Friday, October 31, 2008

October Musings

Ah, I do love this time of year.  The weather turns cool, the days get eerily short--especially in the weeks just prior to Daylight Savings Time.

Also: pumpkin-flavored everything.  Beer, cheesecake, ice cream, cookies.  Love it.

The trees all looke like they're dying.  Religious folk get all weird about the more macabre religious holidays (yes, Halloween has it's roots in the church).  It all gets killed for me by DST, though--the crushing blow to morale that accompanies losing a precious hour of sleep is too much.  Although I find it ironic that it occurs on the Day of the Dead this year.  I wonder if the dead relatives of the Latin population of this country will be disappointed that their one day of the year has been cut short.

They could just start in New York and road trip West--capitalize on the time zones.  Just a thought.

And in sad news we lost a rat last night.  We're down to one, and this one has huge cancerous growths, so we don't really expect her to last the year.

Alas,
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Predicting the Election Aftermath

I took a fresh look at Pollster this morning just to see what the spread was on the presidential race.  They've got Obama ahead 311 - 142 with 85 electoral votes still out there in "toss-up" states.  Of those 311, 39 are listed as "leaning".  If you look only at states where Obama has a comfortable margin (like, at least 8% or so), those "strong" lead states total 272 electoral votes.

It only takes 270 to win.

With less than a week until election day, the odds of McCain reaching into his ass and pulling out a golden egg are increasingly slim.  More and more, it's simply a question of "how can McCain lose gracefully?"

Toning down the rhetoric would be a good start.  It's a pretty widely accepted in psychology that people form more extreme opinions about people they don't know.  For example, if your mother yells at the barista at Starbucks, you assume it's because she's having a bad day, but if Hillary Clinton does it, it's because she's a bitch.  This happens.  Campaigning just makes it worse.

No one who works in Washington really believes that Barack Obama is Muslim, a terrorist, or a socialist.  No one in Washington really believe that Bill Clinton had hundreds of people murdered.  No one in Washington really believes that George W. Bush is an uncharismatic nimrod.  But these perpetuate throughout the population of the country to the point that, after any given election, most of those who voted for the loser will be utterly hardened against the winner.  And it wasn't always this way: prior to the 12th Amendment, the loser in the Presidential election became the Vice President.  This was Amended, of course, because of the emergence of political parties, and it was deemed "bad" that the Prez and VP be of different affiliation.

Whatever.

Regardless, when Obama wins in what may very well be an electoral landslide, still something like 40% of the population (that bothers to vote) will walk away from the polls feeling betrayed, thinking that the new President plans to smother Christianity, tax them to death, or just kill them all outright for the glory of Allah.

Which Washington Republicans happen to know isn't true, but aren't telling their constituents.

This strikes me as vaguely irresponsible, but what else is new?  It's certainly not the first time an election has taken on a Jesus-vs-Satan vibe both ways.  To be fair (and balanced), the left has said some horrible, horrible things about W.  And to be even fairer, even though his camp has been on the war-path, McCain has been trying to reign in his supporters at rallies, insisting that Obama is, in fact, a good man and not an Arab.

Which brings up some broader questions.  Why shouldn't an Arab be allowed to be President (assuming s/he is a US citizen)?  Why not a Muslim?  Why not a Jew?  Why is the idea of a black president so radical to us?  Are we really a nation of bigots?

Well, yes.  But it's interesting to me that our sectism and sexism and ageism and racism, et al seems not to run nearly as deep as our party-ism.  When did "conservative" come to mean "redneck"?  When did "liberal" become a bad word?

If history is any guide, none of this is new.  Or likely to change.  Hopefully, the Democratic shift of the nation will re-align the Republican Party slightly back towards the center, as even ideological conservatives will point out that their party has been taken over by anti-intellectuals and religious whack-jobs.  Time will tell (God knows I won't).

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PS - remember to vote on Tuesday, and remember that if McCain wins, Rush Limbaugh will come to your house and eat you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pride, Yes, Glory, Yes, Box Office Share, Not So Much

I finally got around to seeing Pride and Glory this weekend.  I've been talking about this movie for, what, three years now?  And it's finally come out, to an ovation that sounds like a thousand people all standing up at once and saying "meh".

Yeah.

I saw a test print back in LA--I have no idea how long ago, at least two-and-a-half years.  I don't know why it's been sitting on the shelf for that long.

