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Showing posts from 2017

"Death of the Outsider" doesn't hit the heights of Dishonored 2

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Dishonored 2 was my favorite game of 2016—by quite a large margin. It's exactly the kind of game I like most: neither a linear, purely story-driven game nor a massive open-world game stuffed with busywork, but rather a focused game with sandbox levels. It was a brilliant game that combined superb mechanics with some of the most creative levels in any game ever, and it challenged you to come back over and over again to explore different paths and strategies for new emergent gameplay possibilities.

Death of the Outsider isn't a sequel, but a standalone expansion. Presumably because it's a significantly shorter experience, all of the magical superpowers are unlocked near the beginning of the game. There are only three, and unlike in the previous full-length games, they can't be upgraded.

The story centers on a character from the sequel, Billie Lurk, and her quest to destroy the annoying goth-bro demigod "The Outsider" who is for some inexplicable reason a thing i…

"Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice" is one of the best video games ever made

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Last night I finished my playthrough of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, a journey which took me about eight hours. As I watched the epilogue, I was so captivated that when I snapped back into self-awareness, I realized I was sitting with my jaw wide open, hand covering my mouth, and eyes dry from being so fixed on the screen yet watering from the heart-wrenching sadness unfolding before me. I've never played a game that engrossed me in such a tragic and powerful story. Hellblade is a rare kind of video game, one that elevates the entire medium to true art. Its authentic performances, created with stunning motion-capture, moved me as much as any great Oscar-winning film I've ever seen. I spent hours afterwards contemplating what I had experienced and was eager to discuss it with others who've finished the game. It's also centered on a topic that has long been considered taboo in many artistic mediums: mental illness.


Major spoilers for Hellblade follow

Hellblade tells t…

Another depressing day in the Trump presidency

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Earlier tonight, I was reading comments from conservatives on a Facebook post about Trump's planned dissolution of the DACA. If you're not familiar, the DACA was enacted by Obama to give children and young people brought into the US illegally by their parents or guardians more time to apply for citizenship. Since in many cases these people (referred to as "dreamers") were brought to the US very young, our soil is all they've ever known and deporting them is essentially sending them to a country that is totally foreign to them. The conservative commentators almost always referred to them as "illegals", blamed them for being a drain on the economy (which is objectively false), and cried, "no sympathy for dreamers!"

It's one of those moments where I recalled the Huffpo op-ed from Kayla Chadwick entitled, "I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People." The disagreement here isn't just political. If …

Attacking Joel Osteen for closing Lakewood is stupid

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Let me be absolutely clear: I'm no fan of Joel Osteen. I see him as more or less a Tony Robbins type with a Bible, someone who peddles in prosperity gospel and pop-psychology nonsense, and who has made a fortune off of people's gullibility. He also aligns himself with science-denying nutbags likes Franklin Graham. He lives in an absolutely extravagant mansion—something that seems a little un-Christian in light of Matthew 19:24.
But just for once, I'm going to come to his—and his church's—defense. Recently there was a piling on after word got out that Lakewood Church had been closed, despite the fact that it would presumably be an ideal place to house people who've been displaced by the flooding in Houston. Snide keyboard warriors have seized on the opportunity to criticize what they perceive as his hypocrisy. 
Osteen and crew claimed that the church was inaccessible due to flooding. Pictures then floated around the internet showing the streets around the church, an…

Why Veganism has failed (and what can be done), part 1: the data

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With the proliferation of documentaries like Earthings, Forks Over Knives, and Food, Inc., it's easy to get a sense that a rejection of animal agriculture is gaining traction in our society. Animal-welfare billboards dot highways. Protesters line up outside of slaughterhouses. Farm sanctuaries "rescue" animals from slaughter. Undercover activists record heartbreaking animal abuse in factory farms, sometimes spurring legal activism. Millions of dollars are raised for animal welfare non-profits, like the Farm Sanctuary. And for a while, particularly if you're surrounded by like-minded people, it might seem like this is starting to have a real effect, that things are changing and supporters of animal agriculture may soon be proved to be on the wrong side of history. But much like being in a small but growing evangelical church while national religious affiliation drops precipitously, the appearance of growth is largely an illusion. Veganism is not growing significantly,…

