in favor of HR 676.
I thought Anna Eshoo handled herself quite well in the face of this circus. She knew her stuff; she took questions straight from the pile without filtering them, and made honest attempts to answer them no matter how dumb or how hostile they were. She displayed an impressive command of facts and figures while answering difficult questions off-the-cuff, without notes. She didn't let the vitriol of the hecklers damage her composure. Several times when the audience got too rowdy, she tried to shame them into behaving, saying "I don't care if you disrespect me; I know some of you don't like me and that's fine, I can take it. But please have some respect for your neighbors, who have come here to have their questions answered, and quiet down so they can hear."
Man. Sometimes when people act like middle-schoolers, you have to treat them like middle-schoolers, know what I'm sayin?
Eshoo spent a lot of her answers focusing on the fact that the currently uninsured are costing us a lot of money by showing up in emergency rooms, that emergency care is more expensive than prevention, and therefore that we can save money by insuring the uninsured and getting them preventative care. (The point I made in this post.)
"Californians with insurance pay an average of $1400 on their health insurance premiums every year to help offset the cost of health care provided to the uninsured.", according to Diane Feinstein's website. I'd take that $1400 figure with a grain of salt, though, since I don't know how you can accurately measure these things.
A lot of the questions, I'd say the majority, were hostile, based on false premises, or were questions that were not really questions, like:
"Why do you want to destroy the best health care system in the world?"
"What will it take to convince you the majority of your consituents don't want more government control over our lives?"
It was pretty clear that these people were not against specific details of the plan; they were dead-set against having any reform at all. I mean, how the heck can a public option be described as "more government control over our lives"? That makes no sense. These kind of questions were just trolling, trying to get a reaction out of the audience, which they certainly did.
Some questions that were more about the protesters themselves than about health care reform. There were a couple which basically demanded that Eshoo apologize for mean things that other Democrats had said about the protest movement, like calling them "astroturf" or "angry mobs". This is both off-topic and, um, why should Eshoo apologize for something she didn't say? "I don't agree with demonizing anyone" is what she said.
A lot of the questions were pure right-wing memes. You can find the same memes all over any number of blog comments and forum posts all over the Internet right now. For example, there's a meme going around that says the Tenth Amendment puts any health care reform beyond the constitutional powers of the federal government, and thus it would be illegal for Congress to pass any such thing. (By that logic, Social Security and Medicare would also be unconstitutional... is anybody in favor of repealing them?) I was wondering if this meme would show up in a question at the town hall, and it did! Somebody challenged Eshoo with "What clause in the constitution gives the federal government the right to take over the medical system?"
The answer, by the way, is Article 1, Section 8:
"The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States."
Eshoo pointed out that Congress has people whose job it is to check the constitutionality of bills before they're voted on, that opinion in the mainstream constitutional law world is that the bill is legal, and that the Supreme Court is right across the street from Congress and ready to strike down any laws it finds unconstitutional.
This was one of a couple of fun moments when Anna Eshoo schooled the hecklers. Others:
She was asked if she would "promise to read the bill before voting on it". (This is another common right-wing meme: the idea that nobody in Congress has read the bill.) She picked up an actual copy of bill HR 3200 (in a large black 3-ring binder) and waved it at the audience, saying "I never vote on anything I haven't read. Not only have I read it all, I wrote parts of it. Maybe you should try reading it too."
She was challenged on the fact that some of the uninsured are uninsured voluntarily, and that HR3200 would take that choice away by forcing people to buy insurance. (One of the more well-founded criticisms, I think.) She countered by asking everybody in the audience who voluntarily chose to remain uninsured to raise their hand. Not one person did. "Very interesting", she said.
She also said, at one point, "I don't think anybody in this room wants to stand up and defend the practice of recission" ( when an insurance company drops a customer after that customer gets sick and attempts to collect on their policy). Total silence; nobody stood up. She pointed out that aside from the public option, none of the most important things HR3200 (and all the other bills in consideration) does is to make recission illegal, and that this is one of the ways the bill is trying to benefit the currently insured, not just to cover the uninsured.
I like Anna Eshoo a lot. Even though I think HR3200 is a pretty flawed bill (more about that later), I respect how she kept her cool under fire, schooled people with facts, took questions in good faith, and argued both the moral and economic rationales for why we need more coverage for more people. I find myself wanting to come to her defense against the people who were booing her.
