Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blowing Away Some New Year's Blues...

The Shofar is not a traditional instrument, but I think it is a good symbol for this feeling that I tend to get around this time of the year. Not that I'm Jewish. Not that I want to co-opt their ceremony or its tools or ceremonies. But I do think that maybe the larger culture in America could do with something on the lines of the High Holy days that lead up to Yom Kippur. Especially, as I sit in this sort of post Christmas malaise that I tend to roll into.

This isn't a post about the ebbils of The War on Christmas. Or the Commercialization of Christmas. Or even the Post Christmas Bloat of so much salt and sugar being consumed whilst sitting near a TV. It is maybe inspired a bit from that, but every year, around this time, I do slip into a bit of a brown study.  Christmas is over, and the New Year's celebrations beckon, and in between, you have a week of thought collection and recollection, and taking stock of what has occurred, what you hope for the next year, the last year has been a bit of a weird ride.

This is usually the time when I make calls to folks. Folks I haven't spoken to in years. Not everyone that I've wronged by any means--that's not a short list, and I'm not that good of a man--but I do tend to focus on folks that I've not appreciated as much as I should.  Or rather, told that I appreciate.  Which is odd, since after the aneurysm I promised myself that I'd not go to my grave with regrets. I failed in that--we get busy, we figure we have another day, those days turn into weeks, those weeks into months, and then there's a gulf of time that we are shamed of.  I understand the process, and why it happens, but prideful, I am always shocked when I look back and realize how often I've let this sort of debt build up.

In that, I do envy my Jewish friends and neighbors for their Day of Atonement. The fasting and the rest put a ceremony to putting things right. While Yom Kippur was some time ago, I tend to fall into a state where I want to put things right looking onto the New Year, and begin fresh. This is that time for that, and while I realize that Rosh Hashanah occurs every year, I sometimes think that the rest of America misses out on something when we celebrate our New Year with an orgy of booze and fireworks and kissing strangers.  Not that I don't like the time, nor will I say no if someone hands me a glass or five, but maybe we short change ourselves a bit, with less ceremony as we ramp up this end of the year.

Ceremony has power. It reinforces. It strengthens bonds. It brings communities together. It, more importantly, gives you the space to consider. Going back to Hebrew tradition, the concept of selah, a mark during prayers to pause, either for musical interlude, or to pause and reflect. Our ceremonies are a way of doing that in a larger sense. They give us permission to stop all the usual crap that we run around with, and take a moment or two to consider. That's sort of the point. Be that the singing of the National Anthem before a sporting event, or saying grace before a family meal, or touching gloves before a match, these giving of moments are important, and this is a time when I try to give maybe in a less formal sense some time to consider. And maybe wish for something more formalized to give a deeper meaning to getting all maudlin at this time.

I won't get to everyone this year. I know this; the list is too damn long, and I am not a good man. But if you happen to meet me rolling down the street, and I look a little preoccupied, it's not just the holiday running around, and I apologize for maybe being a little off my game. I hope y'all have a great year. I hope that this coming one is a damn sight better than the last. And for those of you that I've wronged, or taken for granted, I am actually thinking on that, and taking stock, and if I don't get to you this year, know that I haven't forgotten. I'm just shamed that it's taken so long...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Snark Done Right

Minneapolis, Minnesota's City Pages published a letter to recently resigned state Senator Amy Koch. Koch, resigned after an affair with a male staffer. Koch was deeply involved in the fight to put a Constitutional Amendment before Minnesota to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

John Medeiros' letter follows:

Dear Ms. Koch,
On behalf of all gays and lesbians living in Minnesota, I would like to wholeheartedly apologize for our community’s successful efforts to threaten your traditional marriage. We are ashamed of ourselves for causing you to have what the media refers to as an “illicit affair” with your staffer, and we also extend our deepest apologies to him and to his wife. These recent events have made it quite clear that our gay and lesbian tactics have gone too far, affecting even the most respectful of our society.
We apologize that our selfish requests to marry those we love has cheapened and degraded traditional marriage so much that we caused you to stray from your own holy union for something more cheap and tawdry. And we are doubly remorseful in knowing that many will see this as a form of sexual harassment of a subordinate.
It is now clear to us that if we were not so self-focused and myopic, we would have been able to see that the time you wasted diligently writing legislation that would forever seal the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, could have been more usefully spent reshaping the legal definition of “adultery.”
Forgive us. As you know, we are not church-going people, so we are unable to fully appreciate that “gay marriage” is incompatible with Christian values, despite the fact that those values carry a biblical tradition of adultery such as yours. We applaud you for keeping that tradition going.
And finally, shame on us for thinking that marriage is a private affair, and that our marriage would have little impact on anyone’s family. We now see that marriage is more than that. It is an agreement with society. We should listen to the Minnesota Family Council when it tells us that marriage is about being public, which explains why marriages are public ceremonies. Never did we realize that it is exactly because of this societal agreement that the entire world is looking at you in shame and disappointment instead of minding its own business.
From the bottom of our hearts, we ask that you please accept our apology.
Thank you.
John Medeiros
Minneapolis MN

That is how you snark someone who has made it her mission to preach to folks on how to run their lives, what is appropriate, and caught not just with her pants down, but wronging her faith and constituents. 
I am a proponent of marriage equality. I may be a Republican, but no where in that republicanism, does it mean that I support denying citizens rights. It doesn't mean that I want to see the First Amendment crumpled up into a wee ball, and tossed to the side. I have strong respect for those of faith, I have strong faith myself, but that doesn't mean that ministries and churches have the right to impose their own readings of text on others. Be they Unitarians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Pagans, Scientologists, Hindus, Muslims, and most especially those without faith. That is really the crux of things.  Freedom of religion is the freedom to practice whatever faith, and be free from others imposing their views of religion upon you. 
The thrust of any argument against marriage equality has been that it tears apart family values. Makes them meaningless. Because, as we all know, if someone believes differently than you, and is not a part of your congregation, their actions impact and lend meaning to your own by leaching into the ether, just by simply being...
What I have touched on before, is that we are entering a time, when folks are forgetting their vows. This is a danger to the nation. When folks consider their vows to be inconvenient to their lives, they cast them aside. Lately, it isn't just that of marriage that is getting tossed aside, but every time we said the Pledge of Allegiance, we promised to extend the blessings of the republic to all of our people. Liberty and justice for all. Not just the folks who make us comfortable or agree with us. Not just the folks who pray the way we do. For all. We swore to uphold the republic as indivisible, as one nation. Not Real America and Faux America, but one. A lot of folks have forgotten that pledge. A lot of folks seem in a hurry to tout what they believe the Founding Fathers would want us to do, by tossing aside the very Bill of Rights.  There are those who want to see the Ten Commandments be engraved on the side of every State House in the nation, and yet seem to forget those pesky things say: Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Thou shalt not steal. And work tirelessly to defend folks who break those very Commandments, and apologize for them. 
We have in a race right now for President, Newt Gingrich, who wants to define marriage, yet cannot stay within one himself, at least not without breaching that vow. His own actions sully the institution far more than partners who have stayed faithful for years, without the blessings of the church, and denied the same rights to marry as their brethren and sistren, by dint of who they love. That folks leap to this man, who wants to take the highest job in the nation, and swear to the nation that he will execute those duties faithfully, cannot himself even keep a promise to his own wife, and certainly not to even his own God to forswear all others. 
That inability to keep promises, when they become inconvenient is what threatens marriage. It is indicative of what is deeply wrong within my party. The inability to keep promises made. That is the rift that exists. Not "homosexuals threatening the sanctity of marriage!" but folks who threaten the sanctity of any vows by their willingness to toss them aside for convenience. No matter to who. Be that a promise to God. Be that a promise to your wife. Be that a promise to your constituents. Be that a promise to your nation. Be that a promise made to your fellow Congresscritters to deal fairly. THIS hypocrisy is the disease that eats at the party, and the nation. Projecting that onto folks who only want to stand with their partners, who want to sing their love to the mountaintops, that saddens me a great deal. 
And so, when John wrote his wee letter, he touched on all that, and twisted the knife a little, and made that sad turn into a wee bit of schadenfreude. Which is perhaps a bit better than succumbing to backpfeifengesicht--German for "face that needs a fist" which is a term that we NEED to bring into common parlance and I ask you to spread it far and wide.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Butt and Switch? Yes, a Similar Theme...

