Well, the techs came down this morning and connected me. And it was good. A huge section of my life - online culture - is now restored. Kind of. The network is still kind of wonky, and certain things - like games - are not allowed. But I've some thoughts on both this and other issues that I think are worth discussing.
A lot of the frustration I've been experiencing in the past few days has had to do with a perceived increase in the restrictions placed upon Covenant students in the past years, especially this coming semester. We are being told where we can and can't wear clothes, where we can and can't play sports, and now the network being installed has enough restrictions on it to make wading through knee-deep sand seem mild in comparison.
Yet the more I think about it, the more I think that the normal fall-guys for these restrictions aren't quite as culpable as might be thought, Tech Services especially. They're always been in favor of wiring the dorms. It's someone farther up the chain who makes the decisions they have to enforce. So Tech Services is left to take all the flak from the students for enforcing brain-damaged policies that they never liked in the first place. Sounds quite a bit like the job of RA around here: those with authority have no responsibility to the students, and those with responsibility to the students are no authority. Whee.
Student Development, on the other hand, sounds to me to be a lot more at fault for some of the restrictions, yet I'm sure that even they are acting under pressure from both higher-ups and people who really, really shouldn't have a say at all (whack-job parents, etc.).
So what I want to know, is who the hell is making these decisions? I mean seriously now, some of these things must have been made by people with no connection whatsoever to daily life on campus. None of the students have any idea how or why these decisions are made, and in many cases, are only made aware of these decisions when they get in trouble for violating them. Sounds like a great system to me. I want to know who is holding the bag here. It's hard to smear the guy with the ball when he won't show himself. Is it the Board? Could be. We as students really have no idea the nature of their authority, only that for one weekend a semester a bunch of guys in suits show up, and there's a temporary increase in the quality of food. Is it President Nielson? It very well could be, but we never hear about his decisions regarding student life until they're implemented, and his reasons for making decisions are totally opaque. I just want some accountability here. I and others are spending one hell of a lot of money to live and learn here for several years, and it stands to reason that we, not nervous parents, should be at least able to know what's going on, even if we don't have a say.
My frustration with my lack of Internet access grows with each passing hour. Not only can I not use my wireless connection to get online - because someone from Tech Services has to manually register the MAC address of my WiFi card and scan my computer for viruses - but computers in the lab are butt slow. I recognize that the good people at Tech Services are trying to increase their network population by about 200% in the course of a week, and sympathize with the fact that they're doing this while breaking in an entirely new system. But I think if they'd drop some of the draconian security measures (come on now, who's ever heard of a college requiring its students to register their MAC addresses?! What is this, the Great Firewall of China?), things would be a lot easier. They're causing a lot of their own problems.
Well, I haven't blogged much lately. That's because I've almost finished my senior thesis. I'll be heading back to Chattanooga on Monday and hope to resume a more regular presence here next week sometime.
The developers of the P2P client EarthStation 5 have received some kind of cease and desist letter from the MPAA and RIAA. EarthStation 5 is apparently engaged in streaming first run movies and music over the Internet for free. As in speech, not in beer. The thing is, EarthStation 5 is based in Palestine. So the developers have decided to flip the bird to the media industry. As they reside in a country that doesn't actually have an official organized government, getting at them is going to be difficult. And as the client apparently uses some kind of anonymity screen, getting at users is going to be hard too. This had to happen eventually, and as the war between content providers and consumers escalates, it's only going to get worse. This is what happens when an industry goes after its own customers. It ain't pretty.
A little research into the vital stats of EarthStation 5 reveals that they are based in the Jenin refugee camp in Palestine. As the creators say, it is unlikely that too many process servers will be going there, and if they do, they're probably more likely to get blown up in a bus than to find their targets. Still, some of the claims made sound a bit on the fantastic side. But we did get ICQ from that part of the world, so maybe they can do everything they say they can. All I know is that a strongly-anonymous P2P network that uses the DNS port for its UDP traffic is going to be pretty tough to stop.
In the small amount of free time I've been able to muster this week, I've spent most of it reading webcomics, many of which I was introduced to through Otakon last week. I've decided to do a bit of a roundup on most of the major ones for those who read this site but aren't really into online culture. Consider this a primer on webcomics for non-geeks. I've elected to start with a comic I first heard of while listening to its creators last Friday: Mac Hall. Following entries will review/analyze/explain other major webcomics as I have time.
Mac Hall is the joint creation of journalism major Matt Boyd of UMD and 3D animation student (?) Ian McConville of Bowling Green University. Matt just graduated, and I believe that Ian will be a senior this fall. So basially we're talking about two guys who are basically my age (I think Ian is a month younger than I am), both either in or recently out of college, and interested in the Internet. Cool.
