Friday, March 24, 2006

Dancing skeletons

Food in Dancing Skeletons

In a book that concerns itself with an anthropologist’s encounters with malnutrition in Mali, it is little wonder that mentionings of Western food are given such prominence. Dettwyler makes special points to mention when she is able to obtain American foods, and takes care to note the responses of others to it.
Three specific incidents occur in the chapter titled “Turtles All the Way Down,” including three particular foods—pizza, macaroni, and peanut-butter cookies. Pizza occurs in a discussion of a Bambara proverb, “Just when it is time to go to bed isn’t the time to say you’re hungry.” Moussa, Dettwyler’s traveling companion, explains the meaning of the quote—that since millet and rice take so long to cook, one cannot simply announce at bedtime that they want food, since it is far too late by then to begin cooking into the night—to which Dettwyler answers with her explanation of why the quote would lose its meaning in the United States. In the “Land of the Midnight Snack” as she dubs the United States, food is readily available. And, in a book where food descriptions have occasionally described the rich variety of foods in Mali though have mostly been limited to peanut-sauce and rice or millet, the appearance of such words in the narrative in sudden profusion seem to reflect a longing for such foods. Ice cream, cereal and milk, and pizza exist as a contrast to the foods of Mali, and are almost an accusing finger pointed at the decadence of American society—not only for the richness of the food, but the ease with which it can be acquired. Then again, perhaps this is too harsh a reading of the book, and Dettwyler does include this only to illustrate the differences in food habits in America and in Mali. It is amusing, though, that Moussa remembers pizza with great longing from his time in New York. That, by itself, can be interpreted as a miniature moral for the reader about appreciating things before they are gone.
The later instances of western food included in the chapter, are Dettwyler’s baking of peanut butter cookies at a friend’s apartment. This particular incident also includes elements of the differences between life in Mali; this time serving to illustrate the resources taken for granted in the Western world—what we consider the simple given of having an oven. Dettwyler describes the various methods of cooking, baking, and roasting throughout the book, specifically in the previous chapter, where the process of creating karite butter is described in detail. While the reader gains an understanding of the involved process, it is not truly put into perspective until we see how easily the peanut butter cookies are made. Dettwyler accomplishes this with a stylistic tactic, making the process of making such cookies into a three-sentence ordeal, in comparison the half-chapter karate-butter making.
The other, and perhaps lighter level of food in the chapter is that of the small child, Ami, who playfully accepts “macaroni money” from Dettwyler. As Dettwyler says earlier in the book, macaroni and other “western” foods are considered to be occasional treats by some of the native peoples of Mali. Thus, what is a simple pasta for westerners is food of significance to some of the natives of Mali.

Peer review

Dear Lauren,

You have an excellent command of descriptive text, and I enjoy thoroughly the portions of your narrative where you get very detailed, like in the beginning with the green beans. There’s also a great part in your opening, where you sent a shiver of dread up my spine as I realized what state he would be coming home in, and what that would mean. There’s a great set-up for the atmosphere of your narrative at your opening, and it really grabs my attention.
Your opening is great, but you could use a little spice in the later portions of your narrative. You’ve got this awesome, scary vibe in the opening, but you lose that later. While it would be fine if you traded it for another vibe or atmosphere, you don’t seem to. While the rest of your narrative is good, your tone either shifts too quickly, or there isn’t a steady one. In order to better balance your narrative, perhaps you could include another equally emotionally-charged portion later on.
I like the direct quotes from your mother, and it’s wonderful to hear the voice of the person whose story this is, and you use them effectively. I think you could use them to mark changes in tone, or breaks in the narrative where you shift focus. Use them as placeholders, so to speak. Just a suggestion.
Overall, I think this is a good narrative. There are a few parts that could use some fleshing out. I’m not entirely sure what your narrative is about, or specifically, what issue you’re addressing. I’ll probably have asked during the conference, but for now, it seems that you’re addressing the concept of abusive parents?
However, your overall “voice” is enjoyable to read, and your light, conversational tone makes the essay more personable.

--Jason

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Login pt 2

[I wonder if this is still really a narrative essay.]

There are other players, but they may as well be ghosts for all that they affect my character. I guide her out of the gates of the city, and into the forest. The background noises change, almost too subtly to be noticed. The artificial sounds of people bustling and chattering are exchanged for the chirping of birds and the soft sigh of wind through branches. My screen displays the forest, spreading out over the simulation of distance. Through the trees I can make out the deep portions of the forest, where pixilated monsters lie in wait, programmed to be hungry for player-controlled characters.
This world is massive, built to scale around the player characters to recreate two massive continents, sectioned off by mountain ranges and natural barriers. There is enough space for the thousands of player characters to roam and never see one another. This is not the only one that exists. To allow for the millions of players that play the game, designers have copied the same world over and over, the same, self-contained world repeated a hundred times, each one cut off from the rest.
If one were of the right mind, one could see the screen as not an LCD display, but a window. Indeed, the sound, the responsiveness of one’s character, the depth of the world almost seems to invite the player in, creating an alternate reality, a tempting form of escapism. Check the phone again.

She hasn’t called—she probably won’t. That’s how it goes, isn’t it? You know someone for too long and they just stop calling. I slam myself back down in my chair, clicking furiously with my mouse, fingers pounding down so hard on the keyboard that I think that they’ll stick.

She walks forward. It has been a while, but she knows where to go. Nani propels her tiny body through the forest. A small stream flows through—ignore it. There were fish in there once, but no longer. Other players had over fished it, and now the river was just a clear, blue stream. Cross at the bridge—avoid the gnolls. Ravenous dog-men stalk the woods, ready to surround the unwary player, ready to leap from behind trees with yelps and barks, jaws slavering. She has been through this area enough to know where everything is, what paths are safe.
Travel on through, travel on through until you reach the edge of the forest. Travel on until the trees thin, travel on until the grass underfoot gives way to rough clay. Until the sounds of your feet padding softly over bright green becomes the sharp thud of boots slapping against hard ground, where the chirping of birds dies away and what is left is the howl of wind. When you see the river before you, cross it, swim through the murky waters, through the brown muck, until you emerge on the other side, dripping wet, in the Duskwood.

I can hear the owls hooting, and out of the corner of my eye, tiny lights blink in the low bushes. Tall trees loom over head, branches and leaves lost in shadow. This is a place of darkness, of living shadows and sudden deaths. Giant spiders lurk in these woods, I can see them, larger than any gnome—a green leg slipping out around a tree trunk, a swollen abdomen slick with poison glinting the nether light of Duskwood. Fortunately, they are too far away to notice me. Still, I can hear the chittering noise of their mandibles clacking together. I can see the green ichor that drips from their fangs, leaving stained trails on the blackened grass. One bite would mean instant death—a single scratch from those poisoned daggers would send a searing poison through me, killing me in a matter of seconds. I back up, not ready to deal with them, and a howl from behind me reminds me that spiders are not the only inhabitants of Duskwood.
Two hours later, I am still in the woods. More confident now that I’ve become more familiar with the dark local, I dart toward the graveyard. I no longer fear the spiders—I know that the fire I wield is enough to drive them away. The woods are silent, and there is the faintest whisper of something moving nearby. It has been bothering me for the past hour—the sound of something following me. Someone, or something has been stalking me,
There is a rush, a blur, and a snarl of fangs and claws, as I stagger back. A zombie! This shambling parody of a human being lunges toward me, slavering and moaning. Wet, gray flesh hangs from exposed bones, and a jaw far too wide to be natural is filled with needle-sharp teeth. It snaps at me, and my heart skips a beat. A twisted hand, foot-long black claws protruding from it, slashes at my midsection. With a cry I stumble further back. I have seen what this monstrosity would do me—it would kill me, and gorge itself on my still-warm body. Its voice is a confused babble of words that it once knew in life and it fills my ears. There is another sound, too, harsh and shrill, halfway between an extended beep and a ringing noise somewhere in the background. Ignore it—there’s a zombie trying to eat me—that’s a bit more of a priority.
Fire courses out from my fingertips, engulfing the monster in flame. Crackling red light licks up and down its rotting flesh, setting the monster ablaze. One fire spell had been enough to drive off the spiders, but this aberrant beast felt no pain. It continues to slash at me, and I cannot dodge it forever. My staff is drawn, and I deliver a resounding blow to the creature’s head. There is an almost humorous noise, like that of an empty coconut being struck, accompanied by that incessant ringing noise. What is that? I yell in frustration and fury as the claws strike home again, tearing through my robes, biting deep into my flesh. Somone’s talking—I hear a voice in the background—it’s distracting me from the task at hand. I grit my teeth and begin to cast another spell. Fire is not my only weapon—ice will freeze it in its tracks, and then I can—
With a gibbering cry, a hand with blackened claws drives into my face, and the screen goes dark.
I’m dead.

