Sanitarium and the ObamaCare Debate

11 11 2009

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OK. That headline is really just Google fodder looking for Obamacare search traffic, although reading the announcement about the release of Sanitarium at GOG.com did make me think about our current health care debate in a weird way. If you’ve never heard of Sanitarium, that’s a damn shame. It’s one of the most underrated and tragically ignored games of the 1990’s. It was put together by the Dreamforge Intertainment and published by ASC Games, the outfit that was working on an action game version of White Wolf’s Werewolf: the Apocalypse that showed a lot of promise and still stands up as one of their finest titles. (Spoiler warnings ahead!)

The basic storyline is as cliched as they come. You’re a man who awakens as a patient in a horrible sanitarium, your face covered by bandages and you have no idea who you are or how you got there. The staff tells you you’ve survived a car crash suffered during an escape attempt and that your memory will return once you recover your sanity. What follows though, is a truly surreal journey into insanity as you as the player keep shifting in and out of bizarre worlds and the very shape of reality changes while you struggle to recover your memory. As you play, you as the player will find yourself in a 1950’s small town being absorbed by an alien invasion, an Aztec village being threatened by a hostile god, a strange house being haunted by ghosts and a hive of intelligent bees on an alien planet. Even your identity keeps shifting as you change at intervals from a scarred man to a ten year-old girl to a four-armed alien warrior to a living statue.

What makes Sanitarium amazing and still timely though is what all of these different worlds have in common. As you play, a thread between these different worlds begins to emerge, all of them relating to your shrouded past and to why you’re in that Sanitarium. There’s also some interesting commentary on the nature of pharmaceutical companies in a for-profit health care system and the realization that the true horror you face isn’t supernatural at all — it’s the very human emotion of greed and what some people will do to protect a profit margin. It posits a drug company that will murder a researcher who develops a cure for a deadly plague because it threatens to cut into the profits generated by the stopgap drug that merely allows you to live with the disease.

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Here’s the thing, though, the commentary in Sanitarium misses out on a very important point in the for-profit world of medicine — or the for-profit world of anything. Yes, there are unscrupulous people who will do anything to protect an individual company, but I’ve discussed health care with too many people who seem to believe that it’s the profit motive itself that’s the problem, rather than the illegal or criminal actions of an individual to protect a particular set of profits. Put simply, profits are the engine of progress. Even if we could magically create a socialized medical system that actually worked, it would bring medical research to a grinding halt. When doctors and researchers make the same money as McDonald’s fry cooks, you get the same quality of doctors as McDonald’s gets workers. Remove the chance to profit, remove enlightened self-interest from the equation and you put the kibosh on the chance for cures to AIDS, cancer or anything else that currently plagues us. Ultimately, you get what you pay for.

To be fair, not even Sanitarium makes the argument that Big Pharma and insurance companies are in a giant conspiracy to suppress the cures for diseases in the pursuit of profit. That game is mostly a thriller about an evil pharmaceutical executive — an individual who commits multiple criminal acts. They leave that to big budget Hollywood movies, Michael Moore and a delightful conspiracy theorist of my acquaintance who will wax rhapsodic on how we never landed on the Moon. I leave their arguments in the Sanitarium where they belong. But even making that argument betrays not only a blatant hostility toward capitalism, but a profound misunderstanding of how capitalism works, how research works and eliminates even the possibility of finding common ground in the health care debate.

Even if a company does manage to Silkwood a particular invention, there are too many other companies out there working along the same lines who will eventually make the breakthrough. Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, he merely made the light bulb so good it became commercially practical. If some candle company had had Edison murdered, the light bulb would have been discovered by one of dozens of other researchers working along the same lines.

None of this, by the way, should stop you from checking out Sanitarium if you can. It’s a genius game that never got the credit it was due. At





On V, Obama and the Worship of the State

5 11 2009

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So I watched the premier of the the “re-imagining” of “V” on ABC last night. The series is, of course, a retread of the early-’80s vintage piece of sci-fi cheese that starred the Beastmaster, Jane Badler’s sexy shoulder pads and the blonde chick from The Greatest American Hero. The storyline remains the same. A race of aliens that look just like human beings land on Earth bearing a message of peace and an offer of technological assistance in return for our friendship and a chemical they need to survive. Naturally there’s more to the “Visitors” than meets they eye and as they insinuate themselves more and more into our daily lives, they gradually begin to assume a fascist control over our world, sparking the inevitable rag-tag resistance filled with photogenic rebels.

