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Story Engine first update 2021/04/21

I’ve been working on this Story Engine in stealth mode for several years now. As it turns out, it’s much harder than writing a 3D graphics engine. Basically, a graphics engine has a solid foundation of math and science that is stable for one to build structure on top of. Instead, a story engine has a spongy muddy foundation— because story and narrative content renders completely inside the player’s mind and not on the screen. Thus, you can’t easily capture it with science and math. Whereas you can compare CG rendering techniques to the actual real-life lighting and immediately identify the flaws to improve your rendering algorithms, there is no easy way to discover your flaws in a story engine in order to improve it.

This makes building an interactive narrative engine from scratch a very risky affair. You have to finish your whole game before you can see the flaws and mistakes, whereas in rendering algorithms you can look at particular rendering issues one at a time in isolation (for example, sub-surface scattering) and improve them independently and orthogonally of other rendering techniques. A narrative engine is judged as a whole by its finished content rather than the sum of its parts, so it’s difficult to build it piecemeal by perfecting independent chunks of it piece by piece. 3D render engines have strict separation of concerns throughout its entirety. A story engine is the opposite of that with everything dependent upon everything else by virtue of its very nature as a human artform. That makes it quite a challenge to build it coming from the experience I have had building 3D engines.

A graphics engine has pretty intuitive criteria for judging something to be “correct” or “incorrect” in terms of whether the code is working or not. You simply look at the thing on the screen and ask yourself if it basically does what you intend it to do. Sure, basic lighting techniques aren’t close to realistic lighting if you look with a trained eye. However, at a certain point, any rendering technique gets close enough and you’ll know fairly well that it will work for a large proportion of typical cases.

If it doesn’t look good enough, you can just keep going as you compare it to actual real lighting. You stop because you get diminishing returns for the amount of work required to improve how good it looks. And that will also be a function of what your competitors have put into the market and what the hardware is capable of. After a certain threshold in 3D rendering, most consumers will not notice the difference unless it’s rendering human characters too close to the edge of the uncanny valley. At that point you stop with realistic rendering styles and choose more abstract or cartoony styles and your art direction matters more than your render engine.

In the history of automobile manufacturing, this is akin to the point where top speed had become no longer the chief selling point of automobiles. Instead of top speed, the main selling points became such things as luxury and safety and aesthetics and other more “human” concerns. We are at this juncture in games, as well. However, AAA titles still must have outstanding rendering in the same way that for a while top speeds for automobiles were no longer a strong selling point, yet were still a prerequisite for selling cars for a long time even after driving 120 mph was not really something that anyone wanted to do or actually cared about to buy in a car.

Despite these challenges with writing the story engine, I believe that I have found some structural commonalities in interactive narrative design that can translate into a competitive edge over competitors’ offerings in the arena of interactive narrative design. I have, to the best of my ability, identified the areas in which my 3D graphics engine background allows me to recognize structure and patterns in narrative designs that can translate to a unique product that differentiates itself by virtue of the competitors not being able to politically nor financially afford the kind of random walk style of learn-as-you-go engine development that I can afford myself. This style of development for an engine is expensive and scheduleless that for a traditional studio is a nightmare to budget and staff. This is one small area where an indie one-person shop such as myself has a very minor advantage.

Because traditional studios can’t afford to wander and explore and to trust their people to come to some sort of profitable conclusion, what I am making will seem to come out of the nowhere from a nobody— namely me. However, what big commercial studios don’t understand is that I personally have always been overlooked by them throughout my career. Yet during all that time, I have been constantly honing and refining my skills as a game developer and programmer. So it is not entirely out of the blue, but has been a long time coming to fruition. I feel like I have reached a mastery of my craft and I am enjoying every day adding more capabilities to the story engine that still surprise and delight me.

Even so, I am still not ready to show anything. I keep getting closer and closer. But my instinct for what is a good cost-benefit slows me down because when I random walk into a feature that I think will save time or improve quality down the line, I work on it which halts my progress towards a showable demo. But it is progress in a different way. It’s very grindy, but I cannot ask (nor pay) anyone to do this grind for me. Only I know what the right balance of a good cost-benefit is to the features I’m adding. I have a pretty good vision and feel for the product now. At the beginning of this project, my scope was too wide and constantly expanding— because I am too curious about everything and all the possibilities are too intriguing to abandon for the sake of progress. I have a pretty good handle on the scope now, but alas I am still so easily distracted by cool features that I think will be useful later on down the line that it seems like I’m not moving forward.

As I do move forward, I must refactor and retrofit previous quick hacks to accommodate the more solid systems I put in. This seems like negative progress since the game content doesn’t make progress when I work on system features rather than adding content. But adding content on top of a shaky system just feels wrong, so when I come to a point where I find myself adding content on top of a system that could be improved, I can’t help but pause the adding of content to work on the system until it has a better chance of being production-ready.

This is quite a lot of info for a first update on the story engine. However, it is long overdue. I am not even a free range programmer anymore. I am tied to a place that allows me to spend more quality programming time on this thing now.

