December 16, 2004


And the class divide grows

Welcome to George W. Bush's fourth holiday season out of eight. Merry Christmas -- to the rich.

[T]he holiday 2004 season for retailers is turning out to be sharply divided between the haves and have nots.

Luxury stores like Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and small designer boutiques are enjoying robust sales of such items as $8,000 mink ponchos, $1,000 snakeskin handbags, $200 crystal-studded jeans and $25,000 bejeweled bangles as their well-heeled shoppers have benefited from a recovering economy. ...

Contrast that with the results of discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and mid-level stores such as Sears, Roebuck and Co. and May Department Stores Co. Inc., all of which have been struggling with tepid sales. Many are fighting hard with early bird specials on Saturdays, free gift cards, and special coupons.

But, hey, it's alright. "A rising tide lifts all boats," right? Just ask any yacht owner. Oh, and ignore the folks treading water who used to be wading.

Posted by Baxil at 04:44 PM to Politics | TrackBack (0) | Permalink

June 10, 2004


It's a waste of pixels, but I approve

I just spent an hour playing the Bush Game, and find myself regarding it as something between a guilty pleasure and a frustrating, brilliant failure. [WARNING: Link is worksafe, but the game is not.]

A brilliant failure? Why? Because it was technically well-done, enjoyable, and informative -- and, at the same time, absolutely guaranteed to not only turn off but also alienate anyone who isn't already a fringe leftist.

I'm serious. Don't click on that link unless you're totally immune to crude humor and also predisposed to hate everything Bush stands for. (Mom, Dad, I know you're reading this too -- especially don't click on that link.) Let's just say that it contains a very explicit (if cartoony) depiction of the Statue of Liberty being raped halfway through the introduction, and while the tone of the game flip-flops back and forth between serious and satirical, it never loses that unrepentant and in-your-face shamelessness.

That's what makes it so frustrating. The game, a side-view adventure-style shooter, is seamless and fairly deeply constructed, with plenty of boss battles and pop-culture references. It ranges from Enron to Iraq and every level is something fresh and new. It's interspersed with several cut-scenes laying out a set of populist economic critiques that really got my blood boiling. But the shock value of the game's crude sexuality means those who need to hear the message most, the swing voters and wavering Republicans, are not only going to get horrified and surf away before reaching any of the actual message -- but are going to leave with a strengthened GOP-driven stereotype of liberals as completely immoral, Bush-hating filth peddlers.

What I want to see is a game like this but without any of the offensive stuff. Not because I personally was offended -- but because the people we need to reach with the political message will walk away scarred by the medium.

The elements designed to preach to the liberal choir were beautifully done, but why make a politically educational game if you're just going to preach to the choir? Outreach isn't supposed to go inward.

What I'd rather see is more people pushing charts that show how Bush's "economic recovery" is all going to profits instead of wage growth -- or making the point, as the game did, that the wage gap between workers and CEOs has grown from about 40x in the 1980s to 300x in 2003. Or perhaps some troubling statistics that show the U.S. really has some deep-rooted economic problems as well as strengths when compared to other first-world countries. Then blowing away the myth that Republicans are better at fiscal management with cold, hard historical facts comparing presidents' performance over the last century. I can go on guiltily enjoying my blasphemous, depraved little Flash games, and the rest of the country can get the reality check it needs about what the legacy is going to be of the latest conservative revolution.

(Okay, and perhaps the game's politics could be woven in with a little more subtlety rather than through lengthy game-stopping cutscenes. Besides the game's blindness to its intended audience, the pacing's my only annoyance.)

Posted by Baxil at 03:47 AM to Politics | TrackBack (0) | Permalink

May 19, 2004


A little Iraq reading

If you now support, or at any time in the past have supported, the war in Iraq ... pray we don't kill Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite cleric who's been stirring up trouble for the U.S. occupation. Link goes to Middle East expert and history professor Juan Cole, who explains why.

Actually, whether you support or oppose the war, cross your fingers this doesn't happen. The worse the situation gets there, the more obvious Bush's incompetence as Commander in Chief becomes ... but it's not right that soldiers have to die for Americans to realize this, and every new death (47 so far this month) is nothing more or less than a horror, political calculus be damned.

Posted by Baxil at 04:24 AM to Politics | TrackBack (0) | Permalink

May 06, 2004


Today's moment of Zen

Secretary of State Colin Powell winning hearts and minds in Bulgaria:
"Gimme all the money in your wallet and 2,000 additional peacekeeping troops in Iraq."

(photo via Associated Press)

Posted by Baxil at 04:37 AM to Fluff, Politics | TrackBack (0) | Permalink

May 04, 2004


Jury duty

I took a five-minute break from my site redesign earlier today to check the web site of Nevada County's court system, and navigated through to the page where the status of jury summons is listed.

Group 200: "Dismissed."

Most people would tell me that I lucked out. I can't deny that I'm feeling that way myself -- I work swing shift and the summons time was 8:30 a.m., so to report would have meant a high probability of putting in a 16-hour day. But I really don't understand why it is that people treat jury duty, in the abstract, with such loathing.

I've heard good reasons to dislike it, sure. My workplace -- and most others, I'm sure -- allows time off for jury duty (as required by law) but won't pay for you to go serve; thus, even balancing the pittance the courts offer as compensation against losing a day's wages, it can be an expensive privilege.

But I spent my formative years in college -- where jury duty was a free pass out of classes for the day, arguably a net positive. And even college students recoiled at the prospect of a summons! When I actually reported instead of trying to find an excuse, I got strange looks. When I not only reported but served on a jury for a two-day civil trial, I got the sort of looks reserved for people who wander around on the street holding up signs about "murotunikel repercussions."

And you know what? It was a worthwhile experience anyway.

Granted, it wasn't fascinating or anything. You go to court; listen to witnesses, lawyers and experts bicker; talk with eleven other people; and try to come to a mutual decision about the facts. It's fairly dry work, but it's not the mental equivalent of a root canal that people treat it as.

There's some pressure, sure, but it's not like you're graded on your performance. It can be dreadfully boring at times, but at least it's different boring; considering that you're likely skipping work, school, or childcare to go do it, how is it any more dreary than the alternative? After all, it gets you out of the house(/apartment/dorm/office) for the day -- and they don't pay much, but it's enough to go order lunch downtown and have a nice meal out.

On top of that, maybe it's just my inner writer showing through, but jury duty is a great place to people-watch. It's an equal-opportunity obligation. Folks of all classes and races filter into the courtroom. Their interplay, if often subtle, is interesting. About the only thing they all have in common is that 95 percent of them want nothing more from jury duty than to get out of it as soon as possible.

I wish I understood why. Maybe it's the downfall of participatory democracy in action -- people have better things to do than deal with self-government. Maybe it's simply a persistent apathy. Maybe it's one of those things, like lawyer jokes, that's deeply enough embedded in our culture to be self-perpetuating despite the actual reality of the situation.

Whichever it is, I don't think it's doing us any favors. So next time you get a jury summons -- give it a try, hey? It really isn't as bad as they say.

Posted by Baxil at 01:39 AM to Politics | TrackBack (0) | Permalink