My heart is still beating, pounding furiously. With an outraged yell, I slam my computer shut.
Oddly enough, the ringing has stopped.

Login

Login

The door closes behind me as rush into the room. I could swear that the phone was ringing, but the room is dead silent, save for the rush of my feet over a carpet in dire need of vacuuming. I drop my backpack to the floor, the silence amplifying the loud thump of the bag full of books. Words fail as I regard the phone with disbelief, as if daring it to continue to be silent.
She hasn’t called again. I haven’t heard from her in a month. Really, what did I expect? Did I expect that the phone would be ringing and I’d hear her voice again, that she’d be on the other end, her voice pouring through the receiver like the sweetest music? The red recharge light stutters, imbalances in current causing the tiny bulb to wink at me, mocking me.
With a resigned shuffle, I kick off my shoes. They land against the pile of books at the corner of my bed, knocking over old pages of notes from semesters past, unearthed for reasons unknown to any mortal man. With a grunt, I move a pile of library books from my bed, their covers wearing away under my hands in the form of a chalky dust coating my palms. I settle down into my desk, homework put aside for another . . . day perhaps? Hour at least. I draw the computer close, the laptop’s plastic making a smooth hiss against the wood of the table. Behind the screen is a nest of wires and drives. Tiny neon lights blink at me in the gray gloom of the room. Under my hand, my mouse comes to life, a sullen red glow busting to life with a ruby flare, illuminating the mouse pad. I slide it across the black surface, smooth as silk, in motions now permanently etched into my muscles as the computer wakes up as well, the black screen bursting into the garish colors of my desktop. Acid greens and alien teals burn my eyes with their vicious brightness, as whites, oranges, and red tattoo my retinas, leaving aching after-patterns as I shift my gaze.
The icon. Double-click the icon.

The computer pauses, considering the command I have given it, finally acceding to my demands, as the screen flickers again, a window unfolding itself before my eyes. I affirm to the filibustering machine what I want, and it goes black.
The gates are there, behind the log-in screen. Stone sentinels flank a stone post-and-lentil set-up, a swirl of fire between them, the text-boxes suspended equidistant between the statues. The company knows me by a name, a name attached to my credit card, attached to my address. I type in my password, a conglomerate of letters and numbers of no importance to any but me. The keyboard clicks as my fingers dance, the sound rattling through my brain as I relax, letting myself slide into the game.
Black and blue figures watch me. Locked in permanent illustration, they observe me at my keyboard as I stare blankly. Four pairs of yellow eyes pierce the navy illustration. The tall man, bearing a large book, the dead man, swords in hand, the dwarf, grizzled beard and musket standing at equal attention, and the comical gnome regard me for the briefest of moments as the game loads.

I spin quickly in my chair, the rough fabric scratching me through my shirt. Was that the phone? No. I turn back and settle in, sliding down in my chair, right hand resting lightly on the mouse, left hand hovering over my keyboard before resting, fingertips lightly touching on the familiar pattern of the WASD keys. The room lights up as the screen comes to life.
White, burning light. In the game, it is daytime. On my screen I see countless tiny figures moving around. Each less than a hand-span tall, they rush about, some too fast to be seen. I see them all move.
Each character is unique. There are four races in this city. The elves, the dwarves, the gnomes, and the humans. Tall and short, stout and thin, they fill the screen. Facial features and hair style and color are determined at character creation. Armor is collected through playing, clothing determined by luck and perseverance, ranging through entire spectrums of color; reds, greens, purples, blues. Weapons flash from character’s sides, or glint from their backs. Swords and spears, maces and staves, some glow and other merely gleam. Above each of them, the hundred that rush about, are the names, written in green. Character names form a glowing green swarm of gibberish, hovering over the masses like teeming flies.
Each of these characters, animated pixellations, digital manikins represents a human being. Each of these is another person, similarly seated at their computer, somewhere across the globe, anywhere and every, part of the parade of puppets.
I have one too. Female. Elven. Dressed in the green robes of a druid. Her name is a play on the irony of the pseudo-reality of the game; “Daydream.” It stands, idle animations making the puppet’s head turn from side to side, in a simulation of realism. I type the “W” key and she darts forward. Programmed subroutines and lines of code cause the digital illustration of a cape to flap behind the puppet as the representation of arms move in the simulation of running. It is still again. I hold “W,” using “A” and “S” to steer, as the puppet’s line of movement veers left and right.
The perspective shifts. Behind my screen, I can see the world changing, perspective changing, angles shifting to allow for a new point of view. Daydream is positioned with her back to me, and it is as if I float, hovering a constant few feet above and behind her as I control her actions. There is a sense of voyeurism with detachment. The puppet moves and I follow, controlling its actions, always watching.

[Further into the game. Level: “Scarlet Monastery”]

[Real-life break. Bathroom. Make special point at this point in narrative to ignore the phone.]

[Back into the game, begin blurring line between “I” and the character. Start to use phrases like “I move forward, dashing around the corner.” Make it apparent to the reader that the perspective is changing, and immersion is imminent.]

[Big, exciting part of game, describe as if real, as if I’m really there, really experiencing it. MAKE SURE to note “annoying noise in background, heard at distance.” This will be the phone ringing. A “distant voice” is someone leaving a message.]

[End with leaving game, turning off computer, and sleep, telephone ignored.]

Dancing Skeletons Review

In Dancing Skeletons, Katherine A. Dettwyler presents her own interesting perspectives on her anthropological studies. Her story is told in a stream-of-consciousness format, with a single narrative often expanding or side-tracking into other anecdotes, or flashbacks to earlier events. Along the way, the reader is treated to insights into the life of the people of Mali, through Dettwyler’s eyes as she gathers data for her research. Her insights into Mali life are often entertaining as well as informative.
My favorite portions would have to be Dettwyler’s jokes. Specifically, I enjoy her analysis of Mali humor. Her ability to surprise the native speakers around her with her fluency always brought a smile to my face. Her descriptions of looks of astonishment from the people around her as she would launch into the local language were particularly entertaining to me, as I’ve seen that look before when in another country. I loved, in particular, the concept of familiar insulting. The local tradition of insulting close relatives is one that rang true with me, but I loved the tradition of traded insults between two particular families and the common insults shared between them.

Dance Macabre

Dance macabre, to a graveyard tune
Twirl to the song of the nightshade wind
Raise you arms to the harvest moon
Be swept up in the midnight spin

Waltz to the beat of the skeleton bones
And step across the line of dream
Avoid the spots where the coffin groans
Cover your ears for the banshee’s scream.

Join hands with the ghoul and the vampire bats
Caper in the circle of the newly dead
Two-step in the crypt—mind the rats
Chat with the man with no head.

As the dead return to their tired graves
And the breeze blows past with a weary sigh
Hark to the man with the eyes like old caves
Who says that it’s time to die.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dungeons and dragons (cont.)

Kicking it up a notch

Tonight, though, the sleepy town is transformed. The mundane wooden structures are decorated with magical flame, less substantial than a dream, lending the same quality to those caught in their light. Bathed in dancing, multicolored lights, the people look on at the stages. They are arranged in a circle around the town square, each of the five platforms sporting some new delight for the eyes. On one, the goblin acrobats arrange themselves in the shapes of different animals. The crowd applauds at a particularly impressive Chimera, the three goblins playing the heads each blowing a mouthful of fire. Another platform brags a massive warforged swallowing swords, them spitting them out in creative shapes, picking out nut-sized human fingers from its jaws and handing them out to the astonished children. Two mages juggle balls of fire and ice on the next platform, the elemental magics shifting in midair with sharp crackles of energy, as balls of blue, freezing energy dance from the red-robed mage’s fingers, and brilliant, flaring fire magics dance from the blue-robed mages’s deft hands. Before the astonished crowd, a caged beast roars savagely, yellow eyes glaring as two tentacles writhe, shackled to the bottom of its cage, the six-legged, purple feline stalking within its confines. The last platform is perhaps the most impressive, if not as a display of flash and awe, then as something captivating without such arcane enhancements. An exotic beat fills the air around this stage, a melody from a place far, far away from Deeppath played on pipes by a shifter sitting at the edge of the stage. The attention, however, is focused on the dancer. An elfmaid, the garish light staining her made-up skin at each turn, dances lightly on the plain, wooden stage. Her bare feet tap out an entrancing rhythm as she dances, her body moving with fluid grace, the bells around her ankles and wrists punctuating the music with subtle jingles. Under the flashing light, her clothing shifts and slides, opaque at one moment, nearly invisible the next as her body moves, less real than an extension of the music. Her expression is focused, her eyes closed, and sweat beads her brow. She seems oblivious to the gawking crowd as the music moves her in graceful arcs and circles across the wooden platform.