But I don’t like to talk or write about things until it’s done. I’ve had a history of people not believing me. So showing a finished concrete thing that demonstrates exactly what’s in a very abstract form in my head is how I’ve been able to communicate my ideas to other people. I’ve done this several times with 3D render engines. I believe that this story engine is the same kind of thing. It’s not really enough to talk about it in the abstract. It has to exist and function and be capable of doing things that you don’t see in other interactive narrative systems to be worthwhile to talk about.

Also, my personal problem is that I have way too many ideas that it distracts me from execution. So, it’s quite common to hear some crazy ideas from me that I’ll never get around to completing. And I’m kind of terrible at completing things because in some ways my imagination is too good— such that it makes them so concrete and real to me, that I lose interest in finishing it and making it real for everyone else besides me.

I seem to feel that if I can imagine it, it’s good enough because it’s real to me. Well, part of the exciting thing for me now is that as it becomes more and more real, I begin to discover more and more capability and freedom of expression within the system that I could not envision until I got to the point after I made it exist. So once it becomes real, it actually engenders more ideas and more imagination and that’s what keeps me going. That’s a key dynamo to keep me self-motivated that I had forgotten had occurred in the late development stages of my 3D engines. And that’s why I make this update now rather than after I’ve finished the thing which was the original plan. I have more confidence that I’m not going to give this up as some fanciful fever dream as I have with so many other ideas that have wandered into my brain and trickled out to die somewhere. I never ever had confidence that I would finish anything. It’s kind of a wonder that I finished any of those aforementioned 3D engines now that I have had a long couple of years trying to find self-motivation. But now I have discovered the secret— that late in development, this threshold can be crossed where I reach the turbo or dynamo stage where there’s enough solidity to all of the previous work that you can stand on top of the edifice of it all and see much farther out into the landscape and be excited about all of that unexplored territory to conquer.

So, I’m just grinding away at it, making it more and more real. I have gotten close to reaching my secondary goal which is to make the story engine so pleasant to create content in that I’m mostly writing content (which I kind of loathe doing) rather than writing systems. I think once I reach that point, it becomes worthwhile to show off to actual content creators who do this sort of thing for a living and ask them what I could do to really impress them and make their content creation more enjoyable. But first, I have to get to the point where I am enjoying writing content myself. I think once I reach that critical threshold, then I can begin considering polishing it up for other people to lay their eyes on it.

And so ends update 1. I don’t think I’ll make many more updates— I have lots more grinding to do. This pretty much sums up where I’ve been the last couple of years. I’m still going kind of slow, but I’m still going and haven’t gotten bored which I think is pretty amazing given my easily distracted brain.

-Ming
April 21, 2021

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Trumpism is a Zero-Sum Culture

A zero-sum culture believes that in order for it to win, some other culture or persons must lose. Its inherent view of the world is that of a strict binary of predator and prey. If you are not predator, then you must be prey. There is no middle-ground in this world-view. Thus, it is preferable to be predator at all times, lest you be mistaken for prey by another predator. This is the central idea behind Trumpism. Cobra-Kai! Never show any weakness! Sweep the leg!

We know this view to be wrong through the lessons of World War 1 and World War 2 combined. But certain cultures will never let go of this idea. Trumpism seems to have captured the hearts and minds of those cultures under its political umbrella.

The domino effect1 theory of the cold war was seduced by this zero-sum idea of the free world versus the communist world2. It was a failure as a guiding political theory. Its predictive nature was nil, and its damage to America was considerable.

The greatest historical lesson from both World War 2 and the Cold War is that a culture that believes in the zero-sum game is doomed to lose to the cultures that help each other as allies in a positive-sum game. The success of the positive-sum game cannot be more stark than the difference between post-WW1 Germany and post-WW2 Germany.

Post-WW1 Germany was a zero-sum culture. But 1930s Germans had every reason to see it this way since the Treaty of Versailles punished them by saddling Germany with the costs of WW1 which directly “stole” from Germany and enriched the Allies during the post-war economy.

And this alienation of Germany after WW1 of course led to the humiliated and economically isolated Germany that ultimately gave rise to Hitler and Naziism.

Contrast that with post-WW2 Germany which is an economically and politically thriving leader in European affairs with over a half-century of peace, growth, and prosperity. That’s because true economic prosperity is not a zero-sum game; it is a positive-sum game. And post-WW2 Pax Americana is a direct consequence of that positive-sum game. If we want to make America great again, all we have to do is to dive back into that positive-sum game and lead it again.

Even during WW2, the positive-sum game of allies working together was the winning strategy over the predatory strategies of fascism and nationalistic expansionism.

And post-WW2, the allies working freely together during the cold war out-competed the communist-bloc allies who were forged artificially as a defense unit, but not as true cooperative allies. In 1989, as soon as the USSR allowed the freedom of the communist bloc countries to leave the coalition, they did so quickly with little hesitation because the USSR was predatory in their relationship with them.

And since WW2, global economies have become even more integrated and more efficient. So if it was clear that the world had become a positive-sum game during and after WW2, then it should be exponentially clear by now, in 2020, that modern national strength derives from greater interconnectedness and not from isolationism and brutal winner-take-all competitiveness.

