Thursday, September 27, 2012

Let's Play Sword & Sworcery

Alright, so enough reading. This is my official review of Sword & Sworcery. I know, I know, it's been out for a while. But if you haven't played it, check the review, see the clips, hear the amazing narration. I kid I kid.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Let's Play Sword & Sworcery Part 02

For those of you who tuned in to part one of Let's Play Sword & Sworcery, I now present the exciting conclusion.

I really did enjoy this game, although I think it plays stronger on the iPad. I say that only because the way it uses the iPad really is genius, and there's a joy to playing this game with headphones on and enjoying the music. But the interaction you get from having to flip the iPad and squeeze and pinch to manipulate the environment give it an added touch.

I think I'll do a proper, full length review of the game to amend this Let's Play, so expect a final post concerning Sword & Sworcery.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Let's Play Sword & Sworcery Part 01

It's rare when a story, in any medium, invokes the most primitive images of humankind in order to convey its tale. Whether in books, movies or games, characters are normally fleshed out and plots made intricate and detailed. However, sometimes the best stories are the ones that allow us to fill in the gaps. Journey, the most highly downloaded game on the Playstation Network, is one of those games. However, Sword & Sworcery also ranks among them, and rightfully so. A barebones plot detailing the adventure of a warrior Scythian in search of Gold Trigons, the Megatome and the destruction of the Gogolithic Mass, it is a tale pitting protagonist against antagonist without going into much detail.

While some people might think that a weakness of the game's story, it's actually quite a strength. Fairytale stories, such as the Chronicles of Narnia, would allude to larger worlds without actually exploring them. This allowed the reader to populate that world with their own imaginations. Sword & Sworcery does the same, allowing you to venture out and explore a world, seeking the destruction of an ethereal foe. Why? It does not matter. It only matters that the foe is mostly a symbol, one conveying death and destruction. Why root for the protagonist? It does not matter. All that matters is she is a symbol, one representing life and protection of the innocent.

There is a game here, of course, that involves more than just wandering about. It is like an adventure game, in that there is a world to explore and inventory items to use, but this is applied minimally. Then again, so is the combat system, which takes cues from Mike Tyson's Punchout and asks the player to respond to intricate timing and gestures initiated by the various foes of the world. Finally, there are search games involving cuing up musical notes in order to invoke Sylvan Sprites and forward the plot. These might seem like disparate elements, but in the world of Sword & Sworcery they combine elegantly, and allow you to feel involved in it. As the Scythian, you do all this, stumbling on hints of lore and legend that fascinate and propel you forward.

It is definitely a game worth playing, especially now that it has transitioned from the iPad to PC. However, this is a Let's Play! So I kindly invite you to watch my playthrough of Sword & Sworcery. This is part one of two parts of coverage. Let's do this.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Long, Sad Story of Teamsters Local 657

It's 8:30 in the morning and I'm driving through the King William's District of San Antonio. I'm on my way to a meeting of the minds, by which I mean I'm bringing my mind to teach at the local high school. The radio is playing its normal medley of trash rock and rap, but in my sublime morning state, fresh from waking up, it might as well be the summit of musical genius. It's one of those early days when the sun is still peaking over the edges of clouds piled high in inviting layers of blue and white. In short, it is a beautiful way to start off, one only spoiled by the row of somber looking individuals standing alongside the long road leading past Pioneer Flour Mill. Hands clutched about signs saying "Teamsters Local 657", they form a motley band of men and women on whom this beautiful morning is most certainly lost.

The King William's District is among the oldest and most renowned areas in San Antonio. As a consequence, it is also inhabited by some of the wealthier individuals in the city. Houses here go for more money than many people will make in a few years, and no wonder. Some of these buildings have histories so long they predate my own grandmother. Picturesque homes stolen from the frames of portraits sit alongside the lazy San Antonio River, its calm waters drifting away toward downtown San Antonio, whose towers scrape like fingertips at the blue sky above.

