Dec 18, 2008

Blood Meridian

I'm reading Cormac McCarthy's wonderful novel, Blood Meridian. My favorite quote so far:

Before man was, war waited for him.

That is all.

Dec 17, 2008

The Year in...Friendship

As some of you may know, my apartment was burglarized several weeks ago. All the vandals made off with was my xbox 360 and some games. Not much in the way of material goods, but they cost me something harder to replace: peace of mind and faith in humanity. Something you may not know is that my family's a bit dysfunctional, full of halves, steps, erratic behavior, strained relationships and severe psychoses. Because of that, I've always put a higher value on friendship. These are the people I've chosen to be part of my life, not simply inherited at birth. I love my closest friends as I would my own kin, but every now and then you forget how wonderful and valuable friendship can be. I was so down about the burglary and my family's ruined Thanksgiving that I lost sight of the power of friendship. But, thanks to a cadre of my most boon companions, including KTL and Jinx, I've had all that restored.

You see, they all got together and replaced the things that were stolen. Now, as happy as that makes me, it is nothing in comparison to what else they replaced. They restored my faith in humanity and reaffirmed my value in friendship. These are all special people to me and I hope they know that. It is definitely an amazing group of people we have collected into this friendship. We have created bonds that are still strong, years after college and nearing 30. We are spread from Athens to ATL, to Baltimore and Pennsylvania and on to New York. Though we are scattered, we remain bonded in one thing: friendship. And really, when it's all said and done, that is more valuable than any trinket or material possession.

I had something taken from me and these guys rallied and helped me get it back. They also gave me a reason to take pause and think about how much they mean to me. Xbox's come and go, friendship is forever.

To everyone involved - Thank You, from the bottom of my heart. I know you have my back, and you know I have yours. We truly are brothers and I hope we are more appreciative of that as time goes on. Remember the good, forgive the bad, and always be there for the one that's down.

As Clete Purcell would say, "Good guys forever"-

Japanese Goblin Shart...I mean Shark

Dec 16, 2008

The Year In.....College Football

First off, thanks to Jinx for giving me a guest-post opportunity. Second, let me tell you how sad I am that football season is wearing down. It's a cloud hanging over me as early December comes - the void between the regular season and the bowls. Football's what I love, and it's what I want to share with you today.

Football is the greatest of all sports, and that's saying a lot when you consider just how many sports there actually are in the world. It exists in its greatest form at the college level, where talent and passion balance themselves perfectly. It is a world where young men would sacrifice everything they have - the sweat of effort, their bones, blood and sinew - to gain one inch of turf if it brings them closer to their goal, whether that be the end zone, the NFL or simply glory. It is a world I love to watch; to be a spectator, a learned watcher who follows the game (sometimes through a heavy alcohol haze) and feeds off it's energy. I am happiest in autumn, when toe meets leather, the leaves begin to fall, the bourbon warms the belly and friends and football mingle together as close to perfection as possible. It is truly glorious. I obviously enjoy this world, and can appreciate any game that takes place in it. But only a few of these games will be remembered by the many, re-hashed by the analysts and recorded as "that game when" or "the one where." It is with this in mind I pick my greatest games of 2008. Enjoy.


1. Florida 31, Alabama 20 - I know it's high praise for an 11-point game, but you understand if you watched it. If you didn't, shame on you. Alabama setting the tone with their fundamental approach, holding a lead late, but Tebow willing his team to the victory as the fourth wore on. Glorious.

2. Texas 45, Oklahoma 35 - The Sooners went up early, the 'Horns came back. Leads swapped through the third until OU began pulling away. But the Colt was too much, winning with his head, arm and legs. Too bad the BCS has since rendered this particular RRR pointless.

3. Texas Tech 39, Texas 33 - I guess it's not all the BCS' fault. If Texas could have won this when they should have, OU would be destined for the Fiesta. But, playing man on Crab is prideful and foolish, and we all know what pride comes before.

4. Oregon State 27, USC 21 - Oh, the mighty Men of Troy and their leader, Pete "He-who-loses-the-little-one" Carrol. They always flop somewhere and their odd early 2 bye weeks set them up to be chopped down by the little Rodgers brothers like so many redwoods. All hail the quarkback.

5. Notre Dame 27, Navy 21 - This one almost had it all - onside kicks, deep passes late and a dramatic comeback for the underdog Middies. Though it was not to be, it sure was fun to watch, especially as a wake-up call in the face of the defensive shot of Novocaine that was UGA-AU.