Aside from the stupid questions, the other thing that pissed me off was that people just had to politicize everything she said. For example, she mentioned Ted Kennedy, and all the conservatives booed (really? so soon? no respect for the dead at all?), and all the liberals clapped louder to try to cover up the booing. Later she mentioned Ronald Reagan — not to praise his policies, just to establish the time frame of a certain Medicare reform — and all the liberals booed while all the conservatives clapped. Now what was the point of that?
Naked partisanship is an ugly, ugly thing. It's politics as war, as zero-sum game, where winning is not about passing laws that improve people's lives, it's about inflicting damage on the opposing team. It brings out the worst in human beings.
Said naked partisanship doesn't belong soley to the hecklers and anti-reform protestors in the current controversey. It exists on both sides. There was no reason for liberals to boo the name Ronald Reagan, except to, I dunno, express their team spirit, like soccer hooligans. He's dead, and although I don't agree with a lot of the stuff he did, his policies were not the topic of what we were talking about, and booing him has nothing to do with reforming health care.
Similarly, it's easy to dismiss the hecklers/tea-partiers as a bunch of angry cranks who can't get over the fact that their side lost the election last year. A lot of them would be protesting pretty much any serious reform plan by the Obama administration, regardless of its merits or flaws. It's also easy to laugh at them given the absurd falsity and illogic of some of their core arguments.
But you know what? I think it's too easy. For people like me who are generally pro-reform, it is too too easy to dismiss the opposition and, in dismissing them, overlook serious problems with HR 3200 and other proposals. These problems exist. It's fine to point out the stupidity and racism of some of the protest signs the opposition is waving, but doing so isn't going to make HR 3200's problems go away.
I don't know how many other people in the audience were like me — generally in favor of reform, but skeptical on the particulars, not ideologically committed to one particular method, and there because we wanted to ask questions and learn something. But whoever else was in that camp must have been as disappointed as I was that Eshoo had to spend so much time answering stupid troll questions and admonishing people to quiet down.
Because we rely on insurance too much?
I just made a dentist appointment for this Friday, for a routine checkup and teeth cleaning. Of course, the first thing the dentist asked about was my insurance coverage. I read her a mysterious number off of a plastic card that Mozilla gave me, and then she was happy.
Routine dental checkups and teeth cleaning is an entirely predictable procedure with what should be a low, predictable cost. Have you ever thought of how weird it is to that we use insurance to cover entirely predictable costs?
We don't use auto insurance to buy gas. It would be insane. Insurance is for accidents, it's for unpredictable costs. But people use health insurance to pay for routine checkups or monthly pill supplies. You almost have to use insurance because the price of basic services and supplies is absurdly inflated, under the assumption that an insurance company is going to be paying for it. Imagine if gas cost $50 a gallon but your auto insurance paid for it. That's the situation we have with health care. (It's often been pointed out that Americans tend to take better care of their cars than of their own bodies.)
When you pay with insurance, you're paying with somebody else's money. When you're paying with somebody else's money, there's no incentive for the patient to look for a good deal, and there's no incentive for the doctor or the hospital to economize on their costs, as I've pointed out before. The costs all come back to us eventually in the form of higher insurance premiums and more people dropped from insurance coverage.
Why do we have a system where we pay for everything with health insurance? It started, believe it or not, as a way to get around wage controls during WWII. Health benefits were not covered by wage control laws. After the war the wage controls ended but in 1954 Congress created a tax loophole that makes health benefits tax-free - meaning that it is far cheaper for a company to pay somebody a dollar of health insurance than to pay them a dollar of salary. This is the single biggest loophole in the federal tax code and is considered by many economists to have a massive distoring effect on the economy. (You may recall that during the campaign John McCain proposed ending this tax loophole. Not a very popular idea, but it might actually have been a good one.)
This is a really good article here: How American Helath Care Killed My Father, by David Goldhill. Despite the sensationalistic title, the contents are quite reasonable and thought-through and fact-based. It's long (six pages), but read the whole thing. Then bookmark it and read it again tomorrow. There's a ton of juicy information in there, like the fact that America has one health-insurance-company employee for every two doctors, a sure sign that insurance is too big.
