Breaking Bad

So Breaking Bad ended last night. It was a very satisfying, all-loose-ends-tied-up experience.

I have to wonder, though. Of the best adult episodic TV of the last ten years, the high water marks – let’s say The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Deadwood, and Breaking Bad – are all about largely despicable characters that are heavily compromised morally and ethically. We’re not watching these shows out of escapism, to reinforce values, or for laughs, though there is humor. It’s entertainment more on the level of watching a train wreck in the form of human beings. This is not a complaint – more of a celebration, really – given what TV had to offer in the ’90s or ’80s. Sitcoms still churn on, but now we have these more layered, ambiguous entities available over on HBO and AMC.

Rome Total War 2

The Total War series of games is a series of flawed gems. Some, like the original Rome Total War and its expansion Barbarian Invasion, are classics, whereas the most recent entry is a bomb. Despite the passage of eight years and vast increases in computer horsepower, the sequel is a bummer all around.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way. The game largely looks great. It’s this visual gloss that made me buy it. The units and the terrain are all well rendered. I like the ships in particular. I was prepared for an epic experience.

So that was it for the good stuff.

Combat is a quick, disappointing mess. Every battle turns into a giant mosh pit that lasts about five minutes. As such, units that are not heavy infantry are useless, and tactical moves are pointless; just smash through with all you have, and you win. Sieges are a special joke as both the pathfinding and AI for both sides is broken, making it impossible to exit gatehouses, use battering rams, and in general navigate near city walls.

The main strategic map is also a rambling mess. Only generals can lead armies now, making it very laborious to garrison cities beyond the minimum, which is necessary when cleaning up after conquest, and you only get a handful of them.  The building system has been simplified and abstracted into something I don’t care for anymore. Enemy strategic AI is bafflingly incompetent, either running away from battles it could win, or recruiting armies made up near totally of useless slingers. The scale of cities to their respective countries is ridiculously off; Athens, Rome, and Carthage are all the size of New York or larger.

Also, perhaps most frustrating, waiting for your turn during the main game is agonizingly slow. My machine and graphics card is not a slouch, and the original Rome TW was miles faster.

Can a series of patches fix these things? I am/was playing 1.0.0. I sure hope so.

Followup

A quick followup to an earlier post. I was unaware of a number of existing and past lawsuits and situations.

A bakery shop in Oregon recently moved its storefront to a home bakery after backlash from refusing service to a gay marriage.  The opposite also seems to apply; you can see your business double if you refuse in Colorado. A few more examples of the phenomenon are here and here (a photographer), with mixed results.

Both Oregon and Colorado and New Mexico (the states involved in these cases) have anti-discrimination laws for businesses that cover sexual orientation. If you’re going to operate a business, you have to abide by the law. Let’s say, for example, that your religion prohibited serving black people; the law wisely doesn’t care. Why, then, should businesses get a religious exemption for serving gay marriages?

Now let’s flip it. Is it fair to discriminate against a bakery that refuses service to gay marriage? I’m equivocating “discrimination” here – let’s say “avoid doing business with.” Well, sure. It’s certainly not right to threaten them – that’s against the law as well as unethical – but advising others to not do business with them is perfectly fine.

Does a business have the right to discriminate as it chooses? “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” is a sign I see often in restaurants. It’s an empty threat, of course, against an anti-discrimination lawsuit.

This case of a florist in Washington state – where same-sex marriage is legal – is fascinating, directly pitting the First Amendment (which apparently protects flower arranging) against the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Whose civil rights will triumph?

Phaedrus

Introduced the Phaedrus to my undergraduates this week. They had more difficulty with it, I think, than the Gorgias. Next week, the graduates get a stab at it.

Most of my interpretation of the Phaedrus stems from two works: Richard Weaver’s famous essay on the three speeches and my mentor’s essay on whether or rhetoric is fully denounced in the dialogue. As such, I think the three speeches represent different kinds of ethical rhetorics (as Weaver does) – a piddling neutrality (Lysias), a base rhetoric (Socrates’s first speech) and a philosophical rhetoric (the Great Speech) – but I also think the dialogue needs to be read in light of Isocrates’s work, which it may respond to, and the comparatively restrictive definition of rhetoric and rhetors in classical Athens. Plato wasn’t a rhetor; we can call him one if we so wish retroactively, but only with knowledge of the equivocation.

