Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Faithosis and my Solstice-and-Friends Resolution

There's no such thing as Jesus. Look, I know, three days ago we just did that whole routine with chopping a tree out of the snowy landscape to take it inside and cover it with fake snow and LEDs (just like Emperor Constantine used to) which accompanies the impersonation of a morbidly obese home invader, who in turn is just the sidekick of a magic baby. Out of all that mess, I don't mean to pick on the baby specifically, though his name (sorry, His Name) does tend to pop up a lot and I had to get your attention, get your nose out of the eggnog somehow.

The whole highfalutin' mess has got to stop. No, not just that one day. In fact, you can keep the stories about the manger-rat and the fat guy sliding his fat sac up and down your chimney, and if you like the smell of incense by all means adopt it as aromatherapy, and if you like waving your hand around in front of you and mumbling Latin gibberish, you can certainly do it as performance art... so long as we always, always admit that it truly is just performance art. Nobody's going to beam you up to some big public park up in the sky because you said your Pater Noster with just precisely the correct note of humiliating humility.

See, it's not just Christmas around this time but also the New Year, itself a nonsensical figment of our calendar system, but just for the sake of subdividing time let's call it Solstice and Friends. Around this thought-provoking time of Solstice and Friends, this emblematic memento mori of deepest darkness, our minds naturally struggle to encompass the changes in ourselves and the world around us since last Solstice and Friends. So, between the delightful little romp at Charlie Hebdo and the rest of the constant attacks by fundamentalists elsewhere we find Belgium, Britain and Germany overrun with fundamentalist immigrants forming enclaves immune to the laws by which the rest of us must abide and Europe's hands tied by its own mis-application of freedom to those who adopt denial of freedom as a fundamental dogma. Meanwhile, across the ocean, the only people who don't have to worry about Islam won't shut up about it. Remember when Alabama passed anti-Sharia laws? Well, ya gotta defend yourself from the rampaging barbarians. All three of them, or however many forgot to disembark their flight in California.
Then again, that's just another facet of faith-based mindlessness: the constant desperation to pose as a defender of the faith, to take as much territory as possible in the name of da lawd a-mighteh.

Hardly a challenge to find examples of religious atrocity on every scale, from those rainbow-sprinkle plaster eyesores Catholics call statuary to, oh, say, burning people to death for kicks. Still, no matter how often I and others are brought to a frothing rage by the latest fundie head-up-the-assery we should never lose track of the central problem. The things done by religion and the religious are bad enough, but even in their absence the precept of faith would warrant denouncement. Were it all good-intentioned, it would still be false.

Jesus ain't real. Mohammed was a filthy street-corner prophet the likes of which you can see mumbling against "da gummint" in any gutter from Chicago to Osaka. Siddhartha Gautama was a half-baked burn-out with a good eye and even better distaste for exploitation. So on and so forth. Sure, sure, archaeologists can quibble about whether two thousand years ago there actually was some poor sap wandering about Galilee who thought he was the son of yahweh or yo momma or whatever, but none of that makes the proposition of the supernatural true. There may have been a Yeshua with sand in his butt-crack preaching love and forgiveness, but there's no Jesus-son-of-dog-bringer-of-Apocalypse-and-snappy-dresser up in the clouds. More interesting, most of you who closed the browser tab as soon as you saw the first line of this post, you actually know that. You know damn well it's a lie, through all your kneeling and chanting or patting the kneelers and chanters on the back.

Some years ago, in a state-mandated "speech" class, I began a speech about gullibility with a phrase along the lines of:
"I am the earthly incarnation of the almighty creator of the universe, and you should all bow down and worship me... and if you don't believe me, why would you believe anyone else?"

Nobody worshiped me - in fact, as my claim to martyrdom, I was flunked for that little presentation. Still, that remains the relevant distinction. If some guy walks up to you on the street and says "hey, I'm Jesus, gimme twenty shekels" you neatly sidestep him while avoiding eye contact and try to catch the first bus out of crazy-town.

Rationalists are often active truth-seekers. We are too easily tempted to take the facetious demand "you can't prove there's no God" at face value, as a challenge, as an intellectual exercise, instead of the purely linguistic sophistic trap it represents. The thoughtless intentionally place an impossible burden of proof on thinkers. Yet not only should science and reason not be called upon to prove a negative, but sheep must be called out to back up their bleating. Despite every human society suffering its own peculiar strain of endemic faith-osis, science's attempts to cure the infection do not represent an action in itself. The initial action is taken by the faithful of all faiths. By declaring the existence of a creator, the mindless propose an interpretation of the universe, one which should elicit the very same skepticism I encountered when claiming to be the earthly incarnation of that creator. What's more, when the charlatans and fanatics fail to provide such proof as their divine hypothesis requires, day after year after millennium, we have no excuse whatsoever for taking the socially convenient route of appeasement, for mumbling some conciliatory "mmmyeah, you still might be right."

There's really no such thing as agnosticism on a social scale. If there might be gods and heavens and eternal souls, then I might be a sentient gerbil in disguise, I might win a different lottery every day, I might just spontaneously float off into space and the sun might just decide to disappear tomorrow. Yet you don't walk to work every day half-expecting to float off the face of the planet with every step, you don't give up setting your alarm clock because the sun might go out tomorrow; you are not agnostic about every ridiculous crackpot notion you hear.

As for those who call yourselves agnostics in regards to religion, most of you are really just atheists spinelessly sucking up to the fundies. Just as you don't act agnostic with regards to gravity you don't act at all uncertain with regards to the existence of a domineering sky-dwelling control freak or his hippie "son" by any measure of your daily actions. You watch the weather report just like I do instead of praying for rain, you make graven images of whatever you damn well please, you masturbate and stuff your faces with Bic Macs and covet the hell out your neighbour's wife's fine derriere with no second thought as to whether a celestial voyeur might be looking down on you. It's when you run into the faithful, the mindless degenerates who demand their lunacy be treated as virtue that your social ape instincts kick in, altering your behavior so as to form convenient social alliances, altering your thoughts so to appease others at every step. You're not a morally superior tolerant liberal. You're a facetious self-serving coward.

So here's my Solstice-and-Friends resolution: I'm going to be less tolerant of your stupidity and spinelessness from now on, not just because of my own anger but because niceness doesn't work. You can't just hide your head in the sand and call yourself agnostic and hope the idiots around you see reason. You have to speak reason. Like any zoonosis, faithosis must be treated as an invasive animal influence which reason must combat, as a social pandemic crippling the individual mind, as degenerative parasitic primitivism to be exterminated like smallpox or the black death or rabies, because there simply is no other way. The faithful interpret every concession not as benevolence but weakness, and the more you give the more they'll take. If you let loose a rabid dog, you are responsible for the death it causes.

Truth is not a fad or a preference. We may be yet unable to discern all truth, but to whatever extent we can it is one of the clearest prerequisites for all other actions. There are no gods, no heavens and no souls. If you believe in any of those lies, seek mental help, because if you meet me on the street you sure as imaginary Hell shouldn't expect me to chant along with your mental disease, or with those who promote mental illness.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Sound of Money

"God-Money's not looking for the cure
God-Money's not concerned about the sick among the pure
God-Money let's go dancing on the backs of the bruised
God-Money's not one to choose"

NIN - Head Like a Hole

I'd like to take this chance to recommend one of the few things to wring belly-laughs out of sour-tempered big bad lupine me over the years, the far-east re-imagining of a beloved "classic" known as The Backstroke of the West.
Now with 300% more Presbyterian elephants per galaxy far away. I bring this up specifically because I fired up Prime World a couple days ago to find Nival attempting to out-Engrish Chinese amateur translators:
Buy! Buy the arised awaken! It is a big.
Ah, traduttore, traditore.

Well, yes, it is in fact a big. Fuck the Middle-East and drowning polar bears. Babelfished translations aside, this weekend there's no other news to talk about except the awaken of The Force, by which I mean
by which I mean Disney's mind control apparatus. If we're to believe Wikipedia, over half of the most expensive movie in history's budget went into marketing. Two hundred and twenty-three million dollars our of four hundred and twenty-three. That's a quarter billion dollars spent on nothing.

I don't say that lightly.
First it might serve, as a thought-exercise, to translate that amount into something relatable like several thousand houses but I'll leave it up to my readers' imaginations to figure out what they could do with a quarter billion dollies. We cannot properly treat this as a comparison with other products, because it was not spent on producing anything.

Interlude: Nasreddin Hodja and the sound of money.

Once upon a time, Nasrudin came upon a hard-working wood-cutter going about his labors while another man lounged nearby clapping and yelling praise and encouragements. Confused, he asked the meaning of such a sight. The idle man said he's entitled to a third of the worker's income for providing support. The worker bitterly denied this, but Nostradin nevertheless demanded his coin-purse because it's only fair to provide an appropriate reimbursement for such a service. Taking out a metal dish, the Hogia loudly dropped a few coins onto it then handed all the money back to the wood-cutter saying "the sound of money is the proper payment for the sound of work."