When I saw it, years ago, I liked it quite a bit.  I felt it had strong performances, I really got into the story, I enjoyed the grit of it, the sparse music, et al.  So I was supremely disappointed when nothing-but-negative reviews started popping up, and watching the finished product this weekend gave me a chance to re-consider, try to figure out what changed, and why I thought it was great when everyone else thought it was so crappy.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Bad Writing - okay, I have to concede this, but only partially.  The overwhelming tenor of reviews has been that this film is a re-hash of cop-drama cliches.  That may be true; I don't know, I've not seen all that many cop dramas.  But I will say that the dialogue is generally pretty weak and over-reliant on the word "fuck".  I think swearing in a film can be marvelous when used properly, but cuss words are flavor, not substance, and P&G tries to make things important by adding "fucking" to the middle.  "Where's my fucking husband?" or "My wife is fucking dying."  The characters also had a nasty habit of repeating themselves for emphasis--the above lines were both spoken twice in rapid-fire succession.  Not necessary, especially when you have actors capable of speaking volumes with three or four words, why you would burden them down with twenty (five of which are f-bombs), I'll never know.

Under-utilized Jon Voigt - for 9/10ths of the film he's a pesky drunk, yes, but he has one scene in which the Internal Affairs Bureau arrives at his house to arrest his son and he tells them to go away.  In the version I saw, he was calm, collected, sincere, and almost cavalier in the way he said it.  I raved about his performance.  That one line is the reason to hire a great actor to carry it.  In the theatrical version, he played it drunk.  I'm not 100% sure if they switched takes in the new cut or if my memory has simply sweetened what I saw.  Oh well.

Baby-Ironing - what most critics thought was horribly cheesy, I actually found quite effective.  It may be a cheap shot, but when Colin Ferrel threatens an infant with a hot iron, everyone in the theater with me gasped.

Fist-Fight Ending - another bit that the critics found to be over-the-top and silly, but I totally got it.  Edward Norton confronts his brother-in-law in a bar.  How do they handle their grievances?  Well, how do brothers deal with conflict?  By taking off their jackets and jewelry and beating the ever-loving tar out of each other.  I completely buy the logic of that.

Those are the major points of contention.  There were a handful of others: the wife with cancer and the incredibly gritty sunless New York City, both of which I felt added and which most critics decried as... whatever.  One thing everyone agrees on is that it was powerfully well-acted.

Although I could have done with a bit less screen time for Edward Norton's scar.  It's even featured prominently on the poster.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Election Reflections

As we near Election Day, it's important for Americans (real or otherwise) to take a moment and deeply reflect on how fucked up our electoral process is.

I'm actually in pretty good shape this year.  Missouri is a battleground state--so my vote isn't going to be completely wasted (like it would in, say, Utah), plus the candidates have actually come here to campaign.  The population density of Missouri is roughly equal to that of the country, so my vote counts as a single vote (actually, 1.04 votes, but why quibble?) rather than 84% of a vote (as it would in California), but on the other hand, a vote in Wyoming would be worth 3.23 votes, so you have to weigh that (these numbers are derived by dividing the percentage of population in a state by the percentage of electoral votes that a state has--you can see a state-by-state rundown on this chart.  But that's out-weighed by the importance of being in a battleground state.  The 12 least-populous states have 11 million people and 40 electoral votes.  Ohio has 11 million people and 20 electoral votes--guess where the candidates are spending their time.

Of course, none of this really matters; it turns out that we vote for electors, not for candidates.  The electors then vote on our behalf, but there's no guarantee that the pledged electors will actually vote in accordance with their state's citizens.  Every four years the question is posited: "what happens if electors don't vote for the guy they're supposed to?"  

Well, not much, it turns out.  Only 29 states have laws against "faithless electors", and Missouri isn't one of them, and most of the states that do have such laws punish violators with a misdemeanor charge or a $1000 fine.  None of them (I believe, certainly not many of them) will actually void and re-cast "faithless" ballots.  And most constitutional scholars agree that such laws wouldn't hold up, if challenged.

But seriously, it's not like that has ever happened (actually, it has), or at least it hasn't happened recently (actually, it happened in 2004 and in 2000) and it certainly doesn't happen frequently (actually, it's happened 156 times in our nation's history--that's an average of nearly 3 per election).  Okay, well, at least it's never changed the outcome of an election (actually, this is true, it hasn't... yet).  Come on, guys, remember the old saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

...I've learned to hate that phrase...

