Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Enlightenment's Game Over Screen

We ran out of quarters on our 2018 American arcade cabinet. Yeah, a lame gaming metaphor for an even lamer society. I was going to try and somehow segue into Brett Kavanaugh using Pac-Man and Galaga references… but the reader lucked out. Boy howdy, you might even say they scored a continue! Well, there goes the last bit of my levity.

So, why is everything so terrible now? Why is it that we can no longer talk to each other? Why is it that we can no longer come together on any issue, with our old NATO allies, or even as simple Americans? The only things that still make us a society at this point are some pretty frivolous facts: We live within the borders of something called the United States, we use the same currency, and we have roads connecting us. That’s about it. A coherent culture is no longer a resident among our citizenry.

We are all children of the Age of Enlightenment. All that we have and who we are, everything that’s not traced back of being a peasant or a slave, is owed to the great old thinkers of the Enlightenment. David Hume, Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, among many others, paved the way to live a life no longer shackled in ignorance and delusion. To live free, even if at a modest income, and to die on your own terms according to your own passions. This is what we were afforded.

I’ve often talked about Thomas Paine. He is, after all, one of my two heroes from teenage years. The other being Goku, a fictional anime character. What this says about my sanity, I cannot say. In any event, as every non-swamp person taught in elementary school knows, Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense. Great, hooray for our education system. They don’t tell you that Common Sense actually outsold the Bible (in the 18th century, no less) and Paine gave all his profits to purchase mittens for freezing American soldiers during the Revolution. Our schools also don’t tell you that Thomas Paine died a broke and hated man for what he later said regarding criticism of Christianity. So despised, that a century later Theodore Roosevelt would regard him as a “filthy little Atheist.”

While Paine was even denied the right to vote in his own country after his publication of the Age of Reason, apparently his words mattered to some. In 1809, for his defense of freedom to everyone in all places, two out of the six mourners that made up his meager funeral procession were freed African Americans. These two black men didn’t need a white master or a white pastor to tell them what to do or believe anymore; they were free to weep for a publicly maligned hero.

But what is a liberal? What is liberty, for that matter? What did Thomas Paine and other progressives fight for? Religious ideals are universal in their function for dull-witted humans to stab and shoot each other with God on their side. In order for Arnaud Amaury to have a dopey, bloodlust induced grin as he and his Crusader army cut the heads off 20,000 Cathar men, women, and children, he had to believe in a stupidity that transcended moral obscenity. That is, he “let God sort them out.” His boss, Pope Innocent III, was a divine instrument… and of course must be innocent of all things, genocide included.

So, what the hell has all this to do with anything? Well, evidence matters. Evidence matters more than black lives, more than white lives, more than allegations of rape from both boys and girls, and it certainly matters far more than me. I’ll refrain from focusing on Brett Kavanaugh, as if I did it would just serve to water down what matters. Besides, I might as well pick Aziz Ansari or that entire UVA fraternity from 2014 if I was going to go into false, or at the very least, unsubstantiated and poorly evidenced claims.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? The fact that liberals now believe anything, absolutely anything regardless of facts or evidence of any stripe, as long as it’s against the “opposition.” As long as it feeds into our weak and pitiful cries for emotional attention. As long as our primary identity is not being free but being offended and outraged. Thomas Paine was offended and outraged when he was thrown inside a French dungeon in arguing human dignity even for King Louis. Nat Turner was offended and outraged when he was sentenced to be hung for merely rebelling against his masters, a similar subject that made George Washington an inspirational “revolutionary,” but Turner a half-mad monster. These men, and many others who actually fought against tyranny, felt “triggered,” but they remain as Reason’s torches… however despised by fools they may be.

The point is that without deference to evidence, without objective consideration to uncomfortable facts, and above all, the burning desire to see all men and women be lords of their own fate, then the Enlightenment is truly over. Small-minded shit such as the concern over a country club nobody like Brett Kavanaugh is an abject disgrace for a progressive mind. For the record, if it’s discovered that Kavanaugh is an attempted rapist, then charge him for perjury and when he finally gets out of jail, spit on him and curse his name when he’s on the street as an untouchable bum. If evidence is found then you’ll have my glowing endorsement.

