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The Virgina Tech Shooter’s Last Victims: Logic and Sanity

The Virginia Tech murders got plenty of coverage in the press and on the Internet, but none of the writers here at Unsought Input weighed in on the subject. Really, there wasn't anything left to say that hadn't already been said a hundred times on a hundred channels already.

But now there is something interesting going on that isn't getting enough coverage. Did you know that there are two more casualties to add to the list of 32 people killed by Seung-Hui Cho? In addition to murdering and wounding all those people, Cho somehow managed to kill common sense and reason in thousands of commentators and high school principals across the country.

For example, school officials at Clements High School in Texas kicked out a student because they thought he posed a threat. No, he didn't threaten anyone, or buy guns, or stalk girls, or anything like that. He made a level in the game Counter-Strike based on a map of his high school. And posted it on his MySpace page.

For those of you who are out of the video game loop, Counter-Strike is a first-person shooter where you fight a bunch of terrorists, or alternatively fight a bunch of anti-terrorist troops. As you can imagine, it involves a lot of shotting and blowing stuff up. It's most fun when you compete and cooperate with other players.

Now why would a student replicate his high school in such a game unless he was using it as a simulation to train for an attack on his school? In the weeks since the VA Tech massacre, thousands of people would think that's a very good question. That's because they are scared out of their wits.

Why would he do such a thing? Listen, in high school I bought a game named Sim City 2000 (no I will not let you download it for free). One of the first things I did, after getting the hang of how to build a city, was build my home town. My home town was a dismal failure because I lived in a suburb with no industry and there were some scale issues, but that's beside the point.

Later in my high school career, I was president of the computer club. Yes, I know that also makes me king of the nerd patrol, whatever, I have to represent. One of our projects was to build a map of the school in the game Doom (or maybe Duke Nukem, the memory is getting hazy). It was a lot of fun, trying to get the textures right, figuring out where to put the power-ups so that the game would be fun to play.

It never occurred to us that we were doing anything wrong, or that we could use this map for plotting elaborate scenarios. It never occurred to me that building my little home town in Sim City and then unleashing tornadoes on it was wrong. That's because the whole idea is ludicrous.

Why do people play video games? Because, like any game, they are interactive. Some games take interaction to the next level, allowing you to do more than just explore virtual places - you can build your own. This appeals to the same kids who loved Legos when they were younger, and while they may not be the star quarterback or head cheerleader, they are hardly murderous misanthropes.

But what about the link between video games and violence? It turns out the link isn't quite that simple. Apparently only unstable people are really effected by violent video game content, but not any more than they are by violent movies, or even increases in room temperature.

What about the link between Cho and Counter-Strike? Uh, did he ever even play Counter-Strike? Or any video games for that matter? Does anyone actually know, or are they just making it up to get on TV?
After a tragedy like this, people want closure. They want to be able to do something to make sure it doesn't happen again, or find something to place all the blame on. Unfortunately, Cho was a self-important nutjob who refused the help that was offered to him at every turn. There's not really much we can do about that, so bring out the scapegoats and lose the rationality.

Was the Violence in 300 Excessive?

We can agree to disagree about the political messages in the movie 300, whether it was propaganda or gay-bashing.  But I think everyone who saw the movie will agree it was quite violent. But was the violence excessive or gratuitous?  The only empirical way I can think of to find out is to remove the violence from the epic: [youtube]gNqiSkd1M6k[/youtube]

