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A Bit of Perspective

Posted in Blog Posts by Bryan Stratton on August 24, 2009

And while I’m talking about the homebrew community (which is too often used as a fig leaf by software and media pirates), here’s a rather stunning article from today’s Gizmodo:

image © Gizmodo

image © Gizmodo

I’m outraged that the Obama administration is supporting the RIAA on the case against Jammie Thomas, a single mother of four who has to pay them $1.92 million for downloading songs. That’s more expensive than murder and six other crimes[…]

Heck, you can do all these crimes, and the total amount will be only $2.2 million. Of course, you can’t really quantify years spent in prison using dollars, but I don’t care. The case of Jammie—and many like hers—is still absolutely outrageous.

Now look, I’m rather a fan of the Obama administration in general, and I don’t even want to think about how much of my work has been stolen over the years, from the software I’ve helped to create to the strategy guides that wind up retyped on FAQ sites a week after they come out. But this is silly.

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Shadow Complex

Posted in Blog Posts by Bryan Stratton on August 21, 2009

Last entry of the day. My friend Christian wrote a simply amazing piece for Gamasutra.com on whether or not progressive-minded gamers should consider boycotting Shadow Complex, a game based on concepts from author Orson Scott Card, who is an active campaigner against gay rights.

From the article:

While I feel passionately about the issue — it’s a matter of public record on my personal blog, Twitter, and Facebook, which are all read by members of the industry — it has nothing to do with “The Art & Business of Making Games”, which is Gamasutra’s mission and motto.

What does, however, is an examination of a boycott of a game, arising because some members of the gaming community feel strongly that one of the creative talents behind it is too strongly linked to a political cause.

My delight at reading such a thoughtful piece of true gaming journalism is equalled only by my disappointment that it’s such an exception to the rule. Hopefully the games biz will continue to grow and mature to the point where that’s no longer the case.

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Making Sense of the Health Care Debate

Posted in Blog Posts by Bryan Stratton on August 20, 2009

I’m not going to use this blog to argue for or against the various philosophies of health care reform that are currently being debated in town halls filled with gun-toting lunatics across this country. But since finding and affording quality health care can be extremely tricky for us self-employed types, I figure that it can’t hurt to at least try to make it clear what exactly is being proposed (and, perhaps more importantly, what isn’t).

Factcheck.org, a financially independent, non-partisan voters’ advocacy group, published an excellent article debunking seven of the biggest myths about the health care reforms under discussion. Regardless of your politics, there’s probably something in here that will disappoint or offend you, which is usually the best sign of true non-partisanship.

Also, PDXers who are uninsured or underinsured might want to take a look at the above YouTube video of my friend Sandra’s presentation at Ignite Portland 6. Unfortunately, she doesn’t offer any quick or easy solutions to the healthcare crisis (then again, it wouldn’t be much of a crisis if those solutions existed, would it?). But it’s a great presentation, and knowing some of this stuff ahead of time is probably better than finding it out at the worst possible moment.

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Ready For Prime Time?

Posted in Blog Posts by Bryan Stratton on August 19, 2009

From today’s Gawker:

Have you seen the insane video of a woman yelling “Heil Hitler” at an Israeli-Jew who supports health care reform at a recent town hall meeting in Vegas? Well, her name is Pam Pilger. She’s on Facebook.

Not only is she on Facebook, but there’s a pair of YouTube videos of her delivering the offending exclamation and being interviewed just prior to the meeting.

Now, honestly, I couldn’t care less about what she said. Unless she’s doing it during the first half of the 20th century, a woman shouting about Hitler is the definition of a wingnut. And a wingnut is the rhetorical equivalent of roadkill: against your better judgment, you’re compelled to sneak a glance at it, and you wind up seeing something that can’t be unseen and makes you feel a little bit worse about the world you live in.

What interests me is the reaction to what she did. Ten or fifteen years ago, this would have been nothing more than a local news story. There’s a chance that it might have made the CBS Evening News, if it was a slow news day and the broadcast needed some sensational B-roll footage.

But now, thanks to YouTube and a legion of bloggers, it took Pamela Pilger less than four days to become a bona fide worldwide Internet Celebrity. Google News has about 15 articles for “pamela pilger” right now, and the first one went up only 20 hours ago. There are over 1200 hits for “pamela pilger hitler” on Google.

