Thursday, December 15, 2005

The U.S. Military: sneaky or just plain dumb?

The question raised by the military's new set of classified interrogation techniques is, did the army know what they were doing and think they could get away with it or were they just being dumb. At a time when congress has passed John McCain's anti-torture legislation that the white house seems unable to stop, the army created a ten-page classified addendum to the Army Field Manual that is used to determine what is cruel and inhumane treatment. This looks like an attempt to make an end run about the proposed law. It's hard to say if that's true, because it's hard to believe the military would be dumb enough to think that wouldn't piss off congress. On the other hand, since they weren't aware that adding a secret addendum right now was going to create some controversy it seems that whoever was in charge of this project wasn't thinking straight, so perhaps they really were hoping to screw with the intent of McCain's law. It's one of those things we'll probably never know for sure, but in the white hot glare of publicity I think the field Manual isn't going to be claiming that cattle prods aren't really inhumane.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

LOL

A man enters a bar and orders a drink. The bar has a robot bartender. The robot serves him a perfectly prepared cocktail, and then asks him, "What's your IQ?"


The man replies "150" and the robot proceeds to make conversation about global warming factors, quantum physics and spirituallity, biomimicry, environmental interconnectedness, string theory, nano-technology, and sexual proclivities.


The customer is very impressed and thinks, "This is really cool." He decides to test the robot. He walks out of the bar, turns around, and comes back in for another drink. Again, the robot serves him the perfectlty prepared drink and asks him, "What's your IQ?"


The man responds, "about a 100."


Immediately the robot starts talking, but this time, about football, NASCAR, baseball, supermodels, favorite fast foods, guns, and women's breasts.


Really impressed, the man leaves the bar and decides to give the robot one more test. He heads out and returns, the robot serves him and asks, "What'syour IQ?" The man replies, "Er, 50, I think."


And the robot says... real slowly,


"So.... ya gonna vote for Bush again?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

answer the damn question!

I appreciate the reasons the Democrats are playing the Replican game of hammering on talking points while ignoring substantive debate or real discussion, but it disgusts me regardless of which side is doing it. Last night I watched congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, on the Daily Show slip and slide through Jon Stewart's softball questions. Her big point was to mention John Murtha in every sentence. (Murtha, if you don't know, is the hawk turned dove congressman who recently came out in favor of getting out of Iraq as soon as possible.


Murtha was Pelosi's answer to everything. The question of why the Democrats choose the ever drab John Kerry to rebut Bush's latest delusional Iraq speech was answered by noting what a great thing Murtha did. Pretty much every question had a similar answer.


Pelosi is always pretty slippery. Perhaps she's afraid of getting caught with her foot in her mouth Howard Dean style, but I don't see how Democrats can insist that they are the answer when they won't answer any questions.

Eating the decorations

I find it interesting that, outside of myself, no one I know seems to have
ever thought to eat the colorful ears of corn used in Thanksgiving
decorations. They're really very good. I much prefer them to yellow corn,
which I have never especially liked. The colored kind is nutty and chew and
a very different thing altogether. It also takes forever to cook; I'm not
exactly sure how long, as I just put it in boiling water and check it
occasionally until it's edible, but I'd say at least 1/2 an hour.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

the unfamous humorist

When going through a box of junk from my high school days, I came across a comedic final exam, written by Kelly Gorton, whoever that is. It's so funny I hated to toss it, so i thought to see if I could find the same thing online. It turns out to have been a
popular email item - some versions include items not from the original column, although these aren't nearly as funny) so I bookmarked it and tossed the original. Then I looked up Kelly Gorton and found no information at all. From my original clipping I know Kelly wrote the column in 1970 for Media/Scope, but the writer is ungoogleable. Such is the nature of brilliant comedic writing; the words can far eclipse the fame of the writer.


Did Kelly write anything else of note, that perhaps is also floating around in emails? Who knows.


UPDATE: Kelly Gorton came across this post and said he did not, in fact, write the column. This apparently was something that floated around from office to office, copied on ditto machines, and Kelly's name somehow got attached to it. So basically this is one of those brilliantly funny things whose source will be forever shrouded in mystery. It's interesting that even before the Internet, humor was diseminated and its origins lost. In fact it seems possible, since it was passed around, that this is the work of multiple people. But who knows.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

games that didn't make the cut

This week I reviewed The Movies (the first tycoon game I ever really liked, in which you run a movie studio and can also make your own cool movies (check out this brilliant satire of intelligent design), Karaoke Revolution Party (which I like for the mode in which you both sing and dance, although a lot of critics seemed to have trouble with this one), Dance praise (Christian Dance Pad game, perfect when you want to kill time waiting for The Rapture) and Guitar Hero (played with a guitar peripheral - loads of fun).


Here's what didn't make my column:

Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse
Okay, in idyllic civilization a zombie inexplicably appears. You are the zombie, and what you do is wander around killing people. And that's pretty much it, no motivation or anything. The game is cartoonishly bloody and lets you do things like through your intestines at people and fart, but is that enough? Also, you can eat brains, but you don't have to. Shouldn't you have to eat brains? I mean, isn't that something zombies need to do to stay alive? It seems dumb to not give you anything beyond the viscerable pleasure of carnage.

Why it didn't make it: It is beyond me why this game received such good reviews. In spite of some mildly amusing satirical elements (similar to Destroy All Humans but less pointed) this just seem like a pointless game, though a well made one.

Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green
Another zombie movie, but this one is far worse. First off, the controls suck. It just feels awkward moving around. Second, the game starts you off with zombies attacking and you have to run around and find weapons before they kill you. So if you don't find weapons in time you will be killed. You can't fight them off by hand, nor can you shove them aside and run away. I found a shotgun, but there were more zombies than bullets. Presumably I have to find the shotgun and try and run downstairs and find other weapons, only shooting when necessary. Or maybe I needed to go someplace else first. The game gives you no chance to get acclimated, I got killed over and over just trying to figure out where weapons were. Horrible, horrible game.

Why it didn't make it: That's not the question to ask here. The question to ask is, why does this game exist and how are we going to punish its designers.


Soul Calibur III
When I played Soul Calibur II I thought it was the best fighting game ever. When I played Soul calibur III I thought the same thing: Soul Calibur II is the best fighting game ever. As for III, it's quite good, but lacks a lot of the interesting touches of the first one, like fighting in high winds, and has a rather unimpressive strategy mode. It's a good game, but just a bit of a let down after the last one.


Why it didn't make it: because I want my sequels to be so much better that I have a lot to talk about or so much worse that I have so much to complain about. And because there were just other games I liked more.


Call of Duty 2


Why it didn't make it: Because the publisher didn't even send it to me until a week after it came out. Too bad, because I was really looking forward to it, but by the time it arrived my next column was filled up.


Civilization IV


This is a sad case, because it's one of the few times 2K Games was willing to send advance code. So now they'll probably think, well, that didn't work. But I just couldn't get into it. It's got interesting ideas but I just wasn't sucked in.


Why it didn't make it: Well, I can't like everything. For some reason I recall finding Civ III more to my liking, but who knows what I'd think today.


Crazy Machines


Cute little rip off of the Incredible Machine games.

Why it didn't make it: This time of year every game has to compete against the year's major games, and this one is just too little to compete. Simple as that.


Castlevania Curse of Darkness


You know, I just cannot get into the Castlevania games. The critics love them, they're hugely popular, and I just don't see what the big deal is.