In another version, Nasr ud-Din Ependi is himself lounging around the outside of an inn, delighting in the aromas of dinner wafting from the kitchen. The owner steps out and angrily demands payment. Payment for what? Why, consuming the scent of food, of course. Nastratin dutifully takes out his coin purse, holds it by the inn-keeper's ear and shakes it, saying "the sound of money is the proper payment for the smell of food."

Anyway, what I was
Ahem, what I was getting at was that Disney sank a quarter billion dollars (that we know of) into market manipulation for a single movie. This is money which adds nothing to the quality of the product. It can't render the explosions explodier or the hams hammier, the Yoda-ling more cryptic or the force any more forceful. Marketing doesn't cut wood. What burning the equivalent GDP of Micronesia can do is starve out the competition, make you
the latest Star War instead of many other perhaps more deserving space-age reincarnations of the swashbuckling mystical hero routine. You don't know what you don't know, and the obscenity of the sums involved in keeping it that way grows every day.

Economists faithful to the fundamentalist dogma of the invisible hand (flipping the public the all-too-visible finger) routinely slam any mention of socialism by citing the legendary inefficiency of old Eastern Bloc Communist economies. The free market, you see, is supposed to be efficient. Of course everybody who's anybody does their darndest to un-free the market as soon as they get the capital to do so, which is where the monstrous inefficiency of capitalism comes in. Over half of Disney's investment in The Force has gone not into out-competing other movies as per the naive interpretation of competition by offering a product for the public's evaluation and comparison with competitors, but in limiting the public's knowledge of available choices. They do this because of course they expect a huge
return on same investment, to the tune of half a billion dollars just in the first weekend, and ever more ridiculous sums over the weeks and months to come. How many different movies could have been funded with a quarter billion dollars? How many Primers in a Force? How many Primers in a Force's Twitter budget alone?

Of course in another week Americans will remember there's a still bigger circus in town and everyone will go back to watching Donald Trump calling Mexicans rapists and Ben Carson's homoerotic Jesus fanfic and Sanders' goofy hair and hopeless appeals to reason and Hillary Clinton cackling maniacally and telling Obama to clear out his office and don't let the door hit your scrawny black ass on your way out. Wanna talk marketing? Estimates for this two-year campaign now seem to be exceeding ten billion dollars. The Clinton dynasty's brand name alone comes with a two or two-and-a-half billion dollar price tag attached.


Buy what? Stock markets and mass-media have reversed Nasreddin's lesson. This is capitalist "efficiency" throwing greater effort into telling the public which food smells better than into actually cooking or eating anything, and it's all paid out of that wood-cutter's money because the Koch brothers sure as hell aren't manning the spigots on an oil rig themselves. Ten or twenty billion or however many Primers' worth of your money spent to decide which dog eats which, spent to tell you which product is superior instead of allowing you to decide for yourself. Two billion dollars' worth of Walker and Clinton's plastic smiles tacked onto every billboard and every TV channel and every online video ad day-in and day-out for the next year, all because the fatcats are expecting a HUGE return on their investment. Sounds like money to me.

The leas-
Sorry, the least she
I said the least she could do-
The least she could do is wave a lightsaber around.

Oh, will you shut the fuck up already?

"Bow down before the one you serve
You're going to get what you deserve"

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Disarm you with a smile

I jumped back into LotRO recently. Not much of a jump since the game hasn't had a deep end in years, but hey, I'm only two zones behind the company's release schedule... I think? Who cares. Since it stopped being a game, I'm getting as much out of it as anyone by treating it as a 3D tour of Minas Tirith or The Shire.

Now, while I normally bitch and moan about the simplification of games over the last decade, today's installment of bile and vitriol predates the current slot-machine, microtransacted, head-patting achievement-unlock marketing model. It pertains to the thorny old issue of crowd control.

See, as LotRO was dumbed down over the years, it's become so mind-numbingly dull that the only (and sorely unsatisfying) way to spice it up is to take on more and more monsters at once. Some of these have crowd control abilities, which in theme-park MMO parlance usually boils down to nothing more imaginative than an outright stun. Some can also disarm you, which though is logically intended as one of the softest forms of crowd control has become in LotRO the chief impediment to dropping whole swarms of kill-ten-rats. The worthless mouthbreathers designing this pathetic excuse for a combat system have made dropping the soap more dangerous than being completely knocked out.

Partly this is because stuns induce a ten-second immunity when they wear off while other forms of crowd control do not. Largely, though, it's due to the utter lack of imagination in determining which skills status effects like silence and disarm affect. See my cast bars above? Well, most of those "different" skills are utterly redundant copies of each other in the first place, but let's skip the "greater magic missile" idiocy for now. See how they're all grayed out? I'm a spellcaster. I have been disarmed. My only options are:
1) throw down a slowdown AoE
2) cure my wound effects, which would cure the disarm... amusingly useless since it takes about as long to cast as the status effect does to wear off on its own

Forget niggling details of balancing durations though. The more basic problem is that disarming blocks ALL skills from use. Half the reason to play a magician, thematically, is not being utterly dependent on the pointiness of your stick, but being able to call fire and lightning on the heads of your foes by simply... calling. That or wiggling your fingers, twitching your nose, groping Galadriel's phat phial, what-have-you. There's certainly room for removing a caster's channeling focus as a thematic element, especially in Tolkien's vision of wizardry (see Gandalf at Edoras) but sweet everloving fuck... an entire class of Loremaster spells in LotRO is called "signs" - as in I can take away a third of your attack power by giving you the finger! No big stick needed. Do you mindless finger-painting graduates trotting out this dross ever read your own ability names or are you getting paid to face-plant your keyboards and call it game design?

Suspension of disbelief aside, the whole point of having different status effects is to induce different states. If you're silenced you can't speak the name of the holy, if rooted you can't dance for rain, if disarmed you can't play fetch with wargs. Whatever. Not only should the same status effects not affect a fighter and wizard in the same way but different states should limit my skills in different ways. Yes, if I'm disarmed I should not be able to use "staff-stike" or "staff-sweep" but I sure as hell should be able to flash you or blow you down, sailor-man.

I will freely admit this is by no means a LotRO-specific problem and I'm only using it as a handy example of lazy lack-of-design, but it may surprise younger gamers to find that not only were such distinctions a core element of D&D spellcasting but as late as World of Warcraft's launch, counterspell abilities blocked spells from the specific school your target was casting at the moment. Meaning you could start casting a light spell to fake your enemy out and eat up his counterspell, then switch to nature or shadow spells and laugh as you shriveled his corpse... and that was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of crowd control diversity.

But then, if I get started on how much of the game industry WoW ruined, we'll be here all night.

Also, I seem to be overusing the phrase "tip of the iceberg" recently but what the hell. It's just the tip of the iceberg of my tip-of-the-iceberging.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Into the Woods

"For all that I know she's already dead."

Sometimes going a little bit "meta" can be a good thing, regardless of how tiresome our endless layers of post-modern irony and feigned nonchalance can render pop-culture as a whole.This pit falls all the deeper since we're talking bout a Disney flick here. You don't generally ask who wrote or directed or carried sandwiches for a Disney flick. You know what you're getting as surely as you know what a Bic Mac is, a product as square, slimy and tasteless as the box it came in.

Worse yet, this one's a musical! I don't mean just the usual Disney half-dozen kiddie clap-alongs but the mind-numbing, gratuitous operatic routine which, to preserve the orthodoxy of the form, forces characters to bellow and belt almost every damn line from start to finish. You never just had ham and eggs for breakfast in a musical.
Youuuu haaaaad haaaaam aaaand eeeeeeeeEEEEEGGGGSS! Foooor BreaaaakfffaaaaAAAAASST!!!

So why am I actually writing a positive post about Into the Woods? Those reviewers who panned it seem to have done so based on an unfavorable comparison with the original play on which it's based, which is fair. Hell, I'd be the world's biggest hypocrite if I didn't allow others some fanboy-ish purity and zeal after I rant and rail against every single Science Fiction movie that hits the market. If I can valiantly defend Heinlein's honor, they can do the same for ... what's this schmuck's name? Sondheim? Never heard of him.
Yes, I have seen Sweeney Todd; shut up. I'm doing a thing here.

In any case I can't speak for the quality of the adaptation, though I must say for a megacorporate appropriation, it could've turned out much, much worse. Just ask Pocahontas and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I'm sure it was somewhat "Disneyed" for the big screen (now an i-phone) but the moments in which it rises above the lowest-common-denominator are delivered so skillfully that they make up for most of the tedious cantata-ing. I was called into the room for the "already dead" line listed above, did the intended double-take and found its utterly natural and whiplash-inducing set-up and delivery convincing enough to sit through the rest.

Cinderella's warbling dragged but many of the group numbers were quite dynamic. The two princes charming and their ludicrous duet makes you want to strangle them both while laughing maniacally. I found the witch oddly relatable... but then given my predilections, maybe I just would. On the other hand, Johnny Depp's number as the wolf fell flat, unfortunately continuing the tradition of weak lupine characters. If only Jack Nicholson could sing. Possibly the most surprising was the even distribution of guilt among the sexes, going decidedly against the feminist grain of pop-culture as a whole. I would've expected nothing but male villains and pristine, innocent, deified heroines and bumbling male heroes whose only "positive" quality is their self-destructive dedication to their lady love. Instead, we get a morally absent Little Red and much more startling, the baker's wife acknowledging the timeless female manipulation of men according to their social rank - "and a baker for bread and a prince for whatever" indeed.

