Thursday, May 31, 2007

Not Using My Full Ass Yet

Well, my sister certainly got her money's worth. Thanks to a friend who's still in school, she got a sweet deal, too. Can you believe she only paid 40 bucks for her seat tonight? Nosebleed, but still.

That was the game that would never end. I literally couldn't watch at points. Good for my productivity. Bad for my nerves. They really were the Cleveland LeBrons by the end there. Still pissed off by the ending. That's pretty much the series as far as I'm concerned.

So, I was flipping through the channels during halftime. And I saw the national spelling bee telecast on ABC of all places. Now, I know the spelling bee's been broadcast before but not on national television. And, moreover, tonight's game was on ESPN which is owned by the same parent company that owns ABC. So, that means that, somewhere along the line, whoever decides on programming for the network decided that showing the spelling bee was going to be a bigger draw than Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final and stuck the basketball on cable. That can't make David Stern happy. On the other hand, once I saw the spelling bee, I was captivated by it. At least for a little while and I'm a dyed in the wool Pistons fan. If I wasn't a nervous wreck about my Pistons I probably would have watched it. So, maybe there the programmers had the right idea after all.

Anyhow, tomorrow starts the Frenzy. I suppose I could stay up tonight and start hacking away at it, but instead, I think I'm going to get a decent night's sleep and get into it tomorrow. Slow and steady. That's my plan. That's not what's going to happen and I'm sure by the 30th I'll have pulled more than a few all-nighters. But I'm hoping to go at this in a much less half-assed manner than NaNo. I intend to use my full ass.

I'm not sure exactly how the blogging will go this month. I'm going to try and stay on the wagon here. I know I've been hit or miss lately but I've also been building up a steady reserve of posts or at least half-posts that I can use to fill in the gaps on quieter days. Just stuff I didn't have the time or inclination to finish lately, I've tucked aside for future use instead of forcing myself to finish them off. Hopefully those'll carry me through any dry stretches. I've done some tiddying up around this place, set some things in order but, well, if I disappear for days at a time, you'll know what I'm doing.

Lightening the Mood A Little

Just so things don't get too heavy around here, let's talk video games. Specifically flash games. I mentioned Tactics 100 the other night and I finally managed to get through the single player mode with a perfect score. Basically, the game is a tactical RPG along the lines of Ogre Battle 2, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Disgea just...without the RPG part. So, to use another metaphor, it's like tabletop wargaming – think HeroClicks or Warhammer. The “roleplaying”, the development, isn't in your characters, it's in you and your learning to use them better.

You get 100 points to spend on an army made up of no more than 8 characters. There are four unit types. The Knight, a meatshield, strong with lots of hits points but slow and limited to melee, the Archer, a cheap ranged attacker with the best range but low defense and damage, the Wizard, an expensive ranged attacker who can rain down pain on the opposing side at a distance but crumples when you breath on them, and the Cleric who, um, heals and is, therefore, really, really important but not very glamorous. Each unit costs a different amount of points with the Wizard being the most expensive and the Archer the least (You couldn't put together a unit of 8 Wizards but you could easily do so for Archers) and you can also use your points to buy upgrades for your units. There's the generic increasing health, movement speed, and damage (Or healing, for Clerics) but each unit also has abilities peculiar to their type – Wizards can “chain” their attacks, letting them strike multiple opponents for progressively lower damage while Knights can block attacks from the front, reducing their damage. Spend those points anyway you like and come up with a force you can send into battle either in a single player “campaign” or online against other players in multiplayer. You and your opponent take turns moving your pieces and attacking each other until one of you runs out of units (Thankfully enough, if your opponent is left with nothing but Clerics – who can't attack – they automatically lose and you don't have to hunt them down and finish them off.). Control is through the mouse, everything is point and click, making it a breeze.

That's right, it's one of those increasingly popular multiplayer flash games. Small file sizes, low requirements, you can run it on almost any system or platform, people have been making them for years. And, now, they're starting to offer the same kind of interactive features that you'll find in a PC game or on X-Box Live or whatever. It's a really cool thing to see and I'd like to say more about Tactics 100's multiplayer features but, unfortunately, I haven't been able to get any matches in. The game's pretty popular, you see, and the servers (Or my hamster driven internet connection. Six of one...) have been sagging under the combined assault of the assembled hordes of the internets. Can't connect most of the time and the few times I have, I've been frozen out. Too laggy to be playable, in other words.

The single player mode - which is perfectly playable - on the other hand, consists of a series 10 battles against pre-created and computer run foes with varying degrees of difficulty. There's no storyline per se, but that just means you don't have to skip through annoying cutscenes to get to the good stuff as far as I'm concerned. You get a good smattering of opposing strategies starting with typically balanced formation and ranging from teams pushing things to the extreme – like a bunch of Archers or Knights or Wizards – to “gimmicks” like having one really strong unit flanked by a bunch of fodder. I'm pretty sure the computer doesn't cheat on the 100 points limitation. Even beyond that, it stays very faithful to the game's rules – there aren't any special units or abilities it pulls on you, you're fighting against an opponent who has to deal with the same concerns of placement and attacking as you do – so I'd guess it's pretty good training for the multiplayer I, again, can't get a sniff of.

In the single player you're scored based on how many units survive each match. You start with 100 points, meaning a perfect score is 1000, and you're docked points for each character you lose. How much, exactly, depends on which piece you lose. You lose however many points it cost to have them in your army in the first place. So an Archer takes 5 off of your score while an upgraded Knight could take, say, 14. That makes each unit more precious if you have a smaller army – and, of course, more liable to get ganged up on – but with the extra points you spare by not filling out your board you can make each unit stronger.

Figuring out which units and upgrades to use is half the fun for me, anyway, and figuring out the best way to pound your opponent into the ground with your tools would be the other. So, it's a game that really appeals to me. At first glance, the rules are really simple and easy to learn. But there are all sorts of hidden complexities. You can put your units on any of 10 – two rows of five - spaces to start off with, for example so you can also play around with formation. Meanwhile, the board is a 7x7 grid making for some tight maneuvering. But it also features two raised areas that provide a bonus for standing on it – units attacking you do less damage and you do more damage when attacking because you're on “high ground”. It's one of several bonuses in the game. Ranged units get a slight bonus for attacking a target in an adjacent square at “point blank” range – meaning you have to choose between keeping your ranged units back or moving up into the fray to squeeze out more damage but leave them more vulnerable. Moving reduces your attacking power – giving you a choice between standing still and striking at full power or moving into an advantageous position but lowering your damage. Hit someone in the back for lots of damage – adding facing concerns to moving your units around. If your unit is dangerously low on hit points it attacks extra hard – if your opponent can't finish you off, you get a chance to deal a lot of pain and still save that unit. And if a unit kills another character, that unit becomes a “veteran” and gains bonus damage, too – so as the game drags on you start hitting harder and it's easier to get kills (There's a way to get veteran status for Clerics but I haven't quite figured it out. I think it involves healing a unit that's low enough on health to gain the desperation bonus damage.). Which is nice because, compared to hit points, damage is low so most units will take several hits before they go down. Most games won't end after the first few turns and it can take a few rounds of trading blows before you knock something out of the game. That's great because it means it's not a game of rapid-fire one-hit kills but one of hitting, running, protecting, and adjusting your position as you whittle away giving you plenty of time to consider and plan. It's not the deepest game but there's enough twists and wrinkles to make for some interesting options. It takes those simple, basic rules and limitations then uses them to create a rewarding experience. One where you don't get rewarded for overpowering someone but for maneuvering and out-thinking them. Which isn't all that hard in single player mode but should be a lot of fun online.

It's not without its flaws, however, as it's far from balanced to the razor's edge required for real, competitive play. The units are a pretty mixed bag. And the cost of the upgrades is seriously out of whack for what they do.

For example, Knights cost 8 points while upgrading their health costs 1 point per point of health, giving them another point of damage costs 2 points, increasing their movement range costs 3 points per extra square of movement, while giving them another point in shield blocking costs 3 points. Now, each point in shield lowers the damage you take from attacks by 10% - starting off with around 30~40% by default. This is a pretty important ability since the Knight has, by default, about 40 hit points so the more punishment they can absorb the longer they can stay around blocking for your weaker, softer units. A point or two in shield and they take half damage, meaning they have effectively, 80 hit points. And you can see why it might be worth the 3 points, just like you can see how adding another square of movement to a unit restricted to melee range would be really valuable, too. But the catch is that shield blocks only work on attacks from the front. And they only work once per round. Also, this might or might not be a bug but if you hit a Knight in the side or back and then hit them in the front, the shield block won't proc at all. So, it's not exactly as valuable as you might think and, at times, it's not going to be doing you any good at all.