Yet, that archaic attitude of vicious competitiveness is at the heart of Trumpism, which in itself is a relic of an imperialistic nation prior to WW2.

Trumpism is that ancient virtue of selfishness at the expense of others. It is outdated and wrong. It is a loser ideology. Nazi Germany tried it, and failed. Soviet USSR tried it and failed. America tried it in Vietnam and Korea, and failed.

But there is something still ingrained in our hunter-warrior cultures that exalts the zero-sum conqueror as a glorious hero. Winning in sports and war has only one winner and one loser, by the rules of the game. That’s why Trump’s favorite insult is “loser” because in his binary world, if the other is the loser, then he alone remains the winner by default. Winning and conquering is glory, and America is addicted to that feeling both in its sports and its war.

America is a fiercely competitive culture— in its love of sports and war. When you see the world only through the lens of winning and losing, then any third alternative such as “cooperation”, by virtue of it not being “winning”, is interpreted automatically as “losing” to you.

This is how to view the world through Trumpism. Everything is simplified down to the point-mass diagram of winning or losing on a single dimension. Anything and everything that is too complicated can be reduced to this single line and placed on the “losing” side of the ledger. There is nothing in the world that cannot be simplified to this single-dimensional explanation.

Trump, and by extension his supporters, cannot grasp the concept of a positive-sum world in which everyone can be winners. Such a multi-axis world is too confusing, so they simplify it down to the single axis of winning-losing.

This is why universal health care or climate change accords are so strange of a concept to them. Their thinking is that if they accede to any demands, then they are losing ground to someone, and thus are losing the war on their one-dimensional axis.

There is no way to explain the multi-dimensional aspects of complex topics to them that clarify how everyone can win in a net-positive-sum game. They will tend to reduce your argument down to the single dimensional axis of winner-loser because that’s what they’re comfortable with in their worldview.

In such a zero-sum worldview, they cannot comprehend the simple facts of a net-positive-sum economy such as that winning against a pandemic as a team not only saves lives but also will improve the economy faster.

The same concept is true of global climate change. We all win as a team if we maintain the environmental conditions that are best suitable for human industry and agriculture as we currently understand it. To do otherwise is simply making everything more difficult and more costly for every person as a whole.

When we’re all on the same team, we all win together. There isn’t even an enemy, except for ourselves and our inability to work together as a team. The zero-sum mentality prevents this crucial understanding about how the modern economy works. This mentality is what thwarts the pandemic response and will thwart the upcoming climate crisis response.

Rejecting immigration is also a foolish artifact of zero-sum culture. It is only looking at one side of the ledger to see what someone takes away from you. But it’s not looking at the full ledger of what immigrants contribute to America as a whole.

Considering that America has always been founded on the strength of its generous immigration, it’s naive and foolish to reject the tremendous boon that immigration offers to America. It should be obvious and clear by many objective measures that immigrants by far add a net positive contribution to America in many ways, both historically and currently.

However, to the zero-sum cultures under Trumpism, this everybody is a winner concept is alien and unnerving and unconvincing because they cannot tangibly feel it in their every day lives. And that’s because America is so viciously predatory in its capitalism that it’s impossible to feel anything other than paranoia that predators are out to get you.

In that environment, indeed, you would prefer to be the predator rather than the prey. And this is the feeling of strength that Trumpism affords these people, even if it’s an illusionary strength. It’s an illusion they can comprehend and tangibly and viscerally feel in their day-to-day economic interactions with American capitalism.

They are not wrong. American capitalism does indeed prey upon them. And it is precisely this feeling which makes them believe whole-heartedly in the zero-sum game of predator and prey. Viewed in that vein, can you really blame them?

Fundamentally, at the higher level view, the modern interconnected world is a net-positive-sum game. But on a smaller, individual level, American capitalism is predatory to such a point that it feels like a zero-sum game to individuals. Although some small amount of socialism could be the antidote to predatory capitalism, the populace have been made so paranoid of socialism that it regards it as yet another predator hungering for their paycheck.

It’s going to be very difficult to convince zero-sum mentality people that they’re not being preyed upon. Their unease about pandemic response, climate change response, and healthcare reform are all attributable to their rightful paranoia of being preyed upon by American capitalist interests in their current lives.

Ironically, they voted for a man who blatantly and openly preys upon them in Trump himself who is literally funneling their campaign contributions into his own interests!

That they should fall for such a blatant charlatan and con-artist is an indication of how deeply wounded these people are by predatory capitalism in America.

So how do we lift these people out of these grievous injuries to their psyche? For post-WW1 Germany, they turned to fascism to assuage their wounded psyches. We must not let that happen here.

Traditionally, government has been the foil to curb the excesses of capitalism. But corporate interests and government have been in alliance against the people for too long that the people can trust neither government nor corporations. The liberal Left is deeply suspicious of corporations and the conservative Right is deeply suspicious of government. Both have well-founded reasons to be suspicious!

The government needs to make a bold statement against the corporate control over American government in order to win back the people’s trust in the government. I don’t know if that’s even possible. But that’s the route away from fascism, difficult as it may be.

Corporatism is too strong of a force to be countered organically by the people. Only a government that is dedicated to curbing its excesses stands a chance of providing shelter for the people against predatory capitalism.