However, the movie's (play's?) charm lies not in any one character but in its treatment of fairytale motifs as a whole. I'm quite fond of advocating strengthening our waning grasp on various cultural touchstones and I've frequently praised movies which manage to address our old-timey fascination with such storytelling. Into the Woods manages to convey the symbolism of wilderness not only as the terrifying unknown and birthplace of monsters but the escapist promise of possibilities outside the sphere of mundane interactions. There are indeed giants in the sky, and no matter how tritely everything may be sung, the characters' breaking and re-forming of their allegiances, their re-evaluation of their priorities makes for good watching. Going into the woods used to mean danger and possibility and most of all, discovery. These stories date from the time when audiences still remembered how to dream, forced to do so by their harsh realities.

Though it may not be the movie/play's main selling point (I suppose that would be the nauseatingly saccharine "no-one is alone" crap) I can't help but think that anything which even accidentally aids the Quixotic goal of prodding consumer culture into remembering the progressive, adventurous attitude which once set humans above other animals can't be all bad. Yes, even with the singing and all. If only more of the spineless book-faced little twits I meet in online games were watching this instead of other Disney fare, we might be able to convince them that beans can be turned magical.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tipping the Scale of Id

Last month, Prime World introduced a new hero, Tu'rehu (and kudos on delving into mythology obscure enough that nerds like me aren't completely bored by it yet) as per the core business model of current, dumbed-down, DotA-knock-off "MOBAs" which relies entirely on microtransactions. Its all about pumping out endless streams of playable characters and skins, each for the low-low price of... whatever.

Trust me, you're gonna wanna pay that low-low price. You're guaranteed an endless string of wins against anyone who doesn't have that latest gimmick. This is also part of the business model: selling wins. Tu'Rehu, at release, out-damaged, out-healed and out-ran everything in the game... and I do mean everything and not just anything, as in, he could take out an enemy team 1v5. Despite this being blatantly obvious it took some conspicuous weeks for even a slight nerf to be patched in.

Of course, that's just an isolated accident. Ooopsie, the developers placate the masses on their forums, our bad. Hey, game design isn't a precise science, right? It's not like the previous hero, the Desperado was.... exactly the same story, or anything, for weeks on end beforehand, standing in the middle of your base, mowing you down while endlessly regenerating.
Prime World isn't even one of the worst offenders when it comes to this sort of stupidity, and though their constant updates make it more obvious, DotA knockoffs like League of Legends or Smite are only the tip of the iceberg. This sort of routine long ago became intrinsic to the idiotic pay-to-win microtransactions system shoehorned into every single game genre over the past decade. Even ignoring that, ample reasons to err on the side of "overpowered" upon releasing a new element predated our current crop of online cheatfests. If game design is such an imprecise science, I'm amazed at how precisely this pattern plays out, every time in every game. Somehow, by random chance, almost every balance error favors making the game easier for the group it most immediately affects, and not more difficult. It's like one of those old medieval images of Saint Peter or some archangel weighing souls for entry into Heaven or Hell... with a sneaky devil always tipping the "Hell" scale.

Quite a few devils hang off game developer's balances, dragging their judgment into the shadowy realm of legitimized cheating. As a very standard observation, if something is overplayed in a multiplayer game, it's probably overpowered. The corollary also holds true: if you make something more powerful, it will get played more. Hey, who wants to pay for in-house testing, amirite folks? Cuts into the bottom line. Easier to release every new feature as a candy-coated lure to every single min-maxing cretin looking to be handed undeserved wins, and the hordes of mouthbreathers will do your testing for you.

However, at an even more basic level, human beings simply do not want equality. With the eternal optimism of our monkey brains always swinging for the ripest fruit, the truism of power-lust upon which capitalism is built, each individual, no matter how unlikely to benefit from an unjust system, will wholeheartedly support injustice in the conviction of someday being at the top of the pyramid and pissing on everyone else around. Some of the most successful games reflect this.
Counterstrike always kept the idiotically overpowered AWP as a standby for anyone who got tired of actually playing the game and just wanted to grief others.
DotA was based on fighter heroes completely trouncing spellcasters.
Blizzard Entertainment, even before World of Warcraft, never even attempted true balance. Instead, it relied on sequential imbalance, giving each race or class from Starcraft to Warcraft 3 to WoW its fifteen minutes of fame, relying on selective memory to retain customers who keep hoping that next month it'll be their turn to get free wins over everyone else by abusing the latest gimmie. This is arguably how the blatantly game-breaking "zerg rush" came about.
Planetside 2 hands players more ways to one-shot each other at no personal risk than they even care to use. Sure, your bomber airfoil can fly upside-down and one-shot the fighter craft which should logically counter it, but who wants to go to the hassle of finding a gunner and flying around when you can just sit back, completely invisible, and snipe players from a mile away?
The rogue / assassin archetype has been ludicrously overpowered in every single PvP game to feature it, yet nonetheless it's constantly handed out as the "griefer special" contributing nothing to a team but sure to make some little snot feel big about himself for one-shotting players who can't even see him, keep the mindless petty sadists coming back for more of that endorphin boost.

Customers are more likely to remember a moment of glory, however undeserved, than a hundred complex, nail-biting, photo-finish pitched battles. Most human beings are morons, and we want most of the money now don't we? All we have to surrender are those outmoded old notions of challenge, personal choice or fairness. You know, what used to be called games, sports and contests. It's all about the cardboard medals now.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

More Effective in Smaller Doses

I realized something recently.
Superman being poisoned by small pieces of that which once supported him? Kryptonite ain't just sympathetic magic in general terms, but outright homeopathy.
Oh, where is James Randi when you need him!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

It's like "Eternal Sunshine" for Sheldon Cooper

A thought occurs. I hereby propose a general pattern to be observed in the dissemination of new technology.

From the universities which develop its ideas it goes to Fortune 500 companies, to the fatcats who restrict it to themselves while it's new and patent the crap out of it to keep prices artificially high.

From there, when the fatcats can no longer contain knock-offs, it gets sold to the thirteen-year-olds who use it for the same reason the fatcats kept it to themselves: status symbol.

Then most commercial companies will adopt it in an effort to keep up with the younger generation, and thus the older segments of the population will be forced to adopt it.

Only afterwards will it trickle back into academic departments where it will be regarded as a vulgar, external, commercial imposition by them young whipper-snappers (who have by now moved on to creating cheap knock-offs of the latest new gimmick which academics have already forgotten they've handed off to the fatcats.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Friday, December 4, 2015

Feelings... Nothing More than Feelings

"The truth is subjective and the court has lost perspective
And what is your objection here?
You are guilty
You are found guilty of every crime under the sun"

Ego Likeness - Burn Witch Burn

If anyone on the outside hasn't heard, we've been having a lot of fun these past few years in the states with cops and vigilantes shooting black people for the lulz. Well, not that they'd come out and say that. The guy who, when a drunken nineteen-year-old girl who'd just crashed her car knocked on his door at 4 a.m., stuck a shotgun in her face and blew her brains out, claimed he was afraid his house was being robbed. Yes, because nothing screams "robbery" like someone walking up your driveway and beating on your front door. But then, logic has no place in this argument. In the same recurring sad refrain to every new stanza of this "stand your ground" routine, he felt endangered. Brown people are scary.

Let's switch tracks a bit.

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist who had won a fair bit of fame by the '80s as a chief proponent of gene-centered evolution, which though I can't say I generally agree with after reading The Selfish Gene, certainly adds a fascinating dimension to the other proposed levels of natural selection (genome, organism, group, etc.) He also appears to have come up with the "meme" meme, and for that the internet owes him its everlasting thanks. After the turn of the millennium he leveraged his respectability and erudition toward combating the growing religious fundamentalist revival in Britain and the U.S. and has become probably the second most famous figurehead of atheism around these parts after Bill Maher.
Rebecca Watson is nominally also an atheist. I say nominally because I can only remember one impression of her outside this scandal in some youtube video and I would have described her as a glib but incoherent catchphrase-machine. Her chief skill seems to lie in abusing her cuteness to make the audience swallow anything that comes out of her mouth.

Has anyone not heard of "Elevatorgate" yet? After a 2011 conference, Watson was apparently approached by someone who'd just watched her talk and asked if she'd like to go back to his room for "coffee" while they were riding the elevator together. After her refusal nothing else happened but she decided she was being "sexually objectified" and in fine feminist form spun the non-incident into metaphorical rape. Because, you see, he had asked a question while they were alone... in an elevator! Oh, the humanity! I suppose it would have been highly preferable for him to walk up to the podium while she was still giving her speech and blurt out "heya, you'se hot, ya wanna do it?"

Dawkins rightly ridiculed his fellow atheist for her self-serving victim simulacrum. The entire world rushed to defend poor helpless Becky from mean old Dickie, and the rest is history. Never mind that Watson had no imaginable reason to play the victim in a situation which involved no more than a couple of polite sentences. The poor sap who propositioned her was even one of her fanboys. He wasn't watching her bathroom window through binoculars, wasn't following her through the park with mirrors on his shoe-tips, wasn't chasing her down a dark alley, but had actually listened to her talk and thought her an interesting person so he asked a private question in private. No matter. Men are evil. Becky felt ooky and that's all the justification she needed to attack him. See, it's how you fheeeeeeelll that matters, not anything so frivolous as reason or fair-mindedness.

