Friday, October 30, 2009

A Letter to the Child of Two Godless Socialists

Two of my godless hippie socialist friends are expecting a child. At first I was shocked by this news. I had assumed they'd see the world as too terrible and inhumane a place to consider rearing their own child. But more power to them for taking the plunge!

The sister of the husband sent out a mass email to all of our friends. She's putting together a book of our words and advice to be read by the child in the year 2030. I couldn't resist the opportunity for some good-natured ribbing of the only two people I've ever met who actually defend Hugo Chavez in conversation. I've changed the names to Jack and Jill to protect the (somewhat) innocent, and hopefully my response is entertaining enough to justify being posted on my blog.

If anything, I hope that this letter will find its way into the hands of other children who had godless communist parents... that would be rewarding.

To Jack and Jill's Son or Daughter
(to be read in the year 2030)

Being that you are the daughter or son of Jack and Jill, and youth rebellion being such a constant throughout the history of our great country, I imagine you are most likely now a nearly religious follower of the works of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich August von Hayek. You are probably in your second year at The Booth School of Business at The University of Chicago, and maintain dreams of some day running a great American corporation, and being at the forefront of American capitalism and entrepreneurship. I for one, would like to congratulate you for your hard work, bold dreams, and I do hope you make those dreams a reality.

But at this point, and at your current age, I do worry that you might not see your parents for who they truly are. You might be angry at them for their political activism for greater (and all too easily corrupted) centralized power in government. You may be bitter that as an only child of two hand-wringing socialists, you never had a sibling to play with, or to push you in your many athletic undertakings. You may feel that your two intelligent and educated, but overly conscientious parents contributed to the infamous "Idiocracy Effect", first put forth in Mike Judge's brilliant 2006 film. I can only imagine how your relationship with your otherwise loving and caring parents could be strained by this scenario.

I'm not normally one to argue for the virtue of intentions over outcomes, but I think parenting is a bit of a different animal than most of our human undertakings. I also know that you will some day realize and come to terms with my basic premise here, and I want to challenge you, and perhaps hasten your arrival on what is an inevitable conclusion concerning your upbringing. We are all products of our surroundings and upbringings. Your parents are the people they are because they are loving and conscientious, and because they rebelled, bravely pushing in the opposite direction of mainstream culture, just as you are doing today. Regardless of how differently they see the world, they did this out of love and concern for you and the world you are going to be living in.

So perhaps now is the time to start putting the bitterness aside, and see your parents as they really are and always have been. Jack and Jill were great parents who loved you, and who encouraged all of your intellectual pursuits... even when they didn't agree with you. They made you who you are, and you are a smart, caring, and driven person. The world needs godless hippies to drastically change culture from time to time, and the world needs the children of hippies to help re-balance their excesses. Your family is an example of this progress, and make no mistake, it is progress. It has happened before, and it will happen again. But what you are left with is two loving parents, and that's something to be thankful for.



Thursday, October 29, 2009

Game's I've Loved this Year: Part 2 - Lost Winds

I like epic games, and I like intense action games just as much as much as anyone but I also enjoy smaller more focused games. That's why I'm so happy with the appearance of services like WiiWare, Steam and Xbox Live Arcade. The fact that smaller developers can now produce smaller games with smaller teams, and still market their work in an economically viable way is one of the best things to happen to the industry in years. So I want to take this opportunity to sing the praises of Frontier Games, and their "Lost Winds" series.

The first "Lost Winds" game launched with the WiiWare service, and it is still one of the best games on the WiiWare store... along with Mega Man 9 and World of Goo. The sequel "Lost Winds: Winter of the Melodias" was just released last week, and I just finished my first play-through.

These games aren't trying to be huge epic experiences. Both games will only take 3-4 hours to finish, but you can pick them up for only $10. Both games are so well designed and paced, the hours spent playing them will seem like minutes. The art design and sound are exceptional... and it boggles the mind how Frontier managed to get them under the 40 meg WiiWare limit.

