Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Did IQs drop sharply while I was asleep? Education!

So it's come to light that there's a lack of engineers, scientists and other sorts who can tell their ass from an equation on the paper. This bothers me, but doesn't surprise me. I've argued with too many teachers who are easily proven wrong and been kicked out for it to really be surprised. Utah is sort of a bad example though. Well at least I wish it were. The kids out here barely know when there's an election happening let alone anything past their weed, their music and in some cases their religion. I didn't catch up to my 6th grade education in Fayetteville until at least the 11th here in Utah. I went from AP Science and Math, French and Spanish, back to doing my 3's multiplication tables. My work ethic for schoolwork took a tank and my grades suffered for it. My test scores tended to stay high and in hindsight I should've just done it anyway.

There are too many teachers here that barely know what they're teaching. There are exceptions and I could probably count them in one, or just over one hand. For every AP History teacher I had, I had history teachers that tried teaching that Black Powder wasn't big in the middle ages or that Jets didn't exist in WW2. I remember those so clearly because the teach lost my test papers after I called him on it.

For every debate teacher that could legitimately see both sides and be civil, I had an English teacher who wanted to push her agenda and if couldn't teach AP Literature if she had a guide in front of her. But, hey, she thought her feminist ideals were more important than teaching what the class was there for. I could keep going on this, but up until I started talking did I realize just how bad it was. We were the test case for No Child Left Behind. I found the tests to be insultingly easy. I scored above 95 on all of them. Or was that another standardized test... I honestly don't care, they were staggeringly easy. Talking to friends about it later though I found out many struggled or didn't know everything on them. We're talking stuff I learned back in 3rd and 4th grade, not anything abstract or truly difficult. And most of the teachers really didn't seem to care and those that do start to get burned out. I remember the sad look on my science teacher's face when he noticed that only 3 or 4 of us were consistently answering questions. That sort of defeated look.

How can we fix it? No clue. I'd start with tossing out any teacher that can't pass a general knowledge test on their own subject. Tossing the teacher's union and either reforming it from the ground up to be useful rather than agenda driven, or dismissing it entirely is another good start. I know this is a nerd thing, but seriously, toss the sports programs, or at least cut their funding. If they want more, look into endorsement ads, the companies will bite and the school would probably benefit if it's handled properly. Finally, let's get administration that are there as educators and not something driven by a sense of self-worth. Our Vice-Principle was an amazingly nice guy who always got stuck doing the shit work. Our principle only ever jumped when he believed he could make the news paper. Trust me on this one, he tried to pin my ass to the wall at one point and even mentioned calling the local paper. I earned a nickname for the incident from my friends and an eternal hatred of the school and the principle. Got to know the vice-principle decently though.

Finally, let's drop advanced education costs, professors in no shape form or way need that much god damn money and neither does anyone else running the asylums. Also stop handing out degrees in stupid shit and actually make sure they're getting an education. It almost feels like we should stop the standardized shit and start trying to place kids where they need to be to actually learn about the world. Actual, useful things like budgeting and critical thinking. I don't know.

The Lion King and it's ads.

This one's a short post. I was just severely disappointed when I sat and watched the Lion King again for the first time in years. As an animation buff, it's nice seeing classic animation. It's nice seeing Hamlet in a show for kids, though I'm not sure how they swung that one and it's a nice bit of nostalgia. Aside from seeing Darth Vader every time Mufasa talks, I actually found myself still enjoying the movie too. With that said, I felt dirty after watching the movie. They were using it to sell all of their Z-Grade straight to video garbage. I didn't see one ad for any of their other DVD/Blu-Ray re-releases from the time before they relied on Pixar for everything. Instead it was Undercover Chihuahua II or.. some shit. And Cinderella's sequels and Beauty and the Beast's Sequel..prequel..sidequel? The christmas movie they butchered the movie for. It's a stark contrast to back when the animators and company actually gave a shit. Well, the fact that there's at least 20 minutes of ads and they consider an add for 3D TVs to be a feature, that was stupid too. Fuck you too Disney.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Homefront. Because I hate myself

Music of the post, from first to last

A review of Homefront, because ranting about a bad game is easier than finding my good books.