The Back Half:

6. USF 37, Kansas 34 - Gutsy QB's pushing their teams down the stretch. Advantage Grothe.

7. Kansas 40, Missouri 37 - The same, but also the opposite. Advantage, Reesing.

8. Arkansas 31, LSU 30 - Casey Dick's late TD holds up as QB troubles bag the Bengals.

9. Georgia Tech 45, Georgia 42 - The triple option takes the temp0 in the second half as the Dawgs' D collapses.

10. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 - For it's responsibility in unleashing Hell (i.e. pissed-off Tebow).

The Blowouts:
Just for fun, here are the games where the dead horses were drug out around the opening kick and beaten early and often.

Tarheels establish themselves as contenders-
UNC 44, Rutgers 12

Florida wins the East-
Fla 49, UGA 10

Rutgers climbs back-
Rut 63, L'ville 14

Sooners put pirates in their place-
Oklahoma 65, Texas Tech 21

The Obvious Ones-
Oklahoma or Florida anytime the last few weeks, really

The Year in...Videogames

Comparing videogames is tough. Are exclusives better than games availabe on multiple systems? What if I only have a PS3/XBox 360/Wii? Are console games better than their portable brethren? What about PC games? Who cares? If you played any of the following games (and there's one for every system), you were guaranteed a great time. (Note: Gaming is very subjective. I'm not a big fan of sports games, any game that emphasizes multiplayer over single player, or Grand Theft Auto. Natch, you won't find any on this list.)

5. Devil May Cry 4 (PS3/XBox 360). This horror/fantasy series has it all. Super-fast, bloody combat; big, big boobs; and gorgeous, hi def action. Don't worry if you haven't played the first three; you will as soon as you finish 4.

4. Super Smash Brothers Brawl (Wii). Not as addicting as GameCube's Melee, but Nintendo's "shouldn't work but it does" brawling mashup matches everyone from Mario to Solid Snake in fisticuffs. Kirby's the man!

3. Fallout 3 (PS3/XBox 360/PC). I'd grown weary of Final Fantasy-type, high fantasy RPGs, but Fallout 3 is no Square. As a survivor of the nuclear holocaust, you traipse across the most fully-realized post-apocalypse ever. You can choose to be good or bad. I went for a Mad Max sort of anti-hero, refusing to hurt the innocent but prepared to kill anyone who asked for it. Absolutely absorbing.

2. Bioshock (PS3). This PS3 port would have been number 1 had it not been available on XBox 360 and PC for a year. Atmospheric. Immersive. Frightening. Imaginative. Compelling. Bioshock is the greatest original game (i.e. not from an established franchise) I've played in years.

1. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3). MGSIV would have been the year's best film were it not the year's best videogame. (David Hayter gave the super-heroic performance of the year.) Creator Hideo Kojima nailed the concluding chapter to the greatest videogame story of all-time. The mythology behind MGS is as labyrinthine as "Lost" and a lot cooler. (The downloadable Metal Gear Solid Database is complete and compulsive. I'm spent hours divesting it of its secrets.) The only knock on it is that it's almost as interactive as a movie. In other words, you spend a lot of time watching rather than playing.

Honorable mentions: Dead Space (EA has a new survival horror hit and a potential franchise goldmine); Resistance 2; Spore

Best Value (unless you own a Wii or PS2): Rock Band 2/Guitar Hero: World Tour (PS3, XBox 360, Wii, PS2). Who doesn't want to be a rock star? Either of these games can make those dreams come true. And with new DLC dropping every week, these are the games that keep on giving. If only they'd add more Journey and KISS.

Biggest Disappointment: Little Big Planet (PS3). Jinx may disagree, but he got to play the damn game. I tried two copies and couldn't get either to work.

Best Non-game: Wii Fit (Wii). Get fit and have fun.

Best Handheld Game: God of War: Chains of Olympus (PSP). Kratos kicks ass on any platform. You dig?

Downloadable Content (in other words, if you don't have it, buy it now):
4. The Last Guy
3. Mega Man 9 (PSN/XBox Live)
2. Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People (WiiWare)
1. Rock Band/Guitar Hero: World Tour (PSN/XBox Live). Take your pick. There's something for everyone. Except your cousin who only likes country. And that guy at the local record store.

Dec 13, 2008

Top Five Albums of the Year

I just read Stephen King's top ten albums of the year, and I have a different architectural dance, so I thought I would include it here. I'm not saying his is bad, just different.

I have to say, though, that 2008 was a hit-or-miss year in music. It wasn't awe-inspiring, but there were a couple of awe-inspiring albums (and a few surprises).

5. The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely

I think that the first Raconteurs album was good. It was catchy and fuzzy but for some reason didn't stick.

"Consolers", however, does. Maybe the Appalachian feel of each track draws me in, like ghosts from the Civil War pumping fuzzed-out guitars through speaker stacks at one helluva party. It's an album that is nostalgic and catchy in its conception but one that needs a couple of listens, also. It is not a concept album, but a golden thread runs through the entire thing, reminding you every once in a while that it belongs in the Dust Bowl and Shea Stadium all at the same time. Excellent.

