Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Can't find the snit in TouchPlay battle

Our state must be in pretty darn good shape, if the biggest excuse for a Great Iowa Controversy we can conjure up for 2006 is those TouchPlay games.

Nobody saw it coming in the debate-o-the-year sweepstakes. It didn't turn out to be sex offenders or child welfare laws. Food stamps or Highway 20. Not death penalty or abortion. Not year-around schools or early childhood funding. Not big money handed out like Halloween candy to super-wealthy conglomerates to try to lure factories to Iowa. Not cigarette taxes or property taxes. Not homosexuality or immigration. Who would have thunk it? All the perennial number-one-with-a-bullet hits are brushed aside for the one towering societal issue that has everyone barking under the golden dome and out here in the coffeshops of the real world.

TouchPlay. Nintendo for adults with too much time on their hands and too much loose change in their pockets.

I've tried desperately to care - after all, this is the issue of the year in Iowa, and gosh, I'd like to fit in. I've tried to work up a good self-righteous snit, but darn it, I've searched what's left of my editorial soul, and folks, it just isn't there.

On the one hand, I've always felt the state was just a touch grimy for profiting in such unapologetic, bucaneering style off the fleshy weakness of its own citizens. I've had friends with gambling problems, and it does nag at me a bit that we may be building a hotel with, in small part, the grocery money and college funds they additively lost. And, sure, I sometimes wonder what could possibly be next - one-armed bandits in the rest stops to see who gets to drive 75 without getting busted? Or roulette wheels to see who gets awarded a free master's degree at the U of I?

On the other, it seems like dirty pool - er, slots - for lawmakers to give the clear go-ahead for small businesses to invest their hard-earned cash in TouchPlay machines, and then when they are called on it, to get all self-righteous and give the shaft to a thousand little groceries and pubs, claiming that, oh my, they had no idea this was going to look so much very much like 9 (whisper it) g-g-gambling...

But no, I can't seem to find the emotion to match the firestorm that I hear going on around me, splitting Iowa into a philosophical civil war between morality and money. Nearly the whole front page of the Register says it's so...

I have a theory that if there is a hammer laying around, if you wait long enough, somebody will come along and hit themselves in the skull with it. And if the first guy says it was interesting, everybody else will pay to try it too.

Such is TouchPlay - if you build it, they will spend. This also explains why everyone suddenly has a pair of those ugly plastic shoes, a 16-passenger, a Minnesota Vikings coat, spinner wheels and Iowa Hawkeye miniature yard windmills.

First, why "TouchPlay?" That name isn't very creative. Wouldn't we assume touching is involved in playing the machine? As opposed to what - osmosis or telepathic signals? And TouchPlay sounds like some bad pop band that specializes in the soundtracks for dirty movies anyway.

Why not be honest about it? "Bail Out the State GovernmentPlay." Or "Go Ahead, Lose Your Dollar Again nd Feel Like an AirheadPlay."

Here, this is scary - according to the state bean-counters, by the end of the budget year, Iowans will have dumped $381.6 million into TouchPlays, more than everybody in the state will spend on arts, entertainment and recreation. More than twice what Iowans will spend on books, and close to 10 times more than they will spend to go to ball games at all the state's schools and colleges.

Put out a canister for the good-guy neighbor who needs a kidney and you'll come up with four bucks in pennies, some belly-button lint and one of those Subway restaurant stamps that you can't use any more. But put out a TouchPlay, and people will stand in line to give away the equivalent of the gross national product of a third-world country overnight.

It appears more people will use TouchPlay than the voting booth, so lets just make a governor's election slot machine... if three Culvers spin up, you win a Democrat. A bar, a cherry and a Nussel, and you get an elephant and a free spin.

Maybe it's just plain boredom, huh? Since we stopped hunting wooly mammoth for a living, life isn't such a gamble. Things have gotten slow. We have too much money and not enough life, perhaps.

Your kids spend all day on the PlayStation 2, while their parents grumble at Junior that he should just grow up. Then they go out and play TouchPlay all night. Figures.

I wish, I wish, I wish I could care deeply. I wish I could agree that people plunking their quarters into a lame game is the biggest issue facing Iowa today. I wish I could feel that it is a great investment to pay all of our fine elected minds to sit around Des Moines and argue eloquently about it this week instead of attending to education, health, nature, farms or jobs.

But alas, I just do not fit in. If people are going to squander their money, they will do it in this way, or if this way is banned, in the next way. Bo Bice albums, perhaps.

In this great debate, we will ultimately reach only one agreement: If not for TouchPlay, what the heck would we have to talk about? I apologize, I just can't find the snit in it.