Month: January 2016

Three Should-Be-Obvious Societal Truths

There’s a ton of misinformation and lack of information in political/societal discussion.  This is natural, obviously.  However, of all the things that are misunderstood or not understood at all, there are three things I feel everyone needs to know.

1 – Creating a life in America is harder now than it was decades ago.

There’s a common saying that tends to come from baby boomers or any generation pre-Gen-X: “just pull up your bootstraps and work.”  This isn’t terrible advice, but it’s often couched in a belief that hard work is all you need to create a good life in America.  This is simply false.

Back in the day, going to college guaranteed you a mid-to-upper-level salary.  Housing cost less.  Gas cost less.  Food cost less.  Everything cost less!  And this is after calculating for inflation.

Houses used to cost, on average, two years of income for the middle class.  Cars used to cost around 1/3 of the income.  College was less than half what it costs today.  The simple fact is this: back then, credit wasn’t necessary to obtain these things, or at least far less necessary.  Now, buying a car without a loan is a rarity, college loans define your economic standing for decades, and housing (even in a deflated market!) costs more than ever.

Creating an average middle-class life in America is much, much harder now.  This is compounded by the fact that not only do you have to go into heavy debt for a house, you’re starting with a mountain of educational debt, or you don’t have a degree and have to get lucky to make it into a career path that yields decent pay.

Compound this with the fact that earnings overall are lower than in the past, when adjusted with the difference in the cost of living.  This makes it harder to have a family, since single-income households are now a rarity instead of the norm.  This puts undue stress upon parents and parenting, which then affects the child or children.

“Pulling up your bootstraps and going to work” just isn’t the cure-all answer anymore.  That should also include “get really lucky” or “hope your parents pay for college”.

2 – Institutionalized racism still exists in America.

This is obvious to the people it affects negatively, but not to the people it doesn’t affect (or to those who benefit!).

Cocaine is a drug predominately abused by well-off white people.  Crack cocaine is a drug predominately abused by poor black people.  However, possessing 1 gram of crack gets you a jail sentence equal to the sentence you would get for 18 grams of cocaine.  That sounds ridiculous, though it used to be worse!  Before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, that disparity used to be 100:1!

Black children are 18 times more likely to be charged as adults than white children.

People with “black-sounding” names have to send 50% more job applications before getting a callback, when compared to people with “white-sounding” names.

A black man is three times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop, and then subsequently six times more likely to go to jail, when compared to a white person.

If a black person kills a white person, they are twice as likely to receive a death sentence, than the other way around.

77% of death row executions were a person who killed a white person.  13% of death row executions were a person who killed a black person.  Black and white murder is roughly the same.

It’s there.  Stop denying it.  And if you aren’t denying it, be aware of it.  If you’re white, I’m not saying you should have white guilt.  I’m saying you should have societal awareness.

3 – Socialism is not Communism.  Having social programs does not make you socialist.

Too often, people hear the word “social” or “equal” and automatically assume “socialist,” which then leads to “communist.”  This is dumb.

America has had socialist programs for ever.  Public police is socialist.  Public fire protection is socialist.  Public schools are socialist.  Social security.  Medicare.  This doesn’t make America a socialist country.  It makes it more socialist, but far from real socialist.

The ideas of universal health care or a higher minimum wage aren’t necessarily socialist ideas, but they are ideas that would help a majority of Americans.  Neither would change America into a socialist country, and not even close to a communist one.

This is silly confusion over dumb words that somehow have negative meanings, despite the fact that progressive ideals only help the most people, most of the time.

