The human fascination with excellence is truly a strange phenomenon. Create something to compete over and the competitors will appear. For example, parents with disruptive children often implement a "star system", where good behaviour is rewarded with a star on a wall chart. The rewards for these stars, if they exist at all, are often ill-defined. Yet the stars become an end in themselves. Siblings compete among themselves in order to acquire them. It seems to be something inherent in human mentality.

Of course, this pursuit of being the best now finds itself manifested in the video games industry. Create a high scores board, and people will compete to get on it. It's the motivation behind any return visit to an arcade game. It's what drives endless games of Tetris. It's tempting, objectively speaking, to dismiss it as pointless. But to do so is (literally) to miss the whole point and completely underestimate the inate desire to "be the best" that pervades the human psyche. Anyone who thinks that humanity has now transcended instinctive behaviour, and is entirely a creature of rationality, need only look at me playing Tetris at 3am to be convinced otherwise.

Now, why am I writing all this? Well, some of you may be aware of an extremely addictive little game known as Dope Wars. Playing this has been a mind-absorbing (and mind-destroying) pastime of mine for some time now. As those of you familiar with the game will know, there is a large element of luck involved. You can play fantastically and still lose resoundingly. The only way to get the highest scores is to play and play and play; giving 100% each time and probably only being rewarded once in twenty or so games. The flip side of this is that when you do finally succeed, and turn in a good score, it's a fabulous feeling of satisfaction. That massive hit is what keeps its many fans coming back.

So then. This morning. It's 2AM. I've played around fifty games already, making a couple of reasonable scores. I'm almost exhausted enough to sleep. It's the "one last game" phenomenon at work; a perfect example. I start it up. The game is set to run for thirty days. Off I go. Good first day. Good second day. Great third day. Get lucky on the fourth. And so it continues. By day 20, I've already surpassed my previous highscore. It's looking good. I could coast from here, and still enter my own highscores board at #1. But I've got my sights set on higher things. I want to start making in-roads on the global tables, as maintained on the Dope Wars website. Okay. Day 23. I take a big risk, buying in 130 units of cocaine.

I'm tired. I enter that stage where everything seems very distant. I have the pleasant buzzing of my PC fan in my ears, and Jurassic 5 are being quietly impressive. "Stretch like elastic, live and on plastic." I've heard those lyrics a thousand times already. There's nothing new going on.

Day 30. "It's your last day. Better off-load your stash." suggests the game, helpfully. There's a major coke bust. I now have the most valuable commodity in the game, and I have it in spades. I make about $12 million on the deal.

I say "fucking hell" out loud. The bank balance reads $59 million.

On to the Dope Wars website. Sign in. Everything still feeling a little blurry - tiredness plus adrenaline. A strange combination indeed. Enter the encrypted code to submit my score. Check on the tables. There it is. Top score in the world today. (At the time of writing, it still is). The 48th highest score by a UK player yet. In the top 400 scores ever.

Now I see what this "pursuit of excellence" business is all about. Time for bed.

Inflatable_Monk has become a Monk

Well, I don't mean that literally, but I will be backing off for awhile. I am going to discipline myself. I am on a spiritual quest you could say, an E2 fast. I think E2 is wonderful and I think the people on E2 are wonderful, I just believe I should back off for awhile. At the least it will be 10 days.

I have come up with a set of rules I am putting before myself. If any of you catch me breaking these rules, notify me immediately.

  1. I will not engage in any shape or form in Chatterbox discussions.
  2. I will only be allowed 1 usergroup or personal message to send per day.
  3. This will be my last node for quite sometime, if any other nodes are released, including Daylogs (excluding April 24, 2003), please notify me.
  4. Votes alloted per day will be spent daily.

Some of you are probably just scratching your heads right now. Why in the heck would I do something like this? One simple reason. I want to. That's all you need to know.

Farewell. For now.

P.S. One thing I forgot to mention and I should have, is that this fast is to pray for my first date. This is a later edit. I didn't really realize what I was fasting until a couple days later.

