Thursday, October 31, 2019

King Lycaon's Taste Challenge

"Apprivoiser l’absurdité du monde"

Mylène Farmer - Dessine-moi un mouton
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"Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?"

Edgar Allan Poe - Sonnet -- to Science

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"A quarter of a million years ago the utmost man was a savage, a being scarcely articulate, sheltering in holes in the rocks, armed with a rough-hewn flint or a fire-pointed stick, naked, living in small family groups, killed by some younger man so soon as his first virile activity declined.
[...]
Man began to think. There were times when he was fed, when his lusts and his fears were all appeased, when the sun shone upon the squatting-place and dim stirrings of speculation lit his eyes. [...] he blinked at the sun and dreamt that perhaps he might snare it and spear it as it went down to its resting-place amidst the distant hills. Then he was roused to convey to his brother that once indeed he had done so - at least that some one had done so - he mixed that perhaps with another dream almost as daring, that one day a mammoth had been beset; and therewith began fiction - pointing a way to achievement - and the august prophetic procession of tales.
[...]
And that first glimmering of speculation, that first story of achievement, that story-teller bright-eyed and flushed under his matted hair, gesticulating to his gaping, incredulous listener, gripping his wrist to keep him attentive, was the most marvelous beginning this world has ever seen. It doomed the mammoths, and it began the setting of that snare that shall catch the sun."

H.G. Wells - The World Set Free
(1914)
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"Well, what about this name: Edgar Allan Poe?"
Mr. Bigelow shook his head.
"Of course." Stendahl snorted delicately, a combination of dismay and contempt. "How could I expect you to know blessed Mr. Poe? He died a long while ago, before Lincoln. All of his books were burned in the Great Fire. That's thirty years ago - 1975."
"Ah," said Mr. Bigelow wisely. "One of those!"
"Yes, one of those, Bigelow. He and Lovecraft and Hawthorne and Ambrose Bierce and all the tales of terror and fantasy and horror and, for that matter, tales of the future were burned. Heartlessly. They passed a law. Oh, it started very small. In 1950 and '60 it was a grain of sand. They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves."

[...]
"Garrett," said Stendahl, "do you know why I've done this to you? Because you burned Mr. Poe's books without really reading them. You took other people's advice that they needed burning. Otherwise you'd have realized what I was going to do to you when we came down here a moment ago. Ignorance is fatal, Mr.Garrett."

Ray Bradbury - Usher II - The Martian Chronicles
(1950)

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[???]
Richard Dawkins - Unweaving the Rainbow
(I haven't actually read it yet, though I probably should)
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"Unhappy is the land that has no heroes."
"Incorrect. Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat."

Bertolt Brecht - Life of Galileo

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Sometimes the world is demonstrably weird. Take the process of myzocytosis, in which one single-celled organism pokes a hole in another cell and sucks out its juicy innards. Top that, Max Schreck. What's weirder, most of these little suckers would fall under cyanobacteria, dinoflagellates and ciliates, which in popular parlance we tend to lump under "algae". Though I doubt many kids will go trick-or-treating tonight dressed in Vampirovibrio costumes, it bears noting the old bloodsucker myths hold true not only for bats, leeches, mosquitoes and a host of other macroscopic creepy-crawlies, but in realms the old storytellers could not even imagine. For all the boogeymen and contorted beasts they spawned, for all their flights of fancy and wisps of whimsy, never in their most lurid opium dreams did the fabulists of yore dream of whip-legged, vampiric pond scum.

All such microscopic dramas were unknowable until the Dutch and English started grinding down lenses and stacking them atop each other. Lenses and curiousity drained blood of its humour, dragged cantankerous old Apollo and Diana, Venus and Mars off their celestial chariots and in their place opened up literally whole new worlds. Science tore down the gods' Olympus and in its place lifted Olympus Mons, seven times its height. Science tore the naiad from her flood and replaced her with a million inhuman monsters so alien as to defy the imagination of mammoth-hunters and prematurely buried romanticists alike. We've slain the kraken, and dredged it up again... because for every wonder it dulls, our growing body of knowledge reveals an entire chorus line of mind-blowing, tangible phantasms. It's not the world at large that science makes more boring but ourselves by comparison, putting the pettiness of our forebears' imagination to shame.

And, it's one of the great calamities of the past couple of decades that imaginative fiction, after its late '90s flowering, has once again been ratcheted back to immediate human concerns, neatly folded with its possibilities sealed shut by the social contract. Whimsical adventures persist in our pop culture, more prevalent than ever but in a dumbed-down, sanitized, humanized fashion reminiscent of the cheesy "pulp" fictions of the early 20th century. Nothing can be permitted to permeate our public consciousness which is not made to prop up some shallow feeling of belonging to this or that social group. We love the old myths only inasmuch as they can be made safe and cozy for petty navel-gazing twits who view their own genitals as the utmost bounds of intellect and ambition. Failures of the imagination. Failures of intellect. We no longer read Jack London because he was too much of a socialist, and we can't be caught reading Ayn Rand because she wasn't enough of one. We can't read Andersen or the Grimms for fear of contracting nordic depression. We screw a childproof lid onto Baba Yaga's cauldron for fear gamboling feminists might trip into it along their victory march, and slap a chastity belt on Zeus for fear he'll put the Fates' eye out.