The whirring of bicycles is not uncommon, as the healthy and active whiz by on their daily routines. All through the air, a sweet fragrance pricks at one's nostrils, a memorable aroma ignited by the endless flower bushes that line the streets. This truly is one of the most memorable sections of the city, a place created by a confluence of history and modern efforts to restore the old place's glory. Mixtures of guitars, saxophones and pianos can often be heard swimming by as musicians gather at the local Blustar Art Complex, one of the centers of modern San Antonio's artistic community.
And rising above it all, the lord of the land, the great tower of Pioneer Flour Mill. For more than a century, this place has churned out the flour that has enriched its owners and created a name for the Guenther family. From its infancy as a small flour mill on the banks of the nearby river to its modern standing as a flour producing powerhouse, Pioneer Flour has outlasted many of its contemporaries. An old man of the city, its two hundred year birthday just over a coming thirty year horizon, it has seen employees come and go and its own business inflate. Far from creating mere flour, the hands of Pioneer stretch to other parts of the globe. From its bakeries in the UK, Belgium and the U.S. it has served to produce dozens of food products people consume each day.

It's a strange thing. Week to week, people pass by the place. They wander about, touring, enjoying the sights of the old houses. They meander along, off to look at the art and listen to the music touted at the Bluestar. Or, they head to Pioneer itself, to the Guenther House that rests cozily in its shadow. There, they enjoy the fine dining experience. If you're of the mind to, you can even enjoy the food and company there while celebrating on New Year's Eve.

With so much success, and in such a beloved area of the city, everything might seem perfect in the King William's District. Still, there is an outcry. Small, almost feeble, it still shouts. It breaks the serenity of the area, often unheard, but never ceasing. It is the voice of Teamsters Local 657.

When I drive by, occupied by thoughts of what my students might be like that day, wondering if they'll be able to snap from their high school dramatics long enough to listen to a history lesson, I barely catch a glimpse of them. To my mind, they may as well be a line for the local bus stop, or a group of day laborers hoping for employment. The uneven streets beneath my car rattle my cup of coffee, sending me into a desperate attempt to still it before it stains the nearby passenger seat.
I'm successful, my vehicle rolling on, but I have just enough time to see that line from the corner of my eye. Innocuous enough, certainly unremarkable, the group passes from my mind. After all, there's no time to wonder about strangers on the sidewalk when a small platoon of high school students, armed with rap lyrics, love interests and foul language are readying themselves to attack.

If they had only been there a day, I might not have thought about it again. However, another day rolls along, and on yet another day I fail to take any real notice of them. Still new to this area, I'm too busy simply trying to navigate my way through the streets of the old city to really invest in the sights. Perhaps they're simply waiting to get into the nearby factory, I muse, my eyes glancing just slightly upwards at the looming Pioneer tower. This ritual repeats, day to day, and I almost never really take the time to see them. In fact, it would not be my eyes that finally snapped me into paying intention.

No, instead it was a honk. Two beeps, as a dilapidated pickup truck bounces along the street, heading my way. I look over in annoyance, wondering exactly what it is he's honking at. Is he warning me of a cop? Perhaps one of my lights is out. Or, perhaps, he's simply one of the many terrible drivers that inhabit this city. Maybe he's simply an aggressive driver. However, as his vehicle passes out of sight, rolling alongside me and off into parts unknown, my eyes stay glued to the gates just beyond. Those people, those same people, are there again. They're nudging each other, talking. Some are laughing. Some are waving at the cars passing by. Then, finally, I see it.

The signs. Held high, on poles, or simply between firmly locked hands, they wave them. White signs, emblazoned with the words "Teamsters Local 657".

The majority of tourists don't come to the King William's District during the week, or even during the day. No, they come mostly toward sunset, or the evenings. Certainly they come more during the weekends. At the beginning of each month, San Antonio celebrates an artistic festival called First Friday. Artists, dancers, and musicians all gather. They don't simply flock to the Blustar, even if most people begin the night there. Instead, they stretch themselves out for blocks, along streets, filling them up like water filling up newly carved canals. Lights ignite the night, and revelers begin to stroll along. A new smell fills the air, as cuts of meat are cooked on steel framed grills, the scent of smoke and barbeque passing along.

Few people have reason to walk by the front gates of Pioneer even if they drive by it daily. Regardless, it's the weekend. If there are protestors standing at the front gates, nobody will see them on this day, at this hour. They're hidden as much by virtue of their location as much as the time of day and week Yet, there is one man, one figure, that sears itself into my memory.

I'm fresh from the university, where I spend time as part of a research team. It's only hours before the beginning of the festivities, and I have a late assignment to gather a few photographs of the district at sunset. In hopes of making the history of San Antonio more palatable to the undiscerning tastes of college undergraduates, I've gone out to gather the sort of photos that could add life to a lecture. Feet pounding along now cooling concrete, the rapid shutters of my camera the only sound filling the still empty streets, I catch sight of him.

