Archive for November, 2010

Some Words Uncharted 2 Made Me Eat

Honestly, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by Uncharted 2. After my first couple hours with the game, I even had a little piece written up about why corridor shooters leave me so cold. My first night of Uncharted 2 didn’t leave me impressed. It was as charming as ever, and the writing was sharper, but I just wasn’t interested in the gameplay. Before I could finish my post, however, Uncharted 2 confounded the conclusions I drew from its first first act. Still, I like what I wrote. It’s true in more cases than it’s not, and it’s worth recording how our views evolve. So I post my first impressions below, unredacted:

Jumping to the Wrong Conclusion

I spent my weekend playing Uncharted 2, as part of my ongoing effort to work through my console backlog. I was in the mood for charming violence and, really, there’s nothing like Uncharted for providing an onslaught of both. One minute Drake is playing with hand-puppets in a Turkish prison, the next he’s snapping one guard’s neck an instant before shooting twice in the back of the head.

Still, this is not and never will be my kind of game. The possibility to space is too claustrophobic, the guidance too heavy-handed, for me to feel involved in the way that I want. It’s not that I expect every game to be as open as STALKER, but I can’t abide corridors that are so narrow that I might as well not be playing, and that’s often where Uncharted places me.

Security gates are less effective when the release button is right next to it. In fairness, you really have to stretch to reach it.

Trekking through a jungle path wide enough for two Drakes to stand side-by-side, I scale a wall using some obvious handholds. Then I cross a river balancing on a log, except Drake never really seems in danger of losing his balance. Now I come to a guard who has his back turned to me. Another guard stands a few yards away, looking in another direction, also with his back turned. I take the game’s obvious invitation to stealth-kill the two men. Then I come to clearing with two lines of obvious cover. One for me, one for the bad guys who will pop up as soon as I hit the invisible tripwire. Now I cycle between the cover points, waiting for the mercenaries to stick their heads out of cover so I can kill them. Eventually, they’re all dead. Then it’s onto another narrow passage, which will end with another set of carefully set-up, idiot-proofed stealth kills.

I could turn up the difficulty, but higher difficulty won’t redesign the levels and encounters so that I face meaningful choices, or tests of skill. I might be a little more vulnerable in firefights, my enemies a little less, but it won’t be any more interesting than it is on “Hard”. The exciting story and action set-pieces that unfold on the screen get a little less exciting as the game’s limitations become clearer. Drake isn’t really in danger of falling. The next handhold is right there, or his off-balance animation will trigger and he’ll stand, twisting and turning, on the edge of a precipice from which he will never take a plummet. The guard won’t turn around. Other guards won’t hear his muffled scream, or come investigate his disappearance. The enemies won’t keep up a sustained cover-fire, pinning you in place while they flank.

I’m reminded of an old MST3K, where a woman was being chased by some kind of crocodile. Except they weren’t even in the same shot. It was just pictures of her running, screaming across a field, with insert shots of a crocodile scuttling through a swamp. Then the woman reached the safety of her friends. One of the robots said, “Wow! That was… not close at all, actually.”

If you’re going to sustain tension, you’ve got to mean it. If Nathan Drake is living by his wits, nearly dying a half-dozen times a minute, then I should at least feel a faint echo of the same. Nolan North can grunt and gasp all he wants: I’m sitting with my feet up on the couch, drinking an Old-Fashioned while shots fly over Drake’s head. What Uncharted 2 needs to do is throw an elbow. Let me know that it’s time to stop screwing around and start playing.

"I don't know, I just feel like nothing I do matters. Like I'm just waiting for the next cutscene to start."

When I was Garrett the Thief, I had to take time to get a feel for the landscape before I could start wiping out a regiment of guards. Execution and timing mattered, and if I didn’t do my job right, it turned into a huge bloody mess. When the bullets started to fly in F.E.A.R., I had to think fast and approach each gunbattle with some tactical acumen, or the weight of numbers and grenades would take me down in short order. That’s gaming as I knew it. The tightly scripted corridor shooter is tee-ball by comparison: “Way to hit that ball! Yaaaay, Slugger! Here’s your participation ribbon.”

On Second Thought…

After I wrote that, I played more of the game. Now the interesting thing about this is that I still stand by a lot of what I wrote. Hell, even as someone who completely converted to the cause of Uncharted 2, I still think a lot of my criticisms are completely valid. But what I didn’t know is that from the next chapter, “Urban Warfare”, until the end of the game, Uncharted 2 was about to annihilate my expectations. I’ll get into the reasons why in my next post.