Goldhill estimates that if all the money our employers take out of our paychecks to go to medicare and health benefits was simply given to us as cash instead, the average person would be getting back something like $1.77 million over the course of their lifetime; and that if we put this into a savings account and paid for routine care directly, we'd be getting a far better deal. Prices would come down because we'd cut out the middleman, because people would be spending their own money and so would have an incentive to save, and because providers would be directly competing to serve customers.
We'd still need insurance to cover the truly catastrophic events. So Goldhill proposes a system where everybody has a HSA (Health Savings Account) to pay directly for routine care, and is also enrolled in a single mandatory nationwide insurance program that covers only emergencies.
I think there's a lot of sense in that. But there's no political will for anything like that. Right now the Democrats are only talking about expanding insurance coverage, not cutting it back to the places where it makes sense.
I found out the other day that Mozilla actually offers an HSA (Health Savings Account) plan as an alternative to the Anthem PPO health insurance that I have now. I looked into it a bit to see how it works. The nice thing about the HSA is that I could put money into it from pre-tax income. I pay almost 30% in taxes, so this is quite significant. The HSA comes with a high-deductible insurance policy that only pays for stuff over $5,000 (for the family plan) - in other words, it only pays for the truly catastrophic stuff.
However, the reason that I chose not to switch to the HSA plan is that Mozilla would not be redirecting the money that they're currently using to buy me insurance and put that amount into my HSA; instead, they'd just keep it. If I wanted money in my HSA, I'd have to take an additional chunk out of my salary to put there. Because of that, it doesn't make sense to switch, especially when the PPO alternative is so generous.
This is an example of how it's really hard for one person to break out of the system by themselves. It's a collective action problem. Even if widespread use of HSA plans would lead to a better health care economy overall, nobody wants to be the first one to switch because they'd be losing out by doing so. Switching America onto HSAs would require a complete overhaul of the system, a complete rewrite of the rules for employer/employee health care payments and tax deductions.
I've started working on a web application which will be a sort of all-purpose tabletop game emulator, aimed at making playtesting easier for my many friends who are game designers. It's based on an idea that Googleshng described in great detail here: The Toybox Project.
It's not ready to show yet, but I hit the first major milestone on the coding last night so I'm pretty excited to talk about it.
The idea is that if you want to playtest a game you're working on, you can go to my website, create a private room, and get a URL that you can invite your friends to. All the people who are looking at the same URL are part of the game room. It's like Etherpad but for gaming instead of text editing.
In the game room, there's a shared board area where anybody can create pieces and move them around, and everyone else instantly sees the changes. You'll be able to upload, or link to, your own graphics to use as pieces or as a background image (i.e. a board), or choose from a selection of standard pieces (chess pieces, go stones, playing cards, toy soldiers and tanks, etc. etc.)
There will also have to be a chat area, a die roller (including Fudge dice), the ability to draw or type words directly onto the board area and then wipe it clean again, and some way of simulating shuffling/drawing from a deck of cards, including custom cards. There will also have to be a private area where players can move objects to hide them from public view, to support games with hidden information. Finally there will need to be a way to save and restore game states.
The computer won't enforce any rules or game mechanics. It's up to the players to pay attention to whether they're playing right or not, same as with a real tabletop game. This keeps the code simple and makes it possible for users to create virtual versions of their game setup without having to do any programming.
I'll put up a link once it's a little more functional. If you're interested in this project, leave a comment to let me know what other features would make it useful for you.
I just finished the first volume of Iron Empires, a military science fiction comic by Christopher Moeller. It was... OK, not great. Very nice painting-style artwork, generic plot, no character development, setting and imagery very strongly reminiscent of Warhammer 40k. As in, power-armored elite warriors with heraldry painted on their enormous shoulder pads jump out of dropships and blow stuff up with fusion pistols and power swords; heretic cults prepare planets for sinister alien invasion; theocracy. Stuff like that. 40k is all recycled tropes anyway, so who cares; it's just funny that Iron Empires uses virtually the exact same recycled tropes.
I first heard about this series because of the Burning Empires roleplaying game based on it. Burning Empires is a spin-off of an earlier fantasy roleplaying game called Burning Wheel, which I own but haven't yet played. (Burning Wheel + Iron Empires = Burning Empires, get it?)
