The Catholic Church Scandals

I am having difficulty wrapping my head around the current round of extremely nasty scandals coming out of Catholic Diocese in the US and Europe. The bullet point approach works for me so here it goes in no particular order:

– Neither all priests, nor most priests, nor many priests are anything more than extremely dedicated professionals who would never improperly touch anyone, let alone young boys;

– That said, extensive impropriety did happen, systemically, and in Dioceses around the world. When word leaked out, as word always leaks out, the Church chose to cover up priests with serious mental issues who serially committed serious and major crimes over decades* rather than confront the issue at hand.

– As the world learned during Watergate, the cover-up is far worse than the original crime. Considering the crime, these attempts at cover up are magnifying what is already a horrific problem a thousand-fold.

– The response from the Church, from calling the reports “petty gossip” to dismissive sniffing to blaming it on t3h gays to hurried cover-ups feels trite, childish, and irresponsible.

– Andrew Sullivan had a fantastic post in the last week (lost in the incredible spew of his blog, unfortunately) about how gay boys turn into gay self-loathing priests living in a world where they call themselves horrible monsters in the eyes of God who finally turn into predators because they are adults with arrested early adolescent sexuality attracted to yet other adolescents.

The Church is an enormous, rigidly hierarchical organization, spanning dozens of countries with hundreds of millions of parishioners, with a history spanning two thousand years. Watching these scandals unfold, it is not pedophilia the Church cannot deal with, but modernity. A hundred years ago, or fifty years ago, or even five years ago, the Church, a highly insular organization with rigid controls, could move the offending priest form one parish to another. The problem magically disappeared. Poof! No more pedophilia in the parish! Everything taken care of! And the news reports, if there were any, faded into nothing as the giant echo chamber of the Internet had not yet, quite, reached its full power.

Today, information travels at the speed of light and every news outlet, from the biggest news organization to the tiniest blog** has a forum for commentary to keep the story going. The world does not provide shade from the light shined down on the ugliest problems swept under the rug. No one has anywhere to hide. Once Pandora’s Box is opened, it stays opened. Problem priests cannot be shuffled between parishes. Victims cannot be dismissed or hushed up. One cannot sniff and call these systemic reports “petty gossip.” They must be dealt with.

The stakes are high. One cannot claim to be the moral authority on Earth and the conduit between a parishioner and Christ while still brushing one of the greatest of all crimes under the rug. Catholicism is not the local rotary club or the school board. The Church is in the business to be better. The Church is supposed to be above laws, above governments, above all human institutions. Here it is, a human institution made up of humans who have human failings***, out on parade with its dangly bits for all to see.

The end of this road the Church is currently on is a simple one: fewer parishioners. More people turned away. More disillusioned who don’t show up or head down the street to the local Episcopalian Church — all the Catholicism, less neurotic conniption fits. Further aging and further stodgy insistence on arch-conservatism. Aging population with no hopes of fresh blood.

I am not cheering for the Demise of the Church like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins but it doesn’t get out of this one unscathed. It’s sad that an institution that claims the moral authority of Christ doesn’t have enough courage to look at itself and ask itself how it got into this mess. I feel terrible the good people who have dedicated their lives to the Church,**** the help for the poor and the betterment of Mankind have to be lumped in with this nonsense because the Church Authority cannot put on the Big Boy pants.

And sometimes, I am just mean enough, just a tiny bit, to think that the Nazi Pope may be the Pope the Church hierarchy deserves until it decides to join the rest of us.

* And centuries.
** Like me!
*** I am not calling pedophilia a normal human failing. It is a horrific crime. Normal people who make up the hierarchy of the Church are human beings prone to human failings.
**** The nuns are awesome these days! Also, I totally love the Franciscans.

Bayonetta

One thing I forgot to mention in my general roundup was my experience with the game Bayonetta.

PAX had this very nice room where one could wander in and check out a game and play it for 45 minutes – hour. The library was large and it spanned multiple different game systems. Want to try out a PS3? Sure. Want to check out this weird game you heard about? Go ahead!

I was alone, and I wanted to play something where I would have no emotional investment. So I checked out Bayonetta. The guys working the room asked me three times if I really wanted to play this game and I said yeah, of course I did.

This game is, to put it simply, horrifically, awfully awesome. It is so awful it actually makes that loop to becoming good again. In essence: you are a DEMON NUN WITH GUNS AND KUNG-FU. You are beating up the ANGELS OF HEAVEN. God has it in for you, personally. And you, like, kung-fu on a bunch of angels and you head down to purgatory and hang out and you get magic witchy hair powers that let you walk on water and dodge lightning and then you go hang out in a bar in hell to buy your powerups. Blah blah blah plot and cut scenes — I kept hitting “skip cutscenes” so who knows what the plot is about.

Really, SEGA, you had me at DEMON NUN. The guns and kung-fu are just added bonuses.

People wandering the room had to stop and stare at what I was playing. By time I got kicked off, I had a small audience who partook of my terrible run-through of the game. There was a small “aw” when I turned it off.

Dude, I totally don’t know if I could recommend this game or not. I just know, like, DEMON NUN.

PAX East 2010 Roundup

Short form: We had a fucking fantastic time.

Long form: I am not a big fan of cons and I don’t attend gaming cons. I have never been a big enough tabletop gamer to want to dedicate my entire weekend, plus a drive, plus hotel, plus food, to tabletop gaming. But since I was about ten, I have wanted to go to a video game con — any video game con, anywhere. For years I devoured the coverage of E3 until it became so tepidly lame that it finally died. I would have gone out to Seattle to PAX if I could have swung it and the moment I heard there was a PAX East, we had tickets. I bought tickets three hours after they were announced and sat on them since September.

Video games are my primary nerd-dom, followed by (indie) comics, then indie music. PAX is awesome. Main passion is video games? PAX. Like comics? PAX. Into card and board games? PAX. Want to spend your entire weekend playing D&D 4th Ed? PAX. It is a pinnacle of nerd fury.

We drove up to Boston and stayed in the Sheraton Boston attached to the Prudential Center which also housed the convention center so we never went outside. I wasn’t a big fan of the hotel — the room was tiny, the bar sucked, everything was overpriced, and they tried to buy me out of my room the moment I arrived. (Um, no? How does NO grab you.) But we spent very little time in the hotel.

PAX East 2010 had a problem with underestimating the amount of space needed for all the panels and activities/people, so everyone got real friendly and there were problems with space and seating. Without dedication to the entire convention, it was very difficult to get into many of the main events. We already know that next year it is moving to bigger facilities for demand but once we figured out that getting into major events meant waiting in lines, we dedicated ourselves to waiting in lines.

Some of our high notes:

Wil Wheaton’s Keynote: It’s online (search YouTube for ‘wil wheaton pax east.’) It was a pitch-perfect speech that addressed getting Old and still being a Geek.

Saturday Night Concert: If we were going to do anything while we were in Boston it was see Internet Troubadour Jonathan Coulton perform live. We nearly killed ourselves getting guaranteed seating. We stood in the pre-line for the line to get the wristbands so we could get in the line. We were not disappointed.* The highest point was the performance of Mr. Fancy Pants on a Zen Drum hooked to Logic Pro. Seriously. Make with the clicky.

Also, if for some reason you don’t know or listen to Mr. Jonathan Coulton and you claim to know me, click the above and exchange money for music. Or go to the old Thing a Week and listen to some of the tracks and then buy CDs.

Eric met MC Frontalot: What else do I have to say? Eric had the MC Frontalot demos off the website and wanted to exchange money for CDs. And completely unbidden, every CD cover got signed and Eric got a signed poster. It was awesome. You should totally buy a copy of the new LP, Zero Day. It has Jhonen Vasquez cover art! A bonus XKCD comic just for MC Frontalot! A song about Kingdom of Loathing! I don’t like hip hop but even I like the CD.

Steel Battalion: I would have nothing to do with this incredibly wrong game but we had to watch a match. We had to. Steel Battalion is a game for the old XBOX that required this enormous 40 button controller and was a “complete power suit simulation.” They had 10 machines all lashed together on a LAN to play tower defense games. It was insane.

Apples to Apples: We couldn’t get into the MC Frontalot concert on Friday night, so instead we discovered we could actually check out board games and card games. We met another totally random group of guys and played three hilarious rounds of Apples to Apples for an hour and a half. It summed up the entire con for us: people were on the whole awesome, people were looking for other people to play with, and you could hook up with total strangers to play games. (I also bought a Fluxx deck finally.)

The Rock Band Lounge and the Handheld Lounges: The Rock Band Network took over a room and turned it into a faux-bar with beanbags and chairs and had people get up on stage and make total jerks of themselves playing Rock Band. If you didn’t play on Expert you were booed! Best run of the con were the guys who played Iron Maiden — total props to you guys. You know who you are.