Overall, Mac Hall would probably get an R rating for intermittent langauge and adult references, so don't say I didn't warn you. The overall theme though is bascially one of college life (which would probably get an R rating anyway, come to think of it).
Unlike some other webcomics I could mention, Mac Hall is not themed around video games, though they do make not-infrequent appearances. Mac Hall is mostly about the antics of its creators and their friends, and is set in MacDonald Hall, the fictional dorm in which all the characters live. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent because, as Matt put it last week, these people are happy to be "a bunch of raving idiots". Whee.
Strips range from the simply hilarious to the overtly Catacombian to the downright silly. Yet from time to time, more serious subjects are broached. The guys of the strip deal with midterms and finals in fairly standard ways, and basically look like they're having a pretty standard college experience.
I think one of the things I really like about Mac Hall is its sincerity. Unlike, say, Penny-Arcade, which is brimming with sarcasm and cynicism, Mac Hall isn't. Most of the humor is not directed at anyone but the participants, and it's generally pretty funny. It's a far more personal strip than any of the others, in the sense that it offers a window into the lives of its creators and, erm, "subjects," I suppose.
Another thing: Australian Indoor-Rules Quiddich is definitely points in their favor. It sounds a bit like Hallball, but a lot more like Blackwatch in fall 2000. The rules are found in Matt's rant here (though the comic is funny too).
If you like what you've seen so far, take the time to browse through their archives. I'm not exactly sure when they update, because they seem to have taken a break for the week and I haven't been reading it that long. Take a look, and laugh as needed. Rinse and repeat.
Over on Slashdot there is a discussion about whether deregulation caused the blackout. Your socialist types are all over this one, saying that if only we had let the government run things this would have never have happened. (My thoughts on their thoughts can be found here).
The problem here has nothing to do with deregulation, which has only started to occur in the past decade. Lots of states still have regulation, and deregulation is still in an experimental phase. The problem is that the power grid we are currently using is five decades old. And if the government was ever going to do something about that, it would have done so when it was under government control. I'd be willing to be that companies invest pretty heavily in upgrading the power grid in the next few years, under pressure from both consumers and Congress. At least some people seem to be aware of this.
Certain people have suggested that making power companies more like other corporations makes them less susceptible to public influence. If anything, the opposite is true, for if I don't like the company that is providing my power, you can bet I'll switch companies next month. Government bureaucracies are far, far harder to influence than publicly traded companies.
Two events have occurred in the past 16 or so hours, events with inverted levels of potence. The first was the massive blackout that continues to cripple much of the Northeast. I guess everyone always knew that something like this would happen, as reports have indicated that it was predicted by various government agencies several years ago. Bush has apparently been trying to push power grid upgrade legislation through Congress with no success. But I was gratified to see that the only looting that took place happened in Canada. The Americans affected seemed to be calm, orderly, and relaxed. No riots, no looting, no increase in crime. Detroit, also affected by the blackouts, reported 88 felony arrests last night, which as it turns out is to be expected for Detroit (note to self: don't move to Detroit). When I turned on the news this morning over breakfast, I saw that the situation was improving, and people were still pretty much okay.
The other thing that happened last night was that I finally broke through the block that was impeding progress on my senior thesis. I had to stay up into the wee small hours of the morning to do it, and that after a shift at Friendly's, but I'm now a lot closer than I was.
In other news, I'm a bit gratified to see that searching for "Otakon 2003" on any of the major search engines puts my site in the top 10. Yay. And I still have one more post to make.
Friday afternoon I attended a panel on Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, known in Japan as "Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi". The panel was hosted by Susan J. Napier, Associate Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Texas. She has recently published a book that I would very much like to read.
If you haven't seen Spirited Away, two things: first, shame on you; second, don't bother continuing because you won't get much out of this.
Napier has been studying anime and manga for the better part of three decades, and in this panel she basically went over some of her thoughts on Spirited Away. She pointed out a few major things that seem to be present in the film. First is the fact that Miyazaki himself identifies the bathhouse as a metaphor for modern Japan. Highly efficient, identifiably Eastern, but run in a Western style, if not by Westerners themselves. Yubaba's pad on the top floor is a very Western style apartment, in sharp contrast to the very Eastern bathhouse below. The bathhouse also seems to represent the kind of runaway consumption characteristic of industrual and post-industrial economies. I like this interpretation of the bathhouse image, especially as it seems to be what Miyazaki had in mind.
