Sunday, March 27, 2016

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

Disappointing. Very disappointing.

Honestly, the only good part of the movie was Wonder Woman, but I think even she may have been tainted by Snyder's vision of superheroes.

Let me get the comic-fan nitpick out of the way, after all, it's kind of minor. Batman kills. A lot. He tears around Gotham in the Batmobile, taking down LexCorp's armed guards, blowing up cars and flipping them over and generally not giving a damn who he hurts. And in the second of his two fights (far too few), he deliberately kills someone in a scene lifted directly from The Dark Knight Returns (more on which later).

My more serious beef is that the movie kind of sucks.

When my brother and I went to see Deadpool, the trailer for BvS:DoJ came on and I said "I'm gonna see that, but I'm not really invested." When the trailer for Captain America: Civil War came on, "Now that, I'm invested in."

I think that really highlights this movie's failure, the distinction with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The MCU has spent a decade and a dozen films (and half a dozen tv shows) building up their universe and their characters. But BvSDoJ just throws us in and expects us to be okay with it.

Now, throwing the audience into a story, in media res (as the foincy people call it), is a fine technique. And this movie shows us quite well that Batman has been operating in Gotham for twenty years. The problem is that it doesn't actually bring this together well with Clark. Clark being concerned about Batman like it's suddenly a new story just doesn't make sense in that context. All that would have been necessary would have been one line from Perry White: "The bat's been doing his thing for twenty years; Gotham loves him. Shut up and cover a new story, you jackass."

Instead, it seems like Snyder was desperate to build up the tension and make it plausible that Batman and Superman would fight. So Superman is suddenly interested in a 20 year old story and Batman is an easily manipulated ... fool? Coward? Psycho?

And speaking of psychos, fucking Lex Luthor. Instead of being a criminal genius, he's a giggling, mad, child.

PZ Myers let me know that Snyder is a fan of Ayn Rand. Knowing that, a lot of this movie falls into place. Particularly the heavy reliance on Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Miller's Batman is a psychopathic manchild, and he hates ... pretty much everyone. Oh, the "he" in that sentence refers to Miller and Batman both. For Miller, it seems every city is permanently stuck as Times Square 1983.

A lot of people call TDKR a masterpiece that, along with Alan Moore's Watchmen, brought comics back into maturity and relevance. I disagree. I think it's the prequel to his Sin City, which is "Imagine if millions of people were trapped in Times Square 1983. All the men are violent psychopaths, and all the women are whores".

And this movie lifts scenes and quotes whole-cloth from TDKR. The scene where Batman kills someone (which Batman famously doesn't do), for one, and the entire fight between Batman and Superman (albeit with the addition of a spear tipped in kryptonite), and the bit where Batman randomly starts talking about his parents. That quote comes straight out of TDKR, and makes no sense here.

As Snyder is a Randroid, it starts to make sense that his heroes are violent psychos that don't actually want to help anyone. Superman was perfectly content to stay sequestered from the world and not help anyone until Zod showed up and threatened him. Batman isn't shown fighting criminals; he's focused only on taking down the man he views as a threat. And Wonder Woman, it turns out, pulled a John Galt and retreated from a world that didn't live up to her standards.

A Randian hero is just a jerk who wants to remake the world in his own image, rather than someone who really wants to help. And that's probably why I don't much care for Snyder's heroes.

This movie at least did what Man of Steel utterly failed to do, and prepared us for upcoming movies. I'm just not very excited about them. Whoop de do, Darkseid is coming. Maybe they'll bring in someone other than Snyder.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Dead Rising 2 vs Mirror's Edge

I'm an achievement hound. I don't consider a game truly finished until I've gotten all the achievements. I'm even doing this for Dead Rising 2, a game with which I have a lot of complaints (mostly about its depictions of race and gender, its hackneyed story, and its mediocre gameplay... frankly, everything but the fact that it never freezes or crashes).

However, I'm never going to get all the achievements for Mirror's Edge. As with Dead Rising 2, I have a lot of complaints about the game, all stemming from gameplay and none about the story or representation. And there's nothing hackneyed about it! I love everything about Mirror's Edge except actually playing it. It was a great attempt, a beautiful innovation, and I'll never be able to, by my lights, finish it.