If people are hell-bent on framing the world as a simple zero-sum dichotomy, then I’ll present this one— either strengthen the government to curb predatory capitalism or else suffer the consequences of an angry fascist mob!

It’s important to understand how American culture is accustomed to view conflict in terms of a villain and a hero. Right now, we need to portray the government as the hero against predatory capitalism. What Trumpism has done is to portray a zero-sum world with fascist white supremacy as the hero and the net-positive-sum game of cooperation as the villain. We cannot allow this incorrect view to stand unchallenged.


Footnotes:

  1. The entire cold war hallucination of the domino effect is a zero-sum culture belief— If a country could only be either capitalist or communist, then a communist country would infect its neighbors, and capitalist countries would have one fewer ally in the world.
  2. This world view is terribly naive in so many ways. Capitalist and freedom are not automatically synonymous, as we can plainly see in modern China. Furthermore, there is the false dichotomy of either capitalism xor communism without regard to any third option— decolonization of countries that wanted freedom from British, French, or other European imperialism. This was the true reason for the spread of communism— it was the automatic choice if you wanted an anti-imperialist ideology that automatically came with other anti-imperialist allies.

What Late Stage Capitalism Can’t Sell You

I’ve heard the argument that free trade via a money supply allows the market to quickly signal through price of products what goods and services are needed. And this is true to an extent— for goods and services that are saleable and *can* be priced.

But this leaves out a vast portion of our lives which cannot so easily have bar code price stickers affixed or encased in hard clear plastic— friendship, love, civic duty, honesty, community spirit, genuine dialog and so much more.

Individuals offer those things freely to the society because people intuitively understand that they’ll receive likewise in return from their trusted friends and family. However, such an economy of these necessities in life is like a black market that is entirely outside of the “normal” economy. People who have found “their people”, whomever those people might be, are saved from the emptiness that is the life promised to them in “The American Dream”— which is an entirely materialistic one.

But in a society that values only those services and products which can command a price tag and a profit by producing a surplus, these other essential holistic elements for a satisfying human life are conspicuously absent from the marketplace, with only cheap substitutes sold in their stead.

And so, the symptoms that we see are casualties of despair due to the failure of capitalism to provide the most basic nutrients to sustain a healthy and happy human life. It is implicit in this “free market utopia” that each individual seek and satisfy the remainder of their human non-material needs through their own means. That is part of the contract of a “free society”. But people don’t always realize that and also don’t always know where to fulfill the remainder of their needs.

The problem is that the society that uses the free market as the foundation of its entire construct provides no guidance as to how and what further is necessary to obtain for a satisfying life. The recommendations that ARE given are intended for the producers to extract a profit from the people seeking something more in life. That is the nature of the foundation of this market-centric society.

In the absence of this guidance of what more to seek out in life, people have sought more meaning in their lives through the products and services that have been advertised to them. It is unsurprising that such products and services that don’t fill the holes in their souls. And when those things sold as promises fall short, people turn to other false promises from a variety of other charlatans in religion, politics, or other temporary snake-oil salves.

There is no doubt in my mind that all that is happening is a crisis of late-stage capitalism. The flaw isn’t that capitalism is terrible. It has served its part quite well— to relieve society of scarcity of material goods and services. However, it has not and cannot relieve society of the scarcity of immaterial things such as love, friendship, civic duty, respect, honesty, and so many other things that we inherently value as a social species.

We must find those things ourselves. But it’s difficult for people who are accustomed to using money to find solutions to all of their problems. When that currency is not accepted by the providers of these other immaterial needs, the people who are accustomed to being “valued customers” grow angry that their money is no good here.

That disconnect is what I see most often between people who have bought into the “material goods” worldview and the “immaterial goods” worldview. The two economies use different currencies, and there is rightfully a rejection of money being used to buy goods and services from the “immaterial goods” economy. When someone with money tries to buy from the “immaterial goods economy” without earning the currency first, there is indignation and offense, and often times rejection of their attempted purchase. And there is indignation and offense in return that their money, that they’ve worked hard for, has no value in this economy that is foreign to them.

You have to find your people, whomever they may be. That’s the missing ingredient. And for each person, that ingredient is different. So, it’s hard for capitalism to produce a surplus to satisfy this particular demand, though they certainly have no qualms about trying and profiting from it anyway.

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How Systemic Racism is like the Hillsborough Disaster

CW: People crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium.

The Hillsborough Stadium disaster has always struck me as a metaphor for systemic racism. The cries and pleas of the people being crushed and asphyxiated at the bottom of the crush of the crowd cannot be heard by the people at the top. So, the people at the top are oblivious to the danger that their pressure adds to the system.

The ones who are making decisions about the system also do not have a good view of what’s happening at all places. Thus, they make decisions that have life and death consequences to the people who had an unfortunate position in the system.

Even the authorities blame the very victims for what is clearly a failure of systems. People want someone to blame— the victims’ families blame the authorities and the authorities blame the crowds themselves.

