Greenspan says “Oops!”

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post saying if any public official in the U.S. ought to be blamed for the current mess in the financial markets, it ought to be Alan Greenspan, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve. A couple of days ago, at a Congressional hearing, Greenspan admitted that he had made mistakes, while stopping short of taking full responsibility. He also admitted that he had failed to take action earlier for idealogical reasons, believing that the markets would be self-correcting.

It’s a bad time to believe in capitalism. As a poster on QT3 remarked, Greenspan was “like BFF with Ayn Rand and everything”. Hopefully, I’ll have time to write a spirited defense of capitalism next week.

Culture. Who owns it?

I’ve seen meaning to make this post since I got around to finally watching Kung Fu Panda a couple of weeks ago but didn’t find the time. It’s an awesome film as its poster claims, but more importantly, it’s an awesome kung fu film, easily the best one of the year, and it was made entirely in the U.S. This makes it a great example of a point that I’ve been wanting to make. One of my pet peeves is that whenever some Chinese patriot tries to make a case for Chinese nationalism, the issue of Chinese culture and its 5,000 history invariably crops up. This is annoying for two reasons.

One, it seems to imply that Chinese culture and history is somehow better, or more special, than that of any other solely by reason of its longevity. As this old article explains, that’s a poor argument. Chinese culture is indeed worthy of attention and study, but then nearly every corner of the Earth is just as steeped in history. Chinese apologists try to make the argument that Chinese identity is unique in that it alone of all other cultural identities in the world can trace an unbroken lineage up to 5,000 years back, but as the article also explains, that relies on a rather slippery definition of what China, and what being Chinese, means.

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Religion in Medieval 2

I finally finished my epic campaign as England in Medieval 2. Boy, did that take longer than I expected. The next game on my play queue is the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher. Since it might take a while for me to get to writing a full review of Medieval 2, here’s a screenshot of it showing my English pope who is secretly female!

Religion plays a fairly big role in the game. The nations are divided into three different religions: Catholic, Orthodox and Islamic. In addition, there are heretics and pagans, both of which are bad from a gameplay perspective. Basically, if you play a Catholic faction and attempt to conquer a region that isn’t Catholic, you’re going to have huge Public Order issues. Heretics are particularly bad in that even a very small percentage of them in a given population will cause tons of unhappiness all around. In order to get around this, you need to recruit and send priests (or imams in the case of the Islamic nations) to the regions that you intend to conquer and convert their population to your own religion. Here’s a picture of my God squad busy turning the Middle East from 100% Muslim to 100% Catholic.

Catholic factions (including England, since King Henry VIII only broke ties with Rome in 1534 and the game takes place from roughly the 12th to 15th century) are also hampered in their plans of conquest by the Pope who hates it when Catholic factions fight each other. If you annoy him too much, he might excommunicate your faction, which really makes your people mad. Fortunately, he can be bribed with money and lands. He also likes it when you build lots of cathedrals all over the map. Orthodox and Islamic nations don’t have the equivalent of a Pope so they can freely fight whomever they want. A new Pope is chosen whenever the old one dies by the College of Cardinals, which is essentially made up of the Catholic priests with the highest piety scores. Since priests can get the “Secretly Female” trait randomly when recruited, getting her to become Pope was a simply a matter of levelling up her piety by converting lots of heathens to Catholicism.

Catholic nations can also ask the Pope to call for a Crusade while Islamic nations can call for a Jihad whenever they want. They work the same way in that they target a specific city owned by an enemy religion, allowing the formation of special Crusader / Jihadist armies to have formed to conquer that city. These armies benefit from special bonuses including greater movement speed on the strategic map, being free from upkeep costs and being able to recruit special reinforcement units while in the field. The caveat however is that they need to make progress towards the targeted city every turn or units will begin to desert from the army.

Solomon Islands Riots Photos

I finally got around to uploading the photos that I have of the riots in the Solomon Islands in 2006, as previously promised. I didn’t have a camera handy during the 2000 riots, which was a real shame, since groups of guys toting huge guns all over Honiara would have made for more spectacular sights, and even in 2006, I wasn’t about to take any silly risks, so these are really just photos of the aftermath. You can get much better photos of the whole thing from the BBC. I also won’t really go into the specific details of the political situation since that’s been covered by much better writers than myself.

The riots in 2006 happened after general elections that eventually put Snyder Rini into the Prime Minister’s seat. Mr. Rini had a rather unsavoury reputation, particular after his earlier stint as Finance Minister, so the word on the street was that as Prime Minister, he would be susceptible to bribes from the Chinese businessmen active locally. Or more susceptible that the norm in the Solomon Islands. Anyway, a crowd had been gathering near Parliament House to hear who would be the new Prime Minister, and when they heard that it would be Snyder Rini, they turned nasty and after being turned away by the Australian-led and supported police, descended onto the nearby Chinatown.

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Obama Ads in Game?

In-game advertising are nothing new now. In fact, my very first experience with MMO games was with Anarchy Online’s Free Play program in 2004. It was one of the first experiments of this type and offered free accounts in exchange for being shown advertisement posters and billboards in the game. However, this is the first time that I’ve heard of a political campaign buying advertisements in a game, in this case, the console racing game Burnout Paradise.

As the site notes, it’s not sure whether this is legitimate yet and may simply be a case of good photoshopping skills. But if it is true, it speaks volumes of Senator Obama’s savvyness. He’s also bought a half-hour of network primetime to speak directly to U.S. audiences on the 29th October. What’s surprising is that I think a lot of Americans are going to tune in to listen to him. When is Malaysia going to get a politician this cool?

Financial Meltdown

This is as good a time as any to post a link to Sad Guys on Trading Floors, a photo collection of traders’ reactions to the continuing financial meltdown. The U.S. Federal Reserve just dropped the federal funds rate by 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent, while central banks around the world followed suit, and the markets still dropped. The U.S. Treasury stated that it might have to take ownership of U.S. banks and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just announced a proposal for yet another stimulus package worth US$150 billion to be spent in a Keynesian attempt to jump start the American economy. All of that is just today’s news.

Remember how AIG was bailed out by the U.S. government to the tune of US$85 billion just a couple of weeks ago and needed another US$37.8 billion yesterday? A report today details a week long “conference” organized by the world’s largest insurer for its top agents at a five-star resort in California costing more than US$400,000.00 just a few days after the first bailout. As the saying goes, we live in interesting times.

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The unexamined life is a life not worth living