First off, why do we have to wait until something breaks before we fix it?  If we can see the cracks, why don't we take some pre-emptive steps?  Second, it is broken!  Three times the winner of the presidential election lost the popular vote.  Three times the will of the people was overridden by the system.  That's not insignificant: we've only have 55 elections in our history.  That's a fail rate of over 5%!

...but if it's not severely broken, don't fix it?...

Let's establish a few facts.  The electoral process made lots of sense in 1787, when most of the country was illiterate, there were no political parties, there were only 13 states, information traveled slowly, people identified themselves with their state more than their country, and the question of how much of a slave counted as a person weighed heavily on the minds of Southerners.  This was a time when it was totally feasible that a majority of the US population could end up in a single state or region.  The electoral college was a compromise--not a brilliant solution, just the idea that everyone was willing to go with.  It allowed for a national hero (e.g., George Washington) to win the Presidency by public acclamation, but it was fully anticipated that (absent political parties) most states would elect local favorites, none of whom would garner a majority, and that the Congress would end up choosing the President.

This was foiled with the emergence of political parties, which were expected to not exist in America, and which sprang up as soon as Washington announced that he would not seek a third term in office.

Okay, so we see some problems with the electoral system, but is that any reason to change it?

Of course it is.  In fact, we're such fans of our electoral processes that we've changed them 8 times already.  The following amendments directly mention presidential elections:  12 (revises the electoral process), 14 (standards for citizenship), 15 (racial suffrage), 19 (women's suffrage), 22 (president limited to two terms), 23 (D.C. gets represented in the electoral college), and 24 (prohibits poll taxes), and 26 (voting age reduced to 18).  Additionally, the 17th amendment applies to elections (specifically of the Senate) and the 25th deals with presidential disability and succession.

So, between 8 and 10 (I would say 9: I count the 17th but not the 25th) of the 27 Constitutional Amendments deal with the way we elect people.  9 out of 27 is 1/3, a full third of our amendments.  And if you just look at the 17 Amendments that were ratified after the Bill of Rights (i.e., the 1st ten), then we're looking at over half of the additional amendments dealing with elections.

So what's one more?  'Sall I'm sayin'.

Here's an idea, and I'm not the first to have it: direct election of the president with an instant-runoff vote (the link will take you to FairVote.org's analysis, it's more detailed than mine--I found their site while researching this piece and they have some great info there).  Eliminate the electoral college and it's skews, eliminate the preference given to battleground states, eleminate the entire red-state/blue-state phenomenon.  Also, people want it: polls show (ironic, yes) that 70% of the population favors a direct election.

The IRV (instant-runoff vote) is to take care of the third-party "spoiler" effect.  Rather than "pick" a candidate, you rank them.  Then, if no one has a clear majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is removed and anyone who voted for him/her as #1 will have their #2 choice counted instead.  This also means that you can vote 3rd party without throwing your vote away (again, because a victory would require 51%).

Still not convinced?  Well, let me put it to you this way, and upon hearing this you will unequivocally agree with what I have to say.  Get ready for it.  You ready?  Here it comes.  The clincher.

If these reforms had been in effect in 2000, George W. Bush would not have gotten into office.

Told ya,
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Small Town Values

During the coverage of the Republican National Convention I heard a lot of talk about "small-town values".  When pressed to elaborate, they described an America without abortion and in which marriage was "between a man and a woman."

Well, I lived in a small town, my parents still live in one.  But there's more to living in a small-town than simply being pro-life and homophobic.  Here are some of the other values that you could find in my small town, and can no doubt find in many others.

Limited Industry/Technology - my town was years behind larger cities in terms of internet connectivity and has a small industrial park on the outskirts of the city--although it's very limited in what it can produce because it doesn't have access to a) the highway or b) the railroad.  But more to the point, there is little initiative within the town to actually produce anything.  The bulk of revenue comes from tourism.  This, in turn, leads to...

The Exodus of Talent - lacking medium-sized or large businesses that can pay a competitive wage to someone with a college degree, the few people of the town that want to do something with their lives move away--although it's amazing that the city produces any because...

