Tuesday, May 31, 2011

#23.5 -- Burrito Friday

A special pre-update for the week of May 30th.

Please enjoy a short film we made detailing the intricacies of our favorite local holiday: Burrito Friday

How do you celebrate?

Look for full update tomorrow.

-- Ghost Little and Doberman
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

#23 -- The Diffused States (Part 1)

"No, instead, you were risking a thousand self-righteous wanna-be superheroes ripping out your darkest secrets, and then displaying those blackened insides in glass fucking jars, whose curves magnify and enlarge to show the decayed organs' texture!"

You know the story because you've read your history, because it's required by law in this country, and because you're not an idiot. However, for this piece, my editor and I are in agreement that jogging your memory is a necessity for understanding where a concept like the D3 comes from.

In layman's terms, all five human senses had been "hacked." Hack is an ugly word though, it implies that you enter a computer, urgent fingers slithering across a keyboard, hammering some green characters into a command prompt, and stealing some passwords or catching some packets, or, God forbid, downloading the money!

No, what humanity created was something weirder and uglier. If it were a drug, the FDA would not have approved it, not even for testing on rabbits. 

Ostensibly, at any time, anybody could piggyback onto any one of your five senses like it was a court-ordered phone tap. And they could record this hack. All you had to put down as collateral was your life. If the link was interrupted by weather or a bad signal or a loss of power, both parties' brains got cooked like curry. This resulted in a lot of smoking corpses. The media initially referred to it as sense-hijack, which was a stupid name, so in a tongue-in-cheek response, the hacker community started calling it was called 6-Jack. You can probably guess why. You'll never be redeemed, Shyamalan. :P

The slang-term caught on, naturally, especially when things went tits-up. This happened very quickly, changing American society, not over the course of generations or even years, but in weeks and months. Why America, specifically America? 


It was easy, 6-Jacking. Americans like easy. 

If you could disregard the risk of premature dying, that is. But then again, Americans don't give a shit about premature dying. Americans invented Doritos, and they invented space travel (except they didn't), and they made both Russian Roulette and lysergic acid diethylamide hip, man. Just fucking go for it, pussy.

So the loosely-documented origins that I lifted from various message board threads and cached browser histories state that a group of Internet pirates cobbled the code together one particularly hot summer, who knows which one really? Once the hack went live and began to be distributed online by third-party hosts, the griefers, the lurkers, the addicts, the trolls, and the ballsiest of hackers went after the big fish with the biggest things to hide. 

Imagine that -- the truest truths, hard evidence, heroic risks. These guys wanted to be heroes and they picked good, visible, tangible targets. 

Nobody sides against that. Politicians were torn to shreds. Morally-warped members of the media were exposed as greedy shit-eating liars. CEOs of international corporations and banks shuddered under a tsunami of footage disproving almost everything they said. Deniability was no longer an option.

It was effective, attacking people personally -– attacking their very lives and legacies, and revealing their secrets publicly to the world. It was the modern equivalent of bolting a man into the stocks in town square so kids could huck firecrackers, lemons, and other citrus, at you.

Pirates with the cajones to risk their lives just 6-Jacked people they themselves thought deserved it. They got the footage or the audio or whichever was the most incriminating, and then they leaked it to every public cloud that they could. Amazon's Cloud Drive crashed overnight when word got out that, yeah, this shit was there, it was happening, and it was real, but the thing that chilled people's bones was that this made the associated press obsolete. There was no story that needed to be told, the footage was raw, unfiltered, and with no "agenda" -– and it was there. The evidence was too much for the courts to ignore. Nobody could hide. To the hackers' delight, the masses caught vindication fever.

You couldn't lie. You couldn't speak, you couldn't hear, you couldn't write something down without there being a risk that you were being watched, and watched not simply by a government whose raggedy architecture you
'd learned to navigate. No, instead, you were risking a thousand self-righteous wanna-be superheroes ripping out your darkest secrets, and then displaying those blackened insides in glass fucking jars, whose curves magnify and enlarge to show the decayed organs' texture! 

There was no deniability. This was a bare-knuckled fist-fight in the middle of a mine-field. Anybody that fought, died -- emphatically. Everybody that could fall, fell -- violently.

The World Series was canceled that fall and we all cheered. Half of the teams' rosters were suspended because of PED use, and we had proof. The US presidential election that year was also canceled when a few choice details about those running were leaked to the public. One candidate ate a hollow-point when he heard a recording of his own sound-jack replayed: him confessing to a priest that it would be entirely compromising if anybody found out that he had forced a girl to get a his illegitimate baby "taken care of" when the candidate was in his twenties. The other candidate, hoping to escape the reach of the signals, went into seclusion in the Appalachian Mountains with his 16 year-old Brazilian mistress and was later killed during an attempted 6-Jack (touch, in that instance, the infamous partial file eventually leaked (as all best things do), as well all are well aware).

That was a rough year for everybody. The American economy only endured because people went into a trance that the media likened to the early 21st century, obsessing over each day's new detail. The irony was that this time, we were doing it to ourselves. And for that reason, the United States wasn
't coming out of this one alive.

It was going downhill fast. The endgame was rock-bottom. It was just a matter of getting there, and how long it would take.

Lying, in every possible form, became too big of a risk. The notion that that there was somebody behind your eyes, silent, just chilling out inside your fucking skull was terrifying, no matter what kind of person you were.

A lot of people died. A lot of signals were interrupted.
Always on, omnipresent high-fidelity wireless was too much of a part of the societal structure, a veritable fifth appendage that moved faster than our brains could comprehend. Wireless network providers were torn between upping the speed and reliability of their networks to prevent disconnection fatalities and the fact that the data being transferred was completely confidential (and damaging to their very corporations). 