But we’re missing the point. Answer this question: What in Lovecraft’s name have liberals been doing since 1991? There’s no more Kaiser. There’s no more Hitler. There’s no more Stalin. Hell, there isn’t even a Saddam Hussein anymore. Here’s the sad truth: we’re stuck with ourselves and we’re scared of the dark. Or to quote a Christian coward like Blaise Pascal, “the eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” The United States finally beat out fascism and communism, even went to the moon, but now we’re afraid of our own reflection. This is what religious cowardice looks like. They cannot handle reality, so they tremble and lie to themselves and others that there’s a better one. A Heaven for good little sheep.

Liberals now carry the sin of doing the same thing. We need our safe spaces. We need our precious identity labels as being gay, straight, black, white, female, or male. We need constant reassurances that Republicans are very bad, so we Democrats must be very good. These childish pursuits have kept us quite busy but has not produced the utopia that was due after the fall of the Soviet Union. Also, as an aside, being an Atheist does not make you special or cute. Scientologists are technically also Atheists, but their worldview puts even biblical nonsense like the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Flood to shame in their perverse idiocy. What matters is secularism. Without a secular mindset, even an Atheist can become anti-reason and dogmatic.

If Hillary Clinton, who was on the board of directors at Walmart, was our corporate sellout of a president instead of Donald Trump (you know, our actual corporate sellout of a president), then what honestly would have changed? At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are going to give a gourmet handjob to guys like the Nestle CEO who wants to privatize water. How about we come together as a humble species of mammals and try to explore and colonize space? Or really, anything other than putting an out of date “I’m With Her” bumper sticker on your car. Or maybe it’s too late and we should just drink beer like Brett Kavanaugh.

Monday, June 4, 2018

I am no more or less than myself

The title I’ve chosen to use for this article is from an anime. That’s probably not too surprising for those that know me. However, the anime in question, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is one of the most existential pieces of art I’ve witnessed. It starts out following the well-trodden cliché of a teenage boy piloting a mech (here called an EVA Unit) to save the world. For a title from 1995 the general premise is not much different from 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam. In that show, the boy, Amuro Ray, became very capable with few moral qualms about being a child soldier. On the other hand, Shinji Ikari, from Evangelion, was not so eager. In fact, he’s a coward.

Shinji reminds me of myself… in that he’s uncertain about his identity. He’s afraid of everything, from human contact to even knowing what he wants in life. However, his one fleeting pleasure is from the praise of his superiors for doing a good job at piloting a weapon. Shinji falsely believes that even though he hates himself, that if he pleases others he’ll find meaning. Evangelion’s last two episodes have received much criticism from a change in tone to their slow pace. In fact, the creator, Hideaki Anno, received death threats for his ending. Anno also suffered from clinical depression.

I imagine people hated it because it was too real. The finale didn’t have giant robots blowing up other giant robots, instead, Shinji comes to an internal revelation: That though he still hates himself, maybe his life is worth living. In other words, he comes to believe his own personal truth. Shinji, though an animated character, is us when we ask ourselves, “Who are we really?”

I suppose it might be a lack of imagination that I relate my deepest thoughts to an anime. Yet I find that Shinji’s desperation to find meaning through simply being complimented is uncannily similar to my attempts to please others by mimicking their beliefs. Due to my Borderline Personality Disorder, one of my coping mechanisms in the past has been to just give assent to whoever I look up to. I’m afraid of abandonment and betrayal, so I would lie to myself about what I truly thought regarding God. If you always agree with someone, the less chance there is that they can hurt you.

There’s a limit to how much I can lie to myself though. So, I’d push all my doubts about orthodox Christianity in the corner of my brain, but eventually the dam would burst. The last seven months I’ve tried to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and just be a fancy kind of Albert Camus absurdist in order to somehow float above left-wing Atheists and right-wing Christians.

To be an Atheist and not despair, you have to have faith you’re going to live in a Star Trek fantasy land where we all sing and hold hands in space despite our inherent selfishness. In order to be a Christian, you have to have faith that 2000 years ago a Palestinian rabbi was the Son of God, was executed, and subsequently broke every natural law by coming back to life three days later. Both of these are insane. Rather, they both violate what we know of reality. Humans are greedy and dead people stay dead.