Today I am inspired by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner's tirade against Michelle Obama's temerity to say to the nation, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't shove EVERYTHING down our fat gobs and maybe exercise every now and then." His defense?  "She has a large posterior." Yup, he went to "she got a big ass" as his go to point.

Let's take a look at that tochis for a moment.

Yes, I went for a gratuitous butt shot of the First Lady. I am, if nothing else, wicked classy. It is to make a point though. Michelle Obama is not a svelte and elfin gal. She is a solid built woman. Not a small gal, but hardly what you'd call large. She is a woman in her 40s who looks pretty good.

Let's take a look at the Congressman who made the shot.


Now then, before I start to make unkind notations about front butt and his love of Cheetos--something that the article alludes to, and is no real secret--the Wisconsin House Representative is actually on the House Science Committee. He WAS on the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, until the Committee was killed off.  I could make unkind cuts on his introduction of US PATRIOT--an act he didn't write, but certainly has supported over the years.  I could point to his vote against aid to Katrina victims that GW Bush signed.  I could point to his intransigence over seeking to deny the widow of a US Marine legal immigration, with their son, after her husband was killed in Iraq.  I could point to these things, and say very unkind things. But, likewise, you can praise the man for standing with Nancy Pelosi as the only Republican to greet the Dali Lama in 2008 to protest China's treatment of Tibet. While Sensenbrenner has had his controversies, this particular flap is not so much telling of the man, than our times.

This is an issue that folks are creating waves on, simply to create waves.

Slim Goodbody. Mr. Rogers suggested healthy snacks. Sesame Street suggests healthy snacks and exercising. The Presidential Council on Physical Fitness. This is manufactured flack, because it is Michelle Obama picking up an idea that has been around for a long while. Not during just Democratic Presidencies. But since frippin' Ford's days.

Mind you, there IS pushback against the concept just on ideological bounds, but on the companies that are making inroads to putting their products in front of kids all the time in the form of soda and drink machines. Clearly defined product endorsements, and products directly dropped into school lunch programs, that are EASY to produce, and fairly cheap to provide, but lets face it, processed foods are not generally grand sources of nutrition. Which is kind of the point.

School lunch programs make up millions in sales in each state. They are a captive market, and a source of state and Federal funds. These programs are ripe targets for some companies looking to expand, not waistlines, but their profit margins. That their products aren't really good for you...that's a pesky, niggling sort of thing. There are dollars to be made, and Congresscritters to pay to help swing contracts their way. And when someone suggests that maybe we NOT feed our kids a bunch of processed crap with extra corn syrup, a lot of empty calories, salt, and fat for the f*ck of it, that scares the folks whose job it is to sell that stuff, and who just happened to get the grand idea that schools were a great market.
It is a confluence of very real financial impact to folks who figured that schools were going to be easy marks, and the folks who are going to oppose anything that comes from the President or his family. If it were immunization, there would be a confluence of folks who would get up in arms about the gub'ment telling us how to raise our chil'runs, and the vaccine crowd would get tapped to crow about it. If it were raising awareness about abuse, then folks would be screaming how we can't discipline our kids without the Big Government poking its nose in our bid'ness! The rumblings are out there, and there are folks to oppose nearly any issue, if it comes from the President or near him. If, tomorrow, the President were to propose a day celebrating NASCAR and apple pie I'm sure that there would be a huge uproar against the hypocrisy of looking to reduce climate change gases and support of racing, and the elitist "Stock Car" racing that average Americans can't possibly compete in, while simultaneously frothing about the celebration of invasive species introduced across a virgin America and the supremacy of European pie, when the obviously older fry bread and churro were overlooked, and how dare the Office of the President slander the fine Latin and Native communities... 

Opposition on the basis of a policy proposed by the Executive is nothing new. That it DOES have real financial impact is likewise not surprising. Burying the opposition because it might make you look like sort of petulant child who is a shill for an industry looking to shove even MOAR crap down our kids' gobs...that's a special sort of fun poking. Because, the issue isn't, as some are going to run with, that he called the First Lady a fatass, but that he opposes her agenda on grounds that she is the wife of the President, and that any movement to get healthier kids could mean endangering contracts with school lunch programs and reducing consumer spending on crap.  Like the Cheetos that he so dearly loves. 

Mind you, I LOVE Cheetos too. Not the puffy ones, but the crinkly dense suckers. It's salt and fat in a handy corn medium, and they ARE tasty. Let's not get that screwed up. But the opposition to the First Lady's agenda from several sources stems two fold, and it's not really being discussed. While trying to frame the opposition as being about "parents' rights to parent" and "big government" it boils down to simple opposition for opposition's sake, and "big government" is fine so long as it spends money on campaign sponsor's crap.  That his opposition is two fold, is far more subtle than some would give the man credit for. I am feeling generous though...

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Terra Nova was a Bait and Switch?

Yes, Korea's dictator for life has died.  Newt is plunging at the polls. Huntsman may run as a Libertarian. There is important stuff going on in the world, but I assume that folks are heading to boards like Fark or debating endlessly on Facebook on these topics. I decided to take on a different subject.

Terra Nova was a surprise for me. Not that it snuck up on me, I've been there pretty much from the first episode, but what I am appreciating about it, is how the writing staff lured us in with the characters. With the plot arcs. It's not the best series on TV right now--I still hand that one to Dexter for smart writing and characters that while not always likable, they are internally consistent. Something that is rare on TV nowadays.

Terra Nova snuck up on me, because on the surface it appears to be much like a lot of other TV series about time travel. A certain lack of regard for the laws of physics notwithstanding, and certainly a tossed away thought to causality, the show is an interesting thought experiment on how we humans could overcome our depleting our biosphere with pants on head retarded abandon.

It has all the elements. Shadowy government-corporate collusion. Authoritarians riding herd over scientists and doctors, idealistic colonists, an everyman with a family who is considered a criminal but just wants to be a Dad and protect his own, the quasi-adopted daughter of the military Commander who is in league with rogue elements and rebels.

From the get go, you are see the familiar cast of characters and figure: ...well, maybe the dinosaurs will look cool... Least that's how I approached it. It's how I looked at Primeval--another show that plays around with causality and time loops and physics and twists them up like a kitten with a ball of string--though, without a Spielbergian budget for their dinosaurs.  To be fair, when you get dinosaurs involved in a series, you almost always get quasi-governmental conspiracies, I suspect because even writers realize that few folks will believe that anyone else might pay for the housing and upkeep of the suckers when they are crossed over into our world, or we roll into theirs'. Time looping is rarely the sort of thing that TV villains ever just do on their own. It's a sort of Big Government project. Yet, when this series got off to its start, it set the archetypes down fairly thickly. Military Commander, his loyal troops, scientists with a lack of backbone, and then enters Jim Shannon, a criminal who sneaks his way across the time bridge to the Cretaceous to unite with his family. The Sixers are the rebels, the colonists are caught up in a somewhat low key struggle.

The thing is, without delving into the endless retconn of Lost very few of our characters are what they seem, even if they hew to archetype. That is refreshing to me. After the endless meandering of  JJ Abrams and Jeffery Lieber's muddled plots and fabricated "surprises" it's nice to see characters develop and reveal themselves for a change on science fiction TV without the "Very Special Episode" trope that usually accompanies it.  It was the strength of Babylon 5 and Farscape. It was part of reason that Firefly looked like it was going to shake out nicely.  Character progression without beating us over the head with it.  I don't quite compare Terra Nova to those shows--in part, because they are entirely different sub-genre--but it is nice to see that the writers payed attention. In a single season, Terra Nova became a show that looked like a few others, with slightly better production values, and is revealing itself to be its own show.

