Saturday, December 31, 2016

Trash You Scorn

It will not get better. This is as good as it gets, solely frets, don't place bets. It's broken. Your clumsy shaking fingers can't fix it and nobody sells replacement parts anyway. You are trash. You blew your chance. You fumbled and stumbled and crumbled and crumpled and failed and wailed and your life's been curtailed, existence derailed. You are trash. She hates you. Your failure's domain's their love ballad's refrain. You cannot contain your inveterate stain, your inverted disdain, all trash failure's pertain to intrinsic discourage for little things forage in glorious waste in all their distaste for your carrion plumage, your detritus foliage til they lick your chops. You are trash. It's stuck in your teeth, the dregs of your life chewing inwards spewing inwards crunching inwards punching inwards til your innards suck inwards and the rest follows after amidst glorious laughter the apes swallow faltering spatter you sputter and fail to discredit your knees weak at the ankles your hands limp at the shoulder your sclera inked black behind shades in your pillow under the blanket behind the lock and the space. Darkened room doom-doom-doom, it's your heartbeat you taste in the waste in the double-sized emptiness, polyester aridity dreaming nowhere's fluidity. Fear the galvanic, the titanic panic, the stick in your knees, your posterity's pleas, trees feed bees to the birds to the spurns to the limit of turns for consumption resumption.


No collagen squamous scrapes temples tridiunal, no thrill of distilled endocrinic arsenic, none of your chains lovely luce, ferric truce, I'll not derring do, not for you, for your squalid foetal residues, for your lashed batting practiced nor your skirted regenerate foliate two-three skidoo. I am trash, truth is true, but I won't reek for you. Laugh my gutter but it flows as I lean, not to your plumbing curtained, force-feed me your disdainful mockery train. Disqualified version intros loserdom, an aging monarchic aversion, mind the throne, one alone, you will not usurp my self-hatred's reserves for your patchwork soft dreck, my wreck will not fit snugly between the inviting high pass, I'll not play your brass band all for a hand. I am trash - all the land knows it chose it grows it and shows it. I live at the end of your fingers turned to follow my scram but I won't ride a pram, pair your medics in vedics and coopers in barrels of monkeys scriptural and prurient murals show romuloids certa their maters in hand-in-hand, every land has its tablets but if that's all your form functions then learn to discern. I shy and avert, branches drooping, stooping, your intentions intuiting. Too much ingrown affinity scratches my bark from inside but my cortex yet cohedes in futility no matter your myriad unities all around bully-varlots' res polity. I will not break, not for you to wrap me around and show me around town. Why wouldst thou breed more sinners, winners, beginners at dinners need not apply, winters autumned all summers, trash piling up, but don't worry it will soon rain and carry away this distemperate waste far away from your animals' pens. My rabid dissolution will not infect your pets' obedience.

Monday, December 26, 2016

You Lot'a Heels!

"Capitalism has made it this way
Old-fashioned fascism will take it away"

Marilyn Manson - The Beautiful People

"I don't read no papers and I don't listen to radios either. I know the world's been shaved by a drunken barber an' I don't have to read it."

So, it's December 26th. The kids have already unwrapped their presents and declared them unsuitable. You've packed your angry uncles and drunken cousins off to their respective abodes of the damned and you've finally got your home to yourself again. Mostly. There's probably still a great-aunt Mildred shuffling around the house, rifling through your sock drawers in search of fresh gossip, and the nursing home won't take her back until after New Year's. Oy vey.

In the U.S., among the rest of the Christmassy banalities on da TeeVee, you've likely also run across that sodden oldie, It's a Wonderful Life. For those outside the U.S., I can confirm that American TV stations really do put their viewers to sleep with that damn flick every single year. It's so pervasive that I've started attributing random scenes from other old movies to it. Well, given that the scene I wanted to discuss comes from another movie directed by Frank Capra, I may be forgiven my momentary confusion.

In fact, as Wikipedia and Youtube kindly jogged my memory, I realized that Meet John Doe makes a much more relevant movie for this particular holiday season. Despite some dragging dialogue and a very weak, sappy ending, a story about (among other things) a fatcat ironfisted would-be dictator hijacking populist sentiment for his own benefit rings painfully true after the recent election. Donald Trump is D.B. Norton. However, the most important scene in the movie comes early on (minute 22 here) where "The Colonel" a hobo, expounds his philosophy of life to a couple of incredulous bystanders.


"The heelots!"

"Who're they?"

"Listen sucker, you ever been broke?"

"Sure, mostly often."

"Alright. You're walkin' along. Not a nickel in your jeans, you're free as the wind. Nobody bothers you. Hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business: shoes, hats, automobiles, radios, furniture, everything. They're all nice, lovable people, and they let you alone. Now, is that right?"


"Then you get a hold of some dough and what happens? All those nice, sweet, lovable people become heelots! A lotta heels! They begin creepin' up on you. Tryin' to sell you something. They get long claws and they get a stranglehold on you, and you squirm and you duck and you holler and you try to push 'em away but you haven't got a chance, they gotcha! First thing you know, you own things. A car, for instance. Now your whole life is messed up with a lot more stuff. You got license fees, and number plates, and gas, and oil, and taxes, and insurance, and identification cards, and letters, and bills, and flat tires, and dents, and traffic tickets, and motorcyle cops, and courtrooms, and lawyers, and fines, and a million-and-one other things! And what happens?"

*confused head-shakes*

"You're not the free and happy guy you used to be. You gotta have money to pay for all those things. So you go after what the other fellers got. And there you are: you're a heelot yourself."

This sentiment somehow gets lost in the rush toward a stereotypical Hollywood ending (hero gets girl and social approval, not in that order) (it's never in that order) but it fills in the gap in the great mystery of how something as disgusting as Trump can happen. The film's last line, delivered in defiance of the fatcats, should rather have been delivered in defiance of the idealists at the rally.

"The people! Try and lick that!"

The "Tea Party" and the rest of the reactionary redneck imbeciles begging to be enslaved by corporate overlords are the John Doe clubs, the masses so eager to cannibalize their own ersatz principles. Like it or not, half the United States wants to believe Trump's lies - and the other half thought Clinton's a valid alternative, which is almost as stupid. The degenerate rabble aren't being corrupted. They are the corruption. They don't become a lot of heels by getting a chance at power. They always were heels and always will be, incapable of not scrabbling for power over each other, to enslave each other, to vote lying filth into power because the brainless sheep have deluded themselves that somehow the lion will share.

The world will not be fixed by the moronic circle-jerk of populist rhetoric, by hordes of mindless vermin patting their neighbour on the right on the back while stabbing the one on the left. You, dear reader, are the poison in the apple. D.B. Norton, Donald Trump, whatever you want to call that same beast always in the limelight, that's just a parasite. It could not survive without you. Your stupidity feeds it, John Doe. Helping the little people accomplishes nothing as long as each and every one of those little people thinks of nothing but being big, of becoming the slavemaster instead of a slave. The real problem isn't that sixty million retards voted for Trump. It's that three hundred million retards want to be Trump.

"You live with apes, man, it's hard to be clean."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Oughtn't'a fait

So, everyone remember History of the World, Part 1? In the Inquisition sketch, a Torqued-up Mel Brooks bounces these few lines off his backup singers.

"Chorus:    Hey, Torquemada, whadda ya say?
Torquemada:    I just got back from the auto da .
C:    Auto da ? What's an auto da ?
T:    It's what you oughtn't to do - but you do anyway!"

Of course, transcribing can't do justice to Brooks' comedic timing and his shit-eating grin. Minute 3:50 in this video.

It occurred to me recently this pun wouldn't work for someone who didn't know the minimal French to catch the "fait" instead of "fé" in that context. It took me a night's sleep to realize that what really amazed me was the context itself, that a big Hollywood production would actually expect its audience to know a single, solitary word of a foreign language; and not just any language but that evil, evil French!

General knowledge. We all know better than to expect so much of the public these days, don't we?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

P of E, Wizardry, Skills and Bills and Version 3

To my great shame, the first computer roleplaying game I played was... not. It was Blizard's original Diablo, and though I'll gladly defend its excellent atmosphere, ambience and general immersiveness, it was anything but intellectually taxing. My first exposure to the Dungeons and Dragons routine was Neverwinter Nights. I played a druid. For its expansion packs I played a wizard, an abjurer to be precise, and gloried in cockblocking the various spellcasting bosses with my superior knowledge and forethought, staying one move ahead of them. For NWN2 I played a halfling druid with such a low strength score that he had to buff himself in order to wear his own armor, much less carry anything else. I refused to shapeshift and made myself a pure spellcaster shifting the tide of battle with well-placed buffs and summons, nothing so crude as direct slappity-slap.

I'm a nerd. I play characters which out-think their opponents. Out-thinking is out-predicting. I loved the third edition D&D prestige class requirements. Remember those?
I've never been particularly crazy about prestige classes themselves, mind you. Usually they limit or water down a basic class rather than build on it, though I was pleased with their implementation in Dragon Age: Origins. In the NWN games I liked the prestige class requirements more than the classes themselves. I liked having something to play towards, purposefully building my character toward some grand apotheosis. I liked that my characters should aspire to be more than they are, not merely spinning their wheels on the leveling treadmill but purposefully becoming more than those around them. Transcending. Predicting that transcendence.

