Tuesday, December 18, 2007

TV news summed up

I recommend going to this petition against "big media." You can sign the petition or not, but watch the little video on this page, because it's brilliant.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Frank Rich speaketh: Is Hillary Clinton the New Old Al Gore?

This pretty much sums up my thinking about Hillary, although of course Frank Rich always says it better than I think it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

screw you, fanboys

Recently I came across a pretty aggravating thread trashing me for my review of Bioshock. It was remarkable both because it was a collection of furious diatribes against me in spite of my generally glowing review and because it was full of nonsense, include a statement that I just took over the column from a guy who has never written it.

It annoyed me enough that I decided to register for the forum so I could reply to that thread, but it seems new members have to be okayed by a moderator who has apparently gone AWOL, since it's been a couple of weeks and I'm still not able to post. So just for the record I'm putting my reply here. I'd been meaning to blog at some point in more detail about the problems with Bioshock's story anyway; it drives me crazy how critics keep acclaiming the game's storytelling, which is really quite weak.

Some fanboy also recently graffitied my wikipedia entry; probably someone mad that I didn't declare Halo 3 the greatest game in the history of the universe.

Here's the reply I was going to post to quartertothree [WARNING: BIOSHOCK SPOILERS BELOW].

Just came across this thread. It’s fine that you disagree with me, I disagree with critics all the time. Although I don’t usually rant and rave about people who positively review something I like because I disagree with a couple of points. (The last thing I felt like ranting about was the San Francisco movie critic who said “Click!” was almost perfect; that’s just insane.) But there are a lot of things said about me in this thread that simply are untrue, so I wanted to respond.

First off, I played BioShock all the way through, down to the very sweet final cut scene where you grow old and all the little girls love you. I saved almost all the little sisters and only killed one just to see what it was like, but restarted from a save point after that so I wouldn’t sully my good guy status (I like playing good guys in games, it’s just a preference).

I don’t know why, since I repeatedly talked about how great the game was, you would assume I hadn’t played it. Why would I not play a brilliant game? Is it really impossible to believe someone could play the same game as you and disagree with your take on it?

Second, Seth Schiesel never wrote the game theory column, except for a couple of columns when the Times was auditioning new game columnists. I have been writing the column for years and years. Seth writes articles on gaming but not, for the Times, reviews (with one or two exceptions). But I imagine it’s more fun for some of you to read Seth’s articles because, since they are reporting rather than reviewing, they don’t say anything critical about a game that could upset you.

What I write are reviews, in spite of what one poster said. This poster also mentioned my review of Daikatana, which is odd since I never reviewed Daikatana for the Times, although I did briefly pan it for some long-forgotten publication that I’m sure he never read.

The reason I write about more than one game in a review is because that’s what the Times wants from me (it started when they changed the column from weekly to biweekly and decided they didn’t want to lessen the number of games reviewed). Rather than trying to find two thematically similar games, I try to find the games I feel most deserve attention and then write a transition between them. People have complained about this before, but I have actually grown to like the approach. Anyway, there are already so many good games I don’t have space for that I would hate to leave out any more than I already have to.

Now as for the Art Deco thing, people seem to be making the assumption that I believe all the buildings should have been rebuilt to reflect modern architecture. Yes, that would be a stupid point, but it’s certainly not one I was making. Keep in mind that Art Deco doesn’t just mean the shell of the buildings. It means all the furnishings, fixtures, posters and ads on the walls. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that it’s odd that a society would stay that aesthetically static for so long; it would suggest that there is not a single creative person trying out new ideas. But it was a pretty brief comment so I don’t know why there’s such a focus on it. I love Art Deco, it’s my favorite architectural style and I think it’s a tragedy that when it went out of fashion many of those buildings were destroyed because people considered them tacky. But I don’t think it’s wrong to point out that it is highly unusual for a city to be so creatively stagnant.

I did not, as a couple of people pointed out, write the article’s headline, and I was surprised that was what the editors focused on, but I am okay with their choice. Since my main concern was telling people what a great game BioShock was, I did not spend much time on the faults with the story, but here’s something I wrote to someone who emailed me when the game came out:

Because of a lack of space I didn't get to critique the narrative structure of BioShock as much as I would have liked. I actually find the seemingly universal ecstasy over the story puzzling. The game starts strong, but once it gets started it really just relies on that momentum. Half-Life had an interesting twist (discovering the army was trying to kill you) and the intriguing ongoing mystery of the guy in the suit. Max Payne started off with a cool opener, but it also had cool dream sequences to keep up that sense that this was a game that was really trying. I don’t feel BioShock made the same effort to keep the story moving. BioShock has a completely expected twist and a wandering plot; a big chunk of the game is simply killing people for some guy; that's not a story that moves forward, that's a story that wanders off into the alley and does some shit and then wanders back into the main plot.

BioShock is like Myst; the only real story is the back story. I don't say that's terrible, but I really don't think it's an especially brilliant approach either. To me it seems like the praise for the story has more to do with how poorly most action games tell stories than it does with the quality of BioShock's own narrative.

I was also disappointed when someone told me that even if you kill all the Little Sisters, they still save you at that point in the game where you are lead to safety by them. To me, that seems lazy; if I play the game as a bad guy, I expect the story to change as a result. I don’t just want a different final cut scene. (If the guy who told me that is wrong, and the little girls don’t save you if you kill them all, then I apologize for this criticism.)

Fortunately it’s easy to find critics that will give every popular game a rating of 100, so it should be pretty easy to avoid nasty people like me who dare to offer minor criticisms of a game in their rave review of it.

I thank the couple of people who pointed out themselves some of the things I have just pointed out. I salute your thoughtful consideration.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

what some say in 1200 words, others say in 7

I spent about 1200 words talking about how I thought Halo 3 was just Halo 2 in better graphics. But in the user review section of metacritic, someone beautifully summed up everything I had to say in only 7 words:

A very fancy patch for Halo 2.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

oh goodie

Exciting news: there will soon be even less places you can get away from people blabbing on their cell phones. I can't wait.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

the Bush plan to end democracy

I saw Naomi Wolf on the Colbert report talking about her new book, which is apparently an expansion of the article she wrote describing the ten steps governments use to close down an open society, all of which have been done by the Bush administration. It's scary stuff, to see how step by step the administration is threatening a democracy that has lasted over 200 years. At the same time, I'm not ready to flee to Canada quite yet, because my recollection is this is pretty much what was going on in the 1960s. Dissent was called unpatriotic, the FBI was setting up and entrapping these organizations, the threat of communism was used as an excuse to do pretty much anything and the country was divided between people who believed the hippies were going to have a revolution and take over the country and the people who believed we were one step away from martial law.

Somehow we survived last time, so I'm hoping we're going to survive again. The founders of this country thought things through pretty well, and did their best to design a country that could not be subjugated by a despot. And while in the short term the government will sometimes be very close to a terrifying dictatorship, over the long term things always seem to stay at a certain balance. Yes, the system could finally break down, but at the same time the Bush administration is pretty weak right now, and as much as they would love to turn this country into a fascist state, I think the time they were most able to do that has passed. Of course, I could be wrong. It is perhaps best to take seriously the possibility that I am wrong, and fight the government at every turn, until we get these evil, evil people out of office. Which will hopefully be quite soon.

Of course, if a Republican somehow manages to win the presidency next year, fleeing to Canada becomes the best possible option.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Larry Craig, victim and victimizer

Ben Stein is right when he says Larry Craig was screwed over by overzealous police and the GOP, but I have trouble feeling sorry for him. There are two ways to look at this. Either he is a gay guy who represents the party of screw-the-gay-guys, in which case he brought this on himself through hypocrisy, or he really is a straight guy who just happened to do some things that looks suspicious to a cop, in which case he is one of these Republicans whose anti-gay agenda is responsible for things like cops sitting in restrooms all day waiting to arrest guys for tapping the floor and sticking their hand under the stall wall. If you're a gay guy voting to screw your own or a straight guy encouraging bigotry, I think you deserve what you get.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dick Cheney predicting the disaster in Iraq

Here's an interesting video. Dick Cheney in 1994 talking about how disastrous it would be to invade Iran. No context for this clip is supplied; my guess is he is defending Bush Sr.'s Decision not to take out Saddam at the time. So, Was he lying when He said it would be a mistake to invade Iraq or when he said it was a good idea? Either answer proves him to be a liar and a fool.

Friday, July 06, 2007

damn integrity

I admit it, I wish I got to go on junkets. Alas, I always work for periodicals who insist that taking expensive gifts from the companies you cover is a conflict of interest. Hey, I'd be perfectly willing to take a free trip to India and then totally trash a game. Alas, it is not to be. I twice had to turn down free trips to England for Tomb Raider games, although I don't seem to have been offered near as many junkets as some people.