I had originally intended to compare and contrast World at War and Homefront, but it was too long. So I'll do that in World at War's review later.

Homefront was a game released with the advertising strategy of a believable plot of a future where the US has been occupied by the enemy. It was written by the guy behind Red Dawn and 'proofed' by an analyst. Just the one. It had originally been intended for the Chinese to be the enemy, but they didn't want to hurt their sales and went with the North Koreans instead. And for variety.

Homefront opens with you waking up in a sparse apartment. If you're the curious sort, you'll notice the mail opened and with large print looking for helicopter pilots. As you near the door, the North Koreans enter, beat you over the head and drag you out onto a bus. There's one other guy there and he talks. I called him expendable. You ride through the city, seeing the destitution caused by the communist occupation. You see a few people shot and a few people executed with the execution spattering bits of goo on the bus windows. It's actually pretty unsettling the first time you watch it, but it feels cheap if you think too much on it, they could've stretched it out through the whole intro mission rather than packing it all into a 5 minute bus ride. You're 'rescued' by the first of our intrepid retards heroes. They do this by driving a semi at high speed into the side of the bus. Your buddy, Expendable and the Korean guards are killed. You're just fine. Okay, cool. The guy that rescued you is a dick and suggests throughout most of the game that he's better than you in every way, even if you decapitate the next forty North Korean drones soldiers with one shot by yourself. Oh, and our player is a master marksman with every gun in the game. You escape with the other two heroes, Bipolar Chick and Token Asian through a neighborhood with the assistance of a large unmanned vehicle with a .50 on it. He was my favorite character, he never talked, always killed and didn't do staggeringly stupid things. So of course they make you kill it later. You escape into an 'abandoned neighborhood rarely patrolled'. Apparently the North Koreans don't know how to use satellite imaging or helicopter patrols either, because about half of the base isn't covered by the camo-netting that is the handwave for why they're not seen. You meet all of the doomed  redshirts fellow resistance members, get introduced to the leader, told you're important to their plans and then sent to the next trap mission.

It's not too hard to guess that I'm not a fan of the game's plot. North Korea merging with South Korea in a dominant fashion, then conquering Asia without any mention of China or Russia and then hitting the US is silly. But, in the game's setting and according to both Red Dawn's writer and the one guy they used as a reference, it could MAYBE happen if the planets align and C'thulu waves his left tentacle or something. The game has a number of points that had me laughing or yelling about the sheer stupidity of it. Your rescue, five minutes into the game is one of them. The trap on the next mission is another. It's so obvious they even comment on it in game, then continue on blithely. But, but, they do throw in a Red Dawn reference with GO WOLVERINES!. Makes it all better /sarc. The next aneurysm inducing moment is the use of incendiary mortar shells by a guy largely unfamiliar with the mortar in close proximity to friendly troops. You're allowed to mercy kill a bunch of enemies or let them burn for achievements respectively. No luck on your own guys though. This causes a lot of drama for Token Asian even though everyone there is to blame for a lack of critical thinking skills. Bipolar Chick screams how horrible it all is and how you should mercy kill the bad guys even though not 20 minutes earlier she was screaming for blood and how they should all die horribly. 20 minutes after this mission where you steal the stuff for the helicopter, she's back to hating them and demanding blood for the blood gods after you find the hideout burned to the ground. You leave the city, using the UGV(?) loaded with C4 to blow the door. Of course you're given the detonator too, the game wants to let you know it hates you by making you kill the only competent NPC in the game.

Leaving the city, you meet up with the people from wrong turn survivalists who even the North Korean troops  won't bother with because they're a mile out of town. Or something. They decide to arbitrarily betray you so you can see that some Americans can be bad too, then you sneak your way through camp, not allowed to use your suppressed rifle to remove stupidity from the gene pool. You find a carnival area where they have a North Korean tied to a spinning wheel with knives, one stretched out on a target and so on. It's supposed to be shocking. I thought it over the top and hilariously stupid. You steal the helicopter after a decent firefight and a section lifted from Bad Company 2's sniper support section. Then we get to the best mission in the game and one of the best sections in any modern games I can think of.