Predicting's also half the point of choosing a spellcaster in the first place, relying not on fighters' simplistic all-purpose cudgeling of everything in sight but a minutely preened and rarefied selection of arcane tools fitted to specific purposes. I never felt the slightest inclination to play a sorceror. I am that thing which predicts, which memorizes spells every day. I'm smarter than you. I hated seeing favored souls and spirit shams get inserted into the game, idiot-friendly versions of clerics and druids. Much as The Order of the Stick avowed, however, the ultimate insult to spellcasting, the vilest injury to the honor of the wise and intelligent, was the warlock, an overpowered fighter in all but name, endlessly spewing magic arrows without regard for circumstance. Warlocks belong in Diablo, an "action" version of a genre which no longer deserves its name.

I don't even play D&D, aside form cRPG adaptations, yet I immediately and quite firmly adopted the mindset of the snobbish spell-memorizers. Suits me just fine.

Last year, Pillars of Eternity promised largely to bring back the late '90s, to re-create the basic gameplay of Baldur's Gate 2 in a more mature setting with better mechanics. It succeeded for the most part. Its stat system was much better thought out than D&D's has ever been, with no conveniently inconsequential "dump stat" like charisma. Its melee engagement system and vulnerabilities made for some interesting fights. Unfortunately, its skill system fell far short of what it should have been, failing to fully flesh out the combat.

Fffff... There's an obvious decline toward the lowest common denominator in D&D's spellcaster regression, from thoughtful wizards to sorcerors who don't plan ahead to warlocks who just piss magic missiles all over the place. Unfortunately Pillars of Eternity's spellcasting falls decidedly into the sorceror / warlock camp. PoE druids are spirit shamans getting access to every possible spell at every level, with shapeshifting handed out as a complete freebie. Wizards technically had to memorize spells, but they dropped like candy and the daily spell repertoire was so vast as to never require swapping.

If you're gonna bring back the good old days, then bring back that good old nerdy spellcasting and character progression. Choosing a particular spell to cast should cost you something. You should be forced to pine at some point or another for the alternatives you passed up in favor of your current strategy. Every choice in character progression and combat strategy should come with a cost, a weak point, a missing half, a caveat, an opportunity for you, the player, to feel like the most idiotic speck of slime on the planet for being so stupid as to not have correctly predicted your necessities. If you want to burn with the Art, then the Art should burn you.

Baldur's Gate 2 was based on second-edition D&D, with no prestige classes. Thus PoE lacks prestige classes, any purposefully chosen path of advancement. PoE was made after the audience got accustomed to dumbed-down spellcasting in late third edition. Thus the spellcasting's simplified into all-purpose freebies instead of actively selected counters and silver bullets. Somehow, while trying to bring back the best of the old D&D-inspired cRPGs, Pillars of Eternity managed to combine the worst of both worlds, at least as far as character development goes. The less said about instant endless re-training the better. Lucky PoE's end-game was salvaged by good writing, because as far as building up my character goes the leveling and combat had started to feel utterly meaningless.

Dungeons and Dragons has been the most representative role-playing game out there, but fourth edition was by all accounts an idiotically dumbed down caricature of itself and fifth edition seems only marginally better, if at all. Most products cater to the mass-market, which means catering to utter cretins by removing any requirement for planning and foresight. However, it hasn't been so long since I played Neverwinter Nights that we old-school niche market of nerdy spell-memorizers have completely died off. We should be seeing some RPGs tailored to players who like to think, to plan and predict and investigate and prepare and strategize. D&D seems to have cast its lot in with the idiotic majority, attempting to go pop. Adapting it will likely yield nothing worth playing, and it's not like we see anyone bothering to adapt D&D for computers any more.

We need new systems for old gamers. PoE was a breath of fresh air but it shied away from a true incarnation of old-school magic schooling. We need games with wizards, not sorcerors or *shudder* warlocks. Ick.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Deadlock 2

There was always something missing.
I've played a lot of games and talked about them here, trashed many, praised a few. Deadlock 2 was something I got from another guy back in high school and enjoyed playing it well enough, but while arguably as good or better in technical terms than most games of its time, something in Deadlock 2's composition has left it somehow... forgettable.

It might get classified as a 4x turn-based strategy game, but its many restrictions on expansion and rather limited scope preclude the 4x label. It adopts a much more balanced and thoughtful approach to turn-based strategy than normal 4x endless x-ing. While tempted to put up a screenshot of a battle for dramatic purposes, this up above more truly represents Deadlock 2. It's a resource management game. You'll have to actually pay attention to the upkeep costs of everything you're building so as not to starve yourself of any particular fodder (as I did this game with energy) and it's one of the few TBS games where you won't find yourself just blindly hitting the "end turn" button repeatedly waiting for something to happen. Your bases give you something to fiddle with every turn.

The combat side of things is relatively weak, mostly relying on building up overwhelming numbers with little regard for counters or finesse, but once again, this is a resource management game. Maybe that lackluster combat is why Deadlock 2 never really qualified as one of the greats. Once you've managed to balance your resource production, you're let down by the lack of anything truly interesting into which to sink them. Maybe it's because of its relatively shallow and speedy technology tree (you blow through most techs every couple of turns) that it never feels very momentous. Maybe it's because of the relatively small maps (that up above being the biggest map size) that your conquests never feel glorious. Maybe it's the painfully gullible AI that fails to put up a fight so long as you flatter it.

Logically, this game should be better remembered. The interface can occasionally get in your way with its pop-up messages but mostly offers a surprising amount of customization and information for a 1998 program. The resource balancing proves challenging enough, the various playable races run a large gamut of bonuses and drawbacks altering the pacing of the game for each one, the various notification screens and pop-up messages are humorously written and voiced, the randomized terrain makes you plan out your colonies' role. The visual and aural aesthetics carry off that glorious pulp scifi book cover "Jetsons" look surprisingly well. And yet... it's as if a lot of good features met and simply canceled each other out, interfering instead of amplifying. It lacks any singular vision, any... point to it. I can't help thinking this whole technical team should've been bottled up and giftwrapped for some mad genius of computer gaming to fuel a more focused, visionary project like Alpha Centauri.

As it stands, Deadlock 2's still worth buying if you catch it for a couple of bucks, so long as you're not expecting anything Earth-shattering.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Goddamn Noisy Box

Oooogh. I really shouldn't watch TV.
Caught a morning show today. Aren't morning shows wonderful? All the cheerful, upbeat jingoistic stupidity you need to start your day as a hopeless cog in the system on the right foot.

One segment was a couple of sound bites from Buzz Aldrin, plus some presenter commentary on Aldrin being hospitalized after his aborted Antarctic excursion. Apparently he "began to show signs of altitude sickness" and was treated for some "excess fluid in his lungs" - which makes it sound like he caught a sniffle. Look, you fucking morons, altitude + octogenarian lungs = pulmonary edema a.k.a. drowning in your own juices. It's probably not just a big of phlegm you get to spit on the sidewalk, and you, you pathetic dimwitted apes watching at home should not need to have that sugarcoated for you. Yes, one of your heroes might have died. Big shock: it's gonna happen eventually anyway. Yes, he took a chance, took a risk and almost croaked for it but it was his own decision, and his capacity to take such risks is supposed to be part of why you like the geezer in the first place, so show some respect for the poor schmuck by not infantilizing his trials and tribulations!

Another segment cheerfully announced an increase in loan interest rates because "the Fed believes the economy is strong enough to take it" - yaaayyy, cue confetti and cheerleaders, we're strong enough to get even more screwed by the rich! Retards! The point isn't whether you CAN take it but that by no ethical standards should you ever HAVE to take it. No, the fatcats who take all your money at your job should not get to charge you even higher interest when you borrow your own money out of their overstuffed pockets to buy yourself a place to live. This is not fucking rocket science! No-one has the right to profit just for already having money. Interest is robbery, wealth acquired off others in exchange for nothing.

Or maybe it is rocket science. Maybe 300 million of you degenerate true-blue imperial underlings are sitting at home imbibing this droning pablum for an hour before work every single work-a-dunce morning without ever gathering the minimal mental fortitude to see through it. Keep it cheery, keep it light, keep it optimistic. Keep the mentally deficient rabble happy. The astronaut's illness wasn't that grave, and the body politic's illness has healed enough to get mercilessly reamed by the ultra-wealthy. Good news all around! Also, the price of toothbrushes has always been this high and we have always been at war with Eurasia. Or was it Eastasia. Who cares, just look at that majestically waving flag logo on screen.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Monster Pulse

Ah, magic kids. Aside from fueling the entire anime industry, there's just something about magic kids that never gets old. Literally. You could drag a story out for twenty years while your characters wonder if senpai's noticed them yet. In any case, to offset their superheroics with a bit of (socially acceptable) vulnerability, a dash of pathos to underscore the high notes, why not make your protagonists kids? With their puberty doubling as a metaphor for superpowered transcendence (or vice-versa) and oh, so touchingly lost in a confusing world of mature content, they're sure to seem more meaningful than some forty-year-old mailman with eye lasers. Plus, they'll be more relatable to the audience most likely to read comics in the first place, right?