Yet it's never been a question of upholding old vs. new mythology. Follow one and you're bound to run into the other on the same continuum. No, the danger is rather of limiting ourselves to mere reiteration, of spinning our wheels in cozy reassuring heroics and morality plays. Mary Shelley wrote of a "modern" Prometheus two centuries ago, implicitly acknowledging her debt to old myths and building upon them with the science of her present, and ten generations of backlash later we find ourselves in dire need of post-post-modern titans to both acknowledge their debt to the Luddite mythologies of the industrial and information eras... and to construct upon them instead of de-constructing. Much of mythology may be ruled by the fear of the unknown, but let's not lose sight of one fact: our ancestors, soon after inscribing their maps with the phrase "hic sunt leones" would run out to seek said leones. True advancement does not destroy the past but incorporates it - in time, the fears and hopes we now consider human ideals and universals must in turn become minor subfields of literature, psychology and history, taking their place alongside the bisons of Lascaux. But it was not necessary to whitewash the bisons in order to surpass them.

Enough with the self-righteous attempts to sanitize and trivialize our modern folklore, enough with the damn glittering vampires and the relatable messianic superpowered do-gooders, enough with the glorified codependence. Away with heroes. Let there be villains! Let there be ghouls, gorging themselves on the culture of the past. Let there be vampires, filthy graveyard-spawned, blood-drenched abominations to drain the lowly humanity out of our primal fear of the night. Let there be werewolves, mangy, moon-mad, slavering half-beasts hounding the outskirts of our very concept of humanity, lone minds remaking themselves into transcendent forms. Let the ghosts of the past march among us unmolested, in all their tawdry, atavistic beauty, not to be worshipped but acknowledged, cherished in all their villainy, and grokked. Accept them as our elders' hand, not to guide but to steady our own so that we can, at long last, turn our microscopes and telescopes away from the squatting place and toward the horizon.

"and I shall make the heart of he who yet has ears for things unheard heavy with my happiness."
Friedrich Nietzsche - Thus Spake Zarathustra

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Argumentum ad imbecilus

"Honest? Akma, the simplest explanation of most of these stories is that [God] sends true dreams. [God] intervenes sometimes in people's lives. To avoid believing that you have to come up with the most convoluted, twisted, insulting speculations."

Orson Scott Card - Earthborn


Two decades after I first tried reading them, I finally gritted my teeth to actually finish Card's Homecoming novels. (a.k.a. Mormons from Beyond the Moon) Long review short, the less preachy parts prove surprisingly enjoyable... but few and far between. For now, that quote gives me an "in" to address one of the many nonsensical arguments spouted by sufferers of the cerebral disease faithosis: simplicity. It's one that doesn't get knocked down nearly often enough, and best summarized by Richard Dawkins in his excellent lecture* at Berkeley in 2008** (starting ~8:15 in this video)

"I can't understand how Theory A explains X; therefore Theory B must be right. I bet you don't know how the elbow joint of the lesser spotted weasel-frog evolved. You don't? Right then! God did it!"

To put it another way, since complicated explanations are hard to understand, religious types would rather slap the word "God" on anything and everything around them and pretend it's an explanation. It's very similar (and not accidentally) to those who see Unidentified Flying Objects everywhere and claim to know exactly what they are and from which galaxy they hail, conveniently forgetting the definition of the word "unidentified" !

Unexplained phenomena are just that: un-explained. Not explained. They are not positive indicators of the existence of anything. This holds both for the sum total of human knowledge and for us as individuals. Not knowing how something works does not excuse you latching on to it as proof of your magic sky daddy. Your ignorance proves nothing except ignorance.

And sure, I could get into the nuts and bolts of this argument. It doesn't matter how convoluted a chain of causality is if it's verifiable, falsifiable and consistent. Sometimes the world's demonstrably weird. Deal with it. Also, the "simple" explanation of the supernatural proves indescribably more complex once you start trying to explain the explanation itself. "God did it" - ok, how? Medieval theology is full of those sorts of attempts at rationalizing the irrational, and the sheer volume spewed from Aquinas' mouth alone could've filled Augeas' stables.

No, I'm more interested in the wording chosen by Card, that rational, materialistic explanations (or "speculations") are convoluted, twisted and most importantly insulting. Yeah, the universe is insulting to us. From the alpha and omega of our own world as we are at our mother's breast, decades' worth of intellectual growth relegates us to minute, ephemeral, irrelevant specks of ape shit subject to uncaring physical laws, historical circumstance and microscopic malfeasance.Yes, it is insulting to realize your mystical vision was the result of dehydration from having the runs that day because you ate a stale bagel for breakfast. Yes, it is insulting to discover that what you explained by childish fables does in fact have a perfectly logical explanation, requiring no leaps of faith, but that you simply lacked or will always lack the intelligence to grasp it.