The other thing she pointed out is that making the star of the film a 10ish female is a fairly mainstream thing to do in current Japanese culture. There is apparently something of a captivation with girls between the ages of 9 and 14, "shojo", mostly to do with their freedom, lack of responsibility, and cuteness, but in some of the seedier sections of Japanese culture things start to move towards the erotic. Miyazaki, of course, completely avoides this unpleasant tendency, but he does have Chihiro exhibit the kind of darkening that this kind of "shojo" figure has done in the past decade or so. I don't have nearly enough knoweldge of trends in anime and manga to be able to comment intelligently here, but it makes sense from what I've seen.
She also noted that images of traditional Japanese culture are everywhere, starting from the first scene where Chihiro's family drives past an abandoned shrine collection by a back road. The river spirit she aids in the bathhouse is wearing a "no mask," apparently an example of exceptionally high Japanese culture. The scene where Haku feeds Chihiro some rice balls is said to move Japanese people to tears, as in Japan, rice balls have the same status that chicken soup does in America: a traditional, wholesome food given to people in need of nourishment. The medicine she uses to treat No-Face and Haku is the traditional medicine given her by the river spirit.
As she was mentioning these things, I came up with something of my own that I shared. No-Face, the monster that invades the bathhouse, is probably supposed to be a metaphor for traditional Japanese culture. He begins the movie fairly indistinct, but obviously belonging in the world Chihiro has stumbled into. He seems to have been neglected, and is lonely. He wants to care for Chihiro; he helps her, and offers her both bath tokens and eventually gold. But when he enters into the bathhouse, he goes kind of nuts. He consumes far too much and too fast, and eventually ingests three of the waitstaff. The solution to the rampaging monster he becomes is to give him the foul tasting medicine given Chihiro by the river spirit, and to get him out of the bathhouse. No-Face is recognized as a good character, who is useful and productive when in his place, but that place is not in the consumptive atmosphere of the bathhouse. In a sense, Miyazaki is saying that in abandoning traditional Japanese culture, not only have the Japanese lost something, but are actually endangering themselves, and that attempting to meet the needs of an ancient culture through consumption leads to disaster. (I was fairly pleased to find that this idea had not occured to Napier, and my comments won me a round of applause. This was definitely a high point of my day.)
I think all of these elements are probably symptomatic of a deeper theme throughout the whole movie: the strain of a simultaneously ancient and modern Japanese culture. This can again be seen from the fact that one of the first scenes is an obsevation of abandoned shrines around an ancient tree. It is consumption that gets Chihiro's parents in trouble. The wholesome food of the spirit world is either bitter (in the case of both the berry Chihiro eats to avoid disappearing and the medicine she receives), or bland (in the case of the rice balls [in a delicious twist of irony, one of the merchandising tie-ins for Spirited Away was a set of plastic rice balls]), but in every case deeply traditional. The evil half of the Yubaba/Zeneba persona is a capitalist businesswoman, while the grandmother figure is a very traditional grandmother who offers Chihiro tea upon entry.
Miyazaki may be suggesting that the differences between ancient and modern Japan are irreconcilable, but he also seems to be suggesting that both are necessary. Tying the two together seems to be something he believes that the Japanese must attempt, even if failure is unavoidable. But he certainly seems to believe that there is a goodness and wholesomeness to the ancient ways that is in danger of being lost, and in being lost, in turn endangers modern Japanese society.
Friendly's scheduled me for overtime this week, so if you add that to the fact that I'm pushing to finish my senior thesis, that equals little time for blogging. I've got two more Otakon posts to make though. Check back in a few days.
I have just a few minutes before heading off to work, so I'll blog for a bit. Again, read this and move forward from there.
On Friday evening I attended a panel entitled "Webcomics vs. Webmanga," which, it was quickly recognized, was merely an excuse to bring all of the most popular webcomic artists together and still maintain something like an anime/manga theme. The persons who made up the panel were, from left to right, Fred Gallagher of MegaTokyo, Pontus Masden of LittleGamers, Ian Jones-Quartey of RPG World, and Matt Boyd and Ian McConville of Mac Hall. As you should be able to tell, these and other webcomics now have their own section in my links. Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade, possibly the most popular webcomic, were scheduled to attend but canceled at the last minute.
The panel was a lot of fun, but it became apparent fairly quickly that MegaTokyo has a following of the kind that the others simply do not. There are several obvious reasons for this. MegaTokyo is a single, continuous story, something that all but RPG World are not. Also, MegaTokyo, while fairly consistantly amusing, is not as self-consciously a comedy comic the way all the others are. The fanbase for MegaTokyo is spectacularly rabid, as evidenced by the numerous cosplayers in the audience.
Also, Fred was the oldest person on the panel by at least half a decade, the next oldest probably being Pontus. Fred was a licensed architect for quite a number of years before he got laid off and dedicated himself to MegaTokyo full time. It was pointed out that Pontus, who is Swedish, is actually the only one who works for a living. As the makers of RPG World and Mac Hall are only just out of college - Matt graduated in May, I believe, and I think Ian J. is still in school - this isn't as surprising as it might be. But Fred has got to be doing pretty well for himself. His first print edition of MegaTokyo Episode 0 and 1 sold out all 10k copies in a matter of weeks, and I think the second run is sold out as well. Not bad...
