How to Play Video Games as a 30-Year-Old Non-Gamer

Temple Run DeathStep 1: Read New Yorker article about Canabalt and the long-lost “endless runner” genre of video games and think for a moment that since they don’t require headsets and 10-button control pads, you might actually be able to play and enjoy a smart phone game.

Step 2: Realize that $2.99 for Canabalt is $2.99 more than you’re willing to spend on a game and settle for the free Temple Run which was described in the article as also good.

Step 3: Get killed by band of crazy monkeys in 10 seconds.

Step 4: Get killed by band of crazy monkey in 15 seconds.

Step 5: Turn off smart phone and go back to reading the New Yorker while lamenting the passing of Sega Genesis and complaining that video games these days just aren’t as good as they were when you were a child.

Is Edward Snowden a Hero?

In my previous post, I argued that Edward Snowden is the storybook character that the world has been waiting for. Most folks already assumed that the NSA was involved in nefarious snooping, but with a potential hero on our hands, the leaks and the Government actions they pertain to suddenly seem more interesting. But is Snowden a hero?

Luckily, the New Yorker’s John Cassidy  and  Jeffrey Toobin have provided us with articles arguing for and against Snowden’s hero status.  I’ve broken down their main points below to see how they stack up against one another.

Hero (Cassidy)

Criminal (Toobin)

  • Revealed important info the public deserved to know about
  • Put his career and life in jeopardy
  • Leaks contain nothing sensitive that threatens national security
  • PRISM tracks Americans and our allies more than terrorists
  • Revealed that senior intelligence officials misled Congress
  • Potentially seeking publicity
  • Potential messianic complex
  • Broke the law
  • He had other options

When you see it like that, the answer seems rather clear. At the very worst, Snowden is an opportunistic young charlatan who for personal gain, helped the country out. There’s no denying he broke laws, but by doing so, he exposed a problem much larger than his crime – we’re talking violation of the Constitution level of problems. As Cassidy points out:

Just a couple of months ago, at a Senate hearing, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden…asked Clapper (Director of National Intelligence), “Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” To which Clapper replied: “No, sir.” (He added, “Not wittingly.”) At another hearing, General Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., denied fourteen times that the agency had the technical capability to intercept e-mails and other online communications in the United States.

Toobin claims that Snowden had legal options to pursue his grievances, but if the heads of our national intelligence apparatus are willing to lie to Congress when confronted with questions on domestic surveillance, what chance does a 29-year-old techie stand? From what we currently know, this guy looks pretty heroic to me.

This Scandal Just Went Hollywood

We don’t want privacy – we want a good story.

Edward SnowdenI’m not sure what to make of the revelation that the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans for years, secretly monitoring our phone calls and internet activity in ways that certainly push the boundaries of what is legal and just.

I had already assumed that the NSA (and who knows what other agency) was violating our privacy. So the leak provided by Edward Snowden merely confirmed reasonable suspicions that I and many Americans have held since…well always, but certainly since September 11, 2001.

The public tumult following the NSA leaks is different than the controversies surrounding Obama’s other scandals. Ben Gazi seems like a case of incompetence being stretched to one of treachery. The IRS targeting conservative organizations was inappropriate but a drop in the bucket compared to the number of right-leaning organizations that received little scrutiny. The Justice Department seizing phone records of the Associated Press is a dispute in policy rather than a scandal – if the actions seem despicable, blame the law that allows the Government to take such actions.

Although none of the three scandals mentioned above should be excused, upon closer inspection, they fail to get my blood boiling. It feels like the Government acting dumb – just as it always has. This week could have featured another tired news cycle of a Government agency overstepping its boundaries in a flood of partisan talking points had it not been for one key element that changed everything – Edward Snowden.

One man. A face. That’s all it takes to turn this whole mess into a story of good versus evil. We knew all along that the Government was the bad guy, but what we were missing until now, was a hero, and we have found him. Is he a hero? I have no clue, and most folks won’t care because we want the narrative more than the substance of character or policy. For goodness sake, his name sounds like that of a character from Game of Thrones – the next Lord of Winterfell, Ed(w)ard Snowden!

We don’t want our privacy – we want an individual (preferably a white male so as to fit the Hollywood narrative) to stand up to the system and fight. If we really wanted our privacy, we wouldn’t be signing it away every single day to Facebook, Google and all types of companies collecting our personal data. Edward Snowden represents the answer to all our collective longings. He’s a nerd who took a stand. He has libertarian tendencies (donated to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign) which gives him automatic anti-establishment cred. He’s tough (enlisted in the Army in 2003 to join the Special Forces) and not ugly, which is not insignificant. And of course, his main concern now is the pain he may be causing for his family, many of whom work for the US Government. I expect that the screenplays are already being written.

The place he chose to go makes the story only more interesting. Hong Kong is, for all intents and purposes, a democratic system within a larger authoritarian one. The semi-state already has an extradition treaty with the US, but none of that matters if China, which has the final say on all foreign relations with Hong Kong, decides to step in. Snowden’s decision to flee east sets up a potential clash of superpowers that would never have been possible had he fled to anywhere else in the world.

Had the same news about the NSA’s PRISM project came from a boring committee of journalists at a big newspaper, I guarantee that the story would not have made as big a splash as it did. We are much more concerned with the fate of this troublemaker than the laws and policies he hopes to change.

Map of American Craft Brewing

New Yorker Beer MapEarlier this year I wrote about the history of beer in the US. In it I argued that the current boom in craft/micro brewing is merely a return to the original beer culture that existed for the greater part of America’s history.

The New Yorker just put out an interesting map showing the rise of craft breweries of which there are now more than 2,300 in the US. The most surprising finding is that the areas experiencing the biggest growth are in the South and Southwest – outside of the traditional craft brew centers in the New England and the Pacific Coast. Also interesting is that craft brews represent 30% of total beer sales at Costco (hardly a place reputed for craft anything).

Game of Thrones and the Collective Consciousness

In case you missed it, shit hit the fan in Westeros.

There have been television moments that have dominated the headlines before, but the aftermath of the Rains of Castamere episode of Game of Thrones is something different. It’s the first time a show managed to blindside its audience (except those who read the books) in the digital age. For the past 48 hours, it has been nearly impossible to read any mainstream publication or browse Facebook without encountering some news about the most recent GOT episode.

When Lucy and Ricky had a baby, the whole country was already on the edge of their seat. The same could be said for finding out who shot JR. And then there was the hype and disappointment of the Seinfeld finale.

In terms of sheer numbers, the Game of Thrones episodes can’t compare with these or any of the big moments of network television. But network television is dying, and the shows that have the most buzz surrounding them are niche products that have smaller audiences. Even Mad Men, arguably the most prestigious and talked about show on television, is watched by just over 2 million people – a small fraction of the 120 million Americans who tuned in for the finale of M*A*S*H.

In spite of being watched by only 5 million 13 million¹ people (comparable to Dancing with the Stars), a show like GOT makes a much bigger splash than its initial viewership suggests. Being an HBO show automatically gives you a bit more cred, and nudity doesn’t hurt, but most importantly, it has enough crazy fans. Fans that will ensure that things like episode 9 go viral. Fans that do things like this:where are my dragons

Like most viral hits, it’s possible that the episode will not last the test of time and that in the coming years, it will be overshadowed by countless other shocking and viral episodes. Virality has replaced the office water cooler. It gives an outlet for venting emotions that did not exist just years ago. It’s gotten to the point that within a day of the episodes broadcast, a video showing viewers’ reactions has received more than a million views on YouTube. Let’s think about that, 5 million people watched the show, and more than a million people went out of their way to watch people watching the show.

It seems unlikely that a show will ever capture the attention of the entire country like in the heyday of network television. Our collective consciousness is evolving to accommodate and have feelings about shows most folks will never actually see.

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1. Update: as a friend pointed out to me, the 5 million figure that I originally sited only counts those who watch the initial broadcast. When taking into consideration HBO Go, DVR, and rebroadcasts (not counting illegal streaming and downloading which are in the millions for sure), the figure rises to more than 13 million legal viewers. Not quite Seinfeld numbers, but certainly better than a random episode of Dancing with the Stars. Thanks Mika!