I keep hearing apologists and activists tell us to be nicer to the irrational, not to insult them for fear of alienating them. But what's the point? They'd better get used to it, because no invective we evil atheists can hurl at them will ever compare to reality's infinite ability to insult the human need for self-importance. If they can't take the strain of me calling them cretins, they will never accept the insulting realization that they're not important enough to get happy dreams from a magic sky daddy.


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* If you're not going to actually read The God Delusion, I at least highly recommend watching that entire lecture from start to finish. The man was on fire that day. Or on as much fire as a slightly musty Oxford professor will sustain, at any rate.

** This was before the town of Berkeley infamously "disinvited" one of the world's greatest minds for fear he might bruise the egos of the irrational.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

New attempt at a short story, Vector, is now posted. Yes, it's cheesy, overinflated babbling, but it happens to be MY cheesy, overinflated babbling, so I reserve the prerogative to be unduly proud of it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

V:tM-B2 ! Apprehension

"The last of the rock stars
When hip-hop drove the big cars
In the time when new media
Was the big idea
That was the big idea..."

U2 - Kite


Le *gasp* - in a shocking and unprecedented plot twist, a video game release has been pushed back several months! Stop the presses!

The original Bloodlines has clung to its status as a true classic for fifteen years now, lauded for its narratives, characters, sound, replay value, quest structure and general atmosphere yet lambasted for its poor combat and a degree of bugginess and clunkiness evoking a termite-powered tractor. So when the developers for the sequel declare they need more time to avoid the first title's problems... well, yes, by all means do please try to keep the loading times under marathon length. But more than avoiding the original's weak spots I'm worried it simply may not be possible to match its strengths.

I'm not going to pretend to have any insider knowledge of Bloodlines 2. In fact I fully intend to forego looking up any of their press releases or other hype. After this post I'll probably just ignore it until it comes out then install it on release day and dive in, quest by quest, zone by zone, chapter by chapter. It's one of the few games I've had no problem pre-ordering blind. If it's great I'm in on the ground floor, but let's face it, even if it does turn out to be crap then ninety bucks is a small price to pay for the colossal amount of bitching I'm going to want to do on the topic, and if they manage to fuck this one up I'm quite prepared to output an entire new canine subspecies' worth of bitch.

I do know that none of the three founders of old Troika Games seem to have any involvement in the project, as all three now work for inXile or Obsidian, both of which companies have been subsumed into the soul-devouring vacuum which is Microsoft and are therefore no longer worth mentioning. I know nothing about Bloodlines 2's developer beyond skimming the game's Wikipedia page. I'm slightly encouraged by Paradox's involvement (they tend to have superior tastes) and they did get Brian Mitsoda back, who was supposedly responsible for so much of Bloodlines' charm.

But no matter how creative your team might be, the main problem with trying to sell any game these days is that it largely means marketing to snowflakes, and catering to the younger generation's moral cowardice and narcissism will:
1) sap games' atmosphere of their more gut-wrenchingly memorable moments.
2) snow any quality under mountains of politically correct, self-righteous posturing.

Mitsoda himself leaned slightly toward glorifying politically correct archetypes in Dead State, but it's more worrisome to see Cara Ellison, the new senior writer, bragging she's going to "move away from what she considered to be the 'male power fantasy' of Bloodlines to give it a broader appeal." Well... ok? I guess? We can certainly do with fewer big guys with big swords like The Sheriff. Though it begs the question: how willing are you to also move away from glorifying codependence, servility and emotional manipulation, a.k.a. female power fantasies? And do you, like most women and certainly well-indoctrinated feminists, treat individual freedom as a "male power fantasy?"

Oh well. They did also wrangle Chris Avellone into their team somehow, and if anyone in the game industry might have retained enough of a head on his shoulders to realistically depict both masculine and feminine crimes, it's the guy who wrote Ravel into Planescape: Torment and Grieving Mother's dialogue in Pillars of Eternity.

Wait and see... 2020 you say?
See you then.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Shockingly Systematic


I've been meaning to try Bioshock for a while, but as a prelude decided to detour through a bit of its famous predecessor System Shock beforehand. It's a game I never got around to trying when it was new, seeing as it came out while I was still tootling around on my Sega Genesis, in between my old knock-off non-Sinclair Spectrum and my family buying our first actual PC. By the time its sequel came out I was neck-deep in Mechwarriors and Half-Lives. I have no intention of actually finishing System Shock. I can only stomach so much pixelation these days and I've never been nearly as much a fan of FPS as I am of simulations, strategy or cRPGs.

But, as cynical as my chosen name implies me to be, and as much as I enjoy bitchslapping everyone's nostalgia until it alges, I must admit I'm somewhat impressed with System Shock. (For its time, that is.) Hell, if any genre can be said to have benefited most from technological improvements over the last 25 years, it would have to be... flight simulators... but FPS games nonetheless rank a close second. Yet by the same token, I had to think back to early FPS and realize how many more features System Shock offered over its close predecessors or contemporaries like Wolfenstein and Doom. Some gimmicks like adding actual verticality to the 2.5D visuals were simply a logical feature for such titles to adopt. Others though, like the simulated inertia, the complex maps, the resource management stretching beyond ammunition, the puzzle solving or an actual storyline to follow, the qualitatively and not just quantitatively different baddies, for once support the fanboys' claim to how influential this game must've been not just among FPS but future action-adventure or RPGs. I even managed to find out the hard way that guns have multiple types of ammunition, and that mobs have resistances, by reloading a dart gun and trying to tranquilize cyborgs.

So this, then, is why Half-Life had me pulling so many levers!


That interface even puts most modern games to shame in at least one major way: the info panels on the bottom can be cycled through five types of information at the player's discretion. Speaking for all those of us who've wished we could at least shift the minimap around, let me ask WHY?!? doesn't every game have that 1994 option a quarter of a century later?

Nevertheless it's still a product of its time, and as such SS also serves as a reminder of the lack of artistic quality we took for granted in the old days, the piles of incoherence we swallowed in our excitement to see something, anything, created via computer. And oh, how we thirsted for anything futuristic back in the nineties, increasingly frustrated that the Cold War had ended but the cold world remained as dreary as always, looking forward to Y2K to deliver unto us our flying cars and personal jetpacks.

Look, it's a "force bridge" - !
Yes, a force bridge. Spanning two whole meters. Uuuuse the farce, Luke! Seeing that thing extend set me giggling, wondering at how many gigawatt hours the station wastes by using hard light technology where A Plank would serve perfectly well. Or what the hell purpose those stereotypical old puzzle rooms are supposed to serve in-universe. Judging by the architecture of this station, if humans were actually dumb enough to launch that clusterfuck into space, then SHODAN's perfectly entitled to wipe us out. Too dumb to live. And sure, puzzle rooms, eye-catching but nonsensical architecture, gratuitous flashy magical or futuristic substitutes for mundane objects (mithril toilet paper, anyone?) these are all an inescapable part of gaming... to some extent. Some. Some! extent. But "some" is a very relative term, and unfortunately SS was still decidedly caught up in the Betty Boop stage of creativity seen in any new medium, gleefully flitting past coherence or aesthetics in its rush to harness the godlike power of the cyber.

It's hardly just a matter of logic either. That repeating red snail circuitry pattern on the walls vaults over futurism to merely a gratuitous eyesore, and lack of detail combined with overly busy backgrounds sometimes imposes an unnecessary pixel-hunting element to exploration, a common fault of early graphics. Your exploration also yields audio logs by the station's previous tenants, ranging from flavor-layering details to the story to actual clues you'll need to advance. While they're yet another way to build on the presumed simplicity of FPS, their audio, in an utterly bizarre development choice, re-tells the story of the text in different wording. Neither is the audio a short blurb of the written log, nor is the text merely a transcript, with the result of each acting as white noise for the other. But hey, it was still a point of pride in those days: look, look, we have actual human voices instead of just 8-bit effects! Who cares what they're saying? We. Have. Voices!
No one can "boop-oop a-doop!" like Betty Boop can.

But even as I finish exploring the first level map, what really stands out are the ways in which System Shock tried to break out of the "orc in a 10x10 room" adventuring mold. Yeah, I'll admit it: this thing advanced its medium.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Deathmatch Royale

Let's get this clear once and for all: there is no such thing as a "battle royale" game.

Fortnite spammed my e-mail recently trying to get me to buy its latest expansion... or something. I didn't stop to read through the damn thing. I want nothing to do with Epic Games after they ripped me off with their vaporware Paragon. But thanks for reminding me of this topic.

Some game genres have more mass appeal than others. They require less effort to play, less arithmetic, less planning, less logistic reasoning, less attention span, less organization, less cooperation, less combobulation. (If that's not a word yet, I'm making it one.) In short, games which require less intelligence to play can attract a wider audience, given the sheer stupidity of the naked ape.

In some cases developers abuse the good reputation of a worthier genre to fabricate a dumbed down version for wider mass appeal. This is how you get "action" RPGs grindfests vastly out-selling the more intricate Baldur's Gate types, or how the the endless loot-farming treadmill inspired by Korean products of the early 2000s and Diablo 2 destroyed the reputation of MMOs via World of Warcraft, or also how the Aeon of Strife team strategy concept degenerated into so-called MOBAs, a.k.a. Mortal Kombat with a built-in audience. Such devolved supra-popular sub-genres trade away complexity, creativity, novelty and anything else which might intellectually challenge their intellectually challenged hoi polloi target audience, in exchange for gambling addiction or status symbol marketing or sheer adrenaline addiction.

In other cases, however, the concepts were simplistic to begin with, and represent some primitive technological form from the 1980s or '90s which retained its appeal because its very limitations made it more comprehensible to the average imbecile. Platform-jumping games are a prime example, endlessly reiterated even in other genres whether their customers paid for such twitch-gaming dross or not. It made no difference whatsoever that platformers graduated from 2D to 3D. And of course Mortal Kombat demonstrated the timeless appeal of not thinking beyond the next punch long before the developers of MOBAs decided they wanted a cut of that action.