You take the helicopter and ferry people to semis to hijack them, then provide cover fire from the air. It's frantic, there's constantly crap shooting at you, you're constantly shooting and you can see how much damage your taking in the helicopter. Then it ends and we're back to mind numbing stupidity. Oh oh, keep in mind you're in the air for at least 20 minutes. It's established in the next mission that the North Koreans have air superiority.

Here we meet up with the US army. You're sent in with the troops since you brought supplies and all and.. really I'm thinking they recognized you as the only competent person for at least twenty miles in any direction. You assault the Golden Gate Bridge by helicopter, watching as other helicopters are shot down by enemy fixed wing aircraft. This is at the beginning of the assault, not even a few minutes in by the way. You fight your way across the bridge in an impressive display, but dull gameplay section. You hook up with the Army again, find out none of them thought to bring an AT4 or 2 along and you're stuck killing a conveniently spawned North Korean for his RPG. You're then back on the bridge, get blown off, survive by catching wires, then fight your way across a few squads of guys with helicopter support. For one guy. Who got lucky. No I don't know why. You finish the game by clearing the AA guns and marking an airstrike. And by that I mean Retard pops flares and stands out in the open because throwing the flares, or using smoke grenades would make too much sense. It's been a while, but I think Bipolar Chick and Token Asian survive. The game ends there.

Now as much as I tore into the game there, it did have some very interesting locations. A few neat ideas that didn't work due to poor planning and a fairly bleak look at a defeated America. One of the ideas I wish they'd worked into the game better is the lack of ammo. Your guns are whatever you can steal and use. The game doesn't want you having more than one or two magazines for the gun. Unfortunately, your guy is such a master marksman that if you're even a little patient you'll never have a problem until they forcibly take the gun from you. Increasing your gun sway and maybe offering fewer top end guns within easy reach would've helped here I think. The overall plot could've been interesting had it been handled in a less hamfisted manner. There are legitimately chilling parts and parts that are inspiring. Then there are parts so over the top, like hiding under bodies in a mass grave that you can't help but MST3k the game as it happens. The AI is lemming-like in it's insistence of walking into your guns, the automated turrets set up on cranes have an easily fixed weak spot and overall don't offer any threat anyway. Barring accidentally wandering out of cover and not paying attention to the game. The helicopter mission is a blast and for a while the only reason it stayed installed after I got sick of multiplayer was so I could occasionally replay it. Other than that, stupid characters, stupid choices and over the top scenarios take away from any of the horror they tried to set up. The inconsistent characters, or in the case of Token Asian, the lack of character bothered me to. I'm almost confident the only reason Token Asian was in game was for the joke, "I'm not Korean dumbass, I'm Chinese".

In contrast, let's look at the enemies and characters in Bad Company 2 for a quick second. The four man squad of Bravo-2-Actual all have distinct personalities, your hippy pilot is likeable, the enemies are presented in a largely competent, threatening manner. The enemy's motivation is a bit weak, but otherwise it's a much more solid 'invasion USA' idea. Overall, I would rate Homefront as mediocre at best. It has it's good parts, it has too many bad parts and it's plot is batshit crazy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thinly veil-... Blatant messages and you. A review of my text book.

Music of the post.

So, International Politics On the World Stage 1 by John T. Rourke and Mark A. Boyer is... well my political sciences book. I expect politics, I just don't expect repeated attempts at propaganda within the book disguised as teaching.

Our book's cover is a great place to start. Looking from top left, we have a picture of middle eastern women in Islamic garb holding signs that say "Pray for peace". A good message, except looking closer reveals that it's for the Gaza strip and Palestine and features pictures of everyone's favorite Token president. I'm sure I could come up with a better name for him, but calling him the black Jimmy Carter doesn't seem to flow quite right. To that picture's right is Mao Zedong. Below that are outheld hands in the "Give me" gesture and to the left of that is a polar bear. Why an English book features Chairman Mao on it's cover and not some of the famous refugees is.. really beyond me.