The good news is, the re-make is actually quite good. I enjoyed it and since everybody knows by now that the aliens are actually carnivorous lizards disguised as humans, the producers wisely chose to get that minor revelation out of the way in the first half hour and move on to the real meat of the story which is apparently a criticism of the Obama Administration and the cult of personality which has grown up around our President — particularly the slavish nature of the mainstream media. It’s tough to miss if you’ve been paying any attention at all to, like, life since the coming of The One. At various points Anna, the leader of the Visitors, makes pretty speeches to the frightened citizens of Earth, addressing themselves to protesters against the aliens’ presence, telling them that embracing change is difficult but that we must resign ourselves to it and promising them all kinds of goodies if only they’ll place themselves in the Visitors’ caring hands. At one point, Anna tells reporter Chad Decker (played by Party of Five’s Scott Wolf) that the Visitors would like to become the Earth’s sole health care providers — literally offering us “Universal” Health Care.

It’s Wolf’s reporter character that makes the criticism most obvious. Decker is a pretty-boy talking head on a cable news channel who has dreams of being a real reporter (a story idea he comes up with is praised by his boss and then handed off to another journalist while Decker is directed to return to his TelePrompTer). Yet when presented with an opportunity to be a real reporter, Decker muffs it — twice. First he actually shuts down fellow journalists who have the temerity to ask Anna some semi-tough questions, telling them to “have some respect.” Having shown himself to be pliable, Decker is then offered the opportunity for the first one-on-one interview with Anna where he’s told to “not ask any questions that might put us in a bad light.” When he objects, he’s told his big exclusive will be cancelled unless he plays ball. He does so and delivers a softball interview, only to be offered an ongoing exclusive arrangement with the Visitors that basically turn Decker into Anna’s Chris Matthews. On accepting this arrangement, he’s actually told by one of the Visitors that “sacrificing one’s principles for the greater good isn’t a bad thing.” That, of course, could be the motto for the Obama Administration.

The big thing though, is the worshipful attitude that the public begins to adopt about the Visitors. They are literally the “Deus ex Machina” — the machine out of the sky that has come to solve all our problems. It’s also the element that’s most changed with the original series which was a pretty explicit analogue for Nazi Germany and a forceful fascist takeover. The difference is mainly in tone. Rather than an explicit takeover, the new series seems to be more about gradually conditioning the populace to depend upon the Visitors for everything and turning gratitude into worship. It’s not for nothing that one of the lead characters in the new series is a Catholic priest who is dismayed rather than overjoyed by the suddenly filled pews in his church (he disagrees with the Pope’s acceptance of the Visitors as God’s creations by pointing out that rattlesnakes are God’s creations too.) He realizes that times of strife can awaken religious longings in people in search of security — longings that can be subverted by those looking for power by replacing God with the State.

It’s this theme that resonates most strongly with Obama. Now before the objections start, I am NOT comparing Barack Obama to Hitler or a Nazi. What I am saying is that — as Jonah Goldberg points out in “Liberal Fascism,” — both American liberalism and fascism share intellectual roots. Both are ultimately concerned with the proper ordering of society and the proper redistribution of wealth along regimented, almost militaristic lines in the interest of complete equality and fairness of outcome. The problem with that, of course, is that that is incompatible with individual free choice, so naturally that’s the first thing that has to go. There’s also the idea of the State as cornucopia — the font of all good things. At the heart of this idea is the belief that it’s the responsibility of the state to care for its citizens in loco parentis, — a key point of contention for those like me who would like the State to stay the Hell out of our business.

Of course, bringing this up irks Obama supporters no end. Thin-skinned as our Dear Leader seems to be, they seem offended by the idea that a mere science fiction series might be criticizing Obama or worse — pointing out the almost religious cult of personality that’s grown up around him — so they do their best to dismiss it. I’ve heard everything from the fact that this re-make was in development before Obama was elected to it being a mistake to read too much into an action-adventure series to the fact that the storyline is a pretty solid match for the original. The last seems pretty ridiculous to me. It’s like saying that the new “Battlestar Galactica” wasn’t about the War on Terror because the original series was a sci-fi re-telling of the Book of Mormon (which it was, by the way.) As for not reading too much into it — this is science fiction people. This is the genre where, as Rod Serling pointed out, “A Martian can say things a politician can’t.” Metaphor and allegory are as natural to the form as rockets and rayguns. Why get so upset? I got over the Anvilicious “red energy is the source of all evil, blue energy is the source of all goodness” political commentary in Astro Boy. You can get over this.

The original “V” showed the “1984”-esque face of fascism — the “iron boot stamping on a human face, forever.” The new one shows the kinder, gentler sort of fascism, the “Brave New World” –esque universal nanny state. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with it and whether Obama’s supporters can be as tolerant of criticism as they claim to be.