And, of coarser, some of the first multiplayer games with actual graphics were first-person shooters, with Doom and Quake leading the way. Not much room for frills in those days. It's not like the half-second lag times, the 400x300 resolutions and the chugging Celeron processors allowed for much nuance on teh internets. The most popular multiplayer format for a decade simply threw players into the same arena to run around, grab the biggest gun they could find and shoot every single person they could find, preferably before their modem timed out. It was called Deathmatch. It was the most dumbed-down format imaginable, devoid of objectives, devoid of relevant choices, devoid of long-term consequences, requiring all the foresight of rats scrabbling over a moldy lump of cheese called the top score.

It's still Deathmatch. I don't give a single shit if you did expand the arena, added more guns and more powerups and more copies of Duke Nukem with the muscles in different places. "Battle Royale" is meaningless marketing fluff meant to dress up the shamefully primitive nature of the same mid-'90s, 28.8k modem pissing contest, to save you from acknowledging the lack of depth, breadth or duration of your nonexistent cognitive skills.

There is only one bright side to this idiocy. Some people who played deathmatch back in the '90s eventually wanted more. They advanced to team games, strategy games and persistent worlds. So maybe, over a generation later, the cycle is merely repeating. Maybe of all the degenerate little pissants scrambling for the biggest rocket launcher now, some will realize they want more depth, more permanence, more degrees of organization, vaster landscapes.

But you're not going to find that in Deathmatch Royale.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Guns, God, Government and Gynocentrism


"I've got a crush on a pretty pistol
Should I tell her that I feel this way?
Father told us to be faithful

She tells me I'm a pretty bullet
Gonna be a star someday
Mother tells us we should look away

Do you love your Guns, God and Government?
Fuck yeah!"

Marilyn Manson - The Love Song
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"Now, what are the obligations? And here, for me, it gets really interesting, and it deviates very much from your typical image of the alpha male. The alpha male has two sorts of obligations. One is to keep the peace in the group. We call that the control role, to control fights in the group, and the second is to be the most empathic, the consoler in chief, basically, of the nation, so to speak.
[...]
You should not call a bully an alpha male. Someone who is big and strong and intimidates and insults everyone is not necessarily an alpha male."

- from Frans de Waal's TED talk on chimpanzee alpha males, 2017
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"She calmly walks up to the displaying male, loosens his fingers from around the stone, and walks away with it. [...] We call it confiscation. In such a situation the male has never been known to react aggressively towards the female."

- page 23 from Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal, 1982


"Instigation
Here communication takes place simultaneously in two directions. In most cases it involves females who recruit a male to attack another female. The threatened female challenges her opponent with a high-pitched, indignant bark, at the same time kissing and making a fuss of the male. Sometimes she points at her opponent. This is an unusual hand gesture. Chimpanzees do not point with a finger but with their whole hand. The few occasions on which I have seen them actually point have been when the situation was confused; for example, when the third party had been lying asleep or had not been involved in the conflict from the start. On such occasions the aggressor would indicate her opponent by pointing her out.
A characteristic feature of instigation is that females who have done the instigating do not join in when the male undertakes some action. They leave him to do the job on his own."

- page 27 from Chimpanzee Politics

(both preceding statements were from the list of common patterns of social interaction among the chimps at Arnhem zoo.)
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Something funny happened to me on my way to failing biochemistry some years ago. My lab group, consisting of two adorable blonde females and fugly old me, listened to our incomprehensibly Chinese instructor's incomprehensible English instructions and eventually found ourselves incomprehending a certain aspect of the experiment's procedure. Is it this first or that? Or do we even need to add that at all? After some whispered and embarrassed back and forth, both girls looked at me:
"Well? Ask him!"
And I did. Automatically. Because females had required me to accept a risk for them. Only after the lab period did I stop to wonder why there had not for a moment been any question of one of them assuming the embarrassing (and potentially grade-altering) position of asking a professor to repeat instructions.

It also reminded me of the times in my life when, as part of a group of people annoyed by another group (loud, blocking traffic, not doing a necessary task etc.) I've heard the women in my group whisper urgently to one of us males to "go over there and say something!" It also reminded me of warfare, robbery, colonialism, Mafia wives and every other type of conflict which involves females conveniently staying home and maintaining their plausible deniability, bemoaning their sinful, violent male counterparts while raking in the fruit of those sins.

That hopeful, upbeat TED talk leaves at least one little detail out of its assessment of alpha males as beneficent mediators and consolers. While bullying behavior may not fill an alpha male's time, it is a prerequisite for the position, the iron fist which guarantees his velvet glove. The females feel safe precisely because he can act as their muscle. His capacity to console anyone is contingent on his being tha scariest muddafugga in the forest, or commanding a private army. After all, we all know how horrible and violent males are. Frans de Waal, toward the end of his by now classic text Chimpanzee Politics, even mentioned how many more fights the males got into compared to females.

