Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday Morning (Journalism) Quarterback

The top five stories worth reading from the week in worth-reading stories

Subprime brokers are resurfacing as shady loan fixers.

Why NOW is the time to raise taxes on the rich. They've been pulling a con job on taxes for 30 years. Executives already receive one-third of all pay in the U.S.

Salon concludes a three-part series on the causes of, and fixes to, the economy.

Counterpunch has a great article on judician apartheid.

In Science! news: the demise of the neanderthal still eludes us. Also, do environmental pollutantspose a role in the diabetes epidemic?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Saturday Morning (Journalism) Quarterback

The top five stories worth reading from the week in worth-reading stories

(A little late this week - I spent three days in a hammock reading Charles Olson and Michael Pollan beside a lake in New Hampshire.)

Is Obama drinking Friedman's Kool-Aid?

Rachel Maddow did a great story this week on The Family, a secretive Washington religious organization.

The current economic downturn has revived an old debate about the utility of economic downturns. Also, Alternet talks about how bad the economy will really get.

While deficit spending is needed to claw our way out of this recession, we need to keep our eye on debt, and start cutting back on wasteful spending.

More revelations this week of the reckless force Israel used against Palestinian civilians.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I went to California Extreme last weekend and took some pictures.

In the note accompanying my Ms. Pac-Man poem in Diagram, I say, "Workshopping the poem taught me that there are poets who hate video games. I mean, they actually hate hate them; as in, want to eradicate them." It's completely true; in my last semester of graduate school, one woman turned what was supposed to be a discussion of my poem into a referendum on video games. Since it was my poem, I was made to be the ad hoc defendant for games.

It was one of the stranger experiences I had in graduate school, and it certainly wasn't an isolated incident. The silly question of whether video games are art comes up in Metafilter frequently. In the most recent such discussion, I finally threw up my hands and said, "We all live in the same world, right? The world where most new gallery exhibitions have at least one interactive piece? The world where video game scores appear alongside Mahler in the classical section at the record store? The world where a new generation of independent game designers are redefining production and distribution to artist-centric models? The world where kids with fresh BFAs compete for jobs in art design at video game studios? The world, in fact, where not one, but several arts programs now offer MFAs in game design?" This might not exactly be a defense of video games as art, but I feel like Occam's razor applies pretty heavily to any attempt to construct a framework for art that excludes games.

One thing that irritates me about the "video games as art" discussion is that the proponents are, in my opinion, looking at the wrong games. For me, the games that warrant serious study and appreciation and criticism aren't the narrative ones, they're the ones that are focused on strong design and coherent mechanics. Quoting myself on Metafilter again, sorry:

There's a long history, going all the way back to Pong and up through games like Elektroplankton and Animal Crossing, of video game as design object. The reason why people crowded around Defender to watch people play it is that its graphics are extremely well designed. The special effects, the timing, etc., all fit together into a really bizarre and wonderful artistic vision. You can watch that thing on attract mode all day and never get bored.

And then one day, escapism started getting valued over design. The focus shifted from creating interesting, entertaining game designs to creating more and more immersive, escapist environments. Well I, for one, am not interested in being transported to another world, no matter how complex and realistic it is. Give me an idea as original as Joust or Tetris, and then we'll talk.

There's a reason why visual and video artists of my generation continue to borrow designs from games like Pong and Pac-Man in their art. Yeah, of course it's partly 80s nostalgia, but it's also something much simpler. Those designs and game mechanics are still very provocative and surprising. I don't see any of the current "hardcore" gaming titles having that sort of staying power.

The tradition of game-as-design-object as I've defined it above certainly is not dead. The Bit.Trip games might be the best games to come out of this decade. The publicity surrounding Bit.Trip uses the word "retro" a lot, and I'd suggest that maybe the word is overused. These games don't feel like some kind of ironic return to Pong. They feel like they're what comes after Pong.

I'm always on the lookout for good writing about video games. I feel like there must be whole journals that I haven't found yet of video game criticism - not reviews, mind you, but big-C criticism. One of the more interesting things I've come across is the Cruise Elroy blog, which has run some fascinating series of posts about how music is used in games.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Saturday Morning (Journalism) Quarterback

The top five stories worth reading from the week in worth-reading stories

Common Dreams has a great article about the organic monopoly and the myth of "natural" foods.

We need an economic wake up call.

We have two standards of detention in America: Nonviolent activists and Muslims are held in draconian conditions, while the man charged with killing Dr. George Tiller trumpets from jail the extreme anti-abortion movement’s campaign of intimidation, vandalism, arson and murder.

Goldmann-Sachs has been behind every market manipulation since the great depression.

Finally this week, Newsweek reports that Eric Holder may be leaning towards doing the right thing.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Saturday Morning (Journalism) Quarterback

The top five stories worth reading from the week in worth-reading stories

Bob Herbert has a great column on the horrific tale of Mohammed Jawad. Glenn Greenwald also writes on the suppressed information regarding the number of people tortured to death by us - America.

It will take a global recovery for a global recession.

Nate Silver has a great analysis on how arguing global warming in terms of GDP doesn't see the big picture. Reducing the world's GDP by "only" 5%, as Conservatives argue, could wipe out 44% of the world's population.

The modern world, as Kafka predicted, has become a world where lies become true. And facts alone will be powerless to thwart the mendacity spun out through billions of dollars in corporate advertising, lobbying and control of traditional sources of information.

Finally this week, Amnesty International reports that Israel used children as human shields during their assault on the people of Gaza.

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