Friday, January 27, 2006

Deconstructing Local Media

(Update and bump - see below)

Once again the Daily Northwestern has provided me with a few columnists to rant about.

Consider Lindsay Shadrick:

We are not here to learn what to think. We are here to learn how to think. Presumably, as college students (and, I would argue, the general public) can form coherent ideologies that are not so easily silenced in this bastion of liberal indoctrination.

Beliefs should be challenged. We should be required to think, process, debate, and defend our politics. The spectres of “radical” academics have been nagging the increasingly Salem-esque right for years now. Yet liberal professors don’t seem to be rounding up a slew of Marxist youth theorists threatening to overthrow the Bush regime (a few, sure, but not an army).
This in response to reports of a group paying students at UCLA to provide proof (such as recordings of lectures) of professors showing political bias in the classroom.

First off Lindsay, they're not trying to "silence" anybody. Do these professors have anything to hide? Do they have something they don't want the public to know? Or does the old saying about sunlight being the best cleanser give them reason to fear?

Second off, this isn't just about them "challenging beliefs" or "the status quo" in their classrooms. This is about professors use their classrooms not to teach, which is what they're paid to do, and instead to preach about their pet political theories. And it's especially about teachers who don't try to teach how to think but what to think, grading based on ideology and not on merit. Or did you not read any of the stories that this group of ACLU alumni actually put on their website?

Next, consider Henry Bowles:

Protesting military recruiters on campus, so long as they ban open gays from joining, is admirable. But there’s a more permanent reason to keep the military away from our brightest students. Young males are easily manipulated during the period of their lives when they exist outside the female domain, after the mother and before the wife. They are above all eager to demonstrate masculinity. With its promises of order, fraternity and cohesion, the military taps into this angst. A real tragedy occurs when a young man, susceptible to the military’s appeal and nonetheless intelligent and creative, signs up to become cannon fodder. He’ll probably leave the military alive, but he’ll have been irreversibly molded, less inclined to dissent. Less intelligent people are better equipped for most military positions, and have far less to lose
. . . Wow. Where do I start? First, his description of "military appeal" sounds a lot like fraternities. Should we ban those too? Second, nobody signs up to "become cannon fodder." Auto accidents kill more people each year than the Iraq war has yet. In fact, auto accidents kill more people each year than the Vietnam War killed. So . . . let's keep perspective, shall we?

Third . . . less intelligent people? Do you really want the "less intelligent" people to be running naval ships? You know, the ones powered by nuclear reactors? Seriously, that is one of the most arrogant, elitist statements I have ever heard in my life. But why listen to me? I'm just glad that there were other people at NU who cared enough to eviscerate him in the "Letters to the Editors" section.

And as long as I'm talking about the Daily Northwestern, I should just mention this: They let the "f-word" crop up way too often in their paper. Striving to be a reputable jouralistic institution, eh? I know I see them dropping F-bombs in the NYT or on CNN.com all the time.

Heh. These people aren't Annie Spiro, but I might have just as much fun taking them on as I did the Daily Vidette.

Edit
Lazy blogging correction - okay, I may have gotten a little over-excited last night. While I've seen the number of auto-related fatalities quoted at ~60k per year (US), I don't know that that's an official or correct number. So, take that whole thing with a grain of salt. I guess I tend to simply remember numbers that I've seen or read, and then when it comes time to quote them off, I can't guarantee that they're not suspect.

I'd still like to think that my original point remains, though; total Iraq war fatalities certainly don't leave the impression of our soldiers as "cannon fodder." Since 2003, only about 2000 soldiers have died in Iraq. That's less than 1000 each year. From what I've read (and I'm trying to find this number), the military experiences about 1300 accidental deaths each year, in the form of aircraft crashes, weapon misfirings, and so forth. Smoking kills 440k people each year in the US (www.thetruth.com).

So, when people want to use phrases like "cannon fodder" . . . I'd say we need a wee bit of perspective.

Edit part 2
Some statistics are easy to find through Google. According to this study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are about 45k deaths from auto accidents in the US each year. This number has remained more or less steady between 1994 and 2003.

Also, according to these two sources, the rate of accidental military casualties between 1983 and 1996 was about 1300 per year.