I'd like to work for a magazine that just doesn't care about this stuff. Not to review games though; I think you'd get more perks as an entertainment critic. So if anyone is looking for a writer who would take an all-expense trip to Hawaii to plug a new TV series and then talk about how much the series sucks, give me a call.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

why must the Democrats always blink first?

If the Dems don't take the next election, it will because they
don't have the guts to just fight it out. Generally I think it's rather admirable that the Democrats aren't willing to shred the government the way the Republicans will do, but right now I think they should just go bulldog stubborn and say, we were voted in by anti-war and anti-corruption voters, let's give the people what they want. And if the government screeches to a halt as Bush vetoes bill after bill, well fine. But instead the Democrats seem to want to make sure there is no reason to believe they are anything but wimpy, ineffective, pseudo Republicans.

No guts, no glory.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gilmore Girls: RIP

Hey look, the Gilmore Girls is over! I saw the ad saying "series finale" so I figured, I'll take a look and see how it all turned out. (Note: I was rereading some of my blog entries, and look, it sounds like I'm going to start talking about the final episode and then I never actually do! Sorry about that!)

I gave up on the Gilmore Girls months ago. After Amy and Dan Palladino left as the producers it just didn't feel right anymore. It was sort of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers; everyone in Stars Hollow looked the same, and sounded the same, but they somehow just didn't seem like they were really the same people.

I hope the folks at the CW network have now figured out how stupid it was to not give the producers the two-year contract they were asking for. The CW is a new network that needs content, and they've lost one of their two best shows (the other being Everybody Hates Chris) because they wouldn't bend a little for the Palladinos. And while ostensibly the show is going because the stars wouldn't come back, it seems probably part of the reason for that is the lack of the shows creators combined with the poor quality of the season.

They could have at least paid the Palladinos something to tell them where the show was supposed to be going; the story went off the rails, but Amy Palladino apparently did have a plan for this year and I'm sure she would have sold an outline to CW if they'd asked.

Classic killing-the-goose-that-laid-the-golden-egg behavior. Bye-bye Lorelei and Rory; sorry you couldn't go out on a high note.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Exactly how dumb would a Democrat have to be to believe George Bush? Let's ask one.

As the Democratic candidates for president wander from state to state speaking and debating, there is one question I would like to stand up and ask each candidate who voted to authorize the Iraq war: Are you a liar or are you an idiot?

It’s a fair question. Because the explanations the candidates have given are hopelessly inadequate.
There seem to be two basic excuses for voting for the authorization. “I was misled by the administration into believing Saddam had weapons of mass destruction” and “I voted for the authorization in order to give the president a stronger position from which to negotiate.” John Kerry used both explanations, and it worked out just great for him.

I’ll take the second explanation first, because it’s the most absurd. Very simply, anyone with an I.Q. of over a hundred who was paying attention knew that Bush was going to invade Iraq the moment he had the authority to do so. I knew this, and I was getting most of my news from the Daily Show and from talking to my news-junky mom. Bush was jonesing for a war. Everything he did, every action he took, every speech he gave made it abundantly clear that he was determined to go to war at any cost. About the only way that wouldn’t have happened is if Saddam resigned and left the country, and there was zero chance of that.

Now, if I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Bush would use that authorization for war the moment he got it, is it possible that canny Washington insiders could not figure that out? Am I really that much smarter than Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden? It is a terrifying thought, because honestly, I am not all that smart. And it raises the frightening possibility that Bush isn’t the only borderline moron in office.

Dennis Kucinich, my favorite not-a-snowball’s-chance-in-hell candidate knew it. He voted against the war, and has been quoted as saying “It must be really tough for Presidential candidates to come before the American people and claim that they were tricked, deceived, misled…by George Bush?”
Perhaps they are that stupid though. Kerry, for one, seemed to believe Bush’s lies at the time. Was the president taking senators into the oval office and hypnotizing them?

The argument that candidates simply believed Bush’s lies about WMDs is arguably slightly more credible. They certainly sounded convinced at the time; in Hillary Clinton’s floor speech on the authorization she even declared intelligence about Saddam and WMDs “undisputed.”

Of course, the WMD story was disputed at the time. And I myself was pretty sure the whole thing was a lie (once again I’ll mention that I was just barely following the news and am not especially brilliant or insightful). If you accept the basic premise that Bush wanted war at any cost it’s not hard to deduce that he was fudging information. And there were congressmen at the time, such as Kucinich and Jim Jeffords, who had enough sense to see through the charade.

Some people were even in a better position to see the lies, as recently indicated by Dick Durbin, who said that as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee he could see how Bush was lying to the public. John Edwards was also on that committee, but that didn’t stop him from voting for the authorization, possibly because his political advisers told him to.

Sure, they all regret the vote now, and Edwards has at least apologized for it (and put out a nifty ad telling congress to resend the vetoed Iraq funding bill), but the question is, why do they regret it? Is it because they have now realized that a preemptive strike against Iraq just to feel better about 9/11 is fundamentally immoral? I doubt it. Unless you believe that these seasoned politicians really did take Bush at his word, you have to accept the idea that they wanted to go to war.

They just wanted it to be a quick, well-run war that would boost their popularity. The only thing I believe from these people are comments like Joe Biden’s “The thing that I regret [is believing] that this administration had any competence” or Clinton’s “"How could they have been so poorly prepared for the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein?"

These politicians don’t regret voting for a war; they regret voting for a bungled war. Their only mistake, in their own minds, is that they misjudged the administration’s level of competence. (Not to blow my own horn, but once again poorly-informed, less-than-gifted me believed that Iraq was going to be a huge disaster along the lines of Vietnam.)

All of which makes me think that people like Clinton and Edwards, when asked if their vote to authorize war was a cynical ploy to curry favor with the voters or a sign of their utter stupidity, should answer, “both.” They probably believed more than they should have of Bush’s lies, but they also probably knew this was a mistake and decided that the political fallout from voting against the authorization was worse than the possibility of tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians.

I will consider the possibility that if they had crystal balls and realized exactly how much damage their vote would cause that they might have voted the other way, but this may be too generous of me.

Of course, this makes Barack Obama look pretty good to the anti-war crowd, since he was at anti-war rallies in 2002. I give him points for that, although it does not actually guarantee that he would have voted against the war. In that bizarre, panicky post-9/11 period politicians were gutless and pandering, and who’s to say that with the hot and heavy breath of public opinion down his neck Obama might not have caved. Still, I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt since he spoke so forcefully at the time.

But the only two candidates I totally trust on the issue are Kucinich, because he did vote against the authorization, and Mike Gravel, because the guy’s as old-school liberal as they come. But the press has decided these two are joke candidates. I suppose Kucinich is hoping that his anti-war stance will seem prescient and get him some support, but being right when everyone else is wrong never gets you anything; all people really remember is you disagreed with them. Anyway, Kucinich will lose because he’s my favorite, putting him in the illustrious company of progressive losers like Paul Simon and Mo Udall.

The only thing in Kucinich’s favor right now is Gravel’s candidacy. I like Gravel, but his abrasive, take-no-prisoners style and justifiable fury at the mendacity of the major candidates has the press pretty much writing him off as the “crazy uncle” candidate. This means the press has someone more fun to pick on than Kucinich, but since the press has decided there are only four (or perhaps three) real candidates it seems unlikely the public is just going to go out and decide for itself.

Which means I’m going to have to vote for one of the other guys. Right now I’m leaning towards Obama if Kucinich and Gravel have dropped out by the time of the New York Democratic primary, but the election is long way off and the other candidates can still persuade me that they are the best choice. All they have to do is give a really thoughtful, well-reasoned answer to my question:
Are you a liar or are you an idiot?

as charming as a sewer rat eating the eyes from an alley cat: my review of Charm School

There's an entertaining British reality show called Ladette to Lady which takes a bunch of obnoxious, overly sexualized women and sends them to a finishing school to teach them to be ladylike. So when I heard about VH1’s Charm School, I thought, cool, an American version of Ladette to Lady.

But I was wrong. Charm School is instead a disgusting, puerile, putrescent monstrosity that represents the very worst television can possibly offer. Words cannot properly express the loathsomeness of this show; one would have to instead combine vomiting noises with the sounds of flies circling shit.

The ostensible premise of Charm School is to take the vulgar, trashy women who vied for Flavor Flav’s affections on Flavor of Love and send them to “etiquette boot camp.” The actual purpose of the show is to find new ways to humiliate these women; the winner is likely to be the craziest and meanest of the bunch.

There is nothing charming about Charm School. First off, the mistress of the school is comedian Mo’Nique, who is funny in her standup act and quite presentable on the show but is hardly the epitome of style and grace (be honest, Mo’Nique, if you had any real class you would never have agreed to appear on this show). Her assistants are some woman who, like Mo'Nique, seem strict but basically decent, plus some guy who's just a prick who delights in insulting women. I can’t find these cast member's names on VH1’s website, which shows you about how important they are to the show.

