May 19, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Gameplay

May 17, 2010

What I've Been Listening to - Brad Sucks

O, I Think I Smell a Rat

O, I Think I Smell a Rat

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I Am Skeptical of S.E. Cupp

I had never heard of S.E. Cupp until this past Friday, when she appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher. Cupp - who looks like Sophia Bush with an Ivy League education - has written a book entitled Losing Our Religion: How Blah Blah Blah Liberal Media Blah Blah. She is ostensibly a FOX News hack, but here's the thing: She's an avowed atheist.

There's a part of me that wants to cheer. Even though she is a conservative, she has all the characteristics of the kind of conservative I kind of dig. Cupp is smart, witty, and an extremely talented writer. She has a Republican Diablo Cody sort of style, and that is not to demean her. Her prose is entirely readable, especially if you don't pay attention to what she's actually saying.

Something doesn't seem quite right, though. I'm about to criticize her for how she talks about religion, not because I disagree with what she's saying - I certainly do - but because she seems to be disingenuous about her convictions. Let me be clear, however: my position isn't that S.E. Cupp isn't an atheist. I am not doubting her atheism, on the whole. My interests don't lie in defining atheism, since it is a mere rejection of religiosity. There is no dogma surrounding it, and I don't find any sort of real brotherhood (or sisterhood) in those who are like-minded. Cupp is free and welcome to defend religion with every waking breath.

That being said, how she represents herself, and, similarly, how she is perhaps being used by the "FOX Right" is of vital interest to me, because I see something at work here, and I want to point it out as quickly and as succinctly as I can.

While someone like Ann Coulter wields her conservatism right out front (and I am not the first person to compare her to Coulter, and I need not go into her antics), Cupp seems to be a straw man atheist. It's not that she defends the religious. That is admirable, in a way. Not every atheist needs to fit the same mold; that's the role of the religious (hoo-wah!).

No, it's the extent to which she defends the religious that seems to elicit a quizzical brow-raising. The way that she grimaces every time she utters the words "militant atheist" conveys a disgust that is palatable to the larger conservative / Christian worldview (up to and including those who watch FOX News), and I have to say that this is what arouses my skepticism. While Cupp herself may be sincere about her distaste for the way that atheists behave as a whole, what she has created in the realm of FOX News is an archetype that can be used by the right in order to discredit atheism itself.

For example, Cupp's views on the evolution/creationism debate border on being apologist. An article published in The Washington Post takes Cupp to task for blurring the lines in the argument.

S.E. Cupp's handling of science and religion misrepresents the nature of evolution, obscures the science of biology and dismisses the deeply held religious views of most Christians outside of the fundamentalist subculture.

Cupp presents creationism as "a counterargument" to evolution, yet never provides a clear account of what evolution is or what she thinks creationism means.
~Joshua Rosenau, public information project director at the National Center for Science Education

This is a curious position for an atheist to hold, but that is not what is important. What is important is that this position panders to the very people who already think lowly of atheists in general. Many critics have called her the "atheist Alan Colmes," which I personally think is unfair and, more importantly, untrue. She will not be a whipping post for the network. I recently (a few minutes ago) watched an interview she had with Mike Huckabee and some other FOX News contributor, and the three of them agreed on all the same points about what the media is doing to the country by attacking Christianity (which is, of course, the only religion in the U.S.).

And yet, the seed of a great idea lies in all of this. For far too long, people have been ranting about how no one in this country gets along anymore. FOX News, above all, has been guilty of creating a schism between people of the left and right by vilifying them openly on the air, so perhaps we can look at this through rose colored glasses. Maybe we should say that it's not such a bad thing that (a) FOX News has an atheist who is a regular contributor and (b) that an atheist is treated well on FOX. I personally don't buy it, but, then again, Christopher Hitchens has been on Bill O'Reilly's and Sean Hannity's be reviled. We shall see if this experiment works, but I have my doubts that S.E. Cupp is going anywhere in the near future.

May 5, 2010

What's Wrong with Network Science Fiction

Entertainment Weekly posted an article about the dip in ratings for shows like 'V', 'FlashForward', and 'Lost', which are all ostensibly science fiction shows. Why are these shows struggling? Here are some possibilities:

1) The shows kind of suck: What happens too often is that the whole of a genre is judged based on a few examples. The failure of Harper's Island more or less killed the horror tv subgenre for major networks. It says nothing about horror shows in general, just Harper's Island. TV Execs are reticent to flood the market with a single type of show if the flagship show doesn't work.