The bait and switch portion of the show is core to the plot. You can see how the show was pitched, and with the strong archetypes, you can see why execs looked up and said, "I understand this, let's do this, and with BIG dinosaurs!" The bait and switch is built into every character.  From the Rod Hallet's Dr. Wallace, who figured he could schmooze his way into the heart of Shelly Conn's Dr. Elisabeth Shannon,  Allison Miller's Skye, the adopted daughter of the Commander and turns out, Sixer mole--turned to protect her missing mother that the rebels have chained up with a nasty virus. Yes, it gets complicated fast, as science fiction shows tend to do. The thing is, and it's the thing that I like about the show, is that the characters, while they are presented in classic archetype fashion, they actually do remain internally consistent. We are presented with them, and make some assumptions. The viewer knows the conventions of the genre, and we're fed them on the surface. We bite, and then the characters reveal themselves, and lo, we find there's a bit more going on than we thought.

Steven Lang's Commander Taylor is the height of this. When introduced, you can't help but think, "Did they just use a bunch of out takes from Avatar to film this?  The show borrows heavily from his performance on the big screen to build a shell of a character around Taylor, before you get to know the man. It's very much deliberate. Hard nosed military Commander, with a bunch of armed troops to protect the scientists and colonists, you're led to make some assumptions about the man, that the rest of the season then shows that you're almost right, and where those assumptions are wrong, they are very wrong. The same with the Sixer's Mira. Arriving in a rogue pilgrimage, she looks at first like a foil to the munificent authoritarian rule of Taylor. And that is what you're supposed to believe, because that is the sort of preconceived notion that you arrive with.

That is really what the show is about. Not wacky surprises or twists, but taking your assumptions, and playing with them. Feeding them a bit, and then showing that the internal consistency of the characters is staying true, and since you assumed wrong about the characters' motivations.  It IS a show about the rapaciousness of man, of conspiracies to strip mine the past to feed the future, of a struggle to build community and make new lives. The thing is, the roles are somewhat reversed, in that the authoritarians as presented are looking to preserve their community and homes against forces that would tear them apart, and force them to desecrate their new home, and the wild rebels are tools of the technocrats in hiding.  That bait and switch has been a nice reveal, because that is what it has been. A season long reveal of the characters' motivations, and while doing so, allowing them to grow into those roles a bit.

It isn't an amazing show. It's not going to knock your socks off, having you laughing, and it on the edge of your seat. It's not going to make your head bleed trying to figure out the "mystery" behind things. That alone endears the show to me--I am tired of retconn being used as a constant plot device and the Heroes/Lost sort of rewriting history at a moment's notice, I hope, has passed on. What this show is, is a nice commentary not only on our politics right now, but how we construct our ideas and make assumptions. It is a show that gives a slight pause, because it is not blindingly obviously referential, and instead drops bread crumbs for you to follow on these stereotypes in a subtle fashion that I thought was dead on American network series television. Let alone on Fox...

The season is done, and I have to say, that I am hoping that this one returns, because it's a show that has some cojones to challenge those assumptions. Not in a "screw you viewer!" that just rips up the character  with some bombshell retconn, but instead has the audacity to keep characters internally consistent, and even make a gentle jape at the viewer for their own assumptions, and then let us in on the joke, with some well intentions.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Dollar Insight...

Yesterday I had to deposit some cash at the bank. Nothing huge, but every dollar counts these days, right?

The only problem was, not all the bills were recognized, and it pretty much illustrates the problems we face right now, not just in our everyday business, but the overall economy as well.

Dropping in cash at the bank is a pretty straightforward process. Used to be you just popped everything into an envelope, and you it all got deposited in the morning. Today, with "improvements" to the technology, you just drop bills into the machine, it reads them, and lo, instantly credited.

In theory.

That is, if the machine can read the bills. That means, the bills that aren't crumpled. The ones that are new. Haven't been used a lot. The higher the denomination, the better. Ones, fives, even ten spots, they get used and wadded up more often, and those are the ones that aren't so easy for the machines to read.

The bank decided that one of the fivers that I included wasn't good enough for a deposit. The tech couldn't read it, so it was rejected, and it went right back into my wallet. Not a big deal, but it does illustrate part of the problem that we face in the larger economy.

There is a lot of to do about tax cuts and tax breaks right now. Who gets them. What gets taxed, what gets a break, what is more valuable to the economy as a whole.  There is the school of thought that prefers to give breaks and recognize only the larger transactions.  Corporations and large businesses are more valuable to the general economy, in much the same way, that bills that are not in general circulation for long are easier to deal with for our banks at the ATM.

The fight against a payroll tax break is much akin.  Banks don't like the idea so much, because they won't be getting an influx of large cash from corporate sources. Instead, there will be smaller amounts deposited. A lot of them.  And more, with a payroll tax break, there won't be huge numbers posted to these accounts, but incremental amounts that will piled into paychecks. These smaller amounts do add up, and more, these smaller amounts will tend to go to things like paying bills. Utilities, gas, insurance, servicing credit card interest, into home loans, groceries, and small purchases. It's not sexy like dropping a few million into a single account, but like the five dollar bill, these smaller payments will circulate a bit more.

Giving large breaks to corporate sources, will mean dropping sexy amounts of cash into accounts. Akin to dropping larger amounts into bank accounts. These corporate accounts tend to head overseas, or are maintained a bit out of the chain of commerce. Put into the stock market. Put into funds that do things at a macro-economic level. Far more dynamic where the narrative heads when we talk about indicators. Bigger. Easier to track.

The problem is, economics isn't just at that macro level.  What we have are issues at the local level. Demand and supply are skewed at the moment, and we see a lot of Americans carrying debt, and crushed under the weight of bills hanging, with interest building.  At one level, this makes banks and utilities salivate at the thought of piling on more charges.  In the long haul, it means more cash extracted from consumers. The problem being, that this strategy chokes a lot of business models by depressing purchasing, and slowing payment on debts, which slows growth, slows demand, and right now, our economy suffers from a lack of movement in cash.

The humble fiver is an illustration of this. Crumpled, not too pretty, harder to read, the bank doesn't like it so much. The thing is, that fiver goes to small purchases. It goes to the gas tank. It goes to smaller purchases. That keeps the chain of commerce going.  In a similar way, these pay roll tax relief plans keep smaller amounts of cash moving as well. It provides not huge amounts of cash, but it does keep the cash moving.  People pay their utilities, they buy groceries, they buy gas, they pay down credit cards, they keep the cash in circulation. They pay for small goods, which then increases demand, which spurs production. It's not as sexy as a huge government contract, it's not an order for a company wide purchase of new laptops or an agribusiness expanding their facilities, but without increased demand, without this liquidity, those larger purchases, those larger demands never show up--or if they do, they do at a cost to local investment.

We are seeing a contraction in purchasing power by the middle class. We are seeing a drop in demand for services, and in response, we have banks increasing fees to make up for that. To squeeze folks when they're down. This in turn, lowers the amount of cash that folks are able to then put into purchases, further lowering demand, and increasing the overall difficulty in getting out of the hole we've dug ourselves into.

At some point, we have to recognize the power of that ugly five dollars. We have to recognize that cash in circulation does us all more good, than just looking at the larger deposits. That we need to put cash into the hands of folks who actually buy the stuff that folks would like to sell. To use the services that folks would like to provide. That cannot happen if folks don't have that cash on hand to do so. That by looking at only the larger purchases, the larger players, that we depress demand, and only exacerbate the difficulties we find ourselves in.

That lonely, ugly fiver, it wants to go to purchases. It wants to be used.  At some point, we need to recognize that those ugly fivers, when they compound over time and across the board, they add up. Not in the sexy way that twenties roll in, and count easy, but in smaller purchases that add up over time, and add up in ways that increase the ball of demand and keep the wheels greased.  Not as pretty, not as easy to point to, but economics isn't pretty, and ultimately, we need those small purchases, we need the cash passed around a few times before it heads up the chain, as opposed to going straight to the large banks, straight out of circulation, and straight out of the general economy.