Charm School made its intentions clear in the first episode when the girls were forced to take a long hike and camp in the woods, then were divided into two teams that had to race through an obstacle course. What, you ask, does this have to do with etiquette? Nothing, although Mo’Nique makes some claim about measuring teamwork.

The team that lost seemed to lose primarily (at least as portrayed in the show, which is of course edited for effect rather than truth) because one of the girls chosen to be a team captain chose weak girls who she worried would feel hurt if no one seemed to want them. She was roundly criticized for this shocking display of decency by the judges, who told her that this was a competition and she couldn’t be soft. I’m sure Miss Manners would completely agree.

In episode two, which I foolishly decided to watch, some guy from The Bachelor got to decide which girl was most presentable. One stole another’s expensive dress to rattle her, then told her so right in front of the bachelor who, instead of being shocked at such creepy behavior, crowned her the winner.

This is all particularly horrendous because Ladette to Lady shows it is possible to make a cheesy reality show that has a little honor to it.

Ladette is not an especially classy show. Basically, they get a bunch of alcoholics, sexoholics, and tomboys together in an old etiquette school where they are taught skills that were popular amongst society women decades ago, like cooking and flower arranging. The show loves its drunken women. In season two, one woman flashes her breasts on every occasion (on English TV, and on the Sundance Channel, which shows it in the U.S., nudity is allowed, so there is none of the blurriness VH1 employs to hide the naughty bits), and not an episode goes by in which we don’t see an archival clip of her lifting her shirt. Ladette also is constantly sending the girls off to pubs or leaving them alone with bottles of booze just so they can go wild and then be chastised by the school’s teachers.

At the same time, the show really does reward graciousness. It does teach these women how to speak more eloquently and carry themselves more gracefully. The women who keep causing trouble get kicked out, the women who work hard and improve stay. Ladette is ultimately a show about transformation, and while most of it is in thrall to drunken debauchery, towards the end the show seamlessly shifts into something positive That glorifies hope and possibility.

But Charm School doesn’t want their cast to transform themselves; it wants them to abase themselves. The show seeks to find all the ways these women can be humiliated, and the women themselves are willing and eager participants in their own abasement.

This is a shame, because these women need help. Obviously VH1 reality shows are all as unreal as you can get, heavily scripted and cast with people with no interest in anything except gaining fame and fortune (I kind of liked some of these shows at first but the utter and complete falseness in every second of every minute of every show eventually drove me away). The girls of Charm School are all hoping that, like “New York” in the first season of Flavor of Love, they can parlay their shame into a career. I’m sure they would argue that it’s just an act, that they’re playing for the cameras and that this is not really who they are at all, and there would be some truth to that. At the same time, people with high self-esteem would never go on a television show in front of millions of people and grovel for success as these women do. The girls of Charm School could use some genuine lessons in etiquette and charm, but what they really need most is a good therapist.

This is what makes Charm School so odious. It takes very screwed up women and tries to screw them up more for the entertainment of the masses. It is not an American version of Ladette to Lady but rather a serialized version of the Jerry Springer Show. Like Springer, Charm School thrives on sleaze, and just as Jerry would end each show with a smug, hypocritical lecture on how disgusting his guests acted, Charm School wants its women to be revolting so it can wag its finger in their faces and say, shame, shame on you. And just as with Springer, the most immoral participants are not the guests, but the producers who exploit them and the audience that revels in their degradation and in a self-righteous sense of superiority.

hey, white guys just have a lot to say

If you want to see exactly how white and male news shows are, check out the handy-dandy charts from Media Matters. Note that the political leanings of the show don't seem to have much to do with anything; Countdown is actually more exclusively white than O'Reilly (although Countdown's host once did rather smugly note that his understudy is a black woman; when does she get her own show?).

I don't know who Paula Zahn is but she seems a bit more open to black guests, although it looks like she's not better on the other races than anyone else.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

hey you sitting there watching TV in your underwear; quit thinking you're a civilian

I didn't realize Paul Harvey was still alive, but after hearing him complain about Afghani women and children being labeled as civilians I think it's fair to think he's a bit senile. First off, the actual quote is quite disjointed and delivered in a weird, somnambulent tone; it really does sound like he's broadcasting in his sleep. Second, it reveals a bizarre point of view. He's basically suggesting, as best I can tell, that referring to women and children as civilians is keeping NATO from killing more people, or something.

The most fascinating thing is his comment that there haven't been any civilians since the invention of the aerial bomb. He doesn't just say, there's no such thing as a Muslim civilian, or a dark-skinned civilian, which I think is what a lot of right-wingers say; he's saying there are no civilians anywhere. Which means the folks who died in the World Trade Center weren't civilians, people blown up by suicide bombers aren't civilians, and little babies laying in their cribs aren't civilians. (A civilian, according to the dictionary, is "a person who is not on active duty with a military, naval, police, or fire fighting organization.")

Someone needs to wake up Paul Harvey, tell him what a civilian is and send him to a retirement home where he can ramble incoherently without bothering too many people.

Here's what he said. Make sense of it as best you can. If you think this must be a typo because it's so confused, you can listen to this quote here.

And hear this please. In Western Afghanistan, where NATO forces are involved in some of the deadliest fighting since January, among the 136 dead this morning suspect Taliban. But there are others, 51 villagers, mostly women and children. Might not the news media put a stop to such pulled punches wars as this, if we would just desist from categorizing civilians. It was civilians, for goodness sake, who decapitated New York City. Since the invention of the aerial bomb five wars ago, there have been no civilians.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

internet asshole faces real world consequences

We all know that the faceless anonymity of the internet allows people to be total pricks with a feeling of impunity. So even though I disapprove of violence, I can't help but take pleasure when a
a griefer is hunted down and beaten up in real life. Griefers are people who just enjoy ruining games for other people, and this one was not only obnoxious but stupid enough to give away too much personal info.

Is it right to break someone's fingers for ruining a game for them? Did these people try going through regular channels and trying to get the griefer banned before they went after him? I don't really know. I can't say it's right, and the masters of Warcraft should probably ban the violent people for letting their argument spill out into the real world like that. But still, if this sends a message that it's not okay to be a bullying creton, even when you're online, then I can't object.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rolling Stone : THE LOW POST: The Imus Sanction

Just came across a think piece on the Imus blowup that does a good job of pointing out how full of shit pretty much everyone is. I'm not familiar with the writer, Matt Taibbi, but I think I've got to read more of his stuff, because he's sharp and savage. Here's a sample paragraph:

First of all, let's just get this out of the way: The idea that anyone in the media world gives a shit about the dignity of women, black or white, is a ridiculous joke. America's TV networks have spent the last forty years falling over each other trying to find better and more efficient ways to sell tits to the 18-to-35 demographic. They make hour-long prime-time reality dramas these days about shopping-obsessed sluts hitting each other with pocketbooks, for Christ's sake. Paris Hilton -- dumb, rich -- gets her own prime-time show. MTV, the teenie mags, the pop music industry, they're basically all an endless parade of skinny, half-naked brainless women selling makeup and jeans to neurotic, self-hating, weight-obsessed little girls.

Monday, April 30, 2007

what? blaming all your mistakes on other people doesn't always work? who knew?

George Tenet's attempt to rehabilitate his reputation by trying to weasel out of responsibility for being one of the main reasons we invaded Iraq in a search for non-existent WMDs may not be going as well as he hoped, judging by his lambasting from six ex-CIA officers.

So from my point of view this is all pretty good; Tenet writes a book that further exposes the lies of the Bush administration yet fails to convince people he was just an innocent pawn. Now I'm hoping Rumsfeld will come out with a book of his own soon.

how to get press you don't want

So, videogame violence is a hot topic politicians are using to connect with parents, and pundits of dubious sanity are pushing a connection between games and every ill of society. So what should game publishers do to make it clear that they are not an industry of bloodthirsty, irresponsible creeps who will do anything to titillate the public? How about

chopping the head of a goat?

That's right, the folks at Sony had a party in Greece for God of War II in which they reportedly had a headless goat and topless women. Which is a shame, because God of War II is one of the great action games of all time and there's no need to cheese it up for a little publicity.

I hate the words "grow up." I've been told to do it but I've never rushed into it. But I don't run a huge corporation whose actions have huge ramifications. So I'm going to have to say it: game publishers, grow the fuck up already.

UPDATE: Turns out the original story was exaggerated, according to Sony. Still a rather unfortunate choice though.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Christian thing to do: use the Virginia Tech tragedy for some free press

Yesterday I received this press release:

Hi Charles,

In the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, it is now more important than ever to take a serious look at what violent video games are teaching America's youth. One company, Digital Praise Inc., has been trying to change the content of computer and video games for a few years now, and as more and more of these horrific events take hold, it becomes clearer as to why Digital Praise is working so hard to do what they do. As a leading manufacturer of Christian themed, family-friendly entertainment software, Digital Praise has created six popular game series that combat the ever-growing trend of violent video games.