However, I believe that if one is looking for some finished crossword puzzle of truth that is 100% provable (or even quantifiable in any way) then they are wasting their time. There will always be some argument, some piece of data, that will absolutely not seem like it fits into your worldview. For the Atheist, they cannot explain what sparked the Big Bang without going into different hypothetical dimensions and a different hypothetical “bubble” multiverse. It’s an excuse to get around the uncomfortable fact that the universe is not eternal as Atheists had hoped before evidence of galaxy redshift was found by Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest and astronomer in the 1930’s. So, Atheists must look to a secular miracle to explain away the basic logic of causality.

However, the Christian is no better off. He cannot explain why there are billions of empty galaxies with hundreds of billions of empty planets if it’s indeed accurate that the salvation and sanctification of mankind on Earth is God’s only true concern. Why would God wait 13.8 billion years (minus two millennia) until he got started with his one and only plan? Why are we not even in the center of our own galaxy? Why allow dinosaurs to evolve and thrive for millions of years only to inevitably smash them with an asteroid in the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago? Why not just skip the reptiles and go straight to it with mammals? Why keep human beings naked and cold in the dark for tens of thousands of years before fire and the wheel? Why wait for Mary in Bethlehem to reveal yourself?

If Christians want to ignore all these questions or pretend that the Earth is 6000 years old, then they are welcome to it. Just know that whatever apologetic you come up with, be it the Shroud of Turin or trying to prove the eyewitness accounts of the Gospel, you will get no closer to producing God. Neither will wallowing in the depths of arcane doctrines like Calvinism or Arminianism produce him.

Fundamentally, after all this time I am still choosing to believe in Jesus Christ. It has nothing to do with Christianity magically filling in every intellectual gap. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even answer moral questions I have. Why did God allow the Holocaust? Why does he still allow innocent children to be sexually abused in the world even at this very moment? No amount of Bible study will give you the right formula.

No, there is only one reason to become a Christian… and that is Christ himself. As an individual operating under Descartes’ philosophy, “I think, therefore I am.” Or, to quote Evangelion again, “I am no more or less than myself.” To put it another way, I can only relate to another how I personally see things. I can only speak for myself. I know many people have sacred beliefs that are dear to them. I know that in my attempt to fight hypocrisy and double standards that I can often come off as an elitist myself. I’m not blind to that fact. However, I do try to be honest.

So, why am I still a Christian? It’s the same inspiration that forever boomerangs back into the forefront of my mind: that Jesus loved me so much, that despite my utter sinfulness, He volunteered to die in my place so that I may eternally live through Him. Not only that, but God promises me that my mental illness which has caused me to scar my body and almost take my own life three times is merely part of, “light momentary troubles and are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” What’s even greater is that if Jesus has mercy on me, then there is hope for everyone that suffers and believes in His name.

But make no mistake. We are called to be “fools for Christ’s sake.” In the same passage, we are also told that, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” So, you can work a white-collar job, put on a suit and tie and then go debate a skeptic; just remember that we are not meant to look respectable or intelligent in society. We are supposed to be spat on. As Jesus said, “So the last will be first and the first will be last.”

Finally, I am committed to focusing “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” Therefore, I will believe in Jesus alone and not submit to any particular church’s dogma. Though I’m aware many people will reflexively lump me in with Jerry Falwell and Roy Moore, I refuse to just accept what is deemed orthodox in Donald Trump’s America. I will not defend these statements, nor do I feel that I have any obligation to do so as a free man. I hope that all men are saved eventually, as the early church father Origen once did. I believe God smiles upon faithful gay marriages. I believe in the theory of evolution. I believe in Big Bang cosmology. I believe it’s blasphemy that Christians came into political power through emperors Constantine and Theodosius. Furthermore, I also believe that the United States has been an idolatrous and godless nation from its inception.

I care about trying to minister to those without hope, which is why I’m finally getting my associate degree in human services. I care about trying to be a better Christian, so that others with mental illnesses know that suicide isn’t the answer. I care about reaching those the church has left behind. I care about praying for what God wants me to do, even if it’s unpopular. I care about worshipping Jesus, my personal savior, in my own personal way.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Stop ruining peace in Israel and Palestine

Although I'm not considered a Jew by Orthodox standards (I am by Reform Judaism standards) since only my father and his side of the family is Jewish, not my mother's... the bottom line is if I lived in Germany during the 1940’s with my last name as Cohen, my ass would be rounded up and put in a concentration camp before I had time to eat a latke. So, I write this with some semblance of authority.