Advertisements

Jack Nicholson as The Joker: A Remembering

For some reason, I always remembered the original Batman as a sort of sublime representation of the property; a wonderful blend of the serious, dramatic side and the charming camp of the television series.  Before we get to The Joker and Jack Nicholson, a few notes from when I watched it again recently:

  • I totally forgot Billy Dee Williams was Harvey Dent.  Obviously this never built to him playing Two-Face for whatever reason.  That would have been very interesting to see.  Shame.
  • I’m not a big Tim Burton guy; I enjoy most of his work, but I don’t automatically like everything he does.  His work in Batman is superb though.
  • The art destruction scene, while campy and dated, is a pretty great representation of the Joker character.
  • The pileup after the first chase scene is hilarious.  It’s like a million cars, vegatables, bricks, and a mountain of other inanimate objects.
  • I still think Michael Keaton was a curious choice for Batman/Bruce Wayne.  He ended up being quite good, but I can’t recall any body of work that would make anyone think he would be specifically good at either part of the role.  But he is.
  • Why would Batman fly up to silhouette on the moon like that?  Oh whatever.
  • I think there might only be four women in this movie.  Vicki Vale, the girl that was dating the Joker and the old mob boss, the news lady, and Bruce Wayne’s mom.  I think all the extras were dudes.  This movie is a sausagefest.
  • Fucking Danny Elfman.  Everything he touches is gold.

OK, with that out of the way: Jack Nicholson as the Joker.  It gets weird.

So, the defining characteristic of all of all of the 80s/90s Batman movies is that they paid homage to the camp of the TV series.  To me it’s pretty clear that this was intentional, but I also think it would have been done deliberately if only because Batman villains are very cartoonish and campy in their own right.  The villains typically don’t have superpowers (since Batman technically doesn’t either), so they are strange and fantastical in their own right, with curious origin stories and blown-out characterizations.

What we now know is that the Joker can be gritty, real, and terrifying while still maintaining the trademark name, facepaint, and character traits.  Heath Ledger’s turn as the iconic villain has been heavily lauded as one of the greatest villain performances in history, and much of that is owed to the writing of the character.  In The Dark Knight, the Joker seems very real, very dangerous, and very believable to many extents.

However, the original Batman movie was still stuck in the mire of camp, so the characterization of the Joker was still rather silly.  Creating an origin story that had never really been explored, Jack Napier is a bad guy turned worse by circumstance, with a mangled face (to explain the perma-grin) and a chaotic sense of entitlement.

Jack-Nicholson-as-The-JokerHowever, when compared to all the other villains in that initial run of Batman movies, the Joker certainly stands out.  Part of this is that the Joker is simply the least ridiculous of the villains; all the others were either historically weirder or just portrayed as extreme caricatures.  The other part is Jack Nicholson.

Is it strange to feel that Nicholson both helped and harmed the Joker character in Batman?  I feel that his performance was a double-edged sword.  Let me explain.

What Nicholson did lend to the Joker role was prestige and menace.  The simple fact that it was him portraying the Joker made the performance important, only because Nicholson is important.  Not to say Michelle Pfeiffer, Jim Carrey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, et al aren’t important, but Nicholson brings with him some serious dramatic weight, no matter what the role.

Additionally, nobody can appear menacing and charming at the same time quite like Jack.  This did lend the Joker character a true degree of danger, despite the purple suit, cheesy jokes, and perma-smile.  I’m not sure if Nicholson was the only person who could have done that, but he certainly did it.

However, Nicholson clearly didn’t have his heart into the character whatsoever.  It’s a common problem with him in many movies, where his performance is still good because he’s largely incapable of poor performance, but his lack of enthusiasm is evident in the quieter parts of the performance.  The crescendos are magnificent, but the expository parts of the dialogue are lackluster.  It’s as if the gravitas of his personality still fills the role, but he himself isn’t trying very hard.

The casting alternatives for the Joker role are always tantalizing.  Names like Robin Williams, Tim Curry, and David Bowie are fun to think about.  However, the best name I’ve ever heard associated with that role was Willem Dafoe.  I think Williams and Curry would have definitely filled the humor and insanity parts of the role well, but I would have concerns on how much menace and danger either of them could portray.  Dafoe would have been able to make the Joker more dangerous, similar to how Nicholson did.