Education Shmeducation - years ago they tried to pass a bond issue to build a new middle school--this being necessary because the current middle school (which was, in turn, the original high school) was in sad, sad shape.  The third floor of it, for example, had been condemned after a student fell through it and onto the ceiling of the second floor (uninjured).  But you can't make these old German farmers pass a bond issue for a middle school.  So instead, the city passed a bond issue for a brand new (and largely unnecessary) high school so that the old high school could become the new middle school.  The additional tax burden would not have been much (certainly not more than a new high school), but perhaps the citizens felt they were already over-taxed because...

Taxation Rules - you've got business fees, license fees, if you own a motel or B&B you have to pay a bed tax.  My father, who was a business-owner in town, was convinced that the city was trying to shut down all of the small businesses in town with their constantly-added taxes and standards (which my father adhered to--the man wouldn't steal a pen from a bank--but it was an open secret that many business owners put on window-dressing for the inspectors and then did things their own damned way the other 364 days of the year).  But they didn't discriminate against small businesses.  They were even more...

Unfriendly to Large Businesses - well, no wonder they don't have much industry--if it isn't locally-born, they aren't interested.  Wal-Mart tried to move in, but the city adamently refused, saying that it would run the small mom-and-pop stores out of business.  Well, the small mom-and-pop stores go out of business anyway, because they're badly-run businesses in a market that can't sustain them, and are then replaced by new mom-and-pop stores that will soon go out of business.  As for the people, they go to the Wal-Mart two towns over.  Why?

Everything is Over-Priced - ever paid $11 for contact solution before?  Even the three imitation Wal-Marts (that were also chains, mind you) that opened, stayed around for three-to-four-years, and then folded, all charged too much for everything, which was a feat since they had virtually nothing on the shelves.  So people drive an hour round trip to shop at Wal-Mart anyway (at least for non-groceries; the local grocer actually got it's act together, but it charges competitive prices for food--what a concept!) but the tax revenue derived from the local citizen's spending is now leaving the county.  But it's not just commodities, even the utilities are high.  Why?

The Local Government is Inept - and why shouldn't it be?  Nothing is ever on the line.  There aren't millions of people who will go without food if the city royally wrecks things.  Why not lapse into cart-before-the-horse reasoning, irrational adherence to deprecated traditions, or (my personal favorite) out-and-out nepotism?  What's stopping you?  But wait, there's also...

The Willingness to Kow-Tow Before Anyone with Money - go to a small town with a million dollars, start dropping your name around, get active in the board (without actually running for anything) and see if you can get them to name a street after you.  Seriously--it's not as hard as it sounds.  All except the getting the million dollars (that first million is always the hardest).

Now don't get me wrong, small towns have their perks--they're more relaxed, less polluted, they have less traffic, and property values are frequently lower (i.e., you can own a home in a good neighborhood for cheap).  And when people talk "small-town values", they don't only mean homophobia and abortion-is-of-the-devil.  They're usually talking about religiousity, honesty, integrity, and hard work.

So let me debunk those.

Where to start.  I could throw some statistics at you--mention that the top 100 most populous cities in the US house 68% of it's jobs and 3/4's of it's GDP.  Or I could talk about the slew of teen pregnancies at my high school.  I could talk about the T-shirt shop where they paid employees under the table and sold sweatshirts with a Calvin Klein logo screen-printed on the front.  Or the little mom-and-pop shop whose entire sales model was based on exploiting the Ty Beanie-Baby fad, and that promptly folded when those stopped being popular.  Why that's hard work and integrity right there (at least they were honest about what was propping up their business).

No, I'll talk about Melissa.  She was in my high school graduating class (full disclosure--we weren't close, and by "weren't close" I mean she "hated my guts", but that's another story) or at least she would have been except that she died in a car accident in March of our junior year.  Witnesses from the party she had attended report that she left inebriated, and her death had a tremendous impact on the town.  We took busses from the high school to go to her funeral--the school choir sang (including me--she hated my guts but I sang a dirge at her funeral; we'll see who gets the last laugh, now... okay, apologies, that was macabre...).

It would have been a prime opportunity to mention that this senseless waste of life could have been averted if she hadn't been drinking and driving--which continues to be a bit of a problem in our honest, hard-working little hamlet.  But rather than speaking honestly and address a real problem, it got swept under a rug.  The official police report--the official police report--stated that she "swerved to miss a deer".  The underage drinking, the meth labs, the pregnancies--it all gets swept under a rug.  And this is exactly why small-town values are exactly what America doesn't need.