I have to wonder if she ever imagined her outburst would attract that kind of attention? She at least had the sense to lock down her Facebook account, but is that something she had the foresight to do when she first signed up, or did she do it after the hate mail started pouring in? And does the attention scare her, or is she thrilled that her soapbox is larger than she ever dreamed possible?

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HuffPo Goes (Anti?) Social

Posted in Blog Posts by Bryan Stratton on August 17, 2009

Hmm… the Huffington Post has just launched a “Social News” Facebook app, with the goal of linking you up with other HuffPo-reading friends so you can “dive deeper into the stories you like best.”

As a good Portland lefty, I check out HuffPo pretty regularly, but I’m not sure I’ll be adding this one. Not only do I dislike adding Facebook apps in general (I think that they muck up FB’s clean design and make it more like MySpace, which I fled some time ago), I think this runs the risk of turning Facebook into even more of an echo chamber than it already is.

If you haven’t done so already, check out Riva Richmond’s New York Times article, “Does Social Networking Breed Social Division?” and consider whether HuffPo’s well-intentioned app might be paving a road to somewhere we don’t want to wind up.

And… Exhale

Posted in Blog Posts by Bryan Stratton on November 5, 2008

I know that Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention got a lot of people buzzing about his presidential potential, but I wasn’t one of them. Honestly, I never got around to watching that speech until the very end of 2007, after he’d already announced his candidacy. And I didn’t really consider him to be a viable candidate until he won the Iowa caucus in January of 2008.

Going into Iowa, I had no dog in the hunt. I just wanted the strongest Democrat to come out of the primaries and hand the Republicans an epic ass-kicking in November. But Obama’s Iowa performance changed a couple of things for me.

First, his victory showed me that he was a viable candidate, which was absolutely essential for me to be able to take him seriously. I’ve been a Red Sox fan for as long as I can remember, which means I spent the first three decades of my life passionately supporting a lost cause. It’s a terrible thing to have most of your idealism beaten out of you by the time you’re thirty, but that’s what New England sports teams will do to you.

Second, as I listened to Obama’s victory speech in Iowa, I began to realize that I didn’t want to just root against the Republican party anymore, and I didn’t want to back another traditional candidate and go through the motions of another predictable campaign. We’d been down that road before, stuck with candidates whose primary selling point was their “electability.” I didn’t want to have to force myself to get excited about another safe candidate who wouldn’t turn off voters by showing any hint of their genuine personality. That was a strategy founded on playing defense, and the Republicans had proven themselves to be too formidable of an offensive force (in every sense of the word) for that to work.

I’ve always said that I only want three things in a president: I want him to be smarter than me, I want him to work harder than me, and I want him to be a better person than me. And after eight years of a president who was none of those things, I wasn’t willing to settle for someone who only had one or two of them going for him.

So when I saw Obama and listened to him speak, I realized that I’d found my guy: a self-made man from humble beginnings who knew what it was like to attend some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world, and to have to deal with the crushing burden of debt that comes with it. He was cool under pressure, graceful in defeat, humble in victory, and he ran a tough campaign without resorting to demonizing his opponents, no matter how infrequently that courtesy was returned.

Most importantly, he spoke to us like we were adults, rather than oversimplifying every issue to a fundamental struggle between good and evil. The speech he gave on race in response to the Jeremiah Wright dust-up was exactly what I’d been waiting to hear a politician say for years. Not necessarily the content of it; I haven’t spent my guilty white liberal life flogging myself for the sins of my fathers. I’d just never seen a politician walk straight into a political minefield like that and speak plainly to the American public, gambling that we were smart and mature enough to understand that this was a conversation that we needed to have, and that it couldn’t be conducted in soundbites.