But for now? I’m still pondering what I wrote above. If I still chafe at how tightly Uncharted 2 occasionally holds your hand and constrains your actions, can that be squared with how completely I ended up buying into the experience? With how involved I became with the story and the action? Is a compromise possible between Uncharted 2′s exhilarating cinematic qualities and more open gameplay?

Rat at Rest

“Every time I come out here,” I tell Julian while the steaks sizzle on the grill, “I realize how crazy Boston makes me.”

“Well, but how much of a rat race are you really running?” he asks.

It’s a fair question. When I feel my spirits starting to sag, I remind myself that, reduced to its essence, my life only really requires that I play games, write, read, and cook. For most other people, that’s a vacation, and I don’t ever have the right to feel bad about it.

Except for the last couple months, I have felt bad about it, and then I realize what I’m feeling, and feel even worse about having those feelings in the first place. Which is how I came to be here in the middle of November, at the Rivendell that Julian has carved out of the backwoods of Massachusetts, fleeing what is starting to feel like the depression I fought in college.

If I were running the rat race, I’d have a respectable reason for feeling burned out or overwhelmed. I could blame my boss or my coworkers. I could resent the drudgery of office work, the early mornings and the late nights. I could vent to family and friends about how hard things are and they’d understand and sympathize, in a way they can’t with someone who is ultimately his own boss in a professionalized pursuit of pleasure. I could sympathize and forgive myself, because the fault could reside somewhere outside of me.

In Boston, I can’t escape accountability. I dwell on the things I haven’t gotten done, or haven’t done well enough, and I go into each day feeling like I need to catch up on weeks worth of work. My “to-do” list gets longer and less flexible, and I start putting in day after day of nonstop effort to catch up. Except I’m feeling frustrated and defeated, so everything gets harder as well.

Most of my friends have jobs, and they have lives. The two don’t perfectly overlap. But if you work for yourself, chasing a passion? You enjoy no such existential escape.  You chose to do something, you and your loved ones have made sacrifices so that you can do it, and now you’re tired? You need a day off? Too fucking bad. Get out of bed and get over to your desk and be creative. Or play a game for ten hours, like your life depended on it, because that’s the job. You wanted to play games? Fine, but you don’t get to choose anymore. Oh, and if you’re tired of looking after the house and baking and cooking all the time, maybe you ought to make more money so that you can occasionally afford a night out. The answer to every problems is always mercilessly simple: work harder.

There is no limit to what we can ask of ourselves. But there is, however reluctantly and shamefully we admit it, a limit to what we can accomplish. The reasons might not be obvious. You might have the time you need, and the opportunities. If you were just more efficient… but you’ll never be the machine in your own factory. You try to become that and you end up breaking your own spirit, with too much to do and no energy or confidence left to do it with. And it will look to all the world, yourself included, like laziness. Or indulgence.

Julian is skeptical that I need this break as badly as I say I do. I get it. I’m skeptical, too. But it doesn’t change the giddy sense of relief I feel.

Somewhere on the floor of my apartment is a bag with a laptop and a folio, gathering a thin layer of dust in some corner of the living room. Fully loaded the bag doesn’t weigh much more than seven or eight pounds. But as we stand here beneath clear, cold starlight, about to sit down to dinner with our friends and loved ones, I feel like I have left something much heavier behind.

Team Orders

Until the very last lap of the Brazilian GP, I expected Sebastian Vettel to let Mark Webber past for the victory. The idea that Red Bull would allow Fernando Alonso to maintain a significant lead heading into the season finale at Abu Dhabi was astonishing to someone who came of age watching Ferrari tossing victories at Michael Schumacher.

Red Bull did not hesitate to point out that difference. In an interview with an Austrian paper,  the head of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz said:

Let the two drivers race and what will be will be. if Alonso wins we will have been unlucky. I predict a Hollywood ending. Worst case scenario we don’t become champion? We’ll do it next year. But our philosophy stays the same because this is sport and it must remain sport. We don’t manipulate things like Ferrari do.

Strong stuff. I suspect Mateschitz might even believe it. But he isn’t the guy running the team,  and I don’t think the truth is as cut-and-dry as Red Bull is trying to spin it.