Now, Knights start off doing 8 damage by default – as much as they cost, which holds true for other units, too – so spending 2 points to raise that by 1 means they do 9 damage, a 12.5% increase. Since all of the damage bonuses and modifications work off percentages, that can be really valuable and you might find some sweet spots. But that also means that if you raise that damage by 4, a 50% increase, you've spent 8 points. Or, exactly what you would have spent to field another Knight who not only gives you another 8 points of damage but another 40 hit points to soak up damage and another piece to move and so on. Same thing, creating a Knight with 2 Shield and 1 Attack is markedly inferior to two Knights with no upgrades at all. One the other hand, though costing the same, a Knight with 1 Movement, 1 Shield and 1 Attack (I'd go with 2 Movement but Knight's movement boosts are capped at 1. Because that's how damned good they are. Still slightly overpriced but we'll get into that later.) is a lot more valuable because not only do they get to move more, when you move your attack is reduced by a percentage of the amount of your total movement points you spend up to a total of 50%. Since a Knight's base movement is 2, you'd get to move a single space and attack at a 16% penalty and, thanks to your attack boost and rounding attack at your default 8. While the average Knight would move that single space and attack at a 25% penalty to swing for 6. It's only a few percentage points difference and a highly restrictive situation but it points out how the game has little loops like that which can be exploited for a statistical advantage.

In general, as far as I can tell, it's better to field more units with a few, key upgrades, than a few units with a lot of upgrades. Balancing it better would require shifting that so that it was roughly equal and a matter of personal preference. But upgrades are overpiced overall and it's not very well documented just how each one works or exactly what you're getting per point. It's not worth it to get a few more points of health or damage compared to being more mobile, say. But it's actually not very good to be mobile since the penalty to your attack for moving means it's to your best advantage to let the enemy come to you, and the map isn't large enough to allow for a lot of chasing and hiding, rendering any amount of movement points moot.

So, the balance could be better. But the game also plays out in two separate turns. You move all your pieces then your opponent moves all their pieces instead of taking turns based on initiative, some kind of action point system where moving or attacking costs points, or even sheer randomness. It's a lot simpler but it means you can easily move all your units around and gang up on one character or another. And that makes it harder to recover from mistakes. If you move a unit to the wrong spot and the opponent jumps on it, you can't pull it back or move someone else in to set a pick or even send in a healer until they've moved all their pieces and, by then, it might be too late. Add to that the sitting and waiting around for your opponent to do their thing and I'd rather the game featured a lot more back and forth – although it's probably a lot better for the online play if you don't have to trade moves.

And as long as I'm complaining about the turn structure, I'll add that although there are ways of canceling moves while you're in the process of making them, there's no way to undo a move once it's made. Since everything is mouse based, that's a problem if, like me, you happen to make a misclick while trying to select your units (Who overlap each other somewhat, especially when they're clustered together. Makes for a nice graphical effect but you can accidentally click on the wrong guy and launch an attack, say.). I don't know the number of times I've had a unit in desperate need of a heal and a Cleric ready and willing to deliver it only to have that heal hit someone else and leave myself with nothing to do but lose that piece the next turn when I could easily have save it if I was a bit more coordinated. The first time this happened I looked desperately for the Undo button in vain. Since turns play out with a large series of moves, it'd be nice to have an undo feature in there somewhere to erase mistakes like that or even just let you skip back to the beginning of your turn.

The graphics and music aren't too much to write home about either. Pretty much 16-bit era sprite art although it's nice enough for what it is. But it's not exactly going to blow you out of your seat, either. It's a fun little game, though, and a good way to kill some time. Running through a single player game shouldn't take more than a half an hour or so. Now that I've done it with a perfect score, my inclination is probably not to do so again. I've tried out plenty of combinations and strategies so the bloom's off the rose at this point. But the multiplayer – if I could ever get on it – could breathe some new life into it.

As for how I manged to “beat” the game, well, I went full on defensive. I had been going offensive. Tinkering around with Wizards – who are fierce – and amping up their damage and chain ability to strike multiple targets and devastate opposing armies in a few short rounds. But their low hit-points (Only 20 to start with) meant I had to do so because they'd drop like flies if anyone ever got in a few hits. And adding in the Clerics for healing and Knights for bodyblocking would-be attackers meant sacrificing the points that made my Wizards so potent. In any event, it was a fun strategy but the goal of the single player game is not to kill off your opponent but to do so without losing a single character. So, I scraped the Wizards completely and went heavy on the Clerics. I cleared my board, added one, and amped up her healing power to the maximum allowed – a whopping nine at 2 points a piece (Although rank returns 3 health in healing) – meaning she'd heal not for 8 points but a staggering 35 each and every turn. Enough to wipe out a lot of attacking power. I added another, and then another, all maxed out on healing. And then I surrounded them with as many Knights as I could afford which, conveniently enough worked out to be only 2. Figuring that, you know, I actually needed to kill things, I started playing around with the stats until I could field a team of 3 Clerics and 5 Knights. The Knights were left unupgraded while I was able to pump my Clerics up to Healing 5 each. That meant they'd recover 23 each a turn or 69 in total spread over any three targets I wanted. Again, enough to take care of a lot of damage – each Cleric, for example, only had 25 health to begin with, while the Knights had 40. That meant each Cleric could only heal with two squares of their location but that's okay because I wasn't planning on moving a lot. With my five Knights, each doing 8 damage with whatever modifiers I could scoop up, I was just going to march up to the enemy, a square at a time if need be, and slug away until they fell down. Let them do all the damage they wanted to me, I'd just heal it away while I slowly but surely worked them down.

It was a boring, slow paced strategy and I had a few close calls against some of the AI teams with high powered mages who could spread out a lot of damage – they couldn't kill me right out but I'd have to pick and choose who to heal up and if I picked wrong they could finish someone off next turn. Thank goodness for AI stupidity is all I have to say about that. But, in the end, it worked and I escaped the single player game unscathed.

So, fun game, I recommend it if you have the inclination and enjoy that kind of wargaming. Here are some tips:

  • Start with the default army, get a feel for the game, and then start tweaking things around. You'll get a Cleric, and a smattering of Archers, Knights, and Wizards. It's a good, balanced mix that'll let you play around with the game's mechanics.
  • Balanced armies work better than gimmicky ones. A mix of units is going to be able to deal with more armies than a team set up to one extreme or the other. My Cleric All-Star team worked because I'd played through the campaign before and seen every team that would be thrown at me. But it gets eaten up if an opponent has a lot of ranged power and enough defense to withstand the crush of my legions. So to have the best chance against any team you happen to run up against you want a blend of ranged attackers, frontline damage absorbers, and health recovering Clerics.
  • Spend your points on characters over upgrades. You can make a few really strong characters or field a lot of units. Fielding a lot of units is the better bet because upgrades are incremental improvements and you have to spend a lot of points to double your effectiveness while you spend a lot less to duplicate a simple character. As well, the fewer units you have, the more your opponent can gang up on those units and kill them off. With a large army, you can drop a piece and keep going but with a small army, each piece is more critical and losing one might just cost you the match.
  • That said, try and make an uber-powerful character at least once. It's fun.
  • Archers are useless. They're fast and have a lot of range and you can squeeze a lot out of only a few upgrades, so you think they might be worth something, especially for picking off the surely ubiquitous Wizards or Clerics but, not so fast. The grid is only 7x7 so there's not a lot of room to run around in. And they have penalties for shooting through characters, meaning if your opponent is hiding his Wizards in the back like a good player should, you won't be hitting at full strength. Since Archers start at 5 damage and can only pump that up to 8, that hurts. It takes a lot of hits for them to take a target out and they don't have a lot of hit points themselves so, I find, for the points it takes to make them competent, I'd rather just field another Knight.
  • Knights are good. They deal a good amount of damage but the best part is that stack of hit points they have. A base of 40 is a lot in this game. Keep a few around as meatshields at the very least.
  • Wizards can be really effective. They start out dealing 10 damage with a range of 3 squares. You can pump up that damage, sure, but the real money is investing in their chain ability. That lets you bounce a lightning bolt between multiple targets – as long as they're within two squares of each other – although you lose 20% of your damage for each bounce you make. But a Wizard with, say, an attack of 12 and Chain 2 deals something like 30 base damage a turn spread over three targets. The downside is they only start with 20 hit points and not a lot of movement so they're very easy to kill off – Still it takes 3 unupgraded Knight hits to put one down (Or 4 Archer shots, or 2 full on Wizard blasts) so it's not like they can't take any punishment at all. You just need to be careful with them.
  • Clerics are your best units. Defense > Offense. A Cleric with even a few points in healing quickly outpaces the damage output of an offensive character and that lets you recover from a lot of damage, letting you fight longer.
  • When positioning your army to start off, there's really only one crucial point. Whoever you put on the raised platform, which will be the character in the exact middle of your backline, will be in a really strong defensive spot. And likely in the center of your army commanding the center of the field. It's a good place for a Cleric, say, or anyone else who needs to stay out of trouble while being in range of a lot of your units. Otherwise, you're mostly determining who's going to be in front of whom and whether you want to try and rush out fast or stay back and play it safe. Either way, it's the moves you make in the first few rounds that matter a lot more there than how your units are arranged when the bells sounds.
  • Protect your backlines. Screen for your Wizards and Clerics or even your injured characters with other units. Even against Wizards (Although the chain means you'll take some damage, they have to get in range to use it. And if they extend for your softies, that means they're closer to your offense to pound on them. If not, that heaviest first hit is landing on your more hardened target and the bounce will hurt less. You might also get lucky and the lightning could bounce away from whatever you're trying to protect, too. Spread out at first so they can't hop a bolt from your frontlines to the back when they can only just reach the meatshields but collapse together once they're in range.). Bodies in front of them makes it harder for the enemy to reach them, hit them, and damage them. Don't let them slip around behind you and start landing juicy hits on their backs or flanks.
  • Simple rule. Let melee units come to you. Chase down ranged units. Moving means you'll attack softer, at least in the turn you move, so, say, if you have a sturdy frontline of Knights that means if you move them, they're a lot less threatening. You have to move them after ranged units who'll pick them apart if you don't, but against other Knights, if you can arrange things so that enemy Knights have to move to attack you, that means you can land full powered attacks on them next turn.
  • Backstab. The easiest and best bonus you can get is that 50% boost from hitting someone in the rear. Work to get it.
  • Flank. Surround an enemy, if you can. A bunch of units hitting them on all sides and even the hardest targets go down in a hurry. The computer, for example, always falls for what I call the “cup”. Have a line of three units, push the two on the sides up a square while keeping the center one back and, sure enough, the AI will waltz a unit right into the center. Human opponents aren't likely to fall for that, but you can spring such a trap after the fact, as it were, and close off any avenue of escape while you whittle away at someone. Don't let this happen to you.
  • Focus fire. Pick an enemy unit. Have as many of your units as possible hit that unit until it dies. Pick another target. Repeat as needed until you win.
  • I'm going to go out on a limb here and say movement increases in value the closer you are in skill level to your opponent. When the make-up of your army or your decision making skills are widely disparate then whoever can pound the other into submission first is likely to win. Against someone as smart and talented as you, then, whoever can shuffle their pieces around best is more likely to win, even if they have to sacrifice some raw power to do so. Hence, if you're really good or playing against better players, movement upgrades become much more viable. Against lesser opponents or when you're just starting out, stick to health and damage upgrades.

Hope that helps.

Smart As a Whip

We're apparently back in the days of needing to make a rambling post just to set the stage for the things I actually want to talk about. Even though it generally paid dividends in sleeker and better constructed posts I stopped doing that sort of thing because they always wind up taking way longer than they should. But, dammit, I'm not about to spend all that time researching without deriving more benefits than a single post. Which, you know, probably means good things. Or that it's too hot to sleep.

Anyhow, this isn't yet the post I really want to make but it's still a tangent that raced through my mind while working on the previous one, so, yeah, profits abound. But thinking about the age and competence of the aforementioned whippersnapper got me to thinking and sent me down a particularly rewarding pathway.

And, yes, I'm well underway getting Frenzied up. Because that's two paragraphs of (hopefully) whimsical yet irrelevant digressions serving to pad my word count. And at least one metaphor staked to the ground and writhing in pain. Oh, and a lot of synonyms, too, that would send lesser people scurrying to the thesaurus. Oh yeah, June's going to be fun.

But getting back to the topic at hand, Mr. Zeitlin's youth reminded me of something. Namely, that chronological age only roughly corresponds with maturity. Perhaps I was lucky enough to know some good people when I was young or perhaps I've spent too much time in online communities where the default position of anonymity can lead to some shocking revelations when, say, you finally bump into someone on vent or skype. Or maybe I'm just still a young punk at heart who's spent far too much time running from responsibility and maturity myself. But, for me, age is nothing but a number. What truly matters is how emotionally and intellectual a person is capable of handling a set situation or responsibility.

We use age as a convenient metric because judging how mature someone really can be is dauntingly subjective and complex. But there's no sudden insight into proper, adult behavior that separates someone on the last day of their 20th year from the first of their 21st and magically endows them with the ability to drink responsibly. Not that not being of legal age is really an impediment to drinking but I have to think the criminalization of that behavior is just as responsible for the abuses you can see at your average college party as the lack of maturity. Nor is their some arcane boundary between a 15 year old and a 16 year old being able to get behind two tons of self-motivated metal and race around with ridiculous amounts of kinetic force on their way to the mall or the strip or however it is they waste their time these days. It's the hours of training and practice before being licensed that separate the drivers from the non-drivers. And there's nothing, beyond it being the commonly agreed upon date, keeping that set at the age of 16. Indeed, I knew someone who was driving, legally, from the age of 12 because their guardian was legally blind. Which you think would have made them really cool but, evidently, you overestimate the appeal of an '84 LeBaron that smells faintly of peppermints and old age. I haven't checked lately but I'm pretty sure that provisions to gain a license prematurely out of need are still on the books.

I'm not suggesting we need to give people an exam before we let them buy beer (Although...having tended bar at one point, that's not such a bad idea when you get right down to it...) just trying to point out it's not like we don't make exceptions to hard and fast chronological rules when we hand out responsibilities. We just do it in a haphazard fashion. And that, perhaps, we might be able to reconsider exactly how we view maturity to better reflect both our needs and concerns.

For whatever reason, our society has developed along lines, legally, of protecting our young from maturity rather than fostering them along and encouraging them to slowly but steadily pick up those responsibilities along the way. The default position is to shield them, hide them, and keep them from advancing. Until, at least, they're old enough at which point they're assumed to have picked it up along the way. Which is not to say that no one grows up or we're headed for cultural decline and collapse because we don't believe in the holy trinity of God, Football, and Elvis hard enough just that our laws outsource the job of raising a child from inexperienced youth to responsible adult. And that's, by and large, probably a good thing but I also don't think that a secular society has to completely ignore the task of creating new citizens. If it's through teaching children to grow, well, up and become their own persons that individuals achieve a kind of immortality then it's having each generation give way to the succeeding one that gives a civilization permanence. A nation, therefore, has a vested interest in making sure that goes as well as it can. And one area where I think we're currently failing is civics. For such a wealthy and educated democracy we have a shockingly small amount of participation in our government. And, for me, it all comes back to the vote.

A vote is like owning a share in a company. Having one makes you involved, gives you some ownership of the outcome, and having that piece means you're much more likely to take an active part in things. Not everyone will exercise it, of course, but that's okay. Rather than forcing people to participate or restricting participation to those elite who are ready, the goal should be to lower the barriers to entry in hopes of creating a larger pool of potential participants. Even if only a fraction of them take part, simply by growing that population, you'll increase the number who will take part. And that's, in parts, why I favor lowering the voting age.

Because, let's face it there are some really smart teenagers who don't have the vote but would probably acquit themselves quite well with it. While there are some, supposed adults who vote in such an ill-informed and unprepared a manner that they really, probably shouldn't. Like, say, if I could pick who votes and who doesn't anyone who's ever found themselves nodding along to Fox News or thinks Saddam has ties to 9/11 or likes the designated hitter rule or thought shoulder pads were a good idea.

Fortunately, I don't have the power to determine who votes. No one does, really, beyond your birth certificate (And, well, arrest record.). And that's a good thing because once you start coming up with reasons to toss voters out for incompetence or inattention, or any other way of saying “they're not good enough” you're headed to a scary place (And the historical trend is away from that scary place – where you had to have the right property, the right gender, the right gender, and even the right beliefs in order to vote – and towards greater populist inclusion.). So, we rely on things like place and date of birth to determine these things because those objective facts are neutral. But, again, there's no magic reason why the reasonable age has to be set at 18.

My friend who got his driver's license at 12 (heavily restricted but still, he could drive.) might not have been a chick magnet. But he was never in an accident, never unsafe, and, in fact, one of the best driver's I've ever known. And I'd pin it on something one of my English teachers once told me when discussing one story or another about driving, “You're only 16, you still think just being able to drive is cool.” And, at the time, I couldn't conceive of a mindset where having that freedom, that responsibility, wouldn't be, if not the greatest thing ever, a really nice thing to have. But, as the years have gone by and I've logged hours and miles behind the wheel, it's true. Driving isn't cool, it's routine. And I'm a lot less likely to speed or try some crazy passing maneuver because that adrenaline rush isn't pounding in my vein. I'm much more likely to plan out my route so I arrive in plenty of time, to react to an accident better, and otherwise do everything that means I get a lower insurance rate because I'm accustomed to driving now. It's something my friend learned earlier than I did because he'd put in that time not from 16 on but from 12 on. Part of it is his personality but part of it is giving him that opportunity. That experience.

