Friday, December 28, 2007

Assassins make the dreams end... Death is merely incidental...

I’ve been reading the daily news for years now and like to think that I have a grasp on various world events. That said there are some occurrences where I simply do not have the experience or mindset to fully comprehend. Some stories take shape in your mind with the answers you know, with the knowledge you have discovered. Other events take form from the questions you create out of the confusion. You become versed in the facts at hand but the core of the issue; the true understanding is just not there.

No doubt you have heard that Benazir Bhutto has been killed.

Well, they finally got her. Benazir was shot at a political rally just twelve days from the election that was sure to make her Prime Minister for the third non-consecutive time. The assassin blew himself up afterwards, killing some twenty people.

Bhutto’s return from exile was a sensitive diplomatic gambit over a year in the making. She would endorse President Musharraf’s tenuous hold on power for a third term and he would drop the corruption charges that forced her out of her own country. Together they might have achieved a stability in Pakistan that neither of them could manage on their own. The White House gambled heavily on this union, it would justify the billions in military aid Pakistan has received over the past several years and keep a chief ally in the War on Terror solvent in the face of internal crisis. What a mess!

The Life and Times of the Former Pakistani Prime Minister

Islamic Fundamentalists like the Taliban have been steadily gaining ground in Pakistan and the Oxford educated Bhutto was presumably a threat to them. It is said that Musharraf has been fighting the extremists but the Pakistani military and their intelligence agency has always had close ties to the Islamists from as far back as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

So why did it happen? No scenario I can cook up makes complete sense to me. Musharraf was no fan of Benazir but without her the best he can hope for is to rule Pakistan as a tyrant, shuffling the nation in and out of martial law. She was far more popular than he and the assassination of Benazir is going to generate a tremendous amount of backlash against the Islamists. They can’t win an open fight against the military and that is what the public is going to howl for. The pro-democracy faction who supported Bhutto’s political party is in a very dangerous position, being the most likely to become incensed but the least likely to stand up for itself. Benazir was all the leadership the Pakistan Peoples Party had. I don’t see this death being good news for any of the three sides.

Al-Qaeda Claims Responsibility

It’s interesting to watch a country pull itself apart. I wonder how many Pakistanis truly believe that a more powerful nation will arise from this multi-sided conflict. History has many more examples of the opposite occurring; of countries who wind up fractured and in disarray through sustained violence and are forced to bargain from positions of increased weakness on the world stage until they are ripe to be exploited by their more stable neighbours. A wounded and weary nuclear-armed Pakistan is one of the potential nightmare scenarios that strategists have warned us about for years now. It’s not often that the death of one single person can tip the world so far out of balance.

We Like Our South Asian Leaders Dead

There are many articles out there today discussing the life and times of Benazir Bhutto from historical pieces to personal reminiscence. By all accounts she was a very intelligent and charismatic person. I like the above article best though, it’s written with a non-western perspective which goes back to the limits of understanding I face on topics such as this. This author takes for granted a concept that I might never come to naturally myself. It’s a very good read and the last remark I’ll leave on this.

Friday, December 21, 2007

It's remarkable that prayer and fear adopt such similar poses...

As the year draws to an end I find myself thinking on the commitments I’ve made in my life. Can I maintain the ties that currently bind and do I have the strength to make more? We all desire things we do not have or think we might enjoy a different set of circumstances but without commitment they will never come to pass. I wanted to improve my writing and so I created this journal but even this simple pleasure demands more time than I have to give most weeks. The family I started with my beautiful wife appears some days to be a monstrous commitment; a thing with an appetite so great that by nightfall I am stripped of all my energy and patience only to be left with doubt and feelings of inadequacy. I worry that I take more than I give when it comes to the friends I have committed to and in doing so I take them for granted.

I am not quite forty but deep in my being I feel that my life is at its half-way point. My capacity to change seems diminished these years. In my wild youth change seemed to occur by choice but now change seems to take place due to circumstance and this unfortunately is a far less empowering notion. A commitment to change is invigorating because therein lay the seeds to self-improvement but a mandate to change underscores the ineffectual aspects of your existence, over time it can leave one feeling windblown and on dark days even victimized.

Such goth-ridden ennui!!! Surely this level of introspection will hasten the decay of my still delectable nards! Perhaps I need to commit to a change in perception? A re-invention of one’s world-view has always entailed a change of identity in my life. I am not the boy I use to be but what manner of man I am? Not young, not old, but already carrying baggage from both destinations, I am marooned in a duality of video games and RRSP contributions.

As I’m writing a co-worker just came by my desk and inquired as to where he might purchase a pipe to smoke his marijuana. What an excellent non-sequitur! I told him that bongs might be a nice way to inhale - or so I’ve heard, of course. He said a pipe is required, something he can stow in his car. I think it’s a sad story because if you’re going to smoke a bit of dope then you should certainly be doing it with a loved one nearby to laugh at - or so I’ve heard. Of course it’s or so I’ve heard. It’s always or so I’ve heard…

It’s such a silly society that has been constructed for us to inherit. Is that a benefit of aging? Shall we too get the chance to vote in stupid laws of our own? The Pope, Hilary Clinton, and a few other idiots have been publicly speaking out against video games. Why must every generation have its officially sanctioned tool of the devil? Does no one ever look back and say ‘geez that fad didn’t amount to much after all.’ Where the hell were these alarmists when Heavy Metal came on the scene, or the hippie rock of the sixties, or Elvis, or the god-damned Jitterbug? Remember when dancing the Jitterbug was going to turn you into a sex fiend? My grandfather and I had a good laugh when he reminisced over that one.

It’s always something but what I don’t get is that someone like the conspicuously awkward Hilary was no doubt doing her best trying to fit in while grooving to the then much-reviled Beatles and now she’s liable to become the President? Alice Cooper was and still is one of the most insane, blood-spitting rock stars out there but now he’s a semi-pro golfer who runs a quaint looking pub. Anyone familiar with Gene Simmon’s rise to reality TV stardom can plainly see that the tongue-lashing front-runner of KISS is nothing if not a doting parent and wise old jew these days. If you and Hilary Clinton loved kissing the sky with Lucy Diamond or whatever the fuck you kids did for kicks back then, why would you shit on its modern contemporaries today? You turned out just fine, didn’t you? Or is there something you’re not telling us?

Hey have I stumbled on the cure for my blues? Should I commit to nothing less than changing the world in order to give my life new meaning? It’s a thought that fills me with a sense of exhilaration, delusional though it may be. Will you, gentle reader, entrust me with this awesome and surely corrupting responsibility?

Don’t answer. This plane, I have landed it. It was a round trip, a full circle. Thank you for flying. Here’s some of the news I came across this week.

I’m no girl but this face looks like it could freeze a vagina!

President Vladimir Putin has been fairly elected as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year and why not? He’s been everywhere and rooting for him has been a guilty pleasure of mine these past twelve moons. Putin’s graceful slide into the uncontested rulership of Russia proves once again that effectiveness trumps morality on the world stage every time. Nuclear frikken poison people! Tom Clancy didn’t have the balls to invent it in one of his books and we were too afraid to even imagine such deviltry until someone critical of Putin died from polonium exposure. Another female dissenter was shot dead riding an elevator. Who on earth could shoot a woman? It’s horrible, it’s monstrous, it’s cold-blooded in the extreme… I imagine it takes some true grit however. It all sounds very Russian, don’t you think? Anyway I found this to be an interesting read and the pictures are great too.

Sure he’s a cold fish but he swims in a lake of money!

Thanks to Marc for this supplementary Putin article that follows the fortune he allegedly amassed. You can’t begrudge a Soviet-styled power broker a forty billion dollar pay-off now and then, can you? Most would but I got a thing for leaders who fashion themselves after James Bond villians.