After last week’s horrific slaughter of 60 Palestinian protesters (including 8 children) by IDF members, I’ve finally decided to speak my mind on the issue of Israel and Palestine. The entire debate has very simple solutions, and indeed, always had. One can certainly say that the way Israel was established in 1948 was the wrong way to go about it: bringing in displaced people to a land already occupied... but here we are exactly 70 years later, and it doesn’t look like either side is going to magically disappear anytime soon.

Quite honestly, this constant conflict is kept in place by the most degenerate representatives of the Abrahamic faiths. Not any faith or its people in general, mind you, but the Jerry Falwells, the Benjamin Netanyahus, and the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads. One of these groups, the nationalistic Netanyahu faction, refuses to remedy the situation by simply assimilating the displaced Palestinians into Israel as citizens or even producing a two state solution. The idea seems to be that if the Palestinians became Israelis, that they would somehow corrupt the "Jewishness" of Israel, which is a bigoted and baseless thing to say. I mean, Israel is a secular democracy and isn't supposed to operate as a theocracy in the first place.

Then you get the Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iranian factions which refuse to even admit the fact that Israel exists. I suppose this type of idiocy is best summed up by Iran when they’ve said they will "wipe Israel off the map." This rhetoric is all well and good if you're a radical Islamist that lives in the palace from Aladdin, but it doesn't give any reality based solutions to all the Palestinians that endure unspeakable poverty. The U.N. has said a while back that Gaza's conditions will officially be "unlivable" by 2020... which is, you know, just a year and a half away. The Middle Eastern coalition couldn't beat Israel militarily in the Six Day War in 1967, and they sure as hell won't now with tanks and planes from the Soviet era. Islamic countries need to stop swinging their dicks around and sit down at the negotiating table with Israel.

Finally, the worst bunch: Us. Or rather, far right Christian extremists in the United States. I’ve taken to calling them the American Taliban with business suits and a smile. Pastors like Jerry Falwell (who's now thankfully very dead), Jerry Falwell Jr, Pat Robertson, John Hagee, and Franklin Graham, as well as moronic politicians like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, don't give half a cross about the West Bank... or Israel and the Jews for that matter. They believe in a modern form of the End Times, as popularized by Tim LaHaye and the literary dumpster fire that can only be the Left Behind series. They actually think that if Israel builds the so-called "Third Temple" in Jerusalem this will spark a biblical end of the world which will lead to Jesus Christ's second coming.

Every time Jerusalem is mentioned in the news these gentle Christians are dancing a jig hoping that their rapture to Heaven is close at hand, and that the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, and yes, even the Jews, will apparently wallow behind in blood and shit under the furry hoof of Satan. Their foreign policy is literally chaos. Should we really pay serious attention to what these delusional clowns think is best for the region?

These three elitist groups don't give a damn about anyone other than themselves. They are living definitions to the trait of selfishness. Their philosophy is essentially Ayn Rand with a prayer thrown in. They deserve our laughter and nothing more. Ordinary Jews and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis, humans and other humans, are going to have to fix this humanitarian crisis themselves. When a man is starving, does it truly matter what label he has before you feed him? If there is a God, surely compassion and reason are gifts to be used.

Saturday, January 27, 2018


It’s odd. I know that I’m quite prone to black and white thinking (called splitting) when it comes to most things in my life. It’s a result of my mental illness. Yet when I look around at the overwhelming majority of mankind, I cannot believe that their petty squabbling about political philosophies, theological differences, or even opinions on something as pedantic as the corporate tax rate, is something that ought to be considered normal. Here’s a fun game: just mention the topic of abortion in any group conversation and watch everyone cluck and sputter in their best attempt to mimic a chicken with its head cut off.

Clearly, people have strong opinions. I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising. Yet what amazes me about “normal people” that don’t have BPD or Asperger-like symptoms is this: they may be more comfortable with their own thoughts on how the world should be… or to put it another way, they quite enjoy agreeing with themselves on every issue, and they’re also inclined to find solidarity with social groups that espouse those exact same things. Conservatives seem to get along with the Republican Party just fine, while liberals seem to get along with the Democratic Party just fine. However, what they can’t tolerate is another idea that has any sort of baggage that strays from their own ideological lens.

I’m not smarter than the average guy on the street, but I am more intellectual about the world than most. However, because of my BPD tendencies, I’m unable to craft a coherent sense of self like most of humanity. I’ve constantly gone back and forth as to what philosophical label applies to me. Before understanding that I had Borderline Personality Disorder, I simply thought that there was something wrong with me on why I couldn’t form a systematic theory of ethics unto myself.

It turns out that I just had the reverse problem of mankind. The average person may be “proud to be Irish” or “proud to be Italian.” They might also shout “Black power.” Of course, some of them (as just demonstrated in Charlottesville last year) may also chant “blood and soil” and everyone’s favorite, “Jews will not replace us.” For example, as an objective observer of reality, I can look back into the 1960’s and plainly see that when Malcom X was part of the Nation of Islam, an organization that literally believes white people were created by a mad scientist named Yakub 6600 years ago (look it up), he was being just as bugfuck bonkers as a KKK member who believed in “racial hierarchies” with the white man on top.

I remember the day after Barack Obama was elected again in 2012. I was talking with a friend of mine and his wife, who were both very active in their conservative church. I tried to treat the discussion with kid gloves, so as not to trigger them. Even in doing so, the wife abruptly started sobbing about “unborn children” and how President Obama was apparently going to kill them all one by one. At moments like these I simply marvel at our species for its incredible inclination for irrational thinking.

Everyone wants a label. It seems they need it to be able to rationalize their existence on a pale blue dot spinning in the dark depths of space. Over 1300 planet Earths could fit inside Jupiter alone, and we’re here debating tribalistic nonsense like whether a football player taking a knee during the American national anthem is somehow disrespecting the troops or that it’s not the right time and place to protest. Want the answer? Well, here it is: Who gives a shit either way? Who in their right mind concerned about globally critical issues like terrorism, poverty, and climate change can possibly think anything involving the respect or disrespect of an inanimate object like a flag could possibly chart even a two on the 1-100 “Does it matter at all-o-meter?”

I think if we’re ever going to move past the “indelible stamp of our lowly origin,” as Darwin once said, then we’re all going to have to remove as much vestigial black and white thinking as we can from our collective consciousness and attempt to have discussions with people we strongly disagree with. Maybe you believe that transgender couples should have all the rights afforded to them as straight couples. That’s completely legitimate and constitutional. However, the majority of religious people on the planet do not believe that transgenderism is a legitimate phenomenon. Even if you feel emotionally triggered, you cannot coerce people into believing something they don’t. That being said, if there’s hate or discrimination based on your gender identity, then everyone regardless of labels should come to your defense as fellow human beings.

I’ve become an Agnostic, and I often get lunch with Christian friends of mine that are absolutely certain that if I don’t believe the Nicene Creed as written in 325 AD before I die then I’m going to burn in a lake of fire with demons for all eternity. This is actually what they believe. Of course, I think that’s laughable. However, I'm still convinced that we can all work together despite seemingly insurmountable division.

I think at the root bottom of morality is something innate. It’s certainly metaphysical, and you might even call it supernatural to a degree. What I mean is that while we obviously have great debates on how things ought to be, we really do have a core of hard ethics that seem to crop up on its own. When I say supernatural, I merely mean to suggest that since we cannot look at “good and evil” under a microscope, or any other scientific method, that it doesn’t seem to simply occur naturally as a survival mechanism.

I had an epiphany just last week when I read the nightmarish story in California about 13 children being physically and mentally tortured by their parents for untold years. There seems to be a metaphorical switch in our brain that trips when we hear about something monstrous like child abuse. This might be an extreme example, but I think it shows that deep down we all truly do care about each other. Children aren’t pigeonholed by partisanship, so we’re able to love them unconditionally. Imagine if we got rid of labels like children do. I don’t know if what I’m positing is that there’s some kind of cosmic force that planted these objective ethics into our DNA, but it seems to exist regardless of the origin. Maybe if we work together we’ll be able to get a beer together.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Convinced Agnostic

I’ve decided to write this for my own catharsis and nothing more. I don’t expect it to change anyone’s mind. To quote Jethro Tull, “I can make you feel, but I can’t make you think.” I can only say that I’m being true to myself.

