Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The American President

The idealized image I see for governmental politics is distilled in the Rob Reiner film, The American President. In a somewhat unusual story, a widowed and very popular Democratic President Shepherd (Douglas) becomes romantically involved with a contracted environmental lobbyist Sidney Ellen Wade (Bening) with former ties to ACLU-related protests such as flag burning in front of the South African (and at that time apartheid-based) embassy. This is used as fuel in a smear campaign headed by Republican presidential hopeful Bob Rumson (Dreyfuss) - bearing an uncanny resemblance to Dick Cheney - to show that Shepherd has dubious moral character in light of his extramarital relationship and his questionable support of a critical gun control bill.

The fictional President Shepherd is someone who we would hope any President aspires to be: popular, attractive, close with his kids, friends and subordinates, and deeply in love with American principles and freedoms. At the same time, he's a man who deeply misses his late wife and is trying to find love in a position where every aspect of his personal life is under a microscope. He wants privacy, and realizes that the public at large doesn't care since any indication he's a man with wants and needs is seen as weak character.

The climax of the film, culminating in him playing politics to win a bet with Wade over her environmental reform bill vs. his crime bill, combined with outside attacks on his character that weaken his approval rating (going into the election year for his 2nd term) and wrecking his relationship with wade, is a heartfelt speech which I think explains several key points about why America, great as it is, is not an easy place to live in:

1) Freedom of Speech: America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free".

2) Political puffery: I've known Bob Rumson for years, and I've been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn't get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And wave an old photo of the President's girlfriend and you scream about patriotism and you tell them, she's to blame for their lot in life, and you go on television and you call her a whore.

I keep going back to this film because in many ways it's an American presidency I'd like to see. It's a guy standing up for his right to privacy and love as much as his right to govern as he sees fit. The downside is that it's a Hollywood presidency, and even in light of the spinoff that resulted (The West Wing) which appealed to many liberals and was the bane of right-leaning viewers, it's unlikely such a person could be elected today. Yes, it's idealized to a degree, but it still gives curmudgeons like me a feeling of hope in electing representatives we can respect as both a leader and an individual.

Monday, October 18, 2010

History of a game that flailed, or "Dungeons and Dragons: The Quest for More Money"

Sometimes I greatly dislike Wizards of the Coast (WoTC).

More specifically, I dislike their business model, which over the years I compare to the Once-ler from "The Lorax," who retorted "A Thneed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!" whenever questioned about the utility of his product. I'm sitting here, having leafed through their new Red Box Edition, still sort of shaking my head. It's like someone re-released the original Rubik's Cube, and even though you solved it way back in the 80s, it's some new edition with 'vintage' colors, the original feel of the twisting/turning mechanism, but also, alas, outdated by a slew of successive Rubik-type puzzle games intended to draw the attention of older or more-clever players wanting a challenge.

See, I cut my teeth on this version of the game back in 1983: basicboxed11th.jpg.

I enjoyed coloring in the numbers on the dice with my black Crayola. I remember the simple character sheet mock-up and the Keep on the Borderlands module. I was also 13 years old, fighting significant Catholic school ennui and having to deal with my unrequited feelings for the girl in our class who sprouted 34Ds seemingly overnight. Testosterone + Catholic guilt is a recipe for disaster, and slaying orcs by the metric shitload was apparently the only alleviation for the army of horny orcs inside me. But I digress...

Regardless, there was a space of not more than 2 months before I cut my teeth on the first edition of AD&D which was what all my buddies had since gravitated towards, whether it was more of an appeal to our nerdy minds or the semi-naked female drawings I can't say for sure. Fast forward 27 years later, I saw little need to update to this version (which cleverly, ha ha, re-used the original Larry Elmore art of the first "Red Box" edition--smooth move, Ex-Lax, as they used to say in the high school parlance):


I understand their reasoning, I really do: Issue a less-complex rule set aimed at younger or newer players wanting the "feel" of D&D without the hassle of having to buy a slew of core rulebooks. The idea was also to draw in players who wanted the experience of their weekly 4-5 hour sessions but with slightly faster game dynamics that allowed shorter encounter times. Believe me, I get this. After numerous gaming sessions where our 5-6 hours of play crept into the 7-7.5 hour territory simply because we wanted to get in one last encounter before the next monthly session (read: Adulthood sometimes sucks), you often want a rock/paper/scissors/lizard/Spock turnaround for a given battle.