If "small-town values" prevent you from dealing with, rather than ignoring, the real problems that exist in a small town, what advantage are they going to give you when these are compounded with the real problems that are unique to densely-populated areas?  You can't just ignore traffic and pollution.  You can't pretend that they don't exist.  You can't just gloss over maintaining the infrastructure.  Not if you expect to be in office for more than a single term.

Small towns believe in the power of the aesthetic.  If it looks like a nice, honest, cozy little town, then it must be a nice, honest, cozy little town.  And you know what?  You can get away with that when you have a population of 3,000.  Furthermore, small towns aren't completely bereft of honesty or hard work; I would dare say that all or nearly all of my friends from high-school were brought up by honest, hard-working small-town people (although it's telling that all of my friends then moved away).  I would even go as far to say that the ratio of honest to dishonest folk in a small town is probably exactly the same as that of a metro.  If you want to live there, that's fine; it's a free country--enjoy it!

But I choose to live in a metro.  Depending on how you tally it, between 73% and 81% live in large or medium-sized cities.  Meaning that small-town America is at best 1/4th of the population.  Hardly representative.  America has 300 million people living in it, and we come from a vast array of backgrounds, religious beliefs, work ethics, educations and socioeconomic levels.  The my-size-fits-all attitude of small-towners will not, can not, and does not work for the rest of us.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

GOP: Getting Out of Politics

I'm sitting at Panera blogging away on a MacBook Pro while listening to my iPod and sipping an iced chai latte.

I'm such a yuppie.

I'm amused at the way the political conversation has changed in this country.  It's no longer a question of who is going to win the presidency.  It's a question of how much Obama is going to win by.  My friend Evan has a bet with his dad that the spread will be 10%, and I'd say that's generous--especially if you're counting electoral votes over popular votes.

Early prediction models gave Obama a 65% chance of winning.  Pollster has him ahead 313-155 (with 70 votes in the air--but most of the toss-up states are leaning blue).  Intrade shows 364 to 174, which translates to a nearly 68% share or about a 35% spread.  And that's even after RNC supporters pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the market to alter the perception of how much Obama was ahead.

Because it turns out that predictions markets are more accurate than polls when it comes to predicting the outcome of an election.  Intrade, incidentally, has contracts on Obama's victory selling at $.85 on the dollar (which means, effectively, that the market gives him an 85% chance of winning)

You know what else is a great predictor of elections?  Poll people who know nothing about either candidate by showing them pictures of both and asking who looks the most qualified.  Accurately predicts the outcome about 2/3 of the time.  True story (although I can't find the link for that, so feel free to not believe me).  Just another cog in my argument that the big flaw of democracy is that most people are totally unqualified to render an intelligent political decision.  Next time you start to think that everyone deserves a say in government, hop by an internet chat room for ten minutes.

Go on, I'll wait.

McCain's objective is now to find a way to bow out gracefully--something his followers seem unwilling to do.  Slate and even The Daily Show have recently pointed out the sheer vitriol of the attendees at McCain's rallies lately.  Some people are a bit put off by this, but to me it's just an indicator that the middle has more or less abandoned him--well, not so much him as the Republican Party.  Even Ari Fleischer told John Stuart that this would not be a good year for Republicans.

What happened?  Well, lots of things.  First, Bush and the neo-con crowd overspent their political capital.  Then the economy tanked, and while people are fond of saying that a president has no control over the economy, that is and isn't true (but that's a topic for another post).  With the economy in the toilet, certain social issues have become a "luxury".  Today need jobs, so we'll vote about abortion and gay marriage next time.

Oddly enough, the pro-life Democrat block (or the "soccor moms" if you will) which twice helped elect Bush is now abandoning the Republican party (along with the rest of the middle).  Amongst other things, they're frustrated that in eight years, nothing has happened on the gay-marriage/abortion front.  They elected W to ban both of those, and instead they got a war in Iraq.

People are just not happy with the GOP.  And the Republicans are going to suffer for it--not just in the executive branch either--the Dem's are expected to pick up a 60-40 majority in the Senate and make even more gains in the House, as well as the various gubernatorial races.  And a bizarre side effect?

Obama may help ban gay marriage in California.  The state has a ballot initiative that to ban it, and Obama is expected to draw out record numbers of black and hispanic voters--who typically vote Democrat on economic issues but vote Republican on social issues.

