The Unimpressive President

From time to time, I can’t help but marvel at how unimpressed I am with Trump as an individual. On the one hand, he should be impressive. He upended the political system, got elected President without ever holding public office before, and he controls every news cycle. And yet that never seems to be the product of ability as much as he was born rich and constantly needs attention. I don’t think shamelessness is a virtue, and to mistake it as such is to uphold vice. Shame has its place, and just because Trump can’t feel shame, that doesn’t mean he’s got some superpower.

But more often than not, I’m struck by how ordinary he is. Take away his wealth (which he inherited), and you have a dumpy Fox News couch potato. He’s abnormal, not extraordinary. Look at all his obsessions and all the information he consumes, and he’s no different than a racist grandpa spouting the latest conspiracy theory he heard that afternoon. Guys like Trump are a dime a dozen; it just happened that one of them became President.

And we’ve had unimpressive Presidents before. No one knows anything about Millard Fillmore or Zachary Taylor, and that’s fine. But I do get annoyed when Trump is hailed as some political genius for his accomplishments when he was just a con man with the audacity to run a giant scam he didn’t even think all the way through. Even Trump is miserable that’s President, and at least we can take some small comfort that deep down he knows he’s worthless and will never measure up to all the people he attacks on Twitter.

Friday, August 17th, 2018 politics, stupid No Comments

Why I Don’t Like ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’

Before I begin, let me be clear: I don’t think The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a bad game. I can appreciate the care, effort, and most importantly, appeal it presents. But it also kind of clarified the kind of gamer I am and the kind of games I enjoy. I play games to unwind, and unwinding for me is not having to put a lot of thought into anything. It’s why I like building LEGO from the instruction manual. Here’s the manual, here are the steps, and it’s relaxing to just follow those steps and get a nice little set at the end.

Breath of the Wild is all about exploration and daunting challenges. It relishes in frustrating the player and then, for those willing to weather those frustrations, they’ll be rewarded. So if you fight through a lot of tough enemies, figure out how to get to the tower, fight even more enemies, survive the terrain, figure out how to climb to the tower, survive more enemies, and then finally climb the tower, you’ll be rewarded with climbing the tower. You set the goal, you choose the way to figure it out, and punishing as it may be along the way, you’re theoretically rewarded at the end.

For me, I just like more guidance in my games. I like knowing where to go next and a clear path to get there. I’m not opposed to challenge per say, but I do get frustrated with ridiculous levels of difficulty that require me to “work” at getting better (which is why I’ve never bothered to defeat the Valkyrie Queen in God of War). I don’t want to have to work to get good at a video game just like I don’t want to have to dump hours of my life figuring out how to climb a tower. I enjoy the simple pleasures of a game, and becoming invested in my character’s journey. But what Breath of the Wild is selling, I’m not buying. I can understand why it’s popular, but after spending time with the game, I can tell it’s not for me.

Friday, June 29th, 2018 criticism, videogames No Comments

2018 Oscar Predictions

Best Picture

Will Win: The Shape of Water

Should Win: Get Out

Best Director

Will Win: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Should Win: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Best Actor

Will Win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Should Win: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Best Actress

Will Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Should Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: Call Me by Your Name

Should Win: Mudbound

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Get Out

Should Win: Get Out

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Best Costumes Design

Will Win: Phantom Thread

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Best Editing

Will Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Baby Driver

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Will Win: Darkest Hour

Should Win: Darkest Hour

Best Score

Will Win: The Shape of Water

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Best Original Song

Will Win: “This Is Me”, The Greatest Showman

Should Win: “Remember Me”, Coco

Best Production Design

Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: The Shape of Water

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: Dunkirk

Should Win: Baby Driver

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Baby Driver

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Best Animated Film

Will Win: Coco

Should Win: Coco

Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: A Fantastic Woman

Best Documentary

Will Win: Icarus

Best Documentary Short

Will Win: Heroin(e)

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Dear Basketball

Best Live-Action Short

Will Win: DeKalb Elementary

Thursday, March 1st, 2018 movies No Comments

Democrats Aren’t Genies

Earlier this week, the government shutdown was short-lived. Naturally, the base called out Democrats for “caving” because the base has been conditioned to believe that Democrats will bail at the first sign of trouble. I’ve been going back and forth on this all week, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Democrats didn’t play their hand as well as they could, but at the same time, they’re in an impossible position.

