Archive for July, 2011

Last Call for Debt Increases

It looks like we may have a debt-deal. It is a bad one in every respect.

I have neither the time nor inclination to begin cataloging the ways in which Barack Obama has been a disappointment. With civil liberties, global strategy, and the economy he has proven beyond doubt that his judgment is unreliable and his motives dubious. Now he seems intent on co-opting the GOP’s extreme agenda. I don’t know why. Perhaps his centrism is such that he is desperate to find any middle-ground, even if it lies only between Madness and Lunacy.

The debt-deal will require House and Senate Democrats to vote for it. This is what I wrote my congressman:

I am writing to express my extreme displeasure with the debt-ceiling agreement President Obama appears to have struck with the GOP leadership in the House and Senate. It is now clear that we are still in a recession, there was never a significant recovery, and all economic reason dictates that this is a time for the government to stimulate the economy through spending. Compassion dictates this is a time to extend the social safety net, with aid to the long-term unemployed and homeowners struggling with their mortgages (those few who have not already suffered foreclosure). Yet at such a time, President Obama is agreeing to slash entitlements, with the guarantee of more cuts down the road, all in exchange for the absolutely routine and unremarkable act of increasing the debt-limit. The reason, we are told, is because the House Republicans will refuse to raise the debt-ceiling, and therefore deal a body blow to the country’s credit and the economy as a whole.

Congressman, this situation is intolerable. What’s most galling is that this agreement will require the complicity of Democrats like yourself. Speaker Boehner cannot deliver enough GOP votes to pass this odious bargain. Are Democrats, currently in control of the Senate and White House, really going to vote in favor of wrong-headed economic policy and cruelty to the millions of Americans who need jobs and welfare? How will you ever ask for our votes again if you not only fail to prevent this agreement, but actually guarantee its success?

I know the stakes are dire. I know your Republican colleagues are recklessly intransigent and indifferent to the health of the economy under a Democratic administration. I know the grim consequences that would follow failure to increase the debt-ceiling. But Congressman, our failure to take a hard line with GOP extremism has led us to this juncture. It is time to answer the question: do we still have a functioning, two-party democracy, or has GOP extremism finally broken the machinery of government? If the former, then Democratic resistance to this agreement will lead to a better one, perhaps to the clean debt-ceiling increase we should have had all along. If the latter, if the GOP is really willing to harm the entire country in order to advance their agenda of irresponsible tax cuts, then supporting the President as he surrenders Democratic principles only postpones the day of reckoning. It guarantees more pain and suffering along the way, and makes the Democratic Party their agents.

I have learned to expect very little from the President when it comes to fighting for liberal values. I hope that courage and principles still exist among the Democrats of Congress. I hope you and your colleagues will listen to conscience and reason when this deal is presented to you, and vote no.

I will remember this next November, and every primary.

Happy Hour – July 21st

It is unspeakably hot here in Boston, and although my air-conditioner labors mightily to keep up with the heat, I’ve had to fall back on summer cocktails to maintain my equilibrium and cheery disposition. No matter what else, I can pretty much guarantee that this weekend will feature a lot of juleps, mojitos, and gin and tonics.

It will also feature a visit from MK, taking a break from her internship, and perhaps a visit with some friends for board gaming. I have a copy of Tribune that I’ve been meaning to finally play.

I’ve started Assassin’s Creed II this week, which I am only half-enjoying so far. I cannot quite get a handle on the controls. So much of what Ezio does is automated that I find the game interprets intention in many places where there is none. More problematic, however, is the sci-fi wrapper. It constantly breaks in to the Renaissance Italy setting to remind me of the boring “pirates vs. ninjas, Sharks vs. Jets” conflict the supposedly drives the action.

I’m also going to be checking out new time-traveling RTS Achron, and playing more Panzer Corps for work. Hopefully my friends will also find time to join for some Men of War.

Oh, and I appeared on the GWJ Conference Call this week, and I think Julian and I did a terrific 3MA with Logan Decker about that whole “strategy isn’t contemporary” kerfuffle. You should go listen.

Happy Hour – July 1

A miraculous deadline extension brought my week to an end a few hours earlier than I anticipated, so now I find myself crashing after a week spent at nearly full-tilt working on a review and three columns. This was instructive: while I generally got my copy in on time, I didn’t allow sufficient time for the revision process to play out, which had a knock-on effect that came to a head today. This tells me that I’ve got the slack in my schedule in the wrong places. I need to look at the copy deadline as the halfway point in an assignment, not the conclusion.

Anyway, I got my extension at the best possible moment: right after I’d finished writing my copy. Since the piece is finished, I can actually use the extra time to polish and find better art to accompany my piece. This is the best outcome. Early extensions have been known to be squandered on such literary pursuits as drinking in bars with friends, going to the movies, or trying to make it through a few more minutes of The Star Wars Christmas Special.

Still, there is no rest for the freelancer. I must log a few more hours with Pride of Nations and work up a review this weekend, and go on a screenshot expedition deep into the heart of Alpha Centauri. I should also figure out what we are doing for this week’s 3MA, something I was too busy to deal with during the week.

Beyond that, I’m going to use the weekend to finish up V for Vendetta, something I got distracted from by a copy of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. I made the mistake of opening it, just to get a sense for what it might be, and the next thing I knew I was 50 pages in and utterly engrossed in the story. After V, I might move on to The Tombs of Atuan, or I might act on some of the excellent Terry Pratchett advice you guys supplied last week.

Anyway, while I try to lay the foundations for a great week, you should peruse this piece I wrote for GWJ on The Darkness and listen to a great conversation that Troy and I had with Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera. The discussion with Ben, in particular, is worth your time. I wanted a discussion that got beyond the usual, “Scores are broken, we resent Metacritic” nonsense and discuss our work from a procedural angle. What do we take with us in to a review? Who are we writing for, and what do we try to keep sight of as we work?

One thing deserves some expanding on: rates. I have no idea what my peers are being paid per review, but with most places with whom I do business, bigger games get more space, and more space means a bigger payday. As a working writer, I have every incentive to chase after major releases and every incentive to pass on smaller games, because they are often not worth the time they would take to review.

Now I still do a fair number of small reviews because, hey, strategy is a small niche and I genuinely want to cover games that other people might not be talking about. But I have also had to pass on work from a few outlets who want me to cover a neat looking independent strategy game for ridiculously low pay. By the word, it makes sense, but with certain genres like sports and strategy, the time I spend writing is a scant fraction of the time I spend playing.

This creates an awkward middle ground. A lot of games that require some time-consuming work from a knowledgeable reviewer will not be lucrative enough for the people best qualified to discuss them. It also means that people who read review outlets are not getting the best service reviewers can provide: intelligent criticism of lesser-known games. A few times in the last year I have had to explain what my minimum rates are, and many outlets are unwilling to meet them for a minor title. They want the review, but not enough to pay for a considered, informed opinion. That’s a shame.