Very seldom do liberals and conservatives agree on much of anything these days, but there is one area where we should have some common cause. Over at the liberal website Alternet, Bill Berkowitz has written a piece called, “Cruel Country: Debtors Prisons Are Punishing the Poor Across America”:
In the 1990s, Jack [Dawley's] drug and alcohol addictions led to convictions for domestic violence and driving under the influence, resulting in nearly $1,500 in fines and costs in the Norwalk Municipal Court. Jack was also behind on his child support, which led to an out-of-state jail sentence.” After serving three and a half years in Wisconsin, Dawley, now sober for 14 years, is still trying to catch up with the fines he owes, and it has “continue[d] to wreak havoc on his life.”
…The jailing of people unable to pay fines and court costs is no longer a relic of the 19th century American judicial system. Debtors’ prisons are alive and well in one-third of the states in this country.
In 2011, Think Progress’ Marie Diamond wrote: “Federal imprisonment for unpaid debt has been illegal in the U.S. since 1833. It’s a practice people associate more with the age of Dickens than modern-day America. But as more Americans struggle to pay their bills in the wake of the recession, collection agencies are using harsher methods to get their money, ushering in the return of debtor’s prisons.”
…This year’s ACLU report….points out that many poor “Ohioans … convicted of a criminal or traffic offense and sentenced to pay a fine an affluent defendant may simply pay … and go on with his or her life [find the fine] unaffordable [launching] the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time. The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines.”
According to the report, Ohio courts in Huron, Cuyahoga, and Erie counties “are among the worst offenders. In the second half of 2012, over 20% of all bookings in the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines.
…CBS Money Watch’s Alain Sherter recently reported that “Roughly a third of U.S. states today jail people for not paying off their debts, from court-related fines and fees to credit card and car loans, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Such practices contravene a 1983 United States Supreme Court ruling that they violate the Constitutions’ Equal Protection Clause.”
Wreaking havoc on ordinary peoples’ lives
Jack Dawley: “You’d go do your ten days, and they’d set you up a court date and give you another 90 days to pay or go back to jail… It was hard for me to obtain work, so I fell back into the cycle of going to jail every three months.”
Paying money to people you owe can’t just be an “optional” thing. The government must be allowed to force people to pay their debts or our entire system of commerce would break down. That being said, it’s immoral, unconstitutional and even counter-productive to put someone in jail for being truly unable to pay his debts. How are you going to earn enough to pay what you owe if you’re in jail?
Gun control emerged as the primary political battlefront in the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook murders. While the battle to retain our Second Amendment rights remains a superior consideration, statist nannies push on other fronts as well.
A former writer for the Huffington Post, Peter Brown Hoffmeister, claims to have broken ties with the publication after its refusal to publish a piece he submitted regarding the influence of violent video games on troubled teenage males. Self-publishing on his personal blog with the provocative title “On School Shooters – The Huffington Post Doesn’t Want You To Read This,” Hoffmeister reveals his own troubled past while building a case against certain games.
As a teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time this past week [December 27, 2012] thinking about the Newtown shooting, school shootings in general, their causes and possible preventions.
It’s scary now to think that I ever had anything in common with school shooters. I don’t enjoy admitting that. But I did have a lot in common with them. I was angry, had access to guns, felt ostracized, and didn’t make friends easily. I engaged in violence and wrote about killing people in my notes to peers.
But there is one significant difference between me at 16 and 17 years of age and most high school shooters: I didn’t play violent video games.
But Jeff Weise did. He played thousands of first-person shooter hours before he shot and killed nine people at and near his Red Lake, Minn., school, before killing himself.
And according to neighbors and friends, Clackamas shooter Jacob Tyler Roberts played a lot of video games before he armed himself with a semi-automatic AR-15 and went on a rampage at the Clackamas Town Center in Portland, Oregon last week.
Also, by now, it is common knowledge that Adam Lanza, who murdered 20 children and six women in video-game style, spent many, many hours playing “Call of Duty.” In essence, Lanza – and all of these shooters – practiced on-screen to prepare for shooting in real-life.
Hoffmeister ends his retrospective with a call for government action. He encourages readers to “support the bill introduced… by U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, directing the National Academy of Sciences to examine whether violent games and programs lead children to act aggressively.”
Political activists have a saying: when you’re explaining, you’re losing. The same could be said of business. When you have to explain to prospective customers why they need your latest innovation, when the product does not sell itself through mere presentation, you probably have a dud.
So may be the case with the latest iteration of home console hardware from Nintendo, the Wii U. iDigitalTimes reports:
Wii U sales are bad now, but it’s not the end of the world, according to Shigeru Miyamoto, who hopes that people will just give the Wii U some time to breathe before coming to a final conclusion about its worth. The console launched in November 2012, to huge initial sales and a quick decline, followed by slow and modest sales thereafter and predictions of doom and gloom from every quarter. Nintendo would leave the hardware business. It would go out of business altogether. It would go handheld only. Miyamoto thinks that’s all nonsense. We just need to give Wii U some time.
