How Much Do You Think About Sitting?

I mean, nobody really thinks about sitting down. It’s just a thing that we have to do. But, I probably put more thought into it than you do. Waaaaay back in my second post to this blog I promised I’d talk more about why it freaking sucks to be tall. So, here it is. This is the one. Hope you’re ready for it.

The venerable C. Montgomery Burns once said “From the lowliest peasant to the mightest pharoah, who does not enjoy a good sit?” Everybody loves to sit down. I mean, it’s the simplest thing in the world. Plant ass in chair. What’s there to think about?

When was the last time you went to the theatre? I’m talking Broadway here. For $100 (the cheap seats) I get to squeeze myself into a seat that is so close to the one in front of me I can’t put my feet on the floor. I wedge my knees against the next row’s seat, and just kind’ve let my feet dangle a few inches off the floor. By the time the intermission comes around I’ve pretty much lost feeling in my toes. If it’s a long show there’s a real possibility my feet will be asleep. While there are very few people who would say that theatre seats are comfortable most people won’t have their movement impeded for a short period after they stand up.

Cinema (ooh, cinema, I’m fancy) seating isn’t much better. Until recently, the stadium seating in most movie theaters was fantastic for me, and the rest of the very tall. You just made sure you got there in time to grab those front seats on the tiered section. You know the ones. Not at the front of the theater, but the bottom tier, with the bar in front that was divided from the floor seats by the walkway. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, those seats were freaking sweet for giants. You could stretch your legs out without kicking anybody and thanks to the people behind also being above there was no self-consciousness about blocking somebody’s view! Unfortunately, it seems that layout is going away. What it’s being replaced with is a traditional incline floor plan with recliners.

Let’s talk about recliners for a sec here. Recliners are the king of comfy chairs. For normal people. For long people, they’re just another disappointment and reminder of our freakish proportions. Two things interfere with our full appreciation. The first is the height of the chair back. When the average person reclines their head rests near the top of the chair’s back. When someone above a certain height, usually around 6’3″, lays back, their head is too far back and they find themselves looking at the back of the theater. Upside down. It’s not comfortable. We can’t just scoot down, though. That’s because of the second barrier between us and maximum comfy. The leg rests are meant to be pushed down, so they can bear the weight of an average set of legs. Regardless of actual weight, though, physics and leverage can interfere with the intended function. You see, the further past the end of the footrest one’s legs hang, the greater the effective weight on the footrest. I’m a very skinny guy, but if I stretch my legs out on most reclining chairs the footrest immediately sinks. The further I scoot down so that my head isn’t hanging off the chair the more my legs do which drops the footrest and raises my head. I have a choice between lying on my side and half-curling up or leaving myself in a position between upright and reclined that offers the comforts of neither.

That’s sitting we pay for. But what about the sitting we get paid for? Do you think that’s better? No. No, it is not. Office chairs are notoriously uncomfortable. It’s a simple fact of life. But, some of us are lucky enough to work for a company that cares about its employees to make an effort toward seeing that they don’t suffer serious spinal injuries. These angelic employers will purchase more expensive chairs with a magical feature: lumbar support. Fuck lumbar support chairs. Fuck them so hard.

These chairs are designed to fit the contours of a person’s back. Another unfortunate side effect of being tall is that the curve of one’s back doesn’t usually start where most people’s would. It’s a bit higher. So, instead of a comforting support in the curve of our lower backs we get a mound pressing into that spot where your hips meet your back, pushing our pelvises forward while we sit. The only way to get comfortable is to, again, scoot down in the chair, but that is not really a good position to maintain for an 8-hour workday. You’ll find a lot of tall folk will opt for a straight-backed chair when working at a desk.

And oh boy, that desk. The first thing we do when sitting down to get to work is raise the chair to its maximum height so that we can get as close as possible to the standard 90 bend in our knees while we’re sitting. You’ll find a lot of people over 6’5 or so will have a shallower angle because the chairs don’t go that high, but close enough. Now, we can’t fit our legs under your desk. If we can, it’s by the barest margin. And the bottoms of  most desks aren’t empty planes, especially on the cubicle-farm type. They have support struts. Upon taking a new desk it usually requires about 3-4 good slams of a kneecap against a metal bar to imprint exactly where they’re located on this particular desk.