As if there wasn't enough cleaning to do here in Israel for Passover, suddenly the war's over, and we can clean up our sealed rooms. Imagine this: to seal our sealed room effectively, we had to tape first the windows themselves, then put plastic over the window, and tape that to the frame. Then, of course, people reccomended that the seal between the wall and the plastic be caulked, so that the chemical weapons really can't get in.

Anyways, now it is time to remove what caution dictated we erect, and I'm not exactly thrilled at the prospect. Did you know that caulk needs to be peeled off? Don't worry though, it takes the paint with it. So does duct tape left on a wall for a month.

So that leaves only about 30 hours till Passover, and not even close to enough time to get everything done for the Seder, I'm taking a nap.

Catholics and feminists and Swedes, oh my!

Today was much like any other day until about 11:30, when I got the day's press cuttings about museums, which are circulated every day in our office. They were filled with stories about the destruction of the main museum and the main library in Baghdad, an act which US troops in the city could have prevented. The Oil Ministry was securely guarded while five thousand years of irreplacable historical documents and artefacts were left open to the looters. According to an account in The Independent, US troops were informed of the danger shortly before the looting began, in addition to the many warnings given at a higher level in the weeks and months leading up to the war. Nothing was done, and now virtually nothing can be saved. I went out of the office at noon, angry and upset, wishing I had some American officials to shout at for their irresponsibility. Does America even have a culture ministry?

My anger was slowly abating as I wandered down Victoria Street in search of lunch. I made my way almost at random to Westminster Cathedral - possibly because it's the nearest free cultural site to my office. Outside the Cathedral were a group of elderly ladies wearing purple scarves and just rolling up some embroidered banners. One of them noticed my interest, and introduced them as the organisation Catholic Women's Ordination. Apparently they regularly hold protest vigils outside the cathedral to raise awareness of their agenda. I got chatting to them, and especially to Maria, a lady from Gothenburg, Sweden, who had gone from being an atheist to being Anglican, and thence to being a (Roman) Catholic. Curiously, despite never having been a practising Lutheran, she still had to sign a legal declaration to leave the Swedish Lutheran church upon becoming a Catholic.

The ladies invited me for coffee, and I spent the next half-hour discussing feminism ('such a sexist term'), Swedish history, and of course, women's ordination. As a strong advocate of women's ordination myself, I was fascinated to hear these people's account of the culture of silence surrounding the issue in the Catholic church. Eventually I had to leave them to get back to my own office, and to let them have an impromptu meeting. But I went on my way much happier than I had been at the beginning of my lunch hour, and greatly relieved to be reminded that someone at least wishes things to move forward, and not backward. Nevertheless, I also felt my own anger at inequalites in the Christian Church renewed.

The Sound.

You jolt from your slumber, head groggy. Your body aches, but something about the plane of morning background noise that you're used to has been disturbed. You find yourself saying "What day is it?" barely audible agianst the not so far off noise and nothing else. Suddenly, your moment of clarity arrives, and a quick comfirmation by the clock physically launches you out of slumber and into action.

The worst part is the sound. After a year or so, you learn to listen for it. And you can tell how much time you've got left by it. It starts sounding far off, but anyone who's a veteran 'chaser' like me will tell you not to get comfortable in this, that's exactly how they trick you, and many good 'chasers' have misjudged and gotten caught up. So they begin to sound closer and closer. And the closer they sound, the quicker you're gonna move. The adrenaline starts pumping faster. The reflexes quicken. Shortcuts are a must, but keep it clean. Then the worst part about them, the sound quits, and all you're left with is the morning silence. Let me paint it for you: you're gonna be standing still, straining agianst the silence, trying to hear in vain, aural confirmation that your sorry ass still has some time.

That's a rookie move.

No sound equals no time. That means they're on you, you've gotta move. This is their final deception before they roar through and do their thing. And even once you get out there, you've not saved. Your shit has to be lined up and you have to be back inside before they arrive. Because they LOVE 'chasers'. They will torment you if they see you, and you'll fail your mission. I bet you thought this was gonna be easy, huh? This is no joke, son, this is a tough skill to learn. And trust me, they catch you out there, they will do anything and everything. Hell, I remember this time last season, they sprayed me as they passed me up, left me snowbound and still holding the shit. Yes, they will look right at you and through you like you're not even there. It's cold, but that's how they are. So saddle up, let's go go go!