The stages are not the only attraction, however. Other members of the Fair mill through the crowd, a woman in ridiculously flared robes selling brightly colored balloons, enchanted to slowly shift through eleven colors before exploding into a shower of golden stars. A changeling in bright yellow clothes delights children by changing his face to match their own cotton-candy streaked ones. A half-elf in purple robes and a tall, stove-pipe hat touches the heads of laughing fairgoers for a copper, turning their hair to the color of their choice for the night. A dozen other performers wander the crowd, enthralling the fairgoers or selling small curios, designed to last the night only.
All is laughter, all is light. A million tiny marvels pass before awestruck eyes, as the music plays and the lights dance under the carpet of night, bespeckled with stars. Who could not be entertained by the fair on this fair night?

There is one. He rides through the dark night, towards the distant sounds of merriment in Deeppath. It grows closer with each thundering hoofbeat of his horse, but the distance is impossible. The lights of the town are still too far, and his pursuers too close. He can hear them, the mirroring sounds of their steeds far closer, far closer than the indistinct music of the fair. His cloak flaps in the wind as his pursuers close the distance. He can feel his horse slowing and he spurs the mount to greater speeds, heading straight for Deeppath.

A scream shatters the night, slicing through the music and laughter with terror. A black horse pounds through the crowd, appearing as it from nowhere. The crowd stumbles out of its way, avoiding the mad beast as it rears. The black stallion rears over the crowd, a shapeless lump falling from its back to land with a thump on the dirt as it turns, thundering through the crowd and back out into the night.

The body lies at an unnatural angle, less a human form than a pile of awkward lumps. You turn over the body and reveal the face of a middle-aged man, eyes open and staring, mouth frozen open in a final expression of surprise. A wet stain spreads across his black cloak, and as it’s pulled aside, you see the wickedly sharp tip of a crossbow bolt protruding from his chest.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dungeons and Dragons

This is me setting up the atmosphere for a DnD campaign. There's supposed to be an element of majestic narration. I hope it went through alright.

It is a dawn over a new world. Two years have passed since the Warforged assault on the city of Sharn. Two years since the fall of the Gods, the insurrection of the Goblin Pretenders, and the ultimate rise of the New Gods. In the skies over Sharn, the amassed armies of the Five Nations saw them ascend—Alexis, the Fair; Gar, the Inevitable; Pax, the Calming; Nikov, the Just; and Rayner the Inescapable—as the armies of Ectomaugg, Master of Artifice, and the magically enhanced Warforged fell before the amassed might of Khorvaire. Two and a half years since an arcane tear split the skies of Aundair and nearly split the tenuous alliance between Aundair and the other four nations in an incident that the newspaper referred to as the Broken Sky Disaster. Now the political ties between the nations are stronger than ever, and it seems that a newly forged Khorvaire is rising strong from near-annihilation. Like the Phoenix, the symbol of the New Sovereign Host, new life seems infused into Eberron, a fiercely burning flame bolstering the peoples and the land itself.
The land is far from a paradise, however. As the New Gods, agents of good rose, so, too, did an agent of darkness. Ectomaugg, the leader of the NeoWarforged, seized power from the rising gods, harnessing it to pervert it to his own twisted desires. He, too, is a new God, a god of Destruction, of Avarice, and of Magic, itself. He goads on the Warforged, his dark machinations inspiring pride and solidarity among the metallic masses, leading more and more converts to the ruins of Cyre—the Mournlands—stronghold of the Lord of Blades. More than ever, now, the Warforged are viewed with distrust and even hatred throughout many nations. Karrnath, and Thrane, in particular, have taken to branding the Warforged members of their populations, in some cases manacling them, shackling them to their tasks.
It is said that more New Gods are rising, bolstering the numbers of the New Host, and that this does not sit well with Ectomaugg. It is even whispered, in hushed voices, in dark and frightened places, that the Dark Engineer has sent envoys to Vol, herself, and is considering an alliance with older, darker powers.
It is difficult to believe such paranoid mutterings during the day, most difficult indeed, with the sun high in the sapphire sky; slow-moving caravans of clouds traversing the azure expanse. This is especially so on a day when the fair has arrived in Deeppath town. This year, it has traveled West from the dangerous border of Darguun, the Goblin nation, and boasts a troup of Goblin acrobats, among other exotic delights from a hundred nations. In all honesty, it doesn’t take much to impress the residents of Deeppath. This Brellish town is far removed from the cosmopolitanism of Sharn, to the south, and most inhabitants have never traveled more than a few miles from their sleepy village.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Storyteller

What strikes me most about this section of the Storyteller are the stories that Saul tells. Previously, I’ve read the origin tales that he tells as a Machiguenga storyteller, about the moon, the sun, the stars, and comets. My favorites have been the animal stories. Every since I’ve been little, I’ve love animal creation stories. Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories drew me in, and ever since, I’ve been reading folktales about how the leopard got its spots, or why the mosquito buzzes in people’s ears, or, in the case of the Storyteller, why hunters save a particular bird, and other such natural tales. It seems that with the chaos of the Machiguenga’s way of life in the jungle, any being of chaos in their tales is a being of evil. The dark god with his legion of demons cackles and dances in the jungle. Whereas in the myths of the Native American of North America, a trickster figure often takes on the role of folk hero, such as Coyote, Raven, or Rabbit, no such entity seems to exist in the Machiguenga stories. It seems that all beings have the capability to change and shapeshift into other creatures or objects, and perhaps the fluidity of the “Tasurinchi” identity lends itself to that. Because all things are effective the same, then each thing can easily become another.
Tales of transformation take a prominent role in the Machiguenga stories, so it is not surprising that Saul’s adaptations of tales of transformation fit the mold of Machiguenga tales. He adapts the tale of Gregor Samsa into a “bad trance” he has, but it is not until he actually uses the name “Gregor” that the story really clicked in my head and became recognizable. However, elements of the Machiguenga tale style remained present in the story. The style, tone, and structure remained Machiguenga, until the original idea and name “Gregor” were the only tip-offs.

Personal vs. Biography

Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self -- Personal
--organization is a series of flashbacks, all sequential, with no pattern between the sapces.
--Only later does the pattern become clear----the concept of beauty and beauty ruined by tragedy unites the passages

--What struck me the most was the viscereal detal of being struck by the BB in the eye
----walker does not give graphic detail but instead draws out a dawning sense of horror in the reader as the realization of a ruptured eye sets in.
----Is it just me? I constantly worry about my eyes ever since I started to wear glasses.
------or is there something primal that terrifies humans with the thought of losing sight?

--light touches, I think, are the hallmark of this essay
----"biscuit-polished" shoes
----Italics are used to indicate thoughts
-------almost as if she is thinking these things as she write them.

--I enjoy the structure of the essay, with a happy resolution

High Anxiety -- Personal
--Thick, graphic details
----1st sentence--"hair is slimy"
----bathroom details
----Hyperventilations and blood clogging up the ear
----self description after hike: "forehead and left cheek mass of red bumps

--The little things
----Egg chips :-)
----How to shower

personal narrative
--familiarity came with the description of a humdrum life
--family ties make the reader think of his/her own family
--Narrative covers an entire years, though the majority covers a 6-day span of climbing up a mountain.
--Lesson/message:
----It's not the destination, but the journey
----Tangible event
------Climb to Kilimanjaro

The Lottery -- Biographical
--The absent narrator allows for a seague from general into specific
----While the narrative starts off with personal details, it rapidly shifts into an essay that details a larger, less personal subject, before shifting back into the personal side of things
--The story is reinforced by its specifics, and the details provided for Raul's like make up for the lack of personal accounts
----The essay does delve later into a first-person account in which the author has an interview with Raul
--Baum draws us into Raul's life by taking us into first his community, then his past, then his story

Famous Blue Raincoat -- Personal
--The narrator appears to be a married man whos wife cheats on him with his brother
--Setting the atmosphere seems to draw me in
----What really does it, though, is the fact that these are in verse--lyrical
------The rhythm becomes another element drawing in the reader
--Time is maellable here. The lyrics indicate that some time has passed, but no specific measurements of time are given
----The only distinction between events is "then" and "now."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tasurinchi

The name “Tasurinchi” is used regularly through Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Storyteller. Mascarito, during his narrative half of the book, regularly uses the name “Tasurinchi” for everything. Apparently, Tasurinchi is a pronoun used to stand for oneself, other males, and even the sun.
In the opening of Mascarito’s narrative, he tells what I assume is a creation myth, using Tasurinchi as the name of the folk hero that set out his people on their neverending walk. Mascarito goes on to describe a personal encounter with an individual of the tribe. This individual, too, bears the name of Tasurinchi. Later, as Mascarito goes more “native,” he adopts the name as a person pronoun, referring to himself as “Tasurinchi.”
I wonder what this implies about the tribe. Could it be that they possess no individual names? The women of the tribe, at least, have a name. However, I wonder if this implies a deeper significance. Could this shared name be a reflection of a sense of self that is more communal than personal? What I mean is that, perhaps a individual’s sense of self is tied to the community, and the shared name is part of that shared community. The tribesmen define themselves by their membership in the tribe.
If this is true, then what about the same name for the sun? I believe that if this is the case, then it implies a sense of kinship with nature—a further extension of the shared sense of identity. Thus, the tribesmen are part of the world around them, or at least are connected to their sun.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Substantial revisions