Inside the book, one of the first impressions I got was a section describing different political views. Right wing politics were largely given negative sounding names, left wing were given largely positive sounding names. The book regularly hounds on the US's actions throughout recent history and never tries to offer an opposing viewpoint. I can tolerate that to a degree, it's almost expected in the academic elite though.

Really though, there's a few things in this book that are just mind numbing. There's a picture of an Israeli soldier at the wall checking out a Palestinian woman with English graffiti behind him all while the book questions the motives. The picture really bothered me though, it's blatantly obvious that it's a propaganda picture. A soldier standing before the graffiti that just happens to be English, framed in the picture just right so you can read it? There's condemning of cluster munitions and a man who is missing both hands because he tried to disarm the bomb. It doesn't mention that it's a very well known fact to MOST people of the world that you don't play with explosives, they're dangerous and if you find them you should call in the professionals. It makes a point of singling out America as a country having ignored the treaty, but doesn't mention any others whatsoever.

It spends at least half of it's time condemning other practices  the Americans follow and very rarely shows us as doing anything good, but praises the UN without touching on the various bribery scandals, rape issues and poor decisions. I mean, whoever heard of Oil for Food, the Congo, the white cliffs, putting China on a human rights commission...

Another pretty funny moment was seeing them mention famous female leaders and then fail to mention the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher, let alone any famous historic leaders or famous examples of early female leadership like with the Mongols. I guess I can't expect guys writing about history to research history though.

I also enjoyed the book quoting Putin's comment about the world being more dangerous now than during the cold war because of America. I guess Putin's trying to pretend he's forgotten Afghanistan. And the Falklands, the Bay of Pigs, Korea, Vietnam... And no, the book doesn't bother to mention any counter points or you know, simple fact like I just listed. Yes I'm aware I missed a few of the wars.

The book also patently tries to avoid mentioning other things that would contradict it's statements rather than offering it's point and the counterpoint, which is how a book like this SHOULD be done. Instead we get Condemnation of America, but none of North Korea, China, various South American countries, Mexico, France, Russia, Germany, South Africa (No one likes remembering all the dead WHITE farms I think. It breaks certain spiels). It's also quite confident the UN is successful and that it's sanctions mean fuck all to most of the people they issue it too. Oh and the book mentions the various wrong things America's done to step on people's toes lately. I mentioned that right? A few times at least? Because this book fucking loves the idea.

So much for writing a review on books from authors I like. Maybe I'll start reviewing the Black Company series if I can find all my errant copies various people are holding on to.

(EDIT: Hey, I missed the last chapter in the review. It was pretty much dedicated to global warming. I will give them credit for at least looking into more credible problems like water issues though. Too bad those were... maybe 3-4 pages all together and the rest of the entire chapter was on Global Warming. Not as biased as it could have been there overall though.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thinly veiled messages and you. A "Feed" review.

Music of the post.

I just recently finished a book called Feed. It's a supposed zombie book, lacking wholly in zombies. A political intrigue plot featuring characters that would rival Col. Immabadguy from Avatar and main characters that probably couldn't pick Hunter S. Thompson out of a lineup, but at least one of them claims to be a Gonzo style journalist.

This book was handed to me by the bossman here at work where I sit typing this in the downtime. He said the setting had potential and asked what I thought after finishing it. I agreed, the setting could be amazing, but the writing was poorly edited, the characters regularly passed the idiot ball around when they weren't being super-duper reporter-sues. (Mary Sues are pretty easy to research and worth a laugh if you do any sort of reading beyond the occasional best seller.)

It was a bit telling, I still can't tell you the two main characters' names, which normally I would chalk up to my shoddy memory, but I can remember other characters who actually had a personality past a sarcastic bitch and a retard. 'loid. Whatever the PC term is now. But, with that in mind, let's examine our implied incestuous twins.