Contrast that to what we’ve had to deal with for the last decade and a half. Ever since the “Republican Revolution” of 1994 and the rise of right-wing radio and FOX News, political discourse has been dragged straight into the gutter and kicked senseless by the steel-toed boots of ignorance and bigotry. The Republican Party has become the party of selfishness, of intolerance, of small-mindedness, and of fear. Conservatism in this country has been reduced to declaring yourself the “Real America” and blaming all of your problems on somebody else: Muslims, gays, atheists, immigrants, Hollywood, the liberal elite. Bomb them, legislate against them, demonize them, deport them, waterboard them, shout them down, beat them up. But whatever you do, don’t ever turn a critical eye on yourself, or you’ll wind up on the outside of a group that sorts everything into two categories: with us, or against us.

The worst part about it is, it’s an infectious attitude. When I see “my side” being attacked with those methods, my first instinct is to respond in kind with hatred and intolerance. And, more often than not, I give into it and regret it later.

Which is why it’s important to me to have a president who’s a better person than I am, who doesn’t just hit back harder and louder, but doesn’t wind up getting walked all over either. I need to be reminded that you don’t always need to be a dick to get your way, and that maybe we’re all a little smarter and better-intentioned than I’ve been conditioned to believe.

I know that’s a lot to ask of anyone, and it’ll be a minor miracle if Obama doesn’t wind up utterly crushed under the weight of the expectations that have been placed upon him. But at this moment in history, I pretty much believe that anything’s possible, and I’m glad that we have a president-elect who’s a living, breathing embodiment of it.

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Predictions

Posted in Blog Posts by Bryan Stratton on November 4, 2008

Electoral Vote: 364-174, Obama/Biden

Popular Vote: 52-47, Obama/Biden (+1% third-party)

Senate: 59-40, Democrats (including two Dem-leaning Independents), with a run-off for Saxby Chambliss’ seat in GA

(All predictions pulled straight out of my overly hopeful ass.)

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My Dad

Posted in Blog Posts by Bryan Stratton on March 4, 2008

Today marks my dad’s last day of work, after 13 years as Barre City’s clerk/treasurer and approximately 87 years of full-time employment, during which he never called in sick and walked uphill to and from work in blinding snowstorms every day.

Rich just sent me a link to a really great article that our hometown paper ran on him today.

The man is an absolute machine, a champion of the people, and I hope to be just like him someday.

(And by that, I mean retired.)

Congratulations, Dad. I love you.

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He’s Endorsing the Brother, Brother

Posted in Blog Posts by Bryan Stratton on January 30, 2008

Last night, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Hulk Hogan enthusiastically endorsed Barack Obama for president. The jokes practically write themselves, which is good news for Jason Linkins of the Huffington Post and snarky political bloggers everywhere.

A couple of things worth noting, though: Professional wrestling (and the wrestlers themselves) tend to skew conservative and Republican in a big way. The Rock spoke at the 2000 Republican National Convention, Ric Flair has been campaigning for Mike Huckabee, giant monster nerd Kane has endorsed Ron Paul’s presidential run, a number of former wrestlers have campaigned as Republican or Libertarian candidates for local offices, and during the recount fiasco of the 2000 election, announcer Jerry Lawler repeatedly asked “why won’t Al Gore just concede?” during live broadcasts of Monday Night Raw.

Also, the CNN broadcast of the South Carolina Democratic primary debate pulled in 5 million viewers, the largest television audience for a primary debate in history. That same night, the Hogan-hosted episode of American Gladiators pulled in twice as many viewers. Call it junk food for thought…

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Why I Voted Against Measure 50

Posted in Blog Posts by Bryan Stratton on November 7, 2007

So I didn’t mention anything about this before the election, because I was on the fence about it, and I didn’t want to unduly influence anyone to vote a certain way when I wasn’t sure that I was completely comfortable with my own position. But I voted against Measure 50, which would have modified the Oregon constitution to add about $0.80 in taxes to each pack of cigarettes sold in the state. The proceeds were to be spent on the Children’s Health Fund, to expand medical coverage to Oregon kids who didn’t have it and whose families couldn’t afford it.

I wasn’t even going to write about it, until I read this story this morning, in which supporters of the measure blamed its defeat on an advertising blitz paid for by tobacco companies. And that pissed me off, because it makes it sound as if those of us who voted against the measure (and it seems like there were a lot of us) are just ignorant tools of Big Tobacco.