Not quite done, but will revise further in the morning

State regulations on video game retail have gamers up in arms. Gamers—those who identify themselves by video game playing—are divided on the issue. Washington, Indiana, and Missouri have issued laws instituting fines upwards of $5,000 for retailers who sell violent or sexually graphic games to minors. Such laws have been spurred into place by such events as the Columbine shooting after which a proposed link between the shootings and video games was popularized by the media. Other violent events, such as a similar shooting in Minnesota, or the shooting of two policemen in Alabama, have been linked to video games by the media. Numerous studies, notably the oft-quoted 2000 study by Dr. Craig A. Anderson and Dr. Karen E. Dill in addition to a 2004 study by David Walsh, have been made on the subject, but results have yet to directly link video game violence to real life violence. However, despite a lack of conclusive data, politicians are cracking down on the ability of children to purchase video games with heavy fines in place for those that would sell games deemed “inappropriate” to minors. To many the restrictions on the proliferation of video games are a violation of constitutional protection stating that no law shall be made “abridging the freedom of speech.” Others, like U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Sr. in 2002, have ruled that video games have “no conveyance of ideas, expression or anything else that could possibly amount to speech” and thus enjoy no constitutional protection.
Laws currently in place in several states already restrict the purchase of video games by minors. In Michigan, for example, a law was passed in 2005, (Act No. 108 of the Public Act of 2005,) a retailer who sells games that are deemed “inappropriate to minors” (i.e. sexually explicit, violently graphic) can be fined up to $5,000 for a first offense, $15,000 for a second offense, and upwards of $40,000 for further offenses. What’s more, anyone in charge of a retail establishment who allows a minor to play or even view such a game can find his or herself subject to a fine of $25,000 or 93 days in jail. By comparison, Michigan law on selling tobacco to a minor is a $50 per offense fine and selling alcohol to a minor is a $500 fine and 90 days in jail penalty. The video game industry is currently fighting state regulation of video games with its own regulatory committee, the Entertainment Software Association, the Video Software Dealers Association, and the Michigan Retailer’s Association. The three groups have filed a suit against the governor responsible for the act, Governor Jennifer Granholm. Granholm has signed the retail-control law on video games and claimed that she had good reason for doing so. Granholm has made a written statement concerning the law, that “the graphic nature and wide availability of these games should disturb all of us, whether or not we are parents.”
The population of gamers appears greatly divided on the issue, judging from a tally of forum posts. The majority appears opposed to the act, supporting the retailer’s right to sell games to anyone. However, the minority supporting the act, roughly a fourth of the total posts to several forums concerning themselves with the issue, are more verbose on the subject. This is but one example of a law that has already been passed in several states. Illinois, Washington, Indiana, and Missouri have already enacted similar laws and California may soon follow suite.
Opponents argue that states are choosing to ignore a rating system already in place for video games. Current and proposed state laws propose to judge video games as “suitable” or “unsuitable” for minors by means of state review boards with reviewers chosen by state officials. Opponents to such government-appointed boards point out an organization already in place for the regulation of video games. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, (ESRB) an organization set in place to promote a sense of self-regulation in the video game industry has already been developed. The ESRB, established in 1994, is a self-regulatory body that “independently applies and enforces ratings, advertising guidelines, and online privacy principles adopted by the computer and video game industry.” The ESRB is known for it’s a rating system, and rates all video games submitted to them for review. With a system similar to the Movie rating system, the ESRB rates games with regards to appropriateness for different age groups. Games are rated “E” for Everyone, “T” for Teen, “M” for Mature, “EC” for Early Childhood, and “AO” for Adults Only. According to the ESRB’s website, a 2004 study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 83% of parents surveyed agreed with the ESRB’s game ratings with U. S. Senator Joseph Lieberman is quoted with calling the ESRB the “best entertainment rating system” in the U.S. Despite such praise, there are problems with the ESRB regulations on games. As a private organization, it has no way to enforce its ratings. Thus the ESRB cannot prevent a retailer from selling a game rated “AO” or “Adults Only” to minors. While ESRB ratings are not mandatory by any means, most of the major video game development companies utilize their system and proudly print ESRB ratings on their video game packaging. Manufacturers are also doing their part in encouraging the importance of the ESRB rating system by reminding reading out the rating of a game in television and internet commercials. Television commercials both display and voice the rating of a game at the ends of the commercial, and a subsidiary of the ESRB, the Advertising Review Council (ARC) monitors all advertising materials relating to video games.
“Why must all this be done?” one might ask. “Why is there such a commotion about video games?” Certainly there have been no cases of people beaten to death with Playstations and even fewer cases of people strangled with video game controller-cables. The question raised is content and the effects it has on developing minds. A 1998 study by Jane M. Healy notes that “frequent exposure to ‘mindless’ television or video games may idle and impoverish the development of the pre-frontal cortex, or that portion of the brain that is responsible for planning, organizing and sequencing behavior for self-control, moral judgment, and attention.” Healy notes that continuous playing of video games (or, as the gamers say, “gaming”) retards physical brain development. In a press release by the American Psychological Association in 2000, it was found in two studies that “playing violent video games like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D or Mortal Kombat can increase a person's aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior both in laboratory settings and in actual life.” The study used two groups of male minors to compare physical and mental responses to prolonged exposure to video games, the end result—a rise in aggressive behavior in those that played violent video games—seems to indicate that video games cause violence. A quote from the study by Dr. Craig A. Anderson and Dr. Karen E. Dill on the subject states, “One study reveals that young men who are habitually aggressive may be especially vulnerable to the aggression-enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent games.” This study, though it, too, possesses results that connect video games to real-life violence, specifies that a predisposition for aggression may be more of a deciding factor than the video games themselves. More studies investigating the effects of video games, like a 2004 study done by David Walsh, state that “exposure to violent games increases physiological responses, aggressive thoughts, aggressive emotions, aggressive actions and exposure to violent video games decreases positive actions.” The end result of the research is a strong body of work connecting video games to violent behavior. Perhaps what is more frightening is the use of video games by the United States military in order to desensitize new recruits to the violence of war. In a frightening statement by a military officer, the video games help soldiers “learn to kill.” Thus, both scientific evidence and the United States government acknowledge a link between video game violence and real-life violence.
A similar body of work exists for the positive effects of playing video games. In “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy” (2003) James Gee states that video game players are instead active problem solvers, and that video games serve as mediums for active problem solving and help the brain to learn new ways to solve obstacles and challenges. Another study conducted at the University of Bologna in 2004 concluded that “owning videogames does not in fact seem to have negative effects on aggressive human behavior.” That particular study contradicts previous reports on a proposed connection between video games and violence. A 2004 report in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that if video games were connected to youth violence, then the rise in video game sales from $3.2 billion in 1995 to $7 billion in 2003 would have resulted in a subsequent rise in youth violence. Instead, the report states that youth violence is on the decline. Most interesting, perhaps is the counter-argument to the data on the proposed link between violence and video games. Henry Jenkins, in his article, “Make Meaning, Not War: Rethinking the Video Game Violence Debate,” points out that while some studies have shown a relationship between temporary aggression levels and video games, there exists no conclusive data linking actual, real-life violence to video games. He proposes, instead that the individuals who commit real acts of violence do so not because of exposure to video games but because of some predisposition to commit terrible crimes.
This is exactly the point brought up by Internet pundits Jerry Holkins and Michael Krahulik. Affectionately known as “Tycho” and “Gabe” (their pen names,) Holkins and Krahulik operate a webcomic known as “Penny Arcade.” The popularity of their comic, (over 3.5 million fans in countries all over the world and tens of millions of hits on their site per month) has made them highly influential names in the gamer community. Hundreds of thousands of gamers are influenced by their words, and Holkins and Krahulik are known not only for their often searing reviews of games, but humorous takes on the popular media. Their influence on the industry is so profound that harsh words from them have negatively affected sales on entire product lines. The two co-created a children’s charity fund, known as “Child’s Play” which has raised over 13,000 dollars from gamers for hospitalized children. The two are effectively the voice of the gamer community. Is there any doubt then, that the two have strong opinions on the relationship of video game responsibility? Holkins maintains that the drive to go on a shooting spree is not caused by video games, but in the raising of the child, a claim that Krahulik affirms. Another popular columnist/comic writer, Tim Buckley, of the comic “Ctrl-Alt-Del,” claims that blaming video games is a case of shifting blame from poor child-rearing so that parents need not take responsibility for their children’s actions. Buckley subjects himself to a case-study of the effect of video games. He, an avid gamer from childhood through adulthood, affirms that he has never committed any sort of physical act of violence on another human being and thousands of his readers hold this true for themselves. Holkins and Krahulik add that it is parents that should be monitoring a child’s video game purchases, not the State, and that those same parents should be responsible for monitoring those children as they play—to at least become familiar with the sort of games that a child is playing. Scott Kurtz, writer/artist of the webcomic “PvP” takes a different standpoint, drawing upon his childhood with games, and reaching the conclusion that video games are terrible for children. His specific position on the issue is that
“Video games are obsessive. They are violent. They cause children to become violent. They are time sinks. They suck every waking moment away from your kids. When you're kids aren't playing video games they are thinking about how great it's going to be when they get to play video games again. Video games will retard your child's social growth. Video games will stunt their social skills. If you don't make them do other things, video games will turn your children into mindless, unimaginative, illiterate boobs who have no real thing to call their own save the dominance they can reign over other children who are also playing video games.”
It comes across as rather harsh, especially from someone who has, on occasion, represented the gamer community in several conflicts. His perspective is interesting, especially when compared to Holkins and Krahulik. All three are adults who have spent youths alongside arcade machines, but Krahulik and Holkins are taking a wildly different stance from Kurtz. One of the reasons is that Krahulik and Holkins’ livelyhoods are entwined with video games, either affording them a different perspective, or some level of bias in defending their position. What is more surprising, or perhaps less, surprising, given the reader’s point of view, is that both Krahulik and Holkins are both recent fathers, and plan to raise their children with video games readily available. It seems that they plan to practice exactly what they preach, allowing their children access to games as they come of age. Both describe scenarios in which they will both review the games personally, then monitor their children as they play, relying not only on the ESRB ratings of games but hands-on-reviewing of the games to make sure they are appropriate for their children. Krahulik’s advice to parents is for them to watch what their kids are playing and be very aware of their child’s response to the game.
What remains central to the controversy, then, is who exactly should take responsibility for video game regulation. While states are eager to take it upon themselves to regulate video gamer purchases within their boundaries, the video game industry and majority of gamers support the ESRB. However, there remains a large percentage of the minority from both gamers and non-gamers alike that push for parental control over government control over the video games that children play. Scientific research reveals conflicting data on the connection between video games and violence, a point used by those pushing for government regulation and those resisting it. With a wealth of contradictory data, it may very well be up to the parent to control a child’s access to video games.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Crawler page 8 edit

