On Free Will

Scott Adams (the Dilbert guy) has a thing about free will. He visits the topic often on his blog, and this post of his is supposed to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that free will does not exist.

His basic conclusion, as I understand it, is that unpredictability does not equate to free will. That is, what people think of as “free will” is actually just “unpredictability” — so when you choose to get a jelly donut or a glazed donut, you are not exercising “free will” or “choice” at all, you are merely displaying “unpredictability.”

But now that I start writing it out, I’m not following his logic anymore. If picking jelly or glazed is not “free will” or “choice,” then what else could it possibly be? The only other alternative is that one’s actions are pre-programmed, but that would seem to run counter to Scott’s atheist beliefs, and run smack into the Evangelical belief that “God has a plan for everything.” (Scott does often call humans “moist robots,” though, so maybe he’s really an Evangelical at heart.)

Anyway, back to his post. His example to disprove free will is a programmed robot. He throws a random number generator into the programming so that its actions are not predictable, even by the programmer. I think his example breaks down though, because, the robot’s actions will be predictable… the robot will (or should, if the programmer didn’t introduce any bugs) always respond the same way to each possible condition it sees. You might think the random number generator would prevent that, but the random numbers are each conditions unto themselves. If the environment is in one condition at a particular time, and a particular random number occurs, the robot will always perform the same action. (Nerd note: I’m grossly simplifying the programming details here.)

Here’s how I would define free will: A person with free will might respond differently to two situations with the exact same conditions.

Of course, when we go down to the quantum level, one could probably argue that no two situations could ever possibly be the same, thus eliminating the existence of free will again. For example, I might pick a jelly donut when it’s raining, but the next time it’s raining I might pick a glazed donut. I responded differently to the “raining” condition, thus exhibiting free will and proving I’m not a pre-programmed robot. Unfortunately, there are millions of other conditions going on from day to day besides rain, so I might be responding to different stimuli after all. The temperature might have been different, or the barometric pressure might have been different, or the number of ants under the house might have been different, or the number of decaying radioactive isotopes under my fingernails might have been different.

When you start looking at it on that level, it’s more-or-less impossible to prove or disprove the existence of free will. There’s no way anyone could design an experiment to observe a person’s reactions to the exact same conditions over multiple trials, because of those pesky decaying isotopes again. One would always be able to say, “well obviously, since this particular isotope had decayed to 52.768% at the time of the experiment, you picked the jelly donut. If it had been at 52.767%, the conditions would have been different and you would have gone for the glazed. Therefore, there is no free will.”

But the problem with disproving free will — for Scott the atheist, at least — is that it more-or-less proves that someone or something must have pre-programmed the universe. So in a way, Scott’s belief that there is no free will is the same as another person’s belief in God, which is a perplexing parallel. They both boil down to believing the unknowable.

Thomas Krehbiel writes The Krehbiel Strikes Back, a moderate commentary on news, media, politics, and culture.

A Corporal Speaks Against Complainers

Good news, everyone! Teloiv made Corporal! I had no idea it would be so easy to gain not one, but two ranks in the WoW PvP system. Teloiv has only fought in six Arathi Basin battlegrounds, with a battle record of 2-4, and has only around 90 honor kills.

Speaking of Battlegrounds, let’s talk about some Battleground behavior that bugs me. This kind of behavior has actually been around since the early days of Quake public servers, c. 1996. And no, it’s not the noobs that don’t follow instructions and wander around the map, aimlessly doing nothing to help the team. Those people are predictable and expected.

It’s the people that complain about the useless people.

I mean, everybody knows that a certain percentage of the players on your team are not going to help. Sometimes you might be the only person on your team who has any clue what’s going on in the “big scheme of things.” You might be the only person that thinks to try sneaking behind enemy lines when the enemy is zerging your base. (“Zerging” is a new gaming term I’ve learned, btw, which means to massively rush the opposing side and overwhelm them with shear numbers.) You might be the only person on your team who knows how to work as a team and communicate. You might be the only person on your team who buffs the other players. You might even be the only person on your team who actually gives a damn about winning the battle.

So get over it already. There’s no reason to keep telling everyone how stupid they are, or complaining about how nobody is helping you, or begging people to stick with their assigned groups. We all know they’re stupid and useless and nobody is helping you. Take a chill pill and do the best you can, and shut the hell up about it. You’re not so special that you deserve to win more than anyone else.