In San Antonio, it's not an unusual sight to see vagrants, signs held up in hopes of rustling a few dollars. At first, I take this to be what I'm seeing. He's a man, thin, his thick mustache decorating a line worn face. Not much meat on him, and a ballpark cap pulled tightly down over his eyes, he is stationed at the rear of the facility. Not on the street facing traffic, but instead facing the interior of the district itself, toward the view of the many elegant houses that have stood for a better part of the century.

Protestors never stand there. There are, simply put, not enough vehicles passing by to make it worth the time. Vagrants avoid the street for the same reason. It sits closer to the Guenther House Restaurant than it does to the entry of Pioneer Flour Mill, even if the two are intimately entwined. Still, he's there, not standing, but instead sitting. The sun pours over him, reddened skin tucked behind a white t-shirt, sign in hand.

It's the beginning of Friday evening. The sun is quickly disappearing, and yet he still sits there. The sign reads "Teamsters Local 657".

Flour, biscuit mixes, cereals, tortillas. Products people consume daily. Pioneer's bakeries even produce the buns that are shipped to fast food titans such as McDonald's and Burger King. The average citizen of San Antonio might not be able to recognize it for what it is, but Pioneer is a powerhouse in its own right, a producer and supplier of a variety of goods. Its own website says that its current owners now zip about on "jet planes to distant subsidiaries and talk of product development, brand recognition and strategic plans". Pioneer is no small player.
Which is why it was strange when, in the spring of 2011, the whispers started to become shouts. Not all was right in the halls of Pioneer Flour. Dissatisfaction, discontent and disharmony ruled the workers of Pioneer. A wage raise was quickly coming, and so it was strange that there should be dissatisfaction. At almost any time, in almost any economy, a raise would be welcomed. Not here, not in the heart of the King William's District.

A manager sits down the leaders of the local workers. The wage is coming, he assures them. However, it's coming at a price. Health care costs will also be going up. The culprit? Obamacare. Because of the heavy burdens being placed on them by the president, Pioneer will have to raise the contributions of the workers from 11$ for medical to 35$. A net pay loss of four dollars per week, when it's all said and done.

Outrage. Anger. The teamsters claim almost seventy percent of their people will not accept. Management claims otherwise. The practical result either way, however, is a strike. It's why, if you're passing through on a weekday morning, you might hear the word "Scabs" being shouted by the local picketers. There are people who are ready to criticize the protest, obviously. The pay decrease isn't much, and the health care coverage is better. Picketers respond that, in reality, many of them already have their own coverage. It's a net loss for them regardless.

Here's the real crux of it, though. Tell any hard working man that he's being rewarded with a pay cut, and tell me what the result is. This point is especially sharp when his company's website talks about owners that crisscross the country, forging economic partnerships via the luxury of jet planes. It's not just a matter of wage decrease, either. Take a look at any modern assessment of wealth. The gaps are getting wider, between the richest and everyone else. MSNBC's Ed Schultz loves to tout his graphs, one of the most consistent being the growing wealth disparity.

Yet more to the point is not the disparity, but the rate of wage growth for the average worker versus that of the wealthiest. While the earnings of the wealthiest have continued to climb, that of everyone else has stagnated. That's what has created the disparity, and that's why it's difficult to take a working man aside, look him in the eye and tell him that his work has earned him a paycut. Not with jet flying owners, and not in this economy. Because of inflation and other factors, the buying power of the average American worker no longer has the strength it did even just ten years ago. So, a pay cut of even four dollars a week makes no sense. If their dollars already buy less, then a pay decrease means they can contribute even less to the economy. It doesn't add up.
Not for the members of Teamsters Local 657.

April 2012, the beginning of a new year of protests. In the past six months, Occupy Wall Street, despite its stumbles and the criticisms against it, has at least managed to begin a narrative about the growing inequalities in America. Major uprisings in places like Wisconsin and Chicago are the marks of organized, somewhat powerful labor groups. Public workers and teachers are no longer willing to take the abuse of government. In the months following April, they'll win major concessions in the legislature, in places like Ohio, as well as win victories in the courts.

That doesn't mean much to the people standing, every day, in the heart of the King William's District though. You never hear their story. It's not carried on MSNBC, and nobody from CNN is listening. Even the local news only carries occasional coverage. San Antonio, despite its growing reputation as a more liberal, tolerant city that is distinct from the Republic of Rick Perry's Texas, casts only an occasional eye toward them.

Hell, I was barely able to cast an eye toward them, as my car jumped along on the street as I passed on to work. It's year two now, for them, and they're still standing out there. The damn shame is, nobody's telling their story. They're just a motley group, all wanting to be treated like human beings, treated with compassion and fairness. Their jobs have all been replaced, now. Pioneer boasts that they're back to 100% employment and efficiency, having trained new employees and filled all the gaps.

They're not giving up though, not these people. I'm no longer passing by every morning, as my life has drawn me elsewhere. I can leave. My future, still being written, is for the moment secure. These people are living on the edge, though. It's hard to go so long without a fair shot at the job you enjoyed. In six months, they'll be staring at year three. They're still shouting, still crying, but there are no ears to hear. Nobody is paying attention, and that protest that began with a shout has dimmed to a whimper. Not for lack of passion on the part of the workers, but for lack of care from anyone else. In a world where labor movement after movement is being covered in the media, there are still groups like this going unheard.

Still, for my money, and it's not much, there's just one memory I'll never be able to let go of. It's that old man, white t-shirt on, his ballcap pulled down tight. Seated in a collapsible chair, brown skin sizzling beneath the sunset, he's not off to join the festivities. He's sitting on the unattended side of Pioneer Flour Mill, alone on an evening when groups of people will soon be passing by, their minds more on alcohol than on fair wages. Perhaps rightfully so.

This man, though, was something else. He was anyone and everyone you've ever met but never given a fair shot. I hope he hasn't given up, and that he's still fighting for the job he believed in, even if he was standing alone while all the world was trying to ignore him. Holding that sign.
Teamsters Local 657.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When did we forget these important lessons?

When did we begin to believe it was fair to tax the richest less, and tax the less fortunate more?

When did we begin to believe that self deportation was an answer, when it really causes the economy to shrink dramatically?

When did we begin to believe it was okay to cut tax exemptions on the middle class to raise revenue?
When did we start electing officials that want to tax the least most, and the most least?

When did we decide it was okay to start imprisoning the poor in debtors prisons again?

When did we decide it was fine to work people like slaves, providing them no job or personal security?

When did we forget the Jeffersonian emphasis on small landowners, and put their political power in the hands of big business?

The modern debate, the modern era, is caught up now in the great political debate of our generation. To whom does the political power of the United States belong? Does it belong to the wealthiest few, hiding behind shadowy organizations and contributing untold amounts to their anointed candidates? Does it belong to their corporations and the donations they make? Should the future of the United States belong in the hands of a few dozen wealthy?

Because if so, then this is not the America envisioned by Jefferson and the founding fathers. Government may have not been intended to interfere greatly in business, but neither was business meant to interfere greatly in government. Today, it seems as if only one half of that statement is heard in America. While corporations loudly balk at any notion of oversight, they pay piddling wages, demand longer hours and exploit the neediest for more. All along, they continue to interfere in government, contributing dollar after dollar. The same dollars that are being generated by the workers they overlook.

No, businesses are neither inherently evil nor good, but where their actions infringe on the natural rights of the people, then the government that the people enacted to protect them should take up their cause. Government is not only an abstract entity, controlled by homogenous groups that do not differentiate. If that were true, then it would not matter to your tax rate who was voted into office. If would not matter to whom you entrusted your health care, or who decided the availability of your contraception. If government was entirely homogenous, the way in which institutional bodies treated you on the basis of your skin color would be equal either way. If government was entirely homogenous, your ability to see a loved one in the hospital, on the basis of your sexual orientation, would be the same either way.

But it is not, will not be, because government is not homogenous. It is not abstract, it is your vote in action, it is your voice. In this year we make a decision for four years. Will we imprison the least of us for the crime of being poor? Will we raise taxes on those with the least and reduce health care benefits to those who need it, simply to create more wealth for the wealthiest?

This is America. A land of opportunity, a land of visions and a land of dreams. There are people who scoff at those who cling to ideals, who dare to dream. There are those who laugh at the notion of hope. Without the ideals, what is America? Americans who dream, who hope, do not hope for free rides. They do not hope for free money. They hope for a chance to better themselves, to work hard and be paid justly for their effort. They hope to live without government telling them who they love is wrong, or telling them they have to sacrifice in order to give the wealthiest more.

This is an America whose Hope is to achieve, to succeed and provide for its children. This is an America that does not want to be judged on the basis of its skin color, its gender or its orientation. This is the America that hopes, that dreams, that sees the best it can be. Its people do not always agree with one another, but they understand that to tolerate diversity is a strength, not a weakness.
This is an America that defies the old stereotypes. Because more than once in history, people have been accused of growing weak for tolerating different races and ideas. It was the accusation against Italy and Spain, and was the same accusation made against the colonists in New England. These were times when to associate with people of different color and background meant that you weakened yourself. We no longer believe these things. So why bring back up these old accusations and prejudices? Why resort to centuries old lies?

Because one group has ideals, and dreams, and seeks answers. Another has only the old lies that have bound people for centuries. America's greatest moments were not built on the backs of those who refused to move forward, but on the backs of those who labored for one another, who helped each other to progress. These people argued for change, argued for better treatment, argued for equality. We are children of that spirit, and we will either pass on that torch to another generation, or quietly accept the voice of stagnation and decline. The choice, as always, is ours.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Texas Lost: Homeless Children and the Education they won't Receive

If you haven't had a chance to read the Texas Republicans' stance on minimum wage, I don't blame you. It's written into their party platform, which is a frightening piece of writing containing stances that were current about a century ago. Fortunately, their position on it is brief and easily repeatable here:

"Minimum Wage – We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed."

What's truly unfortunate about Texas Republicans is that they aren't the only group of Republicans trying to swim away from providing better wages to the least fortunate. While the Democratic Party is busy trying to help those in need with better wages, Republicans are literally driving away from any constituents bothering to ask about higher payments.

However, while debates about minimum wage and the economy seem to be little more than political games for Republicans to pander to their constituents over, there are some very stark realities for those living in Texas who are barely getting by. From Galveston today:

"Lailani is one of about 650 homeless students beginning their second week of classes in the Galveston school district. Almost 10 percent of the district's students have been identified as homeless.

While Galveston's situation is unusual because of the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike, the number of homeless students is increasing nationally and in Texas even as resources to help those students dwindle.


Over the past four years the national number increased by 57 percent, to about 2 million, and by 151 percent in Texas, to about 85,000, said Ralph da Costa Nunez, president of the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness in New York."

Previously discussed has been the growing situation in Texas in which education funds have been slashed at both the K-12 and collegiate level, as well as the cuts to healthcare and services for the poorest. This has combined with a growing number of homeless. In Galveston, that number reaches nearly ten percent, and leads to a situation in which individuals are nomadic, without steady social support or opportunities for education.

Lack of housing that stems from underpayment combines with a lack of social services, forcing families into a nomadic lifestyle. Children are forced to move schools multiple times, providing little consistency. Meanwhile, the schools they do attend are likely to have become victim of Texas' cruel budget cuts, providing substandard education services to those already on the margins of society.

Senator Jane Nelson wrote recently that 115,000 Texas receive aid as part of TANF, welfare to the neediest few. That's less than 1% of the population, in a state with some of the harshest requirements to get on welfare. For many in this state, that leaves them in limbo, unable to receive assistance, underpaid, and forced to stay on the move.

Texas is creating an entire generation of underserviced, undereducated citizens. This wouldn't be new for Texas, which has one of the worst graduation rates in the entire country, and also has a higher rate of drop outs than the national average.

This leads to some simple questions Texas politicians have to answer. What are the effects of having ten percent of our population earning minimum wage, and another large percentage earning less than their peers, nationally? Because the effects are systemic. Lower paying jobs means less revenue gathered by the state, leading to less social services. This in turn creates situations like poor Lailani's, in which she must stay nomadic, on the go without hope of any proper education. This in turn will create a new generation of low wage, undereducated earners that will reduce Texas' prospects in the coming era.

It's strange that, nationally, Republicans are hoping to emulate the Texas model by slashing public services while cutting taxes to big business. Rick Perry and the Republican party have already done that, and the result, which we're seeing develop before our very eyes, is a lost generation of Texans. In ten years, when Texas is floundering in a sea of of welfare applicants, it will only have itself to look at. Welfare isn't something that people seek out because it's their highest aspiration, but is instead something created by bad policies and mismanagement of resources. Texas has done that in spades. Will national Republicans keep trying to do the same?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Let's Play: LOOM

Most adventure gamers have played the big ones from Lucas Arts and Sierra. King's Quest, Space Quest, Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle. The oldies but goodies that spawned franchises and became popular in the general public. However, a few games never gained the same sort of notoriety or love that these franchises did, and one damned good game that doesn't get brought up enough is LOOM.
Partly inspired by the ballet Swan Lake, with music to match, LOOM is a Lucas Arts classic that defies the rest of the Lucas Arts catalog. Rather than a whimsical, humorous adventure full of inventory puzzles and snarky dialogue, LOOM is actually a quite serious fantasy story. Limited by the technology of the era, it still managed to develop a rather dark fantasy with serious overtones and a threatening antagonist.
In it, Bobbin Threadbare lives among the Weavers guild. A group of mystics capable of weaving reality using musical tones, the story is set on Bobbin's 17th birthday. On that day, the guild is transformed into swans that depart through a rift in reality, forcing Bobbin to chase after them. In good adventure game fashion, there are a number of puzzles he'll have to solve along the way, but not in the traditional method.
Instead of combining inventory items, various environmental puzzles have to be solved by playing the correct notes and "weaving" reality. For instance, if you have a song to twist something and need to untwist a bottle top, you would play the song backwards. That would "untwist" the bottle top. In another instance, if you needed to paint something a certain color, you would play the notes that would dye the fabric. Playing the notes backward would undye it.

Along the way, you travel through a fantastic realm full of guilds. Glassmakers guilds, Shepherds, Guilds, Smithies guilds and Cleric Guilds all fill this wonderful world of brilliant art and fantastic characters. Though the technology limited the sort of depth you could get out of the characters you would meet, a proper, somewhat tragic story was still told in which Bobbin crossed the world looking for his lost family and answers behind his birth. Thankfully, the game is now available here on Steam, in the CD version that included full voice acting and higher definition graphics.

However, if you're just looking for a good Let's Play to see the story unfold, please feel free to check out my videos and my YouTube channel for lots of Let's Play goodness.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Texas' Recovering Economy that Leaves People Behind

Today in the Houston Chronicle, there was an interesting article about a young woman named Tameka Morris who completed her nursing degree in 2010. Following her completion, she'd hoped to capitalize on it and join the ranks of the professional field. Unfortunately:

"Since graduating in May, however, she's been unable to capitalize on her education. Employers want more experience than she had accumulated, or job opportunities were too far away for her to consider because of transportation issues.

The single mother survives by working two to three temporary home health jobs. In a good month, she earns about $900."

There are a few issues that spring to mind just in reading this small quote. Employers have long been demanding levels of experience at cheap wages, especially since the beginning of the recent recession. Of course, there's also the issue of transportation. While Republicans have put a halt on the construction of infrastructure in the name of budgeting, they've affected the lives of people like Tameka Morris. Time and again, Texas has seen resistance to the construction of new transportation methods like next generation rail systems. Houston is, fortunately, internally developing its own system. However, there are still people, like Tameka, waiting in the wings. There's an even greater half truth hidden in this story, however.

"In the wake of the recession, 41 percent of households headed by single women with children live in poverty - nearly triple the national poverty rate, according to 2010 census data.

And while the economy in Texas has recovered more quickly than in the rest of the country, the state's single mother poverty rate is just as high at 42 percent." (Emphasis added.)

Going back to the early days of the Perry campaign, we've seen these claims of Texas' strong economy and how well it's doing. However, for individuals like Tameka, there is no change. A lack of investment in infrastructure is only one problem that lower income workers are facing. It is true, of course, that Texas is one of the leading states in job growth. The state nearly doubled the nation in the growth of non-agricultural jobs.

However, it is not only the growth of jobs, but the quality of the jobs grown that is important. In that respect, Texas has not been on the cutting edge of development. Time and again the claim has been made that Texas somehow has done wonders for its citizens by slashing taxes on business and by removing protections from workers. Never mind that Rick Perry and the state legislature did this by slashing the education budget, one of the surefire ways of crippling your states future viability.

Texas closed its budget by removing funding for both public education facilities and higher education. Those attending the neediest schools were left with even less resources, and those with the least ability to pay for college were left wondering what to do with their futures. Its graduation rate in high school is one of the worst in the country, ranked somewhere between 46th and 50th, depending on who you consult. Its college graduation rate, however, is indisputably poor, topping out around 50% for four year college attendees. Meanwhile, health and human services, as well as medicaid operators, were left with drastically slashed budgets.