So if San Francisco and LA secede in 2010--you'll know why.

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BFME? I Barely Know Me!

So I've taken some leisure time of late to re-visit Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth.

In the wake of the cinematic juggernauts by Peter Jackson, every medium, video games in particular, were suddenly awash in merchandise. Me, being the ardent devotee to the franchise that I am... well... I purchased many a game just because it had some LOTR tie-in. I've got Lord of the Rings: Trivial Pursuit (which I'm inhumanly good at), Lord of the Rings: Risk, (which I'm inexplicably bad at), and a number of games for the PS2 and PC.

The earliest I remember getting was The Two Towers, poorly named since it covered the major battles in The Fellowship of the Ring and about half of the TT story (book-wise, anyway). It was a typical 3rd-person hack-and-slash: you play as Aragorn and fight from Weathertop to Helm's Deep (I don't recall if you can play as Legolas or Gimli--I think you can, but you're definitely following their story more than anything else). It's fun, but not great--the movie tie-in nature of the game does, sort of, inhibit the gameplay, and the fighting gets a bit chaotic and a few of the boss fights are inhumanly difficult--especially the Watcher in the Water outside of Moria, which is very, very near the beginning.

The follow-up, The Return of the King, was much better--similar in style and tone, but a little bit more polished with some improvements to the gameplay. You follow Aragorn, et al, through increasingly epic battles to the gates of Mordor, at which point you're given a timer and told to just survive long enough to win the game. Every now and then the action takes a breather and you find yourself in a bizarre mini-game (often things like "kill the mumakil"), but it's generally not to distracting. And then the game turns on it's heals, and you take control of Sam and Frodo in what becomes more of a stealth game... through Ithilien, Osgiliath, Cirith Ungol and Shelob's lair, until finally you reach Orodruin and have your final battle with... Gollum... meh.

So once again, adherence to canon gets in the way of a good game--and I understand why they did it the way that they did, but it is the definition of anti-climactic. It could have been worse: there was that horrible Third Age RPG, in which your party, consisting of an elf, a dwarf, and a man follow the fellowship around (you want to talk about ankle-deep in bad gameplay, and then trying to make up for it by giving you unlockable clips from the movies). There was also a game based on The Fellowship of the Ring, but it isn't in any way related the Peter Jackson films, and is supposed to be... not great.

Part of the problem is the story. You have intensely personal scenarios going on against the backdrop of these huge battles and exotic locales. The draw of the story is the personal bit--the draw of the games is the epic carnage.  So trying to take this saga and boil it down to one-to-three people is going to be... well, tricky.

So how do you make it work?  The Real-Time Strategy game, of course--wherein you can completely sidestep anything going on at a character-level and focus on orchestrating your war.  And that's precisely what BFME is.

Make your armies and attack.  You can play as good or evil and, while the game draws it's story and character design from the films, it's completely willing to go against canon.  Not only can Boromir and Theoden survive to the end, but you can play as the orcs and defeat man.  That is my favorite campaign--kill Merry and Pippin at Amon Hen, invade Fangorn and kill Treebeard, defeat Theoden at Helm's Deep, kill Frodo in Shelob's lair and take the ring and, finally, sack Minas Tirith and irradicate what's left of Gondor and the fellowship.

Good times, good times.

Why evil?  It's not out of some particular fondness for the macabre--mostly it's just that the evil forces are better suited to my style of play.  In RTS's there are different types of forces--some have lots of powerful heroes that need to be micro-managed, some have expensive but powerful units that need to be managed, and some have cheap expendible units with which to overwhelm your opponent.  I prefer the latter.

I like to swarm.

In general, RTS's mix up gameplay through the manipulation of a few variables--resource scarcity, the extent to which you are outnumbered at the beginning, sometimes you have multiple enemies who aren't necessarily coordinating their efforts but have no problem attack you while you're trying to deal with the other.  Sometimes the terrain favors a particular type of gameplay (e.g., mountains creating natural bottlenecks)--although BFME is unique in that it doesn't have air or sea units, everything travels over land (with the exception of a handful of special units that can fly).  The maps and battles get bigger as you progress (generally) and you control increasingly sizable armies.

The other thing I like about the evil forces is that they are largely offensive--they don't build walls, and their only defensive structures are towers that shoot arrows.  None of these pansy castles to hide behind.

