Thursday, April 30, 2009

All Will Be Explained

Slate Explainers perfectly distill the value of the site. A pithy article by some freelance writer provides useless information that provides instant joy by answering a question that may or may not have been gnawing at the back of your mind.

Which brings us to, How Strong Is A Wolverine?

The article starts by telling us that wolverines aren't as strong, pound for pound, as smaller weasels(who knew wolverines were weasels?). But then we find out:

"Whereas a wolf, another tundra animal, can go several days without eating, the wolverine will begin looking for more food just a few hours after finishing a meal. This sometimes leads to confrontations with larger animals: Researchers in Yellowstone found evidence in 2003 that a wolverine had been killed when it tried to drag an elk carcass away from a feeding bear. The wolverine doesn't often hunt big prey, though—it mostly lives on smaller animals like hares and carrion left over after a wolf-pack kill. When it does attack a large animal, like a reindeer or a caribou, it's been known to leap on the prey's back and bite it on the neck."

Wolverines jump on the backs of caribou and kill them? That sounds pretty strong to me! I think we have a bit of the "ants are the strongest creatures" thing going on here. Who cares if an ant can carry a big leaf? A wolverine can kill a caribou! Aside from that, very good explainer Slate!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Let's Talk Swine Flu

Honestly I'm already sick of hearing about it, and I really wasn't intending to bring it up, but I came across this fascinating article talking about the origins of the current swine flu and how its outbreak can be attributed to terrible conditions at CAFOs (that's Confined Animal Feeding Operations for you non-aggies). The writer says that it shouldn't come as a surprise that an outbreak like this has happened, as the conditions in these CAFOs are so bad, and the health standards within the meat packing industry so low, that it was pretty much inevitable that something like this would occur.

The CAFO located near the epicentre of the outbreak is owned by Smithwick Foods, a U.S. company. Take this description found in the article, taken from a 2006 Rolling Stone article:

Smithfield’s pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs — anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond.

The temperature inside hog houses is often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run twenty-four hours a day. The ventilation systems function like the ventilators of terminal patients: If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying.

I realize that these conditions are probably like those found in almost any CAFO, not just those in Mexico, and I really don't want to sound like I'm from PETA, but that description if fucking disgusting. Personally I would find it hard to give up meat (especially pork), but descriptions like these make me wonder if my vegetarian girlfriend isn't onto something.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Name That Sandwich

This post is mainly for Yoggoth, but I found myself answering each question like my baby's health was on the line. I got a 5 out of 10 which I guess wasn't bad, but they had sandwiches on that thing that I'm pretty sure were delicacies to the Incas. How was I to know that there were so many sandwiches in the world! No cheating now.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Frost/Nixon (Howard)

When he's not passing the blunt in the club, Ron Howard is busy transforming Peter Morgan plays into Oscar-nominated films. Peter Morgan has been on a bit of a hot streak lately. I guess he's the go-to guy for finely-nuanced historical/political dramas. Shortly after Frost/Nixon made its appearance as a Broadway play, Hollywood hit us with the Morgan-penned double whammy of The Queen and The Last King of Scotland. Now that Frost/Nixon is a movie, I have to say that I don't think it's as good as either of those two.

First of all: big deal. I'm not convinced that these interviews were all that important. It seems like Peter Morgan just wanted to tackle Nixon from a fresh, overlooked angle. Maybe a movie about Pat Nixon's secret vibrator or something, but not this. Another problem is that in the age of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Nixon is kind of old news. Back in the '90s, it was sort of shocking to think about Nixon. Like, "Wow, what a complex, conflicted guy, I can't believe our president was that Shakespearean." But now we have Sarah Palin. I don't think this movie is as profound as it wants to be.