All four webcomics are free to the public, and all seemed to believe that this was something as a matter of conscience. None of them wanted people to have to pay to see the comic, though all except for Fred seemed to have no problem with people wanting to do so anyway. Fred seems completely bewildered by the fact that people actually want to buy things he has made (and as the last drawing he put upon eBay sold for over $800, some of them are apparently willing to pay quite a bit). The panel members basically said that the way the do merchendising is to sell the things that enough people ask for. Most of the merchendising ideas are apparently not original, but fan-suggested.
After attending this panel, I no longer like Little Gamers. After he returned to the comic a few months back, he has basically turned it into a space through which to bash on US policy, mostly foreign though occasionally domestic. He busted on America and Americans fairly consistently, and to my annoyance, generally received rounds of applause from the crowd.
Before the panel, I hadn't read either RPG World or Mac Hall. Mac Hall is basically about a college dorm hall and their antics. It's amusing. RPG World is a continuing story that makes fun of every single SquareSoft game ever. If you don't know anything about Japanese RPGs, this won't be that funny. Also mentioned in the panel was Demonology 101, another continuous story. It's well drawn, the story is mildly interesting (if you go for that kind of thing), and unlike all the rest of them, it's drawn by a girl. Which, as Fred suggested, is probably why the author wasn't at the convention. As a woman, she probably would have a lot more problems with psycho nut-jobs than the guys ever will (and Fred has already had to change his cell number twice).
I may edit this entry later on, as I have to go to work, but that about sums it up for now. It was an enjoyable panel, but not that revolutionary. This, more than anything else I saw that day, was something I already understood.
The other panel I attended was on Miyazaki's Spirited Away, which is the subject of my next post.
I had meant to get back to reporting on Otakon today, but never got around to it. Now I have to go to work until 1AM, so I doubt I'll get to it before late tomorrow or even Monday. I do, however, have things to say about Miyazaki's film Spirited Away, and the role of gender in anime/manga.
See you all later.
At 3:00, the video games hall opened. Now, I'm a gamer. I like to play video games. I spend way too much time playing video games. But I like to think I have some taste. I prefer those with complex systems of rules, engaging storylines, well-written prose, and more recently, the ability to interact with other people through artifical environments. Generally I'll settle for one of those, but sometimes you stumble across a real gem that has all three.
The video game hall had about 60 consoles running, most of them on rented TVs, but 3 on projectors. With few exceptions, the most notable one being the 6 PC network in one corner (alternately playing or ), every single game fell into one of three categories: fighting, Halo, or some variant of DDR.
The fighting games were all basically descendents of the legendary Street Fighter II, published by Capcom in 1991. Basically, you control a character on the screen by moving him around and directing him to engage in various attacks and blocks. Certain buttons when pressed in the right combination will trigger special moves, some of which can be strung together to create some pretty impressive combos. But basically, the gameplay in all of them is the same, and has been for over a decade. Yet somehow, there is a huge overlap between liking fighting games and liking anime. I have absolutely no interest in playing fighting games. They hurt my fingers.
There were at least 3 games of Halo going, one of which involved two networked X-Boxes hooked up to projectors. Halo is the game used to make the incredibly funny Red vs. Blue machinima. I find Halo intermittently amusing, but didn't bother to wait in line to be routinely and brutally slaughtered by people with way too much time on their hands.
Now we get to the really interesting bit. For those of you who don't know, DDR is perhaps the most bizarre thing to come down the pike in I don't know how long. It is a genuine Japanese innovation, as are fighting games. "DDR" stands for "Dance Dance Revolution." Yes, it's a video game about dancing. The gameplay is pretty simple. At the top of the screen are four arrows, representing the four pressure-sensitive pads on the floor. You've got forwards, backwards, left, and right. When the round begins, some obnoxious techno music starts up (more on that in a bit), and arrows start scrolling up the screen forming rhythms in time with the music. The object of the game is to hit the indicated pads at the instant they reach the arrows at the top of the screen. This creates a fairly stationary but interestingly complex dance stem that involves a lot of stomping. Some of the better players were able to keep up with the machine and throw in their own flourishes to boot. There were a few variants of this going on. One of them had motion sensors on the floor over which you waved your hands instead of stepping on them. It sounds easier except that there are five instead of for sensors. The other was basically a 5 key keyboard that required you to hit keys in the indicated sequence.