This doesn’t even touch on the height of the actual work surface. Taller folk are usually hunched over their desks when writing and their computer monitors are raised up using whatever’s at hand. If you walk through an empty office and see a cubicle with a monitor perched precariously on an old pizza box and 2 phone books from 1998 you’ve located the office giant’s lair. Tread softly.

I’ve limited today’s entry to a few pertinent examples. I haven’t covered transportation or the toilet yet, so look forward to that!

The Myth of the Citizen-Statesman Pt 2

Now that we’ve covered how voting rights were originally tied to wealth, let’s discuss another great myth: Anyone can be elected to political office. We all heard that one day we could grow up to be president. That’s bupkiss.

How it Works

Before even considering the Executive office, let’s talk about something more down to earth. Only three individuals since Washington have become president without holding previous office, and they were all US Army (Taylor, Grant, and Eisenhower if you were curious). To become the president you have to put in some time first. We’ll start with Congress. Made up of the Senate and House of Representatives, each has their own rules regarding who can run. US Senators have to be 30 years old, must have been US citizens for at least 9 years, and reside in the state they represent. Members of the House need to be at least 25 years of age, have been citizens for at least 7 years, and also live in the state they’re representing. Senators hold office for 6-year terms and Representatives run for office every 2.

There were Reasons that this system was designed. The Senate was the Big Picture body, while the House was meant to run for reelection often and have a higher turnover so that it would remain more responsive to and in touch with its constituency. Senators and Representatives in the House were to be voted in from the populace. So long as you met the minimum requirements above, you were eligible to serve.

Unfortunately, the system inherently favors the wealthy. Being elected to anything requires campaigning. Essentially, when you get down to it this means advertising and marketing which require both money and time. Given the right set of circumstances, one might be able to argue it could be possible to overcome a shortage of one of those with enough of the other, but for practical purposes we should accept that someone running for Congress requires enough capital to have signs printed and enough time to get out and kiss babies. This ensures that the poor are not going to be able to mount a convincing campaign. It’s also highly unlikely that a destitute individual would be able to finance their campaign through contributions from a wealthy benefactor.

The Man of the People

We’ll assume that someone who wants to run for the House of Representatives would need to be at least a median-income individual. Let’s say they make $55,000 annually as a retail manager. For the sake of our example we’ll say that they’re 30 years old, male, and married. Because we want to live in an ideal world we’ll assume our candidate’s wife is paid the same amount of money, so they pull in $110,000 a year. Our candidate is an idealist, and doesn’t take a lot of money from contributors, and his  wife is supportive. They drain their savings to finance the campaign. And our idealistic candidate wins. He becomes a member of the US Congress!

Our middle-income junior-congressman gets a starting salary of $165,200 per year. Our average-Joe tripled his salary. Wow! But, he’s not there for the money, remember. He wants to Do Good. And he sets out to do so. In his first year of service he helps to write a bill for Legalization of Good Stuff and Stopping Bad Stuff and wants to introduce it. But, now’s not the time, because he’s up for reelection. Time to campaign again. Someone in his own party wants his spot and then he needs to beat the candidate for the Other Guys. Lucky us, he succeeds, but he had to fight to get there and didn’t make much progress in his quest to Do Good.

The theoretical Congressman now pushes hard and manages to get his bill before the House before he needs to start campaigning again. It receives positive response and passes to the Senate. Wow! His work is done! He can spend the rest of his term Doing Good and then go back to the life of a citizen, secure in the knowledge that he’s served his constituency and the nation.

No. No, he can’t. Putting aside the fact that human beings are greedy creatures, even an ideal individual would have a rough time going back to their previous profession. Our retail manager would now need to find another job. It’s hard to imagine that his previous employer didn’t fill his position. And have you ever tried to jump back into work after a major injury keeps you sidelined for a few months? Imagine if it were 4 years. Especially today, the pace of industry is so rapid that it’s likely your knowledge is no longer applicable.