Switch again.

A couple of years before Dawkins learned the hard way that no amount of logic trumps the political correctness fiat of a pair of ovaries and a neotenized girlish face, I was driving home from work. While waiting at a stoplight I accidentally lifted my foot off the brake and slid forward a meter or so into the car in front of me (which was, incidentally, worth about three times mine) so we pulled off the busy road into a mini-mall parking lot to inspect the damage. The car turned out to be inhabited by two teenage girls. The damage? The bumper was not broken or dented, the paint not even scratched or even indented as can happen with polymers. The force of the impact had barely left marks in the dust on the paint.
Relieved, I walked to my own car to inspect the front bumper. Then as I turned around thinking we could probably skip the insurance-info routine, the two girls are standing shoulder to shoulder, heroically defiant against my (apparently) threatening presence, waving a cell-phone in the air and yelling "the police are on their way!"

See, apparently even though I was calmly walking around inspecting the cars, there was no possible explanation but that I was just about to jump the both of them in a wide open parking lot in broad daylight and rape them both by the side of a busy six-lane intersection.
So a few minutes later, enter flatfoot #whatever who politely asks me to step into the back of his van while he discusses everything with my poor victims. Fifteen minutes of squinting at their rear bumper trying to discern... anything... he finally starts to get wise and comes take my own statement. Fuming at the lack of immediate police brutality in response to their damsel in distress routine, the ditzes up the ante, repeating over and over again that "no, he hit us pretty hard!" An ambulance had to be called in and one of them (did they flip a coin or what?) was wheeled out on a gurney with a neck-brace.
Long story short: my insurance settled the resulting whiplash lawsuit. I washed my hands of the whole thing after sending them a photo of my car's unblemished front end. I have to wonder how quickly the cop would've called bullshit if bearded, Adam-appled little old me were accusing two teenage girls of vehicular dusticide.
But they hit me pretty hard!

Switch to another track, because this train-yard's got a helluva lot of them.

While taking a 400-level anthropology course last spring I sent a couple of e-mails to my professor questioning the excesses of anthropology, feminism and other areas taken over by post-modern anti-intellectualism. She replied, CC-ing her department head, that I was causing a hostile environment and was invited in no uncertain terms to drop the course or disciplinary measures would be taken.

Don't like that track? Here's another:

I live in a small university town now. My mother visited me last fall. One of my neighbors, a beefy midwestern ceiling-tall American Football player, was descending the stairs as we went up. He passed me calmly enough, both edging an arm out of the way. Then he spotted my mother and immediately flattened his massive form against the wall until she passed. My mother, sheltered innocent that she is, was for her part utterly perplexed by this behavior in the younger generation.
By the time males reach college age, they have internalized so much feminist vitriol that he knew, absolutely knew, that to so much as breathe on a passing woman would invite rape accusations.
Men are evil, and it doesn't matter whether he did anything wrong or not. If she feels like he's creating a hostile environment, if she feels like he's "hit her pretty hard" or if she fheeeeeeelllls like condemning his behavior, no matter how benign, the entire world will rush to her defense.

The left wing routinely condemns right-wing shock jocks for feeding racial panic, for providing gun-toting rednecks with the moral justification to attack blacks, hispanics, middle-easterners, or whoever the scapegoat of the week might be, as recently exemplified in the big leagues by Donald Trump's now famous slurs against Mexicans or more amusingly in the "war on Christmas." Such charlatans leech hefty pay-offs off whichever segment of the population they target by feeding its false entitlement and fabricating constant panic that the whatevers and whoevers are coming to get them.
Feminism is the left wing's most prominent counterpart to such parasitism. It is an industry based on vilifying men as innately evil. Not that most women actually believe that 3.7 billion men are lining up around every single corner to rape them or they'd die of sleep deprivation clutching a shotgun in their basements... but it sure is handy to be able to call upon feminist justifications whenever you want, to be able to blame anything in your life on patriarchal tyranny and have any man ostracized on a whim, ain't it? If any man questions your presumptions of his guilt and original sin, if he fails to genuflect and meekly accept the latest chauvinistic diatribe equating the mere existence of masculinity or worse yet male sexual enjoyment with every evil under the sun from puppy-kicking to cancer, then he's "creating a hostile environment" and the system will gladly have him removed.

No, women are not shooting men like redneck cops are gunning down black boys, it's true. They get their boyfriends to do their dirty work for them, or barring that, a legal system which has institutionalized feminist prejudice. The precept, however, is the same. People will gladly give you money if you tell them their feelings pre-empt reality and all of their emotions are justified, and there's a helluva lot of entitlement to reap when your potential audience comprises over half the population and the second half is instinctively programmed to protect and provide for the first. Just remember, women have different ways of knowing. Always believe women, even if you cant find a scratch on the bumper.
Of course men should live in terror of accidentally brushing up against a woman in a stairwell or worse yet, an elevator. You're evil. You patriarchal sexist pig shitlord.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Oh, Balls...

Probably the chief advantage of webcomics is the supposed freedom of the internet, the relative lack of gatekeepers policing a writer's output. Such freedom rapidly manifests its own flip-side whenever creators go off the rails without even realizing it - and keep going and going and going. When you lack a superior to tell you you've gone batshit insane, the results can be disappointing but also amusing in retrospect. The cartoonist comes up with a setting or even one scene which must seem utterly fascinating subjectively, because like film directors who grow obsessed with a single camera angle or other gimmick, the comic dedicates page after page to subdividing that one chapter into aspects and alternate views, set-ups and internal monologues. While more astute webcomic literati would probably bemoan Sluggy Freelance's "Oceans Unmoving" (which really was quite un-moving in many ways) or Megatokyo spending a year of comics on a single in-character hour of strained, over-wrought romance, I'm going to settle for crying foul over a dodgeball game.

Sorry, I mean "hitball" - and the comic in question is Paranatural, a relatively uninspired "magic kids" setup which made up for it with hefty doses of exaggerated sitcom-style zingers. Good, clean fun for the whole family, and a relaxing way to clean out your brain at the end of the day, though I generally don't read comics on a daily basis. In this case, I hadn't checked up on Paranatural since this past spring, when the magic-powered, ghostbusting kids had just started playing a dodgeball game.

They are still playing that same dodgeball game.

Forget ghost-trains or magic artifacts or superpowered kung-fu training montages. The latest chapter of Paranatural treats its audience to page after page of extreeeeeme close-ups of kids winding up to throw rubber balls, dramatic frame-by-frame sequences of kids being hit by rubber balls, lengthy internal monologues on the tactics of rubber ball throwing and of course the unremitting drah-mah of brotherhood in arms balls. And they're not even dragon-ballz!

Maybe I'm being too skeptical as I'm currently fuming over just having dedicated my time to over fifty oversized glossy full-color pages of... balls... but I'd gladly give the contents of my wallet's change-pocket to see Paranormal's traffic statistics since April, when this whole tomfoolery started. Was this chapter supposed to bring in more grade-school visitors, and if so, did it succeed?

I suppose if P.G. Wodehouse can numb my brain with cricket, the good Mr. Morrison might make a good living off comics about quidditch-style dodgeball.
Wooouuldn't bet on it, though.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Jaded View

While catching up on the latest clusterfuck in Syria (you know, the one time military murder wasn't perpetrated on civilians, the destroyed jet that has everyone asking "hey, aren't we about due for World War III?")  my attention was drawn away by another, slightly less hum-drum bit of news.

"A landslide near a jade mine in northern Myanmar on Saturday evening killed about 100 people"

Wait, jade? Who the hell still mines jade? We're in the third millennium, not the third millennium in the other direction. The Chinese emperor, whoever he is, hides behind the smokescreens of corporate entities and makes his mountain-ranges of money off overpriced aspirin, petroleum and i-phones like every other fat-cat. I mean, with our other shiny pebble caveman status symbols, at least the likes of gold and diamonds retain some minor, flimsy, half-baked pretext of industrial use to mock-justify (mockify?) their value, but there's gotta be an easier way to get silica than outta freakin' jade! Sand jumps to mind.

Eh, I suppose it's still better than most of the poverty and grief caused by our world's various imperialist funnels of wealth. When South-American peasants get tortured to death by CIA-trained fascist regimes to raise my bananas I just end up shitting out the product of their suffering half a day later. On the other hand, my jade bling can impress da laidieezzz for years to come.

I know what I want for Christmas!
Fuck gold. It's jade, frankincense and myrrh all the way, baby!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate

Viii-ves ... fortes. (dun-dun-dun-dun)
Viii-ves ... fortes. (dun-dun-dun-dun)
Viii-ves ... fortes. (dun-dun-dun-dun)

- for a full hour of mission time until you go insane, dump a bucket of blue paint into your dresser and glue a chainsaw to your forearm.