 

Funny thing I just realized while typing this: I probably would have never considered myself a Batman fanatic, but I’ve written like three or four blog posts in the last month about the movies.  I guess I am one.

Magic-ing for the First Time in Years

I actually played real, live Magic: The Gathering last night.  It was a release event for whatever new expansion is out, and it was a two-headed giant booster draft.  OK, that’s a lot of weird words.

Two-headed giant is where two players sort of play as one.  They have separate cards and play fields, but share turn order and life totals.  It’s an interesting format.

Booster draft is where instead of bringing your own preconstructed deck, you have to build a deck on the spot with cards you just bought.  How it works is that you open up a booster pack, pick a card from it, then pass the rest of the pack to your left.  You get another pack passed to you, and you draft another card, and on and on.  I’ve always considered it my favorite format, as it flexes both playskill and deck-building skill.  And you get to play with and use a lot of cards you wouldn’t normally consider in a constructed format.

So anyways, I played.  It was fun.  I’ll probably do it again, though only limited.  As I’ve said before, I do not wish to spend the time and money it takes to maintain a M:TG collection, and by proxy constructed decks.  I’d rather just breeze in, play limited (draft or sealed), and breeze out after selling any worthwhile cards.  I don’t want to know what prices are.  I don’t want to stress about format rotations or the metagame.  I just want to sling cardboard, and limited is the way to do it.

At the Drive-In Might Be Releasing New Music So Here’s Some Words About It

At the Drive-in is one of my favorite bands.  Sadly I didn’t get to enjoy them while they were active; they were one of a number of bands that I put off digesting before it was too late.  But whoa man, were they life-changing to me.

I don’t have to yammer on about how influential they are, or how their breakup spawned one of my other favorite bands (The Mars Volta).  We should all know that, and if you don’t this post probably won’t interest you.  What I’d like to yammer on about is their unreplicated style and energy that I’m hopeful we’ll get to hear again.

The first time I heard At the Drive-In, it was hearing “One-Armed Scissor” on the radio.  I’m not sure why that song didn’t immediately trigger a purchase of all their albums, but that song is just aggressive fire.  It’s almost a perfect rock song at face value, but has so much going on in it that it resembles the sort of movie that reveals more layers to it upon further viewings.

The pure primal energy of the vocals is enough to hook any rock enthusiast, but the music is where they truly shine.  It’s a perfect blend of sonic density and energetic punk sensibility.

Relationship of Command is also a near-perfect album, with a great variance of songs that are all unique and memorable.  I can put on that album at any time and enjoy it, front-to-back.

I don’t really have much more to say.  There might be new At the Drive-In music tomorrow.  Or at least, an announcement for a full tour, which would also be exciting.  Either way, I get to experience more of one of my favorite bands, that should also be one of your favorite bands.

The Horrible Powerlessness of Waiting

One of my wife’s friends from college went missing on Thursday.  Before I write about it, the essentials:

Facebook Page: “Find Sierra Shields”

News Report from PIX11 News

While I didn’t know her personally, it is important to note that thousands of people have liked and shared the post, and there is a large, organized effort to gather information that’s a coalition of friends, family, colleagues, co-workers, and even random concerned people.  Clearly she has touched many lives in a positive way.

Watching this from the outside, this is a heart-wrenching situation, obviously.  While I don’t have any personal grief, my wife has been in an emotional stasis for the past few days.  There’s no way to know how she should be reacting, since the lack of information prevents any sort of reasonable reaction.  Almost any reasonable conclusion is negative, but not knowing for sure is debilitating.

All I can do is console and reassure, which I’ve done, but I can’t say “it’ll be OK.”  I don’t know.  Chances are it won’t be OK.  False hope isn’t good for anyone.

The only great thing I’ve extracted from this is the comment sections in news outlets.  For the most part, it has been overwhelmingly positive.  It’s a healthy reminder of the fact that there is humanity out there still.