One might wonder whether those acts of instigation by one female against another counted into that final tally as male crimes... or how many more conflicts might have occurred between females had they not been able to push a male between each other to absorb conflict, to maintain the tranquility of the sisterhood(*)... or how many fights between males were motivated by the good old "let's you and him fight" - the eternal bloodsport perpetrated by males for a female audience... except we can't wonder. It's a conclusion we cannot permit ourselves to draw. No polite modern man can permit himself to transgress the taboo surrounding females' power over him. For the past two or three generations the feminist propaganda machine has saturated our media with their cry of "pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain!"

Yet even that is a gratuitous reiteration of our instinctive predisposition to react far more positively to female demands than we would to those of males. That male chimp being dragged out of sleep to attack a target at the end of his potential mate's finger doesn't know what the conflict's about. He doesn't need to know. He just runs up to absorb the professor's scorn in her place, because that's what a good monkey-man does. Women's bidding.

Feminism has consistently fabricated a worldview of inter-gender conflict, in which males oppose and oppress women. The truth can more readily be seen in our millennially reiterated folklore and in the hierarchies of not just great apes, not just primates, but social mammals in general. Mammalian society consists of females clustered around one or more Princes Charming, the favored alpha males. Prince Charming is not women's ruler but their weapon, to be aimed and triggered or dispossessed of his rocks at women's whim. It's not "men vs. women" and never has been. It's women and a small minority of men exploiting or abusing all other men. And always has been. And probably always will be, for as long as the East-African Plains Ape remains an ape.

So of course now at the height of feminist hysteria, respectable pillars of the community like Frans de Waal feel the need to stand up, not for the losers but for the powerful few, to defend the honor of the alpha male, of the bullies so beloved by the females of every tribe. Every one of our instincts screams at us to worship the heroes, the handsome princes, the suave consolers with the most skeletons in their closets. We long to fill that role, to be the straight-backed champion scattering his unworthy foes while clutching his mate(s) to his chest. A leader of (a select few) men and an inseminator of women. The One Good Man.

And it doesn't matter how many men you talk out of the idea of being women's favored bully, because if they stop playing their role as women's tools they will simply not be permitted by females to reproduce. And the alpha males will. And the next generation will be fathered, once again as since the dawn of time, predominantly by the males willing to be weaponized by females. To define their lives by their usefulness to females. Their children will inherit their preferences and generation after generation will look the same, fight the same, bleed the same.

I've got love songs in my head, killing us away...


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* In fact, we don't have to wonder. Chimpanzee Politics describes a period a female leadership before the males were brought in. By Frans de Waal's own admission that male-free feminist Utopia was... anything but tranquil. But that's a topic for another day.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Number of the Strange Beast

After picking up The Cat Who Walks Through Walls a long time ago I've eschewed Robert Heinlein's later novels. It's not uncommon for writers to go slightly... "off" as they age, and Heinlein's final "world as myth" novels read entirely too much like over-padded, oversexed, over-hyped fan fiction of his own earlier works.

But damnit, he being him, it was at least done knowingly. The Number of the Beast is largely composed of meta commentary on what does or does not make a good pulp SF adventure. It careens between deliberately tedious hard science and deliberately nonsensical science fantasy, love-at-first-sight adventure story romances and the unworkable tedium of realistic family life in an adventure novel, between the hyper-realism of piss jars and hyper-fantastic bathrooms from another universe. Or rather, still in another universe.

I don't like it. I hold neither the Barsoom books nor their whole era to any esteem and see little cause to comment on the pulp SciFi mentality except as negative counterpoint to the Heinlein / Asimov / Clarke golden age of SF or to the initial Verne / Wells formulation of the genre. Heinlein, who even by the time of Red Planet or Have Spacesuit, Will Travel had vastly improved upon the old space cadet tropes, only demeaned himself forty years later by dredging them up even to show his skill at manipulating such concepts. Perhaps if I were a genre-redefining pillar of modern culture looking back on a grandiose career, I might understand his motivations for doing so.

But there's one point I have to address. It's widely recognized that Heinlein was none too happy with Stranger in a Strange Land's appeal. While I've never heard of his being ashamed of the book itself, entirely too many of his fans tended to take it literally, undercutting its tremendous value as an exercise in free thinking. Like any good mind-expanding work of art, it's not an instruction manual. Despite the author going to some pains to point out, even within the text of Stranger itself, that Mike's social programs are unrealistic and propped up by his magic powers and fabulous wealth, readers proved themselves all too eager to dive into the book as a power fantasy or wish fulfillment.

Presumably this is why the characters in The Number of the Beast cite Stranger as a guilty pleasure at best... but what is the entirety of the "world as myth" series other than power fantasies or wish fulfillment? Both for the characters themselves, rescued from their original fates and brought to a future of eternal youth and personal agency over spacetime itself... and for the prototypical individualist author, to envisage a surreality in which individuals might at long last bootstrap themselves to mastery over their own fates?