It's funny how these things work. When I first heard about Frost/Nixon, I thought, "Hmm, that sounds good, Nixon's always fascinating, etc." But when I saw the movie I felt like I'd been there, done that. When I first heard about The Queen I thought, "Bor-ing, I don't understand everybody's obsession with the royal family anyway, why the hell would I want to see this?" But when I saw it! He made the Queen of England seem way more interesting than she probably really is. She has to pass gas like everybody else, you know?

That's the problem. I have yet to see a cinematic portrayal of Nixon that's more interesting to watch than actual footage of Nixon himself. Every actor stepping into the role, be they Anthony Hopkins or Philip Baker Hall, always makes him seem too angry, too pathetic, too unhinged. The real Nixon had a smooth, congenial side to him. For thirty years he was able to convince a large portion of America that he was a perfect model citizen. Dick didn't always come off so damn tricky. Frank Langella gives it his best shot but the question remains: is this film more interesting to watch than footage of the actual Frost/Nixon interviews? I just took a peek at a couple of clips on YouTube, I have my answer, and Ron Howard isn't going to like it.

"Film critic" rating: ****
"Little Earl" rating: **1/2

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ron Howard... In da Club???

This morning I was watching a little TV before heading off to work. Early morning is one of those rare times where MTV still shows actual music videos. Was my luck ever paid off. The screen informed me that a 'new, fresh video' was about to premiere. The video started. I could tell it was going to be one of those big budget hip-hop videos right from the start because it came complete with opening credits. It started with "Hype Williams presents". Then it cut to a bunch of cars rolling up as the credits played. It was a Jamie Foxx video. Ok, kind of weird. I guess he wants to be a singer now, but I guess I can deal with that, after all other young black actors have gone the same route.

The next person to roll up in a car was Samuel L. Jackson. Ok, I can see him in a video like this. Then Forrest Whitaker shows up. Ok, not who I would expect, but I guess so. Next up is Jake Gyllenhaal. Hmmm, getting a little strange. But maybe he's one of those young LA party types, roaming the clubs with Justin Timberlake. Still, pretty weird though.

But wait. There's one more car pulling up. Who is it, who else has been invited to this glamorous club full of easy, ravishing women? Why it's .... Ron Howard?!?

What... the... fuck???

Now, by this point I was absolutely certain this was a parody video. You see, the video that had played right before it was Eminem's new video, which parodied everything from Elvis to Rock Band. I thought for a second that maybe this was the second part to Eminem's video, a delightful satire on overblown "in the club" style hip-hop videos. But no, I was wrong. It was the real deal.

Earlier this week I thought I had already seen the weirdest video when I saw Ice T and Elmo playing a Wii game on Jimmy Fallon. But Jamie Foxx's video... well, you're just going to have to watch it for yourself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Double Response - Tea Partying for

Before I mention anything else I'd like to point out that Barack Obama actually lowered taxes for 95% of Americans. Where were the signs at these rallies supporting Obama and asking him to keep up the good work?

On to the response to the response:

"I don't know why you get so stuck on the fringe. The tea parties were not about not paying taxes they were about not being happy with the way our taxes were being used."

My understanding, from viewing pictures and interviews, is that these protests were generic complaints about taxes and socialism, with many protesters conflating the two. Everyone can find something they don't like to pay for, but Obama won the election so he, along with Congress, gets to decide. If we only had to pay for programs we liked the United States would immediately collapse.

"Just because certain news networks and cable shows chose to pick out the fringe weirdos and morons that have their own agenda doesn't mean that was the core message of the protests as a whole."

The protests were promoted ad nauseum by Fox News and two right wing think tanks. This is the fringe.

" assume, like Yoggoth, that this is a conservative movement."

Oh come on, now you're being silly. It was organized and attended almost exclusively by movement conservatives.

"This "you" that you say is being used to describe our "big evil government somewhere far away" is the same "you" that was being used by liberals to describe the Bush administration."

I think this statement admits that the tea parties were pointless whining by comparing them to pointless whining done by liberals. Correct me if I'm wrong. I, personally, had many disagreements with the Bush administration over specific policies and practices. Not that they asked, but I did have them.