Why it didn't make it: Because it's a Castlevania game, I suppose.


City of Villains


I loved City of Heroes. City of Villains is pretty much the same game, but instead of playing superheroes you play supervillans. It's fun, but it feels more like an expansion pack then a sequel. It's so much like the first one that all I need to write in a review is, "read my review of City of Heroes."


Why it didn't make it: because I could have just written "see my review of City of Heroes," and because there were just several other interesting games to talk about.


And Then There Were None


I really was interested in this, and I might have given it more of a chance if I'd gotten it earlier. For some reason the game did not arrive when it was supposed to. I had a week where I was having a terrible time; The Movies had security code that prevented the game from running, I had to download City of Villains over a week because the server was so slow, and And Then There Were None was lost in the mail. I kept asking them where the game was, and they kept saying it will arrive any day, and then they checked and someone had signed for it at my building, apparently. So I guess someone stole the game. Anyway, I played it for an hour and it didn't grab me, and by the time I got it I also had The Movies, which I was intrigued by, and finally had City of Villains running, so at that point it would have had to be far better for me to play it then if I'd got it a week earlier. It looked like a standard, okay adventure game, but it begins with a sort of wandering around rummaging through guest's rooms that just seemed pointless.


Why it didn't make it: Blame it on the post office. Or the PR people who didn't immediately overnight me another copy when they realized the first one was a few days late.


Trapt


This is a sort of interesting game. You run around a castle that you have boobytrapped, trying to lure your pursuers near the traps. I like this in theory, but in practice there's too much running around for me, and it quickly becomes repetitive. The game is also notable for long load times; sometimes there will be a cutscene broken up by long pauses while the next scene loads, which is surprising and suggests there was very little optimization in this one.


Why it didn't make it: This was sent too late for a review, I only played some of it because it sounded like an interesting idea.


Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth


This game came to me basically too late to consider for a review (2K games is almost never willing to send out pre-release games), but I was intrigued so I played it for a while. The first part is a sort of interesting, somewhat atmospheric adventure game in which you wander around talking to people and investigating, with a little stealth thrown in. Then the action starts with a big chase scene that I tried over and over and over again, and got killed every time. If I'd received the game earlier I would have asked the PR flack for help, but since it was too late and hadn't excited me all *that* much, I said screw it. Now there's a walkthrough for the game online and the point I got stick in is a place where you're supposed to climb a ladder; the problem is I never could get in a position where the game would let me climb the ladder, so I was never sure if that's what I was supposed to do.


Why it didn't make it: Came too late and did a dreadful job on ladder climbing.


From Russia with Love


It was an interesting idea to bring back Sean Connery for a Bond game, but Russia has a rather uninspiring first couple of hours. Not terrible, but not exceptional. It just didn't feel right, in theory there were stealth moves but I found bad guys always just saw me when I was anywhere near and I had to shoot it out. Then I got stuck in some stupid garden maze, got bored and stopped playing.


Why it didn't make it: Because wandering around aimlessly gets on my nerves.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Feel my pain

Okay, I know I can't expect a lot of sympathy when I complain that Microsoft
has sent me two Xbox 360s (three if you count the replacement for the
defective one. But hear me out.


Game reviewer deal with two sorts of disks, retail versions, which will play
on the consoles you buy in the store, and preview and review code, which
will only play on special "debug" consoles.


Sony makes special version of the Playstation 2 for game industry people
that play both review and retail code, but not Microsoft. They create two
separate machines. So for the last year I've been dealing with two Xboxes.
I have a switcher that funnels different systems to my TV, but since it only
has four inputs I simply pull out the connector for one xbox and plug it
into the other to switch between them. I also do this with the controller
and ethernet connection. I have, however, given each of them there own
power source, rather than plugging and unplugging that, but this will have
to change, because my power strip is full and I need another plug for my
Xbox 360


So that's a pain, and it's made worse by the fact that Microsoft has made
the dubious decision to only offer limited backward compatability. When the
PS2 came out it played every single original Playstation game. The Xbox 360
though will not play Xbox games unless a special so
ftware emulator
has been made for it. So, since the introduction of the
360 does not mean people are going to stop making original Xbox games, this
means that right now I have to deal with four fucking Xboxes which are
creating an insane tangle of cords and using a tremendous amoutn of
electricity.


And you know what, I bet when the PS3 comes out Sony will send me one that
plays debug and retail versions of everything from the Playstation up. And
that's why they will stay on top; becaues they just aren't as annoying as
Microsoft.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Finally, the secret behind Bush's bizarre speaking skills

Here's a wildly funny little film with a brilliant explanation for Bush's bizarre incompetence when speaking. I never even heard a lot of these before; the guy's idiocy is really kind of magnificent.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

It all goes round and round

One of my favorite all-time quotes is, What we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. So it's no real surprise that the FBI has gone privacy invastion crazy.
Remember the late '60s and early '70s, when the FBI was out of control and investigating everyone they could find with pretty much no limits? Remember how this caused such distrust that eventually all sorts of laws were passed to stop these abuses? Well, no one at the FBI remembers, because they're doint it all over again. So what's going to happen? Well, pretty much what happened last time. Expect serious limitations on the FBI within ten or twenty years after various shocking reports of abuses. And then expect those limitations to be gradually relaxed and then dropped altogether the next time there's some big security scare. At which point, if I'm still alive, I'll just repost this blog entry.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Petition to stop Alito

I was open minded about Roberts, and thought there was too much of a liberal knee jerk reaction against him, although I'm not that optimistic about what will happen with him. I was open minded about Miers, who was clearly an intellectual lightweight but struck me as someone who might float in the middle like O'Connor. But
Alito is dangerous. Obviously after getting beat up side the head by the right, Bush was going to try and foist a hardcore Scalia/Thomas style justice on us. I don't care if he's smart enough for the job, he is going to completely throw off the balance of the court and we can expect to see the gains of the last 50 years erode in a series of horrifying decisions. The right got to torpedo one nominee and it is up to the left to torpedo this one, forcing Bush to do what he should have done to begin with; nominate an intelligent, qualified, thoughtful, moderate justice.

I don't know how much good petitions do, but sign
this one just in case it helps.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Games that didn't make the cut

This time of the year there are so many video games. I get three or four delivered every day. With a biweekly column, there's no way to review them all if I want to have more than two sentences apiece for each. But since I've sampled or in some cases played through these games I might as well make a couple of comments about the ones I couldn't squeeze in.

These are the games that I didn't review the week I reviewed Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (brilliant mystery-adventure-comedy), Ultimate Spider-Man (stylish but a bit too much padding) and Sly 3 (fun action-adventure).


We Love Katamari

Katamari Damacy was this weird sleeper hit in which you are a tiny guy who pushes a ball around the floor. Things stick to the ball, which makes it bigger, and bigger, and you go from rolling up thumb tacks to rolling up trucks. We Love Katamari is the sequel. It tries out a few new ideas, but it's pretty much just an extension of the same game. The weird cut scenes aren't quite as weird, and it seems a little less amusing, either because it is less amusing or because I saw it all last year, but it's more-or-less as much fun as the original.

Why it didn't make it: Anything I had to say about this game I'd already said about the last one.