I hate to say I told you so but really I never hate to say I told you so…

Surprise! The United States is deeply concerned over the prospect of failure in Afghanistan. They can’t bring in any more troops and so naturally their NATO allies are following suite. You see, the world at large would just love to transform the bandit-spawning narco-economy into something less scary but without the required (here comes that word again) COMMITMENT it’s just so much ass-wind standing in for foreign policy. We white people, it’s true we’re the most awesome people of all but I have to tell you that we can be pretty damn arrogant most times. There are in total around 40,000 troops in Afghanistan and somehow these ├╝bermensch were going to change the destiny of twenty-seven million people, a great many of them for which the words soldier and citizen are interchangeable because they have been at war with others and themselves for decades! It was, still is, and the history books will condemn it as pure delusion. One line says it all. Our Canadian government and its armed forces leaders need to read this one line and let it serve as a wake-up call. This comes from the U.S. Admiral and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs:

“In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.”

I would not play basketball with that kind of partner never mind go to war! The Canadian soldiers who have died and their grieving families deserve way better than to have done so in a second-rate misadventure, a campaign of lesser priority.

In my mind it is an unforgivable sin of leadership to entrust your military with a mission they cannot complete. Military engagements are won by making a wish list of everything your forces could possibly need and then doubling it. The commitment to this plan of action was far too small and in doing so blood and treasure was pointlessly wasted, to say nothing of our reputation as an effective and serious nation. It’s simple really: If you don’t commit fully, then you just don’t go, you find an alternative course of action and you take military occupation off the table. Our government paid but a pittance of Afghanistan’s true price in order to cynically curry economic favour with an ally whose pretence for warfare is even faultier than our own. In this our government has failed us, utterly.

The C.I.A. is doing nothing wrong but they don’t want you to see it anyway…

This issue is making news but stuff like this has happened too many times lately for me to think anything will come of it. I’ll throw it up for posterity and continuity however. So the C.I.A. took videotapes of them torturing Al-Qaeda members but then they destroyed them. I don’t think there is any reasonable doubt that they were destroyed because the tapes captured some truly monstrous behaviour. Some say the White House said ‘don’t destroy the tapes’ and others say the opposite. Lawyers are counselling all concerned parties as to their responsibilities and culpability, which really says all you need to know about how morally ambivalent the U.S. Government has become. Look for even a shadow of strong leadership in this issue, you will not find it.

Adorable sounding physics lessons can be found on YouTube.

I’m going to download these physics presentations from M.I.T. professor Walter Lewin over the holidays. They sound really interesting!

The Reuters Pictures of the Year 2007

Reuters pictures of the year are always neat. The one above is from the collection and is of a Canadian soldier seeking cover just second after his location was shelled. A thousand words indeed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My game tastes seem to be refining... I wish to kill more people at faster speeds...

The deluge of worthy games continues but I have seen the high water mark, the tide begins to ebb ever so slightly. In the strangest twist of fate ever I am honestly thankful of this because the quantity of desirable product through the end of 2007 was forcing me to do questionable things. If one possessed a perfectly excellent game (in this case Call of Duty 4) and one was dying to play it, why then would that person buy another (Mass Effect) game? Even worse, who in their right mind would only play the first chapter of the new game and then set it aside once ANOTHER hotly anticipated title (Unreal Tournament 3) hit the shelves? No one with a strong command of his faculties, to be sure. Games I have reviewed in the past couple of months are insisting they be re-played, they actually nag my brain whilst I am spending my time constructively. I literally have more games then I can play right now and I try to calm my increasingly indignant sense of responsibility by assuming there will be lean times on the horizon; a dry season where each of these purchases will receive time meriting their financial commitment. It seems I am becoming some kind of game-storing camel or squirrel. Is it mere coincidence that a newly emerging hump and steadily fattening cheeks liken me to these animals on a physical level? This is me coming to grips with what appears to be my early-blooming mid-life crisis.

So I took Mass Effect out a couple times and she puts out well enough but the chick is slooooooooow. Is it legal to compare a sci-fi epic to a blond chick? How about a Downsy blond chick who’s into the Dramamine? There is a ton of reading and dialogue to get through and you can even complete missions without drawing your weapons. Outrageous! Even as I wrote that last sentence my monocle popped off! Some people will love this and I can appreciate it because at its heart I can see there is a good game here, but I need to wait until I’m terminally ill and on the couch for ten hours a day before I can even touch this. The game has two minor points that disappoint and both issues can be blamed on X-Box design parameters. All the game data has to sit on the disk and what this results in are brutal load times and sub-par frame rates. The 360 can’t completely handle this game and Microsoft has either got to let designers put stuff on the hard drive or this will be the shape of things to come.

Unreal Tournament 3 however is the opposite of Mass Effect; it’s no golden-haired drooler with a touch of the Downs but rather a crystal-snorting redhead who likes to burn stuff. Developed by Epic Games and published by Midway, the Unreal Tournament franchise enjoys high status in the world of on-line shooters. There have been many incarnations of the game and aside from providing a lightning-fast shooter experience it showcases Epic’s proprietary game engine which they lease out to other designers. To this end Unreal Technology has been used in hundreds of games. There are well over fifty games using Unreal in this generation alone and that number will soon exceed one hundred. Thus far this console war's only winner has been Epic Games.

The overall art design and story in Unreal Tournament 3 is amongst the most hilariously over-the-top I’ve ever seen. My first instinct was to simply dismiss it as obvious and adolescent, but in the end I kind of liked it because I guess it’s just so damn ridiculous. “So bad it’s good” might be aptly applied here but I’ll hold off until I secure the proper permit. The main characters wear this crazy space armour all covered in needless embellishment, but that’s not metal enough so they wear skirts or sarongs also made of armour, but THAT’S not metal enough so they sport facial tattoos as well. This unrelenting passion for testosterone blasts any sense of realism or connection you have with any of these cartoon characters. The best is the weapons though. It looks like they took the front end of Camaro's and Trans-Am's, quartered them, and then had weapon barrels sticking out the middle. If these weapons are in any way a form of phallic compensation then I would be the Ron Jeremy of Unreal Tournament. The story is stupid, and makes no sense, and is filled with clich├ęs, and you don’t care, so that’s all I’ll say about that.

Nonetheless if you own a PC or a PS3 then you should get this game. What? Why? You see, the addition of a single player story mode is a kindness that Epic provided as a tutorial for players to become acquainted with the various aspects of this game. It allows you to play this game on your own against the computer thanks to some excellent A.I. programming. In the end however it’s really nothing more than value added to the multi-player which is the focus of the product. In this regard the game delivers! The fighting is amazing and this is achieved with blinding speed, gorgeous graphics, well-designed levels, and balanced mechanics.

There are around forty maps and they range from good to bloody excellent. One in particular played out like an epic story for me; it was a Capture the Flag game that had me coasting the open country on a hoverboard only to stop here and there in order to take part in some intense firefights. The game transcended from a contest into my own little adventure while war and havoc occurred around me. Vehicles play a huge roll and they come in all shapes and sizes including some alien walkers and flying demon squids. Such is the pacing of the game that you wind up jumping in and out of vehicles constantly, using their superior firepower to waste foes only to discard the wreck once it becomes severely damaged. The packaged vehicle segments you find in so many other games cannot hold a candle to this style of play.

If you want a gritty, realistic shooter then Call of Duty 4 is for you. If you prefer a gratuitous futuristic fantasy running at hyper-speed then give Unreal Tournament 3 a spin. Between the two there is simply too much good on-line multi-player action to give either title justice.

Game developers pressure the enthusiast media to no end...