Say, for argument's sake, that we set that age to 12. Sure, there would be some pre-teens who would be incapable of handling that responsibility. But you can't tell me that there aren't some twelve year olds at least as well-read and informed as, if not more than, the average 25 year old. And it's the 12 year olds who are going to be most affected by things like reforming medicare or entering into a war because they're the ones who are eventually going to be shouldering that burden (For example, an 18 year old soldier just finishing basic training today would have been around 12~13 in 2001 when the decision to send them into combat was being made. They had no say in that beyond whether or not they signed up for active duty or not.). Rather than arguing denying them the vote is some kind of taxation without representation, I'd argue that allowing them to vote on such issues, to take part in the discussions about them only helps them to understand the issue better and ready them for when they actually will have to bear the brunt of the responsibility. By including them earlier, by giving them that ownership stake in the state, we help them to prepare for the day when they'll be the ones with children and making the decisions about where the ship of state should sail. Those bright and talented young people who are ready to handle the vote would help to influence the ones who aren't but could be, if they tried. And it's those children such a change would be aiming at helping because instead of slipping into cynicism and apathy before they reached the legal voting age, they'd be given an opportunity to actually contribute. Not all of them might respond but, I think, enough would to make for a stronger electorate in the years to follow.

Because, not only would giving the 12 year olds the vote motivate them to become involved, it would motivate the community around them. A 12 year old is likely still in school, still being compulsively taught, meaning there'd be ample opportunities for civics lessons to prepare them for their eventual vote. Think of all the energy that goes into school elections and imagine if, instead of voting for pizza over hot dogs or the school council, if that effort was channeled into the national debate. The schools, the adults, the parents around these children would be there to help them. To guide them, to teach them, about voting and how to handle the responsibility in a structured environment. At least, one more structured and consistent than the one for 18 year olds. Who might or might not be in high school or college or working, living on their own or with their relatives, and otherwise all over the place. In contrast, most 12 years olds have at least middle school in common.

At the same time, giving the vote to younger citizens motivates not just them but the adults around them. When that 12 year old hears about voting from school and their friends and goes home to ask their mother or father about it, you think that doesn't make that parent much more likely to participate? To not only vote, but to look into the candidates and positions, if only so they can answer those pernicious questions they're likely to face from their children? How many relearn math or history thanks to their kid's homework? It's a trickle down effect, a cascade, as being more informed, more likely to contribute to candidates or write letters or post comments, these parents will bump into those adults without children. At the office, on a website, wherever, and pass along that greater interest. And they become more likely to talk about things, to inquire into things, to take part, and to get out there and vote.

Again, not everyone joins in. Because it's an opt-in system and when you put up even the simplest gate like that, not everyone passes through it. But the point is to increase the number of people streaming through. An informed electorate is its own best resource. Making it larger provides more opinions and potential solutions. Calls for more information and holds those providing it more accountable. Makes it harder for elected officials to get misinformation past them. And lowering the voting age creates, I think, more opportunity for people to opt in, strengthening the system for everyone else.

I'm not sure if 12 is the appropriate age or not (In fact, I'd probably do away with a strict age limit altogether. Make it so that anyone who can prove citizenship and can show up at a polling place gets a vote. Maybe, because you can assume they'll be highly influenced by their parents give small children a half vote until they reach a certain point of maturity for which, yeah, around puberty strikes me as a good mark. Such a system would give greater voting weight to those with a family but since I think that encouraging people to have and maintain families is not exactly a bad thing, I'm pretty okay with giving them a greater say in the direction of things.) and it's something that would require a lot of thought and research. And the hurdles involved in passing such measures are considerable. But what I am sure about is that the percentage of eligible voters who actually vote has been falling and that it's a problem. And it's one that bears thinking about.

Take Another

First off, I missed commenting on it during the week(end) of bacchanalian revelry that was my birthday[1] but fuck Mickey Kaus with both barrels. It's piling on the fat kid so I don't make a habit of mentioning it, but in fine tuning my media input he's one of those pundits I've learned to cheerfully ignore because it's not worth churning through the mountains of dross to get to the few nuggets of wisdom. See also: Saleton, William, and Ponnuru, Ramesh, and Broder, David among others whom, reasonably, other people take seriously[2]. I have such a blind spot when it comes to these people that it took me several minutes of blindly googling just to make sure I had their names right. But, loss of efficiency aside, it makes my life much more stress free and the best part is, whenever they do say something smart, someone I do pay attention to is likely to flag it for my perusal.

Of course the downside is that occasionally, it's not the contribution to the collective wisdom that's noted but the mindbottling outrages. And, with slowly dawning horror, I'm forced to remember why I don't pay attention to them in the first place. This fear of untrained and unqualified bloggers/pundits is one of the latter.

However, at least some good might have come from this little episode in the form of inspiring yet another not-so-timorous voice to find their way into the conversation. Namely, the quick to adapt young blogger known as Whippersnapper. Who is apparently from the class of 2012 which makes him, roughly...carry the one and... too damn young to be so smart. I wish I was capable of being that intelligent in high school but I think I was too busy figuring out the latest Final Fantasy game or how to avoid doing my homework. Oh well, I guess he has to get in while the getting's good because, not only is the whippersnapper window[4] rapidly closing, 2012 is when the Mayans say the world ends. So, know-it-all punks who are younger and likely smarter than me, yeah, enjoy that graduation party.

In all seriousness, though, it's good stuff. And anyone who gets a nod from both Mr. Klein and Mr. Yglessias (Who's got some sage advice to anyone looking to start a blog.) has to be doing something right. I can certainly understand the motivating force behind contradicting Mr. Kaus. Because as someone who was and is a frequent lurker and avid reader with nothing but time and internet access on my hands, if I didn't already have a blog thanks to post-election elation and a “well, everyone else is doing it” attitude, disproving Mr. Kaus's premise would be reason enough to start one up. If only out of sheer, bloodyminded contrariness. Because there's no greater refutation available than people like Whippersnapper rising out of the faceless seas of the internet to challenge the Mickey Kaus's of the world to defend not just their positions but their ideas.

I'll agree that we're not likely to see the rise of another Kos or Atrios or, say, a superstar pundit who's famous only and solely for having a well-trafficked blog any time soon, if only because those waters have been thoroughly explored by this point. So, maybe if you're trying to start a blog and get rich and famous, it's not the best thing to do anymore. However, if your goal is influence (Or, like myself, simply to a constructive part of the conversation rather than just a passive listener.) then all you need to do is have a voice and articulate it well. A blog's low barriers of entry are particularly well suited to giving new voices such a starting point. And while I can understand why that might threaten people who've built a career and an institution out doling out their opinions from a rarefied air, I'm convinced it's a good thing for public discourse as a whole.

Each voice, each new opinion, added to the overall discussion makes that discussion better, overall. While it's true that most of those opinions are going to be ill-founded and ill-formed, it's the interplay of ideas that's the important part. In exchanging ideas with others you're forced to defend your own either strengthening them by rejecting a false logical branch or reinforcing them with a supporting concept. The net result is that everyone taking part walks away more enlightened and informed in an agglunative process. Not a zero-sum game where one position has to take dominance over all others. That line of thinking – that there is one, single, ideal idea both known and knowable - however, seems, to me anyway, to be behind the urge to exclude voices on the grounds of inexperience. But it's a position borne out of laziness – a lack of desire to wade through the seas of information to find the warm water currents – and one that only breeds ignorance.

So, although I'm far from the most qualified and possibly the least capable - it's no doubt the grandest heights of hubris for a small-time, struggling, unnoticed, nearly readerless blogger like myself to make such a gesture - let me congratulate not just Mr. Zeitlin but all those like him who'll follow in his footsteps one day, for taking that step into a brave, new world. Welcome to the party, I hope I enjoy your stay.

[1] – A bit of hyperbole as, sadly, being torn to shred by drunken women was not part of the festivities. Close run thing, though.

[2] – Which is a quite a different category from the people who inexplicably taken seriously. See Malkin, Michelle[3]. Basically, it's smart people I can't be bothered to listen to because they've lost my interest through repeated and malicious “not saying things I like”.

