Monday, June 18, 2007

Stealth - The Scorecard

Pretty much everything we watch on TV is now on hiatus, which explains how we ended up watching the movie "Stealth" on one of the many Encore Crap Movie channels we get. Here's my scorecard:

SGI/Visuals: Awesome. Fantastic landscapes, the aircraft were quite impressive and realistic (visually), and Jessica Biel truly put the A in Posterior. Although there were not enough cheesecake shots of Ms Biel to make the film worthwhile, although her obvious role in the film was to A) provide extra "must save the damsel" plot, and B) show off said posterior. Really. I can't imagine why else she was there. The same went for Jaime Foxx, who substituted the posterior factor with his sheer animal magnetism. Or something. His role was to fly into a mountain. V-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Because God knows this movie needed to move more slowly.

Oh, I should probably put in a spoiler alert or something. Here is is - the scorecard heads south from here.

Story: So-so. This is your standard cautionary tale about the dangers of technology progressing too quickly and how we really don't understand what will happen with an AI under unusual circumstances. Which, frankly, is a pretty good lesson along with human cloning and genetic engineering. Buying that cabin up in the mountains 50 miles from the nearest neighbor is looking like a better idea every few minutes. The rest of the plot? Scary plane AI learns to ignore orders from hotshot pilot, decides to shoot up the Russians, learns to trust the hero, and they bring the idiots who came up with this idea to justice despite...

Ya know, I've wasted enough keystrokes on this turkey's plot. However, there's always...

Understanding of Basic Physics and Geography: Wow, I never knew that Thailand, Tajikistan, Siberia, North Korea, and Alaska were within a single fighter plane's range! Of course, it did require a top off at a floating gas station at 32,000 ft, but still. What a small world we live in. To help us understand where all of these interesting places were, we got a map showing us that yes indeed, they were only a few hundred scan lines distant. All I can guess is that the producer in charge of casting had a *lot* of Asian friends from various parts of Asia and wanted to fit them all in somehow. The United States (pop quiz - how many states are there, kids? No fair counting the stripes on the flag!) is truly living up to it's reputation as the dumbest developed country on the planet. At least they recognized that Kowloon is somewhere close to Thailand.

What That Piece Of Paper You Signed When You Enlisted Meant: Here's what it meant - you don't talk about top secret military projects in front of Jaime Foxx's latest conquest, even if she apparently doesn't speak English. Which they had to put a scene in to explain because they didn't want to reshoot the scene where they talk about the top secret military mission. While I've never been in the military (which is a good thing for the military), I have signed a piece of paper like that when I worked on the Stealth Bomber in the 80's, and let me tell you that they scare you badly enough so that you hope like hell you don't talk in your sleep. Watching that scene made the Boys shrivel up and hide in my pelvic cavity, no lie.

Ending: Can't help you here, buddy - I didn't make it that far. After the hero shot up an entire hanger of people "willing to obey orders" (also known as "evil") while standing without the slightest bit of cover right in the middle of them, followed by the remaining soldiers (who are, mind you, stationed at a super secret military base in Alaska) opening up a super secret room full of about 80 different types of guns (because one type would look boring) - well, let's just say that my willing suspension of disbelief blew all four tires simultaneously, and with Ms Biel unlikely to be in a bikini again until just before the closing credits, I chose the Greedy Realtor Channel instead. So if someone wants to tell me that whoever wrote and produced this mess was killed in the closing minutes when an overweight studio exec fell on them, by all means send me an e-mail. Otherwise, I can't be bothered to care.

Neither should you. Although Ms Biel does look good in that bikini. But not *that* good.

Friday, June 15, 2007

My Wife And Her Famous Hands

My 43-year-old wife moonlights as a model. Really. Recently she ended up in a Mervyn's Sunday circular, and you can see her (or at least her hand) on the latest One Touch Ultra Mini commercial, which we saw tonight on ABC's evening newscast.