Personally, I don't understand the attraction to any of these forms of entertainment, with the possible exception of Halo. That can be fun from time to time. But now seems as good a time as any to venture into some of my general thinking about the anime phenomenon. There are three interests that seem to have an incredible amount of overlap: anime/manga, fighting games, and techno music, all of which I will argue are related. Also, some of the most popular RPGs in the world come from the Final Fantasy series. There were quite a few guys cosplaying as the main character from one of the more recent installments, actually. But all of the FF RPGs hold not a candle to the complex systems that make up the aforelinked and fantastic Planescape: Torment. FF combat is basically choosing an attack and watching it happen. The detailed management and nurture of a character is entirely absent, as is any kind of realistic rule or stat system. I think this is somehow related to the whole Japanese obsession.
The connection I see between all of these things is this: they are all complex in a way that is very different from western complexity. The complexity here is one that you don't need to think about. In fact, thinking about it detracts from the experience. Take techno music for example. Some of the rhythm schemes produced by some of the better DJs are really, really intricate. But when you listen to techno music, you don't look for that. You nod your head to the pulsing beat. You react, you don't interact. The same goes for fighting games. There's certainly something to do that requires the input of the gamer. And learning the moves to these games takes a lot of time and practice. But you don't really think about it. The really good players function entirely off of trained instinct, not calculated tactics. No conscious thought is needed. Final Fantasy is pretty similar. The story lines are, reportedly, fairly impressive (I have yet to play one), but the actual gameplay is pretty, well, lackluster. You basically use one or two attacks over and over until you get a better one, and then you use that one. Whee.
I believe that anime and manga themselves are the same way. They require an incredible amount of thought and attention, but not in the same way that say, Walker Percy, Wes Anderson, or John Milton do. Anime requires attention if you simply want to keep up with the sheer nonlinear randomness that they mostly consist of. The plots can be incredibly complex, but not in what I would consider a productive way. They're complex seemingly for the sake of complexity.
This can be distinguished from Western forms of entertainment, including many video games, a form of entertainment widely accused of being mindless. If you watch a Western movie, even a dumb one, you aren't sucked into the experience in the same way that you are watching anime. It doesn't take nearly that much attention not to be completely lost. Say, for example, you've completely mastered a fighting game. You can't really talk about it. There are no lines of discourse available to you that aren't available to others. But mastering a game like Counter Strike does produce lines of discourse. You can discuss squad tactics, combat environments, leadership, communications, etc. A game like Civilization III creates a lot of discussion about the flow of history and the relatedness of various social forces.
Western entertainment seems to accentuate individuality and thought while Eastern entertainment, I would argue, supresses it. The end result of this is basically a trance-like state in which all of one's faculties are devoted to the same task, a task which doesn't actually produce anything concrete as a result of being focused upon. And this, I can not help but think, is an evidence of Japanese thought coming out. The East has long been taken with the idea of the merging of personal identity with the Great Beyond in trances, the supression of consciousness, and such things, and it seems that this kind of thing comes out in their entertainment.
Speaking of entertainment, this series continues with webcomics.
Read this first.
The demographics of Otakon were actually pretty interesting. First off, I must warn you that all of this information is simply my impression. Otakon does not yet have the demographics for this year's convention, and still doesn't have it for last years, and it's doubtful that they would have given it to me even if they'd had it. So I kind of looked around and made estimates. However, the convention staff were able to tell me that they expect about 20k attendees this year, up a few k from last year.
With that in mind, the first thing I noticed was that there was no gender gap. It was split pretty much down the middle as far as I could tell. As I said, girls were a bit more likely to cosplay, but guys were more likely to cross-dress, so I guess that kind of balances things out a bit.
The second thing I noticed was that certain minorities were pretty well represented, at least for the northeast, while others were pretty much absent. Persons of African descent made up between, I would say, 10 and 15% of the crowd. Hispanics were hardly in evidence, but this may reflect more upon regional demographics than the composition of okatu nationwide. Also, Asians were a pretty small group, making up about 5% of the crowd. This surprised me a bit.
I do have one thought on the racial makeup of the convention. Anime is a hobby that you have to spend money on. The vast majority of anime is not available on television or in movie theaters, and what little is available in those two mediums is generally either pretty awful, targeted to six year olds, or both. If you want to get into anime, you have to either rent or buy the series, and as most Blockbusters have a fairly limited selection - though the selection has increased by at least an order of magnitude over the last decade - you generally have to buy something if you really want to see it. Also, I attended the conference on a Friday in the northeast. That means that only people who are both able to take the time off from work and are able to afford to go to Baltimore were in attendence. As racial minorities tend to be lower on the economic ladder than others, this may explain their lack of representation.