[3] – The Wikipedia disambiguation page for Malkin - because, yes, that's just how thorough a researcher I am – lists one definition as “An old woman, especially if unpleasant, or a woman who is slatternly, lewd, or drab”. If this is true, snerk. If untrue, god bless the internets.

[4] – Something like the blogosphere's version of peak oil. Only with memes and influence instead of hydrocarbons. Does this mean we need to pre-emptively invade, say, InstaPundit and establish permanent commentators to preserve important ideological space in the coming idea wars, though?

Other Sports News

As expected, K.O.B.E.'s pulled back on his trade demands (Or not. I don't even want to know anymore.). Kind of figured that wouldn't last. The paroxysm of the sports media going into full on crisis mode was fun to watch, though. Still, if nothing else, one good thing came out of the non-story. And that's me finding the ESPN trade generator.

It lets you try and test trades between various NBA teams, approving them only if they're cap compatible (If anyone's interested, I figure the Pistons could actually trade for Kobe if they were willing to part with Hamilton and Nazr Mohammed. Dumars probably never makes the call but that's not exactly bad for the Pistons although they're probably going to explode thanks to free agency anyways. The question is whether the Lakers would make the deal. I think Kobe would waive his no-trade clause to come to a proven team like Detroit – it's not exactly LA or New York but it's still a major TV market. But I don't know if the Lakers would want to rebuild around Hamilton. He's the same age as Bryant, they play roughly the same position, and he's got proven championship credentials – both college and pro – but I don't think he has the sizzle to attract the Hollywood crowd who's going to be pissed at moving Kobe. Not compared to what deals with, say, Chicago or Phoenix offer him.). It doesn't account for things like sign and trades or shuffling draft picks, but it sure is fun to play around with.

Also, I hear there's going to be a new football league funded by a pack of billionaires led by Mark Cuban. Anything that puts more sports on my TV and so lets me avoid having to think about anything series can't be a bad thing, so good for them. As I understand it, they're going to start small with only 8 teams. And they'll only put those teams in markets that don't already feature professional football – like Mexico City or Los Angeles. So, Detroit's getting a franchise, then? Thanks to the Lions we haven't had professional football there in years.

Rimshot, please.

Script Frenzy: Talking Myself Into It

As I said last night, I'm down to three script ideas and I'm trying to decide between them. Let me make the case for my current favorite - the one I'm calling “First Kiss”.

Basically it's a summer, coming of age kind of movie. Something like the Barry Levinson trio of Baltimore films or Christmas Story, among others. Set in a particular time, a particular place, and less of a story than a series character moments and vignettes. It's not a plot heavy, action driven story, in other words, so much as a collection of anecdotes strung together by a unifying theme. Taken together they add up to that elusive something more.

Which I think is going to work very well for me. I've never written a script (Well, a completed one. I've made a couple false starts this month for the experience.), after all, and I'm not exactly practiced with the form. This kind of movie relies less on hitting the plot points and more on establishing character through the subtle moments. Something I think I'm not too bad at. But it also means I don't have to intricately plot things out and go from point A to B to C to D. Instead, I can hop around and work on the bits I want, craft things scene by scene, and then plug them together – maybe changing a detail here or there – into a coherent whole. That sounds a lot like my preferred style of writing. And there are some other elements that should play to my strengths as well. So, from a logistical standpoint – a “can I actually write this” perspective – I think I'm solid.

It's also the script outline I've put the most work into. I haven't broken the rules by writing anything out but I've been steadily collecting ideas for scenes and arcs, as well as fleshing out character bios, and I have a pretty healthy document to work from. Always a plus. And the main character is one I've been meaning to use for a while – he comes from a short story I've never managed to write satisfactorily about a too-smart-for-his-own-good kid with a driver's permit backing into his principal's car (True story. Although it was actually the principal from my grade school.). Just haven't been able to get the tone right but I've developed that character and his quirks pretty well, I think. For this story, I'd be shifting his age downwards, and maybe throwing in an older brother learning to drive as a sidestory just so I can get that crash in there but it means I have a character ready to build around. So, from a preparation standpoint, I'm on solid ground.

As for what the movie's actually about, well, it's about a time and a place and how that affects the characters who'll be bouncing around it. It's about growing up and growing out and the sort of mundane adventures that entails. Since I'm still in that “write what you're familiar with” mindset (I don't believe you actually have to be intimately familiar with a subject, there's research and extrapolation that allow you to speak authoritatively to whatever you put your mind to, but it's easier if it's something you've personally had some experience. And it certainly helps if you're unsure about what to write.) so, for me, that's the suburban, metro Detroit area some time in the 90s. That's, you know, where I grew up and where I came of age so I have plenty of material to draw on. I figure I have plenty of material to draw on from my wacky family to flesh out a script, if I run out of ideas spun whole cloth from my own imagination. It's not exactly groundbreaking, breathtaking, boundary-shifting stuff but, given how I normally let my ambition get the better of me, I want to keep my idea basic and simple. Maybe the script will grow into something amazing but I want it to start from manageable seeds. So, storywise, I think I'm good. It'll take some research to get the details right but I like the topic and I think it can be interesting.

Now, just because I'm trying to keep things simple doesn't mean I'm not going to challenge myself. I'm the kind of writer, the kind of person, who likes to push my boundaries whenever I can. To test myself by doing something I've never done, trying something I might never have considered, especially when working on a project like this. Just so even if it blows up in my face, I'll have some valuable experience for the next time around – even if it's only realizing what I can't do next time. Otherwise, I get bored and listless pretty quickly. So, here, to keep myself interested, I'm going to do something I don't normally do much of and that's write about children. Really, write focused on children or young teenagers, which from my advanced years is pretty much the same thing. It's a task I've always considered very difficult and normally avoid. But it's the reason I want a youngish central character, to force me to deal with and explore the story from the perspective of someone so young and inexperienced. I took a writing class or two, once, with someone who liked to write almost exclusively from the perspective of children and she said she did it because it's hard to be naïve when you have the power of the author behind you. But, that sense of naiveté is, in a lot of ways, a good method of keeping your themes at the level of subtext rather than putting up giant neon signs and screaming them at your readers. It's a good exercise in being subtle, in so many words, and that's something I'd like to work on. Combined with working in an unfamiliar format I think I have a good set challenges ahead of me.

There are, of course, a few flaws. Although I have a lot of preplanning done, this story is essentially a big bundle of interlocking parts. Being able to work in discrete units might help me to make it through the month but it could also turn into an incoherent jumbled mass that spins hopelessly out of control as I add more and more to it. Given my tendencies ot might be better to have a more planned out script where I can work on taking things away.

Because it's going to be set in, basically, my youth, it's going to be a very personal movie. It might lead to rehashing and exploring details that I might not want to. Or not want to show to anyone who might recognize them, anyway. I don't want to write a roman a clef. But I do want to use that setting because it's one that resonates with me, if no one else.

And, although I have some idea of what I'm getting into, I haven't quite nailed down all the details yet. I'm not sure exactly what year it's going to take place, for example. And that would be an important point, wouldn't it? I originally wanted to tell a story about the closing of Tiger Stadium – about the melancholy transition from the comfortable past into the uncertain future - but that doesn't happen until 98~99. And that's a bit late because I was out of my teens by then (If not adolescence) and it also brings in things like internet messaging and cellphones and such that I'd like to keep away from, lest I spend half the film indulging my technology fetish – they're way too common to ignore by then. In the middle of the decade, I could replace the Tigers subplot with one about the Wings. Either how they were stunned in the Finals following the strike shortened '95 season or by the Avalanche in '96 or maybe the exaltation when they finally broke through in '97. Certainly fertile ground for a story but, really, I've used it as a backdrop for others already. And switching from baseball to hockey means I lose both the pastoral nature of the “national pastime” and the FLCL inspired metaphor of “swinging the bat”. That theme of sexual awakening is important since this is a film revolving around a boy getting his first kiss. Earlier in the decade you have the last gasp of the Tigers before they fell into disrepair – you get Cecil Fielder and the fading ghosts of the Roar of '84 – but that also puts the setting perilously close to the first Gulf War. It'd be hard to ignore that given recent events but I don't want to make war a central theme – this is a story about innocence, first and foremost. Much earlier I don't want to go, although there are the Bad Boys in 89~90. But, there, like with hockey, the season ends well before the summer and I'd like that underlying sports metaphor to carry throughout the film. Sigh, I think I have some more thinking and researching to do. know, I just thought of something in regards to the Gulf War. Another possible story arc that fits in with another sidestory I'd planned to include.

I need to go write that down before I forget it. But, before I go, I think that although it's not the perfect idea and I'm still somewhat skeptical that it's probably as good as I'm going to have by the end of the day. After all, if something better comes to mind, I can always drop this story and work on that. But looking over the pros and cons, I think it's a strong contender that should play to my strengths. And there's no obvious, deal-breaking flaw, just some pre-Frenzy jitters about things that might go wrong and problems I might not be able to solve. Yeah, okay, I'm sold.