The sister and the main character for 90% of the book claims to be a newsie, a reporter who only looks for the facts and follows Thompson's reporting style. She could have been interesting if the author actually knew anything about approach. Louis Theroux's a good example there and a few of his documentaries are online and free, I suggest America's Most Hated Family or the Black Nationalist Movement. Or you know, just reading excerpts from the original, you're already reading books or this overly long post anyway. Very rarely does she actually investigate, she's got the situational awareness of a deaf-mute in a sensory deprivation tank and the critical thinking skills of a sugar addled child. All in all, she had a few good moments, but it's not until the end that her character becomes tolerable. Roughly.. 30 pages from the end, which I'll gleefully spoil at the end of this post, you've been warned. And now that I've written all of this, I suddenly remembered her name as Georgia, which I initially thought was a reference to Dead Like Me, not George A Romero. That thudding noise was in fact my head hitting my desk.

The brother, Shaun or something like that was an idiot and his reporting style was 'Irwin'. Poke it with a stick and piss it off. This of course means he won't die because it would be too obvious an outcome, though we're already hitting negative sides of tropes anyway with the book so... Anyway, he's very rarely brought up as anything other than Georgia's safety blanket, they sleep together (though apparently not in the way that's implied. Word of God (Troper reference) says as much anyway.) When he's not being a complete assclown in a setting with a super infectious disease of doom where being exposed to the live virus is deadly. You know, like being grabbed by a zombie, he's in the background as a piece of scenery. Again, much like Georgia, his character becomes tolerable at the end and funny enough it's for the same reason.

Buffy. Georgette or.. something. She's a background blonde super computer nerd with quasi-mystical powers over electrical systems. Well, I'm calling it that since she's 20 years old and she's better than veterans in the field in the book. If you can't tell she's expendable, she's expendable. I'll spoil a few things about her here in a paragraph or three as well. Again, you've been warned.

So we also have a fairly limited number of stock characters, the Boy Scout politician, surprisingly a republican. We never actually see his politics and they never uncover anything bad about him. Flaws aren't needed right? A central background character?...

We also have Col. Immabadguy. I swear to god this guy was so one-note I've entirely forgotten his name. I know he's your stereotypical right wing fundy military vet. The only mystery in this book involving this guy is how the editor didn't laugh the author out of his/her office or how the author thought making him so obvious was a good idea in the first place. His preferred weapon, I shit you not is easily traced, plastic darts full of the zombie virus. The stuff's virulence is so high that less than 10 active cells are needed to kill you by the way and they don't even recover the darts afterword. The book's explanation is that the scenes of outbreak are too dangerous to investigate and they torch it to the ground after bleach bombing it. I guess in the future biohazard suits went away. I blame it on lazy writing and reusing plot macguffins.

Rich, the other boyscout. He's.. um. He's there and he's a guy and he works with them in vaguely defined ways. He's sort of like the voices on the internet, but he's actually there. You can largely ignore him, he doesn't add anything to the plot. At all.


Speaking of plot, let's tear it to shreds shall we? It starts out in an abandoned town.. city place where they're on a dirtbike and the brother is poking a zombie with a hockey stick for his 'news hungry fans'. I assumed immediately his fans were more like nascar fans who watch races for the crashes instead of the race. (Chanting EAT HIM! EAT HIM! to get his annoying ass off the internet) His sister bitches some, setting her one character trait in motion, they escape from the zombies by jumping over them on the bike (Seriously) and then going home. They get added as a presidential campaign's news team, their less than two-dimensional parents use them as a photo op, then they're promptly ignored for the rest of the book. You get a little world building here, like outdoor restaurants being rare and always surrounded by big fences. Laws being put in place to ban ownership of large animals (40 pounds or better) because they can zombify and how people have become more and more isolated because of the risks involved with the outside world. Sounds fairly promising actually, at least as far as a setting and plot go. Too bad it's rarely used.

They go to a rally, appease the religious old lady without actually stating anything, piss off an old-school news guy and then have a zombie attack take place. Again, great start, especially with the idea that the zombies are obviously not a random occurrence and they don't know who did the sabotage thing. There's a plot hole here, but it's gone for now. They find out the 'screamers' basic scanners that detect advanced stages of the virus by checking body temperature since active infectees have a lower body temp. Again, great idea, rarely touched upon past this plot point. Speaking of which, Buffy is our badguy here even though the plot made a point of showing that she was either with the incestuous siblings or with the other people on the campaign trail and certainly wouldn't have had the time to stealthily open up a sensor 20 feet from security, cut wires and seal it all back up without being spotted. But, she gets a lot of people killed.