Trump’s assault on trans rights is predictable political theater

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Trump's decision to reverse an Obama-era rule that would have allowed transgender people to serve openly in the military has provoked a predictable wave of comments, such as "The military isn't a place for social experiments," and "It would have been asking for sexual assault," and many others I need not repeat. Labels and buzzwords are tossed out like "politically correct," "social justice warrior," "regressive left," etc. None are particularly useful or meaningful—they merely reinforce tribalism—and appear to mostly represent people's discomfort with the inevitable upheaval of the status quo. When I reflect on the increasingly toxic political climate of the last decade, it seems to me that a few issues have been at the root: 1. Advancement of lgbtq rights, particularly the legalization of gay marriage and repeal of DADT, the debate over transgender rights, the debate over "rape culture," and how these issues ar…

I am really confused about grace

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Randal Rauser has published a book entitled What's So Confusing About Grace?, in which he navigates the theological nuances of Christian soteriology in a manner intended for the layperson. You can read his post about the book here.

I considered commenting on the topic of grace on Randal's blog post, but I have to respect that this book is quite clearly not intended for atheists like me; it's written for Christians who are confused about what they are supposed to believe. Launching a debate about soteriology in the comments of Randal's announcement post would have been discourteous and inflammatory. Instead, I thought I'd share my thoughts here—not about the book, which frankly I'm not interested in reading since I am clearly not among the target audience—but about the topic of "grace" in general.

What's so confusing about grace? What's not confusing about it? Randal remarks on the back cover,
At first glance the Gospel seems straightforward: &…

Straw-manning feminists because it's cool

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Recently, Michael Shermer (of whom I'm generally a fan) claimed that Sandra Harding, a philosopher of science and influential feminist, had called Isaac Newton's "Principia Mathematica" a "rape manual."

Today, I read a similar statement from an anonymous source shared on Facebook which claimed that feminist and philosopher Luce Irigaray called the equation e=mc2 a "sexed equation" because she argues that "it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us". The original source of this claim is apparently a criticism of her work by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont published in 1997.

Both cases were repeated by Richard Dawkins (of whom I'm also generally a fan) in a 1998 essay entitled "Postmodernism disrobed."

In both of these cases, the feminists were using what educated adults should know as a "rhetorical device." In the former case, Harding was using sarcasm in her criticism of Sir …

The problem with Alien: Covenant

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I'm gonna lay my cards on the table now: I liked Alien: Covenant. I really liked Prometheus back in 2012. I'm fully aware of how divisive these films have been for fans of the Alien franchise, and I'll debate the quality of these films all day. But Covenant was a mediocre performer at the box office, and it's a good opportunity to explore what went wrong and where the franchise should go next.
*Spoilers for Alien: Covenant follow* Ridley Scott had, and has, no desire to essentially remake the original Alien. It was a pioneering movie for its time, but if you watched for the first time today you'd probably be underwhelmed by the primitive special effects, predictable (and stupid) deaths, and xenomorph hugs.

I don't think too many people have a problem with the first hour or so of Covenant—i.e., everything that happens before David finds what's left of the crew. The initial setup is done very well, and the climactic end to the first act with the 'neomorph…

On Milo Yiannopoulos' critique of Islam

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Milo Yiannopoulos is often painted as an anti-Islamic bigot by his leftward critics, perhaps rightly so. For my part, my introduction to Milo's critical thought process was an article for Breitbart in which he argued that women should be forbidden from pursuing science and math degrees because they tend to change career trajectories later in life. My initial assessment was that his rhetoric consistently has a throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater flare to it, in which some nuggets of truth are used to argue for solutions to problems that don't exist. I wanted to see if this instinct would be correct regarding his views on Islam, so I watched on of his talks and read some articles and interviews about his views on Muslims and Islam.