Slowly wrapping up my sloppy blogging . . .

Comix Time!



How long do I have to sing this man's praises before people realize his talent?

Also, he's right; Dick Durbin is a worthless Senator.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Terrorism-Sponsored State

Naw, the headline isn't a typo. If you haven't heard, the big news of the day is that not only did Hamas do better than expected in Palestinian elections, it won a majority of the seats. That means that Hamas, the infamous terrorist organization will now be in charge of the government.

I've been hearing a lot of debate over what this really means. Some are saying that the election of Hamas is in response to the corruption of Arafat's Fatah party. Not that I ever heard these critics complaining of Fatah's corruption before, but one must wonder if it's a good trade: corrupt terrorists for more extreme terrorists.

Some are interpretting this as the Palestinian people embracing the cry for the destruction of Israel. Of course, others are saying that it wasn't really a "democratic" election. The choice was Fatah or Hamas . . . how long do you think a politician running on a platform of peace with Israel would have survived in that chaotic place?

I suppose we should hold off on reaching conclusions about the Palestinian people from this. Benefit of the doubt, and all. After all, some people are saying that this outcome is really good.

Okay, now that you're done with the spit-take, here's the reason: With Hamas now at the head of the government, they can't play the game they have been; it's time for their true colors to shine.
What victory does to Hamas is to put the movement into an impossible position. As preliminary reports emerge, Hamas has already asked Fatah to form a coalition and got a negative response. Prime Minister Abu Ala has resigned with his cabinet, and president Abu Mazen will now appoint Hamas to form the next government. From the shadows of ambiguity, where Hamas could afford — thanks to the moral and intellectual hypocrisy of those in the Western world who dismissed its incendiary rhetoric as tactics — to have the cake and eat it too. Now, no more. Had they won 30-35 percent of the seats, they could have stayed out of power but put enormous limits on the Palestinian Authority’s room to maneuver. By winning, they have to govern, which means they have to tell the world, very soon, a number of things.

. . .

There will be no excuses or ambiguities when Hamas fires rockets on Israel and launches suicide attacks against civilian targets. Until Tuesday, the PA could hide behind the excuse that they were not directly responsible and they could not rein in the "militants." Now the "militants" are the militia of the ruling party. They are one and the same with the Palestinian Authority. If they bomb Israel from Gaza — not under occupation anymore, and is therefore, technically, part of the Palestinian state the PLO proclaimed in Algiers in 1988, but never bothered to take responsibility for — that is an act of war, which can be responded to in kind, under the full cover of the internationally recognized right of self-defense. No more excuses that the Palestinians live under occupation, that the PA is too weak to disarm Hamas, that violence is not the policy of the PA. Hamas and the PA will be the same: What Hamas does is what the PA will stand for.

A very good point. However, I don't think that this is going to be an "if they bomb Israel" situation but "when they bomb Israel." Consider their own public statements leading up to the war:
The Hamas election platform includes a declaration of intent to "eliminate the occupation," but does not mention the eradication of Israel. Upon the publication of the platform, there were various reactions to the omission of this objective, which is often mentioned by Hamas and appears in its charter. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri vehemently denied that there was any contradiction between the platform and Hamas's charter: "The platform refers to details and implementation methods for the next four years, while the charter lays out our permanent strategic views."

Salah Al-Bardawil, another candidate on the Hamas list, stated that "Hamas has never proposed to change or amend its charter. The platform presents a realistic view that reflects Hamas's goals for the next four years. Had we spoken of eliminating and eradicating Israel within this period, we would have been be deceiving our people and repeating false slogans. But this does not stand in contradiction [to the fact that] we place emphasis on the elimination and non-recognition of Israel."

Hmm . . . with words like that, I wonder how the next few years will go. Hamas wants to bomb Israel, but will it hold off on doing so due to pragmatic reasons? I'm incredibly doubtful, but only time will tell.

What I do know is that whether or not we ought to blame the outcomes on the Palestinian people, the new Hamas government has a huge responsibility in their hands. If they outright attack Israel, the response from Israel will be brutal and efficient, and rightfully so. Hamas will thus succeed in making their people's already poor lot in life a whole lot worse.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mission Statement

It has occurred to me that I've acquired several new regular readers in the last few months. I know some of you don't know me all that well (although I'm sure you know enough after reading this blog), so I thought I'd take a moment to talk about what this blog is about and why it exists.

