Dec 132007
Any time it snows in the south, you can count on a few specific things happening. First, everyone goes to the grocery store to buy milk and bread (you know, for milk sandwiches). Second, your transplanted northern neighbor or friend laughs at that phenomenon (which is justified) and claims that because he’s from the north, he “knows how to drive in snow.” I tell you now, that man is lying. He lies without malice, to be sure—he honestly believes what he just told you. But he does not know how to drive in snow, and most especially he cannot drive safely in snow in the south.

As you probably know, there was a great big snowstorm in the northeast today. Doubtless you are imagining that plows rolled out like clockwork to clear the streets, but that’s not what happened. Instead, as the snow fell, almost all the schools and businesses let out early simultaneously, resulting in what I always think of as the Raleigh Effect, a case of traffic paralysis resulting from an seemingly manageable winter weather event. The source of the problem in this case? Yankees who thought they could drive on snow. The result? Well, traffic was barely moving on South Street. Ralph’s friend spent two hours going one block. And this is in Waltham MA.

The truth is that Yankees can’t drive on snow because they almost never get a chance to learn how. The northeastern states all have very capable infrastructure that usually clears ice and snow off the roads fairly promptly. When that doesn’t happen, in this case because plows can’t clear roads that are full of cars, Yankee drivers are just as helpless as the rest of us. Your Yankee friend probably does know how to drive on roads that are a bit slushy, but he’s almost certainly not equipped to drive on snowy roads in the South, where snowplows and salt trucks are about as common as an egg cream. Do not let him get in his car; he is in danger.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “That may be true of citified Yankees, but what about those who come from the rural regions? They probably know how to drive on the powder.” And you’re right—New Englanders who don’t come from the city are much more likely to be able to drive on actual snow. However, you must not let them drive on snow in the South! They are almost certain to wreck, though not out of any fault of their own. You see, these proud country men and women will get into their vehicles, drive confidently out onto the snowy streets, and promptly be hit by some jackass Southerner who thinks his 4 wheel drive means he knows how to drive in snow. Unless they’re lucky, in which case they’ll get hit by the southerner who thought his Honda was light enough to stay on top of the snow.

This is the painful truth your friend has not yet learned: Most likely, he actually doesn’t know how to drive on a snowy road. Even if he does, this amounts only to overconfidence that will result in an accident due to the inevitable chaos of Southerners (who know even less about driving on snow than city Yankees) trying to get to the store because they’ve run out of fixin’s for their milk sandwiches. Dissuade that man from getting in his car if you can… driving on snow, especially in the South, will only result in dents, dings, or a totaled car.

Posts the next couple of weeks will be sporadic as I get some travel in around the holidays. I shall return with more commentary in the new year.

Dec 082007
As Tin Man, the Sci-Fi Channel’s “re-imagining” of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz entered its fifth hour, I found myself wishing that I was watching The Wiz instead. I don’t mean that The Wiz was a better piece of cinema than the new mini-series, though arguably it was more visually inventive. However, it shared an important virtue with the book and the original movie musical that the present adaptation lacks: it knew what it was. The Oz story is not a sophisticated adult story about contemporary morality, it is a child’s story about wonder and adventure. It can be turned into something more sophisticated, with enough effort, but that’s a task at which Tin Man manifestly failed.

The presentation looked more sophisticated, I grant. But dressing people up in black leather does not, in fact, make for a sophisticated story. All this dark, steampunk set-dressing looks pretty cool, but it doesn’t really fit with the theme of magical little girls who save their world with the power of love. The more adult visuals simply didn’t mesh with the story that was presented. As a result, I felt a certain dissonance, as if I were seeing Strawberry Shortcake depicted as a dominatrix.

And while the story was unsatisfying on its own merits—a tale of a counterproductive MacGuffin fetch quest that heavily involves amnesia, of all damn things—it was even less satisfying as a re-imagining of Baum’s original. When you re-imagine something, you ought to say something new, otherwise you’re just making fan fiction. But Tin Man is essentially childish in its presentation of good and evil, and the only adaptations it makes to Baum’s world are to insert stock elements from other sci-fi worlds and movies, as well as importing Nurse Ratched’s hair. You can read Wizard of Oz crossovers at if that’s what you want; there’s no reason to make a movie out of them.

Don’t misunderstand me, Tin Man isn’t bad. It looks nice, and the actors largely do a good job (although the child who plays little DG was not very good). The music leaves something to be desired, but doesn’t offend. But Tin Man just feels unnecessary, a superfluous bit of fluff trying to staple a grown-up look onto a childish and irrelevant story.

The Sci-Fi channel is a curious contradiction. Most of its original series (at present, anyway) are actually pretty good, and their re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica may be the best scripted show on television. Their original movies, however, are largely pathetic drivel starring actors that have washed up on this shore after fading from better careers. And then there are the mini-series, which are typically of very high quality, probably because many of them are adapted from books. In this case, it seems, the movie quality bled into the mini-series. Although the production values of Tin Man were high, the writing was poor, and in the end, you’d be better off watching the original, rather than this fanfic.