Burning Empires is an intimidating game. From what I've read about it, it sounds interesting and innovative and well-designed, and you know there aren't many good science fiction roleplaying games, and I do like the idea of roleplaying in a real serious space-opera campaign... and Bankuei kinda pitched it to me last time I visited him...
but on the other hand, Burning Empires, like Burning Wheel, is really really complex and crunchy. More crunchy than I generally like my RPGs these days. Playing it would require a lot of commitment, to spend time learning the system, making a character, and playing a campaign to a proper conclusion. Is it worth it? I guess that comes down to how excited I am about the setting. That's why I decided to give the comic a read.
Well, now I've tried the comic, and I'm still kind of ambivalent. It didn't make me jump up and shout "I MUST ROLEPLAY THIS" but it's not bad, either. With the right group, if we brainstormed up some character concepts that grabbed me the right way, I think I could get excited about it.
(Can anybody who's read the comic tell me if it's worth getting the next volume? Does it get more interesting?)
"Minority Report" wasted the opportunity to explore the limitless embarrassment potential of these things.
That's right humes! I got another comic done!.
Sushu helped a lot with this one. She did some penciling of poses and more importantly she drew the cover for the GUIDO X MATZ manga (higher-quality raw scan) (unused alternate version). Also she added the mouse in panel 5. Slowly this comic is becoming a team effort.
This post is inspired by every political blog comment thread that I've ever made the mistake of reading. I was going to call it "How to argue politics like an angry moron on the Internet" but then I noticed that was redundant.
First, get in the right frame of mind. Politics has only two sides: liberal and conservative. One of those is Your Side, and the other one is the side of Nazis and baby-killers. Some real-life issues may look at first like they complex multidimensional problems with many possible positions that a reasonable person could take, but that is an illusion and you must drive it from your mind as quickly as possible. You have to reduce the issue to a two-sided struggle so that you can begin the important work of proving that your side is right and that the enemy side hates freedom.
1. Psychoanalyze! Dissect the secret motivations of people you have never met and explain in great detail the character flaws that cause all [liberals|conservatives] to hate America and want to destroy freedom. You don't have to prove that they do hate America; just assume it to be true and then distract everybody from your lack of evidence by focusing on an argument over motives.
2. Take credit for anything good that happened when a president from your side was in office. Assign blame for anything bad that happened when a president from the enemy side was in office. Even things outside the president's (or any human being's) power to predict or influence are still fair game. If you're creative, you can imagine a chain of cause and effect that will allow you to blame the other side's president for tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and scandals in the private sector.
2a. Unless something bad happened during your guy's term. In that case, it was obviously Congress's fault. Or it was an impossible situation they inherited from the enemy side's president.
2b. If something good happened during the enemy's presidential term, take credit for it anyway by claiming it was a delayed result of laws passed during your side's presidential term.
3. There are only two kinds of sources: sources that you agree with, and sources that are biased. If anybody presents evidence that contradicts what you already believe, it must be from one of the biased sources. Loudly proclaim that the quoted pollster/study/newspaper/academic institute/police department has an extreme and well-known [left-wing|right-wing] bias and is not to be trusted. This will help you maintain a perfect defense against new information.
4. If somebody points out something your side did wrong, and you can't think of any way to deny or evade the blame, just think of something that the other side did that was similar, but soooo much worse than what your side did. (It's sufficient to find something they did that was similar, because anything the other side does is automatically worse than anything your side does.)
4a. Hope everyone is distracted enough by arguing over the new thing that nobody notices you changed the subject without answering the original point.
4b. Advanced version: Call your opponents hypocrites because they're complaining about this tiny, insignificant thing that your side did while they ignored, or supported, a similar but way worse thing that their own side did. Skip over the part where you ask whether or not they did support the thing that their side did; remember, everybody on the enemy side believes in and supports exactly the same things.
5. Make puns by changing a few letters in the name of the opposing political party or politician in order to make an unflattering word. Examples: "Rethuglican", "Demo-rat". This is very clever and shows everyone what a good sense of humor you have.