Would you be interested in learning more about these games? I can also arrange an interview with the founders about their views on how violent video games influence and affect our kids.

This is disgusting on so many levels. First off, while the VT killer did play videogames in high school, like 99.9% of teenage boys, there is no indication that he was a serious gamer, and only nut jobs like anti-game activist and crafter of unconstitutional anti-video game legislation are suggesting otherwise. So this doesn't have any real basis in anything. And I also think it's foolish for a game publisher to be trashing the video game industry; like it or not you are a part of that industry and if some forms of free expression start being censored there is no guarantee that this won't come around to bit you sooner or later.

But mainly, it's just really, really disgusting that a game company is trying to use a terrible tragedy to sell its games. It is reprehensible, and the people involved should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Although I am often amazed at the capacity of some Christians to not feel shame at grotesque behavior.

One last point: Christian preacher Jim Jones killed a lot more people than any video game fanatic I can think of. So what's more dangerous, Counter-strike or The Bible?

Monday, April 16, 2007

time for another thank you letter to the NRA

Virginia Tech Shooting Kills at Least 22 - New York Times.

Sure, gun rights people claim guns don't kill people, people kill people, but doesn't it seem people kill a lot more people in countries where it's easy to get guns? For example, when I tried to find a school shooting incident in England for comparison, all I could find was a story on boys shooting kids with plastic pellets.

Say, I have an idea. Let's just amend the fucking second amendment and get rid of that whole argument about what it means. Just fucking amend it to say, PEOPLE CAN'T HAVE GUNS.

another interesting take on Imus

Jason Whitlock does a good job with one of the sub themes of the Imus controversy;

what Imus said pales in comparison with most rap videos. It's interesting because Whitlock is black and apparently very down on the rap attitudes.

If you look in the comments of the Imus article there's something I find particularly interesting; one person (who from what he says is presumably black) who'd heard about the controversy but hadn't heard the specifics who writes, "Nappy headed ho's? Thats it? THAT'S IT?" He says Imus should be off the air for doing far worse, but he isn't impressed with this one.

not if but when

True Majority has created a very amusing sort of office pool for the world on when Alberto Gonzales will resign. Guess the date and time and you win a year's supply of Ben & Jerry Ice Cream. It's a lovely way to tweak the administration and give us all something fun to do. I figured after he testifies it won't go well and he'll be gone pretty quickly, so I guessed in about a week, but I suspect I'm being optimistic and am not counting on that ice cream. But hey, you never know.

frank rich on Imus, saying what I want to say so much better, as usual

The always-insightful Frank Rich has written a very smart piece on Imus, which has, for those of you who don't subscribe to the New York Times' "Times Select" service, been posted on usenet.

I don't know how long it will be there, because I imagine the Times wouldn't like that and may notice it sooner or later, so I'll quote one important line from it:

Let Bill O'Reilly talk about
"wetbacks" or Rush Limbaugh accuse Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his
Parkinson's symptoms, and let the rest of us answer back.

And that perfectly sums up my thoughts ... "let the rest of us answer back." We don't need less speech, we need more speech, we need to all discuss these things with all viewpoints heard. It would be ideal if all viewpoints were heard equally - it's a shame more people hear Ruch Limbaugh than Al Franken - but the important thing is, everyone should get to say whatever the fuck they want.

Friday, April 13, 2007

the imus dilemma

Interesting story in the New York Times on how, in a world where radio personalities are constantly saying moronic, outrageous things, Don Imus was the one who got torpedoed, in part, according to the Times, because it was a slow news week.

I've got real mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, the offending conversation was pretty repellent. While the big quote is Imus describing the Rutger's women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos," the racism is really a sort of casual, throw-away thing compared to the sexism represented in basically slamming these women for not being sufficiently stereotypically feminine.

Yes, Imus is a racist, sexist idiot, or at least talks like one, and according to wikipedia this is not the first time he's gone over the line, but taken in a broader context, the ability for an outraged public to run a pundit out of town could be a problem.

First off, people say worse and get away with it. Bill O'Reilly said a kidnapping victim wanted it, yet he's still on the air. But then, racism seems to get people in more trouble than anything else nowadays, just look at Michael Richards. (Note to shock jocks and pundits: you're really better off being sexist or attacking victims of child molestation than uttering racial slurs. At least then Al Sharpton won't use you as part of his fame machine.)

But the real problem with muzzling Imus can be summed up in two words: Lenny Bruce.

Like Imus, Bruce used racist language. Of course, his purpose was very different, as discussed in an excellent article at semitism.net. Bruce used provocative language to comment on society; Imus uses provocative language for cheap, crude laughs and, at least subconsciously, to promote the status quo (be prettier girls, even if you play basketball).

There's a temptation to throw in, "also, Lenny Bruce was funnier," but that's not the issue. The issue is that, you can't actually differentiate Bruce and Imus in any meaningful way in terms of law or the rules of censorship. They both used language many people found offensive and they both got in a shitload of trouble for it. So if we start saying, offensive language has to be kept out of public discourse, then we get rid of Imus but also lose Lenny Bruce.

I tend to feel that what this country needs is a lot of dialog. By this I don't mean just quiet, politically correct academics discussing issues in a reasonable, moderate way. I do mean that, and I wish there were more of it, but I also mean people being outrageous, people saying abhorrent things, other people slamming people for saying abhorrent things, and basically the whole messy process of figuring out where we are and what we think by talking to one another.

I can't feel too bad for Imus, who struck me as unpleasant when I saw him on TV a few months back (my mom's a regular viewer; she says he constantly slams George W. Bush, so she likes him for that). Imus will probably land on his feet somewhere, perhaps setting up on a satellite radio station like Howard Stern did. He's a popular guy, and I've read he does go out and raise money for worthy causes and good stuff like that. I tend to think his racism and sexism are so ingrained that he just can't see that's what they are; I don't think he means to denigrate other races or women, I think he just has this narrow view of how the world should be and he expresses it in unfortunate ways.

But I do feel bad for discourse in this country. I don't think things are as restrictive now as they were when Bruce was doing stand-up in the 1960s - South Park was always able to cross lines with abandon, but Imus' firing looks like another bit of a slippery slope we've been sliding down for the last 10 or 15 years of trying to save the world from bad thoughts by shutting people up. And I don't think that's the way to do it. I just hope I will always have the opportunity to say that.

Monday, April 09, 2007

videos shmideos

Why is it music video channels always wind up hating music videos? MTV went to game shows and later to reality TV. VH1 is mainly shows called "the top 20 things you don't give a shit about" and more reality TV. So I watched Fuse, mainly, because MTV2 plays either rap or white-boy-screaming music and VH1 Classic plays way too much schlock that deserves to be forgotten. But now Fuse is playing endless reruns of Felicity (such a stupid show, from what little I've seen) and other non-music-video stuff. And when I tried to fall back on MTV2 they don't seem to have music a lot of the time. VH1 Classic seems to have the most music of the lot but is drifting into "about the artist" type shows so I expect to see less and less in the way of music videos there.

It's interesting; apparently playing music videos is a good way to get a cable channel started but once you've got name recognition you can make more money with anything except music videos. Which is a shame, because they're good to have on when you feel like having the TV on but don't want to pay a lot of attention to what's going on.

What's really needed is the equivalent of cable music channels that just stream a particular genre of music 24 hours a day with no commercials; but I suspect the cable companies wouldn't want to devote that much bandwidth to the enterprise.

What's really needed is an internet video equivalent to Pandora Radio, which streams a customized selection of music to the user. Then I could just watch it on my TV through my Playstation 3. So if you know of something like that, leave a comment here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

lumpy introspection

Alanis Morissette's plaintive balladic cover of the Black Eyed Peas infectiously dopey "My Humps" is the funniest insanely-slowed-down cover since Vanilla Fudge did Sonny and Cher's Bang Bang. It's also a really nice song. The video is great too, taking the hip shaking of the original and doing it all in slow motion. (If you're not familiar with the original song check it out first so you can appreciate it fully.)

This isn't one of these songs that attempts to find the melodic side of a party song, like Joss Stone's cover of the White Stripes' Fell in Love with a Girl or the Mama and the Papas take on the Beatles' song I Call Your Name. Even though it's a pretty song it is done very much tongue in cheek, and manages to simultaneously make fun of shallow, sex-crazed pop music and Morissette's own angsty image. It could even be seen as a take off of pop stars trying to jump to the latest trend; perhaps it came about when someone told Alanis to update her sound.