"Don't get me wrong, their job isn't easy by any means, but neither is a police officer's riding in a squad car in Oakland for $40k a year."

If you factor in the retirement at 55 with full wages and medical care, 40k doesn't sound so bad. Personally, I would raise taxes on those making over $500,000 a year and increase the capital gains tax rate. I'd use part of this money to give law enforcement and school teachers a raise.

"...public schools are funded quite a bit from local property taxes. Nicer neighborhoods equal better funded schools. There's a reason why schools in Compton aren't as nice as schools in Marin County.

I agree this is a huge problem. I would immediately repeal California's Prop 13 which subsidizes property taxes for some and distorts the real estate market in California. The resulting tax revenues should go to disadvantaged schools. The level of inequality in our educational system is a travesty. Many people are never given the tools they need to function in an a complex democracy such as our own and thus fail to become responsible citizens.

Concerning socialism -

Following the New Deal, during which government spending saved many left destitute by the Great Depression, the United States enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity. Income inequality fell sharply after the excesses of the 1920s. The top income tax rate peaked at over 90%. The New Deal brought infrastructure modernization to vast swathes of the nation. Huge progress was made regarding racial and gender equality. Liberal judges reflected these changes in their decisions, greatly expanding recognized Constitutional protections for individual civil liberties.

Then came Reagan. The Republican party rode a white male backlash against minorities and women to power. Income inequality began to increase - a trend that would continue under Bush I, Clinton (although not as steeply), and Bush II. Taxes for the rich were cut again and again. At the same time wage gains for the middle and lower classes slowed then stopped altogether. Greed was promoted as a civic virtue.

For their last act, conservatives eviscerated financial regulation with the help of pro-business Democrats. Rules that had been put in place to prevent the recurrence of the banking failures that greatly exacerbated the Great Depression were repealed. A bloated bureaucratic financial oligopoly formed and institutions leveraged themselves obscenely without even a hint of good-faith oversight. Fraudulent insurance contracts were written for the express purpose of fooling the public. In short, the free market failed, and it failed hard.

Little Earl didn't mention the most socialistic government programs - Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. You have to deal with these programs to make a dent in government spending. However, old people support them in overwhelming numbers so its very difficult to make any changes. George Bush greatly expanded government entitlements by signing the prescription drug benefit expansion to Medicare. None of these current protesters took to the streets back then. Why? Because they are ignorant, selfish, partisan fakers.

The apex of socialism is Scandinavia, a region with wonderful quality of living statistics. The apex of "no taxes, no government" conservatism is Somalia. You can see how that's turning out. Then again, piracy can be a reasonable response to free market realities...

P.S. What do you guys have against the postal service? I've never had any problems sending letters or packages and mail persons are always very nice to me.

In Response to a Rant

This is my knee jerk response to Little Earl's Rant #3. I was going to leave this as a comment, but it started to get a little long, so here we go.

I don't know why you get so stuck on the fringe. The tea parties were not about not paying taxes they were about not being happy with the way our taxes were being used. Just because certain news networks and cable shows chose to pick out the fringe weirdos and morons that have their own agenda doesn't mean that was the core message of the protests as a whole. That's as bad as listening to O'Reilly or Hannity and deciding that must be the way things are. It was a public forum, anyone could show up. And the no representation thing was about their interests being unrepresented not that the people of the United States were not being represented. I thought liberals would be sympathetic to this since they are always protesting and shouting that they aren't being represented. Disagreeing with the message is fine, I can respect that, but don't go arguing with weirdos that don't know what they're talking about. That's what The Daily Show reporters are for.

Now I'm guessing some of the fuel for this rant is because you assume, like Yoggoth, that this is a conservative movement. For arguments sake let's say it is. This "you" that you say is being used to describe our "big evil government somewhere far away" is the same "you" that was being used by liberals to describe the Bush administration. I couldn't count on all my fingers and toes the number of "Not My President" bumper stickers I've seen over the past eight years.