Three Souls

I remember the first time I heard Motorhead.  Like, really heard Motorhead, as in listened to a whole album.  I had probably heard Ace of Spades years prior, but listening to a whole Motorhead album was like getting in a car wreck.  It’s exhilarating, disorienting, and afterwards you’re not quite sure what happened, but you’re sure something has changed.

Google “bands like Motorhead.”  Go ahead, do it.  Google will associate a number of bands that are related, and none of those bands are quite like (or even close) to Motorhead.  That might be as great a modern compliment that can be paid to a band, especially one has storied as Motorhead.

I loved Motorhead mainly because they were a perfect blend of old-school metal sensibilities and punk rock energy.  They certainly weren’t either genre, but a blend of each genre’s strengths.  The constant, never-ending sonic assault personified the best parts of loud music, and there really hasn’t been anything like them since.

At the center of Motorhead was Lemmy Kilmister, probably the best-named frontman in all of music (and at the very least, that last name is real).  The mole, the gravel-on-fire voice, then relentless energy.  Even when his lyrics weren’t aggressive, every word had “fuck you, this is what I love, and you’re going to fucking like it” laced into it.

Some would rag on Motorhead for never really changing or re-inventing themselves.  “If you’ve heard one Motorhead song you’ve heard them all” is certainly a thing I’ve heard many times.  Normally I would hop on that “evolve, please” train, but fuck that.  No one else was giving you what Motorhead gave you.  It was simple, it was primal, it was relentless, it was punching your eardrum with every beat.  I’d like to think that they knew this, and that they considered trying a new creative approach, but then collectively said “fuck that, we’re doing what we love”.  I can’t rag on that.

Lemmy, and by proxy Motorhead, was special.  I’m sure we’ll find another band with the same perfect blend of genre and merciless aggression, but I don’t think there’ll ever be anything quite like Lemmy or Motorhead again.


 

The cultural impact of David Bowie is practically immeasurable.  Setting aside any part of what he did is to do him a disservice; his entire creative body of work in the studio, on the stage, and on the screen all screams one simple truth: be who you are, and don’t be afraid of it.

Two common threads throughout all of Bowie’s work is unabashed love in what he was doing, and not a care in the world what anyone thought of it.  No matter how strange the costume, or how unconventional the music, David Bowie was truly authentic, honest, and artistic.

The joy of Bowie’s work permeated throughout culture.  He showed us all that it’s OK to be who you are, no matter how strange or weird you think it might be.  He showed us that if we’re being true to what we’re doing, there is no social barrier that can stop you.  He showed us that no matter how strange, art is art.

To me, David Bowie isn’t among my favorite musicians.  A few select songs are special to me for differing reasons, but I rarely put on David Bowie by my own volition.  However, his presence in music is to be respected, revered, remembered.  There is nothing more gratifying to witness than an artist performing his art on their terms, with no fear of repercussion.  David Bowie did that every moment of his artistic life, and that’s something we should all learn from.


 

Alan Rickman is one of my favorite actors.  His trademark double-bass voice and premier acting ability lent credibility to a strange movie in my childhood, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  Despite Kevin Costner barely making an effort to sound British, Rickman’s performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham was memorable to me.  The “carve his heart out with a spoon/IT’S DULLER, IT’LL HURT MORE” line was a source of great joy to me, in particular.

I don’t remember him as Snape; I have seen some of the Harry Potter movies, but didn’t get too much in them.  I remember him as Marvin.  As the Metatron.  As Hans Gruber.  All unique roles for a unique talent.

What is there to learn from him, besides that he’s a great actor?  That giving up on a dream can be foolish.  Hans Gruber (Die Hard, for you plebeians who haven’t seen the greatest Christmas movie of all time) was his first major role, and he was 42 when he got that role.  It was only his 9th credit on television or film, and his first role in three years at the time.  42!  How many people have given up by then?  All?  I’d assume all if it wasn’t for him.


