Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Shit My Right-Wing Cousin Says: The Return!

The husband of one of my non-crazy cousins wrote a post about the election on Facebook. Crazy cousin - whom I blocked long ago, as I have neither the time nor energy to put up with this sort of thing anymore - chimed in.

Rest assured, he's just as Looney Tunes as ever:

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Vacation in South Padre Island!

A couple weekends ago, Steph and I took a road trip down to South Padre Island, TX, for the long Labor Day weekend. This was the first vacation I've ever had in my entire life where there was no agenda, no schedule to keep track of, to predetermined list of things to do or see. It was just "Hey, let's stay at a nice hotel and hang out by the beach and sleep in and get massages and have some drinks at the poolside bar and take naps and whatnot". It was AWESOME.

The food was great, too. We had lots of fresh seafood, an amazing buffet with mimosas, and authentic tacos from a Mexican restaurant only a few hours from the border. This was also the first time I've ever actually been to a beach (and for the record, drinking champagne on the beach at night is the best).

As a side note, a 5th-Generation V6 Mustang really is the perfect road trip car. It's the perfect blend of power (to have fun), style (to feel cool), and efficiency (30mpg, because who wants to waste vacation money on gas?). Sadly, I was also reminded that the state of Texas has the worst drivers on the face of the planet. Texans drive about as competently as they vote ("WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? ARE YOU COMPLETELY INSANE? WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH YOU?"). New Rule: The Nation-wide speed limit for anyone with a Texas license plate is 15mph.

I am totally down for more *relaxation* vacations (aside from the usual *sightseeing/activity* vacations) in the future.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

We all need a helping hand now and then.

An old high school friend got in touch with me again recently. She's going through a really rough time right now, between having a debilitating disorder that often leaves her in too much pain to move, and trying to pay for the bills for her treatment, and trying to provide for her two little boys. She's gotten to the point where she's had to set up a GoFundMe account and ask for donations, so that she can find her footing again and get things back on track.

If you'd like to read more about her situation or donate to help, please click here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cortana has a new little brother: Say hello to Zero!

We've known for a long time that we wanted a black lab puppy, sometime after Cortana (our pit bull) got settled in. We just weren't expecting one this month! But we stopped by Petsmart to get Cortana some more food, and the OKC animal shelter was having an adoption drive just outside the store.

Instant <3 <3 <3

We named him Zero after Jack Skellington's dog. Cortana, for her part, seems to be handling the new addition pretty well:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

This is what racist Islamophobia looks like

These are some quotes from a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, titled "Terrorism is a Muslim problem. Why aren’t more Muslims speaking up?"

• "There was a time when I believed it was up to Americans to protect the world from terrorism. I said Americans had to keep fighting terrorism because fighting it was the only way to change a broken system. I was wrong."

• "It’s never been the job of Americans to dismantle terrorism. Terrorism was created and perpetuated by Muslims. It flourishes and thrives because it suits Muslims. Terrorism is a Muslim problem, and it’s up to Muslims to solve it."

• "I’m not suggesting that Americans give up the fight. But I realize now that no American can change how little our lives matter in this system. It’s up to the Muslims who created that system — and who don’t see all terrorism as real and “legitimate” — to create a better system. Americans are most at risk from Muslims, and particularly the Muslims they know and love. Muslims should be appalled by their complicity in a system that victimizes their sisters, mothers and daughters. Muslims should be lining up in the streets to protest a system that prioritizes their religion over our lives."

• "There are Muslims who are actively fighting against terrorist ideology, but there aren’t nearly enough. [...] These Muslims’ efforts don’t go unnoticed, but they remain few and far between. For every Muslim who stands against terrorism, there are many more bin Ladens who blame Americans for their own terrorization."

• "Terrorist ideology hasn’t changed because most Muslims don’t want it to. Muslims benefit from the presumption of their innocence. When terrorist ideology tells Muslims that committing terrorism is just another part of Islam, it excuses them from those questionable moments in their own memories. [...] Terrorist ideology manufactures gray areas where none existed and hands the power to determine what constitutes terrorism to the perpetrators rather than the victims."

• Terrorist ideology hasn’t changed because most Muslims don’t want it to. Muslims benefit from the presumption of their innocence. When terrorist ideology tells Muslims that committing terrorism is just another part of Islam, it excuses them from those questionable moments in their own memories.

