Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"X-men: Days of Future Past" doesn't make a lick of fxcking sense.


I finally watched it this past weekend (I know, I'm a full year behind). I actually really liked the movie overall, and the acting is legitimately great, regardless of how dumb it seems to put giant flying robots in the 1970's. But my biggest problem was with continuity:

  • Why does future Magneto have his powers back after losing them at the end of X-men 3?
  • Why does future Professor X have his body back after transferring his mind to someone else at the end of X-men 3?
  • Why does future Wolverine have his adamantium claws back after losing them in the second Wolverine movie?
  • Why does future Wolverine have gray in his hair if he's already gone 250 years without aging?
  • If past Mystique had shot Trask, couldn't they have just portrayed it as her taking out someone who betrayed America anyway?



Friday, May 1, 2015

XKCD ftw!

This amusingly melancholy XKCD comic is fairly well-known:

What I didn't know until earlier this week (thanks, Reddit!) is that this comic was later updated with two additional panels:

Btw, Starfleet NASA is currently testing a physics-defying pseudo-warp-drive, and I'm pretty sure that automatically makes it 670,616,629 times as cool as as the Department of War Defense.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Last weekend was awesome!

Steph and I don't get full weekends together all that often, but we did last weekend. She came down on Friday night, and we just screwed around and played with Legos while watching The Princess Bride. I built the World's Jankiest Batmobile™:

She made a rocket horse and a hover-bridge. I took pictures of those too, but when I tried to transfer the file from my phone to my computer, it got corrupted somehow. I was legitimately disgruntled.

We slept until noon on Saturday ( :D :D :D ), and then ate lunch at Qdoba - which I wouldn't normally mention, except that Qdoba's salads have actually been extremely helpful in breaking through a workout plateau I've been stuck on for some time.

I hit the gym, and then we went out to a restaurant called "1492" here in OKC. It can be somewhat pricey, but it's REALLY good. The first time I went there I had a burrito with shredded beef cooked in red wine; this time I had shredded duck enchiladas, Steph had a chimichanga with shredded briskit and plantains, and we shared queso with chorizo:

We went to Cuppies & Joe for dessert - if you can't tell from the name, it's a cupcake and coffee place - the neat thing about this café is that it was converted from an old house, so it has a pretty unique feel. I'd highly recommend it as a date night place, especially a first date. (Also, the cupcakes are REALLY good.)

Then we went home and cracked open some amaretto and Woodchuck Sour Cherry beer, and watched Blazing Saddles while playing drunken Nintendo Monopoly:

The next day our friends China and Ryan came over - we watched The Lego Movie (which is surprisingly great, if you haven't seen it), ate cauliflower-crust pizza (Steph makes this all the time now, since it tastes like regular pizza, but has far fewer calories - here's the recipe), and played board games (I am the SCRABBLE MASTER).

Moar weekendz like this, plz.

Rolling Stone's botched handling of the UVA rape hoax is an important teachable moment.

For those who haven't been following this story, here's what happened:
• Last November, Rolling Stone magazine published "A Rape On Campus", in which journalist Sabrina Erdely wrote about the harrowing story of "Jackie", a girl at the University of Virgina who said she was raped by several members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on campus. The story was intended to push the narrative about an epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses.

• Several other journalistic organizations, including The Washington Post, began looking into the article, and questions immediately arose about holes in the story, which in turn raised doubt about whether or not Jackie's version of events was true.

• Most prominent feminist publications immediately jumped on those criticisms, with claims of "victim-blaming" and sexism, and claims that criticizing stories like this are an example of "rape culture". They referred to the critics as "idiots", and made the case that women should be believed by default in rape cases.

• Further investigation by Rolling Stone concurred with the discrepancies that were being found in the original story, and in early December, the magazine issued a partial retraction of the story.

• Finally, on April 5th of this year, Rolling Stone issued a full-blow retraction of the article, and published a new story called "What Went Wrong?" detailing the multitude of journalistic and ideological failures that went into the publication of the original story.
Let me TL;DR that "What Went Wrong?" article for you: what went wrong was throwing due process of law completely out the window and adopting a "women are always honest and men are always guilty" mentality. THAT'S what went wrong.

I've read the full investigation/retraction, which is very, very long. But this whole mess really does confirm what people like me (critical of feminism, but supportive of gender equality) have been saying all along: Investigations into rape should not default to "believe the woman", they should default to "treat the accusation with absolute seriousness, but remain as objective and investigative as possible".

I don't even think Erdely should resign because of this fuckup. I think she should do what all über-feminists should also do, and use this experience to learn about not participating in anti-male witch hunts in the future. This shows just how misguided, sexist, and disastrous "affirmative consent" laws would be, if implemented.