I'd describe "Lost Winds" as "relaxing Metroid", with a "Windwaker" art aesthetic. The world is small by Metroid standards, but every bit as meticulously constructed as your favorite Metroid or Castlevania map. This game design is combined with a exceptional Wii-pointer interface to control the wind and solve puzzles makes both "Lost Winds" games much more original than your standard Metroid rip-off.

I'm in awe of the work Frontier Development has done with these games, and I know I'll be buying their next game. Until then, I hope all of my readers give "Lost Winds" a try. I seriously doubt anyone will be disappointed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Game's I've Loved this Year: Part 1 - Punch Out

Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Wii
Right to the point: the new Punch-Out!! for the Wii was one of the very few games that exceeded every expectation I had leading up to its release this year. Granted, a new Punch Out is a much smaller production than a new Call of Duty game or a Halo spin-off, but you really can't overstate how much fun a simple game can be if it is as meticulously crafted as Punch Out.

Like I said... everything in Punch Out exceeds expectations. The gameplay is right in line with the earlier games, but with more hidden depth and secrets. The challenge is both more approachable than previous games, and thanks to the new Title Defense Mode, the later part of this game is just about as difficult as any Punch Out veteran could want.

There is also an brilliant achievement system that doubles as a teaching tool for finding opponent's weaknesses. For example, you get an achievement for knocking Von Kaiser out in only 5 punches. You probably wouldn't guess that was possible on your own, but the achievement challenges you to attempt new strategies. Everybody will be able to jump in and enjoy the first third of this game, and nearly everybody will be challenged by the second third. The final third will have Punch Out veterans studying every single frame of animation... just to survive.

The Wii isn't a powerful console, but this entire game is built around rendering just two characters, and they look great... even on a HD TV. Punch Out isn't filled with a bunch of motion-capture or procedural animations, everything is beautifully timed and executed 3-D hand animation. Punch Out is a Wii game, but some of the characterizations and animations are nearly Pixar quality. Beyond the Animation, the voice acting and character designs are top notch, particularly for a Wii game. Most of the fighters are returning from old games, but they are hilariously re-imagined, and have even more personality this time around.

The other day I logged on to the "Nintendo Channel" on my Wii and checked how many hours I'd put into Punch Out. I was surprised to find out that I'd played the game for almost 50 hours this year! 50 hours, and I haven't even beaten the final boxer in Title Defense, although I'm only one boxer away.

Punch Out is a simple game, but it has shit-loads of hidden depth, and if you really dive into the game, it has almost unlimited replay value. Punch Out is always challenging, and because of it's meticulous game design and balance, you'll improve with every win, and particularly with every loss.

Support the blog (and capitalism) by purchasing Punch Out from here >

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mastodon - Dethklok Concert Review

I had the opportunity on Saturday (10-3-09) to see Mastodon play the WaMu Theater here in Seattle, and I figured this blog would be a fine place to share my feelings.

The WaMu Theater isn't much more than a corner of Seahawks Stadium, but they can pack a bunch of people in there, and the huge industrial strength curtains along all the walls make for a fine acoustic setup. The bill was as follows: High on Fire and Converge opened, with Mastodon and Dethklok sharing the top billing. There were three beer gardens, pouring $8.25 pints of Sierra Nevada, Ea was promoting Brutal Legend with a gameplay booth, and the t-shirt merch selection was pretty damned epic and priced to sell. It all sounds great... except for the $8 beers.

High on Fire started off the night. These guys sound like a pissed off Motorhead to me. I've seen them open for other acts a few times, but I don't know their songs, and I'm not really in a position to grade their performance. They seem like a solid band. I'm not sure I can say the same for Converge however. Once again, I'm not very familiar, and all their songs blended together for me into a bunch of sludgy screaming. But you didn't start reading this post to learn what I think of Converge... right?