Tuesday Links

I’m weary of opining, so I’m going to fall back on throwing out some links to stories that I found informative.

Hardly Innocent. A closer look at why some Muslim imams, who claim they were unfairly discriminated against, were singled out on an airline flight.

U.S. Plan To Send African Troops Into Somalia ‘Would Trigger War’. A thinktank says that opposing the Islamic courts in Somalia could “destabilise the entire region.” Um, what exactly do they think is happening there right now, a tea party?

The Hijab, a weapon for Islamists worldwide. This article disturbed me. I don’t agree that the hijab is a “weapon” that needs to be disarmed (by forcing women who wear them to take them off). If a woman wants to live her life under an oppressive theology, I don’t see why we should force them to change. (Plenty of women in America are Evangelicals, after all. 🙂 Besides, religious freedom is supposed to be one of the foundations of Western civilization.

Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock file for divorce. I can’t top Waldo’s perfect sarcasm.

Thomas Krehbiel writes The Krehbiel Strikes Back, a moderate commentary on news, media, politics, and culture.

Tales Of PvP Shame And Triumph

The Monday following a four-day weekend is boring as hell, so I’m writing these World of Warcraft tales to amuse myself and make the day go by faster. Plus, I can ramble at any length without seeing a glassy look come over the listener’s eyes. (If you’re married to a non-gamer, you know what I’m talking about. 🙂

To get the most out of the following post, you’ll need a quick primer on “PvP combat.” If you’re a regular gamer, you can skip this section.

All MMO (massively multiplayer online) games like WoW basically boil down to fighting things to gain reputation and/or loot, and there are two styles of fighting that can occur. They call the two styles PvE (player vs. environment) and PvP (player vs. player). In PvE gameplay, you fight against computer-controlled monsters. In PvP gameplay, however, you fight against other players.

PvP is an entirely different (and harder) style of play. As we all learned way back in the early days of Ultima Online, PvP gameplay can get pretty nasty — there are numerous ways that stronger players can “oppress” weaker players. It’s great if you’re the strong character, but it sucks if you’re the weak character. For that reason, most games since UO allow players to choose whether they want to participate in PvP combat or not.

WoW allows you to participate in PvP by volunteering to fight in “the war.” The basic story is that there’s a war going on between the Alliance races (humans, dwarves, gnomes, and night elves) and the Horde races (orcs, trolls, tauren, and undead). There’s probably more to it then that, but frankly it’s irrelevant to the gameplay. 🙂 You can volunteer to fight in what they call “battlegrounds,” which are places where teams of Alliance players fight against teams of Horde players in PvP combat. They are somewhat similar to Quake matches, actually. (Or should I say, Quake public games.) After each battle you get one or more “marks” (medals), and after you collect three marks you can turn them in for some experience points, which allows your character to gain higher levels. You also gain what they call “honor kills” and “rank” and “reputation” but those are beyond the scope of this text.

1. A Tale of Shame

My first tale is a sad one of shame and woe that made me feel old. I actually fell for a griefer’s trick, just like a 12-year-old noob.

I decided to try some PvP combat in WoW with my level 23 Warrior Armsbig. I fought in two battlegrounds, and I was about to start my third, after which I would be able to turn in my 3 marks for some experience points. While waiting for the battle to start, somebody sent me a private message asking me to please turn off my AFK flag because it was big and distracting. (If you step away from your keyboard for a while, the game puts an tag in front of your name so other players know you’re away.)

I thought it was a weird request, and I knew dern well my AFK flag couldn’t be on because I had just been moving around, but I thought to myself, “well, I guess it must be a bug (I’ve seen plenty of bugs in WoW, after all), and it was a polite request, so I’ll just toggle it to make sure.” So I typed /afk and wham-o, I got kicked out of the battleground instantly. In horror, I remembered the web pages I had read that explained what happened if you go AFK in a battleground, and boy was I ticked. Because not only had I been kicked out of that particular battle, but the game flagged me as a “deserter,” and it wouldn’t let me get back into another battle for fifteen minutes. I had been hoodwinked! Arg!

Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of motivations might lie behind such a simple but devious scam. At first, I thought it had been someone who wanted to make room for one of his guild-mates to join the battle with him. But then I noticed that the battlegrounds pull from a queue of players across entirely different servers, so it seemed like the odds of getting a guild-mate from the queue would be slim. (It also meant I couldn’t retaliate against the perpetrator because he was on another server, which annoyed me even more.) So then I thought, what if someone from the Horde side of the battle had sent me that message? They could have gotten my name from the score list. And what if that person sent the same message to everyone on the Alliance side, hoping to get half the Alliance people to drop out of the battle? Then the Horde would almost certainly win the battle, and the perpetrator would gain more marks and honor points. So I’m thinking it must have been some kind of “reputation farming” trick by someone with a really low self-esteem. Pretty lame in any case.

Next time someone messages me about my AFK flag, I’m going to make sure I write down the name of the sender and the server he came from, and see if I can get him at least kicked out of his guild and at most banned from the game.

2. A Tale of (Moral) Triumph

First, another quick side explanation about the Arathi Basin battleground where I fought my battles: The objective of the battle is to capture and hold 5 “nodes” on the battlefield (named the Stables, Lumbermill, Blacksmith, Mines, and Farms). This is done by “capturing” a flag at each node, and then defending it to make sure the other team doesn’t capture it back. While a node is held, your team gets “resource” points, and the first team to get 2,000 resource points wins the battle. Obviously, the more nodes you control, the more points your team will get, so you need to capture and hold at least 3 nodes to win the battle. It sounds easy, but when there are two opposing teams of 15 people trying to capture all the nodes, it gets hard.

In a close battle, each team would theoretically hold the 2 nodes closest to their “base,” and there would be a huge fight in the middle for the 5th node. I haven’t experienced a close battle yet. As you’ll see below, in most of the nine battles I’ve played in so far, the Horde team put the smack down on the Alliance side pretty hard, usually controlling (at least) four of the five nodes by the end of the battle.

After losing six straight battles with Armsbig, I decided that Warriors completely suck at PvP combat. Granted, I was almost always fighting higher level people, but I got spanked hard every time I went into a fight, usually before I could even get close enough to swing at anyone. It was humiliating. Luckily for me, I wasn’t the only weak link on the Alliance side — as I said, the Horde won all six of those battles easily, and it definitely wasn’t all my fault.

During those six losses, I noticed that I was routinely killed by Hunters. So I pulled out my level 34 Hunter Teloiv and went to three more battlegrounds, looking for payback against the vile Horde masses that caused Armsbig to lose so much. My plan didn’t work too well. The first battle was a disaster. I didn’t think it would be possible, but my Hunter did even worse than my Warrior. I might have gotten 1 honor kill, and the Alliance lost again. I almost gave up then, but I needed 3 marks for experience points, so I reluctantly went back for another battle. I did a little better in the second battle, but the Alliance still lost. So I signed up for the third battle, resigning myself to the same fate.

But the final battle was different. It started off the same as the other 8 battles — pretty even for the first couple minutes, then the Horde started dominating. At one point it had gotten so bad that the Horde players were camping right at the Alliance base — when we Alliance people spawned, we’d have to fight the Horde immediately, and then get killed like 10 seconds later. After 3 failed attempts to push the Horde back away from our base, I’d had enough defensiveness. I spawned, ran past the Horde people camping at our graveyard, ran past the fight at the Stables right next to our base, and then sprinted down to the middle of the battlefield where I found the Mines node completely deserted. I captured that node for the Alliance, then sprinted to the Farms node, which was the one closest to the Horde base. There I joined up with two or three other Alliance players fighting for their lives and we took that node, too, and turned the tide of the battle in our favor.

Unfortunately, the Alliance still lost that battle on points, but it was close, and the Alliance side held more nodes at the end of the game. And on a personal note, I finished second in the team rankings at the end of the game, whereas before I had to scroll way down to the bottom of the list to see my score. Take that, all you guildies!

(By the way, I know that it probably wasn’t my single-handed heroics that forced the Horde back on their heels and turned the tide of that battle, but I like to think it was anyway. 🙂

The moral of these stories is that it may take me a little while to get the hang of these new-fangled 21st century online games, but I’m still a force to be pheared when the chips are down!