The problem is the system and that the authorities made decisions without all of the information about the system in a timely manner. This is where lack of communication, lack of foresight, and lack of understanding of the system turns to be deadly. I fear that I’m seeing this same pattern play out in real-time with systemic racism and this administration’s response to it.

The people at the bottom are screaming, “I can’t breathe” but it’s still business at usual at the top, where people are unable to hear the screams of people at the bottom. The people at the top are still applying pressure, not knowing that they are each contributing to someone’s death far away from where they see that everything is fine and normal.

This is a metaphor for the mechanism of systemic racism that has cost George Floyd his life. Privilege, ignorance, obliviousness, the inevitable consequences of systems, the randomness of position in the crowd, consequences and the casting of blame from all points of view are all represented here as similar to the pressures of systemic racism.

But more importantly, the crush of systemic racism is still happening. The oppressive crush and pressure is still ongoing, with some people advocating for it, causing its pressure to build up. I hope people can see this because it’s not too late to recognize the crushing weight of the system and pull back from adding our own weight to the system onto the people below us.

It’s not too late for authorities to recognize the system and turn back and relieve pressure before a disaster worse than Hillsborough occurs.

I hope people can see this metaphor clearly and take action to help shout so that people at the top of the crush and people in a position of authority are able to hear the voices who are being crushed at the bottom.

Even the allies who were dismantling the fences and carrying the injured on advertising boards were chastised by authorities as hooligans. The other side saw the victims’ desperation as pitch invasion because they didn’t have a complete understanding of what was happening. These same misunderstandings are occurring in the struggle for the voices at the bottom to be heard that “I can’t breathe!” Let’s be allies and help everyone hear their voices! I hope that this metaphor can help people see the system that is culprit so that the right information can get to the right people an that more people will become allies to the cause against systemic racism.

Eu-Ming Lee
6/3/2020

Today, you… tomorrow, me.

Ok. Biden’s our guy, now. I know some of you don’t like that. That’s okay. And it’s okay to be hurt by that, and I’m sorry that this is the situation we’re faced with.

But I want our guy to win. So that means I have to do something to help make that happen. But how?

Here’s what I’m going to do. And I learned this right now because I tried to do it and couldn’t. What did I try to do?

I tried to find an old twitter conversation by a black voter who described what it was like growing up in the south with establishment politicians coming to visit them in their homes and their church.

This was a first-hand account of what the Democratic establishment meant to black voters. It was a good summary of why Biden won big with black voters on Super Tuesday.

But here’s where I failed. I couldn’t find it. It was just one of many opinions on Twitter about Biden vs. Bernie and was lost in that cacophonous noise. But now, I believe that it is a voice which deserves to be amplified. However, I failed to save it anywhere, and Google searches merely return that noise.

So here’s my action item, and I hope you’ll follow suit to support Biden in defeating Trump: Save those articles. Save them in your browser bookmarks. Save them and categorize them to inspire people who may need it.

Because black Democratic voters believe that Biden is a good ally to them. And I want to be a good ally to black Democratic voters myself. To do that, I will amplify their voices within my own social bubble so that people will hear that black voters deeply believe in Biden. And hope that the people in my bubble will come around to understand what Biden means to so many people who came out to vote for him on Super Tuesday.

With that power, we can make their faith in Biden come true by amplifying their voices so that the message trickles up through all of our barely intersecting social bubbles up to the top where the political establishment can hear it.

That’s not too hard to do. You don’t have to hold your nose to vote for Biden. You can listen to the voices around you for whom Biden means the culmination of a lifetime of fighting for civil rights since the 60’s. Biden himself might not have been on the right side of that fight at all times. But the Democratic establishment definitely was, and black voters know and remember that. Let’s not let their trust go unfounded. Let’s work with them and for them because black and brown people have chosen this, and this is what we can do to be good allies and honor their choice.

I’m all in for Biden. I hope you are, too.

America is a kakistocracy now, just like Atari Games was for a long time before its demise

Frustrated, I always chanted a soothing mantra to myself, “They’ll collapse under the weight of their own incompetence.” And one day, they finally did. There was no joy and no vindication in the schadenfreude. They simply collapsed, as expected.

What happened at Atari Games was kakistocracy. Long before I was hired there, some idiots came into power and found the formula to stay in power— they kept promoting their idiot friends and formed a political faction to suppress competence or anything that might challenge their power. Competence is the most dangerous threat to a kakistocracy. And so, over time, the competent people who could have turned things around were one-by-one sifted out. The best people at Atari either self-selected to form other companies with each other to get away from the idiots, or else they were forced out by the politics of the dominant political groups. I got in there late, but I saw it all happen, nonetheless.

Sarah Ellerman I just realized something. Trump IS Atari Games! Remember when the management at Atari frustrated me all the time? I’d come home pissed off at You Know Who constantly. When I first started, it didn’t bother me because I wasn’t on the front-lines of their stupidity. But as my role became more prominent, their stupidity become more intrusive and obstructive of my desire and ability to succeed on Atari’s behalf.