It's absolutely, unquestionably true that rape victims (of both genders) get blamed all too often for the crime. It's also absolutely true that men's rights activists tend to severely exaggerate false rape claim statistics (just as it's true that feminists exaggerate how negligible they are). In reality, about 8% of reported rapes wind up being false accusations. That number is low enough that ALL accusations of rape should, again, be treated with the utmost seriousness, but also high enough that automatically defaulting to the accuser's side in all cases would result in far too many innocent men having their reputations and lives shattered (just as the rape victims who aren't taken seriously when they really should be).

From the "What Went Wrong?" article:
Yet the editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault. [...] "Ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim; we honored too many of her requests in our reporting," Woods said.

Last October, the Boston Globe published an op-ed piece co-written by 28 Harvard Law School professors about the danger of these so-called "affirmative consent" or "yes means yes" policies, proposed by feminists as a solution to the campus rape problem. These policies state that unless someone gets explicit, verbal confirmation that the desire for sex is mutual, that person can be hit with a rape charge. In reality, human sexuality doesn't come even remotely close to working on the same basis as a voting machine - and since men are usually the ones initiating sexual encounters, these policies are effectively boiled down to "men are guilty until proven innocent". From the op-ed:
The goal must not be simply to go as far as possible in the direction of preventing anything that some might characterize as sexual harassment. The goal must instead be to fully address sexual harassment while at the same time protecting students against unfair and inappropriate discipline, honoring individual relationship autonomy, and maintaining the values of academic freedom. [...]The university’s sexual harassment policy departs dramatically from these legal principles, jettisoning balance and fairness in the rush to appease certain federal administrative officials.
Even more terrifying, some proponents of these policies see that "men are guilty until proven innocent" mindset as a feature, rather than a horrifying, sexist, unjust flaw. Here's Ezra Klein, from Vox:
If the Yes Means Yes law is taken even remotely seriously it will settle like a cold winter on college campuses, throwing everyday sexual practice into doubt and creating a haze of fear and confusion over what counts as consent. This is the case against it, and also the case for it. Because for one in five women [Ed. note: this statistic is very widely debunked ] to report an attempted or completed sexual assault means that everyday sexual practices on college campuses need to be upended, and men need to feel a cold spike of fear when they begin a sexual encounter.
"Men need to feel a cold spike of fear"? How goddamn Orwellian is that? No one should ever be afraid of consensual sex. And is Klein's stance really all that different from the people whose idea of birth control is "women holding aspirin between the knees"?

Feminist bloggers DO NOT get to be pissed exclusively at Rolling Stone about this debacle. The hardcore feminists are the ones who incessantly pushed the narrative that "women are always honest and men are always guilty". That narrative is why Sabrina Erdely wrote "A Rape On Campus" the way she did, with so little journalistic integrity. This is not just blowing up in Erdely's face, it's blowing up in theirs as well. How much more of this do we have to put up with before the realize that - GASP! - not all men are rapists and liars.

The saddest part of this story is that it will almost inevitably hurt real rape victims - they may not come forward, because they don't want to be turned into political footballs like this. And that, in turn, is why these "yes means yes" policies and mantras are so damned counterproductive: because when the male defendant is being honest, and when the injustice of accusing an innocent person comes to light, there is (or at least, there should be) a backlash. This is what makes an impartial, objective legal system so crucial. And the feminists are right when they point out that we're not there yet - but that should still, ultimately, be the goal: a system that punishes the real rapists and liars, but also protects both the rights of the victims and the rights of the innocent.

And that is what gender equality looks like.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Game Reviews: M&L Superstar Saga, Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Zelda: Link Between Worlds

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

If you look on my "Interests" Page, which lists my favorite games of all-time, you'll see that Super Mario RPG sits at #3 on the list. I haven't played a Mario RPG game since that one, so I was eager to give another one a shot.

To say I was massively disappointed would be a huge understatement. Superstar Saga, which came out in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance, isn't without charm or humor (two qualities I loved in 1996's Mario RPG). Unfortunately, it's both very very dull (in terms of gameplay), and very very long. Some of the writing is very clever, and the animations were surprisingly good. I also loved that it's one of the few games that really gives you a sense of Mario and Luigi as actual brothers, rather than just differently-colored video game characters. And the story is...more deep than the typical 'Bowser kidnapped Peach', so there's that. But the gameplay lacks almost any excitement at all, which is compounded by the fact that it drags on for 20+ hours. On top of this, the very end of the game features an absolutely awful and unexpected difficulty spike that made me want to hurl my Wii U's Gamepad against a wall.

M&L:SS spawned three sequels, which supposedly got better with time. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is said to be the best of the three, and I might give that one a try in the future, but this game completely killed off my desire to play Partners in Time and Dream Team. That said, I haven't given up on Mario RPGs entirely: I'll be taking a crack at the Paper Mario series soon.

Overall: 4/10

Super Mario Bros. 3

This NES classic is regarded by many, many, many people to be one of the best Mario games ever made. It recently celebrated its 25-year anniversary, and I realized I hadn't played it since 4th grade or so, and even then I had never beaten it. So I bought it for the Wii U's Virtual Console and gave it a shot.