As for socialism, you say our government is already in some form of socialization. OK, lets look at your examples.

Public schools: inadequate and underfunded K-12 systems all across the US. They are consistently out tested by private schools. (However, public colleges and universities are actually fairly good, though they rely on corporate and alumni donations pretty heavily.) However, public schools are funded quite a bit from local property taxes. Nicer neighborhoods equal better funded schools. There's a reason why schools in Compton aren't as nice as schools in Marin County. I know I know; the federal government gives states funding for schools, but a lot of that funding is based on the no child left behind crap which never really made sense anyway.

Public libraries: inadequate and understocked. Local libraries rely almost exclusively on public donations of both money and books. I used to go to my local public library in Redwood City all the time. It was actually a really good one. However, that is probably because it was part of a system of libraries that encompasses the entire peninsula and is connected to the local community colleges as well. This means they get state funding on top of donations besides also having access to several college libraries, some of which are supported by large bonds that they were voted in by the tax payers to help fund education. Wait a minute - tax payers deciding where their tax money should go. What a concept.

Law enforcement: Honestly, there are not enough of these people. They are underfunded, undertrained, overworked and full of corruption. Every time a politician pleads for a tax increase it's because we need to get more cops out on the street. The problem is this money gets caught up in the politics of things. In the county where my dad works as an accountant for the Sheriff's Department, money for law enforcement doesn't usually go to new officers or better training or more guards in the jails, it goes to the retired Sheriffs, Lieutenants, and Captains for their outrageous pensions and rising medical costs. Yes they get to retire at 55 with a full pension and full medical for life. These aren't the guys chasing down bad guys and keeping the peace; these are mostly political positions. Don't get me wrong, their job isn't easy by any means, but neither is a police officer's riding in a squad car in Oakland for $40k a year. This is a failing system.

The US Postal Service: Like you said - God damn lousy.

And you wonder why people look at America becoming more socialized with a little bit of contempt? I'm not arguing that we don't need these particular social systems to be available. A safer more educated populous is essential and better for everybody, no one can argue against that, but do you really believe the government as it is today, and even for the last fifty years, has been using our money wisely?

Monday, April 20, 2009

So This Is What Passes For "Influential" These Days?

Here's a column discussing the "Top 10 Most Influential Films in the Last 10 Years" - a strange concept, perhaps. Although I can't say that I'd necessarily argue with the choices on this list, I do have to wonder: if this is what "influential" means, then who really cares about being "influential"? Often I think of "influential" and "artistically superior" as being somewhat synonymous. If I were to name the most influential films in cinema history, for example, I would essentially be naming films that I also thought were "classic" as it were (check out this list for an interesting and very recent attempt to do so). I can't think of too many films that I would call influential and yet artistically mediocre. Jurassic Park, perhaps (which in my mind, at least, really kick-started the now-ubiquitous CGI craze). But JP wasn't such a bad piece of summer cheese when all is said and done (I still can't believe the same director released Schindler's List a mere six months later, however).

Truth be told, have the past ten years really been that progressive of a period when placed in the grand scheme of cinema history as a whole? I think there have been some great movies in the past ten years, but very few of those films I would honestly call "influential." For the most part I'd say they achieved their greatness by injecting unique energy into old formulas rather than by suggesting whole new avenues of filmmaking possibilities. The films below were "influential" in the sense that they inspired Hollywood studios to pour their marketing dollars into similar fare. But am I supposed to care?