Concerning the age of the crowd: when I showed up in the morning, I would estimate that about 85% of the crowd was between the ages of 18 and 25. But what can you expect on a weekday morning? There were a few kids, accompanied by parents, and a very few middle-aged people, but we're mostly talking those people old enough to go to a conference themselves and young enough to not have responsibilities preventing them from going. However, the middle-aged people there were probably more serious, as they'd taken time away from work to be there. Also, the crowd aged as time went on. By about 7:00, there were a lot more families and middle-aged people present, the numbers growing as work let out across town. I would imagine that the crowd would be more balanced on Saturday and Sunday.
It's hard to judge economic status from standing in line in a crowd, but most of the people looked pretty well off. I mean, they could afford to spend the time and money on those costumes, so they've got at least some disposible income, right? Also, as I said, anime is a fairly expensive hobby, so most of the people there were at least middle-class.
Okay, that's about all I can think of for demographics. Video games will be my next subject.
Geekwads and dorkwads have indeed signed a historic wad alliance, and I have returned from its annual summit unscathed. Better than unscathed actually, as I now possess an imported Kurosawa film, "Throne of Blood," his adaptation of Macbeth.
Otakon is the annual convention hosted by Otacorp at the Baltimore Convention Center. The word comes from "otaku," the word used by anime and manga fans to describe themselves. And I, faithful reader(s?), have gone and returned with the low down so that you don't have to get out of your armchair (or white, plastic lawn chair in the case of Josiah).
In the interest of keeping this to a readable length, I've divided up my thoughts into several posts, with the content identifiable by the title.
Otakon was fascinating. Normally, I wouldn't really think of going to an anime convention, as I'm not really into anime all that much. I do love the films of Hiyao Miyazaki, but that's something completely different. The real reason I went is that the persons responsible for creating my two favorite webcomics, Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade and Fred Gallagher of Megatokyo were supposed to be there. Fred was, but Gabe and Tycho canceled at the last minute. That was disappointing, but it gave me more time to just watch the dorks in their natural habitat.
Now I was fully prepared for the people at the convention to be a bit on the eccentric side. It's an anime convention, after all. But the number of people who crossed the line from a bit geeky to sheer, unbridled dorkness was staggeringly huge. I got up at 6:30, and left the house by 7:30. Due to rush hour traffic in Harrisburg (due more to Pennsylvania's completely shitty roads than actual volume of traffic), I made it to the Inner Harbor of Baltimore by about 9:30. Since the doors of the convention didn't actually open until noon, I thought this should be plenty of time to beat the line. Boy was I wrong. The registration line already stretched out the building and halfway around the block. And that was just the one line. There was another equally as long. Some of these people must have been here since before I woke up. When I got in line, there were probably almost 1000 people in it.
The second thing that tipped me off as to the craziness of these people can be summed up in a single word: cosplay. Cosplay is the practice of attending anime conventions dressed up as one's favorite character from some anime or manga story. I would estimate that between 10 and 20% of the people there engaged in some form of cosplay, even if it was only sporting a pair of fuzzy cat ears with their street clothes. But some of these people were just nuts. The person I was standing behind in line was a twentysomething female dressed in - I kid you not - a black fishnet bodysuit under a black thong and bodice, white bunny ears, and a dog collar with chain. I decided that I was too creeped out to ask what fever dream this particular character came from. About 10 people ahead of me was a girl in a hot pink bodysuit, with two six inch blue horns coming out of her torso about four inches below the collarbone. Her face was painted white, and she wore this outlandish hat made of orange felt measuring 2.5' wide x 2' long x 1' high. She also had a bow about six feet high painted with gold glitter, complete with silver glittered arrow.
Those were just the people within 15 feet of me. The amount of blue hair was truly staggering. I would venture to guess that the only place one could see more brightly colored hair would be at a punk show, and it would be a near thing. Blue was by far the most popular color, but pink and white also made strong showings.
The other immediately noticible accessory was swords. Now Otakon has a weapons policy for exactly this kind of thing: guns that are not incapable of firing any kind of projectile and are not immediately recognizable as fake are prohibited, as is live steel. "Live steel" is defined as any metal capable of holding an edge, whether or not said edge is actually applied. They shouldn't have worried. Had any of the "swords" there been made of metal they would have easily weighed 300 lbs. Some of them were 8 feet long and 2 feet wide at the hilt. As a 4 foot, 2 handed sword weighs up to 10 pounds, these monstrosities would have outweighed their "wielders" by at least 100% in some cases.
The number of different characters was pretty large, I guess. I had no idea who most of these people were supposed to be, though I think that most of the people with the overcompensating swords were aiming for one of two characters from popular video games.
Demographically, girls seemed a bit more likely to cosplay than guys. This isn't entirely surprising, I don't think. However, what was a bit surprising - and really, really creepy, was that guys were much more likely to cross-dress than girls were. To quote Fred Gallagher, "cross-dressing cosplay = teh evil". I've got some thoughts as to why this is, but they fit better elsewhere, so I'll save them for later.
That about sums it up for cosplay. On to demographics!
Okay, I've finally had enough time to muse about the discussion of Bush that happened last week. What follows is, I hope, a fairly detailed economic analysis of the assertion of the claim that "We went into Iraq for oil" and that Bush and Cheney are major shareholders in, among others, Halliburton, Brown & Root, and Fluor. The original discussion is found mostly here.
David J. Lesar, not Dick Cheney, is Chairman of the Board and CEO of Halliburton. Furthermore, Dick Cheney has indeed divested himself of all holdings in Halliburton, as evidenced on their last financial statement available here, or, at least, he is not in the top owners of the company. Public Halliburton reportings show no ownership by Cheney of a size that merits reporting, and they report holdings as low as a few thousand shares.
A judge is currently considering dismissing the case filed against Halliburton for corporate misreporting of earnings, as can be seen here.
Also, Halliburton has owned Brown & Root since at least 1998. George W. Bush cannot be a chief shareholder in Brown & Root because as a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton, Brown & Root is not publicly traded.
Concerning Bush himself, his publicly available financial reports indicate that most of his money is in bonds, money markets, mutual funds, and high tech stocks. He owns a total of 700 shares in the oil and gas industry, worth (at the time of reporting) $16,835 that paid a dividend of $112. The shares are in the Cabot Oil and Gas Group. This doesnít seem to be the kind of thing that one would start a war over. No Halliburton stock is owned by George W. Bush. I did some investigation in to Fluor: Bush is not on any of their boards, and owns no stock in the company. He does own a good amount of Lucent, Intel, Microsoft, and Ericsson stock, but no oil-related stock.
Any "connections" between Bush and Cheney on one side, and Halliburton and its subsidiary Brown & Root are purely personal, not financial.
But what about campaign contributions? The numbers don't add up there either, if you read OpenSecrets. The Oil/Gas industry comes in at number 8 on the list of top industry contributors for the 2000 campaign cycle, and thus far they rank 13 in the 2004 cycle. In 2000, none of the top 20 individual corporation sponsors are oil related, and the same is true for 2004. Now, Bushís prescription drug plan? Thatís a quid pro quo, as his largest contributors have been retirees, both in 2000 and for 2004. But neither they, nor lawyers, nor big financial institutions, his three top contributors, have any interest in foreign oil in particular or foreign war in general. Retirees probably donít care one way or the other Ė though they are probably more likely to support the war than not Ė lawyers have no interest either way, and big financial institutions actually have a lot to lose in wartime. Stock prices donít do as well when people are nervous, and wars make people nervous. You can say that the war in Iraq was about oil, but the numbers just donít add up. There really isnít a vested interest for anyone here, at least not vested enough to stake oneís presidency on it. Call Bush what you like, but heís nothing if not shrewd. Or at least his advisors are, and he listens to them. Plus, if Bush catered so much to the oil industry, why has he earmarked millions for R&D on hydrogen-powered cars?
Finally, there's the fact that we really don't need Iraqi oil. This country has plenty of oil reserves in Alaska, Texas, and the Gulf of Mexico. If he really wanted to give oil companies a break, he'd relax internal regulations on oil extraction that would make it cheaper to produce oil domestically, rather than have them pay for shipping it halfway around the world.
You can say that Bush and his associates are owned by oil all you want, but until you or someone else can produce actual documents with actual numbers to support your thesis, you're basically just ranting. I've got plenty of numbers that indicate that if the Bush administration is owned by anyone, it isn't the oil industry, it's old people, who, in my opinion, are a lot scarier. Big Oil may be more polluting, but old people are more likely to run you over at the crosswalk.
Okay, I'm back up. And though it took a bit of doing, and though I haven't convinced my IDE card to work, this thing is fast. The 2600+ Athlon is a sweet, sweet piece of electronics. And my new motherboard has 6-channel Dolby Digital Surround onboard, plus not one, but two LAN ports. Which I don't technically need, now that my 802.11g card is humming along nicely, but still. FireWire, USB 2.0, front mounted USB ports, I like this thing. 3 PCI slots free, too, now that I can ditch my ethernet and sound card. Plus, my mainboard chip is now made by NVIDIA, whose products I really like.
Unfortunately, getting this thing working has taken long enough that I need to go get ready for work. I'll probably post something after work lets out around midnight.
I am, anyway, and it appears my aunt is too. When my parents went down to Baltimore yesterday to meet with the family, she had taken a turn for the better, and while not able to speak, was able to communicate her wishes (kind of) and will be receiving a feeding tube.
I hosted some friends for dinner last night. Of the 5 people who showed up, only 2 were >/= 21, and one doesn't drink for some reason. It's kind of strange, but I'm pretty sure that some of the others wouldn't have had any even if they'd been old enough. That's a pretty dramatic change from the Chattanooga scene I was part of, where everyone drinks. My conclusion? Central Pennsylvania really sucks, as do teetotalist denominations, both of which describe my hometown pretty well. Bleh.
I'm pretty busy right now, what with family, friends and all, but the reason I'm not blogging more is that my computer is currently in pieces in the basement. I'm upgrading to an AMD 2600+ with an Asus A7N8X-Deluxe. And, for long-time fans, my large wooden case is no more: I can't afford the space if I'm going to be living with 6 people next semester. So until I get it all back together, hopefully today, but you know how these things go, blogging is kind of on the back burner.
I do think I'm going to be able to effectively deny that Bush is "owned" by oil companies though: the numbers just don't add up...
I arrived at home at 9:30PM Saturday, August 1st. The drive was long, but I made the best time I ever have, due to a general lack of both traffic and construction (and also cops). What follows is an update on my status for those of you who seem to be inexplicably interested.
I arrived home to a pretty large mess, metaphorically speaking. But before I could really get into figuring out what the hell was going on, I was visited by a dear friend as we had arranged earlier. We hung out for a few hours, and I went to bed. In my brother's room. Which I will get to in a minute.
Sunday, I got up just as my family was leaving for church, due to the fact that the church of my choice (Calvary OPC, Middletown) begins at 10:15 instead of 9:00. I went to church, was pretty unfocused the whole time, chatted with some people for a few minutes afterward, and went home. Over lunch, I was brought up to speed on what's been going on all summer while I've been in Chattanooga. Here goes.
Topping the list of urgent problems is the fact that my maternal great-aunt, who from my perception has been slowly failing for about the past decade, suffered a stroke the weekend before I arrived. My parents will be driving down tomorrow for a family council in which life support decisions will be made. She will not likely live out the week.
This probably isn't going to affect me on a primary level to any significant degree as this is a person I've seen maybe once a year. But as my maternal grandmother's sister, it's really hard on that side of the family, especially my grandmother. Why? Because her husband, my grandfather, was diangosed with a terminal brain maglignancy right around Spring Break. They have since moved to a retirement community about 45 minutes west of here, and are setting his affairs in order. His vocabulary is failing rapidly, and recently his speech has started to slip into inscrutable neologisms and slurring. This combination means that my grandmother is having a really, really bad time of it.
So my mom is understandably stressed out right now. She's been helping her parents a whole lot this summer, and I believe she's been spending several days a week over there. On Sunday, she told me she's been having trouble sleeping, things, are getting so hairy. And regarding sleeping, things have taken a turn for the worse, but this needs explanation in and of its own right.
This spring, my dad was diagnosed with an exceptionally rare but seemingly benign tumor inside his spinal cord just below the skull. He has been experiencing odd neurological symptoms, mostly numbness and tingling in the extremeties. This is not as serious as it could be, for after consulting with top neurologists and neurosurgeons in New York, it has been decided that the tumor poses no immediate threat to health or well-being, and as such, surgery will be postponed until such time as it begins to be a problem.
However, as a result of his diagnosis, he has been taking various medications. One of the side affects of this is that he has begun to snore. Which means that my mom, already having trouble sleeping because of the family situation, can hardly get to sleep at all. This, in turn, means that she has appropriated my room. Which is why I'm sleeping in my brother's room.
To make things more interesting, my brother and sister, both of whom were homeschooled until last year, are preparing to do other things. My sister will still be technically homeschooled, but will be taking all her courses at local colleges (LVC and HACC for those of you who know and/or care). My brother, on the other hand, has enrolled in a classical school towards Harrisburg. He has been studying Latin and algebra all summer, adding to the general hecticness of life.
I leave in half an hour to go to Wal-Mart to buy some pants before heading to work and good, old Friendly's, where I will make ice cream sundaes for six hours.
In other news, I managed to get back online yesterday, with a decent home network to boot. I'm sending this to you over 802.11g, which is unspeakably cool, and a bit freaky. I'm still weirded out by the fact that there isn't actually a wire connecting my computer and the Internet, but it seems to work. Oh, and for those of you wondering about 802.11b/g, I'm only getting 11Mbs at the moment, so speed is highly relative. Still, that's plenty for my purposes, since Comcast only gives us 1.5Mbs.
I need to go get some breakfast before I head to work. I have more thoughts on Pennsylvania, but no time to compose them, so I'll try and get to them tonight.