Thanks to Marc for passing this article on to me and in doing so turning me on to the Gamasutra website. Sadly it seems the behaviour I singled Ubisoft out with is far more widespread than even I figured. I was surprised to see that a supposedly cool company like Rockstar (makers of Grand Theft Auto) were as corporate and Orwellian with their product message as the rest. It all appears so foolish really. It seems evident that the focus should be on making a game worthy of praise rather than jiggering the media.

Doughboy here loves his African art but he's a total fucking NOOB!!!

This spotlight on the C.E.O. of Activision, who upon merging with Vivendi will create a conglomerate to rival the giant Electronic Arts, is a good example of why I think video games and the media are in the state they are in today. Mr. Kotick is no doubt an excellent businessman but he’s not a game player and therefore has limited experience in making an actual product better. He can sell it better, he can promote it better, he might even be able to motivate actual game makers better, but in the end he is hawking a ware he doesn’t fully comprehend. Put in its simplest terms the purpose of a video game is to be fun. The fact remains that only devoted game players can tell you how that comes about. They can tell you how the product rates when put against its competitors in the marketplace and they do so with their purchases. Until the game industry matures to the point where game designers get old and experienced enough to secure executive level positions most big game companies will continue to fly blind and focus sales tactics off the product, where the current leadership feels comfortable and in control.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The men who read these books are now in my belly and boy did they give me the meat sweats!

I haven’t abandoned the news or current events entirely, they have merely had their priorities adjusted while I’m reading Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. I’m nearly finished The Golden Compass and it has really drawn me in. I think Mr. Pullman has created one of the most exciting and believable child heroes in fantasy fiction and yes, I completely agree with you in that there are too many of them as it is. Lyra is a bit different however; she’s not the usual, cerebral weenie who finds her confidence and courage at the end of the book. Rather she’s something of a self-assured unholy terror right from the get-go. Lyra’s true strengths lie in her being an uber-kid; her vast quantities of determination and deceitfulness are the only tools she needs to overcome a variety of legitimately discouraging obstacles… Well that and a spot of future telling… Oh yeah, and one of the most insane combination bodyguard/all-terrain vehicle a ten year old could ever hope for, but still I think most of the credit belongs to her.

Nearly twenty years ago fantasy and science fiction were stitched together into horrid, clunky abominations. The Shadowrun line of books and games we’re forerunners of this Frankenstein-style genre-splicing. They thought it hip to have elves sporting assault rifles and I detested their products roundly for it and their other short-cuts to creativity. Writers have since had time to hone their surgical techniques and now we are treated to something far more subtle and interesting. The Golden Compass bends time in its own alternate version of earth. Oxford remains firmly in the 1600’s, London’s moved ahead a bit to the 1800’s, and the North Pole seems to have been catapulted into the 1940’s. It somehow works even if the end result is a Texan cowboy and a polar bear sharing a hot air balloon ride.

The reviews of the just-released movie are not altogether kind and at the time of this writing it’s getting a 45% on Rotten Tomatoes. Such is the peril of making a fantasy book into a film; the medium has a lot going for it when it’s kept firmly in the mind of the reader. Seeing a cowboy and a polar bear in a hot air balloon probably looks preposterous but having a writer set it up for you as a climax to an excellent adventure scene is an easier sell. When you read a book you don’t have it entirely play out in your mind like a movie; it’s a shadow version of sight, there and not, the visual intermixed with the sentence structure, all of it incomplete and yet somehow cohesive in the end. Fantasy movie makers must be careful to not make things too blatant. As well time plays a heavy roll. A book that takes you two or three weeks to read gives you ample time to digest the wacky and wild, there’s a rest period between meals. In a two or three hour movie it can result in way too much at once. It has the same effect as the Mandarin Buffet has on me; too much cheap food under one heat lamp, all of the combined smells turn me off the concept of lunch completely.

It has however been an interesting news cycle this past week so for the sake of posterity I’ll throw up some links.

Russian President puts the cool back in Cold War...

There goes our man Vladimir! One day he’s scaring the hell out of all Europe and on the next he sweeps his party into a Parliamentary election victory with an impressive 64%. Plus have you seen him without a shirt on? Weapon of Mass Seduction more like it! With the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty now serving as Putin’s toilet paper the Russians are free to move tanks, jets, and helicopters wherever they please throughout their western regions. I hope the European Union enjoyed their time negotiating with Russia as some kind of spent drunken has-been because those days are over.

Hugo Chavez can't get ahead in politics. Get it? It's a PUN!

Chavismo looks to be in need of Viagra. I just had to post his picture. Look to that massive, swollen, torrentially perspiring melon of his and those teeny, tiny books! He looks like Ogre King of Hobbiton! He must eat one-hundred head of steer every fortnight! The little folk who serve him must have to butter-skate on his skillet before they fry him up a thousand eggs!

This is Hugo’s first defeat since assuming power, though he remains President until 2013. He was looking to fast-forward his socialist Bolivarian revolution by giving himself the power to unilaterally alter Venezuela’s constitution and remain in power indefinitely. It proved to be too much to ask despite the fact that he is wholly beloved by his people. The vote was close and chances are he will take another run at these changes again.

This, the Russian election, and the one in Palestine last year show us the full range of democracy, how one government system can result in such different outcomes. Power to the People sometimes has pretty crazy results. Russia loves the strength and identity Putin has restored in their hearts and for this he seems poised to become all but a Unitary Executive. It’s what they have demanded with their votes so you can’t rightly disqualify the notion even if it does collide with our version of government. When the Palestinians voted for Hamas the U.S. and Israel howled in disbelief, thinking that the servile Fatah party was the only viable choice. They never stopped to think what would motivate the Palestinians to pick what they have labelled a terrorist organization. They don’t get that things are just that bad for these people, that a free choice for anger and outrage is better than accepting the yoke of servitude in some sham of an election.

Hugo Chavez has given his people more education and empowerment than any Venezuelan leader before him. I find it both reassuring and ironic that in doing so his own people have come to realise the difference between the struggle and the figurehead. Chavez will be gone one day, one way or another. Their work will go on.

If Iraq sucked any more their women would be prostitutes... Oh wait, that's happening too...

Iraq has been rated the third most corrupt nation on earth, sitting below only Ethiopia and Myanmar, both of which I don’t think are even human countries but rather some kind of emerging simian stone-age empire. I kid, I kid! Just because a nation doesn’t have a space program doesn’t mean they’re destined to make my acid wash jeans for pennies a day in a sweat shop. I know these things but I can never seem to remember them. By the way acid wash is coming back and it’s coming back big because it’s awesome. Fuck you!

So you have to pay several hundred dollars to become a police officer in Baghdad. I’m trying to think of a better way, a more nefarious way, to cause a society to collapse in on its own moral crapulence but I think this is the clear winner. What do you think these new police officers are going to do on the first day of work? If you said: “Why Dyno, they are going to re-coup their losses of course,” then I would say: “Why do you bother pointing out the obvious to me? Do you think I’m some kind of idiot?” And then you would say: “Let’s not fight. I have this dime bag and it’s never going to snort itself.” And then I would say: “How can I not love you? Here, let me unzip that fly.”

Afghanistan: Big in the Bandit Business since 982!

What I find interesting in this article about the Afghan road between Kandahar and Kabul is that if you picked up a newspaper five hundred years ago you would probably read a very similar article. There are bandits on this ancient trade route still, and they will rob and even mutilate you as they did back then. What I don’t like about the article is how they spin the repaving of the road itself as a humanitarian effort. Read any military history book, building roads is not a P.R. move. You can spend a quarter million dollars on asphalt or you can spend a full million in repairs to your battered motorcade. That the Afghans get to use the road when American Humvees aren’t convoying on it is purely incidental. It’s like when a fly crawls over your shit. Letting the fly do it doesn’t make me a fly-lover. “Go ahead, fly! I’m done drawing with it, it’s all yours.”

It's kind of stony but I would still eleven herbs and spice the fuck out that shit yo!