Then we go on the trail some more and the repeatedly mentioned horse ranch and daughter are the next scene of a tragedy. Unfortunately this comes after meeting Col. Immabadguy who already established that he's.. well the badguy. This is where they find the first virus dart, then the military shows up, does your typical "Hurr we're meathead badguys too!" and get shouted down by the presidential campaigner, who just so happens to pick up Immabadguy as his Vice President on the ticket.

Fine though, we'll go over Immabadguy's background. He was a soldier, fought the zombie hordes and pushed them back into Canada. Was upset that we didn't flush the rest of them out and take the world back, nevermind that most soldiers would probably get overrun by running zombies, zombie moose, zombie raccoons and so on. You'd bleed far too many troops, but that's not how he sees it as those dirty commies are clearly up to steal our precious bodily fluids. Shit, wrong badguy. Oh and his motivation is that a fresh wave of zombie outbreaks would bring God back to the USA and that's his goal. Seriously. Deranged military religious fanatic, he's our badguy and our first major thinly veiled message. He's supposed to be what Republicans are, not what they should be like our boyscout, hence why he was almost the Presidential candidate rather than the vice... Oh and no one in book thought he was deranged so much as just an extremist.

Then Buffy is killed by a sniper blowing the tires out of their van, thus causing an accident, killing and zombifying her fuckbuddy (She's supposed to be catholic) and getting bitten, causing Georgia to put a bullet through her skull. After cheering the removal of dead weight in the plot, the CDC Shows up, ignores standard procedure and takes them alive even though they were all reported dead and zombified. They're released, sent on their way and then act all weird for a while as they compile evidence against Immabadguy after conveniently hearing him explain all of his plans in a room he was sure wasn't bugged by our tech-sue Buffy. Just after they get access to her systems even! Yeah, I was banging my head again. They confront the boyscout with this information, but don't bring the evidence with them and he blows a fuse, accuses them of being sneaky fucks and sends her out, telling her to go to their trailer. And now they're running full out with the idiot ball to the endzone since they know Immabadguy is going to kill them without subtlety, he said as much in more or less those words. So, they find the cat dead (And I'm reminded of Heinlein's "What sick bastard kills the cat?") and then their trailer explodes and Sister is shot with the virus dart.

Again, it's supposed to be a surprise, she's the main character and you probably saw this coming the minute you were introduced to Sister, Brother and Bimbo. She writes her last story, then her brother shoots her. Again, I cheered as more useless weight was removed. Then we get introduced to the brother actually gaining an interesting character trait as he snaps and starts talking to his dead sister and she responds. And other characters notice! Too bad this was 30 pages from the end of the book... Oh, he storms into the hidey hole the presidential campaign was hiding with the security goon, points a gun at Immabadguy and no one takes his fucking head off. Immabadguy stabs himself with the zombie virus... at a political event. Where people would search everyone. No I don't know where he was hiding it.

The book ends more or less on that note. Two dimensional characters proclaiming the evils of republicans, the death of new media and how old people can't possibly keep up with young people in the field of reporting are about all that I really pulled from this book. The editing was.. sporadic. The pacing was bad, the characters made me long for the depth Avatar had and overall I actually had more fun examining the world after I finished reading rather than with anything actually in the book. I then went to the store and promptly bought another Dresden Files book as a palette cleanser. Maybe I'll review something by one of my favorite authors next instead.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Introductions are in order.

I'm the Dead Man. If you're curious it's a book reference, and it's kind of a bad joke at the same time since I work Graves as a security puke. I'm a political sciences student, I'm regularly accused of overthinking things. (That's a depressing note to get from a math teacher...) I spend most of my free time lately either reading, watching older movies, doing art things, reading or gaming.

I'll probably be mostly reviewing books and movies I've seen or watched lately. A few video games and of course the occasional jab at politics.