More on the Penny Arcade Kickstarter

It’s late, and the next part of the #OccupyTea series is substantially far away from completion and is probably going to undergo substantial revision before it goes up, so I want to say a little more about the Penny Arcade Kickstarter. I’ll probably have a more complete takedown later, but right now I want to tackle the way the PA guys are positioning this, that “rather than work for advertisers, we want to work for you”. Evidently, Gabe and Tycho would rather not be employing an ad sales staff and meeting the content needs of advertisers, and would rather devote the time and money currently going towards advertising towards creating new and better content instead.

This strikes me as a really, really, really, really weak argument, and it further weakens the notion that this represents any sort of breakthrough for other webcomics artists. Perhaps the PA guys have run the numbers and decided that having a dedicated ad sales team and personal relationships with advertisers would, even after considering the cost of said team, pay substantially more than Google or Project Wonderful ads to justify the expense in time, money, and integrity (assuming PA actually does lose any artistic or editorial integrity) over simply slapping on ads and passively monitoring whatever shows up on them. Even if so, would PA, one of if not the most popular webcomics on the Internet, actually still lose the ability to do all the things they want to do as a result of the Kickstarter by switching to Google or Project Wonderful, or some other such ad service? And considering that the vast majority of webcomics already use such services and so avoid the problems Gabe and Tycho want to avoid, would they actually gain anything from PA‘s success?

I don’t mean to denigrate a group of creators that understand how the Internet works a lot better than most big media corporations, with or without the Kickstarter. If PA can convince those big media corporations to embrace the Internet as well, more power to them. My worry is that what they are doing is wholly unnecessary and undermines other people trying to also make some money on the Internet or from Kickstarter. To the people Robert Khoo says come up to him and ask how they can support PA when they block ads and don’t buy merchandise, I say, “Penny Arcade runs one of the biggest entertainment and gaming expos on the planet. They don’t need your support. Instead, give your money to someone else who’s operating off the same basic model but doesn’t have PA‘s wild success.”

(And turn off your damn Adblock. Adblock should default to off with a blacklist for sites with bad ads, not default to on with a whitelist for sites with good ads.)

Sports graphics roundup on the eve of the Olympics

I’m way overdue for a sports graphics roundup, so let’s get a quick one out of the way before the Olympics start.

You may recall how mystified I was at FSN’s new basketball graphic, wondering why they would spell out team names and use a bulky tab for bonus indicators on the NBA but not college. Well, said graphic subsequently appeared on FSN’s college basketball broadcasts, complete with timeout indicators. I think FSN may have even gone as far as to put timeout indicators on its NBA graphics.

But I said last time that we would get some ugly graphics, and CBS proved me right twice over. First, we got this graphic during the regular season, with the spelled-out “DBL BONUS” that appears towards the end of overtime. (Not all CBS games used this graphic with the bulky tab, so it was probably a late addition that the graphic wasn’t designed for.)

That was nothing, though, compared to the graphic that appeared for March Madness with the bulky tab hanging below the otherwise-fairly-elegant banner. I kinda-sorta like how the bonus indicator would change to read “1-and-1” or “2 Shots” after a foul (though I am worried about dumbing things down), but with the extra vertical space the network logo takes up, couldn’t you have nudged the score up and added a full-length tab below it?

Onward to baseball, where Fox’s return to using logos only to identify teams in its NFL graphic has proven so successful that they surprised me by letting it spread to its baseball coverage, including on its FSN affiliates.

The Mets’ SNY has gone to the same sort of two-line box used by its Northeastern brethren YES and NESN, though for some unfathomable reason they decided their use of dots to indicate balls and strikes would be so much more successful than when ESPN tried it.

Root Sports’ baseball graphics reflect baseball’s status as their only major professional sport shared across multiple RSNs let alone all three, with the use of logos alongside abbreviations. Clearly economic use of space was a priority, with the use of dots to indicate outs (though they seem to have missed a lesson Fox learned, that the third dot isn’t necessary) and the use of just a number to indicate pitch speed.

TBS’ regular-season logo fits oddly in the graphic introduced last postseason, but we all know the trouble with finding a source for that.

ESPN’s attempt at mimicking the Euro 2012 world feed graphics was surprisingly accurate, considering how ornate they were (and considering how off they were at Euro 2008 and how they didn’t even try at the 2010 and 2011 World Cups), with the only way of telling which was which being how they came in and out. But the score graphic was just plain weird. (And yes, this was the best video I could come up with to show it off.)

Nothing much to say about Root Sports’ soccer graphics…

…or about NBC Sports Network’s either.