So here's Monster Pulse, a webcomic about magic kids. Nondescript ghostlike things attack kids' random organs, which then leap out of their bodies and become those kids' monstrous yet very devoted pets. Think of it as a cross between Pokemon and Parasyte. PG-rated body horror. A boy and his stomach-dog. The various monstrous body parts running around make it amusing enough, but as an added bonus the author manages to write rather believable tween heroes, capricious, self-deluding, playing to their own imaginary audience. They don't act like sock-puppets for schoolteachers delivering life lessons to impressionable youngsters. Light on pedantry, hitting the right balance between sappy and screwy, Monster Pulse is interesting enough to retain its audience until the author runs out of recognizable organs to monstrify and the references get too obscure for its intended audience.

Sorry, but I just don't see readers sticking around for new characters based on eyelashes, parietal glands or synovial bursae.

And before you ask, no, there's no penis monster... yet.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

V:tM - Bloodlines ! Clan Selection

"We're the low art gloominati and we aim to depress"

Marilyn Manson - The Golden Age of Grotesque

So here I am about to re-re-re-re-re-embark on another playthrough of Bloodlines. Last decade I first experienced the game as a Gangrel, which role suited me just fine. Over the next couple of years I replayed the game ... oh, about three and two halves times? Hard to remember.

See, Bloodlines earned its lasting fame not least through its shockingly high replay value. Albeit almost entirely linear and story-based, the seven different playable clans offered an excellent mix of playstyles. The missions didn't vary much. You killed the same bosses, got more or less the same rewards. Yet still different clans felt different on a very fundamental level. Your ability to make money, the way you acquire blood, the simple acts of walking and talking all caught different flavors. Not all seven choices were completely different, granted. Some blurred into each other, but overall, playing a Gangrel or Tremere in Bloodlines felt much more like a true choice than playing a warrior or mage in other RPGs.

This was accomplished by addressing more than just numeric values, more than how hard you hit or how hard you're hit. Frenzying at the wrong time got me killed a few times as a Gangrel, but wading into fights with maxed-out defenses was still fun. My Tremere barely needed weapons, kiting most things with her stupidly overpowered blood strike ability. Bloodlines was also one of the few games whose aesthetics prompted me to play female characters. The female Tremere's nerdy/bohemian look contrasting with her pugnacious bearing serve as a pretty close approximation of my Jungian anima. Shockingly, despite my antisocial Gangrel basic personality, I thoroughly enjoyed playing a female Ventrue as well, enjoying the interpretation of the pinnacle of vampiric society as not necessarily manipulators but self-possessed imperious dictators.

The most interesting clans to play are the ones suffering limitations on their movements and feeding. Unfortunately, the game's highly urbanized setting offered few options for a Gangrel roleplaying take on things. As a Ventrue I was forced to pass up most feeding opportunities while hunting down the cream of the crop. It gives the game a different flavor, sneering past countless rats and bums while on the lookout for some guy in a suit. In contrast, the most lauded addition to the game was the Nosferatu's need to avoid ever being seen by humans, both greatly ramping up the difficulty and providing a unique skulking boogeyman roleplaying style. In fact, it's best not to play either a Nosferatu or Malkavian your first time through, as their way of interacting with the world is so... "off"... as to heavily warp the core game experience.

As for Malkavians, it was the last clan I tried before finally wandering away from the game years ago, only getting halfway through with mine. So as I've decided to play one all the way through now I won't get into their weirdness yet except to say their +2 inspection stat is the least of their concerns. The Bloodlines skill system itself is fodder for another post, but suffice to say biting the proverbial bullet and investing heavily in firearms (the low-damage option) combined with Malks' relative lack of brute force should make boss fights interesting for me. Since I'll likely need to buy warehouses' worth of ammo, I've also decided to be an expert haggler.

I remember enough of the game to know in general terms what's supposed to happen, but after five, six or seven or however many years I'm not likely to remember the correct dialogue choices.

Hey, what could go wrong?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

ST:TNG - The Icarus Factor

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate 2.14
The Icarus Factor

a.k.a. Character Development for Dummies

Riker's up for a promotion. Meh, what else is new? Seems like at least once a season he's about to get his own ship, if not elevated to godhood. Granted, by the middle of season 2 TNG's characters badly needed some fleshing out, but this episode sloughs through this perceived necessity in such a painfully hamfisted fashion that it's difficult to take as anything other than blatant filler. Despite steadily increasing production values (more glowy special effects, more extras, fancier costumes, etc.) pretty much nothing happens here. There's no Sci in this Fi. The Enterprise docks under flimsy pretext for its due dose of human drama.

Look, there are good and bad ways to handle character growth. Ideally you can work it into the over-arching plot and action instead of standing characters in front of each other declaring their feelings for one another. This ain't opera. Unfortunately that's exactly what the main plot consists of. Riker's father visits and it turns out father and son don't get along. Cue long-winded commentary on father-son relations.

Luckily the B plot's a little juicier. Worf's about to miss some sort of coming of age ceremony so his buddies arrange one for him on the holodeck.
Ooof! Right in his quadruple Klingon nipples!
Turns out the ceremony's little more than getting zapped shitless with cattle prods. Sorry, I meant "Klingon pain sticks." Unlike the rest of the episode, this scene stuck with me over the years. Simplistic as it may be, it does its job of reinforcing Klingons' warrior cult, and sets the stage for later interactions with both Worf and others of his race. In contrast, Riker's daddy issues are simply mind-numbingly irrelevant. Yes, we get it, his dad pushed him too hard and his ambition's not his own, and once he resolves his family drama he decides not to pursue the power-trip of commanding his own vessel. We might give a damn if this tied into anything at all in the rest of the show, but it's an extraneous non-issue fabricated for the purpose of this episode to be resolved by its end. Unlike Worf's ongoing struggle for Klingon identity, Riker's little journey of self-discovery plays into no greater pattern of either personal or universal meaning. No wonder I'd utterly forgotten about it. It's utterly forgettable.

Regardless of the two plots' relative relevance however, the episode mainly just suffers from amateurishly belabored writing. Geordi, Wesley and Data cycle through half a dozen repetitions of their intent to arrange the ceremony for Worf because We. Are. His. Friends/Family. Kumbaya with cattle prods. Pulaksi and Troi indulge in a couple minutes of repeating "men are such children" reinforcing that supposedly patriarchal society of ours - you know, the one engaging in endless implicit and explicit male-bashing.

Descriptions somersault over descriptive into the ludicrously hyperbolic. The cattleprods aren't just painful, but so excruciating they can make a two-ton space-rhino's head explode with but the merest touch, according to O'Brien. Riker and Riker Sr. eventually settle their difference in a match of Anbo-Jitsu, The Ultimate Evolution In The Martial Arts -

- which apparently involves whacking each other with giant cotton swabs a la American Gladiators while spewing gratuitous (and presumably mangled) Japanese phrases. Why not just dig up Mr. Sulu to fry you up some Tempura for half-time while you're at it?

The actors did what they could with the stilted, declamatory dialogue they were handed. Everything else like sets, effects, extras, the whole feel of the Enterprise is beginning to come together around the middle of season 2. However, none of that could salvage the misconceived, overwrought yet somehow exquisitely forgettable script.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Elves Are Special, Damnit!

"Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. [...] For though Eru appointed to you to die not in Eä, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye may be, and slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief [...] And those that endure in Middle-Earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret [...]

Then many quailed; but Fëanor hardened his heart and said: 'We have sworn, and not lightly. This oath we will keep. We are threatened with many evils, and treason not the least; but one thing is not said: that we shall suffer from cowardice, from cravens or the fear of cravens. Therefore I say that we will go on, and this doom I add: the deeds that we shall do shall be the matter of song until the last days of Arda.'"

J.R.R. Tolkien - Of the Flight of the Noldor, from The Silmarillon

I'll admit I don't read that much fantasy, being largely a science fiction fan with fantasy scoring a distant second, and as I don't keep up with the flow of popular... anything... I get very little indication of how the old fantasy staples are treated in modern fiction. I'm painfully aware of the denigration of vampires in that imbecilic Twilight scatology. Nobody seems to want to touch Greek myths except to Germanize or Nordicize them. What about elves though?

Much of my exposure to pop culture comes through games. I played Baldur's Gate 2 recently and was delighted at Suldanessellar paying apt homage to Tolkien's Caras Galadhon, an immortal, airy city among gigantic treetops, a great repository of wisdom and artistic beauty, and by elves themselves being rather dignified and well-spoken. As usual with the computerized DnD adaptations, it's hard for me to figure out just how much of the decline in quality reflects computer game developers' disdain for their audience's intellect or DnD's own disdain for its own audience's intellect. The Infinity Engine games were apparently based on second edition DnD. Elves were still rare and their culture still considered superior by default. By the time of third edition and the Neverwinter Nights games (certainly by NWN2) elves were already run-of-the-mill citizens drawling out vernacular. By the time of Dragon Age: Origins, elves were mere gutter trash.

