Monday, April 27, 2009

Rapture could be a reality!

Here's why I love Libertarians: they can make remarkably insightful observations and still reach conclusions that are charitably described as outlandish.

But the Seasteading plan of Patri Friedman (grandson of Milton Friedman) truly takes the cake, and gives me fond memories of Bioshock. The only question that remains is whether Libertarians will build their perfect city-states under the sea, so as to have a pleasant, aquatic ambience while they're being slaughtered by genetically enhanced splicers.

Farewell Pontiac. You will be missed ...

by about 5 people.

My first car was a Pontiac Grand Am. I got it used, but it had only 40,000 miles on it, and it looked like it was in great shape. But it was a complete piece of shit. The onboard computer would go on the fritz, making it impossible to start the ignition. The ventilation system couldn't get air to the passenger side vents. The heater didn't work. The engine belt made weird noises. The electrical system went crazy and shorted out the radio. The driver side window fell out. The door grip, built into the door, broke off when I tried to close the driver side door.

Pontiac survived as long as it did thanks to nostalgia for the GTO and the early Trans Am. But they were a lousy company that built lousy cars and embodied every negative stereotype of American car manufacturers. I'm not going to celebrate people losing their jobs, but as for Pontiac itself, good riddance.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fun with Drugs

Last Monday my Crime Policy professor asked everyone in class to list all the benefits to decriminalizing cocaine, and all the costs. The former list was much, much longer.

Here's my take: it's hard to come up with a national policy that's failed as miserably as drug prohibition, and I can't figure out who benefits besides organized crime.

So for anyone who's interested in posting, what's a good argument against decriminalization? (I'm open to the idea that different drugs have different physiological effects, but I tend to be skeptical of "reefer madness" claims.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why I Love 24

24 is a show that survives on the short attention span of the viewer. The audience must never stop to think about all the crazy shit that happens in a twenty-four hour period. Let's recap:

Jack is interrogated by a Senate sub-committee;

Domestic terrorists steal a device that allows them to hack anything (don't ask);

The terrorists actually work for a genocidal African government that wants to prevent a U.S. humanitarian intervention into their country;

They almost get away with causing a chemical spill disaster at an Ohio pesticide plant;

They do get away with crashing two airliners into each other above the National Mall;

The President's husband is kidnapped and shot by the bad guys;

The U.S. invades the African country anyway;

Once Jack and co. recover the device, the evil African leader launches a raid on the White House (the WHITE HOUSE!) and smacks around the President;

All of this was apparently a diversion (invading the White House was a DIVERSION!) so that an evil security contracting firm could smuggle a biological weapon into the U.S.;

A U.S. Senator is murdered;

The security contractors threaten to launch bio-weapon missiles at U.S. cities unless the President makes them part of the national security apparatus;

Once Jack and his pal Tony foil that plot, it's reveal that the evil security firm is part of an even LARGER plot;

Tony pulls the old double-cross a steals some of the bio-weapon;

All of this has happened in less than 24 hours

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Piracy Update!

Navy snipers pick off three pirates, and the hostage captain is rescued. Here's a link to CNN.

Don't mess with the U.S. (or more accurately, don't mess with the U.S. when it has Navy SEAL snipers readily available)

Also, this was never going to end well for the pirates. Hostage-taking only works if you have a place to hide, not in the middle of the ocean.

A brief post on zombies...

I'm a zombiephile. I love zombie movies, zombie games, zombie comics, zombie-themed t-shirts, etc. Something about the shuffling, flesh-eating undead just entertains me in a way that buddy cops, ninjas, or robots never will. But that doesn't mean I can't distinguish between good and bad zombie entertainment:

The good: Dead Space
I don't understand why nobody bought this game. Actually, I do understand - it's not part of an established franchise - but more more people should have played it. Yes, the story is fairly derivative from other space zombie games, going all the way back to Doom. But the game designers took the elements of the genre and did something that was amazing; they made a game that was legitmately scary. Outer space is effectively used as a backdrop, the zombie designs are unique, and the game mechanics are incredibly well thought-out. It's everything that Resident Evil 5 is not.

The bad: Diary of the Dead
George Romero is a legend among zombie afficionados, but that doesn't mean he can't occassionally produce a lemon. Like Dead Space, this movie is very derivative, primarily of Romero's earlier work in the genre. Romero also borrows the central conceit of the Blair Witch Project; it is filmed by an amateur who is actually living through the events depicted. As in his earlier movies, Romero attempts to work in some social commentary, this time about the dishonesty of corporate media and the power of the Internet (etc., etc.). The main problem with the movie is that Romero never figures out how to make the "amateur" film style work in a fairly standard zombie flick. Unlike [REC], which used the "amateur" film technique to dole out scares and control the audience's perception of events, Diary feels like a generic zombie holocaust movie with lousy camerawork and obnoxious narration. The artificiality of the project is always evident, which only makes Romero's preachy social commentary that much more tedious. It also doesn't help that the acting is sub-par and the make-up effects are shoddy, even by the standards of low budget horror.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

We live in interesting times...

Those wacky Somali pirates are at it again. What's interesting to me is the similarities between Somalia today and the Caribbean in the early 18th century.