Here's a link, or at least text that you can cut and paste into your browser because I am so unbelievably lame. The commercial can be played by clicking on the picture of the TV on the right side of the screen (which also shows Mel's hand):

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Here's An Opinion For You

David Chase is the biggest pussy in TV history. The Sopranos finale was the worst pile of trash ever, from the gratuitous crushing of Phil Leotardo's head to the manufactured tension "is my TV OK?" ending. The last episode of Seinfeld was better. The last episode of *Alias* was better. Given a multitude of choices of how to wrap up one of the most successful television series ever, Chase chose the chicken's way out and did... nothing. All of the fanboys and girls will talk about what a genius he is, but the simple truth is that he had no idea how to end the series.

On the plus side, I suppose he's guaranteed a lot of sales of the final season DVD set with alternate endings. Rat bastard.

On Opinions and Criticism

I recently had a conversation with a friend where he stated that people shouldn't criticize the musical tastes of others because music was a very personal choice. In other words, because I might hurt someone's feelings if I said that I thought their taste in music sucked.

Since I'm going to be putting some fairly controversial opinions on this blog, and I'd rather it did not devolve into the flaming and name-calling so prevelant on the web, I thought I'd start out with a statement of what I consider to be opinion versus criticism, and what that means to the reader. Assuming you're crazy enough to read what I write. Because I'm not going to worry about hurting anyone's feelings, at least not in the general sense.

Opinion, to start with, is simply how I (or anyone) view the world. The world is a very large place, and none of us are capable of understanding all of it, much less the universe. Because we live in an age of virtually instantaneous information retrieval, we forget that our knowledge is only as good as the quality of information we gather. A simple hour of watching Fox News or listening to Air America shows us that just because someone says something is true does not make it so - both media outlets are specifically geared to present propaganda in an ongoing political "debate" (I use the term loosely) where whoever shouts the loudest gets to claim they are correct. As such, much of what all of us say during the day tends to fall in the "opinion" camp rather than the "fact" camp, because it is something that we have no immediate experience of.

Criticism, on the other hand, is what we use to test the validity of opinion. Strangely, criticism itself often does not require us to have any more immediate knowledge of a given subject than opinion does, as simple logic can often demolish an opinion without resorting to actual fact. A good critique, however, usually requires some knowledge of the subject in question, although after my brief foray into academia I can tell you unreservedly that lengthy study on a subject and an open mind are frequently in conflict, depending on the subject. Orthodoxy is alive and well at the university level in almost every subject.

While we're at it, I'll also define what science is and why I put my "faith" in it rather than, well, faith. The scientific method is simply that to demonstrate that a thing is true, it must be measurable and repeatable. This does not mean that science is not hijacked on a regular basis - there's money in them there grants, and the tobacco industry has repeatedly shown how to twist statistics to its benefit. A poorly-defined and controlled experiment is less than useless, as it can be used to bolster an erroneous conclusion. An excellent example would be an experiment where people prayed for a specific person to recover from an illness. The person may or may not recover, but unless a causal link can be proved between the prayer and the result, we cannot draw any conclusions from this experiment other than to smack the person who came up with it over the head and explain how the scientific method works - again.

But back to criticism. Criticism has a negative connotation, but it really shouldn't. Saying someone's music sucks, for example, is not criticism, it is bashing. Saying that the music someone is listening to is overproduced or poorly arranged or an amateurish composition, and then stating specifically *why,* that is criticism. It is using critical thinking to make judgements about any aspect of our lives, but the key word here is "thinking". What I will endeavor to do in this blog is to apply critical thinking to a variety of topics to support my opinions or to support or refute another opinion.

I mentioned the debate over evolution vs creationism (or intelligent design, or whatever phrase is currently being used this year), and it's an excellent example of how criticism demonstrates that not all sides of an argument (and there are usually far more than two) are valid. This is not to say that we are *not* created beings, only to say that the current arguments presented by those who hold to that belief fail to meet basic standards for critical thinking.