And that is exactly what’s happening now with the GOP. Have you noticed that the best and smartest GOP members have renounced Trumpism and the GOP? There are numerous articles of such principled people. What are left after this sifting are the unprincipled people. The best of the Republicans have already moved on, to leave the idiots to at the helm to themselves, just as the best people who formerly worked at Atari left to form Activision and Electronic Arts, companies which still exist, while the biggest grand daddy, with all of its money and power— Atari, failed to remain relevant,except in the fantasy of Blade Runner films.

This is what we are experiencing with the Trump’s executive handling of the Covid-19 emergency. This is how kakistocracy operates. I experienced it first hand at Atari Games, and so I recognize its tell-tale signs. It’s primary concern is maintaining power, because each individual within the kakistocracy knows intuitively that it is undeserving of the riches afforded to it. So, all tools and efforts are to maintain the lies and deception of governance while looting the treasury for as long as it will be allowed to do so.

Eventually, the kakistocracy produces the outcome exactly as I had predicted of Atari Games so long ago: “It will collapse under the weight of its own incompetence.” The only solace here is that it actually takes a long time for the rich flesh of the corpse to be stripped away, so America will lumber along, crippled by these parasites before it eventually stumbles and succumbs. That lengthy time buys some reprieve and hope to change course.

We shall see. Things won’t end immediately. This crisis is an opportunity for riches and re-election for Trumpism. And there may even be a continuance after that. America will make a rich corpse for the parasites to feed on for a long time. We can still carry on as normal inside of its bloated, sore-infested, pustulant corpse for as long as our lives will allow, shortened as it may be by the very existence of this parasite.

America 2.0 – America's Greatest Test in 3 Generations 3/21/2020

I’m becoming very very afraid for America. America is teetering precariously between two conflicting ideas— everyone for themselves, and we’re all in it together. It’s the latter spirit which helped win World War 2 and ushered in the golden age of Pax Americana of which we’re now at the tail end. But lately, the everyone-for-themselves side has been winning. We can see it in full evidence in several ways:

  • Senators dumping their stocks after briefings into the projections of Covid-19.
  • People hoarding medical masks and equipment that hospital workers desperately need.
  • People hoarding hand sanitizer only to be banned for trying to price gouge on Amazon.
  • Gun shops running out of guns and ammo.
  • People going to spring break in Florida regardless of the pending Covid-19 pandemic.
  • People down-playing the Covid-19 pandemic because it hasn’t affected them yet.

These are people trying to get ahead of the curve. This is the fundamental character of America, to get ahead of your neighbors, for yourself. Rather than pull together and fight together to solve a community problem, Americans, by instinctive nature, do what they can to protect themselves and their immediate family. This is why the hand sanitizer and toilet paper are gone from the shelves. It’s because Americans pride themselves as a self-reliant people. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an admirable quality. But it’s also a quality whose underlying dark side is the fundamental distrust of their fellow human beings to help them. It’s the quality of I must help myself because I’m the only one who will.
It’s the quality of buying up everything because of the distrust of the supply chain to remain intact during a crisis. It’s the quality of distrust of the government response. It’s distrust in our leaders to do what’s best for the all of us, rather than for themselves. It’s distrust of your neighbors, of other states, of other ideologies. We’re just a distrustful nation in general, and that heightens our self-reliant spirit which reinforces our natural distrustful disposition.

As it turns out, that distrust was quite warranted when we discovered that indeed the very people who we elected to protect our interests, our national representatives, had used early inside information to dump their stocks, to protect their own futures. They think nothing wrong of it, because that’s what all Americans do every day. That’s what you would do if you were in their position, of course, right? So, in a way, they are indeed true representatives of Americans. It’s not really so much their fault as it is the fault of the American character in general— that of fierce self-reliance, self-preservation, and individualism.

Americans are not as practiced at self-sacrifice and community support as other nations and cultures. Public service for American politicians is not about helping other people; it’s about helping yourself. Americans, in general, simply do not have a civic spirit.

I’m afraid for America today, March 21 2020, because I see two unstoppable juggernauts colliding into an inevitable result— the breakdown of society. Not just society as we know it, but society in total.

I’m talking about looting and murder in the streets breakdown of society, not just self-quarantine. I’m talking about national guard in the streets enforcing curfews. I’m talking about suspending elections due to martial law. If you think it can’t happen here, then you’re thinking just like the people who didn’t buy guns and ammo. You’re thinking Americans won’t shoot Americans. You’re thinking, that’s unthinkable. But those bullet points above are foreshadowing the unthinkable things that are going to happen in the next few weeks and months at an accelerated pace that you right now cannot imagine. The cold hard math and trajectory of Covid-19 points to inevitable shortages of medical supplies and medical attention, leading to unimaginable numbers of tragic deaths throughout the nation. Today, March 21, 2020, the numbers seem concerning, but not unimaginable. You might be reading this in the future, and may have forgotten what was imaginable right now on March 21, 2020 because those actual things are happening to you right now. Those of you in my present time, I alert you, so you can be psychologically prepared for this. In real-time, you will be seeing news stories that you thought were unthinkable just a couple of weeks earlier. Let this article ease you into this shock and get ready for it.

