Month: February 2016

“The Establishment Has Failed”, or “What Happens When Government Stops Serving The Majority”

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No matter what part of the political spectrum you lie on, there is a scary candidate on the other side.  Republicans are frightened of the potential of a “socialist” Sanders presidency (and that “socialist” label is being applied to Clinton as well, to a lesser extent).  Democrats are wringing their hands at the momentum Trump appears to have.

While Sanders and Trump are as close to diametrically opposed as can be philosophically, they do share one common trait: they are populist, non-establishment candidates.  Trump brings far more consternation among Republicans than Sanders does among Democrats, but neither are the preferred candidate of either party.  Trump threatens to splinter the GOP, while the DNC has more subtle fears about Sanders, mainly the concern that he is too far left and will turn off centrist voters (which are the key to winning anything).  Both of them are getting their funding from nontraditional sources (Sanders by a large volume of small donors and unions, Trump from his own coffers), and both are appealing on a populist platform.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  The success of both candidates points to a rising tide of dissatisfaction with either political establishment.  While it may be shocking to see this on both sides at this time, to me this was a situation that was inevitable.

This is what happens when the majority of the country (re: middle class and lower) have not been served properly by the government for decades.

This is what happens when both political establishments have sold out (pardon the cliched term) to corporate interests.

This is what happens when the decay of the majority is so apparent that people turn to relatively extreme candidates and their ideologies.

The most ardent Sanders or Trump supporters share that same thought process: the establishments have failed us, we must look elsewhere for help.  The perceived failures, possible solutions, “radical” ideologies, and the candidates themselves are obviously different depending on which side you ask, but the resentment and dissatisfaction is of the same stripe: Washington has failed the American people, and enough is enough.

For the Democratic party, this is less of a concern for a variety of reasons.  The current establishment candidate is a strong household name, and Sanders’ success hasn’t been enough to carry him to a clear victory (and most sober predictive measures don’t show him as a real threat anymore).  While Sanders’ success is still going to provide a lasting effect even without a win (in that his ideals are now exposed and talked about in political analysis), the fact that he simply won’t win doesn’t threaten the Democratic party to a great extent.  The largest consequence of his success is the fact that it’s very obvious that the younger generation of Democrats and liberals largely share his ideals, and this is something that needs to be accounted for as they get older.

The GOP, on the other hand, may be heading for a fracture of immense proportions.  Trump’s success, now some of it in hindsight, is rather obvious to trace.  He is tapping into a portion of conservatives that share his somewhat-to-obvious xenophobic proposals, and are also dissatisfied with recent establishment results.  This is exacerbated by the fact that Trump appears to have appeared at the “perfect” time, where there is no clear opponent.  There’s no one with the cache of Hillary Clinton on the Republican side to oppose Trump.  The GOP’s initial establishment candidate, Jeb Bush, has already been ousted from contention, and the newly-crowned Marco Rubio has yet to win a state.  Some would think lining up behind Ted Cruz would be the obvious play for the GOP, but they dislike him almost as much as they do Trump, so they chose to back Rubio.

 


Both sides have themselves to blame.  Income inequality has been rising steadily for over four decades now; it was only a matter of time before people took notice.  Corporations now exert their power over our government with impunity.  While I wouldn’t call this a “revolution” by any standard (you’d need a lot more voter turnout to consider that term), it may be the beginning of one.  It may be the first wave of a sustained storm that may reshape American politics as we know it.

Will the establishments adjust to this development?  Will our government realign their priorities to serve the majority once more?  Will all this culminate into a splintering of parties, resulting in a four-or-five-or-six-party system?

Well, who the hell knows.  Right now we have a self-labeled socialist and a reality TV star in our primaries.

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Single-Level Thinking, Or How To Create Criminals And Be A Dick-shitting Fuckface Simultaneously

So, Illinois State Representative Jeanne Ives said some words in September last year:

Those words have now swirled into a new bill.  This bill, if passed, would halt the issuance of birth certificates in Illinois to babies who have no father (or other person willing to take legal and financial responsibility) listed.  There is no clause or exception for rape or incest victims.

A lack of a birth certificate would prevent that child and the single mother from receiving any benefits from any level of government.

