Tag Archives: politics

Republia Times: possibly the best game about newspapering ever made

Update: I guess I’m not being completely hyperbolic; Mr. Pope’s “Republia Times” is nominated for “Most Significant Impact” and “Best Gameplay” awards at this year’s Games for Change Festival…not bad for a game he made in 48 hours as practice.

Ever wondered what it’s like to edit a newspaper and influence what the public thinks and cares about? The small, but financially stable Republia Times has an opening for editor-in-chief. The job duties are simply “increase [the public’s] loyalty by editing the Republia Times carefully. Pick only stories that highlight the good things about Republia and its government.”

“The Republia Times” was created by developer Lucas Pope and is as sharp as satire of newspapering as I’ve ever seen in the gaming world. Its crude mechanics and appearance may be off-putting, but as a whole, “The Republia Times” is astonishing considering that Pope wrote it to practice for a 48-hour game development competition. Not only that, but it was his first Flash game, which, if you’ve never tried learning the Flash development environment, is astonishing in itself.

I don’t think Pope has been a newspaper editor before, either, but he manages to capture the cynicism behind modern and classic yellow journalism: political articles bore the readership, weather and sports attract it. The twist here is that the Republia Times is the mouthpiece of the state, and so you have to balance the interesting tabloid material (“C&J Tie the Knot!”) with boilerplate to make the government look good (“Latest poll shows broad satisfaction with government leaders”). There’s a little mini-Tetris challenge in fitting the stories in (you choose how much real-estate each article gets) before the clock runs out, and an additional plot twist halfway through the game.

The game is probably too cynical for most journalists, at least the ones who don’t fancy themselves government spokespeople, but even the most idealistic of editors will get a kick out how Pope manages to distill the profession into something so simplistic. That Pope manages to make it entertaining and thought-provoking despite the limits he was working with a notable achievement. I can’t think of any news-related game that has been better executed, though, admittedly, the field is small. The Knight Foundation News Challenge has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to journalism-themed games. If I were them, I’d give Pope six-figures to make something, even though it may be more subversive than the journalism industry would prefer.

I’ve actually buried the lede here. I only came across the Republia Times, which Pope created last year, because I read about his upcoming game, “Papers, Please!“, which puts you in the shoes of a border inspector in a Cold War-era nation. It’s only in playable beta (free for Mac and PC), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s my favorite game of the year. The trailer speaks for itself:

Pope says the game will hopefully be out this summer. If you’re on Steam, give Pope an upvote on Greenlight.

Ron McNiel (R-Fl. candidate) shows how teaching religion in schools is done

From Northwest Florida Daily News, this report of U.S. House candidate Ron McNiel teaching high school students how to make compromises on a heated First Amendment issue:

“That religion is against everything America stands for. If we have to let them build it, make them build it nine stories underground, so we can walk above it as citizens and Christians.”

As the Daily Show/Colbert Report’s Indecision blog notes, “You can’t un-read that, sorry.”

Ron Paul and his family

For as interested I was in Ron Paul during his plucky, unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid, I’ve been far less up-to-speed on his son Rand Paul, who stands a greater chance of winning and impacting American politics from a Kentucky Senate position.

That said, I loved reading about the family dynamics in this New York Times profile, and it reminded me why I respected Ron Paul even if I could never be confident that his policies would work at all on a national scale:

In keeping with their position as the First Family of Libertarianism, the Pauls of Lake Jackson, Tex., did not have many rules around their home.

“Behave yourself and be polite” is how Representative Ron Paul describes his regulatory philosophy about rearing five children. Mr. Paul, a Republican, and his wife of 53 years, Carol, never believed in assigned chores or mandates.

They did not give out allowances, which they viewed as a parental version of a government handout. They did not believe in strict curfews; Mr. Paul says that unintended consequences — like speeding home to beat the clock — can result from excessive meddling from a central authority.

I’m not a parent, but it’s hard to imagine any parent being strongly against the ideals of the Paulian parenting philosophy, in principle. So the implications of how the Pauls ran their family is a microcosm, perhaps, of how their policies might and might not work for the country as a whole: what works well in middle-class Texas (the NYT describes the neighborhood they’ve lived in, since 1968, as “where the streets are named for trees, flowers and fauna (the Pauls live on Blossom)“) may not be practical in Chicago or Fresno or New York City.

Still, I admire how Ron Paul strongly practiced what he preached: a conservative Christian who not only hasn’t been caught in sexual scandal, a military man who wants to cut the military-industrial complex, and a principled man who allows his intellectual principles overrule his personal moral proclivities. Does any other exist in our current political system?

This clip of him debating the War on Drugs on the Morton Downey Jr. show, a talk show that looks like how Jerry Springer would run the Newshour, is what piqued my interest in Ron Paul. If you watched it on mute, you’d think the smug, squarely-dressed elderly man was lecturing the crowd of angry, pot-smoking college kids on the dangers of drugs.

Quite the opposite:

The full segment of the show is just a wondrous thing to watch, entertaining, thought-provoking, and awesome overall 80’ness. Can you think of any contemporary U.S. politician being told, by the host, that he deserves to be puked on, and then called a white, elitist potatohead, and then respond by not only NOT walking out in anger, but in complete sentences with multi-syllabic words? (Chuck Rangel makes a cameo, but only by phone)

I don’t know enough about Rand Paul, or his opponent, to know who would be better for the Kentucky Senate seat (my first guess is that he doesn’t have the intellectual rigor and commitment and wisdom, yet, of his father)…but the thoughful, side-burns-styled Ron Paul of the 80s (who doesn’t seem to have changed much in policies since then) couldn’t be the worst thing this country’s had in its esteemed Senate.

What’s so Scary About Elena Kagan’s Family?

This Gawker post (“Why Is the White House Hiding Elena Kagan’s Family?“) is tongue-in-cheek, but the NYT City Blog post it refers to leaves you with a little discomfort about the Obama administration’s relationship with a free press.

The New York Times received permission on Tuesday from Hunter College High School in Manhattan, Elena Kagan’s alma mater, to observe a constitutional law class there taught by her brother Irving. We thought it would be intriguing to watch the give and take between Mr. Kagan, who is known as a passionate and interactive educator, and his students on his first day back after witnessing his sister’s nomination in Washington.

Mr. Kagan, who is also a Hunter alumnus, did not have a problem with the idea
, a school spokeswoman said, but she added that all media requests now had to be given final approval by the White House.

Joshua Earnest, a White House spokesman, said that the administration was “uncomfortable with the idea at this time.” The White House called Hunter, and Ms. Halpern said later Tuesday it could not permit the class observation. A formal proposal has been submitted to the White House, which the administration requested. They asked that it outline the intent and goal of the article in significant detail.

(my emphasis added)

I’m no New York Times-level reporter, but barring an epic gaffe or previously unknown horrible secret about Kagan, it’s hard to imagine that particular reporting exercise resulting in anything more than a typical fluff piece with some cute law-related anecdotes from Kagan’s brother.

So big whoop if the White House doesn’t think it’s worth Kagan’s brother’s time, right?

First, any interview with someone close to Kagan would add more insight to someone who so far has been criticized for being “blank slate.” Kagan has been described as “extraordinarily-almost artistically-careful” about what she has said – for the entire past decade – leaving one court watcher to be at a loss to recall a single person “who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law.” Her paper trail of written articles and essays, according to U. of Colorado professor Paul Campos, can be counted with two hands with a finger to spare.

But the most unsettling aspect of this is how the White House, if the NYT’s account is to be believed, actively hindering reporters. It may very well be that the Irving Kagan has nothing worthwhile to add to what (little) is already known about his sister, but that’s a judgment The Government should not be making for the free press.

Nearly exactly two years ago, a devastating earthquake killed nearly 70,000 in the Sichuan province, including thousands of schoolchildren. The Chinese government blocked reporters from talking to grieving parents. And conceivably, they could’ve phrased their case this way: “A horrible earthquake has killed these parents’ children, and all you care about is pestering them with questions to sell newspapers? What are they going to say but the obvious, anyway? Of course they’re suffering, now leave them alone.”

Fortunately, for the longer-term benefit of the country, the parents did get to be heard. And they didn’t just talk about how tragic the earthquake was, they cursed the corrupt officials who allowed the shoddy construction of the schools that collapsed and killed their children. That was also a story that the Chinese government didn’t think needed to be told.

This isn’t China, and the lives of thousands of schoolchildren doesn’t (hopefully) depend on hearing from Elena Kagan’s relatives. But that’s the point: if Kagan can’t even open up about trivial things, then we can only trust the authorities who picked her that she’s the right person to have a nearly unilateral profound impact American law for the next two to three decades.

There is another avenue of insight to Kagan; she could speak frankly and thoroughly during her Senate confirmation. After all, she did say “it is an embarrassment that Senators do not insist that any nominee reveal what kind of Justice she would make, by disclosing her views on important legal issues.”

But that road seems unlikely to be traveled:

Kagan wrote in 1995 that the confirmation process had become a “charade” because nominees were not answering direct questions, and said they should have to do so.

But during a briefing with reporters in the White House, Ron Klain, a top legal adviser to Vice President Joe Biden who played a key role in helping President Obama choose Kagan, said that she no longer holds this opinion…

“She was asked about it and said that both the passage of time and her perspective as a nominee had given her a new appreciation and respect for the difficulty of being a nominee, and the need to answer questions carefully,” Klain said, prompting laughter from a few reporters.

This is all the more sad when you consider that Kagan is being nominated by a President who, very admirably in my opinion, let embarrassing facets of his life be reported, including his cocaine use. Fuck, he may even be the first President to willing record himself saying (in the context of quoting a friend) “Sorry ass motherfucker.”

And now reporters won’t even be get to hear Kagan’s cousin (re-)reminisce about Elena’s rough-scrabble Upper West Side childhood, growing up in a family that “just really enjoyed debating and discussing everything.”

For reference sake, I did a quick search through Factiva’s archive to see what was said about Harriet Miers, the Bush Supreme Court nominee who was laughed off the stage, and to whose lack of judicial record Kagan’s is now being derisively compared. I didn’t find much from Miers’ family, but I didn’t see anything in the quick search that indicated the Bush administration was hamfistedly blocking access to Miers’ family (not that existence of such would justify the current White House’s actions).

Here’s one blurb that focused on Miers’ brother:

Miers’ brother says he’s learning more about his private sister
Associated Press Writer

DALLAS (AP) – Harriet Miers is such a private person that three days after her nomination to the Supreme Court, even her brother says he is learning things about his younger sister.

Robert Miers, 62, said Wednesday that he’s prodded his sister to tell him about her work with President Bush, but the most she will ever say that she chopped wood with him at the Crawford ranch or jogged with him in Washington.

“She says everything is confidential,” said Miers, who answered the door at his sister’s 4,000-square-foot home in an upper-middle class neighborhood just north of downtown Dallas.

The four-bedroom, three-bathroom brick home and nearly one-acre plot, which includes a tennis court, appraised for $687,860 this year, according to property records. The house, built in 1963, is now on the market.

Robert Miers said his sister bought the house nearly 20 years ago largely for their mother, Sally. Their father, Harris, suffered a stroke while Harriet Miers was in college and died in 1973.

He said their 91-year-old mother has brittle bones and dementia, and when her health took a turn for the worse this summer, she was placed in a nursing home.

Harriet Miers, 60, really hasn’t lived at the home since she went to Washington in 2000, he said. His sister visits Dallas frequently, and the siblings had helped care for their mother along with nurses.

He said his sister’s kind, quiet nature reminds him and his brothers — Dr. Jeb Stuart Miers of Dallas and Harris Miers Jr., of Houston — of their mother.