A Strike For The Alliance

Last night I jumped into a PvP brawl. Armsbig (level 21) was just passing through Goldshire when a Horde raiding party descended on the town. I surveyed the enemies and spotted a level 20 guy among the level ?? raiders. I tried to target him, but he was killed before I could even get my sword out. Then I saw a level 24 guy, targeted him, and hit the ol’ “2” key to deliver a Heroic Strike. I managed to land a single hit before the rest of the defenders killed him. (I think I hit him, at least. I couldn’t really see through the crowd of people.) I then expected to be killed instantly by some level 60 Horde mage or something, but by then all the Horde raiders were dead or gone. I went on my merry way, happy in the knowledge that my single PvP blow probably saved the whole town.

[Update: Astute readers, and this writer, should realize that a warrior cannot open with a Heroic Strike without some accumulated rage, but I distinctly remember hearing the sword-swinging sound effect, so it’s likely that my character swung at the targeted fellow normally. Or maybe some other warrior was swinging at him at the same time I was trying a Herioc Strike, but that would mean I didn’t save the town after all, so I choose to disregard that possibility.]

A Dissertation On The State Of Iraq

It’s almost impossible to imagine a satisfying result in Iraq anymore.

I half-heartedly supported ousting Saddam, and I fully supported staying in Iraq until the infrastructure was rebuilt, but this whole nation-building process looks like a bust. Mainly because Prime Minister al-Maliki is sounding more and more like an adversary than an ally. It’s clear that he won’t take on Muqtada al-Sadr’s army, which is probably one of the main sources of continuing violence in Baghdad. And the U.S. can’t take on al-Sadr alone because we have to at least give the appearance of abiding by al-Maliki’s wishes, if we’re to maintain the illusion that Iraq is a sovereign nation. So we basically have another Lebanon, where there is a powerless, figurehead government held hostage by powerful religious militias with dubious ideologies.

But what does that matter? I personally don’t care if Iraq remains a democracy or not. I don’t live there, and I don’t plan on vacationing there anytime soon. One could actually make the argument that right now, democracy is wrong for Iraq anyway. There’s plenty of evidence to indicate that a dictatorship is the more appropriate style of government for uniting groups of people who clearly want to kill each other.

For my own personal interests, the important thing about Iraq is that they are no longer a threat to the United States. There wasn’t an imminent threat to the U.S. prior to 2003, but I don’t think anyone disputes the fact that under Saddam, Iraq would have continued to seek weapons for destructive purposes. If his crazy sons had taken over for him, it could have been even worse. It’s doubtful that he would have been able to touch United States soil, but he may have caused further ruckus in the Middle East. I suspect that confronting him now probably prevented some kind of confrontation in the future.

But back to the present. For me, like most things in the world, the Iraq “problem” can’t be broken down into a simple black and white solution. The situation is hazy at best. Victory and defeat are hard to define. The terms “victory” and “defeat” imply that there are contestants, but in this case I can’t even perceive who they are or what they’re fighting over. Back in 2003 it was easy: Our goal was to remove Saddam from power, and we were fighting the remnants of Saddam’s army. We achieved that goal and won the war. That was victory. Mission accomplished.

Now we’re faced with the possibility of defeat, even after the clear victory in deposing Saddam. But what is defeat? What is victory for that matter? There are plenty of political definitions filled with vague notions of freedom and stability, but I’m more interested in realistic, non-partisan definitions, which are few and far between.

As a side note, QandO and their readership made a valiant effort to define victory, for which that blog again earned their place in my favorites despite their conservative leanings.

Back in 2003, it was easy to define victory and defeat. But now it’s totally different. What’s the goal? Who are the combatants? Are we fighting opportunistic terrorists? Are we fighting leftover Saddam loyalists? Are we fighting the new Iraqi government? Are we fighting Iran? Or is it all of the above? How many people are in this contest for the elusive title of “victor?” I don’t know anymore.

With the Democrats winning the House and Senate, there is talk of shifting the focus in Iraq from combat operations to training only. While that may reduce American casualties, I don’t think it will ultimately have any success in reducing violence in the country. After all, the training efforts to this point have produced little results. American soldiers are still dying just as much as they were before. The Iraqi police and army appear to be corrupted by various outside influences, and until that’s corrected, there can’t be a stable Iraq. There is no point in training people who aren’t interested in fighting for the good of the country — we would only be training people to fight for whatever faction they felt like supporting.

The Iraqi people also seem content to live under a thumb of oppression, whether it is Saddam Hussein or Muqtada al-Sadr or Al Qaeda In Iraq, just so long as they have electricity and food and relative safety. And really, who could blame them for that? I’m sure they couldn’t care less who wins the ideological war between Sharia and Democracy, just so long as people stop blowing up their homes and their children. They’ve lived for at least 25 years without stability. One would imagine they’d be quite sick of it by now and ready to embrace anyone who could deliver on a promise of keeping the neighborhood safe.

So without the complete commitment of the Iraqi leadership, army, police, and people, and the willingness to endure more hardship for the nebulous goal of “freedom,” I fear that the future of The Free Iraq is doomed. That will be a huge foreign policy failure for the United States, despite the successful ousting of Saddam Hussein. I blame that on President Bush. He was quite vocal about “spreading Democracy.” If he’d just said we’re staying to “rebuild the country,” we might have been able to leave whenever we wanted without a nation-building failure on our resume.

Regardless of nation-building success or failure, we will need a strategy to downplay Al Qaeda’s propaganda when we leave. They, and their terrorist allies, are the real enemy in the Baghdad fighting, after all. No matter when we leave, or under what circumstances, they will claim a victory, and the media will trumpet those claims of repelling the infidel invaders all over cable news. We saw the same attitude from Hezbollah after Israel blew up half of Lebanon. “Our country is rubble, our children are dead, but some of us are still alive,” Hezbollah fighters rejoiced. “We have beaten the enemy!”

Speaking of terrorists, the whole Iraq debacle suggests this unsettling conclusion: Given time and a willing media, terrorism seems to work. That is, we can’t control the insurgency in Baghdad basically because, with 24/7 media cameras hovering around every corner, we can’t unleash the full might of the American military on the bad guys hiding out in the schools and apartments and hospitals for fear of hurting innocent people. It’s probably the future of warfare. It’s kind of ironic, in a way. We’ve spent centuries working to impersonalize combat by dealing death from farther and farther away, with bigger and bigger weapons, but in the end, the terrorists gain victories by returning to a more up-close-and-personal medieval barbarism. I even read somewhere recently that military experts are now looking for smaller and smaller scale weapons for the future. Maybe they will start issuing swords and shields to American soldiers.

Yesterday we started hearing a lot about the “go big, go long, or go home” options. (Leave it to the media to pick up on a 6-word sound bite meme that grossly oversimplifies everything.) A few months ago I probably favored what they’re calling the “go big” option. But it looks to me like our military is essentially sitting around waiting to be shot while the Iraqi government tries to get itself together, so it seems pointless to send more troops over there for that. The “go long” option would normally be the best option for stabilizing the country, because clearly it takes a long time to rebuild after the violent overthrow of a dictatorship. That would only make sense, though, if the country in question is willing to work toward stabilizing itself, and the Iraqi government is clearly not in any hurry in that regard. Also, if we stay for a long period of time, our troops will continue to be a magnet for every anti-Western zealot in the entire Eurasian continent. (Also, the modern American public is too impatient for a long campaign.)

So I think at this point I would favor a variation of the “go home” option. I don’t think we should pick up and leave all at once, because that would turn into a media circus. But I don’t think there’s much point in hanging around when it’s obvious the Iraqi government is not on board with the game plan. I certainly don’t like agreeing with Congressman Jack “Our Marines Are Murderers” Murtha, but I think we should slowly move our troops to a nearby “over the horizon” location like Kuwait, and let Iraq work out their power struggle for themselves. By withdrawing slowly, over the course of, say, a couple of years, we also combine some elements of the “go long” strategy, which would theoretically work to stabilize the country as we’re leaving. And by deploying for a time in Kuwait, we remain ready with a nearby reserve force.

Most importantly, we should work to downplay the public knowledge of the reduction of troops. The lead story on the news cannot be the number of troops that have left Iraq every day. That would be an embarrassment for the United States, and a victory for the terrorists.

It’s funny how the difference between victory and defeat seems to come down to news coverage.

Thomas Krehbiel writes The Krehbiel Strikes Back, a moderate commentary on news, media, politics, and culture.