There are so many things I feel and think when I read this.  It’s just really mean, to start with.  It’s sexist, as it automatically assumes the mother isn’t capable of providing.  It’s hilariously unconstitutional for a variety of reasons (which is why I’m not really mad about the bill itself).

But more than all of that (and that is a lot to overcome), it’s incredibly moronic.  Simply dumb, stupid idiocy.  The people who think this is a good idea don’t understand what critical thinking is, or even what thinking is.  The people in charge of this bill and the thought put behind it shouldn’t be trusted to run a lemonade stand, let alone any governmental function on any level.  Philosophical or moral concerns aside, supporting this kind of bill demonstrates an inability to think or function clearly.  Either these people are the dumbest people in a land of increasingly dumb people, or they are so emotionally charged by the idea of welfare that they’re blinded to the fact that they’re supporting something so bald-face stupid.

What do you think happens if you deprive help to single mothers and their children?  What do you think happens to a society that refuses to help those that need it the most?  You have a shitty fucking society, that’s what.

OK, more details.

The chances that single mother engages in some sort of criminal or destructive behavior increase dramatically.  She will need to find another source of money, and/or she will take on vices to help mentally cope with the depression that will inevitably occur.

The chances that child eventually grows into an adult that also engages in criminal or destructive behavior go up as well.

There’s also a chance that one or both just simply die, because food costs money.  Some might think the idea of that happening in America is preposterous.  If you do, here’s some countries that have lower infant mortality rates than the USA: Bosnia, Latvia, Cuba, Taiwan, Israel, and pretty much every other first-world country you can think of.  The key cause is income inequality and poverty, which should come as no surprise.

The point is this: it should be hard to figure out that a social safety net pays for itself, when considering the alternative.  If the poor are given greater opportunities to support their families and enrich their lives, the elements of vice and crime become less prevalent.  Few actually choose a life of crime, but are more often forced into it by situations often out of their control.

Depriving a single mother and her child aid to take care of themselves, morality aside, is just an idiotic proposition.  This type of single-level thinking is rampant these days, to a point where I’m beginning to fear what lies ahead.

The Camouflaged Mediocrity of the Chicago Bulls

“Out-of-town stupid” is a term often used for national or regional sports writers who may not understand or know of the intricacies of the team or organization they’re talking about.  This is obviously a phenomenon that occurs everywhere; of course out-of-towners wouldn’t know as much as local reporters or even the most vigilant of fans.  However, some organizations just do a better job of obfuscating their true natures, or never draw enough attention to themselves to warrant a deeper look.

The Chicago Bulls might be the very best at that obfuscation, and the nature of their mediocrity is that of non-action, which would naturally draw less attention than other NBA franchises who take bad risks or make poor decisions.

Like many things, it starts at the top.  Jerry Reinsdorf has obviously had enormous success overall with the Bulls since purchasing them in 1985, but much of it was in spite of himself and the people he hired.  Giving him credit for six championships in eight years goes along with giving him credit for breaking that same team up and ousting one of the greatest coaches of all time (and by proxy, the best player of all time).  It would be easy to point at that as an isolated incident, but it simply isn’t.

Another enterprising individual on Bulls site Blog a Bull came up with this brilliant chart that maps out Reinsdorf’s repeating pattern of nepotism.  Long story short: the Bulls have ousted two of the winning-est coaches in NBA history in favor of completely inexperienced coaches from Iowa State.  Iowa connections don’t stop there, and there are strange New Mexico connections as well.  The linked article explains and shows it better than I can, but the point is clear: this is an organization that has never given positions of power based upon success, but rather based upon “I knew this guy.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been successes or good decisions made.  There absolutely have been.  In the rare moments the Bulls do participate in a trade, it has rarely gone terribly.  The draft record is mostly decent to above average, and there hasn’t been any catastrophic decisions made there either (save for perhaps the drafting of Marquis Teague, when then-coach Tom Thibodeau wanted Draymond Green).  There have been times when there has been a pretty clear plan on how to approach the future, and sound risks and decisions were made to facilitate that plan.  A lot of it hasn’t worked out, but judging a decision purely based on the outcome is a fool’s errand.

