Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Squad Command

IGN offers a hands-on preview of THQ's Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command, a turn-based, tactical squad combat game. I'm looking forward to this title because the gameplay is going to be incredibly similar to Microprose's X-COM: UFO Defense. I have good reason to think that THQ has done an excellent job on this title -- THQ is the publisher responsible for the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War series and Company of Heroes series of real-time strategy games, all of which are excellent.

Additionally, this should be a huge improvement over the PC's Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate, the first turn-based, tactical squad combat game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. While Chaos Gate isn't a bad game, it's very buggy and difficult to run under Windows XP.

I'll be getting this title for the Nintendo DS instead of the Sony PSP (in fact, I got a DS specifically because of this game) because the stylus and touch-screen are much better suited for this genre. While the PSP has better graphics, I'm more interested in the functionality that the DS offers. Looks like I made a good choice, too, because Front Mission is also going to be released for the DS -- which is another turn-based, tactical squad combat game, but instead of a squad of soldiers, Front Mission gives the player a squad of customizable war robots called "Wanzers" (walking panzer, i.e. walking tank).

Now I just have to hope that the X-COM DS homebrew project sees completion!

Update: IGN has a review for Front Mission DS.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Anti-Choice Summed Up In Four Panels

The Golden Compass

I've come across the movie The Golden Compass, set to be released in theatres on December 7, 2007. The movie is a fantasy-themed story about the adventures of a young girl. The girl is given an object called "the golden compass," which is said to give a glimpse of the future. She is then approached by the leader of the Magisterium -- a group which aims to control all of humanity. Her adventure includes talking animals, armor-clad warrior bears, and a world of witches.

Why has this movie perked my interest? Because it's based on English writer Phillip Pullman's book trilogy His Dark Materials, a series of children's books based on anti-religious themes. Of course, such material has already drawn the ire of Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League and all-around douche-bag. On October 9, 2007, Donohue told interviewer John Gibson of FOX News:

Look, the movie is based on the least offensive of the three books. And they have dumbed down the worst elements in the movie because they don't want to make Christians angry and they want to make money. Our concern is this, unsuspecting Christian parents may want to take their kid to the movie, it opens up December 7th and say, this wasn't troubling, then we'll buy the books. So the movie is the bait for the books which are profoundly anti-Catholic and at the same time selling atheism.
So Donohue is basically arguing that the filmmakers are trying to "trick" parents into letting their kids see this film, and then they'll buy the books for their kids and their kids will be "baited" into atheism.

Wow, that's fucking rich coming from Donohue. Isn't this what religion does in general? Children are tricked into believing in religion because their parents unquestionably subject them to such nonsense throughout their entire childhoods, while also telling their children that such nonsense is literally true. Most children are never given the opportunity to explore multiple religions, or to hear arguments against religion. This behavior is the definition of indoctrination. And now Donohue points the finger at Pullman, charging Pullman with the same behavior that religion has expressed for millenniums? Ha!

I think this is great. It's time we aimed literature at children that encourages thinking, instead of the rigid doctrines of religion. Besides, if religion is true, then no amount of criticism can deter humanity, right? What are the religious so afraid of?

Cost of the Conflict in Iraq

Friday, October 19, 2007

John Rambo

Holy shit!

Failing on Sex Education

Today's Baltimore Sun has an article about House Appropriations Committee Chair David R. Obey's decision to push for increased funding of abstinence-only education in public schools:

President Bush, in his budget request, asked for a $28 million increase in community-based grants, which Obey has obliged.
What's the problem here? Obey is the Democratic Representative from Wisconsin. What are the Democrats thinking? Obey claims to be taking this strategy because he thinks that he "can pick up Republican support for much bigger health and social welfare programs that the White House wants to cut." If history is any indicator, Republicans are very unlikely to make such a compromise -- it's more likely that they will take this win from Obey and give Democrats nothing in return. Not only does it help them pass legislation that they support, but it makes the Democratically-led Congress look ineffective when Republicans block the health and social welfare programs that Democrats support. This is a terrible strategy.

Not only that, though, but why are Democrats even considering to endorse legislation that runs counter to the current science on sex education? Aren't we trying to fight the anti-intellectualism of the Right? We have complained for nearly 7 years that the Bush administration puts ideology ahead of science. What is Obey thinking?

At least Henry Waxman, Democratic Representative from California, gets it:
I've made clear to my colleagues that I don't believe abstinence-only is an effective approach, or that it makes sense to increase funding. I haven't been able to prevail on the issue of appropriations but plan to continue to fight for better programs for youth.
Keep up the good fight Mr. Waxman!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The New Feudalism

Via Mike the Mad Biologist over at Scienceblogs.com, I came across this from Mahablog:

Those of us who were children in the 1950s and 1960s got so used to economic times getting better and better that we assumed that was the way the world would always be. Any slowdowns were just temporary glitches. In the early 1980s, when mortgage rates went through the roof, lots of my contemporaries cheerfully took out balloon mortgages because of course in five years they’d be making a lot more money. But, as a rule, they didn’t. Now I think most people have stopped expecting. They’re just hoping to hang on to what they have.

I’ve believed for a long time that much of America’s prosperity — whatever’s left of it, anyway — has been floating on the wealth created in the postwar years. That’s when all those veterans got college degrees on the GI Bill and went out and started businesses or created new products. That’s when all those middle-class couples, booming with babies, bought their first houses with mortgages subsidized by the U.S. government. That left with them income to buy new refrigerators and cars and television sets, growing the refrigerator and car and television set industries in America. It was win/win for everybody. [emphasis mine]
The bolded section is what those on the Right -- arbiters of "supply-side economics," "voodoo economics," and "trickle-down theory" -- would like to pretend has nothing to do with economic growth. The principle is quite simple; pay workers enough to purchase what they produce, and the economy will grow. Mahablog quotes Rick Wolff:
From 1973 to 2005, this is what happened to the 80 percent of US workers in non-supervisory jobs. Their hourly wages — adjusted for inflation — rose from $15.76 to $16.11. That is, over a 32 year period, most US workers enjoyed a stunning 2 percent increase in what their hourly pay could buy. Because their work weeks shortened over those years, their real weekly pay — what they could actually afford for a week’s pay — actually fell from $581.67 to $543.65, a decline of 6.5 percent. This means that workers’ wages could buy less in 2005 than in 1973.

Over the same thirty years, US workers produced 75 percent more. In the language of economics, that’s how much output per worker — “productivity” — rose. Corporations got 75 percent more goods and services produced per worker. They sold that extra output and thus got much more revenue and profit per worker employed. Yet what they paid those workers did not rise. Stagnant wages did not allow the workers to buy any of the extra output they produced.

The numbers on productivity and real wages before then — from 1945 to 1975 — were very different. Productivity rose much faster then than afterward. But the big difference is what happened to real wages: hourly, they rose 75 percent from 1947 to 1972, while weekly they rose 61 percent. In other words, US workers wages then rose with their higher productivity — exactly what stopped happening after the mid-1970s.

The welfare state economy of 1945 to 1975 was driven by two interconnected fears: of lapsing back into the Great Depression and of succumbing to socialism. History reduced those fears enough so that, after 1975, business could undo the New Deal and go back to the pre-1929 gaps between rich and poor. Most paid commentators cheer the business reaction as if it were good for everyone, but workers suffering the new sub-prime economy may reckon differently. The explosion of workers’ debts has postponed that reckoning. So too have fundamentalism, escapism, and the noise from all those commentators.
Read the whole thing.

Radiohead Update

It's already been reported that Radiohead's new album, In Rainbows, has sold approximately 1.2 million copies. Gigwise speculates that the average price paid has been about £1; however, an internet survey conducted by music industry newsletter Record of the Day found that the average price paid has been about £4, according to an article by The Times.

This means that Radiohead has made between $2.4 million and $9.6 million of pure profit on this album. There's no record label or contract that splits up the revenue.

So when will some other major label acts follow in Radiohead's footsteps? Can you imagine a world in which the cash cow artists that record labels depend upon abandon the labels -- a world in which the capitalism is taken out of the art?

I'm looking forward to see how this story unfolds.

Monday, October 1, 2007

"...To This Decaying Business Model"

Time Magazine writes today that Radiohead's new album is going to be self-released. That's nothing new, but here's what makes it interesting:

In Rainbows will be released as a digital download available only via the band's web site, Radiohead.com. There's no label or distribution partner to cut into the band's profits — but then there may not be any profits. Drop In Rainbows' 15 songs into the on-line checkout basket and a question mark pops up where the price would normally be. Click it, and the prompt "It's Up To You" appears. Click again and it refreshes with the words "It's Really Up To You" — and really, it is. It's the first major album whose price is determined by what individual consumers want to pay for it. And it's perfectly acceptable to pay nothing at all.
Simply awesome. I'd be interested in seeing the data collected, as well as the average/median price paid for the digital download. This has the potential to dispel any myths about file-sharing and bittorrent, especially if it turns out that many people will pay a reasonable price for an artist's music if the buyer knows that his/her money will be going directly to the artist, not a record label.

And this quote from singer Thom Yorke sums up nicely what I think of record labels these days:
I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'Fuck you' to this decaying business model.
A decaying business model it is. Record labels are parasites on the hard work of (usually) talented performers. With the rise of digital music, mp3 players, the internet, and a continued decline in the sale of physical copies of music (i.e. CDs), there really doesn't seem to be a purpose for record labels anymore. Artists can now do almost everything that a record label would traditionally handle -- production can be done cheaply with a home computer and the right software; distribution, as well as advertising, can be handled through the artist's website or a social-networking website. Add to that the fact that digital files of music are a much more popular method of collecting music than the purchase of physical copies of music, and the expenses of distribution are a lot lower than they have been in the past.

In a related note, I want to point out that Polyvinyl Records is doing something interesting with digital downloads. If you buy the vinyl LP, Polyvinyl will give you a code to download a digital version of the record from their website. A very cool idea, and one that I am particularly taken with, since I am an avid vinyl enthusiast, but I'd also like to make a digital archive of my records. This just makes that process a little easier!

The end of the Time article raises another interesting point:
Meanwhile, as record sales decline, the concert business is booming. In July, Prince gave away his album Planet Earth for free in the U.K. through the downmarket Mail on Sunday newspaper. At first he was ridiculed. Then he announced 21 consecutive London concert dates — and sold out every one of them.
This is nothing new either, since artists have always made more money on tour than through the sale of records. Just read Steve Albini's "The Problem with Music," which lays out in stark terms just how fucked the average major label act really is.

Once artists set up their own distribution networks through the internet, outside of the music business, there will really be no reason left for record labels to exist anymore. Except for the fact that these labels still hold copyright over most of their catalogs, their demise is almost certain if Radiohead's experiment works.