Happy Hour – August 5

Monday morning I will be 28 years old, and undeniably in my late 20s. I’m always a bit troubled by how quickly time is passing, and how much I wanted, and still want, from life. At the same time, things are going great and I’m feeling far more optimistic about the future than I was a year ago.

So what will I do with these waning days of my mid-20s? I will let them wane as all the others did, with videogames, cooking, and books.  I’ve been loving A Game of Thrones the last couple days, even if it is torture watching tragically flawed characters walking around with targets painted on their backs.

But I like, and even draw comfort from, the way one of the book’s themes is that misfortuneis inevitable, and the heroes are those who confront that head-on. I do not mean that they overcome adversity. That’s often another false hope, another lie we tell ourself. I mean that they accept that the fates are cruel, and so characters like Tyrion or Ned Stark aim for something that cannot be taken by force or fate: self-mastery.

Whether this really serves those around you, or whether it is in some way a selfish indulgence, is another question.

Outside of that, I will be playing some EYE: Divine Cybermancy for review, and at some point I must sneak in a viewing of Life with Father. Aside from that, I’ll be trying to get my Lotus to stop flying off the track at Silverstone in F1 2010, and perhaps destroying some cars in Burnout: Paradise when F1 gets frustrating.

That Crazy Right Wing

My father just emailed me about the debt-ceiling agreement and I wrote back about some of the feelings I’ve had today. Since I went on a bit, I thought I would put my thoughts up here:

My rep voted no, but it’s hard to avoid feeling like this was theater. The Republicans and Democrats each let enough members of their caucus off the hook that they could cast a phony protest vote when the outcome was not in doubt. Republicans should have been forced to get a majority from their own caucus, so the Tea Party couldn’t indulge in any fiction about this deal not being what they want. And if they really were so extreme they couldn’t pass it by themselves, that should have been Obama’s cue to say, “I can’t reason with these people,” and go the 14th Amendment route.

I have been discussing this online and reading reactions and I have reached the conclusion everyone, but particularly liberals, puts far too much emphasis on what people say and not enough on what they do. All last night I was hearing that this deal was better than a default, and the Democrats had no choice but to bargain with the hostage-takers. I could not disagree more.

The current GOP, like North Korea, derives much of its bargaining power from the belief that it is crazy enough to do anything, regardless of the cost to themselves or the country. From the rhetoric and symbolic maneuvers, yes, they do indeed seem crazy.

But deeds and outcomes tell the real story. The Republican Party has pushed the country to the brink repeatedly, and each time it extracts positive outcomes. It profits by its extremism so consistently that any argument that their actions are irrational is false on its face.

Note that the TARP went through under a Republican president with Republican votes in the House and Senate. Oh, they hate bailouts, but they only drew a line in the sand after the banks had received their money. When it came to mortgage relief or financial reform, they turned into radical anti-government insurrectionists.

They threated a budget shutdown in December, and walked away with the Bush tax cuts extended and major budget cuts. Then they say they are ready to see the country default, and get another massive round of cuts, and a commission that they already vow will not be permitted to mandate tax increases.

I believe someone is crazy when they do harm to themselves and their loved ones. Perhaps Tea Party foot-soldiers do burn with fanatical zeal. But as a movement, they have never known defeat. This does not happen by accident. It is a product of cold calculation, and they will continue making those calculations until the Democrats force them to either see their rhetoric through or acknowledge they have limits.

But we don’t have Democrats like that. Perhaps Pelosi. Certainly not our president.

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.

Happy Hour – June 25th

I’m back in the countryside this weekend, and probably will be for a couple weeks. Rabbit and his family are on vacation once again, and I will never pass up an opportunity to surround myself with green hills and starry night skies. This comes at a good time. I’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do next week, and I’m coming off a grueling week that ended on a disappointing note.

It doesn’t bear getting into, because freelancing is nothing if not high hopes, frustrating disappointments, and quick rebounds. This time I dealt with disappointment by getting a stack of new assignments, then drinking my way into the weekend with some good company. Now MK and I are out in the woods, a chicken is roasting in the oven, and I’m back to being excited about my work. The nice thing about where I am at in my career right now is that each setback occurs against a backdrop of steady work. A year ago, I’d miss out on a good gig and there might not be anything in the pipeline to distract me from that failure.

As for this weekend, it’s going to be full of FEAR 3 and the Age of Empires Online beta, both work-related. I’m also hoping to work in a couple board games with MK, perhaps some Hold the Line with our new house rules, or maybe something from Rabbit’s collection. I’m also reading through V for Vendetta this weekend, as part of my slow-going comics education. However, the Murdochs’ collection raises an important question for me: what are some good Terry Pratchett books to start with?