Page 8: Harris: “Good job, folks. Our best work yet.”[Panel 1: Front page of the Globe Newspaper, Headline: “Vulture Strikes Again!” Second line: “Fifth Manhattan Victim Found Violated and Mutilated” Picture of alley with blood-trail.” Globe Staff Member 1: “Better than that special on Murdock?”[Panel 2: Rear shot of Harris at his desk at the Globe Newspaper Office, his chair blocks our view of him, but we can see two staff members in front of him. Staff Member 1 is male, lounging on a couch, smoking a cigarette. Staff member 2 is female, sitting on a corner of Harris’ desk.] Harris: “Even better.”[Panel 3: We see Harris’ finger’s steepled over his desk as Staff Member 2 picks up the paper off of his desk, a frown on her face. Smoke from Harris’ cigar curls over his desk, snaking around her arm and rear.] Staff Member 2: (Reading the paper) “I don’t see how, Harris. I mean, that Daredevil stuff was big news, this is what? One more weirdo on the street out of the dozen that pop up every day.”
Staff Member 1: “Yeah, boss—how is this . . . ‘Vulture’ big news? So he’s raped 5 people this month—that still puts him behind Kobe Bryant.”[Panel 4: Staff Member 2 is reading the paper, Staff member 1 is grinding out his cigarette on the arm of the couch.] Harris: “It’s not what he does, but the name we gave him. I’m expecting an angry call from our good friend J. Jonah Jameson any second now.”[Panel 5: Close-up shot, only of Harris’ mouth, cigar clamped between his teeth, smoke leaking out of the corners of his lips.] [Panel 6: The Staff members are staring blankly at Harris, the telephone on his desk in the foreground.] [Panel 7: Same shot, phone ringing, and twin smiles spread across the staff member’s faces..]
Harris: “J. J., baby—how’s it going?”
Harris: “No, J.J., I don’t think it’s copyright infringement—they’re two entirely different entities.”
Harris: “Jonah-baby, that’s not a physical possibility. Yes, well, you’re gonna have to complain to my yoga intstructor.”[Panel 8: Back-of-chair shot of Harris, shadow only.] Harris: “Listen, J.J., it’s already in print. If you don’t like it . . .”
Harris: “. . . sue me.”[Panel 9: Newspaper flaps open, corner article on page 5 in full view. Title: “Sightings of a New Wall-Crawling Monster?” picture: Shadowy crouched form of Crawler on a rooftop, looking less human than like some monstrous spider.]

Thursday, March 09, 2006

storyteller 2

The Storyteller
Part 1

I find myself disliking the narrator. I get the feeling that Llosa is using him as a voice of the western world, in which to better juxtapose the perspectives of Marcarita and the narrator. The narrator’s analysis of Mascarita’s exposure to the Machiguengas is what was described in Michrina and Richards as “going native.” The narrator instead, describes it as a fall into or from grace. One particular portion of the narrator’s descriptions that irked me specifically was his use of the word “half-breed” on page 24. I guess I took offense to it for the sole reason that I, too, am a “half-breed.” The narrator does not attribute any negative traits to the half-breed so there is really nothing to be offended about, but the term itself irritated me. This could have been a part of the translation, but I think it is meant to be part of the way that the narrator sees the world, and the cultural lens through which he sees the world.
Using Michrina and Richards as a guide, one could see that not only has Mascarito “gone native,” but that he gradually shifts his perspective through the first portion of the narrator’s observation of him. We can see the horizon of Mascarito changing to take on the worldviews of the tribe with which he is becoming intimate. He takes on the worldview of the tribe, his values paralleling the values of the tribe.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Revisions

Violence in Video Games:
How Much is Too Much?