The climax of the album is its final track, a murder ballad called "Carolina Drama", more of a short story put to music than an actual song. If you don't like it the first time through, the la la la la, la la la las will bring you back in. I promise.

4. The Black Kids - Partie Traumatic

Comparing any band to The Cure is probably never a good idea - can anybody really compare to Robert Smith, anyway? - but in The Black Kids' case, it's not necessarily a death omen. "Partie" is a fun, sarcastic, witty album. I don't know that I heard something so infatuated with British pop this year. Even though the band is ostensibly from Jacksonville, Florida, Reggie Youngblood's faux-British wail is entirely convincing. Please listen to "Hit the Heartbrakes" at least once.

3. Metallica - Death Magnetic

While only in the top two-thirds of Metallica albums, Death Magnetic represents an almost Atlanta Falcons-esque turnaround for the band after the disaster that was the last seven (!) years. If the band weren't Metallica, would this be on my top five? Probably not. But what makes this album what it is is the fact that it is Metallica. Is.

There's no argument on this side of the keyboard that "Death" rehashes earlier Metallica themes: war, death, political malfeasance, ironic anger, all of that stuff that makes for a good Metallica album. Really, it's sort of like The Rolling Stones' "A Bigger Bang": a victory lap. These guys proved they could rock again, and they get credit from me. In fact, I find it to be the best of the big rock albums of 2008, better than GNR's latest and AC/DC's "Black Ice".

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!

There are moments on "Lazarus" that are vintage Cave. "Lie Down Here (and Be My Girl)" sounds like "Murder Ballads" and the song "Deanna" had dirty, forbidden sex. I definitely prefer the newest release from Cave to albums like "No More Shall We Part", which was very good but overly depressing. "Lazarus" is more dynamic than anything the band has done in years.

1. Juno - The Soundtrack

Now, this selection is controversial on more than one account. One, it was (sort of) released in December of 2007. But not really. It was really released on CD on January 8, 2008, so I'll count it. Secondly, it is a soundtrack and not an album by a singular artist or band. But that's sort of how I feel about music in 2008 as a whole. It was a year of singles and catchy tunes competing to come out on top, a virtual pop slobberknocker of a year. And Juno came out on top.

It's a selection that won't please the hipsters or whatever faction constitutes the opposite of hipsters. It's a cop-out, sort of, and I accept that. But it is a damn fine collection of songs. Most people remember the Kimya Dawson tunes - like "Tire Swing" and "So Nice So Smart" - but there are other gems on there. Barry Louis Polisar's "All I Want is You" (which plays over the introductory credits) is excellent.

To take it away from the music for a bit and talk about the actual selection of the music, it's interesting to note that Ellen Page convinced Jason Reitman to use Kimya Dawson's music in the movie. Diablo Cody had Juno listening to, I don't know, something 80s-ish in the script, but Ellen Page, in thinking about the character, thought she would listen to something a little more earnest and yet sarcastic simultaneously. The result is a collection of new-folk tunes that people didn't know they would like.

Other great selections include: "A Well-Respected Man" by The Kinks (Which I can't seem to run down on Rhapsody) and "Sea of Love" by Cat Power.

The Bonuses

Protest the Hero - Fortress

The only reason this didn't make it into THE TOP FIVE is that I just recently got into this band. A guy at work recommended them to me, and I resisted, because the band name suggests that they sound like Rise Against, a group that doesn't impress me.

Obviously, the name doesn't do this album justice. It's a new-prog sort of thing, like Coheed and Cambria but way more metal. The guitar playing is impeccable. You would think that so much distortion would just sound like sludge, but it's actually very precise and clear. Listen to the first track, "Bloodmeat."

Guns N Roses - Chinese Democracy

Okay, so I won't talk about whether or not Chinese Democracy is "14 years good", as is the standard among fanboys all over the internet. It isn't, but that's not the point. It is a very good to pretty excellent record, even for Guns N Roses, and a solid offering for 2008. "Shackler's Revenge", especially, is a pretty tough track. "IRS" and the title track are also pretty awesome, but I can't help but feel like something is missing from it.

It's almost as if "Chinese Democracy" and The "Use Your Illusion" albums should be switched in the time line, you know? I'm not talking about quality here but length and creativity. Okay, so I broke the rule from the beginning of the review. It's just funny that "Illusions" is (as a whole) underrated for GNFNR and yet it's so damned creative. A double album! I don't know. Maybe a double album of Guns N Roses stuff wouldn't have been welcome in 2008. Anyway.