Maybe it's the curse of old age, not to lose the hopes of youth but for the unrealistic hopes nurtured for a whole dreary plains-ape life to finally overtake one's better judgment.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The O.K. Corralling

In one of the more surreal social trends of the snowflake decade, Americans have suddenly declared their own old O.K. hand symbol a white supremacist gang sign... or something... and therefore taboo. Apparently the whole thing started with 4chan, which I failed to notice since, like any individual capable of reason I for one could not give two shits what Four Chan does eight ways from Sunday the sixteenth. Years later more and more find themselves talking about the OK sign being a white supremacist symbol as though it's a fait accompli.

The real question is of course: WHY!?!
Why would the entire rest of the populace allow the worst elements of their society to dictate public discourse, to simply claim a common piece of nonverbal communication as their own? Why play along with the morons? Despite the attention the media insist on lavishing upon them, white supremacists still amount to no more than what they've been for the past three generations: a violent but minor fringe group, tragically damaging to isolated smaller communities but comically impotent on a larger scale.

The answer is of course that it was the polite, urbane, self-righteous politically correct mob mentality which perpetrated the change. Since Y2K and especially after ~2010, as most people grew increasingly wary of bringing offense, the petty demagogues of the grievance industry have had to work harder and harder to find causes for outrage. In one of the safest times and regions since the dawn of our woeful species, in an age of plenty and freedom, the luckiest humans in history are more desperate than ever to invent boogeymen by which to haunt themselves. The word spreads that one and all must be on the lookout because evil subversives are committing "microaggressions" and "institutionalized" evil warrants a never-ending crusade. The sheer scarcity of actual, identifiable white supremacists pushes the self-righteous to strain their eyes harder and harder to find the inevitable mote in their neighbour's eye. Civic watchfulness gains the questionable rigor of a discipline of mystical divination, with any comment, no matter how innocuous, jocular, off-topic or outright trolling, being interpreted as a possible "dog whistle" or a secret weapon of subversives against the righteous.

After all, isn't it precisely because we're so much less racist now than we were fifty years ago that we have to be extra careful? Or in other words: “If any are Scandalized, that New England, a place of as serious Piety, as any I can hear of, under Heaven, should be troubled so much with Witches; I think, 'tis no wonder: Where will the Devil show most Malice but where he is hated, and hateth most?”* This was the thinking of the likes of Richard Baxter and Cotton Mather proclaiming "the certainty of the world of spirits fully evinced" in the late 1600s. How did they know, absolutely know that such spirits surrounded them, such evils assailed them, such struggles ennobled them every single day of their lives? That witches' cats dogged their every step? Why by discerning Witches' Marks of course!

Is it any wonder that our preachers of modern orthodoxy, our puritanical rainbow standard bearers, are in turn so eager to identify more witch-sign, more dog whistles, more microaggressions? Is it any wonder they'd make an art, a faith and a bloodsport of divining the secret evil in the hearts of their fellows? To condemn the entire populace as suspect by declaring one of the most common gestures an infernal incantation, now that is a witch-hunter's wet dream!

Of all the hobbies you cretins could've picked, the world did not need more amateur inquisitors.







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*Jesus Christ, man, as a comma, addict, myself; I gotta tell, you: Lay off the Freaking Punctuation!!!1

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Sink

Here's a funny story:

This morning I picked up the two-liter plastic bottle (formerly filled with a soft drink) which I've been refilling with water to keep by my bed / computer-side and discovered quite a few grayish, gelatinous-veiled dots along its bottom: incipient microbial colonies - Streptococcus, I'd guess, given both its ubiquity and its propensity to form biofilms. I didn't stop to plate or stain the damn things.

But it left me in a bit of a bind, because you see I've been cutting down on my intake of carbonated sugar-water lately, so my next appointed water bottle was still over half full. I cheated a bit and swallowed a mouthful of water after brushing my teeth, then resigned myself to a compromise, to slightly increase my soda intake for today and try to get the bottle ready sooner. This still left me quite parched, but luckily I was able to add a few deliciously moist vegetables to my lunch. Still thirsty, I decided that tea with its lower concentration would probably help more. It was only around mid-afternoon, as I was finishing my second helping of tea and washing the mug in the sink that it occurred to me that I could pour myself a cup of water from the faucet, bypassing the refillable bottle altogether... as I've done ten thousand times before in my life... as I'd done only a day prior... that in fact pouring myself a cup of water from the sink is a perfectly rational (and dare I say it, even mundane) course of action. Eureka!

Odd how our minds work, isn't it? Or should I say how our brains work, sclerotized independent subroutines looping around the self, evading the mind, dodging the consciousness which spawned them, dictating so many of our bodies' daily motions, habits, reactions. Subroutines for all our routines. Hilarious, isn't it?