I began Halbert's Cubicle on a whim, having gotten into reading blogs and finding them incredibly informative and entertaining. My thoughts were various; Even I could comment on news and politics, right? Original reporting from the blogosphere is welcomed, and I was in a position to talk about things happening at my college campus or in the St. Louis area. Perhaps by being open and honest about the Gospel, maybe I could help change someone's heart about Christ.

Mainly, though, I started this blog because I'm a man with opinions, and at least this way I can share them. You see, I find that it's nearly impossible to actually discuss some of my favorite topics with people you aren't truly intimate with. Religion, philosphy, politics . . . people can't seem to discuss these politely anymore! Some people start yelling, others refuse to approach it, others just form long-lasting resentment and attitude by simple merit of having a different point of view. I write because I want to express my opinions and feelings, share nuggets of truth when I find them, and at least this way you're only getting it because you chose to come here.

So what is this blog about? Whatever the heck I want it to be about. I analyze news, I discuss cultural trends, I look at local happenings or report on something you might not hear about in the news, I philosophize, I share funny material, I write about God and man, sometimes I indulge in writing about myself . . . take your pick.

Welcome to Halbert's Cubicle.

New McCoy

A Self-Indulgent Post

It's my blog, right? I'm gonna take a post here to write about some personal happenings, so hopefully you'll indulge me. If you find it utterly boring, just hit that "Next Blog" button and I'm sure you'll find something with boobs, or maybe an advertisement on enlarging your penis. Y'know, whatever.

Life is characterized by change. Life is change. If things didn't change, life couldn't take place. It's a natural part of our existence, and it's one of the most wonderful and yet horrid things at the exact same time.

Today was filled with bad news. I'll talk about each item separately.

My mother told me today that they will probably euthanize our oldest dog sometime this week. I asked if they could wait until this weekend to do it, so that I can go home and say good-bye, but my mother doesn't know if she'll make it until then. Casey, our 12-year old labrador, has stopped eating and can't control her bladder anymore. My parents have had to keep her outside because she just can't control it. She's cold out in the garage, especially because she ends up sleeping on a wet bed.

I knew it would happen sometime this year. Bigger dogs tend not to live much past age 10. Still, I'm not entirely happy about it. I helped raise her from a puppy; I don't want to have to say good-bye. I wish, too, that there were some way to help her, but I don't want her to suffer. Does it make me a hypocrite that I find physician-assisted suicide immoral but I'm okay with euthanizing my dog? Or perhaps I should ask why philosophy and ethics are the first things I think of when life brings such changes.

Announcement number two today was that my father and his siblings have convinced my grandparents to move out of their house and into an assisted living center. My grandfather has Alzheimer's disease, and has recently started using a walker because he has back pain. Every day he gets a little worse. I'm not sure what's worse, seeing the confusion and anger in his face when he can't remember things correctly, or seeing the pain in my grandmother's face because she has to deal with it every day. Since I don't see him very often, it's been easy to pretend that the problem doesn't really exist. With the announcement of their move . . . to me, it signals the end. I keep hearing my parents say that they just don't know how much longer he'll be around. This really does seem like putting the foot in the grave.

I know that they have better things in store for them on the other side of the veil, but I'll be selfish anyhow and wish that they didn't have to go, and that things didn't have to change.

The final event involved my girlfriend. Since practically the time I received my acceptance letter to Northwestern, we'd planned that she would move up here after finishing her Associates degree so that we could be together. Not getting married, and certainly not living together, but she has to finish her degree and, well, I'm not really enamored with the dynamics of long-distance relationships. She's set to graduate this summer, but now she's saying that she might be staying put another year.

I'm trying not to be selfish. She needs to do what she has to in order to finish her schooling and follow her goals. I don't want her to be so far away from me, but I'll endure it if I have to right? That's what I'm supposed to say, anyhow. I hate having to be an adult. Sometimes I'd rather just scream like a child until everything went exactly as I wanted it.