Okay, enough nerd ranting for one post.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Ben Folds

Abby and I went to see Ben Folds at the Pageant last night.  'Twas fun.

He had a 5-piece band (well, the fifth guy was behind a speaker and I only ever saw him play the triangle, but we'll count him anyway) and played his new album in its entirety (sans Errant Dog, I think) along with "fake" versions of Free Coffee, Dr. Yang, Bitch Went Nuts, and The Frown Song (also a song called Way to Normal, which is the name of the latest album, but is not on the album--more fakeness).  The fake song phenomenon is pretty entertaining--after they released the title and tracklist for the new album, they spent a day in Ireland writing and recording an entire album of stupid songs with the same titles which were subsequently leaked on the internet.

Of course things like this can bite you in the ass, as people that had downloaded the false versions and then fallen in love with them were disappointed when they finally got the album.  I'm assuming that the fake songs that they didn't play weren't worth playing, but the alternate versions: Dr. Yang (Lovesick Diagnostician) and Bitch Went Nutz hold up pretty well (I actually prefer the Bitch Went Nutz with a 'z' to the album version with an 's'--thankfully it's included on my album as a bonus track).

There were smatterings of older material--mostly held for the encores--which included Annie WaitsRockin' the Suburbs and Zakk and Sara from the RTS album, only a couple of tracks from Songs for Silverman, and some classic Ben Folds Five.  The only albums completely ignored were his EP's and the oddly experimental Fear of Pop, Vol. 1, which is near and dear to my heart... and probably no one else's.

The first encore (we were told to expect mostly new stuff, that the band would then leave the stage, "pretending like the show was over," and come back on to play older stuff) had some of the more obscure BFF tracks like Kate and Fair, and a raucous rendition of Army featuring the audience as horns.  We knew to do this, because we've all listened to Ben Folds Live.  It's a little erie, actually, that we're so well trained.  Nowhere was this more evident than on Underground (which was the whole of the second encore--and a lot of people missed it, largely because he'd been so tongue-in-cheek about the first one).  After the line "Now it's been 10 years, I'm still wonderin' who to be", we shouted back "Who the fuck are you?"

Which is what some guy did on a live recording of the song that can be found on BFF's Naked Baby Photos.  So, Ben Folds seems to be developing a Rocky Horror-esque appeal; how many other shows include audience shouts of "God, please spare me more rejection" and "Now we know whose been fuckin' the guru" amidst the ba-dap-bah's.

Humor was the overarching tone--including giant frowny faces during The Frown Song, and a demonstration of how to get the piano tone used on Free Coffee (without going into too many details, it apparently involves a brick, two Altoids tins and a distortion pedal).  And, of course, whenever Ben stood up from the piano we were treated to his geek-boy-tries-to-dance shuffle.

So it was a good show--okay, the opener was meh, and I must confess I'm not a huge fan of the new album, or the one that preceded it, but Ben Folds is a great showman and we were thoroughly entertained.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nuking the Fridge

Read the second paragraph in this Cinematical article and tell me that "nuke the fridge" isn't the awesomest euphemism ever.

TV shows jump the shark, movie franchises... you get the idea.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Polls vs Predictions

Okay, this is interesting.  Abby and I have a routine debate about the roll of Missouri in presidential elections.  Abby believes that Missouri is a bellweather state (and the empirical evidence is on her side here--traditionally: as Missouri goes, so goes the nation) and, therefore, a good indicator of the temperature of the country.  This at odds with recent polling numbers, because the polls overwhelmingly favor Obama, but Missouri is still a toss-up but is leaning McCain.

My position is that, bellweather or no, Missouri isn't a battleground state and even if it was a bellweather, that doesn't mean it is anymore.  A lot can change in 4 years.  But it may turn out that we're both right.  While polls still show a slight McCain lead in Missouri, predictions markets now favor Obama in this state (note, the above are live links to sites with frequently-changing data, so what you see when you click on them may have nothing to do with what I saw when I went to them ten minutes ago).

So I may have to go out and vote this November, after all.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Krugman, Fruitflies, That Order

My favorite economist won the Nobel prize today. Yes, I have a favorite economist. I also have a favorite historian. So, congratulations there.

Moving on.

So the moth infestation in our apartment has been supplanted by a fruit-fly infestation. After a night of seeing all of these little bugs all over and in front of things, I've begun to envision them everywhere--computer screens, windshields, etc. It's like I'm projecting the DT's or something.