State regulations on video game retail have gamers up in arms. Gamers—those who identify themselves by video game playing—are divided on the issue. Washington, Indiana, and Missouri have issued laws instituting fines upwards of $5,000 for retailers who sell violent or sexually graphic games to minors. Such laws have been spurred into place by such events as the Columbine shooting after which a proposed link between the shootings and video games was popularized by the media. Other violent events, such as a similar shooting in Minnesota, or the shooting of two policemen in Alabama, have been linked to video games by the media. Numerous studies, notably the oft-quoted 2000 study by Dr. Craig A. Anderson and Dr. Karen E. Dill in addition to a 2004 study by David Walsh, have been made on the subject, but results have yet to directly link video game violence to real life violence. However, despite a lack of conclusive data, politicians are cracking down on the ability of children to purchase video games, with heavy fines in place for those that would sell games deemed “inappropriate” to minors. To many, including the restrictions on the proliferation of video games is a violation of constitutional protection stating that no law shall be made “abridging the freedom of speech.” Others, like U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Sr. in 2002, have ruled that video games have “no conveyance of ideas, expression or anything else that could possibly amount to speech” and thus enjoy no constitutional protection.
Laws currently in place in several states already restrict the purchase of video games by minors. In Michigan, for example, a law was passed in 2005, (Act No. 108 of the Public Act of 2005,) a retailer who sells games that are deemed “inappropriate to minors” (i.e. sexually explicit, violently graphic) to minors can be fined up to $5,000 for a first offense, $15,000 for a second offense, and upwards of $40,000 for further offenses. What’s more, anyone in charge of a retail establishment who allows a minor to play or even view such a game can find his or herself subject to a fine of $25,000 or 93 days in jail. By comparison, in the same state—Michigan—laws on selling tobacco (charged with a misdemeanor and $50 per offense) and alcohol ($500 fine and 90 days in jail) to minors. The video game industry is currently fighting state regulation of video games with its own regulatory committee, the Entertainment Software Association, in addition to the Video Software Dealers Association, and Michigan Retailer’s Association. The three groups have filed a suit against the governor responsible for the act, Governor Jennifer Granholm. Granholm has signed the retail-control law on video games and claimed that she had good reason for doing so. Granholm has made a written statement concerning the law, that “the graphic nature and wide availability of these games should disturb all of us, whether or not we are parents.”
The population of gamers appears greatly divided on the issue, judging from a tally of forum posts. The majority appears opposed to the act, supporting the retailer’s right to sell games to anyone. However, the minority supporting the act, roughly a fourth of the total posts to several forums concerning themselves with the issue, are more verbose on the subject.This is but one example of a law that has already been passed in several states. Illinois, Washington, Indiana, and Missouri have already enacted similar laws, and California may soon follow suite.
Opponents argue that states are choosing to ignore a rating system already in place for video games. Current and proposed state laws propose to judge video games as “suitable” or “unsuitable” for minors by means of state review boards, disregarding an existing rating system. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, (ESRB) an organization set in place to promote a sense of self-regulation in the video game industry has already been developed. The ESRB, established in 1994, is a self-regulatory body that “independently applies and enforces ratings, advertising guidelines, and online privacy principles adopted by the computer and video game industry.” (ESRB’s home page) The ESRB is known for its a rating system, and rates all video games submitted to them for review. With a system similar to the Movie rating system, games are rated as appropriate for different age ranges. Games are rated “E” for Everyone, “T” for Teen, “M” for Mature, “EC” for Early Childhood, and “AO” for Adults Only. According to the ESRB’s website, a 2004 study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 83% of parents surveyed agreed with the ESRB’s game ratings, while U. S. Senator Joseph Lieberman is quoted with calling the ESRB as the “best entertainment rating system” in the U.S. Despite such praise, there are problems with the ESRB regulations on games. As a private organization, it has no way to enforce its ratings. Thus the ESRB cannot prevent a retailer from selling a game rated “AO” or “Adults Only” to minors. Critics say that the ESRB is as best “a suggestion committee.” While ESRB ratings are not mandatory by any means, most of the major video game development companies utilize their system and proudly print ESRB ratings on their video game packaging. Manufacturers are also doing their part in encouraging the importance of the ESRB rating system by reminding reading out the rating of a game in television and internet commercials. Television commercials both display and voice the rating of a game at the ends of the commercial, and a subsidiary of the ESRB, the Advertising Review Council (ARC) monitors all advertising materials relating to video games.
“Why must all this be done?” one might ask. “Why is there such a commotion about video games?” Certainly there have been no cases of people beaten to death with Playstations and even fewer cases of people strangled with video game controller-cables. The question raised is content and the effects it has on developing minds. A 1998 study by Jane M. Healy notes that “frequent exposure to ‘mindless’ television or video games may idle and impoverish the development of the pre-frontal cortex, or that portion of the brain that is responsible for planning, organizing and sequencing behavior for self-control, moral judgment, and attention.” [Nash article] The main issue is the question of what effect continuous viewing of violence has on developing minds. In a press release by the American Psychological Association in 2000, it was found in two studies that “playing violent video games like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D or Mortal Kombat can increase a person's aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior both in laboratory settings and in actual life.” A quote from the study by Dr. Craig A. Anderson and Dr. Karen E. Dill on the subject states “One study reveals that young men who are habitually aggressive may be especially vulnerable to the aggression-enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent games.” More studies against video games, like a 2004 study done by David Walsh that states that “exposure to violent games increases physiological responses, aggressive thoughts, aggressive emotions, aggressive actions and exposure to violent video games decreases positive actions.”
However, a similar body of work exists for the positive effects of playing video games. In “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy” (2003) James Gee states that video game players are instead active problem solvers, and that video games serve as mediums for active problem solving and help the brain to learn new ways to solve obstacles and challenges. Another study conducted at the University of Bologna in 2004 concluded that “owning videogames does not in fact seem to have negative effects on aggressive human behavior.” Perhaps what is most interesting is a 2004 report in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that if video games were connected to youth violence, then the rise in video game sales from $3.2 billion in 1995 to $7 billion in 2003 would have resulted in a subsequent rise in youth violence. Instead, the report states, youth violence is on the decline.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

peer review pt. 2

You discuss the conflict within the community thoroughly, and I feel I better understand the controversy, but perhaps more light could be shed on the community itself. While numbers are not a staple of understanding, I feel that some statistics in the beginning of your essay would not be misplaced. You say that more women are attending college these days in your first paragraph, but that’s a really open-ended statement. How much more? Since when? It’d be nice if you had a range, like the number of women enrolling in college in 1940 was [blank] compared to how many enrolled in 2000: [blank]. I think that maybe it would better serve to emphasize the controversy, or at least set the stage for it. I guess it’s considered common knowledge, but it would help to further the reader’s understanding of exactly how drastic a change it has been over one, two, or three decades.
I like how later in the paper you divide paragraphs so that each deals with a particular quote—it makes for easy reading, and it’s great because I’m not flooded with four or five names at once. Also, you introduce each of those paragraphs with the author and the article or work in question—very organized, very helpful. All in all, every topic sentence for each paragraph serves as a great guide to what that paragraph is about—awesome! There is a paragraph that begins at the bottom of page 4 and continues to page 5, that I think could use a source, but I guess that’s what that “[cite]” note is.
I think your use of sources is excellent and that you’ve organized them very effectively. (It also makes it easy to go back and find for the sake of a peer review.) Halcomb seems to be your major source, or at least a very important one, and you introduce her early on, which works well for going back to read later.
The essay is very exploratory, and I really got the feeling that you were turning this topic over in your head as you wrote it. I finished your paper with kind of a “you left me hanging” feeling. Did you pick a side by the end? Or was your final decision that each mother should decide for herself? I guess it’s an exploratory paper and all, but I felt like you were trying very hard to remain neutral in this, and—don’t get me wrong, that’s what Professor Malesh asked us to do—but I think there’s supposed to be a sense of picking a side by the end. What, hypothetically speaking, would you do as a working mother?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Review letter

Not entirely done, but it's a good half-hour in so far, and I'll finish it in the morning,

I thoroughly enjoyed your essay and found it both informative and interesting at the same time. I felt it was both well-organized and comprehensive. Separating the essay into first a part explaining the “pro” side of the argument and then the “con” side made the whole issue easy to understand. Given the way you have it organized, it might be good to have headings over each section, as a heads-up to the reader that you’re shifting perspectives.
Do you have a perspective on the subject of the challenges facing working women? Your paper was informative in presenting both sides of the argument, but were you persuaded to either side?
So, from what I gathered from your essay, there are several points in favor of each side of the controversy—the controversy being whether mothers should choose to be stay at home mothers or pursue a career. On both sides, the primary concern seems to be the welfare of the children. The con-side claims that a mother that does not provide sufficient time to be with her children runs the risk of raising children with behavioral problems and learning disabilities. The pro-side makes the claim that children who grow up with working mothers instead become more well-adjusted and independent. While there appears to be more statistical evidence for the con-side, you back up your pro-argument with case-studies, effectively strengthening both sides with different approaches.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I'm not sure where this is going

Nigel Foxfire trudged home through the late evening mist. It eddied and swirled around him as if somewhere in the concrete depths below, some hidden creatures prowled.
He ignored it and kept on walking.
His sneakers made a muffled pounding in the sidewalk, each step sending up more of the mist—tiny eruptions of smoke thinner than sweat. Somewhere, off to his left there was an even more muffled echo of his footsteps bouncing off the stone wall.
He ignored it and kept walking.
The sounds of the city screamed at him somewhere in the distance. Horns roared and tires wailed, and sirens sang a tuneless dirge.
He ignored it and kept walking.
From a cut below Nigel’s eye and one above his other eye blood trickled. The cut below his right eye ran down his check, tickling slightly before falling somewhere below the mist, leaving a trail that would never be followed. The blood from the cut above his left eye ran down, dodging the metallic stud in the corner of his eyebrow, and near enough past his eye that he could see it.
. . . If he tried.
He ignored it and kept walking. At one point, he stopped and raised one arm to wipe the blood too near his eye. Slowly, he turned to glare at the sanguine trial he was leaving, the thing metal chain at his hip clinking as he did. He turned back and resumed his trudging march.
Across the empty street, three shapes watched the dark figure making his single-minded way down the street. Dark hair, dark eyes, and dressed all in black, he was difficult for the casual observer to spot. He moved with the eddies of fog, or perhaps they moved with him. In the dim glow given by the streetlights it was hard to tell. The only things that stood out from the shadow and mist were the glint of sickly light from the small metal adornments he sported and the rather garish eight-ball design on his shirt.
A crippled wind blew, pulling back the veil of shadows across the three. They could now be identified as humanoid, and female, but only barely, for the fog rose back up quickly, like a child pulling the sheets over it’s head in the night.
One of them spoke—it really didn’t matter which. “Is he the one necessary.”—It wasn’t so much a question as a recitation—a memory of a ritual played out a thousand times before.
Another spoke—as indistinguishable as the first. “He is.”
The last spoke. “It always seems such a waste of time to have to use mortals.”
The other two nodded in agreement before the mist rose up once more—higher and thicker than ever. When the crippled wind returned, it was surprised to find that it could sweep away that patch of fog completely. Feeling very good about itself, it legged itself away down the street, chasing more patches of mist.