Its Dinosaur With The Skin Still On Time kids! They found a Hadrosaur with skin and muscle still attached and in good form in a bizarrely fossilized state! You get to actually see the cool dinosaur scales. Already this has given them corrections on what the Hadrosaur actually looked like, stuff the bones didn’t tell, like for example it has a meatier backside for the T-Rex’s to dine upon. It sucks that dinosaur’s became extinct because you know that they would be delicious on the barbecue.

But-but-but the nuclear bombs and the hating our freedom and the terrible terror!

I will surely return to this topic because the blow-back is even now huge and will not go away any time soon. The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons capability gave the Persian regional power a clean bill of health. They don’t think there is a program and they don’t think there has been one in years. This report was given to Bush in August but that didn’t stop him from war-mongering about nuclear holocausts and World War III. Already there has been downplaying and spin control. It is now clearly evident that the response Bush was trying to muster against Iran is in no way justifiable given the actual level of threat. Carrier Battle Groups are stationed off the Gulf of Hormuz, bombing campaigns are ready to go, and for what? No weapons, no weapon programs, nothing even close for years. It’s the lies of Iraq all over again.

A pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief. It is the nightmare scenario of political science fiction...

Keith Olbermann is my favourite pretend-older brother because he’s been calling Bush on his shit and taking him out behind the woodshed for years now. His comments on this latest issue are hellacious even by his own excoriating standards. I have never heard anyone speak about a world leader in these terms in my life! You can watch the show or read the transcript. It is a scorcher!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Here lies Dyno who perished alone in the dark, buried by tinsel and suffering from Legionnaires' Disease...

I’m starting to hate the festive season already, which is early for me. The stores have already become some kind of fuggy smelling clown-show. It’s hard to catch the holiday spirit when all about you stinks of car exhaust and feet. Any day now my lovely wife is going to proclaim that if we don't have our tree up in the next forty-eight hours we shall be regarded by child services and her parents as lazy layabouts depriving our podlings of magic and memory... Oh and let's be clear about this, by 'we' she means me.

I shudder in anticipation of hearing the utterance. She will say; "Honey, why don't we get the tree out this weekend, okay?" Translated from the wiven-tongue this non-question means; "Go deep into the bleak hole where I have commanded you to banish all other manner of thing that offends my eye and do not return unless you find the half-dozen dust-caked and mould-spotted boxes that contain our Christmas Cheer. While down there if you find that thing - you know that thing I was talking about - then bring it up too because last time I asked for it and you didn't bring it and so now I'm asking you again and if you don't bring it up again this cycle will continue FOR THE REST OF YOUR FOOLISH, WORTHLESS, AND PITIFUL LIFE!!!"

What I am looking forward to is Christmas Day. I want to dump a bunch of presents on my daughter and watch her go crazy around the living room while I’m stretched out on the couch, nursing a huge fucking mimosa while the savoury smells of a freshly-stuffed turkey waft through the room. Oh that’s right! I’m doing another turkey; it’s like the Pringles of sadomasochistic kitchen rituals, you can never do just one! In truth I’m looking forward to spending time with my family but more particularly I’m looking forward to time with them while they’re not bugging me, where there are more interesting things going on like presents and good food to occupy them. I would do this every weekend if I could, just for the peace and quiet. Christmas is the time of year where we all live like millionaires for a day and blow a wad of cash just to keep everybody off each other’s backs.

The response to my charity drive has been very positive and encouraging thus far. If you are thinking about making a donation to buy toys for the children stuck at Toronto Sick Kids hospital then please do so. To reiterate, you can make a purchase from the Toronto Sick Kids Wish List (linked below) if you want to buy something on your own or I am still pooling money together from friends to buy a batch of hand-held consoles. In both cases any donation is tax deductible. Contact me if you would like more details.

Child's Play Wish List - It's what all the cool kids are doing

What with the foul Toronto weather and other domestic issues, I’ve been home even more than usual. We finished watching the third season of Weeds which continues to be excellent. It’s a perfect blend of dramatic tension, raunchy humour, and contemporary satire. The second season of Dexter has officially entered the ‘holy crap’ phase of the story arc and has gone from damn good to bloody excellent. What’s nice about both these shows is the consistency they manage. This is not a given when it comes to shows with great potential. The second season of Heroes has floundered for this reason but we’re still watching in hopes that it recaptures old glory. I thought Battlestar Galactica had similar issues last season but by the finale all was well. We caught their Razor movie tie-over and it was very good; a nice mix of story fill-in along with some new stuff that both shocked and awed. What should we watch next? I want to see The Wire but we can’t find a clean copy online. Nip And Tuck has been mentioned as jolly perverse programming so that’s in the running. Deadwood perhaps, how does it hold up to these two? I’m also curious to see what Mad Men is about.

I finished Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, only so that it lying there incomplete wouldn’t nag me while I started Mass Effect. Made by the excellent Insomniac Games for the PS3, it illustrates an important lesson in video game entertainment: that so long as a title is made really, really well it's worth playing regardless of the subject matter. Ratchet & Clank is up there with a Pixar movie: the pictures are clearly targeted towards children but the quality is so high that adults have no problem enjoying the material.

While the story in Tools of Destruction is simplistic and the humour zany, the characters are lovable, the environments are beautiful, and the game play is great fun. One could call these games shooters because the titular characters pack a couple dozen weapons with which to solve their problems, but these cartoon characters wind up going to war with a wagon of fireworks and magic tricks. Things blow up pink or turn into penguins; disco balls emitting an irresistible beat serve as hand grenades. This game dazzles the eye with a digital carnival of light and colour. It is pretty. It makes one feel young and silly again. Point of order, my wife finished the game first. She said it was fun but too easy. Her seal of approval means more to the casual gamer than mine ever could.

Penny Arcade comic strip

An explanation of the incident itself, including relevant links

Video game publishers view the enthusiast press with utter contempt

I’m throwing this up because it ties in with what’s becoming an ongoing topic: that of video game journalism, how lost it is, and how it's not likely to get much better. The victim in question is one Jeff Gerstmann; a personality in game editorial and as much a veteran as this new media can hope for. Jeff was put in the unfortunate position of having to review a game made by a company that purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising from his employer. The game in question reviewed poorly, receiving a 6/10. For this he lost his job and it has become a rather public incident amongst the game-playing nerf-herders we call a community.

The video game review matrix I outlined last month is sadly becoming something of a meme. The ‘Out of 10’ marking scheme that makes use of only four or five numbers is mentioned now as a given. It is one thing to feel you know something through sober personal analysis and quite another to be given concrete example; it’s the difference between conspiracy and fact. We can see now that as the cost of production increases the need to protect investments from fact-based scrutiny are now being fully enforced by publishing companies. Respected people are their losing their livelihood over this shit. More than anything it renews my faith in the power of the written word.

You just need to be more careful than ever where you’re getting it from…

Monday, November 26, 2007

If you love this game so much why don't you marry it? Well, I bought it and that's kind of the same thing...

I picked up Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on Tuesday night and brought it over to my gamer-wife Mike’s place so that we might have something shiny and new to look at. After passing the controller around for two hours all in attendance were pretty wowed by the lush beauty and tight playability of the title. I started the story myself on Wednesday evening and completed the twelve hour story on Saturday. I devoured this game, I simply couldn’t put it down, and if Uncharted hadn’t already interrupted my progress in Ratchet & Clank then I would fire it up again searching for the treasures and medals I missed.