They weren't about to hand over control of their networks to the government though, and they couldn't very well shut those things down. The American economy would dissolve, even if the fidelity was reduced a little, we were reliant on our business' rapidity. Control it, ride it out, maybe contain it on a good day. Network carriers needed to earn back some credibility. They pushed the 6-Jacking technology forward into a less volatile direction as a sign of good faith. Semi-cybernetic brains, entirely speculative until then, were bumped up as an R&D priority. Expensive, but attainable. They worked to shield the signals -- sometimes, but not always. Others continued to try to hide themselves and escape the signals in seclusion. The hackers developed work-arounds even faster.

Of course they did. They did it because they could. They considered themselves white knights, and please let our grandchildren's history books show that they had a point. The hackers weren
't going to be stopped by any corporate giant -- they'd written the original fucking source code themselves, nobody was going to beat them in there.

Watching these multinational leviathans try to keep up with a billion insomniac piranhas was good sport. Always ten steps ahead, moving at the speed of a silicon hare with a chip on his shoulder, a good hacker always covered his tracks and always gave the finger to the motherfuckers that deserved it the most. There was always a way in and if they couldn't find it, they'd roll the dice and 6-Jack somebody that did. 

Most of them were already employed at the larger telcos anyway. A few code jockeys being paid less than most unionized transit workers had become the most powerful members of a new military industrial complex. They were at war, they had their targets, their vendettas, their fantasized notions of justice. Bad time to be anybody with money and secrets. 

Bad time to have money.

The fear was put back into humanity. God -- or pantheon of venomous trickster Oni -- was always watching, and he hated you so much that he'd risk his life to catch you in the act. America was created by exiled misfits pushing scattershot religions, so it was fitting that it would be undone by the same kind of people. These hackers just worshiped netcode instead of Puritan chastity. They had their own languages, cultures, sub-cultures, deities, and past-times. They thought they ran the fucking place. In time, their bravado grew, and they viewed themselves as true patriots. That ego would become one with the generation as it grew up, the "Jacks," and would catalyze the creation of the D3's some years later. 

Their meekness would give them pause when they saw the consequences. They faltered soon. The hackers invented 6-Jacking, but they could never have invented something as artful as the D3.

There was still an argument to be had back then. People hadn't quite decided what the 6-Jacks meant yet. Was it righteousness? Arrogance? Masochism, suicidal tendencies, or boredom? It was, like any historic fulcrum, misguided anger, looking for somebody to shit on. The talking heads annoyed the hacker mob more than anything in the world -- annoying a hacker was like taunting a hippopotamus, and according to the V.i., hippopotami kill for fun.

The hacks started coming in from around the world, not just the US. It all was focused on America, targeted like a fat kid on the playground, rich with old money and a wet nose. Knock him down, kick his ribs, watch him squirm and fight back with weepy squeals. The desperation in America’s eyes was delicious. For the first time in a long time, the world stage was host to a snuff film, and there was no question that, yeah, we knew this might be it. 

So when America fought all the harder, the spectacle only grew. Yes, other governments were shaken up by the 6-Jack but none on the same level as the US. There was enough agility and awareness in the leading members of the European Union and cohesion between the larger telcos, particularly in Europe and Asia, that the 6-Jacking was more trouble than it was worth. Besides, if you were a pirate living in Sweden, it was more fun to provoke the parasites living on America’s diseased carcass than it was to attack your country's government that legitimately recognized your movement as a political party.

America was a child on a tantrum. Nobody came to her aid. She had nothing to offer. She was bratty and everybody knew her economy could shit the bed at any second, so there wasn't any money on the table. What's that going to do to a country? What's that going to do to a country like America? What's it going to do to a country with an ego as big as America? It blows a fuse. It breaks. It was no surprise that there was a divide within the country, sides with their own interpretation of what was going on.

The country is being judged by God himself! It
's a sign of a Technopocalypse! We brought it upon ourselves, and we must learn from our mistakes! It’s your fault! It’s all your fucking fault!

The United States were carved, at gunpoint, into five micro-nations: The Kingdom, The Republic of the Western Sierras, Texas & the Sooners, The New Confederacy, and The Commonwealth of Atlantic America and The Eastern Beltway (more commonly referred to simply as "Blue England" because it was full of snobby little shits that simultaneously hated and loved each other). They all had focused opinions on how to govern themselves, and in a stroke of genius, this schism was executed without a single shot fired.
The mental exhaustion was so omnipresent by then that going our separate ways was, for once, the path of least resistance. There was so much fear, uncertainty, and pent-up mistrust that the new local governments rose to power, albeit meager power, and handed down simple marching orders to their regions. Everybody chose sides, either returning home to where they grew up or deciding which new micro-nation they identified the most with. We all watched armies move into position, then watched walls go up (both physical and digital), then watched the weapons be loaded and aimed. 

And then nothing.

Just that simple. The Diffused States of America were born.

It was really quiet. We were all trampled, longing for time to recover from the trauma the divided nation had to mourn.

Ours were countries with wandering minds. Young, free, and content. But not happy -- a mood we wallowed in without empathy. A large amount of the telecommunications infrastructure fell into disrepair, and the technology scared the shit out of most people anyway, so most didn't care. The V.i., the Virtual infrastructure that would end up governing and regulating data the world over, was still decades away. Darren Pent had conceived of the concept around the time of the Schism, but his financial backers balked –- he had to raise the money himself.