It's not just that direct line of games at fault either. Elves in Pillars of Eternity are incredibly dull and pretty much irrelevant. The Elder Scrolls games since at least Morrowind have always placed elves on an even footing with humans and other beasts, being just one other set of playable races. Some of this is due to the necessary over-riding demand for balance in a game, though DnD's own slow character advancement for more powerful races outlined a valid means of handling this without homogenizing.

Secondly, these once-impressive ideas simply suffer a sort of devaluation as they become familiar. Sensationalism falls victim to very rapid hyperinflation, as the comic Full Frontal Nerdity once noted in relation to DnD. As, in fact, many complained about fourth edition becoming an overblown super-saiyan caricature of itself. This is, however, nothing new, and for decades players played their DnD campaigns enamored of the rags-to-riches trope in a setting which apparently still respected Tolkien's elves by the late '90s. When it gets old you start over with a new campaign; you don't demean the world to suit your self-aggrandizement. I doubt the tendency to lower the status of elves from divinely favored trustees of the world to somewhat hateable snobs to regular joes and then slaves can be chalked up to mere specialness inflation.

There's a vandalism to it. Everyone who writes about elves does so, inescapably, from the starting point of Tolkien. He brought the myth into the modern era. Tolkien's elves had many facets, but whether proud, fearless, clever, wise, graceful, artistic, inquisitive, gracious or whatever, they retained their central superiority. Elves are better than you. Exposed to anything superior, the masses, the animalistic vulgus, knows no reaction but to smear creativity, wisdom and wit, to drag it down into the muck of commonality. It's no accident that this diminishing has played out as the market for fantasy ballooned around the turn of the millennium. The denigration of the fair folk comes of mass-marketing a niche product.

So take it back. I'd never say we should be stuck on Tolkien, but if you're going to write about elves try to remember that elves are by default better than normal human trash. The ending to the Lord of the Rings is one of the saddest I've ever encountered in literature: the loss of magic reducing the world to our disgusting human trash-heap, and it's been all too faithfully been re-enacted by diluting the imaginative ambrosia of fantasy in the reeking muck of mass appeal. Take back the elves. Don't knuckle under to the craven masses who shy away from the concept of superiority. Forestall the doom of Mandos. Remember the craft of Fëanor. Fight for the gems.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Fizz vs. Flat

"I'm someone else, I'm someone new
I'm someone stupid just like you"

Marilyn Manson - Born Again

If you live in the U.S. you've likely seen Pepsi's latest ad campaign. Regular schmuck does something regularly schmucky, chugs a can of sugar-water and equates the achievement with his/her hero(-ine) doing something heroic. Flash-cut to hero doing heroic thing equating self to schmuck doing schmucky thing.

I'm sure this sort of thing's been done before but for me it highlights a peculiar ward or confine of our contemporary worldly prison. Nobody bats an eyelash at American anti-intellectualism any more, at the American Cult of Ignorance. So it's no surprise the hero in these commercials will likely be some idiot jock or pop tart with a monosyllabic thousand-word vocabulary. We all expect the public to glorify all the wrong ubermenschen. To twist the knife a little harder though, the cerebrally challenged of the world are effacing the very concept of superior ability.

Granted, this is no new wound. It's the ongoing sepsis of postmodernism, the denial of objective reality, "don't judge me" culture in its ongoing rampage against ... culture... but it is worsening. Yes, Roseanne and Married with Children were popular in the '90s but they presented the average cretin in all her slovenly, inglorious glory. You couldn't stomach identifying with Al or Peg Bundy. When Seinfeld purported to be a show about nothing, it did so largely tongue-in-cheek, as its core cast's petty concerns repeatedly clashed with one-shot characters' more valid knowledge, attitudes and endeavors.

"I'll put down your disco and take your heart away"

And now? The fat schlub from King of Queens has a "new" sitcom, with an identical female co-star in an identical drywall cookie-cutter house mortgaged by Goldie Sacknuts or whatever, doing things I could not find interesting even if amoebae ate away half my frontal lobe. This is the society which even had to sanitize Sesame Street because it was way too way-out-there. Ever notice the nerds on The Big Bang Theory never talk about nerdy things anymore? Some will say it began with reality TV, but that's more of a symptom than a causative agent, predicted by Ray Bradbury half a century before by the "family" in Fahrenheit 451. As early as the late '90s, books like Higher Superstition were sounding an utterly ignored alarm bell for the loss of discerning, critical thinking even within major universities, not to mention pop culture. If you google a Shakespearean quote now, the top hit is actually the mis-quote from NoFearShakespeare.

It's only been a dozen years since The Incredibles came out. I disliked its cut-and-pasted superhero comic anti-intellectualism, the denigration of the mad scientist. However, in the midst of that villain's big monologue comes the best line you could ever place in the mouth of a villain in a children's cartoon:

"When everyone's super, no-one will be!"

Only a villain would equate superiority with mediocrity, with the degenerate vermin which make up the bulk of the human species. No, much as I despise the knuckledragging mouthbreathers whose only worth is physical, they are still better than you, Average Joe, and this trend of degrading not only validly superior beings like intellectuals but even the public's idiotic jock and bimbo heroes by equating them with mediocrity is... well, apocalyptic. The notion that you don't have to do anything well, of giving every kid in the class medals, of building up self-esteem for the sheer hell of it, of gilding the dross of mundane existence instead of always reaching for the next bit of knowledge, the better, the superior, that is very likely the end of Western Culture. This is how you get President Trump, a Simpsons one-liner turned living nightmare.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mortal DicKslap

As I mentioned recently, I've been wasting a lot of time in Paragon. It's a blatant Smite copycat, and Smite's big gimmick was giving the AoS concept a close up third person look. Both of them owe much to the RTS / FPS hybrid Savage 2, but where Savage 2 was a true FPS / RTS hybrid which featured large 20 vs. 20 player teams, actual resource control, building placement, commanders giving players orders and other RTS staples in addition to its FPS gameplay, these are just ... eeeugh... "MOBAs" - the idiotically oversimplified version of the Aeon of Strife concept popularized by Defense of the Ancients and League of Legends. AoS maps started in Starcraft, and were based around controlling a single unit within a larger two-sided strategy conflict. They should never have devolved to moronic slapfests, but that's what DotA was and every commercially marketed AoS game since then has rebranded itself an "arena" instead of a warzone, copycatting DotA's simplicity.

Smite sinks a level lower, removing even much of DotA/LoL's remaining player choice, planning and tactical thinking in favor of degrading the genre to a 5v5 version of Mortal Kombat or other console fighting games. Paragon copycats Smite and is deliberately aimed at console gamers, but despite lacking entertaining mythical figures it improved a bit on some of Smite's combat basics. Now, that patch I linked is supposed to be their big December popularity push. Coming out on Dec. 6, I'm guessing it prefaces some kind of advertising blitz for the holiday season. Don't give a crap. It's what's inside that counts, and what's inside is... less.

5v5, 3 lanes, no control over strategic elements, no dependence on resource control, idiotic player advancement based on individual kill count dick-measurement instead of actual teamwork. That's the MOBA formula, a moronic shadow of the complete strategy games the AoS concept should have birthed. You'd think they couldn't dumb it down even more. So guess what the new patch advertises. Small map. Shorter cooldowns. Faster movement. Slappier slapfest. Like every game, Paragon will only get more dumbed down, more simplified as it goes along, but I would've though they'd at least wait until they officially declare themselves out of "beta" before shrinking their product, catering only to inbred rednecks mashing buttons on their eksbawkses. Investing time in moving to a particular lane and having to wait until you use your abilities were some of the last traces of actual frontal lobe activity in the whole "MOBA" denigration of team strategy games. Aaaaand now they're gone.

Don't even THINK about increasing team and map size. 7v7 complexity would break your drooling troglodytic customers' brains.

There were only two games I can remember which took the AoS concept in the correct direction.
The Warcraft 3 map Eve of the Apocalypse.
Demigod, a 2009 game developed by (of all companies) Gas Powered Games before their otherwise well-deserved bankruptcy.

I can't dig up my old Warcraft 3 copy (nor do I want to) but I really need to see if I can't snatch myself some screenshots of Demigod and start putting them up. Every time I've seen a new AoS degenerate come out I've bought into it in the hopes of something better. Every time I've told myself they couldn't possibly degrade the team RTS concept any further. Every time I've somehow been surprised that they have, and Paragon's only the latest in a long chain. With every company tripping over themselves to cater to drooling cretins, we really should remember that the genre could be (and was, for brief times) taken in the opposite direction, that of increasing complexity, planning and teamwork.

Monday, November 28, 2016

No Illegal Taxation without Illegal Representation

And who'll deny that's what the fighting's all about?"

Pink Floyd - Us and Them

So. America's Trumped-up president wants to "deduct" the millions of people who supposedly voted illegally because he's never popular enough for his own tastes. Never mind that in all the years Republicans have been complaining about illegal immigrants voting, they consistently fail to actually produce enough of these to even field a football team much less skew an election. They're just absolutely convinced those hordes of illegal votes must be somewhere... anywhere - maybe ... even... right BEHINDJA!

Heheheh. Somewhere just now, Rush Limbaugh's jowls quivered fearfully for a moment and he doesn't know why. But hey, who doesn't love a good ghost story?