I'm just afraid she resents me, sometimes. My being at Northwestern locks me into place here for quite a while. Sometimes I wonder if she feels held back, like I've stolen her ability to choose her own path because I've limited it to this place. I know she'd say that was silly, that she chooses me because she loves me and that she would do anything to be with me. Still, being one of such low self-esteem, I ask myself those questions anyway.

I don't know what's going to happen. With her, or with any of this, and that's both exciting and frightening at the same time.

Anyhow . . . thanks for indulging me. Blogging will resume normal form. Whatever that means.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Science Gone Awry

Ordinarily, Science is a world-class, renowned journal of research. To have your work published in it is to have reached the big-time, so to speak.

However, last week, the editor of Science wrote in his column that Hurricanes such as Katrina shouldn't be called "natural" disasters because the damage they cause is the result of global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions.

He writes:
Contemporary science is making it difficult to sustain such distinctions, and perhaps it can do something to clarify matters. As Katrina and two other hurricanes crossed the warm Gulf of Mexico, we watched them gain dramatically in strength. Papers by Kerry Emanuel in Nature and by Peter Webster in this journal during the past year have shown that the average intensity of hurricanes has increased during the past 30 years as the oceans have gained heat from global warming. Emanuel's Web site at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (http://wind.mit.edu/~emanuel/holem/holem.html) explains the thermodynamic aspects of the relationship. The winds around the low-pressure center (the eye of the hurricane) travel across the warm surface water in a circular pattern, picking up energy. As water molecules evaporate from the surface, they contribute their energy to the storm column as they condense to form droplets, becoming sensible heat. About a third of that energy powers the hurricane's wind engine.

We know with confidence what has made the Gulf and other oceans warmer than they had been before: the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human industrial activity, to which the United States has been a major contributor. That's a worldwide event, affecting all oceans. When Katrina hit the shore at an upgraded intensity, it encountered a wetland whose abuse had reduced its capacity to buffer the storm, and some defective levees gave way. Not only is the New Orleans damage not an act of God; it shouldn't even be called a "natural" disaster. These terms are excuses we use to let ourselves off the hook.

It turns out those articles Kennedy cites as proof of his thesis actually make the exact opposite point. The author of this article quotes from the sources Kennedy uses and shows just how they don't make Kennedy's points. In fact, from the website of one of the authors:
Q: Is global warming causing more hurricanes?
A: No. The global, annual frequency of tropical cyclones (the generic, meteorological term for the storm that is called a tropical storm or hurricane in the Atlantic region) is about 90, plus or minus 10. There is no indication whatsoever of a long-term
trend in this number.

I know that Global Warming is a closed subject for many people. This isn't about Global Warming. This is about the connection between Global Warming and an increase in hurricane frequency and intensity. People who are in a position to know about the link between those two topics say, quite specifically, that there is just no way to justifiably link the two at this point. For the editor of Science to do so in the pages of the journal for reasons that seem to be more about politics than science . . . it is beyond the pale. He sullies the reputation of a good research journal, and he ought to be ashamed.

It's Still Valentines Day to Me

With "V-Day" quickly approaching, we can also look forward to the approach of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues being performed in cities around the country. It is especially popular on college campuses, I've noticed.

So, with V-Day growing closer, I thought I'd take this opportunity to point you towards this lecture by Christina Hoff Summers about the Vagina Monologues. The main thing to get out of this:
I have so many objections to the play it is hard to know where to start. I’ll limit myself to three. 1) It is atrociously written. 2) It is viciously anti-male; and 3) and, most importantly, it claims to empower women, when in fact it makes us seem desperate and pathetic.

I'm no mysogynist, and haven't ever seen the Monologues, but if that's what I have to look forward to, then I think I'll pass. Especially because of a scene that irritates every last one of my sensibilities and yet doesn't seem to get much play in the press:
Unless you count Ensler’s creepy segment about Bob, the only romantic scene in the play takes place between a 24-year-old woman and a young girl (who in the original version was 13-years-old, but in more recent versions has become 16.) The woman invites the young girl into her car, takes her to her house, plies her with vodka, and seduces her. What might seem to be a scene from a public service kidnapping prevention video shown to schoolchildren becomes, in Ensler’s play, a love story.