Uncharted was developed by Naughty Dog exclusively for the PS3. This company rounds out the holy trinity of Sony’s top-tier American developers, the others being Insomniac Games and Sucker Punch Productions. All three companies had big franchises on the PS2 and show no signs of stumbling. What’s better the three are known to enjoy a good business relationship and have even assisted each other’s productions. These are the kinds of arrangements and biographies you want to hear about as a game player; original intellectual property used in a slew of quality titles. Notice the absence of endorsement titles or licensed products? Had they been there I would have mentioned them. This is why I always look back to company history and their track record; it does a good job foretelling the future. So far the only of the above companies we haven’t heard from this generation is Sucker Punch, who is working on a superhero title called Infamous. I’m taking bets that game will kick ass as well.

Uncharted takes all the great things in adventuring and mixes them up into a flawless confection. At its core it’s a pulp-action tale in the spirit of Indiana Jones. It’s a treasure hunting thriller that has you exploring a lush tropical rain forest, ancient Mayan ruins, and deserted Spanish colonies. When things get rough it turns into an exciting third-person shooter that’s as simple to play as it is satisfying. Best of all, the story is compelling, the characters are engaging, the dialogue sounds natural, and there are a couple of plot twists that really take you by surprise.

Visually this game can compete with anything put out on a console; everything is absolutely gorgeous and runs very smooth. Playability-wise you have a character that climbs about like the Prince of Persia and fights like Gears of War. What that means is you are having fun every minute you play no matter what you’re doing. What’s more, Nathan Drake; wise-cracking descendant of Sir Francis and the game’s hero is a supremely likable and believable guy. The sound is wonderful and the musical score is fantastic. From beginning to end this whole game is an exercise in high production values and polish.

The game awards medals and rewards for a wide variety of accomplishments like finding treasures, effective fighting techniques and other interesting challenges. It thickens up the competitive aspects of the game and provides a nice assortment of bells and whistles. With Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Ratchet & Clank Future, and Call of Duty 4 all earning top marks it seems the age of the PS3 has finally come... and it's about time.

The great game that wasn't.

For more video game reading here’s Wired Magazine’s take on Assassin’s Creed. Thanks to Marc for passing it on. It’s a pretty scathing review that echoes the talk I heard about it throughout production.

You see that nasty alien zit that begs to be popped? That's IMMERSION!!!

Getting much higher critical success is Mass Effect; a science fiction RPG. The focus of Mass Effect doesn’t seem to be the fighting or exploring – which I’m told is done well enough – but the interaction and conversations to be had with other characters. I’m going to be picking this one and turning on my X-Box 360 for the first time in over a month so I’ll be chiming in on this one.

The fat, middle aged plumber that just won't go away.

Meanwhile all of you Wiitards out there have what looks to be an A+ game to play as well. Super Mario Galaxy is getting stellar reviews and appears to be making good use of everyone's favourite waggle-box.

Duelling Fake Guitars... Still not as gay as the lead singer of Judas Priest...

Meanwhile in mainstream gaming Guitar Hero seems to have some competition in the form of Rock Band. I see this to be a non-issue. The only complaint lovers of Guitar Hero have ever had is that there aren't enough songs. I don't even understand why these games are sold on disk with only thirty songs a pop or so. They should just set up an iPod Store-like website, have coders do nothing but pump out playable song after song until there is a library of thousands, and sell them individually for a couple bucks a pop. Guitar Hero isn't so much a video game but a new form of digital entertainment; interactive music appreciation.

Notice how many video game articles there are in the mainstream papers? Holiday shopping season must have started.

Can you imagine the orgies to have occurred in a place like this?

In an attempt to eschew any mention of current events I’ll put up this really exceptional story. This is what people who don’t waste their time playing video games do with their lives. It’s an impressive achievement to say the least.

On the other hand...

Of course, if you devote your life to Jesus and elect to never learn anything of worth for the entirety of your life, you are liable to fritter away your days building sets for the Creation Museum. The one with primative man feeding the animals while a dinosaur looks passively on is my favourite.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For a picture it was a toss-up between Condi and this troop transport... I picked the prettier of the two...

I have found the past couple weeks to be somewhat slow on the news front. When I mentioned this over the weekend to my semi-automated news-tracker friend Nima at http://www.positivity.ca/ he concurred. Things were still happening in the world; cyclones in Bangladesh killed over 3,000, there was anti-petrodollar rhetoric at OPEC meetings in Saudi Arabia, a Polish visitor arrived in Vancouver B.C. only to be executed by airport security, and the trial of an Atlanta wrestler who enslaved nine women was underway. It was the usual run of events but there seemed to be a restrained air to the monkey knife fight that is world events. There seemed to be an absence of the frantic and frothing.

Finally I thought I put my finger on it; a shortfall of concrete Iraq stories. For years now the Iraq war and occupation has been the linchpin of the daily news cycle, especially in America. Papers, news programs, and websites build their product around what Iraq items they are going to showcase on any given day. It’s become the frame and focus of their product. When the load is lightened it seems to alter the whole structure itself. That’s when I focused on Iraq in particular to see if there was any merit to my notion.

I want to be clear that this news topography I claim to have prescience over is entirely speculative if not subjective as well. I thought I saw an interesting question and then in gathering news items I constructed myself an answer. At the very least it’s a deductive exercise wrapped up in your friendly Iraq up-date...

This is when things started to go quiet…

At the end of October, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was threatening to essentially draft State Department employees into diplomatic duty in Baghdad because there weren’t enough volunteers to fill the posts. This forced relocation caused an uproar as many employees thought the conditions were unsafe and the work futile. This incident created something of a breach in public relations. The solution for Iraq has always been placed in the political and it takes diplomats, not soldiers, to facilitate those kinds of improvements. If the Foreign Service workers weren’t going to be there then Iraq’s rise from a sectarian hellhole wouldn’t happen. I speculate that this is where a clamp on the media started and I then attempted to qualify my hunch. I put ‘Iraq’ in the search engines of both the New York Times and the Washington Post, and then scanned through over 300 articles each in each publication over a timespan of just over three weeks.

Two year old weapon story, printed this month

Release of prisoners caught in neighbourhood dragnets

The first article goes over weapons handed out to Iraqi forces without proper tracking measures and thus there are tons of missing weapons. The subject matter isn’t new and the article itself is concerning itself with action occurring in 2004 and 2005 with no new information surfacing to justify printing this article in 2007. The second article reports that 500 Iraqi prisoners have been released from U.S. custody which must be considered good news because most of those people had no business rotting in jail in the first place.

Both of these articles are typical of the first two weeks in November. Iraq is either given a clinical and retrospective treatment or the stories are domestically based; things like the Blackwater civilian hard-on hearing or Mukasey’s non-opinion on torture. The ‘good news’ story is reaching but printed nonetheless while Iraq as it is on the ground is no where to be found with the exception of soldier death announcements.

Dissent in the State Department you say? How convenient!

Security money for the State Department you say? How reassuring!

Meanwhile two stories give the State Department a whole new coat of paint. The first talks about employees in Iraq chastising the position of Foreign Service agents back home. The article points to an inter-department blog as a source for these cracks in their solidarity. I am suspicious as to what the true point of this article really is. I think it’s a given that a workplace with hundreds of employees is going to have differences in opinion, newspapers don’t need to inform me of this fact. I cannot help but think however that it undermines those diplomats who roundly spoke as one when they declared” “hell no, we won’t go.”

The second article talks about the significant security budget increase the State Department requested. How else would this be taken by the employees other than: “worry not, we’ll take good care of you.”

Travel restrictions starting to lift in Baghdad

Violence in a downward trend

Some Iraqis return to their homes

We’re coming to it now. Starting last week and rolling into this one are stories like the above. Stability in the capital is said to be up and attacks down so there are plans to remove roadblocks and permit easier travel throughout the city. Add to that reports that some Iraqis feel secure back on their home street if not in their neighbourhood (and certainly not in their city entire.) Still, its progress as the media chooses to measure it and must come as a relief to those faced with travelling there.

Success! An embarrassment averted! On with your scheduled programming...