Fun fact: there is apparently no such color as blue or green or light purple in Games Workshop's color palette. Everything's either "blood-clot burgundy" or "infinity blue" or "bile-smoke purple" or "skullflame orange" or some other such nonsense. Normally I bristle whenever anything gets described as "for kids" but in the case of Warhammer... come on. Every corner of this game universe was expertly decorated to the tastes of twelve-year-olds, from the blood'n'guts basics to the chest-thumping machismo of every line of dialogue to the giant spaulders and boob-plates. Duuuuude! Totally bad-ass!

Now, if you can stomach that, the game mechanics turn out to be quite intriguing, at least from my point of view as a complete outsider to tabletop games, and the honesty with which the setting seems to have been developed, the lack of pretense of being anything more, has yielded a noticeable dent in entertainment, if not through Riddick then Blizzard's Warcraft setting, a pretty straightforward rip-off. The "Warhammer 40,000" variation especially, with its fascinatingly ludicrous "orcs in space" routine has had so many pop-culture elements crammed into it, from space marines to terminators to aliens to ... ida know, ninja turtles probably by this point, that it comes across as a more marketable version of The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.

There's little way to adapt such material except by playing it to the hilt, loudly and shamelessly, and if for nothing else than that 1998's Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate deserves to be called a classic. Not really a masterpiece, but probably worth experiencing for five bucks, as long as you know what you're getting into. Like so many computer games churned out during the decade surrounding the turn of the millennium, Chaos Gate was a hopelessly buggy mess which crashed as soon as you touched it. It was made borderline playable by subsequent patches, but as lasting testimony to the shoddy coding that went into it even the much more stable GoG version has crashed on me once by the third mission.

The gameplay itself is quite good. From what I've heard of the tabletop mechanics, it doesn't copy them wholesale but it adapted enough to make for a complex system of stats and probabilities governing a challenging turn-based squad management game with friendly fire, line of sight and other tactical options / caveats. Even little details like turning your characters in place received attention. There are some flaws, for instance some of the teleporting enemies and scripted events which often fall into the category of Branniganesque "surprises" against which I railed last week. A lot of work also seems to have gone into the scenario builder, which means very little for anyone playing the game as an "oldie" but the campaign itself was enjoyable enough thanks to your marines leveling up from mission to mission and your depletable pool of equipment. You grow to love your eagle-eyed gunner Maximus Badassicus in squad two and the heavy bolter you reserve for his use every single mission.
Here you go, buddy. I know I can count on you. All polished and ready to vaporize cultists for the glory of the emperor.

The graphics for their part are low-res but have held up relatively well. However, pretty much everyone who liked this game will inevitably mention the soundtrack. It's not just the hollow-voiced cultists moaning "joooiiinnn uuusssss" and "cooommme to chaaaaaossss" or the action movie one-liners like "the emperor orders you to DIE" but the music itself, which dates from the time when game companies still invested in good composers to create memorable, personality-laden soundtracks. Chaos Gate thunders into every single mission to the tune of faux-latin choral marches that just... will... not... let... up. It's an endless fanfare from start to finish. Not necessarily something you'd objectively want to listen to by itself (though I for one moved it to my playlist even as I deleted the game from my hard drive a decade ago) but within its context the music more or less raised Chaos Gate from a well-designed, poorly-programmed, untested flop to the status of a memorable if not exactly top-tier classic.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Leela vs. Lisa on the Subject of Meat

"Life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on -
This is necessary!
This is necessary!
This is necessary!"

Tool - Disgustipated

Compare two scenes from The Simpsons and Futurama:

1) Lisa: "You don't have to eat meat! I've made enough gazpacho for everyone!"
2) Leela: "Animals eat other animals. It's nature."

Futurama aired soon after The Simpsons began its rapid decline into endless celebrity guest spots, so maybe its higher quality represents a transfer of head creator oversight. Maybe it was better simply because it started with better material. The Simpsons, as a parody of the all-American family, had to make do with the very limited Norman Rockwell mindset - there's a reason why Halloween Specials became instantly memorable, the much wider array of source material letting the writers spread their wings a bit. Futurama on the other hand parodied Science Fiction, a genre which defines itself by imagination and pushing social boundaries.

So it's a bit odd that Lisa Simpson at first glance comes across as so much more "progressive" than any character on Futurama, even her logical counterpart: the civic-minded Leela. Yet, though every nerd identified with Lisa, she gradually became just a little bit too perfect as the show went along, too ingratiating, too unassailable on her high horse. The more idealized the character grew, the more she resembled only a cheap, self-serving pastiche of self-described liberalism - "Springfield's answer to a question no-one asked" as Ned Flanders lambastes her during his nervous breakdown.

Lisa the Vegetarian dates from Season 7, before the show really went sour, but it already exemplifies that nuance-blind, cliquish leftism. Though it makes some show of fair-mindedness in criticizing Lisa for ruining Homer's picnic, this criticism makes no allowance for the mere possibility that vegetarianism maybe might kinda sorta be fundamentally flawed in ethical terms, but that she can get her way more effectively by more insidious, less honest means; which "criticism" itself comes from the rock star endorsing her side to begin with.

The Problem with Popplers on the other hand starts the ethical portion of its program by taking a swipe at P.E.T.A.-style extremism. Then, just as the hippie-bashing is getting good, Leela (who's been peddling meat with a clear conscience) takes a break from ridiculing the protesters to find more bricks to throw at them... and discovers that the meat she's been selling is sentient! In two seconds (give or take a commercial break) she flips a one-eighty and becomes Popplers' champion. That's how intelligence works, actually. You work with the information at hand. Near the end of the episode, Leela learns of the Popplers' own killer instincts, and divests herself of them instantly.

Leela is not fundamentally less of a left-winger than Lisa but merely a better-written character, more self-conscious, capable of making mistakes, and more importantly not banking on little-girl cuteness and helplessness for pre-emptive audience approval. Though Futurama always had its own agenda, it achieved the more flexible, razor-tongued comedy promised by the first few seasons of The Simpsons, before the characters all became hopelessly locked into their simplistic, crowd-pleasing flatness. It struck right and left to keep moving forward. It acknowledged the inherent problem of applying idealism to human nature, which will turn any idea into a fad and any fad into tyrannical dogmatism, the discrepancy between holier-than-thou grandstanding and observable human impulses.

Tell it, Reverend Maynard:
"Let the rabbits wear glasses! Save our brothers!
Now red was your color and, of course, those little people out there were yours too"


P.S.: Happy turkey day!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Second Variety

Well, I was going to do a TNG episode review tonight but as it turns out there's very little to say about The Arsenal of Freedom. It's a character development episode meant to flesh out various crew members' interactions but unlike the previous such attempt, 001...0...something, the bynar episode, you know the one with the bulb-heads, the interactions in this one come across as contrived and overextended. Aside from a well-played pseudovillain who embodies every sleazy, line-spewing "pusher" and the thankfully toned-down Data scenes, it's kind of a wash. Not terrible by the abysmal standards of television but not worth mentioning.
Eeeeeexcept that it did remind me of something, as most things do. See, the episode concerns a planet of weapons manufacturers who were wiped out by their own automated creations. The cold war yielded scads of such cautionary tales which we are now forgetting, to our detriment. However, the topic of humans fabricating their own death by machines comes up more famously in robot-themed stories, and the robot uprising in fiction predates Terminator (the first movie of that series having come out three or four years before TNG started) or even Isaac Asimov's robot novels. It's been a central feature of robot stories since the word "robot" was coined by Karel Capek in 1920 in Rossum's Universal Robots, and arguably before robots were even robots. To stand out when addressing such a crowded thematic milieu you have to come up with something extra, and for the like we must turn to that peerless master of paranoia, Philip K. Dick. Now, as a general rule you should read a story before discussing it so I would encourage a perusal of Second Variety so I don't have to worry about spoilers.

As I watched The Arsenal of Freedom's ending I kept thinking "they could've done more with this" and that the half of the episode dedicated to soulful tete-a-tetes between Troi and LaForge or LaForge and the redshirts or Picard and Crusher (the good Crusher, not the good-Crusher) or Riker and Yar would've have been better spent fleshing out the planet's fate and the nature of the (non-sentient) robots' programming. There's even a very PKD-ish vibe to the initial scene in which the crew is greeted by a hologram masquerading as Riker's long-lost Starfleet Academy friend - and even that goes nowhere, abandoned by Act 2. But back to the main topic.

Ah, yes, the good Mr. Dick loved his impostors, impersonators and other doppelgangers. Second Variety exemplifies his trademark late-game character reveal plot twists which have made his stories so ripe for adaptation (usually with predictably disastrous Hollywood-style results) but more so than most it piles three reveals upon each other, the crucial one snuck in so masterfully under the reader's radar that by the last paragraph we're hit with the same revelation as the protagonist himself.
1) Robots are wiping out humanity, partly by infiltrating our last strongholds (revealed relatively early on)
2) Humanity is doomed because Hendricks was fooled all along (the sort of twist ending we might get from a good Twilight Zone episode)
3) The robots are also wiping each other out. The extra stroke of genius which made that admirable nutjob one of the best SF writers in history.