Yes, being the minority party, they can use the shutdown to try and extract certain concessions, and a bipartisan agreement for DREAMers isn’t the biggest ask in the world. It’s not like in 2013 when Republicans shut down the government in order to defund the Affordable Care Act as if Obama was going to ruin his signature achievement. That had, as you can imagine, zero bipartisan support. So the terms were different, but at the end of the day there are some hard truths at the center of this shutdown.

1) Even if Democrats were better at messaging (and for a party that has the support of Hollywood, no one ever seems to be able to give Aaron Sorkin a call), this is still a fight about immigrants, and a large portion of Americans may claim to be sympathetic to immigrants, but they don’t want to sacrifice anything for them. Americans don’t look to their government for empathy; they look to their government as “What have you done for me lately?” If Democrats had been smarter, they could have framed the problem as, “It’s not good when 800,000 jobs disappear,” or “These people contribute $3.4 billion to our economy, so maybe we should find a way to keep them here.” Instead, they framed it as a moral issue, and while they’re on the right side of the issue, the politics don’t support the action because too many Americans are selfish.

2) Democrats don’t control anything. Let’s assume that Mitch McConnell had caved and agreed that Graham-Durbin agreement had to be tied to spending. Then it moves to the House, and they’re a bunch of yahoos who definitely don’t care about shutting down the government. They would rant and rave about the DACA bill being a poison pill and that spending agreements should be separate from immigration and meanwhile Americans would just be getting angrier and angrier. Some liberals may argue that the anger would be directed at the Republicans, but I think that’s too rosy of an estimation. I think it would be directed at congress in general. Democrats don’t have to worry about liberals turning out in November. Weakening Trump will accomplish that; Democrats are worried about those people in 2016 who think the whole government is broken and that no one should be elected. Those people don’t show up, the status quo remains the same, and Republicans keep the House because of gerrymandering and incumbency rates.

3) If you’re really upset with how Democrats behaved, then the long game is on you. You have to get out there and start backing candidates who can win. I think far too many liberals threw up their hands in November 2016, assumed Clinton would win, and that life would continue on as normal. Welcome to 2018 where you actually have to work to accomplish what you want.  That means knocking on doors, volunteering, and actually getting in the fight. Sorry, civil engagement is tough. Welcome to a democracy.

One final note: I believe that when it comes to politicans, they basically all (or mostly all) operate from a standpoint of self-preservation. It’s while they’ll take donations from anyone and avoid blame at all costs. You don’t get to keep your job for being noble. And if avoiding blame is half your job, then that means you have to pass the buck.

I think Schumer’s strategy here is to shift the blame to the House and Paul Ryan. Here’s how it works:

1) Immigration reform passes in the Senate.

2) It dies in the House because A) Paul Ryan wants to remain Speaker, so he won’t piss off the hardliners; B) White supremacist Steve King has a veto vote, so he can prevent the legislation from even coming to the floor.

3) Schumer is able to say, “See? If you care about these poor kids* then we can’t let the GOP maintain control of the House. The only way to help DREAMers is to elect Democrats.

In this way, Schumer had maximized his issue. First, he can’t be blamed if the bill gets out of the Senate and dies in the House (and it’s not like Mitch McConnell cares about the fortunes of Paul Ryan, especially since McConnell can read a poll and knows that the GOP will probably lose the House anyway), and if it dies in the House, then he has another way to campaign against the GOP.

The downside in all of this is that DREAMers get caught in the crossfire. It’s a position they never should have been in in the first place, but here we are. In an ideal world, we never would have had this problem to begin with because people would have voted for Clinton over a game show host, but so it goes. These are the cards we’ve been dealt, and while I would obviously love it if the Durbin-Graham bill, which isn’t ideal, but an acceptable compromise, passed, what we’re looking at here is a way for Democrats to reach the best outcome possible for the party because (and I hate to say this) with Trump in the White House, fascist Stephen Miller as a chief advisor, and a GOP majority in the House and Senate, saving DREAMers was a bit of a pipe dream. To act like a longer shutdown would have saved them is a nice thought, but I think it would be been more about posturing for the base than actually extracting concessions.

*They’re not kids; they’re in their mid-20s, but I’ll allow the rhetoric because it’s effective

Saturday, January 27th, 2018 politics No Comments

You Are Unimportant, and That’s a Good Thing

We like to believe we’re the heroes of our own stories. We’re the protagonist, we have control, and we matter. And to an extent, that’s true. Our actions have meaning, we affect the people around us, and we are affected by them.

However, we only have so much impact, and for most of us, the world is largely indifferent to our actions. Some may find this depressing or that because they can’t control certain outcomes that things are hopeless. For me, I take comfort in my relative level of unimportance because it means I don’t have to stress out about things I can’t control.