The podium at the Brazilian Grand Prix, after Red Bull took the Constructors' Championship. (image from F1 Fanatic.co.uk)

As I discussed earlier this season, Red Bull’s team politics have been disastrous. Vettel was clearly the team’s number one driver, and Red Bull took some clear steps to favor him. Unfortunately, Vettel lost his position through disastrous misjudgments and Webber became a major championship contender. After Red Bull alienated Webber at Silverstone, and he replied by jamming Vettel at the start and then going on to a convincing victor, Red Bull had to stop favoring Vettel. There was no longer a plausible argument for explaining why he would get preferential treatment. Now, having been burned in their attempts to make Vettel into Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber into Rubens Barrichello, they’re forced to sit on their hands while these two drivers run the risk of throwing away the driver’s championship. But let’s be clear what happened: Vettel was shown far greater respect at Red Bull, and that translated into material aid at Silverstone. When Vettel squandered his advantages and Webber moved to the front, the team stopped favoring anybody. Heads Vettel wins, tails Webber loses.

On the other hand, if Red Bull are sincere about their desire to let the championship be decided on the track, then it really does make for an impressive contrast with Ferrari, who maneuvered Fernando Alonso into this position by forcing Felipe Massa to yield the lead at Germany. Next week, three drivers have a credible shot at the championship. Had Alonso not been allowed past Massa, the drama would be even greater, with the three contenders all locked within a few points of one another.

The longer I watch F1, the less of a Ferrari fan I am. In retrospect, I feel horrible about how Barrichello’s was wasted at Ferrari, and how shockingly little gratitude he was shown  for his driving. If he had been allowed to challenge Schumacher behind the wheel of a Ferrari, I suspect Schumacher’s championship count might be slightly reduced. Now they’re doing the same thing to Felipe Massa, who fought his way into the number one spot at Ferrari by out-driving the temperamental Kimi Raikkonen only to have it taken away when Ferrari anointed Fernando Alonso as their primary.

But if Ferrari wins the driver’s championship by having manipulated results, and Red Bull loses it by having their drivers battling until the end, then Ferrari’s example becomes harmful to the entire sport. As long as one team is pushing one driver to the front of the standings, others will feel pressure to do the same. That’s a disaster when you have a field this strong: Webber and Vettel at Red Bull, Hamilton and Button at McLaren, Alonso and Massa at Ferrari, and Rosberg and Schumacher at Mercedes (and God help us if Kubica gets a tough opponent over at Renault). This is the best F1 lineup in 20 years, and Ferrari cheats everyone if they force teams to push one driver.

Am I a hypocrite in this matter? Certainly. I never complained when Schumacher was getting the same treatment at Ferrari. But it looked better on Schumacher. He was breaking records, drove like a master, and was completely barefaced about his willingness to break rules if it was to his advantage. But now, with a less dominant car and a less charismatic driver, Ferrari’s politics don’t look as good.

Neither does Schumacher, to be quite honest. The same antics that were almost endearing from a championship leader seem petty and irresponsible from a driver hobbling around the middle of the pack like Schumacher is right now. His conduct toward Rubens is beneath contempt, for instance.

F1 has changed. In Schumacher’s era, it was plucky Ferrari against the icy, machine-like McLaren team under Ron Dennis. Nobody else really mattered that much. The championship was always between two drivers, and it seemed fair for each team to rally behind its champion. But nowadays, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, and Renault are all operating credible programs, and running some great drivers. In this environment, it’s simply less acceptable for a team to push one driver forward.

As we head into the last race, I’ll be pulling for Mark Webber. By all accounts, he’s a class act. Admittedly, he has only himself to blame for his current predicament. He drives too aggressively and squandered his lead through mistakes. On the other hand, Vettel is even less admirable. His mistakes have been jaw-droppingly bad, and his conduct is off-putting in the extreme. When things are going well, he is all smiles and good humor. When things aren’t going well, he’s a hazard to other drivers and a waste for his team.

Alonso… well, he had one win handed to him. His demeanor behind the wheel is annoying. He seems personally offended whenever someone does not yield position to him. But he is also a great driver who overcame a deficient car and some bad luck to get to the front of the pack. He is a two-time champion already and, if he adds a third to his count, it would be impossible to argue he doesn’t deserve it.