Trace Memory

Trace Memory is like a PC point-and-click adventure, only it's on the Nintendo DS. A little girl comes to a mysterious island to find her long lost father. He is nowhere to be found, and she explores the island with the help of a friend, amnesiac ghost. The story is pretty interesting and the puzzles are mixed. The dumbest thing is that at the end of each chapter you have to answer multiple choice questions on what you've just done, but some puzzles are quite entertaining. Not a great game, but fun.

Why it didn't make it: Just a matter of space. I couldn't squeeze more than three games in, and Phoenix Wright is also an adventure game for the DS and a much better one, so I went with that.


Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon

Every year HerInteractive comes out with two Nancy Drew games. On is generally kind of dumb, with a lot of arcade activities and poor puzzles, and the other is usually better. Oddly enough, I gave a review to the lesser one, Secret of the Old Clock, but not to the superior Blue Moon Canyon. This is simply because there were less interesting games to review at the time Old Clock was released. Canyon is a very good adventure game with generally intelligent puzzles. Some of the puzzles are quite difficult, notably a doll one, but it's an interesting game, well worth playing.

Why it didn't make it: Basically, I could have put both Blue Moon and Trace Memory in had I decided to simply devote my column to adventure games. That would have been fine if I hadn't actually written about two adventure games the previous time. I try and mix up the genres.


Legend of Kay

An action-adventure game in the tradition of the Legend of Zelda series, Kay is pretty abysmal in terms of story, with awful dialogue and acting, but it has very good Zelda-style gameplay.

Why it didn't make it: I am always nagging PR people to get me games before their release date so I can make my reviews timely. Kay came in rather late, and by that time I'd settled on the three games I would review. I could have dumped one and replaced it with Kay, but I would have really had to push myself to get through the game in the time I had, and while it was good, it wasn't necessarily better than the ones I was already reviewing. If the story had been good things might have been different.



Donkey Kong: King of Swing

Fun little GBA game in which you are able to grab onto objects and swing up higher. Simple but clever.

Why it didn't make it: Another situation where I would have had to dump a game I'd played through to do this one instead. It wasn't any better than what I had, but it's a fun game.


Why it didn't make it:
I loved the first Suffering game, which was cool and atmospheric. The sequel lacked the subtlety in terms of story and turned out to be more difficult. At a certain point I got killed over and over. Since I already had doubts about the game based on the first hour, I said screw it.

Why it didn't make it: It just wasn't as good as the first one.



Burnout: Legends

The PSP version of Burnout, which came out at the same time as Burnout: Revenge for the Xbox and PS2. Terrific game.

Why it didn't make it:PR people got it to me late. The review would not have been timely by then. I didn't even look at Revenge because I knew it was too old for a review, although I still have it and mean to check it out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Play Like It's 1979

I was asked to contribute a few ideas to this article, so I did. It's kind of cute.

say what you like about G.W., the guy sure is willing to give jobs to the mentally disabled

The investigation into FEMA's screwup with Katrina holds a grisly fascination. Brown comes on and says, gee, my man on the ground Behamonde told me things were swell, and Behamonde says he sent dire warning of the extent of the disaster and received an email talking about how Brown needed more time to eat dinner. Are people on the right still defending this guy and Bush's appointment of him? I bet they are, but I doubt their heart's into it.

Hah!

I take an immense pleasure in learning that bacterial soap isn't any better than regular soap. Bacterial soap represents two bits of American foolishness, an obsession with germs and the conviction that you need a special item for every single thing. People won't use soap to wash their bodies instead buying expensive body lotions and face lotions and body washes and whatever, and then they don't want soap for their hands because it's not clean enough. I'm not even convinced soap is all that important. My understanding is soap just makes water wetter (I've never known what that means, exactly, but that's what I keep hearing). So it's not that it kills germs, whcih suggests that if you just put your hands in the water and rub perhaps that will clean them just as well as often as not. I'm not saying that's true, but I was right about bacterial soap.

Monday, October 17, 2005

In search of Frank Rich

I was very sad when I learned the New York Times had started charging extra to read it's op-ed pieces. I love Frank Rich's column and I hated to be without it. Imagine my joy when I discovered
truthout.org, which republishes progressive columns from all sorts of publications, and appears to run almost everything Rich writes. I found this out by simply googling for the titles of some of Rich's columns. Thank you, google.

a little perspective on torture

In an op-ed piece on Bush's incomprehensible
refusal to prohibit U.S. torture, Bob Herbert has a wonderful quote by one of the soldiers who came forth with torture allegations against the U.S.


"Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."


Nice to see I'm not the only one who's sick of the, "they're worse than us so it's okay" argument.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

my blog is getting attention from everywhere!

Well, not exactly, but an enterprising PR person (whose signature describes her as a "grassroots campaign manager") did somehow trip over Opinionade and emailed to ask if I felt inclined to post a press release or run a banner for the game Stubbs the Zombie. It seems like an odd thing to ask of someone with a blog with no press releases or banners on it, but I guess it never hurts to try. Anyway, while I'm used to PR people contacting me through the Times this is the first time a PR person has contacted me through my blog, so I guess this means this is now a very important blog that everyone will vie to get in. :-)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dare to Bare - New York Times

What I find fascinating about the concept of
freeing babies from diapers is that it's something so ingrained in culture that it would never have occurred to me to even question their necessity. And it makes me wonder what else I should be questioning that I'm not. Life is full of alternatives we just never think of.

Meet the new series, same as the old series - new TV series (part two)

I've seen enough shows now to get a sense of the season, which is basically made up of a whole bunch of generic comedies and X-Files clones. Almost every crime and suspense show is indebted to X-Files. It seems strange; why, five years after it went off the air, is everyone trying to caputure the X-Files vibe? Here's my take on a few more shows, and some revisiting of ones I mentioned before.


The Night Stalker

Premise: Like the old Kolchak: The Night Stalker series except different in every conceivable way

Review: I really don't understand the point in taking the name of an old series for a show that's nothing like it. Kolchak: The Night Stalker starred the middle-aged character actor Darren McGavin as a pushy, rumpled loner reporter fascinated with unusual murders that always turned out to have supernatural causes. He constantly tried to publish the stories but his editor resisted.


This new incarnation is about a young, attractive reporter obsessed with the mysterious death of his wife who teams up with an attractive female reporter and investigates mysterious murders that may have supernatural overtones, not to write about them, which he refuses to do for some dumb reason, but to find out if there's a connection with his wife's death.


The Night Stalker is not really a remake of Kolchak, it's actually a remake of the X-Files, and was in fact created by an ex writer for that show. You've got the true believer guy and the woman skeptic and all sorts of scary monsters. And while as a remake of the McGavin show this is a complete failure, lacking that show's personality and humor, as a remake of the X-Files it's really pretty darn good. It's scary and stylish, although I could do without those dumb intros and outros where the good-looking Kolchack pretionsiosly prattles on while key phrases appear on screen.


My Name is Earl

Premise: White trash low-life discovers karma and decides to make ammends for everything he's ever done wrong

Review: Hey look, it's a clever, original comedy! You don't see much of that, do you? This is a really funny show that plays off the dumbness of its principals but never really looks down on them. Earl is ill-informed (after seeing Carson Daly discussing karma on TV Earl comes to believe that the concept was invented by Carson) and he's done a lot of bad things, but he's got an admirable determination and a certain childlike logic. The show manages to create a character who you can believe would try and right his wrongs but that you also believe would have done those wrongs to begin with. So far this is the only show I've seen this season whose cancellation would upset me.