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

Thursday, December 15, 2011

B-5 and the Attack of the Ads

Possibly the best part about re-watching Babylyon 5. has been not just immersing my the story, and reveling in the pure space opera, but reliving part of the consumer culture of the era.

The time was 1996.  Clinton was in office. We were disentangling ourselves with Reaganomics after Bush began our climb out, and Bill Clinton was battling Congressional Republicans on near every detail of policy.  Babylon 5 was begun as an independent project, out of the channel studio system, with a low budget, but writing that looked ahead in arcs previously unthought of. Brisco County Jr. gave us a young and brash Bruce Campbell. The X-Files were going strong. Deeps Space Nine was half way through its run. It was a heady time for science fiction on TV, there were cartoons galore still on TV that weren't just kid's content, MTV even showed videos on occasion.

And the ads...

The reveling for me is not the slick commercials of the major players.  Not the cereal commercials, the McDonalds ads, the cologne and perfume or clothing ads, though, to be fair, I am remembering the very pale Werther's ads, and chocolate Reisen ads, and the Mentos ads as well that just can't be done today. The hair, the colors, the Mom jeans, those are all there, but for me, it's the local cable ads that are killing me the most. The DragonCon ads. The local electricians and plumbers who threw up advertisements on cable, with the most basic of electronic signage, the furniture warehouses that pulled stunts and tried so damn hard to funny. The tech schools that did put real graduates and not actors up on their ads with an earnestness that just can't be found today.

To be fair, you can't find them like that anymore, because, they are awful. Just terrible production values, not terribly effective, and embarrassing acting. But that was the age. When your local cable companies were exactly that: local. Ran locally, pulling in ads from businesses based in the community and not just from industry giants, and produced not in package deals with a bunch of other industry giants, but your local plumber said, "Hey, you know what we need? An ad here, right after the dating service girl. Damn, she's cute..." Music cued up from some guy down the street who had a keyboard and a cheap mixer, and edited in by a community college student doing his internship, and it was that very earnestness in advertising that I kind of miss.

I have pretty much sliced off my cable today. Netflix. Hulu. I don't pipe in TV the same way I did back in those days. My news comes in on the computer, I get my movies and shows directly from the source, and while I am exposed to a few ads, I limit that by making my X-Box and Mac my prime entertainment sources. It is a very different consumer entertainment environment today, but going through the tapes, I have to smile. Not just at having to run the cleaner tape, laden with alcohol, not just sheer clunkiness of the tapes--the reassuring sound as the motor slams them into overdrive to fast forward or rewind--but the knowledge that THIS was the high tech of the day.  No giant flatscreens, but full size tubes on TVs that could actually kill you if they fell on you. And despite myself, sitting here with my own flatscreen TV, piping in TV on the wireless, I sort of miss those days, where your local car dealership went CRAZY with ads and DEALS!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Newt a Hypocrite? Who Knew?

I know that you're all stunned by the thought of another article that shows Newt Gingrich as a double dealing asshat.

Be strong, my brothers and sisters.

It has been said that Newt Gingrich's appeal is that he sounds like what stupid people think smart people sound like.  I will disagree with that, but I do think that part of his appeal is actually his own bellicosity and innate dickishness.

Newt is a smart guy. He has that pesky PhD.  He is well educated, he has the ability to be eloquent, and when compared to the bumbling and stumbling of Rick Perry, he does appear to be a paragon of well spoken statesmanship. Save, when you actually listen to the man.

Newt is a bright man, who is often forced by circumstance to deal with folks that he has zero respect for. He is a bright fella who has been lauded as an "idea man" for some time, and often forced to deal with fellow former Congresscritters and journalists who are not as well educated, who are not as erudite.  This is a situation that rankles the man, and it's this particular peevishness that is the real focus of this piece. Newt's own internal dickishness.

The government shutdown years ago, when Newt was offended by his seating on a plane. The recent jabs at the "invented people" of Palestine--and betting that few folks understand anything about the panethnicity of the Arabic world, the same as the Hispanic or even "white" people of the US, Canada, or Australia.  Yesterday, Gary Johnson--a fella I really would love to support more, if I didn't think that his ideas on economics are only a few steps away from Ron Paul's own deludedness--took a shot at an illustrative position within the Gingrich camp. Newt supports a proposed death penalty for marijuana dealers. Those who bring in 2ozs or more, can be then dealt with harshly.

The problem is, that Newt has a storied past with Mary Jane. He has more than admitted that he has smoked pot, but has been at various times, an avid supporter of legalization.  In the 80s, he wrote the AMA in support of medical marijuana. In the 90s, he told New York magazine that his use of marijuana in the 60s"...was a sign that we were alive and in graduate school in that era."

I have no problem with Newt smoking pot. It's not something that I do on a regular basis. Not a big fan of the stuff. I don't particularly care if folks smoke weed, one way or another. Do think that we waste a lot of resources on "fighting" pot, and that it is money that could be better spent on reducing the presence of actually dangerous drugs, that the current "War on Drugs" creates the very environment of danger and competition that fuels cartels, and it drastically inhibits the industrial uses of marijuana that could contribute to our economy in ways that could revitalize a few industries.

So, Newt being a pot smoker doesn't offend me in the least. Bill Clinton lost a lot of respect from me with his "didn't inhale" ridiculousness. I pretty much assume, if you attend college in this country, that you've been exposed to pot--and if you're past your 20s, that you've had a few tokes no matter the education or background, because it's out there, and illegality or not, Americans grow some of the finest quality weed in the world.

What does offend me, and is illustrative of the inherent problem with Newt, is the pomposity and that inherent dickishness that Newt has on the issue.

"See, when I smoked pot it was illegal, but not immoral. Now it's illegal AND immoral. The law didn't change, only the morality. That's why you get to go to jail and I don't..."

That is pretty much, in a nutshell, the sum of Newt Gingrich. No matter what, HE is right, by dint of his doing something, and if anyone else does something, they are in the wrong. He is special, protected, and can do no wrong, because of his innate nobility.

This brand of exceptionalism is part of his appeal to some. That Americans are special by way of just being American. Newt is special and protected, because he is Newt. It is the retreat of someone who took perhaps one too many philosophy classes...

That is pretty much the issue. This fairly smart fellow, is convinced that he is above such petty issues of consistency of his own political philosophy, because the peasants can't possibly understand. Kids need a work ethic, so we're going to fire their parents and relatives, so that they can clean toilets to learn their place.  Never mind the impact of firing staff and dumping those folks onto the jobless rolls. Never mind the shedding of jobs and the creation of an underclass, that doesn't need to be discussed, because Newt had an idea.  Palestinians are an invented people, and treating with them on any issue is useless, since they are just Arabs, and in no way, shape, or form, should anyone take offense to this or you're a racist scumbag who doesn't understand geopolitics and if it comes around to bite him on the tochis, then it's only proof of the mongrel nature of these idiots who don't understand that Newt is an idea man.  Pot is immoral now, because Newt isn't smoking it on a regular basis, and the Americans who do now, just don't understand how awesome it was to be a grad student in the 60s...

This peevishness and innate dickishness is the heart and soul of Newt on pretty much any issue. And do we really want a President who is just a dick?

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Romney Bites Off a Bit More Than He Can Chew...

The last week has been interesting where issues of marriage equality are concerned. Between Rick Perry getting clowned on YouTube, the outing of one of the ad's authors, with Newt's own sister siding against him, with Newt upping the ante and supporting a Constitutional Amendment to ban marriage equality, and now Mitt Romney making a grievous error in judgement in thinking a vet would be supportive of his brand of bigotry.

The Primary fight seems to be gearing up, and the GOP's candidates seem to be realizing that economic issues are not their strong suit right now. Not with a House and Senate that are sitting on legislation and without much rudder save to say "President BAD!" so instead it looks as if the field wants to outdo one another on the issue of marriage equality.

Yes, I use marriage equality. Gay marriage is an odd term, since folks don't gay pump gas, get gay inheritance, or gay eat dinner. This apparently, sets me apart from a fair number of folks in the GOP's current field of candidates though.