Miyamoto, a legend in the industry responsible for the creation of Nintendo’s hallmark Mario and Zelda franchises, goes on to explain how the Wii U represents an incredible innovation in gaming much like the handheld Nintendo DS did before it. Whether gamers at large come to realize they’ve been cheated all these years by the limitation of a single gaming screen, time will tell. Meanwhile, here are 6 horrible choices dragging down Nintendo.
Life does not come with a reset button. That truth struck me whenever I glimpsed the face of my Nintendo Entertainment System. Reset was always there, lurking next to Power, ready to erase both my sins and the virtual world in which they had been committed. A fresh start, another try, Reset offered them free.
Moments like that, moments where some shadow of philosophical truth peaked through the veil of this childish pastime, came often over the years. The most recent occurred while I was playing Fable II on my Xbox 360. Set in a fantasy world with swords, sorcery, and muskets, the Fable series contains many game mechanics above and beyond the traditional hack and slash quest. Among them is the ability to purchase real estate and manage rental property, which maintains a steady stream of gold for upgrading weapons and other items. As I purchased one property and saved up to invest in another and yet another, I quickly realized I was mimicking a truly productive task. Why can’t I do this in real life? Oh yeah, I don’t have any money to start.
The experience of the game inspired me to revisit methods for creating wealth and fostering upward mobility. I won’t go so far as to say Fable II changed my life. After all, I’ve yet to buy that first investment property. However, it did plant a seed which may someday germinate.
Other games have offered real life lessons in ways both subtle and overt. Here are 7 for your consideration.
Through the years Neverhood fans have asked for another game, and I’m partnering with my EWJ and Neverhood buddies Mike Dietz and Ed Schofield to make a full sized, PC and Mac point and click adventure game in clay and puppet animation. New characters, but in my usual style.
TenNapel’s “usual style” is mind blowing. The Neverhood debuted on the Dreamworks Interactive label in 1996. It was a point-and-click adventure built entirely in clay and animated via stopmotion. Here’s a taste, and keep in mind that he did this in 1996 on PCs that can’t even compete with today’s smart phones for processing power.
The bazillionth episode in the tomb-raiding life of Lara Croft hit Tuesday. Most of the previous episodes have not been good. Many came with flaws that rendered them nearly unplayable in spots. Unlike most of the previous, and especially the most recent, installments, reviews for the 2013 installment have not been mixed. Lara is scoring about a 9.25 across the board on video game-review sites. But is this hype fanboys falling in love with a game babe, or a reflection of a strong game that may just bring a storied but troubled franchise back from the dead?
I spent about an hour with the new Tomb Raider, so while I don’t yet have a comprehensive view of the game’s full story arc, I do have some strong first impressions.
Tomb Raider 2013 is an origins story, picking Lara up on an expedition to find a lost civilization off the coast of Japan. A nineteen year old on her first adventure, Lara isn’t yet the boss chick who greeted the gaming world in 1996. She’s young but determined, and convinced that if the expedition changes course, it will find the lost civilization they’re looking for. Changing course also risks entering the Dragon’s Triangle, an allegedly dangerous region of the Pacific similar to the Bermuda Triangle off Florida.
Things go about as you’d expect when a game amps up a threat — the expedition suffers a shipwreck and Lara finds herself stranded and alone. A knock on the head later, and she’s in a creepy, gory cave filled with bones and hanging corpses. It’s environments like this, and Lara’s tendency to lean on a couple of swears when she reacts to threats, that earn the game its M rating. No longer a cartoon, Tomb Raider is a cinematic beast.
The younger Lara is vulnerable. She picks up knocks and wounds. She scavenges and improves weapons as she goes. She gets hungry and has to hunt, which turns this Tomb Raider into more of an open world than any previous episode. She learns skills and, based on the dialogue, learns to overcome her fears. She thinks.
This Lara develops as the story goes, and is far more interesting and more realistically rendered than in any previous episode. She also eats meat, so she is more Duck Dynasty than Morrissey.
The story of Tomb Raider works extremely well, at least in the early going of the game that I’ve played.
On Wednesday Sony announced its next-gen gaming console, the PlayStation 4. Sony expects the new console to be available by the Christmas season of this year and is being coy about the price. When the PS3 arrived, it carried a hefty price tag of about $600, scaring some gamers off for a few months. Rumors are the new console will come in at around $450, but that’s just a rumor at this point. That’s one of the mysteries surrounding the new box. More about the other mystery later in the article.