Milo makes a compelling point in arguing that mainstream Islam is a problem. This is not all that divorced from something that, say, Sam Harris might argue. In Saudi Arabia, as in many other Muslim nations, women are severely oppressed. Gay people c…

"Mad Max" is a terrific game, and a timely warning

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I'm currently spending my sparse free time with the video game Mad Max, which was released to modest reviews in 2015, but I overlooked it in the onslaught of triple-A games released in the same period. I purchased it on sale last year, but it sat idly in my Steam library, not so much as installed. I fixed that last week.

As a game, Mad Max is essentially a mishmash of more innovative predecessors. The hand-to-hand combat is borrowed generously from the Arkham series. The driving (there's a lot of driving) is a lot like Rage, but I like the driving in Mad Max better. The progression and world has a distinctive Ubisoft flare, liberally using well-established tropes from series like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry. It shouldn't be a special game, being that it stands on the shoulders of giants. But that's only a deficiency insofar as it feels familiar, and that familiarity makes it easy to pick up and play.

Playing the game now seems a bit more timely than it might have …

About those "eyewitness accounts"...

“There is not a single mystical belief that is not supported by numerous cases of eyewitness evidence.” — Isaac Asimov

The supplement industry is an argument against libertarianism

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Broadly speaking, I have two basic gripes with libertarianism. The first is that it assumes that in a free and unregulated market, people will act rationally and in their collective self-interest; research in behavioral economics has shown that to be false. The second is that, at least in my experience, the term 'government' is used as a catch-all term to describe some sort of monolithic entity, failing to make relevant distinctions between (say) an authoritarian regime and a democratically elected representative government comprised of civilians.

Now before someone stops reading there and tries to get pedantic over libertarianism, it's worth pointing out that libertarianism is itself a fluid and contentious concept. In my experience, a lot of people who identify as libertarians don't actually believe in a fully unregulated laissez faire economy (or, if they do, they're pragmatic enough to know it's a fantasy); lots of them are just republicans who can't ge…

Wolfenstein: The New Order, three years later: a sleeper classic

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Bethesda recently announced that they'll be releasing a sequel to their acclaimed reboot of the Wolfenstein franchise, The New Order (and its expansion, The Old Blood). Entitled The New Colossus, the sequel will pick up several years after the events of the first game and looks to have all the elements that made the reboot such a success:



With the sequel on the way, it seemed like a good time for me to revisit the first game, which had been a favorite of mine when I played it back in 2015.

The New Order fully embraces the absurdity of the franchise, which kicked off way back in 1992 with Castle Wolfenstein 3D and featured a cybernetic Hitler as the final boss. There are giant Nazi mechs, giant Nazi robot dogs, and of course a robust supply of foot soldiers waiting to be blown to bits by a fantastical arsenal full of hyper-powered shotguns and laser beams. Is there a Nazi moon base? Fuck yes there's a Nazi moon base.

Developer Machine Games could have stopped at Nazi moon bases …

My dogs can be trained to think. Why can't police officers?

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Recently, my wife and I decided that some training would be a wise investment for our dogs, Zelda and Yoda. They're both very sweet and generally well-behaved dogs, but they had some areas where they needed work and we were becoming frustrated at our lack of progress. Zelda, our 3-year-old female, is calm but can be strong-willed and stubborn. Yoda, our 2½-year-old male, is incredibly sweet, but gets anxious around other dogs or when there's a lot of commotion. We knew that of the two, he'd require more work.

Right away, our trainer started showing strategies we could employ to calm Yoda down when he's near other dogs. She introduced a well-trained dog to the room, and Yoda was predictably anxious. She did some drills with him, and after about five minutes he'd calmed down significantly and was able to meet the other dog. She noted Yoda's calm state of mind, saying,

"See, this is good. He's thinking. When he's nervous, he's reacting, and that&#…

On Philando Castile

The verdict in the Philando Castile shooting has weighed heavy on me the last few days. Like many people (including Trevor Noah), I sit there asking, How? How can anyone watch the video evidence and conclude that the officer was reasonably acting in self-defense? That it was perfectly rational for the officer to discharge his firearm into car—with an innocent woman and a child in the car as well—seven times?