Michelle Bachmann has asserted that homosexuals are currently free to marry anyone that they want, so long as it's someone they're not attracted to.  There is some rumbling that it could be a bit closer to home for her than just a wedge issue, but illustrative of her own marriage, but that isn't really the issue here.

Rick Santorum is now infamous in his support of family values--or rather, supporting a vision of family values that only supports a some families.

Now, we have Newt and Romney gearing up to slap fight over the issue. On one hand, you have the former Governor of Massachusetts who fought against marriage equality--and lost--and Newt who wants to see a whole new breed of Constitutional Amendment precedent started by proposing one that would actually limit citizens' rights for the first time in our history.

Couple it with Glenn Beck's attacks on Newt, and Breitbart's backing away from GOProud, and you are witnessing the beginnings of an epic slap fest in the offing. Each candidate is trying to define themselves in such a way that they can maximize profits from a increasingly beleaguered electorate that has only so many dollars to donate to the fight. And worse, it is a fight that they are losing in the court of public opinion, as the aging demographic that fears marriage equality is growing smaller, while a youth fired electorate is becoming inspired.

Romney's stop in New Hampshire, and attempt to pander by choosing a vet to appeal to, and having it backfire shows a bit of problem. He's not alone in it, since Rick Perry managed to enable voting for his ad on YouTube to rocket himself to infamy. You have Fox News releasing a recent poll on air that showed that the President is far more popular than any of the GOP candidates that they offered, and now Romney hands a vet a proverbial weapon on camera, without knowing where the vet was going to shoot.  He assumed that a vet would be an easy mark for pandering, and was schooled in knowing his audience, vetting folks before appearing with them, and missing the idea that he might just be on the wrong side of history.

The current GOP field has a somewhat storied relationship with the concept of marriage equality. My own favorite for the Primary, Buddy Roemer personally does not support it, but he is in support of states' rights to choose and supports states that assert that they will stand for such unions. Huntsman supports civil unions, but falls short on marriage equality. Johnson used to support civil unions, but now figures that the government has no business deciding who should be married. It is less than ideal.

It is less than ideal, and it is less than ideal, since few are willing to approach the hypocrisy of it.

Not in Rick Perry's willingness to employ homosexuals. Not Bachmann's own somewhat sad tale of a marriage based on lies. Not the support of a faith based on love and compassion, and twisted to support fear and hate. Those are all issues, but ultimately, we have to address the basic problems with Republican values of support of the Constitution and the concept of slicing off rights for citizens based on Biblical notions.

It violates the freedom of religion, first and foremost. Not all faiths, not all ministries, are against marriage equality. In Iowa alone over 175 ministries stepped forward to oppose a ban on gay marriage. By asserting that the dogma of some faith supersedes others, it violates the freedom of religion. That atheists are bound to this spiral against marriage equality, is even more a violation of the freedom of religion. Folks want to ban marriage to some within their own ministries, they should be allowed to do so, but when they assert that their dogma be accepted by all, we have exactly the sort of issue that the First Amendment was created for.

Equal access under the law and the right to privacy?  Those are likewise issues that illustrate why this is the wrong issue for the GOP to support. We cannot claim to be the party of responsibility, when we abandon these principles.

And what is lacking now, are folks pointing this out to our candidates. Instead, they pander to radicals who see the nation engaged in some kind of holy war, and blind to the fact that their own Fundamentalism mirrors that of other nations, that they really don't like.

If anything, this push against classic Republicanism--and the lack of support of states' rights in an attempt to force a Constitutional Amendment to limit the rights of citizens--has to be opposed, and questions brought before the candidates, over and over again, on how they can reconcile their Republicanism with this facile veneer of "Social Conservatism" that is neither very social and certainly rooted in radicalism...

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

Sunday, December 11, 2011

An interesting twist on hypocrisy...

For a moment, let's set aside the hypocrisy in Rick Perry's recent YouTube blunder that was a fair insult to the gay community in an attempt to curry favor with the Religious Right on the issue of prayer in school, with using background music lifted from Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring.  Or Perry's adoption of the fashionable jacket worn by Heath Ledger's character in Brokeback Mountain while we're at it.

Let's instead take a look at the outing by GOProud of one of the authors of the ad, Tony Fabrizio.

Andrew Breitbart recently resigned from the Advisory Board over this issue. For those who haven't followed this, GOProud's Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia was outraged and tweeted excessively about Fabrizio's involvement in Perry's ad. 

Breitbart issued a statement about LaSavlia's bitter rancor over Fabrizo's involvement with the ad, and the campaign. 

"It is with sincere regret that I announce I must step down as a GOProud advisory member. On numerous occasions I have spoken with [GOProud leaders] Jimmy LaSalvia and Chris Barron of the significant impact the practice of “outing” had in my evolution from the political left to the right. I was under the absolute impression that both agreed. I have a zero tolerance attitude toward the intentional infliction of vocational and family harm by divulging the details of an individual’s sexual orientation as a weapon of political destruction. As an “Advisory Board member” I was not consulted on this extreme and punitive act. Clearly, there are more productive means to debate controversial ideas and settle conflicts. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience stand with GOProud. I still stand by gay conservatives who boldly and in the face of much criticism from many fronts fight for limited government, lower taxes, a strong national defense as well as the other core conservative principles."

It fails to hone in on the problem with the ad itself. With the conflation of gay personnel serving with distinction in our armed forces, and the assertion of the First Amendment right of freedom of religion in our schools, the demonization of homosexuals by some within the Republican Party, yet their inclusion at the highest circles, so long as they keep quiet, and the willingness to use and borrow from film, composers, and certainly the labor and support of groups like GOProud to serve their interests, while throwing the gay community under the bus when it suits.

I can understand Breitbart's nervousness with associating with folks who feel that outing is a valued practice. In part, it reinforces the idea that homosexuals should fear their positions if exposed. It takes away the intrinsic right to privacy for individuals to conduct their lives as they see fit.  I can understand that, and in a way, I can applaud his effort to distance himself from folks who use a bitter tactic to punish those that they disagree with.

But it doesn't get to the heart of the matter. 

Perry's campaign has included folks at its highest levels who are homosexuals. Pretty much, every campaign has, because at 10% of the population, folks is everywhere.  That homosexuals are accepted in Congress, in offices, in jobs inside and outside the capital isn't really a question. It is simple fact. Congresscritters often hide their orientation, even from their spouses in an orgy of self loathing that often spills over in messy public fashion on occasion.  It is a "dirty little secret" that really is only "dirty" to those whose favor they want to curry, while hiding behind a veneer of "family values"--a term that bothers me on several levels since apparently it is only THEIR families that are important, and no one else's.  That Perry's ad was crafted and worked on by folks who are homosexual, who borrowed heavily from the homosexual community, and then used a grand conflation to strike fear in the hearts of the so-called "values voters" is itself a bit of hypocrisy, you then have a yellow journalist of Breitbart's standing, who reveled in Weiner's clothed weiner complaining about outing someone's relationship proclivities.

The sexual politics in the current field of GOP candidates is odd this time around.  A hefty bit of hate for homosexuals within Bachmann's campaign, certainly with Santorum's.  Perry now looks to rise to the fray to make a statement as well, but he's just fine with homosexuals serving with his campaign, just not out in the public, or rather, is fine trading on fear, while employing them, and using their insight.  Let's not even forget the hypocrisy of supporting serial cheater Gingrinch, while screaming to high heavens about a Twitterpic of a Congressman who hadn't quite cheated yet. 

The current GOP field is trying to make a lot of hay by demonizing the gay community. Bachmann. Santorum. Perry. Heck, Newt's lesbian sister is supporting Obama this time around already over her own brother. It is a fear within the candidates that they have to take a strong stand against something.  Something that they feel ought to be feared. It is a calculated effort, and a terrible mistake on the part of the campaigns and their staff. They should be taking a stand for something. And that should be standing for equality of rights. It should be standing for compassion, unity, and inclusion. Already, within their own ranks, they have homosexuals in the highest halls. It's time that the leadership recognized them, openly.  To bring the party openly into the new century, because they've done so behind closed doors for the last 50 years. 