Related

Premise: girls talking really fast

Review: Related manages to be kind of clever without ever actually being funny. A group of sisters banter about this and that with the rat-a-tat delivery from the Gilmore Girls, and sometimes they say something that seems like there's a ce4rtain intelligence in the thought, but it's not funny or witty or anything like that, it just exhibits a certain facile cleverness. This is from the producers of Friends, and the characters are just as bland and generic as those on Friends. Friends kept me watching because of its sharp writing, but Related is written in an annoying manner and glib dialogue delivered by generic women is not my idea of a good time.


Invasion

Premise: Something's going on, but what? The title suggests aliens, but the show isn't telling

Review: I wanted to check this out because it was from the creator of the brilliant, short-lived horror series American Gothic, Shaun Cassidy, who has apparently created a few other shows since then that were cancelled without my ever knowing they existed. If not for Shaun's involvement I might have stopped watching in the middle of the first episode, which managed to make a hurricane seem dull, btu I kept watching and the series picked up.


Invasion is definitely a slow build, which is why the first episode was all set-up and no excitement. Now the pieces are falling into place, but you can't make out the picture. A doctor who was found after the hurricane naked in the forest has become obsessed with water. The doctor's sherrif husband acts suspiciously but may be okay (judging from this and American Gothic, Cassidy finds small-town sherrif's intimidating). A military guy was found injured with holes in his body, but he was supposed to be overseas; did he really die in the hospital? A reporter is intrigued by mysterious goings on in the area, but her boss, who also was found naked in the forest after the hurricane, insists she not investigate.


At this point I'm intrigued. The show has a low-key eeriness to it, and while it's no American Gothic so far I think as the story unwinds this show could have the same mysterious quality that gives Lost its charm. Here's hoping.


And here's comments on two shows I'm giving up on:


Surface

Premise: Sea monsters galore

Review: When I saw the second episode of the series I thought the recap of the first episode was too confusing, but having seen the first episode I realized there was no away around that, because the whole episode was confusing. Surface simply isn't done very well. It follows four separate stories, but none of them are especially involving, and the show often fails to make clear what's going on or why. I feel they're trying to squeeze in a lot of stuff and thus glossing over important details. It's not a terrible show, but it's not really worth watching either.


Commander in Chief

Premise: Woman becomes the president everyone wants

Review: Dream presidents work great in comedies like Dave, where one can take delight in a forthright guy who always does the right thing, but the world is too complex for a fantasy president to work in a drama. Here, Geena Davis is a president who is tough yet compassionate, a straight shooter who always does the right thing for the right and noble reason. But she's doing stuff that wouldn't work in the real world. Sure, it sounds great to intimidate a country into overthrowing their dictatorship, but in the real world patriotism and hatred of the U.S. gnerally trumps hatred of one's own goverment. And in the real world there is not always a good solution to a situation; sometimes you have to choose between a bunch of bad options none of which is going to get you anything close to what you want, a fact conveniently ignored by this show.


There is also a certain connect-the-dots quality to the story, which hits the subjects you would expect it to hit in the order you would expect it to hit them, doing the whole how to run the free world and still be a good mom thing and other such nonsense.


The cast is great, especially an unctuous Donald Sutherland, but the show feels false and contrived. It also just isn't that interesting.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Reality television's manufactured villains

My friend Cheryl always insists that reality shows are scripted. She believes the producers very explicitly say, fight with him, make out with her, betray your friend, get drunk and make a scene, whatever. She doesn't watch reality shows though, so she's hardly an expert. I have always thought of reality shows as being a result of smart casting and sneaky editing. You get a bunch of combustible people, put them in a strange situation, film it and then edit it for maximum effect (for example, reaction shots in reality shows are fairly meaningless; when someone says something dumb and there's a cut to another character rolling her eyes, she might have actually rolled her eyes half an hour earlier; I saw a documentary about tricks like those).

Still, I don't think producers are micromanaging the action, because I think actually scripting a reality show in great detail would be a monumental task that probably would wind up less interesting than something more natural (and certainly the shows that have tried to hardest to create soap operascenarios and hype up the drama too much have tended to be flops).

But while producers may not be scripting the contestants, some contestants appear to be scripting themselves. And that brings me to Kill Reality andThe Surreal Life.

In a recent Surreal Life, Omarosa, the incredibly annoying woman who was a contestant on The Apprentice, where she gained notoriety as a bitch, stated that she came on the show with the intent to be a bitch for the cameras.She says she's writing a book on reality shows.

Omarosa's main foil was Janice Dickenson, who was prone to tantrums. Throughout the show her housemates would discuss amongst themselves whether she was really upset or was just trying to get more air time. Unlike Omarosa, Janice hasn't admitted anything. Her constant referral to herself as the world's first supermodel (a phrase used by her dozens of times on the show) is most probably an attempt to either be outlandish or annoying, but Janice could also just be a little nuts.

On Kill Reality one suspects that Johnny Fairplay is also faking it. It was obvious when he was on Survivor that his real goal was not to win a million dollars but to become the ultimate Survivor villain. In the first episode of Kill Reality John describes Johnny Fairplay as a character he has
invented, as opposed to the real him.

Johnny Fairplay is an ass, and he seems like a truly horrible person on the show, but one can't help but notice that everyone really likes him. He seems to be friends or lovers with almost everyone on the show, and it's rather hard to believe that the mean spirited, self centered, drunken idiot on the show could be that well liked. Which suggests that he is also playing a part and that everyone understands that. This doesn't mean he's not an ass, but he is perhaps a different kind of ass.

My problem with the self-made villains is not that they aren't real. We're all acting to some extent, and those on TV can't help wanting to control their appearance. But Johnny Fairplay, Omarosa and Janice are all incredibly annoying. I hated Fairplay on Survivor and I constantly wishedhe'd be voted off. I was thrilled when Omarosa was fired.

Obviously as a fan of reality television I do take perverse enjoyment from watching conflict and turmoil, but I also enjoy seeing the more intricate examples of interplay between people; the alliances, the friendships, the occasional flashes of nobility, the humor. But a character like Johnny Fairplay can just take over a show and make it all about him, if theproducers choose, and the result is rather annoying.

I don't blame Omarosa, who has figured out the rules and is playing the game for her own purposes, but I do blame the producers and editors who let these people take over their shows. They are creating Jerry Springer television,and that is always a bad thing.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Swimming against the critical tide

There is something decidedly disconcerting about finding oneself at odds with every other gaming critic in the world. In my review of Myst V and Indigo Prophecy, I'm pretty much in the mainstream on Myst V (good, but not as good as other Myst games) but I have apparently written the single most negative review in existence of Indigo Prophecy. Not a complete pan, but I complain a lot. But while I've been thinking about my review, and whether I was overly harsh, I really don't think I was. First off, the gameplay isn't that good. The twiddling the joystick thing is overused and not down as well as in Shenmue 2, which did something similar. The stealth sequences are kind of fun but have a rather clunky design. The puzzles are brainless.

This many critics will agree with me on. No one's that impressed with the gameplay. But people are raving about the story. And the story is not very good. It's a formulaic thriller with cardboard characters that would get poor reviews if you were to make it into a movie.

But that's just me. Literally, that's just me. Everyone who plays this loves it. I had a similar experience with Shenmue, a game that people raved about but that I found deeply flawed (liked the sequel though, although it also had its faults).