Where it Breaks Down

Even under the best possible circumstances, our legislative system is designed to create career politicians. Considering congressional income, not to mention benefits, there is no way that they can remain in touch with the average American. No matter how simply they live, there’s a difference between them and their constituents. Even if they grew up poor, they don’t know what it means to be poor today. The only people who can afford to lose office are those who were already wealthy.

I’ve heard people say that Congress should make minimum wage, or receive room and board but no pay, but how would that help? Then the only people who could afford to live while in office and put something away for the future would be those who were already wealthy. And the argument that raising the minimum wage would resolve that doesn’t address the issue that we want our best and brightest representing us. It would take a remarkably altruistic individual to sacrifice even a middling income for a subsistence wage at a job that (should be to someone with a conscience) is incredibly stressful.

Senators are up for election every 6 years, instead of 2. This means that they are generally able to be more productive, since they don’t have to campaign so often, but also that they’re even more susceptible to becoming a career politician, trapped in Congress, or at least in politics. The same situation occurs at every level of government above a city council, and possibly mayor in smaller municipalities.

Every few years the idea of congressional term limits is put forward and just as quickly shoved aside. While I’m not against the idea, I don’t think it addresses the root issue. It’s a cure that treats the symptom, not the cause, and still leaves us with only the wealthy being able to afford to take office.

The idea that an average individual can be elected to public office is unlikely. The idea that a public official can remain an average individual is impossible.

*I’ve only listed the congressional requirements at the federal level. Different states are allowed to have additional requirements. It should also be clear that the above scenario is incredibly simplified, but I feel that the point stands in reality. If anything it becomes worse (so very much worse) when you consider real world corruption and greed.
*Fun fact: Congress was originally given $6/day in session. Adjusted for inflation, the first Congressional salary (1855) of $3,000/year works out to about $85,000 in today’s money. That’s a nice salary, but not exorbitant.

The Myth of the Citizen-Statesman Pt 1

One of the things I was taught starting in elementary school was that the founding fathers of the United States broke from England seeking freedom and a desire to see the Americas ruled democratically, with the people represented by a vote. Anyone would be able to run for office and could be chosen to represent their peers. As I got older, of course I learned about the inherent prejudices and injustices of the time.

I’ll be talking about our actual constitution itself here and its context at the time, as opposed to what we’ve come to think of it. A mythology has sprung up around it, with its writers being granted near-divinity. While it is a wonderfully written one, it remains simply a document put on parchment and its framers were only human. They were not infallible, they were not necessarily altruistic, and in some cases were self-serving.

We are not, in any way, living in the nation that the founding fathers envisioned. In some ways this is good and in others bad, but the simple idea that we should make their intentions our primary concern when deciding law or policy is foolish.

The Right to Vote

There isn’t even any mention of an individual’s voting rights in the Constitution until the addition of the fourteenth amendment in 1868. Previous to that point, the only mention of how voting would take place was in reference to the electoral college in the twelfth. Everything else was left up to the individual states.

Some voting laws can be understood. Age restrictions were put in place to help ensure that people choosing their leaders were mature enough to weigh the decision. A literacy requirement, in historical context, was meant to keep the process accessible to those who could be informed of the issues in a time before radio and television (this is a “benefit of the doubt” view, as the laws were terribly misused later). A requirement that a voter be a citizen made, and still makes, sense. Then, there are the other laws.

Black men weren’t guaranteed the right to vote by federal law for nearly a century after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, though some states did provide the right on their own. Women did not receive federal protections for their voting rights until 1920, though again there were already some states and territories that recognized women’s votes. Asians, Mexicans, and native Americans didn’t get the right to vote until years later, with Japanese immigrants being the last to be specifically provided the rights of citizenship in 1952 and all naturalized immigrants from Mexico getting to vote in 1975.

