Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Television Review: The Daily Show

I'd like to start off this review with some other reviews this week, from IMDB, reporting from AP sources:

"Determined not to be caught up in a spin zone created by Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, Comedy Central on Monday refuted O'Reilly's assertion that the audience for the network's The Daily Show was composed of "stoned slackers." The channel extracted data from Nielsen Media Research to indicate that Daily Show host Jon Stewart's viewers are more likely to have completed college than O'Reilly's. O'Reilly made his remarks when Stewart appeared on his show a few weeks ago. "You know what's really frightening?" O'Reilly said. "You actually have an influence on this presidential election. That is scary, but it's true. You've got stoned slackers watching your dopey show every night and they can vote." O'Reilly is due to face the slackers directly when he appears on Stewart's show on Oct. 7."


"Concerns that people who receive their political information from late-night comedy shows may not be adequately familiar with the issues in order to vote knowledgeably appeared to be laid to rest Monday by a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey. In a poll conducted between July 15 and Sept. 19, nearly 20,000 young adults were asked six questions about the presidential candidates' stands on various issues. Those who watched no late-night comedy shows answered 2.62 questions correctly. David Letterman's viewers answered 2.91; Jay Leno,'s 2.95; and Jon Stewart's (The Daily Show) 3.59. The results for Stewart appeared particularly striking to the pollsters, who noted that his viewers "have higher campaign knowledge than national news viewers and newspaper readers."

All in all, people are placing far too little importance and relevance on a television show which actually does report factual data in a formal and frank manner, even if it does then proceed to mock the hell out of it. This show does not pander, it does not talk down, and it remains interesting enough to young viewers to keep them watching, every night, even when they really should be in bed. I mean, I'm Canadian... American politics has no real effect on my life, and I have no real effect on American politics. Why can't I stop watching?!?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Political Review: Jury-Draw Governmental Elections

I suppose this is a bit of a biased review, since it's something I've come up with over the past couple of years. It's clear to most people that democracy doesn't work in populations in excess of, oh, 30. Maybe 40. That's it. Homer Simpson said it. Kent Brockman said it. Democracy doesn't work.

In it's current form! Aye, there's the qualification. Democracy now is about as far from what the philosophers intended as Communism. In theory, both systems are flawless. In practice, you're adding a species that makes fallability an excercice in greatness. Corruption, greed, stupidity and just plain ignorance of facts will always dog any political system, but there are ways to mitigate it. The method I thought up (and that probably needs tweaking) is Jury-Draw Elections.

In the modern judicial system, juries of peers are picked at random from the entire eligible population. Even Oprah Winfrey reported, and she's a billionaire! Naturally, you can try to wriggle out of it for various personal reasons, and this ensures an unbiased group. I believe that the same principle can and should be applied to presidential politics.

A random seed of perhaps the cube root of the population would work nicely, I think, and a scaleable amount. Townships of 1000 people would have 10 candidates. Cities of 10,000 would have 20 candidates. Cities of 100,000 would have 46 candidates. A million people would have 100 candidates. The American population of 294 million would give some 660 candidates. Some of them would be excused initially due to some factors: education (at least high school would be required) age (between 25 and 65 to avoid debilitating health problems) income (under $100,000 per year). This would probably pare down half the group. A further half could opt out, OR nominate someone that they know, and feel would be more suited to the position. In the US, this would leave about 150 candidates who WANT to be President.

Now, from this point on, it is an election season. Each member is allotted a fixed amount of money with which to campaign, each dollar overseen by an part of the assigned election committee. Each person would begin outlining their platform, and studying hard on the necessary issues. Television time and travel time would allow each candidate to get their message out.

Obviously not everyone would be willing to work that hard once they realized what it would entail, and maybe a further 1/3 or so would drop out, leaving us with roughly 100 people. Initial spread-approval voting would be then used halfway through the campaign season, with each voter alloted 5 votes, worth from 1 to 5 points. The top 25% of the candidates would progress onto the next round, with more campaign money, and so forth. One month before the final election, another spread-approval vote would reduce the field from 25 or so candidates to an even 10.

From here, it would be the final month of debates, and touring, and appearances, as the candidates prepare for election night. Even the newest, least interested voters can keep track of 10 candidates and pick out the ones they like.