I’ve come to the startling realization that there are two crucial things that we are relying on to solve those shortages:
1) Capitalism must be functional enough to meet the demand of the medical supply chain, but also all of our other needs

And

2) That the spirit of working together as a team and the spirit of voluntary self-sacrifice to get things done is the primary spirit during the crisis

What concerns me greatly about this reliance on those two things above to solve the medical supply shortage logistical problem is that they are fundamentally mutually exclusive. Capitalism is inherently comprised of numerous uncountable atomic acts of individual selfishness rather than collective action for the good of the whole. In fact, corporations are groups of individuals who work together for the collectively selfish singular purpose of that corporation. If we’re counting on capitalism to generously provide a steady supply chain for medical equipment to keep up with the exponentially increasing demand of dying Covid-19 patients, then we’re asking something of capitalism that it was not designed for— not profit-taking at the expense of others. This is why the Senators who dumped their stocks feel they’ve done nothing wrong. What they did was simply true to the American character. It’s those of us who feel that it’s morally wrong who are in the minority and who are unusual— Because that’s not how capitalism works nor how it has ever worked. And that’s why those of us who feel like it was wrong of Senators to dump their stock are also wrong about condition #1 above. We only believe that the supply chain to hospitals and grocery stores will be maintained because it’s right to do so, and has always just been there, like magic. But capitalism does not care about morally right or wrong. It cares singularly about the money. It has never ever shown anything other than this true character. And yet, we’re relying on it because it’s the only thing we’ve ever relied upon, so much so that it is invisible to most of us. Americans know no other way. But what if there’s no more money in maintaining the supply chain? What if we’ve bought all the stuff we need to hunker down and stores can stop ordering stuff from factories and factories can save money by shutting down? It was and has always been all about the money. But what if there’s no more money— at all?

The people who collectively emptied out the gun shops are the first warning signs of what’s to come. When others think, “it can’t happen here”, these gun buyers are the ones who think, “don’t be naïve, if and when it happens here, at least I’ll be prepared.” This is the same thinking that goes through people’s minds when hoarding toilet paper and other supplies. It’s the same thinking as the senators who dump their stock. At least I’ll be prepared. It could happen here.

What I’m saying is that thinking “It could happen here” is already the breakdown of society. American society is balanced precariously on top of capitalism. All of our supply chains— of toilet paper and food— all function because there’s money in it. If there’s no more money in it, everything stops. Capitalism is the delusion that stitches together the fabric of American society by virtue of a mass scam. In that way, Trump intuitively understands that if the American people see through that it’s all a scam, then the fabric begins to fray and unravel. If capitalism fails in America, we are all left naked with the frayed and threadbare fabric of our society hanging uselessly off our cold, naked bodies.

Except that won’t happen to those people who hoarded guns and ammo. They won’t be naked because they can take clothes, food and shelter from whoever is hoarding it. The people hoarding those things might be richer than them. But those people might also be YOU! Sure, it might be the unoccupied “investment” homes held by corporations. But those unoccupied homes taken by force also need to be filled with cans of food, masks, soap, and rolls of toilet paper. And maybe you’re the one who’s hoarding those things. If you can no longer buy the things you need from the stores, then guns and ammo are the only currency you need.

If you’re saying it can’t happen here then are you really that much different than the people in those states with fewer cases who are saying that Covid-19 can’t happen there? What is the reality of our situation? What is our delusion about how things should work versus how they actually are? We each have different delusions. We’re not that different, whether we deny the severity of Covid-19 or the possibility of total societal breakdown. They are two sides of the same denial coin. Reality is too ugly to even contemplate sometimes, yet here I am entertaining these ugly possibilities. Go into denial, if you must. Maybe we need some measure of it to maintain the fragile society that has been built upon capitalism.

Capitalism is a mass delusion about how things should work. And as long as it works, it does indeed work wondrously. However, the real danger, as I see it, is that at some point, it becomes obvious that it’s not working at all. And when capitalism stops working in America, and we’re left with no more supply chains, no more grocery stores, then the delusion is suddenly dispelled. Then, we’re really left with nothing. Nothing… except the world’s largest per capita gun to citizen population in the world.

The last time people decided that capitalism wasn’t working at all was in 1929 when their collective action that led to crash the stock market, as each individual acted in their own self-interest. There are some safety valves put in place for banks after that, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental pillar of truth— that belief in capitalism is all that holds it together.

Right now, these two juggernauts— a heavily armed citizenry and breakdown of capitalism, due to loss of faith in it— are heading toward each other. I’m afraid for America because I can’t tell which side— whether rugged individualism or whether steadfast determination to pull together as a team will be the spirit of America that wins. Both spirits are strong within her. But it lies in the balance. Both are formidable forces capable of winning the American psyche.

I know what you’re feeling after reading this. HOLY FUCKING SHIT! Maybe I’ll buy a gun and some ammo before they’re all bought out. Please don’t do that. That’s the individualism side of your American spirit getting anxious. Just please don’t. Not today. Not this week. Not this month. Not this year. Please, appeal to the other side: We can do this together! Because if we all pull together, we can do it. We’re tough and we can do this— FOR EACH OTHER!