Now, Second Variety was adapted into an action flick called Screamers which flopped largely based on its own lack of merit. As with most adaptations, it threw out the story's best features in favor of the screenwriter and director's own ramblings and some generalized action-movie tropes. Aside from minor details, two central issues kill the story's effect.
1) It's no longer set on Earth.
2) Twue wuv. Robot falls in love with the human she's supposed to kill. Hilarity ensues. Well, actually nothing ensues.

Both changes were blatantly made to soften the blow of Second Variety's original nihilism for a public presumed too weak-minded to take it as-is, to dumb it down for middle America.

Setting the story on Earth with the moon-base as humanity's last desperate retreat is diametrically opposed, intuitively, from setting the plot on some mining colony with Earth looming grandiosely in the background. The tone of desperation in the story depended on our growing realization that Earth, the cradle of humanity and our only hospitable environment, has already been lost, that the moon-base represents a species already in retreat with slim chances of long-term survival anyway, killer robots or not. We're not supposed to be left with some vague hope that mighty Terra will rally and repulse the android threat. There is a sequel to Screamers (which I haven't seen and refuse to) but the whole point of Second Variety is that there can be no sequel. Humanity is finished and the sequel to humanity has already started making bombs to destroy itself.

Worse still is the utterly moronic "love" angle, the cheesy romantic sub-plot which Hollywood hacks insist on cramming into every single movie regardless of its topic. The absolute sense of doom at the end of Second Variety encompasses not only humanity but sentient life as a whole. Not only will we not survive but nothing will because the robots are headed down the same path as us, only with assembly-line speed and efficiency. This effect hinges on their being utterly, implacably, single-mindedly merciless killers. The gynoid's cold-blooded (no-blooded?) manipulation of Hendricks is crucial to achieving this effect. It can admit no digressions or exceptions.

There's one last twist to consider:
"He felt a little better, thinking about it. The bomb."
This is Hendricks' last thought. This is the note on which the story ends, the hero's parting shot. After erasing every last shred of hope, Dick insisted on nullifying even our moral justification for hope. Hendricks realizes that the robots will destroy each other, and he's glad. We find no magnanimity in him, no high-mindedness, no noble last-second beatific forgiveness of his executioners, no hope for sentient life beyond humanity. He is witnessing the end of all things, the end of thought, and he's glad.

Because of course the first and second varieties, human and robot, were never all that different - wind-up toys acting out their pre-programmed destructive patterns. The means by which the second variety manipulates the first entail no objective ethical principles but basic programming, or in other words human instinct: tribal loyalties, protection of the young or a potential mate. Beyond that, the first variety proves just as ruthless and ethically incompetent a killer as the second.

-and if this is all sentience amounts to, then by all means we should embrace nihilism just as Hendricks did. Learn to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Writing one of these posts is more work than it might look like. It often entails five to ten or more browser tabs' worth of references, especially if I'm looking for a song tie-in. So for the first time I ran across Second Variety's publication date: May 1953.
1953. Fucking hell. The Cold War had barely started. Stalin had only just died two months earlier. Forget moon-bases or even moon-landings. Even Sputnik wouldn't be launched for four more years. Yet everything in the story flows so naturally that it may as well have been written in the '80s. Philip K. Dick, you freaking genius bastard, I both hate and salute you

My music playlist for once contains nothing with truly apt lyrics for this story. You just don't run across much good music about killer robots. I do however find Apocalyptica's Delusion thematically appropriate.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Waterworld and critic culture

"I see your disguise along with your lies
You need to evolve, you need to resolve
Oceans slowly rise... time to fly"

Syntax - Time to Fly

I've been noticing a recurring phrase in Wikipedia articles about good movies maligned and/or ignored by the American public: "The film did better overseas." Take for instance Waterworld, which we were all instructed to despise because, you see, it went over-budget and we all know the true measure of artistic expression is how thickly and quickly it lines the pockets of the profiteering gatekeepers constricting our zeitgeist. The industry apparently grew to hate the project and film critics toed the line and panned the project's result.

Not that it was a great movie, either in 1995 or now. It's a popcorn flick, a ludicrously expensive one but then there are so many of those. It manages to rise above most action movies with which it might be compared by virtue of its setting, tone and other gimmickry, and as is so often the case its strongest points, its departures from accepted norms, draw the most caustic rivers of bile from critics. Rifling through a few of the choicer comments on Rotten Tomatoes reveals a critic culture which far from analyzing the movie itself simply would not tolerate anything of its like.

It's SciFi, and Science Fiction is not "literature" in the glossary of English Lit. majors scribbling reviews for a living while spewing book after e-book of mundane overemotional navel-gazing hoping one of them will be recognized as the great American novel. To those who make a lifestyle of over-analyzing the human condition, SF with its frequent emphasis on the post-human is an unfathomable anathema. If we divide fiction between character-centered and plot-centered, most of the best SciFi falls so deep into the "plot" end of the spectrum that it merits its own category. Critics seem unable to abandon their expectation of empathy from a story to glory in its world-building. The only good and also successfully hyped big-budget world-building movie adaptation in recent years, Cloud Atlas, had to be made palatable by the otherwise needless plot thread of "twue wuv" conquering all.

Waterworld lacked such friendly dilution, and Costner got repeatedly slammed in reviews for the cold portrayal of his character. As over-fed as the public is on macho bad-boy protagonists whose only motivation nevertheless is serving as protector / provider for their family unit, the mariner's relative independence, his internal locus of control to borrow a headshrinker catchphrase, must indeed seem utterly alien and inexcusably self-centered for a culture in which the only permissible self- is self-serving. In other respects the critic consensus contradicts itself as always. The plot is criticized at once as too simple and too hard to follow, the decor both as too bleak and too cluttered, the moralizing both as too heavy-handed but not politically correct enough. More than one reviewer cited the characters drinking re-filtered urine... not to prove any particular point but just because... eeewwww, can you believe they put that in a movie?

Quite a few reviewers seems would rather have been watching something by Disney and didn't quite get that post-apocalyptic flicks were a genre all their own and had been for decades even in the mid-'90s. They critiqued it as "ugly" and the only reference anyone seemed able to dredge up was the constant comparison with Mad Max - and that was fed to them by the writer's own admission as inspiration. In their desperation to find cause for consternation, they latch on to anything, including one overpaid dimwit who couldn't understand how the map-tattoo worked: "Enola has a tattoo on her back that for some reason everyone seems to believe is a map indicating the route to dry land. (A left at the second dolphin, then straight for six coral reefs . . . )"
For the love of fuck, lady, they're called coordinates!

Yet strangely not one review so far seems to bring up the one major valid critique of Waterworld's plot, its very premise. To actually reach such water levels as in the movie would require not just melting the ice-caps but several Earths' worth of water. Pie are cubed, people! Drinking pee and the little girl's tattoo were major flaws but what, that little detail slipped past everyone's junior-high scientific knowledge?

Ah, well. The American public is woefully incapable of grasping subtlety or understatement, but this tendency is only exacerbated by critics who will pan anything which doesn't present the human, all too human emotional cues reinforcing the tribal loyalty status quo. Waterworld is anything but subtle or understated, but simply by asking the audience to get into the water-world itself instead of trying to identify with the protagonists it transgressed one of the most dire taboos of pop-culture, and the industry dutifully lashed back, fabricating a demonizing consensus which for two decades has ensured that Waterworld gets referenced only as a "flop" (which thanks to the international market it arguably was not) and not a decent action movie set in a captivating imaginary landscape. It was no masterpiece but with cowboy-ish antiheroics, gimmicks like a boat that's almost cooler than the Batmobile and deliciously hammy lines like "a single tear rolls down my cheek" it's certainly better than the vast majority of action movies which have come out in the two decades since... the vast majority of which I would guess were heartily recommended by the same critics who panned this one.
Fast & Furious 7 has an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics are fucking morons.

Consider also that Waterworld was for its time the most expensive movie ever made. This fueled much of its denigration. The latest Star Wars movie coming out in December, The Force Awakens, will be twice as expensive. Its marketing budget alone, just what Disney & co. have invested in hype, nearly matches Waterworld's reviled 235 mil. or so total budget, hype included. Ask yourself which of the two movies, both action-packed popcorn flicks, both nominally SciFi movies, both with budgets which could feed a small country, which of these two... masterpieces... actually gives you something you haven't seen a hundred times before, which of them ads something to your experience as movie viewer. Which of them actually feeds your imagination?

Then ask yourself how critic reviews will look for The Force Awakens, anticipate all the spineless ass-kissing from every corner of the industry for Disney's latest big-budget by-the-numbers cash-grab. The movie business was a dirty business two decades ago too but as Waterworld teaches us, dirt can be valuable. There are degrees to corporate waste.

Friday, November 20, 2015


"As you all know, the key to victory is the element of surprise. Surprise!"
 - Rear Brigadier 25-star General Major Webelo Zap Brannigan

It's been over a decade and that's still one of the funniest one-liners I've ever heard. Must be why so many game designers try to emulate old Zap. Anyway:

That's a vampire about to ice me in Skyrim. Context: the Elder Scrolls games are great worlds for exploring, but combat has always been rather dull. To spice things up and force the game to force me to actually drink some of the thousands of potions I've been alchemizing, I've been steadily ramping up the difficulty. At the start of the game I'd actually had to lower it since I kept running into mobs with two-handers which would lop me noggin off with a single blow. Then gradually as I got stronger it got boring so now at "Master" difficulty it's... still boring, and also frustrating. Half the things in the game are so weak I one-shot them. The other half are so strong they one-shot me. How do you tell them apart? You can't! Random mob #417 turns out to be the biggest badass in Tamriel, and you won't know it until you see your health bar disappear.