Seriously, your life won't be complete until you hear Alanis sing "The boys they wanna sex me" as though it is the most heart wrenching fact in the universe. Now we just have to wait for someone to do a mashup and turn both versions into a duet.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

battle of the noisy morons

All in all, I think it's great Rosie O'Donnell is able to put out hard core progressive views on a major TV show. But I have a real problem with the 9/11 conspiracy folks. Yes, you can throw out a lot of convincing sounding stuff about 9/11 that sounds suspicious, as Rosie does (rather incoherently) on her blog, but only if you ignore the excellent article in Popular Mechanics that suggests most of this stuff is actually not at all suspicious. I feel most 9/11 conspiracists don't really bother to even read stuff from the other side (I've known people like that) and it drives me nuts.

This unfortunately makes Bill O'Reilly look sane when he says
Rosie is nutty, but at the same time, he is complaining that she is given a platform to spout off nutty shit, when she hasn't spouted off near as much nutty shit as O'Reilly. So he really can't demand she go off the air unless he demands he goes off the air as well. Which I don't expect to happen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

lovely to look at, delightful to beat to death

Just saw this in the Huffington Post. America's Top Model (dull reality show about a bunch of brain dead models; saw one episode) did a photo shoot in which models posed as murdered corpses.

Now, some feminists object in general to portrayals of women as victims, and I don't know that I would go that far, but these are really disturbing pictures. And it is just hard to imagine what was going through the mind of whoever thought this was a good idea. These are the ultimate in fetishized violence, and they are so creepy that they're rather hard to look at. They also just seem very anti-female. All of which is exactly what any sane person would have thought when someone said; "let's make all the models pose as beautiful, gory corpses." But apparently there aren't too many sane people at America's Top Model.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

pet food made by animal haters?

There's a move to boycott Menu Foods, the company who makes seemingly 80% of all the cat and dog foods in the world and who recently made news when a bad batch started killing animals. There are two reasons people want to boycott Menu Foods, first because they knew about the dangers weeks before they issued a recall, and second because after learning some animals had gotten sick, they
fed the tainted food to lab animals to see how many would die. For comparison, when people have died from ingesting something purchased at a drug store like tainted aspirin, the aspirin companies did not start feeding aspirin to prison inmates to see if it was really dangerous or not.

Those are pretty good reasons to boycott Menu Foods, but I don't know if I can do it. I might be able to switch my cat's dry food, but she will only eat one flavor of one brand of wet food.

But I do think I'll try to see if I can find something outside of the Menu Foods universe to feed my cat. Even though I am covered with scratches, I'd still like to keep her alive.

Update: I bought a bunch of cat foods not in the menu foods universe, and while my cat Tropicata rejected Pet Guard, she likes both Innova's dry and wet food, so I am going to boycott menu foods. CORRECTION: Menu Foods makes that too, so I'm still checking (see comment from Anonymous below).

Update 2: Just saw this about Natura, who make Innova, saying they're working on dropping Menu Foods and in the meantime will have an inspector on site at Menu Foods facilities. So I give them credit for that. My cat will also eat Triumph though, which apparently is not connected to Menu Foods, but she actually seems to like California Natural, which is another Natura brand (it would be a lot easier if companies would just use one brand name instead of half a dozen). So I might stick with Natura cat foods just because my cat seems more enthusiastic about them than what she has been eating.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Republicans; enemies of the system

Last night there was a very interesting debate on the Daily Show between Jon Stewart and John Bolton. Basically, Stewart complained about the way Bush has surrounded himself with yes men and how he has made questionable appointments, like, say, making Bolton, who famously disdained the United Nations, the U.S. representative to the United Nations. And Bolton says that the real problem is people who don't go along with the president, such as bureaucrats who have their own agenda and don't work to fulfill the president's political agenda.

This is a good example of what is always abundantly clear about Republicans; they don't believe in the system. They are radicals. You could see it when they tried to get rid of the Filibuster; the Democrats saved it by essentially agreeing not to use it, because they didn't want to destroy part of our system of government. The Republicans were perfectly willing to toss it out, although of course they filibustered themselves when the Democrats wanted to debate Iraq.

The United States was set up by its founders in such a way that change can't happen too fast; you can't just come in and reshape the government in your image. This is why congressional terms are staggered, this is why Supreme Court justices are permanent and insulated from concerns about getting fired. The system is designed to promote stability; to keep some idiot with an utter conviction of certainty from shredding all our rights at once.

The bureaucrats Bolton disdains are a stabilizing force. While political appointees float in and out, and are often unqualified and unknowledgeable, bureaucrats are experienced and understand the way things work. Yes, they can be intractable and get in the way of change, and that can be a problem, but it is more often for the best. You might think it's great to have a car that can go 400 miles an hour, but if you think you can drive that fast without an accident and you're wrong then you're a pancake. The problem with Republicans is they really believe they can drive 400 miles an hour, tearing down the freeway, rewriting the constitution, reshaping the world, and they hate the checks and balances speed limits.

What's amazing about Republicans is even though they can see, as much as they can see anything, that much of what has been done by Bush has been disastrous, they still hate curbs on their actions, and seem to truly believe that if everyone would just get out of their way they could create something perfect.

Republicans are, underneath it all, revolutionaries and anarchists, and that's what makes them so dangerous, and allows them to do so much damage even within a system designed with checks and balances.

Friday, March 16, 2007

God of War II review

Due to reasons I'm not going to get into, the review I wrote for my column in the New York Times of God of War II is not going to run. Since it's quite a good review, IMO, and it would be a shame for it to remain unread, I'm putting it here for anyone who wanders this way.


I have slain gods. I have snapped the spines of minotaurs. I have bent time to my will and brought Olympus to its knees. So bow down. Bow down! Not to me, but to the designers of SCEA’s incredible action adventure game God of War II, which turns every player into a raging force of destruction.

God of War 2 continues the story of Kratos, a brutish soldier who in the first God of War game set out to kill Ares, the God of War, and ended by replacing him.

As the sequel begins, the god Kratos is leading his Spartan worshipers to bloody victories. Things are going pretty well for Kratos for the first few minutes of the game, but things take a turn for the worse when Zeus comes along and kills him.

Death slows most people down, but it just makes Kratos mad, and with the help of gods opposed to Zeus he sets out to persuade the Three Fates to return him to his last minute of life for a do over.

God of War was a game of massive scale, full of giant beasts and mammoth structures, but the sequel aspires to dwarf its predecessor. The game kicks off with a battle against a living, hundred foot tall statue, and then just gets bigger. At times the game’s immensity is overwhelming. At one point Kratos must bring to life four metal horses, each one hundreds of feet tall. He reaches them by walking along their harness, a chain thousands of feet long. Elsewhere he must free his mount, Pegasus, from a rock monster whose fingernails are longer than Kratos.

Kratos himself seems unimpressed by his outsized opponents. A conscienceless anti-hero, he is masculinity run amok, unafraid of death and pain, throwing himself into every insanely dangerous situation in a way that suggests extreme bravery or severe psychosis.

As in the first game, God of War II is divided between savage battles and clever environmental puzzles. Everything about the game has a magnificent intensity. Amidst stone ruins, Kratos swings his deadly chained blades at soldiers and monsters or hurls them into the air and then pummels them back into the ground. As enemies become more powerful, Kratos gains additional powers, learning to slow time and generate earthquakes. When an icon appears over an opponent’s head, the player can press key combinations to perform remarkably savage and deadly attacks that spray blood over the scenery.

Puzzles are often just as savage, as when Kratos throws a wounded soldier to his death to breach a wall or uses heavy machinery to smash and trap the many arms of yet another gigantic creature. It might seem rather odd that every monster in ancient Greece happens to be surrounded by mechanisms whose only possible use would be to vanquish those monsters, but it certainly is convenient.

Zeus isn’t the only mythological figure Kratos has to deal with, and he gets along with few of them; when Kratos needs to glide a long distance he grabs Icarus and tears his wings off.

No matter how many times I use words like huge and immense and vast, I just can’t properly convey the grand sweep of God of War II. With an epic story that brings its twisted Greek mythology to ferocious life, gripping battles, logical, challenging puzzles and awe-inspiring visuals, the game is electrifying. And pitch perfect game mechanics that include responsive controls and a camera that always supplies the ideal view make the experience seamless. The original God of War was an almost perfect gaming experience; the sequel doesn’t need that “almost.”

Let the prostration commence.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

the bush justice machine still has most of its cogs

It seems to obvious once it's pointed out, but until I read Paul Krugman's op-ed piece, it hadn't even occurred to me that the firing of those 8 prosecutors would also mean the prosecutors who weren't fired were probably going all out for the Bush agenda.

The bigger scandal, however, almost surely involves prosecutors still in office. The Gonzales Eight were fired because they wouldn't go along with the Bush administration's politicization of justice. But statistical evidence suggests that many other prosecutors decided to protect their jobs or further their careers by doing what the administration wanted them to do: harass Democrats while turning a blind eye to Republican malfeasance.