The confusion for me stems from the fact that the 4th edition ruleset was already "dumbed down" a bit to appeal to (a) the experienced online RPG gamer, (b) someone who disliked the extremes of 3rd edition rules, where every action had 15 different modifiers, (c) someone who appreciated the concept of Power Cards being added in (getting Magic: The Gathering chocolate into their pen/paper RPG peanut butter as it were), and/or (d) appeal to the 21st century mindset by building character development through a snazzy new application interface. They even released a preview of the 4th edition rules designed to introduce them to the changes in the core rules. With all these aspects designed to draw in new players and to suck existing, experienced players into a new style of game play, the box set re-release is mainly an appeal to nostalgia. My pessimistic opinion is it's an unnecessary and blatantly shitty way of squeezing more money out of a gamer, many of whom are already taxed in their hobby with a rough economy and an already 20+ rulebook/supplement heavy 4th edition.

Remember that in the beginning, there were just two dudes (Gygax and Arneson) using a homegrown ruleset to expand on their wargaming hobby. When you read the history of the game it's at times amazing to witness the evolution of a worldwide phenomenon and later a perfect example of how greed and a questionable business model can screw up a franchise. D&D is at it's most basic an appeal to introverted, imaginative role-playing. The archetypal nerd is the staple image because simply, it's often the truth. Screw that whole "Vin Diesel plays D&D so nanny-nanny boo-boo" shit; Vin Diesel also used to sport an afro and made breakdancing instructional videos before he became the musclebound action star, plus I am certain few of us can snap their fingers to summon hot women instantly.

As a public service message for thems who want a nice history of the game, here then is my general overview of the Wizards of the Coast business model for RPGs, from about 4 years back to current:

1) This is a niche market which is relatively easy to exploit despite the usually argumentative and intelligent nature of the target audience-- in essence operating on a "hate the dealer, need his drug" dynamic. To quote High Fidelity, "fetish properties are not unlike porn. I'd feel guilty taking their money, if I wasn't... well... kinda one of them." While I will grant a few gamers have matured beyond the 'buy everything' phase, I am still certain R.A. Salvatore could publish "Drizzt and Guenhwyvar Go Quantity Surveying" and get on the NYT Bestseller's list.

2) Profit. Many nerds (or their parents) are well-employed or have some measure of disposable income to spend on said gaming products. Even if liquid cash isn't available, the nerds are more than willing to forego food, sex, hygiene, sex, sleep and sex in order to obtain the Preciouss. I was watching a documentary on Todd MacFarlane once, and one of the kids interviewed was a pizza delivery guy in his early 20s, living in his parent's house, with a basement room full literally floor-to-ceiling of mint-in-box McFarlane toys. The same could be said for collectors of comic books or movie memorabilia. WoTC uses this to their advantage.

3) Issue rule set revision. Make it 100% incompatible with the previous rules, and use the revised approach to roll out the new business model to an Internet-savvy crowd at Gen Con. Tease us with a demo of a 3d character/dungeon visualizer that will never become reality. As a donkey punch, get rid of the paper-based game periodicals to further prop up your new web-based enterprise. It's as if a thousand guys reading Dragon on the shitter suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.

4) Proceed to break the Player's Handbook into 3-4 sizeable chunks to allow timely dissolution of new classes, races and powers and reduced savings account balances.

5) Ditto for Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manuals.

6) Issue secondary materials to appeal to each class group (e.g., divine, martial, psionic). Make them ungodly expensive.

7) Take Forgotten Realms and totally fuck it up the ass. Seriously, Greenwood isn't dead yet, can we refrain from pissing on his grave, please? Why do fantasy designers feel the need to revamp/withdraw magic use as if it's some sort of steampunk effect? Did we learn how not to do this from Dragonlance?

8) To their credit, create incredibly sweet application to manage character design, coupled with a reasonably-priced website to obtain rule updates which seamlessly integrate with the builder application. This alone is why I often give issues 1-7 a pass. Character Builder rocks like a chair, issues aside. Regardless, I still like a hardcover book to read when I'm in the bathroom, so this perk isn't always ideal.