All of this may or may not have culminated in the State Department filling its roster without issuing strong orders. Who knows what incentives or pressures were employed in the end. Perhaps the muted arc of the news cycle was merely serendipitous. What I find remarkable is that people who were justifiably in fear for their lives at the thought of being shipped to the most dangerous place on earth had a change of heart in about three short weeks and I myself believing that it took a whole lot more than the hit-and-miss diplomatic capabilities of Condoleeza Rice.

I am not stating that Condoleeza Rice or any other person has power over the news but if Canada is any indication then I will assert that the news gets a lot of material from government sources. If the government turned the spigot of information off with regards to the Iraq war or Afghanistan or any other issue then there is nothing for the news service to report and we the citizenry would assume that there is nothing to report at this time. Ours is a society of open government at best, propaganda at worst, and the Sunday Edition tends to sit somewhere inbetween.

In going over all this news I see the occupation entering a new phase and it isn’t Iraq returning to normalcy, even if you consider normalcy to include sectarian enclaves and no-go zones in what was once a civilized country. I see acceptance sinking in on both sides; Iraqis and Americans are starting to wearily come to grips with their new reality and make the necessary accommodations to live with their fate. The shock doctrine is in full effect right now and U.S. over-lordship might be something that everyone at home and abroad accepts provided the news doesn’t get too ugly and everyone is allowed to cook in their own kitchens, bullet-riddled as they may be. I think the U.S. military knows that America’s long-term strategic plans in the region involve keeping a message ephemeral yet clear: “Sure it sucks now but it could go back to being much, much worse. Get used to us hanging around.”

One last article, the one they didn’t want you to see...

Thanks to Marc for sending this piece. It’s a startling statistic that I didn’t find anywhere in my search of those two big American papers. British troops were holding Basra and getting attacked constantly so they withdrew with the result being a 90% drop in violence. They were bringing it on themselves and thus removed the problem.

The U.S. will not follow this course of action, not their diplomats and not their soldiers. The British were interested in keeping the peace; the Americans have a different set of priorities in mind.

UPDATE: The rash of 'good news' from Iraq created quite a response among readers of the New York Times and a question/answer blog was set up. It goes over some of the articles I've posted including the Basra situation.

New York Times Q&A article

Monday, November 19, 2007

Listen up ya scurvy bastards! We're gonna help some kids and for once in yer miserable lives yer gonna do some good in this world...

Last Christmas I implemented a “No Gifts to Adults” policy amongst my family and my in-laws. I wasn’t going to buy for them and I hoped that they wouldn’t buy for me. I instead wanted people to focus strictly on the growing number of children in the clan and to double-gift them if they couldn’t restrain their capitalistic urges. This gift giving amongst thirty-plus year olds is wasteful to me; we do it more out of habit than anything else, shopping consumes a vast amount of time that could be better spent with family, and children go crazy when they receive a gift while older folk must often feint gratitude and receive similar awkward praise for their own trouble.

Unfortunately it was a middling success at best. Some followed it in half-measures and some ignored it completely. Hopefully the mild shock I saw in their eyes at my failure to reciprocate will have remained with them but this year I’m upping the ante just to be sure. I’m going to promote a charity and have them choose between helping needy kids and giving to a thankless bastard.

Child’s Play – It’s where I’d like your spare holiday dollars to go…

I found a charity that speaks to me, that represents my passion and views on life. Child’s Play is an officially recognized non-profit charity that gives toys to children stuck in hospitals. So far they have donated over a quarter-million dollars since they began in 2003. They focus primarily on video games because these items are in low supply but high demand amongst ailing youngsters. So what I’m going to do amongst friends, family, and you, gentle reader, is put out the good word so that some tykes spending the holidays at Toronto Sick Kids get some really cool toys this year.

Why this charity in particular? First because I want to do something nice for kids; it’s their time of year above all. Being in a hospital must suck and I want to help them have fun while they are there. Second is this is a charity organized by gamers for gamers. This charity shows that people who enjoy video games are decent, generous people.

This is the Sick Kids hospital Wish List. You can Amazon a Gift in no time…

There are a couple ways to go about this. If you want to do something on your own then hit the link above and pick out something you want to give. A game for thirty or forty bucks is a great gift on its own. I think however that collectively we can do even better. Kids need to play on something and getting a portable console like the Nintendo DS would knock a kid’s socks off. Seeing as they run nearly $150.00 I don’t expect everyone to pony up but if we collect our funds then a single purchase can be made for as many units as we can buy. Optimally a nice mix of games and handhelds would really make the day for some bed-ridden children.

This charity is tax-deductable.

If you read this, then chances are I know you. If you want to add to the console fund I’m starting then just say so in the Comments section and I’ll get in touch with you. I will set up a Pay-Pal thing or if you tell me how much you’re in for I’ll cover you until I release Scar-Bee on a collection run. If you decide to donate something on your own then let me know in the Comments section with your confirmation number so that I can track the donation and tally it up at the end. If you’re digging this idea then get the word out and collectively let’s generate some significant numbers. If you have any other ideas or suggestions then get in touch and let’s work on something.

I will be coming back to this topic and updating you all throughout December.

Friday, November 16, 2007

You get to play an assassin who may have been touched by a hot chick!!!

Assassin’s Creed has hit the shelves to mixed reviews. Now remember what I’ve outlined about video game critiquing. By mixed I mean a crop of 7’s which in turn means sub-par; go run and get one with someone else's money. The hype for this game may have exceeded its true merit and I have found it interesting to follow this particular story.

Game publishers in general have a few tools at their disposal to ensure their advertising of a less than decent product eclipses journalistic – and I use that term loosely – impressions. Ad revenue can be pulled from a magazine or a website and this may motivate an editor to practice a spot of self-censorship. Review embargoes are not unheard of, whereby unfavourable reviews are requested – and I’m using that term loosely too – to be held back and published only when the game is in the stores. Swag, perks, and the free stuff that is so beloved to nerdlinger-kind can be withheld. Prior to Halo 3's release some privileged reviewers received an army duffle bag containing a militarized X-Box 360 complete with controllers, headset and the so-called Legendary Edition of the game that comes in a Master Chief's helmet to be worn by your cat! I’ve read things, questionable things from unreliable sources, we’re talking the very detritus of wannabe journalism; blogs, message boards, group emails... Places just like My Time. More than one has claimed that Assassin’s Creed has unleashed the fucking fury in this regard. These baseless rumours should be ignored by any person of reason, of course. I however do not count myself in that group.

Disgruntled Employee or Beacon of the Hidden Truth?

Look to the lovely young lady above. This is Ms. Jade Raymond and she is the producer for Assassin’s Creed. Ms. Raymond received her computer science degree at McGill and has previously worked for Sony and EA before moving to Ubisoft. Her charisma landed her a gig as a host on the Electric Playground video game review show. I want to make a couple things clear at this point. I am not stalking Jade Raymond, that job seems to be taken by whoever's running her fan website. Also, my journalistic fact-finding skills are bush-league at best. How then do I know so much about Jade? How do I know more about Jade Raymond than video game developers that I have personally interviewed? Understand this; In the two year-plus long run-up to the release of Assassin's Creed, if I were to select a word describing Jade Raymond's entrance into my life it would be UNAVOIDABLE. Put her name in google and there you will find a teeth-whitening shit-ton of pictures and print. At first I thought this was because she has appeared on somewhat obscure cable television but her relationship with Assassin’s Creed; one of the most anticipated titles of this console generation thus far, is what is mentioned over and over again.

I’m going to assume that Ms. Raymond is fantastic at her job as are all the other women who work in video game entertainment. That’s not what this is about at all. I would however question the integrity of any company who pushes their game with the good looks of an employee and this seems to be the case with Assassin’s Creed. I’ve listened to lengthy narrations from the likes of Ken Levine of the phenomenal Bioshock or Gabe Newell’s ruminations on the flawless Half-Life, but I have no idea what they look like and if I google their images I don’t get the thousands of sunny snapshots that greet me when I do the same with Jade.