Child’s Play, again… plus, game reviews!

 charity, reviews, video games  Comments Off on Child’s Play, again… plus, game reviews!
Dec 032007
I went over to the Child’s Play site this morning to check out how things were progressing. Apparently, they’re up to $450k, with several weeks left to go. If you haven’t already, please add your own 5 or 6 bucks to the pot. Readers in North Carolina will be pleased to know that Children’s Hospital of North Carolina (in Chapel Hill) now has their own wish list available. Coverage of the 50 states seems to be increasing daily, so if you’re concerned with giving locally, check it out. Most of the eastern states have at least one hospital you can give to. Canadians, Brits, and our friends down under in Australia and New Zealand have hospitals on the list, too. If you don’t want to give games or gaming systems, remember that there’s also a huge demand for (non-absorbent) toys, books, board games, and DVDs. Just click on a hospital you like, or the PayPal direct donation link.

You don’t have to like the Penny Arcade guys (hey, plenty of people don’t) to like what they’re doing. The recent game-reviewing spat (exacerbated by Gerstmann’s suspicious firing) is really relatively tame compared to their past feuds with, say Jack Thompson. Anyway, I think it comparatively obvious that Gabe is right—game reviews have adopted the approach of newspaper movie reviews and devolved to being dominated by their metrics. This is the same phenomenon that creates those movie print ads that heavily feature 5-star raves and “two thumbs up”. Some gaming companies adopt the same approach, touting 10/10 scores and the like, to the exclusion of giving any idea what the gameplay is about. Consider Kane and Lynch, for example, the game that kicked off the present controversy. The advertisements feature a bunch of cutscene violence that looks decent, so I know the game is about killing dudes with reasonable graphical fidelity. But what’s the story? How does it feel to play the game? Why is ‘killing dudes with reasonable graphical fidelity’—a property shared by no less than 50% of extant games—their marketing focus? This is different from asking why it was their development focus; that’s a question for its own post.

The length and breadth of most gameplay, paired with the diversity of personal goals associated with a person’s approach to gaming, calls for a more measured and less numeric approach. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a fantastic platformer wedded to a charming story and a dull combat system. For the platforming enthusiast it is a game sent from heaven, but someone who loves RPGs, fighting games, or 3rd person adventures might justifiably hate it. Game reviewers need to consider an alternative approach to reviewing games, one that pays less attention to a dubious and corrupt quantification scheme and puts more effort into opening a window for the reader onto the experience of playing.

Dec 012007
Perhaps you have already heard about the 14-year-old Washington boy who refused extended blood transfusion treatment and therefore died (some additional info can be found here and here). Obviously, this is a terrible tragedy for his family, and I certainly hope his aunt is a true believer because if she is not then she’ll have no solace for the fact that her ignorant superstitious nonsense killed him. The judge in the case, who upheld the boy’s right to refuse the transfusions, will come in for a great deal of much-warranted scrutiny, but the fact of the matter is that it is the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deserve the scrutiny and the blame for what has happened.

I think anyone reading about this will have a knee-jerk reaction that the judge in the case made the wrong decision. The AP quotes judge Meyer as saying that the boy understood the consequences of his decision, which may well be true, in an analytical sense. Young Mr. Lindberg probably understood that he would die, but there are very few 14-year-olds, let alone 14-year-old boys, who have a good appreciation of what that means. Death isn’t something you understand unless you’ve spent some time around it, brushed up against it. And think of the teenagers you know. Would you trust any of them with life-and-death decisions? Hell, we don’t trust 14-year-olds with cars. It’s also true that the boy’s parents, who did not have custody of him, wanted him to take the transfusion—could his relationship with them have played a role in his decision?

So Meyer can be justly criticized on the grounds that Lindberg was not competent to make that judgment, or that it wasn’t Lindberg’s judgment to make. However, it should also be pointed out that this was not some one-off transfusion that would instantly cure the boy. The treatment under discussion was a long course of transfusions that would run alongside the chemotherapy. And according to the doctors the prognosis was that he had a 70% chance of surviving the ordeal, with all the discomfort and side effects to boot. Being forced to undergo the treatment against his will would certainly make this harder on the boy, and on his doctors.

That said, I personally feel that Meyer should have erred on the side of curing the boy. Lindberg’s decision was dangerous and self-destructive, and this should have indicated the opposite ruling. However, I wasn’t present for the hearing, and the decision Meyer did make wasn’t groundless. Maybe there was something in Lindberg’s demeanor suggesting greater maturity than his age would typically indicate.

You’ll note that I didn’t say anything about the religious sensibilities. That is because I give them no weight at all. Lots of people dislike the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a variety of reasons, but I’ve never been bothered by them; certainly not to the degree that I am bothered by other odious “Christians” living a life of hatred at maximum volume. So this is not a statement emerging from a blanket dislike: their attitude towards transfusion reeks of ignorance, superstition, and flat-earthism. The soul, if it exists, is not bound up in any bodily organ or fluid. Certainly people who have received massive blood transfusions have not absorbed someone else’s soul—or at least I’m sure that didn’t happen to me.

There is a bright line with religious beliefs, especially laws of practice: they’re fine as long as they don’t hurt anyone. We in America do not allow cannibalism or polygamy, although these are both religious practices with long histories. Nor are we tolerant of female genital mutilation, stoning people to death for violations of the laws of Leviticus, or human sacrifice, religious practices all. This indoctrination against lifesaving medical procedures is just as dangerous and fatal, especially when the subject is a teenager lacking in perspective and a diversity of life experiences. Judge Meyer made a mistake by allowing Lindberg to finish the deed, but it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their purity practices that killed that boy. That ought not be allowed.