Monthly Archives: March 2010

Games? Must we?

I have a confession to make: I haven’t played a video game since I was a teenager. Really.

I’m old enough to have been impressed by Pong, and I came of age during the Atari era. Nevertheless, my parents decided it would be forward-thinking and responsible of them to buy me and my sister… an Odyssey console. (But Mom! Everyone has Atari!) It had a real keyboard, not just a joystick, and even some cartridges that purported to teach you about computers. Deep! It also had a game called K.C. Munchkin that was suspiciously a lot like Pac-Man. This made us happy, along with the jolly little dance that the Shootout! gunslingers did when you shot them (or when you made them shoot themselves).

When you don’t have kids yourself, it’s very easy to stay insulated from video game culture, so I completely missed out on Nintendo, Gameboys, Playstations and Wii’s. Or maybe I’m trying really hard to stay insulated, because “gaming” is now a noun and it has leaked into nearly every aspect of entertainment and life. It would be easy to complain about “video game violence,” but I guess what amazes me is that even real life has become a big game now. I have a Twitter stream that I read every day, and quite a few people seem to like to “play” Foursquare (for lack of a better word), which involves having an application tweet your every whereabout and then proclaim you “mayor” of your location. (One of the guys I follow on Twitter recently tweeted that he was “Mayor of Lowe’s” so I asked him if I could get a discount on carpeting. I didn’t get an answer.) On Facebook, it’s all about Farmville.

Then there are the folks sitting in a room at Hancock piloting automated drones over Afghanistan, probably much like these guys in Nevada, who might as well be playing a video game with real bombs. There are lobbyists in Albany playing games, as always, and using their cheat codes.

Is the trend toward 24-hour playtime ever going to stop, or will grown men (in particular) be deeply concerned with games and gaming for the foreseeable future? Is it a problem, or not?

Rolling back the Raleigh revolution

Last year, a book by education professor Gerald Grant, Hope and Despair in the American City, got some attention here because it compared the inclusive school system of Raleigh, N.C. with the failings of the Syracuse city and suburban school system. The city of Raleigh is now ending its diversity-fostering district consolidation, and it’s turning ugly already:

Reversing the diversity rules follows a cascade of similar shifts around the South, and particularly in North Carolina, which once was a model of desegregation. Racial tensions have lingered for weeks as the school board moved forward. State NAACP chief William Barber recently accused the new board majority of having “racist attitudes” after the chairman referred to his opponents as “animals out of the cages.”

Our entire society now buzzes around the concept of “getting a proper education” and our imagined future is being increasingly hung on a complicated and expensive higher educational complex. And despite the Great Recession, things seem to be bubbling along “quite well.” Young Americans are clamoring to get into the system as never before, public universities are strained to the breaking point, and the biggest colleges never seem to run out of money for new projects and initiatives.

Yet, I wonder if the most beautiful colors appear on the horizon just before the twilight of an era sets in. The late philosopher Ivan Illich had a lot to say on why poor children don’t get properly served by our school systems, in the 1970 essay Deschooling Society. In his view, the entire system has to be upended, and not just by moving kids physically from one location to another, as the winds of the economy and politics see fit to blow them around.

State parks: so, now what?

As wrangling over Paterson’s budget continues, it’s looking increasingly likely that the great collective scream of bloody murder from the voters of New York has produced results: all of the threatened state parks and historic sites may stay open this year. With the closings already opposed by the state Senate, the Assembly wants to retain (borrow?) $11.5 million to keep them operating. Meanwhile, the DEC has announced its own round of campground closures, a much smaller list which probably won’t face the same level of outcry – some of these, like Bear Spring Mountain in the Catskills, had been closed last season.

But in truth, the future of our state parks is still murky. $11.5 million will keep them running this year, but what about next year? Are the parks still going to be underfunded and understaffed? Is the park creation process ever going to get a careful look? What about the budgetary and personnel strains affecting our “other” parks service, the DEC? (Once again, some important posts by Norbrook for those who aren’t breathing a sigh of relief just yet.)

New York, you’ve changed

Now that the derelict brick building on State Street (the one that was forcing the I-81 closure) is being knocked down, maybe it’s time to see how bigger cities deal with their old buildings. Answer: they raze them mercilessly and without tears. A website by a NYC film location scout takes a look at how New York City has changed since Taxi Driver was filmed there in the mid-70’s. He estimates that 90% of the New York seen in the film is now gone. (True, the movie had a lot of seedy locations and nobody wants a filthy Times Square any more, but even mundane, respectable buildings have disappeared.)

This picture interested me especially:

The old-fashioned vertical “Parking” sign behind Travis Bickle is not there any more. Yet, in Syracuse we still have one that’s similar. (The parking garage it’s attached to is a crumbling mess, but what of that?)

There’s news that a movie is set to be filmed at the old Hotel Syracuse. Maybe Syracuse can still loan itself out as a cinematic stand-in for 1970s cities, since time here apparently stands still.

This is how the world ends…

I have received my “the Census is coming” letter. Hopefully you did too, because this is The Most Important Census of Our Lifetimes. Stand up and be counted, or else much-needed funding or representation will go elsewhere — maybe to a county or state that’s more heavily populated with people who don’t think like you.

It used to be that every election was The Most Important Election of Our Lifetimes (a favorite theme at places like Daily Kos and Free Republic). First there was the Most Important Presidential Election of Our Lifetimes, and then there came the Most Important Congressional Elections of Our Lifetimes. But that idea has gotten old and no one listens to it any more, because these Important Elections don’t prevent bad stuff from continuing to happen, even if your side wins. So, now it’s the Census that’s the next logical thing to become critically important.

I wonder what becomes Important next, once the Census doesn’t help anything either. I’m guessing it will devolve to The Most Important NCAA Bracket of Our Lifetimes, followed closely by The Most Important American Idol Vote of Our Lifetimes, finally winding up with The Most Important Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie of Our Lifetimes. When the ensuing Most Important Food Fight of Our Lifetimes does not yield clarity, then we will have reached that great void from whose bourn no civilization returns.

And that’s how the world ends. So, please fill out your Census.