“There’s a lot of people, including my brothers, that are not as surprised as you might think about the nomination because of the quality of her nature, the beauty of her spirit,” he said.

The family knew Harriet would do important things in her life, but “we never thought it would be the Supreme Court,” he said.

Miers described his sister as a private person, and with all the media scrutiny into her background, even he is learning details he didn’t know, such as closely she advises the president.

But, he believes she has nothing to hide.

“Everything is public record,” he said.

Well, Kagan is no Harriet Miers, in at least one small way.

The Terror Trials, Torture, and Starbucks

The New Yorker has put up the entirety of Jane Meyer’s “The Trial” on its site. It is a decent overview of how ideals clash with pragmatism and politics and recaps a lot of the military tribunal and detention debate so far, including this nugget from the Washington Post, reported a year and one day ago today:

Bush Administration officials, too, had recognized Mohammed’s abuse as an impediment to prosecution. After [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed arrived at Guantánamo, a team of F.B.I. and military interrogators tried to elicit from him and his co-defendants the same confessions that the C.I.A. had obtained about the 9/11 plot, but by using only legal means of interrogation. (According to the Washington Post, he was enticed with Starbucks coffee.) By 2008, the Bush Administration believed that this so-called Clean Team had compiled sufficient evidence to charge Mohammed and the others with capital murder.

Starbucks coffee as effective as waterboarding? I wonder why Starbucks Corp. couldn’t fit this into their national advertising somehow? (The original WaPo article reads: “were given food whenever they were hungry as well as Starbucks coffee at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba”)

Jokes aside (my favorite is in the comments section of this NYT Lede followup: “Maybe they made Khalid pay for the Starbucks. That could be seen as harsh treatment.”), Meyer’s article is a good primer in how convoluted the issue of the terror trials are: the Starbucks+gentle treatment was part of a plan to re-gather the same evidence (via the “Clean Team”) that the CIA allegedly gained through abusive interrogations so that KSM could be tried in civilian court, which, Meyer asserts, is the only way to get other countries to see KSM’s trial as legitimate and to have them finally accept released Gitmo detainees.

Read the rest of “The Trial”

Rep. Pete Hoekstra not behind PeteHoekstra.com…but was able to out the guy who is

PeteHoekstra.com was snapped out by an anonymous registrar and began posting anti-Rep. Pete Hoekstra screeds.

Though the registration was presumably private, somehow Rep. Hoekstra’s staff was able to out the owner, Ben Pardos Padnos, a longtime Internet entrepreneur who claims to own thousands of domains, including those belonging to other politicians.

Padnos said he was spurred to snatch the domain, which previously belonged to a soccer player, after Rep. Hoekstra’s fundraising campaign in the aftermath of the failed underpants-bombing incident:

The first thing I thought when I saw the Grand Rapids Press coverage with my name was, “Hmmm, being on the Intelligence Committee must come with some privileges!”

Secondly, I said to myself, “So much for anonymity with private domain registration!”

Somehow, the Hoekstra Campaign tracked down that the owner of the domain is me, Ben Padnos.

I want to start with one important point regarding anonymity. I intended to be anonymous purely to avoid any possible embarrassment for my family members, who live in Pete Hoekstra’s district, and have a business in West Michigan. Anything written on PeteHoekstra.com represents ME, personally, and not any of my other family members.

You’ll note that even though I perceived myself as having anonymity, everything I posted I’d feel completely comfortable looking the Congressman in the eye and saying to his face. The Internet purist in me – I’ve been involved in online industry since 1996 – doesn’t like the low-brow level anonymity sometimes provides. We’ve been hard-hitting, but not vulgar or profane. People often hide behind anonymity in “Cyberspace” and take it to a very low, crass, disrespectful level. I don’t like that.

The Grand Rapids News, to whom Rep. Hokestra’s staff tattled on Padnos, is silent on how Hoekstra’s staff found Padnos in the first place.