NBA: Game Five Tonight

My sister - the other one - did indeed manage to score tickets. She's in the nosebleeds so it's not like she'll be on the TV or anything but, you know, I'm mad jealous right now.

Before we get to Game 5, here's a brief glimpse into how watching Game 4 felt for the average Pistons fan:

Yeah, nasty funk right in the face.

Now, am I worried about Game 5? Yeah, more than a bit. I'm not panicking yet, or writing the season off – that happens if they lose tonight, even though they pulled out from the 3-2 hole last season agaisnt a pretty similar Cavs team – but there's a palpable tension heading into tonight's game. Really, I'm regretting saying this would be a series over in, at most, five games. The Cavaliers are a lot better than I initially thought – I didn't even consider them the 3rd best team in the conference what with the troika of Chicago, Detroit, and Miami, I though the East champ would spring from. And it's not like the Chicago series where the Pistons shifted down a gear and dropped some games. The Pistons have been consistently outplayed in every game. They're lucky to be even. But, then, so are the Cavs because every game could easily have gone the other way. My main worry is that the Pistons have actually been trying and they're still coming up short. Especially in the 4th where they've blown the last two games. Of course, trailing at the half doesn't help either, but they've had strong 3rds and, normally, you'd think they'd close it out more often than not. But even though, as far as I can tell, they've been playing with determination and focus, it's the Cavs who've been clutch. Even in Games 1 and 2, they had a chance to win or tie at the end and that's just not a good sign.

The concern seems to be focusing on Billups. People and reporters saying he needs to pick up his game. But I think the Cavaliers are just a bad team for him to play against. It happens, there's just one team or set of match-ups that gives a player fits. In this case, I think it's the assortment of fast, athletic, and defensively adept guards that Cleveland can throw at him. Normally, Chauncy can post up the smaller guards and blow by the bigger ones because he's strong and fast himself, but I think, in this case, the defense is hectoring him just enough that he can't get in a groove. I'm less concerned with Billups putting up a ton of points and assists as I am with him cutting down on the turnovers and boneheaded plays. He can still contribute, he's just not going to be the one to carry the team. I've pretty much written his spot off for the series, otherwise. Rather, I think the key players are Hamilton and 'Sheed. Hamilton needs to pick up the slack from Billups. While Rasheed has to be Bizzaro Timmy again, he might not need to score a ton but he has to come through in the clutch. If he can, the Pistons can work the Cavs down low.

With home court advantage, that should be enough to pull out a win tonight. And, really, I think it's having home field in Game 7 that's going to win this series for the Pistons. If they win tonight then either they'll lose in Cleveland and still have another crack at it or the Cavs will tense up and the Pistons will be lose because they'll have home waiting for them and close out the series there. If they lose tonight, though, then all hell breaks loose.

Conservatives Really Have A Hardon About Reagan

So, Fred Thompson's announced that he going to announce that he's going to announce, some time in the very near future, any day now, that he'll be running for President. Which, you know, means he's announced he's running for President but hasn't had a big speech and photo op about it yet.

Anyway, I've avoided saying much about the various and sundry presidential candidates yet for the simple fact that we're not even to primary season yet and I don't really have a firm opinion on any of them. I'm waiting and watching to see if there's anything to like or dislike. And it's way too early to start really caring about this stuff, for me anyway.

Still, I think Thompson's candidacy deserves some attention from me because, as I see it, Thompson seems to be the right's latest attempt to dredge up the corpse of Ronald Reagan. Like most of their other initiatives these days, he's nothing but a pale shadow of the past. His credentials, again as I see it, include little more than an unmemorable stint as Senator during the “Contract on America” days, being the gruff DA on Law and Order, and a laundry list of out of the box, Southern conservative stands on issues. In other words, he's about as generic a Republican as you can get. And, one would hope, not nearly qualified or connected enough to become the leader of the free world during peace time let alone when the nation is, as our president is so fond of saying, facing its gravest threat (Which, you know, is horseshit but that's what the dead end 28 percenters are supposed to believe. At least until Dear Leader tells them differently, I guess.). Except, of course, he's been on television. So people know him. Or at least the character he played which is close enough for most. He's going to be a “formidable candidate” in the general election because he's got the name recognition.

When, exactly, did being famous get to be part of the qualification for the presidency? It's not just the Republican side, after all, as far as I can tell the biggest thing both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have going for them is that their famous and look/sound good on television, respectively. The days of finding serious, experienced, and practiced leaders – like, say, Mr. Richardson - to become the president seem to be a thing of the past. Instead it's about finding the empty suit that's going to look best in front of the camera. The guy everyone would want to have a beer with. The one who's electable.

The next election is going to be one of the most important ones in my life, as far as I can tell. It's going to determine whether we can finally, really change our course or whether we'll be stuck heading down the same path we've been on. It seems a shame to me that having a good Q rating is going to be a decisive factor.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Assorted Thoughts From the Lab

Turned on Utah/San Antonio tonight. It was 30 to 13 in the Spurs favor and it wasn't even out of the 1st quarter. So, yeah, that series done. Why can't the Pistons play like that?

Incidentally, I'm told my sister – the other one – bought tickets today for Game 5 at the Palace tomorrow. She paid a good, but not outrageous price for them. Not any kind of scalping deal either, just bought them from the box office and she'll pick them up on game day or something. I'm just surprised there were tickets available because they're usually sold well out. Of course, I remember a few years ago when they were giving away Pistons tickets at the Little Ceasars and I could barely get any of my college friends to make the trek to Auburn Hills to watch this new and heralded guy we'd just traded for called Ben Wallace with me, so, yeah, just weird.

Spent most of my time today working on Script Frenzy things. Friday is going to be fun. I'm not totally ready yet but, then, I wouldn't be happy unless I had a 50,000 word character bible and some mockups of the scenery to go by. I like to be prepared and authentic when I write. I posted my favorite ideas further and by tomorrow, I should have decided on one to go with. So, I'm going to get right on that.

Ah, Decisions...

Narrowed my choice of scripts to work on to three finalists. Each has had some degree of preplanning gone into them. And each, I think, is distinct and interesting enough to carry me through a few weeks, at least. I figure, if worse comes to worse, I can always drop my current script and switch to another (The dilemma of whether I'll be counting the words from scratch of cumulatively depends, I think, on how close to the finish line I am.) but the choice before me is which one to work on first. To help me decide, I wrote these “pitches”. And partly to see if I could get my plots into 100 words or less, given my tendency to run off at the keyboard. You have to imagine them being read by Don LaFontaine replete with ominous pauses yourself. And, as always, the names and titles are about the last thing I worry about so consider them highly mutable at this phase. But, here, in no particular order, are my ideas:

First Kiss

The summer of 1993 doesn't seem all that promising to start with for Arturo Whittenberg but little does he know what's in store. Arturo fancies himself, at the tender age of 13, an intellectual – if only he could get everyone else to agree. And when he's not busy musing about the philosophical meaning of the latest play of his beloved Tigers or struggling with the aging lawn mower, he's got his nose buried in a book. Certainly not chasing after girls the way his obviously immature friends have started too. But over a summer filled with days at the stadium and nights around the barbeque, he'll have his first kiss. Eventually.

You've Got the Wrong Guy

Edward Lance - “Eddie” to his friends – is a small-time crook and industrial spy. He thinks he's about to make the big time, though, thanks to a carefully planned heist at Lacuna, a high tech firm. Not only did he get the plans for their latest development, he also walked away with a prototype and with that in hand, he expects to command a hefty price and even heftier respect. Unfortunately, while trying to examine the device, it's activated and Eddie's sent to a parallel dimensions. A world just like his own in a lot of ways but unlike it in even more important ones. Even if Eddie makes it back, he's got a bigger problem – he's not the only Edward Lance to bounce between dimensions. One of them found his way to Eddie's world. And he kind of likes it there.

Inherit the Earth

Carol Stone was your typical young woman. Average grades, average boyfriend, likes to party and have fun. She doesn't see much of her mother, Marcia, but that's alright with her since she can more than take care of herself. Marcia Stone is not your typical working mother. She knows she should spend more time with her daughter but since she's the caretaker of an ancient and powerful weapon, charged with defending her corner of the universe from alien intervention, resulting in a never-ending series of galaxy spanning adventures as the Star Guardian she just can't find the time. When Marcia is killed in Antarctica, she leaves her daughter one last, unexpected gift: her power. Now, Carol has to pull together clues scattered over decades, from her mother's secret life and others, in order to find what killed her mother. And, if she's lucky, keep it from destroying the earth.

