Daria’s Inferno

This past week I enjoyed a little blast from the past: Daria’s Inferno, a 16-year-old video game based on my favorite TV series ever.

Yes, I really did this.

Daria's Inferno on CD-ROM

Somehow I wound up with, apparently, the game CD and case in original shrinkwrap

For what it’s worth, I found this product delightful. The key, here, is that I am a pretty big fan of the show. I have difficulty imagining many people who don’t fit that description giving any thought to this game, particularly long years after it was released. But just in case, well, I would agree with generally negative online reviews that the game doesn’t have much else going for it.

I didn’t care. This was a Daria video game… probably the only Daria video game that will ever exist… and in that regard I think it was mostly awesome.

In some ways I was reminded of one or more Sherlock Holmes video games I’ve played, in that I found a great deal of fun in merely exploring the character’s world. Finding everything in the Baker Street flat, exactly as it should be. Recruiting the services of the Irregulars, or Toby the sleuth-hound. Etc.

Much of the fun in Daria’s Inferno is like that, I submit, except taken even further. This basically was an interactive episode of the show, as much as probably any video game adaptation has ever been.

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First Seven Jobs

A #firstsevenjobs meme has been doing the rounds in the past week. I am participating here, rather than on Twitter, because…

  1. tele-fundraising
  2. cashier
  3. graphic designer for newspaper
  4. graphic designer for family planning organization
  5. graphic designer for private university
  6. graphic designer for boutique studio
  7. freelance graphic designer

It just seems to make a mockery of the concept. And not even in the intentional way of Warren Ellis’s list, which is otherwise an exemplar of the rubbish, low-level jobs that one is expected to show off.

I, on the other hand, have two mild offerings in that category, followed basically by the same near-profession over and over. The one for which I went to college, and from which I have earned my living, my entire adult life. In fact, in terms of a job meaning “on-staff employee” this is really my entire list at age 38, and even now I only achieve a first seven by cheating, in essence, and including self-employment as item seven. As my last traditional job, at item six, ended 10 years ago it seems fair to make an allowance for having supported myself somehow all this time since. But it still seems like I just don’t have a proper #firstsevenjobs list.

I don’t mind, really. I would say that I have been quite fortunate. I didn’t need to go looking for work in adolescence, which seems like a good thing for any number of reasons, not least being that I don’t think a part-time job really helps with the studies theoretically meant to open up broader horizons. I didn’t even have a summer job until after my freshman year of college, and the brief succession of these is basically my list: One crap job during first summer break from college, another crap job during second summer break, an excellent internship during my third summer break, and then consistent employment in my chosen field.

I sense that part of the #firstsevenjobs concept is that those odd, rubbish jobs build character or something. I can only say that I have my doubts, frankly. Boring list aside, I don’t feel like I missed out by not delivering newspapers or slinging french fries or detasseling.* Variety of life experience is not to be dismissed, by any means, but I’m just not sure how much truly life-enriching experience the typical #firstcrapjobs really provide. At best, I suspect that the point of diminishing returns arrives rapidly, and that menial jobs often take more away from the soul than they contribute before long. For this reason, I think there is a lot to be said against making people perform them in an age when lots of them probably make negligible contribution to any important goods or services.

Of course, since I failed the #firstsevenjobs game so completely, I may just be making excuses. Say, perhaps I can interest you in a #favsevengames list…?

* Here’s a brief explanation for anyone who didn’t grow up around this phenomenon, as was apparently the case for the editors of the dictionary which WordPress uses to spellcheck my posts.

Generation gap

I ran across this on LinkedIn last week. It’s really fairly cheesy, and just plain lazy as well: what are most of those graphics? was there any logic informing the lists of “formative experiences?” does anyone believe that a single word of the “Generation Z” column is more than pure made-up babble?

Cheesy generations graphic

Not remotely the most stupid thing on LinkedIn, though. Even in the past week.

Still, I kept it because it feels kind of interesting, to me, if only as an illustration of how “Carter babies” like myself split the difference between Gen-X and Gen-Y. (In a way I suppose you could say that we almost validate this model, at the same time as we demonstrate how it imposes completely arbitrary boundaries upon a continuum.)

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Brexit

I was not expecting this result. I’m just stunned.

cover1Congratulations to everyone who made principled, positive arguments for this choice. (No, that isn’t sarcasm, though I’m aware that many people think I’ve just described a null set.) To those who made other arguments, well, you’ve won also; perhaps make more of an effort at inclusion if only to be good sports?