However, there’s a few trends that are rather apparent at this point.  These trends are all likely characteristic of Reinsdorf himself, as like in any organization, it will resemble who’s in charge.

  • They are averse to risk.  There is a long, ever-expanding wasteland of “almosts” and “could haves” in regards to trades involving the Chicago Bulls.  Obviously not all of those trades should have been made, but the point is that trades just aren’t their style, because the risk is too great to them.  The biggest problem with this is missed opportunity; too often, they have lost a player in free agency that they could have traded in the previous season for nothing, or have missed a chance to build assets.
  • They are cheap.  This is a common meme for any criticized owner, but Reinsdorf has earned this dubious title.  He has a long-running track record of resisting any pro-union measure in either sport in which he owns a team.  He was one of the primary “tough nuts” in the 1994-1995 MLB player’s strike.  He has avoided paying the luxury tax for the Bulls almost every year.  Contract disputes with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, two of the best 25 players of all-time and also underpaid during their careers, are known to anyone with some time and Google skills.  There are a number of other cases to point out, but Jerry’s prudent nature isn’t a terribly unknown reality.
  • They will have their way.  There are two common threads between Phil Jackson and Tom Thibodeau; both are among the winning-est coaches in NBA history, and both are people who refused to be pushed around by the Bulls’ front office.  Because of that, they were both deposed despite making the playoffs in their final season (and in Jackson’s case, winning a championship!).  The reasons given for their departures haven’t been entirely honest, accurate, or smart.  Most of the evidence points to this: neither Phil nor Tom were willing to bend to the front office’s will (whatever that will was), and they got sent away because of it.  Both were replaced with inexperienced Iowa State coaches.  Tim Floyd was pretty terrible.  So far there’s little to like about Fred Hoiberg.
  • Their track record with the handling of training and injuries is poor.  I’m not sure if this is an organizational mandate, an inability to hire effective training and medical staff, or a combination of those or other factors, but the Bulls have a curious history in this regard.  The most famous of this is Derrick Rose’s stunted return, but there are numerous other incidents that point to an alarming trend of poor handling of athlete wellness.

 

Many of these subjects are rarely talked about in national media, but they’re also largely ignored in local media.  There are a multitude of reasons why this might be the case, and the more salacious possibility is that the Bulls highly curate and manage the writers that cover the team.  The amount of excuses given for this organization by local media is bordering on sickening; no single situation appears to be bad, but we’re now at a decades-long run of excuse after excuse after excuse.

The most that ever gets said about the Bulls in the national media are cryptic, vague statements such as “the Bulls are weird” or “I’m not sure what they’re doing.”  To my knowledge no major national writer has delved much deeper than that when talking about Bulls dysfunction, but that should come at no surprise.  National writers gravitate towards either the greatest teams or the loopiest ones, and the Bulls haven’t qualified as either for a long time.  Their organizational dysfunction isn’t so bad when compared to the Kings and Lakers of today, the Knicks and Timberwolves of yesterday, or other front-office tire-fires of yesteryear.  Additionally, most of the Bulls’ problems don’t stem from individually poor choices; there’s no unforgivable draft blunder or ill-advised trade to point to.

With the Bulls, it’s a death of a thousand cuts.  Some of those cuts might grab momentary media attention (such as Thibodeau’s firing and subsequent shaming by a public, personal attack by Reinsdorf), but the Bulls are still widely regarded at worst as a reasonably stable organization.  I suppose that statement is completely true, if only because they’ve been consistently awkward, risk-averse, and mediocre.

Derrick Rose was Right: Another Reason Why the Bulls are Kinda Trash

In 2013, many people tore down Derrick Rose.  He had gotten injured the previous year’s playoffs, and that ACL tear that has haunted his career (alongside a meniscus tear and other injuries) since.

He was called many things: weak, scared, pansy, etc.  Bulls’ doctors had cleared him to play in March of 2013, but he didn’t play then, nor did he play in the playoffs.  The Bulls lost in the second round to the eventual champions, LeBron James’ Miami Heat.