I really wanted to like Indigo, it tries so hard and it's got a nice score by Angelo Badalamenti, and there are some good ideas in there. But I just can't see why it's getting as much love as it's getting.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Bill Bennett explains, and of course, it's all better now

I find Bill Bennett's response to the outcry over his comments about aborting black babies interesting, because he still doesn't really seem to understand what was wrong about what he said.

You can read a transcript of the discussion that lead to the remark here. He basically says you could reduce crime by aborting black babies but that it would be reprehensible. It's sort of unclear what his position is; it is clear that he's thinking off the top of his head and isn't expressing himself very well.

His response to the uproar was to say: "I was pointing out that abortion should not be opposed for economic reasons, any more than racism or for that matter slavery or segregation should be supported or opposed for economic reasons," he said. "Immoral policies are wrong because they are wrong, not because of an economic calculation. One could just as easily have said you could abort all children and prevent all crime, to show the absurdity of the proposition."

The problem is, he didn't say all babies, he didn't say hispanic babies, or asian babies, or white babies, or Muslim babies, or Christian babies, or whatever. He said black babies. And what he needs to explain is, why is that the first thing that popped into his head, that specifically aborting black babies would lower the crime rate. Because saying aborting all babies is a very different concept altogether.

Now, one often says dumb things extemporaneously, but now that he's had time to think about it, why isn't Bennett saying, "actually, that was a dumb thoughtless thing to say. Clearly, crime is not simply a balck thing but a part of our society with many complex causes and I was wrong to single out a particular race to make my point." But if he did say that, neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times made note of it. If I'm wrong and he really did say that let me know and I'll give him props for it.

compassionate conservatives speak out

Is there a good list of quotes from conservatives expressing their rather unique take on compassion? Because I think the world needs one. You know, something with stuff like Barbara Bush's comment that after Katrina "things are working out very well for the poor" and Billy O'Reilly wishing the U.N. building was flooded and radio Host Glenn Beck talking about his hatred of victims of both Katrina and 9/11? Wouldn't that be a good list. Katrina really exposed the core of compassionate conservatism, but those afraid the right wing can run out of ways to express their truly feelings for the disenfranchised will be heartened by Bill Bennet's comment that "you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."

Besides showing you the extent of conservative compassion, quotes like these also do a good job of exhibiting the great breadth of conservative stupidity. For example, no, crime rates wouldn't go do if there were no more black people in this country. The underclass that commits crime would just be made of of a different mix of races. Poverty breeds crime Bill, not skin tone. But I guess they're all just blinded by compassion.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Meet the new series, same as the old series - new TV series (part one)

I've been trying to check out all the new network series, as best I can, leaving out those that got terrible reviews (Ghost Whisperer) or that just didn't strike me as promising (Kitchen Confidential), and unfortunately also leaving out promising shows that conflict with stuff I want to watch (Everybody Hates Chris). So, because my blog is mine for whatever purpose I choose, I'm going to give little mini-reviews on what I've seen.


Threshold

Premise: Aliens are coming, but don't worry, the government is handling it

Review:
My god, just think how horrifying the above sentence would be if the Bush administration was handling an alien invasion. You know the guy in charge would be someone who used to run the department of sanitation in Lubox. Fortunately, in the wonderful world of TV things are handled by an efficient, attractive woman who has a methodical plan to deal with any emergency. Her plan apparently doesn't value the safety of the head planner, since she's on site whenever a dangerous situation arises, but outside of that this is a smart, intelligent series in which we have yet to see an alien and have no idea what exactly they're trying to do. The first episode was actually beautifully done, efficiently outlining the premise while giving you insights into all the main characters, and while it hasn't been quite as good since, it's still the best new series I've seen.


Supernatural

Premise: Two hunky young brothers investigate paranormal activities.

Review: Supernatural is a very calculated series. Get two good-looking guys from other TV series and let them play X-Files. The show is genial and unoriginal, but does have some genuine scares in it. I'll keep watching this one for now.


The War at Home

Premise: Married with Children lite?

Review: Watched for about 5 minutes. Seemed pretty painful.


Twins

Premise: dumb and smart twins with dumb and smart parents tell a mix of dumb and smart jokes

Review: Twins causes one to ask the question: How many dumb blondes can one show stand. This one has two, although one may not be blonde, as I can't recall what color Melanie Griffith's hair is. But she's definitely a prototypical dumb blonde. Having a dumb and smart sister who each have a corresponding parent probably sounded good on paper, but it lets in more dumb-blonde-style jokes than can be comfortably handled. Very by-the-numbers sitcom only has Sara Gilbert going for it (as the smart twin), and it ventures too often into stupid or uncomfortable humor (much like latter-day Will and Grace, which is from the same producers), but it's watchable.


Bones

Premise: She's a brilliant forensic scientist with lousy people skills, he's a savvy cop. They hate each other, but if the show makes it to season two you know they're going to screw like rabbits

Review: If you read my comments on these shows, you'll notice a unifying theme: they are almost all capable and unoriginal shows that follow established TV conventions. That certainly applies to Bones, which seems to have resulted from someone saying, what if we made a series like "House" but instead of an old crotchety guy with a limp we had a a hot woman? The show has little going for it besides its personable leads, but the forensic scientist/hot woman (hey, I've only seen two episodes, you can't expect me to remember these characters names can you) is an interesting character, especially when a decapitated tree falls from a tree and she quickly and without revulsion catches it and calls for an evidence bag.


Surface

Premise: If I'd seen the first episode, or if the recap at the beginning of the second episode had been competently put together, I could probably tell you the premise of this show. Ocean monster, I think.

Review: The recap did a lousy job, but basically there's a monster or something in the ocean, a couple of people trying to find out what it is while the government tries to keep it a secret, and some kid who somehow has a baby monster in his bathtub. I think if I could actually figure out what the show was about this one might be pretty good.


Commander in Chief

Premise: Tampons in the oval office!

Review: This show had a really nice beginning, as vice president Geena Davis learns the president is dying and is asked by the attorney general to resign rather than take office, not because she is a woman, ostensibly, but because she's an Independent who won't fulfill the desires of the Republican president. The problem is, she took the request seriously, considering whether it would be wrong to take the country in the direction she wanted rather than in the direction of someone whose policies she disagreed with. Are there really politicians who don't think they could be the best thing that ever happened to this country? I don't think so. I found it ridiculous that she only decided not to resign after a conversation with next-in-line Donald Sutherland in which he spouted a bunch of reactionary nonsense, as though somehow she wouldn't have realized exactly what it would mean to let this particular guy run the country until this conversation. Since it's an interesting idea and I've always liked Geena I'll watch a few more episodes, but if they do two more things this stupid I'll have no choice but to stop watching.

enthusiastic about being jaded

I was cleaning up my blog posts and saw that somehow this one was never published! I wrote it May 12 2005.

From time to time I like to google my name and see what comes up. Recently I discovered that some time after my friend Francis had written his reaction to the game Syberia and had noted that it was similar to mine, his friend Todd had commented that he found me "a rather hostile and jaded reviewer."

Compared to a lot of game critics I suppose this is true. If you see where my rankings fall at Metacritic they are often the least enthusiastic, and I am often battling Gamespot's famously hard-to-please Greg Kasavin for the lowest ranking of a generally favorable review.