• "When Muslims laugh at jokes about terrorism, call Americans sluts or push a hesitant Christian to convert, they are perpetuating terrorist ideology. Ending it requires far more from Muslims than simply shaking their heads in disgust [...]; it requires them to actively and wholeheartedly commit to dismantling a system that prioritizes their religion over American lives. Even when it makes them uncomfortable.Especially when it makes them uncomfortable."

• "Muslims don’t have to give up their rights in order for Americans to have theirs, too. Victims of terrorism don’t have to be put on trial to protect the accused’s right to remain innocent until proven guilty. There are real solutions to tough problems, but we’ll never find them if Muslims continue to defend their misbehavior at the cost of American lives. Progress requires Muslims to give up some of their power in exchange for a legal system that holds everyone accountable for their actions, not just victims."

• "Instead of demanding that Americans continue to die because of a broken system, Muslims need to begin to change the system they created."

Sounds like the kind of bigoted garbage you'd hear from Donald Trump, right?

Except these quotes aren’t really about Islam or terrorism. The actual title of the article is "Rape culture is a man problem. Why aren’t more men speaking up?". I simply replaced words like "men" with "Muslims", and "women" with "Americans", and "rape culture" with "terrorism" or "terrorist ideology". That's literally all it takes to show how fundamentally right-wing this type of thinking is.

This is what sexist androphobia looks like.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Ghostbusters 2016

Steph and I went to see it in theaters a couple weekends ago.

When this movie was first announced, I was firmly on Team Fuck That Noise. As much as the SJWs of the internet harangued those who were skeptical of the movie as automatically being dumb sexist pigs, I feel like most of the criticism, including my own, centered around a couple different questions: First, are they still really the Ninja Turtles if they fight with muskets and are named Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Bach? Second, is there any actual reason to gender-flip the rebooted characters other than director Paul Feig's desire to make Hollywood more politically correct by filling a gender quota?

My skepticism was softened quite a bit when I saw the first trailer for the movie:

I thought the coolness factor of the music and the updated Ghostbusting tech might actually be enough to overshadow the total disregard that Feig showed for franchise's main characters (i.e. Ray/Egon/Peter/Winston). But I was in the minority on that: the trailer was widely criticized ("It's not funny enough", "The special effects are too cheesy", etc), and it went on to become the most disliked movie trailer in Youtube history.

But by god, I wanted to try my damnedest to go into it with an open mind, and to give it a fair chance. And in fairness, the movie was certainly not the trainwreck that I had envisioned as a worst case scenario. The problem, rather, was that the movie railed back and forth between "Holy shit, that's awesome!!" moments and "Jesus Christ, this is garbage...." moments fast enough to give me whiplash.

For starters, the biggest problems in the movie were not the female actors (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones). For the most part, I thought their performances were really pretty good. Jones was particularly likable (aside from the random line where she dissed heavy metal music, because that was necessary?). She was also the target of a particularly vitriolic campaign by Milo Yiannopoulos, an unabashedly racist "alt-right" conservative personality, who urged his supporters to spew hateful and derogatory messages at her on Twitter. Jones penned a heartbreaking note expressing her desire to give up on social media because of the campaign, and Twitter, to its credit, banned that fucking little right-wing Trump-supporting douchebag from the platform. Thankfully, Jones also received an outpouring of support after the incident, like this note from "Julian" (an 8-or-9 year old boy):

No, the biggest problems of this movie were Chris Hemsworth and Paul Feig himself.

Director Paul Feig just does. not. like. men. He is a Social Justice Warrior to the nth degree, and it seeps into the pores of the entire movie, to its great detriment. In a fourth-wall breaking moment of what I assume was catharsis, one of the Ghostbusters trashes people who comment on internet message boards like Reddit as being losers. The main villain is a deranged, ultra-pale, pudgy male loner who was bullied as a kid (LOL, LOSER!!) who now works as a hotel janitor while still assuming he's better and smarter than everyone else (WHITE MALE PRIVILEGE, AM I RIGHT LADIES??). When the Ghostbusters team up to fight the biggest ghost in the film (a legitimately cool Easter Egg that I won't spoil), the first thing they do is shoot it in the crotch with their proton packs (AND LADIES, HAVEN'T WE ALL WANTED TO SHOOT A MAN IN THE BALLS WITH A  PROTON PACK FROM TIME TO TIME? HIGH-FIVE!!). One gets the impression that Feig has always wanted to light his own dick on fire, and this is the closest he's ever actually been able to come.