I'm leaning towards “First Kiss” at the moment but, you never know.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Went traveling - unexpectedly as is my want - for the holiday but I'm back now. However, I don't think I'm going to be getting in much blogging as I'm going into lock down mode to prepare for the coming Frenzy. I'm not quite sure what I'll be doing just yet, but I have a selection of ideas to choose from. I know I probably shouldn't wait until the last minute but nothing's really jumped out at m as an amazing idea. I want to have an idea (or two) outlined out in advance so I'm hopefully going to be spending the next few days doing just that.

As for the Pistons game tonight, well, it's 2-2 so it's not quite panic time. That comes if they drop Game 5 again. I'm till convinced that, over a seven game series, the Pistons should beat the Cavaliers, if only because they have the homecourt advantage. Tonight was a game they could have had - and so was the 3rd (I knew they lost that one as soon as I saw the ref was Dick Baveta.) - since they were close at the end. But it was also one where they got consistently outplayed. Billups finally had a good game and, unlike Game 3, so did Hamilton. However, it seems like 'Sheed who I think is the key player for the Pistons this series, didn't have a very good game. And, at this point, I've gone from thinking that the Pistons are sputtering on offense because of their lack of focus to thinking that I underestimated the Cavaliers defense...combined with the Pistons going to sleep a bit. With the Cavs having the home town advantage, and LeBron turning in another great game, it's easy to see why they lost. And, from what I can see, beyond the monster 3rd quarter, there's not much positive to take from this one for the Pistons. They've been getting outplayed these past two games. Hopefully, they'll turn it around next game but it's going to be another close one.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Heading out for the night. Not much done today although I did try to slog through some Script Frenzy stuff. It's just not happening for whatever reason.

It's Memorial Day weekend. I wouldn't expect much blogginating from me. Just saying is all.

Stanley Cup Finals

The Red Wings are not in them. Thus, I do not care.

Bring on the Ultimate Fighting Chapmionships!

Well, no. (Seriously, what's up with the recent push for the latest “fastest growing sport in America”?) But as I've said before the Annaheim/Ottawa matchup is not one that inspires me. I might watch a bit but I'm not exactly going to seek it out.

My head says to go with the Ducks because, even though they've been riding a short bench and, basically, three defensemen, they've been solid defensively. Ottawa's been carried by the Alfredsson line a lot and although the Ducks have a penchant for taking dumb penalties, they can shut down the Sens offense and outscore them if need be. But all that doesn't matter because Annaheim has the hot goaltender in Guigere. And in the playoffs, it's all about who's got the better goaltending.

My heart, on the other hand says, first, I hate the Ducks with a passion normally reserved for people who cut me off in traffic. And two of those three defensemen are Pronger, whom I've hated since he played for the Blues, and Niedermeyer who's on the “Dead to me because he played for the Devils in '94” list. Second, I'm pretty fond of the Senators – they're a scrappy club that's been on the verge for a while. This might be a different story if they'd actually pulled the trigger on the Yzerman trade but they've also got the Canadian factor going for them. Don Cherry trumps SoCal as far as hockey mojo is concerned. So, emotionally, I'm pulling for Ottawa.

So, if I was putting money down on this, I'd go with, shudder, the Ducks. But I'm not so I'm pulling for the Senators.


Jeebus but it was hot again today. I know I sound like a broken record here but it really saps my desire to get much of anything done. You'd think I'd get all lethargic during the colder months but, really, it's during the summer that I find myself doing less and less if only because it's such an effort to swim through the muggy, sweltering air.

So, anyway, didn't get much done today (Except for playing waaaay too many rounds of Tactics 100. That kind of game is like crack to me.). Meant to mow the grass again but, ugh, I'll wait until tomorrow. It's supposed to rain but it should also be cooler and I might have a small window in the morning.

I haven't said much about my scripting project and that's because I'm horribly behind on it. I did some character design sketches that I'm not exactly in love with but that's about it. I was hoping to scan them but the realization that I suck at drawing has dissuaded me. Well, that and the thought of having to claw through my closet in order to find my scanner. Maybe tomorrow.

Still, Script Frenzy's only a week away. It's time to gear up in earnest and start working on my outline and background material. I'm still not entirely sure what I'm going to be doing, though, so that could be a problem.

Basketblogging Go! Form of...Pistons/Cavs Game 2!

The lede: LeBron played much more aggressively this game and still wound up with the same result.

The game's final play reveals, I think, just why all the hoopla over LeBron's decision to pass rather than shoot in the same spot in Game 1 was so misguided. There's no guarantee his shot goes in. Not with the kind of coverage he's getting. And there's no guarantee he's getting the call either. Not with the refs being inclined to swallow their whistles and “let the players decide the game” (Which is something I've never gotten. If the refs decide not to call a foul, aren't they deciding the game just as much as if they actually do make calls? They're refs, they're paid to influence the game by keeping people from cheating around the rules. By taking away all but the most blatant fouls they give the advantage to a certain kind of play – and the kind that's all about mugging and clutching and grabbing. You know, the dirty stuff. But, I guess they're not going to get as much criticism for a call they didn't make as opposed to one they did.).

The Pistons managed to pull it out thanks to a monstrously clutch performance by 'Sheed. But, really, that game did not leave me with a good feeling about the rest of the series. A game where Maxiell is the best player on the floor (He nearly wound up as Detroit's leading scorer if not for that late spurt by Rasheed.) is not a good one for the Pistons. They kept to the pace they wanted (Nice and slow which is better than trying to run and gun with a team with a player like LeBron.) and, it's true, Cleveland's pretty good defensively (And, for whatever reason, Billups really struggles agaisnt them.) but they're not dominating. And they're certainly capable of it.

We're headed to Cleveland now and with home court advantage, the Cavs could easily have had both of those first two games. The Pistons need to play the way they did in the 3rd quarter the whole game or they could let the Cavs up off the mat. And, you know, actually make some baskets to close the game out at the end.

Prince Named to USA Basketball Team

My brother (Who's home in the D searching for a car. Turns out he's actually going to be staying in state for a little while at least. Got an internship in Pontiac. Oddly enough, it's not exactly for the auto industry although he will be visiting a lot of the plants around there to do energy audits – he's done this kind of thing before, it's pretty cool, actually. And he wants to get something American made because, well, Pontiac is union country and he doesn't want to get lynched or keyed or whatever. My sister's not convinced that's actually necessary, but his employer recommended it, and having worked around some UAW types and with the climate being what it is, I don't see the harm. It's only going to last a few weeks but he kinda needs some transportation to get there. But, hey, he went four years without a car so he's past due. One of our relatives back in the mother country works for an auto supplier or affiliate or whatever – which isn't saying much since that includes about half the companies in Detroit – so there's going to be some shenanigans to get a better deal. My family has Scotch-Irish roots and we're dirt cheap like that, at times. ) passed along this article from the Free Press. Seems Tayshaun Prince – my brother's favorite player (I was a Big Ben man. That's working out great for me, by the way.) - is now on the USA basketball team.

And while I could care less about USA basketball and our latest attempt to prove US dominance at putting a ball through a hoop – bring back the amateurs, I say – I think Tayshaun is exactly the sort of player such a team needs.

As the article says, he's not a star, he's a second banana. But despite our best attempts to jigger the rules and pack teams with Dream Team superstars, we just can't send an All-Star team over and expect to win anymore. Beating international competition will take an actual team. And that means having complimentary players like Prince on the squad. My brother's long held that Tayshaun could go to another team and be a star himself but on the Pistons, he's a supporting player. Forget his championship credentials, the best attribute Prince brings to the team is the fact that he's willing to sacrifice his stats, to work within the system, and make his teammates better. At the same time, he's still good enough to raise his level of play when he needs to – as anybody who saw him run down Reggie Miller can attest. He'll do the fundamental things, the things that often get overlooked and go uncaptured in box score. It's something that's often overlooked when building a team but not everyone can be a star. You need that supporting cast around them before you can get things done.

And I can't think of a better example of that kind of player than Tayshaun Prince.

So, good choice.

More on the Supplemental Capitulation

Still mad. And now it's officially passed and awaiting the president's signature. And the supposed reason why? Because they were afraid if they didn't pass a bill that the President would rake them over the coals for it over the Memorial Day weekend.

The justification that this is a victory for the Democrats is, rightly, not passing the laugh test. This isn't red state country where our leaders can make things so just by wishing hard and spinning fast enough. We expect accountability here. Mr. Reid can claim all he wants that this bill is not a blank check. And his reason for doing so is, apparently, the benchmark provisions inserted by Mr. Warner. But, as far as I can tell, those aren't mandatory and can be ignored by the President – even without a signing statement. But that's okay because it's not like he willfully contradicts the legislature all the time.