Wait.......did you hear that? One block over! No time! No time! Let's MOVE! Get it out there! Fuck the little shit, just get to the main stuff and perishables! Move, man! Okay, okay get inside the airlock quick before they spot you! Get the goddamn lead out, son! Oh hell, I got visual confirmation! They're moving fast out of the northern quad. Start cycling the airlock! C'mon, Alpha team, you don't make it, you get left to the Trashers, move it!

Dad: So did you get the trash out?

Me: Hell yes I got the trash out! What kind of operation do you think I'm running here, maggot?

Dad: *backing out of the doorway* Uh....yeah....just asking....thank you.

Me: What's the funny look for?

I gotta get out of this house.

War on Terror: Next Phase

Now that we've thrown Saddam out and liberated Iraq, I propose a new step in the war on terror: let's declare war on boneheads. These people terrify me with their stupidity and probably a lot of the rest of you as well. They cost our economy immeasurable losses each year, probably at least 5 percent of GDP. I say we take them on next.

So, who are the boneheads among us? Oh, I think you (and they) know who they are. All across America we see boneheads working in restaurants, carefully filling ketchup bottles to the exact top so that patrons will have to fight the bottle tooth and nail to properly season their freedom fries. They go on to fill the napkin containers full to the bursting point so that grabbing a napkin becomes an exercise in futility. Many napkins are sacrificed in torn little bits so that the bonehead can have his way. They could leave the bottles an inch or so from full - or the napkin container merely full rather than overstuffed - and make life safe for the poor diners, but no, they are boneheads and their mission is clear: to disrupt the American way of life.

On our freeways each day we see boneheads in tireless action: needlessly weaving amongst the lanes, slowing all of us down in their search for a mythical optimum path. We see them enter crowded freeways and pass all of the cars patiently waiting to advance; zooming to the very end of the on ramp and cutting in line ahead of all others. They slow to a crawl at the scene of accidents on the other side of the road to cast a vacuous stare at the carnage. They know that a great nation depends on great transportation and they must disrupt our vital arteries if they are to win a final victory.

In our markets, we see legions of boneheads; helpless to answer the most trivial questions about merchandise and unable to engage in the simple act of making change without the glowing numbers on the cash register to guide them. They stack items on the shelves so tightly that pulling down one box or can without disturbing three others is impossible. They run their hands through their slick, greasy hair before handling your groceries. Driving Americans to madness is in their mission statement.

The boneheads have also targeted the heart of America's success: capitalism. What workplace doesn't have its resident bonehead? All across America they are lining up at the copy machines, waiting for dozens of emails to be printed on paper that can subsequently be stuffed into bulging file cabinets. They practice chemical warfare by spreading noxious odors by microwave. They cyber-attack by emailing lame jokes that everyone has already heard from six other boneheads. They communicate their every move to their bonehead spouse, at high volume. We can only guess at the monetary damage boneheads do to our businesses and corporations each year.

But wait, you say, can we be sure that all of this is the organized work of real boneheads? What if some of it is genuine foolishness? First of all, the work of boneheads is too pervasive and effective to be the product of unorganized fools. Clearly, it can only be the work of top boneheads, cleverly organized. As we speak they are having "cell" meetings, plotting further damage to the United States. Secondly, they are too careful in their work for mere fools. That napkin container doesn't get overfilled every single day by a mere fool: it takes dedication and perseverance. They must be stopped!

True, there may be civilian or collateral damage in our war on boneheads. Some peaceful fools may get caught in the cross fire and boneheads may use some non-boneheads as "human shields". There is a distinct possibility that, despite every effort to the contrary, some non-bonehead infrastructure may be inadvertently destroyed by errant missives. We can't know for sure, but it is always possible that some bonehead will loose a Weapon of Mass Distraction (such as yet another self-important blog). These are the fortunes of war; all we can do is work as hard as possible to minimize the damage.

Boneheads: your days are numbered!

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