6. Never allow any criticism of your own side to enter your brain, unless it is to criticize politicians on your side for being too moderate. If they're not fighting as hard as they should to defeat the evil that is the enemy political party, they're appeasers and sell-outs!
7. When all else fails, call the other side Communists, Nazis, Fascists, Socialists, Jihadists, Imperialists, etc. All murderous authoritarian movements in history are interchangeable; they existed for the sake of giving you nasty labels to put on your political enemies, so choose freely and don't worry about understanding history or maintaining a sense of proportion.
8. If for some reason you still haven't won the argument, then describe in detail how you will physically assault your opponents when you see them in real life. Threatening violence proves your argument about interest rates and unemployment is correct! You're never going to meet the other person in real life, so you are free to posture and make empty threats that you could never back up.
Always remember, the object of the game is not to learn about other people's points of view, to improve your understanding of complex issues facing our country, or to find workable solutions. The object of the game is to keep attacking the enemy until you find that one perfect line of attack which is so rhetorically unbeatable that everyone who disagrees with you will go home with their tail between their legs. Then you will be declared The Winner Of The Comment Thread and the Internet will throw a parade to honor you for saving America from the evil [liberals|conservatives].
I'm at my parents' house right now, looking through some of my old comic books. Ah, I remember when I went through my Jhonen Vasquez phase. I guess most comics fans probably went through a Jhonen Vasquez phase.
I'm looking at it now, and I'm like, wow. Jhonen Vasquez isn't very good.
Jaggedy black scribbles and giant distorted eyeballs are not a substitute for good artwork. A random succession of wackiness/horrible violence is not a substitute for a plot. Generalized misanthropy and yelling at strawmen is not a substitute for social commentary. Tiny fourth-wall-breaking margin notes are not a substitute for a writing style. Randomly yelling "MOOSE!" is not a substitute for humor. Edginess is not a substitute for talent.
It's all so... self-indulgent. It seems great when you're 17 years old and craving to see boundaries broken, but it doesn't hold up on later re-reading at all.
Invader Zim was by far the best thing he did, and it took the enforced limits of working with Nickelodeon on a kid's show for Vasquez to get there. There are some artists who seem to need editorial constraints to avoid falling into self-indulgence and to reach their full potential.
Oh, but I gotta say: Making fun of goths? That NEVER gets old.
Let me tell you how I did it, just in case the information is useful to anyone out there who is in a similar situation with accidentally deleted files.
I recently had monitor trouble with my laptop (a huge purplish-black blotch that appeared at the top center of the screen and then spread out until it engulfed everything, made it pretty hard to do anything), so I borrowed a temporary laptop from work to use while my main one was getting repaired.
I copied all my personal files off to the temporary laptop while my main one was getting reparied.
Well, the main one is fine now, but when I was copying all those personal files back to my main laptop, I screwed up. I deleted my iPhoto library, thinking I had already copied it... but I hadn't. Oops! And like a dumbutt, I didn't notice this until after I had emptied the trash.
Good thing that deleted files are not actually gone. The 0s and 1s are all still there on the disk, it's just that the space is marked as free and the operating system doesn't know where the data is anymore. AS LONG AS YOU HAVE NOT SAVED ANY NEW FILES, which would overwrite the free space, the data is recoverable. You just need a program that grovels through the bytes on the unallocated disk blocks and pulls out any patterns that look like dead files.
I used a piece of command-line freeware called PhotoRec, which is available for all three platforms. It knows how to recognize all major picture formats — and plenty of other non-picture file formats as well — so you just check the file types you want, point it at a disk, tell it where to save recovered files, and let it run. I set it to find only JPGs, because that's what my iPhoto library was. (I don't know whether this was because iPhoto makes everything JPGs, or because my digital camera takes JPGs and iPhoto just copies them. Your mileage may vary.)
In my case, both computers were Macs, so I connected the target computer to my main laptop with a FireWire cable and started it up in "Target Mode", which you do by holding down the T key on the keyboard while starting it up. That makes it act as an external FireWire hard drive.
The only tricky part was telling PhotoRec which disk to search, because it displays a menu of the hardware disk names, which are not the same as the names that show up in the Finder ("Macintosh HD" etc). I figured out by using Disk Utilities that disk0 is my internal hard drive, and disk1 is the cd-rom drive, so the drive connected by FireWire was disk2. It shows up on the list twice, as "disk2" and "rdisk2". You want "rdisk2" because the "r" (for "raw") means a faster connection.
