Monday, March 31, 2008

Nothing but respect.

for this.

It's not a working transformer costume, but it's the same in spirit.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I take back every mean thing I've ever said about China...

its tendency to confuse scarcity with quality, its passing familiarity with the normal definitions of quality, the nonexistence of the concept of intellectual property, its cultural self-aggrandizement and entitlement, its normally crap swipes...

All is forgiven. Re: Dave's Long Box post.

God, shameless commerce really is your best side, huh?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Lots of posts, I know. I just finished Bioshock over the weekend. It was fun, and the setting was certainly atmospheric. However, I can't see why the game won awards for its story, more than its setting. The moral choices were pretty stark (SPOILERS - save the Little Sisters or kill them), and your choices ultimately weren't that consequential, except that it gave you one of two different endings. But, the limited moral choice aside, the biggest issue I had was that Bioshock was not so much a story-driven game but an exploration of recent history. Ken Levine gave an interview recently on why stories in video games suck, and he revealed that a remarkable amount of Bioshock's story was left on the editing room floor. It was condensed from a span of months to a single day. And that leaves the player out of some pivotal events in Rapture's "history", and instead he/she is left with picking up audio recordings of what happened. It is an exercise in - at best - piecing together what happened, rather than participating in the events.

And that hamstrings the emotional kick of the game. The audio recordings alone did get me to sympathize with certain individuals or revile others. But the foregoing the opportunity to interact with these people, either as events were going on or in the aftermath, was a narrative and emotional waste. Instead, you’re just left with shooting a bunch of psychos.

But I don’t want to be too harsh. Bioshock was good, and it had some excellent moments of set-piece story underpinned by a light layer of philosophy. But the story never matched the atmosphere. And the fact that Bioshock is renowned for its story is more an indication about the story state of narrative in video games, rather than a positive recommendation for the game.

Tibet and Taiwan

Some of this is coming a little late, but hey, I was hiking through mud while carrying a debilitating stomach bug.

Anyway, one of the obvious big pieces of news are the riots in Tibet. I can't add any additional analysis to what's already out there, but one question floating in the blogosphere did pique my interest. Namely, can you have a meaningful dialogue with the opposing side given the restrictions on information? I think it's clearly impossible with the rabid bloggers that have been unleashed on the Chinese side. However, I hold out hope that other Chinese netizens are willing to acknowledge that things in Tibet have not gone well for Tibetans, that their history is filtered, and that they don't have access to all the resources that people in the West do.

This is probably a fool's hope. But, I do wish that the Chinese government would recognize that democracy and free speech/press is typically a moderating force. With increased dialogue on the issues comes (ideally) increased respect for the other side. Now, they probably recognize this and want to stir up nationalism. But ultimately that's a failed policy. The anti-Japanese riots several years back are a clear indication of this: eventually you lose control, and that is ultimately constricting on the government's freedom of action.

Now, Taiwan. Obviously, I'm disappointed with the result. But this is a good time for the DPP to take stock and institute the internal reforms that people have been grumbling about for at least two years. However, even beyond this, I'm more disappointed with the analysis coming out of the State Department. They love the fact that the KMT won, and they should. But I don't think they realize the extent of Taiwanese nationalism - the feeling among Taiwanese that they should decide the country's future and no one else. None of this "the 1.3 billion Chinese will decide" crap: that's clearly not in keeping with international law.

But the fact that this feeling is widespread and strongly felt is an issue for the U.S. This election didn't change the political sentiment on this issue: it just kicked it down the road a bit. The U.S. still has to find a way to meaningfully resolve the Taiwan Strait issue in such a way that it doesn't allow China to threaten more U.S. interests. Even more, the U.S. needs to find a moral, democratic solution to the tensions. Economic inducements only go so far, and you only need to look to Tibet to see that.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Travels in Peru

So, got back from Peru a week ago. You know, I didn't enjoy this trip nearly as much as the one to Turkey. It could have been the week-long stomach bug I was battling, but I think that should be offset by all the glorious meat and ceviche (which probably gave me the stomach bug) that we ate.

No, I think the issue is large group travel. That's right, GF and I went on a tour group. Well, that is if you count 80 Wharton students a tour group. What I missed from Turkey was simply the chance to explore on our own, to meet native peoples and get lost in foreign cities. Because all that provides a much deeper experience and understanding of a country/place.

For example, we spent days exploring various Incan ruins and, of course, the Machu Picchu/Inka trail. But it was only when the two of us went to a museum on our own that all the various architecture, artwork, etc. finally started crystallizing into a coherent history. Similarly, we spent five days in Cuzco and only two in Lima. But I feel a much stronger understanding of life in Lima because it was primarily just the two of us walking around. No 80 person group of Americans to ward off interactions with local Peruvians.

Anyway, obviously none of this is groundbreaking, but I think it's firmly put me off of this kind of travel. GF, on the other hand, acknowledges the problems, but counters with the fact that we stayed at luxurious, high-end hotels at a fraction of the original cost. She also seems a bit less bothered with "understanding the local culture" thing, although that's probably because she reads the guide book diligently. Needless to say, if one of us is already going to do the reading, why should I? (Guys, don't take that advice.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

We don't want no european decadence!*

Eliot Spitzer has taken a tumble and, at least before the financial business this week, the NY media engines has revelled in a having a new topic outside of the Democractic primary campaigns--a nice break I actually. Curiously, I was more surprised (shock is too strong) than coworkers and the like about the situation. I don't think of myself as a prude (so I guess the real shock to me is the realization that I'm not the go-to cynic in every conversation--there was a time I'd have laid bets on that certainty) but no one seemed terribly surprised. Mind you , it could certainly be that one of those reflexive "Oh, that always happens things. Aren't they always?" Which is obviously not true, or else, well or else there'd be more stories. But there aren't, because I don't live in Rhode Island.

So anyway, it's nice and all that some quarters are taking this opportunity to talk about the true effects of prostitution. The results in Sweden of the legalization of selling sex combined with the criminalization of buying sex on trafficking, and prostitution rates in general being especially interesting. Some of the commentary touched upon this article by the inestimable Martha Nussbaum, which if you read, you will see focuses greatly on prostitution an how the laws and enforcement reflect other things, but begins with the trope of the American among sophisticated Europeans wondering about American prudery. Why for are we lingering on the prurient when there is so much more to discuss?

Well, beyond the fact that we in New York are one of the few cities with vibrant enough daily papers to have the need to for some tabloid fare, so obviously there's inches to fill, he was the freakin' attorney general elected on a reform campaign. Not by a little bit. It is possible that the reaction is less about the sex, then about the hypocrisy. Also, the sheer stupidness of a former prosecutor laying out the trail that he did. Not all laws are moral, but breaking the law usually isn't. **

Also in the past week, there was also the release of Funny Games by Michel Haneke. I think the AV Club lays out the most generous and informative take on it. I'm pretty sympathetic to these sorts of art stunts, and after seeing Cache (which I consider one of the finest films I've ever seen), I have a great deal of respect for the director, with a generosity of spirit I don't think I'd extend to either Lars Von Trier (pretentious European provocateur) or the genre related if not intellectually (or only disingenuously) torture porn and ultraviolence these days. Maybe Oldboy gets a pass, but god I hate locked room stories. Long exposition aside, a comment mentioned the fact that even if the movie were a success in the manner Haneke intends, that is as an indictment of the audience as complicit in violence in our culture, he'd probably think that we as Americans liked it because of the torture. So to the continent that created this and other insightful fare like Irreversibleah I say back off. We get it. You aren't that smart. Or we don't, like everyone else. This business is only slightly more annoying than the Americans don't have passports cliche.

But in the interests of equal time, I say it has been fascinating to see the likes Naomi Watts promoting arthouse fare on Leno and the like. And follow it on to Funny Games review itself, but alright. Maybe we don't get it.

*I don't actually care about European decadence.

** Edited to fix stupidity.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I'm deeply conflicted...

It's a thrill to see Jackie Chan and Jet Li together for the first time (though honestly, their styles kinda clash). It wasn't till the middle of this trailer that I realized that this was an American production (there's another version that reveals this as Neverending Story in China much more explicitly). I'm a bit fearful that this'll be Bulletproof Monk again...ah well, I'll probably still l see it. It won't be worse than House of Flying Daggers right? Right?

Also, Tan Dun--so over. Please get someone else. Use that fellow that Johnny To uses. Heck, get Johnny To some of that big Hollywood money and import his style. I like the actors from Asia too, but if you can't get them to commit to more interesting projects, then start pulling in the directors. We don't need no Edison Chen.

Friday, March 7, 2008

On this, the 101st post...

I bring you what I bring you best.

I want one of these.

These are neat. I linked to the source, but this is where I got it, and the banner ads at hobby blog embarrass me.

A bit older, but Jim Steranko's hair in this romance comic is fabulous. I keep staring at it.

And an oldie but a one-I-just-read-so-it-interests me. Namely in the comments.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

RIP Gary Gygax

It would be remiss not to note the passing of Gary Gygax, wanted to write some adventures for the leaders of their armies in their tabletop wargames, and wouldnn't it be fun if they went on adventures in between the wars, and rescued towns, and princesses, and fought dragons? He created Chainmail with Jeff Perren, which evolved into Dungeons & Dragons (with Dave Arneson), advanced and otherwise, and begat so much of what I, and so many others, used to create and enjoy inspiring, fun, stupid, smart, and all other kinds of worthwhile stories.

Thanks for everything.

Annoying Politics

I’m still working my way through Bioshock, so more on that and a response to Duvall’s post later. It’s engrossing, although I’m not sure that it quite reaches the level of “games as art.” Nevertheless, it’s an interesting exploration of Objectivism and where it all falls apart. Question: do gamers generally find Objectivism more appealing?

Anyway, this post is about the ’08 Election. A couple sound bites/positions have annoyed me to an unusual degree, and I thought I’d rant here.

Flip-Flopping – We all remember this: Bush supporters who lambasted Kerry for being a flip-flopper on his Iraq War vote. Granted, it was a politically brilliant sound bite (for Bush).

Fast forward four years, and many of those same Republican supporters are being asked about Romney and his flip-flopping. Perhaps it's the media echo chamber, but the majority of responses from Romney supporters have been “He flipped the right way, so I’m fine with that.”

Which of course means that going back on your opinion is not the horrible thing that Bush makes it to be. These guys don't care about flip flopping: they care about ideological agreement. What gets me is that they just can't admit that. It strikes me as dishonest, or perhaps self-deluding/denial.

Barack “Hussein” Obama – This has been in the news more recently. Slate had an article about it, where Republicans were calling attention to Obama’s middle name and essentially saying “We’re not trying to send a political message. We’re just calling him by his name.”

Sure. And Fox News was a model of journalistic ethics when it ran the madrassa issue (I’ve been to Obama's school, by the way. It’s gorgeous.). The issue I have with this is that it taps into something ultimately nasty and destructive in American politics (or really all politics) - the need to exclude what's different. It's exactly why we've been so unsuccessful in the War on Terror: the U.S. simply cannot work with or deal with individuals when they cast them as an undifferentiated, sometimes incomprehensible group.

And when you stoop to calling out a candidate's name because you want to draw negative associations with Islam, you appeal to and empower those instincts. I'm glad John McCain rebuked that radio talk show host. But I only expect more of this from the 527s as the campaign progresses.

Anyway, for something a little more fun, check out this blog.