When Nigel got home, he was relieved to find that his father was not. Kicking the trash on the floor on his way to his room, he paused. Staring out the window, he ran a hand down his face. He must be seeing things—for a second he thought he saw three figures dressed in white watching him. Shaking his head, he stepped into his room.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Another story beginning

Lady Krissanna pouted.
In a high and empty room she stood at the pedestal in the center, her chin barely reaching over its white marble edge. Hovering two inches above the surface of the pedestal was a blue metallic sphere. Slowly turning, it reflected Krissanna’s upturned face as she glared at it.
“I’m bored,” she told it severely. Her voice echoed to the highest reaches of the room, returning to her from the marble-arched ceiling. The sphere did nothing, flickering once with an unearthly light.
“Yah!” shouted Krissanna in frustration, whipping around to stalk out of the room. The effect was spoiled only by her pigtails flopping across her face as she marched her four-foot frame out through the archway.
“Mavris! The Wishball is broken!” she shrieked, kicking a red pillow out of her way. Only when the pillow hissed could it be recognized as alive. Uncurling, the creature known as Mavris stretched, licking a paw. It regarded her coolly, sleepy yellow eyes meeting furious green ones.
“Oh, what is it now, Krissy?” Mavris yawned.
“Krissanna! Princess Krissanna!” shouted the girl, stamping one foot.
“Yes, yes, of course,” sighed Mavris, rolling his eyes. He stood up and lept up to a nearby table. In contrast to the immaculate marble room, this room was an abject lesson in clutter. The floor was strewn with cushions and pillows, all in various states of disrepair. The shelves, crammed with books, odd and ends, evens and beginnings, completely obscured the walls. Squeezed in the room, somehow fitting around each other, were two tables, each one piled high with knick-knacks, arcane ingredients, parchments, and several game boards. Mavris picked his way carefully across a chessboard, and gave Krissanna a cold look. “You know, if you were to actually straiten up in here, I wouldn’t be napping on the ground and getting in your way.”
“But then I would be able to kick you, Mavris, dear,” said Krissanna sweetly.
Mavris glared at her, ripples of color playing through his fur. “So what was the problem, again?”
“The problem is that I’m bored and the Wishball won’t do anything about it!” snapped Krissanna, kicking pillows towards the shelves.
Mavris sighed. “How many times do we have to go through this, Krissanna? The Wishball won’t respond to things like “I’m bored.” You have to give it a command, a set of specific instructions, and then it’ll carry them out. Understand?”
“That’s too hard!” whined Krissanna. She waved a hand, and several pillows climbed onto each other, piling up to stool-height next to one of the chairs. She climbed onto it and rested her chin on the table, face-to-face with Mavris.
“Well maybe then you should actually try studying a bit,” sniffed Mavris, gesturing with a bushy tail to the cluttered bookshelves. Krissanna frowned and stuck out her tongue. “A game, then?” asked Mavris, gingerly tipping over one of the chess pieces with an indifferent paw. Krissanna made a rude noise with her outstretched tongue. “A new game, then,” Mavris suggested, exasperated.
“What kind of game?” asked Krissanna, lifting her head from the table excitedly.
“Honestly, Krissanna, do I have to do everything?” asked Mavris. “You complained about the Wishball, and then about your old boring games. Combine them and then you have your new game.”
“Of course!” exclaimed Krissanna. She hopped up from her pillow-pile excitedly, running to one of the bookshelves. Jumping, she tried to reach a book on a too-high shelf. Muttering to herself, she made a lifting motion with both hands and rose throught the air to grab the book, then floated back to the table. She made a sweeping motion with one hand, and all of the clutter on the table, including Mavris, flew off. Landing on his feet, Mavris leapt back to his spot on the table aa Krissanna opened the huge book.
His eyes widening, Mavris read the arcane symbols on the book. “Krissanna, do you know what you’re doing?” he asked.
“I’m making the game,” she said cheerfully. Tracing her finger down the page, she found the symbol she was seeking. She recited a few hissing words, and the symbol glowed blue, seeming to writhe on the page.
Worlds away, across time, across possibility, the words were heard.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Things Fall Apart Summary 2

Things Fall Apart Summary 2

The second half of Things Fall Apart takes on a different tone than the first half. I apologize for the obvious statement, but it is accurate, and serves as a decent topic sentence for my summary. First and foremost in my thoughts about the chapter is the significant break down in tone, or at least, in the continuity of the tone. Previously, the narrator has been an impartial 3rd party, commenting, but not judging. However, as our professor stated in class on Tuesday, the narrative voice could very well be the voice of the village. Indeed, as Christianity begins to spread throughout the villages, there is a specific portion where the narrator begins to extol the virtues of Christianity and the non-Christian attitudes of the other characters. This marks a significant point at which, if the narrator is truly the voice of the village, the village is becoming predominantly Christian. Not only has the influence of the White man spread to the people, but it has affected even the narrator, a sort of subtle sneaking influence that breaks even the fourth wall, in a sense.
On the subject of subtle and sneaking, Christianity takes on a rather sinister face in the latter half of Things Fall Apart. The reader has spent the majority of the book coming to know the characters and becoming familiar with the customs of the village. It is easy to sympathize with their trials and tribulations. In effect, the reader has seen through the eyes of the community. And later, through the eyes of the community, the reader is witness to the slow, sinister spread of Christianity as it worms its way through their customs, beliefs, and basic way of life. Not having taken any prior interest in missionaries or their work, I have to wonder if this is the standard method of spreading the word of Christ. The church in the book is placed in the Evil Forest, for both narrative reasons and metaphorical reasons. On one occasion, it is likened to the toothy maw of the Evil Forest, and indeed, it’s actions seem to be like those of some Cthulu-like creature; sending out tendrils to draw in new members into its maw of darkness. Here, in Things Fall Apart, the heart of darkness Christianity, surrounded by all things dark and evil to the Umuofia people as it slowly wears away at the very fabric of society, and results even in the death of the protagonist.
I am a bit confused on the final paragraph of the book. I assume that there is some deep significance to the white man and the book he plans to publish, but I didn’t quite catch it. Is it perhaps some subtle play on Heart of Darkness?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Annotated, pt.2

Jenkins, Henry. “Make Meaning, Not War: Rethinking the Video Game Violence Debate." Independent School 63 (2004):38-44, 46-8. Jenkins reviews the Video game violence debate, beginning with the 2002 ruling of U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Sr. that video games have no redeeming social importance, and are thus not covered under protection from the Constitution. Jenkins brings to bear the flaws in many experiments that have “proven” a connection between video games and violence. More importantly, he brings to bear case studies for the positive aspects of video games.

Wagner, Cynthia G. “Aggression and Violent Media.” The Futurist 38 (2004): 16. Wagner opens with the phrase “Playing video games may lead to more violence than watching TV” hinting at perhaps a less-than-balance argument. However, the article provides numerous statistics, and offers opposing viewpoints on the subject, ranging from “raised aggression levels in males who play” versus, a very interesting theory that perhaps the reason why there often appear more opportunities to males in high-level technology jobs is that more males play video games than females.

Herzfeld, Noreen. “Video Shootout.” The Christian Century 121 (2004): 22-3. This article includes a brief account of a Minnesota shooting accredited to video games. Herzfield notes the use of first-person-shooter games in military training, and makes the claim that “exposure to simulated violence and death desensitizes people, lowering inhibitions and making it easier to commit violence in the real world.” Herzefeld acknowledges other games, such as strategy and roleplaying games, reluctantly crediting them with cooperation and problem solving skills. She categorizes the video game world as a “lonely place” in which isolation and constant violence leads to the creation of violent individuals.

Fontana, Leonard and Adela Beckerman. “Childhood Violence Prevention Education Using Video Games.” Information Technology in Childhood Education (2004): 49-62. The article describes a project that used video games to raise violence awareness and prevent it. A basic graphical user interface and games that promoted peaceful solutions to problems was presented to a number of students. In the end, the data was fairly conclusive that the children learned from the game about violence prevention. This can be used as an example of the influence of video games as well as proof that it is not the video games themselves, but their content that may be the problem of other games.

Hemphill, Thomas A. “The Entertainment Industry, Marketing Practices, and Violent
Content: Who’s Minding the Children?” Business and Society Review 108
(2003): 263-77. This article review the FTC investigation in 2000 to determine the proliferation of graphic images in the advertisement of mature Movies, Games, and Music. The study used the rating systems in place for each of the media and studied ad placement of the three. It was found that both Movies and Video games were most compliant with FTC regulations, with a steady decline evident in a 2001 review of R-rated movies and M-rated games in teen magazines and television geared for teenagers. The article also includes responses of the National Institute on median and the Family to the efforts of the ESRB to rate games. It also includes excellent First Amendment cases utilized in this situation.