As a critic I am certainly not a cheerleader like Roger Egbert, who seems to love almost everything he reviews, judging by metacritic. I don't take Egbert seriously precisely because he seems to love way too many movies, making him a better fan than critic.

So I'm more jaded than Egbert, but I don't consider myself hostile. I hold games up to higher standards than most critics. I have seen reviews of games that said, this game has an interesting story and good graphics so even though it's kind of boring to play I will rank it 8 out of 10. That's nuts. There are also way too many decent but unexceptional movies that critics laud as perfect, like Doom 3. I ask more of games. I ask that they be great. When a game is great, like The Longest Journey or Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines I say so, but I still don't let them off the hook for their flaws. I believe a critic should go beyond just saying, this is good, this is bad; they should look at the possibilities of their subject and say, why did this game fail where that one succeeded.

I am neither jaded nor hostile. I simply see the potential of games, and I see very few games that reach that potential.

Ah, sweet irony

Here's something else that seems never to have been published, although I wrote it July 13.


What I find funny about Karl Rove being outed as the sleazebag who outed a CIA covert operative as political payback is, if the Bush administration hadn't so thoroughly beaten down the press until they were whimpering puppies willing to turn over notes on anything, it would have been hard to pin this on Rove. The Bush administration is now actually paying a price for breaking the media's spine. Neat.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

my first comment!

At last, an actual human being has commented on a blog post. What did she comment about? She posted the comment to my post about DeLay, but actually commented on my post on spam comments. It's so inspiring to know someone actually came across my blog that now I feel like posting ten times a day. I won't, of course, but I at least feel like it.


Stop the presses: a politician lied!

What I find interesting about the dust up over NYC mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer's fairly minor lie on his blog is how it shows what happens when politicians try and use a medium they don't really get. Keeping a blog makes sense for a politician, it's a way of putting on a human face and letting your constituents see what you're thinking.

So Ferrer's campaign approached it like politicians approach most things, as a soft way to deliver campaign rhetoric pumped out by PR people and speech writers. It's done all the time. Someone on a mayor's staff says something that turns out not to be true, the other side complains, maybe it gets a little ink and everyone forgets about it.

But blogs are a new animal. A blog is sort of like a public diary, and you just don't expect people to lie in their diary, nor to have their flunkies write it for them. That's Ferrer's big lie, not saying he went to public schools, but saying, I am talking to you directly. But I suspect most politician's blogs are done the same way, and I expect more backfires to result. Jumping into the blogosphere for a politician is like buyilng a cute tiger cub; you have to understand that it's going to be a tiger and act appropriately. Sure, Bloomberg has manufactured this scandal with the help of a compliant media, but still, Ferrer walked right into it.

It's fortunate I don't have any strong objections to Bloomberg, who lacks the loathsomeness quality of Gulliani, because with Ferrer stumbling this early I'm wondering if he's got any chance at all.

It's delightful, it's delovely, it's DeLay's indictment

I think it's just swell that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (ex-Leader now, since he had to resign under a rule passed by Republicans as one of those laws they pass to look moral that later boomerangs on them) has been indicted for criminal conspiracy at such an opportune time. I've been worried that Bush's screw-ups on Katrina and his inept handling of Iraq weren't going to harm the Republicans much. With the Democrats
working to seem as Republican as possible
I thought it was likely people wouldn't really see the Democrats as a viable alternative, and might decide that while they hate Bush he's just one screw up and the Democrats have supported him almost as much as the Republicans have.

But DeLay's predicament is terrific, because with people still down on Bush for his incomprehensible terrible reaction to Katrina and for Iraq, her comes Tom to say, look, we're not just stupid, we're also crooked. You've really got to hit Americans repeatedly over the head with a hammer before any sense gets knocked into them, but even the densest are going to notice this at least a little.

old dumb blonde joke retrofited for the bumbler in chief

Sent by my friend Little Oscar:

Donald Rumsfeld is giving the president his daily briefing.

He concludes, by saying: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed."

"OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!"

His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the
President sits, head in hands.

Finally, the President looks up and asks,


"How many is a brazillion?"

Saturday, September 24, 2005

the comments are just flooding in

Well, after all this time, I finally got a comment on one of my blog entries. And it was spam. I didn't even know there were spam comments, but there are. I suppose some sort of bot handles it, finding blogs and posting anonymous advertisements.

I suspect the reason this has happened now is because I was mentioned on a blog with a lot of readers, What's Next. It's down by a woman named B.L. who I know from swing dance school. I told her I had a blog so she looked at it and posted a link to one of my entries. A couple of days later I got my first comment and was excited for that fraction of a second before I saw what it was.

Still, if actual people aren't commenting on my blog, at least mindless software drones are.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

might be evil, but it's awfully smart

The daily show had a report on a guy who is advertising his badly-named website by attaching a sign to the "will work for food" type of signs panhandlers sometimes use. He calls it Bumvertising. He pays these people around 75 cents an hour. So basically he's got guys doing signboard-type work for next to nothing.

It's really pretty brilliant, but of course a lot of people are up in arms over it. The guy has a long explanation on his site of why he feels this isn't a bad thing, but what you think will depend on your presumptions. For Libertarians this is going to be fine. You're paying people for a service, they provide it. They're going to be standing there anyway, so it's good for them, they get extra money for basically doing nothing beyond what they normally do. It's good for the advertiser. What's there to complain about?

And it's not that easy to answer. But it just seems wrong. Because if you can pay people third-world wages because the job doesn't inconvenience them much, couldn't you start paying people less for all sorts of reasons. I mean, Bush is already letting contractors pay employees less than the going rate to rebuild New Orleans (even in a national emergency, even with the country against him, Bush can pass up no opportunity to screw over the poor on behalf of the rich, or to give handouts to his friends).

So what if this guy also starts paying bums to hand out leaflets. It's not more work than panhandling. But now what happens to the people who have jobs handing out leaflets? They've been replaced by people who will do the job for less. And that's where the whole system goes wrong, because anytime you allow an exception to the minimum wage laws then people get screwed. Which is fine if you're a Libertarian, but Libertarians have about as much common sense as Communists so that's not an argument for anything.

I hope this guy gets fined for flouting labor laws, but more likely Bush will give him a medal for finding a new way to screw over the homeless (probably at the same time he awards Michael Brown one for his disastrous reign at FEMA).

One interesting thing, he has an ad for a game called The Bum Game. The game has a disclaimer saying it's not for politically correct cry-babies, but in fact from the little I played it (I didn't find it all that interesting), the game does a good job of showing exactly how difficult it is to be a panhandler.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Holy cereal, Batman!

Like to laugh? Don't mind a wee bit of blasphemy? My friend Matt Parker has created his first flash cartoon and it is pretty darn funny.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Alliance for Justice's Supreme Court Watch: The Nomination of John Roberts

While I've felt there was a rush to judgment on the Roberts nomination for the supreme court, the Alliance for Justice does a good job of making me worried about him with their
analysis of John Roberts. Not that it looks like there will be any serious opposition in congress; I don't think there will even be a serious grilling.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The all purpose joke

FIrst off, someone emailed me this joke:

Heaven

A man died. As he stood in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, he saw a huge wall of clocks behind him. He asked, "What are all those clocks?"

St. Peter answered, "Those are Lie Clocks. Everyone on Earth has a Lie Clock. Every time you lie, the hands on your clock will move."

"Oh," said the man, "Whose clock is that?"