The best part were the long hallways covered in beanbags. Anyone could just go collapse with a handheld or a laptop on a beanbag for a while. Two huge hallways had beanbags on two floors so there was always a beanbag free. This was just brilliant — if you collapsed from just tiredness you always had a place to go.

The EXPO Center: I thought the Expo was too small — and we already know it will be bigger next year — but most of the booths had playable demos. I saw Puzzle Quest 2 with the big upgraded interface, so once that comes out nice knowing you guys. I saw tons of really compelling tech from the huge upgraded video cards to the tiny portable gaming rigs with 12 hours of life to the full six-string guitar controller/trainer for the XBox 360. (They gave me a free t-shirt — there were free t-shirts everywhere.) The new Rockstar game looks fantastic. Big downer though: I couldn’t get into the Civ5 demo.

I still seriously want that gaming table/dining room table.

Awesome people: From the guys who played Apples to Apples with us to the guy who told me the horrors of trying to win a Mario Cart DS tournament (avoid the blue bombs!!!) to the guys who let me watch their Mafia card game to the guys who demo’d their insane D&D4th edition flat-screen table with minis, everyone was just awesome.

Friends! We saw Chris and Jen, and I had lunch with Mark, and then we had a great meal with Mark and Eleanor. We will see you guys at the end of May!

Despite scheduling issues and having real difficulties getting into panels and that we are so sore, I am intending to buy our PAX East 2011 tickets the moment they go on sale in September. For the first year, it was great, and it will be guaranteed to be better next year.

I do have a photo archive up. They’re not the best pictures but they’re something.

* We had a backup plan if we couldn’t get into the concert. Freezepop was playing at the Harmonix Showcase just outside the convention center.

A Collection of Things

Apparently Bob Ehrlich has decided to run against Martin O’Malley for Maryland Governor in 2010. O’Malley defeated Ehrlich in 2006 because Ehrlich was such a marvelous governor for the State of Maryland and we loved him so much. I don’t know about anyone else, but I would rather vote for a bag of flaming dog poop over Bob Ehrlich, the man who blocked the ICC and watched over the massive, rampant overbuilding of the state and was all rah rah Slots Will Save Us and gave us the wonderful personage of Michael Steele. A hammer to the left big toe for eternity is better than Bob Ehrlich. I have no real complaints about Martin O’Malley who built the damn ICC and has been luring tons of security work to the 5 mile radius around my house. I’ll be giving cash to the Maryland Democrats this year.

There’s a viral video going around of Bush and Clinton in Haiti. Bush shakes the hand of someone and then wipes his hand on Clinton’s shirt. Someone people think Bush was grossed out by touching someone. Other people think he was trying to get Clinton to hurry up. My theory? He had an opportunity to feel up the Man and took his chance. Who wouldn’t want to fondle Clinton*?

Newsweek has a hilarious article today called everyone hates Duke. This year’s tourney has been crazy but Duke is still hanging in, gunning for #1. My theory: every great story needs a good, reoccurring villain and, frankly, it’s fun to hate Duke.

We are leaving for PAX East in a few hours and doing a two-day drive thing. I’ll have my Droid — a message via email will get to me faster than a phone call, I bet. We’ll be looking to hook up and take LOTS of pictures. Eric has demanded I wear my skulls hoodie. Skulls Skulls Skulls!

* It’s a joke! A joke!

Echo Bazaar

A few of us are playing Echo Bazaar, a cute web-based card and social grind game. Most of the gameplay is spent grinding up stats ala Kingdom of Loathing but it has some interesting small arc-like plots and a large story-arc “Ambition” for the character to reach new levels and “do” something.

We keep coming back for the setting. The premise is that London has, at some Steampunky/Victorian period, “fallen.” It is now an infernal environment filled with horrible people, demons, mushrooms, bats and weasels as pets, and devils politely taking tea. Bits of old London, especially street signs, are censored away. The character is subject to nightmares that drive them to insanity. Secrets are exchanged for tickets in an underground Victorian circus.

Someone had a great deal of fun writing the Ambitions, the challenges, and the prose for the cards. Text is short but rich — little sentences and paragraphs that evoke the feeling of this underground London. The art is fine but it’s the writing that makes one want to sit and grind to open up new parts of the game.

It does integrate with twitter. What we’ve learned:

– It uses oauth to log you into the game through your twitter account, so you do need a twitter account to play.
– However it does not spam your friends list much at all. You can, optionally, send out 1 message of text a day to get a refresh of turns, but it is optional.
– Rarely the EchoBazaar team sends a game update through twitter.
– Players can play games or contests with each other. This is communicated through single direct messages.

Unlike a Facebook game, Echo Bazaar doesn’t penalize for missing a day of play. It gives a generous number of turns/day (70) that it doles out 10 at a time. Things do constantly open up as levels get higher and the game is rapidly adding more missions and improvements.

Echo Bazaar is an adorable web-based game with a very nice setting. I recommend it.

Google vs. China

Is anyone else following this story?

Google has redirected google.cn to point at their Hong Kong servers which far less restrictions on search results. I am not clear on the law differences between Hong Kong and Mainland China but apparently this was a major slap in the face to China. The Chinese are pissed. The Chinese retooled the Great Firewall of China to post-filter the results coming from google.com.hk.

This has major business implications for American businesses in China. I have to admire Google’s stance. But I have no idea where this is going to go. The Chinese aren’t going to appreciate the big, fat middle finger and Google is going to lose buckets of money. It looks like a lose-lose proposition to me.

We’ll see.

Quick Update on Civics

I cannot believe I need to say this but the Internet has gone insane. To be clear:

1. The United States is a Representative Democracy.
2. Citizens elect representatives to represent their local interests on a Federal level.
3. Representatives then represent their constituents in Congress.
4. Congress shall:
– Lay and collect taxes, duties and excises
– Pay for debts for the common welfare
– Borrow money on credit for the United States
– Regulate commerce with other countries and between states
– Establish a uniform rule of naturalization
– Provide punishment for counterfitting
– Establish a post office and postal roads
– Promote science* and technology and the arts
– Punish piracy.
– Declare War.
– Raise and support armies and navies.
– Call up militia
– Make life hard in Washington DC
– To make laws

The United States is not:
1. A direct Democracy.
2. Ruled or have legislation crafted by referendum**.
3. Ruled or have legislation crafted by talking heads, political pundits, or pollsters.

Representatives vote for legislation they ran in the previous election, not what they are going to run on in the next election.*** A bill passed by Constitutionally and Legally elected majorities in the House and Senate is how the system works. The Constitution is here. The Federalist papers are here. If you are not happy, you have a right to voice your opinions at the ballot box every two years when every Representative of Congress is up for reelection. Senators, of course, are up only every six years.

I expect people who are not happy will suddenly discover American Civics and find themselves at the ballot box in November. Or, perhaps, get involved on more than a “posting on the Internet” level. Just as I was equally unhappy over the Iraq War. Or the Bush Tax Cuts. If that results in a swing in November, then that is American Civics in action.

* They need to get on that.
** Unless you’re the state of California but that is another story.
*** In theory. Not so much in practice.

More Health Care Reform

This is a very important document. It’s a timeline of when provisions in the brand new HCR bill go into effect.

My interest was not in the bonanza of stuff that goes into effect in the next six months but what goes into effect in 2012 and 2013. The big ones are:

* Linking Payment to Outcomes.
* Reducing Avoidable Hospital Readmissions.
* Health plans must adopt and implement uniform standards and business rules for the electronic exchange of health information to reduce paperwork and administrative burdens and costs.

These points are huge and, while I knew they were coming, no one carrying a sign said anything about them. The specialist doctors are going to get shellacked by this thing since currently they bill by test, not by outcome. It’s the beginnings of the LBJ Medicare patch that failed way back when.

And for the uniform standards and business rules for electronic records, I hope the hospitals are willing to pay programmers. Quick! Everyone learn VB.NET! There’s a job for YOU! Combine that with HIPAA and security concerns for EMR and now the requirement to implement a standard in three years… Sure it’s just health plans but those health plans have to interact with hospital systems.

Lots of stuff to chew on here. It’s frontloaded with free bennies that will come online two months before the election. It’s not entirely clear what the reconciliation patch will do once it’s done.

Health Care Reform

I always admired two qualities of Barack Obama: his tenacity and his convictions. Be it polls or news cycle or stories or protesters, the man does not blink when it comes to something he absolutely believes in. He will wait everyone out and do not what he thinks is popular, but what he thinks is right, from the point of social justice. A news cycle is just a news cycle. Gibbering talking heads on radio stations are just talking heads whose job is to sell more ads on radio stations, not govern. All these things pass. Wait. Be patient. Lose the battles you must to win the war. Then win the war. He is the Buddha Master of American Politics. All things pass — and if you stand on the courage of your convictions and refuse to blink, you win.

How easily we forget this is the first Black President and how momentous that simple fact is. We forget the primary battle. We forget the election. We forget how the simple fact he exists is remarkable on the face of it, and how doubly remarkable that he will stake his entire Presidency on his convictions. We forget he is already a major historical figure in US History. Yes, he bobbled issues in his first year but he has found his stride. Now, from a political standpoint, he can rally the oft wandering off in the woods members of the Democratic Party and say, we can do this, we can win, we can change things, we just need to stand there and do the work.

Will it work for him?  Who knows.  We’ll find out.

I don’t believe the process was American Fascism any more than the march to the Iraq War was American Fascism or Bush Tax cuts were American Fascism. We are a representative democracy. We elect representatives and send them to Congress. They vote on the wills of their constituents. Democrats campaigned in 2008 on health care. People elected them on the campaign for health care. Elections have consequences. That’s why you go and vote. We are not a Parliamentary System. We are winner take all.

It was a brilliant maneuver* on the part of the GOP to trot out the ugliness of American Democracy for a populace wholly ignorant of their own history. The populace saw the sausage making and went, “ew.” It is, by necessity, an ugly process of deal-making and compromise. It is horrible. It is ugly. It is the sucking chest wound of American Democracy. But this is what it is and has been since the beginning. We had fist fights over the assumptions of debt over the Revolutionary War. We’ve long since forgotten, say, the horrible ugliness of the fight over the Second Bank of the United States — hell, those people who dissented with Andrew Jackson**, He That Is On Our Money, dissented so violently they ran off and formed the Whig Party. That’s how badly they reacted to his success. Those who forget their 19th century history are doomed to repeat it. Jackson’s stand on nullification! Jackson’s stand on populism! Autocracy! We must defeat “King Andrew!”

And that worked out well for them. Who is Henry Clay again?

That is such an important point I am going to say it again: Those who forget their 19th and early 20th century history are doomed to repeat it. Sometimes American politics is trapped in Battlestar Galactica: all these things have happened before and it will happen again. Slavery! Reconstruction! Unions! Social Security! Civil Rights!

Of course, no one knows what happens next, now that the Senate version of health care reform is magically being poofed from a bill to a law other than we will be subjected to tedious Vote-A-Rama in the Senate on the Reconciliation Bill. Likely, nothing will change initially but I, for one, am happy and relieved I am not going to get the nasty “you have pre-existing conditions so screw off and die” call one day, a call that was otherwise inevitable. I’m not crazy about the bill. I feel it is weak and watered down. People ought to be allowed Medicare buy-in. But it is something.

So props to the Man.  For good or ill, he won a big fight.

* Props where props are due. By focusing on process over substance, the GOP nearly won, because US political process is beyond ugly***. It’s the equivalent of the attack ad. David Foster Wallace wrote a marvelous piece of John McCain for Rolling Stone during the 2000 Republican Primary. The full writeup is in his book, “Consider the Lobster,” which shined light on the practice of exposing the horrors of the US political systems to the electorate to turn them off and make them go away.

** As a side note, I am not a huge fan of Andrew Jackson at all, but he won his battles simply by being the meanest guy in the room. And he makes a great example. Personally, I believe Barack Obama is much closer to Theodore Roosevelt in style and temperament.

*** Remember, Alexander Hamilton was shot and killed by Aaron Burr over what was essentially a 12-year long “your mother.” That’s how ugly it is — and has always been. At least no one is shooting at anyone today.

Blergh

Katie brought some DEATH BUG into the house several weeks ago from school and it got to Eric. Then it took Eric down — and he doesn’t get bugs. Eric is normally impervious to every yuck and nasty that comes through the house. Then it went to me, and I’m full of misery and have been on-and-off work for days.

I will say: Tylenol Cold Head Congestion Severe only takes the white frosting off the misery and exchanges it for feeling tired. Seriously, I give it a B at best as a cold medicine. It’s pretty weak stuff but I know how I feel without it so it is better than nothing. I would gnaw my arm off for some Actifed. Sure I could go flash my driver’s license and say I AM NOT A METH ADDICT PLZ GIMME DRUGS but that means I have to move which I don’t want to do while this sick.

I am on day five and by watching the arc I have several more days to go. But at least I won’t be sick for PAX.