Breitbart's resignation is odd, because it fails to recognize the real issue. Not the outing, but that homophobia shouldn't be a watchword within the party. That it is hypocrisy of the highest order, but then again, asking Breitbart to recognize blatant hypocrisy might be a tall order in and of itself. It is, however, an excellent starting point to begin to discuss why the party has decided to bet so heavily on bigots, and then complain bitterly when the leadership is called upon it. Why the party has invested so heavily on hypocrisy on issues of "family values." 

It is time that the GOP moves beyond bigots and those who cheer them. This election is an opportunity to move beyond that, and I fear that we will not see movement beyond, because people fear doing something truly momentous, and actually lead as opposed to follow the clutching and fearful masses. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Intellectual Fundamentalism Part Deux, Trey, what's that third one?

Rick Santorum has fired yet another salvo into the Presidential race with his insistence that "science should get out of politics."

To say that Rick holds that politics should serve ideology as opposed to the public weal is nothing new. His own campaign for "family values" has earned him...let's just say a stain on his public persona.  Rick is, after all, no stranger to the struggle to find definition...

The thing is, in his latest attempt to assert relevancy in this race, is that he illustrates a problem in the field of current GOP candidates. A willingness to side with intellectually stunted, yet ideologically "correct" folks. Climate change. Evolution. Crime statistics even. Part of this, is the result of the wedge issue of "Intelligent Design" that has allowed folks to take a window of belief and hold it as a "controversial issue of science" as opposed to "This is our belief and screw you scientists!"  It allows folks who fear vaccines to hold up papers that aren't supported as a shield of belief, as opposed to good science. It allows discounted studies to be clutched to try to stave off the EPA, the FDA, or any decent thoughts of how to avoid catastrophic change in how we look at industry and the future of energy production in the nation.

Some of these issues are based in economics. Folks are invested in industries that are threatened by change and advances in technology and increasingly pointed studies that are showing systemic changes in weather patterns unlike anything in the previous hundreds of years. Some of these are based on a shifting of narrative to force discussion about religious indoctrination in our schools under the aegis of competitive theory.  Some of it is just hysterical natterings and support of these idiots only muddies the waters and creates enough chaos to try to force the other two areas forward.

In part, we can blame the Fairness Doctrine. The idea that there were always two sides, equal but opposite has been built into media narrative for some time. With the fall of the Fairness Doctrine, we still have that structure built into how we approach news--save that without the Fairness Doctrine, there is no onus to provide anything looking like a true balance.  Folks can advance anything as competing, and then nod sagely as folks spout rubbish, and appear to be "fair and balanced."

Part we can blame on the Neocon's favorite of subjective reality. So long as you believe it, it has to be so, in your world view. Twisted out of true, and promoted further, it allowed us to march on Iraq and pursue goals of questionable merit based on what amounts to belief that something has to be true, because I said so.

It is a sort of intellectual Fundamentalism that reduces thought away from fact, and into the realm of belief. It is a dangerous sort of thought process, especially when used to justify public policy on someone's "gut feelings."  Be that a gut that tells them that climate change is impossible, despite mounds of evidence. Be that a gut that tells them couples loving one another and marrying in different churches and ministries or faiths defines their own marriages. Be that a gut that says, "aquifers are pussies." It boils down to folks who value narrative over facts. Who see science as a competitive force, because it keeps  refuting claims of belief, as opposed to arguments based in fact.

Good public policy has to be rooted in fact. Good public policy isn't just rooted in ideology and belief of the greater good, but also rooted in practical solutions. Practicality demands that we base public policy in solid fact, and that we alter our course when conditions change. Be that tax policy, be that how we deal with other nations diplomatically, be that how we address energy policy, be that how we deal with crime. Instead, we have a rise of those who see belief as being equal to fact, and this sort of Intellectual Fundamentalism keep trying to shift narrative, as opposed to discussing facts. That they see science as an enemy only shows how poorly they can defend these policies. In a sane world, we would trounce them out of office, and laugh as they gnashed their teeth and pounded fists on podiums, but we are not in a sane place in our politics now, and if anything, we need to work to get back to a sane place where we can look at facts without trying to put up blinders of ideology to counteract them.

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

Friday, December 9, 2011


I'm going to risk rehosting a pair of comics by J. Jacques. I'm going to do this so that I don't leech a tiny bit of bandwidth by hotlinking these comics from the man, because I do so out of mad love for one of my favorite cartoonists working today.

You will note I said cartoonists, and not "webcomic" as a qualifier. Because, it's true.

I start my day off with a few visits online to several webcomics. Sinfest.Something Positive. Girls With Slingshots. PvP. I make forays to Penny-Arcade three times a week. Lovecraft is Missing once a week. I live in hopes that Dresden Codak will be updated on a regular basis, because it is brilliant, though spotty in its uploading.

But my favorite, and it's up there with Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows, is J. Jacques' Questionable Content.


Well, for one, I was a long time resident of Northampton. NoHo and QC are inextricably linked. QC skewers a lot of the wee hipsters who populate the berg, and that's always good for a laugh. Locations in QC are recognizable if you lived in town, and it's always nice to see the old girl represented, even if Jacques changes the names to protect the guilty. Then there's the simple fact that J. Jacques has grown as an artist by leaps and bounds. I don't mean just a little, but in a way that is stunning.

Frank Cho is one of my favorite cartoonists. He is just brilliant, and gifted in a way that not many guys are. His Liberty Meadows was just amazing. He no longer does the strip, and has moved on to doing full sized books, but if you get a chance, definitely check out his stuff. The thing is, Frank's stuff has always been stunning. His pinup art, his comic, his sketchpads are chock full of just brilliant work.

J. Jacques didn't start off stunning.  QC started off as a sort of...well, let's be fair, it started off with this somewhat inauspicious strip.

It was funny. It was very much what you expected from a webcomic.

It has grown over the years. It is all growed up, and J. Jacques has blossomed as an artist, and this is QC today.

The art isn't necessarily the biggest draw. There are guys who can draw circles around our boy. The style suits QC though, and the biggest draw is that the characters have grown with the strip as well. Just when you think that he can't do another punch in the junk joke, he goes and puts in a strip that makes you wonder HOW did so much dust just blow up in the room. QC has a lot of heart. It is a comic that stands apart for me, in how invested you can get with sprites on the screen, and the journeys of these characters over the years has been full of tribulations, and always with ring of honesty for how people live. It is a comic, so yeah, there's a level of over the topness that goes for the punchline, but the emotion and the relationships are complex, full of flaws, full of joy, full of rage, and varying degrees of vexness that set it apart for me. Coupled with a location that I dearly love, and the fact that our boy is growing constantly, it is one of those special places on the web.

If you don't visit QC every morning, I invite you to do so. Go through the archives. It is a backlog of strips to go through, but it is a great journey, and I hope you get hooked, because it's one of those comics that is special, and it keeps on being great, and damned if I ain't proud of a local guy who has put his work out there, and done an amazing job of it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Belated DA 2 review

I was derailed yesterday from popping up a few words about DA2 yesterday. Damn you Jon Stewart, damn you to the Hell of Being Flayed Alive for bringing me ridiculosity so early to keep me from my appointed task.

I wanted to do a review of DA2, now after Skyrim has hit the shelves, because I thought that the early reports of DA2 were a little off base. Comparisons seem to keep popping up here and there, and that is sort of like comparing apples to mangos.

Dragon Age 2 is obviously the sequel to BioWare's swords and sorcery title, Dragon Age. The former was more than fair popular, with scads of downloadable content, an epic storyline, and much more blood than you could shake a stick at--which seemed to be a selling point in some mind at BioWare at one point. I can only imagine the meeting that idea took hold in.

"So, Bill, the blood? It seems kinda...excessive."

"Yeah. Buckets. And you can KEEP the blood on too! Just walk around drenched.  It's for the kids."