NBCSN’s graphics for IndyCar and the Tour de France are pretty much straight swaps of Versus’ graphics.

For completeness’ sake, here’s NBCSN’s graphics for its boxing cards.

Overall, my opinion of NBC’s new graphics hasn’t changed; I’m still greatly disappointed. After seeing their application for the French Open, I really do think they’re transitioning out of tennis after losing Wimbledon.

And that’ll be it until next time, which I suspect will be after the NFL season starts.

State of the #OccupyTea series

Boy, for something I had such high hopes for, that I spent half the year bringing myself to get started, this series has been something of a massive disappointment. Not even in the sense that it hasn’t attracted anyone new to Da Blog; I’ve become used to that sort of thing when it comes to my forays into politics. No, this series has been a disappointment because:

  • I was originally hoping to have something of a buffer going when I started, and I kept postponing starting it for weeks at a time to avoid having only two posts in the series in a week. Well, when I actually did start it the second post (Part I of the Platform) was only mostly done, and now I’m finishing a week with only two posts.
  • While each post hasn’t taken that much time cumulatively, I’ve been short on actual time to work on it, especially since I can’t even get stuff done at home during the day even when there isn’t anything going on at the high school across the street. As a result, each post has taken up most of a day to get done, leaving me little time to work on other projects, or even other posts in the series.
  • You may have noticed that I’ve sometimes sidestepped a number of issues, or given them lip service. Besides my inability to untangle very complex issues, there’s also the fact that, because I haven’t been able to work with a buffer, the series has progressed in an ad hoc fashion, with me being unable to preplan the order of posts so things build logically on top of one another. A number of these issues are extremely interconnected.
  • More to the point, not only do I dread working on this series, I had already largely discounted this series as an effort to attract more readers to Da Blog, and it may actually detract from another project I’m more interested in working on.

As such, I will no longer attempt to hold myself to a post a day. I will try for a post a week minimum, and preferably two with me trying to work on as many as possible, but I reserve the right to abandon the series entirely if I see fit.

Don’t expect me to give you a post in this series on Monday, either. I’m way overdue for a sports graphics roundup.

The Occupy Tea Party Platform, Part IV: Foreign Policy

Defense spending makes up about 20%, a full fifth, of the U.S. federal budget; Social Security and various health-related programs like Medicare each make up another fifth apiece, so those three things by themselves make up 60% of government expenditures, and since things like Social Security and Medicare are trust funds separate from the rest of the budget, defense spending represents upwards of a third of the average American’s tax dollar, maybe close to half. The United States spends close to 5% of its GDP on its military, and represents over 40% of all the world’s military spending, meaning it spends nearly as much on its military as all the other countries of the world combined. Yet for supposedly fiscally minded conservatives, defense spending represents the untouchable third rail of American politics.

In the years since 9/11, there’s been an increased emphasis on the armed forces as American heroes and on “supporting the troops” as “defenders of America’s freedom”. The theory goes that we need to keep our military as strong as possible to keep up the fight against terror and defend America’s freedoms and status in the world. But when America spends nearly as much on our military as all the other nations of the world combined, doesn’t this reasoning start to ring a little hollow?

“Defending America’s freedom” may have been an important goal during the Cold War when it was important to keep pace with the Soviets, but the Cold War’s been over for over twenty years now. In recent decades, America’s military might has tended to undermine America’s security more than safeguard it. America has been accused of inadvertently building the Taliban and Osama bin Laden during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and 9/11 was in part a reaction to America’s support of Israel and military presence in the Gulf even then. America-backed coups during the Cold War have also contributed to anti-American sentiment in those countries in the present day, most famously in Iran; for much of the 20th century, some on the left have accused America’s military of advancing the interests of big corporations first and foremost.

Before the two World Wars, America had a long tradition of isolationism that dated back to George Washington, with conflict with other countries mostly involving the Americas themselves, and with the exception of the Napoleonic Wars (which took the form of the War of 1812 in America) stayed out of Europe’s conflicts. After World War II America, along with the Soviet Union, found itself the leading world power by default with Europe in ruins, and needed a strong, active military presence to support its allies and fend off Soviet influence. The Cold War lasted so long that by the time it ended, one needed to be on the verge of retirement to remember a time when America didn’t have some sort of enemy to fight, and some wondered what would fill the void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union. For some people who only remembered the Cold War-era state of global geopolitics, the War on Terror was a godsend.