The impression we're left with is that the Democrats caved in and gave the president everything he wanted. Maybe not the one that knowledgeable policy wonks who follow all this stuff the way some people follow the important things, like sports teams are going to hold but the one that's going to filter its way into the non-political programming. Where it really matters.

I'm relieved that I'm not the only voice asking why, exactly, are the Democrats are so afraid of Mr. Bush? This is a man who goes on television and says he's credible because “he reads the intelligence reports”. Who goes to a press conference and tells the reporters there that questioning his policies puts their (non-existent) children in danger. Who has an approval rating approaching the margin of error which falls every time he opens his mouth. Why does any consider him a threat?

I say let him go on the attack over benchmarks and timelines and troop withdrawals and everything else the public's been shown to approve. Let him try and defend his policies by thumping the bully pulpit harder and stomping his feet and holding his breath until he turns blue. Let him give everyone a glimpse into the alternate universe his bunker apparently rests in. And then remind people that this is the man who's supporting our troops by extending their deployments and denying them raises of a few dollars a month. And who's the only one to blame for their not being an appropriations bill. He's the one who wielded the veto pen. He's the one who took us to war. He's the one responsible.

Yes, he'll criticize you for that. But he's the opposition, if he's not criticizing you, you're probably doing something wrong. And when his only resort is trying to work the refs the way he's been doing lately, that means you're doing something right. But, oh well, I guess we'll find out if our Congressmen and women have the stones when September comes.

These Are the People Running Our Country?

Chilling stuff. Read it. But, basically, as I understand it, we might or might not attack Iran (Because it's not like we don't have enough wars going on already) and the State Department and DoD are squabbling about it. And, suprisingly enough, the diplomatic approach of State is the one Mr. Bush seems inclined towards. However, there's talk that the DoD side of the argument is contemplating an “end run” around the President. by inciting another nation, Israel, to attack or at least ratchet up the tensions with Iran. Which would tie the President's hands and lead our country into war.



Downright treasonous.

But, you know, I can believe it. Because the head of the DoD/Intelligence officials pushing for such a conflict? The Vice-President.

It's Mr. Cheney who, if you'll remember, holds to a singularly bizarre belief in an independent, extra-legal, imperial vice-presidential office.

Attorney Flap

A warning that I might go long here. Which given my normal trend towards verbosity is probably saying something. Just saying, beware the long post as I present my detailed thoughts on the Goodling testimony: These are the people running our country?

Also, the President threw another hissy fit - or press conference as he likes to call them – during which he complained about the investigation into the scandal continuing for so long and being, you know, politicized. Well, if he'd stop stonewalling, allow Karl Rove to testify, turn over the requested e-mails and documents, and, for once, be honest with the American public it just might go a bit faster.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Frosty Beverage Required

Man, it was hot out today. The first day it's been really swelteringly “middle of summer” hot rather than the rather pleasant warm spring weather. Really makes it hard to get things done during the day.

And I'd stay and say more but, again, just a week to Script Frenzy and I've been feeling the urge to write tonight. So, I'm going to get right back to it.

I Really Wish I Had The Time To Talk About This More

Case study in why we don't need to occupy Iraq indefinitely. Cultural Imperialism in action.

The Good Kind of Shrill

I, like many liberals, am pretty disappointed in the latest appropriations bill. Which is, as I see it, everything the president wanted with only a milksop towards benchmarks in a measure that Mr. Bush can and will wave away with a flick of his imperious hand.

I understand the Congress has to deal with a willful and disrespectful executive with a bunker mentality, unlikely to change its mind or offer a compromise any time soon. I understand that this war can't be halted on a dime and it takes a long time to right the ship of state after it's been so expertly driven into the shore by the Bush Administration – their only expertise seems to be in ruining thing, after all. And I understand that the legislative battles have to be waged slowly so I've been content to wait and let the pressure mount. But, frankly, by this point I expected more results. This war, this president, this course, is deeply unpopular so I don't understand why there's such timidity on the part of the Democratic leadership. Beyond that they're still listening to all the wrong people.

But, really, it's been hard to put my outrage into words. Thankfully, on tonight's Countdown, Mr. Olberman saved me the trouble. His commentaries have been, well, special in the past but, hot damn, he was breathing fire while his eyes went all swirly tonight. “Shameful and bi-partisan betrayal”, indeed. We cannot afford, by any unit of measure that matters, to wait until another September for yet another showdown on this. It's time. Now. To end this. And if it takes sending another message to our supposed leaders, well, then, it's time to make our voices heard once again.

I Enjoy Being Right, Sometimes

Interesting article in the Washington Post about how the Democrats (Or the Liberals, the Progressives, or whatever it is we're supposed to call ourselves before Rush, Hannity, and the rest of the chattering idiots figure out how to shame us with it and force us to rebrand once again.) have established a stronger foothold on the web than their conservative counterparts. Which, with the spirit withering effects of the past six or more years, it's not hard to see why people have flocked to the web in order to find like-minded souls. And, it should prove a good resource for years to come.

However, what caught my eye is down at the bottom of the first page (online, anyway.) around the tenth paragraph or so. Namely, this passage:

"What was once seen as a liability for Democrats and progressives in the past -- they couldn't get 20 people to agree to the same thing, they could never finish anything, they couldn't stay on message -- is now an asset," Leyden said. "All this talking and discussing and fighting energizes everyone, involves everyone, and gets people totally into it."
-Washington Post, Online - GOP Is Playing Catch-up May 21st, 2007

Which, as an idea I've long believed myself, is nice to see getting widerspread acceptance. I've been struggling for months to put it into writing but, basically, the chief advantage the Democratic Party has over the Republicans is how distributed it is. As Mr. Zuniga goes on to say in the following 'graph, he functions as his site's “mayor” with everyone else “doing their own thing, managing their own projects, while I keep the plumbing running.”

As someone who's had some experience running and maintaining large sites (Though, of course, nothing on the scale or success of Daily Kos, of course.) I think that's an apt metaphor. Not only for how to successfully ride herd over the assembled masses of the internets, but how to guide and nuture any group.

Our leaders aren't there to guide us by the hand, to make our decisions for us or to dictate our course of action, they're put in place to keep the machinery running while we all enjoy the benefits. And we all contribute. Motives for taking part matter less than participating in whatever it is that lets our many various interests find a common purpose, a common cause, and a common destination. Some people are out to make a profit, some people are out to be generous, some people you have no clue, but, as a leader, what you care about is the final result. That somehow, someway, the machinery finds a way to keep ticking and you wake up the next day with things better, somehow, someway, somewhere, than they the day before. Your role, the job of leadership is to establish the rules, to enforce them if necessary, that make all that possible. To do the policing, to put out the fires, to make the trains run on time, to sit people down and work out their differences, and to somehow make it all work while everyone gets to do their own thing. It might be easier to rule by fiat, to grab every and any shred of power because no one else can be trusted with it, but it's nowhere near as effective – happy cows give more milk. And there's no way to make people more happy, more productive, than to let them have a stake, a say, in the outcome of things.

Whether that's for the squabbling fanboys and girls I've had personal experiences with or for a broad, national political party without a single, unifying principle or even a vast, democratic nation, it's as good a governing principle as any I've seen for being diverse and inclusive. The leaders serve the people, the people power everything – it's been called a lot of things, but I like “democracy” the best. Can't beat a classic.

But more than that, I think it's a possible way forward for the whole liberal/progressive movement as a whole. A unifying force that anyone who'd fall under the Democratic umbrella could accept. A message – that government is there to keep the machinery of modern civilization running, to ensure a basic fairness and equality whether it's in business or civil rights or whatever other issues you might like not to tell you how to live your life. You want to be part of it, great, join in and help out whereever and however you can.

Such an arrangement isn't stable. If by stable you mean everyone's on the same page and agrees about absolutely everything. It's anathema to the totalitarian mindsets that are attracted to conservatism, for one. And, as the quoted passage says, it's been painted as a flaw in the Democratic makeup for so long, it's almost a given. Internalized in the liberal narrative. That we're weak and disunified, that we squabble, bicker, and can never seem to speak with one voice.

But that's not a weakness. That's a strength. We speak in many voices. We're a choir. Singing to ourselves, in harmonies and resonance, each of us with only part of the overall tune. It's beautiful when we sing about the same thing because not only do we know how to disagree, how to argue and fight for our points and beliefs, we also know how to agree. How to compromise and find a way forward. In short, we're practiced at the kind of things you have to do to, well, govern.

There's no one version of the Democratic party. No one line for everyone to tow. And that's a good thing. Because it certainly beats the alternative.