Nobody felt sorry for us, the Diffused States. By then, other nations around the world reported what was happening to the US in total disgust. They laughed, mocked, and offered no sympathy. They did the only logical thing: they amputated America from the global stage. We were lower caste now. We weren
't winners. We weren't scrappy underdogs. We weren't leaders, we weren't admirable, or even enviable. We'd always been told, as Americans, that we'd eventually be left behind, that promises of the Space-Age would eventually fail. Natural resources would eventually be exhausted, and the blessing of Manifest Destiny would fade, eroding our platform on the world stage. Initiative and inspiration were replaced with bloated false-pride. All of the emo, nihilistic punk-rockers were pretty much correct in their description of the dust-bowl America became. Maybe they all should have been more extreme in our fear. Instead, they howl prophecies and watched it all turn to ash.

What we needed was some new rock 'n roll. It was close. The D3. They were indeed coming. 

NEXT: [#25 -- The Diffused States (Part 2)] for what happens. . .

-- Doberman (is from the future)
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

#22 -- "Killzone 3" Reviewed | * ½

"It's just your gun occupying Killzone's world. If the gun was a more fun person to pal around and goof off with, then this would be acceptable. . ."

Put down your vaporizer and that bottle of Quaaludes, we're going to deconstruct concept of "winning" at online videogames. Killzone 3 does not do this. It does not win at offline videogames either. It's the expensive chew-toy that your dog perpetually ignores because it's spiky and it makes her gums bleed. It mashes its terrible haircut, let's say, for example, a weave, into a discolored biomass. Interacting with this world is a joyless affair.

There is no instance of satisfaction. It comes close at a few moments, and for that, we'll give it a point. It looks pretty, the artistic design shining much brighter than the best modern movies, especially Avatar, the high-water mark for the uninformed and the vanilla-bean flavor for people that have io9 bookmarked. For that, again, we'll give it a point, but only half of one because the game sucks at letting you admire the scenery on your own terms. The issue, the repeated issue, is that this is a very accurate depiction of what a science-fiction war on a hostile planet would be like. War fucking sucks, at least for you, non-binary-brained sentience.

There's got to be a very schizophrenic checklist behind modern first-person shooter design. The developers' priorities are strange as all hell. They must have a scenario writer, some art directors, and a trillion-trillion testers, all stitching together what they make, hoping the thing won't tear under a watchful critic's gaze. The problems with the FPS genre, and its ongoing misdirection, is that its developers assume "go" is the only word worth putting money into. If you aren't running, blasting, or running to where you can start blasting again, you're wasting your publisher's rendering money. 

Unless the story demands that you "go" at all times, making that your only command dehumanizes the urgency. What drives a gunfight? Urgency. Who do we play as? A human being. Watching a marathon is not exciting because that's only 1/10th of a human being running down the road. Watching a guy that train for a marathon, run it, puke, finish in 108th place, and then goes back to building birdhouses, proving that he could indeed run the marathon with the right humanity and commitment, that gives you excitement and urgency in the race. It makes every footfall a thrill.  

Rocky is about a guy that we know should not stand a chance. Killzone 3 is a person we're just meeting, an opening band that nobody has heard of. Their music is okay. We won't look them up on MySpace later.

You never occupy the character in Killzone 3. It's just your gun occupying Killzone's world. If the gun was a more fun person to pal around and goof off with, then this would be acceptable, but see our earlier paragraph for the counterpoint: you're in a war in space where the odds are stacked against your character and stacked double against you, the player. The Helghast (baddies) want to kill Sev (you), but the game wants to kill you even more. Like a bad Vegas magician, it assumes that it's mystifying enough that you won't care that it's sleight of hand. It is not.

This isn't an even trade -- the game doesn't experience joy, so its cruelty only hurts you, the person, and when you outsmart it, it's you outsmarting the game, not the enemy. It feels like cheating somebody that doesn't care if they lose. When you poke the A.I. and lure it into a moronic chokepoint, it's pointing out a flaw in programing, not demonstrative of your tactical prowess. The object of the game is to throw dice and grenades at your scenario, and only when these things are in balance will we be granted victory. We believe that there was a way the game was "supposed to be played" in the developer's mind but the five or ten factors required for that "deliberate" vision for gameplay never arrive simultaneously. When the graphics are clicking, the A.I. is hung up. When the guns are reporting correctly, the levels are bland. When the story is getting interesting, it's quite literally happening on the other side of the planet.

There are constant problems with you clashing against the A.I. It's clear that great care was made to turn this battlefield into a visual clusterfuck of chaos, as good battlefields should be. Everything erupts in masses of dust when they explode. Small gunfire rips up cover. Plate glass is shattered when you spray bullets everywhere. Enemies reel, spraying oozy blood under gunfire. This does everything right. And it is entirely negated by the A.I. The enemies are smart. In fact, they're so smart, they realize that they can win instantly by killing you and only you. There are dozens of other soldiers on your squad, wielding what must be large bullhorns that fire dead hornets -- they can't kill a goddamn thing. 

Your opponents will kill you though. Every one of them. They know where you are at all times, they know the instant you're out of cover, they could shoot the fleas of a dog's back at 300 yards, and they know you're the only person that matters. You're the King and they're an entire opposing chess set. They're 16 queens. It's imba. 