Dragon Age was a gritty sort of fantasy, with Dark Spawn rising from the bowels of the earth, to consume the flesh of the living and put all they found to the sword. The Grey Wardens, sentinels and warriors charged to fight these creatures of darkness, are themselves tainted by the blood of their foes, giving them power and dominion to oppose such fell creatures.  Betrayed, the Grey Wardens are nearly wiped out, not by their eternal foes, but by the political mechanizations of nobles who seek the throne. There is back biting, there is betrayal, there is blood, there are the usual BioWare mechanics of choosing your companions' paths, making decisions that affect the plot, the fate of those companions, and the fate of the world.  The scope of DA was huge--the fate of the nation is in your hands, to help a king rise, to avenge your family's honor, to battle the Archdemon, and unite the lands.

Heady stuff.  The first game had some issues. Maps were not just repetitive, but often exactly the same. The gameplay was somewhat repetitive as well. The animations were sometimes a bit wooden, and it shared some of the flaws of BioWare's titles of the time, in sort of odd gathering quests and the like. The story and characters, that pushed the title up though. Sweeping saga of the last Gray Warden, charged to refill the ranks of his order...

DA2 is not just a sequel, it's pretty much a different game entirely. Voice acting for your character takes a spotlight--and the dialog choices are ALL fairly satisfying.  The combat is not a deep system, but looks pretty, and you can still turn the gore up, though it is less a factor of looking like your character walked in from the set of Carrie. The whole gameplay system has been revamped. Skills and abilities flow in trees that boost performance, but the choices are fairly limited. Progression to a godlike status is not fueled by some mystic ability imbued by the ingestion of the ichor of the Dark Spawn, but about the skill of the Champion of Kirkwall.

And that is maybe the real difference between the games. The scope is far different this time around. While the first game was an epic of the rise of the Grey Warden, DA2 is about a refugee from the war, who lands in Kirkwall, and scrambles to take care of his/her family. The linking scenes and structure set the entire game as a flashback, where one of your boon companions is held by the Chantry and interrogated. Varric tells your tale, your unofficial chronicler.

Structurally, the game was, to me, much more satisfying because of that. It wasn't an epic, it was a self contained tale. The rise of a merry band of heroes, looking not to save the kingdom, but get paid. At least at first. It is a more personal sort of tale. It was in many ways, a deeper look into the world, because you get to see it more up close.  The Circle of Magi was featured in the first game, but more as a resource to call upon.  In the second, you get to see the effect that religion of the Maker has on the mages. How it impacts the politics. You get to be involved in some of that dirty politicking as well. Where before, you shape the fate of a nation, you are a little closer to the fray in the second. Your actions impact, if anything, your character's actions have a sweeping impact. The return of Flemeth. The Qunari. Sparking a war. But at the heart of the game, it is not about setting these huge things into motion with any great plan, but rising out of consequences from smaller actions.

That, I thought, was the real strength of the game. While DA was epic and writ large, DA2 is a smaller scope. Your actions have impact, but those actions are spilled over from small ones. To save this soul. To save that one. To let someone go. To show mercy. To help a companion. Stay loyal to a friend, and it spills over later on.  And to be fair, it's a game that doesn't make those decisions easy.

In BioWare games, you tend to have two choices. Be a goody two shoes, or be a right bastiche. The nobler path is almost always less profitable, but ends up with its own rewards in the overall arc. DA2 allowed you to be noble, fell, or just a smart ass. Yes, I chose smart ass fair often. The dialog for the smart ass options were far more entertaining. The thing is, you can lose companions if you chose the nobler path always. You build not a force of shining heroes, but friends and companions. Of any BioWare game, DA2 had some of the hardest choices to make in the quest to build up your merry band of troublemakers.  Paragon or Renegade in the Mass Effect games is fairly easy. DA2 doesn't make those choices easy. In serving your companions loyally, can lead you to some fairly dark stuff. Even with the best of intentions, it can lead you to doing some very bad things. The consequences for doing the "right" thing aren't easy to wend through. There is no real righteous path. Which, for me, was the real draw for the game. The story unfolded, and you were at the heart of this conflict, and the consequences for seemingly small actions early in the game spun out later.  Structurally, it was a better story than the first, for me.  It wasn't epic, but set the hooks. It builds, but from tiny actions, you are at the heart of the chaos, and your best intentions can wind up impacting everything. For me, that was wildly satisfying.

Epic is fun. To have this grand sweep of armies, the fate of nations. DA2 wasn't that, but the consequences of these more personal tales, wind up igniting a war. It shows how the Law of Unintended Consequences can play out. It is a very different title than its predecessor, and that is not a bad thing. It is a game with a different scope, and that more closer look at the world, the people, the consequences, that was what I think the franchise really needed. I thought how the team structured the tale was clever, and the choices to be made, aren't simple and easy. That was refreshing. It wasn't that you were mired in blood and danger always, with huge import, but that you had choices to help a friend. To do things to support their own quests, often at odds with your own, and fraught with their own difficulties. Your companions are often at odds with one another as well, so balancing them all is a challenge. It is a more personal game, in its scope, and that was a lot more satisfying for me, than just building an engine of destruction to rain down fire upon my foes.

It has flaws. The maps are still an issue. The same ones, over and over again. Admittedly, this was less an issue for me, since you were visiting the same places over and over again. The DA team really needs to look at how the Mass Effect team builds their maps, because each location in Mass Effect, while often similar in flavor, is unique. The combat was sometimes laggy--RPGs aren't action titles, so that is forgivable. The inventory system was odd, in that you had a junk pile--items that had little intrinsic value and were not useful to the story, not useful to building much of anything, and yet, you put the little bastiches in your pack anyway. The crafting and equipment upgrades were very basic, though it was sort of nice to hear the chime of finding a new resource.  There are certainly issues to work on, but for me, the story was key. The combat system could still be tweaked, but it was serviceable. It was a huge leap graphically, and the addition of voice acting was a boon for the franchise. It is a game that was a good sequel in my mind because it didn't try to recreate the same epic feel of the first. It expanded the view of the world, of the events shaping it. It was a huge leap for how the this world is revealed. Structurally, it was a more cinematic tale, with a strong feel for a beginning, middle and end. It played a bit with conventions in the genre, and it certainly played with characters, and they were fun. It wasn't a game of turning your character into an engine of unstoppable rage, and I kind of liked that.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I was going to do a post in a somewhat belated review of Dragon Age 2--a game that I think has gotten a bad rap over the last few months.  Not a perfect game to be sure, but with Skyrim out, and watching folks delve into it, there is rumblings of how terrible DA2 was, and in comparison the two games are apples and mangos.

That WAS until the Daily Show fired up on Hulu. And the mind numbing disingenuousness began to roll in.

The story was the War on Christmas. Lincoln Chafee fired ANOTHER shot across America's bow with his heathen "Tree Lighting Ceremony."  Yes, friends and neighbors, Chafee refused to call it a "Christmas tree." REFUSED!

I also hear he eats the babies of the pure of heart in his spare time.

Now, let's set aside for a moment that we live in a nation with many faiths. Let's set aside for a moment the separation of Church and State--which coincidentally allows us to ignore the fines that the Puritans enacted when they landed upon our sweet and sunny shores for anyone who decorated for the holidays, or exchanged gifts on Christmas as they declared it a sacrilege.  Let's set aside the issues of unity in this season within a nation of many faiths, peoples and creeds, and get to the heart of the matter for me.

The previous two term Republican Governor, Donald Carcieri did exactly the same thing.

Now then, when I see the Fox News logo, I understand that I am going to see some partisan jingoism. Just the same as when I see the Fox Entertainment logo, that I'm going probably hear a mildly veiled dick joke somewhere in the comedy stylings of Seth and the cats at Family Guy. What is at the heart though, is the level of retcon that has been going on as of late. Not just a failure to report, an odd silence that glosses over events that are inconvenient to narrative--which is how most news sources deal with said inconsistencies--but we have within Fox now a willingness to rewrite history.

