Friday, April 29, 2005

Hegemonic Dominance of Video Games

When an old thirty something from the print media recognizes that film is being dominated by video games you know something big has happened. In this article, author James Pinkerton argues that gaming is now where cutting edge work on narrative is happening. He makes an interesting argument and I agree with a lot of the points he’s making.

Bush points to a bigger set of problems

Last nights news conference with President Bush gave me a little hope, but also made me realize the enormity of the issues that confront the United States. Energy, Social Security and our financial stability are dominating the news.

  1. Last nights news conference with President Bush gave me a little hope, but also made me realize the enormity of the issues that confront the United States. Energy, Social Security and our financial stability are dominating the news.
    Oil prices continue to rise and the President has just admitted to the American people that there is nothing he can do about the shock at the pump. That portends a very large crisis in the coming year because this former oil man is distancing himself from the policies that he created and the worldview to which he subscribes. Bush knows that domestic oil production will not meet domestic demand. International supply cannot cope with increased demand from India, China and the United States. Price is going higher. I also think he realizes that technology and efficiency are not going to get us out of the current fix we are in. “Clean” coal, ethanol, LNG are not going to last forever and nuclear is an option that most Americans are not yet prepared to deal with. Preparing for the inevitable crisis that will occur he is trying to point the finger in another direction by saying “its not my fault we have nto had an energy policy for the past 10 years.” When the crisis occurs his network of power will probably not last very long. They are to dependent on the petroleum industry.
  2. Demographics are a major factor influencing the power and health of any society. Our demographics especially as it relates to aging don’t look good. While we are not as bad off as Europe, our society will become increasingly divided into two camps—a large percentage of old white retirees and young ethnically diverse workers. They are not going to be able to pay for all the programs of the retirees. Imagine a country divided along age, racial and ethnic lines.
  3. Demographics and Energy problems mean economic problems. Since the problems of these two areas will not be addressed the first half of the 21st Century will mean lower growth economically. The political and social implications of this are huge and I’m just beginning to imagine a society where there is no economic growth and the pie keeps getting smaller and the slice that each of us get decreases every year. What will that look like?

Banks adopt "Green" Accounting

As nation states lose their power relative to multinational corporations and globalization environmental groups are starting to target banks and other financial institutions in their attempt to stimulate sustainable policies and initiatives. This week in the Wall Street Journal, Jim Carlton wrote that J.P. Morgan, Citibank and Bank of America are now calculating the cost of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution in its loan calculations. Fearing litigation and public relations problems J.P. Morgan is creating a whole bunch of ecological and sustainable target that it is trying to support. Basically you have the beginnings of a kind of ecological accounting and the recognition that markets need guidance about the criterion they use to create a price.

The value of an ecosystem and the cost of an emission are very complex issues involving comparative value and value over the long term. If you disable or permanently lower the careering capacity of an ecosystem how do you fix a value on what might have been produced? Placing a dollar value on a ecosystem does not work, because the complex relationships between the various actants cannot be quantified in their totality. However, don’t underestimate the importance of the Morgan, Citibank and BOA initial steps. They are the opening of a debate.

Friday, April 15, 2005

More from Baghdad Burning

I continue to be impressed with the reporting in Baghdad Burning. It is a great online journal that captures the feelings of one individual in the occupation. The interesting thing about the war is that we are now broadcasting US TV shows into their country. More especially is her description of American mainstream media. It is sanitized and produced not to enlighten or educate, but with the idea of controlling perceptions and views of events. The mental environment that we live with in the US is one where the unreflected synthetic life is created and experienced. We watch “Friends” because we lack any true friends ourselves, we watch “reality T.V.” because we don’t have a fulfilling life. This seems to be the current zeitgeist.

People who have not been continuously feeding from the glass teat are more aware. They can see things for what they are and not what the media companies want us to see. The Iraqi woman who writes this blog sees clearly that the American people are being shown things to influence public opinion and not things that will inform them about the war. We are being told stories about Terry Schiavo in order to distract us from more urgent and important business. Keep checking this sight. It is the best blog out there.

Murdock on Media...

Rupert Murdock made a great speech about the future of print media. Basically he says that the newspaper is dead. It just does not supply information quick enough to younger readers. Moreover people are no longer interested in passively reading what the editors and publishers choose for them. They want to choose what to look at for themselves. What impresses me most about this speech is the Murdock clearly recognizes the challenges his company is going to face and knows the strengths and the weakness of his strategic position. This is the mark of great leadership.