Criticism came from many sources.  Local sports radio, national sports radio, blogs, fans, etc.  It wasn’t a complete chorus; many Bulls fans (myself included) felt it was more prudent to take it slow, especially after an injury that has commonly had a two-year recovery time (meaning that the second year they’re playing, but they’re not 100%).  Regardless, narratives were written: Derrick Rose was soft, or Derrick Rose didn’t care about his team or the fans, or Derrick Rose is weak-minded and can’t be trusted as a franchise player.

This was then all exacerbated by the fact that Rose endured further injuries, that expectations were very high for a Bulls team that was legitimately great when healthy, and the fact that Rose was the youngest MVP of all time (and had a contract that paid him like one).  This only further wrankled fans who had already formed their “soft” perception of Rose, regardless of any real evidence.

Derrick-RoseWhere Rose’s career goes from here is impossible to predict; he has had one of the most tumultuous careers in NBA history already, and he’s only 27.  However, based on a number of events that have occurred since, it is wholly unfair to continue to hold the 2012-2013 ACL injury (and the subsequent handling of his return) against him.

He was right to sit out, despite Bulls doctors clearing him.  He was right because it’s rather obvious: the Bulls’ training and medical staff has a proven track record of being inept, careless, and/or downright irresponsible when it comes to their job.

Rose choosing to trust himself over the Bulls’ doctors has proven to be a smart decision.

Let’s take a walk through some of the more alarming failures that the Bulls’ training and medical staff has had over the last four years:

That is a reasonably frightening list, and it’s nowhere near complete.  This is an organization that has consistently pressured its athletes to come back from injury too soon, and has allowed players to repeatedly play through injuries, to a point of near-malpractice.

First: hard to say any of it was necessarily Tom Thibodeau’s fault, if only because these trends of poor diagnosis and over-playing have continued since his exit.  Maybe it wasn’t Thibs, but rather a medical and training staff that is giving the coaches poor information?  That’s a more reasonable explanation.  It’s either that, or an example of blatant hypocrisy from a front office who claimed over-playing as a reason for firing Thibodeau, but has inexplicably allowed the same behavior from their hand-picked successor.

However, the point: Derrick Rose was correct in not trusting this organization’s medical or training staff.  Chances are he had his own doctor, and that doctor told him that coming back from an ACL too early can be disastrous (and there’s a long enough list of NBA players who can tell you from experience).

The narrative of Derrick “not being tough” never rang true to me.  In the same year he tore his ACL, he had also had a bunch of other minor injuries, almost all of which he played through.  He was one of the most fouled and contacted players in the NBA (due to how often and quickly he drives the lane), playing through a modicum of injuries, and we’re calling him soft after tearing an ACL?  A guy who got elbowed so hard in practice that it broke his orbital bone, and he missed what, two weeks?  He couldn’t see straight for over a month and a half afterwards, and we’re calling that guy soft?  Bullshit.

Derrick Rose isn’t perfect.  He’s made some dumb decisions and has said some dumb things, for sure.  MVP-level Derrick Rose is gone, and even just All-Star Derrick Rose or Above-Average Starter Derrick Rose are probably unlikely.  But saying “no” to the Bulls training staff was not the wrong move, given their previous and future track record.

 

Darkest Dungeon, aka Defeat Simulator 2016

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Darkest Dungeon is a wonderful game.  It is also a mother fucker.

Some general info: Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based strategy game, where you manage a hamlet of adventurers.  Your goal is to complete missions, defeat bosses, and earn resources.  There are all sorts of recources to gain, and they’re used for a large variety of purposes.  There’s simple, obvious things such as improving the skills and gear of your adventurers, to macro objectives such as improving your buildings (and the bonuses they offer).  Finally, you have to manage stress, which adventurers will accrue pretty much perpetually.

Stress can be gained by getting critically hit, to being in the dark, to retreating from a battle, to retreating from a dungeon, to all sorts of other things.  Alleviating stress is done by sending adventurers to stress-relief places, which is a tavern or a chapel (with different methods of stress relief as well).

Combat is a smart, strategical affair that is based off of line placement, buffs and debuffs, and other reasonably simple mechanics that coalesce into a pretty deep system.

All of this is to make you hurt.  This game is not about winning.  It is about your pain, defeat, and how you deal with it.  It’s brilliant, frustrating, tiresome, and satisfying all at once.