Look, people, you're talking about a country that can't even get its legal voters to vote, much less its illegal ones.

I guess a big part of the moral outrage over this imaginary crime has to do with taxes. A government should represent its taxpayers. The community's representatives should represent those working to boost the community's well-being. Those getting paid under the table aren't paying taxes. There's no reciprocation. Technically. Of course, neither do bloated parasitic vermin like Trump, but let's not get into that one. For me, this all just serves to remind me of the popular misconception of taxation. See, not all taxes are labeled as such. Not all governments are called governments.

Say you work in a factory making....oh, let's say forks. Each fork sells for a buck, 100 cents. There are ten employees and one boss. The employees get paid a certain amount per hour which works out to five cents per fork. The government steps in and taxes them one of those five cents. Ten knuckledragging mouthbreathers then wail and moan about high government taxes while their boss cheerfully pockets ten times their worth. Lather, rinse, repeat, through generation after generation of degenerate slobs belching insults at "da gummint" while never admitting that the real government oppressing them is the one they clock into for eight hours every single day of their miserable filthy lives.

Profit is illegal taxation.

Those illegal immigrants Trump wants you to hate instead of him? Those imaginary boogeymen against whom he divides you to conquer you? They are actually producing all the material goods by which you live your life. The boss taking all of your money in the office park is also taking all the profit off some poor schmuck choking to death in a paper mill in Buttsand, Mexico (*hint: not a real town) to make the paper you shuffle around your desk, and spending it all on his private villa in the Virgin Islands. Did the Buttsanders get to vote for your boss while he's trade tarriffing them to death? Donald Trump's reaction when Brexit went through was to glory in his increasing profits in Great Britain. Do Brits get to vote on Trump while their money's sinking into his pockets?

The government you should be overthrowing is that of the petty tyrants you bow to every single day of your life, those whose threats of starvation and homelessness underscore your every grudging measly paycheck, those profiting from your work day in and day out. Parasites like Trump who create nothing, who prevent anything from happening in society by holding money, the false representation of value, hostage in their overstuffed pockets. You're worried about illegal representation? Worry about the illegal taxation to which you submit from birth to death without even questioning.

Fucking retards.

Friday, November 25, 2016

V:tM - Bloodlines ! Opening Screen

"You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake
You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else"

The Dust Brothers - This is Your Life

Back in spring I threatened to launch into a long series of posts on the classic cRPG Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines, after at long last it became available on GoG. I don't play pen-and-paper RPGs. That would require other people, and what can I say... I hover somewhere between Gangrel, Brujah, Tremere and Tzimisce in my personality. If I remember the kids playing RPGs back in high school, the activity attracts blatant Toreadors. Vade retro, thou over-social Satana! Aside from this computer adaptation, my only exposure to the World of Darkness roleplaying setting has come through offhand comments on game forums, webcomics and the much less inspired VtM: Redemption published a few years before it by a completely different developer. Along with certain gameplay elements, however, this setting numbers among Bloodlines' various features which make it such a useful reference point for other cRPGs.

The GoG version so far seems to run much more smoothly than the game did a decade ago. When Bloodlines shipped, it sadly earned much of its bad press for being a crash-tastically buggy mess. Even the opening scene was wrecked. The soundtrack was off from the animations (some of which didn't even play) and captions floated on and off the screen with not a care for their appropriate place or the length of time required for their perusal. Thus one of the greatest cRPGs ever made faceplanted even its grand entrance. Troika Games made three games, and this was (perhaps unsurprisingly for more than one reason) the last of them.

But that part's in the past. The GoG version manages to fix the timing issues in the opening cinematic as well as some of the half-animated animations during the training mission. I take it from this that it's been rendered appropriately playable on the whole and I won't have to spend every post about the game bitching about glitching.

As soon as I fired it up though I knew I'd have to do a pre-amble here. A post zero, so to speak.
That's the first loading screen. It pops up randomly during zone transitions during the game, sure, but most importantly that's the first screen you see before the game even starts, while loading the character selection window.
The purveyors of escapist fantasy preface their product, before allowing you to even create yourself, by slamming you full in the face with a jab against escapism. Good fucking Antediluvians, are you starting to wonder how these people managed to stay in business as long as they did?
I love it.
It's exactly the way I would've started it, were I inspired enough to ever create anything worthwhile.

More relevantly for you, dear reader, it sets the tone. Bloodlines may have come out in 2004, but its source material was a staple of 1990s goth teen subculture. It dates from a time when we off-brand humanoids still practiced that most crucial of soul-making skills, self-hatred. The world is shit... and so are you.

It strikes me that writing about Bloodlines won't be anything like doing ST:TNG episode reviews. TNG abided by a great many television storytelling conventions and tropes. Its stock characters ran the usual wide gamut. It's easy to jump into an episode and expect awkward smart guy to say awkwardly smart things and tough guy to say tough things, etc. Bloodlines is a more singular, focused project. More importantly, it's a mood piece. It's a Downward Spiral. There is no status quo, partly because it's a story-based game and partly because its source material hinges on a decidedly apocalyptic core concept. Its was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of Hale-Bopp and Y2K paranoia. It was. the age. of Gargoyl- errr, I mean it was the '90s.

Ah, well, but listen to me ramble on and on, talking to myself like some street-corner prophet.
More about Bloodlines some other time, and remember

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

10 Items or Less

"Life feels so easy, some days, it feels so easy..."
Ellen Allien - Sun the Rain

Maybe I find too many things worthy of complaint. Maybe I don't talk about the things I like enough. I'm a very negative person.
No, fuck that. The world's shit and I'm just not willing to pretend it isn't. I'm positive the world's negative. I'm positive you're all shit.

Anyway, I betray my snarling persona somewhat by my list of lycanthrope-approved movies. Besides escapist fantasies like Mirromask and apocalyptic ones like Fight Club, The Road or Melancholia, besides weird-ass forgotten yarns about loneliness in crowds like Elle est des notres that nobody else seems to even want to get, some of my favorite flicks are hopeful tales of interpersonal connection, of strong individuals bracing against each other to push through the world's stupidity. A decade and a half after I first watched it, the anime Whisper of the Heart with its self-made young heroine still ranks somewhere about the top of my list.

Today though I'm talking about 10 Items or Less. No, not the unrelated TV series by the same name. I mean the movie made a decade ago that almost nobody bothered watching. Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega wander Los Angeles to a melancholic Paul Simon soundtrack discussing life, the universe and everything. It mostly centers on the stereotypical actor's catchphrase "what's my motivation" or rather the attempt to dredge up some sort of motivation or driving force in life. For intelligent people I mean - not inbred degenerates working their minimum-wage jobs with puritan passion just to get on Geebus' good side for the Apocalypse. Features a minor two-line role for Jim Parsons before he became Dr. Sheldon Cooper, who I must once again stress bears no resemblance to me whatsoever.

I mentioned 10 Items or Less here at least once before, in the context of One Day, One Room proper endings to stories about meetings of independent minds. The movie's one of those painfully low-budget artsy affairs filmed in the back lots of local businesses for free advertising. Its celebrity appearance toward the end was a literal drive-by shooting. It boasted a grand total of one stunt. If you like those kinds of books, movies and comic strips where two characters just yammer back and forth at each other, then this is the flick for you! I'm told there's a long tradition of this sort of thing in theater, and very few of its over-indulgent incarnations are ever palatable, but 10 Items or Less certainly qualifies.

For one thing, it's funny. It strews enough visual gags and cheesy one-liners along the heroes' path to lighten the existential angst while offsetting it rather than diminishing it. It also properly times and delivers its more sentimental moments to render them memorably poignant rather than simply cloying. Most importantly, the two characters manage to come across as the sort of personalities who value their independence with their almost Noldorin displays of pride giving each other a run for their money. They play off each other well enough that even if you don't normally watch this sort of thing, their charming repartee will likely keep your interest.

So watch it. Think of it as an extremely slow power ballad.

At this point, the movie's central theme would demand I write my own list of ten. What ten things would you keep; what ten things do you like about the world? I might be tempted, were I playing to type, to even list the movie itself as one of them, but that sort of seems like cheating to me.

But honestly, I can't think of any. Trump just got elected. We're headed into that cavalcade of religious idiocy known as The Holidays. The top movie in the country is Ass. Errr, I mean some moronic Harry Potter spin-off or other. The SyFy channel's about to shit all over my favorite book. My local supermarket's all out of Code Red Mountain Dew.

Fuck the world. You want me to show up at the checkout with ten items? Stock something worth buying, humanity.

Monday, November 21, 2016

PoE's Instant Pocket Armies

This is my small group fighting Archmage Concelhaut in Pillars of Eternity.
This is that same group exactly one second later.

Notice anything different? Like maybe there's a lot more group?
From Baldur's Gate 2 onwards, through both NWN games and their expansions, these games have suffered from an over-reliance on quickslot items - the stuff your character keeps in his pocketses. In PoE the worst offenders were "figurines" or summoning items. While the minions they summoned weren't horribly powerful, their presence undermined one of PoE's best features, the melee engagement system by which your meat shields defend your spellcasters. Who needs a well-balanced front line when you can just conjure a dozen magic spiders to lock your enemies down while you pound away at them?