Attention Gays: Democrats are not your Friends

13 10 2009

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I found this little tidbit from from NBC News fascinating. It’s certainly thrown the gay Left into a tizzy. Just a day after the National Equality March where Barney Frank was quoted as saying “The only thing they’re putting pressure on is the grass,” NBC reporter John Harwood says that an anonymous White House source said:

Barack Obama is doing well with 90% or more of Democrats so the White House views this opposition as really part of the Internet left fringe… For a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn’t take this opposition, one adviser told me those bloggers need to take off the pajamas, get dressed, and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.

To that, the only thing I can say is welcome under the bus, gay Americans! It’s getting pretty crowded under here what with all those racists and tea partiers and Green Jobs advisers and angry reverends and other people that aren’t the people Barack Obama once knew. What is it with this President that no matter how often he lashes out and vilifies anyone with the temerity to disagree with or oppose him, people are still shocked when it happens? Is it because you’re on the Left that you’re supposed to be safe? Is it because you’re gay? Excuse me while I laugh for a moment.

Here’s the bottom line, people. It’s not just that Barack “marriage is between one man and one woman” Obama merely gives you lip service to your agenda, it’s that the Democrats are not and have never been your friends. The biggest difference between the Democrats and the Republicans has always been that Democrats are a fractious alliance of left-wing splinter groups who have agreed to unite and help advance each other’s agendas — despite the fact that they very often have little to do with or often have conflicting beliefs. The Right has its factions also, but there’s a lot more common ground between social conservatives and libertarians than there is between a global warming doomsayer, a militant feminist and a “tax-everything-till-it-can’t-breathe” socialist.

Very often all that holds these groups together is the fear of the “evil religious right” and the Taliban-like regime that would undoubtedly take over the country if we allowed a Republican to win an election. This is encapsulated in the classic question — “What are you going to do? Vote Republican?” Well here’s my question. If you’re gay, is there a difference between how far your agenda advanced under George W. Bush than there was under Bill Clinton who ushered in DOMA and “Don’t ask, Don’t tell?” Bush was in power for eight years, six of them with a Republican-controlled Congress, yet somehow those lavendar-colored gulags remained just a figment of some overheated imaginations.

Gays have always been a reliable source of votes for Democrats and as such, they’ve never felt the need to do more than give lip service to the issues that matter to you and as long as you vote monolithically Democratic, they never will. I’m not suggesting that you start voting Republican, but there are plenty of other ways to get your point across. Start running candidates whose first allegiance is to your agenda in Democratic primaries. Reach across the aisle to people you think of as being “on the right” and you might find more allies than you think on issues that don’t pivot on your sexuality. As I’ve said in the past you don’t have to be straight to want lower taxes and less government interference in your life and you’re not betraying your sexuality if you don’t think single-payer health care is a good idea.

As for me — if you want to get married, good luck God bless. Everyone should have the right to be miserable with the partner of their choice.

For you, you’ve already come out of the pink closet, it’s OK to come out the blue one too.





Attention right-wing fruitcakes: You’re not helping!

1 10 2009

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From the “stopped clocks are right twice a day department” comes this story from Talking Points Memo about a Newsmax column by John L. Lewis suggesting a military coup against Obama. That last link goes to TPM’s reproduction of the column that was quickly pulled off of the Newsmax Web site. Reading it, it’s obvious that TPM is right. This is exactly the kind of incendiary speech that the Left keeps claiming that the Right is putting out there in its resistance to the Obama Administration. “They do it too!” really isn’t going to cut it on this one either. “They” are crazy. Their entire power base relies on appeals to emotion and narcissism that bypass things like logic and facts. I don’t care how many films or books they put out advocating the assassination of President Bush, we need to be better than that.

It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do, either. Consider that for all the assassination chic that came from our intellectual superiors on the left, they’re also the side that’s really big on gun control. I think one of the reasons that the right is better at controlling its crazies than the left is because we tend to live by the old Heinlein aphorism that “An armed society is a polite society.” Put simply, the right isn’t dangerous because we have guns — we have guns because we’re dangerous. When actually confronted with the details of the Obama Administration’s agenda, the people are starting to reject it. That’s good. When we wake up and take action, we’re effective. Think about it for a minute — it isn’t conservatives and libertarians who keep changing their name from “liberals” to “progressives” to whatever the left is calling itself this week. It’s still acceptable to be those things because our agenda doesn’t offend reason.