This period would be characterized by several prime-time television appearances of a game-show format, rather like Supertown Challenge. Candidates would be asked questions, ranging from basic essentials to more complex matters. Some good questions would be:

1.) What country do we owe the most money to, and why?
2.) What country do we have the most weapons aimed at, and why?
3.) How long do you think a low-income mother should have to wait with her sick child in an emergency room?
4.) How much do you think it should cost to fill the gas tank of a family car?
5.) How many millions of dollars in a trillion dollars? (3 second limit)
6.) How many millions of tons of pollutants does this nation's infrastructure produce daily? Answer in solid, liquid, and gaseous quantaties.
7.) How would you give the nation's millions of homeless a safe home and a second try?

And so forth, and so forth. British Prime Minister Tony Blair does this every Wednesday on his own TV show, and yet I get the feeling Bush or Kerry would likely explode without the ability to answer after consulting their committee.

The final voting day would be similar to spread-vote and proportional representation. Three votes per person, with a point value of one, two and three. The top three point-earning candidates would form the next Presidential office.

Whats that, you say? Three Presidents? Yes, thats right, a tripartisan system. The government would be composed of elected positions, from Environmental Minister to Minister of Finance, and so forth, ensuring that party politics are essentially negated. Every single person in the govenrment is now answerable for all of his or her actions, and easily replaceable. The tripartisan head of state would have to work and compromise and agree on actions and courses of legislation, with two able to over-ride a veto from the third party given that the two have the support of a given portion of the governmental office. This way one person cannot stonewall the entire government on an issue he or she disagrees with, but it also guarantees two Presidents cannot act outside the wishes of the people.

I may be whizzing on the electric fence here, but this is my idea.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Television Review: Childrens Programming

I have a two-year-old, so obviously there are a lot of shows aimed directly at him that make adults in the vicinity dumber simply by collateral splash damage. I won't be reviewing shows that my son likes that are aimed at older kids, such as Spongebob Squarepants or Billy Talent music videos. This is just about the goofy-ass shows.

Blues Clues

The first show that my son got ravenously addicted to, I have no major problems with. The animation is simple, the dialogue is not condescending, and the colors are pretty enough to keep my son thoroughly entranced. It was not long at all before he knew all the songs and dances, before he had even learned to speak. He could mumble quite well with the "We Just Figured Out Blue's Clues". This show also has the added advantage of a disturbingly charismatic live-action character, Steve. He performs the entire show in front of a blue screen, with only a notebook, pencil, and chair, and it is clear this fact does not elude him. Oftentimes you are positive he is watching the film crew simply kill themselves laughing, and his glances at the camera are quite clearly aimed at the parents, as if to say "Yes, I know this is demeaning, but your kids are cool with me for a minute. Go grab a coffee." Blue the Dog is cuddly and cute, as any animated puppy should be. It was only after they got rid of Steve and acquired Donovan Payton, a 'prettier' host with 'singing talent' and 'shiny teeth'. He just isn't the same. At least my wife has stopped watching the show now... Still, it gets a 9.5 out of 10. Even I get a kick out of it now and then.

The Bear In The Big Blue House

At first this show irked the hell out of me. I mean, it's a seven foot tall bear with an animatronic head in a house filled with with rodents, and he ended every episode by singing a song with the freaking moon. It was only after being forced to watch a couple of episodes of this all the way through did I actually start to respect it. The bear's voice talent is curiously good, very emotive and also not condescending. The songs are actually catchy, and they do fun things on the show like bake cookies and eat them... come on, who doesn't like that? The moon still annoys me, but my son loves it, since he also knows every single song on this show. (He can't say his own name, but he can perform the "Where Is Shadow" song and dance flawlessly.) The guy in the bear also gets a little respect, frolicking around in a hundred pound fur suit just to make kids happy, with someone off-camera controlling the eyes. All in all, I have to give points to this show, since my son will drop everything (including things we don't want him to play with) to watch this show. 8.5 out of 10.