I complained about this when talking about Icewind Dale some time ago. You'd walk past a random empty area and have monsters teleport on top of you and insta-gib your casters.
More recently, I've been having the same experience in Warhammer 40k: Armageddon. There is no way to scout. The game's mechanics are solid as a whole but mission structure proves a sad grind of re-loading your last save because you have no way of knowing where to direct your forces.
This was one crucial difference between Half-Life and the likes of Doom, HL's careful introduction of various enemies by showing you those enemies butchering hapless NPCs. It wasn't just window dressing, but offering the player a chance to see how those enemies move and shoot and plan accordingly. Doom 3 simply dropped monsters on top of you. Even that became painfully trite, as it was so overused that you absolutely knew that after picking up an ammo pack you had to immediately turn around to shoot the monster which inevitably teleported in behind you.
Examples of such idiocy abound.

Quicksave/quickload. Replay value. That's called replay value, right?

Look, it's hard to keep single-player games exciting. AI opponents' behavior almost always resolves down toward the pathetically repetitive. Surprises are useful but truly good games foreshadow new elements or changes in pacing or difficulty to allow the player to anticipate and prepare for, y'know, the good stuff coming up ahead. It's good that every once in a while some opponent's power rating is over 9000, but there's no excitement in just randomly getting hit by a 9000-power nuke. Preparation, planning and foresight are not dirty words. You don't have to design games only for fast-fingered, slow-brained mouthbreathers with backwards baseball caps. Scout units, sound cues, cutscenes, aura perception, divination spells, satellite imaging, visual cues as to your opponent's weapons and armor, maps, mission briefings or maybe just a scouter, call it what you will but players need to be allowed to invest resources and effort into at least gathering some hint of their enemies' position, strengths and weaknesses.

Otherwise, you may as well just be dropping anvils on them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Robyn Hode's Hit-List, Part 2

"Oh, I'm a goooood person
Don't wanna fight with no-one
But you piss me off
You keep pushing, pushing
You best step of the gas" [girl]
"All bets are off, fuck you
You taste like toxic poison
I wash my hands of you."

Garbage - Why Don't You Come Over?

A recurring centerpiece of feminist propaganda is the timelessness and pervasiveness of male oppression, the preconception that misogyny is men's default setting and the world was a hell-hole for women until modern feminists rode in on their white unicorns to save the day, that men always kept all the good stuff for themselves while depriving their be-boobered better halves and every man in history has been a rapist and wife-beater. Y-tey's keepin you down, yo!

Well, certainly the world was a hell-hole. Certainly, also, women were derided as weaker and inept compared to men in many cultures, especially once Judaic religiously-prescribed patriarchy was imported to Europe and through the Middle-East through its offshoots of Christianity and Islam. Certainly, also, the one-sided view of this situation as purposeful oppression of women by men as distinct social classes is so adorably simplistic that one should expect it to be heard only in school-yard chants.

Take for instance The Gest of Robyn Hode and Robin's enumeration of acceptable targets for his band's highway robberies, which I described in greater detail in my last post. Peasants and homesteaders are strictly hands-off, common warriors assessed on a case by case basis to determine if they're "good fellows" while the parasitic upper echelons of law enforcement and religious oversight are always in Robin's crosshairs. Yes, you can put crosshairs on a bow.* Shut up.

The feminist reaction to such passages will tend toward the painfully predictable. There, you see, you see!?! None of those groups include women, it's all about men and their dick-measuring and putting women down as worthless, in fact the whole poem must've been written for the express purpose of excluding women from it!
Well, yes, women are excluded from that list, not implicitly but quite explicitly, several lines before the breakdown into beat-down categories even begins.

"Robyn loued Oure der  Lady;
For dout of dydly synne,
Wolde he neuer do compani harme
That any woman was in."

For fear of sinning against the Virgin Mary, Robin would... not rob women? Not attack women? Never hit a girl? Up the ante. Never attack any group that contained at least one woman, any woman! Done. Period. Don't just leave women alone, but don't you go anywhere near women with the rough stuff! Note by the way that he's not particularly worried about dydly-synning against Geebus by attacking men.
Now, it's highly doubtful that whatever historical cut-throat inspired the Robin Hood myth would have stuck to such a rule, just as given human nature it's doubtful that he actually gave to the poor (though taking from the rich remains a safe bet) but the point is the figure of Robin as an idealized hero of the people, a paragon of virtue. Good men in the culture which spawned this myth protect women, unequivocally, before other men are even considered. This is the standard by which men measured themselves.

There is of course a valid argument to be made that such imagery, in repetition, can become a means of underscoring women's weakness and dependence on men, and of course if you fixate on this conclusion alone the world certainly looks very oppressive to the double-exxers. However, you have to dedicate yourself to some pretty fancy mental gymnastics to avoid the much more obvious explicit issues which should be considered before attempting to divine implicit meanings. Reading between the lines is wonderful, but reading the lines themselves should probably also remain a priority. Let's remember the topic of conversation here is robbery. Highway robbery, what with the pokin' people with pointy things and leaving them to bleed to death in a ditch, that sort of thing.

From the vantage point of a central-heated 21st century Women's Studies lecture hall it's quite easy to single out the male/female dynamic and conveniently ignore greater context. That oppressive male protectiveness hemming women into the homestead stemmed from very real causes. The world really was a hellhole. Working outside the home didn't mean "Office Space" paper-pushing but chopping your foot off with a hoe after digging from dawn to dusk. Conflict resolution came in club, axe and knife form. Walking any road meant running into various robbin' hoods who, let's be realistic here, weren't picky about who they took from, and never gave. To say the world was a much more dangerous place is a monstrous understatement. "Hic sunt leones" proved more often than not quite literally true - and sharks and snakes and plagues to boot. If you survive all that, have fun getting conscripted. Unless you're female.

One of the more comical feminist topics in the '90s was the attempt to change the word "women" to "womyn" because so often when referring to the feminine in the English language (and others) the word used is merely derived from the masculine form. So here's one that's not: widower comes from widow. We all know who outlived whom, and still does.

Before we assume that Robin Hood's protectiveness, along with the rest of the chivalry of courtly romances and the damsels in distress of folk tales, is merely a sinister cover for implicit derogation, denigration and devaluation of women, let's admit what it more obviously reveals: the unending, all-pervasive and crippling paranoia of every human society in history that its women might be in danger. Inter-tribal conflicts are won, as a rule, by sheer numbers, and it's the availability of womb space which determines how much cannon fodder the ruling classes can throw at each other, how many workers they can work to death or have tortured to death as examples. We are all descended from tribal units which, among other things, out-bred their competition, which protected and coddled women and used men as disposable active representatives of their family units, as ablative armor for the tribe's women and children. It's been our core evolutionary stable strategy as a pre-sentient species. Keep women producing offspring. Sacrifice men.

It is this paranoia which feminists exploit, our predisposition to panic when being accused of somehow harming or endangering women so that we simply genuflect to beg penance instead of critically analyzing the claim. Feminists will gladly decry the plight of such-and-such noblewoman who didn't get to be queen because she was usurped by her younger male brother or cousin while ignoring the thousands upon thousands of men she sacrificed in her war of succession. We live in constant fear of finding that we did some compani harme which contained a woman, that we have dydly synned against Oure der Lady. Before we can even reach the verses distinguishing social class, this primal fear rules our preconceptions.

Yet this is not 12th-century England. Though we arguably find ourselves in a survival situation as a species, it is not one which our protective instincts can recognize and with seven and a half billion naked apes cluttering the planet certainly not one which has to be addressed by privileging our breeding stock of females. Our chivalry, just like our machismo, is outdated and misplaced. Feminism, like any dogmatic, propagandistic system of unanalyzed belief, will always cherry-pick and fabricate whatever arguments support the orthodoxy of its self-justifying core tenets. It will always promote women and attack men, no matter the relevant standing of the two.

If it's equality you want, though, then we'd have to admit that though our culture has historically put women down, this wrong occupied a sphere of much greater wrongs in which men as a rule had it at least as bad. We have to admit that with equal rights should come equal dangers and burdens, that violence against women is not intrinsically worse than violence against men and deserves no special standing, that men should not be pushed into hazardous professions and every warfront should contain as many women as men in the front line. Type "college gender ratio" into a search engine and within the first five hits you'll already start running into articles decrying the poor dating market for educated women. As men get pushed out of higher education our first concern, our first thought of ramifications, is how this might inconvenience women's instinct to marry money. Because, you see, that social ill did some compani harme that a woman was in.
That's just the tip of the iceberg.


* You can also put a bow on crosshairs.