I’ve been thinking that I may not assign the Phaedrus in the future for either class as unlike the Gorgias, it can be summed up relatively quickly, and there is so much else to cover in the meantime. The main thing to take away from it is that Plato finally gets around to showing, via the Great Speech, the persuasive technique behind his philosophy; we get to see what a “philosophical rhetoric” linked to transcendent truth would look like as opposed, directly, to the “baser” speeches in the dialogue. The existence of such a creature is hinted rather broadly at in the Gorgias, but not delivered.

Fall rhetoric

I’m teaching four classes this fall – two sections of Business and Technical Report Writing, one section of History of Rhetoric, and a graduate course in Rhetorical Theory & Criticism. All of these I’ve taught before, but not in this particular configuration. In particular, I have not taught undergraduate rhetoric and graduate rhetoric at the same time. As such, it seems worth my time to take extra time to reread some canonical texts this semester and search out some new secondary readings.

For example, take the Gorgias, a foundational text for rhetoric if there ever was one. Both classes read it, but for different reasons. The undergraduates read it to complete a section of the historical puzzle of classical rhetoric and to put in an oar on the rhetoric vs. philosophy question. The graduates read it for the same reasons, but they are somewhat better prepared to read both with and against the text; I’m also slowly introducing them to rhetorical criticism, so the text also has to be read in that light.

My elevator pitch understanding of the Gorgias is that Plato first teases out what rhetoric is through debate with Gorgias (it’s mere flattery or a knack rather than an art), why it is bad with Polus (rhetoric aims for the pleasant rather than the good), and lastly with Callicles, why it is bad for the soul (bad acts, namely inflicting pain, i.e. rhetoric, scar the soul, which the dead will be judged by). The aforementioned interlocutors attempt several defenses, all of which fall before Socrates’s questioning, but none of them – particularly Callicles – seem convinced of Socrates’s arguments. They give up rather than keep trying, much like Socrates’s real-life dialectical adversaries probably did.

Reading the secondary lately has brought up three points I should mention. One is Bruno Latour’s observation that Callicles and Socrates both fear the demos;  it is only their solutions to the problem of the polloi that differ. For  Callicles, the weak are simply crushed; for Socrates, they are mollified by philosopher-kings.The second is that Socrates’s argument against Callicles is stronger than commonly thought (Jenks). Furthermore, Callicles’ entire hedonistic position can be construed as being artificially weakened by Plato (Klosko).

Syria

Obama has put Congress in a pickle. Vote yes and agree with ‘Obama’s war’ – vote no and vote for Assad. Vote yes and defend against the Iran-Syria nexus, vote no and keep America out of a so-far-unpredictable civil war. Vote yes and satisfy the party hawks; vote no and satisfy a generally dovish public. This is going to be a tough call for every representative and senator come the 9th.

Constitutionally, Obama’s move is without precedent. No president, I believe, has put military intervention short of war to a Congressional vote before, in this post-post-modern age of ours. I can see why he felt that he had to; with no UN and no Britain, the traditional ways of justifying action are absent. But it is an unprecedented move without a easily predictable outcome – a strange roll of the dice for our buttoned-up chief executive.

The Times reports today that McCain and Graham are behind strikes;  that means the Senate is probably locked up for yes. That leaves the House. There is a lot of talk that the Republicans are split between hawks and an growing isolationist streak, making the vote important symbolically for which side is currently stronger.

I’ll say this. Isolationist politics do not historically fare well in hindsight. They generally delay the inevitable. We are already deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, well before any missiles are fired, whether there is action or not, just like Iran, Russia, and China are deeply involved with or without direct aid.

It probably boils down to whether or not the Navy can launch a devastating enough strike to damage Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons, and shut down their air force and air defenses in the bargain. I’m guessing the answer is yes.

There are six destroyers currently in the eastern Med, and an unknown amount of submarines with cruise missile capability. They can probably fire 200 to 300 Tomahawks, I’m guessing again, in a single strike without resupply. Tomahawks are mostly fuel and less warhead so they have to be targeted very precisely; the Pentagon’s willingness to use them at this point suggest ground and satellite intelligence is very good.  It’s unknown if the delay for the Congressional vote will change this – probably not, if Obama is willing to wait that long.