The Top 10 Most Influential Films in the Last 10 Years:

10. The Sixth Sense
9. Moulin Rouge!
8. Bowling For Columbine
7. The Polar Express
6. The Lord Of The Rings
5. Little Miss Sunshine
4. The Matrix
3. The Blair Witch Project
2. Sin City
1. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Crazy Rant #3: Teabagging Parties

So let me get this straight: you don't want to pay taxes anymore, just...because? Do you guys even remember the point of the whole Boston Tea Party? It was "No Taxation Without Representation." What is this, "No Taxation Because, Well, We Just Feel Like Being Selfish Pricks"? Who likes paying taxes? Nobody. But in a civilized society, people have to make these little...things...they're called "sacrifices"...and we make these little "sacrifices" for the sake of the common good. I mean come on. You can't just work your way out of a massive recession/depression without making any sacrifices. You call yourself patriots, right? Well what the fuck is more patriotic than paying your fair share, assholes?

And what's with this whole notion that there's "you" and then there's "the big evil government that's somewhere far away"? Guess what guys: you are part of the "government." The "government" is not some self-contained little collection of people in Washington, D.C.; the "government" is all of us. And enough with the usage of "socialist" as some hideous epithet. We're already a "socialist" country in many ways: Public schools, public libraries, law enforcement, even the God damn lousy postal service. So just drop the obnoxious doublethink already.

You know what I say? If you don't feel like paying taxes, then screw you buddy, and get the hell out of my country.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Herr Zrbo's Even Newest Favoritest Blog

It seems like every few weeks I discover a new blog out there that makes me grin. Last time it was failblog. Now comes a sort of corollary to failblog, pictureisunrelated. It's like a collection of pictures that don't quite fit with the concept of 'failing', but are nevertheless so bizarre and surreal that you just can't help but stare. Take the picture above, I mean, WTF is going on?? How the...hell...?

A few other favorites:

Play on brother!

No one suspected Katrina was caused by bears...

Seen any transvestite hookers around here?

Monday, April 13, 2009

You So Crazy

I don't do this often, but I read an article on Slate this afternoon. Linda Hirshman reviewed a book called Crazy Love, a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles the abuse the author, Leslie Morgan Steiner, suffered at the hands of her blond husband. That's right; he's blond. What else do we really need to know, right?

In light of the Rianna-Chris Brown abuse/publicity stunt thing, the age old (since the dawn of feminism at least) question has been brought to the public's attention once again: Why do women stay in abusive relationships?

So I start to read this article hoping to get some granule of insight into this most baffling of phenomena. By the end of the second paragraph, you can tell that Hirshman is not a fan of the book, and for good reason. The book never answers any questions. It's just a story about a woman who gets beat up by her husband for four years until he gets bored and leaves her. Now I'm all for having unanswered questions floating around at the end of a story, but this is one of a million identical stories, and if you're not offering up any insight on the intricacies of the female brain and why the abused stays with the abuser then what's the friggin' point? In fact, she becomes almost an enabler when she recounts seeing her husband at a party four months later with his new girlfriend, and instead of pulling her aside, grabbing the girl by the ears, and screaming into her face, "He may seem nice now, but he's an abusive, demoralizing jerk and he will hurt you any way he can, and leave you broken and wasted!!", she turns away silently thinking, "It's okay; endure it for a few years and you'll get your own book deal."

But the larger question still remains: Why do they stay?

I've known a couple of girls who were in abusive relationships and they've told me some really, really frakked up stuff about what went on during those darker of times. Still, I couldn't get a completely strait answer as to why they stayed as long as they did, or why they didn't leave. However, this being a blog and all, I have my own opinion and theory.

I think most humans, and I don't exclude myself from the human race, have difficulties with acceptance. It takes a massive, life changing event or religious catharsis for someone to make the claim, "I don't care what people think," and actually mean it. That goes for our personal and intimate relationships as well. And I'm positive that at one point or another you were pretty comfortable in a relationship and thought, I will never find another person that will want to be with me so I've got to hold on to this one forever, no matter what. This may turn out to be a good thing or it could kill you, but either way you hold on.