I wish I could say I was smart enough to think of that myself, but that's why it's great people like Krugman are out there pointing things out to those of us who aren't connecting all the dots.

Monday, March 12, 2007

nice guy, shmice guy; throw him to the wolves

There seems to be a lot of people saying Scooter Libby should be pardoned; even some members of the jury that convicted him say he should be pardoned because he's such a nice guy.

Well, if he's such a nice guy, why was he in the Bush administration? I mean seriously, can you be a nice person if you are working hard to help build up fictional reasons to get us into a bloody war and to smear administration critics? I say no.

Yes, he's a fall guy, and there are certainly people in the administration far more deserving of jail time than Scooter (Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, etc.), but this is as though the only person caught after a bank robbery was the getaway driver and people are saying, "gee, he shouldn't go to jail; he didn't run into the bank with a gun, he didn't shoot anyone, he just drove."

The getaway driver goes to jail, no matter how nice a guy he might be, and so should Scooter.

the perfect Republican law; it hurts immigrants AND the poor

The Republicans have always had this overwhelming fear that the poor and oppressed of this country are pulling one over on us, so I doubt they mind that a law designed to keep illegal immigrants off Medicaid is crushing poverty-stricken U.S. citizens. It's typical, screwing a lot of people in order to deal with a fairly insignificant problem that has more to do with paranoia than reality. As pointed out by the director of the Department of Human Services in Iowa, “We have not turned up many undocumented immigrants receiving Medicaid in Waterloo, Dubuque or anywhere else in Iowa.” So a lot of U.S. citizens are suffering for a non-existent problem. And I can't imagine too many Republican who read about that are going to be crying over it.

But if there were a law to present corporations from ripping off the government and it caused a few massive corporations to get less in the way of government handouts, you can bet they'd be shedding gallons of tears.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

why the Scooter verdict doesn't have me jumping for joy

I really should be happier that Scooter Libby has been found guilty of perjury. It's certainly nice that someone in the Bush administration has been convicted of something, and it's always handy to have yet more proof of the evils of Bush. So why do I feel depressed about it all?

Well, first off, because he's going to be pardoned anyway. The guy is not going to jail. There's no reason for Bush not to pardon him; his popularity is so low it doesn't even matter anymore. And if Scooter did go to jail he might decide to take Cheney and Rove down with him.

Second, he's not one of the people in the Bush administration who I feel passionately should be jailed. Jail Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld. These men should be put on trail for war crimes and sentenced to life in prison. These people are criminals who have caused unimaginable suffering through the world, are responsible for a tremendous numbers of deaths, have stolen civil rights, left Katrina victims hungry, homeless and in danger for days, given our soldiers substandard health care, sold the country to Halliburton and reached a low that makes past criminals like Richard Nixon look like angels.

And that's perhaps the biggest problem with Scooter; it's just something else that makes me think of how Bush has trashed this whole fucking planet. And how even now almost 30% of the people in this country think he's doing a good job, in spite of truly overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Even the fact that it's more proof of the corruption and vileness of Bush & company doesn't mean much, because we have all the proof we need and at this point you can either see it or not. And Scooter's not even going to be punished; the bastard will probably wind up getting a medal of freedom like every other disgraced member of the White House gang.

So instead of jumping for joy, I'm just fuming.

Friday, March 02, 2007

please do not drive for 24 hours after playing Burnout

I swear I once wrote a game review in which I talked about whether speeding around in a racing game could make people speed in real life, but I don't know when. Anyway, one study claims that, in fact
racing video games encourage real-life speeding. The authors of the study say the results are "indisputable," but from the article it sounds like they just asked people if they drove more dangerously, and I wouldn't call people's opinions of their own actions indisputable evidence of anything.

On the other hand, drive game fans seem to be a bit better at passing driving tests, so perhaps they're faster but better, which might even out.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

my child wouldn't do that: he's white!

Here's an interesting article suggesting racist undertones amongst the people scapegoating game violence for crimes. When I think about I realize that every time some murder has been committed and the press has gone on about how the perpetrator was a video game fan, that perpetrator is always white. In the words of sociologist Karen Sternheimer:

White, middle-class killers retain their status as children easily influenced by a game, victims of an allegedly dangerous product. African-American boys, apparently, are simply dangerous.”

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

in case all those religious wars weren't enough to convince you

A recent study mentioned at gamepolitics.com indicates reading passages from the bible can make people more aggressive. I'm happy to hear of this study, because it's something to bring up when people claim violence in movies or video games increases aggression.

Of course, like studies that link video games to aggression, all this measures is a sort of immediate reaction in a non-critical situation. It doesn't really prove the bible makes people violent any more than other studies prove video games make you violent. No, the proof that the bible makes you violent is all those people who specifically say they're killing people in the name of God. Which is a notably greater number than that of people claiming they're killing people in the name of Grand Theft Auto.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

the almost lyrical stupidity of bureaucracy

There's an article in the Times on overly cautious academic review boards, and I just found this part very amusing:

Among the incidents cited in recent report by the American Association of University Professors are a review board asking a linguist studying a preliterate tribe to “have the subjects read and sign a consent form,”

Might as well start the "save our show" petition now

Y'all should really check out the new TV series The Black Donnellys, because I don't expect it to be around for too long. I wasn't too excited about it from the commercials, which just left me wondering what, precisely the show was supposed to be, but my interest was piqued when I heard it was created by Paul Haggis, the genius behind television series Due South and the tragically short-lived EZ Streets who is probably best known as the writer and director of the oscar-winning Crash.

After seeing the first episode I can understand why the commercials were vague about the show; the show itself doesn't really tell you where the series is headed until the last five minutes.

It's a sharply written, intelligent, complex story. In other words, it's going to be canceled. Like EZ Streets, it has the feel of movie, or even a novel. It is aiming to tell a fairly epic story, and the pilot had just enough characters to make it just slightly difficult to keep track of who was who, which is usually an unpopular trait for a TV series.

Hopefully I'm wrong, and Black Donnelys will be that rarest of things, an intelligent, adult, creative show of great artistry that isn't canceled within the first 3 months, but just in case, don't wait for the reruns. The show is on Mondays at 10, and the premiere episode is being re-shown Thursday at 9. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday, February 26, 2007

if technology can't create paradise, what can?

A facetious title, but it is interesting how, even in a virtual world that would seem to offer greater freedom from the constraints of society, that world seems to fall into the same traps as the real one. Or so I gather from an article in the LA Times, pointed to at
gamepolitics.com, on virtual terrorists going after virtual corporations screwing up their utopia.

I visited Second Life around the time it first started and couldn't get into it (I'm not big on virtual worlds; typing the command to dance or kiss or smile just isn't as good as going out into the real physical universe and dancing, kissing and smiling), but I do hear fascinating things about it, with protests, politicians, concerts, all sorts of stuff. I think about checking it out now and again, but I don't know, it sounds like it's going from cool to corporate, and I've already been through that from living in the East Village for the last 20-odd years.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

America: The world power that no one in the world takes seriously

Oh look, U.S. intelligence has been sending worthless intelligence about Iran to the U.N. since 2002. Now there's a surprise.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

the only thing I'm going to say about Britney

Okay, I'll admit it, I've been somewhat interested in watching Britney Spear's remarkable public meltdown. But honestly, it's just too much. I am not one of those people who slows down on the freeway to see a traffic accident or tries to see what's going on when there's an ambulance on the street, and Spears is the same sort of thing, something so sad and disturbing that I think it's best to just leave it alone. I'm just increasingly conscious that what you've got is some dumb, desperate young woman without a clue how to function acting out for an audience of vultures.

 Everyone should really just stop looking. Just let her fall apart, go through rehab and hopefully pull her life together without an audience. After she's cleaned up her life if she wants to get back in the public spotlight she can always go on The Surreal Life, but really, wouldn't it be great if everyone just stopped following her, photographing her, mocking her? Wouldn't it just make the world a better place if for once people could see, this is going too far and stop?

Alas for Britney, the world is not going to become a better place anytime soon.


Seriously, I can't even think of anything to say about this article in the Times about a sorority that kicked out its overweight and/or minority members in a bizarre attempt to change their image.

Friday, February 23, 2007

my crystal ball

I see in the Times that there is a rapidly hedge fund industry and that the Bush administration feels that industry doesn't really need much more to keep it on the straight and narrow than a "set of nonbinding principals."

Which leads to the question: is there a way to invest in future economic scandals? Because if we've got a fast-growing, poorly-regulated industry devoted to playing with money, well, we are going to see people make more and more money until suddenly it turns out there is all sorts of corruptions and things totally fall apart and a bunch of people go to jail.

I don't even know what the hell a hedge fund is, and I only skimmed the article in the Times, but I would bet money on it. It's going to be a mess, but by the time it happens Bush will be out of office and will probably have made a fortune in hedge funds.