The real answer, though, was that nothing was going to fill the void, or at least nothing needed to. With America being the only nation with enough power to really make a huge dent in global geopolitics, and no real interest in doing so (at least directly), the pacifist streak dominant in intellectual circles since World War I could truly start to come to the fore and it became possible for the vast majority of the world’s nations to live in peace and harmony, competing only economically if at all. Today’s global priorities involve improving the well-being of people all over the globe and bringing them into this new global order, and we’ll explore some of them later in this series. To maintain this peace, the nations committed to it need to have enough of a “big stick” to effectively settle disputes, especially those threatening the global peace itself. Right now most of the military force enforcing this peace comes from the United States, precisely because a significant element within it doesn’t believe in the peace. This both allows the American Right to claim that it is only because of American military protection that Europe enjoys the life it lives, and the US itself to exploit “peacekeeping” missions for its own aims. The rest of the world needs to be willing to share more of the military burden to enforce the peace, and the US needs to let them.

Smart Tea Partiers recognize the absurdity of the United States’ military outlay in comparison to the actual need for national defense. But the movement’s intellectual godfather, Ron Paul, seems to be looking in the opposite direction as the rest of the world, supporting a neo-isolationism and withdrawing the United States from international organizations. Conservatives have long hated such organizations as threats to American sovereignty, but it seems disingenuous for them to support such neo-isolationism on the one hand and free trade with the nations such a pullout would antagonize on the other. For the United States to stop meddling with other nations’ affairs is welcome, but I’m not convinced pulling away from the rest of the world entirely and hiding in a corner is even an option anymore. The mere fact that organizations like the UN could be a threat to American sovereignty shows the fruitlessness of the exercise; some sovereignty has to be surrendered just to get along with the rest of the world. It’s true that the UN has been a massive disappointment at meeting it’s goals, but to pull out could destabilize the world order, depending on the reason for doing so. The United States bears a lot of the responsibility for the UN’s failures in the first place.

The United States’ decision not to participate in the International Criminal Court was seen in some corners as an excuse for the US to pull off war crimes if it wanted to. Things like that would be far less of an issue if the United States were to stop meddling in other nations’ affairs. Rather, the conservative desire to pull out of the UN seems to be rooted more in a fear that it represents a potential world government. That’s a legitimate, if long-term, concern and one the nations of the world may need to be on guard against, but several issues simply need to be managed on a global scale, even though there exists nothing that can enforce anything on a global scale effectively. The United States has as much of a stake in these issues as anyone else and I can’t imagine that staying out of global efforts to resolve them will actually be beneficial to the United States, especially in the long term.

For example, if the United States were serious about adopting a non-intervention policy its response to accusations that Iraq and Iran were developing nuclear weapons would be to allow international weapons inspectors to determine that. If they did, and intended to use them against the United States, the US could then defend itself against those countries, and ideally the international community would support the US in this. Even if the US had a strong enough military to crush Iraq or Iran and destroy their nuclear capabilities on their own, would it really be in their best interest to reject the support of the rest of the world? Or consider the action taken to support the rebels in Libya; followers of Paul would oppose it because the United States didn’t have a clear national interest in bringing down Qaddafi. Does that mean the United States isn’t committed to the spread of democracy around the world? Should a movement intent on giving power back to the American people be indifferent to the people of another country?

It’s time for America to adopt a policy of live and let live, no longer tinkering with other countries’ governments and only antagonizing them in the long term. The specifics of the policy are understandably controversial; more left-wing activists would support a doctrine of international cooperation, while Paulites would support a neo-isolationism. The former strikes me as more realistic, not only given the current world order but also because the government has already proven its propensity for defining the “national self-interest” in whatever terms it wants, terms that often end up not being in the “national self-interest” in the long term. We’ll stay in Afghanistan long enough to give it a modicum of stability, continue working to support a normalization of relations between Israel and Palestine, and work to build a strong international community that can be a strong advocate for peace around the world. Perhaps the peace and brotherhood America can form with its fellow nations can serve as a model for how we can live at home.

The Occupy Tea Party Platform, Part III: Economic Recovery

Economics quiz: What is the best response the government should have to a recession? Is it:

  • A) To hand out a bunch of tax cuts?
  • B) To spend money on public works projects?
  • C) To do nothing?

Most economists would probably answer B. To see why B is a better answer than A, consider this scenario: Suppose there are two governments. One decides to give $1000 to the wealthy, the other spends $1000 on public works projects. Ultimately, all the money the second government spends on public works projects is going to make their way into the hands of people, whether construction workers, contractors, extractors of natural resources, you name it. So both governments are giving $1000 to various people, but the first government is handing it out for free while the second government is actually getting something for their money – and that something might benefit people who won’t directly receive any of the money, for example, the construction of roads.