Of course this doesn't account for everything, and I'm being slightly vague because I want to hear your arguments. And guys, don't be afraid to pipe up. There are plenty of males out there getting just as much abuse. Maybe not physically, but I'm sure Rianna is quite the egotistical, diva bitch and was just nagging Chris Brown to death.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Congratulations! You've Been Accepted To...Just Teasin'

As if the generation that's now entering college hasn't already figured out just how fucked it is, it must now bear the brunt of cruel psychological torture by way of tantalizingly erroneous e-mail messages:
The e-mail, which began, "We're thrilled that you've been admitted to UC San Diego, and we're showcasing our beautiful campus on Admit Day," was sent to the entire freshman applicant pool of more than 46,000 students, instead of just the 18,000 who had been admitted, Brown said.
Oops! "Dear Timothy, sorry we momentarily implanted within you a sense of hope for your future. Our bad." But take heart; least some kids are appropriately cynical:
Aakash Agarwal of San Jose said UC San Diego had been among his top choices, but he was not surprised when he was rejected weeks ago because of the stiff competition. He said he laughed in surprise when he received the e-mail on Monday. "I was thinking maybe they changed their mind in terms of admitting me," said the 17-year-old senior at the private Harker School . But he checked the admissions website "and sure enough, I was still rejected."
That's the spirit, Aakash, that's the spirit.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

From on High

Beatles Fans Await Upgraded Re-Releases

"Apple Corps and EMI announced on Tuesday that the much-postponed remasters would be released on individual stereo CDs and in two boxed sets — one stereo, the other mono — on Sept. 9, the same day the Beatles edition of Rock Band, the music video game, is scheduled for release."

Finally some good comes of a video game, eh Little Earl(the Small Count, Mr. 01 himself)?

The article includes some possible complaints by Beatles afficianados - "Because the stereo CDs will include George Martin’s 1987 remixes of “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” — mixes that have been the subject of much criticism and debate among Beatles fanatics — the mono CDs of those albums will include both the mono and the original 1965 stereo mixes of those albums." Is this a big deal? Should the mono and stereo versions of the earlier, and shorter, albums been included on the same CD, Pet Sounds-style?

More importantly, which Beatles songs will be the most fun to play on Rock Band? Drums on Rain? Will the Abbey Road medley be included? That would be my pick.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Kojima, 2004)

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a commentary on the ever-shifting state of the world's superpowers and on how the wars and grudges these countries hold against one another are ultimately meaningless when history is viewed as a whole. Widely regarded by fans as a return to form for the series, Hideo Kojima not only continues to expand on the mythos of the world he's created, but continues to explore his distinct storytelling style and unique take on the American action-military genre.

Snake Eater is the third game in the Metal Gear Solid series, though it takes place first in the series chronology as it serves as a prequel. Kojima takes us back to the height of the Cold War in 1964. The tale Kojima spins deals with everything from the Cuban Missile Crisis, power struggles between Kruschev and Brezhnev within the U.S.S.R., to discussions about then-current films and ramen noodles.

We meet Snake about to be sent off to the swampy jungles of the fictional Russian province of Tselinoyarsk to retrieve a defecting Russian scientist. Upon his retrieval this scientist explains how a certain faction of the Russian army was forcing him to work on a terrible weapon called 'The Shagohod'. It's obvious to us, the player, that this Shagohod is a precursor to the future 'Metal Gears' which we've so lovingly encountered in the previous two games of the series.

As is usual a twist happens in Snake's plans, as just as he's about to escape with the scientist, Snake's mentor shows up - only ever referred by her codename 'The Boss' - and takes the scientist with her, and says she's defecting to the Russian side and joining an elite group of fighters known as 'the Cobras'. She then proceeds to throw Snake off a bridge to what should be his death, with Snake only managing to grab a hold of the bandana the Boss was wearing - the bandana that becomes Snake's familiar signature headpiece.

For the player this sets up the mystery that drives the game - why is the Boss - Snake's mentor and hinted-at possible lover (and even mother) and number one soldier in the U.S. - defecting to the Russian side?