Mastodon was next on stage, but for the sake of my article's main point... I'm going to skip them and cover Dethklok first. Dethklok is a joke band of course... but the touring band they put together for the show was tight, and the accompanying videos they played were funny. Not my thing really. We left after three songs feeling like we'd seen it all. We collectively wondered how long they were going to play, but I guess we'll never know. Mastodon tore through an epic set, and I just can't imagine a Adult Swim joke band being entertaining that long.

Now for Mastodon.

First of all, you should know my opinion of Mastodon. Mastodon is the absolute fucking greatest band still recording! As far as I'm concerned, they are the only metal band of the decade that matters... and the only young metal band that deserves to be compared to the Metallicas and Slayers of the world.

Mastodon's set list was very similar to the last time I saw them. They are very much still promoting their (mind blowing) new album "Crack The Skye". Just like the last time I saw them, they started out playing the entire new album, in order. There wasn't any interaction with the audience this time around. Mastodon was letting the music speak for them. The highlights for me were the epics "The Czar" and "The Last Barron". Watching Brent Hinds go crazy at the end of "The Last Baron" was worth the price of admission alone.

Once they finished the "Crack the Skye" material, Mastodon worked back in time through their body of work. Playing two songs from "Blood Mountain", "Leviathan", and then "Remission". They finished things off with a song I wasn't familiar with. Part of me was hoping this was new material, but it sounded more like a Melvin's cover. They ended the evening with Brann walking up to the mic and saying "Thank you Seattle"... the only words exchanged with the audience all night long.

If you are going to see Mastodon this year, you are not going to get a interactive metal extravaganza. You are going to get to see some very hard-core metal geeks playing their music very well. Mastodon is obviously very proud of "Crack the Skye", and want everyone to experience it live. If you have a taste for Mastodon's style of metal, you should let nothing stop you from seeing them this fall.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thank the Lord for Watergate

I was reading an article by Gene Healy (of the CATO Institute) today and came across an interesting figure. It seems that back when Lyndon Johnson pushed the "Great Society" program through congress, two thirds of the American people polled said they trusted the federal government to do what was right "most of the time" or "just about always". Today, only 30% of Americans polled would respond in that fashion.

So Americans have lost their trust in the federal government since the days of FDR's inescapable government propaganda, and the "good old days" of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. We can probably pin that on Nixon's corruption and law breaking, The Vietnam War, Jimmy Carter's mismanagement or our economy, Reagan's Iran Contra scandal, Bill Clinton's blowjobs, and President Bush's miss-handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. All of this scandal and miss-management looks bad at first, but in my opinion, American's losing their trust in the federal government is almost certainly a good thing.

Let's be honest, it's not like the federal government was squeaky clean and efficient in the days before Nixon. Lord knows FDR oversaw some of the most blatant corruption and waste our country has ever seen. But to a large extent, they were protected by a friendly press, and there was no way to disseminate information quickly outside of a few major print publications. The fact is that "conservatism" and "free market" principles have taken a bashing thanks to George Bush.

This may not be fair, since Bush was no conservative, and our recent economic downturn is more likely the fault of government meddling than it is a true market driven bubble. But perception is reality, and we need be willing to recognize the reality of the political situation today. The only thing standing between Barack Obama and even bigger growth in government is the American people's mistrust of that government.

As a libertarian, I would never expect the federal government to act responsibly. We can all love our country, but we are correct to be skeptical of our government. Thanks to Watergate, and the scandals that followed it, even some moderate and left-leaning citizens are less likely to support the sorts of bills Obama is trying to muscle through congress. There are many liberals (I know some of them) who are at least a little skeptical of Nancy Pelosi and those other animals in congress. What seems like a black mark on our country is probably the only thing currently checking the growth of government and the loss of our freedoms.

When I look at the political landscape right now, I can only come to one conclusion. The Watergate scandal was a very, very good thing.