It was a 250GB drive, so the JPG hunt took many hours. I just left both laptops running overnight at work, and when I came back in the morning it was done and it had found 32,000+ JPGs. Many of these 32,000 are stuff I don't want, like UI cruft from GarageBand and those stupid party invitation templates that come with the Mac software. So I have some sorting and sifting to do in order to pull out the photos that I might actually want to use. But at least my photos are in there!
The inspiration for Ponyo? Perhaps an explanation for why all the humans in that movie were so damn nonchalant about seeing a frelling fish with a frelling human face, holy crap, why aren't you people freaking the hell out about this.
On Saturday I played In A Wicked Age with Aaron, Dave, Ewen, and Sushu.
This is a "swords and sorcery" game by Vincent Baker, the creator of Mechaton and Dogs in the Vineyard. I've been wanting to try it for a while.
In A Wicked Age has a very cool system for creating scenarios. You "consult an oracle" by drawing four cards from a deck and looking them up on a table (online version). This gives you four random fragments or images. Then you brainstorm as a group how those things are connected to each other, what the situation could be, and what sort of characters are involved. After that each player besides the GM picks which character they want to play, assigns stats, and decides what that character's "best interests" are. Each "best interest" must directly threaten the interests of another PC or NPC, so you're all set up for conflict from the beginning.
I played "A devil of the lower airs, mischevious and full of tricks". One of the other things that came out of the Oracle was "The birth of a child, foretold by the prophets and the wise". I decided that my character was a djinn named Ibn-Haboob and that my Best Interests were to 1. prevent the child Zakiti from growing up to become the founder of a new religion which would make men lose their fear of the djinn and 2. to see Port Ibrahim brought to ruin and covered beneath the desert sands. My Particular Strength was the Talisman of Mirages, with which I could show false visions to cloud the minds of the weak-willed. Playing a villain was really, really fun. I got to do stuff like convince a would-be sorcerer that I was at his command, and pretending to obey, so that he would grow to trust me and I could betray him at just the right moment.
This scenario creation system works really, really well. Better than you would think. The oracles give you just enough to get your creativity going, and the Best Interests make sure you know what you want to have your character doing. The setting is only very loosely defined, but it is full of wonders and pagan savagery. The play is competitive (largely player-vs-player), fast-paced, and violent.
I didn't like the in-game resolution mechanics nearly as much as I liked the scenario creation. They felt kind of vague. I knew how to roll the dice and see who won each round of the conflict, but I was never sure how to turn that into fictional outcomes, what it was O.K. to narrate happening, when I was allowed to switch Forms, how much was supposed to be resolved in each round, etc. It got especially confusing when more than two people were involved in the same conflict. Reading the rulebook cover to cover after the game didn't really help me.
Maybe the conflict system just takes practice to use effectively, but I thought it felt too loosely defined. Which is weird, because Dogs in the Vineyard and Mechaton both have very tight dice mechanics that are tons of fun to play and, in the case of Dogs, mesh perfectly with the fictional story events. So I guess I was disappointed because I was expecting better from Vincent.
This is blasphemy, but I would consider using In A Wicked Age to create scenarios and then using a different game system to play them out.
I just saw Ponyo with Sushu. It was good! It's very cute and sweet. It's obviously a lil' kid's movie, like Totoro, but that's quite alright with me.
The story is kind of like a much, much trippier retelling of The Little Mermaid, set in and around a rural Japanese seaport town. I was wigging out on the natsukashii factor, because the backgrounds looked sooo familiar. The crooked mountain roads, the tunnels, the fishing boats, the grungy seaport machinery... It was practically "Kamaishi: the Movie". But a Kamaishi where prehistoric fish from the Devonian period swim through the treetops and where a freaky wizard with too much eyeliner commands living waves like giant blue amoebas.
And the colors, oh man, the colors! They're gorgeous. The backgrounds are all soft, inviting colored-pencil drawings full of verdant green, shimmering aquamarine, deep indigo, shocking crimson, and radiant gold. The animators were having way too much fun. Watch the way they animate liquid surface tension: it's completely wrong, but it looks awesome.