Snake manages to survive falling off the bridge and is rescued, taken home to heal up, and given his new mission - eliminate the Cobras, rescue the scientist, and kill the Boss. This third time through a Metal Gear game this is all somewhat familiar. Kojima enjoys this style of splitting the narrative. Just like in MGS2, first there's an initial sequence of gameplay that lasts no more than an hour, a first act if you will, which functions as a sort of extended prologue. This is then followed by a second act, where the real 'meat and potatoes' of the story occurs.

By this third outing it might be useful to talk more specifically about Kojima's style and his use of certain motifs which carry the story. One such element Kojima likes to employ is what I'll call the "ritual game save". In all three games whenever the player wants to save their progress in the game they have to go through a certain in-game routine. The player must essentially 'phone-in' to headquarters, speak to someone (always a female) to tell them he wants to save. This is always followed by some sort of conversation with the female, usually with a lot of flirting.

In the first game it was Mei Ling, a cute Chinese-American girl who always told Snake these useful proverbs that at first seem somewhat serious but by the end of the game got a little wacky (an example of Kojima toying with the player). These proverbs usually fit with the context of what was happening at the moment. So, for example, if there were a lot of enemy patrols in the vicinity she might give a proverb saying to the effect of "it's better to avoid confrontation and be sneaky rather than fight".

In Metal Gear Solid 2 in the opening 'Tanker' chapter the save is carried out by Snake's scientist buddy Otacon who attempts to emulate Mei Lings proverbs but doesn't quite get them right, functioning as a kind of subversion of Mei Ling's advice (watch here). In the second act these game saves are carried out through conversations between Raiden and communications officer/girlfriend Rose, where they discuss their relationship and what it means to be in a relationship (watch here).

In Snake Eater saving happens with the communications officer codenamed 'Para-medic'. This time instead of proverbs or relationships, Para-medic likes to talk about films and usually tries to relate those films to what Snake is encountering in the game. Here's one discussing Godzilla. Watching this clip clues you in to Kojima's fondness for self-referential jokes, like how Para-medic bets they'll still be making Godzilla movies in 2004. In another conversation Para-medic tells Snake about a new movie she's just seen called From Russia with Love. The Major in charge of the mission is apparently wild about the movie and, with the writers playing completely to the audience, the Major says "007 is the biggest thing to come out of England since the Mayflower. I wouldn't be surprised if they made 20 more of those movies!" The James Bond references are further explored during the opening title sequence, a brilliant send-up to all 007 movie openings.

It cannot be stressed enough that Kojima enjoys borrowing heavily from film. Just watch the opening scene, complete with an initial quote which sets up the theme of the game, the opening shot of the airplane flying through the clouds, and the starring credits fading in and out. It looks like something straight out of the Hunt for Red October. Also in this scene you'll notice Kojima subverting players expectations again. When we first see Snake here he's wearing a mask that makes him look like Raiden from the previous game. He even dons the same breathing apparatus that Raiden wore as he made his initial swim into the Big Shell.

I mentioned in the beginning that most fans of the series considered Snake Eater to be a return to form. What I meant by that is that fans were disappointed with MGS2 because they wanted to play as the hero, Snake, but instead had to play whiny voiced hero-in-training Raiden. I, for one, enjoyed playing as Raiden. I believe those fans who found themselves disappointed with the previous game missed the point that Kojima didn't want us to play as the hero, but instead wanted us to experience the narrative from the perspective of an outsider observing the hero.

When the player initially sees Snake in this opening scene looking like Raiden the initial thought is "Oh no, am I playing as Raiden again?" The answer is of course, no, Kojima is just having his way with you.

This method of making the player aware that the game is playing with them is endemic of Kojima and the Metal Gear Solid series. From the British Film Institute's 100 Videogames Screen Guide:

What is most interesting about Metal Gear Solid, however, is that for all its filmic intentions, it is a game that is supremely confident with its game-ness. At various points, characters draw attention to their presence in a videogame, or even to the paraphernalia of videogame hardware and interface. Where intuition might tell us that rendering the interface transparent or even invisible might be the most effective means of creating immersion or presence in the narrative and world of the game, Kojima and his team brazenly remind the player of the constructedness of this experience. This is postmodern media in playable form.