How to Win the War in Iraq

What do you do When you find out you are wrong? Not just wrong about one thing, or a little bit wrong. What do you do when you find out you are very wrong, and consistently wrong, and there are really big consequences? President Bush, after three years, seems to finally realize he has been wrong. Well, not really. But he has finally acknowledged the big consequences part. Part of the problem has been that he has only gotten advice from those willing to tell him what he wants to hear. So the formation of the Iraq Study Group was a good thing, right? Finally, some independent experts would weight in, and tell the President some things he wouldn't like to hear. Except they weren't really experts. And their advice has little to do with Iraq. And Bush isn't really listening anyway. So how do we win the war in Iraq? Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't hurt to ask the real experts - the military people actually in Iraq. In fact, one of our troops has given us a PowerPoint presentation. That's right, it's even in the preferred format of upper management everywhere. Seriously, go there right now and watch the presentation, it's only 18 slides. It's a revelation. Not because this one soldier, Capt. Travis Patriquin, is a military genius, or that his ideas are a silver bullet that will magically solve all problems. It's amazing because Patriquin's presentation actually talks about the reality on the ground. He presents actual ideas, grounded in reality, that could actually be tried. This is a amazing. Think about it - this administration has spent years propping up non-ideas (like staying the course) as if they were ideas. They have spent more time and effort denying reality than dealing with it. I had almost forgotten what ideas taste like. It has been so long. Unfortunately, this presentation is the last insight we will get from Capt. Patriquin. He was killed last week. His "How to Win the War in Al Anbar" may go down in history as the first PowerPoint presentation to make a positive change in the world. Or maybe it will be ignored. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, but based on 6 years of the Bush administration, my guess is it will be the latter. You know what this reminds me of? This reminds me of every large company or organization I've ever worked for or dealt with. The people at the top are so disconnected from the people at the bottom that they begin to congratulate themselves for the disconnect. "I don't need to know how widget X works, in fact I shouldn't know at all. I need to think about strategic business decisions." We don't want to waste the chief executive's time with tactics, he has strategy to strategize about. We can lay off engineers, they just have domain knowledge, they don't contribute to the bottom line like sales. We need programmers with 5 years of Java and J2EE, don't worry about anything else, it's just business logic. We can outsource our call centers to India or Kansas or where ever - all they need is a script to work from, hire a consultant to develop the script. We need professional project managers, certified experts in the art of scheduling and tracking--they don't have to understand the project they're managing, what are you daft? Tactics matter. Actual information that reflects reality matters. They say it's not what you know, but who you know. That might be true in job hunting and getting political appointments, but apparently it doesn't win wars.

Violent Video Game Debate: Bill O Reilly vs A Little Girl

The video game industry covers a wide range of genres, but some of the most popular games allow players to engage in serious simulated violence. At the same time, your local evening news broadcast is filled with reports on violence in schools and gang violence. But are video games (and rap music, and Elvis Presley, and Jazz, and, uhh... flappers?) really to blame for violence among our youths? Culture warrior Bill O'Reilly thinks so, as he told Oprah recently. He has a whole book on this and many other subjects which he ties together under the umbrella of the "Culture War" - basically, traditionalists defending America versus secular-progressives who want drastic changes through undemocratic means. I can't show you the first part of this debate, as it has been removed by the copyright holder. Suffice it to say that a traditionalist like O'Reilly thinks taking away the XBox controller (or Wii remote) and replacing it with a Bible is the right way to lessen violent crime among our young people. Here's a link to a promo that may or may not cover it - I can't get it to play. Now, I won't debate O'Reilly here, in a forum he has no awareness of or interest in. Instead I will present the debate the broadcaster did have with an 8-year-old-girl: [youtube]k8x14cLGh5o[/youtube] Now it is clear that this young lady is intelligent, talented, and - let's face it - adorable. But does her argument hold any weight? She is right that it is hard to blame all violence on video games and rap music, since violence predates both of those items. Her suggestion that religion might be just as valid a cause of violence as popular culture is interesting as well. Note that she doesn't fall into the trap of claiming all violence is due to religion or all religion is violent. Her point seems to be that anyone arguing that replacing video games and rap music with the church will decrease violence should not ignore the numerous, obvious examples of violence prompted by religion. She also points out that she has no reason to believe what is said at one particular church over any other made-up, fictional story. Bill O'Reilly is no amateur, so I'm sure he has some cogent arguments to use against the little girl in this important debate: [youtube]mJjuZg7Mndo[/youtube] That's... interesting. He seems to be saying that video games are bad because... they run on machines, and YouTube runs on machines... uh, and YouTube is bad because somebody put a video of their kid on it...? And video taping a child actor is child abuse? ... Before I award the contest to the little girl, who has at this point completely kicked O'Reilly's ass (rhetorically speaking), I'd like to say the child abuse thing really bothers me. Child abuse is something real, that happens in real world. Children are hurt, abused, and molested by adults, sometimes even their own parents. I know it is a nice, powerful phrase to throw around, that makes you sound important, like "terrorist" and "traitor." But really, Bill? Do you even hear the things that come out of your mouth? Shouldn't there be a Godwin's Law for comparisons to child abuse? I think O'Reilly has made a tactical error here. I don't think he should have responded to the little girl on YouTube - and not because I disagree with him. Now people know that all it takes is a video camera and an Internet connection and you could be picking apart his arguments on equal terms. Although he did not respond to the little girl in a substantive way, he gave her video a place in the sun. Nearly one million people have viewed it now, and not all of them are liberal Democrat dittoheads (is there a term for such a thing on the left?). O'Reilly should know by now that you can't just distort someone's arguments into a straw man. You can't just use ad hominem attacks, although it is really helpful. You need to deny them the ability to speak as well. You need to turn off the microphone.