Hey I get it, she’s a great looking girl and gamers are… well… you know what they say. Why wouldn’t Ubisoft take the initiative and thrust her into the spotlight, to become the face of the game? No, shut up, I'll answer; perhaps because it takes the focus off the game, it takes it way off and when you marry this with a multi-million dollar advertisement campaign, an anti-journalistic psy-op, and no playable demo you get what this release looks to have become; the disingenuous foisting of a so-so product on a bamboozled customer base. Maybe it's not fair that Jade can't hype her game without drawing these kinds of analysis whereas guys like Cliffy B. of Gears of War or Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear don't, but (aside from the fact both Cliff and Kojima are associated with wicked games and success trumphs all) the SECOND fact of the matter is we live in a world where chicks in bathing suits sell beer. Do you know what sells beer to me? IT'S BEER! Marketing people however leave no stone unturned. If there's a fucking idiot out there who needs a chick in a bathing suit to remind him that beer in Lakota means awesome-sauce they'll make a commerical. Let us join hands and universally agree that the masters of Ubisoft, they know this too. They're french! They practically invented kissing!

Ubisoft needs to do some soul searching between the torrent of Tomless, Clancyless, Tom Clancy titles they crank out; do they want to provide a quality product to valued customers or do they want to make half-assed games and then work hard to deceive people? Ubisoft has been both kinds of companies but every time they eschew Jeckle in favour of Hyde they further corrupt their own corporate culture. Developers of lacklustre games only learn to make more lacklustre games. A marketing department with a penchant for deception and punitive action is only going to get more detached from the truth as the games go by. We are creatures of habit and we tend to fall into familiar, previously-established patterns.
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Scroll down and look at the picture. It says at least a thousand words...
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This picture disturbs me. She’s on display for fuck sakes! What the hell kind of a team photo is that? The shot has a Gwen Stefani/No Doubt vibe. Ms. Raymond works with these people and I cannot understand what would make a person of good judgement and character agree to be captured like this. With regards to this whole topic that picture is the only blame I lay at Ms. Raymond's feet. It's understandable that some of this episode may have gone to her head. It's barely a sin and if I haven't been clear in my writing the focus of my distain is the crafty exploitation that Ubisoft enacted. This is me being telepathic; there was once an Ubisoft boardroom meeting and Jade's good genetics was mentioned, professionally.

So I guess I'm not alone in not trusting Ubisoft on this one.

The plot, it thickens. The good people at Something Awful posted some photoshopped pornography and a comic crafted by the esteemed Chugworth Academy. I wasn't fast enough to catch the nudey stuff but the comic involved Ms. Raymond performing fellatio on young boys who between moaning and groaning promised to purchase the game. Lovely. These images were predictably considered internet polonium and they are no longer to be found... for now. I sincerely hope Jade doesn't feel too banged up by this should she have seen the material in question. The punchline for photoshop porn is always the pan-drippings who waste time doing such things. The comic was well drawn but not especially cutting or witty. It's not like she got her ass reamed by the boys at Penny Arcade, which if you're not into internet comics means it's not like Jade was targeted by the likes of Matt Stone and Trey Parker from South Park... If you don't get THAT reference then I have to ask you what you think you're doing reading my blog? Seriously, I'm sure I wouldn't like you very much and so you should just fuck away before I put a page counter on this thing and find out where you live... Page counters can do that, right?

What the Chugworth (such a great name) comic was in all its blunt obviousness was a pretty succinct social commentary on how Ubisoft is attempting to pimp their property, breathing and otherwise. Naturally Ubisoft's lawyers sent the webmaster at Something Awful a publicly released 'cease and desist - slash - free P.R. stunt' type letter . Trust me it's lawyer-speak and thus not worth your time. The Something Awful response however is another matter and I'll leave you with that. So long as Ubisoft believes this geek-strength shit-storm might sell Assassin's Creeds it won't go away so I might give an update if the comment section tells me there is a person or two who cares. Seriously people, I'm lonely and getting a little self-conscious. Say hello... Say anything. Say you, say me, say it together... That's the way it should be.
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From: Rich "Lowtax" Kyanka (webmaster@somethingawful.com)
Sent: Thursday, November 15, 2007 9:06 PM
To: 'Anderson, David'
Cc: A BUNCH OF FRENCHIES
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Subject: RE: NOTICE: Infringement of ASSASSIN'S CREED Mark and Jade Raymond's Personal, Privacy, and Publicity Rights
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Please let it be known that hereforth I have read the express mail and email sent thereforth by Famous Lawyer David Anderson of the Famous Lawyer Law Business of Nixon Peabody LLP, and furthermore a declaration shall be expressed on the part of Internet User Rich “LowtaxKyanka that thatforth herethrough I have conducted rigorous tests implemented through a vigorous barrage of legal studies, and furthermore hitherthrough these rigorous tests have therefore proven Famous Lawyer David Anderson of the Famous Lawyer Law Business of Nixon Peabody LLP shall be recognized as a man of the fag persuasion.
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Pursuant to the United Dairy Council
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Rich “LowtaxKyanka
Internet

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yes it's a murder simulator but George W. Bush would totally approve...

The time has never been better to become obsessed with video games. Top drawer digital entertainment is literally coming out faster than I can play it. I recently finished the single player in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and feel compelled to do justice to the online multiplayer PLUS complete the wondrous looking Ratchet and Clank Future BEFORE next week when the double-barrelled deluge of Mass Effect and Uncharted: Drakes Fortune hits the street. In leaner times I would be thankful to subsist on a third helping of Bioshock, more movie making in Halo 3, and a do-over of the Half-Life 2 series but these are the heady days of a Henry the 8th calibre gorging. Thankfully I’m not into PC gaming because then I would have to add Crysis and the new FEAR title to the list. When child-rearing and bathroom breaks become something of a distraction it’s a sign that you are on the receiving end of too much of a good thing.

So I’m going to express what I thought about while playing Call of Duty 4. With so many glowing critiques of the game already printed I don’t feel the need to go over that ground and will instead focus on deeper themes and more ephemeral aspects of this fantastic game.

Infinity Ward developed this modern military shooter and these game purists work on a higher level that is only gained by making two back-to-back award winning, million-plus selling titles. They are not only brimming with success-fuelled confidence but possess the smug superiority of having one of their properties farmed out to another company who could only cook up mediocre results. So it's not just their product, you see, but what they can do with it that makes the real money. This may be something only a true fan-boy cares to follow but what it explains is that this company can do whatever the fuck it pleases, publishers be damned, which is a rare exception in this medium. We benefit from this, greatly.

Boiled down that is really why this game is worth playing, to see what unbridled game makers can do with their art. It’s not just that the game is bloody beautiful and fun as all hell to play; it’s the psychological needling that gets you the day after; the telling of little stories that you didn’t expect to be told.

The Call of Duty series stands out as some of the best military games you can play because with each game they try to give you the whole war experience as they see it. You don’t play a single character following a linear story; they pop you into different bodies and battles throughout the conflict. This allows for a big story with many small parts to be told and they really ran with it this time around. You get to play people who die, not die and re-spawn like every other game you’ve played but die and that’s it, their story is done and you will play another person henceforth. It’s so simple and subtle but it’s the kind of storytelling masterstroke that only a fearless company would pull off.