The Anglophone left and discipline through -isms

I imagine that politics is nearly always a convoluted mess of fractal coalitions, and ruthless undercutting of enemies and “allies” alike. Perhaps it gets more noticeable as one gets older, though.

This week, I’ve been thinking about one or two more relatively bizarre examples. It may in part be a product of spending so much time immersed in the politics of #Brexit, and getting them conflated with American matters. But then plenty of participants on either side of the Atlantic have promoted the idea that there are common dynamics at work, so I suppose it’s fair game for me.

In any event I feel more and more like the establishment-left coalitions, both here and in the UK, are wielding certain topics as disciplinary cudgels as ruthlessly as any right-wing strategist has ever done. The Brexit debate has seen plentiful slime on all sides, certainly, but presuming that Remain is about to win [edit: oops!] I wonder if their success is partly achieved by more aggressively denigrating their opponents. It seems as though anyone who favored Leave, for any reason, was immediately condemned for being xenophobic, Islamophobic, “simply crazy” and indifferent to the poor.* Call me biased if you will, but I have a difficult time coming up with a comparable list for the other side; plenty of people for Leave have said vile things but I just haven’t perceived an equivalent unified execration of the people who favored Remain, themselves.

In any event, considering this got me thinking about how much of the American left uses similar tactics for policing dissent, and that led me to one particularly novel illustration. It seems like at present—having as they do all too many real examples to hand just like in Britain—liberal America’s elites and their followers readily charge opponents with Islamophobia and take for granted that this is simply indefensible. Personally I think it basically is, and I don’t feel like America’s left is actually being over-broad in applying the label, to date. What gets me, though, is that much of this same establishment-left will not tolerate criticism of the Israeli government. So if you suggest that (the predominantly Muslim) Palestinians are victims of abuse… the same coalition that regards Islamophobia as unequivocally unforgivable will unite against you, and warn darkly of antisemitism.

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Brexit Referendum, Two Weeks Out

Here we are again. Britain stands upon the brink of a wrenching political realignment, as I watch in fascination. Less than a year ago, it was Scotland voting on whether or not to quit the UK; in another two weeks the (still) whole country will vote on whether or not to quit the European Union.

Fascinating, fascinating. Twitter hashtag #Brexit has become a substantial part of what gets me through the day lately.

I’m not sure what to add, beyond that. One of the things which has struck me is a limited parallel with the civil war inside the Democratic Party. In that context, just as in both British referendums, it seems like the biggest question for me is (or would be) essentially the same. Is trying to reform an existing political institution from within a more promising path to larger societal reforms, or is being part of that institution more of an obstacle?

I don’t think that there is a universal answer. But I’m coming around to think that in the case of the European Union, the existing institution is more of an obstacle.

Full disclosure, I don’t have a vote here, shouldn’t have a vote here, and have not done the fuller research I would regard as necessary if I were voting. (Twitter is for entertainment, everyone knows that, right?) But based on the arguments I have read for and against, I feel increasingly confident that when it comes to the European Union, tearing it down and starting over looks like a more promising route.

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Basic Income vs Jobs

Politics produces endless strange outcomes. Yesterday, I encountered a Guardian item by Ben Tarnoff attacking universal basic income from the left.

Yeah, well, sure; why not?

I’m not sure that all of Tarnoff’s thesis hangs together, though a lot of his arguments are difficult to dismiss because other highly qualified voices support them. A long stretch in the middle basically rebuts that the popular narrative that economic inequality is the product of automation and “inevitable” globalization. Instead, the author lays blame on intentionally pro-elite trade policies (passed off as globalization), “the transformation of the tax code, the growth of the financial sector, and, above all, the collapse of [organized labor] since the 1970s.”

Economist Dean Baker makes and provides ample evidence for much the same arguments, almost every day. He has written more than once that “robots putting people out of work” is a red herring, and that automation is entirely compatible with full employment and a growing middle class, if we reverse policies that favor capital over labor.