Violence in Video games

Violence in Video Games:
How Much is Too Much?

State regulation on the selling of video games to minors has gamers up in arms on both sides of the issue. Several states have issued laws instituting heavy fines for retailers who sell violent or sexually graphic games to children of extremely young age. Such laws have been spurred into place by such events as the Columbine shooting, as well as other violent events in which video games have been accused as being an impetus for violence. Numerous studies have been made on the subject, but results, though in possession of impressive numbers, fail to find a direct link between video game violence and real life violence. However, in an effort to curb what can be curbed in the realm of violence, politicians are cracking down the ability of people to purchase video games, with heavy fines in place for those that would sell games deemed “inappropriate” to minors. Gamers—those who identify themselves by their regular playing of video games—are divided on the issue. While many see the restrictions on purchasing as a violation of Constitutional rights, or at least tantamount to such, others support the state-enforced regulations on the subject.
In Michigan, for example, a law was passed in 2005, Act No. 108 of the Public Act of 2005, a retailer who sells games that are deemed “inappropriate to minors” (i.e. sexually explicit, violently graphic) to minors can be fined up to $5,000 for a first offense, $15,000 for a second offense, and upwards of $40,000 for further offenses. What’s more, anyone in charge of a retail establishment who allows a minor to play or even view such a game can find his or herself subject to a fine of $25,000 or 93 days in jail. Andrew Dietrich, who reviewed the case in his article “Industry Fights Law on Violent Video Games” in the October 2005 issue of Crain’s Detroit Business offers a comparison of the state’s laws on selling tobacco (charged with a misdemeanor and $50 per offense) and alcohol ($500 fine and 90 days in jail) to minors. The industry is currently fighting this issue with such representatives as the Entertainment Software Association, Video Software Dealers Association, and Michigan Retailer’s Association with a suit filed against the governor responsible for the act, Governor Jennifer Granholm. The population of gamers appears greatly divided on the issue, judging from a tally of forum posts. The majority appears opposed to the act, supporting the retailer’s right to sell games to anyone. However, the minority supporting the act, roughly a fourth of the total posts to several forums concerning themselves with the issue, are more verbose on the subject, suggesting, perhaps, that if a higher level of literacy is any sort of gauge of intelligence, that the more intelligent of the community support restrictions on buying the game.
This is one example of a law that has already been passed in several states. Illinois, Washington, Indiana, and Missouri have already enacted similar laws, and California may soon follow suite. What is of great concern to many that are opposed to the laws is that the states are choosing to ignore the rating system already in place for video games. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, the ESRB, is an organization set in place to promote a sense of self-regulation in the videogame industry. One familiar with the Comic’s Code of 1954, may be aware of a similar parallel. In response to Dr. Fredric Wertham’s book The Seduction of the Innocent in 1940, the comic book industry, as a whole, instituted a Comics Code, to regulate and control what could be printed in comic books. Mollified, special interest groups and concerned citizens laid down their arms, and no government intervention was necessary. In the modern-day case of video games, state governments are paying no such heed to the current system in place. The ESRB, established in 1994, has created a rating system, and rates video games submitted for their perusal with a system similar to the Movie rating system. Games are rated “E” for Everyone, “T” for Teen, “M” for Mature, “EC” for Early Childhood, and “AO” for Adults Only. While ESRB ratings are not mandatory by any means, most of the major video game development companies utilize their system with the rating of a game clearly printed on game boxes. While retailers are not required to utilize ESRB ratings in selling games, they are encouraged to do so by the manufacturers themselves. Television commercials both display and voice the rating of a game at the ends of the commercial, in a manner similar to a side-effects disclaimer on many types of medicine. The state laws being put into place, however, plan to ignore the ESRB’s rating system and institute for them what they deem “graphically violent.” This would mean that rather than professionals that deal with games on a daily basis, the games would be judged by those who have no familiarity with the genre. A comparison brought up by many gamers has been that such a course of action would be as effectual as having the same people decide what is on display at a private art gallery.
“Why must all this be done?” one might ask. “Why is there such a commotion about video games?” Certainly there have been no cases of people beaten to death with Playstations and even fewer cases of people strangled with video game controller-cables. The question raised is content and the effects it has on developing minds. Armchair gamer psychologists babble on about hand-eye coordination increases while similarly seated people on the other side of the fence raise similar issues about the degradation of hand-eye coordination because of such games. The main issue is the question of what effect continuous viewing of violence has on developing minds. In a press release by the American Psychological Association in 2000, it was found in two studies that “playing violent video games like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D or Mortal Kombat can increase a person's aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior both in laboratory settings and in actual life.” A quote from the study by Dr. Craig A. Anderson and Dr. Karen E. Dill stated “One study reveals that young men who are habitually aggressive may be especially vulnerable to the aggression-enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent games.”
To break in tone for a bit, I would have to say that this reminds me of an analogy of which one of my professors is very fond. Professor Peyser often illustrates to his classes the disjunction between “Going to College” and “Making Money.” His argument stemmed from mistaking association with actual casual relationships. He confirmed with a show of hands from the class that many of us were attending college so that we could make more money out in the real world. He then referenced the study with which we all had passing familiarity—that of people in given age groups, those that had graduated college made the most money. He pointed out that there is no evidence linking the two—that all the study showed was that people making more money happened to share in common the fact that they went to college. What was more likely linked to their greater income, Peyser stated, was the fact that they went to college, not what they gained there. What influenced their higher pay were the factors that lead to their attendance in college: i.e. prosperous background, desire to succeed, high intelligence. Thus, those that made more money later in life did so because of their desire to learn, or their ambition, or advantaged background, and college was an indicator of such, not a cause. I have to wonder if this is applicable in the situation of video games. Could it be that those that are already predisposed toward violence play video games, and that video games are not a cause, so much as an indicator? And, similar to the college=success scenario, not all those who play video games are predisposed to violence, just as all who go to college are not predisposed to high pay.
This is exactly the point brought up by Internet pundits Jerry Holkins and Michael Krahulik. Affectionately known as “Tycho” and “Gabe” (their pen names,) Holkins and Krahulik operate a webcomic known as “Penny Arcade.” However, the popularity of their comic, has made them highly influential names in the gamer community. Holkins maintains that the generation of a person that would go on a shooting spree lies not in video games, but in the raising of the child, a claim that Krahulik affirms. Another popular columnist/comic writer, Tim Buckley, of the comic “Ctrl-Alt-Del,” claims that blaming video games is a case of shifting blame from poor child-rearing so that parents need not take responsibility for their children’s actions. Holkins and Krahulik add that it is parents that should be monitoring a child’s video game purchases, not the State, and that those same parents should be responsible for monitoring those children as they play—to at least become familiar with the sort of games that a child is playing. Scott Kurtz, writer/artist of the webcomic “PvP” takes a different standpoint, drawing upon his childhood with games, and reaching the conclusion that video games are terrible for children. His specific position on the issue is that
“Video games are obsessive. They are violent. They cause children to become violent. They are time sinks. They suck every waking moment away from your kids. When you're kids aren't playing video games they are thinking about how great it's going to be when they get to play video games again. Video games will retard your child's social growth. Video games will stunt their social skills. If you don't make them do other things, video games will turn your children into mindless, unimaginative, illiterate boobs who have no real thing to call their own save the dominance they can reign over other children who are also playing video games.”
It comes across as rather harsh, especially from someone who has, on occasion, represented the gamer community in several conflicts. His perspective is interesting, especially when compared to Holkins and Krahulik. All three are adults who have spent youths alongside arcade machines, but Krahulik and Holkins are taking a wildly different stance from Kurtz. What is more surprising, or perhaps less, surprising, given the reader’s point of view, is that both Krahulik and Holkins are both recent fathers, and plan to raise their children with video games readily available. It seems that they plan to practice exactly what they preach, allowing their children access to games as they come of age. Both describe scenarios in which they will both review the games personally, then monitor their children as they play, relying not only on the ESRB ratings of games but hands-on-reviewing of the games to make sure they are appropriate for their children.
This last example illustrates, perhaps the position to which I find myself drawn. After reading through articles, rants, and posts on the subject, I find myself irrevocably drawn to one side. (I wonder if anyone can truly remain perfectly neutral on any subject.) While I do not feel any enmity toward state governments for enforcing their laws, I do not feel it is their responsibility. I find myself more and more persuaded that is really is the job of parents to monitor and regulate that in which their child engages. That, however, may be an influence from other communities of which I am a part. As the eldest of four children, I find myself often assuming a pseudo-parental perspective, protective of the younger ones. Because of this, I suppose, I am somewhat biased on the topic. I feel that children should be protected, and that that responsibility lies with parents.

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