Monday, February 12, 2007

And yet, polls show people consider atheists untrustworthy.

Reading an article on bible-nut science students who write papers using science they don't believe in, I am just horrified by the intellectual dishonesty. It seems clear that these are people who are doing whatever they have to to get a degree so they have credentials and can then say, I have a degree in science and I say the earth was created 10,000 years ago. It would be like me going to a religious college and getting some sort of degree in religious studies, and I write all the papers and say there is a god and her is the proof, and then after I graduate I start writing papers about how my study of god has convinced me there is no god. When in fact, I never believed in god.

It's just wrong, and it suggests good reason to be suspicious of those few "scientists" who replace biblical explanations for scientific ones. If you don't believe in science, don't get a degree in it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

honey versus vinegar

Interesting article on the difference between real-life interrogation and Hollywood interrogation, i.e. torture. It once again reiterates that torture doesn't yield much useful data and that real-life interrogators are never faced with getting information out of someone or a building will blow up in an hour.

What I found interesting was the idea that the real way to get information out of prisoners is to connect with them, to use psychology. I have to say, I think that would be a lot more interesting to watch; the careful cultivation of data through the creation of a complex personal relationship between enemies. Unfortunately, it seems Hollywood producers prefer the easy route of showing people getting beat up to the more difficult task of portraying a complex, realistic approach.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Lost: too good to last

I was surprised to read that in a poll, 22% of viewers ranked "Lost" as the most disappointing returning series. But I also understand the feeling.

I love Lost. It's a great show. And part of me wishes it would go on forever. But part of me wants it to end now, this second. Because I want to know how it all turns out. It's that same feeling you get when you're reading a suspense novel and want to look in the back of the book and see how it all turns out. But while you can fight that feeling for a few days while you finish that book, Lost is making viewers wait years.

This is the inherent problem in creating a series built around a central mystery. It was a problem Twin Peaks had, and Twin Peaks put off resolving the mystery it started with until people were screaming for a finale. But at least Twin Peaks could continue after that point. When Lost explains what's going on, the show is over. But it has to end, because the longer it goes on, the more aggravating wondering how it will end will get.

They should also try to wrap it up because let's face it, shows run out of steam, and it would be great if Lost ended before it starts to suck.

If Obama ain't black, then I ain't white

There's a rather odd article in Salon expressing Debra J. Dickerson's opinion that
Barack Obama isn't black. This isn't totally crazy when you read the article, which basically says that since he isn't a descendant of black slaves he doesn't share in the American black experience and thus isn't black as black people in the U.S. think of it, or something like that.

What that really means and whether it matters is dealt with wonderfully by Gary Kamiya in an article published in Salon the next day on the difference between black and "black," so I won't discuss too much of this. But I do have to comment on part of Dickerson's piece, in which she comments, "Whites, on the other hand, are engaged in a paroxysm of self-congratulation; he's the equivalent of Stephen Colbert's "black friend." Swooning over nice, safe Obama means you aren't a racist."

Actually, voting for Obama does pretty much mean you're not racist. It means that you accept that a man with black skin is as qualified to run the country as a man with white skin. Racism is not bigotry against people of a particular cultural background, it is racism against people perceived to be of a particular race (I say perceived because race is pretty much an artificial construct in which people from certain areas with certain features are lumped together in an ultimately meaningless fashion). American blacks are not a separate race in the way the term is generally used any more than one would say white Italians and white Germans are a separate race.

I think what Dickerson is really talking about is not racism but classism. She means that white people will vote for Obama but wouldn't vote for Chuck D because white people find Obama friendly and charming and white people figure Chuck D. hates them. On the other hand, white people would probabably vote for Denzel Washington or Will Smith. Are Washington and Smith "black," as Dickerson defines it? I have no idea. And I don't really care.

Dickerson is right in saying Obama is a relatively comfortable choice for whites. Jackson had that old style preacher thing which is very much a part of American black culture but not so much a part of white culture. Sharpton was a grandstander whose history would not make white people feel he'd really care about any of his non-black constituents (fairly or not). Carol Mosely Braun was actually a terrific candidate, but she was in the same camp as Kucinich - a great candidate, smart, right on the issues, but quixotic because she had no national political infrastructure.

Yes, liking Obama better than Jesse Jackson is classist, but it isn't racist. Because while Dickerson may make divisions between one sort of black and another, most white people don't. They are not looking at the candidates and saying, oh, this one isn't really black because his dad wasn't a descendent of slaves. I don't think this would occur to many white people, although I suppose Rush Limbaugh's description of Obama as "halfrican" is sort of getting at the same thing. But Limbaugh makes his living using words to twist reality, so we can ignore him.

I can't speak to whether Obama is really "black" as Dickerson defines it; that's something for the people who define themselves as "black" to debate about. But while Dickerson certainly understands the black experience in a way I can't, what does she know about looking at the world from a white American's perspective? If I were to say, "black people like this politician because of this dubious rationale," I think Dickerson would object. And she'd have a right to.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Why Christopher Hitchens isn't a competent writer

In writing, it is a good idea, particularly if you are going to suggest something bound to be controversial, to start with a compelling example of what you are talking about. It's something comics are very good at. They will begin with something simple, say, "do you ever eat sausage and bite into something realy hard?" and everyone who's not a vegetarian will nod and the comedian has made a connection and can then go on to suggest anything he likes, having won the audience to his side.

This wouldn't work if the comedian says something that no one can relate to, like, "have you ever put your hand on a glass window and it felt like it was made out of tapioca?" Then the audience would just think the comedian was crazy.

In his article in Vanity Fair, Why Women Aren't Funny, Christopher Hitchens effortlessly separates himself from all normal people in the first paragraph with a "glass feels like tapioca kind of statement." He says that while women, when talking about a guy, will mention how funny he is, but men, when talking about a girlfriend, will never mention how funny she is.

Huh? I always tell people that my girlfriend Debbie has a quick, somewhat caustic wit, and that my ex-wife Jessica told hilarious stories. I've known other guys who talked about how funny their girlfriends were. In fact, I avoid humorless women, and that is easy to do, because the world is filled with witty females.

So what Hitchens has done is to paint a picture of his friends. They are, one imagines, dense guys who think of themselves as macho and consider women to be pretty ornaments. They probably tend to date frivolous women half their age and are scared of any woman who is intelligent and witty and clever. Hitchens indicates very clearly in one paragraph that he has surrounded himself with men just as out of touch with the real world as he is, and basically seems to be going out of his way to say, "don't bother reading the rest of this, anything I have to say is completely irrelevant."

I only read the first of the three pages. Further down he admits there are funny women comedians (obviously none of his friends date them), but then insists that Dorothy Parker isn't all that funny, which suggests that he has never read any of her brilliant, hilarious theater reviews (seriously, don't knock Parker if all you know her for is "men never make passes at girls who wear glasses").

Also, as pointed out by Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post, Hitchens wants his article to be amusing but he fails abysmally.

Of course, the advantage of putting a controversial article in a major magazine like Vanity Fair is it stirs people up. But I think Vanity Fair's editor made a major blunder, because I, for one, can't take a magazine seriously that would publish such drivel. Vanity Fair has gone from being a magazine I am neutral towards and uninformed about to a magazine I consider a joke. It's the sort of crap article that got me years ago to stop reading the New York Press (which would have articles on things like why female circumcision is a fine thing and we should quit criticizing its practice).

Anyway, I wouldn't bother reading the Hitchens piece, but Weingarten's piece is quite amusing (he got a bunch of funny women to write it for him.)

Breaking story: Bush stops acting like an asshole for five minutes

Isn't it creepy that it's major news when Bush makes a speech in which he says
he's not questioning the patriotism of people who disagree with him on Iraq?

Of course, we all know at some point in the future, probably quite soon, he will once again question his opponents patriotism. It's what he does, and it's one of about a hundred reasons why I despise him and can't respect anyone who considers him in any way acceptable as a president.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

the exploitation of cute girls by other cute girls

Sure, other bloggers give you the latest news, but sometimes I just give what's news to me, even if it's a controversy that's a couple of years old. For example, I just heard about the accusations of racism regarding Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku girls.

I learned of the controversy after my girlfriend and I watched Gwen's latest video, "The Sweet Escape. It's a very cute video with Gwen and two adorable dancing Japanese girls in a gold-plated jail cell. My girlfriend said the Japanese girls were Harajuku girls, and I wound up looking up Gwen on wikipedia.

Basically, a couple of years back Gwen got four Japanese girls to appear in her videos and follow her around to press events. They never speak and they dress after a style of dress popular in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. From pictures I found on google, it's a sort of colorful version of goth. They actually dress a lot like anime characters, with school girl uniforms and pink wigs and stuff like that. While this sort of thing generally looks pretty hot in anime, in real life it tends to make the girls look rather dumpy, but they're having fun and I imagine they liven up the neighborhood.