. . . Yeahhhhhh. There are so many things wrong with that I can't even count them.

So, once again, I think I must point out that I'm no mysogynist. I mean, seriously ladies, I've no objections to your "empowerment," whatever that means, and if you want to be proud of your genitals, then more power to you. But there are countless better ways for you to celebrate womanhood than this.

Local Update
So, apparently the local GLBT group and College Feminists get together at NU to put on this show. Among the highlights leading up to it?
Every year during winter quarter, the College Feminists sponsor a production of the Vagina Monologues, which is directed, produced and performed by students. Before each performance a Vagina Carnival takes place and Rainbow Alliance typically organizes a booth with safe (queer) sex paraphernalia and other information addressing the intersection of gender and sexuality.

Hm. If I held a "Penis Carnival" . . . I wonder how that would go over?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Profiling Heroes

There are heroes everywhere, and one of the sadder aspects of life is that we'll never really know about some of the greatest among them. Sure, the media will tell us who they think the heroes are every so often, and sometimes that person really will be a hero, but by and large we don't know who they are.

I'd like to take this post to highlight some people who are truly heroes.

Juan Carlos González

This is a letter sent by Sr. González from Cuba:
I am Juan Carlos González Leiva, president of the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights. Since January 12th, I have been the victim of psychological torture whose objective is to pressure me by force to go into exile from Cuba since my sentence of house arrest ends March 4, 2006.

My house has been under military harassment, and I am the victim of acts of repudiation, lead and controlled by military officials of the State Security from Ciego de Avila province where I live and by the Cuban government. They prevent me from leaving my house, and I am without food, drinking water, and electricity. We are suffocating from the heat. On occasion, they randomly restore my telephone, but most of the time, I remain unable to make contact with the outside world. Tania Maseda Guerra, activist in the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights, and Luis Esteban Espinosa, an independent journalist, are with me in my home.

Be sure to read the whole thing. You don't hear much about the leaders who fight for human rights in Cuba. You don't hear much about the state of human rights in Cuba, for that matter. But the people who put their lives on the line over such matters, they are true heroes.

Lt. Brian Chontosh

You don't hear too many tales of heroism of our soldiers in Iraq. Everyday, our men and women in uniform perform acts of great bravery, but it just doesn't get much play in the news. This is the story of Lt. Chontosh's incredible performance on the battlefield and how it earned him a Navy Cross:
Lieutenant Brian Chontosh, US Marine Corps, from Churchville, New York, near Rochester, Marine platoon leader, taking his men down Iraq's Highway #1, when all hell breaks loose and he and his troops come under intense enemy fire. The lieutenant ordered his platoon to attack, and by the time this Marine officer was finished with his work, he had cleared 200 yards of entrenched Iraqis from his platoon's flank, killed more than 20 and wounded at least as many more. The Navy Cross stands second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Read the entire story to get the incredible details of his battle.

So, I apologize for not writing much original content to this post, but I felt compelled to share the stories of these men. When I come across the stories of people with similar courage and heroism, I shall share those with you as well.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

"Appropriate" Racism

So by now, I'm sure you've heard about Hillary Clinton's ludicrous statement that the House of Representatives is "run like a plantation." Since Monday, I've read about (or heard on NPR) so many people defending her statements, I just can't stand it. Perhaps they doth protest too loudly? Or is it simply that people, including "goldenboy" IL senator Barack Obama can't bring themselves to criticize the political juggernaut that is Hillary?

Either way, the entire thing is deserving of nothing but the strongest ridicule. With that I mind, I proudly present to you the 10 Ways the House is run like a plantation (proudly culled from Ace of Spades):

Top Ten Ways The House Of Representatives Is Like "A Plantation"
10. Just like on a plantation, it's still all about the cotton, sugar & tobacco

9. The most junior slaves on a plantation were invariably assigned the least desirable offices, often in the basement of the Russel Building

8. Congressmen are paid over $170,000 per year, just a fraction more than what slaves were paid; plus, slaves had to pay for their own stamps, if you can imagine such barbarism

7. Slaves were often subject to the indignity of being jetted off to Boca Raton golf courses to be lobbied on okra subsidies

6. Two words: "Majority Whip." Do I have to spell it out for you?

5. Slave-masters were notoriously cruel and arbitrary about allowing their slaves to "extend and revise" their remarks for the Congressional Record

4. Whether it's the "manacles" of having one's amendments voted down or actual, literal manacles holding your body as you bake in the punishing noontime sun, hey, it's all still basically just "chains of oppression," right?