P.S. I am amused that Robin's chivalry is couched in piety vis-a-vis the Virgin Mary, as whenever you run into actual identifiable misogyny it's usually the result of religious control of mating rituals. Ah, but that's a topic for another day.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Robyn Hode's Hit-List, Part 1

"I saw a cop beat a priest on the TV
And I know they killed our heroes too

I saw a priest kill a cop on the TV
And I know now they're our heroes too"

Marilyn Manson - The Death Song

At some point while perusing the yore of days (as I remember it I was looking up the etymology of "yeoman" and the interesting history behind it) I ran across the Gest of Robyn Hode. I can't say I've read more than a fifth of it or so. Albeit usually depressed to near-suicide, even I don't hate myself enough to try to decipher that much Middel-Englishe without a Masters in linguistics or literature. However, I struggled and pieced together enough of it to run across what's become one of my new favorite literary passages. Now, for those of you uncultured slobs (like myself about last-year-ish) who don't precisely know what we're talking about here, the chansons de geste were one variation of that sort of long-winded late medieval poetry which we often lump together as "epic" for the purposes of casual discussion. Mostly when referencing them you'd allude to the Chanson de Roland or El Poema de mio Cid, French and Spanish cultural touchstones roughly equivalent to Beowulf for the anglophone public, but I was surprised to find that not all were written for court audiences to glorify members of the power elite.

When the topic is Robin Hood, especially, we can expect at least a bit of antiestablishment rhetoric. Picture a flea-infested fifteenth-century busker sidestepping a pool of piss in some smoky single-room wattle-and-daub small-town tavern (or glorify the image, I really don't care; it's your imagination) to regale an audience of common craftsmen and traders barely above the hopelessness of serfdom with tales of one who stood against the injustices of da gummint. The passage which intrigued me comes right at the start, and I'll do my best to paraphrase here without making you grind through all the thees and thous.

Lytil Johnn comes up to Robyn Hode and basically asks "yo, boss, we got like this really bad-ass posse all gathered up, ain't nobody beefin wit us, so who do ya want we should rough up?" In other words "Where we shal bete and bynde" which I think is a wonderfully illustrative line even if I can't figure out if bete means beat or abate (stop/halt maybe?)

So by way of reply Robin goes through this little litany of five examples of acceptable or unacceptable targets for their robberies. I'm citing them slightly out of order because the most interesting one is next-to-last originally.

"The hy  sherif of Notyingham,
Hym holde ye in your mynde"
Well, duh, no surprise there, that's the one detail you get out of every version of the story, even the Disney cartoon. If this guy sets foot anywhere near Sherwood, he's toast.

"But loke ye do no husbonde harme,
That tilleth with his ploughe"
Don't hurt any farmer/peasant (husbandman) - also unsurprising, given Robin's central character trait as popular hero. Though, really, medieval serfs had nothing to steal anyway so Robin's magnanimity's a bit facetious.

"No more ye shall no gode yeman"
Look, we're not just any common vandals here. If some honest schmuck scrapes by enough to own his own house, we ain't gonna ruin him. Regular Joes are alright in Robin's book.

"Ne no knyght ne no squyer
That wol be a gode felawe"
Now this one's slightly more interesting. Knights and squires may be part of the military autocracy but if they're "good fellows" they get a pass. I mean, let's be fair here, not all cops are pigs. Their whip-cracking boss uptown in Nottingham, though, he's the real embodiment of the military-industrial complex that's oppressing the people.

"These bisshoppes and these archebishoppes,
Ye shall them bete and bynde"
Hell-low! Now we're cookin', let's "bete and bynde" us some clergy, y'all! Well, not just any clergy. True to form, Robin wants to hit the higher-ups. Now, I'm sure there's some interesting historical context behind this, as the Robin Hood story comes out the centuries immediately following the Norman conquest, when continental monastic orders and other church powers began asserting themselves over the mish-mash of Christianity and pre-Christian culture which the locals had tolerated thus far. However, I find it more rewarding to think of this line in general terms and contrast it with the brainwashing cultural norms of today.

I mean, you just don't really get this part of the story out of any modern reinterpretations do you? No film studio would dare tell it so, yet in both pre-modern versions I've read so far, Robin Hood's death is the same: bled to death by a treacherous nun/prioress. Try reminding your preacher/pastor/priest that of Robin Hood's two undeniable villains, one was the embodiment of military oppression and the other religious oppression. They go hand in hand, at least once religion gets to the point of a hierarchical institution. This may not chime with my own insistence that the very notion of faith, being an assault on reason, is evil, but remember the context of the poem. It was likely told to commoners. No matter how powerful the tools of oppression throughout history, the common people most often had a pretty good idea who their real enemies were, and folklore across Europe teems with lying, cheating, avaricious robbers in robes. Robin Hood is by no means anti-religious (quite faithful in fact, which I'll touch upon in my next post) but he stands against superlative authority and this includes religious authority.

So how is it that nowadays, in the least oppressed society in history, the social control apparatus has grown so pervasive and unchallenged that we can no longer voice this most basic fact? To wit, that religious authority figures are not husbandmen or yeomen or even good squires but equal allies in parasitic ironfisted overlordship, whether it cares to don its velvet glove or not.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Old News

There are no gods - any more than there are unicorns or satyrs or compassionate conservatives. The hundred and thirty people who died yesterday in Paris will not go to heaven. There is no heaven. They're gone. There is no afterlife. Death is the cessation of existence. No, I am not being unnecessarily cruel by removing the comfort of delusion from the equation. Realism is a necessary cruelty. The spectre of a Jihadist walking up behind you in a restaurant, putting a gun against your head and blowing your brains all over your friends' faces before murdering them as well is engendered in the smug superiority of every kindly little old granny who believes herself "saved" because she chants meaningless religious phrases before bed every night.

Every time, every single fucking time, with every religious murder, every bombing, every poor fool trampled to death in Mecca, every pogrom and every war, every Gaza strip and every Golgotha, every stem-cell research project blocked, every self-hating night of sexual repression, every child beaten because he didn't say his prayers, every taboo and auto da fe, every fifty-year-old arranging himself a marriage to a twelve-year-old girl under religious law, every Hindu self-mutilating for spiritual purity, every nun murdered in exorcism and every pedophile priest, every witch-burning and suicide cult, every stoning, every mother telling her children they'll burn in Hell if they don't respect her, every individual whose personal being is ground down by the self-effacing servility of religious ritual, every single fucking time you idiotic apes just dig yourselves deeper into the apologist's trap.

It's not just a few bad apples. This is the point of religion. Christopher Hitchens earned himself such hatred for the subtitle of one of his books (How Religion Poisons Everything) that any interviews after 2007 seem to have obligatorily subjected him to the nonsense question: "surely you can't mean everything" forcing him to steel himself and for the thousandth time pre-empt such questions and re-state that yes, everything. Everything.

Blind belief poisons everything. The glorification of gullibility poisons everything. If I walked up to you on the street and told you to go buy a gun, walk into a restaurant and start shooting people, I should hope you'd at least give it a second thought. Religion is designed to make such courses of action seem favorable or even mandatory. It is brainwashing. Blind belief in the supernatural is designed to instill absolute obedience in its victims, to remove their capacity for thought by removing their consciousness from the world around them. It is a tool of social control, whether embodied in a few pennies in the collection box or a bomb strapped to your chest. Every football player raising his hands up to the sky in prayer or thanks is only reinforcing the mass delusion.

You think I'm cruel for wanting to tear people's comforting delusions away from them, cruel for demanding that you spend lonely nights feeling the weight of the universe's emptiness on your chest? Poor you. Poor baby. So sad.

At least there's another hundred or so people who'll never have to worry about it, thanks to your insistence on equal air time for idiocy.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Have you remembered to hate yourself today?

Hate yourself. Ate yourself. Date yourself. Rate yourself. How do you measure? What do you measure? Too little too late, too much you, too much of yourself by measure by volume by my word, by my word. Measure yourself by my word. Too much you in that shoe. Fill big. Feel big. Clothes make the man but who made the clothes that you can never quite fill out, feel out, suss out, cuss out, dress up for your dressing down, raining down laying down, lay me down to sleep. Bags of eyelids at my feet. It's late. It's later than you think. Think fast! Live fast, die faster. Live slow in the know in the mo, in the show, flappers and dappers, gassers and prodigious sassers all to the tune of the masters, fasters for whom life is but a show. They grade down, they review, they tell you what to do. Line! Stage whispers, death's sisters, hissing 'til your ears sing. Dears, sing, arrears ring, the orchestra swings by the rafters all in tatters. Music sheets to the wind, anyway it blows, the whole damn show, who wrote this crap, step back, back in line just in time as the pendulum swings, as the headsman's axe rings, they cut off your line but there's no room to soliloquize anywise, every poor player tries but ad-libbing must be demonized. The director wrote the show, staged it, lit it, sounded it low, never rise above what you show, what's for show, the director's a CEO.
Look, tomorrow's just another today. Play it, lay it, day-by-day it, autograph it, monograph it, stereo-cast it, but how will you know if you never quit the show, step outside the three rings, that your acting stinks? Hand out tips and quips, drips of wits, for a life worth pursuing, for a death worth accruing. It's your dime but it's their dollar, it's a joke, it's your yoke but it's their collar, pressed and shined, Armani-ized, never quite sized up, measured up, rated high enough, dated high enough to eat your way up the food chain.
Hate yourself yet?