Dora the Explorer

Oh, God, save me. This show is perhaps my son's favorite nowadays, and I shudder to wonder why. The premise: a tiny little mexican girl wanders around the countryside with a trained monkey, and a backpack that likes to eat things through the top of it's head. She can perform Matrix-style soccer kicks, occaisionally shifts from English to Spanish, and is constantly being pursued by a retarded fox who likes to steal things. What parent lets a small child go alligator-jumping, or bear-dodging, or snake-climbing? Also, a couple of wierd insects playing jazz instruments known as the "Fiesta Trio" like to follow behind her, playing a little fanfare everytime she does something. The songs are catchy, but the voices stab right into my brain like silky smooth ice-picks. Everytime my son sees Dora merchandise in the store, he charges it, grabs it, and tries to dance with it, screaming "Boots! Boots!" which happens to be the name of said trained monkey. I give it a 4 out of 10, and those points are simply because it gives me another few minutes to clean in the mornings.

Magic School Bus

A deeply disturbing show, I actually happen to like this one. Another conceptual nightmare, the premise is a classroom of extremely multi-ethnic children who all get along go on bizzarre field trips. As a product of the public school system, I can most definitely say that the first part of that statement is the most far-fetched. They seem to see nothing wrong with having a teacher with phenomenal cosmic powers wasting the, on showing the kids how near-shore ecosystems work, or how the center of the earth works, or shrinking them down and taking them on a journey through an open sore on one of the childrens legs and into the bloodstream. The show is educational, and the teacher is voiced by Lily Tomlin, which is kinda cool, but some of the topics on the show are a little advanced for a child who has only recently learned that if you take a container of sour cream and drop it off the table, you can eat the stuff that ends up on the floor. Still, as he gets older he'll probably become more interested in the scientific and ecological topics (even if my wife still can't watch the one where the bus drives under a bandaid and into a pool of blood). I give this an 8 out of 10, for effort and actual well-done animation.


or as I like to call it, "Friggin Miffy". A wierd claymation show with unrealistically spherical anthropomorphic animals. It's a short show, usually used to fill up space between the longer shows, but since my son is horribly addicted to it, I shall include it. He sings the song from the beginning, which is essentially "MIFFY" screamed over and over by high-pitched childrens voices, separated by such intellectual gems as "A cute little bunny" or "A smart little bunny" or "A happy little bunny". It's pure genius. The stories are simple, usually things like a ball going missing, or a rainy day. There is no real plot, no surprises, no real dialogue... it's just 'stuff that happens'. I'm not sure if the show is ripped off from Japanese culture, or if Japan ripped it off from us, and I don't really care, as long as my son outgrows it soon. 3 out of 10.

Max & Ruby

Some sort of cel-based computer animation, my brain can't quite reconcile inverse kinematics being used to move bunnies accross the screen, but that might just be my own personal issue. This show is aimed at slightly older kids... maybe even as high as three year olds. Ruby is the older daughter, and is accurately portayed as being gossippy and annoying if she doesn't get her way. Max is the younger child, with perfect pronunciation despite being able to only speak single words at a time. Their adventures include such things as "Max is annoying while eating breakfast", or "Max is annoying while playing Hide and Seek", or "Max is annoying while Ruby is on the phone". I rather think the producers had some childhood troubles, since every show is about how younger siblings can be annoying, and there's nothing you can do about it. This show has also taught my son that if there's food on his plate he doesn't want to eat, he can throw it on the floor and everyone will laugh and be amused. Wonderful morals. 3 out of 10, if only for the animation and voices, and amusement factor.

Timothy Goes To School

I am unsure about this show. The animation is OK, the stories are average fare for this kind of programming, but sometimes something unusually good or unusually bad sneaks through. Most of the show very pointedly does not center around Timothy, or even include him, which is my first beef. One episode centers around the arrival of a Japanese... animal-thing, named Yoko, so naturally everyone makes fun of her, only realizing at the end that she's a good person. One other episode focuses on a forgetful... animal-thing. This is perfectly fine, since most kids are forgetful at times. Even so, I simply could not wrap my mind around the line, "My mom says I forget things because my head is full of sunshine". Yeah. Remind me to try that the next time I have to tell someone they're stupid. These parents obviously have no regard for their childs future feelings. In spite of this, it's an average show, and my son likes it just fine. 5 out of 10.