"That's Mother Teresa's. The hands have never
moved. She never told a lie."

"Incredible!" said the man. "And whose clock is
that one?"

St. Peter responded, "That's Abraham Lincoln's
clock. The hands have moved twenty times.
Abe told only twenty lies in his
entire life."

"Where's George Bush's clock?" asked the man.

"George's clock is in Jesus' office. He's using
it as a ceiling fan."


I was very amused. But somehow I thought I'd heard it before, so I googled it. This joke has been around. At first it seemed like it was originally a Republican joke that had been used against Clinton and Kerry and had recently been repurposed for Bush and Tony Blair. But a little more research found it had also been used for Jean Chretien (Canada PM), Jacob Zuma of the ANC, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (Philippine President, O.J. Simpson, Paul Martin (another Canada PM), "Shrub" (apparently a republican politician) and someone named DJ that appears to just be a member of a forum someone else wanted to dis.

I'm just curious as to where this joke came from. The earliest posting on the Internet makes it an O.J. Simpson joke, although it could well have been taken from a standup routine referring to someone else entirely.

Well, I find it interesting, anyway.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Does it pay to be a flirt? Report says no. - Aug. 5, 2005

A study shows women who flirt to get ahead in the office place get less promotions. The implication is that there is a boomerang effect, but I don't know if that's the reason or not. It seems just as likely that women who are good at their job are less likely to flirt to try to get ahead; that it's the desperate, incompetent women doing most of it.

Friday, July 22, 2005

In His Opinions, Nominee Favors Judicial Caution - New York Times

I'm having a lot of trouble achieving certainty regarding Bush's Supreme Court Nominee John G. Roberts. I've received emails requesting I write my congressman and demand he fight the nomination, or that I sign a petition against Roberts, but I haven't, because I'm not convinced he's a bad guy. I mean, he's been nominated by Bush and Bush is evil so there's a good chance he will be a horrible justice, but reading an analysis like the one in
the Times doesn't really indicate one of those terrifying Bork-style judges that are obviously going to be trouble. Organizations like MoveOn base much of their anti-Roberts arguments on stuff he did years ago as a lawyer, as though paid lawyers arguments represent their fundamental beliefs. And the most recent quote on abortion in which he says it's the accepted law of the land causes them to accuse him of flip-flopping because as a lawyer he represented the anti-abortion argument.

On the Daily Show a report the day after the nomination said, "Democrats have been upset with Bush's nominee for weeks," and that's pretty much the case. It didn't really matter who Bush nominated, all the petitions and protests were going to happen regardless. And it strikes me as pretty much a knee-jerk reaction. It also strikes me as a huge waste of time. Bush has a nominee with good credentials and no solid evidence of the sort of right-wing slant that could make him easy to challenge. Democrats are not going to spend their teensy amount of political capital fighting someone who appears to be qualified. And if Roberts were rejected, Bush would choose someone else just as bad. Remember that after stopping Bork we just wound up with the quieter but just as conservative Kennedy.

I kind of feel that, as painful as it is, and in spite of the knowledge that the Republicans would think nothing of fighting a qualified candidate for partisan reasons, I feel you have to show some respect for the process, and the president does have the right to choose a qualified respected judge for the Supreme Court. If serious evidence appears indicating Roberts is incompetent or his judgments are biased, well, I'll sign a petition, but for now I am going to just wait and see.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

the conservative mind

In an article in the New York Times on conservative efforts to influence Bush's supreme court nomation (Conservative Groups Rally Against Gonzales as Justice - New York Times), there's an intersting quote.

"'They don't need me lobbying on this stuff - they know what to do,' said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group with close ties to the White House. 'My only recommendation is that they nominate someone who is 12 or 13 years old,' to ensure as long a conservative legacy as possible."


I don't think that's a joke. The fact is, hard-core conservatives don't care about the competence or experience of Supreme Court nominees as long as they adhere to the party line. They would be perfectly willing to throw all their support behind a 12-year-old right wing idealogue. They are scary people.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

do one hit wonders deserve a second chance?

It's a shame I'm not very fond of watching people sing, because I find the TV series Hit Me Baby One More Time an interesting curio.

The show has five different bands each week, mainly one-hit wonders from the 80s, although a couple might have actually managed to get a couple of hits. The first half of the show they do whatever big hit they had, the second half they cover a recent hit song of someone else's.

Acts vary, both in their ability to cover a new song and their ability to cover themselves. Flock of Seagulls and Missing Persons both suffered from lead singers who basically couldn't sing anymore. Ironically, Flock of Seagulls did better on their cover song because it required a less melodic voice.

It's interesting to see how bands handle the cover song. Some just sound like a bar band cranking out their best copy (The Knack), some take a shot at reinterpreting the songs (The Motels, who tried to rock out on a Norah Jones song and came off like a slightly more interesting bar band than The Knack) and some just try and sing it nice. In the later category you get a lot of people who sound like American Idol finalists, but some of those people are really pretty good; Juice Newton did a nice job countrifying an Ashlee Simpson song and Howard Jones did an absolutely lovely version of a Dido song (and a lovely version of his own song, for that matter - he has a very easy going style even though the hyped-up, possibly hand-picked audience of surprisingly young and pretty 80s enthusiasts clap along as wildly with ballads as with rockers).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show is that almost all the winners have been African American. The exception is Vanilla Ice, who I don't think won because he appropriated a black form of music or because he covered a Destiny's Child song (if a song that uses a three word phrase from a song and in no other way resembles it can be called a cover) but because it was just a really lousy week.

The winners have tended to take whatever song they've got and give it a lot of soul. I still would have voted for both Jones and Juice in their respective weeks. but for the most part it's true, the black one-hit-wonders seem to be putting more energy and imagination into the show than the white kids.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

So this is why game sites praise games more than I do

Sometimes I worry that my lukewarm reviews of highly praised games are an indication that I'm just too picky, so I was pleased to read this post about a Gamespy review that was altered by the editor. The game gained a star and a half in the rating over the reviewer's original review and some of the language was changed. Gamespy's argument is that the editors felt the review was unreasonably harsh and that since it contradicted their previous laudatory previews and disagreed with their review of the first Donkey Konga game even though they are essentially the same, that it made sense to alter the review to keep it in line with their general editorial attitude.

So basically, Gamespy as a corporation decides whether a game is valuable rather than leaving it up to some erratic individual who might actually have the temerity to disagree with the editors. And if that is common then it explains a lot about the lockstep critical attitude one finds in reviews of high profile games.

Fortunately, I don't think my editors even play videogames, so I get to form my opinions without help from above.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

First Warm Night

I went to First Warm Night a week ago, but haven't had a chance to write about it. It was supposed to be an impromptu celebration of the first night of spring, although it was only semi impromptu (they sent out notices to those who had signed up on their site two days before) and not all that warm (because it's just not been a very warm spring. I heard about it through someone at my yoga class, it was just a word of mouth thing.

The email said come to a location on Houston at 6:27. There was a brass band (which turned out to be the Hungry March Band) and a couple of hundred people with no clear idea of why they were there. We were all told to take the subway to Brooklyn (at which point my friends Sharon and Cheryl both dropped out because they had things to do later that night) and got off and were lead to a park. Some people were very colorfully dressed with angel wings and bunny ears and the like, others were just dressed in whatever. At the park they tried to run a hundred-person game of spin the bottle, which resulted in amusement but no kissing, some people played twister and the band played while the band's sexy dancers jumped around (these girls were very energetic and apparently leather-hided, since they would do sommersaults on cobblestone streets). Colored chalk was passed around so people could draw on the park pathways and people played catch with beach balls and an inflatable shark.