3. Slaves were often looked down upon as the lowest rung of society, hardly fit to acknowledge even as human beings; Congressmen... well, more or less the same

2. Just like slaves did after a backbreaking day's toil in the fields, Congressmen end their days by heading over to Ted Kennedy's Georgetown bachelor pad for hookers & foosball

... and the Number One Way In Which The House of Representatives Is
Like a Plantation...

1. Like slaves, Congressmen are openly bought and traded
Update
Check out this great parody of Sen. Obama defending Hillary.

Strange visitors

Dang. I was just looking at my SiteMeter and realized I had a visitor from Iran.

Well anonymous visitor, if you or anyone else from Iran should happen to read these words, take my advice: Leave your country as quickly as possible.

Trust me. As soon as your government gets nuclear weapons (and I'm fairly certain they will), the US and/or Israel will come bomb the crap out of your country. It's not going to be pretty.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Wh-Wh-What?!

Last night I was listening to a program on Chicago Public Radio, and the host (I can't recall who it was) was interviewing a woman (I can't recall who) about Judge Alito. One of the things she did was make comparisons between him and other conservative justices, such as Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

Here's the kicker: At one point she says, "Thomas has repeatedly written about how he wants to roll back decades of voting rights laws." Something to that effect.

Wow. That's quite a statement. It boggles my mind that she was allowed to get away with such a thing. What makes it even worse is that there are people out there who will just take her word for it.

Anyone want to demonstrate to me how Clarence Thomas has indicated such? I'd love to see it.

Half-Life 2 Review

Sorry for the radio silence, everyone. I have a lot of blogging that I need to catch up on, but when I haven't been busy, I've been distracted by Half-Life 2, which I finished a few days ago. Yeah, I'm way behind the times, but I figured I'd throw my voice out there (for anyone who's even interested anymore).

General

Half-Life 2 picks up where the original Half-Life left off, as much as that can be true, at least. The original ended with the "Deus Ex Machina" G-Man offering you a "job" and then spiriting you away from the Black Mesa compound.

At the start of the sequel, G-man rouses you from some kind of slumber, and deposits you in a train just arriving in City 17, a European city under the control of a military/research organization known as the Combine. Their rule is brutal and complete. After arriving, you don't have much time before you have to flee from the Combine (which you'll spend about half of the game doing). The other half of the game, you're bringing the fight to them.

Graphics
This is one of the things that everyone was excited about with the release of Half-Life 2. This game is gorgeous. The character models move realistically, the facial expressions are practically human, and the textures (especially in human features) are just fantastic. Some textures in the environment are a little pixelated up close, but I don't think there's much that can be done about that anyhow. Lighting is also superb, with certain environments showing effects that are so realistic you'd swear you were watching a video. I particularly like the Byzantine church in the Lost Coast demo.

Gameplay
The physics system plays a huge part of this aspect, and it is pretty good. It's not just the way bodies move or the way stuff falls . . . it's the way everything interacts. One example (and I'm not the first to use it) is a puzzle where you must get your car to the other side of a river, and the bridge is up. You can do one of two things: Either use a magnetic crane to pick up your car, deposit it on the other side, and then make your way over yourself; or you can use the crane to knock the bridge back down and cross as usual. The many options and complete interactivity of the environment makes the physics engine truly remarkable. There are some down sides to the physics, though; you can pick stuff up, but there doesn't seem to be a differentiation in weight. An empty bottle seems to weigh as much as a paint can, which seem to weigh as much as a fallen rifle. There should be at least some discrepancy in the weights of the objects, but there seems to be just "light" and "heavy."