Conclusion: Most kids programming is just re-hashed pap packaged in different animation styles. Above we have regular cel animation, computer animation, claymation, live-action puppets & animatronics, and blue-screening live-action people with computer animation. The ones that both I and my son like best are the ones with good writing and voice talent, so I think programmers need to start respecting their audience's intelligence a little bit more.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Game Review: The Works of Sid Meier

Ranked with Vikings out of 5. Starting with:


The first, the one, the classic. I dont know how many hours I spent playing this game, starting off with my little covered wagon and building an empire of untouchable power. It got to the point where I could play on the hardest difficulty (whatever it was) and beat the game without trying. It was a phenomenally complex game for such a simple concept, and such a small filesize. Billions of different combinations of maps, dozens of units, homicidal AI (including Ghandi the Psycho), and multiplayer options right from the start. Topping nearly every "Best Game Ever" list, Civilization is a must for fans of true classics.


The stepping stone between Civilization and Civilization II, Colonization remains one of my all-time favorite games to date. Theoretically just a refined form of Civilization, it focused on the arrival of the New World powers to, well, the New World. Focusing more on interaction and rresource management, the basics of this game are completely different. Cities are composed not of population, but of civilian units. You can take a regular Colonist, give him guns and make hima soldier. Give him tools, and make him a pioneer. Give him horses and make him a scout. Send him to school, college, or university and teach him how to be everything from a gun-smith to a distiller to a priest. You can handily beat the game with a small handful of powerful cities, although it is certainly possible to build a huge empire (usually by wiping out the Indians, unless you're French). The goal is to declare independence, and then survive the War of Independence (which aint easy!) You have to manage all your resources, from wood to ore to guns to silver to rum, and a dozen more! Watch the rates of Tories and Rebels in your cities, and handle negotiations with your parent country as they try and stifle the rebellion in the New World. Infinitely replayable, and horribly addictive, this game only comes second to Civilization II.

Civilization II

Any list that Civilization isnt at the top of is DEFINITELY topped with Civilization II. Arguably the greatest strategy game ever devised, it added incredible depth of play to an already incredible game. It was isometric, it was Windows-based (and extremely well done), it had perfect music, it wasn't graphics intensive (despite having gorgeously drawn graphics). It brought the skill and excitement of a strategy game to it's most refined edge. Ghandi the Psycho was back in force, backstabbing you every chance he could (although the programmers say they never made his AI special, he has gone to war for no reason so many times more than everyone else, including the Mongols and the Celts.) Build your Wonders of the World first, go to war, terraform your nation, convert the enemy... there is very little I can say about this game that hasn't been said somewhere, and better. This is the #1 game I have ever played, and it probably will be for a good, long time.

Alpha Centauri

The stepping stone between Civilization II and Civilization III, Alpha Centauri is the true sequel to Civilization and Civilization II. Your colony ships lands on the curiously habitable planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, but it breaks up in the atmosphere, scattering all seven factions evenly over the surface (shut up, it's just the premise). This game incorporates all of the new features Sid was obsessed with, including a much more detailed governmental system, trade system, border system and alliance system. You can stack your units with your friends, you can build your own custom units, you can customize every feature of your empire, and you can bombard your enemies in 3 dimensions from behind curving 3D terrain. The factions are all different with skills and abilities that greatly affect gameplay, the resource model is slightly different, the artwork for every culture is different... it's all the ideas Sid wanted. Unfortunately, the game did poorly, but I like this game third best behind Civilization II and Colonization. This brings us to...

Civilization III

Basically Civilization II with way way prettier graphics, the company voted out everything Sid wanted to put in, IE, everything he play-tested in Alpha Centauri. The only truly new features are the culture-based border system (which is really sweet, my favorite part of the game) and the culture-specific traits (Agricultural, Religious, Militaristic, etc). The trade abilities were vetoed, the government design was nixed, the alliance features were removed, and the result is what could be considered a 900 meg expansion for Civilization II. The game is slower, it's cumbersome unless your system is at least 1 GHz, and it's curoiusly repetitive. A sequel to a game should change EVERYTHING, making it better, but as it has been proven, you can't make Civilization III, you can only polish the hell out of Civilization II and call it a new game. I bought it, I bought both expansions, and realized I loved the middle games the best by a long shot. Still, 3 out of 5, and if you've never played anything before it and are obsessed with having the newest games, you'll definitely love it.