I learned about all of those things during my schooling, even if some were only presented as a footnote. Do you know what I didn’t learn until I did my own research? Citizenship and voting rights were tied to property ownership. It took 44 years for the ownership of land to be removed at the federal level as a requirement for the vote. However, the requirement was not barred at the local level.

It’s barely been 50 years since poll taxes were forbidden in the Constitution, and fewer since a federal law was put in place that banned literacy tests. Though neither expressly forbids the requirement of property ownership as a pass to vote, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 effectively barred it by assumption.

Why Does This Matter?

Americans are raised being told that at the root of our system of government is our inalienable right to vote. “No taxation without representation!” was the rallying cry of the American Revolution and every citizen deserved to be heard. We’re told that our system of government was designed of the people, for the people, and by the people.

I submit the above as evidence that that has never, ever been true. It began with only the wealthy being enfranchised. In today’s terms, that means approximately 30% of Americans could not cast a vote based on property ownership. No one you know who is a renter would be heard.

The Continental Congress was made up of old rich white men and they framed a system of government that they could control through voting rights.

  1. Old – one had to be at least 21 years of age to vote. At the time the life expectancy was not yet 40 years. I feel it is important to note that the minimum age for impressment or conscription at the time was sixteen.
  2. Rich – only the owners of property could cast a vote.
  3. White – only white people could vote. Asians, native Americans, and free blacks received no protection of that right under federal law.
  4. Men – if you didn’t have a penis you did not choose your representation.

These truths are self evident. While it had been written that all men were afforded the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, only the wealthy ones were allowed to vote on what those things meant. Instead of nobility, our new nation was ruled by a wealthy elite. The argument that the Congress did not wish to infringe on states’ rights to govern themselves rings hollow when one considers that the first amendment provides the right of all citizens to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” So, the poor were allowed to ask, but the rich were allowed to tell.

I’d like to say that there are innumerable individuals with more knowledge than I on this subject. I claim no expertise on state or federal law or precedent, and this is based entirely on my interpretation of the little I am familiar with.
*http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html The Constitution of the United States. I nearly didn’t link this, because it can be found so easily. Personally, I have it on my phone.
*http://archive.fairvote.org/righttovote/timeline.htm my primary source for changes to voters’ rights, outside of those in the US Constitution.
*I was unable to locate a solid source confirming the age of conscription/impressment during the Revolutionary War. I found a few references to fifteen-year-olds fighting and being eligible to join the Continental Army, but most stated sixteen.

Some Thoughts on Destiny

 

Bungie… :sigh: Bungie!
They’re one of those rare companies that might actually be too responsive to feedback, and too willing to experiment with new ways of doing things. And as I’ve said before, I feel like they hit every nail with a 12lb sledge when a household hammer would do the job.
A quick note. I’m one of those “Day 1 alpha” players who spent the first year putting in an average of around 4+ hours of time every day. I started a clan that got enough active members to run multiple raids a week, Iron Banner events, and find someone to run a daily with at just about any hour. At this point, though, I don’t play much and most of that clan has moved to other games for a variety of reasons. By no means do I hate the game or am I “butthurt”. As a cash-for-entertainment investment Destiny had a great return. This is merely me looking back at some (what I feel to be) missteps Bungie made. It’s entirely from memory, so if I noted something being added/removed at the wrong time feel free to correct me, but please don’t be a dick about it.

In the Beginning
The leveling progression using ascendant materials made sense. A special material was used to upgrade legendary tier items. But, it sucked when you pulled ONLY materials (especially the wrong ones) from the VoG or a nightfall. Even so, you knew they’d be useful when you eventually got that legendary drop. However, the gear to reach cap being locked in a single activity that was rated at a difficulty higher than you could reach without completing it was something of a questionable decision. I was a member of the Forever 29 club.

The Dark Below comes out. New raid. They introduce a new material to upgrade the kewl new loot. This is a Bad Idea, because it drops just like ascendant did in the Vault, but can ONLY be used on gear dropped in the new raid. This makes it REALLY suck for players with full raid sets since the majority of the loot dropped was absolutely useless to them after about a month.