New technology creates new elites that replace old elites. During these times, systems can undergo profound shifts and transformations changing not just the main actors, but the system itself. Is the internet and the new media so different that it will give rise to a new political or economic elite? The last time that such a revolutionary technology was available was when Guttenberg created the printing press. Luther clearly used it and Calvin’s following to organize political and economic resistance to the Catholic Church. Then several rulers of Europe used the religious movements to increase their control over their kingdoms and the lessen the power of the Roman Catholic Church. However, at the end of the 17th Century the absolute power of popes was replaced by the absolute power of kings. In the end did anything really change.?
The internet is clearly a bog threat to traditional media, but only to its production networks. Less paper will be printed, but companies like Murdock’s and Dow Jones are making great transitions and supplying new kinds of value to the marketplace. Bloggers are producing new types of information but eventually they will also be harnessed to serve various corporate interests as large corporations but blogs and bloggers. Governments and corporations all over the world are working hard to control the Internet. It is naïve to assume that they will not figure out a way to have an impact on content and control the more controversial elements of this new technology. If they cannot control the technology directly, they will attempt to control it by regulation and laws.

Today the market will fall....

In just a little under and hour the US markets will open and chaos will reign. All the foreign markets are down especially the Japanese and European ones. The European markets has a big impact on the capital flows of the US. US T-bills are falling as people move cash into quality. What is driving the market the underlying market dynamics is cost of oil and the questionable strength of the US financial system. Yesterday rumors hit the market about the problem child know as GM. Somebody floated the idea that it may declare bankruptcy. AIG the 3ed largest holder of GM bonds is in bigger trouble then we initially expected. Interest rates are going higher and that is always a drag on the market. Add to this mix the report that IBM’s sales are falling mean a market that is looking for an excuse to break to the downside.

Last night I looked at Mandelbrot’s writings on cotton prices and volatility. He makes a really good point that a big movement down or up increases the likelihood of another large percentage movement in the same direction. He even has the mathematics to prove it. There are all sorts of ways to manipulate the market are lesson the possibility of a major crash…like fiddle with government statistics and do a little creative accounting. AIG, Enron, BP, the FED and lots of other institutions are not anywhere close to transparent so a crash when it occurs is going to be unpleasant in the extreme. I think we are close…its just a feeling. If you cannot trust the information you receive from a company or government in order to analyze a company your risk increases and the efficiency of capital deployment decreases. Capital costs increase and you have yet another drag on the economy.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Gharwar is peaking...

This story is very problematic and important. If true then the world economy going to be entering a period of decline. The information in this article is not something new. However, the fact that the Bank of Montreal and the IEA are publicly talking about Gharwar is a problem. It is the public acknologement that something is seriously wrong and we need a solution. Transparency in the oil industry is a big issue…How much is left and what are the possible ramifications?

Environmental Protests in China

The environment could be a very important political consideration for China. Yesterday the New York Times reported on riots in the “…Huaxi Village is a few hours' drive south of Hangzhou, the provincial capital of coastal Zhejiang.” Around 40,000 people got together for a little demonstration. China’s economic miracle is having a profound environmental cost. This cost is lowering the quality of life for many Chinese in cities and villages. At a certain point these local disturbances will lead to nationwide protests, and if enough people join in then the government will lose its “Mandate of Heaven.”

Monday, April 11, 2005

Parent Guide for Computer Games

What is it about the virtual world that makes it so much fun? I’ve been playing computer games since I used to upload the programs with a cassette tape plugged into a Commodore 64. Since then the games have become more sophisticated, but the basic genres remain the same.

  1. Arcade. This involves chasing or being chased or chasing something across the screen. These games are in the 3ed person. (You are the outside observer.) Donkey Kong, Pac-Man are good examples. NBA Jam is the best arcade game ever created.
  2. First Person Shooter. I remember the first time I really stepped into a virtual world. It was a game called Tank Commander back in 7th grade at Aladdin’s Castle in the University Mall. In the game you actually looked through a set of sights and could steer the tank by using a couple of controllers. While the graphics were line drawings, the experience of playing was incredible. I don’t even want to calculate how many quarters my friends and I fed the machines.
  3. Simulations. These games involve simulating a specific environment or historical event. The best games of this genre give you a new insight into how the world works like Civilization or Simlife. The worst is the genre simulate behavior that teaches you how to commit violent or stupid acts of aggression or deviant behavior like the Sims or Grand Theft Auto.
  4. MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.) This genre is relativity new. It involves creating an alternate identity, connecting to the internet and playing with thousands of other people worldwide. In this genre the game never ends and is very open ended. Players develop skills and abilities and usually battle fellow players or bots. Because of the immersive nature of this genre it is the one most likely to result in an individual spending huge amounts of time playing. In addition, the relationships that people develop with fellow online players can be very intense. For individuals with low social skills or the inability to read social cues these games allow them to form valuable friendships.