A sizable chunk of the 2009 stimulus, on the other hand, went to tax cuts and maintaining the status quo for various government programs; arguably less than half went towards actual things the government could get for its money, and several economists voiced concerns that the whole thing wasn’t big enough to make enough of a dent in the recession. What’s more, the Congressional Budget Office raised concerns that the stimulus could actually be bad for the economy in the long term by adding to the nation’s debt and potentially crowding out private investment.

In any case, faced with this apparent recommendation against free markets and for bigger government from a field they normally depend on to recommend the opposite, the Tea Party would probably recommend C, do nothing – in fact, maybe even go in the opposite direction by loosening restrictions they see as holding the economy back. (Mainstream Republicans, on the other hand, seem to want to answer A.) Despite the prevalence of Keynesianism, there are certainly enough economists willing to argue that any government interference in the marketplace is bad no matter how bad the economy gets. It’s worth noting that no projections seem to indicate that the stimulus would actually shorten the recession, in terms of a return to baseline GDP, only make it less severe. There is evidence that the stimulus has created jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and any failure to meet the unemployment targets projected at the time is more because the recession itself was even worse than thought at the time, but it’s not clear that that alone should be the goal. On the other hand, most Keynesians would argue that the government should depress the economy when it starts riding too high, to prevent it from crashing and causing a far worse recession.

What this gets at is the question of what the government’s policy towards the economy should be: whether it should take an active role in creating optimum conditions for the economy to function, or whether that sort of thing just causes recessions in the first place? Even the people who are supposed to be experts can’t quite agree, so I sure as hell won’t even try to resolve the debate, and should someone like Ron Paul become president they would probably attempt to get the government to take a more hands-off approach. In turn, that debate is even further bound up in the debate about the government’s role in everything else, as opposed to the free market, and the appropriate level of taxation, raising a whole other set of issues.

That said, Keynesianism is mainstream enough that my introductory macroeconomics text seemingly presented it uncritically, and its most well-known critics, the Austrian School espoused by Ron Paul, are mostly rejected by most mainstream economists, since we haven’t had anything resembling even the depressions of the 19th century since the government took a more active role in the economy starting in the 30s (though the present recession has come close). Besides, the truth is that the government isn’t likely to take its hands off the economy, or anything else, anytime soon. Thus, I would tentatively support the stimulus, a larger stimulus, and a more spending-focused stimulus. As much as I don’t want to give more power to government, ultimately a lack of jobs are what’s at the heart of the Occupy movement, and if the stimulus can provide them, and it’s not clear anything else would, more power to it. Besides, many of the things the stimulus pays for are things the government, for good or ill, essentially has a monopoly on, things the free market ultimately relies on even if it might do better at it were it forced to take over.

What this touches on, though, is the central disagreement in American politics between the right and the left. The right believes the government should be as small as possible and not go meddling in people’s lives; the left believes the government has a duty to create good lives for everyone. If the government were wholly committed to one or the other it would probably produce the optimum effects each approach suggests, better than the compromise-enforced status quo, but since there remains disagreement over which approach is really best we end up with a mix of both worlds. Is there a way to get the best of both worlds, allow people to live their lives as they choose without the negative consequences that implies? I’ll attempt to answer that question as this series continues, starting with quite possibly the biggest and most telling example.

This is what I get for knocking out a post too hastily before I’d even really begun checking RSS feeds. I have to cheat and use the lack of guest comic on the RSS feed as an excuse to thumbnail the previous comic.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized pep talk.)

Something’s been a little… off with the much-teased potential relationship between Tai and Dora. Tai’s had a crush on Dora for some time, and a pairing between them seemed to be a natural result of the end of the relationship between Marten and Dora, one Jeph Jacques has gleefully exploited, especially recently. Of course, Dora wasn’t exactly ready to dip back into the dating pool right away, early attempt to do exactly that notwithstanding, but considering how slowly time passes in QC it wasn’t something Jeph could keep putting off forever. The post-breakup period is now almost 20% of the comic’s existence. That’s nearly a full fifth.

But I feel like there’s a few things wrong with this comic and the build-up to it. For one, I’m not sure how much Dora knew or at least suspected of Tai’s crush before this point, considering she was dropping hints to her two years ago (well before the breakup), and especially considering the comments Marten and Faye were leaving her in the previous comic. I can’t help but wonder whether her reaction is supposed to be to Tai’s confession at the end of her statement, or to the content of everything else she says. (Or perhaps even to Tai herself.)