I find his case persuasive, and generally endorse his specific prescriptions. Mr. Tarnoff’s objection to basic income seems a bit less convincing; a lot of it seems to be driven less by substance than style. He portrays the concept as a scheme by tech billionaires to “give us an allowance to live on, and keep the rest for themselves,” and “crumbs left by the bully who steals your sandwich.” In practice, though, I’m unclear that this is really all that different from his one-line alternative: “Better to own the robots collectively, and allocate the surplus democratically, than leave society’s wealth in the hands of its luckiest members.” Unless I’m missing something, basic income accomplishes two of these three objects, and it’s unclear to me how much meaningful difference collectivized robot ownership would make if the wealth produced by automation is redistributed. Possibly Mr. Tarnoff assumes that basic income must mean small-scale redistribution—”crumbs”—but besides its name I’m not sure that the concept is actually incompatible with much more aggressive leveling.

Meanwhile, though, I feel like something is missing from both his vague rebuttal to the “robots are going to take our jobs” story and from Mr. Baker’s more rigorous version. Both seem to assume on some level that society not only can produce lots of jobs despite automation, but should. I’m not clear that this is a very worthwhile goal.

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Basketball, Winning & Contentment

I have been thinking lately about the complexity of happiness, and how it so often differs from getting what we want. I feel like 2016 Cyclone men’s basketball is a wonderful illustration.

This past March, when Cyclone MBB ended its tournament run in the Sweet 16, I felt afterward like this was about as happy an ending for me as any possible. Basically because it felt like the team achieved all that was within reach.

Iowa State moved through the first two rounds—improving immediately upon a first-round upset loss last year—then exited after a game against an obviously superior opponent. I don’t remember the details, but the result was not a humiliation, nor was it close enough that I was left anguished that “they were so close, they had it, why couldn’t they finish?”

There was really no heartbreak element. Our guys reached a respectable plateau—the Sweet 16, surpassing more than 75% of all the other tournament teams—and the next step was just beyond them this year. Okay.

Of course, if offered it, I would have chosen more.

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Small potatoes travel, advocacy, etc.

As the French say, “it goes.” (Ça va.)

I made an extended weekend visit to Hamilton, Ontario recently. It was just about worth going, which is to say that it was nice, but it felt like I hardly left. Oh well. It was strange to realize that it had been more than 10 years since I was last in Canada… I suppose I had seen the obvious major cities, the exchange rate was unfavorable for a long time, and I’ve been spending my travel dollar on other destinations. Still, there is a whole other country right there, and there are things to see outside of Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver.

Original Tim Horton's

Store number one.

Hamilton is nice enough to visit. It’s cute, really; I kept thinking “that’s cute,” “huh, that’s cute,” “this is cute.” So many cute, little houses. Cute Hess Village. The Tim Hortons museum is incredibly cute. (If by some chance you plan to visit, Timmies store number 1 is at 65 Ottawa Street, at the corner of Dunsmere, and I presume that the mini museum on the second floor is open 24/7 like the eatery downstairs.) The Art Gallery of Hamilton is cute, though n.b. their web site and banners may give the impression of a rather larger collection than they actually have.

Probably the best reason to go is to visit the Royal Botanical Gardens, which is actually in close-by Burlington; just the glasshouse areas alone are worth the admission and in season I’m sure the full grounds are spectacular. If you happen to visit the cute town of Dundas (where I stayed), their local museum is well worth a visit. The Canadian Warplane Museum is also popular; I was satisfied though not enthralled, but it did provide what’s probably my most popular Twitter post ever:

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Hancher vs Hilton & life beyond politics?

Lately it feels like my life has been subsumed by overtly political concerns and activity. I look down the front page of this blog, and posting has been a bit more sparse than usual, but more significantly almost everything in recent weeks has been tagged “politics.”

It’s a presidential election year, and I’m reading too much about that. I don’t know if things were different decades ago, or if it’s more my personal feelings changing, but US presidential contests seem like they have become not only all-consuming but invariably near-apocalyptic. Good news, we seem more and more to have real choices; bad news, the nature of those choices combined with the growing power of the office make it difficult for me to say “oh it’s just politics” and turn back to “real life.”

I would probably be getting more actively involved already, if not for having already just about maxed-out my personal energies for Lakewood Hospital. After weeks of dithering, our city council has confirmed the November general election as the date for our referendum on their vote to close our community hospital. So, just under 35 weeks to go. 😐 Then I can (maybe) have my life back! Certainly I could use more in my life than slow, tiring and usually dispiriting campaign hack work. As I’m not sure what else that is at this point, though, I’m doing a little stock-taking.

First, I have completed the manuscript for a third book, and at some point in the next year will present to the reading public Hancher vs. Hilton: Iowa’s Rival University Presidents.

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