The final heyday of Caribbean piracy was around 1710-1730. The European powers had previously been fighting a lengthy, global struggle known as the War of the Spanish Succession. At the end of the war, the powers hastily discharged hundreds of sailors in their Western colonies, creating a glut of men who knew how to fight and sail, but not much else. At the same time, an incredible amount of cargo - including gold, slaves, rum, and sugar - was passing through the Caribbean isles. As many of these isles were essentially lawless, pirate outposts quickly sprang up and buccaneers began to prey on all the rich merchant ships.

In Somalia, there are large numbers of unemployed men who fought in the decade-long civil war. Somalia itself remains the prime example of a failed state, and the government's power barely extends beyond Mogadishu. And billions of dollars in international cargo pass within sight of Somalia's coastline thanks to its proximity to the Suez Canal.

The critical factor that ended the age of buccaneering was the rise of the British Royal Navy as an international police force. But the Royal Navy didn't destroy the pirates at sea; they captured and occupied the pirate bases, like Nassau in the Bahamas. In 2009, it seems very unlikely that any government, including the U.S., would be willing to occupy Somalia to end the new age of piracy.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

So you kinda liked Watchmen...

A few people have asked me to recommend comic books for them after reading Watchmen, which is kind of like asking someone to recommend movies for you after you've seen Casablanca. The question I always have to ask is, "well, what do you like?" If you're willing to do a little research, there's a comic book out there for you, and I don't just mean superheroes. There's Westerns, science fiction, crime drama, comedy, horror, autobiographies, romance, whatever you're interested in. And if you're in an international mood, you can find comics from the UK, France, Italy, Korea, Japan (lots and lots of stuff from Japan), and even far-away Canada!

After the so-so performance of Watchmen at the box office, DC Comics decided to release a list of comics aimed at older readers. You can look at their fancy website here. There are three problems with this list: it's too superhero-centric, it contains a lot of books that aren't actually good, and it only has books published by DC Comics (obviously).

But for those interested in getting their feet wet in comics, the After Watchmen list is as good a starting point as any. After trimming the fat, here's what I would put forth:

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Alan Moore is pretty much the only writer who ever did anything worthwhile with the character of Swamp Thing.

The Dark Knight Returns: Before Frank Miller became a walking parody of himself, he wrote really entertaining, noir-ish stories. This title effectively redefined Batman for an entire generation. You can see its influence in both the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan Batman films.

All-Star Superman: a recent work by Grant Morrison, it comes close to being the Platonic ideal of a Superman comic, and for one brief instant I understood why some people really like the Big Blue Boy Scout.

Animal Man: an older work by Morrison in the same deconstructionist vein as Watchmen. It also touches upon animal rights and violence in mainstream entertainment.

V for Vendetta: don't let the movie fool you, this book by Alan Moore was really good (and very British). This also holds true for From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Actually, anything by Moore is probably worth checking out.

Transmetropolitan: don't care about superheroes? What about a story by Warren Ellis where a crazed, junkie journalist (essentially Hunter S. Thompson) fights a corrupt government in the future?

Y: The Last Man: High concept pitch by Brian K. Vaughn: every mammal with a Y chromosome dies one day, except for one wannabe illusionist and his pet monkey. Hijinks ensue.

Sandman: Neil Gaiman's massive dark fantasy about the Lord of Dreams and the art of storytelling.

Preacher: Did you ever feel like punching God in the face? Well, so did Garth Ennis, and this book reads like one long "fuck you" to Christianity, but along the way it tells an exciting adventure story with richly drawn-out characters.

This list isn't meant to be exhaustive, and there are other titles on the After Watchmen site that are worth checking out if these books get you interested. I'd also recommend looking at the websites for smaller publishers like Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Dynamite, Oni, Fantagraphics, and Drawn & Quarterly. And of course, there's Marvel if you want more superheroes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Heroes is back, baby!

So the whiny losers on the Internet keep bitching that Heroes is no good. WELL YOU"RE WRONG!!1 Heroes is still the best show on TV, and this episode is proof of why. It's got tons of excitement and character stuff and Sylar being totally awesome.

Nathan rescues Claire and flies away from some government guys who want to capture her. And then they go to Mexico. And then Nathan gets drunk after making a bet or something with some vacationing frat boys, um... I'm not sure why, and so Claire has to win the bet for him! And since she heals and all, she can't get drunk, so she wins! But she still takes her shirt off...Hayden Panettiere is soooo hot. But here's the weird thing. I usually ship Claire and Peter, and yeah he's her uncle and all, but they are so perfect for each other. But now I'm totally a Nathan/Claire shipper.

And speaking of Peter, he hangs out in a church with his mom! And they spend like half an hour of the show in the church, and his mom keeps going on about how sorry she feels for sucking. It's really moving and stuff.

And we get some great scenes with Sylar plotting with the evil government guys. It's exactly like every Sylar scene the show's ever had, so you know it's awesome! And he still eats brains, cuz you know...AWESOME.

Only one problem with this episode...NO HIRO-CHAN! He's the friggin heart of the show, and it just doesn't feel right without Hiro-chan giving us a Yatta! Oh well, I'm sure next episode is going to rock even harder. SUCK IT, YOU HATERS!