However, maybe it should be acknowledged that Lost isn't at the top of its game right now and V and FlashForward weren't really that good to begin with. It doesn't say that people don't like science fiction; it just says that maybe people don't like these science fictions shows. The ratings for both V and FlashForward plummeted after the first episodes, so maybe it's just not their bowl of grits. I personally like both shows (somewhat), but I can see why the general public may not be interested in them.

2) They don't account for the average tv watcher: This point has the potential of condescending to 'the masses', but the shows are kind of complicated and geeky in their lore. Lost may have alienated casual fans because of how different and complicated it is from the first season. They tune in and go, "What the hell's happening?" and then turn it on. It's not a show you can pick up in the sixth season, and, perhaps, it's not a show that people can keep up with after a hiatus. It's challenging to remember all of the details of the show, so I'm sure plenty of people have turned it off.

Additionally, and this may be a subset of 2), there are a lot of characters. It's difficult to pick up on shows that have so many different mutual story lines and situations.

3) The scheduling is messed up: After watching four episodes of the new shows, I wanted more! Four test shows with a hiatus wasn't enough to keep me interested, and now I'm feeling sluggish about getting back into them. That's probably my single biggest complaint. Had they produced more episodes and played them in a row, I would have felt more satisfied. But because they snapped the shows off - at critical moments, no less - people more or less lost interest.

4) Too much separates the shows: This may be a vastly idiosyncratic point, but I'm gonna make it anyway. V and Lost are completely, utterly different shows, and to lump them together is a mistake. Plenty of people who watch Lost are just fans of Lost, not science fiction as a whole. Assuming that viewers will carry over from one show to the other is problematic, to say the least. TV viewers are accustomed to (and sometimes request) samey shows, like all of the cop and crime dramas that permeate all networks at the moment. There are much smaller gaps between them than Lost, V, FlashForward, and Fringe. The spectrum of science fiction falls under a wide umbrella, so there will be disparities in the shows.

5) Maybe Lost was a fluke: Or, maybe Lost is the token science fiction show. Perhaps people can stomach one or two really popular science fiction shows at a time. The X-Files were really popular a decade ago, but (a) the show was really very good and (b) it was one of the only popular science fiction shows of the time period. It's only a hypothesis, but it can't be that far off the mark. And, the longer the show runs, the more Lost has upped the ante on the suspension of disbelief. The first season had a few mysterious things, but it was more character- than plot-driven. For the past two seasons, the show has been barreling along at such a pace as to undermine the personal element somewhat. So maybe people are less interested in the story of the survivors of Oceanic 815 than the people.

May 2, 2010

First Thoughts on 'Heavy Rain' - No Spoilers

I liked it. I'll have more to say in a mini-podcast about the game, but overall I thought it was an engaging experience. It's less of a game, in my opinion, than an interactive movie - a grown up choose-your-own-adventure - but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Here are some first thoughts.

What is good:
* The story - I won't go into the particulars of the story here (wait for the spoilers section of the podcast), but there are several plot threads that keep the game fresh throughout. The game starts off slow, but once the story gets rolling along, it's hard to put the controller down.
* Multiple endings - there are well over twenty epilogues for the game, though I believe the basic story itself stays the same. This gives the game definite replay value. I'm probably going to buy the game so I can play through the game a few more times.
* The characters - The great thing about 'Heavy Rain' is that you can control the actions of the characters and mold the game to your personality, or you can make each character as aloof or downright evil as you like. Based on how you react to certain situations, the story changes along the way. It's really intriguing.

What sucks:
* The controls - Learning the control mechanics is quite frustrating early on, and there are points in the game when you will spin around and pivot several times before getting to where you're going. The system is not intuitive whatsoever, and it can be irritating. You use R2 to walk and the left analog stick to change direction. When you enter a room, the control shifts, and you might turn around and back out of a room before gathering your bearings.
* The voice acting - It becomes obvious very on that the developers are European. You'll catch an accent here or there that is out of place, and sometimes the voice acting distracts from the story itself. That being said, the writing is actually pretty good, so it's a shame that the voice acting is so bad.
* The first act - you have to persist through brushing your teeth, taking a shower, playing with the kids, all before getting to the meat of the story. Seriously, the game did not need such an extensive tutorial. It's quite boring until about half an hour to forty-five minutes into the game. However, the prologue sets up the story very well.

Overall, I think the game is at least worth a rental and is perhaps worth buying (I'm definitely going to buy it). And, now that I've decided to buy it, I saw over at Amazon that the game is on sale for $46.99 WITH A $10 off coupon for the next video game purchase. If you're craving a game with a very different, almost revolutionary user interface, then 'Heavy Rain' is a no-brainer.

Check out the podcast later for more in-depth discussion about the game.

Here is a non-spoiler-ific review of 'Heavy Rain'.