I thought about this while reading Will Leitch’s great article about how we’ve forgotten how to fear, particularly with regards to nuclear war. My counter to this would be two-fold.

First, we haven’t forgotten HOW to fear as much as there’s now so many different things to fear. In 1983 when Testament was released, you didn’t have to worry about climate change, ISIS, mass shootings or any other variety of onslaught. It was like having only 3 TV channels and you watched the Nuclear Annihilation channel because that’s what was on. Now you have way more things to be terrified of, so nuclear war (which could certainly happen! I’m not dismissing it!) has to vie for attention among all the other things scaring us.

My second, and larger point, is that you just have to accept that in the event of nuclear war you will suffer and die and there’s nothing you can do about it. I was terrified of pandemics, but once I accepted that in the event of a pandemic I would simply be dead, I was able to watch Contagion relatively stress-free.

Stressing about things we can’t control doesn’t benefit anyone, and while fear can be useful, it can also be debilitating and cause us to make bad decisions (it’s also worth noting that in the midst of the Cold War, we ended up going to war in Vietnam and electing such luminaries as Nixon, so it’s not like knowing HOW to fear led us to better outcomes).

Do I think Trump will roast all of us in a nuclear holocaust? It’s possible, and it would be a fitting end to America—a leader elected on racism and greed (a reflection on our country’s original sin of slavery) obliterated by nuclear weapons (our final sin). But what can you do about it? Is it worth being anymore terrified than when the Bush administration had those idiotic color-coded terror threat levels?

These days, I find my fears tend to be more about what could happen to my loved ones or about my health or my career. My nightmares are, for the most part, comically mundane (I’ve had multiple dreams about the Falcons losing football games). That’s not to say that things aren’t bad or that they couldn’t get worse. It’s to say that unproductive fear is pointless, and that putting up signs for fallout shelters solves nothing.

Friday, December 29th, 2017 politics No Comments


So I’ve played a bit of Cuphead now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that while the game is indisputably gorgeous and a wakeup call to other developers to up their game when it comes to art style, the actual gameplay is too grueling to be enjoyable. There are some gamers who get off on punishingly difficult games, but I am now one of them. When I push my way through a boss fight or a level of Cuphead, I don’t feel like I figured something out or I improved enough to proceed. I tend to feel like I got away with something and that with just enough breaks, I was able to win. That’s not a particularly rewarding experience, and even playing with a friend, there’s not so much a sense of camaraderie as there is a grim determination where after a few tries you feel more exhaustion than exhilaration.

In summation, Cuphead is fine for some, but if you’re looking for a great game to play with friends, check out Overcooked.

Saturday, October 21st, 2017 videogames No Comments

Fox News Doesn’t Shape Viewers; Viewers Shape Fox News

I listen to Pod Save America on a frequent basis.  It’s a good show, and it separates itself from the average punditocracy because its participants were recently in a functional White House.  They know how things are supposed to work (as opposed to whomever CNN wants on a panel because they worked in the Clinton White House twenty years ago), and they’ve got good insights.

However, in their most recent episode, “Turd in the GOP Punchbowl”, they spend some time taking aim at Fox News, crying out that so many of our ills come from Fox News feeding a steady stream of bullshit to 40% of the populace.  If only Fox News wasn’t there, they speculate, the scales would be lifted from the eyes of Trump’s base, and they would see him for the corrupt, tinpot tyrant he truly is.

Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t follow.

You may recall that at the first GOP debate, which was hosted on Fox News, the network came down on him in a surprisingly harsh way.  Vox reports that this was part of a concerted effort by Rupert Murdoch to get Trump out of the race because Murdoch disliked Trump’s anti-immigration policies.  However, when Fox News viewers pushed back, Murdoch and Trump made up and Fox News’ coverage of Trump has been positive ever since.

There’s this notion that Fox News viewers are victims.  They’re hapless Americans who have been brainwashed into believing a horrible agenda, and while that may be true for some, for the most part, you have to have a moral compass where Fox News already appeals to you.  It’s not brainwashing; it’s confirmation bias.  If you believe that immigrants are ruining the country, that Democrats are coming to take your guns, and that Obama and the Clintons are the devil, you have a channel that tells you “You’re right!” on a consistent basis.

And I get that.  I listen to Pod Save America because they’re in tune with my liberal viewpoints.  But, as this post shows, I don’t swallow everything they sell me.  The only time Fox News viewers pushed back is when Fox News wasn’t hateful enough.  They wanted Trump.