A column like this does nothing but hand a rhetorical weapon to our ideological opponents and — let’s be honest — stoke the crazies on our own side. There are a lot of reasons to oppose the Obama Administration and as the season of the tea party and the town hall rolls on, we can see what can be done within the bounds of our system. Our republic will survive Obama (and we can start by getting out and voting in the 2010 election!). What it can’t survive is the side that actually has the guns even entertaining the possibility of a junta. That is unacceptable. The Left will squawk, point and say “I told you so!” Let them. That’s what they do. Real condemnation for something like this must come from our side of the aisle.

Update: Newsmax distances itself from the article. Sigh. You don’t have to be psychic to see how this is going to play out.

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Stardock Takes a Stand for Fox News

28 09 2009

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I found this interesting, especially given the recent hullabaloo over the Shadow Complex boycott. Brad Wardell, the CEO of Stardock Software and an outspoken conservative, has decided to take a stand against UPS. UPS, the package delivery service, recently decided to drop all of its advertising with Fox News. Stardock, according to Wardell’s comments on his Facebook page, does a “non-trivial amount of shipping with UPS.” Upset by the company’s decision to pull its advertising from the network, Stardock Software will now be doing all of its physical game fulfillment through FedEx.

So now we face yet another aspect of the Shadow Complex boycott issue. What’s good for the goose and so on… If liberals can boycott things that offend them, then so can conservatives. While I doubt losing Stardock’s business will result in a significant hit to UPS’ bottom line, this doesn’t strike me as a terribly healthy phenomenon. There are lots of CEOs out there, and lots of companies much bigger than Stardock and what happens when everyone needs to start signing an ideological bill of particulars before someone else will do business with you? If I have to have my voting record perused every time I go for a job, I might as well move out of California now. As lovely as I’m sure Texas is, I have no desire to live there.

To everyone’s credit, the discussion that came about as a result of Brad’s post was pretty civilized as such things go, but the gaming industry is a pretty small neighborhood. That tends to encourage civility. The rest of Red and Blue America? Not so much.

And on a completely unrelated note, if you’re at all interested in strategy games and have never played Galactic Civilizations 2, drop what you’re doing and play it now! You’ll thank me later.

UPDATE: This story got picked up by GamePolitics which prompted Brad Wardell to e-mail with the following:

My Facebook comment was taken considerably out of context. I could care less about Glenn Beck or whether someone advertises on their show or not. But UPS is boycotting the entire channel which annoyed me enough to ask my publishing director to look into whether it was true (it was) and have them look into Fed Ex which provided competitive pricing and make use of them for our uses.

This is completely and 100% true and was true when I first put up the story. This is why this story was labeled “Stardock Takes a Stand for Fox News,” NOT “Stardock Takes a Stand for Glenn Beck.” However you feel about Fox News, I wanted to make sure that Brad’s stance was clear.

Update 2: Brad Wardell comments on his personal blog

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Tune in to the Lars Larson Show tonight

23 09 2009

Tune in to the Lars Larson show tonight at about 3:40PM Pacific time to hear me talk about my latest essays in The Politics of Schoolhouse Rock series. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out yet, take a look at Verb, that’s what’s happening which is all about racism and the tea parties and The Great American Melting Pot, which discusses cultural imperialism and immigration.





Verb! That’s What’s Happening (We’re All Raaaaacists Now)

19 09 2009

(read the whole essay here!)

John O’Sullivan’s first law is that groups that aren’t specifically right-wing tend to become left-wing over time. I believe this because the process is pretty easy to understand and see as it happens. The Right by its very nature as conservatives is reactionary — acting to stop some sort of social change. The kind of small-l liberalism that lies behind the great social movements begins in order to address some perceived hole or injustice in the current social structure. There is nothing wrong with this. indeed, it’s the finest tradition of “liberalism” that they are about liberty — freeing other human beings from the yoke of oppression.

That brings us to “Verb! (That’s What’s Happening)” and the sad decay of a once powerful and important word in our language — racism.

This is the latest essay in my “Politics of Schoolhouse Rock” series and it’s one I was a bit scared of writing. It’s about the health care debate, tea parties, the word “racist,” and how social movements get co-opted to serve agendas that would horrify their founders and lead those they purport to liberate to a place very different than where they think they’re going. Plus it’s got a real catchy tune.

I have no doubt that some who read it will be quick to level the charge of “racism” and it shows how much power that word still has in our society that hearing it leveled at me will no doubt sting. To this I can merely throw up my hands and say that if wishing for a society where we are judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin is racist, I’ll take that hit. In the end, the only way to have a truly color-blind society is start acting color-blind.

As Stacy McCain would say, please remember that there are five “A’s” in raaaaacism

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