They can blind-fire from cover, which you can't do. They can shoot through dense smoke without a dip of accuracy, which you can't do, because your senses are attached to your analog meatbag. They can shoot prone from their stomachs, which you can't do. They have infinite ammo, they can take 2 of your shots to the head (one to knock off their helmets, one to bisect their heads horizontally at the nose). We have to assume they don't have fuzzy gray filter that sluffs over their vision when they're nearing death like you do, because they fight just as hard and shoot just as flawlessly when they're one bullet from the reaper.

They have no fear. They do not panic and they cannot be taken by surprise. The last man in an enemy squad, armed with a light assault rifle and with three bullets in each of his knees, will run and dive from cover to cover. He doesn't care if you have a electric bolt-rifle, a weapon that combines the powers of Ahab and Thor into gun-form. Come on, Killzone 3, don't try to give me a story of human drama and then make my "human" enemies efficient, artificial, efficient, artificial, efficient, artificial pieces of robotic code. At least the enemies in Vanquish were robotic because they were, ya know, robots, and their fearlessness was tonally correct. This is the final immaturity in videogames. Tonal inconsistency. We only remember smiling twice while playing: 

When we first used the sniper rifle. Popping heads makes the same sound as knocking a bully off a bicycle with a water balloon filled with tree bark.

When we first used to northern-lights gun. It's the gun from District 9. It hits dudes in the chest with 1.21 jigga-watts of aurora borealis.  They explode outward with an acid-tipped whipcrack into green fog. It does have a charge mode where you hold a button to juice the fucker up, which is the oldest, most empowering feeling in games that makes you shout: "Get ready to ride the #FEARNADO, you Swedish pole-smoker!" Keiji Inafune invented this hold-charge way back in 1991 for Mega Man 4 as you primary weapon. You get to use it once or twice in Killzone 3. Brava, Killzone 3. 

The rest is using goddamn terrible guns with shitty recoil against a team of hateful game developers. They made strange design choices, putting you in a realistic / fictional war to fight that endless army of videogame soldiers. 

We've run out of patience. The game is a perfect example of everything wrong with shooters right now. It plays it safe, it's overly familiar, the things that go wrong are where the emulation of successful franchises falter, the movement "weight" is self-defeating as an attempt at realism because the artificial intelligence is insufferably artificial, the pacing is like a bad science museum tour with your younger cousin, the online leveling system makes people indifferent to playing the game, comfortable grinding their character rather than participating in a game. This grind puts players in the mindset that: "As long as I'm in the game, I'm progressing." There's no need for them to adhere to design or logic when they're always winning a little and your enjoyment hinges entirely on their ability to behave in an expected way.

Videogames are escapism for all but they're puzzles for some. For a majority, merely owning and playing is all the escapism they need. Merely interacting over the Internet with others, if only to ruin your good time, if only to run around with a shotgun like a blinded  cyclops, if only to snipe you from half a map away, racking up 5 inconsequential kills, but ruining the map balance -- that's happiness to them. It's like a toddler understanding that she can say, "No," realizing she can effect the world and elicit a reaction. The rest of the people in the world know that "No" is indeed a word that you can say, one of many, and they don't want to play that game but to the toddler, saying "No" over and over is the greatest part of her day. There's an entirely functional language that online FPS players are ignoring in favor of regressing to infancy.

In closing, the story is crude, focusing on scenery-chewing villains that never do your player-character any actual harm, falling short of any sci-fi gravitas because Mass Effect 2 (* * * * out of 4) already exists. The on-rails sections have no impact because Sin & Punishment: Star Successor (* * * out of 4) already exists. The guns feel like they're set to "stun" not "extinct" because Bulletstorm (* * * out of 4) already exists. Killing somebody in online deathmatch gives no sense of accomplishment because the person we're shooting doesn't care if they win, lose, or die, and because Goldeneye, Unreal Tournament, and Halo 2 (n*o*s*t*a*l*g*i*a out of 4) all already exist. 

 * ½
(out of 4)

Recommended related reading:
[Dark Souls  |  * * *] by Ghost Little and Doberman
[Final Fantasy IX  |  * * * *] by Ghost Little
[F-Zero GX  |  * * *] by Doberman

-- Ghost Little
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

#21 -- The 10 Vital Reasons Why Winter Is Better Than Summer


| | |

"Fancy yourself a hard drinker? Go do a few Jell-O shots made with grain alcohol at altitude in Colorado -- it's like a Freaky Friday moment where you've suddenly swapped alcohol tolerances with an 80 lbs. girl, and somewhere else, a young woman has suddenly found a knack for cosplaying as Marion Ravenwood."

There comes a time every year where a man's just got to face facts, open up the windows, buy a paperback that's more than 1000 pages, and start paying extra for iced coffee. Winter is over. We mourn his passing, because winter is the best season of all. Winter is the season of slankets, sleds, and slightly-mad snowday schemes.

It's a simple fact that people love summer. It's warm, the days are long, there's an abundance of sauce-ready foods best eaten outdoors, like corn, and hot dogs, and corn dogs, and. . . less phallic things, probably. Like. . . fruit. Sure, we like fruit. Let's say fruit.


Anyway, it's the season of baseball and long, lazy weekends. And it's pretty good, we guess, if you're into that kind of thing.