First off, evolution is a demonstrable phenomenon. You can watch it happen in a Petri dish over time. It also has the wonderful quality of satisfying Occam's Razor, where the simplest answer is usually the correct one. No need for some larger force to come along and design everything, we can see that every organism on the planet is subject to external natural forces that will support or endanger a given set of genetic abilities. With what we know about DNA, and how closely we are related to bonobos and chimps, it is increasingly more difficult for people to claim that their ancestors didn't swing from trees. Like it matters. It has nothing to do with whether we have souls, it has everything to do with the fact that we are linked to the rest of life on this planet (silicon-based organisms notwithstanding).

The other side of the coin, creationism, has two big problems. First is that we have an imperfect "chain" of evolutionary changes in the fossil record, so therefore creationists claim that it must be wrong. The logic here is so wrong as to defy argument, and any logic class will show in the first week that (not A) does not prove B without a whole lot of other evidence. Second is that much of the motivation for denying evolution is to put humankind on a pedestal above the rest of the planet. We got souls, so we can pretty much do what we want with the world, including killing animals for sport, torturing other people because they *might* have information of dubious use, or justifying widespread pollution in the name of profit. Ironically, many of the same people who deny the concept of evolution are the same ones who act as an agent of same. The Europeans who killed off the Passenger Pidgeons certainly thought of themselves as the "owners" of those animals.

The argument has become so ridiculous that there are people who are completely serious when they say that humans at one time domesticated dinosaurs, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to support this idea other than in their own tortured brains. Zero. But there are certainly dinosaur fossils, and the whole "the world was created old" theory is finally giving out, so since humans have been around for all 6000 years the planet's been here, certainly the dinosaurs must have been an important part of their lives. Help.

Let me be clear here. I am not saying there is no God. I am, along with the rest of the planet, not qualified to make that assumption, although in my personal experience I certainly have never encountered anything that suggests there is a God that many Christians believe in. Again, I cannot say there is no God, because I have no evidence to disprove there is a God, much as Christians must resort to faith. There is certainly an obvious need for faith in the human psyche, but there's not enough evidence to throw the decision either way, and I'm not going to fall into the trap of thinking that because we don't have a yardstick that can measure God that therefore there is no God.

What I am saying is that we have two sides of an argument where one side is resorting to wishful thinking in order to prop up a historical belief in order to justify a particular theology. While it is true that we are still learning quite a bit about the concept of evolution, and I'm not convinced we have it all down just yet, the truth is that evolution must follow the dictates of the scientific method for it's justification, while creationism can claim anything it wants to and say it's because God says so.

As I post my opinions and criticisms over time, this simple point is worth remembering. If I can't have a conversation about what I like or don't like about my friend's music, we lose every ounce of our ability to reason and make the critical judgements that must be made on a daily basis. Because everything is *not* created equal; on the contrary, everything is created with flaws, and the more complex something is the more prevalent those flaws are likely to be.

At the same time, and I have to stress this above all, we must have the ability to open our minds up enough to at least consider the possibility of a given musical style, a worldview, whether little Jimmy really *didn't* break the cookie jar. It is only after we consider the possibilities that we can then step back and make the critical judgements necessary to decide whether an idea has merit.

Finally, a simple test. Do you think you've gotten a good idea of what my politics, faith and social beliefs are from just this one entry? If you do, you fail. I do not adhere to any specific line of thought, whether it's political, theological, or social. I look at the world on a case-by-case basis, then make my decision based on my experience and what knowledge I can bring to bear on the topic. I'm registered as an Independent, for example, as I'm in disagreement with many of the principals of both political parties in the US (we could use about 20 years of a multi-party system, even if it meant we include the lunatic fringe).

As such, if and when you respond to my opinion, you'll want to keep this in mind as I won't tolerate willful ignorance. We've got enough of that in the Executive Branch. I *want* you to argue with me, I want to be kept honest, and if I'm wrong about something I'd like to get the chance to correct my thinking. But don't think that telling me that something is part of God's plan (or similar) will get any more attention than it deserves. Believe me, we don't have the vaguest idea what God's plan is, no matter how often you read the Bible.

Thanks for your time, and I'll look forward to your comments.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Losing My Religion

Almost. I've been a gamer for as long as I can remember, but aside from my secondary school years (basically, my teens) there has never been such a rich gaming life for me as there has since I discovered Euros in the late 90's. I take that back - with the great group of people that form Rip City Gamers, it's clear that my gaming life has never been richer than it is now. From wargames to Euros, I'm playing more often with people I like being around than at any point in my life.

Which is perhaps why I've struggled so much with the fact that I'm getting bored as hell with Euros. There are a few games I've enjoyed in the recent past, notably a tight game of E&T last Tuesday and Imperial at Sunriver, but in general I walk away feeling kind of blah about the gaming experience. Disclaimer: I am easily bored, as evidenced by what would be a 500-game collection had I not made at least a token purge at a couple of Rainy Day Game auctions in the past couple of years.

Oddly, I am not even faintly bored with the more experiential games such as Arkham Horror or wargames such as Combat Commander. In fact, I've bought more wargames this year than all other game types combined. To go without gaming at all would be a huge mistake, much like me deciding not to take part in a musical group for more than a few months at a time. There is something about gaming, as with musical performance, that my psyche desperately needs and craves, and I'm just old enough to understand that. Still, I think that since I value the friendships that have grown up within Rip City Gamers I will continue to host those sessions that are my responsibility for now, but skip the other Tuesday night sessions for a few months.

Those who know me realize that it takes a lot for me to miss a session (i.e.; driving through 45 minutes of late rush hour traffic to Newberg), so I do not do this lightly. Over time, I think that I've been the most consistent member of the group to attend sessions, although since Mike decided to work in Portland he is pretty close to catching up if you count his Simply Fun activities. I also plan to attend any weekend sessions that might pop up (although they've been relatively scarce recently), and I don't intend to slow down on wargaming sessions, although both Connor and Jesse have been busy lately and will continue to be so occupied in the next few weeks. I also plan to take part in some of the events Jesse runs at his store, including the A&A: War At Sea and World of Warcraft CCG events. Because I can't get enough WoW.

Speaking of which, I suspect that some of you will think that I'm doing this to get in more WoW, although that is far from the case. Most of my WoW play is done on the days that my wife works, with a few hours here and there the rest of the week. I'm really only playing two characters with any enthusiasm right now (although getting the succubus for my warlock is a priority), so the amount of time I play in the evening is pretty limited - that's usually when we're catching up on TV shows that have been recorded and I'm either knitting or trimming wargame counters. So the answer is "No, I'm not doing this to play more WoW." When you're retired, you *can* have it all.

Astute readers will recognize that the lack of session reports was a pretty good indicator of my malaise. I do enjoy writing, especially as I do it off of the top of my head for the most part (which is why it comes across as such a stream of consciousness, because it is), so I'm happy to keep the blog going in a much more general sense, even if it feels a bit masturbatory. To emphasize that indulgence, expect me to not pull punches when it comes to matters religious, political, or social - I have an opinion that I like to think is backed up by observation and experience, and I see nothing wrong with sharing it. In fact, I value discussion on these topics, and will ask that any replies attempt to keep to the high ground rather than just resort to name-calling as happens so often on other blogs on current events. That goes for both sides of the issue, although just because there are two sides doesn't mean both are equally valid (the debate over evolution vs "intelligent design" comes to mind, which I'll cover in some future entry).

My deepest thanks to the membership of the Rip City Gamers, who have become very good friends to me. It is your love of gaming and sportspersonship that has made the last nine years a Belle Epoque that I am fortunate enough to have recognized while I was in the midst of it. This is not the end for us, not by a long shot.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Back From Hiatus

Two weeks back from Sunriver, and after a couple of weeks of thinking about how (and if) I'd like to continue blogging, I've come to a decision. I'm going to keep it up, but not in the same way that I was before. Where originally this particular blog was created strictly to distribute gaming session reports, I'm just not as into that particular medium as I once was. Astute readers will be well aware that I veered off into a few different gaming related areas, in particular World of Warcraft and hunting Wiis. Plus, I actually *do* have a life outside of gaming, both video and board, so there's really no reason not to include essays on whatever topic happens to float my boat that day.

As such, in the future you can expect entries on music, current events, computers, and whatever else happens to pass through my remaining brain cells at that moment. Oh, and games. I'll still talk about games, and I'll even talk about gaming sessions, but it's no longer something I'll do after every session, and certainly not the focus of the blog.

As a taste, here's a quick list of music that I'm listening to these days. I'm not only a professional musician on occasion, but I also have an advanced degree in choral music directing (almost as useful as a Master of English Lit degree), and I have a rather extensive CD and iTunes collection - without much of the classical repertoire ripped, about 300 discs, my iTunes library tops 60 Gb. So my tastes are a bit on the eclectic side, and I'm always interested in looking for something interesting.

Which is why I love the Apple Music Store so much. Finally, I can just wander around a store and listen to whatever catches my eye (or ear) at the click of a button. While I know many are unhappy that Apple chose a lossy format (AAC, superior to MP3 in a lot of ways), I really have a tough time hearing the difference between a CD and the iPod on a decent system (meaning it cost more than $200). That's mostly because of my rock and roll years and the hearing loss I suffered as a result. Fortunately, I can still hear all of the fundamental frequencies, and still enjoy most of the subtleties.

So what's got me going these days? First up are a couple of electronica entries: Deeperworlds from Mystical Sun and World of Sleepers from Carbon Based Lifeforms. Being a keyboardist who was into synthesizers back in the mid-70's, I really enjoyed Oxygene and Equinoxe from J-M Jarre, and these two discs evoke enough of that style to make me wish that Monsieur Jarre had not sold out long ago. I stumbled across both of these recordings on AMS as the result of links from other albums I was checking out, and that's my primary source of discovering new music these days.

Being a white suburban male kid growing up in the 70's, of course I developed a taste for Rush, the seemingly ageless Toronto-based prog rock band. They've gone through a lot of changes over the years, and in fact only put out two studio albums (and, I think, three live sets) since Test For Echo in the mid-90's, but their latest offering, Snakes and Arrows, is the best in some time. I wasn't a big fan of Vapor Trails - while it had it's moments, there really wasn't anything on it that grabbed me, and in fact there are probably several tunes that I couldn't even recognize. S&A, on the other hand, has perhaps their best instrumental since YYZ, The Main Monkey Business. While this album is not Moving Pictures (and honestly, how often do you get what back in the day was Side A of a vinyl record of that level of musicianship and musicality), I think it's certainly more than a step in that direction.

One of the bands that I was turned onto by a friend rather than by AMS is Jamiroquai. I've heard that his current stuff is pretty derivative dance/pop stuff (not that there's anything wrong with that), but Return of the Space Cowboy is one of the funkiest recordings I've ever heard. Deeply Funky. Light Years I could listen to for days. Sure, he sounds like Stevie Wonder back in the day, but with music this good who *cares*. All this, and a nice touch of social consiousness. Plus I love the ARP synthesizer sound with the oscillators put into hard sync. Highly recommended, and this from a guy who has trouble getting into Funkadelic.

Finally, if you like your torch songs with a bit of warpage, check out the first Goldfrapp album, Felt Mountain. Her later stuff is not even remotely the same, much closer to Madonna than Edith Piaf, so consider yourself warned. FM, however, is the real deal - smoky, sultry, dark, depressing as hell, but with great lyrics (example - "Are you human, or a gun") with traditional orchestration messed up in just the right ways. There are several times when I would swear I'm listening to Shirley Basie instead of something that came out in the last few years.

So there you go, a little electronica, a little lounge, a little prog rock, a little funk. I said I had eclectic tastes.

Next up I'll talk a bit about how Eurogames seem to be losing my interest.