Whereas the theme of the original Metal Gear Solid was genetics, or 'gene', and the that of its sequel being a discussion on the nature of information, or 'meme', Snake Eater's theme is 'scene' - the climate in which events occur and the impact it has upon them. From the Metal Gear Wiki: "Scene deals heavily with Relativism, the idea that concepts such as right and wrong or allies and enemies are not absolute or eternal; but instead are personal and transitive, shaped by our cultures and the times we live in." Unlike past games I was aware of what the theme was going into this game. Funny enough I didn't really catch any major strands of the theme until near the end of the game when the Boss gives her big speech. This speech is typical of Kojima's style in that he wants the player to understand his intention so he tends to lay it down rather heavily when he does.

In this speech the Boss describes a realization she had while on one of the first manned missions into space. Having witnessed the Earth from so high she realized that national boundaries are just a figment of our beliefs, and over the course of time those nation states that define those boundaries slowly change their relationships with those other powers. Examining history as a whole those relationships that define the current political 'scene' are rendered meaningless, as today's enemy is tomorrow's ally, as she makes the point when speaking about Russia (and 'prophesizing' that one day the Cold War will be over when we're fighting a new enemy). From the Wiki: "The Boss is a victim of circumstance. Her "scene" - Cold War Era America - forces her to, ultimately, give her life. Snake is forced to kill his former mentor due to a "scene" he not only has no control over, but has no knowledge of." By realizing she's only playing a part in this Cold War 'scene' she realizes the meaninglessness of defining things in absolutes, in terms of right vs. wrong. She realizes that her actions as a solider are rendered pointless, leading her to accept that the wars she fights are ultimately futile.

The Metal Gear series has always been about the futility of war, each game examining that futility through a different lens. The original game was about how we pass on our culture through our genes. The second game examining how we define our culture through its accumulated knowledge. Now this third game deals with how we define our culture through our relationships with one another and the meaninglessness of defining those relationships as right or wrong.

A few final notes. I should point out how well the game pulls off being a prequel. Whereas other more well known prequels deliver a sense of inevitability - we already know Anakin will turn into Darth Vader for example - Snake Eater managed to completely surprise me. It wasn't until about two-thirds of the way through that I began to realize that I was witnessing the birth of a major character, arguably the most important character in the entire series, and I hadn't seen it coming at all, yet when it finally came together it happened so naturally that I was pleasantly surprised with how well it was pulled off.

I also have to give a nod to Harry Gregson-Williams' score. The Metal Gear series has always had amazing music, but Gregson-Williams manages to outdo himself in this game. From the bluesy take on the Metal Gear theme titled 'Old Metal Gear', to the previously mentioned over-the-top opening song performed by Cynthia Harrell, Gregson-Williams delivers a dramatic and exciting score. Adding an infusion of some Spanish guitar into the stirring Metal Gear Solid theme gives us one of the most memorable music pieces to ever come out of videogaming.

That's it for my look at Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Now that I've completed these three games I can finally play the game that got me interested in starting this series in the first place, the fourth and final part of the series, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Until then, happy gaming.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Little Earl - Movie Star?

Roll over Clark Gable, there's a new legend making his way to the big screen. Yes, that's right, your humble blogger is now (apparently) an actor. Just how much of an actor is hard to say. All I can tell you is that I am appearing in a pair of low-budget short films currently being produced by a local film collective that goes by the name of Scary Cow. In one film I am playing a socially awkward geek and in the other film I am playing...a socially awkward geek. Quite a stretch. Hopefully this will explain the dearth of blogging activity, and, who knows, if my foray into cinema continues, there may be further dearths in the future. I mean, let's face it, my blogging career hasn't exactly been taking off. You gotta give the people what they want, you know? Sing it Buck: