Monday, December 11, 2006

Keep your nose clean

Finals, as I’'m sure you’ve noticed, are here. Have you been getting enough sleep? I didn'’t think so. Brushing your teeth in the library?  Probably. Having caffeine-induced hallucinations and gibbering nonsense? Aren'’t we all?   

Yes, it'’s time for the last lap of the semester, and it'’s always pretty taxing. We panic-study, cram, and otherwise try to crowbar that last little theorem into our heads, and we forget all about it after the exam. We go to great lengths to do so, in fact. A lot of people even do crazy things like snorting Adderall or Ritalin to get those last few hours of studying in. There are a lot of problems with the way we study, but this has to be one of the worst ones.   

It shouldn't be too surprising to those of you who’'ve read me before that I have ADHD. I take Adderall every day, and I have been doing so for many years. Consequently, I know a good deal about it, and from that knowledge let me plead with you: DO NOT PUT THIS CRAP IN YOUR NOSE. It'’s strong medicine —— basically a slightly watered-down version of methamphetamine —— and is dicey enough when used in measured, physician-approved doses.  It screws with your appetite. It can make you a really awful person to be around, and it can absolutely ruin your sleep schedule.    

Crushing it into powder and doing lines of it, then, is one of the dumber things I can think of. Although I'’ve never done it, I know that it takes effect instantaneously and uncontrollably. I imagine that it’d be pretty scary for someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, especially if they do very much of it.

Most importantly, if you do enough of this stuff, it will give you cardiac arrest and you will die. Finito. Finishing chapter 14 of Smurf Biology isn'’t really worth it. You didn'’t study enough when you had the chance, so take your medicine, not my medicine.

Good luck, and keep your noses clean.

Jon Gold
DI columnist

Approach Israel-Iran relations with rational mindset

Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, is charged with one of the most salient jobs in the Israeli government. His key task is to formulate Israel’s relationship with Iran. While Israeli-Iranian cooperation has more historical precedent than most people realize, any compromises between the two states at the present time is unlikely. Lieberman took the post about a month ago, and his statements about Iran, as well as the Palestinian conflict, thus far foreshadow what we are likely to see in the coming months.

Lieberman’s strategic approach is demonstrative of the political realism that is so abundant in times of conflict. He has stated that Iran is the one of the most pressing issues facing the Israeli government today.
This view of Iran as such a huge threat is partially due to the lack of stability in the Middle East and the uncertainty regarding which states are going to emerge in the aftermath of the Iraq war as the most powerful. Although Saddam Hussein’s regime was brutal, as is often the case with strong dictators, it was relatively stable. The U.S. occupation and the subsequent civil war in Iraq have contributed to a restructuring of the power balance in the region. As a new status quo is defined, states such as Israel and Iran are both trying to emerge on top of the pile.

Perhaps even more disputed are Lieberman’s recommendations for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He suggests that the surest path to peace is to redraw the borders to create two states that are more culturally homogenous. Not surprisingly, this proposal was rapidly attacked as racist. It is thoroughly unproductive, however, to base our explanations of events on something untestable, such as a decision-maker’s psychological biases. Historically, states with populations fragmented by language and religion, among other factors, are not strong, and Lieberman’s position simply reflects this understanding.

Finally, Lieberman has stated that the best way for Israel to combat security threats from the Palestinians is to focus on the upper levels of leadership in Hamas. This idea also fits nicely with what we would expect from a rational decision-maker. He states, “We need to concentrate on those who have something to lose, the entire upper-echelon of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.” This demonstrates an understanding that, despite the rhetoric we may hear from Hamas leaders, they are the ones in a position of power in the Palestinian government and, therefore, are the ones concerned with staying in power. Focusing on this cohort of Palestinian society will best serve Israel’s interests.

Analyzing the situation in this way can create mechanisms for predicting what political moves are likely in the near future. In this way, we can also ask when and under what conditions would Israel and Iran or Palestine be likely to cooperate. This would advance the peace process more effectively than falling back on moral judgment.

Lydia Pfaff
DI columnist

Monday, December 4, 2006

BCS bloodbath

Oh, good god. First we beat ourselves bloody, and now the Alamo Bowl people are tossing us in the shark tank.

College football has always done it differently, and this season is throwing those differences into sharp relief. As I write this, there’s a roiling controversy over which team really deserves a shot at the national championship game against Ohio State.  Perennial powerhouse USC was widely expected to face the Buckeyes, but lost a shocker against underdog rivals UCLA. Now Florida gets a somewhat unexpected chance, but even this was met with rumbles of indignation. The computer (oh, yes, it’'s a computer, doesn'’t that give you confidence?) that calculates BCS rankings had Florida and Michigan tied for second place, but the coaches and AP voters really seemed to hate the idea of a Michigan-OSU repeat, even though most of them would agree that Florida is the weaker team. 

Then again, since Michigan has already tried their luck and found it wanting against OSU, the Buckeyes still ought to be heavily favored against any possible challenger. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it’s a damn silly system, but it probably won’t make much of a difference this year at least for the championship game. The rest of college football’s postseason is a kind of Thunderdome of vaguely hierarchical bowl games that don’t really count for anything other than bragging rights and momentum for, er, next year. (I’'m not kidding; some sports journalists talk about momentum gained from these flashing-neon-lights-SEASON-ENDING games.) This leads to what could politely be called “a few mismatches.”  Another way to put it might be that every postseason game other than the championship is a glorified party put together solely for the purpose of drawing spectators and viewers. “Bloodbaths” is the word.

There needs to be a better system for this. Great teams shouldn'’t sit at home in January, and our poor beleaguered Hawks deserve better than what I'’m pretty sure will be a brass-knuckle beating at the hands of the Texas Longhorns. End the loony BCS.

Jon Gold
DI columnist

Gaming evolution

What if the world you lived it was about to vanish right before your eyes? No flash of light, no doomsday asteroid, and no cataclysmic tidal wave.

So then who is the apocalyptic villain? Bankruptcy. The online MMO (massively multiplayer online) game Ryzom has come under assault because of financial woes and there is a possibility that if the courts rule in favor of splitting up the franchise the world could disappear forever. According to the BBC, "the Free Ryzom Campaign is hoping to purchase the online fantasy game Ryzom from current owners Nevrax who will go into receivership in December." So far, the campaign has raised 60,000 euros in pledges from those faithful to the game hoping to see the perpetuation of its life.

This move is significant because if the Free Ryzom Campaign is able to obtain the popular MMO game they have declared their plans to release the source code to the gaming community. The source code is the underlying code of a program and is typically kept secrete by computing companies so they can charge consumers to use it. So if they source code is released gamers would be able to edit and alter their virtual realities freely and submit interface changes freely among the population. 

What we are seeing is an evolution of the gaming industry. Why hire programmers when you can dupe your loyal fan base into doing the work for you while pretending it is an honor to give them something they should have had access to in the first place?

John LaRue
DI columnist