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…