I also find Tai’s general behavior throughout this in-comic day, while potentially an interesting point of analysis, kind of odd. Earlier, she was in full-on boss mode, tasking Marten to train the new interns and talking with him about responsibility as though she were the shop owner preparing her kids for the day she’d have to hand the keys to the shop over to them. But when Dora showed up to Marten and Faye’s place, she became a gibbering, incoherent mess. Yet now, she’s standing up and telling Dora to suck up and not angst so much, seemingly showing all the confidence in the world. Of course, she is a little tipsy, but stuff like this kind of confuses me as to what the age difference between the two actually is. (While she is a graduate student who clearly has enough experience in the library to call some of the shots, she’s still a student, and I sometimes wonder how much younger she is than the very adult Dora, and the sizable gap in height doesn’t help.)

I will admit, though, I do get a little chuckle out of Dora getting, in some sense, a taste of her own medicine.

Bleep you, Penny Arcade.

You want us to give you a quarter of a million dollars – no, half a million dollars – no, a full million dollars just to take advertising off your site?

Why are so many webcomics people stuck in the 90s or early 2000s? What is it about people like Rich Burlew, David Morgan-Mar, and now Gabe and Tycho that make them think advertising is OMG the Ultimate Evil? Yeah, we don’t like ads on TV, and there are a lot of annoying ads on the Internet, but there are plenty of sites where ads are just part of the experience; you don’t have to accept the annoying ads if you don’t want to. And guess what: Gabe and Tycho don’t. Admittedly I don’t read PA regularly, but when I do I don’t even notice the ads.

How did this even get approved? Doesn’t Kickstarter have a thing about using their service to fund ongoing operating expenses?

The most successful webcomics creators out there are going to milk their fans of hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars just to replace one revenue stream that seems to be working pretty well for all parties concerned. If OOTS could raise one-and-a-quarter million dollars, PA could raise far more than that; it could challenge the ranks of the highest-funded projects in Kickstarter history. That’s hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars that aren’t going to projects that could actually use the money – and I doubt much of that advertising money is going to anyone else, certainly not any other independent creators. (And don’t you dare compare this to OOTS; that was a project to reprint actual books and produce actual content, a project to actually do something that could provide actual value for fans, not to stop doing something no one wanted them to stop doing to begin with.)

Nor do I buy the argument by Eric Burns(-White) that this money wouldn’t find its way to other projects. Maybe not other webcomics projects, but PA is a videogame comic. Its audience is precisely that which is most likely to fund videogame Kickstarters – hell, Gabe and Tycho have actually promoted videogame Kickstarters in the past. Nor is this going to set a precedent for future funding of webcomics, because again, this shouldn’t have been approved to begin with.

Of course PA’s legion of fans are probably going to give them all the money they want and more; hell, they might have achieved their $250,000 goal by the time you read this. But if you’re thinking of giving them money? Don’t. Instead, go out there and look for any other Kickstarter out there that could actually use your money. Any at all, any that looks like they might actually do something worthwhile with your money. I’d prefer some good came out of this whole thing if anything, as opposed to simply stroking Gabe and Tycho’s egos.

I may have more to say about this later, when Gabe and Tycho have had a chance to respond to some of the early response to this. But I’ll be honest: when I first heard about this I wondered if it was a joke. It reminds me of nothing so much as Black Hat Guy’s Kickstarter.

A random rant.

In most programming guides, ESPN scheduled two hours for the Home Run Derby.

At 10 PM ET, two hours into the window, we were late in the second round.

Prince Fielder had advanced to the second round with a grand total of five home runs. It’s not like they were hitting them out of the park all over the place.

I can’t imagine how powerless a two-hour Home Run Derby would have to be. This affects the plausibility of scheduling the softball game right afterwards, because the result is SportsCenter coming on at midnight ET and airing on ESPN2 in the meantime.

If not a full three hours, how bad would it be to lengthen the Derby’s timeslot to two and a half?

But that’s nothing compared to Fox’s All-Star Game window, which has always been three hours despite the fact that Fox wastes a half hour on pomp, circumstance, and starting lineups. Why baseball insists on listing the game’s start time when it does when all parties involved KNOW the first pitch won’t be thrown for another half hour is beyond me.

This year, at least, Fox’s time slot has been moved back a half hour to start at 7:30 ET. But the time slot is STILL only three hours and there is STILL no mention of the game itself beginning at 8, despite the fact that all parties involved know even MORE that the game won’t start for a half hour, because ESPN’s Baseball Tonight pregame show will still be a full hour ending at 8 ET.