Now here's the really funny part. I've got Alzheimer's on both sides of my family tree, a disease with fairly high heritability. It's funny how it affects your thinking about your own thinking, that guillotine blade above your head. Every lapse in your memory, every episode of deja vu or presque vu, every slip of the tongue, every struggle to remember someone's name, every blog post you meant to write once upon a time, every article you meant to look up on Wikipedia... or maybe you did but can't remember... they all get reinterpreted in terms of the imminent living death of early-onset dementia. Maybe I do have it. Maybe it's not dehydration debilitating my arthritic dendritics  but the plaques already building up. Maybe it beat the wrinkles to the punch. Maybe in ten years' time it'll be me, shuffling along, lost in my own apartment, terrified of all the strangers pretending to know me.

It's funny, isn't it?
Laugh, damn you.

Ah, well. If I have inherited it, then there's only one thing I have to remember anyway. To sink. No bottle needed, no cup. Just stuff a few rocks in my coat lining and take a very big gulp of water from a very deep lake. The wer-wolfe will not be a zombie.
Cheers.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

ATOM RPG

A case study in the Dunning-Kruger effect.

We've seen an upsurge of Fallout copycat games in the past few years. Some, like Wasteland 2 or Dead State, were started by old Black Isle Studios veterans, and despite their flaws display a modicum of insight into the original's greatness. A more amateurish attempt like UnderRail can easily get swamped in superficiality or desperate attempts to tag every possible gameplay feature without properly integrating them.

But even UnderRail fared well compared to ATOM RPG. Thanks to communist mismanagement and over-development the Second World has, for almost a century now, provided a wealth of industrial decay perfectly fitted to post-apocalyptic themes. Long after 1989 you could drive out through post-communist cities' outskirts and be guaranteed to stumble onto disaffected, weed-choked, doggedly upright reinforced concrete skeletons of misconceived all-purpose industry. If some Ukrainians could draw on such inspiration for the brilliantly immersive STALKER to compete with the latter FPS Fallout games, then surely another mixed East-European team might be capable of duplicating that feat by building on the isometric Fallout progenitor as inspiration.

No.
Apparently they could not.



It's not just a matter of a horrendously incompetent English translation, of having your character log track the number of "fishes catched" or other odd pluralizationses. It's also the character portraits hailing straight from the uncanny valley, neither impressive or expressive nor realistic, recalling the gory days of FMV in the video games of the '90s. It's the unnecessarily minimalist combat mechanics, lacking the nuance of DeadState's special moves or variable melee ranges.

But mostly, ATOM's developers missed the critical point that to build a role-playing game one must needs build a world. Fallout's beginning took you from the computer-lined walls of your Vault to dusty, sleepy Shady Sands to the ramshackle Junkyard to the decrepit yet formerly futuristic Hub and finally to the Brotherhood of Steel's militaristic rehash of the vault look. Its factions were lent personality: some were Mad Max punks, others small-town farmers, others defined by being high tech or inhuman to varying degrees. Its gear was distinctly split between tribal spears and makeshift body armor to recovered assault rifles to futuristic laz0rz.

In contrast, ATOM shows a distinct lack of contrast. Every character speaks in the same awkward jumble of catchphrases, grand chest-thumping proclamations and ultrasuperlongwinded, flowery descriptions of nothing in particular. Where STALKER's zones were each dominated by an eye-catching feature (train tracks, garbage dump, industrial conveyor, tunnel system, apartment buildings) ATOM's hopelessly mired in the sameness of communist reinforced concrete construction. Every one of the first half dozen locations I've visited is dominated by the same visuals: same terrain textures, same flora, same square gray walls and tin roofs, same patrolling vaguely disheveled NPCs. Its perfunctory crafting system, while it at first offers an interesting glimpse of trying to MacGyver together workable gear out of plastic bags, duct tape and scrap metal, gets redundant before you can enjoy it.

Worse still, ATOM tries to compensate for its lack of inspiration by sheer volume of filler. Every single random mook forces you to trudge through the same list of standard adventurer questions, despite having nothing to say. STALKER suffered many of the same issues yet avoided the pitfalls of poor storytelling by maintaining a light touch: only the necessary amount of text, a few offhand lines of audio to lend the world an aural dimension and heavy reliance on non-verbal cues. As you wearily grind through dialogue after dialogue, ATOM starts looking like a clown car of endless randomly goofy comic relief characters with nothing to relieve. But there's a difference between telling a joke and being a joke...

It's not all bad. The basic graphics and animations are solid, and while it locks up upon death, forcing you to restart the program, it otherwise seems remarkably free of bugs for such an amateurish project. The basic bidonville appeal of a post-apocalyptic trash-based economy is spot on. Even the interface is actually pretty good, trim and clean and functional. But programmers have a nasty habit of assuming their expertise in computers qualifies them to create a computer game, and the past forty years are replete with examples to the contrary. The creators of this "game" took themselves much too seriously and seem blissfully unaware of their own incompetence in the creative aspects of such a project, beyond coding. Watching them pile on such awkwardness zone after zone makes one embarrassed to even be a party to their own public humiliation while touting the name of Fallout as inspiration, like watching a drunken acquaintance make an ass of himself.

This is not a product to be sold even at its bargain basement price, but a fumbling piece of fan work to be appended to an online forum for free critiques.