This is my favorite kind of anime: the kind with bizzare and intensely dreamlike goings-on are anchored in reality by the mundane details of everyday life in small-town Japan. It's something Miyazaki does very, very well.
Isaac came over this weekend. He was one of the five people I promised to make something for; he had asked for something edible, so we took a walk to the Mountain View farmer's market on Sunday morning and looked for inspiring ingredients. I was originally thinking about making Italian noodles and tomato sauce from scratch again, but right before I went to buy tomatoes Isaac mentioned that actually he had his heart set on something Japanese. I found some shiitake mushrooms that looked really good, so I decided to make gyuudon. Then I needed some other dishes to go with the gyuudon. I decided to go all-out and make the best damn Japanese meal I am capable of making, so after the farmer's market I went shopping at Mitsuwa and then a Chinese grocery store called Ranch 99. By the time I was done it had five dishes, plus tea and dessert, and I had used pretty much every pot, pan, bowl, and plate in my kitchen.
All Japanese food is seasonal. Mostly by accident, this meal was almost all autumn foods. It seemed appropriate, since we were all about read for summer to end and autumn to start.
I'm really happy with how it all came out, so here are the recipes for the benefit of anyone who wants to try them. The five dishes are:
The rice takes the longest, so start it first. Wash and soak two cups of white rice and put them in the electric rice cooker, or use your preferred way of steaming rice if you don't have an electric rice cooker.
When you need a green vegetable to balance your meal, this is a super simple side dish.
Take a whole bag of fresh baby spinach leaves, fry them in a pan with a little bit of oil and salt until they shrink and shrivel up. Roll the leaves up and serve them on your tiniest plates with a little bit of sesame dressing.
The brown and bright orange colors of this kinpira gobo always make me think of autumn. Gobo, aka burdock, is a very long skinny brown root vegetable which is worth looking for at an Asian grocery store.
Peel the gobo and the carrots with a vegetable peeler. Chop the gobo into manageable chunks, put into a bowl and soak it in a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water. The vinegar softens the root and removes the bitterness.
Carefully chop the carrots and gobo into matchstick-sized pieces.
Throw a little oil in a frying pan or wok over medium heat. Once it's hot, throw in the gobo pieces and stir-fry. Add:
Stir-fry some more. Throw the carrots in and stir-fry it all together. Once all the liquid is absorbed, sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds. Test a piece to make sure it's all soft enough to be edible. Take it off the heat once it is.
The mix of dasshi and miso in this broth is very important, but I do them to taste rather than measuring. Go easy on both of them, because you don't want the broth to be too salty, or to overwhelm the natural flavor of the clams. I use less of each than I would when making miso soup without clams.
Fill a large soup pan with water, and bring it close to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, scrub the outside of the clams in running water to make sure there won't be any dirt in the soup. Turn the heat down and let the water simmer. Dissolve a few shakes of dasshi powder, stir it up, and throw in the clams. You're going to gently boil the clams until they pop open. Meanwhile, rinse the fried tofu in hot water and chop it into bite-sized triangles. Chop the root chunk off the enoki. Slice the daikon into disks about 1-2mm thick, then cut each disk in half to make half-circle shapes.
If the clams are open now, turn the heat down to low and throw in the tofu, daikon, and enoki. Dissolve a ladleful of miso paste in the soup by holding it in a slotted spoon and stirring it with chopsticks until it dissolves. This is to prevent any miso chunks from ending up in the soup. Make sure that it stays on low heat and do not let it come back to a boil during this process; you'll ruin miso paste if you boil it.
Once the daikon is translucent and tender enough to eat, chop the green onions into little rings and throw them in. Stir it up and let it cook for another minute or so, then take it off the heat.
To serve, fish out the clams and put two in each bowl, then ladle the soup on top of them.
Buying the right fish is the most important part of this business so make sure they're fresh, firm, and silvery.
Basically all you do is: salt, let stand, fry in oil. It's the simplest thing ever. But here are the finer points:
Cut each fillet in half, so you have four quarters of a fish. Remove the spine, if it's still there, and the largest bones. Sprinkle salt all over each fillet; flip it over and salt both sides. Rub the salt in a little bit. Let it sit for 10 minutes while you work on the other dishes. Heat up a little vegetable oil in a frying pan over high heat. (An oiled grilling rack would be even better, but I don't have one, so the frying pan it is.) Once the oil is hot, throw the fish in; it will sizzle dramatically. Flip it three times. You want it to be cooked all the way through to the center, but just barely. There should be a light golden crust forming on the outside of the fish, and if you peek at the edges of the fillet you should see the translucent flesh turning opaque white all the way through. Use your best cooking intuition to decide when to take it off, and remember that saba is firmer than other fish, so it's not going to start flaking apart in the pan like some fish would.
To make the sauce for the fish, mix 1 part lemon juice to 2 parts soy sauce. Take about 1/3 of a daikon, peel it, and grate it into a bowl with the fine side of a cheese grater so that it forms a juicy white mush. Serve each piece of saba with a dish of the sauce and a little pile of daikon.
In Japanese cooking "umami" is the fifth flavor besides salty, sour, sweet, and bitter. Onions, beef, dasshi, and shiitake mushrooms are all strong in umami flavor, and this dish uses all of them, so it is one of the most umami things imaginable. Try it and then you will understand what umami means.
First, make the broth. Mix 1 and 1/3 cup water with as much dasshi stock powder as will dissolve in it. Add:
Pour that into a saucepan and turn on the heat. While waiting for it to boil, peel and coarsely chop up 1/2 onion. Wash the shiitake, remove the stems and throw away, chop the caps into bite-sized pieces. Drain the shirataki noodles in a colander and rinse them under hot water. Take a pair of clean scissors in one hand, grab bunches of noodles in the other hand, and cut the noodles until the largest pieces are no more than 4-5 inches long. Throw the onion, mushroom, and noodles into the saucepan. Bring it to a low boil, covered.
Let it simmer long enough for the onions to soften and turn translucent. Uncover and throw in the beef. The beef will cook rapidly and change color as it does. Take the pan off the burner the instant all the beef pieces have turned from pink to brown.
Dish out four large bowls of rice (you remembered to start the rice early, right?) and ladle the beef mixture onto each one, with enough broth to soak all the rice through. Serve with red pickled ginger.
I served this with hot genmai cha, which is green tea leaves mixed with roasted brown rice for a richer flavor. It's usually sold loose, so you'll need a tea press or at least a strainer of some kind.
For dessert, we had fresh nasshi, a.k.a. Asian pear, a fruit that ripens in late summer. I peel it with a vegetable peeler and slice it into bite-sized pieces on a plate.
For your information, and as a reference for further discussion, here is a summary of House Resolution 3200 (pdf link), the foremost health care reform proposal. This is a section-by-section summary, so it's a mere 35 pages instead of the 1,018 pages of the full bill. There will be many more changes to it before the final vote.
This was sent to me as an e-mail attachment in a mass-mailing from my representative in the House; I'm assuming that it's public domain and OK to redistribute.
I have a long blog post coming up about Wednesday night's health-care town-hall meeting, which was basically a circus of depressing partisanship.
When me and Sushu have kids, they're going to have two cultural/linguistic backgrounds. We agree that we want them to raise them bilingual (easier to learn languages when you're a kid and all that). They should learn the customs and the values of both Chinese and American cultures so they can figure out how to combine the best of each for themselves.
The kids are also going to be mixed-race. What's that going to be like for them?
Their identities are going to be complicated. I don't want anybody to put them in a box, or make them feel bad about who they are, or make them feel like they have to act a certain way because of who their parents are.
I don't want them to learn that mixed-race people are freaks, or learn that China is an enemy land full of scary communist bad guys, both of which are poisonous ideas floating freely throughout American society.
I want to make sure we give them the tools to define who they are for themselves. I hope they can navigate these waters, and be proud of themselves, and go far with their lives. Like this kid here:
That's baby Barack Obama with his grandfather. What I love about this picture is the obvious family resemblance (especially if you compare the grandfather's face to the adult Barack's face). The obvious family resemblance between somebody we see as "black" and somebody we see as "white" really highlights the fact that race is a social construction.
Anyway. We're not in any hurry to have babies yet. But it's not so far away anymore. So I've been thinking about this stuff lately.