What’s more, in this case it’s completely pointless; why not lengthen the time slot by a half hour? To bamboozle affiliates into thinking they’ll be able to start local news at a time they clearly won’t?

There’s no reason to think the game is going to be any shorter than a normal game. If anything, the All-Star Game tends to last longer.

Probably this isn’t interesting to any of you, but I wanted to get it off my chest.

We interrupt our ongoing political debate for Hussie’s latest pre-break kisstravaganza.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized party at English’s place.)

I had been holding off on writing a Homestuck post because I was waiting for all the twists and turns to finish building up to the end-of-act flash… so naturally Hussie announces there’s going to be a flash before the end-of-act flash. (I still decided to wait for that first flash – which actually turned out to be two connected flashes – to come out before writing this.)

Another reason I held off on writing anything? Despite Hussie making a habit of ending the different acts in Act 6 with hints that the post-Scratch group of kids are nothing but red herrings (great way to get people invested in the characters you’re devoting most of the act to, Hussie), I adamantly refused to believe that Hussie would kill off Jane and Roxy so cavalierly. I was confident it would prove to be a doomed timeline or something. For one thing, on top of contradicting something in the opening flash I’ll get to later, it also contradicted what Calliope repeatedly said about Roxy blacking out the session, or indeed numerous references suggesting Roxy had to enter the session, even if she died later.

So, if Calliope’s revelation isn’t big enough to end the act, and the deaths of two of the act’s protagonists isn’t big enough to end the act, what could possibly be big enough to end the act? I don’t think it’s a good place for the reveal of Calliope’s brother…

As it turned out, I was half right. Hussie wasn’t willing to kill everyone off permanently. Instead, after waking up in the same dream bubble our normal protagonists have been hanging out with Aranea and Meenah in, Dirk chucks Roxy out of the bubble towards his session (and provokes an absolutely hilarious reaction from Dave), then, after getting a wake-up from Aranea, starts setting things up for his entry into the session. He then plugs in the fenstrated wall GCat left him earlier, pops into Roxy’s house, and kiss-revives her… just in time for her dreamself to witness the knocked-out dream!Dirk and dead Jane. Yeah, that’s totally not contrived or anything.

Oh, and then he sendificates his head to the knocked-out Jake in the past.

After a tense back-and-forth where Dirk’s auto-responder messes with Jake’s head (no pun intended) by referring to himself as “Lil Hal” and twisting the knife on Jake’s uncomfortableness with kissing Dirk’s severed head, Jake eventually pulls it off and Dirk, now as his dreamself, sees Roxy’s own uncomfortableness with kissing Jane, does it himself, then loads Roxy onto his rocketboard and hops inside the temple meteor’s flower, popping out just in time to meet with Jane (who just transportalized from the Prospitian palace to the temple) and help arrange Jake’s kissing of Dirk’s head.

Although Hussie considered these two flashes to be one single flash for the purposes of his workload and the breaks he’s taking in July, from a storyline perspective I’d also join them up with the end-of-act flash (and so I could conceivably have delayed this post even more), because I don’t see what Dirk’s plan is here. Why did he have to kill himself and have Jake revive him? It helped get Jane revived, but how does he have any way of knowing that Roxy won’t be able to kiss her? (Then again, how would he know that Roxy would be in position to kiss her in the first place?) Why is he taking Roxy to the past with him? It actually seems counterproductive; don’t he and Roxy have to go back to the future in order to enter the session properly? Depending on how much he knows and where exactly she can go on the island on her own power, can’t Jane wake up Jake? I can see bits and pieces come together, but I can’t quite see the whole, which is why I don’t think the story these flashes tell will be entirely complete until the end-of-act flash comes out.

But I said I was only half-right about Hussie’s unwillingness to kill off Jane and Roxy. That’s because of the flash that opened Act 6-3, introducing Jane’s land, and the circle of lanterns therein, color-coordinated with the four post-Scratch kids, with the green one burnt out, corresponding to the earlier death of Jake’s dreamself. Near the lanterns are some tablets inscribed with this accompanying flavor text:

One by one the Nobles will arrive, and just as surely, one by one their lights will be snuffed out. In the beginning, the light of our Hope was lost. We must make do without it, and so must they. Then a mighty gust came and took the light of our Life as well, and our people knew despair like never before. But the light renewed its flicker quite spontaneously, and has been shining strong since. All in the land rejoiced.

Our lights of Heart and Void will each follow in time, long after our extinction. One will be extinguished, and then another, leaving only Life as the guiding light. But they should remain long enough to illuminate the Maid’s path, and assist her with the housekeeping we have left behind.