What was the goal of such drastic reduction of aid to the poorest in the population? Was this truly in the name of good business? Because if so, Texas took up the wrong business plan. Nearly ten percent of the state is employed at the minimum wage rate, and many Texas earn less money than their peers around the country working in the same jobs.

So Texas politicians expect the citizens of the state to believe that worse paying jobs, backed by an underfunded education systems and lack of safety nets for the neediest citizens, is somehow the key to the future? Where is the logic? Where is the passion for the state's people? There is a future coming, one in which the great nations of this earth are investing heavily into next generation technologies and resources. We are seeing the advent of new types of cars and energy production, and that wave of technological development isn't awaiting in some flighty, science fiction future. It's here, it's coming now, and will be maturing within a few years. Can Texas honestly expect to be competitive in that realm when its doesn't bother to educate its future generations properly, and funnels its citizens into low paying jobs without any support?

The state, instead, looks to continue a trend of generating underemployed citizens with few options. Women like Tameka Morris are an unfortunate part of the new Texas underclass, a group of skilled individuals who cannot find adequately paying employment due to a variety of circumstances, and who find themselves without the necessary social supports to live safely month to month.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: Salentos @ Rice Village

The Rundown:
The City: Houston
The Place: Salentos
The  Day: Monday
The Time: 2:30 - 3:30
The Review:

It was Labor Day weekend which meant, of course, that yours truly would not be found in doors all day. Wanting to get out and about a bit and see a little more of Houston, I decided to treat myself to some lunch and coffee. I thought this would make for an easy review of a meal but, as with all things worth consideration, even lunch does not come easy.

Salento's wine and coffee certainly thinks highly of itself. For such a small location nestled amongst a mostly college crowd, it is certainly aiming for the skies. Decorated with a semi European vibe and with jazz music wafting from the rooftop, they certainly had a clutch on the near classy aesthetic. It is a nice place, nicely decorated, with a view of a wine wall at the back end. Slightly outdated, but it has that coffee shop look nailed down. I'm still unsure if it's look matches the clientele.

 However, I went at lunch, and dinner service may bring in a different sort of client. So, how was lunch? I had what was essentially a chicken sandwich on ciabatta bread, at a total cost of ten dollars. Mind you, this is only two dollars short of a large meal at a mid scale restaurant, with far larger portions. The ciabatta bread itself was nicely toasted, not overdone. There was little inside to justify the cost, however. Most of the flavor came from the slab of cream cheese on the interior. Besides that, there were two slices of tomato, some spinach leaves, and some limp grilled chicken.

The chicken was disappointing. Even if being served on a cold sandwich, there should have at least been some flavor or texture to the meat. To illustrate just how limp and texture-less the chicken was, I initially, on visual and touch inspection, had difficulty discerning between the chicken and the cheese. Coupling this to the crime of small portions to high prices, and the chicken sandwich simply turned out underwhelming.

It's a coffee shop too, though, and I had to have something to top off the day. A chocolate mocha was my dessert of choice, hard to mess up, and at four dollars a good price.  Rich, creamy and with enough caffeine to offer a kick, the mocha sent me off smiling.

Still, the entire experience was slightly underwhelming. I wasn't sure what to expect coming in, but given the decor and overall vibe, perhaps I should have expected high prices on the food. However, high prices always demand high quality, and there just wasn't enough of that in the sandwich. Think of it this way. Would you pay ten dollars for ciabatta bread and a small grilled chicken breast at any other locale? Likely not.

Some minor details for the inquiring student. It has wifi, assuring you access to online research (and more likely, Facebook). Though the wifi was not working when I arrived, the staff worked to resolve that. The main attendant didn't look too happy to be there and could barely smile. I understand you're aiming or the somewhat uppity Euro vibe, but a smile never hurt anyone, yeah? At least the attendants waiting the tables were prompt and courteous. Let's remember, restaurants sell an experience, and service is a large part of that. However, even if they weren't always happy, the servers were at least prompt in bringing food out and removing plates to the kitchen.                                                                   
And odd mix of stuffy black shirted servers in a semi Euro aesthetic coupled with obviously uncaring collegiate clientele made for an odd lunch aesthetic. Salentos may be better off modernizing and putting a bit more energy into its appeal, rather than sticking to its current, stodgy outlook. At the very least, make a better sandwich, for Heaven's sake.

The Final Call:
Facilities: 4/5
Staff: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Drinks: 3/5
Food: 2/5

Overall: 3/5