 

All three of these wonderful souls have passed on, sadly.  All three gave something wonderful to the world, and all three will likely never be duplicated.  While they were all in different worlds, they all taught us important lessons through their life’s work.

When people talk about “legacy”, that’s what we should be thinking about.  Not how much stuff we have, or what personal accomplishments we achieved.  What is important is the meaning of those accomplishments to the world around us, and the lives we touched in a positive manner in our journey to them.  All three of these men did just that, in different but interesting ways.

More Final Fantasy Thoughts Because Why The Fuck Not

Clearly I have an obsession with the Final Fantasy series, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise.  They were extremely important to me in my pre-teen and teenage years, and at one point it was the most popular RPG series in the land.  Final Fantasy 7 practically won a console war for Sony.  It’s a bit of a big deal.

What’s interesting to me, though, is that there’s a decent case to be made that every major console that a Final Fantasy game has been on, it hasn’t had the best RPG for that system.

NOTE: This is from an American perspective, so Final Fantasy 2, 3, and 5 aren’t counted here, though I don’t think any of those would have been in any running for “best RPG of X console.”

NES: Final Fantasy 1 was a fantastic game, though I personally feel that it’s not even a top-3 RPG on the system.

  • Dragon Warrior 3 and 4 are the best two RPGs for that system.  They’re longer, have better stories, better characters, and were superior in graphics and audio.  That last part isn’t surprising, since they came out later, but the point still stands.
  • Lesser-known RPG Destiny of an Emperor is an excellent RPG that I feel barely edges out Final Fantasy.  If you haven’t heard of it, give it a try.
  • Ultima: Quest of the Avatar is a brilliant open-ended game with deep strategic combat and a sprawling world to explore.

SNES: Final Fantasy 4 and 6 are extraordinary games.  Final Fantasy 6 is my favorite of the series.  However…

  • Chrono Trigger is a masterpiece.  It’s about as close to a perfect game as most games get.
  • Secret of Mana was revolutionary in its gameplay, specifically in its multiplayer features.
  • Earthbound.  Don’t need any more words than that.

PSX: Final Fantasy 7 needs no introduction.  Final Fantasy is largely considered a misstep, while 9 was a return to form.  I think FF7 is probably the best RPG on the PSX, thus busting up my theory, but some contrarian arguments:

  • Xenogears.
  • XENOGEARS.
  • Breath of Fire 3.
  • MOTHER FUCKING XENOGEARS

PS2: Final Fantasy 10, 10-2 and 12 (we’re not counting the MMO 11) are all great entries into the series.  I think 10 might be the best on the console (horrible voice acting notwithstanding…and I’m playing through 12 now, so this might change).  But there’s a gaggle of other great entries:

  • The entire Shin Migami series
  • Shadow Hearts
  • Kingdom Hearts series
  • Xenosaga
  • .hack
  • Tales of Symphonia

PS3/XBox360: Final Fantasy 13 and 13-2 are tepid games at best, both plagued by iffy characters and slow plots.  It’s not hard to find RPGs that could be/are better:

  • Dark Souls
  • Elder Scrolls series
  • Fallout series
  • Dragon Age series
  • Diablo 3
  • Tales series


It’s not to say that the Final Fantasy series is bad, but with the increase of the video games industry as a whole (and the playerbase being far different as a result), things have changed.  Final Fantasy just isn’t the showstopping series it once was.  This is OK.  Hopefully things go in one of two directions:

  • Final Fantasy reinvents itself in new, exciting ways
  • Square-Enix caters to the niche that simply wants more old-school style JRPGs, and works to refresh that formula in new, exciting ways.

As an aside, I feel that FF13 was a step in that “new, exciting way” direction, but the fact that the entire cast of characters were cunts (save for one) hurt that game to a great degree.