While I miss Slash, Duff, and Izzy (but not Matt Sorum) as much as the next guy, I think the line-up - a contingent at least as big as those pushing for true democracy in China - is perfect for this album. Robin Finck and Buckethead pull some pretty astounding guitar work out of what I can only imagine to be intense (and intensely awkward) recording sessions. If you don't like the review, I'm sorry for you, not sorry for me.

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges

There are plenty of good moments on this record, including "Highly Suspicious", which showcases one of the biggest disparities between verse and chorus of any song I've ever heard. One part Prince; One part Cookie Monster; One part paranoid psychotic. Great album.

Honorable Mentions:

Hard Sun - Eddie Vedder (From the Into the Wild Soundtrack)
I never listened to the entire album, but this track is amazing.
I Kissed a Girl - Katy Perry
Too catchy for its own good (and indicative of the sort of timid, pseudo-closeted-Joe-Francis-lesbianism one can find in downtown Athens on weekend-by-weekend basis[It's like a PG Girls Gone Wild]), this song ruled my life for about a week.
A-Punk - Vampire Weekend
I didn't think that the album matched up with the single, but it's still pretty good. A-Punk is its crown jewel, though, and deserves to be mentioned.
MGMT - Time to Pretend
Extremely catchy garage-y electro-pop.
Weezer - Pork and Beans
One of the silliest songs they've done. Thanks. I eat the candy with my pork and beans. Awesome.
M.I.A. - Paper Planes
The song was everywhere, and the chorus makes me feign shooting someone. It deserves to be on this list.

Dec 11, 2008

Where Did Morality Originate?

I've taken a purposeful hiatus from blogging. The final stretch of coursework here at UGA has been stressful, so - like the teeming masses - I had to let go of a few habits I could not afford to keep up.

But now I have something I want to talk about, so I'm back.

Evolution. Now, I have to preface this post by saying that I am not a scientist. I'm a mere observer (and, sometimes, a bad one). But I have become interested in science - evolutionary biology, to be exact - and I'm only in the beginning stages of learning about the principles of EB.

For example, I learned this past weekend that we, in fact, did not evolve from chimpanzees (or any other modern simian) but only share a similar ancestor. In fact, there is another ape (and I will use that term loosely) that is as close a relative to us as the chimp. I. Did. Not. Know. That.

It may sound idiotic that I thought we evolved from chimpanzees. Well, it was. I assumed that, since we share about 98% of our DNA, somehow that translated that in my mind to equating us as evolutionary sons of the similar-looking beings. It is not the case. There was a great genetic divergence about five million years ago, when the first modern-ish hominids began to appear.

But that is all background noise for what interests me today. I've been reading some scientific blogs lately - thankfully written (mostly) in lay terms for idiots like myself - and while perusing a sit today, I found a few facts out that relate to a discussion I had with a couple of friends earlier in the football season. The question is vexing and has stuck in my craw for the last few months.

The question is: if morality did not begin with the proliferation of religion, then where did it come from?

Now, saying that there is an innate morality doesn't make for a good argument. Plus, that's not a satisfying answer. Furthermore, where does that innate morality come from? And so on and so forth.

Well, I have a semi-researched answer to that question, and it has to do with evolution and genetics. Up to this point, the argument has been mostly philosophical. One of the great roadblocks to coming to a conclusion is the question: Where did we get the idea that murder, rape, etc. is not acceptable? A friend of ours argues that, if not for religion (or God, I suppose) we would not possess these supposedly innate tools of society.

However, one of the tenets of the argument is that evolution supports the "survival of the fittest". Most people, including myself until recently, equated the saying with the Business principle context, that survivor = aggressor. Philosophically, it makes sense. The big guy at the end of the bar, with no sense of moral responsibility, clobbers everybody with his pistol. Thus, he ends up with the girl (albeit by raping her, but still).

But that's not necessarily how natural selection works. Look around at all of the emo kids in your town. Not aggro. Empirical evidence, in that respects, disproves the philosophical underpinning of that theory. In the words of Michael Le Page, "On the contrary, it can mean anything from the best camouflaged or the most fecund to the cleverest or the most cooperative. Forget Rambo, think Einstein or Gandhi."

So, with that thought in mind, I'd like to move to genetic dispersal. I argue that the dispersal of morality occurred over millions of years through the copulation of less aggressive people. Dispositions can be passed down through genetics, and the fittest can mean just about anything, in that context. Over time, people who shared these beliefs became dominant. In that respect, I think the gradual climb to cognitive, "innate" morality is fairly shallow.

In the "where does it come from" question, that's the best answer I can come up with. I don't think morality appeared. Just like the eye and toenail and anger, it evolved. I think. But that's just my hypothesis.