It was like something from the 60s, although the mainly under-30 crowd probably is a bit vague on the whole hippie thing. Unlike the 60s there wasn't much evidence of drugs, although there were a lot of people lining up to buy ice cream cones from a vendor.

After an hour we marched off again to the pier where there was more dancing and slides projected on the walls. Then some people jumped in the water and the police closed the pier and as I was leaving police and fire trucks were heading their direction, although I later learned the party relocated to a free club and continued on.

On the way home the subway ride was livened up by a guy with a guitar playing Madonna songs while his companions (or complete strangers who had just struck up on quick acquaintance) sang along. It turns out Material Girl is a much better sing-along song than Like a Virgin.

All in all it was cool, although I got a little bored due to my inability to start conversations with strangers. I probably would have found this more fun 20 years ago, but now I'm a bit more difficult to excite. Still, a neat thing, and you should put your name on their mailing list because they promise to do it again someday, although a guy with a bullhorn announced setting up this one took several months and a couple hundred people (mainly a core group of 50) so don't expect something real soon.

I found a couple of pictures of me at the event:


complete

Just happened to discover that I've got a listing in
Moby Games. That is just so remarkably complete. I spoke about three sentences in Grand Theft Auto 3 and now I have a listing just like Sid Meier. I guess it's not cool to anyone but me, but it's neat.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Go to the experts

Alright, a Japanese businessman has to auction houses compete for the rights to sell a $20 million art collection by playing
rock paper scissors. That's pretty funny, but what is interesting is the different approaches. Christies asked a couple of kids what they would do, Southeby's said, it's a game of chance, we'll just hope for the best. I'm sorry to admit I would have a Southeby's attitude, but Christies was right; the kids said go with scissors, they went with scissors and they won. It reminds me of a Mark Twain story in which someone is arrested for running a poker game, because games of chance are illegal. He sets up a poker game between professionals and amateurs (or something) and the professionals win every time, proving it is a game of skill. As is, it turns out, rock paper scissors.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The food pyramid in a capitalist society

The government has come out with a new food pyramid for us all to ignore. Apparently the idea is that different people need different pyramids according to weight, age and amount of excerside. I haven't seen my pyramid because when I put in my stats at mypyramid.gov the site just spins its wheel.

But I don't care about the pyramid. What interests me is, apparently at some point the design indicated foods like fruits and vegetables hould be eaten "daily" and foods like pastries should be eaten occasionally. And that is now gone. Nabisco doesn't want the government telling people they shouldn't eat cookies every day.

Would this have happened if Kerry were president? Hard to say. But it can be said that this was certain to happen with Bush as president. The government is dropping almost all pretence of actually trying to do what's right for people. Even in little things like this.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

All things to all people

I just saw a commercial for the new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie that I found fascinating because it in no way suggests that the movie is, as is likely, a comedy. Instead, it basically is an advertisement for Star Wars, a big adventure with special effects and things blowing up. I went to the movie's website to see if the same trailer exists there, and while it doesn't, trailer number 1 is pretty similar. On the other hand, trailer #3 is a good attempt at a trailer that evokes at least some of the classic HGTTG humor, and trailer #2 is a sort of standard comedy movie trailer (to some extent the trailer that is being made fun of in Trailer #3).

The studio is trying to make different markets think this is different sorts of movies. Somebody is bound to be hurt.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

a comment on comments

I recently discovered that the comments on this site don't work. Now admittedly it is possible, even probably, that no one has ever commented on one of my scarce posts nor ever will, but it's always good to give people options. So I'm making this post specifically so I can add a comment to it.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

wishes do come true

I was just recently saying that I would be able to hold my own in conversation if the subject was video games, and yesterday I was at a party full of twenty-somethings and wound up talking with a bunch of guys who were very serious about their games. That wasn't all we talked about, but it kept coming back to that. So I guess the alternative to becomming literate and well informed is to just hang out with a younger crowd.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

you would think a company devoted to mail delivery would be able to deliver mail

God I hate the post office. Here's why.

I posted this at my3cents, a site devoted to letting consumers blow off steam. Those who enjoy my infuriated rants can also read about my experiences with AT&T.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Nothing to read here, so go there

I was at my friend Francis' birthday party, and Francis's friend Daniel told
me I never update my blog. I knew that, of course, but I didn't realize
anyone else did, except Francis, who had mentioned he checks it every few
months. It is strange to think anyone knows my blog exists; even most of
the people I told when I started it have forgotten by now.

But then, some people are true blog afficienados. Me, not so much. I used
to read Utopia with Cheese (which I don't need to link to because it's
listed on the right) but it's moribund, and I read Francis' blog Heaneyland
(also linked to on the right) sometimes, although since I read it on my
Pocket PC using Avant Go and turn off images and links because of space
limitations I can't make sense of it all.

But other people read tons of blogs, as I discovered at Francis' party,
where his frighteningly smart and clever friends all seem to be familiar
with certain blogs, certain magazines, certain books. It's like one of
those Woody Allen movies where a whole roomful of people have read Nietze.
Alas, unless the conversation turns to television or old movies (as when I
valiantly defended the underated Bob Hope; go watch Paleface before you
dismiss me, dammit!) I don't have much to contribute. Unfortunately video
games haven't quite reached that critical mass to be a major area of
conversation at parties (unless I start going to keggers), so unless I start
reading books and magazines and blogs and the like (which seems highly
improbable) I'm afraid I will always be more like the slightly out-of-place
hooker at the Woody Allen gathering.

Anyway, it turns out everyone is familiar with the blog BoingBoing, and Francis has created a parody of it called BoringBoring. The parody is quite amusing, but I can't for the life of me figure out why BoingBoing is so
popular, because skimming through it I can't say I was particularly
enthused. So this whole long post was just to plug his parody. I could
also plug his book, the Holy Tango of Poetry, but as a professional critic I can't plug anything I haven't received a free copy of. But if you read, which I don't, go ahead and buy a copy.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Bigger and bigger

Like most middle-aged guys, I don't really know what's happening with the
young people, but today I learned that, at least with the young people on my
block, fashion dictates the wearing of t-shirts that come down to your
knees. I was talking to the friendly Indian guy Jamal in the little shop
next door, and teenage boys kept coming in buying these monstrous t-shirts.
A kid 5' 4" would come in, say "what size is that sky blue t-shirt," Jamal
would say "4x," the kid would say, "that's no kid, you got any 5x?" Not
that oversized clothes are anything new; it was a big thing in the zoot suit
era and in the last few months I've seen the oversized pants, but it's
always a little startling the very first time you see the latest fad, and
since I know I'm a major source of information for the zero people who read
my almost-never-updated blog, I thought I should let you know what's up with
the kids.

Friday, February 04, 2005

When the Sous-Chef Is an Inkjet

Finally someone has come up with a really useful purpose for technology: making expensive dinners float in the air. I like it when someone is working on things even science fiction writers never thought of. (Okay, I have no idea if science fiction writers have thought of floating food or not, but I haven't read it.)
The New York Times > Technology > Circuits > When the Sous-Chef Is an Inkjet