Most parents have very little understanding of the online world and allow their children to play games that are very inappropriate for their age. Conversely, they ban games that are of benefit to their kids. One of the most disturbing games that is available to kids are First Person Shooters. While some will argue that they are just sophisticated versions of cowboys and indians, but the level of graphic realism makes these so realistic that they help kids become immune to violence. Of course T.V shows the same thing, but the difference is that in gaming players participate in the violence.

Parents should play the same game as their kids. Only by actually playing the game will they understand what their kids are experiencing. If you would not allow your son or daughter to watch an R rated movie, why would you let them play a violent video game? Generation Y is the most media savvy, but they are also the least parented generation. As a group they are much older and jaded then even Generation X. The games provide an opening that can create a longer conversation about more important things. That is sometime we all need.

Carbon Sequestration

We came to an agreement with a landowner to locate our carbon sink on their land. This project will entail planting around 1,500 trees that will spend the next ten years sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere. Currently, Vermont Commons School generates about 71 tones of carbon from its electricity use alone. Over the next month we will be refining our measurements by adding Liquid Natural Gas into our calculations. Then we will update the number of trees we need to plant. This effort combined with our success in lowering electricity consumption will make us a zero emissions building. That is a great accomplishment and the kids should be commended.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Unrestricted Warfare

There is a lot of talk about China becoming the main adversary of the United States in this century. The fight over resources both natural and cultural will take on new forms as conventional warfare becomes too expensive and dangerous. After all strategic victory is impossible without nuclear weapons. A couple of years ago, I got a hold of a book by two Colonels in the People Liberation Army of China. It is called Unrestricted Warfare. The book argues that because of the domination of the United States military on the battlefield, countries and movements needing to resist its hegemony must use very unconventional tactics. The most interesting part is their discussion of tactics used in economic warfare. I sometimes worry that the strength of the United States is rapidly becoming quite hollow. We have current account debts, low savings rates, poor educational system, bad infrastructure and are over extended militarily and economically. A simple selling of t-bills, a devaluation of the US$, or a pricing of oil in Euros would do more damage to this country than a military attack. That is exactly what the authors argue for. Our economy is very vulnerable and level of conflict between nations over resources is going to increase. The form of war has changed, some kinds of warfare are out of bounds and old types of power just do not cut it. Who can do more damage a carrier task force or a group of Forex traders. I bet it is the Forex traders and they are cheaper.

If you have the time, read the book. It is important.

Friday, April 01, 2005

A State of Education

I attended a discussion a few days ago with some alumni of Middlebury and the education department at the college. It was great to see so many people involved in teaching and clearly committed to the goals of helping young people. The views they espoused were admirable. However, I was taken aback by several of the comments and the general tone of the debate.

There is nothing wrong with saying that someone has produced a better paper or artwork than another. Accomplishment is valuable and results do matter they are the foundation of progress. However, the criterion used to judge what makes something better then another must the clear and logical. However, the person living in the slums of Mumbai and the mansions of Beverly Hills both have equal value as human beings. Their works might have a different monetary or aesthetic value, but as human beings they are equal in the fundamental right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If education has any value it lies in the ability to unlock the potential of a human being to produce great works and acts that benefit humanity but during the course of our discussion, one of the professors made the argument that it was ok if some people did not learn algebra. As if there were a certain class of people whom this was too difficult and that its usefulness was negligible. How on earth can a person survive in the world of the 21st century and not learn about solving for an unknown variable? We are all engaged in the search for unknowns and in using our free will to make choices about how to live and what we value. What other skills might they deny the common people because they feel that they will not benefit from them? People who advocate that only a certain kind of person can benefit from the highest learning have a bit of the tyrant in them. They do not treat people equally, but reserve special status and privileges to those who fit the 19th century definition of accomplished. Rather they seek to become the arbiters of good task and right knowledge. That elitist view is becoming all to common in our institutes of higher learning. With the conversations that I have had over the past month with professors of my alma mater, I am starting to believe that elite institutions of learning are more interested in keeping their positions of privilege rather then helping furthering the real goals of education and the liberal arts.

Here I stand, a teacher at a small private school, attempting to free one mind at a time. To expect more is just hubris, and to expect less is unjust.