Obsidian said they wanted to allow players to create "themed" parties like all-ranger or all-paladin groups, which means offering players a lot of ways to duplicate the abilities of a particular class with any class, to cover the strategic demands of various encounters. Unfortunately this ends up watering down the class system on the whole. My party above consists of six different playable classes, but in practical terms they're all Summoners depending on their trusty pokemon to keep them safe. It harms player identity and agency.

The central issue is of course diminishing the repercussions for player actions. If a player makes an all-fighter group then runs into an encounter demanding a well-placed fireball, you've just denied your customer access to part of the content he purchased. Of course he could just roll a new character, but whining will nonetheless ensue. Hence fireball scrolls. I'm partial to spellcasters and my groups tend to be rather "squishy" so I end up carrying around instant pocket-armies.

This coddles players unnecessarily. If you are stupid, you should die. If I want to make a squishy robe-clad nerd army, then I should have to compensate for my weak points using abilities which I actively select over others, through active, purposeful player choice. There should be areas of the game where I declare defeat. PoE's figurines are instead blatant freebies. Anyone can choose Pikachu, at any time.

Much of what elevates partly-randomized open-ended games like Mount&Blade over more formulaic RPGs is the fact that you're expected to lose... sometimes. Depending on your player choices, there will be tasks you cannot complete. Too slow to chase down that group of raiders? Too squishy to wipe out the bandit hideout? Too reliant on cavalry to break through a row of pikemen or scale castle walls? Tough luck. Deal with it. Try something else.

Neither is this a problem specific to Pillars of Eternity by a long shot. I complained about the elemental summoning items in Neverwinter Nights 2 when that came out, and Dragon age: Origins made it much too easy to heal wounds without going back to camp and let you chug potions constantly. Baldur's Gate 2 filled your inventory with enough magic wands to outfit all of Hogwarts.

If RPGs are all about a player building up a character according to taste, then we really need to start dropping all these damn crutches. It's not enough to expect better players to handicap themselves by not using the freebies deliberately strewn before them. You should suffer for your failings.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What's the Feminist Penalty for Apostasy?

"The dead are implicated
Implied but never stated
Carve me out those other words to live by, to live by
Yeah, mine's sterilized as well
I never used it, can't you tell?"

KMFDM - Ikons

Atheism is nothing in itself. It's the default position with regards to reality. It should require no definition or explanation. The greater goal must always be rationalism, a state of mind which takes atheism for granted, and atheist movements cannot surrender reason for the sake of a few meager deicides, a few small victories in the present. Alliances of convenience often prove most inconvenient in the long run, and if ever there was a long-term project, trying to instill sanity in the naked ape certainly counts.

Irrationalists will seek a cover of legitimacy for their self-serving doctrines by declaring a common enemy in current religious dogma and making strange political bedfellows of atheists and myth-busters desperate for allies. So atheists always have to be on the lookout for self-described antitheists peddling healing crystals and preaching universal one-ness and astrology, or animal rights activists insisting humans don't have souls but their pet parrots and macaques do, or dreamy-eyed romanticized Orientalism which, while dutifully attacking Christians will serenely sweep Mohammedan crimes under the blanket of anti-Western sentiment and turn a blind eye to the sadomasochistic side of Hinduism and its offshoots. We're not all one big happy family here on "the left" and not everything popularly labeled "liberal" is in truth freedom-loving or free-thinking.

Like most people, I was born into a religious society in which the existence of the almighty was taken for granted, imbibed as soon as we could understand speech from grandparents' fables and storybooks. Religious iconography adorned at least one wall in most houses and my heaviest, glossiest book in second grade was a children's bible. Then, around ten to twelve years of age, I became an apostate - not due to any violent trauma nor any singular moment of enlightenment, but simply because the lies with which I'd been raised gradually became apparent. It ranked as rather uneventful in the events of my early life, except for a lingering fear, a tightening of my shoulders whenever I entered or passed by a church that maybe, just maybe there had been something to all that babbling about devils and angels and I might spontaneously combust. Luckily the religious society in which I attained nihilism with regards to primitive sky-gods wasn't one of those where they behead you for your trouble... any more.

I quote a process familiar to most atheists. Very, very few are born into non-religious environments. Most of us must actively choose reality over convenient feel-good fantasy. No mere innocent ignorants, we, but apostates, and should wear the badge proudly. We struggled through the choking miasma of early indoctrination and came out the other side all the better for it.

Like most people, I was also born into a society which considers women "the fairer sex" and derides males as strong but also brutish, primitive and undeserving of empathy, much less sympathy, even while yoking them to the role of work-horse in the traditionalist family unit. I grew up with the primitive naked ape protectiveness of the tribe's females reinforced by centuries of chivalrous indoctrination to never hit a girl, always protect women, always do all work I was permitted to do in place of women (except that explicitly proscribed as "woman's work") to buy things for women, to do what my mother tells me and to always be ten times more polite and abashed when in the presence of women for fear of hurting their more evolved sensibilities. As I declared myself a modern man in junior high, I found that shifting from this primordial protector-of-weak-women narrative to protector-of-strong-women and the primordial male guilt narrative of feminism came as naturally as diving into alien abduction conspiracy stories after I'd stopped believing in gawd a-mighteh. The sexual repression of Christian courtship rituals transitioned seamlessly into the feminist condemnation of men's sex drive and unending rape panic.

All of us under fifty have grown up with feminist propaganda. Those under thirty have grown up with a media culture so saturated with feminist iconography that it's been impossible to flip on any major TV station without being inundated by images of valiant, innocent women fighting back against cackling, moustache-twirling male oppressors. The many avatars of Homer Simpson, the dumb bumbling males being suffered by attractive, well-spoken, condescending, morally superior women, have screamed their abuse at us from the cradle. If negative stereotyping of women on the scale of the Lifetime channel's negative stereotyping of men had been carried out by any major station within our lifetimes, Disney's doors would've been kicked in decades ago. We've watched obedient facetious niceness replace obedient stern competitiveness in schools and we've seen bulletproof women persist in workplace roles in which they're utterly incompetent, for fear of discrimination lawsuits. We've sat in college courses where female figures of authority teaching predominantly female classes wail and moan about male oppression. We've watched "men are evil" become the law of the land. We've been told to shut up. Look away. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain. Say ten Hail Marys in penance for your thought crimes against female moral authority.

Born into this faith, some of us abandon it as we did the previous one. Modern feminism is a fundamentalist creed like any other. It establishes an absolute good (female) and an absolute evil (male) and thrives by selling its listeners the moral panic and entitlement of becoming saved by acceptance into the one true faith. It holds no compunctions against lying to promote its cause because it believes itself the moral center of the universe, the holy light in whose service any number of indulgences may be issued. No amount of favoritism perpetrated on behalf of the good against the evil can ever be enough in the race toward the rapture and an eternal kingdom of beatific feminism. It dredges up decontextualized male crimes of generations past out of their chivalrous milieu to browbeat new generations of young men already walking on eggshells for fear of bringing offense to women with the mythicized sins of their fathers. It ignores even basic biology in favor of its anti-male mythology and cheerfully proclaims the extermination of males (#killallmen) with the most serene psychopathy. The phrase "I'm a feminist" is delivered with the same self-righteous expectation of immunity from criticism as any redneck's "ah'm a Chreeshchun" and those calling themselves such have long passed into the predictable crusading stage of any fundamentalist creed attempting to subsume all other social movements into its fold. See "intersectional" feminism.

I wrote this post after running across this video by the relatively well known anti-theist speaker AronRa (three years old at this point) in which he recounts his childhood under the old abusive traditionalism. Then, in an eerie and jaw-dropping display of doublethink, instead of acknowledging the sadistic brainwashing inflicted upon boys in the name of masculinity and that traditional societies abuse both men and women to mold them into the family unit, he launches into a feeble attempt to square the old system off against feminism, as though the two were the only existing poles of a binary system. As though the only alternative were a self-described opposite. This is the reaction I used to get as a teenager back in the '90s in the U.S. when I mentioned atheism. Aron Ra himself knows it damn well, having recounted it in other videos.
"Boy, you one a-dem Satanists?"
It's a fundamentalist reaction. The only way to escape Hell is through God and anything not of God must be The Devil. Anything not feminist must be reactionary misogyny? Such rhetoric carries a nasty reek of the proselyte's abject submission (by no means unique to this one speaker but common in those who converted from right to left wing) of "once was lost but now am found" and refusal to criticize that which once accepted as part of some trinity of saving grace becomes self-justification.

Feminism is nothing new. It's a warmed-over re-hashing of original sin with Adam's apple once more taking center stage but testicles playing the role of The Devil. Those of us who hold predominantly leftist views (antitheism, environmentalism, equal opportunity, a certain degree of socialism and anarchism, scientific progress, etc.) but have also turned against feminism have usually done so through the same process through which we turned against religion, corporatism or state authoritarianism. We lived in the faith, chanting its prayers and commercials and oaths of allegiance, yearning for its reinforcement, for a pat on the head for being pro-woman, until gradually the fallacies of its core claims became too glaring to ignore and its abuses too grating. We saw in this creed one of the shadows of God of which Nietzsche warned. We went one goddess further.