But the movie's single most egregious problem is Chris Fucking Hemsworth. Hemsworth plays a super-hunky stud muffin who is as dumb as a box of rocks ("I took the lenses out of my glasses because they kept getting dirty!"), and Feig makes sure to beat you over the head with both of those points over and over and over again. But his character is so unrealistically stupid, and one of the Ghostbusters (supposedly the smartest one?) falls so completely head-over-heels for his ultra-ripped physique (which is how he's given the job as their secretary, despite barely knowing how a phone works), that the joke doesn't even land the first time, let alone the fifteenth. The credits to the movie are basically just Hemsworth wearing a tight white shirt and doing a sexy stripper dance. From the moment his character is introduced, every time he appeared on screen, I wanted to smash him in the face with Mjolnir.

Thanks largely to Paul Feig, this movie spent so much time screaming "GIRL POWER!!!" that it forgot to actually be good enough prove its skeptics dead wrong. Most reviews for the movie has been as "meh" as mine is, for various reasons. Rotten Tomatoes shows it with an average of 6.5/10 based on 275 reviews; Metacritic shows it as averaging 60/100 based on 52 film critics. IGN gave it a 6.9/10 (but if I'm being honest, given IGN's history of being rather harsh on reboots that aren't particularly stellar, it's not particularly difficult to imagine them utterly trashing the movie were it not for a strong aversion to agreeing with its supposedly 'sexist' critics). Richard Roeper, the famous movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, had no such reservations and gave the movie one out of four stars, calling it a "Horrifying mess". Of course, Roeper was immediately bashed as being "sexist" because of it:

“Hey @richardroeper. You’ve got horrible taste. U physically look like that group of sad old men who r mad @Ghosbusters great reviews!”

“@richardroeper You were unfairly harsh towards @Ghostbusters. Do you even care about equality? Clearly you don’t. Write another review.”

“@richardroeper your @Ghostbusters review was in poor taste, mean spirited and worthy of a lowly film blog. U can dislike a film, but come on.”

“Do us all a favor and die. You don’t know the first thing about how to review a film.”

And all of this is on top of the fact that Sony Pictures will actually lose money on this film.

For what it's worth, I would give the movie a 6/10 myself. It was good enough that I'd watch a sequel, but I would desperately, desperately hope that Chris Hemsworth ends up with 'scheduling conflicts' and that Sony Pictures has the good sense to rip the franchise out of Paul Feig's hands and hand it over to someone who doesn't feel the need to make petty little SJW statements throughout.

What's really frustrating is how much of a missed opportunity there was here. Imagine an alternate universe: instead of a total reboot of Ghostbusters, make this movie a spinoff/continuation of the original two movies. The four female leads take inspiration from the original four Ghostbusters, and decide to push their paranormal research to even greater heights (BECAUSE THAT'S HOW SCIENCE ACTUALLY WORKS, AND GIRLS CAN DO THAT TOO). Replace Chris Hemsworth with someone less douchey and more entertaining (Patton Oswalt? Jim Gaffigan? Will Ferrell? Literally anyone else?). Strip out Paul Feig's misandry, and add a better-written villain who's meant to actually antagonize the Ghostbusters, rather than the nerds who were skeptical about the movie itself. Keep the four main actresses and their performances (they were legitimately good!) and the updated music and technology (it was wicked-cool!). And now the cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson can be as their original characters, now retired and in support roles, while their female successors take center-stage against new threats.

And there you have it: a revitalized multi-million-dollar franchise, with strong and smart female leads, but without legions of former fans being outraged that you tried to jam political correctness down their throats in the form of a arbitrary gender-swap gimmick that disrespects the franchise's history.

Which, as I said, is frustrating, because that (often justifiable) outrage and the controversy surrounding it has completely and utterly drowned out awesome things like this:

Friday, August 12, 2016

Game Review: Pokémon Go!


I have played exactly four Pokemon games in my entire life until now – Pokemon Yellow, Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Stadium, and the Pokemon Trading Card Game. All of which took place in the late 1990's to the very early 2000's. Two things killed off my interest in Pokemon as a kid: first, Pokemon Gold and Silver were released, which bumped the total number of Pokemon up from 151 to 250 – none of which particularly grabbed my interest, and at that point, "Catching 'Em All" starts to seem like a lot of bloody work. (FYI, there are currently 721 Pokemon with another new batch coming soon, and fuck. that. noise.) Second, there was virtually no end to the amount of teasing and shit-giving you got as a pre-teen male who was into a game featuring colorful and cute characters. (Looking back as an adult, it's obvious that most of my junior high schoolmates were just dumb little redneck dickheads and I shouldn't have paid any attention to them, but hindsight is 20/20.)