The PS4 will not just be another console with beefier hardware. It will have that, with powerful new graphics processors capable of taking the visuals to another level of realism, while not presenting a quantum leap over the current hardware. But it will truly be a next-gen console in the sense that it comes with capabilities that up to now have mainly been available on game streaming sites like OnLive (which I reviewed, here). In fact, the PS4 may kill off the ailing OnLive service.
That’s because the PS4 is a social gaming console right out of the box. One of OnLive’s chief fun features is its ability to allow gamers to watch and interact with other gamers without being in the game themselves. Gamers can spectate in the Arena, picking up tips and tricks, jeering and cheering and generally checking out games before either buying them or downloading demos. The PS4 allows spectating and, with a push of a button on its new controller, sharing and uploading action clips. Some games currently allow this, but the new hardware makes sharing a universal feature. It also allows demos to be played the instant a gamer chooses them, putting it on par with one of the other great OnLive features. Along with that will come features that already exist, such as Amazon Video, Netflix and Hulu apps and Plex serving that turn the PS into a full home entertainment system. PS3 users can also already control their consoles when surfing YouTube via iPhones and iPods. Expect Sony to build on that capability as well.
The PS4 also builds on a feature currently found on the PS3 and the Wii U, remote play. Currently PS3 can be controlled via a handheld PSVita, while the Wii U can act as a server, with game play actually taking place on the screen in the controller. So it doesn’t really need a TV screen. The PS4 allows games hosted on its hardware to be played on the PSVita. So like the Wii U, the PS4 can free up your TV while still delivering the top level gaming experience.
The PS4 controller, the Dualshock 4, also builds on the current competition, adding Move capabilities, the aforementioned social gaming capabilities, and a new touchpad in the middle.
So, there’s the controller. But where’s the actual PS4? In its entire demo Wednesday, they never showed the PlayStation 4 itself. That has sparked a debate:
There are two rather polarized angles being tossed about this week as the Sony show (or no-show) of the PlayStation 4 was let loose. One side says it’s terrible that Sony made a 2+ hour presentation for the PlayStation 4 without actually showing the hardware, relying instead on the controller and a variety of promises from software developers to do all the talking. The other side says awesome! We know the PlayStation 4 is coming now, and we’ve got confirmation from some of the biggest-name developers that they’re on board, so we’re happy!
My own take is that Sony wants a second bite at the buzz apple, so they’re withholding images of the console for a later date, maybe E3 in June or SIGGRAPH in August. If they do that, they get to have another big moment, and may announce the price along with giving us a look at the beast. Sony usually goes the route of making their consoles dark and artistic (or odd, in the case of the PS3s that look like bbq grills). I would expect something smaller and sleeker than the PS3.
The bottom line is that we now have concrete specs on the next-gen system, a catalog of major titles that it will debut with including new material from heavyweights like Blizzard and its own in-house Killzone and InFAMOUS series, and solid information about the new things it will be able to do. And the things it won’t do, which brings me to the “bad” part of this article. Sony says that as things stand now, backward compatibility is not built into the PS4. Gamers will not be able to play legacy games on the new system, which may impact some of this year’s bigger releases like the Tomb Raider reboot. They say they’re working on it. They may be setting up to sell multiple forms of the PS4, some that will include backward compatibility for a price, and some that don’t. Backward compatibility can be gotten around via streaming games, but that requires hefty bandwidth that most American households still don’t have, or via downloads, which will take up valuable hard drive space and may create other issues. We’ll see. But the failure to provide backward compatibility from the get-go is an ominous sign that Sony may be looking to roll out their new box at one stated price, which is not the actual price gamers will end up paying if they want to keep playing their old Call of Duty titles on their shiny new systems.
This is what happens when you let the Internet choose.
Hasbro let fans decide on a new token for the game (and which of the old tokens to boot) on Jan. 9. The voting closed Tuesday night. The result: The iron is out and a new character, a cat, is in.
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Click to jump to your section of choice in today’s PJ Lifestyle Review of New Releases, Hot Products, and Holiday Gifts:
Tuesday New Releases in Music
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Taylor Swift’s Red proves that with enough hype a contradictory release plan can still produce insane sales results. No, you cannot stream the album via Spotify, yet the album features four teaser singles already racking up YouTube hits. None of that hurt sales in the least. The album should still exceed 1.15 million, without the stimulus of 99-cent downloads on Amazon, Lady Gaga’s weapon of choice while promoting her most recent album.
This week smaller names battle for their moments in the sun, with new albums from the ever-present Cee-Lo “I’ve had one hit and won’t go away” Green, an epic double album from Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and a new effort from country superstar Toby Keith which could quietly dominate them all. Enjoy the less-crowded week, folks … things will get decidedly more complicated as we push toward Black Friday!