Honestly, this was another surprising disappointment. The Mario game that came directly after this one, Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo, is one of my favorite games of all time, a technical masterpiece considering that technology in 1990 was a miniscule fraction of what it is now. But compared to World, Mario Bros. 3 just felt more irritating than challenging. That irritation came from how stiff the controls felt, which I'm sure was due to the technical limitations of the NES and the era the game was made. But while I'll play Super Mario World over and over and over again, I really don't see myself ever picking up this one again ever. That said, my favorite thing about this game is that you could see the origins of many, MANY design elements that made their way into future Mario games. I found myself saying "Oh, THIS is where that's from!" several times.

I realize it might not be fair to judge an old NES game by the standards of modern controls and tastes, and that accounting for the context that this game came out in might be enough to make it a technical masterpiece in its own right. So because of that, I'm actually giving this game two scores: a modern one, as if it had come out more recently, and a retro one, accounting for the era it came out in and how revolutionary it was within that context. Make of that what you will :p

Overall (Retro): 9/10
Overall (Modern): 3/10

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

I had originally skipped Wind Waker when it came out on Gamecube because of how massively disappointed I was in the cel-shaded graphics (yes, I was one of those people). But when it was upgraded and re-released on Wii U, I figured what the hell. Steph and I have been playing this one together over the course of the past month or so.

I'm glad I gave it a chance, because I really do like it. Many people consider Wind Waker their favorite Zelda game, although I certainly wouldn't go that far. And to be fair to my 16-year-old self, the character models and facial expressions really were, and still are, kind of crappy, compared to Ocarina of Time and (especially) Twilight Princess. But with everything else, the art style really does work extremely well, creating a sense of whimsical adventure. Gameplay, like most Zelda games, is absolutely top-notch, and the puzzles are as emphatically clever as ever. The story is none too shabby either - this article  (spoiler warning!) takes it as a warning against blind faith, which is an interesting spin on it. Ganondorf's character is ever so slightly more developed than his past iterations, which was neat. And the ending was fantastically violent, though not gory or gruesome (it's hard to explain without spoilers).

Aside: I buy player's guides for almost every Zelda game I play. It's really the only series I buy the guides for. I know I could look everything up online, but....meh. And I don't even buy them because I have trouble with the dungeons and puzzles, it's more because I want to find all the collectibles and experience all the side-quests, and the guides are an easy way to keep track of them. I have more fun that way! And that was especially true of Wind Waker, considering how vast the ocean you're exploring is, and how many discoveries and treasures there are to find.

While Wind Waker didn't make my brain explode from pure awesomeness like Ocarina, Majora, and Twilight did, it was still ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE better than Skyward Sword. I may not replay it as frequently as those others, but I'll probably revisit it again in a couple years.

Overall: 9/10

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Oh my god, you guys. You know how I just said some Zelda games make my brain explode from pure awesomeness?

This 2014 game is the spiritual successor to 1991's A Link to the Past, set in the same world, but 100 years later (and with VERY updated sounds, music, graphics, and animations). This is easily the most modern Zelda game: it dispenses with many of the standards of old Zelda games, by doing thing such as giving you the option to acquire every item in the game right after the first dungeon, which then lets you explore all the remaining dungeons in any order you want. The gameplay is ripped straight from the 1991 über-classic, but it borrows MANY bits from newer games like Ocarina. The result is one of the freshest takes on the series to date - it's one of my new favorite entries in the series, not quite Twilight Princess level, but maybe just one notch below Ocarina itself.

As per usual with Zelda games, the dungeon and puzzle design is easily among the best you'll ever see in gaming, and the new mechanic that lets you turn into a wall painting has the added bonus of letting you see buildings and landmarks from angles that weren't possible in A Link to the Past, which was a nice touch.

Even though the game overall might not be as epic as Twilight Princess, the story actually is. In the 100 years since the events of A Link to the Past, that game's Dark World has become known as "Lorule" (as opposed to "Hyrule", get it?). Zelda gets kidnapped and taken to Lorule, while the Princess Hilda (Zelda's Lorulean counterpart) is trying to save her kingdom from destruction - both reasons are why Link is recruited for help. Had I not read spoilers when the game was first released (regret :-(  ), I don't know how much of the ending I would have seen coming.

Not only is the story great, the music is absolutely fantastic. Many of the themes are as much an homage to the 1991 predecessor as the rest of the game is, and LBW's take on the classic Zelda theme has a VERY "Indiana Jones" feel to it. It sounds like it really could have been written by John Williams. The theme to Lorule's overworld (an updated take on LttP's Dark World theme) suddenly changes just before the final dungeon, and drives home the point that Link is an absolute badass at that point in the game. The music for the final dungeon is amazing as well: as you progress through it, the song becomes more and more layered, and by the time you're at the final boss, it's a little reminiscent of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. It's a small detail that is EXTREMELY effective.

I don't know how many hours I sank into this game and I don't care, because GOD it was fun.

Overall: 10/10