The Human Experience

For anyone who might be contemplating playing World of Warcraft for the first time: Do not, under any circumstances, select a human character. Your initial playing experience will be much more pleasant if you choose a night elf, dwarf, or gnome. (I can’t speak for Horde races.) Not because those races are better than humans, but because most of the gamers who choose human characters are… how shall I put this delicately… they’re, um, retarded.

In my experience, whenever I go into Goldshire, Westfall, Lakeshire, or even Darkshire, I find myself surrounded by childish griefers and clueless n00bs. I almost invariably end up /ignoring one or more people each time I go through. Annoying people in low-level areas is common in MMOs, but I would have expected to see it all over the world. In WoW, I only see it in the human areas. The night elf, dwarf, and gnome areas are actually fairly pleasant. It’s just the stinkin’ humans that are dorks. I started a human priest once, and literally before I had even walked 10 steps in the game, some idiotic bunny-hopping kid wanted to duel. I mean wtf.

On another topic, many WoW players seem to have the very mistaken notion that being asked to join a guild should be viewed as some kind of honor. Quite often, especially since I’ve reached level 30+, people will ask me if I want to join their guild. Sometimes they don’t even ask but just go right ahead and invite me without saying a word, so as I’m running around minding my own business, an invite popup slams onto my screen from someone I may not have even seen. Like I’m going to stop and go, “oooh thank you so much for rescuing me from the dredges of non-guild status.” Um, no. You tell me what your guild is going to do for me, a casual gamer with unpredictable playing times, who rarely has difficulty completing quests on his own, and maybe I’ll think about joining. Otherwise I’m not going to jump into some random guild with a goofy name like “Elite Death Squad” just so you can pad your membership numbers. Besides, in a world filled with guildies, it is far more distinguishing not to have a guild tag. (Maybe that’s why everyone keeps bugging me.)

And finally, here’s a funny sign of changing times in family culture: The other day in WoW, I actually saw some kid bragging about how much gold their dad makes from the in-game auctions in World of Warcraft. Said dad allegedly rakes in 200 gold each time he checks his mailbox (which was allegedly 3-4 times a day). That sounds like a dubious claim at best, but if it were possible to make 800 gold a day in WoW, you better believe I’d be putting that gold up for sale on eBay or something… at the going rates of around $16-17 per 100 gold, that would more than cover the cost of the WoW account, not to mention the missed wages from staying home to play the game. 🙂

By the way, just for comparison, I made about 15 silver (100 silver = 1 gold) from my first 3 auctions yesterday. Only 79,985 more silver to go and I’ll be on easy street, just like that kid’s dad!

Oblivion Review

Here is a very brief review of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: It blows. Hard.

I was hugely disappointed. I had heard nothing but good things about this game, but all of those reviewers must have been smoking crack. The interface is horrible, the RPG ruleset is tediously complex, the controls are quirky. Melee combat from a first-person perspective is just awful. It was clearly designed to run on a console platform and mindlessly ported to a PC.

Admittedly I haven’t even played far enough yet to select a character class, but the introductory portion of the game is such a turn-off that I’m not inclined to explore it further. I had hopes that this game would keep me from having to renew my WoW subscription for another month. Fat chance. Oblivion is a game to pull out only in dire emergencies, like when the WoW servers are down, the cable is out, and it’s pouring down rain outside.

Random Post-Election Thoughts

Thank God it’s over.

I can’t say I ever thought Jim Webb was a terribly qualified Senatorial candidate, but I like the idea of a conservative Democrat representing me a lot more than the idea of a conservative Republican representing me, so I’m cautiously optimistic about the Virginia Senate result. I definitely don’t fall under the category of blogs calling him The Messiah, though.

It appears that raising the minimum wage will be one of the first tasks of the Democrat-majority Congress, which is fine with me (it doesn’t affect me one way or another). I keep hearing that raising the minimum wage will hurt small businesses, but I tend to think that if a small business can’t afford to pay someone another $2 an hour, they should declare themselves a failure and go get a job at a real business.

I’m puzzled about why Bush waited until after the election to fire Rumsfeld. I would have thought getting rid of him before the election would help Republicans, because it would have shown the voters that they don’t need to elect Democrats to change course in Iraq. (I doubt if firing Rumsfeld will have much of an impact on Iraq, though.)

Thomas Krehbiel writes The Krehbiel Strikes Back, a moderate commentary on news, media, politics, and culture.