Capitalism might be a delusion, but it’s all we’ve got right now. We still need it, for now. So, let’s pull through this by maintaining civility and calm while helping each other and not being selfish. We need both of those great American spirits to pull through this. We do need capitalism at this time when hope will seem frayed and worn, and we also do need our spirit of togetherness. Though they are at odds, we need both capitalism and a spirit of community, and that’s what scares me. But I hope I’m wrong and that these spirits are not truly mutually exclusive at all, but that these two great American spirits can work together in harmony just as Americans came together in industry and collective determination to defeat the Nazis in WW2. Maybe this can usher in Pax Americana 2. I hope this is our future direction. Greatest Generation 2— the best American sequel ever!

Taiwan’s humidity is too much for me 11/11/2017

The humidity in Taiwan ruins it for me. It’s always warm and muggy in Taiwan. It’s true what they say. It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity. Even when it’s not really all that hot, maybe 78F, it still feels hot in Taiwan. That’s the humidity doing that. When it’s very humid, your body can’t cool itself down with sweat. But that doesn’t stop your body from trying. And try it does. If you’re not a native to Taiwan, your body will keep sweating in a vain attempt to cool itself down. I don’t know how the locals stand it here. I guess they get used to being sticky and sweaty all the time. They wear long sleeves and pants here all the time. I can’t even. It gives me a sense of claustrophobia. I gasp for air, like I’m drowning in the humidity.

It’s weird to see all these Chinese people. Occasionally, I see the lone blonde woman out on the street teeming with busy Chinese people. It’s always the same one. Her blue eyes don’t meet mine as I look at her curiously. I wonder if she feels just as strange, being a minority, as I do being in the racial majority for once. She doesn’t acknowledge my look. I’m invisible to her; she must get the same glances every day as she walks down the sidewalk. She’s drowning in humidity and Chinese. There’s too much of both here, and I’m an utterly unremarkable part of the background.

She’s not wearing any make-up. Nor do any of the Chinese women I see today. I don’t blame them. When it’s so sticky, I can’t imagine putting something called lipstick on. Make-up would be called facestick here. I can see the layers of paint bubble and crack on the ceiling of the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial. I imagine that’s what the humidity would do to make-up here as well. It’s a losing battle. There’s a better chance that Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek leaps up from his resting place in his mausoleum to conquer mainland China for the Kuomintang than to conquer the humidity here.

I can’t tell if the blonde woman is pretty or not. I can’t tell if any of the Chinese women are, either. It’s not racism. It’s the humidity. No one can look good here, with or without make-up. I’ll bet if you took some of these Chinese women out of Taiwan, they would be really pretty. It would be like taking someone who had been wearing weights on their ankles all their life and putting them into a track and field competition without weights. They’d naturally be amazing athletes after being saddled with weights that had suddenly been removed.

Feeling sticky, sweaty and muggy is a remarkably unsexy feeling. It’s like you’re really sweaty and out of breath after a long hard fuck, but subtracting all of the post-coital bliss of the long hard fuck. It’s just the clean-up part where you want a cool towel to wipe down your sticky and stinky nether regions. It’s hard to breathe and you’re just stinky and sweaty without the fuck and without the cool towel. There’s nothing sexy about humidity here. Maybe a southern gal in New Orleans could fan herself on the porch with a pitcher of lemonade and a sultry smirk. But that same gal and her fan would wilt under the humidity in Taiwan. The fan would be useless because the unrelenting humidity prevents any evaporation of sweat from the skin even in a light breeze from a fan. The stereotype of a Chinese girl with a fan came from northern China, not the sub-tropical island which is Taiwan.

I gasp for air again, just as a carp gawps at the top of the water for food. It’s so humid, Aquaman could breathe through his gills here. He must have gills, right? What is the biology of Aquaman? Does he release his seed as a swirling hazy cloud over Aquawoman’s eggs? I envy Aquaman for never having to use condoms. He just unleashes his seed bareback right into the ocean every damn time. Guaranteed safe sex. What a lucky guy. However, I can’t get too envious. He’ll never know the intimate feeling of skin-on-fin contact which is presumably very nice. I wonder when they’ll address this in the upcoming movies where they feature Aquaman. Now, Aquaman fertilizing some Easter eggs would be something to sit through the credits for. Imagine that cloudy emission floating straight at you in 3D, and the virtual tadpoles that emerge from your face. That’s the ultimate culmination of computer graphics and 3D, is to have Aquaman simultaneously inseminate an entire audience on opening night. That such a happy ending is in the realm of the possible is going to make all other possible endings disappointing in comparison now that the idea of that spoogy possibility has been disseminated to you. Likewise, the attractiveness of a woman in Taiwan cannot be determined because the platonic ideal of that same woman not being in the swampy, sweaty, junior high locker room air of Taiwan always exists in theory .

The humidity in Taiwan ruins it for me; it really does. Aquaman releasing his cloudy seed into your face in 3D at the end is merely a mild metaphor of how the humidity ruins it for me here in Taiwan. That  metaphor is barely a single tadpole compared to the hellspawn that is the actuality of the humidity here. But enough exaggeration and metaphor. The simple, unadorned truth is that the humidity in Taiwan makes rainy summers in Houston seem tolerable and almost nice and refreshing in comparison. That is no exaggeration, but simple truth.