Batman and Metaphor

The first movie I streamed from Netflix was the outstanding Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It has aged well, a perfect example of what the team behind The Animated Series were capable of doing when freed from the half-hour format and content restrictions. A mobster gets killed in the first scene, which absolutely never happens in the TV show, and what follows is increasingly violent and disturbing. Mark Hamill’s Joker was never more hilarious and creepy, striking the right note of whimsical sadism. Couple that with a villain who was a frightening inversion of Batman himself, and some sharp dialogue between Bruce Wayne and his love interest, Andrea Beaumont, and you have the recipe for what remains perhaps the best Batman film yet.

That moved me to revisit The Animated Series that I loved so fiercely growing up. I recently finished the first set and, while it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as Phantasm, there are quite a few episodes that remain standouts. More importantly, within the confines of a children’s show, they employ a surprisingly clever metaphors to draw out parallels between the lives of the show’s young audience and the action on the screen.

Two-Face’s origin story, for instance,is wonderfully told. We meet Harvey Dent at the height of his powers: charismatic and incorruptible, he is coasting to an easy re-election and closing in on Rupert Thorne, a Gotham crime boss. But Harvey starts showing flashes of volcanic, uncontrollable rage. His friend Bruce urges him to get counseling, which he does, but Harvey continues to become more secretive about his problems.

In the counseling session, we learn that Harvey has always had a bad, unpleasant temperament. But rather than deal with that and master it, he suppressed it. He just wouldn’t allow himself to show or feel any anger. He created a persona, Big Bad Harve, who became the recipient of all his negative feelings. And now, with growing pressures and responsibilities, that coping mechanism is breaking-down. His desperation to conceal his weaknesses, as a child and now as an adult, ultimately leads him to the tragic encounter that births Two-Face.

A lot of kids’ shows condescend. They adopt the attitude, common among grown-ups, that there are a multitude of things that children just don’t understand or can’t quite cope with hearing about. They use fairytale dichotomies between good and evil, or they present the world as a place of lighthearted, Tom Sawyer-esque mischief.

Occasionally, Batman: TAS broke through this barrier and started dealing with difficult subjects and complicated feelings that a lot of children might not fully understand, but which would still have been relevant to them. “See No Evil” is one such episode.

“See No Evil” starts with a little girl, asleep in her room, being visited by an invisible friend, “Mojo.” Mojo has a kind voice and the affection between the girl and her friend is obvious, but it’s still unsettling. Mojo is bringing her treasures, like valuable jewelry, and he promises next time he’ll bring her a pearl necklace. The gifts are inappropriate for a girl age, and there is the question of where they are coming from. It goes unanswered. Mojo tucks her in and leaves.

But of course, “Mojo” is actually the girl’s father, a petty criminal who has managed to steal an experimental cloaking device. And the reason he has to visit the girl in secret is because he and his ex-wife are bitterly estranged. At another point in the episode, he runs into her at a store and tries to force a reconciliation. But the entire scene goes horribly wrong, and it ends with her running toward her car, shouting, “Why can’t you just disappear?”

“See No Evil” is really about divorce and custody. An man has been erased from his family, and he finds a plot device that makes that disappearance a literal one. He uses that power to insinuate himself back into his daughter’s life. The daughter, meanwhile, must learn that there are reasons her mother wanted to keep this man out of their lives. The show never suggests this man does not love his daughter. It merely lets him reveal that his love is unhealthy and possessive.

The real standout in the first set is “Beware the Gray Ghost”, which is basically a meta-story about Batman, his creators, and his fans. The Gray Ghost was a Batman-like TV superhero during Bruce Wayne’s childhood. We get an absolutely heart-breaking black-and-white flashback of Bruce, sitting on the floor in front of his father, clutching a Gray Ghost doll while the show plays on TV. The music theme that accompanies The Gray Ghost is brassy and heroic, a Silver Age motif employed in stark contrast to the darker modernism of Shirley Walker’s typical Batman: TAS score.

Gotham is struck by a series of crimes that strongly resemble old episodes of The Gray Ghost, and Batman becomes convinced the show holds the secret. There is only one problem: the show (like many children’s shows from the 50′s and 60′s) was destroyed after it went off the air. No copies of it exist. So Batman must track down the actor made famous by the role:  Simon Trent.

And of course Trent is voiced by none other than Adam West, and we find that Trent has become a washed-up actor. We witness a desperate phone call to his agent as he runs out of rent money, begging for work. His agent is apologetic, but explains that all anyone remembers him for is The Gray Ghost. Trent says, “But I’m an actor. I can play other parts.”