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Happy Columbus Day

And what better way to celebrate than by giving the day off to bankers, postal workers, and school-children, while the rest of us continue our work without any holiday pay and the added burden kids to take care of and an extra day's delay on our weekend Netflix deliveries.

That's how I want to be remembered.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Stock Market Follies for Today

We're 10 minutes out from the closing bell at Wall Street and it's down 130 points. What is going on?

On Monday, the House rejects a bailout bill, DJI drops nearly 800 points. Tuesday it gets most of them back. Wednesday, break-even. Yesterday, 350-point drop. Today it was rallying, but then the House approves a bailout bill, and then the DJI plummets again. It's been two hours and we've gone from a near 300-point rally to a now 150-point drop. Fut the wuck?

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Although my money (so to speak) was on a 500-point drop for the day because I assumed that the House would reject the bill again. Shows how good I am at predictions.

Damn, though. What a week.

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Political Ambivalence

I forget how fervent people get about politics.

In the other room, my employer (who will remain so for about 7 more hours) is on a call talking about how, depending on how this election turns out, we face the real threat that the government will nationalize everything.

Because, yearh, that's going to happen.

This particular man is a self-proclaimed hard-line Libertarian (although his anti-Democrat rants lead me to believe that he's not quite as Libertarian as he thinks he is). He definitely leans Republican but definitely doesn't toe the GOP party-line. But he tends to rail against NPR, Obama, the liberal media, etc. All this in contrast to me, where I tend to skew Democrat, but I disagree with them on things like... say... gun control.

And no, that has nothing to do with why I'm leaving the job.

I watched last night's Veep debate, expecting a trainwreck, and was sadly disappointed therein, but in terms of good debating, last night was a nice display. Yes, they periodically fell back into rhetoric, but there was, on the whole, good oratory from both sides. They talk big, but what I understand, what so many people seem to not understand, is that neither candidate is going to be able to ruin the country. History is all set to judge George W. Bush as the worst President ever, ever, but after 8 years, things are not-great, but they're certainly not-horrible.

Will McCain plunge the country into darkness. Of course not. Obama? No. It's a lesson that we need to scale back the rhetoric. Obama is not going to socialize life. McCain is not going to de-regulate everything. Neither side could if they wanted to, and they're tempered by having to work with the other branches of government.

That whole checks and balances thing, remember?

But there are people who are all doom-and-gloom about how Obama is going to end America or how McCain is going to die in office and Palin will end America. And it's all hogswash--although the idea of McCain kicking off within the next four years is a legitimate concern, I'd say.

I just get tired of it. I've been political in the past--but I don't have any profound endearment to either candidate. I can't bring myself to fervor. Maybe I've just had my heart broken too many times. But I'm rather enjoying not being all that politically-minded. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say that I'm interested in political issues that aren't going to be addressed in this race.

I'd love to see nationalized health care, but it isn't going to happen. I'd love to see a serious take on education, but that's not very likely. I'd love to see a serious reevaluation of our drug and gun control laws. No chance. I'd love to see an anti-gay-marriage bill written, voted down, and then ceremoniously burned in effigy. But that's a bit of a stretch. I'd love to see nuclear power given real consideration. I'd love to hear someone pronounce the word "nuclear" correctly.

But mostly, I'd like to see someone to vote for that didn't feel like some horrible compromise. Obama's got spunk, and perhaps I haven't given him a fair shake. He just doesn't excite me all that much. And I used to love McCain, back when I still thought he was a feather-ruffler. But he's not.

Of course, I used to really like John Edwards, and he turned out to be a righteous prick.

Whatever.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Where've I Been?

Incomprehensibly busy. Out-of-town all last weekend for a baby shower, for instance. Of course, the big news is that I'm starting a new job next week, so I've been spending my spare seconds brushing up on my Java programming skills. And at my current job, I'm trying to prepare things for whomever it is that takes my place.

And Heroes started up again, so that's been taking up forty-five minutes of my Tuesday evenings (yay for Hulu).

But seriously, I haven't been to the movie theater in weeks.

But there's been plenty to talk about. Getting in resumes for my replacement--it's pretty depressing how many people can't be bothered to assemble something decent, or who don't have the wherewithal to not use elaborate and colored fonts. It makes me want to hold a clinic.

Argh,
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