And that’s a tougher thing to reckon with, so I can understand why Pod Save America would rather turn the blame onto a corporate entity like Fox News rather than the American citizens who comprise Fox News’ viewership.  But if you want to be honest with your listeners, you might need to confront the fact that Fox News isn’t the root of the problem.  They’re a horrible network, bu they’re also profiting off a problem that would exist whether they were around or not.

Friday, July 14th, 2017 criticism, politics No Comments

‘The Mummy’ Review: A Wretched Abomination

The Mummy marks the beginning of Universal’s Dark Universe, the brand under which the studio’s cinematic universe of classic monsters interconnects.  While cinematic universes became all the rage thanks to Marvel, Universal Monsters have crossed over decades ago.  The question with Universal Monsters wasn’t “Could they cross over?” but rather “What tone would they take?”  The original Universal Monster movies run the gamut from darkly comic (The Invisible Man) to tragedy (Frankenstein), sometimes within the span of the same movie (The Bride of Frankenstein).

For producer and The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman, his solution is to try and create an action-horror hybrid, a movie that can give action-packed scenes like Tom Cruise plummeting to Earth in a cargo plane, but can also be suitably creepy.  Unfortunately, The Mummy is left hanging somewhere in the middle, not thrilling enough to be an action-packed ride like the surprisingly enjoyable 1999 movie, nor is it scary enough to stand alongside serviceable PG-13 horror films like Cloverfield or Drag Me to Hell.  What should be the dawn of a new age of “gods and monsters” instead appears to be at a loss with how it should even begin.

The story follows Nick Morton (Cruise), a reconnaissance officer in the U.S. military who spends his time stealing antiquities in Iraq to sell on the black market.  When he and his friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) come across a tomb thanks to research stolen from archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), they discover a sarcophagus belonging to Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian who made a pact with Set, the God of Death, to rule Egypt.  However, the ritual to summon Set was interrupted, Ahmanet was mummified alive, and now she’s very angry.  When Nick carelessly raises her sarcophagus, he becomes “chosen” by her to be the new vessel for Set, so ends up scrambling across London with Jenny to avoid a wrathful Ahmanet.

If you look closely at The Mummy, there are some interesting things it’s trying to do.  Previous versions (the 1932 original and the 1999 remake) made the mummy, Imhotep, focus on his desire to reunite with his lost love, and, wouldn’t you know it, the female lead happens to remind him of that love, so he’s after the woman, and it’s up to the male hero to stop him.  Kurtzman’s Mummy tries to turn that on its head by trying to make the male lead the damsel in distress.  Moreover, it’s not that Nick reminds Ahmanet of her lost love as much as he’s a useful body so she can summon Set.  It’s a fun way to deconstruct the male hero, and one that Cruise is game for as he muddles his way through while Jenny provides all the knowledge.

Unfortunately, this approach is severely undermined by how Ahmanet is portrayed.  Her sexuality is turned not only into a key part of her character, but it’s literally weaponized.  Throughout the movie, she turns men into mummies by making out with them (if this sounds familiar, it’s because Enchantress also turned men into monsters by making out with them in last year’s Suicide Squad).   When it’s time to turn Nick into Set, she straddles him sexually, and while Kurtzman’s intent may have been to give Ahmanet the power in the scene, it shows that her power is mainly manifested in sexual ways.  Thus, the woman’s sexuality is both exploited and held up as a threat.

But even if the movie had somehow nailed the gender dynamic, it would struggle with the fact that it’s not a particularly interesting story and the lead characters lack arcs.  I’m a little shocked that Kurtzman, who’s not exactly new at screenwriting, can’t seem to grasp basic character development.  There’s not much reason to care about Nick and Jenny, and there’s very little reason to invest in their relationship.  The movie tries to coast on Cruise’s charisma, but even he seems at a loss as to why he’s there.  Nick isn’t an interesting guy, and his “arc” (if you could generously call it that), seems to be “He’s a bit of a selfish guy but then he ultimately does a selfless thing for a woman he doesn’t really know too well.”

The Mummy seems so eager to get to the action scenes and building up its own little universe that it skips the important stuff like “Make sure the audience is invested in the characters,” and “Make sure the story makes sense.”  I know that a Creature from the Black Lagoon movie is in the pipeline because I saw the creature’s severed hand in a glass jar when Nick walks through the lab of Prodigium, the super secret organization run by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).  What I don’t know is why a super secret organization would be run by a guy like Jekyll who needs a complex series of injections every few hours or else he turns into a cockney rage monster.