To clarify some unfortunate cultural ignorance, Agnosticism actually has two definitions. One is what most people say, which is that they’re undecided on Theism or Atheism and they’re still looking for evidence. The other definition, of which I fall under, is that any talk of God or any ultimate explanation as to why we’re here is fundamentally unanswerable. I’m not waiting for new evidence to come in, because any possible data we receive would be inherently unacceptable under the lens of scientific rigor.

I want to make another distinction here, in that I’m only talking about being Agnostic in the sense of a prime mover or a Deistic creator that metaphorically “wound the clock” of the cosmos. Or perhaps even that life was seeded by an alien species so advanced that they would functionally appear as gods to our primitive ape-like minds. All of these are interesting and plausible ideas. Hell, if you really want to go crazy, you can even say that since philosophically we can’t prove our five senses past brain chemicals, we could all be in the Matrix. Of course, the probability for the last one is pretty low I’d wager… Not that I wouldn’t want to be Neo. Despite the lack of evidence, I even admit in wanting to believe that there's an afterlife.

What makes me an Agnostic as opposed to an Atheist would be my attempt to be humble about not knowing everything. Science is the best tool humanity ever invented. In just a few hundred years from Galileo, we understand so much about our universe. We know the Earth rotates around the sun and not vice-versa. We know that all species evolved from a common ancestor through natural selection. We know that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. We even know what the surfaces of all the planets and moons in our solar system are like through photographs sent back from probes like Voyager 1 and 2.

As grand as all that is, science is only capable of answering “how” questions. In which I simply mean that science explains natural phenomena in the material world. It cannot, and is not even supposed to, try to answer a question like, “Why are we here?” That’s not to say we can’t fight back against pseudoscience like young earth creationism, but it does mean that there are boundaries. For example, what caused the Big Bang is a realm that we cannot enter. Theists say God created everything, however, this only begs the question as to who created God. Atheists say that there might be billions of universes, a sort of “multiverse.” Of course, that also just begs the question as to where the multiverse came from. So, at the end of the day, we merely have to be skeptical of any “grand theory” be it theistic or atheistic.

Concerning the religions on this small planet, specifically the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, I am as close to being an Atheist as I possibly can be as an Agnostic. I view their likelihood as I would with Greek or Roman myths. However, I also recognize that the Golden Rule found in all major faiths has tremendously helped progress our collective ethics. Stories like Jesus' Sermon on the Mount still have moral power and relevance.  

I was a Christian for a long time. In fact, I only left it very recently, so I don’t view religious people in contempt or anything of the sort. As I said, I simply must be true to myself. I could easily spend pages upon pages dismantling Christianity and all its intellectual pretenses as a justification for my apostasy, but the truth is there are better things to do. I was born Jewish by heritage, an Atheist for most of my life, then a Christian, and now an Agnostic. However, these things don’t define me, nor should it anyone. The only thing that ought to matter is how we treat one another. If humanity fails to love everyone, even those they disagree with, then it won’t much matter who was right when we all kill each other.

"I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came from and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to me to be that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man's intellect; but man can do his duty." -Charles Darwin, 1873

Friday, October 20, 2017

What's Wrong With Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite

So, after six long years in the making I finally got to play Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. I also bought it new near launch, something I don’t really do anymore. However, Street Fighter V passed the Xbox One by, and I wasn’t going to miss the fourth iteration of my favorite Capcom brawler. It’s hard to believe MVC 3 came out back in 2011. Despite the 11 year wait from MVC 2, MVC 3 was just as crazy as its predecessor, with crazy 3 on 3 character fights, ridiculous air combos, screen filling super specials, and a simply wonderful stylized look to the levels that payed homage to both Capcom and Marvel’s rich heritage. That’s certainly a lot to live up to… so how’d it go this time?

Not too well. In fact, not well at all. Of the four features I just listed that made MVC my fighter of choice, only one of those things made it into this game: the super specials. To be fair, Street Fighter or even Mortal Kombat has super specials, so that alone is not going to save this game. I suppose at this point Capcom expects that I should be thankful that Ryu can still fire a large hadoken. Sorry, I’m not.

So, to go point by point here, let’s talk about the 3 on 3 fights. Whoops, I forgot… there are no 3 on 3 fights anymore. Instead, they’ve gone back to something that hasn’t been in a MVC game since the first one in 1998. I’ll merely remind you that’s nearly 20 years ago when the N64 and PS1 were in their prime. Imagine if Street fighter V just took their mechanics back to Street Fighter 1 in 1987 so as to not “frustrate new players.” It’s clearly an attempt to just make this a game for casuals as dictated by Disney. We don’t want the Angry Birds crowd to feel left out, now would we?

Ah, and now about those air combos… oh, damn my poor memory. Shucks, they’re gone too. At least half of the fun of MVC 2 and 3 was finding a creative and natural flowing way you could knock your opponent in the air, bounce him around, and keep him there. It was an art of sorts. Now in Infinite you can barely get the guy in the air to do a few meager moves on him, which I guess makes sense now. You don’t want to hurt him too much… there’s only two characters left after all, right? There are a few air combos I’ve seen done online, but pretty much all of them boil down to just getting one guy in a corner and trapping him. This has simply been called “cornering” since the days of Street Fighter 2 and it’s just a really lazy strategy, even if it’s effective.

Then we actually have the look of the game. Well, at least there are actual graphics on my television I guess, as opposed to a black screen. Progress? Of course, there is the issue as to whether the in-game graphics make me want to duct tape my eyes shut. The answer is yes, yes they do. Apparently, Capcom decided to go with the Unreal engine for the character models and levels this time… and good God do they look hideous. The characters look like lifeless mannequins, especially any character that’s even slightly stylized. Mega Man X and Zero for instance look like their blank doll eyes are going to steal your soul. Who the hell thought that anime-like characters such as these and others, would be best served by the engine that runs Gears of War? Someone’s doing bumps of cocaine at either Capcom or Disney… Hell, maybe they’re all going at it like Tony Montana in Scarface. Also, to be brief, the stages look completely bland, and they’re almost entirely focused on the Marvel universe. Boring.

Let’s also talk about the infinity stones. First off, it’s obvious, but I do feel the need to say that the only reason this game was finally allowed to be made, was because Disney thought it would make a nice advertisement for their new Avengers: Infinity War movie. This is also why Disney refused to use any Marvel characters used in Fox movies, such as all the X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and Deadpool. To not at least have Wolverine in here is just shameful.

So, what exactly do the infinity stones actually do in this game? Well, in theory they attempt to make up for a lack of a third character by giving you one of six different colored stones with various abilities. It actually sounds compelling on paper… until you realize when you go online that only one stone really matters: the soul stone. When the soul stone is powered up it can actually bring a downed character back to life. In addition, you can actually control them both simultaneously against the poor bastard who is about to have a train run on him. I once had a guy who revived his dead partner not one, but two times. It’s like playing whack-a-mole.

Are there a few good things in Infinite? Yes, I don’t deny that. It’s nice to have Mega Man and Venom back. It’s also pretty cool that we finally have a story mode now. I even think the new villain of Ultron Sigma actually makes a lot of sense. That being said, this is not Marvel vs. Capcom to me. I honestly don’t know what this is. I suppose it’s trying to be its own thing, and I can accept that… However, whatever game this actually is, it is quite simply not for fans of MVC 2 or MVC 3. I’m also honestly disgusted at how corporatized this game is. Everything just reeks of Capcom sheepishly approaching Disney and routinely asking “Is this okay, Mr. Mouse?” I still wouldn’t call Infinite a terrible game, but I won’t be playing it anymore either. Maybe Dragon Ball FighterZ can save us all.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dragon Ball Super is the new GT

Warning: if you don’t watch Dragon Ball Z or Super, then this post will mean extraordinarily little to you.

Now with that out of the way, we can get to the meat of it. Let’s start with the basics… As silly as I know it sounds, Goku was an early kind of Christ figure to me as a small child. His ethics were profound, yet was an exceedingly simple man to understand. He believed in forgiveness, was a loving father, and being remarkably powerful, he protected the planet from evil.

A character like Goku only really makes sense when the stakes are high. Goku, being a martial artist who constantly wanted to test his own limits, came into many situations where his back was against the wall. Dragon Ball Z (really all the way up to Cell) also had Goku’s friends assisting him to manage some outrageous wins for the good guys.