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Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory (Mom & Pop Music)
Indie folk’s most interesting songwriter, Bird’s music merges genres generally seen as incompatible. Hands of Glory, the Chicago songwriter’s latest EP, serves as a companion piece to last year’s Break It Yourself, prominently featuring his cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.”
Black Country Communion – Afterglow (J&R Records)
Calvin Harris – 18 Months (Sony)
Cee-Lo Green – Cee-Lo’s Magic Moment (Elektra / Asylum)
Chad Valley – Young Hunger (Cascine)
Cody ChesnuTT – Landing on a Hundred (Redeye)
Ending People – Fill Your Lungs (Cash Cow Productions)
Flyleaf – New Horizons (Octone)
The last album by these Christian rockers featuring Lacey Sturm on lead vocals. Revolver magazine writes: “New Horizons is emblematic of a band embracing change. Hopefully for Flyleaf, fans do the same.”
Indian Handcrafts – Civil Disobedience for Losers (Sargent House)
Jonathan & Charlotte – Together (Columbia)
Kamelot – Silverthorn (Steamhammer / SPV)
Lulu Gainsbourg – From Gainsbourg to Lulu (MBM Records)
Meek Mill – Dreams & Nightmares (Warner Bros.)
Mixtapes – How to Throw a Successful Party (Animal Style Records)
Neil Young’s latest album featuring Crazy Horse experiments with psychedelia, and with that in mind, he’s opened things up to a lot of sprawl – “Driftin’ Back” comes in at just shy of 30 minutes. If you’ve got the patience, All Music writes, “[Psychedelic Pill] deliver[s] a state-of-the-union garage guitar blast that rivals past landmark albums from the group like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory.”
Parkway Drive – Atlas (Epitaph)
Raindance – New Blood (Animal Style Records)
Sean Price – Mic Tyson (Duck Down Music)
T&N – Slave to the Empire (Rat Pak Records)
The Soft Moon – Zeros (Captured Tracks)
Thrice – Anthology (Workhorse Music Group)
Toby Keith – Hope on the Rocks (Show Dog / Universal)
Hope on the Rocks‘ release date shifted forward two weeks thanks to the rabid reception he’s received from fans while on tour this fall. That’s a smart move on the part of his handlers – Country Weekly calls the album “mature” among his other 15 albums, and for those who can’t stand Swift, Keith’s album serves as the ultimate veteran antidote.
Tracey Thorn – Tinsel and Lights (Merge Records)
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Despite covering much ground in the last few weeks in this column, bands with solid albums still struggle to find wider acclaim. Presenting for your approval: Dr. Dre’s strongest find for Aftermath since Eminem, underground Americana from Iris DeMent and Tift Merritt, and a new album from Heart, which rocks as though the 35 years since “Barracuda” never happened.
My children are back in school, and I am able to return to my school day routine of reading The Transom after my older set get on the bus and my twins get dressed and make their beds. Admittedly, I don’t always make it to the end of the newsletter in one sitting, but the end is the best part. After the wonky political and economic news summaries, The Transom has an interesting links section, a slightly more serious version of Debby Witt’s Odd Links at The Corner.
This gem recently greeted me: “In a Mass Knife Fight to the Death Between Every President, Who Would Win and Why?” Perhaps because I have an eight-year-old son who took to the discussion like a moth to a flame when I discussed it with his uncle and father over dinner, this struck me as a very promising history lesson plan… one that the PC/we-need-feminized-men guardians would never allow.
This is an excellent example of the type of discussion that would engage young boys (and old ones based on the comment threads) but send experts and some moms into frets of whether it promotes aggression. Boys can’t even talk about theoretical fighting. When the boys get bored, rather than face that boredom is one of aggression’s main fuel sources, we drug them and congratulate ourselves that the little girls are doing so well.
I will grant that a knife fight is a bit harsh for a school lesson, but the game is easily modified to a survival island scenario, like Christ White posted. Both posts and comments are chock full of intriguing — and highly memorable — assertions. Think of the research possibilities!
The National Scrabble Association does not condone cheating. Also, the National Scrabble Association exists. One of the United States’ top young Scrabble talents was caught hiding blank tiles, and subsequently ejected, at the game’s national championship tournament in Florida. This was, apparently, “a big deal.” The executive director of the National Scrabble Association, John D. Williams, Jr., has said that this is the first recorded incidence of cheating at a national tournament. What a shame.
The cheating was caught by a neighboring player. The cheater, a male minor, tried to hide the blank tiles when resetting the board after his previous game. In what is surely one of the poorest attempts at cheating known, the ejected player simply dropped them on the floor. Blank tiles — which only count for 2% of the total tiles — function as wild cards and could therefore provide the proverbial word glue required to win the game.
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