Winter is better. Suck on these reasons why:
  1. Skiing beats the beach for vacations. Sorry, but that's just a medical reality. On a beach, you can do is two things: jack and shit. And read -- three things. So-called beach-books are usually only-slightly better than your own average nap-dream, so you aren't getting much out of your Grisham backlog. "But you can drink on a beach!" you might say. Fuck you and the logic you rode in on! Have you ever been to a quiet drinking town with a skiing problem? It's the best, quickest, cheapest drunk you’ll ever stumble into. Fancy yourself a hard drinker? Go do a few Jell-O shots made with grain alcohol at altitude in Colorado -- it's like a Freaky Friday moment where you've suddenly swapped alcohol tolerances with an 80 lbs. girl, and somewhere else, a young woman has suddenly found a knack for cosplaying as Marion Ravenwood. Also, where there are ski vacations, there are hot tubs. For the uninitiated, hot tubs are these devices that were ostensibly invented to act as pan-dimensional inebriation machines, designed to put a proverbial revolver to your liver, coyly playing Russian Roulette with your consciousness, perception of time, and genital well-being. Hot tubs are wombs of drunkenness, you'll love them and fear them like you love and fear your own mother. They're okay in warm climates, but we all know they're better in the coldness, so start treating beach season like the poor man's destination vacation that it is.
  2. There are no outdoor chores in the winter. There is no yard work, no watering plants, no weeding, no vanity-tasks. There is only shoveling, a task, a chore, the only chore that literally enables you to complete your day. Sure, shoveling sucks, but you do it for a reason, not because you like to pretend you have a green thumb in the spring. You physically cannot have fun until you shovel -- it's logic with no plot-holes.
  3. The days are shorter in the winter. Now, this is a good thing, and we'll explain why. In most times of the year, you, and everybody else, will be up with the sun, heading off to wherever it is you might be going (Crate&Barrel? Your in-law's house? We don't know, wherever.). Anybody can get up with the sun. Anybody can watch the afternoon fade into dusk as evening sets in. But most people aren't built for this. Have you ever tried to cram everything you want to do into a summer day? You can rarely do it. The days just don't fucking end, and you run yourself ragged. And everybody else is trying to do this, trying to cram it all in. Everybody. . . and their kids. Gotta get to the beach, gotta get to the mall, gotta get to the grocery, gotta get to the ballpark, gotta get to the other end of this highway. And these people get overworked, and tired, and pissy, and frustrated that they aren't having as much fun in these short summer months as they should! GRAHH FFFUUUUUUUUUU RAGE-FIT!! Why is this? Why do we demand the more of these summer days than we ourselves can handle? Or, because the days are so long, you exhaust all of your options after a month -- you've done everything. That's why your parents sent you to that shitty camp where you would've been molested if you'd been prettier, but that doesn't erase your memory of what happened to your friend in the tall grass. In the winter though, you have your sunshine, you appreciate it when it's around, you soak it up, and it's gone before you can over-extend yourself or get bored or violated. See, there's so much lying around in the summer because the days either seem endless and boring, or we get frustrated that we can't fill every hour with tangible "fun," bringing us flawlessly to point 4. . .
  4. Summer is a contest. Expanding on the "fun you should be having" mantra from the point above, summer is really a very subtle contest between you and everybody else. People have more lax responsibilities, so socially, it becomes a series of backhanded, passive-aggressive, hyper-compressed, battle of shit-eating grins. It's why people shriek stupidly whenever they're on a speedboat: it's them saying "I'll stoop to the level of a vapid teenage girl on prom night if it means I can convince you I'm loving life right now, filling each moment with euphoria that you can't come close to imagining!” If you aren't having fun in the sun, get out of the way because you're a butt-fucking waste of space. "Look, dude, Brah. Do you realize how much time I've spent in the sun? Look at my skin! My skin's the color of that spray that people spray on their skin when it gets too white in the winter! My tan is a national treasure! But I hate these icky tan-lines, ick, fuck, gross. Real dudes that know how to party are tan, and dudes that party are. . . uh, like, for real.(?) Have you had the experiences I've filled my summer days with? No? Then you should kill yourself. My devotion to my fun is unbridled, like giant African pelican, mouth brimming with ideas and with fish, standing astride a wild prancing water-buffalo! Bask in it. Envy it. If you don't, you're wasting the warm weather that others would be happy to have, man. Take some time off and emulate my lifestyle, I encourage you, dude. There are starving people in the world that will never have weather like this." This is so fucking backwards. Narcissistic assholes with no responsibility lie around in the sun and drool when they sleep on pool chairs (and eat broiled bear cub legs, we're told). Jesus, people love being "good" at summer the same way they love being psychotic fans of sports, or wine, or seafood, or The Fray. If so, you're. . . a. . . fanboy! You're a zealot and a sheep! Grey's Anatomy is, and always was, weak storytelling. Sack the fuck up! In the wintertime, you venture outdoors and you rip fun from the bony claws of the hibernating junkie that is WYNTARR: Barbarian of the Boxcars. Summer is your lame friend that won't drive his car because he has a good parking spot, winter is a crabby kung-fu master that will teach you to be strong by beating you with a length of pipe. Fun in the winter in the snow leaves you soggy, exhausted, and rewarded. And tan, if you have the balls to show some skin in the cold. Vaffanculo, you over-gelled he-cunt, you can get tan in the winter, and while you're stuck inside like quadriplegic asthmatic, we're getting tan in January.
  5. Coming in from the cold. Coming in from the heat is a shitty feeling. It's a wave of cool at first, especially in warm climates where you really do need it. Then it flash-freezes your sweat to your skin like you've been in the ocean, and you smell like scallops, except you haven't been in the water, you've actually just been loafing around town like there's a problem with the Earth's gravity. Fuck, Texas would suck without air conditioning -- good food though. Now compare what we were talking about two sentences ago to the feeling of coming in from the cold. Spies come in from the cold, and James Bond is bad-fucking-ass spy who knows how to ski. When you come inside after a day out in winter's gnarled cryo-clutch, be it a weekend out or a weekday commute, you shake off the cold and it shoots life back into your body. Happiness and feeling return to your fingertips, you get some color in your cheeks, and you are excited to be home and inside. Drink something warm and you crack a more real smile that you just get other times of the year. Then get shitfaced and go back into the cold with even less clothing.
  6. Drink hot chocolate. It is delicious. It makes you feel like a kid. You also drink coffee and get jacked up on caffeine. With everybody walking around with something warm in their cup and color in their faces, they're more social. Geared up in winter-fashion, the first thing you'll see is somebody's smirking, jazzed-up, trenta-powered face. Now think, what do you see when it's summer in that identical situation? You see everything but the face. Toenails, skin, hair, boobs, sunglasses, fuck-me-seashell-necklaces you bought for 40 cents in Barbados, useless tattoos, all of it. . . okay, not much thought went into that feature as a negative. It is not one. It is not a negative. Umm, so, well, but you can barely think straight in the summer because you're trying to think of what you should or shouldn't say based on the judgment your brain is already processing with all that pent-up contempt you have for people more tan than you (goddamn, our people were Nordic). It's the exact opposite in the summer, a true fact for both sexes. You will have infinitely better conversations with people in the winter over coffee than in the summer over iced coffee. Also, fuck iced coffee! It's almost entirely ice and it somehow costs you more! The inventor of price-gauging for less product should be kicked in the head by a horse, or, by the very inventor of ice itself, so that'd be Jesus, we guess. Jesus, we prithee, take the form of a faun and kick the inventor of iced coffee in the head. We don't know who it was, but we're certain you do, 'cuz you're Jesus.
  7. Anybody that uses an umbrella to block snowfall is a mental defect. "Walking through snow that might land on us? Silly mortal, mayhap if we were serfs in Dark Ages England and wished deeply to contract swine flu! Nay, snowflakes will strike us. We are immaculate creatures from Planet Suede, and snow will not sully mine coif." Bull. . . fucking. . . shit! People are at the mercy of technology (AC) in the summer, something we, as humans, control. In the winter, people are at the mercy of nature. Nature hates you, she's been trying to kill off humanity for, like, decades. Battling winter, and winning, is badass. It's like nutting the cosmos with a steel-toed boot and then banging his hot wife and daughter while he's in the hospital waiting for the skin graft on his testicles to take hold. Umbrellas make people look like ponces and villains (exceptions: sword-umbrellas; magic-wand umbrellas). Nevertheless, being smattered with snowflakes makes a woman look fucking hot. You do the math. No umbrellas!
  8. The thermo-inversion paradigm shift. Unseasonably warm days in the winter are better than unseasonably cold days in the summer. This isn't speculative, like listing things that you think might be weird in zero-gravity (kids, make you own list of things that would be weird in zero-gravity! then write them in the comments section!). No, when warm weather graces you with her presence on a winter day, it's your best beach day ever! The sensation of sledding in a t-shirt on a hot winter day is a Hindi cover-album of AC/DC's Back in Black -- boiling hot, familiarly cheerful, and laughably sing-songy in it's "fuck-yeah!" nostalgia. Now, compare those warm winter days to cold summer days. So, look, we aren't going to come up with a set-up, punchline, or witty simile to explain why cold summer days blow. We'll just say this: nobody walks home from breaking up with a girl on a warm winter day, he does it on a miserably cold summer day, without fail.
  9. Winter has friction. Whereas summer is a half-in-the-bag deadbeat dad, groping through a cooler of swampy water for a lukewarm beer at 1:08pm, dismissing his sixteen year-old daughter, warning her to just "don't fuck up my four-wheeler, I ain't gonna pick ya up if the fuckin' sheriff's department calls sayin' it's been flipped into the creek by your dipshit friends," winter is a hard worker. Winter owns a lumber mill and encourages creative stupidity. It resists your attempts to find fun. Winter challenges you; it encourages you not to simply slip slide through the slip-and-slide at Jeff's house. No, winter builds highly-engineered snowmobile jumps. There's a quiet desperation to make the most of your day in summer and it's always left unfulfilled because there's no weight, no stick, no friction to what you do. "Yeah, knock yourself out." Winter forces you to be prepared, wear the right gear, bring the appropriate supplies (something hot and alcoholic), and to heed the warning that you could get stuck somewhere out there in the elements if it really starts puking (colloquialism, v. puking: a heavy, sudden snowfall). Summer is a slapfight on a sandbar, winter is Jeet Kune Do on a rope-bridge behind Mola Ram's house.
  10. You're glad to see winter go when it's over. Seriously, fuck winter. It goes on and on, makes you question your sanity, and makes everybody stir-crazy. You will do anything to get to a warmer climate during the winter months, pushing friends out the door, shouting "save yourself, I'll hold them back," taking a full blast from January's icy dick of hate. There are a whole lot of stressful, travel-heavy holidays during winter that are compounded by continual darkness, familial responsibilities, and a deep drive to just crawl inside a whiskey bottle and be drunk for the entire season. Thank the Hypnotoad when it's over! We certainly are excited to see it go. People start flashing some skin, the movies are far more visually-arresting, roof-decks come into play for your weekend plans (roof decks are the greatest, they're. . . they're just great (seriously, we did keg-stands on the edge of a roof deck on Halloween 2008 (and we're still talking about it for heaven's sake!))), and you get to argue over what will be the new hot jam for the entire summer on infinite repeat. You can leave your house at 9am and not return until 2am, if at all. We just want winter gone when it's over.
Makes sense that we're glad to see winter go. It usually overstays its welcome. We're sort of done here, but this ending is a little flat, so. . .

. . .closing question: 
Q: What would be the worst shaved mammal to fight to the death?
A: Dunno about you, but we'd probably pick a tiger. Just a big old, near-death Indian tiger with a fresh Brazilian wax. We wouldn't want to fight one of those. Horrifying.
    -- Ghost Little
    on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    #20 -- Muse's "Black Holes & Revelations" Reviewed | * * * *

    "It makes you question your own ability to kick ass, then gives you all the tools you need to strut across the peak of Olympus Mons like you don't give a shit that you can't breathe methane or carbon dioxide. Go forth and #SLAM_DANCE!"

    Human imagination is a horrifying thing. This album's cover features a bunch of REM-looking motherfuckers sitting on Mars drinking tea. Calmly. Something in the artists' lives inspired them (imagining the electrical whirring of the human mind) to make the music that inspired the album, that inspired the cover, that inspired us to listen to the music that made us imagine a Acropolis-themed nightclub housed on a space-zeppelin's lower deck orbiting Mars' second moon, Phobos. 

    Musically, this was our Star Wars moment, our Lord of the Rings moment. It yells through an ancient yelling-tube crafted from a series of interlaced woolly mammoth tusks: "There is hope in the universe, even for the dust." The soaring optimism on track 2, the shredding bass/guitar intro on track 7, the teeth-gritting that becomes the first and only moment a man has head-banging to trumpet music on track 11. The entire album puts you in your place. It makes you question your own ability to kick ass, then gives you all the tools you need to strut across the peak of Olympus Mons like you don't give a shit that you can't breathe methane or carbon dioxide. Go forth and #SLAM_DANCE! 

    The album, Black Holes & Revelations by Muse, is so violent in its love and in its hatred. It sees the good that is taken by the bad things, making the love downright Byronic and the hate paranoid. Just like real life, actually. Black Holes & Revelations is the collision of space-faring gunslingers riding into battle against a Machiavellian motherfucker with no face and a Brazilian lilt. It begins with track 1, 'Take a Bow,' which isn't a track 1 in the way that, say, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is, because 'Take a Bow' has actual words. Tonally, it's a stage-setter, but musically, it's a bookend. You know, bookends, those heavy, pretty things that keep your books standing up? You need two of them, and 'Take a Bow' props up the beginning of the album, giving you a tall ledge to jump off of head-first. 'Take a Bow' welcomes you into a world bigger than all of us, then asks you if you'd be okay with breathing through a bamboo shoot under a murky pond while somebody you don't know shows you photographs of light bulbs. Chunky, prophetic space-rock and rolling drumbeats present us with a galaxy of corrupted emotions to chose from. Somebody is to blame for these transgressions and we're going into fucking space to find our answers. 

    Ever been water-skiing? You should, water sports, lake games, things like that, they're all fun. Track 2 is 'Starlight,' an emotionally-simple but technically demanding song, and it's basically the sensation of drinking upper-middle-class malt-liquor while water-skiing. It's a comforting, rapid heartbeat that makes you smile without any worry of offending somebody's parents. It's PG-13. It's Live Free or Die Hard. There are explosions and a calm offer to join what's about to happen. Just don't fade away, alright? We might travel far and we might forget the people that we love if we aren't careful. So, just, please, promise not to fade away. This will be dangerous. Okay? Good. Because shit is about to get heavy. Ever played the greased watermelon game? It's a lake game. You should, it's innocent fun (really! (REALLY!! (it's just retrieving a buttered watermelon from the bottom of a lake.))). But it's slippery, and it's tough to hang onto, and for no good reason, you want to grip it and eat it. Enter track 3. 

    'Supermassive Black Hole' is the heaviest hunk of spiky-sticky gravity ever to knock us upside the head. It'll make you stub your toe. It draws blood. It's a dance party on a dying sun when you first arrive. This is the theme-song to every dark-haired girl that's ever ignored you. Two things are happening on this track. First, you are powerless, because the lyrics are secretly about what a pussy you are, and why that dark-haired girl could probably level you with her eyes or with the laser-blade she keeps in. . . wherever. Secondly, however, you don't care, and you'll rock out anyway. 

    Now, 'Map of the Problematique' is a tragic moment in an alley behind a very nice restaurant. Your stomach is full of expensive food and there's this beautiful catharsis that you think is on the other end of booting it all up, but you really want to ride it out to tell people you beat food poisoning. Your legs feel like noodles. The song makes you vibrate for a good reason. It couldn't have possibly gone this badly, but it did, and now a lonely light is making your grime-caked thoughts so real and immediate. As a sequel to 'Supermassive Black Hole,' it's clear that the "you are powerless" suggestion from the earlier track conquered the "you don't care" declaration. Inside the Sonic Vortex -- which was designed by a misguided alien race whose name you can't pronounce with a human tongue, and is built to remove meat from skeleton -- and between you and your destination, there are a trillion-trillion images that you can't cope with. The bridge on this track is an F-22 Raptor attack, the time compression that you wanted to think wasn't there is in fact there. Drive Angry is a movie starring Nicholas Cage -- 'Map of the Poblematique' has a solo that makes you Yell AWESOME!

    Fresh off of your Ice Cream Sandwich Guitar Solo Skydive on the last song, you're dumped into the same despair-choked wasteland where Roger Waters probably hung out back in the late 1970's. There might be no coming back from this misery. 

    Defeated, we move to 'Solider's Poem,' and the beginning of the passionate reflection. We mourn the lost. All the women in this town are shockingly beautiful but each and every one was left at the altar. Nobody will tell you why! The one-ton melancholyphant in the room is that there's a tone of self-pity to the vocals, which is hardly righteous. It's proof that Muse is capable of more intimate sadness and not just shouty-pouty glamorous loneliness. There's just a few things that need to be said, most notably: you won't get your way in life, it's possible nobody will remember you, and you probably did die back there in the Sonic Vortex. Which means your Ice Cream Sandwich Guitar Solo Skydive probably didn't happen. You're dead now. You'll never play greased watermelon again.

    'Invincible,' track 6, resurrects the dead! We want it to be played at sunset at the start of the third act of a movie where our hero has just defeated and eaten an anthropomorphic lion demi-god (directed by Tarsem Singh). Be reassured that no matter the medium -- music, book, movie -- nobody dies in sci-fi. There are ghosts in the guitar, and those ghosts can play sitar. From here, we realize that we're stronger outside of hatred and although there is a thrumming marching snare, the people marching aren't in unison. They aren't marching at all, these souls are straight-up walking out of hell in street clothes, revived by the call that as one, against the threat that's bigger than all of us, we aren't helpless. This is the revelation. We went inside the black hole, and at first, there was no way to fight it, it was too big, too complex, but during the struggle, it's revealed that nothing is all-powerful. We're fighters, not lovers.

    'Assassin.' Track 7 is called 'Assassin.' It. Kicks. Ass. This is a song that makes you want to sprint, makes you want to dodge bullets, makes you want to hip-check a child into the boards -- 'Assassin' is a song that makes shrooming and then Tweet-casting the Götterdämmerung cycle from Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen seem like a good idea. It is a hard-shelled taco filled with cheese and crystal methamphetamine, eaten in fast motion while Bruce Lee reads aloud the final controntation between Snape and Dumbledore from Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince. Suddenly, we're going to war! There are no more dance parties, no more lost loves, we've learned that despite finding strength in each other, things are going to get harder before they get easier. The vocals don't have many words -- they're elongated, elegantly matched to the gunfire bass-line. Now is the time for action. Now is the time for throwing stars!

    But how? Throwing stars are impracticable! 'Exo-Politics' comes next and we realize that although we have identified our enemy as a tangible entity, he is exceedingly complex. New-found optimism gives way to a series of frightening heart attacks, each more encrushening (not a word) than the last -- things might not be as they seem. There are the steady drums in the background and a more carefully-thinking guitar in the foreground, contemplating options as calmly as one can, given the conspiratorial diorama we're in the midst of. They're here for our minds, a terrifying notion. So what can we do? We can wait. We have to blend in, take our time, focus hard, and strike when the time is right. 

    Things return to something more acoustic and personal on the next track. 'City of Delusion' is a collapsing world. Who was the mad genius that built a sand-castle inside a snow-fort? What will happen when there's nothing left to believe in? Can we trust anybody? Can we trust ourselves? It's entirely possible, lyrics asking if we should just tear these walls down with any justification, that there is no escape at this point. Even when we know our enemy, even when we have hope, there's the chance that we are lying to ourselves. All bets are off -- at this point, just buy an antique Triumph and don't bother with any insurance, because if (when!) you wreck it, your bones and brains will resemble electric eels. Perhaps we're just desperate for something better than sitting around and waiting to die. But that's just a slow-motion version of the same death! A gunslinging trumpet sounds across the battlefield and the world's foundation shakes. Reality has been broken and there's no telling what might be left when the shaking is over. Will we be justified? Will we be saved? Will have been right about you all along? 

    It's the mythic dark in 'Hoodoo,' the second to last (canonically) song. Night and the world have certainly fallen. It isn't entirely dark but not entirely better, and there's a somber, far-off suggestion that we should rebuild. Is it an idea or a person we've dragged out of the rubble and are mourning over? Then the piano kicks in, the funeral dirge joins it, and we watch the invincible souls leave the crumbling world that we attempted to save. You think about the party you'd like to throw next weekend, but then remember that everybody's dead from a disease called: World-Imploded. It's sad, because it should've been us. It shouldn't have been you, and for that, we're sorry. A twangy guitar punctuates every final apology, thoughtfully twirling in a human way in the back of our heads. It's too late. 

    Years pass. The sun has risen and fallen and risen again. Out of the ash come the 'Knights of Cydonia.' The baddest fucking song in existence. It is the same sound that the fire-GEARZZZ make when God activates his Jurassic dinosaur-making machine. The drums are the pounding hoof-beats of King Midas' 5-legged Steampunk War-Chimera. He's holding onto what's golden. This ruined world remains and we'll carry on, fighting, protecting what's left, hearts heavy, yes, but never giving up and never giving in. The trumpet returns, sounding the arrival of a new age of tragic cyber-heroes, flawed, white-hot Cosmobots and red-hot cowgirls that ride mecha-steeds in recline-saddle because they can. It's introspective and rapid in its approach to the apocalypse. 'Knights of Cydonia' sends a message back in time as a warning. Watch for the Fool-King, he will attempt to ruin us all! You go back, we'll hold them off here, going down fighting for our survival! Streaking across deserts, riding into battle, there is no force, no defeat, nothing that can stop the continual rise of good against evil. The guitar is a Great Wall of Sound, wonders one through seventy of the NEO-ANCIENT world, and it creates a gravity-well stronger than any bookend. 

    The scariest thing imaginable is something that you personally imagine. Black Holes & Revelations is just like you imagined it.

    * * * *
    (out of 4)

    -- Ghost Little
    on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF