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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen

Why "24" Scares Me

Have you been watching "24"? I'm not sure I can anymore. It's not just because it's written like a soap opera (I originally wrote "bad soap opera," but of course, that's redundant). It's not just because it's a one-trick pony (drink every time someone says "We're running out of time!"). And it's not even because it has a political agenda (after all, many stories do). It's because "24" is impacting real-world politics in a way that is unconscionable. I submit that "24"'s incessant reiteration of the "ticking time bomb" scenario is affecting the way America views the practice of torture by presenting it in a way that is eerily congruent with the Bush administration's position. It's presenting a practice that has been outlawed by both United States and international law.

How many torture scenes have there been in just the first few episodes of this season? Now consider the fact that one of the most brutal of them features the "hero" torturing his own brother. I'm not normally squeamish about violence in media, because I believe that violence in its myriad forms is a fact of life, even in our supposedly civilized modern society. But torture isn't just violence; it's "the deliberate, systematic, or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering" (source). I think that any human being with feelings would agree that torture is virtually impossible to morally justify in any realistic circumstance. "24"'s producers serve up a steady stream of ludicrously contrived scenarios that make it seem that torture is not only useful but somehow patriotic. Jack would do anything for his country; even inject near-lethal doses of a torture chemical into a member of his own family. Is this the sort of psychopath we are supposed to be cheering for?

According to a study cited in The New Yorker, the show has set a disturbing precedent.

Before the [September 11th] attacks, fewer than four acts of torture appeared on prime-time television each year, according to Human Rights First, a nonprofit organization. Now there are more than a hundred, and, as David Danzig, a project director at Human Rights First, noted, "the torturers have changed. It used to be almost exclusively the villains who tortured. Today, torture is often perpetrated by the heroes." The Parents' Television Council, a nonpartisan watchdog group, has counted what it says are sixty-seven torture scenes during the first five seasons of "24"—more than one every other show. Melissa Caldwell, the council’s senior director of programs, said, "'24' is the worst offender on television: the most frequent, most graphic, and the leader in the trend of showing the protagonists using torture.”
"Whatever It Takes: The politics of the man behind '24.'", The New Yorker, 2/12/2007
I'm not arguing that people cannot discern fantasy from reality. We all know that "24" is a television show, and I'm sure that the people responsible for interrogating bad guys aren't watching Kiefer Sutherland and getting new ideas. But some segments of the public have tacitly accepted the "ticking time bomb" argument as compelling, at least in part due to seeing such implausible situations play out in the show. Charles Petzold summarizes this problem and well:
It's becoming increasing obvious that "24" doesn't reflect reality about the nature of terrorism – but is molding reality about the response. The very popularity of the show sends a shameful message to the rest of the world that Americans believe torture to be a valid national policy.
I am the first to defend artistic expression. I'm also the sort of person who says that it's the viewer's responsibility to change the channel when there's something he doesn't want to see. But is it responsible to condone a calculated attempt to justify something so fundamentallty wrong?

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Friday Free Game: Swords and Sandals II

The Red Bull Diary is pleased to present Swords and Sandals II, the sequel to the Friday Free Game from October 13th of last year. Like any good sequel, it offers more of what made the original game so much fun without changing the overall structure of the game. There are still opponents with goofy names, surly shopkeepers, and lots of ways to customize your character. But now there's more depth, more options, and a story structure woven in between the goofy gladiatorial bouts.

The first and most important new feature is the addition of missile weapons to the game. Now, instead of having to charge at your enemy to attack, you can sit back and soften him up a bit before drawing your axe and hacking off his limbs. There's also the addition of the Magic Shop, where you can have your weapon enchanted or purchase spells to sling at your hapless opponents. The arena has also changed format. In the original game, if you lost a fight, the game was over; not so this time around. You can still participate in tournaments, where you fight to the death, but beforehand you can build up by fighting duels, where you win by drawing first blood. There are also a number of new special combat abilities, including the ability to try to win over the crowd and do power-up strikes, but these weren't particularly interesting in the demo version of the game. I'll guess that these become more important as you move deeper into the game.

Unfortunately, the demo version doesn't let you get very far. Once you start to get the hang of things, the game tells you that you've gone as far as you can go without buying the full version. I'd really like to hear from someone who has played the full version to get a feel for what the full experience is like. But the demo is a lot of fun as something to while away an hour or so and I can heartily recommend it to any fan of the original.

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A Saturday Rant

I just listened to the greatest song ever on Pandora. It's the greatest song ever because it has the greatest title ever. It's called Knights With Mystical Powers Battling Evil Demons (In The Presence Of Kings, Queens, Wizards & Dragons). The song is sooooooooooo sweet that I want to crap my pants. I can't believe it sometimes, but I feel it inside my heart. This song is totally awesome and that's a fact. It's fast, smooth, cool, strong, powerful, and sweet. I love this song with all of my body (including my pee pee).

But because I heard it on Pandora, I can't specifically go back and hear it again. Oh well. I also just discovered the joys of heavy metal cello in the form of Apocalyptica. They cover Disappointica, but I can forgive them. It rocks, people. It – um – r0x0rz my s0x0rz — or something.

And just who is Disappointica? I'm glad you asked.


I realize that my very strong opinions on this matter are probably not widely known, but I want to get it out there. Metallica was poised to be a band that transcended its genre. I firmly believe that with ... And Justice for All, Metallica achieved a sound so uniquely their own, so powerful in its beautiful dissonance that it ceased being heavy metal. It's Metallica.

Yes, their lyrics and subject matter could sound puerile because it lacked subtlety, but more often than not, Metallica was able to produce something that sounded like a hungering beast, a fiery and sometimes virtuosic expression of anger.

The black album was the transition. Let me explain why. It was two different albums: songs like "Through the Never" and "Of Wolf and Man" are great songs and sound, to me, more like songs that the Metallica who wrote Justice would have written. But "Don't Tread on Me" makes me annoyed every time I hear it. Sandman is undecided, but that's not the point. Once you get past the Black Album, what do you have? That's right. The aptly-named Load. They're now trying to sound like other bands, when everyone used to want to sound like them. They gave up on doing what made them great: telling everyone else (like the cheese factory that is mainstream music) to f*ck off.

So I dub thee Disappointica.


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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.