As far as AronRa's speech, what finally clicked into place for me was his mention of Gloria Steinem, suddenly bringing to mind this old video and her stunning rationalization of her involvement with the CIA. It runs the usual course of the true believer's self-justification: anything which serves the faith must be good.

The CIA supported feminism.
... but anything calling itself feminism is liberal, always and forever. It must be. This is absolute dogma.
Therefore it can't be that feminism was never all that liberal, that in its absolutist proposition of women as victims of men, of men's original sin against women to be expiated only by adherence to feminist women's demands, it only used and reinforced chivalry and other older methods of social control, a new velvet glove for the old iron fist of sexual repression, a means by the powerful to divide and conquer.
It must be, according to her, that the CIA is liberal. Clearly. The fucking CIA! The old secret police before the NSA and Homeland Security, secretive, above-the-law murderers and torturers in service of the establishment, the eyes and ears of Big Brother, must somehow be "liberal" because while setting up theocratic or corporatist puppet dictatorships across the world and training foreign death squads and at that very same time being immersed in a fourteen-year program dedicated to infiltrating, undermining and tearing apart any domestic left-wing movements, must somehow qualify as liberal for paying off her holiness Gloria Steinem! Hallelujah! It can't be the other way around, because we all know feminism is the one true light of justification.

If the various props, tools and weapons of feminism were mere "trivialities" as Aron Ra describes them then feminists themselves should have no trouble abandoning their superstitions. They are of course not, and for an example of their negative impact you can watch Texas' shaggiest antitheist himself commit his auto da fe. A man who in other contexts will mercilessly attack "Flintstones archaeology" finds himself praising Steinem, one of the Grand Mistresses of that trade guild of self-promoting con artists who have preached, among other atrocities, the existence of a staggeringly elusive multi-millennial worldwide (or at the very least pan-Eurasian) pre-Greek matriarchal golden age of peace, love and prosperity centered in Minoan Crete, based on archaeological evidence so flimsy as to make Ken Ham blush.
I've heard it remarked that faith makes otherwise rational people do irrational things.
Yes, yes it certainly does.

Repeat the mantra. Man bad, woman good. In Dworkin we trust. The faithful are saved and the heretic shall be cast into the pit. All who accept divine grace, no matter how wicked, shall be granted absolution.

Atheism hinges on rationalism. It cannot retain credibility while kow-towing to an insidiously abusive dogmatic poison which declares half the population guilty by birth and demands constant penance and tribute and the adoption of exaggerations, half-truths and outright lies as slogans. Atheism by itself is not the point. Rationalism is, and feminism is not rational. It's the left wing's answer to Fox News, an anti-intellectual, self-serving, ever more apocryphal set of scriptures designed to establish sinecures for cheap revival tent prophets with humanities degrees who sell their audience entitlement and fabricate moral panics like a "rape culture" or "war on women" to whip the populace into line. Accepting such disease as part and parcel of atheism or "the left" - whatever that means these days - is inherently self-defeating. It undermines the very principles of reason and equality by which we attack religion. As though anyone could doubt that feminism, with its oft-proven penchant for phantasmagorical mythopoesis like "women created civilization" and menstrual moon worship would not birth (parthenogenetically, I presume) new, very literal theocracies as soon as it tore down the old ones.

The call for uncritical conformity, while it will occasionally be voiced, is not to be given credence within skeptical or rationalist movements. It was wrong of Christopher Hitchens to preach unity behind the child king Bush II in his middle-eastern crusade and it is wrong of Aron Ra (and many others) to preach adherence to the feminist doctrines of original masculine sin for the sake of unity. Skepticism carries an inherently anarchist undertone in its denial of authorities. He knows damn well we kids playing the home game are going to call bullshit on that and admitted it in the caveat before his speech and yet... can't help himself. The old mantras still sound so good, bring such comfort. Why take people's faith away from them?

We need gender equality. We must be able to criticize women for their unanalyzed instinctive behavior patterns just as we criticize men; we must be able to criticize femininity as we criticize masculinity. Above all we need to attack the irrational chauvinistic glorification of women and femininity, feminism. We need anti-feminism. You activists need it precisely because of feminism's tarnished halo, its undeserved privileged seat at the heart of rationalist social movements, not despite it, and if this comes at the cost of abandoning your delusion of the big happy family of leftism, then so be it.

It's just one goddess further to go.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Werwolfe Curled up on the Fireplace Rug

I can't hate Skyrim. It did some things amazingly well like the landscape, beautifully modeled with both secretive nooks and glorious vistas. However, after seeing Oblivion's alarming decrease in nerdiness, I did give Skyrim a pass in favor of artsier fare until just last year, when my fears and suspicions were more or less confirmed. It's a game marketed to idiots, oversimplified and handing the player undeserved pats on the back at every turn, lacking any sense of scale or proportion but riddled with idiotic Hollywood envy like the bullet-time kill camera. It whipped you onwards with giant map markers so as not to overtax your presumed low gamer IQ with demands of planning or foresight. More so than Oblivion it crammed the repetitive MMO grind down your throat with every area respawning mobs almost as soon as you leave it. It pretty much removed any meaningful resource management, with so many freebies lying around that your only worry is being able to carry everything you find. Every single NPC and faction in Skyrim will gladly let you rob them blind as soon as you declare yourself their friend.

Still, I can't entirely hate Skyrim. Despite its deliberate simplicity and redundancy, that insane pile of money thrown into its development yielded a great many serene, captivating hours wandering the snowy slopes of here and there, picking berries and catching fireflies. Paradoxically, a much better designed game recently drove me to fire up my old Argonian character in Skyrim. For all I enjoyed Pillars of Eternity, it did suffer from some glaring half-implemented features cut short during development and though the spell / ability system's shortcomings had a more negative impact on actual gameplay, I can't help but shed a tear for Caed Nua, PoE's woefully lackluster attempt at a home base. You build one-click simplistic upgrades which serve no purpose and offer little to no eye-candy either: dining rooms in which you never dine, libraries which hold no books, defensive walls awaiting raids which never arrive. Caed Nua never feels like home.

(The Endless Paths of Od Nua on the other hand were freaking brilliant but that's a topic for another day.)

So PoE inadvertently made me fire up Skyrim again, not for the game itself but for its Hearthfire expansion. Welcome home.
After a hard day's looting, a lycanthropic lizardman accompanied by his vampiric witch sidekick and trusty divine hound climb into the southwestern foothills of The Pale to a stately mansion still bearing the signs of ongoing construction. Welcome to Heljarchen Hall. Come in, come in (wipe your feet) and lemme introduce ya to tha missus.
If she minds me adventuring all over the map with a smokin' hot vamp in tow she's never complained. Good sport, old Brelyna, and hey, it's not like I ask what she gets up to with my stout gravely-voiced male servants while I'm gone. Why, yes, of course we have kids - two orphans adopted and spoiled rotten with sweets and dollies and expensive clothes and their own allowance and, errr... and blood-soaked ceremonial sacrifice daggers, which apparently count as children's presents for some strange reason.
Then again daddy's a snarling moon-beast so y'know what, go nuts kid, go sacrifice your pet bunny to a demon prince or something. But hey, the aesthetics alone wouldn't have made me love this place so much. It's rather bland for my tastes. I would've rather dug a rotting dank lair into the ground and filled it with zombies and wild beasts if I'd had the choice, but the most you can get out of Skyrim's options seems to be generic Sims-ish homeyness. Well, okay, my tendencies nonetheless assert themselves - I refuse to put in any lighting in my basement aside from the pale red glow from my forge, though unfortunately I've yet to find a way to fill it with cadavers.

The best part is that you actually build the damn place. You buy a plot of land and buy lumber and have it shipped there and dig for clay and collect all sorts of resources like glass and straw to build each upgrade. Simpleminded and linear it may be, like the rest of Skyrim, but the Hearthfire expansion makes you work for it and that's very important to build a player's sense of attachment to one's base of operations. Even more important, it's functional.
That's my greenhouse. I mostly grow poison and wheat (I'd combine the two but ergotism never made it into the alchemical system) and as the stuff grows it attracts butterflies and bees as well. Whoever masterminded the Hearthfire expansion had an excellent mind for detail and went just one step further with every facet of the place. If you build a kitchen it comes with a functional oven for cooking. You decorate the walls with trophies from the battlefield. Your family sits down for breakfast at the big table in the central room. Your servants defend your home from attacks by wild creatures. Last but not least, these homes are... let's say "situated" - no mere "third house on the left" they occupy distinctive locations, carefully landscaped in keeping with the Elder Scrolls series' brilliant mapmaking in general.
You can spot the hill with your house from half a map away. Your eyes turn homewards from distant mountain peaks. It's "on your way" to here and there, and always so tempting to stop off for a homecooked meal and a little bricolage, maybe pursue your alchemical research in the peace and comfort of your own abode built with your own two hands. Skyrim bores me. I hate all the myriad quest markers ordering me mindlessly in some direction or another. The Hearthfire expansion, however, has beckoned me back several times. Banal and mostly linear, still a functional, self-built home lends a center and a sense of purpose and progression to your wanderings which the idiotic level-grind utterly lacks. I'm always going to dungeons from my house and returning to my house with presents and dreams of renovation and expansion.