Just the first saga with the Saiyan invasion had every one of “Earth’s Special Forces” pulling out all the stops against Vegeta and Nappa. Yamcha, Chiaotzu, Tien, and even the mighty Piccolo fell in battle. Furthermore, if it hadn’t been for Gohan, Krillin, and Yajirobe’s surprising act of bravery in slicing off Vegeta’s tail, victory would never have been achieved. Also, when it comes down to a coward like Yajirobe, you know you’re cutting it close… The bottom line: people aside from just Goku pitched in and the weight and urgency of the battle was lost to no kid watching Toonami at the time.

Then you get to the Android Saga when a time traveler named Trunks warns everybody that their future just went full Terminator and they need to train like hell to stop it from happening. Not to mention, just the appearance of Trunks, this awesome new character, and how he killed Frieza by brutally chopping him into chunks with his sword and then proceeding to blow those same bits up, was literally the coolest thing I had yet seen on TV. Once again, these moments were filled with the question, “Are they actually going to win?” Or just as important, “Is someone going to die and not come back?”

Now… sigh… we get to Dragon Ball Super. I could honestly talk about DBZ all day and my favorite episodes (best one is Save the World, just saying), but that would defeat the purpose of this post. God in Heaven, where to even begin with this fan fiction? Well, let’s just start from the beginning I suppose. While I did enjoy the two new movies in the theater (Battle of Gods and Resurrection F) the problem is that Super literally just adapts HALF of its show into being just drawn-out filler of the films. It’s truly quite remarkable. With Dragon Ball Z you had filler like Garlic Jr. for an obvious reason: They were still drawing the manga! So, this is the first anime I’ve ever seen that has self-imposed filler because apparently the writers for this show are a bunch of asshat monkeys… and please don’t give me, “This was all from Akira Toriyama’s imagination.” It’s not. I don’t believe that for a second. It’s just like GT because it has Toriyama’s name attached to it but not much else. Maybe he did some character designs like Super Saiyan Blue, similarly to how he also did the sketch for Super Saiyan 4 in GT.

I could also rant and rave for days at how the animation and line work looks like garbage… but I’ll simply say that if you think the animation looks “modern” it’s only because they’re putting a CGI “watercolor” type sheen on everything. It’s not good, it just looks shiny. Compare that to just the one scene of Vegeta raging out and beating the crap out of Recoome… my God, the vivid frames of movement. It’s such a shame because back in the day Toei had great hand drawn shows. Even Sailor Moon had tons of detail.

Another gripe with Dragon Ball Super is that there’s no weight, there’s no gravity, there’s no urgency, and there’s no real threat. The only time when Super isn’t stealing from their own films, is when they decide to do the most boring and tiresome thing a shonen fighting anime can do in the year 2017… Have another tournament of course! I mean, really? Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho, G Gundam, and Hunter X Hunter have already done this to death. It’s a proverbial dead horse where even his ghost has been beaten to death. Are we genuinely still doing this Japan?

My final complaint is the worst one. They destroyed Future Trunks and his entire reason for existing. It’s the equivalent of dragging a beloved individual like Giordano Bruno through the streets and burning him and his ideals to the stake. Trunks had lost almost everything. The point for his continued heroism was that he still had people to protect. His mother and the remnants of humanity counted on him as a savior. Super might actually be worse than GT because it retconned one of my favorite characters and now his universe is literally an empty hole. Gee, thanks Toei. The saddest part of all is that the 20 out of 21 episode saga of “Goku Black” was actually really good. I mean it. It had urgency and dramatic storytelling… it was truthfully close to Dragon Ball Z. Then came episode 21. Oh Kami, what have you done? I’m not joking, Trunks had decisively beaten the bad guy with some type of Spirit Bomb “Sword” attack, and everyone was celebrating… then it all just gets reversed with basically some kind of magic. I sure hope Trunks doesn’t have PTSD now.

I’m a huge fan of Dragon Ball Z. Sad as it may be, DBZ and the N64 basically formed the basis for my childhood. So, it’s with great and bitter disappointment that I must say Dragon Ball Super is not for the Toonami generation. If you like bullshit like One Piece, maybe you’ll find yourself at home. As for me, I’ll just keep watching Attack on Titan Season 2.