At the same time, power players (ie  me) were complaining about the low drop rate for legendary gear. We were hungry for more of it and a certain percentage of players (usually those with fewer hours) didn’t like needing to grind for upgrade materials in activities that were difficult. At the same time, there’s a degree of concern and backlash regarding gear dropped from previous endgame activities. We worked hard for it and wanted to keep it, but the vast majority was absolutely useless to us.

House of Wolves drops. Bungie tries to address everything. Special upgrade materials for legendaries go away (almost) completely. Legendary drop rates increase. There’s a way to bring old gear up to the new max, but it’s tied to the new endgame activity, which can vary WILDLY in difficulty based on modifiers controlled by RNG. But! The old raid gear still requires the old materials, and they still drop in raids. So, if you want a piece of gear from a raid, you must grind to both get that item and ALSO to be able to upgrade it, and only in that activity. There’s also a reforging system that allows players to “reroll” the perks on a legendary weapon. This proves to be disastrous to the meta, as players settle in to grind until they’ve gotten the perfect perks on a few weapons and then have no reason to run PVE activities. They become the bane of the Crucible.

It should be remembered that a lot of us still ran raids at this point because they had an increased chance of dropping exotic-level loot, which was virtually unobtainable elsewhere outside of nightfalls.

A lot of players are frustrated. They’re locked into grinding a few particular activities to get the loot they want to get, effectively just hitting the same feeder bar in hopes of being rewarded. But, because of how the game has progressed, what once would have been useful, if far less desirable, rewards are now useless. This has also exacerbated what Bungie sees as a major issue; a few pieces of powerful gear are being overused, stagnating the meta and limiting accessibility by new players.

At the same time, there are a ton of complaints about the cost of the game from the core audience of console FPS gamers. They’re used to paying the price of a game and then possibly extra for additional PVP maps and some gear. Destiny has recurring online PVE activities that are dynamic, requiring a lot more bandwidth, server capacity, and human support than a traditional FPS, being more inline with an MMO. Most MMOs use a subscription model to make a profit, but Bungie/Activision decides to make their money by bundling all these costs into the price of each expansion.

Enter The Taken King! The devs attempt to address everyone’s issues. Legendary drops increase again. Exotic items now have an alternative way to be gained through non-endgame activities. Gear progression is fixed, with everything requiring the same materials available during standard activities (except exotics). Old gear is useless in the new endgame to allow the devs to make an attempt at balancing the meta.

And what do we wind up with? Frustrated old players with inventories filled with stuff that’s either junk or feels like wasted effort. New players who are reaching the cap, or near the cap, at an accelerated rate. A grind to get usable gear AND a good roll on said gear. New gear that often feels underpowered when compared to some of the old “holy grail” items(I miss you Fatebringer). A new release strategy funded by cosmetic microtransactions instead of large content releases. A far more fluid meta, as gear is released incrementally, but one that feels unstable (though this is largely due to patches). An exotic upgrade system that has us feeling like we’re grinding all over to get the same old gear.

What Do They Do Now?

I don’t know what the best next step should be. Part of me would welcome the nuclear option and taking the entire system back to something more akin to the original. Use a single special material for all legendary upgrades. Go back to endgame weapons rewards having static perks. Don’t allow all gear to be leveled to the new maximum when caps are raised, but perhaps give each player (or perhaps each toon) a token that can be used to carry ONE legendary weapon forward. Allow exotics to be increased in level, so instead of adding new perks to existing exotic items Bungie can create more entirely new items. Increase max level on legacy raids to keep them challenging to old players with improved versions of raid gear to make them worth running.

Whatever the next change is, it’ll be a big deal to the player base with a ton of fallout that Bungie will need to clean up and unknowable repurcussions. There needs to be a change, though, if Bungie wants to retain their community and possibly entice back some of those who lost interest.

One thing’s for sure. Bungie, if you decide to release another material, please first think about how players will feel when it drops for them 6 weeks after it’s introduced and if they’ll still have a use for it.