World War II shooters are at their core romantic, uphill battles. I wind up dumping the Thompson for an MP 32 every time which makes for righteous, guilt-free killing of Germans. It's their high-end machine gun after all, using it on them is poetic. This is not the case in Modern Warfare and the people at Infinity Ward were shrewd enough to pick out a very relevant theme; that today’s battles tend to be horribly one-sided affairs. Weapons like the M4 or the G36C or the P90 are science-fiction-like in their ability to locate and penetrate third-world militia-men. There is no fictitious space marine weapon that compares with the present-day Javelin anti-tank missile. Once you’re locked on and fire a ballistic shoots straight up a few hundred feet in the air before coming down hard. Even firing one for the third time is something of a ‘whoa’ moment.

Mix it all together and you create a game with a lot of ethical quandaries. This is war as Donald Rumsfeld had wet dreams about and the designers not only confronts you with it, but force you to act on it. In one scene you have night vision and have to take out soldiers in a dark house. If you do it right then they don’t even know you’re there. The last man standing is pointing his gun in every direction, clearly frightened out of his mind. In one scene you operate the three guns on an AC 130 flying at 30,000 feet. The enemy can’t even see you, never mind strike back. You complete the scene by killing them and not striking any of the nearby structures. It’s a level that has made visitors to my living room uncomfortable. It’s quite a trick to make a game challenging all the while crushing any notion of fair play.

The online multiplayer matches give this game its true legs of longevity. I’ve been throwing myself into free-for-all death matches, eschewing all concepts of teamwork or flag capturing in favour of killing every motherfucker I see. It is savagely unforgiving; you take a couple in the chest and you’re done. Sneaking around and playing smart is mandatory. By the same token killing someone is deeply satisfying because it only comes about as a result of you playing well. One amazing new feature is the death-cam. Bang, you’re dead. It will take the computer five seconds to re-spawn you, but while you wait why not look through the eyes of your killer as he killed you? You get to see where he was, how he scoped in on you, and how he did the dirty deed. There is no arguing, griping, whining, pissing, or moaning when you see how they did it; there is only grudging respect and a vow to do better. You get shown your error; that your ass was hanging out or that you were looking the wrong way. Every failure is a learning experience. I am finding it to be an immensely valuable tool.

Seeing as this game is out on PC, the 360, and the PS3 there is no reason why you should miss it. There are sure to be a whole slew of games that allow you to kill Middle Eastern people but this one sets the bar very high right out of the gate.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

You can see by our stockings and pantaloons that we are gentlemen engaged in gentlemanly pursuits...


Torture is in the news once again this week. It pops up every so often due to some legal wrangle or another, causing but a cigarette burn on our collective psyche only to scab over when the ill practice retreats back to the out-of-sight black sites where it rightly belongs. This time was because when Attorney General To-Be Michael Mukasey went through the confirmation process he was asked point-blank if he thought waterboarding was torture. In true greasy Gonzales style Mukasey tap-danced around the issue while Bush backed up his choice with a little soft-shoe of his own. The reasons of course are tap water transparent; Mukasey would be responsible for laying charges on anyone up to and including the President in the event of an illegal act. The Bush Administration secretly endorsed torture and torture has indeed been carried out. There is no way Bush is going to elevate someone who will make his life even more miserable than it already is.

By rights this should be a huge deal because George W. Bush is on record stating the United States does not torture people. Therein lies the battle congress has had with the Administration, they wish to test the validity of the statement. They have made formal requests for documentation, Bush has refused citing such work is classified, they have subpoenaed advisors, Bush has claimed Executive Privilege, they have asked for clarity when it comes to techniques employed, Bush has said that such information will be of value to the enemy. Everywhere congress turns for information they find the President trying to cover his ass and bury his mistakes.

Many times it has been repeated by the supposed experts that torture does not produce worthwhile intelligence. By the same token those same experts claim that a person tortured will say anything to save themselves from further abuse. Perhaps that is the point! Would a steady stream of fictional confession be of use to this Administration? Not only would these desperate falsehoods cover the tracks of the witch hunt by producing those who are guilty but it also has the beneficial side-effect supplying bogus terrorist plots to keep people in fear and make some feel even grateful for the protection they receive.

At any rate waterboarding or controlled (simulated) drowning is at the heart of this issue because it is the one thing that is known with evidence to have been endorsed and performed. It is therefore the gateway to congressional hearings. Waterboarding was not considered torture by the likes of Alberto Gonzales and was merely designated an Enhanced Interrogation Technique. Now the obvious truth is finally being spoken; of course waterboarding is full-on torture. The Japanese were condemned for doing it during World War II and it was first mentioned being employed way back in the easy-breezy days of the Spanish Inquisition! If Mukasey admitted that it is torture then a case can be made, special prosecutors demanded, and the Democrats would get another opportunity to take a run at the Bush Administration in hopes of bringing the whole house of cards down.

Hey I'll try I mean how bad can it be blub-blub-blub OH MY FUCKING FUCK MAKE IT STOP!

Daniel Levin was the Acting Assistant Attorney General when he submitted himself to waterboarding in order to learn what the fuss was about. Sure as shit he came back wet-haired and with no doubt in his mind that this was the real deal. As soon as Alberto Gonzales secured the nomination for Attorney General he fired this guy’s ass.

World War II Veterans: Pussies... There, I've said it. Now I'll never get advertising.

By comparison some of the old WWII interrogators reminisce about some of the hard-core methods they employed to make Gerry talk. If you have a sensitive stomach you shouldn’t read this; games of chess, steak dinners, long talks and moonlit walks. They befriended their prisoners and eventually the Germans spilled the beans on military strategy, submarines, rocketry projects; treasure troves of intelligence by any modern standard. How did later generations become so fucking stupid?

It's every civilization's dream to beat the shit out of lawyers but not like this, never like this!

Pakistan is still descending into bad times. Those feisty lawyers took to the streets again where they were beaten up and carted off by the hundreds. In diverting police and intelligence resources towards domestic security Musharraf will have no choice but to shift focus away from fighting the terrorists. Though he claimed that they were a serious threat to Pakistan’s stability it seems he’s primarily moving against political rivals and those in support of the democratic process. Good call, Pervez and good luck with that. Take your eye off the guys who killed over 150 people in a single attack just a couple weeks ago. You know what I call that? Good Leadership… Of course I’ve been known only to care about sensational headlines and blood-soaked fodder for the digital grist.

Saddam had a chemical plant... on a train I tell you... run by robots with rockets - no - lazers!

Introducing the one and only Curveball; this is the Iraqi guy who supposedly convinced The White House that Saddam Hussein had a chemical weapons program. It was all lies of course and the man who spun them did so thinking it would improve his chances for asylum, which it did. I don’t think this guy changed history much. The Iraq War was going to happen and the Administration was, in the Pentagon lingo of the times; fixing the facts around the agenda. I’m sure Rafid Alwan didn’t convince Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld of anything; he was preaching to the converted. His fabrications may have helped convince other nations though, and fool Colin Powell whose participation lend a lacquer of integrity to the whole enterprise.

Our quant island of coconuts would like to thank the white man for giving us guns.

This is what I call a very future-earth-today situation. The nation of Fiji has established itself as a mercenary contractor. They maintain a large military which they shop out around the world, especially to the United Nations. Unlike Blackwater they are government soldiers who have to abide by a code of conduct because they reflect the nation itself. They are said to be very well trained and seem well regarded. All in all it seems a very interesting way to bring a human product to the world market when you are a resource poor country.

"They didn't owe me but $100, but I took $400 and set the whole damned place on fire."

Finally for something completely different THIS is a truly interesting article. It’s coming out on the heels of that intense looking American Gangster movie. The flick was based off a real person; one Frank Lucas, the Harlem Heroin kingpin. If half of what this guy says is true then his life reads something like a modern day Conan the Barbarian. Sure he was a killer and a drug lord but he also has a larger-than-life outlaw streak to him that’s hard not to admire. Great movie makers have realised that gangster stories are American Dream tales just as viable as the law-abiding ones and Frank Lucas is no exception.