So I gave up on the Pokemon craze entirely, paying only marginal attention to the series (aside from its inclusion in Super Smash Bros). The complexity and scope of the games have only grown exponentially since that first generation, to the point where it was far too daunting (not to mention time-consuming) to jump back into even if I had the desire to.

Enter Pokemon Go, and its developer Niantic.

This game is just the reboot that the series so desperately needed to pull people like me back into the fold.

First, an explanation: Pokemon Go is an Android/iPhone app that uses a combination of GPS location technology and augmented reality to make it seem like Pokemon are appearing at various actual locations in the real world, and giving players the ability to fling Pokeballs (via their phones) in order to catch them, just as characters do in the video games and in the cartoon. It's a stunningly clever and super-effective (HEH) mechanic that makes the act of actually catching Pokemon more fun than it's ever been before.

Pokemon Go does a couple things that I've been wishing that the main Pokemon games would do for years. For one, it goes back to the original 151 Pokemon. (Hooray! The only ones I actually care about!) Second, it removes a lot of the number-crunching and statistic-tracking that make it difficult to step into modern Pokemon RPGs without advanced degrees in mathematics and computer science. Pokemon in this game have three basic stats, attack/defense/stamina, which are combined into a single metric visible to the player called Combat Power. Pokemon CP levels range from 10 to about 4,200 (fucking Mewtwo!). You can still fight your Pokemon at Pokemon Gyms (also real-world locations!), but those fights are based on a simple set of tapping mechanics rather than a Dungeons & Dragons –esque weave of mathematical equations.

On top of the mercifully simplified game mechanics, the other crazy thing about Pokemon Go is how insanely popular and mainstream it is. Steph and I both play the game, and when we visit areas around OKC that are highly-trafficked by Pokemon (as determined via GPS), there are typically very big crowds of other Pokemon Go players as well. Massive events have been organized around Pokemon Go, encouraging players to come together to fight at gyms and help each other together as a group to find and catch the rarer Pokemon. One such event ("Bricktown Go") happened in downtown OKC a couple weekends ago, and managed to draw a crowd of almost 1,500 people:

Because of the game's massive popularity, the mockery and bashing that was so common when the Pokemon series first launched almost 20 years ago now tends to blow up in the faces of the people doing it:

"Hahahaha, what kind of lame loser with no life or job plays some dumb game about catching cutesy little cartoons!!!"

"Really? You're going to try to crap on a game that gets people out of the house, walking for exercise, and socially interacting with other people who have a common interest? What are you, a fucking angsty 12-year-old child?"
And exercise – low-intensity as it may be – is an integral part of the game as well. Not only is walking around a certain area to find the Pokemon you're looking for typically the best strategy, but the game also supplies you with "Pokemon Eggs", which are then placed in a "Pokemon Incubator": to use the incubator to hatch the eggs, you have to physically walk (or jog, or bike) a specific distance, and hatching the eggs reveals harder-to-find Pokemon, along with the resources to help evolve them into more powerful forms. The game detects if you're simply trying to drive a car around to hatch the eggs, and prevents that from adding to the required distance. So Pokemon Go is a great way to burn off a few calories after a meal, for example – all while collecting Pokemon and building a team to compete against rival trainers at Pokemon Gyms.

Synthesizing all of the above components of the game (along with quite a few others) has led to Pokemon Go having its own kind of je ne sais quoi that has allowed it to take the world by storm, surpassing apps like Twitter and Tinder in popularity. It's certainly not a perfect game: avatar customization options are limited; the team you choose to be on at the game's beginning cannot be changed; the game is loaded with bugs, glitches, crashes, freezes, and server downtime (the latter is partly due to its popularity, and how overloaded the game's servers are); tracking nearby Pokemon is far more difficult than it should be; graphics are somewhat barebones; you could make the case that battle mechanics are too simplified; it sucks down your phone's battery life like Rush Limbaugh sucks down OxyContin....... And yet the excitement and thrill of catching a new breed of Pokemon you don't have yet, or seeing a crowd of people rush to a certain spot to find a rare Pokemon that just popped up, or taking down another team's gym and claiming it as your own, FAR surpasses any of those problems. I have little doubt that I'll still be playing it several weeks, and possibly months, from now.

Overall: 9/10