Of course, the reason is because The Mummy is more concerned with setting up the pieces of future Dark Universe movies rather than telling individual stories.  But if The Mummy is any indication of what’s to come with Dark Universe, then these aren’t movies worth making.  What The Mummy signals is that Dark Universe will pile on loads of crummy CGI and awful storytelling that’s a waste of the time and talent of A-list actors like Cruise.  Kurtzman isn’t just some hired gun on board for this one movie.  He, along with Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious), has been the guiding force of Dark Universe, and he thinks The Mummy is a fine start to this cinematic universe.  It’s not.  It’s an abomination.

Rating: D-

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 movies No Comments

Why Are Republicans Protecting Trump? A Theory

Right now, Republicans are busy running interference for Trump as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies about Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia.  At this point, it’s fairly obvious there was some sort of connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the details are still foggy, and trying to discern them will likely lead you down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole.

So instead of trying to postulate about what exactly are the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia (information that will probably be slowly revealed over the following years rather than what someone vomits out in a tweetstorm), I’d like to offer a theory about why Republicans are bothering running interference for Trump in the first place.  After all, he’s not their guy.  He’s not a popular President.  If they threw him under the bus and put in Mike Pence, they could probably enact their agenda with far less drama.

So why protect Trump?  I think there are two reasons.  The first is that Trump still controls the base.  These are the people that have no regrets about voting Trump and haven’t really felt his wrath.  They’re fine with the administration terrorizing immigrants and people of color, and while they wish Trump would tweet less (i.e. be less openly stupid), they want him to stay President…for now.

But Trump is everybody’s fool, which leads us to the second reason.  If the policies enacted under Trump are wildly unpopular, then the GOP can throw him under the bus before the midterms.  Keep in mind that most politicians at the national level don’t have ideology; they simply want to get reelected (this is an issue on the right and the left), and they’ll do anything to be reelected.  So, for example, if the GOP’s poll numbers are bad around spring or summer 2018, then they’ll launch an investigation into Trump.  By that point, the base will be suitably disappointed, and then the GOP can say that Trump was never a true Republican and that the GOP will always look into malfeasance.  They sacrifice Trump to save their skins and buy another two years under a President Pence.

Monday, May 8th, 2017 politics No Comments

There Is No Safety in Stupidity

We’ve passed the 100 day mark in the Trump administration, and while there were fears that we would be plunged into an authoritarian state, it turns out that Trump is too lazy and stupid to make that happen.  He has all the makings of a fascist except the part of actually figuring out how to make things happen.  What’s disturbing is that it seems like our greatest bulwark against Trump’s cruelty is his stupidity.  The man is so profoundly dumb that he can’t make anything happen.  There was the fear that Steve Bannon would act as a Svengali and use Trump as a puppet for his white nationalistic goals, but it turns out that since Bannon was also kind of dumb and his initial plans backfired horribly, his role has been reduced.

Some are hoping that this is our new normal: incompetent kleptocracy.  Simply put, Trump, due to his lack leadership and complete disinterest in policy details, will putter around miserably for four years as he modestly enriches himself and his family by going to Trump properties every weekend.  He may even ram through a massive tax cut that would save him and his wealthy peers (I don’t say “friends” because Trump has no friends), but on the whole, the Republic will persevere and we’ll never make this kind of horrible mistake ever again.

That’s comforting, but it’s unlikely.  Remember that for the first nine months of the George W. Bush presidency, he was seen as a largely comical figure.  He almost choked on a pretzel.  Trey Parker and Matt Stone made a sitcom parody called That’s My Bush! because he was viewed as a lovable dope.  Then 9/11 happened and everything got a lot less funny.

So far, the Trump administration has been embroiled in chaos, and it’s all chaos of their own doing.  To assume that this is the new normal is to assume that no external threat will emerge in the next four years.  And it’s possible we’ll get ridiculously lucky and no major threat will emerge until an adult is in White House.  But that’s a huge risk, and to simply assume that everything is going to be okay just because Trump’s first 100 days have been a (to borrow one of his favorite words) disaster is a mistake.

On the one hand, I don’t think we’re slowly plunging into authoritarianism.  I understand the vigilance and I respect it, but I think Trump’s actions over the first 100 days have shown that he’s not playing 3D chess or even checkers.  He struggles mightily with connect-the-dots.  But if a true crisis emerges, that’s when we’ll be in even greater danger.  I pray that day never comes and we can get to January 20, 2021 with a new, compassionate, and sane President.

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017 politics No Comments