“Beware the Gray Ghost” is a great story about the other side of the dream factory, and how our fictional heroes live in memory long after the cameras stop rolling. Batman: The Animated Series, invited kids to contemplate their own relationship to Batman, and how he would look to them as adults. It invited them to think about the people who make it, and whether there is anything real underneath the illusion. It gave comforting answers and a Hollywood ending, but I can only admire a show that respected children enough to raise the questions.

Apex Predator

Bioshock is an exhausting universe. By the end of the first game, I was actually disturbed the brutal ways I killed splicers. Their constant wailing and sobbing and ranting had driven me out of my mind before I was halfway through the game. I came to love listening to them scream as they burned alive, these mewling psychopaths with their self-pitying, incoherent monologues. Revulsion had hardened into hatred and and then turned into sadism, which only served to deepen my revulsion.

Then there is the decay that surrounds you: the mouldering books, the shattered edifices, and the fetid bilge that has overrun every floor. Every splicer is a disfigured parody of a human. The general oiliness of the game engine and lighting effects, combined with the lurid art deco colors, creates a cloying sense of over-ripeness.

Eventually, it all just wears me down. I start trying to avoid encounters because the splicers have gotten inside my head and I just want things to be quiet for a bit. Besides which, Bioshock never lets me feel like I’m particularly strong or well-equipped. The controls have a slipperiness to them that makes it hard to use cover effectively, and most weapons are too inaccurate to be much good at long ranges. So Bioshock, and especially its sequel, is a game of close-range slugging matches that leave me depleted of ammunition, health, and energy. This is completely antithetical to my preferred style of play in an FPS. In general, I’m a tactician. I like to control the engagement from start to finish, and be able to stand the enemy off at a distance. If there’s going to be close quarters battle, it’s going to be on my terms: room-to-room fighting, done with grenades and shotguns.

Bioshock games make me feel more like a walking dreadnought, going broadside for broadside with psychopaths who don’t have the brains to take shelter. The strain and unpredictability of those engagements means I avoid them more than I should.

In Siren Alley, avoidance graduated to full-on paralysis. I was too low on ammunition and money to fight effectively. Every battle left me teetering on the brink of death. I was rapidly approaching a point where progress would be impossible.

The problem is that I was still thinking defensively, and as out of touch with the creative cruelty that powered me through Bioshock. I’d been clinging to my machine gun because it was comforting. But now, as I took stock of my options and surroundings, I realized that I was finally ready to turn the tables.

I had two great advantages. The first was the speargun, which is the only weapon in the game that never really runs out of ammo. Spears can always be recovered and they’re a perfect sniper’s weapon. The second advantage was the Enrage plasmid, which caused splicers to start attacking everything in sight. Including Big Daddies and the musclebound brute splicers.

This is where I finally started to get into Bioshock 2. The game’s systems started interacting in interesting ways. Using an ammunition saving weapon, I was able to stalk through Siren Alley and start racking up splicer kills, which allowed me to acquire more ammo and cash from my victims. The research camera, which lets you film hostiles in action so that you can learn more about them and unlock upgrades and bonuses, went into action alongside the enrage plasmid.

I started arranging little gladiator duels and filmed the results. Then, as the victorious splicer stood over his fallen enemies, I would reward him with a spear through the neck. In the meantime, the camera was making the splicers ever easier to for me to take down.

Since I needed to get hold of the Little Sisters and their Adam, I always made sure to enrage splicers in the vicinity of Big Daddies, and watched as the Big Daddies annihilated them. After the Big Daddy had been weakened by enough combat, I would open fire with my heaviest weapons and bring him down.

Brute splicers were a huge problem for me, since they’re as powerful as a Big Daddy and just about as tough. With them, I’d get the camera rolling, shadowbox them a little bit, and then put a Big Daddy between me and them. When the Brute charged, and he always would, the Big Daddy would go berserk, and an epic brawl would commence. They would just go on on each other with fists, drills, auto-turrets, rockets, rubble… Oh, the joy of watching my two most hated enemies devastating each other!

Over the course of about an hour or so of hunting, filming, and Adam-harvesting, I completely changed Bioshock 2. By the time I finished Siren Alley, I was a superhero, even capable of getting splicers to fight alongside me when I wanted them to. I tagged Father Wales, a viciously strong spider splicer, with the hypnotize plasmid and got him to demolish his own followers in his makeshift church. Then, when he ran out of followers to kill, I executed him.

Was the game broken, its balance destroyed by my employment of all these tools? Not at all. If the first half of the game was about struggling to get my bearings and survive, the second half of the game was about revenge and salvation. After Siren Alley, I was on a mission to save a little girl, and I was going to kill everything that got between me and that child. There was to be no more hiding.

Another Damned Election

I’ve lost count of the number of times I decided not to vote in this election. It wasn’t even anything to do with Congress, since I think the Democrats in Congress did a very good job this session (with predictable exception of the craven Blue Dogs). Rather, it was frustration with the Obama administration, and its air of entitlement toward the support of liberals, its reflexive centrism on issues where it accepted its enemies’ definition of the center.

The decision to escalate in Afghanistan, for instance, was one of the sorriest episodes of policymaking since Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Since that decision, we have seen countless stories on the corruption of the Karzai regime, and how it makes trust and collaboration with the Afghan government nearly impossible. But of course we knew that. We knew that before the policy review, and that’s why I was so opposed to increasing our commitment there. There was an insoluble problem that, for any military strategy to succeed, had to be solved. So here we are, with an Afghan war that is getting bloodier, an “ally” that is getting less reliable, and a strategy that seems to be treading water.

Detainee policy? State secrets? Obama hasn’t broken with the precedents set by Bush. Much though I love healthcare reform, I’d like to live in a country whose security policies don’t sicken me. I guess I’m glad that we’re no longer actively encouraging torture, but, to paraphrase Chris Rock, you’re not supposed to torture, motherfucker!

Then there’s the capitulatory Obama style. He never pushed back against “conservatives” who decided that railing against the deficit would be a winning issues. His promise of a spending freeze was laughable, a comically inept “me too!” moment from someone who is clearly too delicate for tough politics. In every negotiation, he has pre-emptively conceded on major points to demonstrate his centrism.

Blue Dog Democrats and the often nerveless, resentful Obama administration deserve to twist. But unfortunately, being a reasonable person means considering the alternatives. And they’re not good.

The Republican party never has and never will take responsibility for its role in creating the problems the country faces. Insofar as they’ve ventured toward introspection, they’ve largely settled on the kind of comforting narrative that David Brooks likes to use: the Republicans came to Washington full of virtuous purpose, but were corrupted by the city and eventually ended up abusing power. Note the lack of agency in this narrative. “Washington” corrupted Republicans, not that the Republican chose corruption or abuse, or promoted it. They were victims of political culture, one they had no hand in shaping.

With that in mind, the Tea Party was, in retrospect, an entirely predictable phenomenon. The very same people who had voted higher debts, who had cut taxes while allowing spending to explode, who had done their best to hamstring government oversight and regulation of markets… these hypocrites simply persuaded themselves that they had nothing at all to do with any of it. They convinced themselves they were a new force in politics, reformers and restorationists, and never experienced the slightest cognitive dissonance that their movement was laced with the exact same power brokers and insiders they were supposedly railing against.

That we’re still stuck with some kind of myth of “fiscal conservatives” in the Republican party is testament to conservatives’ limitless capacity for self-deception and the power of messaging to overcome facts and records. Yet they will doubtless spend the next two years blocking every effort to stimulate the economy, improve infrastructure, reduce the size and cost of the military, or aid the unemployed. They will probably manage to ram tax cuts through by tying them to the increasingly speculative “middle class”. All in the name of thrift and austerity.

I have no doubt that by Wednesday morning, the Republicans will be celebrating having “taken their country back.” Some good people will be lost in the election. Russ Feingold might be out of the Senate, one of the very few people who has actually be right about damn near everything in the last decade. Pelosi might leave the House, a lightning rod for criticism due to the twin sins of being a woman with power and having the temerity to exercise it.

That’s too bad, but ultimately I can’t do anything about it. If it were just a regular midterm I’d probably sit at my desk and watch the world go to hell. But there are local questions on the ballot and I’ve come to really like my adopted state, and don’t want the asinine sales tax initiative to go through, and I really don’t want Charlie Baker to win the governorship. His relentlessly petty, small-minded campaign ads have convinced me that as disgusted as I am with the state of American politics, I’ve got to go see if I can help Massachusetts remain a commonwealth of decency in a country of self-pity and pettiness. Because make no mistake, that is exactly what the GOP is selling this year.