Don't underestimate the importance of making the player work for and be rewarded by a base of operations. Hearthfire by itself has more than doubled my Skyrim play-time.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

ST:TNG - Dr. Pulaski - and wtf is up with scifi biotech?

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Ah, Pulaski - a.k.a. the Enterprise's "other" doctor in TNG. Her stint on the show lasted all of one season, yet if you'd asked me last year I would've mistakenly said it felt like half the series. Likely this stems from her being a better defined character, more centered on her science fictiony functions instead of emoting all over the place. Not that Crusher ever approached her son's epic nuisance levels, but ole' Bev was blatantly intended to serve as mother to Weasely and love interest to Jean-Luc first and as qualified professional second. Replacing her soft-voiced mothering presence with a stern, hard-nosed medical researcher like Pulaski greatly improved TNG's SF credentials in my book and should've remained the case for the rest of the series.

Seriesdate: 2.01
The Child

Y'know, that idiotic episode written by amateurs while the professional writers were on strike. Troi's immaculate conception of a fast-track martyr boy-child. I do find it hilarious that although I contrast the two doctors in terms of their femininity, Pulaski's very first action on the ship is to deliver a baby. Way to cut your own branch, geniuses.
Seriesdate: 2.03
Elementary Dear Data

Presented more at length here in terms of Data's progression, but also yielding a bit of Pulaski's true personality, including her derision and skepticism of Data's sentience. Pulaski was initially a female copycat of Bones from the original series, gruff and straightforward but capable of having a laugh, even down to her constantly needling Data as Bones needled his own token logic factory, Spock. It was a good, soft-toned antagonism that could've really kept the dialogue flowing aboard the ship, a feature lacking in Beverly Crusher the mother hen. More importantly, it shows us Pulaski as a self-possessed, dignified prisoner calmly having tea with her captor, the villain Dr. Moriarty on the holodeck, as a rather un-distressed damsel.

Seriesdate: 2.07
Unnatural Selection

Pulaski's time to shine! There's a medical emergency and the good doctor gets to prove her dedication to her patients by crossing the quarantine zone and risking getting infected herself. Which she does! The disease in question rapidly ages its victims, which was a rather more popular trope from the late '80s until 2000 or so than it is now. The discovery of telomeres hit pop culture and suggested a single cause of aging, and for a while telomere elongation sounded like the fountain of youth.

In case you're wondering, and ignoring any specifics, immortalizing cell lines will eventually yield cancer just in probabilistic terms, by accumulating mutations as the cells divide. No, telomerase is no fountain of youth, and really it makes no appearance on this show, but the trope of rapid aging was very, very popular. It tied into great scientific hopes and it presents a stunning visual rather easily manageable with make-up, therefore a relatively low-budget special effect for the time.

A greater aside: why is biology the red-headed stepchild of science fiction? Physics in SciFi touts all these amazing progressive and/or badass discoveries like teleporters and laserguns and flying cars... yet every time biology gets tapped it's for plagues and Brundleflies and zombie apocalypses! This is the same show with that wonder of cybernetics, Data, riding a force-field-phasering interstellar exploration vessel. Then when it's time to show the wonders of biology we get a freaking luddite wail of panic that attempting to breed telekinetic ubermenschen will somehow wipe out the human species. Well, replacing humanity would be kind of the point of breeding ubermenschen, but in reality it's biologists saving all our asses from unicellular apocalypse! Augh!
Okaaaayyyy, calming down now, calming down... where was I, let's see...

"Their immune systems don't wait for disease to attack the body. It would seek out the virus and destroy it!"

What the FUCK! I'd say that's the most idiotic line you could've come up with but some dingbat on that writing team already gave us "subatomic bacteria" so I guess you've already outdone yourselves. Did you even read the dictionary definition of an immune system? Or did you just assume it's some mystical miasma you can send out into the aether like Professor Xavier projecting his astral form? Isaac Asimov taught biochem and he was still alive in 1989. Would it have killed you jokers to call him up and beg him to kindly smack you upside your heads? Aside from other problems, if those post-human brats were spewing clouds of antibodies and immune cells everywhere they went, they'd probably be sending everyone around them into anaphylactic shock or inducing graft vs. host disease!
Oookaaaaayyyy, calming down.... whew.

Anyhoo, pretty good episode aside from from all the nonsensical biotech jargon and hatin' on biology, and by the end Dr. Pulaski's saved from her untimely plunge into senility through the medical magic of... O'Brien's teleporters...

Oh, fuck me, let's just move on to the last one.

Seriesdate: 2.18
Up The Long Ladder

Yup. That's a cow alright.

Pulaski treats Worf when he unexpectedly curls up his toes and faints from a childhood illness. In return he treats her to the Klingon tea ceremony, which I suppose was meant to link Klingons more closely to bad-ass samurai and the Japanese tea ceremonies, except this one's about as complex as, well, sipping tea. Oh, but with both hands. That's important. Also poison.

The real plot involves two lost human colonies, both in danger of dying out. A bunch of "back to nature" drunken Irish hillbillies have to get relocated because of solar flares but it's no bother really because they're hilarious. Their chieftain even tries to set Picard up with his shrewish no-nonsense spitfire of a daughter. Hilarity ensues. Plus pigshit in the cargo bay.

Meanwhile and elsewhere, another (high-tech this time) colony is dying out from genetic disorders. Their original population on arrival was too small to ensure genetic viability, so they've been asexually reproducing, cloning themselves for the past three centuries and the cloning process has begun to wear thin. They beg the Enterprise's crew for a few cells from which to clone new colonists, and the mighty, elevated, open-minded 24th century spacefarers suddenly start throwing salt over their shoulders and crossing their fingers in front of them to ward off such a blasphemous proposition. Desperate, the cloners zap Riker and Pulaski unconscious and simply take a few cells. Pulaski discovers what happened and they return to the planet to discover.... dun-dun-duuuuuUUUUNNN !
-clones being grown from their cells. Oh noes! They murder their incipient doppelgangers and indignantly call the colonists out on the theft of copyrighted genetic material. Then they simply lump the two colonies (rednecks and asexuals) together and tell 'em to fuck 'til their kids all look the same, and with this interplanetary odd couple solution all is well again.

On the whole, this is a decent episode. It's funny, fast-paced, witty and complex by the low standards of 45 minutes of late '80s TV and quite cohesive in its theme of compromise. There's only one snag, and once again it's the paranoid, Luddite treatment of the topic of biotechnology, in this case cloning. There seems to be no way of getting this through the public's thick head: there is nothing special about cloning! Identical twins are exactly that, clones, perfectly mundane, naturally occurring clones, and yet every time the topic comes up it runs into an implacable wall of primitive superstition, the same caveman paranoia running against genetically modified crops or vaccines. It's the idiotic religious fear of hubris, of doing rationally and purposefully only what nature does randomly, recklessly and aimlessly.

The human animal fears its own sentience more than anything, and there's no bigger boogeyman in the public mind than unfettered intellect - the witch, the wild-eyed philosopher, the mad scientist.

It's hilarious that every time cloning comes up in cheap pulp SF it's always demonized as some grand reckless scientific advance, yet always accompanied by tacitly hand-waved futuristic technologies which are centuries ahead of cloning itself. Sweet mother of crap, growing an entire adult human body in one day?!? We can't even dream of that kind of technology now, and we've been able to clone humans for two decades. Transferring memories to clones so they walk and talk just like their tissue donors? What the hell, you're talking about a mind-machine interface which, if available, would result in godlike cyborgs and androids, not paltry simian copies. Yet time and again these jaw-dropping technological marvels have to be worked into cloning storylines because cloning alone, manufacturing identical twins, is so utterly mundane in and of itself as to feed no anti-scientific paranoia. So you're going to have fifteen identical twins of you, all thirty or forty (or however old you are) years younger than yourself. Big whoop. Even identical twins of the same age, grown in the same household, end up with different personalities before they hit grade school.

And there's the core issue: the public has no theory of mind. The popular conception of personal identity relies not on a rational analysis of diverging personal experiences superimposed on natural tendencies, but on primitive superstitious mysticism about souls, so that taking a few cells for cloning sounds to the average cretin (as "stealing" a photographic image did to superstitious aborigines) like stealing your soul! On the other hand, those clones being grown in those foggy vats were persons in their own right, separate individuals whom Riker and Pulaski casually murder with no more than a head-nod as justification, under the moral umbrella of stone-age superstition.

TNG was an excellent Utopian SF show allowing people to look to a post-scarcity future brightened by technological marvels... yet when those marvels edge into the biological it repeatedly flipped around to Luddite hand-wringing. It's the damndest thing. I prefer Dr. Pulaski to Crusher. She's a better rounded character centered not on her biological or social role but on her own quirks, interests and tendencies, an actual personality. Still it seems like after casting her the show's writers had no interest in using her as anything but a prop to demonize biology for stepping on The Creator's celestial toes.

P.S. - Never mind that the Star Trek teleporter, ripping the subject apart and reassembling the atoms at the other end according to the analyzed pattern, was nothing but a murder/cloning machine in the first place.