Dead Rising 2 is kind of crap all around. It feels like the game is trying really hard to be sharp social commentary about... something. A mall that's also multiple casinos, zombies still standing in front of slot machines, a gameshow about killing zombies... But it all falls flat, not least because everything the enemies are doing, you the player are doing. The dialog is flat, the villains predictable, and the depictions are racist and sexist all over the place. I came close to hurting myself several times I rolled my eyes so hard.

By contrast, Mirror's Edge doesn't try too hard with its story. In fact, like the environmental style, the story is minimalist. You're presented with a world and only the bare bones of the full story are laid out. You're a small player in a much larger situation. It's a story begging for a sequel, and it's getting one. Unfortunately, they're sticking with what was, for me, the only thing about the game that was disappointing. The actual gameplay.

I love the Assassin's Creed series, so you know I love me some city-hopping parkour nonsense. Problem is, Mirror's Edge is first-person, so you can't see your feet. That's kind of a big deal when you're running around jumping off rooftops. Mostly because when you can't see your feet you often don't jump off the rooftop and instead just fall off it. Or you jump off it and don't land on the next one over. The game is all about timing your jumps and slides and stuff; it would be great but that timing is hard when you don't actually have a body. I really want to love the game, but it ends up being incredibly frustrating every time I pick it up.

With the first game, they didn't solve the myriad of obvious problems facing a first-person parkour platformer. Maybe this time they will. Not holding my breath, though.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Where does the flame go when the candle's out?

Someone you love has died, and you're looking at her body. She looks like she's sleeping, like she could just wake up. Where is she?

She isn't. The person you loved has gone. The person you loved wasn't a physical object. All that is left of the beautiful, vibrant person you knew are the ripples she left in passing. You have your memories, you have your love, your grief, but she is gone. The physical thing before you used to be her dearest possession. Now it's not.

The person you loved was not a physical object, she was the result of physical objects. She was a process, she emerged from a collection of physical objects, she sprang into being from their interaction. Their motions created her, continuously, moment to moment, and when they ceased to cooperate, she ceased to be.

Your loved one was not the molecules of her body, she was their reaction. She was not the cells of her body, she was their cooperation. She was not an object in motion, she was the motion itself. And now that motion has ceased.

Except for the echo of that motion in you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Behind a Veil of Ignorance

So, as per usual, I've been translating wikipedia articles into English, and I've been learning about John Rawls. So far he seems awesome (but dead).

Those of you who adore The West Wing may recall that the less-handsome replacement for Sam Seaborne mentioned to his unpaid, inexperienced writing staff something about a "veil of ignorance".

John Rawls came up with that.

Essentially, the principles and laws for a just society should be constructed from The Original Position, behind a Veil of Ignorance. Everyone would naturally want to set up a system where the king gets everything and then make himself the king. But the original position and veil of ignorance say that you don't know what position you'd be born into. You don't know your social class or economic status. You don't know what sort of abilities or talents you might have. You don't get to choose to be king.

Rawls argues that, from behind the veil of ignorance, everyone would instead set up a fair society based on two principles:

1) Everyone has access to the same extensive liberty, with that liberty being conditional on everyone else also having access to that liberty (that is to say, rights and liberties will always come into conflict and have to be balanced).
2) a) Any inequalities must be structured to give the greatest benefit to the least advantaged. (the principle of difference; for example, progressive income tax at the higher income brackets balanced with a negative income tax [or a tax credit] at the lowest brackets)
2) b) Everyone must have access to positions, offices, and opportunities (equality of opportunity)

Legislators and others in power should be guided by the original position and veil of ignorance in that they should set aside their own positions and privileges and structure society so as to accrue the greatest benefit to the least advantaged.

This just seems so darn sensible. How is it that not everyone is a socialist?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Migraine Story

I'm afraid of bread. Not all bread. Just some bread. I'm pretty sure it was the bread that caused it. I had the worst migraine of my life the other day.

I've had migraines before, but this one was special. It was very bad. How bad? I honestly couldn't say. Literally. I wasn't able to speak. It's called aphasia. On a side note, doesn't that just sound like the prettiest name for a girl ever?

You can see what I normally write like; I can bang this out in about five seconds flat. This is how I was writing the other day:

Very bad., nno0t sure hadio thingk don't knowk very bad migran 

think getting better geting better 

I think my hands are getting better. Very unpleasnt. My brain is like jellos. BUt not painfully anim ore. 

This is worst ever.

That took about five minutes of intense struggle. The reference to my hands was probably because, in addition to the trouble seeing and the inability to speak, read, or write, my hands and feet were tingling and somewhat numb.

Migraines can come with a wealth of symptoms. Mine always start with an aura, a halo in the middle of my right eye that makes it difficult to read or focus, that gets progressively larger. After an hour or so I'm in intense pain and it's best if I just crawl in bed and die for an hour. This time I also had the not speaking and the hands, and nausea, and a general malaise. I felt like an intense bag of crap. I also wasn't thinking very clearly. I'm glad I made it home safe (I was working at the library when it hit, and not anticipating how very bad it was going to get, I picked up a few things at the store on the way home. On the way out, the cashier expressed some concern about my well-being.).

In the end, I managed to sleep for quite a bit yesterday and took it easy today. Sneezing only made it feel like half my head was going to explode, not too much more.

Ever have wicked bad headaches and sensitivity to light/noise? Oddly sick for no reason with some mood swings? Take a quick look at migraines.  And maybe be kind to people who suffer them. They can be, as that quoted text above shows, debilitating even before the crippling pain starts.

Interesting thing: For years now I've been convinced that the episode that made me quit drinking was a series of seizures brought on by advancing problems of daily cycles of withdrawal/binge (because only an alcoholic drinks during the day...). I'm now convinced that it was just1 a migraine, and that I didn't notice all the other symptoms because of all the problems brought on by daily cycles of withdrawal/binge. Well, after that day, just withdrawal, slowly fading.

Remind me to tell how much fun withdrawal and addiction are some time.

Still, plus side; I'm sober.

Oh, and about the bread. Sometimes food triggers migraines. I once had a few very bad days because of a kind of tomato-basil flavored potato chip.

1 - "Just". Right.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Is Faith Harmless?

Short answer: No.

If you'll allow me to steal from Peter Boghossian, faith is a broken epistemology, it's a way of pretending you know something you don't really know.

Epistemology is the way you know things. Faith allows people to claim to know things they don't. Faith is the buttress for claims from the mild to the asinine, from the irritating to the debilitating, to deadly. It is the exact same process that Catholics use to believe a cracker becomes the actual, physical body of the risen savior that Jews use to justify mutilating infant genitalia, that Muslims use to bomb churches. There is no difference.

Many have argued that secularists, humanists, antitheists should spend their time on the latter two and ignore the former as harmless. They definitely have a point that shouldn't be ignored. We are a minority and we only have so much time, money, and energy. We're also nowhere near as united as the forces of irrationality that give credence to faith. We need to invest our efforts where they're most valuable.

However, I don't think we should ignore the crackers. PZ Myers desecrated a communion wafer that he received from a student who smuggled it out of a service for him. Both Myers and the student received death threats, as well as Myers's university was flooded with letters demanding he be fired. Clearly, this isn't a small issue for the Catholic League.

With this example, I wish to demonstrate two things:

  1. Clearly, this is the same faith. Myers's minor act of desecration against a minor tenet of faith received a response out of all proportion. His university was flooded with letters and even now, five years later, they're still receiving mail about the incident. Through the lens of faith, there is no difference between this and the more "serious" acts of faith.
  2. I believe that there is a more practical connection between these. The "minor" acts of faith give legitimacy to the more ridiculous tenets. That no one really cares to question the small things that don't matter, but this means that, with faith allowed a leg to stand on, the more absurd beliefs can point to those and say, "See? These are fine!" And then they turn around with Matthew 23:24
You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

The smaller faiths give legitimacy to the larger, which turn around and give legitimacy to the smaller. The edifice demands you dismantle the entirety all at once, bootstrapping itself on nothingness all the while.

In answer to the argument from practicality, that we have bigger fish to fry, I offer this: the smaller faith takes less time and energy to ridicule. Spend a few moments ridiculing their weekly ritual cannibalism, point out that they believe not simply absurdities, but foolish, childish absurdities:

Every week you go to a sing-song and promise yourself in slavery to a cosmic zombie because a rib-woman was convinced to eat a magic fruit by a talking snake, which broke the universe, and then God needed blood to fix the universe, but only his own blood had enough magic so he raped a virgin to give himself a body and killed it. 

All faith is bad. All faith is equal. All faith is equally harmful. Some particular instances of faith just happen not to be harming people at this particular moment. 500 years ago those angry Catholics wouldn't have stopped at threatening to kill PZ Myers. He'd be rather horrifically dead.