Well, it hasn’t exactly played out that way. Instead, Life and Void have been extinguished with Heart dimming out, then lighting up again, then being extinguished, then lighting up again so bright it exploded – all on-panel, by the way. (What was up with that, and the “Care Bear Stare” effect to start the latter flash? It’s not like Dirk’s situation is really any different from that of Roxy or Jane…) That was why I thought he would relegate this to a doomed timeline: to restore the sequence of events these tablets seemed to be foreshadowing. It wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility: Dirk could have travelled back in time (using some other means than what he did, of course) and not only restored the status quo ante but also mirrored the pre-Scratch Davesprite in the process.

This might seem kind of nitpicky, and a lot of people may have forgotten about those tablets (though people reading the comic all at once later won’t have), or never were that diligent about exploring every nook and cranny of the exploration flashes for flavor text. But as much as I’ve complained about Hussie pulling shocking twists on us seemingly for the sake of having a twist, this to me hints at a far deeper problem: the possibility that Hussie is setting up foreshadowing, but then making things up as he goes along anyway. Of course, it’s not exactly new that pretty much all of MSPA was made up as it went along, but Homestuck and later Problem Sleuth, by his own admission, have been increasingly preplanned with more intent to tell an actual story, and if he can ignore past foreshadowing at will just because it doesn’t fit what he wants to do now, or worse just to make his twists that much more twisty, it robs all that foreshadowing of credibility. A big part of the comic’s fandom is looking for all those little clues in every nook and cranny to make sense of Hussie’s infinitely-complex yet cohesive world, and Hussie has just raised the possibility that that may all be for naught.

Perhaps Hussie just forgot about those tablets, or perhaps he still has some plans to make them true, at least from a certain point of view. But it’s not just the tablets; remember Act 6 Intermission 2, where the scenes on-board the meteor and Jade’s battleship were preceded by “YEAR 1” graphics? That to me implied there would be another graphic for at least “YEAR 2”, which meant we would presumably get another intermission with the kids and trolls before their arrival in the session, and maybe most of Act 6-4 would pass before they’d actually arrive… then the meteor appeared inside the dream bubble with Aranea and Meenah, and the subsequent appearances of Jake, Roxy, and Dirk inside the bubble, and especially how quickly Roxy flew to the bubble and back to Derse under her own power, suggested that in fact this dream bubble is so close to the session (both temporally and spatially) that if the meteor’s arrival isn’t imminent, then Rose and Dave especially could easily cut the trip short under their own power (which could also help explain the apparent absence of the trolls in all the foreshadowing about the session), making that journey’s continuation something of an idiot plot. Time is already substantially twister in this new session than it normally is in Homestuck, but this is ridiculous.

Of course, Act 6-3 is just about over and no one has shown up yet, so it’s entirely possible if not likely we’re going to get at least that “YEAR 2” graphic during the third intermission to appear shortly… but it also feels like it’s entirely possible that the arrival of the kids and trolls is what Hussie is going to end Act 6-3 with, and it certainly feels like Hussie would have to find a way to kill a lot of time in Act 6-4 before the kids and trolls show up, which seems to be something you end an act within Act 6 with, not start one, or end an intermission that started with events a year beforehand. Perhaps he could delay the entry of Roxy and Dirk somehow or focus Act 6-4 far more on the cherubs, but it still seems difficult.

More importantly, I used to think that everything in Homestuck was building up to one grand climax, that all the pieces would fit together into a coherent whole, a premise that I suspect is at the heart of Homestuck’s popularity. But, and this is a feeling that has been increasingly building throughout Act 6, now I feel like I’m flying blind, and I can’t help but wonder whether or not Hussie is too. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of path connecting current events to the conclusion of the comic, especially with at least three whole acts within Act 6 devoted entirely to completely new characters (characters, I should point out, nowhere near as interesting as the trolls or even the pre-Scratch kids, except the cherubs, maybe Roxy, and a teensy bit of Dirk but only because he’s starting to take on some Mary Sue-ish qualities), and now I’m not sure Hussie feels the need to follow one. If Hussie can just drop anything he wants on us, it’s not going to be long before I no longer feel any reason to read the comic.

Act 6 has long been a shadow of the epicness that was Act 5-2, but Hussie now needs to pull a heck of a saving throw for the end of Act 6-3, intermission, and start of the next act to make me feel like maybe Act 6 isn’t one huge (potentially unnecessary) anticlimax, and hopefully, make me feel like I’m reading Homestuck again, as opposed to some sort of lame fanfic thereof.