Let me also take this moment to say that the "Gravity Gun" that is in the game . . . well, the fun in using it is highly underrated. Seriously. I had too much fun just grabbing stuff and chucking it when I first got it, but nothing is more satisfying than slicing a headcrab zombie in two with a propelled saw blade, or holding up a steel crate as cover when soldiers are shooting at you, or even just grabbing an explosive barrel and just chucking it at a group of enemies. Killer fun.

The rest of the gameplay is about the same as before. Gordon can't really jump as well as he could in the first game, and with the removal of the "Long Jump" adapter, he doesn't feel very agile. Still, it's probably more realistic. Most of the weapons are the same as in the first as well, though the energy weapons are gone. The only new addition is a slightly beefier version of the assault rifle. And, instead of the hornet gun, you get a pheremone pod which lets you control antlions (you'll know 'em when you see 'em), which is ridiculously fun.

Sound
I can't complain. The voice acting is good (although I wish Gordon would freaking talk), the sound effects are realistic and work well, and the music (which is much more frequent than in the original HL) sets the mood nicely.

Impressions (Warning: Endgame Spoilers!)
The game doesn't feel much like the first game. Instead of escaping a crumbling scientific desert compound, you're running around a decaying city, among other locations. This isn't bad; it just doesn't lend to feeling like it has to be Half-Life. With renamed characters, this could have been any game, not just Half-Life 2.

If you played the first, you might think, "But doesn't the story affect that?" Well, unfortunately, no. One of the most frustrating aspects of HL2 is that you spend most of the game completely in the dark, receiving almost no information on how or why things changed since the end of HL. You spend the entire game fighting an enemy you know almost nothing about; all you know is that they are trying to kill you, while their enemies are nice to you. That's about it.

The end of the game is even more frustrating. The gravity gun gets an upgrade, which is tremendously exciting, but the game just doesn't tell you anything. You fight your way through what looks like a Borg cube, kill the guy who's in charge, and then just when it looks like you're going to be incinerated after accomplishing your goal, the "Deus Ex Machina" G-Man swings in and once again spirits you away with almost zero explanation. I've never had a game frustrate me so much and yet leave so much desperation for the next installment.

Bottom-line
Half-Life 2 is a fantastic game. The only reason not to play it is if your computer won't run it. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Wouldn't it be nice?

Probably fake, or perhaps just a rumor. Still, in case it shows up on CNN . . . (h/t: Ace)

Kim Jong II disappears in China amid financial woes

Beijing - North Korean leader Kim Jong II has disappeared in China. His luxurious special train which reportedly crossed the border into China Tuesday morning at Dandong was nowhere to be found Wednesday.

'We really would like to know where he is, but we simply don\'t have a clue,' said a South Korean military attache, who added he felt he was left in the lurch by his own intelligence services.

Although the train was seen travelling in the direction of Beijing by officials at two railway stations, Kim did not show up in the Chinese capital, sparking a torrent of speculation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Few Comics

Lazy blogging, because I don't feel like doing real writing just yet.

Oh, if only this were true . . .
And . . . one more for good measure.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Onward, Science!

More kickbutt research taking place where I work:
Scientists Identify Molecular Structure of Key Viral Protein

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Scientists at Northwestern University have determined the molecular structure of a viral protein, the parainfluenza virus 5 fusion (F) protein. The parainfluenza virus 5 is part of a family of viruses (paramyxoviruses) that causes everything from pneumonia, croup and bronchiolitis to cold-like illness and is responsible for many hospitalizations and deaths each year. The results are published in the Jan. 5 issue of the journal Nature.

Details of the protein’s structure in its metastable state -- the state of the protein on the virus surface responsible for infecting cells -- has significant implications for developing improved protein-based vaccines, designing novel anti-viral agents and understanding the entry mechanisms of other viruses. Knowing the structure of the F protein will aid understanding of all members of the paramyxovirus family, which are among the most significant human and animal pathogens, causing both respiratory and systemic disease.

“The development of antiviral drugs is helped by knowledge of the structure, shape and mechanism of the target molecules, which is what we can now provide for the F protein,” said Theodore S. Jardetzky, professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology, who co-led the study. “Knowing how the virus gets into the cell will allow us to better inhibit this key part of the viral life cycle.”

Tens of thousands of different proteins are at work in the human body, each folded into a very specific shape to do its job properly. Most proteins have just one shape for their lifetimes, but a handful -- in particular, proteins associated with enveloped viruses such as HIV, influenza virus and the paramyxoviruses -- have two dramatically different shapes, one before the virus attacks and enters a cell and one after. The parainfluenza virus 5 fusion protein is one of these. It is the change of the
fusion protein from the initial metastable state to the post-virus entry state
that drives the fusion of viral and cellular membranes, permitting entry of the
viral genome into the cell.

“What we’ve learned about the structure of the parainfluenza virus 5 fusion protein will be directly applicable to the whole family of paramyxoviruses,” said virologist Robert A. Lamb, John Evans Professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Cell Biology and co-leader of the study. “The family includes viruses that cause measles, mumps, bronchitis, pneumonia, canine distemper, croup and Newcastle disease, which kills chickens. Measles still causes huge numbers of deaths worldwide. And while HIV, influenza and SARS are not in the same family, the viruses do share a mechanism similar to that used by paramyxoviruses for entering the host cell.”
The parainfluenza virus 5 is also closely related to two recently discovered and deadly viruses called Hendra and Nipah viruses, which are classified as select agents of concern for biodefense.

The pre-fusion structure of the F protein combined with the structure of the protein in its post-fusion state, which was determined and reported earlier in 2005 by this same research team, gives scientists a complete picture of how the paramyxovirus F protein works to infect the cell.

The F protein belongs to a group of fusion proteins (class I) that exist in two states: the metastable or pre-fusion state and the post-fusion state. This is only the second time that both the pre- and post-fusion structures have been determined for a class I viral fusion protein. The first was for the influenza virus, completed in 1994. While a lot of research is currently being conducted on the HIV fusion protein, its two structures -- and an understanding of how the protein works -- remain incomplete.

“The protein we studied,” explained Lamb, an Investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “is sequestered on the virus and is responsible for bringing about a membrane merger or fusion of the viral and cellular membranes. The protein opens the inside of the virus to the inside of the cell, delivering the viruses genetic information into the cytoplasm of the cell to infect it.”

In the process the protein moves from its first folded state, the metastable state (pre-fusion), to its second, final and very stable state (post-fusion), undergoing a dramatic change of shape. “The protein in its metastable state has a very specific job to do -- to enable infection of the cell -- and it does this by essentially acting as a harpoon that shoots into the cell’s membrane to bring about the fusion,” said
Jardetzky.

“The metastable protein is a one-time-use machine,” said Lamb. “It does its work and then it’s finished, spent. And you want the protein to be triggered at the right time and in the right place for fusion: when the virus binds to the cell’s surface.”

The research team determined the pre-fusion structure by imaging crystals of the protein, using the extremely brilliant X-rays produced by the Advanced Photon Source (APS) synchrotron at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute beamlines at the Advanced Light Source in Berkeley, Calif.

First the researchers had to make the protein, which included pulling a scientific trick on the protein to get it to fold properly and keep it in its metastable state. Because the molecules of the protein are so small they could not be imaged directly. Instead, the researchers used many of these molecules to create a crystal that could be imaged.

Using the method of X-ray diffraction, they bombarded the crystal with X-rays, which bounced off the atoms within the crystal. By collecting and analyzing this information, Jardetzky, Lamb and their colleagues determined the location of each atom within the structure.

Jardetzky credits the very high intensity X-rays for enabling the researchers to image the structure at 2.85 angstroms. (An angstrom is one ten-billionth of a meter, or about one-hundred-millionth of an inch.) This resolution was critical for an accurate picture of how the 10,805 atoms in the structure are assembled.

In addition to Jardetzky and Lamb, other authors on the paper are postdoctoral fellow Hsien-Sheng Yin (first author) of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Northwestern, and research associate Xiaolin Wen and research assistant professor Reay G. Paterson, from Northwestern.

The research was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious
Diseases, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the Howard
Hughes Medical Institute.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Back in the Game

Hey folks, sorry for the massive delay in posting. Christmas, of course, was a time sink for the blog. After Christmas, my girlfriend came back to Evanston to visit with me for the last week, so I've had other priorities than blogging.

However, now that I'm alone again, the blogging shall resume. So . . . look sharp!