I didn’t know it was possible for a pyrrhic victory in a video game to actually give me gratification, if only because the still-negative outcome was better than what could have happened.  But it is; this game has framed not-losing-so-bad as a triumph.  I’m not sure if that’s crazy-smart design or a formula for me wanting to cut whoever made this, but it’s damn intriguing at the very least.

I’m actually about to restart my campaign, if only because I’ve learned some lessons and want to get a better start to what I was doing.  It’s pretty common for me to do this; if I notice that I had too many inefficiencies in a game like this, I’ll start over to “get a better start.”  However, I’m not sure that’s possible.  I have a sneaking suspicion that my start that I’m lamenting was actually sort of OK, and my retry will probably be similar.

And then I’ll learn what this game may truly be: a defeat simulator, a masochistic automaton of harsh reality.  An engine of pain that is meant to grind out any preconceived notion of heroism or “I’m the player and I should win”, like a slow zamboni paving ice before a hockey game.

Wow, that got dark.  This game is fucking with me.

Thoughts: Deadpool (spoiler-free)

Deadpool shouldn’t be a thing, when it comes to movies.  There are dozens of reasons why it shouldn’t work, or why it shouldn’t have been made.  Even the base idea sounds ludicrous, if you put yourself in the shoes of a studio exec: “Let’s make a comic book movie that kids cannot see.”

Yet, I have watched a Deadpool movie.  Better yet, it was actually very good!  And it’s been very successful!  These are all very surprising things, all worthy of exclamation points!

So how did we get here?  Well, I don’t know, but I have some guesses.  To be honest though, I’d rather talk about the “why” rather than the “how.”  So, not unlike the protagonist of this movie, I’m just going to be a bit chaotic and make a number of observations about why this movie is a bit of a triumph (or at least as much of a triumph as a movie like this could be).

  • The fact that this movie was something I watched and understood while still preserving the fun chaos of the Deadpool character is an achievement.  This movie could/should have been off the rails from minute one, and it feels like it’s going that way a lot of the time, but it doesn’t.  It holds together somehow, trudging forward with the plot while making fun of itself for doing so at the same time.  The movie pauses just long enough in spots to let emotional impact set in, then proceeds to show you its balls.
  • Ryan Reynolds is really great here.  I don’t know how many other actors could or couldn’t have pulled this off, but I do know that he did and he’s great.
  • The fourth-wall breaking is done perfectly.  It would have been very easy to run away with it and “do it until it’s not funny,” but it was the perfect amount, and it never really took away from a scene (which is the risk that’s ran when you do that).
  • While this isn’t the first R-rated comic book movie, it’s certainly the first in a traditional style.  Sin City (derived from graphic novels) was also rated R, but it wasn’t bright and didn’t have costumes.  Deadpool is a real risk, and there has been a backlash towards it (and a backlash against the backlash).  There is a valid concern over a primary comic book character being what Deadpool is and flaunting it in a movie, but I think grown-ups can decide what’s good for their children.  At least I hope so.
  • This movie is legitimately hilarious.  Some of it is sophomoric, a lot of it is crude, but Reynolds and Co. pull it off wonderfully.  There were a few people crying at some of the jokes, which I personally hadn’t experienced before.
  • The violence is at a perfect level.  The thought going in was that it would be gory, as Deadpool usually is in the comics.  It certainly is gory, but it’s not over-the-top.  It only focuses on gore for a moment, if only to profress it long enough to go “this is cool, ain’t it?” before getting on with something else.
  • The only real complaint I can think of here is one in hindsight; I wish there was another major “Deadpool vs. 8 schmucks” action scene, if only because the one that was there was so fun.  There wasn’t room for it obviously, and this movie had to force itself to sit down and show you Deadpool’s origin story, so I understand why there wasn’t.  Would have just liked more, I guess.  I suppose that’s a good sign for the franchise.
  • I think it’s interesting that between Deadpool and to a lesser extent Jessica Jones, that Marvel will likely continue exploring “mature” content in the future.  Not that blood, cursing, and sex is necessary to tell a story, but it’s so far been refreshing when compared to the more vanilla storylines and characters of other films.
  • There’s going to be a sequel, and that amazes me only because I’m not sure anyone’s capable of making a coherent Deadpool movie again.  We’ll see.