The Occupy Tea Party Platform, Part II: Obamacare

Health care reform and universal health insurance is one of those issues that has popped up time and again in American politics for decades, dating back to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid, if not further. Both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton tried and failed to enact their own reforms. In that context, love him or hate him (or his plan), the fact that Barack Obama was able to pass anything, in the most polarized political climate since at least the Civil War, is nothing short of astounding.

The spiraling costs of health care pose such a threat to the long-term viability of the federal government, especially as the baby boomers retire, that this should be an issue that both sides of the aisle can agree on. In practice, a lot of people, especially on the right, seem to be unclear as to what the issue actually is, seeing the health care debate as being less about health care and more about the role of government in our lives, and there’s a lot of disagreement over where to fix the problem. (It doesn’t help that “Obamacare” has become a bogeyman that has arguably overshadowed the actual contents of the bill.) A lot of Democrats made insurance companies into the scapegoat, calling for the government to institute a public option to force insurance companies to keep premiums down and stop discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions (the people who most need it) in the name of profit, if not take over the health insurance system entirely and adopt a single-payer system.

While I’m sympathetic to the Democrats’ stance, I’m still not convinced that repealing the health insurance industry’s anti-trust exemption wouldn’t have done a lot to solve those problems even on its own, without further government intervention in the marketplace. Ultimately, Obama wasn’t able to pass any form of public option, and the bill’s ultimate solution to the problem of the insurance industry could be seen as an adoption of my viewpoint. Perhaps the centerpiece of the bill is the establishment of an “exchange” with which individuals and businesses could compare and contrast various health plans. But this was coupled with numerous requirements for qualifying health plans and a universal coverage mandate. During the debate on the bill, while watching C-SPAN I saw Republican lawmakers denounce the “exchange” as sufficient to constitute a “government takeover” of health care, raising the specter of the government deciding which insurance plans you’ll have a “choice” from. The “exchange” comes across to me as more of a shadow free market than an actual one, one the Democrats didn’t have enough confidence in not to include instructions to insurance companies on what to do and what not to do on top of it.

I can see why the individual mandate, probably the most controversial specific provision, was included. Most young, healthy people consider themselves invulnerable and don’t think they’ll need health insurance for anything. Requiring them to get health insurance means they’re covered if they turn out to be wrong, while their healthiness makes them the insurance companies’ ideal customer and makes it easier for them to cover more marginal customers for less, possibly having the result of lowering insurance costs overall. Republicans have been most vocal in decrying the mandate, but even Keith Olbermann, then still with MSNBC, called for the mandate to be stripped after the public option died, claiming that with the mandate but no public option the bill amounted to a massive gift to the insurance companies. I suspect that betrays his lack of faith in capitalism and the free market more than anything else, but in any case I can definitely see a scenario where requiring everyone to get health insurance causes high and inelastic demand, theoretically allowing insurance companies to drive prices to the moon.

At any rate, all the emphasis on insurance may be at least slightly misguided anyway. A larger problem may involve the quality of care itself and how it’s delivered to patients. There’s little research on what treatments offer the best bang for the buck; doctors are presently paid based on how often they’re used, not with a constant salary, encouraging overtreatment; and there needs to be effort to encourage healthier lifestyles so people aren’t so reliant on the health care system in the first place. (This last may come up in later entries in this series.) Republicans would rather focus on tort reform, claiming that fear of malpractice suits is what drives up costs; I’m not convinced by Wikipedia’s analysis which focuses on the effect of the actual rather than perceived risk of malpractice. And we’re running the risk of shortages in doctors and nurses in the future. The health care legislation does confront many of these problems, though they’re clearly in the background compared to insurance reform.

This is too complex an issue for me to figure out what the best approach is, so I may revisit it later. My impression is that the health care bill is superior to the status quo ante, and any better reform would need to build off at least some of its provisions, and if the Republicans repeal it without providing some sort of replacement there may be some people who feel a bit betrayed. But I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if we had instituted a true free market, rather than one imposed by the government. As it stands, it may well turn out that the health care legislation will give more power to both government and business, and while I’d like to see how it plays out before making any rash decisions, if it does end up repealed we should insist that it be replaced with a bill that empowers patients first and foremost by encouraging, rather than stifling, innovation in all areas of health care. Perhaps it includes an individual mandate, perhaps not, but if it includes it it does so only if it’s been established that, combined with other reforms, it will improve health care costs and quality of health for all Americans, rather than serving as a giveaway to insurance companies.