The officer panicked. Most remarkably, as Trevor Noah points out, the woman still has the presence of mind—after seeing her boyfriend pumped full of bullets without provocation—to defer to the officer's authority. She remains calm. She calls him "sir". The four-year-old child is escorted from the scene after pleading with her mother, "Don't get shooted."

Time and again we hear that police officers need broad leeway to act quickly in the face of a deadly threat, for the protection of their lives and others'. But what are the checks and balances? In w…

Basically...

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Transgender athlete sets world records

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Weightlifting is hard. The numbers regularly hoisted by women in the sport would be more than enough to disabuse any man of the misguided machismo that associates strength with masculinity. So when a woman clean and jerks 149kg and snatches 123kg, setting new masters world records for both lifts and the total, it's generally kind of a big deal and cause for celebration.
But for Laurel Hubbard, it's been a cause for controversy—she's transgender (she's formerly Gavin Hubbard). In a global strength sport, the idea that someone can switch divisions from male to female raises some obvious questions. Does she have an unfair advantage, having trained and competed as a male for many years? According to FloElite, "Hubbard met all of the International Olympic Committee and International Weightlifting Federation criteria to compete as a woman, including proving her testosterone levels stayed below a certain threshold for the 12 months leading up to the meet," for a mee…

Trump signs EO to allow churches to endorse political candidates

Lord Dampnut today signed an executive order that is designed to ease the restrictions imposed on churches by the Johnson Amendment, which explicitly forbids churchs—as tax-exempt 501(c) organizations—from endorsing political candidates.  Part of the huge irony of today's executive order is that the IRS has pretty much never enforced these laws. A while back some 100 pastors openly defied the IRS by sending videos of them openly endorsing political candidates. The FFRF actually sued the IRS for failing to go after churches that abused their tax-exempt status. Now, frankly, I'm okay with church leaders endorsing political candidates from the pulpit... as long as you don't insist on being a tax-exempt organization. If a church wants to forfeit their 501(c) status, then by all means let them openly endorse whomever they choose. Trump's EO, though, is almost certainly going to meet a swift defeat in the courts. The Johnson amendment specifically prohibits 501(c) organizat…

Here's Carman absolving ancient Christians for doing horrible stuff

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Remember Carman? I sure do. While researching my previous post, I happened upon some of his ultra-cheeseball music videos from the 90s, and this one in particular really stood out. First an aside, though: I don't recall anyone I knew ever actually liking Carman. His music was sort of an unintentional parody of pop culture, and he mostly just came off as an old guy trying really hard to tell everyone under the age of 18 how cool and hip and 'with it' he was.

In this video, though, we can see the insidious side of evangelical theology seep into the conversation. The video opens in a classroom setting wherein the students are discussing the Dark Ages, and atrocities perpetrated by the church like the Inquisition. The following dialogue hits:

Student: Why did the 16th century church wanna kill people that wanted to be Christian?

Carman: Whoa. The Church didn't do it. You see, the church is the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is not going to kill itself. It was the ev…

Christianity as counterculture

This past Thursday marked the 18th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, which I'm old enough to remember pretty vividly. Not just the hysteria that followed the shooting, but the eagerness of an aging and more conservative generation to place the blame on virtually everything that defined popular culture for generation x and older millennials—rock music, violent video games and movies, board games that allegedly promoted witchcraft and satanism, provocative clothing, whatever. I even remember Marilyn Manson eloquently defending himself to ultradouche Bill O'Reilly.

By the time the Columbine shooting happened, I had already deconverted from Christianity. But I nonetheless grew up thick in the 90s youth-group culture, complete with huge youth rallies like Acquire The Fire put on by Teen Mania, DC Talk's hit "Jesus Freak", the early Left Behind books, and oh so much more. Vox reported on the fetishization of martyrdom that intensified following Columbine, and it&#…