9) As a further slap in the face, refuse to introduce new artists by re-using annoying and often inconsistent artwork lifted from the 3rd edition books. I'm talking to you, the guy who keeps reusing the pointy-nosed monsters (not everything looks like a troll) and who thinks everyone runs and fights at 45 degree angles.

10) After your new ruleset is firmly ingrained into the public mindset, create recruitment, erm, social gatherings designed to integrate Facebook and Twitter with weekly gaming experiences while also drumming up business for game shops. While I was never involved in Encounters (some of us have kids), it looks like a very fun diversion assuming you could get into a "good" group.

11) After your new gaming model and Internet communication mechanisms are firmly ingrained in the social milieu, issue the new "back to basics" homage to the original D&D box set with a stripped down rule set designed to appeal to younger, less-experienced gamers. Immediately conceal your obvious "Fuck you" to experienced gamers by appealing to their sense of nostalgia and aforementioned disposable income. As I said before, some of us went to Advanced D&D because the basic stuff was too basic. Also roll the new boxed set out at Gen Con and subsequent events as if it's a well-made trailer for an ultimately crappy movie. Use the catchphrase "Essentials" to make it seem this basic set integrates seamlessly with existing 4th edition core rules.

12) Simultaneously redeem yourself slightly with a truly kick-ass reboot of the Dark Sun campaign setting. I'm not getting heavy into it now, but I'm liking what I see. My concern is their scheduled lack of meaningful 4E products for the next six months (given the focus on board games and Gamma World).

13) Piss off the Gothic fantasy RPG crowd by rolling out the Ravenloft reboot as a board game. For sixty fucking dollars. With no coupons. Come on, people, if I want to play Mousetrap, I'll go buy friggin' Mousetrap. I want my original I6 module with my quasi-3d maps and my card game integrated with my pen and paper D&D.

14) Space your release of new miniature sets as far apart as possible, tease us with fears of a new manufacturer which sucks, then dangle the ginormous Orcus figure carrot as if it's going to make it all worthwhile. Would it kill you to roll out a new series of player minis in the interim?

15) Demonstrate occasional coolness with totally cool audio podcasts with Wil Wheaton and the Penny Arcade/PVP dudes, then screw it up with a boring-as-Hell "video" podcast featuring all the overweight, unattractive writers/actors from Robot Chicken who aren't Seth Green, and who obviously make learning D&D as interesting as watching paint dry. Son, I am disappoint. I still give props to Andy Collins regardless because the dude rocks, even in the face of apparent DM boredom and player naivete.

15) Profit.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"All right, you corn-nuts, let's see what you got"...

So by now a lot of people have indicated their displeasure with the film Kick-Ass, based on the comic of the same name.

There are times in America, most notably "Nipplegate" from the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show in 2004, where I facepalm over the apparent ignorance of the American viewing public. We can watch a four-hour extravaganza of men slamming against other men over who has possession of a ball of cowhide, interspersed with a number of flowerly commercials about erectile dysfunction, but suddenly a 2 second shot of a female breast is what signals the death-knell of America as we know it. Americans can see dozens of simulated murders, rapes and assaults on prime-time television every week, but show a few seconds of a buttock--male or female--and that's a travesty of entertainment.

But back to the film, for which I don't understand all the bashing. The language was no worse than what I've heard junior-high kids speaking (and this from 1982, mind you), and it's all over any Myspace or Facebook page you see written by teenagers. Also, for the unenlightened idiots out there--the writer of the comic is Scottish. In the U.K., the C-word is no more heinous than calling someone an asshole in the U.S.. It's used prolifically by men and women of all ages over there, even more during football games.

However, since it was scripted to come out of the mouth of a 10-year-old female vigilante assassin, it's somehow the worst thing in the universe, ever and we are all weaker as a species because of it. The violence of the film still pales in comparison to the slasher porn from Saw and related flicks that any teenager sees on a given weekend (or whichever tween manages to sneak it in past an ignorant parent during a trip to Blockbuster). Adults and reviewers often have misplaced priorities when considering the ultimate theme of the film, and in this case their response was true to form.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

YouTube channel for the "literal music videos": Substituting lyrics for the video that simply describe exactly what is on the screen. I highly recommend "Total Eclipse of the Heart," mainly because of the dancing ninjas.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Relationship Tech Support

The initial question posted is a very old Internet joke. The "response" is completely mine.

Dear Tech Support,

Last year I upgraded from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0 and noticed a distinct slow down in overall system performance--particularly in the Flower and Jewelry applications, which operated flawlessly under Boyfriend 5.0. In addition, Husband 1.0 uninstalled many other valuable programs, such as Romance 9.5 and Personal Attention 6.5 and then installed undesirable programs such as NFL 5.0, NBA 3.0, NASCAR 500.0 and Golf Clubs 4.1.

Conversation 8.0 no longer runs, and Housecleaning 2.6 simply crashes the system. I've tried running Nagging 5.3 to fix these problems, but to no avail. What can I do?

Please Help,
BSOD in Newark


Dear BSOD:

Your situation is quite familiar to us. While there are many advantages of the Husband 1.0 upgrade, easily 50-60% of our customers experience an inevitable decrease in system performance. This is initially due to the fact that Boyfriend 5.0 is a robust program designed for development purposes, whereas the Husband 1.0 is more streamlined and sometimes does not work well with the numerous add-on features that are less likely to run with Boyfriend 5.0. As with any application, each add-in increases the risk of a shutdown.

One question we do have is whether you notice (via Task Manager) whether the SexDrive.dll process is still running. One unfortunate bug we have found is that uninstalling Romance 9.5 and Personal Attention 6.5 does not always remove the SexDrive.dll; in fact in some instances it actually remains in active memory, steadily consuming system resources and eventually results in a similar crash.

You may want to try the following solutions:

  1. Check your Scheduled Tasks list and verify that the AuntFlo.prd task is running. While this is about 80% successful in killing the SexDrive.dll process, it unfortunately can only be executed every 28 days, which limits its usefulness. It also has the occasional chance of overloading Nagging 5.3, with the aforementioned Husband 1.0 shutdown. Some of our customers who run OrtNovum.exe notice that this task stops executing. This is the first step I recommend you taking.

  2. Install the Body Weight Plug-in. If you increase the LBS setting to 10, sometimes this will either decrease or kill the SexDrive.dll memory consumption. However, in many instances we have found that it has the opposite effect, actually prioritizing the Body Weight process to the point where Body Weight consumes most of the available system resources. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you may want to try the Plug-In cautiously and in small increments to determine if this is the case.

  3. Run CashFlow 2.0 with the "-$" command line switch. You will see a decrease in resource use by Golf Clubs 4.1, but may unintentionally add consumption by NFL, NBA and NASCAR. Again, sometimes SexDrive.dll and BudLite.exe remains constant or increases resource utilization in a negative CashFlow environment, so use this option with caution.

  4. A memory upgrade such as our Vegas 3.4b2 (with or without the Victoria's Secret plug-ins) package can be helpful in correcting SexDrive.dll issues but requires an investment of resources on your part. There are also other upgrades available in our "Adult" section (Doc Johnson being one of the more popular ones) which may be of assistance, but these tend to conflict with CashFlow if not used sparingly.

Also know that Vegas--while occasionally augmenting CashFlow--is unstable, and we've found that 50-60% of the time results in a General Protection Fault 0X33029A9320 (nicknamed "EPT") which will automatically install Baby 0.5 in 8-9 months. I refer you to the Advanced User Guide on our Support page for information on handling this event.

We have noted in many instances that detection of the fetus.dll process by Husband 1.0 will occasionally overload SexDrive.dll within 3-4 months to the point where the interface port of Husband 1.0 overheats, but it also has the side effect of reinstalling Romance 9.5 and Personal Attention 6.5 (these processes often remain resident in system memory 24 hours a day). The Ultrasound 0.7 patch often enhances this effect, sometimes decreasing the resource needs of SexDrive.dll with additional applications. Be careful to limit the usage of TacoBell.exe after 9pm during this period.

There is only way to truly kill SexDrive.dll, but it can have serious consequences.

  • Install the Visiting InLaw 2.3 add-on. This process is very unpredictable, and runs anywhere from 1 to 20 days depending on your overall system environment. There is no known way to override this add-on; it has to self-terminate unless you physically remove it, which in some cases prevents it from being run again. It will definitely kill SexDrive.dll but can have an unexpected impact on the stability of Husband 1.0, preventing Conversation and Romance from even being recognized by the system, as Husband 1.0's security features interpret any of these processes as additional instances of Nagging 5.3, resulting in system shutdown or launches Vegas 3.4b2 with the "+nospouse" command line trigger, removing Husband 1.0 from the operating environment temporarily. This may also result in unexpected activity with the CashFlow program. Be wary in this case and ensure you check the CashFlow system log for any instances of "BunnyRanch.Com".

  • If you do notice the BunnyRanch.com or similar logged instance, we recommend running an anti-viral scan before interfacing with Husband 1.0.

I wish you luck in your efforts to improve the performance of Husband 1.0. Properly maintained, it is a very reliable program which will give you many years of successful use.

Good Luck,
Craig, Tech Support ID #23932

Monday, February 15, 2010

What really killed the dinosaurs...

I like it. It makes a lot of sense. Teach the controversy ;-)
Here for the original source.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I am so on the fence with this...

OK, but...

OK, I was 15 when the original was out. I had the single, I had the ginormous wall poster. I didn't really follow much of the Ethiopian crisis except that I recall kids in school having jokes about it. I recall Sam Kinison's standup about it. I remember seeing the odd cross-section of musical artists, actors and whomever palmed Kenny Rogers a fiddy to get in the door. I remember wanting Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen strung up for contaminating what was otherwise a wonderful song with their musical pomposity.

I remember reading years later that if had it not been for Michael Jackson, the thing might never have been finished since he brought the win in the final hours before recording. In spite of the guy's fucked up personal life, he will always be remembered for a top-notch musical artist.

And I truly do get the issue of a remake--25th anniversary and all--Haiti wasn't as huge a tragedy as Ethiopia where millions were dying, and I sort of saw the original as an American answer to Geldof's Band-Aid, but I guess...nah, it's not for me to say whether it was really a good idea. The world is dealing with a lot of negative shit these days, and we need something positive and uplifting going on. Even still, I had issues. To wit:

I get having T-Pain's hand in things with the Autotune, but a metric shitload of it? I counted at least 10 instances, 2-5 maybes.

Pink. Josh Groban. Carlos Santana. Excellent choices. We needed more of the classic cast, but I get it: New generation, new artists.

Adam Levine does a perfect Stevie Wonder.

Streisand? Dammit all to Hell.

Janet, don't sing over your brother's vocals. Just leave the video clip there and step aside.

Jamie Foxx doing his impression of Ray Charles as what, homage? Kinda disrespectful if I may say so, especially with the body movements (maybe we can blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol, baby). Yes, you were excellent in Ray, so can we just move on?

Jeff Bridges: The Dan Aykroyd of the remake. And...Vince Vaughn? WTF?!

Brian Wilson has apparently discovered the secret to lichdom. I had no idea he was an archmage.

Rap music I get. It's the voice of all the young generations since the 1985 original. Kanye should have been blackballed. I guess his production skills still get him studio cred.

Celine Dion? I say Autotune, but it's too close to call. Pairing her next to Fergie is a bit of a slap in the face, though.

I'm sure it will be a phenomenal hit, not sure it will be the top selling single in the world, but we can hope so.
I could comment a lot about this video:

and I could also comment on this response:

but I won't on either, because they have similar yet different messages. My answer is this:

Men, there are things you do that drive your ladies batshit crazy.
Ladies, same goes for your idiosyncrasies and how men sometimes scratch their heads.

And yet, the human race perpetuates itself. Even for gay couples, there are aspects to personality that drive the other person up a wall. And again, boy still meets girl (or boy), and vice versa. Whether it's sociological or biological, we're genetically driven to put up with each other's crap. The men have their day in the sun, and I know the ladies do too.

If you manage to have 75, even 90% alignment with the interests and sensitivities of your significant other, then congratulations, you represent 0.05% of the population and these videos should do nothing except insult your situation and make you more thankful you don't deal with these sorts of things. For the rest of us, compromise is just another aspect to a relationship, and how we deal with it (either through venting or driving fast in a huge sportscar) is part of how we keep it alive.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How Back to the Future should have ended...

Marty McFly takes the grandfather paradox out a whole new door...courtesy of Collegehumor.com.

Image du Jour

Image du Jour