The level of retcon as of late has been skyrocketing. Newt. Bachmann. Perry. Cain. With so many gaffes and so many errors of judgement, I can feel for the poor bastiches at Fox who have miles and miles of tape that refutes a lot of their own statements, out of their own mouths. What is sad, is that they seem to forget that in this age, NOTHING that is said on the air EVER goes away. There are enough folks who are squirrelly enough to research, to hold onto, and run down quotes. Plus, with everyone wanting to archive their footage so that they can generate page views sifting through the stuff, you can use their own vaults to mine for the refutation in their own words.

This goes for Romney. This goes for Newt. This goes for Paul. This goes for Obama. This goes for Weiner. This goes for Pelosi. The difference with the Democrats, is that they don't have a network cheerleading them, and actively going for the retcon, and calling it "opinion" to veil the inherent and built in inaccuracy of those inconvenient points to the narrative.

Narrative is part of the problem. When you dedicate a news agency to narrative, you are stripping out the journalism portion of the show. Journalists can certainly grind axes--and Fox has a tendency to lambast journalists who show favor for folks they don't agree with as being "partisan" but they are just telling it like it is, apparently.  Journalism is about exposing those inconvenient truths. Not hiding them. The Fourth Estate exists as a counterbalance.  When you have collusion between those in the state and the press, you have engines for repression and tyranny. Which is why we built in the freedom of the press right into the Constitution. What we see within Fox is an abdication of that freedom. A willingness to get in bed with the State and spin whatever folks want, the journalist version of mercs for hire, to write what folks need written, and damn the ethics, damn the consequences, they are getting paid!

The collusion and willing and even enthusiastic joining of the Justification Machine isn't new. Neocons have built a whole industry of writers willing to sling anything as fact, to justify policies in scholastic journals and in the book trade. That this Justification Machine bled into the media is by design, but gottverdammt this is an example of some bald faced shit.

And yes, it offends me. It offends me because I still consider myself fairly Conservative. The problem being, that the Justification Machine has moved the goal posts on what that means as well. What it means to be Republican even has shifted thanks to this, and the platform has shifted likewise.  Strong markets, hewing to the Constitution, and responsibility are redefined by the moment. Such that, "religious freedom" is now under fire by the very folks who like to tout it. Responsibility in the markets is long gone. Fiscal Conservatism apparently now means "tax cuts" as opposed to efficient taxation and spending, and Social Conservatives can hate on their neighbors with a radical impunity. And all the while, we have a network that can champion an Astroturf movement that they created themselves, and laud as "patriots" while castigating students and veterans who turn out to illustrate the excesses of a skewed market system that doesn't resemble anything like free market capitalism in the least.

This latest incident only shows how far we are through the Looking Glass. Not just Newt being championed as an Elder Stateman, despite losing his office in shame nearly two decades ago. Not just "Family Values" is a catchphrase for "No family for you!" The willingness to simply edit history, even recent history, even events from a week ago, to not spin, but rewrite whole-cloth, and then claim the moral high ground on the strength of the lie, knowing that their target audience is not competent to judge, due to a lack of historical understanding, or basic research skills, is not just troubling, it is offensive, and twists anything looking like journalistic integrity out of true.

Yes, the bitter is flowing this fine morning, and I was looking forward to writing an ode to a game that I really liked...

Crossposted to the Motley Moose

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Good Stick

I know, it's been awhile, but I wanted to return with something maybe a bit of a personal nature.

I just got back from the doctor's office. Nothing major, just a routine sort of blood test. Routine enough that I tend to not think about them too much. I mention it, because something not terrible happened. The phlebotomist stuck me, got my blood drawn in record time, and without much in the way of pain. For those of us who get stuck on a regular basis, that is an appreciable thing. (Diabetics, you know what I'm talking about)

I thanked the gal, on a good stick, and she was kind of surprised. Which got me to thinking.

For those who don't know, I had an aortic dissection some years back. My aorta blew like a bad seal, and that damn near killed me. Technically, it did, four times, but the Cardiac team at Bay State Medical is absolutely one of the best on the East Coast, and after 26 and a half hours of surgery, they got me sealed back up and on the road to recovery. Took a few months of healing, and I was back to work, and got on with my life.

When I was ambulatory, my girl and I went back to the ICU ward, and sent flowers to the cardiac team. Which, we discovered, was a surprise for them, which at the time, I thought was odd. These folks saved my life. For four hours, while the surgeon got a small break after doing 16 hours of surgery on me, they literally poured blood into me, which promptly leaked out, and they set themselves back up, and went back and did it again. For four hours. And for another 6 and half after that, they got me patched up some more.  The pair who poured blood into me, the nurses in the ICU, and the surgeon and his team all got thank you cards, because, they saved my life. And my Grandma raised me to say "thank you" to folks when they deserve it.

To be fair, that near death experience has shaped me. I try not to take things too much for granted. It's way too easy to lose everything, and at random. The Universe is a fickle Mistress, and she WILL excise us from her at the blink of eye, and while there might be some regret at the loss, she's not going to look back if a gamma wash tears through our neck of the woods and scrubs life from this spiral arm.  Nor will she be particularly perturbed if a rock falls from a ledge, a dam bursts, or a tiny clot forms in a blood vessel and bursts your aorta and tears away half the valve attached. Things will end, and whether or not you believe in an afterlife, there are things that I prefer not to face that question without having said. Thanks yous are at the top of that list.

It is sad that it often takes us something so severe to learn that particular lesson. To say the little things that matter. To appreciate when folks are doing well. We are all too inclined to grouse and complain, but noticing when folks do well, that is something that we often mean to do, but it is easy to pass off for later.

So, I say thank you. To waitresses who do a good job. To bartenders who treat me right. I've written notes to managers to tell them when their staff has done a bang up job, because noting the positive is something we tend to forget. Not noting excellence in a field. Not when folks go above and beyond, but when they do their job, and do it well enough, that we are made at ease, with a quiet competence.  When it goes smooth enough, that we tend to not even notice the job was done, because it was that smooth.

There has been a lot said about when folks fail to do their jobs. We have a lot of folks decrying the state of education in this country. We have folks up in arms about failed regulation. We have folks who are fired up when unions fail their rank and file. When civil servants fail at their duties. When the media doesn't do their jobs, and lets questions go asked, let alone unanswered. And that is important. It is necessary even.  While we have a duty to illuminate when things go wrong, it's important to note, when things go right. Not spectacularly well. Not when things are done that are mind blowing, but when folks extend us their excellence and courtesy as commonplace. Be they a teacher. Be they a nurse. Be they a phlebotomist. Be they a waitress. Be they a bartender. Be they a clerk. Be they a cop.

We exist in a culture that tends to bustle, and we weep and wail at the lack of civility and the breakdown of values and courtesy. This is a natural grouse. It is how we socialize and operate as a society. We identify examples of deviance, and we point them out. The problem is, we seem to be grousing a lot, as opposed to  pointing out the deviance in the other direction. Society has carrots and sticks built in, and "please" and "thank you" are two of the most common of the former. And they need to be used more often. We want a more civil society, we need to use them more often. To reinforce those behaviors. Not just with our own children, not just with our friends, but with strangers and those who we may only see once in a lifetime. We need to illustrate that quiet excellence, that doesn't ask for recognition even. That's a step we need to take ourselves. Be that thanking that teacher who takes the time and effort with our kids. The bagger who packs our groceries with care and competence. To say thank you when it's deserved.

Maybe if we did that more often, we'd have less of the folks who we likewise need to scream at. Reward those who do well, and those around them are affected. Call it karma, call it paying it forward, call it loving kindness, call it good manners.

I'm ripping off the bandage from my stick, and it was a good one. It was good enough that it reminded me to be better to folks who do hard work, without expectation of thanks. We do this more often, all of us, to be mindful of that, we might not need to scream at the bad ones quite as often. Least that's how I'm going to interpret it tonight.

I know that I've been gone for a bit, but I hope that you've all been well, and I trust that you've been excellent to one another.

Crossposted to The Motley Moose