Anyway, people are mad at Gwen. The best expression of this is a thoughtful and witty blog post by Margaret Cho, who describes Gwen's Harajuku girls as a minstrel show. Gwen is also mentioned in a very interesting article on "Asiaphiles" and there's even a blog called "Free the Gwenihana Four". Gwen's response was rather silly, accusing Cho of not "do[ing] her research," whatever that means, and saying that her Harajuku Girls are an art project.

This is an interesting controversy, because from a non-Asian perspective it all seems like an overreaction. And in some ways it is. Someone complained that if Gwen had four guys in black face following her around people would raise an objection, and of course they would, but it's not like she is dressing these girls in a western-created artificial stereotypical style. Girls in Japan do dress like this. It's more as if she hired four black people to dress up in hip-hop style, which I doubt would cause that much of a stir. So comparisons with Amos 'n Andy are not really fair.

But Cho's post explains pretty clearly what the real problem is; that this is one of the few portrayals of Asians she sees. And that's what makes this a problem. Think back to the 30s and 40s, when movies had tons of black actors playing characters that were stupid and lazy. The problem wasn't actually that there were black characters on screen who were stupid and lazy, because there were also white characters who were stupid and lazy, like The Three Stooges. The problem was a lack of balance; Lou Costello was counterbalanced by Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, but outside of Paul Robeson, who managed to get some intelligent roles, mainly in England, every black character you saw was a caricature.

So basically, Gwen is right in thinking the Harajuku girls are harmless, and Cho is right in finding them upsetting. If television and movies were full of Asian doctors and lawyers and private detectives and pop singers and circus clowns, four silly girls following Gwen around wouldn't bother anyone. And it's really not Gwen's fault that Asians are underrepresented (shockingly so, considering how many people of Asian decent there are in New York); Gwen's just some pop star enamored of certain cool aspects of Japanese culture, and she thought it would be fun to have giggly Asian girls follow her around, and yes, it objectifies women and objectifies Asians, but Gwen also objectifies herself in her videos so it may not some like that big a deal to her.

One more interesting aspect of this is simply that people look to entertainment for validation. Asians feel invisible because they're not proportionally portrayed on TV and in movies and in music videos. Of course if you're white you take it for granted that almost everyone on TV is like you so you don't really ever think about it as important, and I really don't know what I'd be feeling if there were only a handful of white celebrities. It probably would make me feel marginalized, but I'm just guessing.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

the future of pizza

The ACLU has an absolutely brilliant little flash animation portraying the possible future of our privacy through a phone exchange with a pizza parlor. For me, this is exactly how to make a point. There's no preaching, it's very funny and it is seems possible. It's sort of like a sci-fi mini short story. Whether it will make people rise up and demand change or just shrug and say, sure, it'll happen, what can you do? is the question.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

webstalking that guy who pissed you off thirty years ago

UPDATE: Turns out the site was a hoax created be Weiner himself. Silly me.

When I first started reading the National Lampoon in the mid or late 70s, my favorite writer there was Ellis Weiner. It wasn't because he was the funniest writer; he was one of the funniest writers, but they were all pretty funny.

No, I liked Ellis because he was the only writer who had a real sense for people. I think the first thing I read from him was the Shear Hype Report, a take off of the Shere Hite Report, a book in which a woman simply asked hundreds of women about sex and printed what they said. Just as in the original book, there's a lot of talk about how women wish guys would cuddle more and be nicer, but at the end of the Shear Hype Report, the author admits that she just made up all the answers to get her boyfriend to cuddle with her. And even though this is only a paragraph or two, you actually feel for the author; it's just kind of sad.

Weiner's characters seemed to actually have feelings, unlike other writers like P.J. O'Rourke, who was brilliantly funny but whose articles were always just rather callous jokes strung together. It is interesting to note that P.J. O'Rourke, who as a writer had no sense of humanity, later became a right-wing writer, whereas Ellis, who always seemed to have real feeling for people, now blogs for the liberal Huffington Post.

I didn't actually know this until yesterday, when Weiner popped into my head and I wondered what he'd been doing. I haven't read anything by him since his novelization of Howard the Duck, a book every bit as funny as Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that had the misfortune to be based on a movie that is considered one of the all-time film turkeys.

Turns out he's been busy, writing books and articles, and I should probably track down one of his books and read it. But what really got my attention in my search was The Unofficial Website of Ellis Weiner (UPDATE: at some point after I wrote this Weiner apparently got control of the site), because it is run by someone who seems to have a sick hatred and fascination for the guy.

The webmaster is an assistant professor at some college I've never heard of, but from the F.A.Q. and the bio of Ellis it seems that at one point he was an aspiring satirist who had some sort of dealings with Weiner, who was a submissions editor at the National Lampoon.

And so he has created a website, that on the front has a note from Weiner saying that his lawyers tell him he can't do anything about the site but that he isn't happy with it. He lists some of Weiner's books, which he puts down and in at least one case chops up reviews to make them sound more negative (i.e. “Breezy, often funny…there’s some…writing…”).

The question is, does the professor realize how nuts this is. He's going after a guy who I guess (there are no specifics on the site) rejected his stuff or criticized it too much 30 years ago. The site might as well be called, "I am a bitter, possibly insane guy convinced that a single editor somehow managed to destroy my writing career." I mean come on, even if Weiner was, as suggested by the professor, a mean bastard, he was just one guy at one magazine. No editor owes a writer a boost up, you're actually supposed to go after what you want and prove yourself.

You'd think the guy would at least try and prove that he's funny; you know, mock Weiner in a clever way that proves to everyone that yes, this guy would have made a great satirist and it's a shame he was struck down by Weiner's cruelty. But nope, there's no indication this guy is funny.

It all reminds me of a biography of David Bowie I read once by some guy with a peripheral connection to the singer who clearly hated him with a passion and spent the whole book trashing him. It just makes you look pathetic to attack and whine about people who have accomplished much more in life than you have.

Still, I love seeing people nakedly and unconsciously expose themselves, so I wanted to share the site with others who would appreciate its pathetic nature. And make sure to read Howard the Duck and Weiner's Dune parody Doon. Hilarious stuff.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

pretty girls making life hard for prettier girls, a tragic situation indeed.

Yeah, I know it seems stupid to watch Beauty and the Geek, a show in which ditzy sex bombs are teemed with brilliant nerds to win prizes, and god knows I cringe everytime they describe the show as a social experiment, but it always has these moments that illuminate society for me in some tiny way. This season, the ditzy sex bombs were primarily blondes, and they all came together, while the two brunettes found themselves outside the clique. The brunettes actually seemed to be the smartest of the lot, and, in my brunette-centric opinion, the hottest, but in the context of the show they were the outcasts, the kids sitting at the loser table.

What I found interesting was when one of the brunettes said, "it's like high school all over again." And that was just such a fascinating comment from a woman who was pretty much a walking goddess. You would think someone like that would have been popular in high school; isn't looking perfect how you get popular in high school? Was she worse looking then? Maybe, who knows how much plastic surgery any of these woman have had. Or was she just just as pretty but undone by being poor and badly dressed or falling in with an unpopular crowd; maybe she was a troublemaker, maybe she was in the chess club: who knows? But I think it's important to remember that often the people who you assume were the popular cheerleaders everyone loved may actually have had as crappy a time in high school as the rest of us.

Of course, I had a crappy time in high school and I'm also not young and great looking, so I can't feel too sorry for the pretty brunettes, but I do have a little sympathy.

Let's see that horrible, inexcusable footage one more time, shall we?

It's a shame Countdown with Keith Olbermann insists on covering entertainment news, because while the rest of the show makes Keith look like a brave crusader ready to take on the powers that be and fight the good fight, when it comes to entertainment he often just seems as much the pretentious panderer and Jerry Springer once was. Case in point, a recent piece on the new season of American Idol in which he complained that the judges have ramped up the meanness and that it is witless, unnecessary cruelty. Perhaps so, and I think there's something to be said for asking even our cheesiest shows to show a little humanity. But to illustrate his point, Olbermann showed a ton of horrible singing followed by cruel comments. And this did not appear to be for the sake of showing how awful it was, but rather because people find that crap entertaining and Olbermann or his producers thought it would be entertaining to Countdown's audience. I feel just as I did the couple of times I saw Jerry Springer's show; if you want to show sleaze fine, but don't then get up on a soapbox and talk about how creepy it is.

It's interesting that Best Week Ever, which is pretty much my only source for entertainment news (I usually turn off Keith when he gets to that crap), used less footage of the show, seeming to make no real attempt to use the cruelty of the judges to entertain the audience. Instead, they shows clips of judge Paula Abdul in some interview acting insane (or drunk) and making fun of her. That, Keith, is what you do when you think a show is being too cruel; don't help to make fun of its victims, make fun of its stars.