For the record, I hate smoking. I smoked a pack and a half a day for seven years and quit cold turkey four and a half years ago. The closest I’ve come to having a cigarette since then was when I accidentally took a swig out of a beer bottle that my brother had been using as an ashtray, which was as unpleasant as it sounds. Now that I’ve got a sense of smell again, I hate leaving a bar or club at the end of the night and smelling like a chimney, and if I have my druthers, I’ll choose to go to night spots where smoking is not allowed (although I don’t believe in legislating this, but that’s another rant for another day). The vast majority of my friends are not smokers, and I wish that the ones that still do smoke would wake up tomorrow and never take another drag again. And finally, I believe that the tobacco companies are drug pushers and cancer merchants who murdered their most loyal customers by misleading entire generations of smokers into believing that the health risks associated with smoking were insignificant.

Hopefully my non-smoker credentials are in order now. So why do I side with Big Tobacco over poor sick kids?

Well, I don’t. I side with smokers, because I used to be one. And from a smoker’s perspective, anti-smoking rhetoric is shrill, condescending, often poorly-informed and occasionally downright hostile. It’s practically fundamentalist. There’s no room for argument or questioning the science behind their conclusions, because to do so means that you are pro-cancer and a dupe of Big Tobacco. It’s as if everyone with pink lungs and a big mouth thinks that smoking is the sole reason that humans don’t live forever. In today’s society, there are basically three groups of people that it’s okay to demonize: fat people, Nazis and smokers. And the fat people are forming advocacy groups.

This whole measure was conceptually flawed and relied on emotional rather than rational arguments. It played upon the existing dislike of smoking (and, by extension, smokers) by saying that we can take care of sick kids by taxing something that you already don’t like. All you have to do is take money away from filthy smokers, and we can have healthy children! It’s a double feel-good!

Well, here’s the thing: smokers are addicts, and a lot of them tend to be found on the lower end of the income scale. What good is expanding health care for poor kids if their single mother–who’s just barely not getting by as it is–now has to come up with an additional $40 a month for her habit? And please don’t use the excuse that higher-priced cigarettes will convince smokers to quit. That’s the sort of logic that non-addicts come up with. Addiction isn’t logical. When you’re in the grip of it, it’s your top priority. You will do what it takes to feed it. You will not quit until you are ready to quit. I smoked for years when I couldn’t afford it. I quit because I was ready to quit, and while it was nice to have the extra money in my pocket, it wasn’t the reason I did it. I don’t know anyone who quit smoking for purely financial reasons. My brother claims to have done just that, but I think the fact that he quit right about the time he started living with a cute non-smoker had just as much, if not more, to do with it.

And even if the price of cigarettes did affect their consumption, financially punishing a specific class of people for their lifestyle choices is insulting and should be recognized for the bigotry that it is. Everyone has vices that reduce their quality of life. Unless you slavishly adhere to a healthy and balanced diet, avoid alcohol and trans fats, regularly exercise, eschew a stressful career and lifestyle, avoid a sedentary life, don’t engage in activities that carry a disproportionate risk of injury and abstain from sex (which always carries some risk of STD transmission, no matter how you do it), please don’t try to force other people to lead a healthier life. Of course, you can always make the innocent-victim-of-second-hand-smoke argument, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the dangers of second-hand smoke to healthy adults are dramatically overstated.

Finally, although I’m sure that some kids who would have qualified for this expanded health care would have needed it because White Trash Mom and Deadbeat Dad insist on smoking two packs a day inside their double-wide with all of the windows closed, cigarette smoke is not the only reason that kids get sick and need health care! Childhood obesity is supposed to be an epidemic, so why didn’t this measure include a tax on potato chips and McDonald’s? I might work in the video game industry, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not the healthiest thing in the world for a kid to sit on his ass for five hours a day playing video games, so how about a $10 surcharge for every video game sold in Oregon? There’s ample evidence that a vegan diet can be extremely unhealthy for children. How about a tax on all foods that aren’t meat or animal-derived?

Here’s the reason why: because the Oregon legislators who pushed for this bill know that nicotine is one of the most powerfully addictive drugs in the world. They don’t want to stop Big Tobacco from pushing drugs, they’re just the pimps who want a cut of the profits. I’m glad that this bill went down in flames, and I hope that the Legislature finds a fairer and more reasonable way to extend health care to those who need it most.

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